: Bonjour, mes collègues.
This is meeting number 8 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, on Tuesday, December 11, 2007.
I remind the committee members that we are televised today, so I invite everyone to turn your BlackBerrys and your cellphones off. That's not just for the committee members but for all those in attendance here today.
Today we are continuing our study on Canada's mission in Afghanistan. Appearing for our first 90 minutes, we have the Honourable Maxime Bernier, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Honourable Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation.
We welcome you to our committee today. On behalf of the committee, I again thank the ministers for coming. I'm proud to report that in the 39th Parliament today marks the 16th and 17th time we have had ministers of the crown respond to our committee's invitation to appear.
They are supported today by witnesses from their departments, including from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Yves Brodeur, the assistant deputy minister, Afghanistan task force; and from the Canadian International Development Agency, Stephen Wallace, vice-president of the Afghanistan task force.
We will have time toward the end of our meeting this afternoon to go in camera and continue our consideration of our draft interim report on the subject matter of today's meeting.
I should also make reference perhaps that a number of those who are appearing as guests today earlier in the day attended the Peacebuilding in Afghanistan Conference put on by the University of Ottawa. I appreciated both Monsieur Brodeur's and Mr. Wallace's comments at that conference.
We look forward to the ministers, and they do have an opening statement. We would then go into the first round. I would remind committee members that because the ministers are here today, the first round will be 10 minutes.
Welcome. Madame Oda or Monsieur Bernier, please proceed.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, it is a pleasure to be here with Mr. Bernier to tell you about Canada's international assistance in Afghanistan.
Along with 60 other nations, Canada is committed to the Afghanistan Compact. Canada has committed to $1.2 billion by 2011 towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan, one of the most impoverished nations in the world, recovering from decades of hardship. Canada is working closely with Afghans, other allied nations, and with non-governmental organizations to achieve the targets set forth in the compact.
While Canada's activities have a special focus on Kandahar, our development program reaches all corners of Afghanistan. In fact, 80% of our commitments are directed to national programs impacting all 34 provinces in the country.
Through the national solidarity program, 17,500 local development councils have been established. The success of these councils means that local Afghans are making decisions, taking ownership of projects, and working to complete over 12,700 projects throughout the country.
Infrastructure projects include 150 kilometres of canals and irrigation systems, 3,000 kilometres of roads that have been rehabilitated, and 50 bridges built. Despite the challenges we face, our efforts and those of our development partners are yielding measurable results in many sectors across the country and in Kandahar.
Education has been, in fact, a clear success story in Afghanistan. We mustn't forget that only six years ago only 700,000 children were enrolled in school and all were boys, as girls were denied access to formal education. Today some six million children are in school, roughly one-third of them girls. Today there are 40,000 students in higher education. This is a tenfold increase in six years.
In the area of health, 83% of Afghans now have access to basic health, up from 9% under the Taliban rule. Infant mortality has been reduced by 22%, and a UN campaign will vaccinate seven million children against polio. According to the World Health Organization, so far this year there have only been 12 polio cases reported in Afghanistan compared to 29 at the same time last year. Canada also supports a UNICEF-led measles and tetanus vaccination campaign targeting more than 200,000 children and 175,000 women of child-bearing age in the south.
Our contribution to the World Food Programme has helped deliver 6,500 metric tonnes of food aid to more than 400,000 hungry Kandaharees over the past year alone. With Canadian support, UNICEF is also providing essential non-food items like tents, blankets, and micro-nutrient tablets to tens of thousands of the most vulnerable Afghans.
Canada is working with the United Nations Mine Action Service to help Afghanistan clear land mine areas. Just last week I announced an additional $80 million over four years for this program, which has already yielded great results. The Afghan government has destroyed all known stockpiles.
We've reduced land that was contaminated by almost 20%. We see a 34% reduction in the communities affected and a 55% reduction in the number of land mine victims. In addition to this, 8.3 million Afghans have received mine risk education programs.
Along with our international partners and the Afghan government, we are achieving significant improvements and real results. The Afghan per capita income has doubled since 2001. The role of Afghan women is growing—women who, under the Taliban, were denied access to education, mobility, and the ability to exercise their democratic rights. Today, women hold 25% of the seats in the National Assembly, over 5,000 have received literacy training, they represented 43% of the voters in the last election, and 66% of those accessing microfinancing programs have started their own businesses.
