We'll bring this committee meeting to order. We have met already for one hour on a different subject.
This is meeting number 58 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. In this next hour, appearing as an individual is Sarah Chayes, founder of Arghand, a cooperative in Kandahar.
Ms. Chayes was a Paris reporter for National Public Radio, based in Paris. She was dispatched to cover a number of conflict and post-conflict zones. She left reporting in 2002 and remained in Afghanistan, and that is where she is coming from, via teleconference this morning.
Ms. Chayes has written a book on post-Taliban Kandahar, entitled The Punishment of Virtue, and that was published in 2006.
We welcome you this morning from Kandahar.
Before we get to you, we will also have with us this morning, here in our committee room, testimony from the Senlis Council. Norine MacDonald is president and lead field researcher, security and development policy group.
We welcome you.
We're also going to take some time at the end of the meeting for some committee business. At approximately quarter to or ten to eleven we'll do that very briefly.
Welcome to our guests who are here in the committee room.
And also from Afghanistan, welcome.
We will give each of you an opportunity to give an initial presentation. We'll listen to both presentations, about 10 minutes each, if that's all right, and then we will go into the first round of questioning, and each member will have an opportunity to question you.
Perhaps we will have our first presentation from Kandahar.
Welcome, and thank you for being a part of the foreign affairs committee this morning.
Thanks very much for having me. I'm only sorry I couldn't be in the room with you.
I'd like to speak fairly briefly because I think it really is important to leave plenty of time for questions. Basically, I want to make two major points.
One is that I feel very strongly, as somebody who has lived in Kandahar for the last five and a half years, that the role Canadians troops are playing here is absolutely critical. I know this has been an often difficult and painful debate in Canada, both in your fora and in the public, as to the value of what our troops are doing and things like that. Let me tell you, it's crucial that they be here.
We can talk about modalities, and that's what I'd like to get into a little bit in terms of how they behave on the ground, what the context is in which they are here. I might have some comments to make on that, but on the basic question of should they be here, yes.
The second major point is that my sense of the debate in Canada has been that it's kind of being phrased as a dichotomy, either humanitarian assistance or combat, less combat and more humanitarian, things like that. I actually think that's a false dichotomy, and I will go into that.
On the first point, let me simply say that I couldn't be here.... The members of my cooperative, who are all Kandaharis--one Kabuli, but otherwise all Kandaharis--would not be able to continue working on the.... We make skin care products, many of which are sold in Canada, including Ottawa very shortly. They wouldn't be able to continue to function--I think all of them would probably have to become refugees--if it were not for the presence of Canadian troops.
It's really important that you understand what's happening in southern Afghanistan, not so much as an insurgency--that is, an indigenous uprising by locals--but rather as a kind of invasion by proxy of Afghanistan by Pakistan using Afghans. Fundamentally, this so-called insurgency is being orchestrated, organized, financed, trained, and equipped across the border in Pakistan. So in a sense, what your troops are doing here is protecting Afghans from this invasion. Now, that's schematic. It is certainly true that the more Afghans are disillusioned with the government we have provided them, the more likely they are to be tempted to sympathize with this Taliban invasion, is what I would call it.
There are also issues of how troops behave, and that's where I think.... I do know the Canadian command has been thinking very hard about this, but I would urge continued thought. How much do you use air power in what is really a very nitty-gritty, village-to-village kind of combat situation? Air power is not a very appropriate tool for that kind of warfare, and unfortunately there have been unnecessary civilian casualties.
Also, there's been a lot of fear, and it's perfectly understandable in troops that are not very experienced. When they hit an improvised bomb or there's a suicide attack, they become very scared and often will fire almost at random. And it's not only Canadians who have been guilty of this. The Brits have done this at least twice in the last year. Americans did it in a terrible event in a different province, to the north end, east of here.
I would say there definitely needs to be further thought on the tactical battle practices, so that you don't think about the number of Taliban dead as being a sign of victory. If you kill three Taliban and five villagers, you've probably created 15 Taliban, because villagers who lose their loved ones are going to be more tempted to join the Taliban in order to take revenge, or because they have no other means of support, or something like that. So I think battle plans need to be thought out in a slightly more strategic fashion.
That brings me to strategic modalities.
