|| (1) all Members of this House, whatever their disagreements about the mission in Afghanistan, support the courageous men and women of the Canadian Forces;
|| (2) the government has admitted that the situation in Afghanistan can not be won militarily;
|| (3) the current counter-insurgency mission is not the right mission for Canada;
|| (4) the government has neither defined what ‘victory’ would be, nor developed an exit strategy from this counter-insurgency mission;
||therefore this House condemns this government and calls for it to immediately notify NATO of our intention to begin withdrawing Canadian Forces now in a safe and secure manner from the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan; and calls for Canada to focus its efforts to assist the people of Afghanistan on a diplomatic solution, and re-double its commitment to reconstruction and development.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As I begin, I want to express once again our condolences for those soldiers and personnel who have lost their lives, Canadian and from other countries, and also for the countless citizens of Afghanistan who have lost their lives as well.
Today the NDP has presented a motion to the House calling for the immediate, safe and secure withdrawal of our troops from the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan and to refocus our efforts to assist the people of Afghanistan on development and reconstruction and on creating a pathway to peace.
We are doing so because our current combat mission in Afghanistan is wrong, and two years more of participating in the wrong mission is two years too long. It means countless more lives lost.
Last week I rose in this House to oppose the Liberal motion which confirmed the Conservative extension of two more years. A year ago the Liberals opposed the extension of the mission to 2009, but today they have changed their minds. Their motion endorsed the Conservative plan. That is why the NDP opposed that motion.
I said at the time that when a party comes to the conclusion that a mission is wrong, then it cannot in good conscience tell our soldiers to continue in that mission for another two years.
In our opinion, two more years spent on the wrong mission in Afghanistan is two years too many. We strongly believe that our troops have to be able to trust their Parliament. They have to trust that Parliament will authorize their deployment at the right time for the right reasons.
Our soldiers have to trust that Parliament will reconsider its military strategy when it is not the right tool to get the job done. Our party takes that trust very seriously. We feel that the current mission is wrong and we have been consistent in calling for withdrawal. We have done so on several occasions and today we are formally doing so in the House.
Things wrong with the mission will continue to get worse. It is a seek and kill counter-insurgency. It is fundamentally imbalanced between military, humanitarian and development spending, and there is a deteriorating human rights situation and an escalation of the war.
Why continue to prolong this flawed mission when it is clear that more Afghan civilians will suffer and more insurgents will be recruited?
The NDP position on the combat mission in Afghanistan is clear. Bush-style counter-insurgency missions such as this can actually prevent Afghan citizens from reaching a lasting peace and alleviating the desperate poverty of the country.
It is unbalanced and overwhelmingly focused on an aggressive counter-insurgency mission, and of course the humanitarian situation, as we are all hearing back, is not improving with the situation of the growing numbers of refugees, just as one example.
Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have admitted that the conflict in Afghanistan will not be won militarily, yet they think our soldiers should continue to fight for two more years. They know the strategy is failing, yet they refuse to withdraw our troops now. That is not a responsible position and it does not show the respect that we owe to our men and women in uniform.
It is time to begin to work to settle this conflict diplomatically and redouble our commitment to reconstruction and development. That is going to require peace negotiations supported by the international community.
The secure and resolute withdrawal of our troops, in consultation with our allies, is now necessary. At the same time, we must now make a concentrated effort to develop a new approach to Canada's role in Afghanistan. That begins by opening up a dialogue with the countries that are committed to helping the people of Afghanistan. We must work together to establish peace, development and justice. Our approach must respect and involve the organizations, groups and local governments in Afghanistan.
Canada must draw on its experience to provide the diplomacy, aid and reconstruction that Canadians and Quebeckers want to see in Afghanistan. This should begin with a ceasefire as soon as possible. Showing leadership in Afghanistan means working with our European allies in NATO and our allies from other countries to convince the Americans to end their poppy eradication campaign and stop supporting Pakistan's position on the Taliban.
Showing leadership in Afghanistan means taking concrete steps toward peace negotiations, something we cannot effectively do while we wage war.
Chris Alexander, Canada's former ambassador to Afghanistan and now a leading UN official in Afghanistan, said that the absence of a peace deal in Afghanistan is fueling the conflict. Gordon Smith, former senior Canadian diplomat and head of global studies at the University of Victoria, called on the international community to undertake serious efforts at inclusive and comprehensive peace negotiations. This is what is being called for by the NDP.
Parliamentarians have a responsibility to our soldiers and to the citizens of this country to do the right thing in Afghanistan. It is time to withdraw our troops from the counter-insurgency mission, focus our efforts on a diplomatic solution and regain Canada's strength and credibility rather than squandering it in a failing and futile mission.
Mr. Speaker, I stand here again today as a mother, as a grandmother and as someone who has visited Afghanistan with the defence committee of the House of Commons where I had the opportunity to speak with many of the Canadians who are serving in Kandahar province.
I was very impressed with the calibre, the determination and the commitment of the men and women we have sent to Kandahar to participate in this mission.
I remember one man in particular who was part of the supply route in Kandahar and was taking supplies out to the forward operating bases. He spoke to me of his time in the Canadian Forces and of his other missions. He had served in many missions for Canada. He told me that this was his second tour in Afghanistan. He said that he had seen and done things in Afghanistan this time that he never thought imaginable. He told me that he just wanted to go home. That had an incredible impact on me, as did the conversations I had with other men and women at the airfield in Kandahar.
I also stand here as a parliamentarian to echo the concerns and the opposition of millions of Canadians who see this war as a real blight on our country.
Tragically, 54 Canadian soldiers and a Canadian diplomat have been killed in this war and all Canadians share in the grief of their families and send them our condolences.
Violent incidents in January 2007 were more than double those of January 2006. Fifteen thousand families have been displaced in the south due to the military operations there. IDP camps are full. Not enough food and aid is getting through to these people. They live in miserable conditions in these IDP camps.
The criteria for success has never been defined by either the Liberal government that took us into this counter-insurgency mission nor the Conservative government. This mission should never be measured by the number of insurgents killed, nor should the number of foreign soldiers deployed there be seen as signs of progress.
Success would be tangible improvements in the quality of life for Afghan people, such as clean water, medical facilities, electricity and a safe and secure environment.
The war is getting worse. The government clearly does not want Canadians to see that but it is getting worse. With the strategy that counter-insurgency warfare against insurgents who will always know the terrain better than we will, whose recruitment strategies are strengthened by our war against them and who have a safe haven in a neighbouring country, it is not surprising that this mission is failing.
Afghans, Canadians, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers are dying in a senseless war. The men and women in this House must remember each casualty in war is someone's sister, someone's brother, someone's son, someone's daughter and someone's lover.
The government and the admit that the war in Afghanistan cannot be solved militarily but they continue along on this misguided mission, fighting it with air strikes and guns. As they stick to this futile path with what might only be described as ideological blindness, it is our soldiers and the Afghan people who suffer.
Why have the Conservatives refused to budge from this futile strategy? I asked that question nearly a year ago when we had the debate on the extension of the mission. Is it simply because they do not have the imagination or the wherewithal to devise a better approach?
What makes me most angry and what strikes me as being the most tragic part of this is that there are countless opportunities to do this differently and to play a constructive rather than a destructive role in Afghanistan.
Over a year ago I called upon the government to address the inadequacy of the prisoner transfer agreement with Afghanistan. It was my first question in the House the first day Parliament sat. I demanded an end to the flawed practice of handing prisoners over to authorities who we knew, in all likelihood, would torture and abuse them.
The allegations that are coming forward now, allegations that prisoners transferred by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were tortured and abused, could have been avoided. This is a shame on our country, it is a shame on our government and it is a shame on the .
The government and the minister have misled the House about the transfer of Afghan detainees with a callous disregard for their responsibilities for human rights and human dignity. Many experts have told the government that it is a violation of international law. I have heard them tell the minister that in committee. It signals a break with the entire history of Canada's foreign policy.
We are now in a state of more confusion after the minister's appearance at the foreign affairs committee last night. The now says that he has yet another new arrangement with Afghan authorities. However, the knows nothing about it and the chief of defence staff said that it was news to him. He did not know anything about it either. Those are the very people who are responsible for implementing such arrangements. There is massive confusion and disorganization and the left hand of the government does not seem to know what the right hand is doing.
Canada has always been at the forefront of international human rights issues and, sadly, Canada's reputation has now been tarnished by the inaction of the government. It has known of the inadequacy of the prisoner transfer agreement for over a year and failed to take any action until it was front page news day after day in The Globe and Mail.
We have now purchased over 100 tanks but rather than ratcheting up our offensive by sending tanks and more fighters, we could be doing what we do best as a country. We could be finding creative solutions to bringing peace and security to Afghanistan. Political, not military, problems are at the heart of the Afghan conflict. All experts acknowledge this. There is, therefore, an urgent need for high level peace negotiations to end the violence in Afghanistan.
Canada could take leadership to ensure international support for peace negotiations. Canada invented peacekeeping and peacemaking and yet in Afghanistan we have invested virtually no effort toward exploring, supporting or fostering efforts toward peace.