Our efforts are making a difference, but the job is not complete. As we know, the challenge remains, and it is evolving over time. That is why CIDA will be increasing its presence in the field to 35, to work with the over 1,300 other development workers in Afghanistan in 2008.
As our programming continues, we are mindful of the challenges we face to ensure aid effectiveness and accountability. That is why monitoring, reporting, and evaluation are employed at three levels: nationally, working with the international community and the Afghan government; at the program level; and at the project level.
Many challenges must be overcome before Afghanistan becomes a self-reliant economy and society. Our aim is to enable the citizens of Afghanistan to take full ownership of all aspects of the country's development and future. We stand firmly by their side as they strive to rebuild their country one village and one day at a time.
I am now ready to answer questions from the committee and listen to your comments.
Thank you, Minister Oda.
I am here with
Yves Brodeur, who is the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Afghanistan Task Force. It is a pleasure to be with you today to take part in this important discussion of one of the most important issues for our government.
Members of the committee, thank you for your interest in Canada's role in Afghanistan. It is a privilege for me to be here alongside the to explain the importance and multifaceted nature of our engagement there.
Canada is in Afghanistan, along with over sixty nations and international organizations, at the request of its democratically elected government. We are in Afghanistan as part of a UN-sanctioned mission to help build a stable, democratic, and self-sufficient society.
Canadian diplomats, development workers, military personnel, civilians, police, and corrections advisers are helping the Afghan government. Our shared goal is to build the institutions required to achieve stability, good governance, and lasting peace.
Afghans have suffered through decade after decade of war, leaving most of their country's infrastructure destroyed. The Afghan people are looking to the international community to help Afghanistan get back on its feet. Much has been accomplished in the past six years. It is important to explain to Canadians just how far Afghanistan has come since 2001 and the brutal, oppressive days of the Taliban's rule.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have had the opportunity and privilege to travel to Afghanistan so that I could see first-hand the difference we are making there, and the difference we are making for the Afghan people. The facts speak for themselves. Per capita income has doubled in the past three years. Over 80% of Afghans now have access to basic medical care, as opposed to just 9% in 2004. These are historical firsts in Afghanistan's legacy of war and conflict.
I've just come back from a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. I had a chance to engage with my counterparts and the Alliance's Secretary General. I can tell you today, and assure you, that the countries assisting Afghanistan are united in the conviction that there can be no reconstruction without security. Without security, there can be no construction. Without security, there can be no economic growth. Without security, there can be no progress on human rights. And I can assure you that NATO's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan remains strong.
In the past months, l've also spoken with colleagues and government officials, NGO workers, and international policy experts.
I can tell you today that these people expressed varying shades of opinion as to what we are doing in Afghanistan and how we should do it. That is very healthy. But not one of them has questioned the critical importance or the legitimacy of this mission.
Military forces from 39 countries, including Canada, are involved in the UN-sanctioned, NATO-led mission at the request of the Afghan government. This includes all of NATO's 26 member states, in addition to 13 other countries.
Collectively, the nations of the International Security Assistance Force have deployed over 41,000 troops. Their objective is very simple—to help bring peace and security to the people of Afghanistan. This is in addition to thousands of civilians from allied countries, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, all working on the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.
The international community has reiterated its belief in this mission on many occasions. Last November all 192 countries, members of the UN General Assembly, agreed that the international community should continue its efforts in Afghanistan. Over 100 countries co-sponsored the resolution. This made it one of the most broadly co-sponsored resolutions at the United Nations. This is important.
It's an international community all together working for the same goal, working for the same achievements. We want the Afghan people to be able to live in a free country and to be able to have the possibility, as we have in Canada, to go to school, to have a legal system that respects the rule of law. It's a huge challenge, but it's a challenge that we're working on all together in the international community.
A few months before, the UN Security Council extended the authorization of the International Security Assistance Force mission for another year, until October, 2008. So Canada is helping the Afghan people bring peace, stability, and reconstruction to their country. We take our international responsibilities seriously. Like our international partners, we know how important this mission is to regional peace and stability.
