The Harper government is about to unveil $15 billion in new military spending.
Four billion of this will buy three huge transport planes, and more will cover the cost of refurbished Vietnam-era helicopters purchased from the US.
Hungry for a parliamentary majority, the Tories expect Canadians to look favourably on this purchase of hardware, which will ‘modernize’ the army and help to make war safer for the troops.
Showing remarkable timing, the National Post weighed in this morning with a lead story on the danger of transporting soldiers and supplies by truck along Afghanistan’s deadly highways.
According to the Post article, our allies find it ‘odd’ that a country as rich as Canada has no helicopters to bring to the war.
The US has been supplying and transporting the Canadians where possible, but there are not enough American choppers to go around.
There’s no doubt that it’s dangerous to drive truck convoys around a country where a significant sector of the population resents your presence, and every child has access to the unexploded munitions of 20 years of war.
But there’s a safer resolution to this issue than putting 20 soldiers at a time in the air in helicopters — one of the most dangerous forms of transport ever devised, particularly in a country bristling with rocket launchers.
We could bring them home.
Afghan-born Canadian university professor Dr. Seddiq Weera is an adviser to Afghanistan’s National Commission on Strengthening Peace.
Unlike Stephen Harper, who travelled to Afghanistan this year on a whirlwind propaganda tour, Weera has been in the country for months, talking to members of the various warring factions there.
His conclusion: that Canada’s participation in combat there runs counter to the cause of peace and reconciliation.
To understand Weera’s position, it’s important to bear in mind that our allies, the Northern Alliance, who form the backbone of the current government in Kabul, were once among the warring factions who were busy tearing Afghanistan to shreds after a 10-year US-backed insurgency drove out the occupying forces of the Soviet Union, and left the country a leaderless shambles.
The Taliban was a force of religious students who rose up to quell the murder, rape and looting that were commonplace among these competing bands of thugs, and as such had the support of a great many Afghans.
Repressive, backward and fanatical as its regime turned out to be, it presided over a time of relative peace.
Today Al Qaida and Taliban extremists represent a small minority of those who oppose the Karzai government and the US-led military occupation that supports it.
“That distinction should be made between those who have national and Afghan issues and can be accommodated through peace and dialogue, and those who are terrorists and hardliners and drug lords,” according to Weera.
Canadians have been sold this war as a policing mission, to contain and subdue a lingering rabble of religious fanatics who threaten the reconstruction and democratization of a desperate and war-torn country which we are struggling to help rebuild.
These are lies, and Weera’s research helps to prove them so.
The US is at war with its former friends, the Taliban, because it axed the Unocal pipeline deal and because, in the with-us-or-against-us gun-slinging days after the World Trade Centre attacks, it asked for evidence of guilt before handing over Osama bin Laden.
Afghan allies in this war were not hard to find, largely because the Taliban destroyed the poppy trade. This is the real war in which Canadian forces are engaged.
Weera proposes a national peace strategy that would involve negotiations with various factions, rather than the search-and-destroy missions in which Canadian and other ‘coalition’ troops are now engaged.
The Harper government says this initiative must wait upon Operation Enduring Freedom — the great Taliban hunt — until the year 2008, when the so-called Afghan National Strategy is scheduled to kick in.
With simple eloquence, the professor responds, “It is totally immoral to wait until more and more people are killed”.
There is to be no talk of dialogue with the ‘insurgents’ in Afghanistan.
The so-called coalition, of which Canada is a part, chose sides in this war five years ago, and is not about to back down now.
On our side are some genuine democrats, and seekers after peace.
Also on our side are war criminals, bandits, religious fanatics and the world’s biggest heroin cartel.
Lives will be lost while Bush, Harper, and company pursue their shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later policy in Afghanistan.
Most of these will be innocent Afghan civilians, but a significant number will be Canadian soldiers.
It’s possible, though unproven, that new military hardware will mitigate the losses to our military, but civilians don’t ride in Chinook helicopters.
There is a way in which Canadian spending on troop transport could help to alleviate the suffering in Afghanistan, shorten the war, save lives, and hasten the start of the dialogue which must take place before the factions can be reconciled. We could transport our army home before another soldier dies.