Never mind apologies, it’s time for Canada’s Tories just to admit Jack Layton was right about talking to the Taliban

Posted on August 09, 2017, 2:03 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Jack Layton in Edmonton in 2011. Below: Forgettable Harper Government foreign minister Lawrence Cannon (Photo: Abigail Veronneau, Wikimedia Commons) and Peter MacKay, who took some of the cheap shots at Mr. Layton in 2006 (Photo: Department of National Defence, via the Wikimedia Commons).

Never mind the apologies. That ship has sailed. We Canadians need to come to terms with the fact Conservatives don’t apologize, and they don’t explain, no matter how obvious it is they need to.

But surely now that it’s official the remnants of the U.S.-led coalition are “not winning” in Afghanistan, it’s time for Canada’s Opposition Conservatives to admit Jack Layton was right about talking to the Taliban, and that they were wrong.

Most politically alert Canadians are probably faintly aware that it was the Conservative Party of then prime minister Stephen Harper back in the mid 2000s that smeared Mr. Layton, who was then the leader of the federal New Democratic Party, with the epithet “Taliban Jack,” and that it had something to do with Afghanistan.

But for many of us, I suspect, the circumstances are rapidly disappearing into the mists of time.

To review, then, it was on Sept. 1, 2006, more than a decade ago now, when Mr. Layton dared state the unspeakable but obvious fact about Afghanistan that “a comprehensive peace process has to bring all the combatants to the table.”

At the time, Canadian soldiers had already been involved in the bloody and unwinnable occupation of the Central Asian country known as the Graveyard of Empires for four years, but this really set off the Tory barking chain.

Mr. Layton was excoriated as naive at best and treasonous at worst. He was accused by the online Conservative Rage Machine, then in its relative infancy, of failing to support Canada’s soldiers abroad and supporting the people who were shooting at them.

Their logic, apparently, was that no good Canadian would ever sit down to speak with unsavoury men who were shooting at Canadian soldiers, even if those same unsavoury men were part of a coalition that enjoyed the support of a considerable portion of Afghanistan’s Pashtun ethnic majority. The assumption underlying this view, presumably, was that the West had a reasonable chance of defeating them. As with most insurgencies in poor countries where people have little to lose, it never did.

The usual right-wing suspects posted pictures of the NDP leader Photoshopped into ethnic Pashtun garb, along with their predictably uncreative but vicious verbal abuse. Peter MacKay, then the minister of finance, sniped, “is it next going to be tea with Osama bin Laden? This cannot happen.”

Mr. Layton, who died in 2011 after leading his party to within sight of government in Ottawa, was remarkably graceful about this serial defamation. When one of Mr. Harper’s now justly forgotten foreign affairs ministers, Lawrence Cannon, admitted in 2010 the Taliban had a role to play in the “new Afghanistan” we were told Canada’s soldiers were helping to build, Mr. Layton resisted the temptation to gloat. “As long as the right thing gets done,” he said, “I don’t really care.”

That would have been an appropriate time for the Harper Conservatives to apologize, which of course they did not.

They didn’t really mean it about talking to the Taliban, anyway, since Mr. Harper himself put conditions on the idea no resistance movement would accept – even if it wasn’t making the incremental gains that always win insurgencies. Before the Taliban would be allowed to sit at the table, Mr. Harper proclaimed, they would have to lay down their arms and agree to abide by the Afghan constitution, cooked up in 2004 following the U.S. invasion of the Central Asian country. As he knew, there was no chance of that happening.

By 2011, naturally, the U.S. government was paying no attention to the sage advice of its Canadian ally and had entered into direct, secret talks with the Taliban.

That would have been another moment for the Conservatives to apologize to Mr. Layton. Didn’t happen then either.

Regardless, the Western war in that country has lurched along to this day. So how did all this work out?

Well, thankfully, the last Canadian soldiers left the country in mid-March 2015.

But for all the blood and treasure we spent, the “new Afghanistan” sure looks a lot like the old Afghanistan.

A corrupt government propped up by the U.S. and its proxies controls the capital, Kabul, and the Taliban is regaining control pretty well everywhere else. During daylight, they say, the government controls about half the country nowadays. Many places where Western soldiers fought fierce battles with the “primitive” Afghans are now firmly in Taliban hands.

