Alberta Politics
Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan (Photo: Canadian Forces).

Calling Peter MacKay! Could you remind us what we were fighting for in Afghanistan again?

Posted on August 30, 2019, 2:40 am
6 mins

Peter MacKay, former Harper Government defence minister and one of the dimmer candles to cast his flickering light on Canadian affairs, turns out to have been a prophet after all!

Who would have guessed?

Former Canadian defence minister Peter MacKay (Photo: Elza Fiúza, Creative Commons).

Back in 2008, when Canada’s role in the long war in Afghanistan had grown considerably in its cost and toll, Mr. MacKay told Canadians that our military leaders were not talking with the Taliban, and never would.

We are not involved in any direct discussions with Taliban terrorists,” he said. “We don’t do that. We will not do that.”

This was back in the days when NDP leader Jack Layton was vilified by Conservatives as “Taliban Jack” for daring to suggest the best way to end the bloody civil war and Western occupation in Afghanistan might be to open lines of communication to the Taliban, which had been the government of that unhappy country before the U.S. invasion in 2001 and continued to have significant support among its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

Primed by Conservative talking points, the still nascent On-Line Tory Rage Machine assailed Mr. Layton as naive at best and treasonous at worst, accusing him of betraying Canada’s soldiers abroad.

Never mind that Canadian soldiers actually fighting in the country saw the wisdom of talking with their Taliban foes — reports of which were the proximate cause of Mr. MacKay’s comments. The Conservative response was that no good Canadian would ever advocate sitting down to speak with men who were shooting at Canadian soldiers, even though that’s the way wars usually end.

The late Jack Layton, NDP leader in the House of Commons (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And yet Mr. MacKay seems to have been right in at least this one regard. The Americans certainly talked with the Taliban — there have been formal talks under way in Qatar since February, and there was contact long before that. But Canada, which ended its participation in the Afghan war in 2014, seems to have done, or rather not done, exactly as Mr. MacKay foretold and never talked to the Taliban.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that ceasefire talks between U.S. and Taliban officials may be days away from a breakthrough that will allow the Americans to pull out of Afghanistan in time for President Donald Trump to declare a victory other presidents could not manage in time for the 2020 Presidential election.

After all the sacrifices made by Canadians — 159 of our soldiers killed and thousands injured physically, mentally and spiritually, 40,000 who served in the war, another half dozen Canadian civilians killed, and at least $18 billion spent on the effort — we will be in a position in one important way not so different from that of the current Afghan government.

The deal will be the one the Trump works out with the Taliban and neither Canadians nor Afghans will have anything to say about it. Well, at least we Canadians won’t have to live with it.

And those things Canadians at home were told our soldiers were risking their lives to achieve — women’s rights, education for girls, creation of a real Western-style democracy, what the Canadian Forces callnation-building initiatives”? Will any of them survive?

We will see, but it seems safe to assume there will be precious little of them in Mr. Trump’s hurried agreement with the Taliban.

What were Canadians fighting and dying for in Afghanistan? Did the government in which Mr. MacKay served really believe the things it told Canadians? Were any of our soldiers’ tactical gains ever sustainable? Were we, as then-prime-minister Stephen Harper claimed, “helping rescue Afghanistan and its long-suffering people from violence and oppression”? Is the world a safer place as a result of our collective efforts? Are the people of Afghanistan better off — and will they be next month? Will we welcome refugees driven out by Taliban rule? Should we be in a hurry to join future American military adventures abroad?

Now that we know his words are worth listening to, perhaps Peter MacKay can emerge for a few moments from the comfortable obscurity of Toronto’s chichi Beaches neighbourhood to cast some illumination on the answers to these questions.

While he’s at it, maybe he could apologize to the memory of Mr. Layton, too, who turns out to have called it right all those years ago.

12 Comments to: Calling Peter MacKay! Could you remind us what we were fighting for in Afghanistan again?

  1. Dave

    August 30th, 2019

    You are correct, every conflict does end with some form of talking to the enemy. Perhaps Mr. Harper’s government had delusions of the talking being unconditional suurender, like the talks that ended WW II. Or perhaps Mr. Harper realized the US would make the decisions about who to talk to and when, as we were just along for the ride.

    In any event, Afghanistan has been an expensive and questionable excercise in nation building. A lots of nations need building and in some of them our presence might actually help more. The only reason we all ended up in the long and frustrating Afghanistan misadventure was because the Taliban openly abbetted the guy who was behind blowing up a big and prominent building in the US.

    I suppose we will see how much of the nation building sticks or remains after Mr. Lets Make A Deal Trump comes to some agreement with the Taliban. However, I am not hopeful. I have visions of a Vietnam like departure – that was chaotic and later led to a lot of refugees too.

