Political settlement only exit strategy: senator

OTTAWA — A diplomatic offensive must accompany the renewal of NATO’s military campaign, otherwise the nearly eight-year-old war in Afghanistan is doomed to fail, a Liberal senator said Monday.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal

OTTAWA — A diplomatic offensive must accompany the renewal of NATO’s military campaign, otherwise the nearly eight-year-old war in Afghanistan is doomed to fail, a Liberal senator said Monday.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in the war-ravaged country is asking for more troops and a fundamental refocusing of the alliance’s efforts. But the head of the Senate defence committee says every expert in counter-insurgency warfare will tell you that a political settlement is the only real exit strategy.

Senator Colin Kenny said he’s seen no sign that either Washington or Ottawa is interested in backing a serious push by the Afghan government toward reconciliation.

The political line in Canada has been that the Conservative government does not talk with the Taliban and negotiations with insurgents are the responsibility of President Hamid Karzai.

“I certainly from Day 1 thought (Defence Minister Peter) MacKay was a nitwit to suggest we should not be talking to the Taliban,” said Kenny, who raised the ire of politicians and the military by comparing Canada’s role in the Afghan conflict to the failed U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

“It’s foolish to think you can bring something like this to an end without talking to the folks on the other side.”

Karzai’s government tried as late as last spring to open a dialogue with senior Taliban leaders at meetings in the United Arab Emirates, under the watchful eye of the Saudis. The effort foundered and was treated dismissively by the western allies.

Former Canadian diplomat Louis Delvoie said he can’t think of an insurgency in the last 50 years that has ended with a total military victory.

“Everybody always swore they weren’t going to talk to these terrorists,” Delvoie, who’s taught at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“The Americans swore they would never talk to the Viet Cong. They did. The Israelis repeatedly swore they’d never talk to the PLO. They did.

“Somebody once said there’s no purpose talking to your friends if you want to resolve a conflict because you have to talk to your enemies.”

Many experts say a strategy of talking and fighting is something the Pashtuns, the dominant Afghan tribe, respect.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McCrystal did not attach a figure to his call for more troops, but said more would be needed in order to refocus the military on protecting Afghan civilians and building up the country’s fledgling army.

“Inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced,” McChrystal is quoted as saying in a confidential assessment leaked to the Washington Post.

The Canadian army’s recently completed manual on counter-insurgency warfare plainly states a political settlement is the only way out of such brush wars. It says the underlying grievances that inspire the guerrillas must be addressed.

“I think a negotiated settlement is the best we could hope for,” said Kenny, who has been a staunch supporter of the military and the war in the past.

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