In June, President Donald Trump’s Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, admitted to the U.S. Congress the United States is “not winning” the war against the Taliban.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” the former Marine Corps general told American legislators. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the correction.

As recently as yesterday, fighting continued in the Forever War in Afghanistan, with disturbing if unlikely reports the Taliban and their sworn enemy ISIS were teaming up to drive out the Western invaders.

Canada could play its traditional helpful role in international affairs if we had a way to talk to those guys.

Thanks in part to Canada’s Conservatives, we don’t. They should at least admit that Mr. Layton was right! But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen either.

10 Comments to: Never mind apologies, it’s time for Canada’s Tories just to admit Jack Layton was right about talking to the Taliban

  1. jerrymacgp

    August 9th, 2017

    The kind of postwar peace & democracy that once followed convincing defeat in the field, such as happened in Western Europe and Japan after WW II, appears now to be a thing of the past. In very few of the conflicts Western nations have engaged in since 1945, has the military outcome really settled things. Case in point: the Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war, as it has since the armistice of 1953, and now that situation once again threatens to escalate from “technical” to “actual”. The US bugged out of South Vietnam in 1973; that rump state collapsed under the weight of Northern arms two years later and is now no more. Argentina has never given up its claim to the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas as they call them). Afghanistan was never truly pacified, and neither was Iraq (probably the most ill-considered invasion in modern times). The Balkan states are finally at peace, 20 years after the vicious internecine wars of the mid-90s, but I don’t really think American and allied (including Canadian) intervention, however well-intentioned and justified, can be credited with that outcome, so much as simple fatigue.

    At some point in any war, the warring parties need to sit down across from each other and talk about how to shut it down. The kind of unconditional surrender that ended WW II is no longer a solution. Peace in Afghanistan will therefore mean talking to the Afghan belligerents, and that means the Taliban.

    Reply
  2. Val

    August 9th, 2017

    so, after all this years you didn’t grasp the main motive and reason of the western intervention and forced removal of islamic fundamentalist political movement from official ruling power in Afghanistan?
    as for Jack Layton, well, his rise at the particular moment was conditioned not by his outstanding wisdom but rather by never seen before, weakness of liberal party.

    Reply
    • pogo

      August 9th, 2017

      You absolutely have no brain, no empathy, and I contend, no soul! Call me on the Oxford comma! PS you gotta’ love it when Pete Rose and Dennis Miller host your theme song! https://youtu.be/MtFEgnSnBG8

      Reply
    • Keith McClary

      August 9th, 2017

      Was it the same as “the main motive and reason of the western intervention and forced removal of” the previous secular government?

      Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      August 9th, 2017

      Tell us please what you think is this “main motive”, and on what basis you hold this belief. Then derive from that some reason why the Pashtun are a people so uniquely evil that they can not be mentioned?

      I do not think you can. Horse’s asses are rarely capable of supporting their bluster, except with more bluster.

      Reply
    • Val

      August 10th, 2017

      they were a lone government in the world, who did provide official legal safe shelter for Al-Qaeda, after terror act which in single day took the lives of 3000 civilians.
      back in 1938 in Europe was one infamous politician, who did tried to appease Nazi.
      it seems “progressive” minds couldn’t learn from history.

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        August 10th, 2017

        It is worth remembering that the the oft-heard claim that Neville Chamberlain’s “appeasement” of Adolf Hitler led directly to World War II, while convenient to advocates of war, is factually untrue. That is to say, as captured German documents shown after the war revealed, confronting Hitler would also have led to war, which possibly would have had a different outcome if it had come then. The trouble with “conservative” minds is that they pay no attention to history, make up facts, and repeat them endlessly – like another infamous politician of the period. DJC

        Reply
        • Val

          August 10th, 2017

          sure, WWII was inevitable but what Chamberlain did in Munich, it’s an encouragement of the Nazi to more bold move in shorter period of time. as well as selective declaration of war on 03/09/1939 against the Germany but not against the Russia, albeit invasion of Poland was arranged simultaneosly from both countries.
          appease of taliban, proposed by Jack Layton could similarly viewed as encouragement not by talibans only but by other hostile to the West islamist regimes.

