Two Moral Hazards and a Policy Dilemma in Canada’s Fight against the Islamic State

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

I support Canada’s participation in the fight against ISIL. The scale of human rights violations and threat to international peace and security posed by the so-called Islamic State fully justify our combat role. I also support our Government’s incremental approach at this early stage of what will be another long war. Our objective, as stated by Prime Minister Harper to Parliament is to “limit the ability of ISIL to engage in full scale military movements and to operate bases in the open.”

There is no end game, yet. But we need one pretty soon.

The failure of the respective Syrian and Iraqi governments to control their territory or responsibly govern their citizens, combined with the scale, territorial advances and momentum of ISIL, tell us that we are in for a major international campaign. Right now, the confidence of the Canadian  public in the Canadian Forces is rock solid. For this to remain so, it is important that we recognize and prepare for the moral hazards that a fight of this nature inevitably entails for Canada and our military. Two come to mind.

Civilian Casualties of the Air Campaign: Thankfully, technical briefings by the Canadian Forces show that the Canadian air campaign has not incurred any civilian casualties yet. But it may happen in the future. The moral hazard of innocent civilian casualties can be attenuated by providing fair compensation for victims. How do we plan to do this?

Human Rights Conduct of the Iraqi Armed Forces and Peshmerga: The refrain has been repeated many times that this will not be about Canadian or American combat boots on the ground. The success of the campaign and our reputation will be affected by the conduct of our partners. We saw this with the issue of detainees in Afghanistan where we decided that Canada needed to directly monitor prisoners after they were passed to Afghan custody in order to prevent torture. Human rights violations by our partners would taint our policy and create yet another layer of grievance to complicate future governance. Are we monitoring the human rights behaviour of our regional military partners?

When the military has turned the tide against ISIL, the requirements of stabilization and reconstruction will come into focus. It will be huge and hugely expensive. It wasn’t until years after we had committed ourselves to Afghanistan that we came to understand the true cost and duration required. A duration that spanned electoral cycles. The policy dilemma is when to decide and seek parliamentary approval for the composition and cost of Canada’s whole of government commitment – and whether to make it proportionate to the challenge.  

Six Things part Four: Democracy, Governance and Courage in Afghanistan

June 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Tomorrow Afghans are voting – in a second round – for the President to succeed Hamid Karzai. I think all of us who care about Afghanistan and democracy should thank candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani for their courage and commitment to their country.

I remember an American general officer telling me “We can’t solve this problem by killing more Taliban.” Ultimately, it was understood that the military work was meant to enable the priorities of formal and legitimate Afghan civilian governance to reach the people. It’s hard, but best, when security and governance arrive simultaneously to replace the predators.

State abandonment, or weak, corrupt and illegitimate government enables, and even invites, insurgency. This makes civilian governance dangerous in the extreme for those who enter the arena of democracy in a country in conflict.

Many of those brave Afghans with whom Canada worked in Kandahar made the ultimate sacrifice for governance. The Chief of the Kandahar Police Khan Mohamed Mujahaddin was killed on April 14, 2011. The Mayor of Kandahar City, Ghulam Haider Hamidi was killed July 27, 2011. Faizluddin Agha, District Governor of Panjwa’i, which was the primary focus of the military effort at the time of our departure, was killed on January 13, 2012; Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Chairman of the Provincial Council, was killed July 20, 2011. Fortunately, the excellent Governor of Kandahar, Dr. Tooryalai Wesa has not been harmed by repeated attacks. Within seven months of the completion of the Canadian military and civilian mission in Kandahar, four of the five most important civilian officials in Kandahar province were assassinated. The Taliban insurgency understood, as did we, that it is all about governance.

In the large scheme of things, these men were killed because basic civil governance is utterly incompatible with the Taliban aspiration of the return of the Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan. Like Mount Everest where they say the hardest part of the climb is the last vertical hundred meters, state extension to the most disadvantaged and needful zones and people is the most difficult increment of post conflict governance.  This has led me to the fifth thing I learned in 30 years as a diplomat: development, peace and security are all about governance – its quality, political culture and geographical extension. This idea has also led me to a shift in my diplomatic perspective. When we have willing partners, it is usually more effective to base our diplomacy on how to help states be successful for their citizens, than to try to criticize and constrain them. We want our friends to be successful.

RoCK Thoughts on Canada Leaving Afghanistan

March 20, 2014 § 12 Comments

I was the last Representative of Canada in Kandahar (RoCK), and worked with an outstanding team of Canadian civilian professionals to deliver development, humanitarian assistance, human rights and governance right through to the end of our combat mission in July 2011. This was followed by a non-combat, military training mission that ended yesterday, when the last troops came home.

General Dean Milner was the Commander who came home with the troops. He led the Canadian task force in its last combat rotation in Kandahar, and also brought our training mission to its correct completion and will be remembered by Canadian history as one of our great generals. It’s important that our troops have been properly honoured, but in this post I want to talk about the civilian work we did in Kandahar.

