Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
As you know, Canadians are deeply ambivalent about Canada's role in Afghanistan. It's not the first time Canadians have questioned the decisions and political priorities that send soldiers abroad and into harm's way. The criticism sometimes extends to the military leadership that commands and directs these operations, but we understand such criticisms to be in the context of deep respect for, and of honouring, the extraordinary service commitment and sacrifice of the soldiers who serve in our name. The same respect is due and is paid to civilian workers, government diplomats, and non-governmental workers who share in the risks and the courage that are central to these complex operations.
Our organization has joined this public debate over Afghanistan on that same basis. I have to add that we do it from our vantage point in Canada. I have not visited Afghanistan, and thus, like most Canadians, must rely on the reporting of others: news media, the UN, NGOs, research groups with people on the ground there, and of course on our own government.
That introduces the first of three points I want to make.
We Canadians depend on thorough and extensive reporting by the government. It is especially welcomed that the and the Chief of the Defence Staff have recently visited both the defence committee and this committee. It needs to be much more frequent and to include a much clearer and more forthright Canadian perspective on the progress toward meeting the objectives of the mission. Reports on Canadian activities and roles and logistics are obviously very important, but we also need assessments that confirm that those at the highest levels of Canadian leadership have a keen awareness of what is or is not working, to build confidence that their decision-making is guided by that awareness and by a specifically Canadian assessment of what the situation requires.
In looking at the testimony of the minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff, I'm struck by two things: the testimony involves relatively little in the way of assessing the overall situation in Afghanistan, and when such assessment is offered, it is sometimes significantly out of step with the reporting we hear from other sources.
On the key question of the strength of the insurgency, Minister O'Connor told the defence committee that of Afghanistan's 34 provinces,“the insurgency is a great challenge in maybe six or seven. In the remaining provinces you have, in Afghan terms, relative stability.” At this committee the figure was increased to nine or ten--that is, you said that there were 20 or 25 relatively stable provinces--but at the end of September, the report of the UN Secretary-General describes an upsurge in violence, and describes the insurgency as covering “...a broad arc of mostly Pashtun-dominated territory, extending from Kunar province in the east to Farah province in the west; it also increasingly affects the southern fringe of the central highlands...”. If you look at a map, that swath of insurgency seems to be closer to including 15 to 20 provinces than the 9 or 10 that were mentioned.
In addition, the Secretary-General said, “At no time since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001 has the threat to Afghanistan's transition been so severe.” The International Crisis Group, in November's second report, paints an even bleaker picture, as does the Council on Foreign Relations.
My point is not that the minister is wrong and all the others are right; rather, the point is that we are in need of serious Canadian assessment. If Canada presents different conclusions than the others, then let's have an explanation for the difference.
There is a sense of urgency in many of the reports one now sees, not only on the insurgency but also on the Afghan economy and reconstruction efforts, both with huge implications for the insurgency. I think part of the Canadian ambivalence can be attributed to a sense that we're not really getting the full picture--or, worse, a feeling that the Canadian leadership is shielding us from the full picture because they fear that Canadian support will further decline if the full gravity of the situation is divulged.
Something as simple as biweekly or monthly reports and assessments presented to this committee and the defence committee, for example, would go a long way toward building a culture of greater accountability and of informed discussion.
The second point I want to make is on staying the course or changing the course, and it comes as much as a question as an argument about the switch from Operation Enduring Freedom to the International Security Assistance Force.
The two operations have been based on two very different rationales. OEF was formed literally for the defence of the United States, based on article 51 of the charter. There has been no UN mandate involved, and the objective was to seek out and attack those who were thought to have been implicated in attacks on North America. The ISAF operation, on the other hand, depends on another paradigm entirely, namely the security and safety of the people of Afghanistan. The switch from the defence of the intervenors to the security of the host population suggests a switch in military focus away from attacks on suspected adversaries in their strongholds towards building up and supporting Afghan security forces, military, and police in areas where the government already has a foothold, is supported, and is demonstrating the advantages of extending governmental authority.
The minister and the CDS focus a lot on the importance, as the minister says, of “suppressing the insurgency”. There's almost a sense that this military suppression, in an OEF style, is a prerequisite to progress elsewhere. Well, that's not a promising scenario, given the resurging insurgency. Military defeat of the insurgency, according to those who think it is possible at all, will take at least four things, that is, more ISAF troops, effective Afghan security forces, a break in funding from the poppy industry, and the cooperation of Pakistan. None of these is happening at a pace to make an early difference.
I just came from a meeting in which we were talking about security in Africa, and somebody made the point that since the early days of decolonization, there have been exactly one and a half insurgencies in Africa that were successfully defeated by military means. And it's that pessimism about the course of action we're on that is driving the search for other options, for alternatives. There are suggestions along the lines of pulling out the direct military pursuit of the holdouts to refocus in support of training and provincial reconstruction efforts, substantially increasing non-military aid, reviewing the strategy objectives and tactics of the NATO-led ISAF, and reopening the political process in pursuit of a more inclusive and representative political order for the entire country.
