Pubdate: Fri, 23 Mar 2007
Source: Port Hope Evening Guide (CN ON)
Page: A23
Copyright: 2007 Port Hope Evening Guide
Author: Scott Taylor
Bookmark: (Poppy)


Last week, even before the Senlis Council released its latest survey 
on the situation in southern Afghanistan, the Canadian defence 
establishment was already circling the wagons.

A flurry of e-mails was dispatched to the mailing list of the 
Conference of Defence Associations (CDA), alerting its members to the 
fact that previous Senlis Council findings "have been less than 
positive about this mission." Presumably, in the eyes of the CDA, the 
publishing of negative assessments automatically damages the 
credibility of the independent Senlis Council.

That's right old chaps, the army says we're winning the war, so thump 
those tubs and drown out any and all naysayers!

Unfortunately for those who wish it were otherwise, the Senlis 
Council is the real deal. I had the opportunity to travel with them 
in Kandahar in January and to observe their collection of data 
first-hand. As one of the few remaining non-governmental agencies 
still operating outside the wire in the Taliban heartland, Senlis 
members compile their research at great personal risk. All staff 
members travel armed and dress as local Pashtuns. For example, the 
founder of the organization, Saskatchewan-born Norine MacDonald, 
disguises her gender by dressing as an Afghan boy. Additional 
security is provided by a couple of dozen Afghan guards and a pair of 
South African security consultants.

Nevertheless, the Senlis Council realize their ability to operate 
unhindered in the Kandahar area comes as a result of the trust 
they've established with the local warlords and tribal leaders. While 
their primary purpose is not to provide humanitarian aid, Senlis will 
use the distribution of food and medicine to refugee camps in order 
to conduct their fact-finding surveys.

Last fall, as a result of having personally canvassed a large number 
of Afghan farmers, Senlis tabled a recommendation for the 
international community to purchase the illegal poppy crops rather 
than using military resources to enforce their eradication. According 
to Senlis, subsequent conversion of these opiates into legal 
pharmaceutical products would eliminate the problem of street drugs 
and it would not deprive the poppy farmers of their basic livelihood.

Despite the common-sense logic of this proposal, when it was tabled 
the Colonel Blimps immediately took to the airwaves to denounce the 
Senlis Council. To purchase poppies from druglords would be insane 
they harrumphed. As a chorus they denounced such measures by saying 
they would simply empower the enemy and undermine the war effort. 
What they didn't realize was that the Senlis solution to the illegal 
drug production was a carbon-copy of what NATO commanders had 
concluded two years ago. Unfortunately, the major pharmaceutical 
companies felt that such a sudden glut of cheap opiates would flood 
the world market and adversely affect their corporate profits. But I digress.

In their most recent report, Senlis concludes that persistent poverty 
and a growing disillusionment with NATO troops is pushing Afghans 
into supporting the Taliban. After polling some 17,000 Afghan males 
in the southern provinces it was estimated that 27 per cent of 
respondents openly support the insurgency, and just 48 per cent 
believe that NATO can win the war. The rare feedback Senlis has 
provided should not be glibly dismissed.

In fact, if the CDA tub-thumpers would pause their clamouring for a 
minute to consider the results, they would have to admit the Senlis 
findings mirror the situation on the ground. The Taliban have 
certainly been resurgent in southern Afghanistan over the past 12 
months as evidenced by the dramatic increase in suicide bombings. As 
the fighting drags on between NATO forces and the insurgents, it is 
only logical that the local inhabitants would grow resentful of the 
coalition's apparent inability to provide a secure environment.

The Taliban may not seem like a very attractive option, but if they 
are offering to feed the families of their new recruits, they become 
a desperate means of survival.

Rather than dismiss Senlis reports before they're even published, 
NATO should consider the intelligence value they provide and use it 
to better understand the local sentiment.

- ---

Former Canadian soldier Scott Taylor is editor of Esprit de Corps 
military magazine and author of 000, and Among the Others: Encounters 
with the Forgotten Turkmen of Iraq.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom