Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
I recently had the chance to appear before some of you on the committee on national defence to speak about the outcomes for Canada at the Bucharest summit of NATO and to talk about some of the challenges and opportunities we face looking ahead in Afghanistan. Today, I'd like to provide a brief update on things we've been doing over the course of the last month in the task force I head, and to talk about what we see as the way forward.
As you know, the government has responded to the Manley panel by creating a special cabinet committee on Afghanistan and a task force at the centre of government at PCO, and that's a task force I lead. The cabinet committee, which is chaired by Minister Emerson, is taking a hard look at the mission in Afghanistan with the intent of revising and strengthening our approach. In addition to supporting Minister Emerson and his committee, I've also been working with a subcommittee of deputy ministers from the key departments concerned to ensure that our programming is harmonized in support of those key priorities.
The cabinet committee has made considerable efforts to establish the strategic priorities that will guide Canada's actions in Afghanistan until 2011.
Those priorities will serve as the basis of the Canadian program, the orientations of which will be extensively reviewed to help us achieve our objectives. Canada will be in a position to make a more targeted contribution to the development priorities established by Afghanistan.
What we're working on right now, in addition to setting the policy priorities and focusing on core programming, is to be sure we've got the right civilian footprint on the ground to achieve those objectives. We're currently working with the core civilian departments concerned to coordinate the next level of deployments of civilians to Kandahar, and I'll talk about that a little bit when I show you a few pictures from my recent trip. Right now, we have approximately 25 civilians with the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar. We had an interdepartmental team out there last week to talk about how we can reshape that and build on it.
On the diplomatic front, we will continue to strengthen connections with our main partners in the south, with countries like the Netherlands, Australia, the U.K., and pursue a more robust strategy internationally that presses for greater coordination among international partners. That's largely what we were working on at Bucharest.
I was in Washington recently with representatives from lead departments to talk about the way forward, and I had the chance while I was in Afghanistan to visit Regional Command East, which is largely a U.S.-led effort, and to see the operation of the provincial reconstruction team at Helmand, which is run by the U.K. Just today, I met with a delegation from the French government, which is working on organizing next month's Paris conference on Afghanistan.
Finally, I've had a couple of very useful meetings--one in Ottawa and one in Kabul--with Mr. Kai Eide, who is the special representative of the Secretary General and who had a chance to appear before your committee.
Using our diplomatic channels in a careful and focused way will be critical in ensuring we have coordination and also critical in terms of communicating the directions Canada will be taking as we move forward.
The motion introduced in Parliament on March 13 also asked the government to inform the public more frequently and transparently about events taking place in Afghanistan. The task force is cooperating with the departments to develop a comparative analysis framework that will contain realistic objectives. That will make it possible not only to be accountable, but also to assess the areas where improvements could be made.
Afghanistan will require a significant amount of help from the international community to enable progress. That is, I believe, something we should always be conscious of. Afghanistan will be a developing country for some time to come and will have some of the challenges associated with that.
Our goal is to enable a transition to a point where Afghans, themselves, are capable of managing some of those same challenges. So the aim is really about moving Afghanistan along a continuum. The end state, if we look at other examples of post-conflict countries, can be a long time coming, but there does come a time, before that, when the government itself has the ability to meet the challenges it faces. We're seeing progress in that respect.
Before turning to just a quick report on my visit of last week, I'd just like to introduce some colleagues: Sanjeev Chowdhury is the director of operations in the secretariat; Rey Campbell, Owen Teo, and Marco Popic are also members of our new task force in PCO.
I was in Afghanistan last week with Kevin Lynch, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Rob Fonberg, who is the deputy minister of National Defence, and Sanjeev to do a number of things. One was that Kevin had visited Afghanistan a little over a year ago and wanted to get back, particularly to Kabul and Kandahar, to see progress. We also wanted to be sure we were touching base with key allies and taking soundings from various regions in Afghanistan as we plan the way forward. Finally, we wanted to meet with the interdepartmental team I had sent out ahead to plan for the next deployment of civilians. We did all those things in the course of last week.
We can go to the first slide. I apologize that it's a little hard to see. Turquoise Mountain is a project in Kabul that has been established by an English diplomat-soldier-NGO leader named Rory Stewart, who wrote a book about his walk across Afghanistan called The Places In Between.
Canada was the first country to come in behind Rory and support his project, which is essentially to develop an area of downtown Kabul. This had once been devoted to people who worked up in the palace on the hill. Over time it became completely decrepit, and in the years of chaos and war it actually got covered in about five feet of garbage.
Rory's view is that if the centre of your capital city is buried under five feet of garbage, it's really hard for people to believe there's a future, there's hope for the country. So he set about really excavating it—it's almost a Pompeii-like operation—to bring it back to its original state. The project is also to provide opportunities to redevelop some traditional arts. He's got some schools there for young people and for artisans. Revitalizing the neighbourhood has also brought people back.
There's a Shia shrine just nearby. There are a couple of traditional sites: restaurants, bathhouses. So the effect is that you actually have more people walking freely in this part of Kabul than in almost any other part.