My third and final point, Mr. Chair, focuses on the suggestions for a new political process. The International Crisis Group identifies factors that were repeatedly pointed out to them as driving people to oppose the government. Those factors included, first, political disenfranchisement--the sense of favouring one group or tribe while leaving others out of decision-making power structures--and second, resource quarrels. These are particularly severe over land and water, and they are exacerbated by returning refugees. The third is corruption, a large-scale sense of ransacking the state and donor resources. The fourth is the lack of opportunities and economic development. The government having oversold the benefits that democracy would bring, there's now a skepticism about it. The fifth is abuse by local and international security forces. This mainly involves mistreatment by local police and army but also includes mistreatment by international forces in roughhouse raids on houses, some illegal detentions, aerial bombardments, and so forth.
In other words--I'm coming to the end--and to conclude, it's clear that the challenge coming from what we loosely call the Taliban does not seem to be focused on irrational fanaticism as much as on very basic and familiar grievances, the kind you find in any conflict.
I'm afraid my remarks are going to differ somewhat from the prepared sheet of paper that I sent earlier today, because I was under the mistaken impression that today's session was going to be about foreign policy in general as well as, of course, Afghanistan. So what I'm going to do for this first few minutes is say a few things about the mission as I see it. It won't take very long to do that, and then we'll have the usual question and answer period.
First, let me begin by asking, who is the Taliban? We know the Taliban very well from the period in which they governed Afghanistan prior to 2001. One question that I think is unanswered today for many people is, is this Taliban that we are engaged in combat with in Afghanistan the same Taliban that ran the Government of Afghanistan and that allowed al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as basically a training ground, a marshalling yard, and so on, for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and subsequent attacks?
My answer is that it doesn't really matter, because even if the people we are confronting in southern Afghanistan are a loose coalition of religious extremists, poppy farmers who don't want their fields to be destroyed, local smugglers, warlords, and so on, there is no question whatever in my mind that the central organizing principle of the military resistance is being established by the Taliban themselves, by the religious extremists, who are in great number across the border in Pakistan, who clearly supply the direction and the funding for the insurgency that is going on. To say that this is not the Taliban that we knew so well before is somewhat naive.
I think the mission is doable. What is the mission? The mission is to support the government of Hamid Karzai in such a way that the Taliban cannot disrupt the government and its efforts. Whether those efforts have been totally successful or not is not for me to say—I haven't been there—but I think that the Taliban are definitely trying, through armed action, to disrupt the attempts of the government to establish links with the countryside; to disrupt the efforts of NATO and other organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, to rebuild the countryside in order to allow the power of the central government to flow. The mission is doable and it is necessary, I think, to protect Canada's national interests. It is not in our national interest to see a Taliban government re-emerge in Afghanistan, and I don't think we should kid ourselves that that is exactly what will happen—a government run by religious extremists and for religious extremists—should this mission fail.
We need to keep remembering that the mission has two components: one is military and the other is reconstruction. The military mission is necessary to protect the reconstruction mission. The reconstruction mission, in the long run, is only possible within the larger context of military protection.
Can the reconstruction mission succeed? I definitely think so, but it will not succeed if it is going to be attacked constantly by the Taliban and by their supporters. The fact that Canadians have been killed building roads, trying to build schools, trying to bring supplies, and so on, is proof positive of the fact that the Taliban, the jihadis--whatever you want to call them--will do whatever they can to disrupt the reconstruction mission. The reconstruction is simply not going to be possible without the establishment of some form of security.
The establishment of security is not, in itself alone, enough to make this mission succeed. I think everyone realizes this. I think NATO realizes it. Certainly our government realizes it. There must be extensive efforts to rebuild the country. There must be extensive efforts at social reform and so on, consistent with the mores and values of the local population. But quite clearly, it doesn't really matter what religion you are, corruption is the same for all religions and all peoples, and all peoples recognize it. There needs to be established, obviously, a workable and incorruptible, or as incorruptible as possible, government in that country. That can only be done through reconstruction, but it's not going to happen without military security.
The military challenges are great. We must always remember that in one form or another, this is a war over there, whether you call it a small war, an insurgency, or asymmetric warfare. But the fact that people are trying to use violence to disrupt our mission means that it is a war. Our soldiers are being attacked; aid workers are being attacked. It's a war.
In any war, the other side has a will and an intelligence of their own. They will use whatever they can and be as resourceful as they can to get around whatever forces and technology you're going to try to apply on the battlefield in order to have your mission succeed.
We must remember that in Canada we have a military that is transitioning essentially from a peacetime military to one in action, a military in combat. Lessons needs to be learned. Sometimes those lessons will be very hard and will involve the loss of life, until we learn how to operate in that area.
I think it's very important for us to continue to point out that NATO simply does not have sufficient troops on the ground to do the job.
Now, I haven't been to Afghanistan, but I think I understand what fighting an insurgency of the kind we are fighting over there requires. It requires a combination of different types of forces—special forces, regular forces, and so on—and different types of technologies, and it certainly requires mass. There's no question that mass, or large numbers of troops, has a quality all its own. Until we have the kind of mass that is necessary to defeat the insurgency, the insurgency will continue. This is a major challenge to NATO. It's a political and a military challenge.