That really gets to the political context in which this whole drama is being played out, which is unfortunately a context of an almost unshakable alliance between my country--the United States--and Pakistan. That is a totally contradictory alliance, because it is clear to me from the experience I have on the ground here that this so-called insurgency is being deliberately orchestrated by members of the Pakistani government. This is not rogue elements of the ISI; this is not the Pakistani government not doing enough to thwart the Taliban. This is an orchestrated movement by the Pakistani military establishment. When I find out that my government is providing $1 billion U.S. a year to the Pakistani government, supposedly to pay for anti-terror operations, I'm just speechless.
This is a role that Canadians in the political sphere have to play. If I were a Canadian parliamentarian, I would have some very serious questions to ask about my strong ally, the United States. My people are dying in this conflict, which is fundamentally being financed by the United States. That's a major political issue.
My second basic point is that this is not merely a dichotomy between humanitarian assistance and combat. What I mean is this. First of all, in southern Afghanistan, I don't believe humanitarian assistance is even particularly appropriate. Southern Afghanistan is not in a situation of humanitarian catastrophe but in a situation of developmental stagnation. So blankets and schools and even wells are not fundamentally what are needed here. What is needed is a much more difficult, complex, and long-winded effort to help rebuild a functioning economy in a region that is not utterly devoid of resources. What we do is make soap and high-level skin care products--which are selling out the second they arrive in shops in Canada and the United States--using the very valuable raw materials that exist here, such as pomegranates, almonds, apricot kernels, and all of this gorgeous stuff that is the mainstay of local agriculture.
That's one point, but the even larger point I would like to make is that I always hear governance being voiced as an afterthought. We talk about humanitarian assistance, development assistance, or combat, but no one really focuses on the issue of governance as the linchpin of the post-Taliban experience in Afghanistan. I submit that right now it's a free-for-all. The people ushered into power in this country--again, particularly by my government, and in particular at the provincial and local levels--are just raping the country. It is an absolute free-for-all. You cannot get any administrative task performed without coughing up money. In 2002 and 2003 I would hear from ordinary people that at least under the Taliban there was security, and people knew they could cross the town without being attacked by militiamen. Now I'm hearing people say that under the Taliban there wasn't so much bribery and corruption.
It is a terrible indictment of the post-Taliban experiment in nation-building that we are unable to put up a government that has a minimum of respect for its citizens, and as long as we are not able to do that, then ordinary Afghans are going to continue to desert this experiment for the Taliban. What I find is the support for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan is not ideological. It's not about Islam, anti-westernism, or culture; sometimes it's phrased in those terms, but it is fundamentally very practical. It is that people want a predictable life, one in which they know what the rules are and what they will be punished for and what they will be rewarded for. They want to be able to feed their families and put their kids in school. We have not provided that context.
It is time for us, as an international community, to take some responsibility for the public officials we have ushered into power. That means the diplomatic representation you have on the ground here, and even the military officers, need to take on the role of demanding accountability from the government as a more central part of their mission.
Secondly, I would say that even within this context of corruption, no matter how much development assistance you provide, it's going to be distorted, because it's passing through corrupt channels. So number one, people aren't receiving the benefits, and number two, they see how much of them are skimmed off by their government and believe that this is our policy.
Again, let me repeat, we are the ones who brought these people to power. The notion that the current Government of Afghanistan is chosen by the Afghan people is a fiction. There have been elections apart from the elections for president. They were a travesty. The governor is not elected. The mayor is not elected. Nobody who has direct impact on the everyday lives of people has been elected.
What I'm saying is that if you spend a fortune on development assistance and it passes through corrupt hands, it's only going to reinforce what is essentially a governing system that people are suffering from.
I think the last point I would make in this regard is that Afghans do not make a huge distinction between, let's say, me, a civilian foreigner who's working in the private sector, or an NGO person--so we would be about the same--and the Canadian army and the Afghan government.
Are you looking at the time? Is that what I'm seeing your hand going up for?
Good morning. And I apologize for my inability to deliver any part of my presentation in French.
For those of you who don't know us, the Senlis Council is the security and development and counter-narcotics policy group. I'm the president, founder, and lead researcher for the Senlis Council and Senlis Afghanistan. I am a Canadian. We have offices, however, in London and Paris. Senlis Afghanistan is based in Kabul, with field offices in Kandahar and Helmand. Yesterday we just officially opened an office here in Ottawa, and I'm pleased that our Ottawa office is represented by my Afghan Canadian colleagues, two of whom were instrumental in the establishment of Senlis Afghanistan.
