I call the meeting to order.
We do have a quorum, but we do not have any guests here.
I would ask the committee to very quickly take their steering committee report. We will go into committee business.
This is meeting number 49 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on Thursday, April 19, 2007.
I am going to ask the committee members to pick up their 10th report from the subcommittee steering committee.
The steering committee met on Tuesday. We brought forward these matters, and we would ask that this committee ratify this. It would help our researchers and our clerk to prepare for witnesses to come in the future.
The first point is that the first report of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development be referred back to the subcommittee until such time as they have finished their discussions on this issue.
This first report was on the production of documents. This was the issue over the Burton report. The Burton report was given, and our subcommittee made a request to get the unedited version with the classified information affixed to it. The department came back to say they would provide the report but not the classified information. There was some concern as to the security of some of the names of those in China, so they refused. The subcommittee is still dealing with this, as far as I know.
Because the committee is still dealing with this--they had Foreign Affairs there and they had legal counsel there--at that time it was the steering committee's recommendation that we send this report back to the subcommittee.
Do we have a consensus on that? It is agreed.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: The second point is that the committee should seek a legal opinion on the best course of action before considering further the second report of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. This was the report on a motion that we proceed with some kind of criminal investigation into the lead prosecutor in the Zahra Kazemi case and that we try to bring forward charges against the lead prosecutor. Our committee is asking that we seek a legal opinion.
Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: The next point is for the draft report on democratic development to be distributed to members on Monday, April 23, and that the committee meet to study this draft report beginning on May 1 and May 3.
Is it agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: The next recommendation is that the committee meet with the President of the Assembly of Portugal on May 3 between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: The next recommendation is that the committee invite Mr. Paul Meyer, Canada's ambassador for disarmament, to appear before the committee at the earliest opportunity.
Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: The next recommendation is that the committee invite witnesses from civil society organizations to appear concerning the annual report on operations under the Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act of 2005.
Is it agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: All right.
We still do not have our guests.
Madam McDonough, please go ahead.
I understand the intent of the motion, which is to see that Canada has a very robust presence outside and that its diplomacy is not affected, and I can assure the member that this is the very intent of the government: to ensure that there is a robust diplomacy at diplomatic missions to portray Canada's foreign policy.
The difficulty is, as with the intent of the last motion, that no decision has been made. The Government of Canada has made no decision on these things. They are subject to review that takes place all the time. Opening and closure are subjects of review that constantly takes place.
But since no decision has been made.... This motion is saying, “concerning the decision to close”. Well, no decision has been made, Mr. Chair. If and when a decision is made to close or to open, you're more than welcome to resubmit the motion to ask why it was closed or whatnot. When a decision has not been made—when nothing has been made—what is the point of having a motion that says a decision has been made?
This motion is, then, saying that the government has done something it hasn't done. It's very difficult to support a motion when no action has been taken.
As to the rest of the issue—whether we're closing or not closing, opening or not opening—the members themselves have been in government; they know these are things the government constantly reviews.
Again I would say, let's bring this motion back if and when—and I'm going to say again “if”—a decision is made to close.
I say this motion is not really relevant, because no decision has been made, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's been over a year since the brutal murders of Mr. and Mrs. Ianiero, and still there is no justice.
There were two individuals from Thunder Bay, Dr. Cheryl Everall and Ms. Kimberly Kim, who, according to the Attorney General of Quintana Roo, are primary persons of interest still. If any of you saw the W-FIVE program the other night, it was pretty clear and irrefutable that they are not. These ladies at the present time are held hostage in their own country, afraid to travel. They are very concerned that they may be detained and could be thrown in jail because of what I would suggest, with all due respect, has been a very bungled investigation and a question of the Mexican authorities' suggesting that Canadians are responsible for something that is not the case.
These two individuals have asked the minister and/or ministers to clear their names. They don't know if they're on a no-fly list. They don't know if they're able to travel. It is incumbent upon this committee to ask these ministers to come forward and provide us, at the earliest opportunity, answers to these questions, which they have up until now not been able to receive.
It is a travesty that we expect our government to protect Canadians and certainly to advance Canadian interests abroad. In this case, this has been a miscarriage. I do believe that in the interests not only of these two individuals but also of the Ianiero family as well, the government should put as much pressure as possible on Mexican authorities, and that we should immediately deal with clearing the names of these two individuals, who through no fault of their own have been identified by Mexican authorities even when all of the evidence points in a different direction.