The next slide shows some of the things they're working on. You can't see it really well, but calligraphy is a big part of this, traditional carving from various parts of Afghanistan. Importantly, you have women and men who are working on the carvings. Although it's recreating traditional arts, I think their view is that a country can't move forward until it's connected with its past, and Afghanistan had lost that.
There's also an entrepreneurial dimension in that these things are sold. Rory has established connections with lots of outlets in North America and in Europe, and he has a website that's doing a thriving business.
We spent some time in the centre of Afghanistan, in the central highlands, in Bamiyan. Here, if you can just spot the laser pointer, that's a Shura or a community development council. The one in Bamiyan is actually a cluster of councils. It brings together a number of these groups, and importantly, they are councils of men and women who meet together.
This is supported by the Aga Khan Development Network, so in turn it's supported by funding from Canada. They plan out community activities, community economic development needs. I had a chance to chat with them, and I asked the group what they saw as their greatest need going forward. A gentleman on one side of the room said, “We think it's supporting agriculture”. Three women stood up and said, “No, no, it's education”. The men said, “Actually, they're right; it's education”. It was a very lively discussion, and in fact education is one of our programming priorities.
We also had a chance to visit—this picture here—the hospital in Bamiyan, which has a real focus on lowering a terrible rate of infant mortality in Afghanistan. They've made some inroads in that.
The next slide shows the shura. Patrol Base Wilson is out in the Zhari district of Kandahar. It's just west of Kandahar. This was an area that in 2006 was controlled by the Taliban and was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in Operation Medusa.
The head of the shura is shown here. Our ambassador, Arif Lalani, is seated beside him.
We had a good chance to talk with him about what he saw as his needs going forward. In addition to hearing from him, we had some expectations too. We talked about what the shura and local leaders could do to increase security in that part of the Zhari district. It's a two-way street, and with increasing security we can do more by way of programming.
The next slide is of a visit to a school in Kandahar. It shows the director of education. Canada is providing funding to a project called EQUIP, which is building schools in various parts of Afghanistan. There will be a particular focus on Kandahar, and the director of education was relatively confident that he can push this project out—we're in Kandahar City right now—into other parts of the province quite quickly.
The next person may be a little hard to see. It's Elissa Goldberg, who is the representative of Canada in Kandahar—the acronym is ROC—and the ROC is the senior Canadian on the ground in Kandahar. She is the person who coordinates the work of Foreign Affairs, CIDA, the RCMP, and Correctional Services. She's the counterpart to General Laroche, or now of General Thompson, who is the commander of Task Force Afghanistan.
She is there with a police trainer and a person from Correctional Services. This is at the in-service training facility at our PRT. They're training Afghan National Police on such things as procedures for safely detaining suspects and also how to identify IEDs.
The first thing we do with the police is teach them survival skills, because some of the IEDs that are planned use very diabolical strategies. We've been able to teach the police ways of identifying IEDs and safely disarming them to keep themselves alive.
The other thing I would point out is that in a couple of these meetings we were out to the west of Kandahar City. In addition to meeting with the Canadian Forces, we have people such as Elissa and Karen Foss, a young foreign service officer, who are out there on a regular basis. Karen Foss goes out to some of our bases about one week a month to work with the forces as they try to build community networks out beyond Kandahar City.
Our current civilian deployment at the PRT is about 25. We think we can at least double that number this year. We're thinking carefully about how we deploy these people safely, but they have an important job to do. Whether it's in police training, building community networks, or advising the provincial government in Kandahar, our civilians are really standing up and sharing the burden that our forces have led with.
I'll stop with that and will be happy to take questions.
I think Canadians are sometimes surprised by the range of things that foreign service officers do.
I remember when I was giving a talk in Victoria, I mentioned the same officer, Karen Foss. She worked for me when I ran the Asia Pacific branch. She worked in Aceh, in Indonesia, on post-conflict situations, helping to knit together communities, and she volunteered for Kandahar. I talked about her work. Some people came up afterwards and said they didn't know we had people who did that. We do. We have a good core of people in DFAIT, CIDA, the RCMP, and now with Correctional Services, who have worked in Bosnia, in post-conflict situations in a number of places.
Where we really have to learn from the forces—and the state department and the foreign office in the U.K. are doing the same thing—is that we have to deploy people even earlier. We're used to three-year, four-year posting cycles, where you can assign someone with relatively little notice. They go through their training and off they go. The challenge for us now, as we have a one-year rotation, is that you put your best and brightest out in one year. You have to recruit another 50 for the next year, and then another 50, and you have to recruit them quickly. We have a bunch of people who were in Wainwright, Alberta, with the forces last week getting ready. We have to do this on a regular basis.
There's a revolution in HR management in DFAIT and CIDA, which we're encouraging in our task force function at PCO. We're encouraging them to move that along. I think it will be increasingly the face of international work in the coming decades.
It's a challenge, but it's an absolutely necessary thing to do. If you're going to deploy a PRT—a provincial reconstruction team—you really have to have those people working together before they leave Canada. That's a leaf from the forces' book, which we're trying to learn from.