Welcome to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, meeting number 31.
We are again pleased to have this afternoon a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan. This is from a motion that came to our committee a number of weeks ago, a motion that asked that the foreign affairs and international development committee have regular briefings on Afghanistan. We have been pleased in the past to have had a number of experts on the situation in Afghanistan. We have had the department and the defence minister, and I think we as a committee are better off for the briefings we've had.
Today's witnesses are John Watson, the president and chief executive officer of CARE Canada; Najiba Ayoobi, who is the manager of Radio Killid; and Mihreya Mohammed Aziz, who is a camerawoman.
Also, we have with us at the table today an interpreter who will be able to let those witnesses know exactly what the questions are that we are asking them, so it's always good to have that.
We welcome you folks here. We apologize for the slight delay. There have been some fairly major announcements in the House of Commons with motions and other things that kept us there longer than we would normally have stayed.
To our friends here, welcome. We look forward to your comments, after which we will go into rounds of questioning. Because we are close to 30 minutes late in starting, we may extend the time a little bit. So please, the time is yours.
Perhaps, Mr. Watson, you would begin, followed by our other guests.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to begin by telling people a bit about CARE. There is a one-page summary of CARE in Afghanistan, but in general, as most of you will know, CARE is a humanitarian as well as development agency. That is to say, we do emergency work and development work. We're currently programming about $200 million annually. We are the largest partner for CIDA, receiving about $30 million annually from CIDA on 40 separate projects.
Unlike many other Canadian NGOs, we handle a lot of funds from other agencies--DFID, USAID, and multilaterals such as WFP and UNHCR. So we have a good picture of how aid works around the world. We're particularly good, I think, at war zone work, famine zone work, the emergency side of things, but we're also developing a solid expertise in the enterprise development side of things or how you use markets to do poverty alleviation work.
I think the other thing you should know is that it's typical of a CARE operation to have something in the order of 100 national staff for every expatriate we employ. So it's a heavily localized approach to both humanitarian and development work.
I've just returned from Afghanistan, literally last night. While I was there I met the Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, who will be here, I understand, on November 27. I don't know if your committee is going to see him. Certainly if he's not booked I would suggest strongly that you see him and his deputy minister, who in fact is a CARE Canada employee on secondment to the ministry for the last couple of years.
I also saw Brigadier-General Tim Grant and Brigadier-General Dickie Davis of ISAF. I was not able to see our ambassador. I did see the CIDA person. Despite trying to arrange a visit to Kandahar since last February, I was not able to do that.
CARE has been in Afghanistan since the early 1960s, so I think we have a pretty long-term perspective on what goes on there. We are currently programming $33 million in aid from many donors, and we have 1,000 staff engaged in programming.
For us, security is a major issue. Our office was burned in June. Our project manager on the Canadian project was kidnapped the June before. These are only two major incidents of many that we find ourselves confronting.
I'm going to run through some slides. The first one gives you an idea of our program area and the security situation in the various provinces in which we work--probably hottest down by the Pakistan border and coolest in the middle of the country, with some hot spots up north.
There are two things I want to say to you today that have to do with the Canadian support for CARE in Afghanistan. One is that we have a very good flagship program called humanitarian assistance for widows of Afghanistan. This was started by CIDA, which made a very brave decision, when other donors were pulling out during the Taliban period, to support this program, which offers basic sustenance to, at its height, 45,000 widows and their dependants. With the program, we have managed to move all but 5,000 of the widows onto programs that allow for their own support, and we are now working on a plan to train 4,000 of those widows in vocational training.
This is the Canadian manager of the program. This happened about three days ago, in fact. It's essentially an assistance program using Canadian food aid to allow the women to survive. It's a very well-run professional humanitarian program that never makes the news because, quite frankly, well-run distributions make boring news.
We do some health training for the widows, and we are now designing a vocational program, which we understand from CIDA will be funded, but our concern is that the program is running out in March and we do have a residual of 1,000 women who will need ongoing assistance.
We have moved a lot of the women on, into some livestock programs. These are home-based programs for cows, for goats, and for poultry.