I am opposed to this mission precisely because it is failing to protect the women and men of the Canadian Forces and the Afghans. I also oppose it because it is not and will not be good for anyone and air strikes from NATO will not bring peace to Afghanistan.
The Liberals put forward a motion to continue this misguided mission unchanged until 2009. If the mission is wrong, then we need to begin to end it now. The NDP motion affirms what seems to be clear only to New Democrats in the House of Commons. This war will not be resolved militarily and Canada must, therefore, change course and begin that change now.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I am honoured to stand in the House to discuss our mission in Afghanistan and to speak against this irresponsible and immoral motion.
I am also very proud to stand here today to defend our troops, our aid workers and diplomats who are making a real difference on the ground for the Afghan people.
I wish to share with members some of the remarkable news about the advancement on women's rights in Afghanistan and how Canada is playing a leading role.
Before I talk of the successes, let us recap where women in Afghanistan were six years ago under the Taliban regime.
It was not uncommon for adult women to be beaten by the Taliban's religious police for simply showing a portion of their skin. Women were not allowed to work. Nor were women allowed to go outside unless they were accompanied by a man. Sadly, we know of instances where a woman's bones would break when she gave birth. She was not allowed to go outside and because of that she did not get the sunshine and the vitamin D she needed to support her bones.
Making matters worse, women were not allowed to be doctors and those who were doctors, the Taliban did not allow them to practise. Women had no access to health care. They could not vote. They could not run for public office. They could not express their opinion. They could not own land. They could not own a business. Sadly, young girls were not allowed to be educated under the Taliban regime. This went on for 30 years. An enormous part of Afghanistan's population cannot read and write. I was also disturbed to hear that under Taliban daughters were given as debt repayment.
Thanks to our Canadian troops, our diplomats and our aid workers and the strong resolve of the Afghan people, times are changing.
I returned from Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago. I found it unbelievable, having been there on the ground and spoken to so many women and children, to see what the military presence was doing in allowing them to grow and develop. I was shocked and could not believe the NDP could even possibly suggest that we leave Afghanistan.
Members of the NDP like to claim they support women's rights. That is completely contradictory. They also like to claim they support basic human rights. What do they think we are doing in Afghanistan? The Afghan people cannot have development if they do not have the security. According to the NDP members, the military presence has not prevented any of the criminal behaviour or murders that have gone on, so we should leave as though it will not change. That is ridiculous.
In my opinion, the NDP is a party of hypocrites, a party of neophytes who do not realize that without security there can be no development. They say they support our troops, but not the mission. The Afghan people, our troops, our aid workers and our diplomats are the mission. It shows that the NDP, just like the Liberals, do not see the advances being made for Afghan women.
In February I met with Ms. Siddiqi, the Afghan woman and member of parliament, who I spoke of earlier. She just gave birth to her first baby boy, and I congratulate her on that. She has been a fierce advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan. I find it hard to understand how she can be so incredibly strong, and I admire that. She has a $500,000 bounty on her head because she believes in what she is doing, she believes in what the international community is doing for Afghanistan and she is standing up for women's rights. This bounty exists for her for no other reason than the Taliban want her dead because she is a woman in politics.
How can NDP members, members of a party that brags about the number of women in its caucus, look her in the eye and say that they are not going to help her, that they want our troops home, that they are going to abandon her in her time of need?
That is not the Conservative way, and that is certainly not the Canadian way, to cut and run when the going gets tough.
When I hear the NDP and the Liberals question why we are in Afghanistan, I remain astounded at their fundamental lack of understanding or appreciation of the good that we are doing. When I think about why Canada is in Afghanistan, I think of just how clear our mission is and how it has been from the very beginning.
The purpose of our mission is to help a democracy take root and support its people, the very people who have lived under 30 years of conflict and oppression and have asked for our help. They have asked us to be in Afghanistan to help rebuild their nation.
When I was in Kabul only a few weeks ago, I met a widow from the rural provinces outside the city. She travelled over seven hours to see me, and not by car. She had eight children, four girls and four boys. Her husband, like many, was killed by the Taliban. The family became impoverished, since women were banned from working. She was so poor that she could not afford her children and had to give the four girls up to the orphanage so they would not starve.
When the international community cleared the Kabul area of the Taliban and started micro-financing initiatives, she took out a micro-loan from an agency, in part funded by Canada. Canada is the leading donor for the micro-finance program in Afghanistan. She bought a cow. She used the cow for milk. She makes cream, yogourt and cheese and she sells this at the local market now. She has repaid the loan. She bought another cow and now she has enough money to support her family. She has told me that at the end of this month she will be able to get her girls back from the orphanage and then they will be able to go to school for the first time.
This is proof of progress. If we leave, as the NDP suggests and as the Liberals hint, then the Taliban will simply come in and end this progress. Under the Taliban, women could not own businesses nor could girls go to school. I wonder if anyone in the NDP sees this connection. Without security, these kinds of success stories cannot happen. Let us not forget that 5.4 million children now go to school and one-third of those are girls.
I had an opportunity to visit a school when I was in Afghanistan. No less than 20 girls, all around the age of 13, were for the first time going to school. What did they say to me? The only words they could say in English were “thank you”. What an incredible experience for me. Those girls will become a new generation of literate young women who will help lead their country. What does the NDP think will happen to those girls if the Taliban are permitted to once again take power?
It is time to stop the rhetoric of supporting our troops, but not supporting the mission. The troops are the mission. The international community believes in this mission. It is UN-sanctioned and NATO-led. Sixty countries developed the plan for Afghanistan. The Afghanistan government asked us to be there to implement it for them.
As I conclude, let me quote from a member of the House, who said:
|| It's not a question of should we be in Afghanistan. Yes, we should; we need to be...
Who said that? It was the former NDP leader, the current foreign affairs critic and member from . I agree with her. We need to be there. Perhaps her caucus should listen to her.
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleagues, I stand here today to say—without hesitation—that I will not support this motion put forward by the hon. member for . This motion is based on an erroneous assumption. It assumes that development and diplomacy can be undertaken successfully in Kandahar without the crucial support provided by our Canadian Forces.
In the Afghan compact, which we signed along with the government of Afghanistan and members of the international community over a year ago, we recognized that success in this mission would require efforts along three lines: security, governance and development. The document said that progress in each of these three areas was crucial, and must happen concurrently.
In fact, the document called these three areas critical and interdependent. It says that security, governance and development are all pillars of this mission, implying that together they hold up the mission. And if you pull one of the pillars out, the mission will collapse.
Because we are pursuing efforts on all three fronts we are making progress in Afghanistan. Infrastructure is being rebuilt; the economy is growing; the government is establishing its authority and women and children are enjoying freedoms they were not allowed before. These signs of progress are a result of the security that our troops are helping to provide.
So when the member for proposes that we put an end to the Canadian Forces contribution to this mission, he is essentially proposing that we undermine the pursuit of diplomacy and development in Afghanistan as well.
However, let us now listen to what other Canadians have to say on this matter. Appreciation for our Canadian Forces efforts in Afghanistan is being expressed across the country. From Bedford, Nova Scotia, a young boy wrote to our troops in Afghanistan. He said:
|| I am 10 years old, and in grade 5. What I want to say is, tonight I am at home, enjoying my book, my playstation, and my family. I am very comfortable. I know you are away from home, away from your things, and very uncomfortable. I want to say thank you, from me and from my family, for all that you do. Keep safe.
From Bradford, Ontario, it is just a simple message and straight to the point. It states:
|| Thank you so much. Afghanistan is now getting the help it needs to become a safer and better country. You guys and girls are amazing.
From Vancouver, B.C., the message states:
|| I have moments of deep frustration; I see the desolation and poverty on my streets, and I wonder why the government has chosen to put our brave soldiers in a war on foreign soil, when we have so many lost battles here. Then I realize that there are battles that only soldiers can fight and battles that only civilians can fight. Thank you for fighting the war that I cannot fight...My faith in the importance of protecting freedom is firm.
From Winnipeg, Manitoba, it states:
|| Watching our country's recent rededication of the Vimy Ridge Memorial, what moved me the most was near the end as the camera panned the crowd and there was a soldier--possibly retired--holding a picture of relatives in WWI military attire, possibly survivors of Vimy. Our country has a long history of helping others, even if sometimes it means laying down our lives. All of you in our Armed Services deserve our gratitude, our respect. Thank you.
From Yukon, it states:
|| You are all the ultimate “Team Canada”! There aren't words enough to describe my deep gratitude for your courage and personal sacrifice in the service of our country. All I can offer is a sincere and heartfelt thank you!
These are messages that have been sent to our troops in Afghanistan. These have all been written in just the last few months.
Canadians recognize that the security being established by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan is ultimately connected to the security we enjoy here in Canada. They recognize that the diplomatic and development efforts that are improving the lives of Afghans are possible precisely because the Canadian Forces are there. They recognize that some jobs in this world, unfortunately, require military force. They recognize that this mission continues a long Canadian tradition of helping others in need. And at the end of the day, Canadians just want to say thanks.
