Jones: What is the biggest lesson Canada can take from its experience in Afghanistan?

By: /
April 30, 2012

It’s the politics, stupid.

Canada, like the US and the rest of NATO devoted troops and treasure to the dual pursuit of defeating Al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan. They spilled blood, trained armies, and funded economic activities. As there presence endured, they shifted – belatedly, haltingly – to building up the credibility and capacity of the Afghan government, as a necessary condition for exit.

This business of building an Afghan state was based on two myths: that it could be done in a timeframe even remotely consistent with western patience; and that it could be done without a political deal with the Taleban. Since the end of the Cold War, no civil war has ended and stayed ended without a political deal that includes the losers. This lesson was learned the hard way in internal conflicts throughout the 1990s, and blithely ignored after 9/11. Afghanistan was never likely to prove the exception.

By 2010, even the United States had come around to conclusion that talks were necessary, and opened channels to the Taleban, and the Haqqani network. Too little, too late? Likely so. If some form of deal can be cut before the exit of the bulk of US troops in 2014, perhaps there’s a chance for some form of stability to emerge, within which – over a long period of time – a credible Afghan state can consolidate. But the odds are against it.