This is Bibi Jamula. She has five children. Her husband died 20 years ago, and in Afghanistan that's a very hard blow. She has been a beggar off and on since then. Not surprisingly, with the war and with her problems supporting her family, she has serious mental problems. She will not be able to be moved onto a program that will allow for her support.
This is just an example. You can see that her hands are dyed with henna. I asked her why, and she said, “They were so white, I kept thinking I was dying. My daughter got fed up with me and made me paint them with henna so I wouldn't bother her in the middle of the night.”
So she has a really difficult time. She has a number of girls. She has—she wouldn't say it—essentially been obliged to sell off one of her daughters for dowry. I asked her what I should say to you on her behalf, in terms of the possible closure of the program and what would happen to her. She said, and I quote: “I will die or sell my daughter, so I pray for your help.”
Again, I think that CIDA is disposed to continue this program, but it is running out in March, and we are looking for its continuance.
This is the Shomali Plain. We did a lot of work here in the past, with some CIDA money. We built 2,600 of the houses shown here. The plain was completely depopulated by the Taliban. Aside from doing the houses, we had to rehabilitate the irrigation systems.
This is a karez, a typical irrigation system, which brings a higher level of the water table from the upper rim of the valley to be used for agricultural irrigation. All of these had to be cleaned out. It was dirty work; it was dangerous work. We lost some people, in cleaning out these underground tunnels, from anti-personnel mines.
We did a lot of resettlement work, and the farmers are all shown here. This was a very productive part of Afghanistan.
This is the second program I want to talk to you about. It was, I think, really well received by the minister of rural development. It is to establish an enterprise development program that will allow Afghan farmers and business people to recapture some of the markets they had before. Farouk Jiwa here has talked to these people. There seem to be all sorts of things that can be done in the Shomali Valley to get business going again and get Afghans selling the kinds of agricultural produce they sold in the past.
I'm particularly keen on this program, because one of the big problems is of course security, and an investment program depending on local entrepreneurs is one of the lowest-profile security programs you can do. So we plan to pursue it.
We have done other programs, and I mention these. They were not done with CIDA funds, but they give you some idea of what humanitarian agencies can do. We did a massive employment program for young men after the fall of the Taliban. This is an old picture that I took in January 2002. These are programs that have to be done in a post-conflict period, if you're going to mop up the young men, most of whom have never had jobs other than as fighters.
We also did a lot of girls' education programs. We kept 20,000 girls in school, essentially by tying ourselves into pretzels to keep operating during the Taliban regime, to separate our staff into male and female components, and to negotiate with the Taliban to keep open girls' community schools.
This has morphed into part of the overall education program now and has become a program for marginalized pupils who are not being reached by the formal education system, such as these girls who are too old to enter school. They have missed elementary school, and we are doing an accelerated course to allow them to enter at the late elementary level.
The other thing I wanted to show you was the Kabul water supply program. In essence, we ran the water supply for the city during the Taliban, and that has continued to the present day. I put this in because I think it indicates one of the main things we can do, which is to keep essential infrastructure running. I think that's one of the reasons Kabul has been a different story from Baghdad, as far as the post-conflict history is concerned.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The two things that concern me most right now are the continuation of funding for the humanitarian assistance for Afghan widows program and the establishment of the investment fund for business development in Afghanistan. I think both of those programs do Canada proud in terms of what we can do, practically speaking, in the current context in Afghanistan.
I am trying to say hello to all of you and to pay my respects to everyone around here. I am trying to thank everyone who had a role in inviting and organizing this tour. Also, I am grateful to IDRC and to reporters near our borders for arranging our visit.
I feel proud that today I have a chance to meet representatives of the Canadian Parliament here.
I was told to speak briefly. It's very difficult for me to be brief concerning all the problems that are in our hearts. Then I decided to talk about two or three points in total. All I want to say briefly or concisely is this: I want to speak about the developments made since the Bonn conference about Afghanistan.