The Afghanistan Compact is the joint plan developed in January 2006 by the Afghan national government and over 60 members of the international community. It guides our engagement. It is a road map that lays out detailed benchmarks in over 40 areas, including security, governance, human rights, and the rule of law. The international community is behind these goals. The Government of Canada is behind these goals.
The Afghan Compact talks about security, governance, and development as three pillars. Each pillar is equally essential, and the three are mutually reinforcing. Canada's approach entirely reflects this interdependence. In fact, we have actively sought out issues where we can best leverage our resources, for example, where our securities effort will help build capacity in governance or where our development projects will help ensure a more secure environment.
Our best example of Canada's multifaceted approach is Canada's provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar province. The 350-person team utilizes the expertise of diplomats, development experts, corrections advisers, the police, and the military. Its mandate closely mirrors the priorities of the Afghan Compact and Afghanistan national development strategy, namely, security, governance, development.
The provincial reconstruction team supports key national Afghan programs such as the national solidarity program. As my colleague the Minister of International Cooperation will tell you, Canada helps to fund this. The provincial reconstruction team also carries out a broad range of programming, such as police training, strengthening local governance and justice capacity, and delivering material assistance.
Another important part of our engagement is the tremendous work being done by the Canadian Forces with respect to training the Afghan National Army. The Afghan National Army is well on track to reaching its goals. Canada has had great results with our operational mentoring and liaison teams. These Canadian military units work directly with the Afghan army, teaching them how to be a professional and effective force. This approach is clearly delivering results, because they are increasingly capable of mounting independent operations.
Rebuilding Afghanistan after decades of war is not an easy task, and not one that can be reduced to a simple equation. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are working to ensure that the progress being made becomes irreversible.
In the coming months, Parliament will be asked to consider the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. While we are committed to having a vote on this issue in Parliament, our government does not believe that Canada should abandon the Afghan people after February 2009. Given what's at stake, both for Canadians and for the Afghan people, we also want the debate to be as non-partisan as possible.
That is why the Prime Minister has appointed an Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan to advise Parliament and Canadians on options for the mission after the current mandate ends in February, 2009.
Canada, along with our international partners, is fully committed to help the Afghan government provide security, education, greater economic opportunity and a better future for its people. Every day we see the difference we are making as Canadian soldiers and civilians work with Afghans to help them build a better society.
We welcome the Committee's interest and I look forward, along with Minister of International Cooperation, to discussing with you in greater detail Canada's engagement in Afghanistan.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for your question.
I certainly can. As I said in my opening presentation, for the projects and the support given to Afghanistan and to the people, through either NGOs or large multilateral organizations, we have monitoring systems and we have reporting requirements. In fact, we have a very comprehensive accountability and oversight regime in Afghanistan.
First of all, we worked with the Afghan government on creating a joint coordination and monitoring board. There are seven representatives on that board who are with the Afghanistan government, and there are 21 representatives from the international community. It meets four times a year, it reports twice a year, and Canada has a representation on that board.
In addition to that, when we are working with large multilateral organizations like the International Red Cross, UNICEF, other agencies of the United Nations, and the World Food Bank, they have their own accountability mechanisms and reporting mechanisms. For example, the World Food Programme provides monthly reports and they have monitoring, and we also have CIDA and our associates monitoring the distribution of food.
Every one of our programs has strict requirements. At the program level, we have monitoring and reporting requirements. Then for every project that is undertaken, we also have reporting requirements that are monitored.
So I can say that there is very comprehensive reporting and accountability.
Mr. Bernier, one of the speakers at that conference clearly stated this morning that one of the most serious problems in Afghanistan is the fact that the government is very corrupt. Impunity knows no bounds and human rights are completely non-existent.
It is a country in which the people have no justice. Can Mr. Bernier tell us what he has done or intends to do, with his colleagues, the international ministers, to ensure that the fundamental rights of the Afghan people are recognized?
Mr. Bernier, fine words do not seem to be enough, for the Afghan government. It has to take action, and it will not act unless international pressure is brought to bear.
My second question is for you, Mr. Minister.
