Stephen Harper announced today that 2011 will be the end of Canada's participation in Afghanistan should the Conservatives be re-elected. Naturally, Liberal supporters on the Internet are saying that he's flip-flopping and committing that most egregious of sins, announcing a date that suddenly war will end. This is obviously a change in position, as Harper has long been of the view that conditions on the ground will determine when Canada can successfully withdraw its troops. My grave concern is that the benchmarks which were established earlier this week may not be met by 2011; should this indeed occur, does the Government of Canada simply wring its hands and leave the work for someone else (a dangerous concept given the depth of commitment shown by some of our NATO allies)? Of course, giving a deadline for these goals to be met gives our troops and development workers in Afghanistan a stronger sense of urgency to meet them. If a person knows that their term paper is due on October 25th, they'll plan accordingly (or write it entirely on October 24th) so that the objective of completing the paper by the 25th is achieved. Fortunately, projects such as building schools and increasing the sense of security Afghans feel is work that can't be done overnight, so the planning must begin in earnest in the near term.
This is a bold move by the Conservative leader. Whether it generates support from the academic and military communities that are invested very heavily in Afghanistan remains to be determined.