Can you wrap democracy as a present and give it to a country that has been run by a dictator for decades?
Canada recently hauled down its flag at NATO headquarters in Kabul, formally ending 12 years of military involvement in Afghanistan that cost 158 military lives, a journalist, a diplomat, and two Canadian civil workers.
Canadian politicians believe the operation in Afghanistan was worth the lives lost and the dollars spent.
"From the first arrival of our ships in the Persian Gulf, to our combat and leadership roles in Kandahar Province, to our most recent training operation in Kabul, the contribution of the CAF will be honored by Canadians as we express our heartfelt thanks for the strength of this commitment," said Minister of National Defense Rob Nicholson in a statement that marked the occasion.
However, after more than a decade of Western interventions, Afghanistan is still a war-torn land, a country covered with checkpoints, barbed wires, concrete blast walls and daily explosions.
The United Nation reports a 24 percent increase in violence in Afghanistan over the last three months and the BBC reports on negative economic growth.
More than 20,000 cases of violence in Afghanistan in 2013 alone have been noted by the United Nations. Armed violence has increased by 51 percent compared to 2012. Over 3,000 civilians have died and more than 5,000 have been injured. Insurgents target the military, the government and civilians almost daily.
The Western countries who went to Afghanistan speak proudly of the impact they have had, of a new Afghanistan and of the well-trained national army they are going to leave behind. But thirteen years on, this country that has a long history of war and conflict is nowhere close to real peace.
The story in Iraq isn’t any different. It took US troops only three weeks to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, but it took them eight years of daily battles with insurgent groups to stabilize the country. Meanwhile Shiite and Sunni militias were at each other’s throats, killing, bombing and kidnapping tens of thousands of civilians. Violence became part of the everyday life.
It certainly isn’t entirely the fault of the Americans. In Afghanistan and in Iraq, the violence stems from unresolved feuds that sometimes, as in the case of Iraq, are suppressed by a dictator’s iron fist.
If Iraq and Afghanistan had good institutions and solid education systems, they would have been able to stand on their feet and use the devastating wars as a new chapter in their lives. But with a history of repression, removing a dictator or a regime would only make matters worse.
Bringing peace and democracy requires education, patience and a lot of sacrifice. The Western countries can contribute to this with expertise not with weapons. It doesn’t help to overthrow a regime, leave a big mess behind and say, “Now you build your own future.” An oppressed people cannot do that overnight just as you can’t give them democracy as a birthday present.
It was originally published at: http://rudaw.net/english/opinion/18042014#sthash.nk3cgAyu.dpuf