In 2011 when Canada completed its Kandahar military and civilian mission, PM Harper said that Afghanistan is no longer a threat to international peace and security. That remains true. It took a long time, a lot of learning and great sacrifice.  But reconstructing the Afghan state after its defeat and disastrous collapse, to where it is no longer an international security liability and can defend itself is no mean feat. Significantly, the international effort brought with it great achievements in the civilian domains of humanitarian conditions, social development, economic prospects, human rights and governance.  We can debate around the edges, but the historical fact of progress is plain. What’s more, when Canada found itself at the epicenter of the first geopolitical crisis of the twenty-first century, we performed with courage, proficiency and full depth of commitment.

To recap what happened after 9/11 – within 24 hours, NATO invoked the collective defense clause if it was determined that the attack originated outside the US. As we know, it originated in Afghanistan where Osama Bin Laden planned and executed the World Trade Center atrocity. As a matter of fact, Mohamed Atta, pilot of one of the planes, delivered his last will and testament to Bin Laden at Tarnak Farms, the Al Quaeda stronghold in Kandahar. It did not take long for the United States with its allies to utterly defeat the Taliban government in their homeland, which is Kandahar.

But the very difficult part was reconstruction. And then, this difficulty was compounded in the extreme with the surprising emergence of the determined and elusive Taliban insurgency. However, there is no military solution to the problems of reconstruction and development.

In the distribution by NATO of reconstruction responsibilities across the country, and the establishment of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Canada received the province of Kandahar. Canada learned fast and adapted to put together a remarkably effective combined military/civilian response to the challenges of our area of operations. You will remember that in 2006 Prime Minister Harper tasked John Manley to prepare recommendations on Canada’s future role in Afghanistan for consideration of Parliament.

In his report, Manley said “The essential questions for Canada are: how do we move from a military role to a civilian one, and how do we oversee a shift in responsibility for Afghanistan’s security from the international community to Afghans themselves?”

The operational response on the civilian side was to create a large integrated team of some 80 civilians composed of brave and skilled professionals from across the federal government. Large scale project funding from CIDA and Foreign Affairs was key to support that effort. The RCMP trained Afghan policemen and policewomen. CIDA delivered schools, irrigation canals, vaccination programs and economic development. Corrections Canada brought the notorious Sarpoza prison up to international standards. Foreign Affairs advanced governance, democracy and monitored human rights in Afghan prisons. My American colleague, Bill Harris, described the Canadian reconstruction model as “wildly successful”. (Let me express here my thanks to our US friends and colleagues for their great partnership and the surge, which came to Southern Afghanistan when we needed it.)

It is utterly clear that the courage, skill and resolve of the Canadian Forces were absolutely a necessary condition for a civilian role. Without minimum conditions of territorial control and security, no development can take place and governance can never be more than tenuous. At the same time, once this minimum threshold is achieved, we discovered that security operations, development and governance can take place simultaneously and be mutually reinforcing.

Perhaps the most interesting innovation was in our own Canadian governance. Canada did away with the traditional departmental stovepipes and barriers between organizations to mobilize the assets of the public service to deliver a whole of government effort and an integrated reconstruction package in an active war zone. This is a great but hidden capability of the Canadian public service.

Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, and Afghanistan. The last generation of Canadian diplomacy has also been the story of states that catastrophically crash, catch public opinion by surprise and demand a complex international response. In many ways, Canada’s defense, diplomatic and humanitarian policies have been influenced by the tragedy of state failure.

I remember saying to myself in Kandahar that nobody, and certainly not the long-suffering Afghans, deserve the tragedy, pain, poverty and violence that attends state failure. Ultimately, we learned that it’s all about governance. If there was a civ/mil consensus on the challenge in Afghanistan, this is it. But sadly, when we look around, there are new candidates. Divided countries with predatory or incompetent governments end up in crises they cannot resolve without external intervention.

It’s all about governance because a state needs a certain level of legitimacy to defeat an insurgency.

As we look around, there will be other states that fail, and some we won’t be able to ignore.  In the meantime, I believe there are four core questions that international policy professionals should be working on so we are prepared when the time comes.

1. How to establish local governance in the absence of state legitimacy?

2. How to pivot from military counter insurgency to civilian peace building and reconciliation?

3. How to create justice before there is a functioning judicial branch?

4. How to combine the resources of traditional tribal community governance with the establishment of a basic national public service.

But really, Canada has not left Afghanistan. We are where Manley and Parliament wanted us to be. We have completely transitioned to a civilian mission under the leadership of Ambassador Deborah Lyons at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. Afghans can take responsibility for their own security and a new chapter is unfolding. Bin Ladin’s old Kandahar HQ is now an agricultural research farm, thanks to Canadian civilian efforts.

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