If members of the House still question the need for the security provided by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, they do not need to accept the words of those Canadians either. Appreciation for the vital contributions of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan is also voiced by experts, diplomatic experts, in fact. Nigel Fisher, the head of UNICEF Canada said just last week that “a strong international military presence is needed now” and he said it will be needed for years to come.
Allow me to provide a substantive example of exactly how the work of our men and women in uniform is improving the daily lives of the Afghan people. For the last two weeks Canadian troops have been supporting an operation called “Op Achilles”, ISAF's largest operation with the Afghan national security forces to date. The intent of Op Achilles is to disrupt Taliban plans and establish security in the area of the Sangin Valley, a part of Helmand province that borders Kandahar province.
For the people of Afghanistan, the impact of security and, sadly, the impact of insecurity is very real. For instance, just north of the Sangin Valley is the Kajaki dam and powerhouse. The Kajaki dam is the largest dam in Afghanistan and it is the prime source of hydro electricity for the south. The hundreds of thousands of Afghans who live in Kandahar City, among others, depend on that dam for power and water.
In the fall and early spring, the dam's power output was wavering, but due to ISAF efforts, the supply of electricity to Kandahar City was sustained and now work can proceed on the dam's refurbishment project. This project aims to almost double the dam's electrical power output and triple irrigation capacity in the region. The Kajaki dam project is expected to benefit almost two million Afghans.
The economic and social impact of such a project will be enormous, but this project can proceed only if ISAF follows through on its commitment to provide the necessary security for the engineers and labourers to do their work. So when members talk about pulling the Canadian Forces out of Afghanistan today, they will jeopardize countless projects just like this.
Reconstruction and development cannot happen without security forces in place to help provide that necessary security. We do not want to leave the Afghans without light, heat and water, and we certainly do not want to leave them to live in a region that will be retaken by murderous insurgents. We do not want to leave them to suffer more bombs in the markets, more mines hidden cunningly on the side of the road, more gunmen terrorizing the streets, but that is exactly what we would be doing if we pulled our Canadian Forces out.
If we pull our military out now, the impact of the resulting insecurity would be heart-wrenching. For the sake of the Afghan people and for the sake of the Canadians who want to help them, I cannot support this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I am somewhat puzzled by this motion on the part of the NDP. I started wondering why, after voting down a specific end to the combat role of our mission, it would bring forward a motion that it knows for all practical purposes is not going to be approved by the House. Obviously it is either a pursuit of some ideological purity, which baffles me, or some partisan calculations to do some damage control for having voted against the Liberal motion last Tuesday.
As we well know, in May 2006 Parliament voted to extend Canada's mission in southern Afghanistan until February 2009. The Conservative government rushed that motion through the House and gave parliamentarians little information and only six hours of debate. The 's desire to play politics with this very important issue played a large part in the way that motion was handled by the Conservative Party.
This past Tuesday, as I said, Parliament voted on a Liberal motion that sought to ensure the departure date of 2009 was honoured. NDP members have made it clear how they feel about Canada's mission in Afghanistan. Clearly, they want the combat mission in southern Afghanistan to end.
In light of that, they had a choice to make last Tuesday. They could have voted for that Liberal motion and, with the Liberal opposition, sent a clear message calling for an end to our combat role in southern Afghanistan by the end of February 2009.
I should note, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
Obviously if the Liberal motion had passed Canadians would have clarity on when the combat role was going to end. Our NATO allies would have clarity as to what arrangements they might need to make in case other troops from other jurisdictions might be needed. The government and people of Afghanistan would also know that our combat role would come to an end. This does not mean that our mission would come to an end in February 2009 but that our combat role would.
However, that did not happen, because the NDP voted to support the Conservative government in defeating that motion. The NDP knows realistically that the troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2009. As long as NDP members continue to vote with the Conservatives to oppose our efforts to put a deadline on the combat role, that combat role will continue until 2009. As well, the government is not at any time soon going to bring forward a motion to end the combat role any earlier than 2009.
As a result of what the NDP has done, what may in fact happen is that the government may bring forward a motion to extend this combat role for our troops beyond 2009. Of course, that means the government, as it wishes, would have an open-ended power to continue the combat role beyond 2009 if it so chooses.
Today the NDP has put forward a motion that calls for Canada to break its word to Afghanistan, as I have said, and to our NATO partners. It knows that this motion has no chance of success. I must say with a great deal of regret that this is highly irresponsible and unrealistic.
Whatever one may think of the way in which the mission was extended to 2009 or the way the Conservative government has handled this mission, the fact remains that Canada made a commitment on the world stage to the people and government of Afghanistan, to our NATO allies and to the rest of the world. Such a commitment cannot be taken lightly. No responsible political party can ever or should ever lightly turn its back on any international commitment signed by Canada and approved by this Parliament.
What the Conservative government did in the way it rushed the extension was not to my liking. I voted against that extension, but the fact is that we have given our word to Afghanistan through a legitimate government of our country and we cannot go back on that word.
We need to provide some notice to our NATO allies. If this motion passes, arranging a replacement force in the wake of an immediate Canadian departure, as the motion demands, would be nearly impossible. NATO and our other allies require notice. We have to work with them to deal with this issue.
The behaviour of the NDP lays bare its willingness to give the Conservative government a pass, as demonstrated in the last federal election, even if the end result is to produce an outcome absolutely contrary to its policies and its stated values. In the last election, a right-wing Conservative government took over. In the way that NDP members defeated the Liberal motion by supporting the Conservative government, they have given a blank cheque to that government for an open-ended mission, possibly beyond 2009.
NDP members can criticize the mission and they can say that troops should be withdrawn immediately, but when they back the Conservative government and risk indefinite extension of the mission in the process, anything else they say rings hollow. The talk does not match the actions. That party does not live up to the responsibility a responsible political party should have.
The NDP is not standing up in an effective way for what Canadians want. Those members obviously do not have respect for Canada's word on the international stage. They had a chance to join with the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois to deliver a clear message on behalf of the Canadian people to the Conservative government, but they failed. They stumbled.
Now they are trying to undo the political damage that they may have done to themselves n their own constituencies. The NDP chose to risk the extension of the very mission it opposed beyond 2009. That is a possibility. Given the NDP's position on this mission, it is incomprehensible to me why those members did what they did with respect to the Liberal motion.
A Liberal government would clearly commit to ending Canada's combat role in Kandahar in 2009 and would immediately inform NATO of this deadline to ensure it would be able to locate a suitable replacement for Canada. We feel that this is the most responsible approach under the circumstances and that it strikes a balance between the extreme approaches of the NDP on the one hand and the Conservatives on the other. Therefore, I will be opposing this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate today. I have to say that it is interesting to hear the catcalls from the Conservatives and the NDP.
The NDP motion is unrealistic. Surely, if the NDP members had done any research they would have known it was unrealistic. To suggest that somehow we would have an immediate pullout from Afghanistan is not practical. It is not practical because we cannot take 2,500 troops out of Kandahar overnight. We cannot do that without informing our allies and indicating what this side of the House has been asking for from the beginning, which was in the Liberal motion, that we want to see a rotation at the end of February 2009.
During the rotation in 2003, when we were active in security in Kabul, from the beginning of that mission we sought with our allies a replacement at the end of one year. Turkey stepped up to the plate as the replacement.
If we were to take the NDP position, we simply would leave regardless of whether or not there was a replacement. The position of the Conservatives is they do not want to seek a replacement. In fact the NDP, by voting against the Liberal motion the other day, is playing into the Conservatives' hands.
I heard some of the catcalls earlier from some Conservative members which would suggest that we should be there beyond February 2009. If the Conservative government were honest, it would come clean and say that it intends to stay longer, and Canadians would know where it stands. We do not really know where the government stands because the NDP propped up the Conservatives the other night by saying the NDP was not going to necessarily support the February 2009 deadline.
I am a bit surprised by the NDP position. The NDP members say they support development. I would point out that since 2001, millions of Afghan children have gone back to school. Having visited Kandahar and Kabul in May 2006, I can testify to the fact that there were young girls, and in fact now there are over five million children, including young women, going to school, learning trades, being educated. Less than one million were going to school under the Taliban. That is a success.
If we were to take the NDP position, we would need to say that we support those things but we are not prepared to support them at the present time in terms of having our troops there. Troops are needed in order to continue with the development work that needs to be done. That is the position of this party, but it is not the position of this party to suggest that we continue beyond February 2009. We may take on a different role in Afghanistan.
If the NDP and indeed the Conservatives had heeded the Liberal position, we also said that this particular NATO mission is underfunded and undersupported. In Kosovo we provided twenty to one in terms of international troops to support the effort. In Bosnia and in Afghanistan, it was only two to one. We need to do more. In the meantime, instead of constructive ideas, the motion before the House is not realistic and it will not pass, given the position of the government and certainly our own position.
What could we do in the meantime? We have talked a lot on this side of the House about more emphasis on development issues, particularly in the long term. We are seeing success in the short term in the building of clinics and schools, but often three or four months later they are destroyed or burned. We need a long term strategy with our allies.