With respect, Mr. Chairman, I have put this forward to invite both ministers here to answer those questions. It will advance the interests of justice in this particular case.
Let me first give my condolences and respect to Mr. Ianiero on this tragic incident, and also to the two young ladies. We understand, and we take this concern very seriously.
These are Canadian citizens. As you know, the government and the have repeatedly said that they will stand up for Canadian citizens. We will be totally engaged on this file to ensure that the rights of Canadian citizens are protected, according to Canadian law, not somebody else's law.
As my friend has pointed out, there are a lot of things taking place that are outside the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada. They are the Mexican authorities' jurisdiction. The Mexican authorities will continue their investigation, and we cannot interfere.
The W-FIVE program, all the other programs, as well as the news conferences that were done are the right ways to bring this case to light. We have no problems with that. However, from the government's point of view, it is absolutely not possible to tell the Mexican authorities what to do.
What we can do, and what we have done, is to engage the minister and the with the Mexican officials at the highest level, to tell them to bring this case to justice as quickly as possible. We are constantly engaging with the highest level there. We have offered our services to assist in this investigation, and the Mexican authorities have declined.
My minister and the are in contact with the families.
You are absolutely right that there is uncertainty for these ladies. They need to be cleared as quickly as possible so they can carry on with their lives and a closure is brought to this case.
So we are engaged. As you know, international diplomacy requires that we engage behind the scenes and put pressure on the Government of Mexico to run this investigation in the fairest possible manner.
I want to repeat, again, what the has said. Canada will stand behind Canadian citizens' rights on the international scene. That is what we'll do.
The minister has been here on many occasions, but to call him here does not really advance the cause. As I've stated--and the members who have been in the government know that--it is far more effective to work behind the scenes with the government to bring this to a speedy resolution.
Under no circumstances is this an intent not to do anything or to not meet the intent of the motion. The approach is to reach the same goal as the motion. We want to do that, and we will continue to do that.
We feel we would be far more effective behind the scenes in putting pressure on the Government of Mexico. But we must all remember that it is the Government of Mexico. Unfortunately, this crime took place--it should never have taken place--in a different country with a different jurisdiction. Canada does not have the legal authority. It does not have anything that would allow it to go into somebody else's country and tell them what to do.
What Canada has is an ability to influence, to put pressure, and to ask that they expedite this as quickly as possible.
So at this stage the government, as I said, has a different approach. So even if our members are going to vote against this motion, it does not mean at all that the intent is not there and that we are not working towards this thing. We are working very, very hard to achieve the same goals that you have, that we have, and that they have. It's just the approach is slightly different, that's all.
I have to say that I found it a bit chilling when I listened to that explanation for why it's not appropriate for members of Parliament to engage around this issue through their parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and international development.
I can't help but think the same line of argument was actually offered up at various points for why we shouldn't concern ourselves with the issue of Maher Arar, that we can't do anything about the Syrian government, they do what they want to do, or that we can't do anything about the U.S. government, they do what they want to do, so let's just let it get solved in some other way.
I want to support the motion and the intent of the motion, but I want to make a small friendly amendment. I hope it doesn't seem unfriendly for me to be doing so, but I'm a tiny bit concerned about the wording, that we are asking that the ministers affected come before the committee to answer questions pertaining to the murders. I'm not sure that we can even intend that they be asked to answer questions pertaining to the murders.
I think what we want to do is to have them come before the committee at the earliest opportunity to answer questions pertaining to, and here's my friendly amendment, “the government's efforts to obtain justice in regard to”, and then continue as it's worded, “the murders of Dominic and Nancy Ianiero in Cancun, Mexico”.
I suggest that for two reasons, frankly. I think that whether it's the Ianiero family, who remain utterly, totally distraught, or the two women from Thunder Bay, whose lives have been a living hell since the day they were cast completely improperly and unfairly under suspicion, we absolutely have a responsibility as members of Parliament to address this.
It's not an issue that gets resolved by addressing it in question period other than to keep it before the government and try to keep the heat on, but I think we're interested in trying to get to the bottom of what has been done, what can be done that hasn't been done. We have a responsibility to do that, as it affects all of these people whose lives are just in limbo.
