House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghan.

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International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 6 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Pursuant to order made on Wednesday, March 25, 2009, the House in committee of the whole will now proceed to the consideration of Motion No. 2 under Government Business.

I do now leave the Chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole for consideration of Government Business No. 2, Mr. Peter Milliken in the chair)

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to begin this evening's debate by making a short statement on how the proceedings will unfold.

Tonight's debate is being held under Standing Order 53.1, and it provides for a take note debate to be held following a motion proposed by a minister, following consultation with the House leaders of the other parties.

The motion provided for tonight's debate was adopted by the House on Wednesday, March 25, 2009.

Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments. The debate will end after four hours or when no member rises to speak.

Pursuant to the special order adopted yesterday, the Chair will receive no dilatory motions, no quorum calls, and no requests for unanimous consent.

Pursuant to the rules used in a committee of the whole, members are permitted to speak more than once, provided that there is sufficient time. At the conclusion of tonight's debate, we will rise and the House will adjourn until tomorrow.

We will now begin tonight's take note debate. The chair will recognize the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Foreign Affairs

moved:

That this Committee take note of the International Conference on Afghanistan hosted by The Hague.

Mr. Speaker, before anything else, I think we must take a moment to recognize those Canadians who are working to build a peaceful, democratic and self-sufficient Afghanistan and to commemorate those who have lost their lives for our country or who have been injured in service in Afghanistan.

As highlighted by the tragic events of the past week and the enormous sacrifices we have borne over the past seven years, Afghanistan is an issue that deserves our greatest attention and the solidarity of all Canadians.

Today I would like to say a few words about the context and objectives for the upcoming International Conference on Afghanistan. The event will be jointly hosted in The Hague by the UN, the Netherlands and Afghanistan. It will bring together over 70 governments and all of the key international bodies operating in Afghanistan. I will participate on behalf of Canada.

The Hague conference represents an opportunity for us to reflect on progress made, to prepare for important challenges ahead, and to reaffirm the international community's commitment to a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and the international community have a plan that is enshrined in the Afghanistan Compact, in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, and in the 2008 Paris Declaration. The Hague conference will not change this plan. Instead, it will help to renew our efforts to implement it and forge a common understanding of the key challenges ahead. For Canada, this will mean steadfast pursuit of the six priorities that have guided our engagement for nearly a year.

As you will recall, the reconstructing of our mission around these priorities was a direct response to the independent panel on Canada's future role in Afghanistan. Our work to implement the panel's recommendation has fundamentally transformed the way Canada operates in Afghanistan.

We have more than doubled the presence of diplomats, development officials, advisers and police trainers. We have appointed a senior official, known as the Representative of Canada in Kandahar, or RoCK, to manage this expanded civilian presence and to liaise as an equal with our top general in the country. We have also appointed a civilian director to work under this individual as head of the Kandahar provincial reconstruction team.

Since last June, we have moved to focus half of all Canadian development assistance in Kandahar. We have established joint civilian-military planning units to ensure that both sides of Canada's engagement are working in lockstep.

In accordance with the March 2008 parliamentary motion on Afghanistan, we continue to report quarterly to the House on progress in meeting these goals.

This approach is unique in its clarity and transparency and in the systematic monitoring and reporting on which it is based. No other country has released specific benchmarks or devoted its full resources to attaining them. No other country has achieved the same level of integration and cooperation between the civilian and military aspects of its mission. This targeted approach is working.

As stated in the latest quarterly report, Canada is making a real contribution to improving Afghans' lives and their government's ability to provide the Afghan people with basic services.

In the coming years, we will continue to focus our efforts on attaining these objectives and enabling the Afghan government to play an even larger role in managing the country.

Although the agenda for the conference is still being finalized, we are confident that the event will meet three broad goals.

First, it will allow the international community to reaffirm a collective commitment to Afghanistan. Seven years into our mission, we have registered very encouraging advances in areas such as health, education, vocational training and the professionalization of an Afghan army, which I witnessed first-hand when I was in Afghanistan last week. This conference will allow us to take stock of these successes, forge renewed agreement on the key areas where things have not improved and help to focus international attention on those areas where urgent action is required.

Second, the conference will give the Afghan government an opportunity to explain how it has respected the commitments it made in Paris last year.

Some very clear measures have been taken since then to further the implementation of the Paris program. The new interior and agriculture ministers undertook ambitious reforms. The cooperation of the Afghan government with the civilian government of Pakistan has improved markedly. Moreover, this year, for the first time since 2002, poppy cultivation decreased in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, important challenges remain to be met. Bold measures have to be applied to fight corruption throughout the country. The Afghan government must also do more to protect freedom of expression, recognizing it as the cornerstone of democracy.