The political challenge is that if NATO does not succeed in Afghanistan, then in my opinion the future of NATO is very cloudy.
I think a united NATO needs to confront Pakistan and try to convince the Pakistani government, in whatever way is necessary, that this double game they are playing can no longer continue. That is an essential ingredient for a military mission to succeed.
But if NATO does not succeed in Afghanistan, then its future as a security organization will be very cloudy. I think that Canada will suffer if NATO's effectiveness is eroded, for reasons that I will get into in just a few minutes.
I think that we made a commitment. There was a vote in Parliament regarding that commitment. We should keep that commitment until February 2009, when the first rotation into 2009 ends, or possibly one more rotation in 2009. At that point, we should seek to ramp down our forces, and we should seek to move them elsewhere in Afghanistan, if they're going to stay, to a less hostile place, and fundamentally hold our NATO partners' feet to the fire.
If you think this is an important mission for NATO, then by 2009 Canada will be able to say we have done our part; it is time now for someone else to do some of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan, while we give our forces time to rebuild and rejuvenate. I think it's dangerous if in Canada we believe that we will be in Afghanistan for ten, twenty, or thirty years. We don't have the military resources to do that. The government has plans—and I think they're commendable plans—to rebuild the Canadian military from where it was in the early 1990s. You can't do that when you're constantly in combat operations in a place like Afghanistan.
We have to give Afghanistan the kind of effort that we promised our NATO partners we would give. When that effort is completed—we're not going to win the war in Afghanistan on our own—I think it will be time for us to let other NATO partners do some of the heavy lifting in that area.
Why is NATO so important to Canada? Because we need, and have always needed, offsetting influences to the presence of the United States. The United Nations simply doesn't do it for us. As a security defence organization, the United Nations has become a total and abject failure. We saw these failures through the 1990s, with the civil wars in Bosnia and elsewhere. Now we're seeing the kind of situation re-created in the Security Council that is going to be very much like what we saw during the Cold War years.
It's very obvious—and we can get into this in a question and answer period—that the interests of Russia and those of the west are diverging, and that the interests of China and many areas and those of the west are diverging. You can see that in the way we approach the Sudan and the way China approaches the Sudan. We will have deadlock in the Security Council very shortly, if we don't have it already. That means the United Nations as a security organization is not going anywhere.
We either work with NATO or we are left to fall back on virtually complete reliance on the United States of America. I don't think that's in Canada's interest. I think a strong NATO going forward in the future--a politically transformed NATO, a NATO that becomes a global security alliance of democratic countries--is the sort of thing Canada ought to work for, but if NATO fails in Afghanistan, that's not going to happen.
I think that in a whole variety of ways it is in our national interest and does serve Canadian values as we see them in the world for us to continue the mission as it is now until 2009, but at that point I think we need to start evolving the mission into something else.
Mr. Chairman, I thank both of the presenters.
Having been to Afghanistan in May, I would say that the mission certainly has changed. A somewhat interesting comment about the role of this mission is that, yes, it is reconstruction and it is military, but it's also diplomacy.
Professor, you talked about diplomacy, in a way, regarding Pakistan. There's no question that the eastern border is very porous. There's no question that Pakistan needs to, as you say, deal with this issue of doublespeak. The double game that they have been doing can't continue.
On the issue of negotiating, I'm not sure who we'd negotiate with, because if I were Mullah Omar in the Taliban, I wouldn't want to be in negotiations with anyone. Obviously they're in it for the long haul; they're hoping that Canada and other states will eventually leave because of public opinion, and you don't have to look too far in history to see nations that have intervened in support of a government and eventually didn't stay for the long haul.
Can you talk a little more about your view, Professor, on this issue of Canada's role? You say the military is changing; you're saying that after 2009 we should ramp down our approach and go, and if we're going to stay, we should go to less hostile areas. What about the issue of Pakistan? What kind of leverage would NATO have in dealing with Pakistan, given the fact that we continue to get assurances, yet nothing happens?
Then I have a quick question for the other gentleman.
The first question concerns what NATO can do about Pakistan.
If we had a united NATO.... We're going to see after the Riga conference, coming up later this month, whether NATO has the will to pull itself together—26 nations moving in the same direction—or not. If it does, then I think—and this is going to sound very hard—that Pakistan has to be confronted with the possibility of military action along its borders, which is the stationing of enough troops along the borders to be able to turn back insurgencies coming through from Pakistan.
I would say you need to put military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. Pakistanis need to know that if we're fighting a war in Afghanistan, and Pakistan is the weak link in the chain, we simply cannot allow that weak link to continue. It's as simple as that.
That's my answer with regard to Pakistan. If that's the case, I think it's more likely than not that the Government of Pakistan will back down and give us more help than they're giving us at the moment.
As far as the second question is concerned—can we be defeated by an insurgency?—I agree with the defence minister. I don't think they can beat us in a conventional war. They will use what they can to defeat our technology, our training, our morale, and our centre of gravity, which is Canadian public opinion. That's what they will do. I think that if the mission remains politically important to us and is politically doable, we need to continue doing it.