So I would commend to all committee members that small friendly amendment in support of the intent and the remaining content of the motion that's before us.
This issue is probably the most important consular issue at the most important time in our relationship with Mexico. The family of Dominic and Nancy Ianiero--one member was here today, Mr. Anthony Ianiero--and those who have been unfairly blindsided by this--Cheryl Everall and Kimberly Kim, who are also with us here today--deserve a full, appropriate, complete, and transparent explanation as to what transpired and what has led the Mexican officials to now declare that this case is over.
Mexico may believe this case is over, but Canadian parliamentarians do not. Out of an interest between the two countries, with over a million Canadians travelling to that destination every year, whether it is the Ianiero case, whether it is the Shawn Potts case, or whether it is the Brenda Martin case, there is a certain concern that has been raised by most Canadians that our consular and diplomatic efforts are not good enough if we do these things behind closed doors.
The former Mexican President has upheld the view of the Attorney General of Quintana Roo, despite his own police investigation that has cleared Ms. Everall and Ms. Kim, and has declared that he believes these two Canadians are guilty of those heinous murders of Canadians.
I've spent a bit of time on consular cases, as you know, and not once in my two or three years doing that job was the question asked in the House of Commons pertaining specifically to a case that was under my tenure. Yet there have been many questions asked of the minister. In 30 seconds of question and response we can't get the kinds of answers we so clearly deserve if we are going to continue to enhance our efforts with Mexico. I think it's important for Mexico to come clean on this, but at the same time to also recognize that it is in Canada's interest as well to ensure that we continue to give Canadians an assurance of a modicum of protection and safety when they're travelling to that country.
It is by all accounts no surprise to anybody here that the investigative abilities of most Mexican officials are negligent, poor, and incapable of protecting Canadians, let alone their own citizens. I have no difficulty talking about the Mexican jurisprudence and saying that we cannot interfere with their system, but that catch phrase cannot be used as a defence to allow Canadians to be continuously left to fend for themselves, with only the rare consular visit they get, or the lip service we often give to these important cases.
So I not only support the motion by Mr. Wilfert, but I think it would give the ministers a golden opportunity to explain once and for all what has been done and what should be done, and answer, canvass, and perhaps field questions as to whether or not Canada's diplomatic effort should include--as was suggested yesterday by Ms. Everall and Ms. Kim--a diplomatic protest.
I don't know what the answers are. I know that our diplomatic efforts up to this point have failed. They've not only failed Canadians, but they continue to potentially damage our reputation, our trade relationship, and our tourism industry with Mexico. This is not in Mexico's interest, and it's certainly not in Canada's interest.
So I think it's extremely important for us to bring this issue to light in a two-hour session with both ministers responsible, given all that has been said. We need to not just talk about engaging at the highest levels, but deal with what I think most Canadians expect, which is a government that's prepared to stand up for them when they wind up in difficulty. If indeed the minister has done these things, he will have an opportunity to explain them. The minister will also perhaps have an opportunity to hear, from the wisdom of many of the members who have been sitting on this committee for many years, recommendations that should take place with respect to Mexico.
My colleague, Mr. Obhrai, spoke very passionately about what has been done. I want to clarify for him, in case he didn't see the press conference yesterday, that the minister has not indeed followed up with his commitment to have contact with the families. We know that we have within the Department of Foreign Affairs a very dedicated and strong group of individuals who work tirelessly at the consular level, but they cannot work if they do not have political support. I'm suggesting there has to be a much better and more coordinated effort. This too could arise from this case.
We do not want, with respect to Mexico or any other country, a repeat of what could have been done at the early stages. For instance, there should be a protocol with the Mexican officials to allow Canada to collaborate, as it does with many other nations, with investigative abilities at the outset. Then important and crucial evidence wouldn't be compromised. Evidence was compromised to the extent that not only did we not get to the bottom of who killed Dominic and Nancy, but we also compromised the integrity and innocence of Canadians, which I think is both unfair and wrong.
And to all Canadians who are watching this, who have seen this thing unfold, I think it is a travesty for us not to have reacted. As I predicted in February 2006, we are probably never going to see the end of this. It is 14 to 15 months after that incident. It is clear to me that if we don't get it right at the beginning, we are never going to get it right.