Finally, and this may be what is most urgent, President Karzai and the leaders of the opposition must continue to work together in order to find a solution to problems related to the timing of elections.

We cannot afford to lose ground between May, when the president's term officially ends, and August, when the next elections occur. We will use our voice at the conference to encourage a speedy resolution to this issue, as we have through our interaction with Afghan officials on the ground.

In short, the conference will help to ensure the Afghan government remains accountable to its international supporters for taking concrete action where it is most needed.

Third, the conference will provide a venue for the U.S. to announce the results of its strategic review of Afghanistan. Let me be clear, however, while Canada worked closely with the U.S. and contributed to this review just last year, as my hon. colleagues should all be aware, we already undertook a comprehensive review to better focus our efforts in Afghanistan and through this review in the summer of 2008, we set our priorities and objectives until 2011.

The U.S. will deploy 17,000 troops to southern Afghanistan this year. Many of these troops will head to Kandahar. As U.S. deployments to the regions progress, we intend to partner more closely with them to deliver on crucial governance, reconstruction and development work. This coordination will go beyond our respective military efforts. Indeed, Canada's ongoing cooperation with U.S. civilian agencies in Kandahar is set to grow as further U.S. resources arrive in the province.

This intensified U.S. focus is a welcome development. Over time our hope is that an influx of troops and resources will help to improve the security situation, particularly in the south.

In the context of these broader goals, Canada will use the international conference in The Hague to advance its own objectives. We will provide our assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and in particular, in Kandahar.

Working with our allies at this event we will help to identify the areas that are moving in the right direction. We will also not be shy to speak out about those we feel require greater attention from the Afghan government, the international community, or both.

We will also take advantage of the conference to inform our partners about the most important results achieved by Canada during the past eight months, results which have been submitted in detail to the House in three quarterly reports.

Finally, we will join the international community in reaffirming our ongoing commitment to Afghanistan and welcoming the sustained growth in international investments and military contributions.

The March 31 conference will be an opportunity to turn toward the future. It will help the international community to manage change and ensure that it produces the best possible results for Afghanis, their region and the safety of all of the planet's inhabitants.

There are some members across the way in this House who, for whatever reason, would like to sow dissension between us and our allies. This should not be done in times of war. This is a time for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brave men and women who are defending our values and interests in the most dangerous place in the world.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for being available this evening. In today's debate, there is no question of the mission's relevance. We all agree on that, and I thank him for recognizing the work done by our troops. It is important to do so. That said, he will come up against one fact at the NATO conference. While we will reaffirm our commitment to this mission, there remain some unanswered questions.

There are differences between the north and the south, as he knows. There also are differences among countries, which are not conducting the same missions as the Canadians, the British, the Danes or the Americans. If greater success is to be assured, consistency is essential.

And so I would like to ask the minister first if an effort will be made to bring greater consistency to the mission, given that, for example, the German mission is not the same as the Canadian one or the Turkish one. The minister has also spoken of the Afghan government. In fact, it looks like an accounting, an attempt to see how the Afghan government has acted over all these years.

Pakistan, in its Waziristan region, for example, is a problem as well. It is an unoccupied zone, where the Pakistani government does not interfere. It is where the Taliban go to muster. This is a fact. There is even talk of applying sharia law there now. The Taliban are pretty much left on their own there. I would like to hear what the minister has to say about this Pakistani Afghani situation, and in particular as concerns this tribal area.

Finally, I would like to put another question to the minister, one that is not unimportant. It is fine to have a civilian head, to have someone who is empowered to negotiate at the same level as the general. I would like him to tell us why Canada has no special envoy, given the situation. I myself was the Prime Minister's special advisor for Haiti, and know very well that a full delegation of powers at all levels brings greater strength. The solution in Afghanistan has to be political. So why is there no special envoy from Canada?

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his questions which are, overall, quite relevant. Concerning the first question on coordination, I agree with him entirely: it is of primordial importance that the allies forge the necessary coordination together, in order to attain not only NATO objectives, but also the objectives of the member partners. As he knows, Canada identified a number of issues within the six priorities.

However, I also wish to reassure him and say that on a regular basis, whether at meetings in which my colleague the Minister of National Defence takes part with our NATO partners, or at meetings I have had the pleasure of attending with other ministers of foreign affairs, this highly important matter of coordination has been raised.

