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Taliban in transition

Brigadier-general Denis Thompson, newly returned from Kandahar province, thinks that if we disarm the Taliban, peace will come.



Protesters took to the streets of London last week as suits from the world's richest countries pondered the economic meltdown. Demonstrators held up four big horse puppets to represent greed, war, climate chaos and poverty---the four faces of a world crisis brought on by a corrupt political and economic system driven by money, media, militarism and madness. The demonstrations continued in France as NATO marked its 60th anniversary. The US-led military alliance is currently hammering the daylights out of Afghanistan, a desperately poor country where tens of thousands have been forced from their homes by violence and hunger.

In February, Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal for humanitarian assistance. "The US and the international community should adopt an approach that emphasizes the rights and well-being of the Afghan people and not just focus on a military solution," said Sam Zarifi, the group's Asia-Pacific director. Unfortunately, his plea fell on deaf ears. US commander-in-chief B. Obama is increasing the number of American troops in Afghanistan this year from 38,000 to 68,000. Eleven aid agencies, including Oxfam and CARE, issued a report warning that stepping up the war will force more Afghan civilians from their homes and restrict their access to health care and education while making it harder for aid workers to reach those in need of protection and assistance.

Unluckily for the aid agencies, the release of their report coincided with news that Afghan president Karzai had signed a new law severely restricting women's rights. Torrents of outrage poured from the NATO pols' larynxes. "The equality of men and women goes to the heart of our value system," huffed well-known feminist Stephen Harper. The Canadian PM showed a rare flash of satirical humour when he warned Karzai to scrap the new law or NATO would stop rebuilding Afghanistan. Karzai, once hailed as an Afghan glamour boy, is now on Obama's shit list for demanding that the US halt its air raids on Afghan villages. "We cannot win the fight against terrorism with air strikes," Karzai said shortly after the US election in November. "This is my first demand of the new president of the United States---to put an end to civilian casualties." The ungrateful Afghan leader also demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and called for negotiations with the Taliban. No wonder Obama dispatched VP Joe Biden to Kabul to give Karzai a verbal spanking. No wonder secretary of state Hillary Clinton described Afghanistan as a "narco state." No wonder Stephen Harper informed CNN last month that, "we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency." So why are we fighting the goddamn war then?

Luckily, I got a chance to ask that question to brigadier-general Denis Thompson, newly returned from Kandahar province, where he served for nine months as commander of Canadian and NATO forces. The brigadier-general, clad in blotchy, brown battle fatigues, is on a publicity tour to talk up the progress we're making in training the Afghan military and police to disarm the Taliban. Thompson explained that once Taliban insurgents are deprived of their weapons, they'll be forced to become an opposition political party. Here's how he explained it: "If the insurgents or the Taliban are marginalized by removing their arms and by making them transition from being the armed opposition to the government to just being another opposition party to the government, then they are clearly at the mercy of the democratic process in Afghanistan and as such, they'd actually have to deliver something to the population in order to win them over."

Truth to tell, I left the interview a bit skeptical, but having pondered the BGen's wise words, I can now declare I'm absolutely convinced---and you should be too. No need for messy anti-war street demos. No need to worry about mounting Canadian or Afghan casualties. Professional police and troop training will save the day. Hip, hooray! Two cheers for Afghan democracy.

Correction: We butchered Aaron Mckenzie Fraser's name in a photo credit last week. We apologize.

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