And that's not something I'm here to chastise the minister about; I'm simply here to point out to the minister that more can be done. Allow his consular officials to do a better job; give them the resources and the political profile, and, by all means, in the interests of both countries, let's augment our diplomatic relations with those two nations so this never happens again, for the sake of justice.
Good morning, and welcome.
This is meeting 49 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. We are reconvening, and it is April 19, 2007.
Today we have another briefing on the circumstances in Afghanistan. We're going to combine both of our witnesses.
We have with us Houchang Hassan-Yari, professor and head of the Department of Politics and Economics at the Royal Military College of Canada.
We welcome you, sir. We waited for you before, and we're glad that you made it. We heard you had a bit of an accident, and we're glad you're all right.
Dr. Hassan-Yari is professor in the Department of History at Queen's University, he is a senior fellow at the Queen's Centre for International Relations, and he has a lot of expertise in this area.
We also have journalist and writer David Van Praagh. He has specialized in reporting on and analyzing Asian developments for more than 40 years. He has written a number of publications and has written articles in newspapers in North America. He is well known to television audiences in Canada and around Ottawa, the nation's capital, in particular.
We welcome both of you here today, and we thank you for adjusting your schedules. This committee will go until 11 o'clock, at which time there is another committee. We'll invite you each to give an opening statement, and then there will be questions from our committee members.
I'm terribly sorry to be late. That doesn't happen very often. As you mentioned, I had a minor accident while coming here. I left home much earlier to be here, but unfortunately couldn't make it.
I'm going to talk very briefly about the situation in Afghanistan, in hopes that we are going to have an exchange after that.
Afghanistan, as you know, is a country composed of different ethnic groups and regions.
Afghanistan is a country rich in history and events, that is going through a turbulent period which, unfortunately, has lasted a very long time. This country has always been the target of invasions from neighbouring regions. What is happening now is to some extent the continuation of these events.
In particular, there is what is known as the "Great Game", which lasted from the end of the XIXth century until the beginning of the XXth, during which the Russian and English empires squared off. The situation today is, of course, a continuation of what has happened since the Soviet invasion, and subsequently, the American invasion. And all of this happened in a context of the post September 11, 2001 world and the events that followed the collapse of the Taliban regime.
If we want really to understand what's going on now and how to prevent the kinds of errors that probably we are going to make in the future, we have to recognize the errors of the past. I enumerated a number of them. The first one, in my view, is the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001; it shouldn't have been done. The question of the Taliban and al-Qaeda could have been addressed differently. It wasn't the case, unfortunately.
The second error was this victorious celebration by neo-cons in Washington that everything is possible now that the Taliban are not in power, and then move on and go to the second one and so forth.
The third error the Americans made was the invasion of Iraq and distracting really the international community from the problems that existed in Afghanistan.
As for the problems today, we might be more concerned about those problems. The first one I can identify is the absence of viable institutions. In Afghanistan, the institutions--whatever exists that we can call an institution--are extremely weak. Afghanis need really to have institution-building. Some elections were held, but again, whatever was created is extremely weak and it should be reinforced.
What is needed is to have a very strong and efficient administration. We don't have that in Afghanistan, and it's one of the sources of the many problems we have. Other institutions that need to be reinforced are related to security, the army, the police, and so forth.
The enjeux principale, in my view, in Afghanistan is really to improve the life of the Afghani population. We know that the Taliban took over because of the failure of others, the Mujahadeen and others. It seems that what's going on in Afghanistan is really a kind of repetition of the same situation. So there is an accumulation of errors by a number of countries and institutions in Afghanistan. I should emphasize that those errors are simply reinforcing the position of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
We absolutely need to rebuild the trust of the people in Afghanistan. It used to be very strong, but unfortunately it is eroding. We need to rebuild the people's trust to achieve a better future, both from a material and security point of view. As Canadians, we are well aware of Afghanistan's security problems and of the problems faced in daily life by both individual Afghans and Afghan society.
But there are serious obstacles to rebuilding trust. There are a number of reasons for this. The first one is the lack of awareness of Afghanistan's priorities. I believe that democracy, individual freedoms and these types of concepts are extremely important. However, we have set up a window dressing type of democracy in Afghanistan instead of first making the country secure and then creating institutions which can function in a secure environment.