You mentioned in your remarks this afternoon that 26 NATO state members, along with 13 other countries, are there with the ISAF mission, the International Security Assistance Force. But you forgot to say that there are 52 more restrictions from these countries. In Kandahar and Helmand provinces, NATO forces don't make any progress—and I mean military progress for the moment. This morning, some specialists started to talk about the possibility of NATO failure over there.
Is it not the time for NATO and the UN to make much greater military efforts in these provinces, since these provinces are the key, essential element to the success of the mission?
Thank you for your question.
The fight against corruption in the public service is an important element, and Canada is making enormous efforts to help the Afghan government make its institutions more responsible. That is why we supported the reform of the police and the reform of the public service. This is crucial. It is also essential to promote good governance, as I said earlier in my introductory notes, and to fight corruption, to consolidate the legitimacy of the Afghan government. That government must be present throughout the country, and in order for it to do that, the existing corruption has to be eliminated. We want the government to have the utmost credibility among the people; that is why we and the international community, together, are fighting to reduce and eliminate corruption in the various components of the Afghan public service.
Canada has also insisted that the Afghanistan Compact include an important clause on the creation of a fair and transparent mechanism for reviewing government appointments. As you know, corruption is a human thing, and we want to be sure that the people whom the Afghan government appoints to various positions, to senior positions, such as chief of police, lawyers in the department of Justice, directors of security in the districts and provincial governors, for example, are above any suspicion of corruption. The mechanism for appointments to senior posts was recently established by order of the Afghan government, in September 2006, and we are currently working with our international and Afghan partners to ensure that the order is carried out.
On the other part of your question, which dealt with the position taken by Canada and NATO, and especially the alliance, I have just come back from a meeting in Brussels with my counterparts. As well, as you know, at the Annual General Meeting in New York, I had the honour of delivering the address for our country, Canada, standing in for our Prime Minister, Mr. Harper. A large part of the speech dealt with the situation in Afghanistan, because that is one of the most important issues for our government.
We also requested support for creating a high-level UN envoy position so that the forces there can be properly coordinated. I can tell you that at NATO, at the Brussels meeting, there were discussions with colleagues about the possibility of a UN special envoy coordinating the efforts of both NATO and the UN, and of other international organizations. The international community should be making a decision in the next few weeks or months on Canada's request, which has been approved, or I should say supported, by the international community. Canada encourages the efforts currently being made to increase coordination in the international community. That is why the special envoy was important to us.
We want to work with the Secretary General and the leading states to ensure that the UN continues to play an important role. We need an international alliance, and as I said earlier, the international community has extended the mandate of the NATO forces for another year. We are doing everything we can to ensure that there are the necessary forces, that there are the soldiers who are needed on site to ensure that there is security and development in Afghanistan. The allies' support is still very strong, and that is why, if you read the news release issued at the end of our meeting in Brussels, you will see that the first subject dealt with, and discussed in the news release, was Afghanistan. There are 41,000 soldiers there, from 26 countries, as I said earlier, and in addition to NATO there are other partner countries. With the number of soldiers and civilians on site, we are ensuring that our efforts are being coordinated properly.
I would like to point out that this is a challenge, a major challenge. We are aware of this, the international community is aware of it, but it is a challenge that is worth meeting and one that we have taken on together. I am very proud of this.
Ms. Oda, Mr. Bernier, gentlemen, thank you for being here this afternoon.
I will start with Mr. Bernier, and then continue with Ms. Oda. I will be splitting my time with Mr. Bachand, if we may, of course.
Mr. Bernier, you will understand my surprise, to put it mildly, to hear you suggest that we have a debate that is as non-partisan as possible on the Afghanistan question. I would remind you that in your own throne speech, you talked about extending the mission to 2001. You undoubtedly know that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development has been examining the Afghanistan question for over a year. I don't think that committee can be described as partisan.
As well, when we examine the four options, I note that your Prime Minister has already aligned the work of the committee of unelected—I take that back. You have already aligned your own position. I must say that this is paradoxical. We want the Government of Canada to impose democracy in Afghanistan, but we are not capable of respecting parliamentarians, the people's representatives, right here.
I can tell you that this makes me somewhat uneasy. Perhaps you could respond to my unease.
Thank you for your question.