Can IEDs be defeated? They can be defeated, just as any other weapon can be defeated. One of the things we're finding out in Afghanistan is that the enemy is adopting tactics, strategies, etc., that are being pioneered elsewhere—in Iraq, Lebanon, and so on. I think we need to learn lessons from these other insurgencies much more quickly than we are. We need to close the loop from learning to decision-making, and I believe that, given time, we will.
First, in response to who to negotiate with, one of the characteristics of the insurgency is that it is most intensive in an area that is ethnically and geographically defined. It's not divorced from particular populations and from a particular geographical region where it's concentrated. In other words, it's not centred in fanatics who roam willy-nilly throughout the country and have bases throughout the entire region. It's focused.
Within the region where it is focused, there's a broad range of leadership. It takes people who know Afghanistan a lot better than I do to identify that leadership. But there is political, municipal-level, ethnic, and traditional leadership in those areas. I think there's a broad range of people with whom to discuss, people who in fact identify the grievances that drive them into the hands of the Taliban.
So I don't think the point is to search out the Taliban leadership and make it even stronger by making it the centre of negotiation. I think it's to search out the people who have grievances against the government, who are disenchanted with the government, and who, for a lack of other political housing, go to the Taliban as the umbrella under which they express their dissidence. I think it's this kind of non-Taliban leadership, which expresses grievances, that you want to go to in the negotiations.
Can you win or lose? A basic rule of insurgency is that guerrillas win if they don't lose; governments lose if they don't win. In other words, all a guerrilla force has to do is avoid losing, and it wins. It meets its objective. But if a government is not decisively victorious, it loses.
As I was saying before, on the African continent, of a great many insurgencies against governments, the governments don't win.
Gentlemen, thank you for being here today.
The more we talk about it, the less we feel we understand what is going on in Afghanistan. Perhaps you could help us gain a better understanding of the situation.
We are discussing the possibility of winning or loosing. This is all very well, except that we have now reached the point where we are wondering why we are in Afghanistan in the first place. The public is saying that the main reason why we are over there is in order to help the Afghan people and to bring the country back into the fold of democracy. However, we are finding ourselves in a very serious situation of being at war against the Taliban, an enemy that no one seems to be able to identify.
The government of Canada, that we have tried to question several times on this matter, is telling us—and ministers have also said so in committee—that except for the southern and the eastern parts of the country, the rest of Afghanistan is on the right track.
A well-known journalist, Céline Galipeau, is presently in Afghanistan to do a feature story. She is saying that the northern part of Afghanistan is controlled by the so-called war lords, the Mujahidin, well-known for their corruption. The North is not receiving the aid that has been announced and crime is increasing at an alarming rate. According to Ms. Galipeau, the North feels let down by the international community and is facing a major crime problem that is getting more serious every day. So the picture of a southern region that is under assault and riddled with enormous problems does not seem to be substantiated by this journalist.
My question is addressed to both of you. What is the present situation in Afghanistan and how are we doing regarding the reconstruction of the northern part of the country?
Thank you very much to the witnesses here today.
I am not going to ask a question. I'm just going to highlight something that is happening and answer some of the questions. Tomorrow afternoon, I leave for New Delhi in India to attend the Second Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan.
This conference deals with the players around Afghanistan. Every country has been invited; plus the G8 countries are going in there. The blueprint for this conference has a massive economic reconstruction plan, including a pipeline coming in from northern Turkistan all the way through Afghanistan into Pakistan and India. They have a massive project for highway construction going on. They have a massive electricity program. These modules were set up for the reconstruction of the whole of Afghanistan by the surrounding countries, whose vested interests—as you said, Professor—can only go up one level, but they have to take it. The countries in that region have decided that Afghanistan's security and reconstruction are far more important for them.
They are also going to have a business conference in that part of the world, parallel to this reconstruction conference, to get private businesses to go there. Canadian businesses are invited to go in there to invest in the opportunity areas.
These things are happening, but they're not coming out. I was not aware until I was told to lead this delegation. When I looked in depth at what has happened since last year, I was quite surprised at the amount of work that has been done in Afghanistan,
As the professor said, a massive war has been going on there. It's not going to be an overnight thing, but yes, the point is that there is goodwill within the surrounding regional countries. There is not one country in the whole region surrounding Afghanistan that does not believe that reconstruction is the most important aspect. They don't have military there. Iran doesn't have a military there; China doesn't have a military there. But they're all part of the reconstruction going on over there.
Now, in reference to Pakistan, we have been engaged—including me—with Pakistan for the last three weeks. Today, unfortunately over forty Pakistani soldiers lost their lives in a suicide bombing, so it is also dawning on Pakistanis that they had better go after this menace, because it has now come home to roost. Today they lost their soldiers and said yes, we're going to fight this menace at our porous border.
So things are changing, yes. We have a challenge, yes. There are things out there that are not very right at this time, yes. The Karzai government is weak, but there is goodwill from all these surrounding countries, including Canada, to work towards building this reconstruction.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman
Thank you to Mr. Regehr and Mr. Bercuson for appearing before the committee. I want to briefly ask a question to each of you and then leave the time for you to respond.
