Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today. l really do appreciate this opportunity to contribute to what is, without doubt, the most important foreign policy debate that Canada has been involved in during my lifetime. l will, with your forbearance, address the committee in English, because I really don't want to slaughter la langue de Molière too badly, and will do my best to answer any questions plainly and frankly.
On September 18, 2005, I stood at polling stations in Logar province and in old Kabul to observe Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections in over three decades. My most vivid image of that day was the sense of optimism and the high expectations of the voters. Nomadic Kuchi tribesmen, Pashto villagers, Hazara labourers, and some of the poorest women in the world all shared a sense that Afghanistan was at a turning point and that these elections, which were the final steps of the Bonn process, signalled an end to three decades of violence and terror. In short, on that day Afghans believed they would soon be able to get on with their lives without the crushing burden of fear that they had come to believe was normal.
Despite the palpable optimism of that election day, l was more than a little alarmed to learn that the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its international partners had no real plan for the next steps. The Bonn process had run its course, the structures of the state had been established, albeit without the human capacity necessary to deliver services to the people, and security seemed to be improving in most of the country. At a polling station in Logar province, l distinctly remember asking Canada's first ambassador, Chris Alexander, what would happen next. Despite his comprehensive knowledge of Afghanistan and his considerable influence in Kabul, he couldn't answer the question. Simply put, the plan did not exist.
Although the Bonn process was an apparent success, there was no agreed strategic plan or framework to deal with the long-term state-building enterprise needed to address the major problems that faced the nascent Afghan democracy. The result of this lack of strategic vision was several months of intense effort to produce the Afghanistan Compact and the interim Afghanistan national development strategy in time for the London conference on the future of Afghanistan that convened on February 1, 2006.
The team l led, Strategic Advisory Team Afghanistan, played a small part in the development of both those documents, and I attended the conference with my team's Afghan counterparts. The London conference was another moment of high optimism. For the first time since the fall of the Taliban regime there was an agreed Afghan international strategic framework and a common language. Promises were made, commitments given, and hope was the prevailing sentiment. That sense of hope would not last long. Within months, the lack of strategic vision and the almost total absence of international cohesion in Kabul began to threaten the compact and the interim ANDS. This lack of cohesion, in fact, puts the entire state-building enterprise at risk. To be clear, the Afghan mission can be lost on the battlefields of Kandahar province, but it can only be won in Kabul.
I will not dwell on the strategic failings of the past few years. These are dealt with adequately in both the Manley report and in this committee's excellent interim report filed in January. Instead, the remainder of my remarks will focus on the steps I think are needed to achieve the strategic-level cohesion necessary to the success of both the joint Afghan-international effort and Canada's crucial role in that effort. I will also propose some specific recommendations in respect to Canada's governance and development priorities at the national level and in Kandahar province. Finally, I will provide some concluding remarks about the import of this mission to the Afghan people.
Although there appears to be an international consensus on the need to establish Afghan-international strategic coherence, there does not appear to be any shared view of how to do this. Recent discussions of an international super-envoy have offered the promise of coherence. However, the United Nations assistance mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, remains marginal to the dynamic in Kabul. The appointment of the proposed high-level UN envoy holds the potential to redress this situation but would not, by itself, be sufficient to achieve the necessary cohesion.
A few of the most powerful states represented in Kabul, as well as some of the most important development agencies, have consistently weakened the possibility of UN leadership by their insistence on following national and organizational agendas and priorities as opposed to those laid out in the compact.
The roots of this problem lie in the period immediately following the fall of the Taliban. The U.S. consciously limited the role of the UN, and the dysfunctional lead-nation system of the Bonn process proved to be a structural barrier to cohesion. Clearly, this situation is untenable. If UNAMA is to be effective, the appointment of a special envoy must be accompanied by expressions of full political support and genuine behavioural change on the ground. Canada's political leaders can and must leverage this nation's hard-earned influence and political capital to exercise leadership in developing the international political will that is absolutely necessary for success in Kabul.