I would point out that we are in Afghanistan in response to a United Nations resolution and at the request of a democratically elected government, the Afghan government. There is neither a Canadian invasion nor an invasion by the international community in Afghanistan. That is why we all signed an agreement, a compact, in January 2006. We are therefore in Afghanistan at the request of the properly elected government.
With regard to the advisory group of experts appointed by the Prime Minister, that is an independent group. As you know, the chair of the group is John Manley, who cannot be considered to be a Conservative. We do hope that the work of the group and the debate that will follow in Parliament will be high calibre and that it will be as non-partisan as possible, because the mission is one of great importance.
Earlier, you were talking about the options available to the task force. Our government has been very clear and very transparent. The four options are quite simple. First, there is continuing to train Afghan police and soldiers so that Canada can start to withdraw its troops. That is an option we are considering. We are going to wait for the task force's recommendations at the end of January, and the debate will be held. As you know, we have a minority government, and we will have to listen to the opposition. We have listened on a number of bills. We will therefore be listening to members of Parliament to reach a consensus on the situation.
There is a second option, which is to focus our efforts on reconstruction and ask another country to take over in the Kandahar region.
We have also asked the task force to examine another option, focusing efforts on reconstruction and security, but in a region of the country other than Kandahar.
The last option is to withdraw all Canadian forces with the exception of a small force to provide protection for humanitarian workers and diplomats.
We have a group of experts available to us who were recently in Afghanistan. They met with people and they are holding consultations with various interested groups. They are very independent and they are managing their own agenda. We expect to receive a report within the time allowed, by the end of January.
You have been on this committee for a fairly long time; you have useful experience. I am therefore also eager to hear you, when the report is tabled in the House, on the future options available to Canada.
Thank you for your question.
Thank you for the question, because it enables me to expand further on actually how CIDA makes its decisions and distributes and uses its resources to support different organizations.
We have to remember, first of all, that we are working with the Afghan government and with 60 international partners. In order to do that, there are also many levels on which we're doing our work in Afghanistan.
When you're working with multilateral organizations at the request of the Afghan government—we have some organizations who have been asked to take on special projects, etc., or to take over an area—we make our contribution to that organization. Because these organizations are internationally very experienced organizations, such as the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the International Red Cross—we work with them—they also understand the requirements of all their contributors to report back on the utilization of their funds and the contributions, so they're always willing to work with us on reporting back. I could not have given you the facts and the numbers that I reported in my presentation if there wasn't that cooperation on reporting back to the donor countries and to the donor organizations.
When we're working on other projects with other organizations, whether they're Canadian NGOs or international NGOs, we always ensure that the reporting back and the accountability is to our satisfaction. We always make sure we meet at least the minimum requirements of the Government of Canada. But I'll tell you, in the short time that I have been the minister, in my conversations and meetings with other countries and representatives of other countries, they have established very high requirements on accountability and reporting as well. Just as recently as this morning, I met with the French ambassador, who told me that France was reviewing its accountability requirements, etc., on the work they're doing in Afghanistan.
Consequently, as I say, we have monitoring and reporting requirements. We've also just recently completed discussions with the Government of Afghanistan--that was completed just before my visit--on strengthening their requirements and coming up with our agreements when we're working with them, as far as the requirements of how they will report on the utilization of the funds are concerned.
Yes, we will split our time.
Thank you very much, Minister Oda and Minister Bernier, for coming.
As the chairman said, there were a lot of motions asking you to appear, every motion that the opposition put forward. So I'm very glad you're here to talk about one of the most important foreign policy issues facing Canada.
Before I start, we have talked about this interim report that is going to be tabled. I want to make it very clear that the interim report was pushed through by the opposition, so it was, from our point of view, not a real report; it's a report that is only half a job done. But because they wanted to put it, they used their majority to force us to put this report. I want to caution everybody that this report is not going to have a proper study done. Madame St-Hilaire talked about that, about an independent commission and everything, but I can say—
An hon. member: [Inaudible--Editor]
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: It's my turn to speak, so just stay quiet.
In regard to that report, although it is going to be tabled, we have a lot of questions on whether it has really done a thorough job.
That said, I will go right to the question.