I have to say I very much welcome the questions you raised, Mr. Regehr, about what seems to be an enormous gap between the information from those who really are delving into what is happening and the kind of simplistic line between good and evil: the Taliban on one side as evil and the good forces we represent on the other side, including, I guess, the Northern Alliance, the drug lords, and the warlords who make up the Karzai government and so on.
I'm wondering if you could comment further. You're probably aware that the UN envoy to Afghanistan from post-9/11 until 2004, who was involved in the organization of the Bonn conference, actually stated, “One of my own biggest mistakes was not to speak to the Taliban in 2002 and 2003”. He went on to say it was not possible to get involved in the conference at that time but he considered it “a very, very big mistake” for there not to have been aggressive outreach to do that and to generate a comprehensive peace process.
I will raise my question with Mr. Bercuson and then leave time to respond.
Mr. Bercuson, I have to say I'm very surprised to hear you urging what is so widely recognized as not working: really, escalating further the cycle of violence, more chaos, more killings, more fanaticism, and more Taliban. I hear you urging that we need more people doing more of the same and somehow we're going to get a better result.
I'm sure you're aware there are many NATO countries that wouldn't go near that aggressive combat search-and-kill mission because they feel that's exactly the result it would produce. Yet I hear you saying that we need more of it. I wonder if you can elaborate further on the evidence that doing more of what's not working is going to produce a better result.
Sure. Let me take the second part of your question first.
Again I caution that I haven't been there; I haven't seen the ground over which Operation Medusa was fought; I haven't read any of the after-action reports, or the war diaries, or whatever. But just reading between the lines from what I know about military operations in general, had there been a large number of troops, let's say a mobile brigade, that could have blocked off the escape routes of the Taliban forces across the border into Pakistan, then, to put it very bluntly, there would have been a much higher destruction of the enemy than apparently occurred.
Those forces are not available. NATO simply does not have the kind of mass in the southern or southeastern area of Afghanistan that it requires to do the heavy fighting that is necessary to defeat a Taliban insurgency. So I'm not saying doing more of the same, I am saying doing something a little different, which is to bring to bear sufficient troops to be able to do the job properly.
As far as our NATO allies are concerned, you're pointing to a major problem. I'm not sure that they don't want to “increase the cycle of violence” in Afghanistan, so much as each of those that have significant caveats have them for a variety of political reasons—some of them internal, some of them having to do with the politics of the European Union, some of them having to do with the current government in the United States, who knows? I don't know. But what I do know is that if they are not prepared, if NATO is not prepared to save this mission, to do whatever is necessary to save this mission, then NATO's aspirations to be, in a sense, a force to protect democracy around the world is dead. NATO is either going to save itself or it isn't.
In Canada, we will be able to say we did everything we could. It's very, very important that we be able to say that, not only if NATO succeeds, but especially if it fails: we tried our best to save it.
I'm here witnessing on behalf of MEDA, Mennonite Economic Development Associates. We're a non-governmental organization that has been implementing sustainable economic development programs internationally for over 50 years. We are known as leaders in micro-finance and enterprise development, covering the gamut from investment fund development to capacity building at the community and individual levels.
Perhaps more importantly to this discussion, we have worked in many transition and conflict-affected countries; for example, Romania, Uganda, Tajikistan, Haiti, Nicaragua, Angola, Pakistan, and Eritrea, and we have experienced the power of Canadian civil society to build bridges and bring hope to people who have undergone chaotic and often violent change.
MEDA has been working in Afghanistan for almost three years now. I personally have gone to Afghanistan three times. We have supported a number of organizations that are implementing micro-finance programs. We've collaborated with local organizations, such as the Afghan Women's Business Council, a national organization. We've conducted consultancies for the UN, MISFA, and international NGOs in the area of sustainable private sector development. We have carried out exploratory missions for our own programming.
Recently we received approval to launch a CIDA-funded women's economic empowerment project in early 2007. Through this program we will reach down to village women, integrate them into mainstream markets, and enable them to be active agents in advancing the well-being of their families and communities. I have had the privilege of meeting rural women in Parwan province and I can assure you that they are eager to be in work and they are grateful for Canada's support.
During MEDA's three years in Afghanistan, we have also seen the tremendous impact that Canada's development contribution is having on the rebuilding of the nation.
As you may know, there are two large multilateral programs that receive significant support from CIDA. One is the micro-finance investment support facility for Afghanistan, which I'll refer to as MISFA; and the other is the national solidarity program, NSP. They have received $50 million and $30 million respectively from the Canadian people.
MISFA, the micro-finance investment facility, currently has well over 200,000 active clients, with $36 million in loans outstanding and a phenomenal repayment rate of 98%. Under the MISFA umbrella, MEDA, my organization, has supported Women for Women International in setting up its micro-finance program--training loan officers, designing appropriate loan products--and is currently transferring management to local staff. This one small program of MISFA currently reaches 6,000 female clients, typically with five to eight children each, enabling 30,000 to 40,000 people to be lifted out of deep poverty and to participate in the creation of a stronger and more stable and secure future.
