Evidence of meeting #18 for National Defence in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was kandahar.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

You said they're fighting in a hostile environment. I've never found fighting in a friendly environment, but that's just....

4:30 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

That's a fair one.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

There was a comment made by someone, a number of witnesses ago, who talked about the Afghans' reaction. This is somebody who had spent quite a lot of time with the Afghans, too, not with the military—although he spent time with the military as well. His assessment of their reaction to the unquestionably dire situation, or less than ideal situation, that they're in was that compared with the Soviet era it was a cakewalk. That was the word he used. We can argue about terms, but notwithstanding that they're not where they should be, in fact today they are not worse off but are better off than they were under the Soviets—which isn't much of an advertisement, I grant.

What kind of reaction do you get, comparing the Soviet regime with what's happening now?

4:30 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

We asked the question—because we're doing the “five years later” report—in a survey: “Are you better off now? Are you better off in the last five years, or what has changed in your financial circumstances?” I think the answers in rural Helmand and rural Kandahar were “We're worse off.”

You can see the remnants from when the Soviets were there, in the cities of Lashkar Gah, Kandahar, and Kabul, of large building projects—schools, ministries, and in every city there's a big bread factory. A lot of this is destroyed now, of course. There was a lot of infrastructure development. In the schools, there were a lot of people who were taught in Russian engineering, so there was a generation of engineers.

The Americans were in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province for a while; you can see the remnants of that. There was, if I can use this term, a “westernization” of Afghanistan at a certain point. Most of that's gone.

You hear nostalgia for the Russians and you hear nostalgia for the Taliban now. The first time I heard nostalgia for the Taliban, my heart sank when they said “We were better off then.”

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Again there is a clear difference of opinion there, because the sentiments we heard from somebody else, who had spent a lot of time with the Afghans, was clearly not that—certainly with respect to the Russians.

What would you do about the Taliban?

4:30 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

As I said, there are two different kinds of Taliban, and the guys who are connected to al-Qaeda are very clever and should be of the greatest concern. The types of Taliban guys you saw were young guys from the villages, and they all were friendly to me, because I was delivering food. So we can win those guys back to our side with relative ease.

I don't mean this as an insult to my Afghan colleagues to say that the Afghans switch sides easily, but it's an historical fact. They are basically interested in economic prosperity—I simplify here—and they will move where there is an economic advantage. But by the way, we call that capitalism and entrepreneurship, and they're trying to feed their families. So economics is a great way to build support in the south. We have to make it more interesting to be friends with us than it is to be friends with the al-Qaeda guys.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

You mentioned there is severe drought in Kandahar. How much of the poppy problem is the result of severe drought, and how much is the result of actions being taken by the government?

4:30 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

I'll just simplify by saying it's half and half. We all know as Canadians what severe drought can do to a community. Then what happened was, the irrigation systems were destroyed in the war, so what water is around can't get to the crops. It turns out the poppy is a very drought-resistant crop. So you ended up in a very bad cycle there. With drought coming, the other crops dropped back and poppy came forward.

But there is anger at this hunger and anger at the eradication. As I said, this anger has fuelled the insurgency. So in the end, we ended up at the same place.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rick Casson

Thank you.

Mr. Bouchard, for five minutes.

October 25th, 2006 / 4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you as well, madam, for your presentation.

You've given us some very convincing arguments, but what is most convincing is when you have the Afghans speak for themselves and their words support your comments. I was very moved by it, and I thank you for that.

You also put forward a concrete plan of measures that concern the poppy fields. Could you explain to us in detail why you think that poppy cultivation is a good thing that the Afghans should continue?

Why aren't you proposing another crop, which could replace these poppy fields, with a system that would enable the Afghans to sell their new products? You've no doubt considered that alternative. Why don't you propose it, instead of proposing that the poppy fields be kept?

4:35 p.m.

Executive Director, The Senlis Council

Emmanuel Reinert

I believe I mentioned that briefly earlier in answering your colleague. In my opinion, this is an emergency solution, and we're currently in an emergency situation, with regard to both the Afghans and Canadian troops.

Eradication isn't a solution, first, because it's ineffective. We've seen it: despite the eradication operations that have been conducted in the past two or three years, production figures have not fallen, quite the contrary, and the measure is totally counter-productive, since it fuels the Taliban recruitment machine.

Furthermore, introducing alternative crops is obviously one of the best solutions, but it takes too much time to put in place, and it's simply impossible to put it in place in the present conditions, particularly in southern Afghanistan, which is a desert where only poppies grow.

So this is a pragmatic solution. What are the resources of the present Afghanistan, the true, the real Afghanistan? On the one hand, there's opium, and, on the other hand, villages where there are very strict rules that the local communities must obey.

Let's make a better use of what's there, in order to divert part of the local opium production to the production of pain medication. This is simply a factor that must break the infernal machine, the vicious circle of the illegal market. This will make it possible to develop other crops. Once again, by enabling farmers to maintain their source of cash and their livelihood, we can enable them to develop other crops, whether it be wheat, potatoes, citrus fruits or I don't know what.

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

You also said that there's a major famine in southern Afghanistan. Children have no food and are dying of hunger. In addition, fathers don't have the necessary resources to feed their families. You mentioned quick food aid. I'm almost certain that's part of a priority point or measure.

To implement that, do you need a cheque? Or do you need food from Canada or other countries? Would your organization distribute it? Will the Afghan government distribute it? Or would an organization that would have to be created together with NATO?

4:35 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

We're a small research organization, and we ended up doing food aid because we were in villages where people needed food. As I said to your colleague, when I go back now, I intend to continue doing that. We have infrastructure there, and we will help any government, any agency, in any way to see that happen.

The reason we said there ought to be this special envoy is that somebody has to immediately find out what the possibilities are. As I've said, we do military and counter-narcotics work, so we've stumbled into this. Somebody has to immediately assess what the possibilities are and how to get that food on the ground. You can buy food in Kandahar City; it's possible. You could organize that in fairly short order. So our suggestion for this special envoy is that somebody has to figure out what the possibilities are and how to get the food there right away. I think that's a short-term answer, and then you have to have a medium-term answer and a long-term answer while you let a proper diversified economic plan take root there.

We're willing to help in any way we possibly can, but I think there has to be an assessment of what the options are. If the World Food Programme doesn't have the financing, they should have the financing if they're going in there. You have to go through your list of possibilities very quickly.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rick Casson

Thank you very much.

We'll go over to Mr. Calkins.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

In your June report you said:

Licensed poppy cultivation would impact positively on the current security situation by decreasing popular sympathy for insurgents and increasing support for the central and local government.

In your October recommendations you suggested that farmers be allowed to cultivate the opium poppy under a village-based strict control system. How would you protect the poppy crop from the insurgents?