We have made leaps forward in the participation of women in work and in social life. We now have a constitution, whereas we had none in the process of war. We have experienced freedom of expression in Afghanistan for the first time. We have an elected government.
We could not have raised these valuable things without the help of the international community. We have undergone a war, which now, after three years, has left us with a lot of problems, whether financial or non-financial.
Five years ago, women could not walk out of their houses without being accompanied by a male relative, while now 25% of our representatives in Parliament are female. In the media in Afghanistan we show much progress for women, and women have important roles in the government today. This is a great advantage for Afghanistan under the present circumstances.
This does not mean that all our problems are over and we have no more problems to tackle. The press in Afghanistan are confronting many problems nowadays. We who are working in the press community are feeling that, little by little, our freedom is getting limited every day. Taliban people are putting us under pressure, and the government wants to limit our freedom gradually.
In Afghanistan live many people who like to have a community under law. We like to have systems for all aspects of our work and we have to copy these systems from the international community. People in Afghanistan today are depending on God first, and then on the help of the international community.
Whatever negative thing happens, people who like freedom and democracy are becoming disappointed. People who like to live by the law are getting depressed. I, who am working in the press community, know for sure that they are right.
We don't have the required nutrition or food in Afghanistan, the way it should be.
Trafficking in opium and other things are threatening us. People in Afghanistan are worried about the international community leaving Afghanistan to itself, and they do not know what will happen next, after the international community leaves us.
What I say is a short description of the problems of the people of Afghanistan, especially women in that country. Their first problem is that they are illiterate. They don't have economic freedom. They do not know much about their own rights, the way it should be.
Also, another problem that exists is the difference between cities and villages. These differences make a gap between the government and the people, and that's why the problems are rising.
The Afghanistan people feel that the international community has always been helpful in taking their hands. If this cooperation is removed, there will be problems for the people of Afghanistan, just as there will be for the whole international community.
There is a question that comes up: if the Afghanistan people like having the foreign forces stay in the country, then why every day do some of these forces get killed? Now that I am in the middle of news and I know about everything deeply, I want to tell you this. These soldiers who are killed are not killed by the people of Afghanistan. These soldiers are killed by the enemies of the civil community, the enemies of Afghanistan, and that's it.
I have many things to say, but the limited time I was given has almost expired.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I thank all of our witnesses.
Mr. Watson, the most telling slide I think you presented was the first one, which was the map of Afghanistan that showed where the activity is currently taking place. Over three-quarters of the map is either heightened areas of risk, or extreme risk. After five years, that's very depressing.
The area I'd like to concentrate on, since you're here on the development issue, is that 44% of the development aid that goes to the Afghan government is spent. That means we are looking at 56% that is unspent, and some departments aren't able to spend at all.
In terms of your assessment on the ground.... When I was in Afghanistan in May, the problem was that the only safe areas, if you want to call them “safe”, where you could actually see progress were in Kabul. We were ferried from one military compound to another. We weren't able to go out to really see any development projects, because of the heightened Taliban activity in the south.
Your organization clearly assists—you've talked about 10,000 women you were able to help, such as, for example, widows—but in terms of what you're seeing on the ground, and having just come back, what is your assessment of the coordinated efforts of not only your organization but others on the ground? There is criticism that much of the money and many of the projects are uncoordinated, that there is no focus, and that unfortunately at the end of the day we are barely able to tread water.
This is a very large question, but let me say a couple of things.
I am concerned that there is an extraordinary degree of groupthink, both at the Canadian government level and among the international community, with regard to Afghanistan. I have never seen such a dense, self-referring realm of groupthink, if you like. I think it has given us an unbalanced aid program, in being focused on national programs.
Some of the earlier witnesses who have appeared before you have not satisfied you in terms of being able to tell you what Canadian aid is actually doing when we contribute as a minority player to these national programs. I have to say that some of those programs are doing very well. The national solidarity program is working at the village level in thousands of villages. The micro-credit program is doing very well too. In my view, these are aid dollars well spent.
