Afghanistan: Canada can make a difference.

Author:Cardy, Dominic

Afghanistan's so-called marriage law, much discussed in recent months, is a disgrace. It leads us to ask why Canadian and other soldiers are dying to support a government that denies women the freedom to control their own bodies. Reports about warlords in President Hamid Karzai's cabinet, prosperous opium farms and graft cracking the foundation of an economy our aid dollars are supposed to be reinforcing raise similar questions.

But the debate should not be about who is better, Karzai or the Taliban; the debate should be about Canada. What do we stand for, a country of 32 million in a world of more than six billion? Why did we send soldiers to this faraway point on the planet? And if we can answer those questions, and they lead us to see an obligation in Afghanistan, what should we be doing there?

Accidents of old empires favoured Canada with borders that allow us to be small-minded. We pretend the world's problems are far away, and enjoy the protection of our oceans and the Americans. Our self-image as humanitarians and peacekeepers is sentimentality, not internationalism. The reality is that our development programs are modest, our diplomatic footprint is small and our military suffers from erratic support and direction. We have benefited from good luck, but are now reluctant to share it with others.

Where we are blessed, Afghanistan is cursed. It lies in a tidal zone of struggle between world powers: Persian, British, Soviet, American. Waves of conflict have scoured the country, stripping it of everything except the most hardened political organisms. Afghan villages are fortified barnacles that have survived. They are led by conservatives because most people who are repeatedly attacked tend to become conservative, wary for good reasons of strangers and new ideas. Where we benefited from the Enlightenment, from the struggles between religion and secularism, left and right, Afghanistan has seen the modern world as a legacy of weapons left behind by foreign armies.

Are the rights we enjoy universally relevant?

Great powers are forced by their range of global interests to be hypocrites, doing one thing in one country while advocating the opposite somewhere else. The United States has to justify engagement with Iran, isolation for Cuba and free trade for all unless it threatens U.S. markets. As a small country, Canada has the option of being consistent, of reflecting its principles in its foreign policy. We have a power born of our small size and the protection...

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