The issue of PRTs is an important one, because we all talk about the development of the PRTs and the PRTs in Kandahar. Could you shed some light on how these PRTs are working in Kandahar and the achievement? As you know, development is also an important part of the overall strategy for Afghanistan.
Yes, you're absolutely right, the training of the police is an important aspect of security for the Afghan people, and Canada has adopted a comprehensive approach to Afghan police reform. To be more precise, this includes supporting the Ministry of Interior, providing strategic police advice; providing equipment and uniforms; building police infrastructure; contributing to the payment of police salaries, as you suggested; and deploying Canadian civilian police to train and mentor the Afghan National Police.
We're working with them to be sure that the Afghan people will be able to benefit from a professional and efficient police force. It's part of our goal to improve the rule of law. But the rule of law is not only the judiciary system; it starts with the police and with being sure they have security, so that the police can have proof needed to bring people in front of the court if they need to.
I'm very proud of the work we're doing there. We currently have 46 civilian and military police trainers and mentors supporting the Afghan National Police on the ground right now, to try to help them in reform. It's important work, and it's in line with the Afghanistan Compact, because in the Afghan Compact, we have the security part, the development, and the governance. We're making sure that we will deliver on the Afghan Compact, which all of the international community signed on to. That's why the work we're doing with our people and with the Afghan people is important for their country.
I will conclude by saying that we have six police operational mentor and liaison teams working in Kandahar province to monitor all the police substations and to be sure they are well equipped and the personnel have the right training. It's work for which we sometimes forget to give credit to the people who are doing this training, so I just want to take the opportunity to thank our Canadian diplomats and the people who are doing the training, for what they are doing right now, because with that work we'll be able to succeed in our plan for a better Afghanistan in the near future.
I want to thank our guests today for taking the time to come to committee.
I have so many questions to ask. I'm going to start actually with a follow-up to questions I was asking officials from both of your respective departments when we had them here on the estimates.
One of the questions I asked—and I guess I'll start with you, Mr. Bernier—was of your DM, Mr. Edwards. I asked him the question because I was very curious about his comments, and I have them here. He didn't mention the 3D. I know, looking at documents from last spring, that the 3D approach had been referenced. I asked the question, “Are the 3Ds dead?”, and the response was, “Well, we don't use that terminology all that much.”
The reason I ask the question is that when I look at an approach—I guess it's a whole government approach now—I want to look at what are the actual resources to back it up. So when we look at the personnel in Kandahar, we have the CIDA president saying we have about 22 personnel. We have nine in Kandahar overseeing projects and expect a staff of about 35 by April 2008, compared to 10 in 2006, and Mr. Edwards said there are somewhere around six, which includes a senior adviser in Kandahar. Now this is compared to roughly 2,500 troops on the ground. What I'm hearing from you, and what I certainly heard at the conference today, is that there seems to be an imbalance. The imbalance is the following.
We have glossy overviews of what's happening, as we had just presented by you, that everyone's working together, and we have these little pristine projects going ahead, with the diplomats working next to the soldiers, and everyone's just whistling while they work, I guess. The reality, what we're hearing from people, is not the case at all. I submit to you, Minister, that one of the problems is the balance.
I want to know, if 3D is not dead—maybe replaced would be preferable to you—that the whole government approach and what I'm reading in your comments and your DM's comments, and anything else I can find from the government, which sometimes is challenging, is that you still have a concern about the balance of the mission in Kandahar. Do you have a concern, Minister, about the balance of the mission in Kandahar, yes or no?
That is a very good question, refer to the international community. We want to be sure to deliver the goods there, and to do that, you are absolutely right, we have to take a coordinated, comprehensive approach.
To start with, there can be no development or economic progress without security. So when you say that we have 2,500 troops there, some of them are working with the people who are responsible for development, with diplomats, to ensure their security and security on the ground. So by working for security overall, some soldiers are specifically assigned. As well, if we look at the Provincial Reconstruction Team, there are people from the armed forces who are there to do development.
You asked whether our mission is properly balanced and whether, as a government, we should be doing more development. Ms. Oda said a moment ago, and she will correct me if I am mistaken: from when the intervention began to 2011, Canada will be investing over $1.2 billion. Those are large sums of money for reconstruction.