The second one is also very important, and it is something which has considerably weakened Afghanistan since October 2001, namely excessive corruption. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Taliban were successful at the expense of the Moudjahidine precisely because of the corruption issue and in-fighting among the Moudjahidine. But that is exactly what is still going on today in Afghanistan. There's no cohesion between ministers. There are problems.
The third obstacle is poverty among the masses and the wealth of a few. Schools are having a difficult time. We need to address these realities, including pay for teachers, policemen and other government employees.
The fourth one is political freedom and freedom of the press. These freedoms are now being threatened by the government and by the excessive actions of the Afghan police force.
The fifth obstacle is that the current government and the countries' presence in Afghanistan, including Canada, are, in my view, too dependent on the warlords, the very people who destroyed Afghanistan in the first place and who facilitated the Taliban comeback. It's the same problem all over again.
The sixth obstacle is Afghanistan's, and the entire region, problem with drugs. Lastly, there is a lack of coordination at the macro level in the areas of security and development.
I will stop here. There are other issues, but I'll come back to them later.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members. It's an honour and a privilege to address the committee today on a subject as important, timely, and sensitive as Afghanistan, and on Canada's role in that tortured country.
I'm not an expert on Afghanistan like Barnett Rubin. I'm not a historian, although I hold the title of professor. I'm a journalist who has been engaged with Afghanistan, as with many other Asian countries, for many years, since driving across that rugged land in 1961 and nearly not making it to the Khyber Pass on roads as non-existent then as they are now, and in 1966, which may seem a long time ago, writing the first series of articles on Afghanistan in a Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail.
I might just add that as a journalist I'm used to asking questions and reporting speeches and I'm not used to giving speeches or taking questions, but I think it's very important for me to say at the outset that I believe journalists have a responsibility, as well as a right, to come to their own consensus about any situation, and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to express any opinions as such, as that word is usually used.
What I'd like to do briefly this morning is note some relevant history of Afghanistan and its neighbourhood that may be ignored or forgotten with the too often tragic impact of the lives and deaths of brave Canadian soldiers.
As you know, Afghanistan was the focus of what the British called “the great game” to protect the Raj in India from Russian imperialism. I've written a book called The Greater Game: India's Race with Destiny and China.
Afghanistan is a key battle of the greater game, the conflict in many countries between free, tolerant peoples and global terrorists. Democracies and would-be democracies near and far will suffer a severe defeat in the greater game if Afghanistan, Canadian credibility, and NATO effectiveness are lost.
For more than 1,000 years, Afghanistan has been the historic gateway to India for conquerors and would-be conquerors going back to Alexander the Great. Afghans are tough tribesmen who come by suspicion of farenghi, or foreigners, naturally, since Genghis Khan nearly obliterated Afghanistan in the 13th century. Three times in the 19th and early 20th centuries they defeated would-be British conquerors, who nevertheless made Afghanistan a classic buffer state against Russian imperialists in central Asia.
When the British left India and the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, Pakistan, with the North West Frontier Agency made famous by Kipling, became Afghanistan's eastern neighbour. Pustun or Pashtun tribesmen, called Pathans in Pakistan, live on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line dividing the two countries. Russia never gave up its designs on Afghanistan. Pakistan, next to attaining its highest territorial aim, which is control of the Indian-held Vale of Kashmir, made control of Afghanistan its highest territorial aim.
In the mid-1960s, however--and I think it's important to go back to that period for reasons I'm going to briefly sum up--Afghanistan made its first attempt to emerge into the modern world. I watched in justifiable disbelief as the Afghans under King Muhammad Zahir Shah built new roads, allowed women, especially at Kabul University, to go unveiled, and even held constitutional parliamentary elections, but with no political parties. Canada joined the U.S., the Soviet Union, and other countries in competing economic aid projects--but a series of tragic events jolted the Afghans back to the Middle Ages: a Soviet-backed coup in 1973 overthrew the progressive king; a Soviet-backed Communist coup succeeded in 1978; when ruling Afghan Communists faltered, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979; a decade of insurgency by U.S.-armed Mujahadeen fighters compelled the Soviets to leave in 1989; and three more years of war against a brutal Communist regime were followed by civil war among victorious Mujahadeen.
Then Pakistan created an army of benighted Pashtun Islamist extremists, called the Taliban, that conquered most of the country by 1996. This led to a steady, unresisted invasion by al-Qaeda terrorists led by Osama bin Laden.