Since I had the opportunity of going to Afghanistan two weeks ago, I know that the most important issue there now is to increase security. No matter where you are on the planet, whether in my colleague's riding in the Montreal area, or in my riding or elsewhere, the people who live there are constantly looking for security and quality of life. There is no denying that this is a primordial objective for the citizens of Afghanistan. I know that the members of ISAF as well as those of NATO are working to achieve this.

As for Pakistan, and more particularly the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Canadian contribution is extremely important. Among other priority objectives, we are seeking, through what is commonly known as the Dubai process, to get the parties together to begin a dialogue. In fact, an important meeting is supposed to take place next weekend in Dubai. Both Pakistanis who are concerned with these border issues and representatives from Afghanistan are to meet for a third time and attempt to devise an action plan. We are following this very closely. The member is absolutely right when he states that we must make all necessary efforts in this regard.

Finally, concerning the special envoy, certain countries have chosen to designate a special envoy. Italy, France, Germany and the United States have decided to proceed in this way. The approach laid out in the report of the independent commissioners would lead us to create a cabinet committee which would determine the actions to be taken, and review our strategy and commitments, both civil and military. Negotiations are currently taking place.

According to the nature of a given meeting, we may designate either David Mulroney, the deputy minister assigned to this file, myself, or the minister responsible for international development who chairs this committee.

Basically, we must be able to view these questions in a useful and practical way. When the specific need arises, according to the agenda that will have been set, we will act accordingly and determine—

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Chair Denise Savoie

Mr. Minister, I would like to give other people a chance to talk.

The member for Saint-Jean.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I would like to thank the member for his presentation. I would like him to explain something he mentioned in his speech. For two years now, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for an international conference with top officials from the countries neighbouring Afghanistan. At the time, the minister and his predecessor flatly rejected our proposals. On March 5, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested holding an international conference on March 31. Now, all of a sudden, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is saying that it is a great idea.

When the Bloc Québécois suggested it, it was not a good idea, but the moment the U.S. Secretary of State responsible for foreign affairs announced an international meeting on March 31, the Minister of Foreign Affairs jumped on board, calling it an excellent idea. Why?

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Madam Chair, I am sorry. It is true that the Bloc Québécois made that suggestion and that Canada cannot function without the Bloc Québécois' suggestions. But they have to understand that there might be more important people out there. I do not want to offend the members of the Bloc Québécois, but there are probably more important people than those in the Bloc Québécois who have considered this issue. I do not mean to sound arrogant. It was a suggestion. People made a lot of suggestions.

I would like everyone to bear in mind that a motion was passed in the House that clearly outlined what the Government of Canada intends to do on the ground in Afghanistan. The motion set out priorities and programs—major job-creation programs—and so on.

As I mentioned, we also had the Paris conference and the Afghanistan compact. There has been a series of measures. Every measure was decided on at the appropriate time to move this file forward. At this point, it is extremely important to coordinate regional efforts, thereby building an awareness that I hope will result in significant renewal for the country and long-term stability in the region.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Madam Chair, like my colleagues, I think this debate is extremely useful, and am very pleased that we can have it before the conference at the end of March.

As I said from the start, this debate is not about the relevance of the mission. I think we must send this message of solidarity to our troops and tell them just how much we support them and their families. We grieve when these young men die in uniform, in the name of peace, liberty and democracy.

Still, today, I think it essential to have this sort of debate to prepare the future exit strategy for our soldiers. It also serves to raise relevant questions as to the progress we have made and whether our efforts in the area of development are making a noticeable difference.

I was pleased to note that the Prime Minister said we would not win the war against the insurgents. We have known from the outset that the solution in Afghanistan was not a military one and that we had to reorganize accordingly. This was done subsequent to the Manley report. It was not done quickly enough in my opinion, because we have a 3D strategy in Canada—development, diplomacy and defence. It is time now to move on to another stage.

I must say that the article in Spiegel in which the Germans say “Afghanistan is on the brink of chaos” reads like a message from the local leaders.

It states:

--the US military and development workers in the troubled country. The elected government, they warn, can no longer compete with the Taliban.

We have a situation and the time has come to think and use that conference to make sure that we take the right decision, to make sure that we accompany the Afghan people to find a real solution for their needs.

As a country, as a citizen of the world, we have a duty to intervene when people are suffering, but at the same time it is important that we keep in mind that we are not there as a protectorate. We are there to accompany the Afghan people and we have to take some very important decisions.

