The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak to this motion on military operations in Afghanistan, especially since a number of Canadian Forces personnel from 3 Wing Bagotville in my riding of are actively involved in the mission. I want to salute their courage and dedication.
Regardless of the disagreements that members of the House of Commons may have regarding the mission in Afghanistan, we all have full confidence in our men and women in the field. There is also no question of an early withdrawal of our troops before 2009. Canada has a duty to inform its allies before withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan because the 2009 deadline is rapidly approaching. That is basically what this motion proposes.
Even though we on this side of the House support the motion, we also propose a rebalancing of the operations in Afghanistan, particularly in regard to Canada’s strategy for supporting peace in Afghanistan and the mandate and methods of the Canadian armed forces.
The people of Canada and Quebec are divided on the issue of our military presence in Afghanistan. The Quebec nation has values and interests of its own, and whenever the Bloc Québécois takes a position on a motion or a bill, it must always ask itself whether this is in the interests of Quebec. Am I for this or against it? Each time we try to decide what the government of a sovereign Quebec would do. That is why today’s debate is very important.
In light of what I have heard in the debates today, I believe that we need to rebalance the mission in Afghanistan. The basic objective of the international coalition and the NATO countries must be to rebuild the economy and democracy and make Afghanistan a viable country. To succeed in this, Canada must play a leadership role in delivering and distributing humanitarian aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It is important to state very clearly, not only for the members of the coalition and the NATO countries but also for the people of Quebec and Canada, that the Canadian army in Afghanistan is going to rebalance its efforts in the field.
The Bloc Québécois has always supported sending troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission. The operation that Canada undertook was more or less a peace mission to stabilize the Kabul region and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, it has become a war operation.
Why are the people of Canada and Quebec still so divided when it comes to the presence of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan? The people have been told that the Taliban rebels have a fallback position in Pakistan and that they are getting stronger, not weaker. That is the situation. Moreover, according to NATO officials in charge of military deployment, there are not enough troops.
Quebeckers and Canadians must be given assurances that the government is capable of taking the Afghanistan situation to the next level after 2009. Right now, people think that the mission in Afghanistan is getting more and more dangerous.
The situation is getting a lot more dangerous, but there is still time to change the thrust of international intervention. Doing so is becoming more urgent. We will not win the support of the Afghan people by just fighting the Taliban with our weapons and chasing them around the mountains.
The Bloc Québécois is talking about bringing a new balance to the mission. If we continue doing what we are doing, more lives may be lost. Shifting the mission's focus in the following three areas is urgent.
First, we must increase reconstruction assistance and do a better job of coordinating it. From 2001 to 2006, Canada spent $1.8 billion on military efforts and only $300 million on reconstruction. This is extremely unbalanced. Put simply, this is a ratio of $6 to $1. For every $6 spent on military activities and offensive action, $1 was spent on reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
Second, the nature of our military activities must change. Everyone knows that we cannot provide assistance effectively without a minimum level of security. General Richards, the head of NATO forces there, is asking NATO countries for 2,500 more soldiers. Let me be clear: we will not succeed by repeatedly increasing the number of troops. We must remember that the priority in Afghanistan must be speeding up development and reconstruction.
Third, we must drastically change how we look at the opium problem. Afghanistan is the source of 90% of the world's heroin supply. While maintaining our efforts against drug traffickers, we must propose an alternative to Afghan farmers by helping them establish programs for new crops, to grow something other than poppies, and we must help them build infrastructures such as roads, wells, public markets and hospitals.
Social development in Afghanistan is appalling. In 2004, this country was ranked 173rd out of 178 countries listed on the human development index.
The purpose of today's debate is to clarify the situation with respect to the coalition member countries and NATO member countries, as well as Canada's role after 2009. Like the people of Canada and Quebec, those countries have the right to know the issues and repercussions involved in the active participation of the armed forces and to demand that, as quickly as possible, Canadian operations focus more on humanitarian aid, social development and peacekeeping.