As I was saying, we work together, but that is the reality on the ground. We want to have a balanced mission, in which it is not just the Department of National Defence providing the leadership. The evidence of this is that I have here with me Mr. Brodeur, the coordinator of the mission in Afghanistan, who works for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Our department, and all my other colleagues, are making sure that we have a comprehensive and balanced vision of the mission in Afghanistan.
But we have to understand that there can be no development mission if there is no security. Our Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar has personnel from the Canadian Forces, from CIDA and from my department. So that is a very specific example of coordination.
I'm very happy to have the opportunity to report to the committee on the progress we've made and the difference we've made in the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan. As I said in my presentation, one of the key successes is enabling them access to formal education, where they represent two-thirds of the children attending schools. The education and literacy has improved. There's mobility now. As I said, I was in Afghanistan, and you recognize the fact that you see Afghan women, young women and girls, going to school, in the streets, going shopping, walking down the streets, and then you recognize that this is a significant change in the lives of those women.
The other part I can report on is the improvement of the health care they're receiving. In fact, we have seen a four times increase in the access of women to childbirth attendants. Consequently, with improved medical care and access to medical care, we've been able to reduce the infant mortality by 22%.
The Afghan women, I would suggest, are like all women around the world. They're very entrepreneurial, very industrious, etc. We have contributed $56 million to date to the microfinancing facilities, the MISFA facility. The majority of people accessing that facility, as I say, are women. They are now earning an income for their families. They are establishing businesses. On top of that they're repaying those loans at a 90% rate.
We are also supporting their agricultural efforts with our programs that support livelihood--livestock, seeds, and fertilizer. We see improvements there. Many of the women, of course, are the caregivers in their families, so that they're able to not only participate on an increased level but actually to contribute significantly.
One of the things I'd like to speak to is to recognize that when they have the opportunity, they participate in elections. They participate as voters. To me, that shows they are concerned about their futures, when 43% of the 6.5 million Afghans who voted in the last election were women. They had been denied that previously under the Taliban. Not only that, but 25% are parliamentarians right now. As I said, that's a very successful indication.
The women I've met and the women I've seen are very active. They're learning in some very small projects, very simple embroidery projects. We all shared an opportunity to look at the outcome of the silk scarves that they're making. When you go there, you'll see how entrepreneurial they are.
I think one of the things is to basically understand that there's a recognition of the basic rights of women, their basic human rights--protection against violence, ability to have free mobility, access to education, access to democratic process, access to literacy, access to facilities that are taking better care of their health and consequently the health of their families as well. There's a saying that if you want to ensure that the people are educated, you educate the women, and the women will ensure that everyone gets educated. Of course, the same goes for health care. The same also goes for respecting basic rights. I think we've made a significant difference, along with our partners.
I will point out that we're planning to have 35 CIDA staff in Afghanistan, but we're working along with over 1,300 other development workers through our partnerships, NGOs, and multilateral partners.
Mr. Chair, because of the shortage of time, I'll state my two questions to the ministers, and then I'll share my time with my colleague so that he can put questions that he may have as well.
Ministers, welcome to the committee.
We've been hearing witnesses, and there are two questions that come to my mind that are very important. One is along the lines of the approaches that we are taking as a government on the Afghanistan issue. I believe the 3D approach would work; however, we have to be very practical, very smart in manipulating the 3D efforts that we make. Witnesses have told us that there's no military solution to this issue. The one D that I think we're missing right now is the diplomatic one, which is the political process.
Can you update us on any political process that you are conducting right now in Afghanistan? We're told that the political process that we need is to first initiate some dialogue amongst all the stakeholders, the different religious sects, the different ethnic groups, and even military groups within Afghanistan. We need to get them into a dialogue, and after the dialogue has started, we need to get them into negotiations for a political settlement. I'd like the ministers to tell us what kind of process and what kind of success we have had, and if there is any approach along that line at all.
The second question I want to ask is on the effort. Every witness who has come to this committee has been telling us that both the military and development efforts that we're putting in as a whole, either by the UN or NATO, are not nearly enough to deal with the problem at hand. I would therefore ask the ministers if they believe there are some countries that are willing to double or triple their military efforts or development efforts on this Afghanistan problem, and where they would come from.