I don't think it is balanced, because it is putting too much weight on programming that's going via the Afghan government. In my view, if the Canadian government is doing a national program, it should also be doing, at the same time, a program at the grassroots that funds a Canadian or Afghan NGO, so that a committee like this can get feedback as to what those top-down programs are doing at the grassroots level. We are in fact working with the national solidarity program, and I must say again that it is doing extremely good work.
As far as security is concerned and its impact on the programming, your going out to see these things is quite different from our national staff going out to see these things. It has to do with the security approach you use. If you're going out, you will be exposed to a force protection approach: you'll be traveling in an armoured vehicle and you'll probably have Canadian soldiers providing the security. If you're a national staff member of CARE Afghanistan, you're going out in a local vehicle, you are an Afghan, you speak the language, and you're not carrying anything that has to do with your work. You're virtually invisible, in the same way as the Taliban is invisible to our soldiers.
There is a lot that can be done, but you have to do it using a different security measure, and that is acceptance and invisibility, if you like, rather than force protection.
I wanted to speak about the situation of women, but the limited time that I had did not allow me to do so.
The situation of women in Afghanistan can be divided into two classes, the situation for women in the cities and the situation for women in the villages or areas out of cities.
As far as women of the cities are concerned, there have been great developments: they can work; they can go to school; and they can benefit from medical services. I am sorry to say that for women who live even 10 kilometres away from cities, there has been no development made. If anything has been done, it has been a symbolic process.
The women in Afghanistan are in a very negative situation, and I have repeated these points in these visits here in Canada. Quite recently in Afghanistan, a girl 11 years of age was exchanged for a war dog; it is proof that in most parts of Afghanistan, women are not considered equal to human beings. Every day, many women burn themselves.
All kinds of violations of women's rights are experienced in Afghanistan these days. Raping of women quite often happens, and they are threatened that if they do anything, they will be killed. They are forced to marry certain people, and women are not given the right to say they are ready to marry or they are not; if somebody does not accept the advice of her relatives, they think she has violated the human values of the family. Women who are trying to defend other women are threatened to be killed or burned. Women's schools are closed down.
It seems that there is a big fight against women in Afghanistan. Even people who show that they are democrats violate the rights of women. This is the situation of women in my country, and the women of Afghanistan wish ladies in the international community would give them a hand.
Thank you very much for coming.
Mr. Watson and Madam Ayoobi, Afghanistan went through a terrible war, and through that war all the infrastructure and everything collapsed. We are starting from ground zero coming up here.
You talked about a balanced approach to development. I just came back yesterday from the second annual reconstruction conference in New Delhi, organized by the Government of India and the Government of Afghanistan. Twenty-five countries, including NGOs, came over there to create a plan.
I'll tell you what impressed me in that conference. It was a regional conference with the regional countries surrounding Afghanistan. Everyone was at the table. They were at the table because they recognized that the instability in Afghanistan was going to affect them completely and that it was in their own interests, all the countries, that Afghanistan be stable.
They are ready now, and willing to put money. They're ready now, willing to put this thing. Yes, it'll take time. Yes, things are wrong. They talked about the national grid of electricity and they talked about building roads, but these are small incremental steps that are going to be taken.
Therefore, while we are going to paint a picture of Afghanistan--you paint this situation, and I remember it--as being very critical, and you comment to say that Canada is making a fatal mistake, I want to tell you that in the international community, every player over there.... Not a single country--neither Iran, nor Pakistan, nor China--was pulling out, but they were recognizing the fact.
When there is so much goodwill, when there is so much understanding that we've got to do something for Afghanistan, then I think we need to support it very strongly instead of coming along and looking at cracks and fissures. As I said, Afghanistan is starting from level zero, so let's work together there, because it is in the general interest of everyone, including that region.
Don't you think these steps that are being taken, including this one, are the future of Afghanistan and will make Afghanistan prosperous?
In terms of the military, first of all, let me say that I have benefited from being the NGO dissident voice at so many military training missions. One of the best things about the western military, and the Canadian military in particular, is that they have always made room for dissident points of view, if you like.