With respect to the mandates and methods used by the armed forces, our soldiers must not be like warriors or vigilantes. Rather, they should be considered more as agents of peace and reconstruction.
The most important thing is to redefine the mandate of our soldiers in Afghanistan. We must be able to measure the progress made. From that perspective, if we cannot quantify the progress, it becomes clear that public opinion will focus only on the loss of human life we are suffering.
Quebeckers and Canadians are willing to send troops to Afghanistan, but only if their safety can be ensured.
This is why the government must establish precise timeframes to rebalance the mission, and ensure that our soldiers have the resources they need to carry out reconstruction and security work in the field.
In closing, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I would like to remind the House that, if the balance of this mission is not restored, we will no longer be able to support an operation that is doomed to failure.
Mr. Speaker, let me say how pleased I am to have this opportunity to discuss this Liberal motion. It gives us an opportunity to talk about some concrete facts, not the way they have been distorted over the past several months or year and even today.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
Of the five points in the motion brought forward by the member for , the defence critic, there are two points I will focus on. I wish to read them both, so that members and Canadians from coast to coast to coast can appreciate what I am about to say. The first is:
|| (1) whereas all Members of this House, whatever their disagreements may be about the mission in Afghanistan, support the courageous men and women of the Canadian Forces;
The other is:
|| (3) whereas it is incumbent upon Canada to provide adequate notice to the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of our intentions beyond that date;
On the first point, there is no question that each and every member in this honourable chamber and each and every Canadian support our military, not only our men and women who serve in missions abroad, for example in Afghanistan or other missions that they are engaged in today, but the men and women who do very important work here in Canada as well.
When a member from whichever party asks a question, whether it be in committee or in this honourable House or outside, that any member would have the audacity to take the position that the member asking the question does not support our military is shameful and uncalled for. I would go as far as to say it is unpatriotic. We are asking them to make sure that in whatever is being undertaken, whether it is procurement of equipment, whether it is upholding our three D policy of defence, development and diplomacy, we are indeed doing the right thing.
I sit on the defence committee. The committee invites various representatives to brief us on an ongoing basis to keep us up to date on what is happening, to make sure that the policy the government has laid out is being carried out.
I would say to each and every member that even during question period when questions are asked, and I have heard it from my constituents and from Canadians in general, it is not wise to put up what have been described as Bush tactics. President Bush got away with it for six or seven years by using those tactics, but thank God the American people finally woke up and realized that that was not going to play out any more.
Nevertheless, on the second point in terms of our NATO commitment to Afghanistan, today the leader of the Liberal Party put it in perspective when he talked about clarity, and who better to talk about clarity than the person who brought clarity to this country and peace and harmony through his legislation. Today what he is asking and what I am asking and what I think the member for is asking for is clarity.
It has been frustrating to ask questions over and over again of the new Conservative government, the and the . The rebuttals have been so ambiguous that we are being asked by our constituents to get a straight answer.
For example, recently the was on Question Period on television. When he was asked a question, he talked about 2010. The military experts who have come before our committee know better than we do, and they have said repeatedly that this is not a four, five, seven or 10 year mission. This mission is going to be anywhere between 20 years to 25 years. Nobody is questioning that.
Let me go back to May 2006. Today Canadians are asking what the compelling reason was to bring forward and debate for six hours a motion to extend the mission for an additional two years when the mission as we will recall had just commenced. We were two months into that mission. It is the same as someone who buys a car, drives it for a month, and before it is even broken in, says that he is going to trade it in because it is no good when he has not even put 500 kilometres on it yet.
The mission started. We had not even arrived there. We had not even set up yet and all of a sudden for no apparent reason, and we have not been told the reason to this very day, there was a proposal in the House to extend the mission for an additional two years. Fine, but I have a problem with that.
The minister and the committee went to Slovenia to the NATO meeting. The minister went there and literally begged the NATO partners and all the allies to lift the so-called caveats. This is what is most upsetting because we committed our men and women to an extension to 2009 without setting the terms of engagement before that commitment. It was a bad deal. Had we known then what the terms of engagement were, who knows, maybe we would have committed our men and women for the additional two years, but there were no terms.