Joyce Lehman went to Afghanistan with MEDA and then joined MISFA as the chief operating officer. She recently became adviser for the micro-finance industry in Afghanistan through the USA-funded ARIES project. She e-mailed me on the weekend from Kabul and said that Canada has been the largest donor for MISFA, which is one of the major success stories in the country. The plea is that donors such as CIDA continue to support the sector for another two to three years to give the micro-finance institutions time to establish themselves as sustainable Afghan institutions, with Canada having played a key role in the establishment of the sector.
As we have all seen, I'm sure, from the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Foundation, a reliable micro-finance industry can have a profound impact on reducing economic hardship and freeing communities from crime and strife.
The other large multilateral initiative supported by Canada, the national solidarity program, has established a country-wide network of democratic and inclusive community-level structures, the community development councils. These councils give citizens a voice in Afghanistan's development.
A primary motivation--and this is important in terms of negotiation--for participation in the CDCs is that they have access to donor funds for projects that have demonstrated popular support in their area. This venture has enabled remote villages, for example, to construct schools, operate health clinics, rehabilitate irrigation works, improve roads, and so on.
On a trip that I took to the hamlet of Chawalkhel in Wardak province, I was proudly shown one such project: a large new boys' school that served all the families in the district. A chief regret of the men and women with whom I spoke was that there had not been funding for a girls' school as well. This was not an effort to pay lip service to my western views. One of these women was widely admired for having risked her life to teach village girls underground during the Taliban regime. There are many such stories in Afghanistan.
While these multilateral initiatives are absolutely critical, it is also necessary to underline the importance of the more limited direct role that Canadian civil society has played and can play in Afghanistan's reconstruction. Recently efforts have increased to involve Canadian executing agencies and private sector players in the development agenda. MEDA is proud that, through its women's economic empowerment project, we will be able to contribute to this process. At MEDA, we have observed how important direct contact--citizen to citizen, NGO to NGO, business to business, educational institute to educational institute--is for the growth of local capacity and the empowerment of individuals, businesses and national civil society.
As a not-for-profit, MEDA has opportunities for engagement that expatriate employees of multilateral programs and other nations do not have. Typically, for example, embassy and UN staffers spend their day in the office, go home to the guest house and travel in armoured vehicles, with no opportunity to interact with Afghans outside of these contexts. As a MEDA staff person, I have been free to move around, unarmoured, unprotected, and to engage with Afghan people. I have travelled to rural areas, and I have heard the requests for support from householders and women's groups. I have chatted amiably with roadside vendors as tanks patrolled the streets. I've eaten in a women's room in a provincial restaurant, and as the veils were removed, I have listened to the stories of women from every walk of life. And I have walked through the streets of Kabul with a distressed father to a pharmacy to purchase medication for his sick child, explaining to him, the pharmacist, and others in the shop that I am a mother of five from Canada. The engagement of Canadian civil society on the ground and the implementation of our development programs make a significant contribution to peace, prosperity, and the building of democratic rights and freedoms in Afghanistan.
MEDA is delighted and honoured that we have the opportunity to be heard by this committee. Based on our organizational experience in Afghanistan and around the world over the past 50 years, we would like to make the following recommendations:
First of all, we would suggest that Canadian dollars can be effectively used to build bridges between Canadian and Afghan individuals, groups, institutions, businesses, and other agencies. If our efforts concentrate on military intervention alone or on publicly funded programs, we miss the chance to engage directly and to be messengers of hope for a better and more stable future.
Second, by working directly with the private sector, we are laying the foundation for sustainable development. When the donor dollars disappear and the executing agencies no longer run programs, if the private sector has been strengthened, then development can continue.
Third, we believe there would be great benefit if Canadians in general were more aware of the results of CIDA's programming: MISFA, NSP, bilateral programs. If the press could be encouraged to present on these outcomes as well as on the military actions and results, the efforts of Canadian civil society and of organizations such as MEDA that work on the ground unprotected, to contribute towards democratization and security through poverty alleviation and other important programs would be reinforced.
Fourth, we would ask you to reconsider the pressure that Canadian civil society is experiencing from the government to program in the most insecure parts of the country, such as Kandahar. We've been asked to take our programs there rather than to other districts; however, all areas of Afghanistan are facing challenges. If we can bolster districts and provinces that have a greater chance for success, we will have gone further in supporting sustainable processes for long-term stability. Then, as Kandahar becomes less risky, we will have good knowledge of the country, proven successes on which to build, and the capacity to move quickly to set up effective programs.
Finally, we strongly recommend that all of us leverage Canada's leadership and the international reputation we have as a builder of peace, democracy, and equitable, inclusive nations, and as much as it is possible seek non-military responses to development challenges, harnessing the creative energy of Canadians and Afghans alike to create the proverbial better world.
Thanks for inviting me to appear before the committee today. It's a pleasure to be here.
I regret that I didn't hear the discussion with the previous witnesses. I was actually sprinting the entire length of Sparks Street, so I beg your indulgence as I continue to wipe my brow and recover from that unexpected run.