    I am a bit more hopeful that the Taliban, after having their country over run and their previous government overthrown, may have at least learned something and in the future may limit their terror and oppression to their own country and not beyond it. However I am not certain about that. Perhaps that will be part of the deal Donald makes. We’ll eventually find out if the Taliban are any better at keeping their deals than Donald is. Hopefully for everyone they are.

    Reply
    • Geoffrey Pounder

      August 30th, 2019

      The Taliban had zero to do with 9/11.
      Afghanistan was bin Laden’s hideout, but 9/11 wasn’t planned, financed, or carried out from there.
      The U.S. attacked the Taliban when they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, even though there was no extradition treaty between them.
      The U.S. Govt was negotiating with the Taliban over a pipeline only months before 9/11.
      No worries about Afghan school girls or repression of women back then.

      No evidence that the Taliban had any foreknowledge of or any role in 9/11.
      9/11 was carried out mostly by Saudis. No Afghans.
      Funded mostly by Saudi money. No Afghan money.
      Planned in Hamburg. Not Kabul.
      Pilot training took place in the U.S. Not Kandahar.
      Most of the people Western forces fought — and tortured — posed no threat to Canada.
      If the response to 9/11 demanded an invasion, why not take on the country (countries) where 9/11 was planned and financed?

      Nearly two decades on, it looks as if the U.S. used bin Laden merely as an excuse to invade Afghanistan.
      The U.S. propensity for twisting the facts to justify invasions is well known.
      Pipelines, minerals, and geopolitics — they all play a role.

      Reply
    • Murphy

      August 31st, 2019

      The Canadian Army ended up in Afghanistan because it is a vassal of the US Empire, an Empire which attempted to undermine the rise of a hegemonic challenger on the Eurasian landmass. The Soviets built a rickety but modern society in Afghanistan and the US and pals used a bunch of jihadi kooks to tear it apart long before the First Russian parachute blossomed over Kabul in 1979.

      Reply
  2. ronmac

    August 30th, 2019

    Sadly, what it comes down to is Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is part of the price which must be paid in blood for our trade deals. We get access to US markets and in return we are required, when requested, to offer our soldiers in service to the US empire.

    Reply
  3. Albertan

    August 30th, 2019

    Canada hitched up with the USA entering into the Afghanistan mess with what many believe to be a pipeline/oil and gas conflict. Much can be read online about the trouble but what I understand is that with regard to the TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) pipeline, is that there was considerable jockeying for the project involving the USA/the Saudis and the American company Unocal and another proposal involving the Argentinian Bridas Corporation. To understand more, about what appears to be a tangled web, these sites might be helpful:
    “US-Taliban talks and the fate of TAPI pipeline. The progress of the TAPI project would largely depend on the outcome of negotiations between the US and the Taliban.”
    http://www.orfonline.org/export-speak/us-taliban-talks-and-the-fate-of-tapi-pipeline-49354/
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India_Pipeline
    There is also in this web, another pipeline known as the Iran-Pakistan pipeline also known as the Peace pipeline. There is also the matter of Russia in this, as a supporter of Iran and their perception of control over Turkmenistan and its Galkynysh Gas Field.
    So it has come to pass that Jack Layton was correct re: negotiating with/talking to, the Taliban. One can only wonder how well the sending of Canadian personnel to Afghanistan with the high cost of loss of life to assist in paving the way for western control over a gas pipeline in the area would have gone if the probable truth had been discussed by the Canadian government.
    There is also the matter of the possible $trillions worth of mineral resources in Afghanistan which all of the players including the West, Russia, China……would wish to control.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      August 31st, 2019

      You didn’t! Never mention economic interests in the context of heroic warmaking!

      Reply
  4. typo

    August 30th, 2019

    flickering light Canadian affairs

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      August 30th, 2019

      Thanks, Typo, it’s been fixed. As always, I am grateful to my readers for spotting such errors. You are my editors. DJC

      Reply
  5. tom in ontario

    August 30th, 2019

    Speaking of apologies, Stephen Harper should apologize to the Canadian people for apologizing to President George W. Bush because Prime Minister Chretien refused to send Canadian troops to the 2003 fiasco in Iraq.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      August 31st, 2019

      Is that really the salient transgression for which Harpo owes an apology?

      Reply
  6. lungta

    August 30th, 2019

    lets not forget that post russian conflict taliban controlled Afghanistan
    had reduced opium/heroin production to virtually zero.
    as the “allies” gained control of areas and export routes opium production increased several 1000 percent . yeah us…..and our opioid crisis
    mackay was a bunk lair since he promised to not surrender the PC party and then did to become harpers bitch….statement by statement ever since.

    there never was any valid reason to invade

    Reply
  7. Sam Gunsch

    August 31st, 2019

    All politicians criticize their opponents.

    But contemporary Conservative political leaders seem to have zero scruples about doing so. Will attack with the most ridiculous claims.

    Politicians that become Con’ leaders seem to have a gene for the reactionary impulse. Disgusting.

    Reply

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