At the moment there are 26 countries involved in Afghanistan but only six fully participate. There are covenants with regard to countries like Germany. The other countries need to step up and do their full share. This is not solely a Canadian mission. It is a NATO mission. As a NATO mission all need to be fully engaged in the war that is going on there, and the rebuilding and redevelopment of Afghanistan.
I do not think anyone in this House does not support our troops, not one. What we need to do though is to say that it is not realistic to assume that what is already going to be the longest military mission for Canada will continue. That is what I fear is the position of the present government, that the Conservatives would extend it even longer.
The government and the NDP should be supporting the Liberal position, which is that there be more emphasis on diplomacy. We should work with our NATO allies and make sure that they do their full share. They are not doing their full share. The NDP members know that our allies are not doing their full share. The government knows that our allies are not doing their full share. Yet the NDP position is simply to leave. Obviously, the successes that have occurred particularly in the northern parts of Afghanistan would be subject to tremendous stress. Our leaving would present an opportunity for the Taliban.
Let us also keep in mind that particularly in Kandahar province we see great instability. We see a growth in instability in the Pashtun region where the Afghan Taliban are particularly successful. Because of the unfortunate porous border with Pakistan, even though there are 80,000 Pakistani troops on the border, it is a hot bed. It is not a hot bed for the north. It is not a hot bed in Kabul. It is not a hot bed in Herat and other places. We know that in this particular region and in neighbouring Helmand province where the British are there is instability.
I would only agree on this point, that we need to review our strategic approach. We need to review what is it that we are doing in carrying out the mission. Until February 2009 we clearly need to support our troops on the ground. We need to increase our diplomatic efforts with NATO, Pakistan and others. We need to have more accountability and a longer term focus on the issue of redevelopment. It is extremely important. We need to continue to see more.
There are seven million children still not going to school in Afghanistan. I think we could do better with our allies and with the Afghan government. That is something we need to continue to do. If we believe in schooling children, young women and the micro-credit programs that are currently in place and succeeding in Afghanistan, then we do not want to see that disappear. Again, this is not a solely Canadian mission.
Better coordination with our allies on the ground militarily, diplomatically and in terms of development is important. That continues to be the position of the Liberal Party. We need to make sure that the government pushes on those two fronts. The government clearly is pushing on the military front. We need to redouble our efforts on redevelopment and on the diplomacy side. If we do so, then the very people we say we are there to support will have a better future. No one in the House that I know of wants to see the Taliban or al-Qaeda regain control in Afghanistan.
There are obviously different approaches. We have an approach. The government has an approach. Today we are listening to the NDP approach. I suggest that at the end of the day we have to not show division, but we need to show that we are united, not only in terms of our troops, but also in terms of ensuring that we put the necessary diplomatic pressure on our NATO allies. They have to do their fair share. We have to set up a rotation. The longer we delay on that, the more likely it is the government will come back to this House and say that there is no rotation in place so the mission will have to be extended.
That is why we set one up immediately in 2003, and in 2004 Turkey came in on the rotation. I do not think that is unrealistic. I did not hear that when I talked with the troops in Kandahar. They expected that at some point they would be leaving and there would be a rotation.
In conclusion, the Liberal Party will not support this motion. We will continue to support the efforts of our troops on the ground and other diplomatic efforts.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for
In this type of debate, I always start with some warnings. The current Conservative government has a strong tendency to say that if we do not share the same opinion, it is because we do not support the troops. This is completely false. I want to explain once again, as I did last week, the importance of this type of debate. The armed forces in democratic countries are under the authority of the government. Any decisions about the future of armed forces therefore rest with civil authorities and democratic parliaments. And in democratic parliaments, not all the members of a party are always on the same side.
I think that all components of each of these parliaments should be respected, and the Parliament of Canada is no exception. We must respect the fact that in this Parliament there are four political parties, whose members are elected democratically. No one in this House has special status. We were all elected by constituents who have a point of view, a philosophy, and who are asking us to represent that point of view and philosophy in Parliament, a most appropriate place. When beginning my remarks, I always say that we must not condemn individuals or parties for not supporting our troops, because we are the ones who determine the future of the Canadian Forces, in Afghanistan and in other international theatres of operation. I thought it was important to say that right off the bat.
That being said, I have a lot of friends in the New Democratic Party and in all of the parties. Even so, sometimes, we have to tell them nicely that we do not agree with them. That is what I will try to do today, even though I like some aspects of the motion. What I just mentioned is part of the motion. Despite our disagreements, all members of this House share the same goal: we are trying to run a country in a way that respects our international commitments, freedom of speech and democracy.
The Bloc Québécois cannot support the NDP motion. We must make a logical choice because we have adopted specific policy positions throughout this debate. Initially, we supported the mission, and soldiers were sent. Then, when the Conservative government came to power, it held a very limited and brief debate that resulted in extending the mission. We asked questions about issues such as the exit strategy, the kind of equipment our soldiers would have, and how rotations would work. We asked a lot of questions that the current himself had asked when he was a member of the official opposition. We received no answers.
I would therefore like to remind those listening to us today that the Bloc Québécois did not support the extension of the mission. Subsequently, as events ensued, it became clear that the mission's mandate had to be changed. My Bloc colleagues and I all agree that the mission must be rebalanced. This can no longer be only a military mission. The development and reconstruction aspects are now, in our opinion, even more important than the military aspect. I am not saying that the military aspect does not have its place. However, based on current trends, we see increased militarization. This is why, last week, we supported the Liberal Party motion to terminate combat operations in February 2009. We believe that it remains important to keep our soldiers there. However, we would like to see the mission rebalanced as soon as possible.
At this time, the problem with the NDP motion is its rashness. In fact, the motion calls for the immediate withdrawal of the troops. Having twice gone to Afghanistan, I can assure this House that it is no small undertaking to get all the equipment and all the troops over there. It truly is not something that can be changed overnight. As a result, we cannot say that we are simply throwing in the towel and leaving. I am referring not just to transportation logistics, but also to how this would be perceived internationally.
For instance, after signing a contract to pay back a mortgage every month or to make monthly car payments, if an individual decided to stop paying, he or she would have to face the consequences. The same is true when it comes to international agreements. When a country makes a commitment to its allies to do something until a certain date, that country cannot later say that something came up and that it cannot continue. To do so would be to lose credibility.
This also gives people the perception of defeat and running away. If we leave without notice, before schedule, our Taliban adversaries, or other adversaries such as al-Qaeda, would claim victory. We would be giving up and that would be our defeat. We are not in favour of rushing this.
Now, as far as pulling out in February 2009 is concerned, I want to remind the House that NATO and the 10 other countries working with us there represent an alliance. People have to share the effort as much as possible.
The first time I went to Afghanistan I was very surprised to see that the Germans, in northern Afghanistan, had to return to camp at 8 p.m., when I know that is not the case for Canadians in the south, in Kandahar.
There is a price to pay depending on the geographic location in Afghanistan. Canada is currently paying a heavy price, and not just financially—that is the other problem.
There are many discussions at NATO. I spend a lot of time there. I attend 3 or 4 meetings a year. There is a joint financing problem at NATO. In other words, people who go to Afghanistan under the auspices of NATO pay their share. They pay for exactly what they have to pay for, such as the movement of troops, equipment and materiel. This means that when they are in a combat zone, such as Kandahar, the bill is much higher than if they were in a zone where absolutely nothing is happening. I do not want to diminish the work of the others. However, I just want to say that the financial cost and human cost should not always be shouldered by the same people.
This is what I am trying to get across to my colleagues: by advising our NATO allies of our departure in the next two years, they will have enough time to determine who will replace the Canadians.
I am not saying that all the Canadians in Kandahar will pack their bags and leave. We do not know that yet. Development and reconstruction continue to be important to us. However, it should not be just Canadians who bear the financial price and the loss of life. It is not always up to Canadians to take on the entire task. This is a very important matter that we would like to debate on a regular basis.
After speaking about the rebalancing, I may also talk about the issue of detainees. The government has decided to remain in Afghanistan until February 2009. We support terminating combat operations as of that date. However, in the meantime, we will ask for a rebalancing of the mission in terms of development and reconstruction.
The figures speak for themselves: $1.8 billion has been spent on military operations to date and $300 million invested in reconstruction and development. That is clearly not enough. There is an imbalance in terms of the financial effort. Still, we are doing better than the average calculated for the area. Unless I am mistaken, for every $1 spent on development and reconstruction $9 is spent on military operations, but Canada's ratio is $1 spent on development and reconstruction for every $6 spent on the military.
We are not yet satisfied with these figures. We believe that a better balance is required. Everyone, including NATO generals, has said so. This battle cannot be won by military force alone. If we continue along these lines, we will end up losing the battle.
That is why the Bloc Québécois does not want an early departure. It wants to give the mission a chance during the next two years. In the meantime, we must work hard on an ongoing basis to rebalance this mission.
That is the Bloc Québécois position more or less. Obviously, I must say to my NDP friends that we cannot support their motion today.
Mr. Speaker, this issue of Afghanistan and Canada's involvement in Afghanistan is troubling. I do not like the war either. But from the beginning, I supported Canada's involvement, knowing that soldiers from Quebec would be going to Afghanistan.