I've been living and working in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah for two years now, where I lead our field research activities with a team of 50 Afghan colleagues. I spend my days in the villages and the camps, talking to Afghans on the ground, conducting surveys and interviews to document the situation there from a policy point of view.
We recently concluded a survey of 17,000 men in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and the results were chilling. Of the men surveyed, 50% stated they believed the Taliban will win the war. Over 80% worry constantly about feeding their families. These men are living on about $2 to $3 a day to feed their families—when they can get work. These are very bad numbers.
Yesterday we released a report that notes the extreme poverty of southern Afghanistan and the growing disenchantment of the local population with the international presence. The province's refugee camps are full of starving people and have become easy recruiting ground for the Taliban. There has been no substantial food aid into Kandahar province since March 2006. As was mentioned earlier, civilian casualties continue to fuel local resentment against the foreign presence in Afghanistan.
Kandahar's hospitals are completely inadequate to deal with war zone casualties or even the basic health needs of the local population. We have released a study of the hospital in Kandahar city. This hospital, which is where civilian casualties of the war are brought and which is also there to provide basic health care for the province, does not deserve the name “hospital”. There is no effective blood service, no equipment, no medicines, no proper operation facilities. But there is a ward for malnutritioned babies, without proper food or medicine.
The Afghan people are suffering and they feel we are not addressing their legitimate grievances. Our military is doing a remarkable job in difficult circumstances, but we are not doing what needs to be done on development, aid, or counter-narcotics policies to assure that we have the support of the Afghan people. Without winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, we will continue to win the military battles, but we will not win this war.
Canada's development and aid failures in Kandahar are endangering our substantial military successes there. Yesterday, we called on Prime Minister Harper to dramatically overhaul Canada's development aid and counter-narcotics policies. In these recommendations we called for CIDA to be relieved of its responsibility for development efforts in Afghanistan and to be replaced by the appointment of a special envoy to Afghanistan to coordinate development aid and counter-narcotics policy, with a development and aid budget equal to the military budget. We need a major and immediate overhaul of our approach in Afghanistan. The government must be clear with the Canadian people what our objectives are and state our critical success factors.
In this regard, we have organized some very short, two-minute video clips that will be shown at the end of my presentation to give you an idea of the plight of people in Afghanistan and why we need to redefine and clearly state our objectives.
In this regard, we propose that the objectives follow the internationally agreed best practices that Canada helped to develop: the UN millennium development goals. Our report recommends that Canada adopt the millennium development goals as critical success factors to assist us in managing and measuring the progress of the mission in Afghanistan. In carrying out our mission in Afghanistan, Canada is well able to, and should, take leadership on these issues, just as we did when we led the way with the landmines treaty. The achievement of the millennium development goals is pivotal to bringing peace and economic prosperity to the people of Kandahar and would help to ensure that they are immune to the anti-west Taliban propaganda. The list of development goals is set out in the report that's in the package to be handed out to you today. It deals with hunger, poverty, health, clean water, or a broad spectrum of issues.
I can't emphasize enough the desperate poverty of the people of Kandahar, particularly those living in the informal refugee camps in the region. Providing families with immediate food aid is possible and inexpensive, especially compared to the cost of our military budget. If we're not moved to do this from a humanitarian point of view, we should do this out of a counter-insurgency theory point of view to support our military presence there.
There is increased concern and anger in Afghanistan regarding the increasing number of civilian casualties and the bombing campaigns that are levelling villages and leaving thousands homeless. This must be dealt with.
Finally, on the counter-narcotics point, opium poppy cultivation is the mainstay of the Kandahar agricultural economy. The counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan is based on U.S. drug policies and dominated by the U.S. approach. This has meant a forced poppy crop eradication program. The United States has clearly stated it is now proposing chemical spraying operations for the next planting season.
To date, forced crop eradication in Afghanistan has left the poorest farmers with no means to feed their families, and overall, opium cultivation has gone up. We believe chemical spraying will add to the growing hostility against the international presence in southern Afghanistan. There should be no crop eradication, manual or chemical, until the poverty-stricken farmers have other means to feed their families.
Crop eradication has destroyed livelihoods and generated extreme poverty for entire communities. It's cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it has also proven to be wholly ineffective. I restate: cultivation is up 60% last year in southern Afghanistan.
By sitting back and allowing this destructive and counterproductive U.S. policy to be prosecuted in Kandahar, Canada is complicit in a policy that is undermining our own military efforts, and they are doing a great job in a very hostile environment.
