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CTV: Author urges Canada to rethink Afghanistan


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Personally I think this guy is ignoring the military implications of surrendering the countryside and the south. Might as well hand over the whole country to the Taliban.
We saw in Kandahar province what happens when you surrender the countryside to the Taliban, they entrench themselves and threathen the cities. Fortunately before they launched a large attack for Kandahar City, 1 RCR BG smashed them with help of the U.S. TF Grizzly and NATO airpower.

Author urges Canada to rethink Afghanistan

Updated Wed. Oct. 3 2007 3:57 PM ET

Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- NATO has bitten off far more than it can chew in Afghanistan while expounding a "strange, dishonest rhetoric'' that overstates progress as much as it builds false hope, says former British diplomat and best-selling author Rory Stewart.

Canada should help lead a major refocus on parts of the country, namely in the North, that actually support democratic reform and development, he says.

"NATO has set itself up for failure by taking on far more than it could possibly achieve,'' he said Wednesday during a visit to Ottawa.

"Canada's great challenge is to identify three or four things that could realistically be done with the kind of resources, commitment and will that we have. And to make sure we achieve them in a way that leaves Canadian people feeling proud, NATO feeling that it's done something and, most important of all, the Afghans feeling that they've gotten something out of this intervention.''

Those three or four things may include efforts to improve education and infrastructure in Kabul and other relatively peaceful zones where such development is welcome, Stewart says.

Military action could be channelled to keep insurgents from controlling major cities, he suggests, while special forces could perhaps be used to monitor religious schools that double as training centres for terrorists.

That would leave huge swaths of the South without the kind of development that some Afghans want, he concedes.

"You can only do what you can do.''

Citizens who want greater freedoms and services may eventually gravitate toward centres where they've been allowed to flourish, he says.

Stewart, 34, now lives in Kabul after increasingly harrowing diplomatic stints in Indonesia, Montenegro and finally Iraq. He set off in 2000 on a 10,000-kilometre walk across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal that became the subject of his acclaimed memoir The Places in Between.

He says Afghans -- like everyone else -- want basic freedoms and a say in who governs them.

But many will never support a central government or free market, especially in the insurgent south where centuries-old tribal codes still shape an Islamic society that deeply mistrusts strangers, let alone foreigners.

The Conservative government wants to extend Canada's combat role past February 2009, but all three opposition parties have said they'll block it. Against the political backdrop of a potential election, the matter could be intensely debated this fall.

From politicians to military leaders and diplomatic brass, the mantra on Afghanistan has been to hold the course. Progress is being made. Failure means a regression to the extremist anti-West forces that helped incubate 9-11.

Stewart says few people are willing to take the flak that goes with pointing out that proponents of the current Afghan mission are hopelessly optimistic in their belief that enough cash and good will can turn a fundamentally Islamic state into a Western-style democracy, .

Besides, Afghanistan does not hold the anti-terrorism key, he adds. Another 9-11 could be planned in an apartment pretty much anywhere in the world.

"What on Earth are we doing in terms of state building?'' he asks.

"Having fooled ourselves that all you need is more money and more troops . . . let's try to redefine the problem and find a more honest, realistic objective.''

Stewart, who briefly served as an officer in the British army, would like to see much more open discussion on a topic that makes scapegoats of naysayers.

"If you point out that our state-building enterprise is not working, people will quite quickly accuse you of being a reactionary or even a racist. They will try to suggest that if you raise problems, you're being denigrating towards Afghans, that you're not respecting the sacrifice of the troops.

"Anybody engaged in this debate comes under a lot of pressure from the military, from diplomats and from the Afghan government itself to try to suggest that everything is going well when it's not.''
So essentially, this dude is advocating that Afghanistan be partitioned into two.

Genius. Just pure genius
I saw the guy on CTV, isn't he the guy who walked across the middle east? Or is it another guy?

Look, I think him walking everywhere is a great idea, but he appeared to be doing it for the wrong reason, to promote himself and his newest book, not the Afghanistan people.

Now, I have never been to Afghanistan, but why is an author being given more press time than our military? I talked to a person who had been in Afghanistan with the military, she gave me a true idea of what it was like there. Maybe some military people, who have retired could write a book too. A realistic book.

And his stance hasn't affected his ability to get CAN tax dollars, either (not that it should, but this is for critics who suggest it might), shared with the usual disclaimer....

The treasures of Turquoise Mountain
Canadian-funded plan aims at breathing new life into ancient culture

Olivia Ward, Toronto Star, 14 Oct 07
Article link

In Afghanistan, ragged gashes cut through the cliffs of Bamiyan, where giant Buddha statues that symbolized an age of culture and tolerance once towered.