It seemed to me that we had to support the American response to the events of September 11, a response justified by NATO and the United Nations. It is true that the war came out of those events. But it is also true that we saw the abuses committed by the Taliban regime, which had supported al-Qaeda.
I do not have much time, so I will go on and say that the Bloc Québécois was opposed to continuing the mission until 2009, because of the lack of information and the almost undemocratic way we were forced to vote on short notice on such an important issue.
In fact, I believe that the vast majority of Quebeckers and Canadians agree with Canada's involvement in the operation in Afghanistan. Where people started having problems was when General Hillier himself asked that Canada take on the lion's share of the defence and reconstruction mission with the army in the Kandahar region.
I am very sorry that the NDP did not support the latest Liberal motion, which we did support. Now, with the various means at our disposal, we may be convincing our NATO partners that it is other countries' turn to take responsibility for the most dangerous regions. I would remind hon. members that this is a NATO mission, a UN mission.
We all know that the war will not be won militarily, but through reconstruction and development in a secure environment. We have no choice: we must ensure that security. But we must also strike a balance between our security efforts and the time, money and resources we spend on reconstruction, development and democracy. Many problems need to be addressed.
In committee, where we are looking at the question of Afghanistan, we have heard from a number of experts who have given a full account of all the problems. Frankly, the overall picture gives no indication that, in two years' time, the Afghan government will be able to assume full control of the country, ensure its defence, reconstruction and, above all, democracy, and drive out corruption and corrupt individuals. We have repeatedly been told that the biggest problems are the lack of viable institutions, justice, and police officers, and the presence of rampant corruption, beginning with the government and even in the legal system, as some experts told us today. What the Afghan people need is hope.
It must be understood—and many polls have shown—that the Afghan people prefer foreigners. In fact, Canadians are not viewed as being different from any other foreigners. However, the Afghan people are not sure whether they are going to stay. I understand this argument and I think it is important. This is why I supported the Liberal motion. The allied forces must stay to ensure the reconstruction, development and safety of the country.
It is not up to Canada alone to take on NATO's job in the dangerous Kandahar region. The NATO partnership will crumble. The Canadians have been told that they cannot leave Kandahar to go to another region because that would raise doubts amongst the Taliban and the Afghan people, and NATO would then have to increase its efforts even further or face serious problems.
Strategy is extremely important, and the Taliban, supported by the powerful Pakistani secret service—this is what has been repeated over and over again—certainly know that. I am very sorry that a proposal was put forward for the safe and immediate withdrawal of the Canadian Forces. Such a withdrawal is, I think, impossible. I would like to hear my hon. colleague, who sits on the Standing Committee on National Defence, say that this is possible.
At this time it is not possible to announce that we are leaving. This is where political work has to be done. We could have worked on this together, politically, in international associations and anywhere there are parliamentarians. We could have said that we will stay for the reconstruction and development, but that it is time for others to go to the south, to the dangerous regions. I think this could be done in a NATO partnership. Let us not forget that Afghanistan is a first for NATO and the United Nations. They are trying to find real ways to help a country in this situation—and God knows there are many ways—to rebuild and to take charge of their own future. Indeed, that is our opinion, but we do not want Canada to take on the full burden when it should be shared by NATO.
Before I wrap up, I want to say that there is a long way to go before Afghanistan is ready to take charge of its own future. Reconstruction, which has barely begun, and economic development are necessary, but the priority is democratic development. The government is weak and is often criticized for being corrupt. It is rather difficult to end corruption if you have a reputation for being corrupt. As an expert witness said in committee, the government will have to clean house to be viable and to truly help the country. Finding a solution to the corruption problem is essential, especially when it comes to drug money and, for that matter, our money, which is not always used for its intended purpose.
As far as drugs are concerned, the Bloc proposed—and so have many others—buying the crops to produce medically used narcotics. I even heard one expert say that we should simply buy them to prevent them from being used. How much would that cost? It would cost a lot less to buy the crops than to deal with the consequences. Farmers produce these crops because they do not have other options. The money from the crops does not go back to the producers. Most of the money from these crops goes to the middleman and, quite likely, the warlords.
Some say that if we buy the farmer's crop, no matter what we do with it, the farmer will have some money while he waits for alternatives to be found. Alternatives do exist—for example, fruit production—and they must be developed. We know that roadways are needed for this. Therefore, the important work of reconstruction, development and tackling corruption must be carried out. This requires the coordination of aid. The Bloc Québécois proposed that a United Nations representative be involved. The coordination of aid has been very beneficial in other countries in terms of making effective use of the money available.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Having a legal background myself, I would like to address some of the issues that have arisen, particularly in the last several months in terms of our responsibility as a country under the international law system for the planet and the risks with which we are faced because of our conduct in the treatment and the handling of prisoners in Afghanistan.
The law is quite clear, internationally, under the Geneva Convention, on how prisoners are to be treated. We are long past the day when it was accepted practice in warfare to simply kill opponents under any circumstances, including when they had been captured and were defenceless from any further battle undertaking. We are away beyond that, and the convention that we have worked on as a country and with our allies internationally is quite clear on what we are supposed to be doing. Equally clear is that we have not done that.
We see the ridiculous circumstance of what happened yesterday at committee with the making up policy literally at the end of the meeting on the run. For a country with Canada's history and reputation in the international community, that is just simply indefensible and an embarrassment.
Just a few weeks ago I was at Vimy for the commemoration of that battle which has significance to us as a country in the role that our military played. Going back 90 years, even then we should look at how we handled prisoners of war. We did not just turn them over knowingly.
Much as we hear denials from the government all the way up to the , the , and that we they do not really know, that they are not sure what is going on, that is not true. It is as simple as that. We do know, even though we try to hide that from the Canadian public. We do know what is going on.
Again, I think back to the way our soldiers, our military, conducted themselves 90 years ago at Vimy and the way they treated prisoners. Then we see the government and our military leadership, I will include them in this, brazenly ignore international law. They ignore their responsibilities.
There is a historical imperative here for this country that is being ignored by the government. I hear the try to justify our unwillingness, our incompetency, because the other side are bad guys. We should stop and think about the logic of what he is saying. He is saying that because they are bad guys, we should be bad guys too. The justification that the end justifies the means should never lie in the mouth of a Canadian politician and certainly not in the minister's mouth.
We have a responsibility, a historical responsibility, to always take the high road. We cannot allow, ever, our public policy, our foreign affairs policy, or our military policy to degenerate to the level of what we are fighting, never. We cannot allow ourselves to do that.
It is happening. We read some of the letters to the editors of our newspapers across this country and we hear the same argument that came out of the mouth of that minister. He says that they are bad guys, they kill men, women and children, so we should not treat them humanely. That is assuming of course that the people we have in custody are those same people, which of course is a false assumption, in all cases. We hear that we should not care that when we turn them over to some other force or state authority that they are going to be tortured and sometimes summarily executed. We should not worry about that. It is not our concern.
In fact, it is our concern. It is our responsibility. It is our legal responsibility under international law, conventions that we have signed onto going back decades and decades. There is nothing new here. This has always been our responsibility since we signed on and we are abrogating that responsibility.
I want to say in particular on this point how utterly angry I was at the when he stood in this House and repeatedly said, as have other ministers of the Crown, that by raising these points we are exposing our soldiers, our troops, to charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
I want to be very clear to the and to his government. It is not our troops we are talking about here. It is his government that we are talking about. If we in fact have, as I believe we have, crossed over the line, then we have aided and abetted with torture. We know about it. We are aiding and abetting it. We have crossed the line. I believe that, but it is not our soldiers who are doing that. It is the government.
It did not put in place the proper agreements in the first place and when it found out, and it has known now for certainly months if not years, what in fact was going on in terms of the treatment of the prisoners, it did not move on that.
Therefore, it is complicit. The government is complicit not our soldiers. Our soldiers are doing their jobs as they are directed by their superiors. They are not responsible here. The government is.
Where does this come from? We are burying ourselves in this and so we end up in these kinds of quandaries. It goes back to the very basic nature of this mission.
It was interesting to hear one of the speakers from Calgary, in his questions and comments, saying that this is a new experience. We are hearing the same thing from the Bloc. It is not, really. Any number of other governments, other state authorities, have tried to fight state insurgency. They have tried it in this country repeatedly.
We can go back to Alexander the Great if we want to, certainly going back to the British in the 1860s and the Americans more recently. We can look at all the insurgencies that we have tried to fight, whether on an ideological basis or an economic basis, and they do not work.
The very essence of this mission is one that is doomed to failure. We can go from the second world war and look at every single one, I think with maybe one exception that I am aware of, and that was the one in Malaysia where the British used just horrendous tactics to put that down.
One might argue that one was ultimately successful, but barring that one, there has not been one, not one. The best example, of course, we can point to is Vietnam and that is what we are doing. We are repeating that. Or we can point to Iraq and we are repeating that.
When we do that, we bury ourselves and we get ourselves caught in this situation where we are breaking international law. This country's reputation for decades to come will suffer as a result.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of this motion today.