Finally, on September 9, 2001, in what may have been a signal of what happened on the other side of the world two days later, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary commander of the Northern Alliance who had defeated the Red Army in the Panshir Valley northeast of Kabul and had blocked total Taliban conquest of Afghanistan, was killed in a terrorist suicide bombing.
But with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Afghans quickly adapted to the greater game. Their country shared only devastation with the World Trade Center. But they seized a way out of fanatical Taliban rule, which was demolished along with world al-Qaeda headquarters by a temporary U.S.-led invasion, including Canadian troops, notably JTF2.
In 1989, a miracle saved Afghanistan from Soviet rule. In 2001, a second miracle saved Afghanistan from Taliban rule.
The Afghans are still finding it difficult to rebuild a nation that Sir Henry Rawlinson, the first westerner to describe Afghanistan in detail, called in 1875 “a mere collection of tribes”--the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, the Turkmen, the Hazara descendants of Genghis Khan.
These armed tribes were symbolically held together by Zahir Shah, the reformist king who in 1933, following assassination of his father, had assumed the Pashtun Durrani throne dating back to 1747. In 2002, at the age of 87, he convoked a loya jirga, or grand gathering, of the Afghan tribes that confirmed Hamid Karzai, a highly educated tribal chief related to Zahir Shah, as leader of the Afghan government. He was later elected president, and of course he visited Canada last September.
Afghans have made a start toward democratic government, including election of a parliament, still with no political parties, and with recognition of equal status of women. But tribal rivalries persist. Warlords control some parts of the country. Corruption is endemic. The opium trade thrives. Worst of all, the Taliban have been revived by Pakistan, a key fact we must never forget. Pakistan allows bases for Pashtun insurgents and sanctuaries for al-Qaeda leaders, who have moved their world headquarters from Kandahar to Karachi and Quetta.
It was clear in September 2003, when Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf visited Ottawa, that engagement of Canadian troops and Taliban forces was inevitable. The Canadians were moving out of Kabul to provide stability and reconstruction in the provinces. Taliban fighters--trained, armed, organized, and advised by ISI, Pakistan's military Inter-Services Intelligence--were moving back into Afghanistan in large numbers.
Three years later, in September 2006, Canadian troops with U.S., British, and Dutch air support decisively won the biggest battle in Afghanistan since late 2001. Hundreds of Taliban insurgents were killed in the Panjwai district near Kandahar, the movement's original base, and hundreds fled back to Pakistan.
Now the war in Afghanistan has entered a critical new phase. Both sides have promised spring offensives, but the Taliban appear to be avoiding major battles and are counting on roadside bombs and suicide bombers to wear down the will of NATO forces.
NATO, while training Afghan soldiers and police, is stepping up efforts to win the support of Afghan villagers by providing civic improvements as well as military protection. Both are necessary. Reconstruction in Afghanistan is not possible without armed force. That is a fact.
Canada's 2,500 troops in Afghanistan have played a major, I would say magnificent, role. Canada is committed to continuing this difficult task to 2009--I know the time beyond is controversial, and I will just leave it at that--and is acquiring better armoured tanks against Taliban bombs. If Canada pulled out before Afghanistan was safe and stable, the impact on all NATO forces and on the Afghan government would be devastating at a time when the U.S., Britain, and Australia--Australia is not a NATO member--are increasing the number of their troops in Afghanistan.
To answer the most asked question about Canadian troops in Afghanistan, yes, it is worth it. If Afghanistan falls under Taliban rule again, a deadly combination of Islamist terrorism and Pakistani militarism will spread in South Asia and Central Asia and make further conflicts inevitable, whether or not conditions in the Middle East continue to deteriorate.
More than patience and understanding is necessary, but those two things are necessary. Economic and possible military pressure needs to be put on Musharraf in Pakistan to call off the Taliban. Karzai's government needs to reduce corruption and ties to tribal warlords. Canada and its allies need time to defeat the Taliban, rebuild a free Afghanistan, and win the greater game.
Mr. Chair, I will share my time with Mr. McTeague, and I will go right away to a question.
Thank you very much. You said at the beginning that we have to talk about past mistakes if we want to find—
You say that we need to admit our mistakes in the past if we want to know and understand what we should do in the future.