After we made the commitment, all of a sudden we discovered there were these so-called caveats where other nations that are involved cannot move their troops. They say that the Canadians can take care of the hot spots, no problem. When we ask them for support they say, “There are these caveats. We cannot really go down. We cannot really participate”.
Earlier today the parliamentary secretary referred to conflicts in the past. The Conservative whip talked about the second world war and how we all engaged in the second world war. My father did as well. Many members' fathers and mothers participated in those major conflicts, but they engaged in those conflicts together. It was one collective effort. They did not stand up and say, “I am going to go fight over here”, or “I am going to stay over there”. That was not the strategy then. This is very upsetting to me.
On the other hand, the today in question period referred to it in answer to a question. He said that the people of Afghanistan want us to be there. Of course they want us to be there. In Cyprus they want us to be there. In Bosnia-Herzegovina they want us to be there. In Kosovo they want us to be there. In Darfur they want us to be there. They want Canadians to be in every trouble spot because we have an excellent reputation. But we cannot be everywhere. They also want the international community to do its fair share.
The said in answer to another question, “NATO is not asking us for a decision today”. That is a very good answer. NATO did not ask for a decision in May 2006. The big question Canadians have is who put that initiative forward. We are ordering equipment today for our military, tanks and helicopters for example, that are not to be delivered until 2009-10. Canadians are asking for clarity.
On the development side people have come before our committee. Today people talked about young men and women going to school. When I hear that it pleases me very much. We also heard President Karzai in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on television during his visit say in his own words that this year 200,000 fewer students are attending school. That is not coming from any politician. That is coming right from President Karzai.
Development is not really where it should be. We must shut down that poppy growing area. We also found out in committee that President Karzai has apparently been negotiating with the Taliban. The Conservative Party says, “We are not going to deal with these terrorists. We are not going to deal with the Taliban”. President Karzai is dealing with them at the cost of Canadian blood, and I do not accept that. We have to get that straight.
The Taliban has new equipment, ground to air missiles, we have been told in committee. Where is the Taliban finding the funds to buy this equipment? I believe that if we cut the head, the body will fall. We have to cut off the Taliban's ability to secure funds because it is through these funds that they are buying the equipment that is killing our men and women. We have to concentrate on that.
Mr. Speaker, the situation in Afghanistan remains a cause of grave concern for members of the House and the Canadian people. The men and women of the Canadian Forces and our civilian personnel are continuing to earn our respect and pride. However, we are failing in our responsibilities to them. We do not constantly seek to evaluate the wider picture in terms of the current NATO policies and programs, as our parliamentary colleagues across the world are doing.
We know that NATO's objective of building conditions so the Afghan people can enjoy a representative government and self-sustaining peace and security is honourable but we cannot shy away from the realities of the daunting tasks faced by our troops and personnel in Afghanistan.
In 2001, Canada sought to utilize the 3D model in Afghanistan: defence, diplomacy and development. Being the critic for CIDA, today I want to speak to the latter, development, and voice my concerns in common with legislatures from other forces and other nations about where we are with development assistance in Afghanistan.
We know from committee testimony and from the antics in the House that the Conservative government is keen to distract attention and divert scrutiny when it comes to the Afghan mission. Members who dare to exhibit some concern, the Conservatives call them a Taliban lover.
We cannot deny that there has been some progress in Afghanistan. Some roads, hospitals and schools have been built and more women are going to school. Education in the political process is taking place and security sector reform has helped in the process of reconstituting the army and the police force. NATO's and Canada's approach to providing long term security and stability requires a comprehensive strategy that encompasses reconstruction and development, as well as military operations.
However, the coalition, Canada included, has taken on a mammoth task. We need to know that we have the equation correct in determining the proper mix between civilian and military activities. It is critical that we know that Canadian development aid is going to do the utmost before any possible pullout in 2009.