Canadians are increasingly uncomfortable with Canada's role in Afghanistan. On the nightly news we see growing destabilization, growing counter-insurgency on our part, insurgency on the part of the Afghans, more civilian deaths and increasingly more Canadian deaths.
So far, 54 soldiers and 1 Canadian diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan. This is an incredibly deep tragedy for all those families and all those communities and is a significant loss of life. However, we do not even hear about the loss of Afghan lives. I cannot even tell this House what the number is. I do not know who knows what that number is but I am sure it is very significant.
Now we see something that our defence critic raised a year ago, and it has been confirmed, and that is concerns about prisoner transfer.
Unlike The Netherlands, which secured protection for prisoners that were captured by its troops, we see that prisoners captured by Canadian troops are open to torture and abuse. Here we are as Canadians on an anti-terrorism mission, with escalating violence, escalating deaths and destabilization, and now facilitating torture and violations of international agreements like the Geneva convention.
What is happening? What path are we on as a country? Is this Canada's international involvement? Is this what we aspire to as a country? I think Canadians are very troubled by this.
Constituents in my riding of have spoken with me about this and many are very troubled by this war. They want to know how much longer we will be there, how many more will die and how many more will be injured. Increasingly, they are telling me that Canada needs to get out.
I have even had some World War II veterans say to me that they fought in the war but that this war is not the same, that should not be there. Canadians are definitely very concerned about this.
Many of the troops over in Afghanistan are injured. We do not tend to hear as much about the injuries and the impact that has on the lives of those soldiers. A good friend of mine had a son in Afghanistan. He is a very proud member of the Canadian Forces. He was completing his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when he stepped on a landmine. I am very pleased to say that he survived but his life has changed forever. I want to affirm to this House that he never questioned his mission. He is a very proud member of the forces. He still does not question his mission and he is proud to serve his country.
However, our job as members of parliament is to question and debate this mission and to ensure that when we send our people in harm's way we are asking all of the difficult, tough questions that they themselves cannot ask. I believe debate is healthy and that differences of opinion are normal but I do resent some of the demonization that takes place around differences of opinion with respect to Canada's role in Afghanistan.
I want to be clear that it was the previous government that got us into this current combat mission, this search and destroy mission, which changed us from our normal peacekeeping role in Afghanistan. We were originally there on an anti-terrorist mission under U.S. command but this has now become a NATO mission.
It was a year ago that the current government rammed through a motion to extend this mission to 2009. At that time, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois voted against that motion, as did some members of the Liberal Party. Unfortunately, the motion passed by four votes which committed Canada until 2009, which is the current mission date. Who knows what the government's plans are in terms of extending the mission beyond that because we cannot get any straight answers.
My party's position is clear and well known. The government does not have a clear strategy for bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan. The NDP believes that ever since the mission in Afghanistan began, neither the former Liberal government nor the current Conservative government demonstrated due diligence before getting the Canadian Forces involved in this mission. Our party is asking for the withdrawal of Canadian Forces from the counter-insurgency mission. We should begin to withdraw as soon as possible in collaboration with our international partners to ensure a safe, smooth transition.
We want to notify NATO immediately that we have already made a huge sacrifice, a disproportionate sacrifice, and we cannot allow this disproportionate sacrifice to continue without any clear goal or definition of success or without any clear achievements in this mission. In fact, I would argue that we are going in the wrong direction and that things are going from bad to worse.
We do not support continuing this anti-terrorism mission as it is, unchanged, for another two long years, as my colleagues in the Liberal Party would have us do with their motion last week. It is not acceptable.
A redeployment would take time, of course. Some have said in the House that we cannot just snap our fingers and have the troops leave. Of course we cannot do that but what we can do and what this motion speaks to is making a decision to change our role and to leave this mission. We can then set in place plans for a safe, measured disengagement from this particular anti-terrorist mission and then maybe we can engage in a more constructive role in Afghanistan.
This conflict is about political problems, not military ones. Therefore, we must seek a political and diplomatic solution. That being said, we do not want to abandon Afghanistan.
Previous speakers have spoken with pride about some of the achievements that have taken place in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that there are some achievements in Afghanistan but I suggest that they are, for the most part, in the north where troops are predominantly in a peacekeeping role and not in places where NATO bombs are falling on homes and where we see on the nightly news the destabilization and escalating violence. I believe we can continue to provide support where many other NATO forces are located but, with escalating violence in the south, I believe NATO and retaliatory bombs will keep escalating the violence.
Our motion speaks to the safe and secure withdrawal from the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan. I believe this can be planned in such a way that our troops are safe and it does not destabilize the south, but the motion also calls for Canada to now focus our efforts on assisting the people of Afghanistan on a diplomatic solution and to redouble our commitment to reconstruction and development.
If we want peace, we need to promote peace. If we truly want to win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, the best thing we can do is give them food instead of violence.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for .
The success of the UN-mandated mission in Afghanistan of providing security, promoting good governance and delivering development assistance is important to Afghanistan and Canadians alike.
For the people of Afghanistan, it means a chance to overcome a history of violence, tyranny and oppression in favour of a future built on freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
For the people of Canada, a stable Afghanistan free from extremism means enhanced international security and thus greater security at home.
The NATO-led ISAF mission is solidly supported by the international community through the UN Security Council mandate. We are there to help the Afghanistan government implement the goals set out in the Afghanistan compact, which sets out clear benchmarks to guide progress. The compact's goals are Canada's goals.
The Afghanistan compact was carefully developed jointly by the Afghanistan government as well as by over 60 nations and international organizations.
The compact sets out detailed outcomes, benchmarks, timelines for delivery and mutual obligations between now and 2011, which aim to ensure greater coherence of efforts between the Afghanistan government and the international community. It also spells out the Afghan government's priorities for accelerating development, increasing security, tackling the drug trade and strengthening governance by identifying three critical and interdependent pillars of activity: security and stability; governance, including the rule of law, human rights; and tackling corruption and economic and social development.
The compact commits the international community, along with the Government of Afghanistan and the UN, to achieve progress in these three areas.
Canada is working in close cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan in helping it realize benchmarks for each of these pillars. We are also working in close cooperation with the United Nations and with 36 other ISAF countries. They are valued and trusted partners in our efforts in Afghanistan. This is a community effort.
It is good to know that real progress in Afghanistan can be measured. It is occurring in expanded security, in building democratic institutions and public infrastructure and in providing humanitarian and development assistance. Pulling out now and allowing the Taliban to regain control would result in all of this being lost.
Let us look at political progress. All Canadians can be proud of the progress our collective efforts have achieved thus far.
The first is democracy. The 2004 presidential elections marked a watershed in Afghanistan's transition toward a democratic self-sustaining state. Afghanistan's first parliament in more than three decades was inaugurated in December 2005.
The second is governance. Progress is visible in other areas as well. Governance, the rule of law and human rights form a central pillar of the Afghanistan compact. Canada is helping Afghanistan strengthen governance by supporting and training of judges and prosecutors, encouraging a transparent and qualifications based process for senior appointments such as police chiefs, supporting the reform and development of Afghanistan's legal and justice institutions and improving access to the justice system through legal aid.
In 2006 we saw measurable progress in Afghan governance. An Afghan supreme court was confirmed. An Afghan action plan on peace, reconciliation and justice was launched. A senior appointments panel was established to ensure transparency and accountability for high level appointments to the government and judiciary, including governors and police chiefs.
The third achievement is progress in human rights. Coupled with good governance, Canada has made the promotion and protection of human rights in Afghanistan a priority. We do not believe fear and tyranny should guide the daily lives of people.
We have spoken out clearly in favour of freedom of speech and freedom of religion and are achieving concrete results for our efforts. Challenges do remain. Violence and discrimination against women and girls persist, especially in rural areas. Female politicians, activists and workers face intimidation. Freedom of expression still faces major obstacles, yet progress continues to be made.
Afghanistan adopted a constitution that enshrines the concepts of human rights, equality of men and women, ethnic plurality. With Canadian financial assistance, Afghanistan is working to increase its capacity to comply with that report on its human rights treaty obligations.
Let us now look at the social and economic progress. Canadian assistance is going to provide food, water and basic necessities. It is also going to schools, to villages and to communities, to microcredit for individuals, especially women, so they can start small business, support themselves and their families and take control of their future. Canada is also providing critical food assistance and vocational training to widows and their families.
Where do we go? The recently has announced that Canada is providing an additional $200 million for reconstruction and development. This is in addition to our allocation of approximately $100 million per year to development activities, which has made Canada one of the leading donors in Afghanistan. The funds support a wide range of critical Canadian and United Nations programs, including police development and counter-narcotics enforcement.
Progress achieved in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban has been remarkable. Where once there was unaccountable tyranny, there is now a democracy. Where once women were brutally oppressed, girls can now attend schools and women are allowed to start their own businesses. Where once the government spawned hatred, intolerance and terrorism, it can now spread security, development and hope. In sum, because of Canadian efforts, Afghanistan's determination and the support of the international community, life continues to improve for ordinary Afghans.