It's the same with Professor Van Praagh, who talked to us about the history of the country. If we understand the history of the country, we can try to find a solution. You talked about the gateway, the buffer zone between Russia and India, but my question concerns Pakistan.
We know that President Musharraf of Pakistan doesn't control his borders. He doesn't control the south and north. That is to say, in a sense, in the Pashtun area in Quetta in Pakistan, there is no government and there is no presence of a central government. It's left to the people there to control their area.
You talked about the Durand Line and all these issues. What can we do to try to help find a solution? My understanding is that we can help as much as we can in Afghanistan, but if the Taliban still controls this area and gets into Kandahar, we could have a domino effect throughout Afghanistan, and we would have to start over again.
Do you think it would be good to have an international conference for the region itself? We have to have the input of Russia, China, Iran, all the P-5, and the European Union. What do you think about this? I don't see a diplomatic solution at the moment.
Well, I think you've raised two questions.
The first one was about Pakistan. In my mind, there's no question that Pakistan really is at the root of this evil: the Taliban. It created the Taliban, and it continues.... Even when the Northern Alliance was at the gateway to Kabul back in 2001, he was trying to stop—and did for awhile—the bombing of the Taliban, and he tried to dictate the new Afghan government at the time.
But as you point out, the danger now is there are tribal areas where Pakistani troops have gone in that are really out of control. So Musharraf, as usual—as he has with the issue of Kashmir, though I won't get into that—is playing a double game with the issue of Afghanistan. The game is to say, oh, look, I know how dangerous the Taliban are and I'll go after them, and we've suffered heavy casualties. At the same time he's afraid; he wants to say in power and knows there are elements in his country that want him out of power. It is a military dictatorship. So at the same time, he encourages and continues to arm....
I mean, the Taliban could not have begun to have done the things they've done militarily without the help of the Pakistani army. Now, it's true, the Pakistanis have...and there other people than the Pashtun tribe. The whole movement has new adherents; there are some Uzbeks, and there are the Pashtuns on either side of the border. But the point is that it's all in line with Pakistan's goal, which really goes beyond Musharraf—but he's trying to carry it out—to control Afghanistan, like they say, as a buffer against India.
So we have to put the greatest possible pressure on Musharraf. The Americans have been very late in doing this. I think it's no secret that Canada and Holland, together, for some months now, have been trying to put on economic pressure. We don't know much about this, because it's been kept quiet. And now Bush has weighed in. But we don't know exactly what kind of pressure it is, and I think it has to be very strong to force Pakistan....
The second question you raised, about an international conference, sounds fine in principle. I'm not sure this is the right time. I would rather wait until.... I mean, now the Taliban could claim, well, we are a major force. I'd rather they got a few more black eyes and were hurt a little more and were definitely seen to be losing before we had an international conference.
The Taliban will have supporters. There'll be some in Pakistan among the ISI and the military who will support the Taliban.
Iran doesn't make sense. A lot of things don't make sense. Iran, of course, is Shia; the Taliban is Sunni, but we now know, in the last few days, of increasing evidence of Iranian-designed and -provided weapons being found not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan.
So I think, in principle, a conference is a good idea. I'm not sure this is the right time.
Pakistan is playing, really, a significant dirty role here. Everybody is talking about the responsibility of Pakistan, but nobody is really doing something against it. There should be something, and the Americans and others—Canadians and the international community in general—have a lot of leverage here.
We should not be shy, saying that if you put pressure on it, this government is going to collapse and the alternative would be even worse. There is not such a thing yet. So he should be pressured; he's not.
If you asked the Dutch or Canadian soldiers who are in the south and southeast, they would tell you the border is open. There is nobody there to just ask the question, where are you going. So they come, go, and so forth.
The reason is really to address the Pakistan issue with more force. The regional conference is overdue, really. It should have been done earlier; it should be done now. If it's not going to be done, we will probably see even more negative intervention by the neighbours.
I'm not really convinced that Iran is playing a very negative role in Afghanistan. Just go to Iraq and ask the Iraqis. And here, I'm really quoting General Richards, who was talking about the positive Iranian role in that region and the necessity to engage them. When I asked him in October 2006 why they were not doing it, he said, “Some of our friends do not want us to do it.” He didn't mention who the friends are, but everybody could guess who.