Do we need to be doing more to extend our developmental footprint before 2009 rolls around? Should we not look, at the very least, to match our military expenditures in Afghanistan with development assistance dollars?
The former Afghan finance minister, now advisor to Karzai, has recently said that Afghanistan has reached a tipping point, warning that the population could turn against the international community if the economy and access to housing, employment and basic services are not improved. This sentiment has been echoed by Dr. Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister, saying that the Afghan people will not remain patient forever.
Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Five years after the international community came to Afghanistan, only 6% of Afghans have electricity. It has been estimated by the UN Refugee Agency that there are 130,000 internally displaced people, although that figure may be higher given the food and security problems in the south at present. We have not been able to address essential needs, including sustainable health clinics, sustainable provision of clean water and sanitation across the board.
Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Canadian development assistance at present, with nearly $1 billion pledged up to 2011, but we need to do the job before 2009. The government, in playing with smoke and mirrors, recently announced $200 million in reconstruction and development funds, which in reality were part of the existing pledge. However, the international community's spending per capita on development assistance is significantly lower than what was spent in Bosnia.
The Afghan government is limited in its capability to spend this assistance and, of the vast majority of aid set aside for Afghanistan, nearly 83% is spent by the international community on its projects.
A lot of donors chasing a variety of objectives, tying up aid and failing to coordinate, too often has a negative effect on a country's institutional capacity. It is even more negative when it is a fragile state like Afghanistan. Canada must pursue a strategy that is focused, with the real needs of the Afghan people in mind, and it must be coordinated.
I want to talk about the Kandahar province, which, in common with the other southern provinces, is teaching the international community that unless we can deliver services and provide protection to the civilian population, just the military operation alone will not suffice. It has also illustrated the major difficulty in the NATO mission tasking security cannot be achieved without development and yet development cannot be implemented without security. They go hand in hand.
Where NATO has not been able to extend effective governance away from the major urban centres, such as Kabul and Kandahar, the threat of renewed violence will always be there. Southern Afghanistan continues to be affected by extreme poverty and has recently suffered from drought. The system of food aid distribution has been erratic at best.
There is a real concern that the local disillusionment with ISAF troops may help to fuel a grassroots insurgency. Mr. Seth Jones with Rand corps, after two weeks in Kandahar, has claimed that while Kandahar city and two other districts are seeing reconstruction, virtually nothing else is taking place in the rest of Kandahar province, mainly as a result of the security situation.
We need to ensure that our troops' safety is not jeopardized by a lack of impact of Canada's broader aid development policies that must address the real needs of the Afghan people, nor that a weakness in the reconstruction effort prevents the consolidation of tactical gains, as recently pointed out by Dr. Rubin in the journal of the council on foreign relations.
Sterling work has been done by our PRT in Kandahar province but let us not forget that PRTs are military organizations, not development organizations. They are designed to deliver quick impact projects, not to replace sustained long term development.
Qualifying efficiency in terms of the total amount of dollars spent and the number of projects completed has been problematic for some of the other PRT teams and we must be cautious not to fall into the same trap in deciding on the real impact of the work that we have already done.
Our developmental efforts in Afghanistan cannot be undertaken with just our own priorities and poll numbers in mind, as the government seems to believe. An effective developmental assistance program is about addressing Afghan's real needs, not what sells a story.
A lot of work still needs to be done in Afghanistan before 2009 and Canadian troops have already demonstrated a thousand times over their dedication, professionalism and cool-headedness under the most difficult situations. It is time the government really ramped up Canada's developmental assistance program and ensured that the Canadian mission is 100% successful.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would also like to take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the constituents of to the brave men and women who serve our great nation as members of the Canadian armed forces and also to express our condolences to the families and friends of all of our brave soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
I am proud to have the opportunity to discuss our mission in Afghanistan. This is a reckless motion from the official opposition that only encourages our enemies and could lead to more intensive action against our troops. But, instead, I would like to talk about why Canada made this commitment and what we are accomplishing.