The Senlis Council has proposed an economic development initiative, the village-based poppy for medicine project, under which poppy grown in Afghanistan would be used for the supply of the essential painkillers, morphine and codeine. There's a global shortage. This proven counter-narcotics strategy would replace the current highly destructive policies of forced crop eradication. Poppy for medicine projects would also serve to support another of the millennium development goals, which call for enhancing access to affordable essential medicines in developing countries. At the moment, there is no morphine and no codeine in Afghanistan, despite it being the world's largest producer of opiates.
A similar system was put in place by the United States in Turkey and India when it was trying to convert Turkey's and India's opium production from heroin to medicines, and that was successfully implemented. Those two countries are now the prime suppliers of opiates for medicine for the United States of America.
Our field research and extensive discussions in the region indicate that a village-based poppy for medicine project is feasible, but the only way to find out if it really works is to test it in the regions in southern Afghanistan. We are willing to undertake such a pilot project in Kandahar and to share the research findings and expertise with the Canadian government and the international community. We ask the Canadian Parliament for its support of our proposal to run those pilot projects in the next planting season.
We also believe this would send out a positive message to the rural communities that we are trying to work with them in a positive way to find a legal way to make an income, and that in turn would generate support for the Karzai government and reduce support for the insurgency.
My very last point is this. From afar, I have followed the Canadian debate about whether we should stay or whether we should go. As a Canadian, from my experience in Kandahar, I firmly believe that Canada should not pull out of Kandahar. What we need is to radically overhaul our mission in Afghanistan, to clarify our objectives and our measures of success, and to deliver on our commitment made to both the Canadian people and the Afghan people.
What happens in Afghanistan in the next year will have an impact on our own security here in Canada for generations to come. We have to be clear about what our objectives are and how we will measure our success, and we should stay until the job is done.
Thank you very much.
I may take less. Bryon may share with me.
Thank you, both of you. It's good to see both of you again.
What you have given us, by way of information and conclusions, is quite pessimistic, with the exception of encouragement to stay because our security is tied up with Afghanistan's security and of course with general peace and development in Afghanistan.
The impression I have gained from listening to you, and over the last year or so, is that we are actually very quickly losing the war of hearts and minds in Afghanistan. And you've given me some ideas as to why. There is this rampant corruption. There is a weakened Mr. Karzai. There is the unstable Pakistan right now next door, with or without controlling Taliban. Then you have the special forces, the air strikes, and the air power being used, causing civilian deaths. And then you have police firing on rioters, just as it happened over the last few hours in Afghanistan. We have NATO refusing to provide more troops, and countries like Germany refusing to fight where the fight is needed. We have our going on CBC, saying he's going to be asking Russia and China to actually provide assistance--possibly troops--to fight in Afghanistan, I assume.
When I look at all of that, despite the fact that our troops and other troops are doing a valiant job, losing lives because we've sent them into harm's way, I'm not filled with a sense of optimism. And I don't see the solutions that you see working. Maybe you see something different from what I see, sitting here, thousands of miles away. I've been to Afghanistan. We weren't able to get outside the wire very much.
I have this question for both of you. Despite what you tell us about what's happening on the ground, despite our good intentions, all of the basic evidence that's on the ground other than the military successes and the loss of our military lives, the rest of the information is so pessimistic. Why do you say that we would succeed?
I want to say thank you to both of you for bringing your point of view here. I agree with Sarah, from Afghanistan, that we can do much better to improve. Nevertheless, I agree with both of you that we need to be in Afghanistan, as both of you have stated, because.... This is the only point that I will agree with on, when she says it's because of terrorism that we have to stay there.
But beyond that, what I am finding difficult to understand.... Sarah, here, has been on the ground in Afghanistan. But let me tell you what people who have also been on the ground in Afghanistan say. You have stated that there has been no substantial food aid into Kandahar since March 2006. Yet the World Food Programme, which is one of the NGOs that is very highly respected, said in their press release that Canada's support of their operation over the past year has been crucial in Afghanistan and has helped over 10,000 families. As a matter of fact, since the last time, when Canada spent $4.9 million, we've given 3,425 metric tonnes of food to the region you talked about.
Now, we have here UNICEF, which is respectable, I would say, which says that in 2001 an estimated 30,000 Afghans, mostly children, died of measles. Thanks to the enormous immunization efforts supported by the Canadian government, measles has remarkably declined.