My message today is quite simple: the Afghanistan mission for NATO is in trouble and a new strategy is needed to turn the mission around. In spite of Canada's recent military successes in Kandahar province, the Taliban and its radical Islamist allies are operating more widely and more openly today than they were even a year ago, and they are continuing to enjoy the use of safe havens across the border in Pakistan.
The insurgency, which I'll call the neo-Taliban because of its diffuse character, has formed alliances with local drug traffickers and warlords in opposition to the government of Hamid Karzai. There is growing evidence from a variety of different sources that ordinary Afghans are becoming increasingly disaffected with their own government's inability to provide security and basic public services. If these trends continue, I fear that we and our NATO allies will be defeated in Afghanistan. Defeat, should it come, would come gradually, not on the battlefield but in the minds of ordinary Afghans, most of whom simply want security and opportunity for themselves and their families. If the legitimately elected government of Afghanistan and its foreign backers aren't able to provide such essentials, Afghans will look elsewhere. That is exactly what the neo-Taliban is counting on.
They are pursuing what appears to be a sophisticated political military strategy aimed at undermining confidence in the Karzai government through guerilla attacks on military and civilian targets, while at the same time offering ordinary Afghans a kind of alternative government in the form of religious justice, protection, and paid employment for those willing to join the neo-Taliban cause. It is in effect a strategy to win the minds, if not the hearts, of ordinary Afghans by forcing them to turn to their attackers for security and sustenance.
However, it is important to emphasize that the NATO mission is not a lost cause. Most Afghans want the reconstruction effort and the Karzai government to succeed, and the neo-Taliban still has only limited infrastructure within Afghanistan. The country has a functioning and energetic Parliament and an elected president. The economy is growing vigorously--even the non-drug elements of the economy.
An Afghan army is slowly being built, and although reports on its performance are mixed, certainly the consensus is that the units that have been trained are doing fairly well. NATO has shown that in a stand-up fight it can overpower the neo-Taliban and insurgent forces. So the problem isn't that our mission is lost; the problem is that our current strategy doesn't appear to be a winning one.
So what needs to be done? Permit me to make six suggestions as briefly as I can.
First, more foreign forces will ultimately be needed for Afghanistan. From the beginning, this mission has been hampered by a lack of international forces to help the Afghan government establish its presence throughout the country. We are dealing with the consequences today, as we belatedly enter regions that have been neglected for the past five years. So we are living the consequences of early decisions about under-resourcing this operation. In fact, for the size of the country and the population, this is the most under-resourced international stabilization mission since World War II.
Second, to put it quite bluntly, we need to suspend the poppy eradication program. It has utterly failed to reduce the size of the harvest, and worse, it is alienating poor farming communities, some of which now view the central government and NATO forces as aggressors, a perception that the neo-Taliban is strategically exploiting.
Third, we need to make police training a top priority. The police are mainly in the hands of local strongmen. They are undertrained, under-equipped, incompetent, corrupt, and accountable to no one. As the International Crisis Group has pointed out, in most districts Afghan police are viewed as a source of insecurity by the people rather than as a source of protection.
Fourth, we need to get serious about rooting out official corruption. President Karzai recently appointed a regional strongman with links to organized crime as the police chief of Kabul. And in the judiciary too, unqualified people are being installed because they are loyal to various factions. These are the kinds of decisions that are contributing to the erosion of public confidence in the Karzai government.
Fifth, NATO needs to build an Afghan army that can stand by itself. The retraining is going well, but it's slow. The current plan is to train an army of 70,000 Afghan soldiers, but this will almost certainly prove to be inadequate, because there are already roughly 70,000 international and Afghan troops in the country, and security remains a problem. Replacing the NATO forces with Afghan recruits will ultimately produce an army of similar size but with considerably less capacity. So Afghan forces will need to be larger if they are to stand on their own; and in order for us to leave, they will need to be able to stand on their own.
Sixth, the flow of insurgent fighters from their safe havens in Pakistan must be contained. The Government of Pakistan is not doing enough. At the very least, it is tolerating the existence of neo-Taliban operating bases on its territory. But there are also credible reports, including in the most recent issue of Jane's Intelligence Digest and from Seth Jones at the Rand Corporation, that Pakistani intelligence services are in fact providing material assistance and intelligence to neo-Taliban fighters based in Pakistan.
In my view, the international mission in Afghanistan can succeed if it reorients its strategy around these elements. But doing so would also require a renewed commitment to the operation from the alliance as a whole, not just from the few countries, including Canada, that have been willing to put their soldiers in harm's way.
If NATO chooses not to make this commitment, the alliance should begin planning a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is, in my view, the stark choice we face now. It is the difficult decision that NATO must make over the coming months. Indecision is not an option, because making no decision means a continuation of the current strategy, and the current strategy appears to be leading us towards a defeat in slow motion.
I very much hope that NATO will not abandon Afghanistan, but it would be better to withdraw than to preside over a mission that lacks the strategy and resources that are necessary to successfully stabilize the country.
Thank you very much for having me here. I look forward to questions and discussion.
Yes, I heard three issues. I can try to do so quickly.
