Canada withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan in March 2014, but after 12 years of military engagement has Canada really achieved the mission it set out to accomplish?
It seems as though it has not. From an outside view, the war looks like a spectacular failure. Afghanistan appears nothing like a modern western democratic country with equal rights for all. This proves that implementing a liberal democracy is very difficult. Looking at what the Canadian forces did in Afghanistan can give a clearer picture to the success or failure of the mission.
With the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan it would seem that the war has been won and the country rebuilt. The Taliban regime has been toppled from power and are no longer able to support terrorist organizations — that’s the reason why we entered the country in the first place, isn’t it?
In reality, the Taliban continue to operate in the south of the country. The drone strikes on insurgent targets around the Afghan-Pakistani border seem to suggest another reality as well.
However, does Afghanistan have a chance at more peaceful and stable future? Perhaps the right foundations have been laid with the help of foreign forces. Maybe we haven’t failed to rebuild Afghanistan — instead some of the groundwork has been laid and with the right conditions and time, Afghanistan will be able to develop into a peaceful and stable country.
The war has been costly: 158 Canadian soldiers lost their lives and thousands more have been left physically and psychologically wounded. For the Afghan civilian population, the death toll is even higher, in the tens of thousands. Canada has spent $20 billion on the war so far and has pledged to continue financing the country’s future operations.
Firuz Rahimi, an Afghan-Canadian studying political science at the University of Saskatchewan, moved from Afghanistan to Iran in 1996, and to Canada with his family in 2001. Rahimi and his family have made regular trips back to Afghanistan and stay in touch with relatives as well.
In the early 1970s, after four decades of rule under a monarchy, King Zahir was removed from power. By the end of the decade the Soviet Union launched an all-out invasion of the country that would last a decade and claim the lives of more than one million Afghans.
After the withdrawal of Soviet forces, Afghanistan fell into a civil war. By 1996, the Taliban had gained control of much of the country with the north being controlled by the Afghan Northern Alliance, which was made up of mostly ethnic minority groups including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras — who were often victims of massacres under the Taliban rule.
Fighting between these two major factions continued until NATO and allied forces invaded the country with the intent of dismantling the Taliban regime. The Taliban was believed to have supported and harbored al-Qaida in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Rahimi’s view relates to the improvement in rights and protection of women and of minority groups in the past 12 years under foreign occupation and the democratically elected government. Afghans do not want to see the Taliban take power again for fear of the oppression and violence they faced under the regime in the past.
The general feeling Rahimi has received from back home is that ethnic divisions are decreasing while the desire for peace and stability is on the rise. Meanwhile, minority groups will have less influence on the now democratic government.
Rahimi remains cautious because the country is largely reliant on both security and financial aid from foreign forces. With the continued withdrawal of these forces, the security responsibilities are being transferred to the under equipped and under trained Afghan National Army and police force.
Rahimi questions the ability of the Afghan forces to provide security and stability for the country — a task that NATO and allied forces have been unable to accomplish in the past 12 years, despire their capabilities.
The majority of Afghanistan is Pashtun — the ethnic group that almost exclusively made up the Taliban — and will be strongly represented in any future Afghan government, which raises concerns for the future of minority groups within the country’s borders who do not have the numbers to gain a large influence in the government.
Future peace in Afghanistan will be dependent on a great number of variables, including the stability of Pakistan.
After 12 years of occupation by Canadian and allied forces, the future of Afghanistan is still unclear. Perhaps the only thing that has been made clear after 12 years of military occupation is that we still do not have the means to create a western liberal democracy in a country that is vastly different than ours in both traditions and values.
It seems that 12 years of occupation isn’t a long enough time to develop a country as peaceful and stable as Canada but maybe we should remember the many years of trial and error it took for the west to develop the liberal democracy that we seem to think is the apex of all civilization.