Canada is fulfilling its duty as a member of the G-8, as a founding member of NATO and of the United Nations, to stand with the global community in the preservation and enforcement of peace and security.
Canada is in Afghanistan, together with more than three dozen other countries, as part of the UN-authorized international security assistance force. Our military is working alongside Canadian diplomats, the RCMP, municipal police officers, correctional services officers, and development workers in an integrated approach to help the Afghan people.
We are there working together with our Afghan partners, including the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. We are helping the Afghan people carry out their plans for their country and we are helping them take real and positive steps toward achieving security within their country.
We are also securing the safety of Canadian citizens at home and abroad. After September 11, 2001, Canada acted in accordance with article 51 of the charter of the United Nations in the exercise of our individual and collective right of self-defence. The United Nations Security Council recognized this right in resolution 1368, passed on September 12, 2001. However, the Afghanistan mission is about much more than that.
Our Canadian forces are in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government. We have a moral duty to support them. Life for ordinary citizens in Afghanistan is very difficult. In the south, they face the worst kind of hardships and lack the most basic government services. Their communities lack proper education and health care, and public infrastructure is damaged or non-existent. Moreover, they live under threat from groups of violent extremists. Social and economic development for Afghan people cannot be achieved while these conditions remain.
Our troops, diplomats, police and development workers are working hard alongside our allies to help the Afghan people realize their hopes for a stable and secure future for themselves and for their families.
The role of our Canadian Forces, an integrated and multidimensional approach, is something understood very well by our troops. As difficult as the job is, our men and women in uniform have met the people. They have seen the children. They know the country.
Beyond security operations, they know that our objectives of development and reconstruction are vital to success. Our men and women in uniform see great promise for the future of these people, especially the children. They believe, as all Canadians should, that supporting the democratically-elected government of Afghanistan is the best way to ensure that all Afghans can enjoy the basic rights and freedoms that we enjoy in Canada.
I want to pay tribute to the men and women of our Canadian Forces, especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country and our mission in Afghanistan. They come from places like Owen Sound, New Glasgow, Dalmeny, Comox and Montreal; places just down the road; places a few hours away; and places easily found on a map.
They were soldiers who believed in our mission, like all of the Canadian Forces members serving in Afghanistan. They made a difference in places like Panjwai, Daman, Spin Buldak, Ghorak, Khakrez and Kandahar City.
These soldiers helped in ensuring that Afghanistan never again slides into the clutches of the Taliban, or those like it.
These soldiers gave their lives to stabilize and rebuild a country that has known nothing but war for more than 20 years.
We must ensure that they did not die in vain.
They and their comrades in Kandahar today are leaving behind a proud legacy for the Afghan people: a legacy of hope and confidence in the future of Afghanistan.
Roads, schools, a reliable police force, a sanitary waste management system, clean water, toys for the children are just a few examples of the numerous and many projects these men and women have helped to accomplish; all huge gifts to the Afghan people; all things many of us take for granted in Canada.
Reconstruction and development in Afghanistan are Canada's fundamental goals and they remain a high priority for our government. Canadian troops are making it difficult for Taliban extremists to gain the upper hand. But all of this may be put at risk if Canada signals that it wants to withdraw from the military mission prematurely.
Our military is supporting Afghan objectives by building a safe and secure environment which is essential for long-lasting development. Thanks to our troops and other committed Canadians, we are making significant progress in Afghanistan, but we are not finished yet.
Our goals are simple. They have been outlined many times and they are consistent with the Afghanistan compact. When Afghanistan and its democratic government are stabilized and able to independently handle domestic security concerns, and when the terrorists and their local support networks are no longer a destabilizing threat to Afghanistan, we will know that we have succeeded.
We are moving toward these goals. Canada has contributed greatly to Afghan progress so far and Canadians should be proud of our reconstruction efforts. We have truly broken new ground in our approach to development. Our provincial reconstruction team is helping to reinforce the authority of the Afghan government in Kandahar province. It is assisting in the stabilization and development of the region and it is monitoring security, promoting Afghan government policies and priorities with local authorities, and facilitating security sector reforms.