With regard to a possible deadline, the urgency now is not so much to be thinking in terms of deadlines as much as to encourage the Government of Canada to work with its NATO partners, other member states, to recognize the need to make this decision to go big or get out soon, to underline the urgency of the situation. I don't think the mission is crumbling. I wasn't suggesting that, but I think the trend lines are running in the wrong direction, and we don't have all the time in the world. A first priority is to use all diplomatic levers to emphasize to our NATO partners the need to make this decision, and to do that within the councils of NATO.
With regard to our relationship with Pakistan, I didn't have the benefit of being able to hear the comments of Professor Bercuson, if that was the person commenting. I don't know what he might have been suggesting with regard to the military side, so I'm not going to even venture to comment on that, although the situation in Pakistan is extremely complex and delicate, so any approach to Pakistan would need to be firm but nuanced too, and perhaps we can continue that discussion.
On the anti-narcotic strategy and the poppy crops, a number of experts argue that it's possible to develop some kind of mechanism to possibly even license or regulate the poppy trade within Afghanistan. I don't know enough about the economics of the poppy trade to be able to judge whether one or another of these proposals is workable, but what I do know from what I've read is that the current strategy is not just failing to reduce the size of the crop, it's working against us by alienating the very people who were trying to support the reconstruction effort in the Karzai government.
A starting point would be stopping eradication, because no policy is better than a policy that's self-defeating, and really energetically looking at various alternatives to the policy. One day, the Government of Afghanistan may be sufficiently strong to be able to prohibit poppy cultivation and the trade. That day is still far away, and right now our priority should be to create the conditions for peace.
On the issue of the relationship between military force and reconstruction and the disbursement and use of reconstruction aid, clearly there is an inseparable relationship between the security conditions and our ability to deliver reconstruction aid and fund reconstruction projects. The first point I would make is that what is sometimes presented as a choice between a military approach or a developmental approach, I think, is a false choice, because in the absence of security, it's really not conceivable that we would be able to conduct the kind of development projects that we and other donors and the Afghan government have in mind.
My understanding is that, in fact, a lot of the development projects have been held up precisely because of the security situation that exists in much of the country. From what I read recently in a UN report, it identified one-third of the country as unsafe for development personnel. So I think you need to do both, essentially, if I understood your question correctly.
With regard to corruption, there are some excellent suggestions in the most recent International Crisis Group report, which I had an opportunity to read last night. The principles of transparency and accountability are applicable here, as in other areas when we're concerned with the possibility of corruption. At the very start, I think one needs to take the accountability mechanisms that have been created and make sure they're observed.
For instance, when President Karzai made a number of appointments that sidestepped the vetting process that had been created in order specifically to filter out unqualified candidates, he was not using the mechanism that was in place. So I think Karzai has to be clear that he's going to use the systems that are in place. At the local level, I think similar systems can be established as well, in conjunction with training for local police. The police judiciary, the internal ministry, are really the key, I think, in terms of tackling corruption in Afghanistan, as a start.
Thank you very much for your testimony before the committee. The purpose of our being here is to learn from your experiences and see if we can get a more comprehensive approach to what is a very complex situation.
Ms. Jones, I appreciate and applaud you for your work on micro-finance. You may or may not know that this committee was actually in Stockholm across the street from where they announced Muhammad Yunus' Nobel Peace Prize award. I hope you're giving good solid feedback around the successes of your micro-finance projects, because you may know that CIDA's reduced its commitment to micro-finance over the last five years. In the House today I urged the minister to use the occasion of the Global Microcredit Summit to reverse that.
I want to pursue this a little bit further. I think the main message you've brought to us is that we should be building on strength, and that means working with civil society to do that and--I don't want to put words in your mouth--sort of fan out from there to increase the security more broadly. You may have seen I was scrambling through my papers looking for a map, because you mentioned the province you were in but I can't visualize it. It's in the Kabul area, I assume.
I wonder if you're aware of the project of Future Generations, which actually is the Honourable Flora MacDonald's passion at the moment. She's chair of the board of Future Generations, which has a number of projects in Afghanistan. The approach to poppy crop eradication is the exact reverse of what's happening in Kandahar, with what seems to be spectacular results. In other words, to state the obvious, you don't have people starve by removing the only economic support they have through poppy crops, you work on building the alternatives.
The leadership of the community in, I think, three different provinces where Future Generations is involved is literally engaging the whole population in the poppy crop removal by announcing when they're going out to remove the crops, with the full sanctioning of the community. Therefore, you're not creating the economic chaos and starvation in people's lives that results in their crossing over to the Taliban, who understandably exploit that.
I wonder if I might ask you to briefly speak about that. And perhaps I could add a quick question to Mr. Paris.
Mr. Paris, you talked about the problem of corruption—and this is something this committee has been trying to do its homework on—in frail, fragile, and failing states. One of the things we've been told about the increasing support the Taliban has been building, along with the obvious problems that are feeding into that, is that the Taliban are paying civilians twice the rate of what the local police are being paid. So as people are losing their economic livelihoods, they're increasingly available to be recruited by the Taliban. I wonder if you could comment on any knowledge you have of that and recommendations that flow from it.
Ms. Jones, I think you could go ahead.