I have often maintained that the Conservatives take unnecessary political risks in Canada. So when I heard today that Canada may keep 1000 troops in Afghanistan after July of 2011 I thought this was another one. Would the Conservatives pay politically for maintaining a presence in Afghanistan when most Canadians would just like to see the end of that?
That may have been answered a little bit later in the day when I heard an NDP member of Parliament openly muse that the Conservatives must have a deal with the Liberals otherwise they would have never brought this up publicly. Needless to say as the day wore on the details got a little bit more forthcoming about what the Canadian government is planning to do in Afghanistan. According to the CBC up to 750 trainers and at least 200 support staff would work outside the combat zone at a training academy or large training facility for Afghan soldiers and police officers. They would remain there until 2014.
When I heard this news I was very disappointed. While I thought our goals were noble in going to Afghanistan several years ago I’ve often thought lately the gig is up. I really don’t see any reason for Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan, taking part in a combat role for NATO when the cause has become blurry. Afghanistan has always been a potpourri of instability and I cannot see this changing. I felt when July 2011 rolled around it was the best to get out.
It is completely obvious that the Canadian government is feeling some pressure on this from their other NATO allies. The Americans have actually boosted troop numbers and not having Canada in Afghanistan is seen as a big negative. Somewhere in the mix there has been enough pressure applied on the Canadians that they are trying to massage their way out of Afghanistan, with the token presence to train some troops. Even though I would like to get everybody out of there, this might be the next best thing. There are many other places in the world that need Canadian participation such as the Congo but it seems Afghanistan is increasingly hard to walk away from. I can assume we will expect a government announcement within the next few days on what actually is going to happen.
At the same time today I learned that Dubai is going to require Canadians to get Visas in order to pass through our go there. For your loyal scribe this is a bit personal because I have actually been to Dubai and was granted a visitors Visa while I was there. The visa restrictions for Canadians which will start on January 2, 2011 is seen as a result of the continuing to and fro between the Canadian and UAE governments over the landing rights for Emirates aircraft. The UAE has effectively kicked out the Canadians from Camp Mirage, as a staging ground for the war in Afghanistan and now this. It seems to be quite an escalation from the UAE in snubbing Canadians.
When I was in Dubai the airport was full of people from all around the world. In fact Dubai was seen, as a popular destination because of it’s the lack of visa requirements for almost everybody in that part of the world. For many people in Asia travel is required into Europe to get almost anywhere else and there are Visa requirements. Dubai did not have that and it is one reason Emirates Airlines has emerged as a leading air carrier around the world.
At the time of my last journey to Bangladesh I traveled on Emirates Airlines mainly because I could get to Bangladesh in 16 hours flight time from Toronto. This cut off 13 hours from the journey. At the time Emirates Airlines had two flights a week. Emirates would like to have daily service from Toronto as well as some other Canadian cities. Air Canada cried foul and here we are now with visa restrictions, Camp Mirage closed and much tension.
To me things could be handled better. For instance these actions by the UAE seemed quite extreme from a Canadian perspective. Simply put, in Canada we are not used to being treated like that. We are used to the notion that people like Canadians, so when the UAE slaps on Visa restrictions and closes down a military base it must really mean something. In my mind it means somebody in the Conservative government has dropped the ball. The same might be now true in Afghanistan.
It is all messy business. What would Wilfred Laurier think of Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan and Visa restrictions put on Canadians by an oil-rich Sheikdom in the Persian Gulf? He’d probably say what are we doing over there? I’m wondering the same thing.