However, the PRT cannot do its work without the security operations that are still being carried out to help stabilize the Kandahar region. Addressing the root conditions of instability is our focus. Our goal is to help the Afghan people rebuild their country so that they can govern and protect themselves.
Our progress in the Kandahar region over the last year has laid the groundwork for continued improvement. Our forces and their Afghan partners are now patrolling in areas previously considered Taliban sanctuaries, confronting the Taliban where it has not previously been challenged. Our operations in the Pashmull and Panjwai areas have also planted vital seeds of development.
We are building Afghanistan development zones in strategic areas, pockets of development from which future renewal can spread. We are helping to build up the Afghan national security forces through our work at the national training centre, through combined operations with the Afghan authorities, and through initiatives such as our operational mentoring and liaison teams.
Daily, Canadian men and women are meeting ordinary, hard-working and peace-loving Afghans. They are conducting meetings with elders, delivering development aid and making a difference in the everyday lives of Afghans. Importantly, they are building Afghan domestic capacity and helping us move closer to our ultimate objective of a fully independent and stable Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Foreign Affairs Canada is making a profound contribution in promoting Afghan governance. Our diplomats are providing Afghan officials with advice on a range of key issues such as promoting and protecting human rights, security sector reform, and building sound international institutions.
CIDA is also working hard to assist the government of Afghanistan. It is continuing to deliver on Canada's aid commitments in Kandahar and across the country. Canadian police officers are building the capacity of their Afghan counterparts. They are monitoring, advising, mentoring and providing much needed training.
As a Canadian, I am very proud of all of our country's efforts.
I want to conclude by reminding this House how, once again, our Canadian Forces have stepped to the forefront to protect Canadian interests, to promote our values and to help Afghanistan. Our soldiers are among the best in the world and they are making progress in one of the most volatile regions of Afghanistan.
Are the Canadian Forces finished with the job we have asked them to do in Afghanistan? The answer is: not yet. Will they be finished on February 28, 2009? It is too early to tell.
We brought forward a motion to the House of Commons to extend the current Afghan mission to February 2009. The government has been clear that, if it were to seek further extension, it would come to Parliament to do that, and that remains our position.
Canada has invested much in this mission. We have another two years remaining in our commitment, two years of challenges, two years to make more progress, and two years of lighting beacons of renewal in the harsh landscape of a war-torn country.
Now is not the time to turn tail and run. Now is the time to remember Canada's commitment and the reasons behind it.
Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the hon. member's comments. They certainly reflect the kind of dialogue that is coming out of the government.
I want to go back a little bit to after 9/11 when we originally went to Afghanistan. We went there to remove al-Qaeda. We went there to remove in part the Taliban. We were successful to a degree certainly in removing al-Qaeda.
The problem is that in the south where our troops are right now, in the area of Pashtun tribal lands, is an area that has never been able to be tamed by western forces. That is the concern that I have.
I have a military base in my riding and our hearts go out to the families as well as our deep appreciation to the Canadian Forces members who are doing an extraordinary job there and to the families who support them. They have our undying love, appreciation and gratitude for their courageous work.
However, my fear is that what we have done is we have put our troops in an area that is very different from Kabul in the north. The Pashtun tribal lands that go into Pakistan, where in fact the Taliban's bases are, is a situation that we cannot win. We are fighting an insurgency that has its bases outside the country with which we are dealing.
What the insurgents are going to use and have been using to kill our troops are the IEDs, the suicide bombers and the snipers. We are fighting an unconventional war with conventional means. We will lose. We are putting our troops into a meat grinder without giving them the political component parts that are necessary for their success.
I want to ask the member this. Would a better solution not be to take our troops back, stop the ink blot strategy, put our troops in and just use them to remove Taliban forces if they are coming in en masse, while enabling an increased ability--