Every year Pugwash and Science for Peace have a joint day of lectures and discussions in memory of Eric Fawcett (see photo), a University of Toronto physicist who belonged to Pugwash and was the founding president of Science for Peace. In Toronto, most people who belong to Pugwash also belong to Science for Peace, as I do. Yesterday was our Eric Fawcett Day, and we had four lectures, four simultaneous break-out groups, and a lecture by Claude Le Blanc from the ministry of national defence, updating us on Canadian defence policy.
I was rapporteur for the whole day, which means that tomorrow I must try to tease out the deepest messages from all the notes I took, then prepare a report to send to the government. Naturally, all the presentations were exercises in worrying, except the one by Mr. Le Blanc, which was probably meant to reassure us by expressing the position of the Conservative government. It did not.
Walter Dorn probably expressed the mood of the audience best, and when the break-out groups assembled, I was in the one that picked up on his issue and carried it forward. It was about the policy regarding Afghanistan, where some 2,000 Canadian troops are engaged in a bloody civil war. The whole issue is the top story in the news every day.
Walter had been asked to serve in Kandahar to head the civilian reconstruction team. He refused, saying that he did not agree with the approach they were taking. On that very day, the person whom he would have replaced was killed. In Walter's opinion, the best role for Canada was to moderate the military retaliatory action of the United States toward Afghanistan. Instead, Canada has simply encouraged the United States.
Referring to a typology of birds, Walter's own position is neither that of hawks nor doves, but of owls. The "hawk" view is simplistic — freedom versus the Taliban — and it encourages extremists by polarizing the two sides. Hawks insist that we must win the war. Yet they create more enemies than they destroy. Doves, on the other hand, seeing the needless deaths caused by the hawks, would simply withdraw and abandon the efforts to save Afghanistan.
But withdrawal leaves a vacuum, says Walter Dorn, as happened when the Soviets abruptly withdrew from Afghanistan. The same thing happened in Somalia, which is now being taken over by Islamists.
Thus the owls prefer to look for human security, neither by "staying the course" nor abandoning it, but by changing it. This is complicated but not impossible. Dorn recommends the "ten percent solution." In Kandahar now, 90 percent of our effort is going into combat. The money flows through corrupt hands. Instead, we should do ten percent combat and 90 percent reconstruction.
This could be done by creating zones of peace. What was done in Kabul was a good working model, but instead of following that approach elsewhere, the military went into Kandahar with a mailed fist. Dorn would have Canada withdraw somewhat from Kandahar and deploy into areas where there is more receptivity. Leave some areas ungoverned until one can convince the people in those areas that they want to belong.
In the break-out group, someone described Walter's approach as the establishment of "citadels of peace, order, and good government." The Canadian military would be confined to protecting these citadels rather than spreading throughout the country. Its objective would be defence, not offence — some military expansion, but with elements of peacekeeping.
Not everyone in the group readily accepted Dorn's proposals. In fact, the rest of the conversation amounted to a controversy about how much military force will continue to be needed in Afghanistan. This involved comparisons with similar historical cases. There was one comment, for example, that portrayed this approach as parallel to the "strategic villages" approach in Vietnam, which was disastrous. These "zones of peace" were seen as islands that relied on the corrupt government of South Vietnam, which was supported by the US. But, Dorn replied, the problem in Vietnam was that there was too much of an aggressive edge, which invited retaliation.
There were other comparisons made to Guatemala and the Congo. In Guatemala, a number of peace villages emerged that declared themselves to be on neither side of the conflict. They announced that they would not harbor soldiers on either side. Yet these were not altogether successful. Some of them were bombed by the government for declaring neutrality. A few were successful, others not.
Max Kelly was the main person in the group who doubted whether force could be reduced as much as Dorn and Sergei Plekhanov wanted. In the Congo, he said, the French went in, proclaimed the existence of a "weapon free zone," and suppressed the violence. But in Afghanistan, how can you control the suicide bombers, who are invisible?
Dorn replied: Only by winning the hearts and minds of the people, who will inform you about suicide bombers.
More doubts were expressed: How can you win hearts and minds after all this violence? NATO has bombed and killed 70 people in one single recent raid.
Dorn replied: We just have to apologize and withdraw slowly from Kandahar. It will be embarrassing for the hawks, but it is the only way.
Yet another comparison was made now: this time to Malaya, where there was once a successful counterinsurgency by the British rulers. The struggle lasted twelve years. In the early phases, they made many mistakes by using overwhelming force. The success came later, when they took a paramilitary, rather than military, approach. They were more like police, with people walking the beat and using intelligence and only a minimum of necessary force.
Walter Dorn agreed with this model. He added that the last rebels did not give up until the 1980s. The important thing, though, was that Britain granted independence to Malaya. They were able to start winning hearts and minds with "soft touch sanctions." They didn't starve people, but made it more difficult for them. They frisked grannies for weapons. This is the right approach in Afghanistan today.
I mentioned the recommendations of Siddiq Weera, the Afghan physician who has been urging Canada to return to a peacekeeping, policing role, protecting civilians in cities while also organizing negotiations with the Taliban and warlords. This model seems to have a great deal in common with Walter Dorn's suggestions. It is an idea that Sergei Plekhanov has also been promoting.
Yet there were still expressions of misgivings in the group. For example, Max reminded us that when the UN mission took a traditional reactive approach in the Congo, it was a failure. Violence spiraled and overwhelmed their ability to police the situation. There's some danger in going too far when shifting to the soft approach, he insisted. We may not want to cede the entire countryside because that will give power to the Taliban and the warlords. The cities might lose access to food crops.
Walter Dorn conceded that it is unclear how large the zones of peace should be. That's a scientific calculation to work out. There could, indeed, be some attacks on the cities. Still, the idea of establishing protected areas goes back to the British, who said that sometimes it's not feasible to carry on administration everywhere. In some places, you have to cede power to local leaders.
Sergei argued that Afghans have to make Afghanistan for themselves. The government still does not have complete legitimacy. The Pashtuns remain the base of the Taliban, who were simply thrown out of power, much as the Baathists were thrown out of power in Iraq. This creates a problem of legitimacy. Only two weeks ago did NATO give a green light to Pakistan to negotiate with the Taliban. Karzai is a Pashtun, but he's viewed as an American; the Taliban boycotted the election. The solution is, as Siddiq Weera has suggested, to create something that is truly representative. This can only be done through a real peace process with all the important forces sitting at the table. Hold a Loya Jirga to determine who will sit at the table.
There are also important forces to pay attention to outside the country — obviously most of all in Pakistan. The Pashtuns are a divided nation. The treaty that settled the border between them has expired, so Pakistan's government cannot use much force against the Taliban. It's militarily impossible. Therefore, it is necessary to bring the neighbors into the discussion too. NATO doesn't want to deal with Iran with regard to Afghanistan, but it and all the other neighbors have constituencies inside Afghanistan.