Afghanistan: a mea culpa, and a growing sense of worry

Earlier this week I mocked Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon for “taking the weekend off” while extraordinary change was roiling Pakistan. Turns out he was preparing for a trip to Afghanistan, or en route. I know that when you’re about to fly to Afghanistan, it certainly doesn’t feel like taking the weekend off. I’m sorry I wrote what I did.

And now this. Stockwell Day was also on the trip, and he said something really worrisome because it is profoundly out of step with the reality on the ground, and he’s the chairman of the cabinet committee on Afghanistan, and he’s not supposed to be living in Fantasyland.

Mr. Day said he was encouraged by the security situation in Kandahar. The people of the city “are actually beginning to see enough stability that relative prosperity and economic progress is now within their grasp.”

There is simply no objective support for this assertion. The Canadian government has polled on the specific question of Kandaharis’ sense of security; it’s plummetting. As the Globe story points out:

In fact, a press conference with Mr. Day and Mr. Cannon on Sunday had to be moved from the governor’s palace in downtown Kandahar to the PRT grounds for security reasons…

A report by the Canadian government released on March 4 found that security in Kandahar deteriorated in late 2008 as Taliban militants stepped up their attacks and crime spiked.

“In Afghanistan generally, and in Kandahar specifically, security conditions remained especially dangerous and by some measures deteriorated during the quarter,” the report said.

But this is Stockwell Day, isn’t it. I’ve sat in a Centre Block press theatre twice for the release of the government’s quarterly reports on progress in Afghanistan; felt the sinking feeling as nameless officials leave the podium to be replaced by Day; known that that moment marks the end of pertinent answers and the return of… of… of answers from Stockwell Day. As Geddes pointed out last time, if you blame enough quarterly reports on “seasonal” violence, pretty soon you’ll have a full year of bad seasons.

Deaths of coalition soldiers are a handy proxy for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, because the same thing — IEDs — is now doing most of the killing. For coalition troops, January was the deadliest January since this all began in 2001. February was the deadliest February. And March is on track to be the deadliest March.

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