Let's talk about what Dr. Ashraf Ghani, who's in Afghanistan, who is the chancellor of this thing, said when he was asked what he thought about CIDA. You know what he said? He said it's one of the best in Afghanistan.
While we agree that there's room for improvement, and as you said, there is paperwork and all these things, we are making a difference. For you to come and say that we are not is absolutely.... I don't think so, because we have credible people who work over there who are saying that Canada's contribution, CIDA's contribution, is making a difference in that country.
Most importantly, you have talked about the eradication program that the Americans.... As far as I know, the government of Karzai has made a decision not to spray poppies over there. So I'm having a little difficulty understanding where you are coming from.
Look, Afghanistan has gone through a tremendous amount of war. Afghanistan is not a developed country. There are areas that require attention. There are areas, like the hospitals and other things you mentioned, that require improvement. And there is a desire by the international community to go and help Afghanistan in its effort.
I was at the reconstruction conference in New Delhi, with the regional countries. They all came out there to provide economic activity for Afghanistan.
You mentioned poor people there who are not able to get an economy moving. But this whole business of moving an economy requires a concentrated international effort, of which Canada is absolutely a part.
To just say that our development assistance has failed is wrong. As a matter of fact, as my colleague here has said, you want CIDA out and you want a person over there, a coordinator over there. You know, Canada does not have a single approach. It's a multifaceted approach. We have the RCMP there; we have governance being provided there. And it's all done through our ambassador, who's working in cooperation with everything, and that is where we can put all the focus.
The has actually set up a complete Afghanistan working group in which the whole effort of the Government of Canada is coordinated to go ahead and provide what we do.
So, yes, there are a lot of achievements.
I have extreme difficulty when you say that no development projects have taken place, that development aid has failed, when it has actually not failed. Like you, people who work in Afghanistan have come forward and said that we are doing a pretty good job.
I think we do require a pat on the back. Under difficult circumstances, our aid officers, our CIDA people who are out there, do require a pat on the back for working under very difficult situations, and I think we should help them by recognizing this.
Canada has also increased its aid, and we keep on increasing our aid. We went from $5 million to $39 million for Kandahar district. Kandahar is a very tough area, as our friend in Afghanistan has said, because of the insurgency coming from the border with Pakistan. But I think we should give Canada a pat on the back and not keep criticizing all the time.
I think you've seen the problem that many of us have with the government's direction. It's all about them; it's not about the people of Afghanistan, and that's sad. It's out of the play book this government has been using in committee.
You've outlined some problems that we have to confront. We have to look at some of the concerns you have about strategy, which Ms. Chayes referred to. I want to say, to start, Ms. Chayes, that I do have some problems with what you said, and maybe you want to correct it.
You talked about the government we have given them. If that's the case, I think that's a problem right there. If you look at the history of Afghanistan or other countries, the problem starts when you start to impose a governance model on them. I guess if you're saying that, then I think, bang on, I would agree with you, that's been the problem. In fact, that's how we got the Taliban, some would suggest.
I'm going to move on because I have some questions.
The other thing is that when we look at Pakistan and address their role here, I couldn't agree with you more. We all know of the instability that they're presently going through, and that's a huge issue.
I want to turn to the fact that, Ms. MacDonald, your organization has really done some groundbreaking work on the whole issue of the economy within Kandahar, and that the approach, the tactic, the strategy we've been using hasn't been working. In fact, I have been reading reports where, right now, police chief posts in the poppy-growing districts are sold to the highest bidder for as much as $100,000 for a six-month tenure. Guess what the salary is. It's $60. So the competition is pretty obvious. You'll go to the corruption model over the governance model, which is what Ms. Chayes was talking about in terms of concerns about governance.
On strategy, we know that the U.S. and the British governments are talking about bringing more troops back in, deploying back into Afghanistan. I'm very concerned that this will simply bring back the counter-insurgency model times ten. We're already doing that, and I think that's the failure right now in the south. I'm hearing that in some of your reports. Notwithstanding your notion that we need to remain there, I would agree, but it's how we remain there. We've talked about pulling out the counter-insurgency forces.
Now that we have the Brits and the Americans possibly redeploying and bringing back the counter-insurgency model, I would like to know from each of you, very briefly, what you think the effects of that will be, the effects of bringing back more British and American troops into the south, using the strategy of counter-insurgency.