By signalling our intent to withdraw, we would run the risk of losing everything we have worked for to the Taliban. We know well what life was like under the Taliban. Preventing the reconsolidation of this regime is essential to Afghanistan's future. Abandoning Afghanistan prematurely would represent an unprecedented departure from Canada's legacy of actively promoting sustainable peace.
Only if there is security in Afghanistan can development and humanitarian workers get on with their task of helping Afghans. Only if there is security can the fledgling steps in democratic governance and the rule of law be consolidated and extended. Only if there is security can human rights in Afghanistan be grounded and protected in law and enforced in public.
That is why our government has continued to support the deployment of Canadian Forces in the volatile southern region. Thanks to the skills and professionalism and courage of our soldiers, the peace stretching over most of the country has now been extended to large parts of the Kandahar province.
We are now consolidating those security gains and using this opportunity to increase our focus on bettering the lives of civilians, pushing ahead with reconstruction projects, building schools, encouraging small businesses and implementing governance programs.
However, the cost of failure and abandonment would be very high. Afghanistan's poverty, the narcotics trade, the violent anti-government forces in the south all pose a huge challenge for the Afghan people. It also poses a grave and continuing risk to peace and stability, not only in the region but also, as we saw five years ago, spilling out into the world and onto our own continent.
Two days ago a British cabinet minister stated that putting a time limit on our mission, or in this case withdrawing immediately, would send the wrong message to those that would oppose Afghan progress by violent means. I agree, but I also add that it sends the wrong message about Canada to a much wider audience.
If we abandon Afghanistan, we abandon Canadian values that we proudly wear around the world. We abandon our friends and allies and all those who have dedicated themselves to helping the Afghan people realize a better future.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. I appreciate the opportunity, but I will certainly not be supporting the motion put forward by the NDP today.
To abandon our commitment and withdraw the Canadian Forces from Afghanistan today would be irresponsible, premature and devastating to the overall mission.
As my colleagues are all aware, our men and women in uniform are part of a dedicated team of 37 nations in the International Security Assistance Force. We are operating with a UN mandate and under the command of NATO.
We are making solid progress through an integrated approach, civilian and military, that relies on the skills and training of Canadians from across government. This is a moral duty. For generations Canadians have unselfishly stepped up to help those in need. This is a profound legacy that, in partnership with our friends and allies, we are continuing today.
Canada is in Afghanistan for reasons that have been explained many times. We are in Afghanistan because our national interest is threatened. We are in Afghanistan because our allies need our help. We are in Afghanistan because Afghans, people who have suffered from too many years of conflict and neglect, have asked for and need our assistance.
Before we contemplate breaking our international commitments, we need to understand what we would be leaving behind. Afghanistan has not seen real stability for more than a generation. Basic infrastructure and public services such as safe water, access to medical care and schools simply do not exist in much of Afghanistan, but the Afghan people remain resilient and committed to building a better future.
Sadly, as Canadians we are all too aware that a minority of Afghans do not want our help, fanatic insurgents working to undo the good that Canada, the international community and hard-working Afghans have struggled so hard to achieve.
The Taliban extremists, who repressively controlled the country before, have not stopped scheming and working to do so again. They are waiting for us to abandon our commitment. They are dedicated to terrorizing innocent Afghans. They do not hesitate to brutally and publicly execute those who stand against them.
They are willing to adopt any means, be it improvised explosive devices or suicide bombers, to endanger our troops and erase the good progress that Afghans have seen. They focus on undermining the efforts and credibility of the Afghan government and the international community.
This is our enemy.
This why the Canadian Forces remain a vital part of the Afghan mission. Canadians are helping Afghans and their elected government make headway against a deceitful adversary.
We are joined in our efforts by our friends and allies. Our allies and partners have come to count on the Canadian Forces. Their considerable expertise, skills and training, along with some of the best equipment available, rank the Canadian Forces among the most capable in the world.
As the chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan at the end of January and we were told repeatedly by our friends, allies and Afghans themselves how the contribution of our Canadian Forces is making a tremendous difference in that country. The optimism that exists over there now is in large part due to our Canadian Forces.
Our troops are sharing their training and knowledge with their Afghan counterparts, building independent Afghan capacity. Afghans are eager to take responsibility for their own security and they are dedicated to building a safe and stable future.
The Canadian Forces, their international partners and the Afghan national security forces are working jointly to bring security to southern Afghanistan. No matter how much some try to deny it, it is only through security that progress and development can continue.
The positive outlook among Afghans, the focus on a more promising future, is impossible to dismiss. When I was in Afghanistan, I heard it from the Afghan people and I saw it in their eyes.
This mission is truly guided by Afghan hands. Afghans are creating development according to Afghan culture and needs. That is why Canadians and local Afghan elders come together in regular shuras or meetings. It is during these shuras that the Afghans share their priorities.
We received a briefing while we were in Afghanistan from Warrant Officer Henley, who takes part in the shura meetings. It was a great briefing on what he is doing. He is doing a tremendous job.
These priorities stem from the Afghanistan Compact. This five year pact between Afghanistan and its 60 international partners was signed in January 2006. The compact lays out very specific benchmarks that address Afghan security, governance and development needs and set specific timelines for their completion. By signing it, the international community, including Canada, has pledged to provide the Afghanistan government the necessary resources and support.
As the stated yesterday before the foreign affairs committee, progress in achieving the compact's benchmarks is being made on many fronts. Some of the progress he cited are the following.
The Afghan national army, which Canada is helping to train and professionalize, is making great strides and reaching the strength of 70,000 troops required by the compact. Villages in Kandahar province are now serviced by some 150 kilometres of new roads, including four bridges, and 50 kilometres of power lines, with 10 power transformers and 42 power generators all built with Canadian help. More than 1,000 new wells, 8,000 hand pumps, four large water reservoirs and kilometres of new water supply have been built in Kandahar province with Canadian support.
The continuation of this progress is reliant upon our ability to maintain the support we promised, and of course, is contingent upon establishing security and stability in southern Afghanistan. Development and reconstruction cannot happen without security. That is why Canada's approach to the Afghanistan mission involves diplomats, military and police forces, and development and correctional officers. All are playing essential roles in the Afghanistan transition.
The Canadian Forces, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Correctional Service Canada and others have formed what the rightly calls a true team Canada. They are addressing the challenges they face with an integrated approach and are bringing their respective strengths to bear.
Our embassy officials are providing advice on regular issues to the Afghanistan government and international representatives. In addition to this, Canada supports the Afghan government by providing a 50 member strategic advisory team in Kabul. This team, comprised of military and civilian officials from DND and CIDA, provides planning support to Afghan government ministries in an effort to meet the goals of the Afghan national development strategy.
Canada, having pledged approximately $1 billion to Afghan development reconstruction projects, also remains among the top aid donors to Afghanistan. In February our government announced a further $200 million in funding to be used this year and next.
It is understandable that Canadians, in a hurry to see progress, want concrete, easily evaluated proof of progress, new hospitals, clinics, full classrooms and clean water gushing from wells, but we must be patient. Real progress, the underlying proof of development, is difficult to quantify in a country decimated by decades of conflict.
My colleagues in the House have been told about the thousands of kilometres of road that now exist in Afghanistan. They have heard the news reports about the Canadian Forces' determination since last fall to complete the construction of Route Summit, a two lane paved road that connects the Panjwayi district with Highway One.
Route Summit is only about four kilometres long, but it will make an enormous difference in the lives of Afghans. This short stretch of road will allow people to get to market to buy and sell produce. It will improve security by providing quicker access to problem areas for the Afghan national security force. This road will begin to reunite a nation by allowing people to visit friends and family across Afghanistan. Most important, Route Summit exemplifies the Afghan government's capacity to provide for its population.
Canadians can be very proud of all that has been accomplished because of Route Summit. Local construction crews worked with Canadian combat engineers to build the road while our soldiers protected it. This is just one example of many where the Canadian Forces have made a difference in Afghanistan. One soldier told us that this stretch of road was captured with Canadian blood and it is now being paid for with Canadian dollars.
It is because of our security efforts that we are seeing life blossom in places that had previously seemed deserted. Activity is returning to villages, and communities are buzzing, moving toward prosperity. Prosperity means that children can survive past their fifth birthday. They can go to school and they can help contribute to a better future for Afghanistan.
We need a patient eye in examining Afghan progress. I turn to our critics, those who believe that Canada should abandon Afghanistan, and I ask them to look at the progress that has been achieved. Yes, I know it is different from what we expect here in Canada, but this is Afghan progress. After years of war and poverty, Afghans are defying all opposition and choosing to move in a new direction, choosing freedom and democracy.
Canada has had a significant role in changing Afghan expectations for the future. We have worked to create hope where there had been only despair. Canada has taken up its rightful place in the world. We are making a difference, but I cannot support the motion before the House today.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I want to begin my comments on a personal note. My father was a World War II veteran. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II; one was decorated for bravery in the field. In fact, he was gassed during World War I, and he would not be embarrassed at all. I am hearing some catcalls from the other side. And in fact I have been in harm's way, not with the military but in a conflict zone.
I say that because I have been very discouraged during this debate when we have heard members of this House question the loyalty of members when they stand to actually pose questions because that is what our job is.
