on the record afghanistan
Excerpted from Canada In Kandahar: No Peace To Keep, a report released last month by the London, UK-based Senlis Council, a security and development policy group.
Canadian troops and Afghan civilians are paying with their lives for Canada's adherence to the U.S. government's failing military and counter-narcotics policies in Kandahar.
There does not seem to be any learning process under way. Canadian troops have largely failed to assist in the reconstruction and economic development of the province.
Poppy eradication is destroying the livelihood of a large part of the population, and these crops are not being replaced with sustainable and profitable alternatives. Even if Canadian soldiers avoid actively supporting the U.S.-backed Afghan national eradication campaigns, Canadians are still seen as complicit in the destruction of livelihoods.
Canada is at war in Afghanistan, not keeping the peace. Canadian troops are fighting increasingly deadly operations against the resurgent Taliban. Kandahar is a war zone.
Countless civilians have been killed in incidents involving Canadian or American troops, complicating Canada's secondary mission objective - winning the hearts and minds of the local population. The deaths of innocent Kandahar civilians at the hands of the Canadian military have come to symbolize to the local population Canadian indifference to the Afghan people.
It is necessary to dramatically change the focus of the international community's approach [and] to completely rethink the policy objectives and priorities.
Southern Afghanistan urgently needs an injection of financial aid earmarked for the short-term relief of conditions of extreme poverty.
There is an urgent need for Canadians and the international community to immediately and significantly engage with all stakeholders in Kandahar and to stimulate a shared sense of ownership of Kandahar's reconstruction and development process.
Canada should organize a broad series of local jirga-style meetings, in accordance with local customs, between farmers' representatives, community leaders and the international community in Kandahar.
Instead of implementing futile yet politically expedient crop-eradication-centred drug policies, the international community must open the way for new pragmatic approaches. The best short-term solution is assisting the country to produce essential opium-based medicines such as morphine and codeine in accordance with the legal framework found in the new Afghanistan Counter-Narcotics Law passed in December 2005.
Implementing these provisions would partly bring illegal poppy cultivation under control and would also provide economic opportunities and hope to the poverty-stricken poppy-growing areas.
When Canada took command of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, the troops made efforts to distinguish themselves from American troops, who are viewed by locals with extreme hostility. However, the initial goodwill generated by these attempts quickly evaporated.
According to the Canadian Department of National Defence, the majority of Canadian soldiers in Kandahar (at least 2,000) work solely with the U.S. army in patrols and security work, and do not carry out much reconstruction or development work.
Some locals state that they see the Canadian troops as overly aggressive, indifferent, militaristic and lacking communication skills. Insurgents' guerrilla fighting has forced the Canadians into a heavily armed posture that alienates the people: Canadian convoys race at top speed through Kandahar, "like mice running from hole to hole" according to locals.
Our interviewees state that the Canadian prime minister travelled to Kandahar but went directly from the airport to the military base. They stressed Prime Minister Harper's failure to properly meet with locals in accordance with Afghan customs, or to speak to them about their views of the Canadian presence in the province. This was widely remarked upon as improper, insulting to Afghan pride and an indication of cowardice on his part.
Incidents such as the March shooting of a taxi passenger for driving too close to a Canadian military vehicle and the lack of a proper local response to that incident have caused deep hostility in the community.
Creating additional difficulties for the Canadian troops is [the fact] that the majority of the military vehicles and convoys travel without flags, preventing differentiation between the actions of U.S., Canadian military and the private military companies involved in poppy eradication (DynCorp).
Although almost without exception the local actors from the international community are deeply concerned about the living conditions and future of the local population, many of them privately expressed their inability to produce positive results for the region given the dynamics between locals and the U.S. military and counter-narcotics operations.
In Kandahar City itself, foreign aid workers live in security compounds, travel to work in offices in secured compounds and rarely travel on the streets of Kandahar or out into the villages. When they do, most travel in convoys with armoured vehicles and highly visible armed escorts, which creates further tension and distance with the local population.
On 14 March 2006, Canadian soldiers in Kandahar shot and killed a passenger in Kandahar City. Nasrat Ali Hassan, a father of six, was travelling home with his family after an evening visiting relatives.
A spokesman for the Canadian Forces, Lt. Col. Derek Basinger, said that Hassan was not treated at the Canadian base because the Canadian troops on the scene believed his wounds were not life-threatening. Hassan was taken to the Kandahar hospital and died hours later.
The story of his death spread quickly through Kandahar. So far, the family has not received a formal apology from Canadian representatives, which is necessary under Afghan customs, nor has the Canadian government offered support to the family.
This incident and the lack of an apology or compensation was mentioned repeatedly in interviews in Kandahar about the community's current negative perception of the Canadian presence.
Such incidents prompt further support for the insurgent groups. Without solid local support, both stability and security will remain an illusion.