With that, I would like to share my time with my colleague.
On the question of Canada's position regarding negotiations for a lasting peace process in Afghanistan, and negotiations with the Taliban, I would point out that we support the national reconstruction process. That process is based on recognition of all groups in Afghan society, and this is very important; all social actors, under the legitimate authority of the Afghan government.
It is up to the government of Afghanistan to decide how and with whom it intends to establish a lasting peace in Afghanistan. It is a sovereign, democratically elected government, and it is responsible for its actions. We hope, as President Karzai said a few months ago, that the people with whom the government might have discussions will respect the legitimacy of the government's authority, and thus of the Afghan constitution and the rule of law. If negotiations were undertaken by the government of Afghanistan with people who respect the Constitution of Afghanistan and who renounce violence, it would be better for the international community.
The international community has to make sure that the agreement it signed with the government of Afghanistan is honoured. We have until 2011 to ensure that the country is safer and more secure and is in the process of sustainable economic development. We are working to train the police and the Afghan army. We want Afghans to be able to take over. Ideally, in the near future, and I will not set a date, they should be able to take over and have a government for which assistance from the international community would no longer be needed. I dream of seeing this become reality, but I am also aware of the challenges that await us. Together, we will meet those challenges.
As I said earlier, in terms of governance and the work of the United Nations with our partners, we will make sure that the agreement we signed can be carried out and that the objectives we have adopted will be achieved, because under the 2006 agreement, there are a number of objectives that have to be achieved. This is work for the long haul, but each time we meet, we ensure that the results set out in the 2006 agreement are being achieved, so that ultimately that government will be legitimate and will be able to take over on all aspects.
I'd like to welcome our ministers today.
I'll first ask a question to Minister Bernier, and then to Minister Oda if I have time.
Minister Bernier, the Trenton air force base is located right beside my riding. It serves as a site of repatriation that most of us are all only too familiar with. As well, it is the air transport hub for Canada.
I routinely and regularly am in contact with large numbers of our men and women who have come back from Afghanistan. I've talked to well over a hundred personally now, and I've been in the habit of asking every one of them the identical question. To every one of them, I say, “Are you making a difference? Do you feel you're helping the people in Afghanistan?” The response I've gotten back has been, without one exception, yes. Sometimes it's qualified as challenging or difficult, but it's always yes. Now, I state, Minister, that this response is from the people who are making, in many cases, the ultimate sacrifice. These are people who are on the ground there, who are dealing with this in a first-hand manner.
We recognize that a number of these people serve in the Kandahar area, in the most dangerous provinces, and our presence there is very important. Do you and our department concur with their decision, particularly in those danger zones, that our involvement there is making a concrete difference?
Thank you for your question.
The answer will be a simple yes. If you compare the situation right now to the one of a couple of years ago, you can see the difference. But yes, we still have some challenges. We still have to continue our training with the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army, and that's a challenge I'm proud our country has decided to take on.
Specifically about Kandahar, yes, the situation in Kandahar, in the south, is a dangerous one, but I'm proud of what we're doing there.
As you know, Kandahar is located in the heart of the old stronghold of the repressive Taliban regime that controlled a large part of Afghanistan there. It is a province that is in need of extensive support, and where there are groups of insurgents, of Taliban, whose activities are somewhat more intense than in other provinces. Why? It's quite simple. The Taliban are well aware of the historical and strategic importance of Kandahar. That is why a large portion of their efforts focus on the south, in Kandahar.
Lastly, our presence indicates a very important position, both for us and for the government of Afghanistan. It is a key factor in the mission of the international reconstruction forces in Afghanistan. As you know, Canada tool over the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar in 2005. The work done by the Provincial Reconstruction Team is enormously appreciated. However, it is still dangerous work.
As I was saying earlier, having been on site and met with the people who work in the Provincial Reconstruction Team, I am in a position to say that we can be very proud of the efforts they are making to improve the lives of the Afghan people. It has a positive effect on the Afghans, who are living in difficult circumstances.
A number of infrastructure and development projects are underway in Kandahar. Ms. Oda may be able to tell you a little more about that.