So the regional conference is extremely important, and it should also have another component within that conference—and Canada can push in that direction—the organization of an Islamic conference.
The reason we need to engage.... My colleague is talking about Shia, Sunni, and all of those issues. I don't believe really that in the case of Afghanistan this is a significant element. But the organization of an international Islamic conference can bring some kind of positive input to the issue by engaging Muslim countries—57 of them—and also by providing forces. Why should Canadian, Americans, Dutch, British, and others do it?
I'll just finish by saying that in many of the Muslim countries, they see the situation in Afghanistan as being like an Anglo-Saxon, white conspiracy, or however you want to qualify it.
This means that the reason is really to engage those people who can bring something positive to the table.
To begin, the warlords must face up to their responsibilities. Because of them, the Taliban became what they are, and they are also the ones who created the unfortunates events we are dealing with today. We can achieve this within the framework mentioned by Mr. Patry a little earlier, that is, a regional meeting involving all roots of Afghan society, of course. But as long as these warlords do not face up to their responsibilities, they will continue to believe that the Afghan people owe them a huge debt. They believe they saved Afghanistan from the Soviet Union. It's how they see the situation.
If we go back in time and look at what the situation was of today's warlords, we would realize that they were nothing compared to the Taliban. The Taliban controlled the land, except for 3% of it, which was controlled by Ahmad Shah Massoud and his colleagues, in the north of the country. So how did the warlords become so powerful?
When the Americans invaded Afghanistan, they unfortunately believed they needed the warlords. It was a very faulty reading of the situation, and it was imposed by people like Zalmay Khalilzad and others. In their opinion, there was no other choice but to deal with the warlords. But these people are criminals, any Afghan will tell you so, but today they are in positions of power. How can you expect a criminal to become a law-maker? It is simply impossible.
And incidentally, who are the Taliban? They really are not like the mollah Omar or other people who received media notoriety. In fact, the Taliban is made up of a vast array of people each having their own interpretation of Islam. This does not mean that every Taliban has the same perception of the situation or looked for the same things. So, in certain regions, the former Taliban who have since become governors are accomplishing extraordinary work. It was a movement, and not a single individual; it was not based on solid principles as would be a party. It was a movement which brought together all kinds of people, including people who are doing good things for the country today.
I believe that national reconciliation is not a bad idea, but we must be careful to avoid falling into a trap. It worked in South Africa, but the context was different. In Afghanistan, we need to begin a national dialogue, of course, but the warlords must be reminded of their responsibilities and they have to be sent home so that the country can finally develop.
Let me make a couple of remarks. I said there were two miracles here: the Afghans got rid of the Soviets and they got rid of the Taliban. Frankly, it's another miracle that most Afghans--and I think it's fair to say “most”--are accepting Canadians, Americans, Australians, Dutch, and Danes in their country, because they don't like foreigners. They have very good reason not to like foreigners.
One of the points my colleague made on Islamic countries.... There are tremendous rivalries among these countries and groups within these countries, and I'm not sure the Afghans would welcome other people from other countries.
There are questions about NATO, of course, and what NATO is doing. This raises a bigger question that goes far beyond Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is the key test. NATO is trying to move out of Europe and started to do that in the former Yugoslavia successfully.
The NATO stabilization force in Afghanistan, which is UN-authorized, and of which we're a part, has been operating as a command structure. If it doesn't work I think NATO might begin to think about packing it in. If it does work, I think we've begun to have a model for where NATO again can step into serious situations within countries and play a positive role.
Again, I go back to the Pakistan thing. The Russians will come back if you let them, and the Russians are distrusted more than anyone by the Afghans. You've got to establish trust, and we know it's very difficult. Our guys are getting killed because of it. But we've got to aid people in the villages and at the same time take military action if need be to get rid of the guys who are causing the trouble.
Let's not forget who the Taliban are. Their main target, their main weapons, are suicide bombs, roadside bombs. Their favourite targets are schools, particularly schools for girls. When they were in power they literally kept women confined to their homes, took away their jobs, kept them completely covered up and out of sight, and destroyed Buddhist monuments that go back in the history of the region. These are fanatics.
There will always be fanatics among us in every society. We just had a very good example in Virginia. But in this case so much is riding on an effective international answer. I think we're on the way, but it's going to be difficult.