National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

Coverage and analysis of events in the modern era are so fast paced that we can almost be forgiven for casting aside stories that were so impactful only a few years ago.  One of these narratives was central enough to the Canadian context that it consumed years of front-page interest until it was suddenly relegated to distant memory.

The conflict in Afghanistan cost Canada billions of dollars and took the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers.  Over 2000 soldiers were wounded, some in serious condition.  Seven Canadian civilians were also killed — a diplomat, four aid workers, a government contractor and a journalist.  By the time it was all over and Canada had pulled out of Afghanistan on March 15, 2004, Canadians, their politicians, and their journalists were ready to move on.  The promises to the Afghan people in those early years of 9/11 receded in our collective memory.

The problem is that the issues of Afghanistan won’t go away, especially where the Taliban are concerned.  Their campaign to fill in the vacuum left following the west’s departure has gone on non-stop, and the results have been devastating.

Almost the entire Afghan population – 98% – is short of food, and starvation is spreading.  The former British politician and now head of the International Rescue Committee, David Milliband, recently stated that hunger could kill more Afghans than the war did.  He reminds anyone who will listen that this isn’t your typical rich vs. poor scenario.  Virtually everyone in the country is hungry.  That’s how much the Taliban has devastated the country’s economy and its capacity to rebuild.

Western nations, in part from the collective guilt experienced by abandoning a country in crisis, have poured millions in humanitarian aid since their departure, Canada among them.  But such influxes of assistance can do little when a government remains unconcerned, and an economy has tanked.

Despite the Taliban’s assurance that girls could continue to attend secondary schools, Taliban leaders recently reversed that decision, leaving thousands of girls with no hope for advancement.  Rapes and beatings continue, unchallenged.  Part of the reason we hear so little of this chaos can be linked to the violent detention of journalists and the closing of media outlets.

And now, it has been published that the Taliban has shut down the country’s human rights commission, closing off hopes of redress from lawless government crimes.  It didn’t end there.  Also closed were the high council for national reconciliation, the national security council, and the commission for overseeing the implementation of the Afghan constitution.

These are serious developments, harbingers of a barbarous age ahead.  A stream of commentators has repeatedly noted that these were the injustices the western military coalition promised to defeat during their occupation.  Some progress was made in those years, but now all bets are off as the nation recedes into the same darker age from which it had hoped to emerge.

It remains essential to talk about such developments since so many sacrifices were made by soldiers, civilians, journalists and Canadian taxpayers in what became this country’s longest war.  Serious efforts were put into freeing that distant country from oppression but, of course, that only works in such tumultuous situations if nations stick around to guarantee success.  That didn’t happen, and memories of those promises have been eclipsed by financial and environmental challenges and the crisis in Ukraine.

Afghanistan was a dedicated venture by Canada to push back the darker forces.  It wasn’t a victory, but it has become a lesson that promises made might not be promises kept and that the fallout can be just as severe, if not worse, than what preceded it.  We can only hope that similar mistakes are not made in our participation with Ukraine’s fight for survival.

Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.
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