Mr. Chair, I am very pleased that my colleague, the Minister of Defence, proposed this evening's debate here in this House. I am grateful to him for allowing me to speak so soon even though he was the one who proposed this very important debate.
I am addressing the House today to speak about the remarkable work Canada has accomplished in Afghanistan.
Our country plays a leading role in the international action to help Afghanistan become a stable, democratic, self-sufficient state that respects human rights and that will never harbour terrorists again. Achieving this objective is essential to maintaining peace and international security, and to bringing about a secure and prosperous future for the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan, which is recovering after more than 20 years of conflict and drought, remains one of the poorest countries in the world, a major source of narcotics and therefore a fragile state. Canada provides an essential contribution to this country.
In order to optimize our intervention in Afghanistan, we must adopt a strategic approach based on the unparalleled added value Canada can offer. Our commitment in Afghanistan is a concrete manifestation of the international policy statement that calls for a government-wide approach based on pursuing our strategic interests abroad.
Canada's commitment in Afghanistan is based on specialized knowledge and the contributions of various federal departments and agencies, such as Foreign Affairs, National Defence, CIDA and the RCMP, or what we call the three ds, meaning diplomacy, defence and development assistance, in a coordinated and integrated manner.
With regard to our diplomatic commitment, which I will focus on—my colleagues from National Defence and Development will follow—Canada opened an embassy in Kabul in September 2003.
This embassy provides the diplomatic presence needed to ensure effective support for Canadian defence and development efforts in close collaboration with our Afghan partners and the international community. Canadian diplomats elsewhere are also working to support the work being done in Afghanistan, particularly at NATO and the United Nations, and through the G8.
Thanks to recent provincial and parliamentary elections, Afghanistan has fulfilled the initial requirements of its democratic transition as set out by the Afghans and the international community, when they met in Bonn in 2001. Other achievements. within the framework of the Bonn process, include the adoption of a constitution and presidential elections.
Canada has been a key supporter of the transition to democracy in Afghanistan. The resources deployed at all levels of government in support of the recent elections there are clear evidence of this. The contribution comprised financial support, the sending of election observers, and assistance to the Afghans in maintaining security throughout the electoral process from the beginning right through to election day.
By declaring themselves as candidates, a decision liable to put them in danger, by going to the polls despite the risk to their safety, by speaking out in favour of reform, the Afghans have shown their support for change.
Democracy has now taken root in Afghanistan and is starting to bear fruit, particularly in establishing the people's confidence and pride in their own country.
Canada's efforts have helped Afghanistan achieve real results in other areas as well, in particular in reforming the security sector. The demilitarization agenda is critical to stability in Afghanistan. The successful completion of the first two phases of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program in Afghanistan this past July saw some 63,000 former combatants lay down their arms.
Canada has played an important role in this process, fostering political support through diplomatic channels, the second largest donor, disbursing close to $21 million in support of the program and providing a secure environment for former combatants to disarm.
We remain committed to the final phase of the process, reintegration, and we will continue to work with the United Nations and our international partners to ensure its successful completion.
Canada was instrumental in the establishment of a highly successful heavy weapons cantonment process in Afghanistan, the same weapons that were used to destroy much of the country. Our top military officials, working closely with the Canadian embassy in Kabul, helped to create the momentum and will for a program that many thought was impossible. Thanks to Canadian efforts, over 10,000 tanks, heavy artillery and other weapons are now safely secured.
Afghanistan is one of the most mine affected countries in the world, with over 800 victims per year. In 2003, Afghanistan acceded to the Ottawa Convention on Landmines. Canada is a lead donor in mine action, having contributed approximately $47 million to mine action assistance in Afghanistan since 1989. These funds have helped to clear 10 million to 15 million mines in Afghanistan.
There is no question that important progress has been made. Afghanistan is on the road to recovery. The challenge now is to ensure momentum continues. We will work with Afghanistan and our international partners to consolidate and build on the achievements of the last four years.
An example of this is the recent deployment of Canada's provincial reconstruction team to Kandahar. In order to respond to the multifaceted and complex nature of reinforcing the authority and building the capacity of the Afghan government in Kandahar, the provincial reconstruction team brings together Canadian Forces personnel, civilian police, diplomats and aid workers in an innovative and integrated Canadian effort of the three Ds of diplomacy, defence and development.
With the provincial reconstruction team and the February 2006 deployment of a 1,500 strong task force and brigade headquarters, Canada has positioned itself to play a leadership role in southern Afghanistan and provide an enabling environment for Afghanistan's institutional and economic development.
In order to effectively approach outstanding challenges, the first step is to recognize and empower Afghan leadership. This requires a commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure that Afghan authorities have the capacity to carry out their required functions. We support an intensified focus on institution building and emphasize the need to ensure that international community efforts result in systemic changes. It is only by building lasting capacity that we can ensure that our investment lasts long beyond our engagement.
Canada has emphasized the need to deal with the recalcitrant commanders who continue to challenge the authority of the central government by adhering to illicit pursuits. These non-compliant power brokers must be made aware that there are consequences to their actions. Their continued involvement with narcotics, illegal armed groups and human rights violations must be addressed. Without a commitment to take decisive action against those who most overtly defy the rule of law, they will continue to subvert our best efforts and contribute to instability.
We have continued to stress the necessity of a global view if past injustices in Afghanistan are to be put behind us. Any government needs the trust of all its citizens. The inclusion of those responsible for serious offences in the past against either Afghan law or international law would cast doubt on the government's credibility. Although the process of addressing past wrongs will no doubt be fraught with emotion, as is the case with any post-conflict situation, this political sensitivity can be mitigated by a process that is transparent, objective and founded in law.
Canada supports the work being done at this time by the Afghan authorities, in close collaboration with the Afghan human rights commission, with a view to drafting a national transitional justice strategy.
I must say how very pleased I am to take part in this evening's very important debate on Canada's role in Afghanistan.