          “europeans, who remember their history understand than most that there is no security, no safety, in appeasement of evil.” Ronald Reagan
          quote still pretty much actual today not just for european but for the rest of western civilization, including Canada.

          Reply
  3. Carol Grayson

    August 9th, 2017

    Important article, now is the time governments should be talking to Taliban. They are making considerable gains due to corruption in government and militias which pose a threat to locals. Taliban have never posed a threat outside of Afghanistan and seek positive relations with other countries based on mutual respect. They are also approachable. Here is what Islamic Emirate posted today…

    August 9th 2017

    The Wall Street Journal published a report last week, quoting an official of the Trump Administration that the White House was also considering complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Though later on, contradictory reports appeared indicating that the strategy was still unclear but if America really wants complete withdrawal of her troops from Afghanistan and announces as such, the Islamic Emirate readily hails this position and would like to discuss all negotiable issues with them.

    The Afghan war is the longest war of American history. They have spent 780 billion dollars so far but notwithstanding that, America has established a government in Afghanistan which is the most corrupt at world’s level. Oppression, injustice, production and trafficking of drugs, religious and ethnic differences, kidnapping and robberies have become order of the day under the very title of democracy.

    The war in Afghanistan can be likened to a quagmire. Even if America spends that much amount of money and time already spent and passed, they would ultimately come to conclusion that this was a meaningless and back-breaking war. It has no military solution because America is not facing a group in the country but an entire nation.

    At present, more than half of the population of Afghanistan are living under the administration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but still the Islamic Emirate has never resorted to creating internal problems for any country in the world including the invading countries. This is because interference in the internal affairs of other countries is not policy of the Islamic Emirate. We have practically proven this over the past one and a half decade. What we want is but independence of our country and a system based on our beliefs. This is our legitimate right. We are continuing our peaceful political and jihadic efforts for obtainment of the aforementioned objectives.

    American generals are giving unrealistic hope to the American people and the US president that they will succeed in Afghanistan, if authorized to send more troops or American militias of Black water. Granted, even if this military strategy is carried out, it will only prolong the war but will not bring it to an end. Afghans are neither desperate nor fatigued in their efforts for obtainment of freedom of their country.

    The Islamic Emirate wants a real solution of the Afghan issue. If America really wants to end the war and explore a realistic solution then should consider withdrawal of troops.

    August 9th 2017

    The Wall Street Journal published a report last week, quoting an official of the Trump Administration that the White House was also considering complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Though later on, contradictory reports appeared indicating that the strategy was still unclear but if America really wants complete withdrawal of her troops from Afghanistan and announces as such, the Islamic Emirate readily hails this position and would like to discuss all negotiable issues with them.

    The Afghan war is the longest war of American history. They have spent 780 billion dollars so far but notwithstanding that, America has established a government in Afghanistan which is the most corrupt at world’s level. Oppression, injustice, production and trafficking of drugs, religious and ethnic differences, kidnapping and robberies have become order of the day under the very title of democracy.

    The war in Afghanistan can be likened to a quagmire. Even if America spends that much amount of money and time already spent and passed, they would ultimately come to conclusion that this was a meaningless and back-breaking war. It has no military solution because America is not facing a group in the country but an entire nation.

    At present, more than half of the population of Afghanistan are living under the administration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but still the Islamic Emirate has never resorted to creating internal problems for any country in the world including the invading countries. This is because interference in the internal affairs of other countries is not policy of the Islamic Emirate. We have practically proven this over the past one and a half decade. What we want is but independence of our country and a system based on our beliefs. This is our legitimate right. We are continuing our peaceful political and jihadic efforts for obtainment of the aforementioned objectives.

    American generals are giving unrealistic hope to the American people and the US president that they will succeed in Afghanistan, if authorized to send more troops or American militias of Black water. Granted, even if this military strategy is carried out, it will only prolong the war but will not bring it to an end. Afghans are neither desperate nor fatigued in their efforts for obtainment of freedom of their country.

    The Islamic Emirate wants a real solution of the Afghan issue. If America really wants to end the war and explore a realistic solution then should consider withdrawal of troops.”

    Reply

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