If we look at the importance of what we do here, it is exactly what we are doing here, the essence of democracy and freedom that we hear so often as the clarion call from other members. Yet, strangely, paradoxically enough, they say that we should not be debating this issue, that we give some sort of strange aid to the enemy by even discussing it. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
When we take a look at this motion and we take a look at this mission, we need to establish what this motion is about and what it is not about.
It is about being responsible actors on the world stage. When we take a look at a mission that is not working, in terms of its counter-insurgency aims, in terms of the methods that are being used, it is responsible to stop, pause and tell our NATO partners it is time for us to withdraw responsibly. That is what is in the motion. We believe that real security will not be achieved if we continue down this path that we have continued on in the last couple of years in the south of Afghanistan in Kandahar.
The evidence is mounting. It is not just with the lack of understanding and clarity in terms of turning over prisoners. We have seen in this House the confusion of the government as to how to deal with that. But it is also evidenced on the ground in Afghanistan. What we see are disparities continuing to increase. We see that in places that are more secure, like Kabul, they had electricity on a regular basis. Now electricity is failing there. Yet, we see an increase in the number of people who are benefiting from some of the money that is being poured into the area.
What we need to do is to ensure that everything we do, that all the action our government takes, is going to benefit the people of Afghanistan. To date, we have seen a focus on spending our money, putting our resources into a fighting mission, and not into a mission that will bring lasting peace.
We just have to look at what is happening in the area of conflict in Kandahar to see that not only are men and women in our forces sadly losing their lives, but we also see increased conflict within the region. We see increased deployment of terrorists, for sure, but what are these motivations? What are the motivating factors and what is the success in defeating them? What seems to be clear is that the counter-insurgency tactics we have used have not been working.
We know that other members of NATO have used other tactics. If we look at the success of the Dutch, for instance, who had a full debate before they deployed troops, they had clear mandates in terms of rules, responsibilities, and the handing over of prisoners. If we look at their rules of engagement, they are entirely different from ours. The reason is pretty clear. It goes back to how we got here.
I actually want to turn my attention now to the previous government. I listened earlier to members of the Liberal Party talk about only having a six hour notice for the debate and vote last spring on extending the mission. However, it is really important to recall how we got here.
The Liberal Party, when it was government, gave our military just over 45 minutes notice that we were committing our troops to this kind of mission. That is irresponsible because that was against the advice of the military at the time.
It is also important to know that before the horrific events of 9/11 the military had been studying conflict, the worst case scenario of where our troops could be deployed. Guess what? The region that was identified is exactly the region we are in.
The military had that knowledge. It had that advice and provided it to the then Liberal government. It is well known now the reason the Liberal government at the time provided our commitment to the United States was simply because of a quid pro quo. The quid pro quo was because we were not going to commit troops to Iraq. There is no dispute about that. That is known.
However, it should be something we remind ourselves of because we have to understand where we are at now and how we got here.
Further to that, after we had committed against the advice of the military to send the deployment that we committed to which was over 2,000 troops, we then found ourselves way behind. Other NATO countries had committed to missions in Afghanistan. Because of our lackadaisical planning commitment and understanding of what we were getting into, we ended up in Kandahar.
It was not because of planning but simply because of a lack of understanding. That is how we got here. The Liberal Party knows that. Canadians know that.
What we saw this week was the Liberal Party trying to reform itself, re-establish itself, and rewrite history, as my colleague says, and no one is buying it. We need to be clear about what we are doing. The NDP is being clear about what needs to be done and that is to give notice to our NATO partners that we will be withdrawing from the south, that we will redeploy our resources in a different manner to have better outcomes.
Quite simply, what we are going there is not working. Canadians understand that. The government needs to understand that. That in no way should challenge anyone's support of our troops.
In fact, I would submit, the only thing that we have going for us right now is the reputation of the men and women who are actually in Afghanistan. They are the ones who are making us credible. Sadly, it is not our government. Sadly, it was not the Liberal Party before and it was not the Liberal Party, when 22 of their members last year voted with the government to extend the mission.
For those who would say this week that somehow the NDP should have joined with the Liberals on their motion, it is not good enough because the Liberals a year ago had the opportunity to tell us what their position was. The fact of the matter is they do not have a position. They did not last year, they do not now, and that is something Canadians need to know.
Finally, I want to turn my attention to what can be done.
What can be done is to push for what many have already done and that is to have what many people are calling a comprehensive peace plan. That needs to be discussed now. Everyone who has fought in a war knows at some point the war ends. We have to turn our attention to that.
I will end my speech with the following. It was this party in opposition that called on the then Liberal government to tell us what success would look like, what the exit strategy was, and what the objectives were. None of those questions have been answered. We needed to know the answers a year ago. The questions have not been answered now. That is why this motion is a responsible one.
It will provide a way for Canadians to support the Afghans and ensure that there is a more secure and prosperous peace for the people of Afghanistan.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the motion of the New Democratic Party today.
In listening to the comments by members of other parties, particularly the Liberal members, it seems to me that many members in the House do not get the fact that we have headed down the wrong path with this mission in southern Afghanistan.
It is clear as well that the Liberals have flip-flopped on a very significant issue for Canadians. If they were so concerned about our young men and women in uniform, then last year when we had a significant and important moment in the House of Commons, the vote on the extension of the mission, their full caucus would have shown up to provide the needed support. However, that did not happen and here we are again today having this discussion.
Polls show that the majority of Canadians across the country are unsatisfied with the direction we are taking in Afghanistan. The situation is not improving with Canadians. Canadians are saying, in ever increasing numbers, that it is not working.
I showed up for the vote last year. As a new MP, I thought the vote was a very important event in my understanding of Parliament and the importance of what we were doing. I voted against extending the mission in south Afghanistan, the counter-insurgency efforts we were taking, and I am more certain today that I made the right choice.
I have spent time reading about it. I have gone to forums. I have discussed this with people. I have listened to the debates. I have listened to Canadians. I made the right choice last spring, the right choice for Afghanistan, the right choice for Canada and the right choice for the world. The counter-insurgency effort in south Afghanistan is bad for Afghanistan, it is bad for Canada and it is bad for the world.
When we first went into Afghanistan, it was at a time when the western world was reacting to the immense events of 9/11. We were hunting down Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda. We turned our backs on the Taliban who were in Washington, negotiating scant days before the invasion. We went in not to take sides in a war, but to clear up an issue within the country.
Today, young Canadian men and women are dying and being maimed because we have taken a side in the war, a war our military and military experts around the world have said is unwinnable. Like every insurgency that is badly handled, for every civilian we kill and every home we blow up, we make the Taliban stronger. Every time we act aggressively in south Afghanistan we create more enemies than friends.
By focusing mainly on combat operations, we are making the work of those, who we all support in the House, more difficult, those who want to better the lives of Afghan people. By taking a war fighting approach, we make all westerners targets.
By pursuing aggressive counter-insurgency, we turn ourselves into the enemy in many people's minds, people to whom we could be reaching out. They are not all Taliban. They are Pashtun farmers. We were told last summer, in the efforts made in the province, that many of the combatants were not Taliban. They were Pashtun farmers who were rising up because of the unfair nature of the police actions taking place in their province.
Instead of uselessly trying to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, we should be working to show them that we can provide a better way for them and their families. Rather than offering them death or creating a criminal state as the only way people can survive, let us offer life through peacemaking efforts, like reconstruction and finding economic opportunities for the Afghan nation to prosper.
I want to be clear. After nearly 30 years of war, continued fighting is the worst thing that can happen in Afghanistan. For this reason alone, a mission based on combat operations is bad for Afghanistan.
What about for Canada? Since the Korean war, our position in this world has been traditionally that of diplomat and peacemaker. This mission has completely changed that tradition.
How will we regain our international credibility as diplomats and peacemakers when we take on this type of military adventure? How will my grandchildren wear the Canadian flag proudly while travelling around this world, safe under that umbrella, when we behave in this fashion in other countries, where we bomb villages, where we are indiscriminate in our attacks on the enemy?
This mission is bad for Canada. Every Canadian who is killed or wounded in Afghanistan represents a lost opportunity to make our country better. We have fine men and women in Afghanistan who totally provide us with a great sense of reality toward our armed forces. However, the problem for the New Democratic Party is the mission they have been asked to undertake. NDP members want to build a better Canada. We cannot do that by sending young people off to die in an unwinnable war.
This mission is bad for the world. A well known religious leader said these words more than 2,000 years ago, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”.
War is the greatest waste of resources created by humans. We need leaders who reject war and violence as the key to solving problems. Canada could be a leader, but we cannot be a leader if we believe the main way we can continue in Afghanistan is through counter-insurgency, aggressively pursuing the enemy throughout their villages and farms. We should be showing the world what can be accomplished through non-violent means. We must work toward building trust in Afghanistan. This mission has Canadians destroying that trust.
Because this mission is bad for Afghanistan, because it is bad for Canada and because it is bad for the world, we need to stop and focus our efforts on assisting the people of Afghanistan in a real sense, in a much larger way through diplomacy, reconstruction and redevelopment.