I was a cabinet minister myself when we discussed that issue. The reason why we did not go to Iraq but we went to Afghanistan was exactly that, that multilateral issue. It is important that we all keep together and reaffirm that commitment, to be generous but not naive. It is important that we find a way to define if the triple Ds are properly put in place.

When I put questions to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, it was in this regard. We can have one conference to reaffirm our commitment and one to ask the Afghan government what it has done.

It is a very corrupt government. President Karzai is even known as the mayor of Kabul, since over 60% of the country is uncontrolled. The situation in southern Afghanistan is difficult, as it is even now in the area of Wardak, west of Kabul. Kabul itself is even under attack. We are faced with this reality.

I want us to be happy. I am pleased because, with Mr. Obama, it seems there has been a revival and there will obviously be more troops. It feels like a new approach is on the way. Napoleon said that geography dictated politics. There are glimpses of a new geopolitical reality on the horizon. We must have a strategy for Pakistan, and Iran must certainly be watched, because the situation there needs watching. It is fine to say that production of poppies and opium is down, but it is a huge scourge and a problem.

Quite honestly, I would have appreciated the minister telling us, despite his eloquence, that we are not going there just to report on what is in the Canadian government's three latest reports. I would have liked him to describe his strategy. We are not going there just to reaffirm our commitment. An update on the current situation must be achieved, along with a plan for our activities in the next two years.

When the Prime Minister said that we could never beat the insurgents, if had he gone on to present our strategy, things would have gone a little better. Unfortunately the fact that he said it in the United States obviously distressed some people, but, more importantly, the fact that he did not go any further once again caused a problem with the perception of the mission. Many people sent me emails saying we had no business there. I say we do. We have things to do there.

It is a many sided situation, and if we eventually want to tackle Darfur and other countries, we have to recognize that we have a role to play as citizens of the world.

I believe that the role of those in power and officials, through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of International Cooperation or the Prime Minister, is really to make it known that it does not stop there, and that the state of things must be taken into account.

Therefore, the exit strategy will be essential. It will make it possible to tell our soldiers that we are proud of them and that they did not fall in combat for nothing. After 2011, we will not be there in a military role, but, as in other operations, we will have a role in the humanitarian and diplomatic aspects.

I like the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but he has other fish to fry. He has more than one file to deal with. This way he can be asked to study a particular file, if we remind him that today, for example, is Afghanistan day.

We can say that also for our Minister of National Defence. He can say, “Today you take care of Afghanistan. We need you there”. The reason why we need that special envoy is exactly for that purpose. That person will have the full authority of the Prime Minister and all the delegation of power from all the departments. When we will have negotiations to take care of the situation of Afghanistan to apply those triple Ds, that person, because I have been a special adviser for IET, will have the kind of political authority which provides a solution eventually.

I could have talked more about national defence. There was discussion of equipment and the need for tanks. Of the 100 tanks bought, 40 or 60 are in Europe and 40 are at the Longue-Pointe base and are not yet organized.

Perhaps if I send a message to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, he could eventually explain to us why these tanks, so vital to the mission in Afghanistan, are still not ready. I think our 20 German Leopards had a few jolts and will probably be needed from now to 2011. We could have asked another question as well. In the name of the mission in Afghanistan, billions of dollars of equipment was bought, which is still not ready. The government was in such a hurry, that, in the name of national security, it bought equipment without bids, and it is still not in use today.

In these times of economic recession, it might be reasonable to ask ourselves how contracts were handed out. That said, I think we should talk more about the conference in The Hague. I hope that the Prime Minister and the minister will take our questions there and that, instead of adopting a wait and see attitude, they will be proactive and decide what will be done in the next two years in connection with the military.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for his most eloquent speech. I acknowledge his verve and ability, and would just like to reassure him that yes, there is a strategy. We will have the opportunity to revisit all of this not only when we are in Afghanistan, but everywhere, including the Hague.

My colleague has travelled around Afghanistan and had the opportunity to see for himself what is going on there. Was he able to see a change for the better? Did he, for instance, see the reconstruction, see new schools being built? Was he able to see that the Afghan military and police force is increasing in size, was he able to see that we are helping to rebuild the Dahla dam?

Since he has been in this House for some time, he was here at the start of the conflict. I would like to know whether he is in a position to say that things are changing for the better.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Madam Chair, my approach today was neither positive nor negative, just constructive. I went to Afghanistan on my own, I would remind hon. members. Unfortunately, I did not have the backing of the Conservative government, but once I got to Islamabad, and to Kabul, the embassy took good care of me, as did our troops when I was in Kandahar.

