the recent bombing of afghani-stan shows the tragic consequences of relying on military force. From the refugee disaster to the civilian death toll that we will no doubt learn more about within days, this is a military action that did not need to be.While destroying the Taliban air force was essential -- it bombarded its own cities as late as June of this year -- there was an alternative to American pyrotechnics. The Afghani air force would have been rendered useless if America's "ally" Pakistan had simply chosen to refuse the Taliban one crucial item: aircraft fuel.
Human Rights Watch and the United Nations both identified plane fuel as the critical target of "smart" sanctions after the Taliban's civilian bombardment in 2001. Ironically, on September 18, a mere week after the terrorist attacks in the U.S., the world body established a five-person monitoring committee mandated to operate on the ground in Pakistan to enforce the sanctions. But Pakistan isn't just the source of Taliban fuel; it also provides technical training and mobile war instruction for the authoritarian regime.
So, not surprisingly, this committee was never allowed to do its work.
According to UN arms controller Steve Avedon, there's still hope of getting the committee up and running at crucial border crossings, although events have somewhat overtaken them.
But targeted sanctions aren't the only non-violent strategies that have been overlooked in the campaign to drive the Taliban -- and hence bin Laden -- from Afghanistan. The hateful regime can be eroded from within by allowing all refugees access to neighbouring countries. While NATO in its war with Yugoslavia provided food and shelter to Albanian refugees, Afghans fleeing the Taliban face harsher conditions. Some 10,000 to 20,000 people are waiting to cross Pakistan's border near Chaman, seeking protection and assistance. Half of these refugees lack any shelter.
Since the Tajik government closed its borders a year ago, an estimated 10,000 Afghan refugees, including thousands of women and children, have been camped on several islands in the Pyanji River at the Tajikistan border.
To undermine the Taliban, all borders should be open to refugees. Governments and UN agencies should develop a coordinated strategy to identify and separate militants and armed elements from civilians fleeing Afghanistan -- an endeavour that would need an international monitoring presence.
Indeed, any enduring democratic peace for Afghanistan must involve a major role for the UN, a fact no one in the American or British administration seems to appreciate.
This would be perhaps the biggest administrative challenge the body has assumed in its entire history. Without a massive UN presence, including human rights monitoring observers, the triumph of the Northern Alliance -- if this comes to be -- could trigger genocide against the Pashtuns or a new war between various factions of the hastily assembled coalition, whose only common ground is opposition to Taliban totalitarianism.
Governments, including Canada's, should now focus on diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to secure peace, not on sending frigates into the fray.