There are two problems with the current situation. Our guys are about as good as you get in terms of western militaries, but one problem is that in terms of western militaries coming out of the Cold War era, it's hard to think of a military that would be less suitable for fighting this sort of war. They are again coming out of a military culture that, for fifty years, had them preparing to fight battles in northern Europe. That means they are self-contained, they are very high-cost, they are tied to their computer screens, and they are the exact opposite of the kind of colonial military that could go in and do stabilization activities. So on the military side, we really need a long-term, if you like, JTF-3 that would concentrate on security and stabilization exercises.
This is not the old peacekeeping. This is robust military work. This requires some things that are not very palatable. For instance, they need slush funds to buy intelligence, to buy informers, to bribe people in these conflict zones, and they should get them. I want to be clear about that.
What I think is also the case is that, in this country, we have never had any funding for humanitarian aid agencies, no funding to develop the kind of stand-by capacity you need to mount these heavy programs for the employment of young fighters after the conflict is over. We are having discussions about that now with CIDA, and after thirty years, I think it is about time that we had, as they have in almost every other country, the kind of program funding for humanitarian aid agencies that we have for our development sector. But we haven't had that to date, so you're put in a ridiculous position where the military, which can't do stabilization work adequately, instead of addressing that, says the problem is that we're not doing humanitarian work.
My response would be that it's just wrong on both counts. The military must change, and there have to be resources put onto the humanitarian side.
Thank you very much, Mr. Sorenson.
Thank you very much, all, for being here. I especially want to thank you, Ms. Ayoobi and Ms. Aziz, for the courage that you show in your country.
Mr. Watson, I deeply respect the work that CARE does, but I have to fundamentally disagree with your assessment of our Canadian Forces. As former parliamentary secretary of defence, sir, I have to say that our forces are the best in the world and are doing exactly the type of work that you're suggesting needs to be done. They are multi-purpose. They are sensitive to people on the ground. They are not only engaging in critical security work, as you know, but because of their sensitivity and training, intelligence, and excellence, they're also able to deal with asymmetric threats in a way that is required there.
I just want to state that on the record as a matter of fact. It is not a question, sir.
I'd like to direct my question to Ms. Ayoobi.
Could you please tell us how we deal with the insurgency coming from outside Afghanistan? In your comments, you said the people who are killing Afghanis are not from Afghanistan. This is a major challenge that we're trying to grapple with. How can we deal with the insurgency coming from outside of Afghanistan's borders?
If you don't mind, I'd like to answer that question in English, because my French isn't very good.
I want to start by saying first that I don't want to have words put in my mouth, and I think two committee members have done that. I do not believe the Canadian Forces should withdraw. They are going to be required to stay and to fight, and so they should. But in my view, this is an unwinnable war. What we should be looking for is a way to withdraw that gives us a weak central government and strong provincial power. This is what will happen.
As far as the Canadian Forces are concerned, I could have made the same statement has made. There are no better armed forces in the western world. They're extremely good. They're the best at doing this sort of work—they and the British. That is true.
What I'm saying is that the western armed forces, as they are currently configured, are not very well placed to do counter-insurgency work. If you want to look at a military tradition that is better at doing that, then you have to go back in years, to the colonial era, and see how the military did things then. No military does that now, and we have to learn how to do it.
Now, as far as the question is concerned, the problem with Kandahar relates to what happened in 2002. Two things didn't happen that should have happened. One is that there was no stabilization program. The Americans announced that they were going to continue to fight al-Qaeda, and at that point there was no stabilization program. And by “stabilization”, I mean the simple putting in place of security that allows normal people to function and to appeal to some force to redress their grievances on such things as rape or robbery or whatever else. The Canadian Forces could play that role and could play it very effectively, and they should have played that role in Kandahar in 2002.
The second thing that needs to be done whenever you have conflict ending is that you need to provide employment for young men who have, en masse, been doing the fighting. That was not done in Kandahar in the way it was done in Kabul, the way it was done in the Shomali Valley, and the way it can be done if we fund our humanitarian agencies adequately and put them to that task.