That said, no I did not see the schools. I did, however, speak with a lot of people, some of them in the field, and they spoke to me of their concerns.

The Taliban have a proverb that says “you've got the watch”, talking about us, and “we've got the time”. That is the situation right now. Of course, we can say that there was some progress at certain levels, but the reality in the field and the reason why I read that, saying that Afghanistan is at the brink of chaos, is that it seems that there is a lot of territory that we have been winning. But because we are not necessarily there now, and there is the national army or the police force, that territory has also been recuperated by the Taliban.

At the same time, when Brigadier General Laroche was there and they made what is known as the “omelette”, when the forces were put together, interesting things happened.

Unfortunately, I am not certain about police training. There is a reality that must be taken into consideration. Many of these people are illiterate. They live under threat a great deal of the time. The Taliban are currently conducting guerrilla warfare. When people walk alone in the streets or are left on their own, they are vulnerable to Taliban attacks. For that reason, there is an increasing number of home-made bombs and attacks. Hospitals and the department of justice have been attacked. That is the reality in the field.

Progress can be made but much needs to be done. We need to know what is actually happening on the ground before going there because there is less security in Afghanistan at present.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, I want to start by thanking the member for his intervention and then ask a very specific question about the direction that our government is taking and indeed the direction our country should take.

On Tuesday we are going to see what many of us have called for, not just in this place but internationally, and what some people are calling Bonn 2, bringing all parties together to look at a regional approach.

I want to ask the member if he is of the belief that Canada should be part of this diplomatic surge that is being asked for by Kai Eide, the special envoy to the UN, and also by the American administration, and should we see the same diplomatic surge from our own country?

The minister did not really touch on that in his comments. I am wondering what the Liberal Party would see as a beneficial direction and what he thinks should happen on Tuesday.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Madam Chair, I thank the hon. member for that question. I have, from the outset, talked about the balance between the 3 Ds. Of course, the solution in Afghanistan is not military, it is political. We need to ensure that, of the 3 Ds, the D for diplomacy is able to do its best. So we have to re-evaluate our approach.

We had the Manley report. We are continually told that there is more to it, because now more civilians are involved. At the committee, which the hon. member attended this morning, we discussed a greater presence for CIDA and for Foreign Affairs. As Canadians, the first step that we ought to have taken was to have our own special envoy. We need that presence, that authority, and it would play a vital role. As I have said from the outset, we need to re-evaluate the situation and work towards a regional, geopolitical solution. We have to ensure that there is security, but we must emphasize diplomacy.

But it is the elections that concern me at the moment. We will have Mr. Karzai. There is a growing feeling that his government does not have the confidence of the international community. We think that there will be elections on August 20. What will happen if they are later? When we look at the opposition to Mr. Karzai, we need a code of conduct to achieve reconciliation when one wins and the other loses. But I have to confess that, if there is one area that we must emphasize, other than the matter of the special envoy, it really is how we are going to operate during the election period. There will be the security aspect to consider. There is also the aspect of ensuring that Pakistan does not interfere. In that sense, since the solution is political, diplomacy will have to regain its former glory at this conference.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Madam Chair, we all know that life has not improved much for women since the fall of the Taliban. While there are legal rights for women that are constitutionally embedded, they are of minimal use if there is actually no rule of law.

As far as the protection of women's rights goes, it includes ordinary citizens as well as leaders. We know that the lives of some female Afghan leaders and journalists have been threatened and some have been killed.

I am wondering if the member would agree with me that a new diplomatic approach should be developed that would actually expand the scope of engagement to include the women of Afghanistan as major stakeholders in the future economy of Afghanistan.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Madam Chair, we must be careful not to speak in absolute terms when trying to compare what was happening before with what is going on now. I agree with the hon. member that there is still a long way to go. I looked at the Transparency International index and Afghanistan fell by 59 points. Of course, so much needs to be done and not enough is being accomplished in terms of women's rights and freedom of the press. Certain cultural factors must be confronted there. We must not be ethnocentric, but certain questions definitely need to be addressed at the conference. This is not a new diplomatic approach. It is a diplomatic approach that should have been taken from the beginning.

That is the reality. That is why there was not enough emphasis put on the other “D”, which is diplomacy.

There is a situation with women. There is a situation with children. I noticed in a report that there are abortions taking place due to rapes. It is not a pretty sight and it is bad, but I would urge caution in saying that it is the same as when the Taliban was there.

Just one instance is one too many. We must focus on women's rights and the living conditions of the Afghan people.