The Taliban's bombing of the 5th-century Buddhas outraged the world and became an image of the annihilation of Afghanistan's past, as though the claws of war had reached back in time to shred the very identity of its people.

But deliberate destruction accounts for only a fraction of the losses of Afghanistan's cultural treasures. Greed, opportunism and dire poverty have propelled armies of looters through the country's museums and archaeological sites, stripping away thousands of years of cultural history.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's artists and artisans fled decades of warfare and repression, and most of those who remained were forced to abandon their work for the art of day-to-day survival.

Former British diplomat Rory Stewart saw the sacking of Afghanistan's culture first-hand, walking through the country shortly after the 2001 rout of the Taliban. Two years ago, he returned to set up a project aimed at replacing some of the losses and rebuilding a centuries-old culture.

Last week, Stewart's Turquoise Mountain Foundation was awarded a $3 million grant from the Canadian government to train new artists and restore Kabul's crumbling old market district of Murad Khane.

For Oxford-educated Stewart, a long love affair with Afghanistan's rich history culminated in a near-fatal odyssey through mountains and plains in the dead of winter, following a trail of destruction and dilapidation.

In west central Afghanistan, Stewart made one of his saddest discoveries: a site that may be that of the legendary Turquoise Mountain, a city built in the 12th century by the Persian-linked Ghorids, who presided over a Silk Road trading empire boasting exquisite Asian art and crafts.

In his book The Places in Between, Stewart lamented that it was too late to save the remains of the site, burned out by the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan and plundered by modern villagers who sold its unique artifacts to antiquities dealers for a few dollars.

But on returning to Afghanistan in 2005, he says, "I realized that the skills so triumphantly displayed at Turquoise Mountain were not entirely lost."

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture was helping to restore historic neighbourhoods of Kabul, where Stewart witnessed an Afghan craftsman, 73-year-old Ustad Abdul Hadi, carving a "crisp Islamic screen" and viewed the painstaking work of traditional calligraphers and potters.

But other areas of Kabul were in danger, including Murad Khane, which flourished in the 18th century but now is without paved roads, water or sewers, its buildings slumping precariously.

Stewart was determined to save it from total ruin.

It helped that Britain's Prince Charles was an old acquaintance who once hired him to tutor sons William and Harry.

An architecture enthusiast who shared Stewart's passion for preserving traditional Afghan arts and architecture, Charles met with President Hamid Karzai to discuss the possibilities.

For expertise he turned to Stewart, who had a plan and the background to carry it out.

Already experienced in restoration projects as a coalition deputy governor in southern Iraq, he saw the restoration of the old marketplace in the town of Amara win applause from local merchants and a carpentry school in Nasiriyah take "200 unemployed and often radical men from the streets and trained them in basic joinery.

"Almost all of them subsequently found work."

It was a blueprint for Afghanistan – and the Turquoise Mountain Foundation.

"This means that this city will be ready to welcome the citizens and artists of Afghanistan with restored buildings, improved infrastructure and a refurbished cultural centre," said International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, as the grant was announced last week in Kabul.

The Murad Khane restoration is "a project that would honour local culture rather than attacking it," Stewart says, adding that it would be "quick, flexible and visible and would generate as much employment as possible."

When Afghans see no progress, he points out, they quickly place the blame on Western countries that present themselves as rescuers.

But Stewart's plan was also risky.

It could be dismissed as fanciful by embittered Afghans who've suffered years of trauma and destitution.

And the owners of the crumbling edifices could see more profit in "McBuildings" than in carefully restored heritage sites.

With Afghans' general loss of skills – not to mention basic literacy – rebuilding also means a large-scale crash re-education program.

The project has passed its first tests.

It is regenerating the old town, saving historical buildings and setting up galleries for traditional craft businesses that could be Kabul's future Yorkville.

For now, a school and a health clinic have opened, new sewage drains have been laid and local men can find construction and garbage-clearing jobs that need no training.

Meanwhile, the foundation has attracted some of Afghanistan's greatest craft masters to teach new students almost-lost arts of woodcarving, calligraphy and ceramics at a Centre for Traditional Afghan Arts and Architecture. And it is reviving the trade in high-end Afghan products to compete on the world design market.

For Canada, which is struggling to chart a course in Afghanistan through a thorny path of bad news, Turquoise Mountain may be a peak experience.

"This is a project which can have real symbolic and political significance for the international community," Stewart says.

"It is a project that will bring a better life to poor men and women. It is also a chance for Canada to demonstrate its respect for Afghan culture and leave something that hopefully Afghans and Canadians will be able to point to with pride in 50 years' time."