23 October 2007

Canada in Afghanistan: The answer isn't easy.

There is no quick and easy solution to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan according to an army captain visiting Sheridan College Nov. 30

Captain Tom St. Denis, a Vietnam vet for the Australian army and current media operations officer for the Canadian army, spoke to The Sheridan Sun Online briefly about the current situation in Afghanistan.

Considering his experience, St. Denis responded to the parallels being drawn between Vietnam and the current situation in Afghanistan.

“I think if you’re talking macro, what they’re talking about is a quagmire. It’s a very simple comparison to make. It falls apart when you look at details,” said St. Denis.

One difference, he explained, is the motivation behind the conflicts.

“The North Vietnamese were nationalists trying to reunite their country. For them it was a very secular conflict. It reached religious proportions in some degree. Because they were certainly prepared, right at the end, for another 30 years of war. However long it took.”

There has been controversy surrounding whether or not democracy can overcome what is happening in Afghanistan. St. Denis thinks it is achievable, but it will take time and understanding.

“You can’t just say ‘let’s give everyone a cell phone, an SUV, a flat screen colour television, and then we’ll call them 21st century people,’” said St. Denis. “I tell people ‘look, you have to understand that the year is not 2007 everywhere in the world’. Some places that I have been it’s 1462. If you enter a situation with that in mind, then it starts to make sense.”

St. Denis continues.

“From 1462, look what we had to do. Factor in two global wars and all the rest of it. These are people who gave you enlightenment, Mozart and architecture. So let’s not expect too much of people who still build mud brick houses.”

St. Denis is stressing the fact that the solutions, while there may be some, are not simple.

“You have to think in terms of whole government approach. That’s one of the things Canada is pursuing is whole government,” said St. Denis. “We are only one arm of the government. The army can only do very, very limited things.”

Limited, but important.

“What we can do is create a secure environment. By enormous effort, and some deaths, we can create a secure environment,” said St. Denis. “We can hold back the water, if you will, while other people build. That’s where whole government comes in.”

Among all of the necessary steps in establishing a free nation, there is one that cannot be rushed or forced.

“You can’t suddenly say ‘OK, we’ve trained the national police in Afghanistan so therefore the people should trust them.’ The people are going to trust them several generations from now but they’ve got no reason to now,” said St. Denis. “What we have to do is help them establish these institutions corruption free, to the point where their own people believe in them. Really unconsciously believe in them.”