It is evident that Canada's “whole of government” approach has matured greatly in the past two years. The recent striking of a cabinet committee, supported by a task force located in the PCO, promises to strengthen the cohesion of the Canadian effort. If the current motion under debate passes, a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan will be able to exercise oversight over the mission and ensure ministerial accountability.
These positive steps must now be supported by the development of a comprehensive public strategy that defines Canadian objectives in Afghanistan--the ends; specifies the organizations, methods, priorities, and benchmarks required to achieve these ends--the ways; and quantifies the necessary commitment of human and financial resources--the means. This strategy must accord with the compact and serve as the authoritative guidance for Canada's “whole of government” effort. It would permit you as parliamentarians to monitor progress and at the same time fully inform Canadians of our goals in Afghanistan and our plan for achieving them. Taken together, the new cabinet committee, the task force, the special parliamentary committee, and a public Afghan strategy can only improve our national strategic coherence.
However, by its very nature, the Westminster system, based on ministerial accountability, is not conducive to the “whole of government” approach. Soldiers, diplomats, development officials, and police and corrections officers have all been formed by the functional imperatives and the institutional cultures of their respective organizations. The steps that I have described mitigate these challenges in Ottawa, but they must be supported by structural changes on the ground. Canada's Afghan strategy must not only be coherent in Ottawa; it must also be seamlessly coordinated in Kabul and Kandahar.
Despite the strong diplomatic skills of our foreign service officers, the leadership and management of a complex, multi-dimensional operation such as the Afghan mission is simply not a core competency of Canada' s ambassadors, nor is it an appropriate role for senior military commanders. To overcome this, the Prime Minister should appoint a prominent and experienced Canadian as a special envoy. This envoy should have the authority to act as the head of Canada' s “country team” in Afghanistan and a specific mandate to ensure that Canada' s Afghan strategy is coordinated. Reporting to the PM, the envoy should be supported by a strategic coordination team of approximately four people. They should have experience in Afghanistan and expertise in security, governance, and development, as well as proven planning and coordination skills at the strategic level. To ensure their independence from the natural bureaucratic pressures that would certainly affect their judgments, the members of this team must not be serving soldiers or public servants. This team would advise the prime minister's envoy, review all projects and activities, ensure strategic coherence, and act as the envoy's eyes and ears throughout the country.
I'll turn now to governance and development priorities.
Every single Canadian effort in the governance and development pillars of the compact must be designed to strengthen the legitimacy of the Afghan government. Much of the Canadian International Development Agency's support of national programs has been successful in this regard. For example, CIDA support of the national solidarity program has not only resulted in the positive outcomes that other witnesses have described to you; it has also been one of the major reasons that the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, MRRD, is one of the most credible arms of the Afghan government. It should be our objective to make more ministries and the administration of Kandahar province as effective as MRRD.
It is this aspect of the strategy that raises concerns about the idea of a signature project in Kandahar. For example, renovating the Mirwais hospital and slapping a Canadian flag on it does nothing to legitimize the Afghan government. In fact, it could send Kandaharis the clear message that Ottawa can do more for them than Kabul.
That said, the CIDA minister has already telegraphed the government's intent to pursue a signature project. Any such project must therefore be designed in partnership with the Afghan government and the community. Most importantly, it must reinforce the governance pillar and Afghan government legitimacy by ensuring properly supported Afghan leadership and ongoing sustained capacity-building.
There is so much need in Afghanistan that every single development partner must set priorities and leverage their own strengths. The single greatest need cited in report after report is human security, the kind of security that can be provided only by a clean and effective government, supported by a professional public administration system, effective conflict resolution and judicial systems, and security forces that perform their duty with honour. Canada should focus its traditional strengths in these areas at both the national and subnational levels.
Public administration and governance reform efforts in Kabul have been ill-disciplined and fragmented since the fall of the Taliban regime. Despite the expenditure of large amounts of money and the presence of hundreds of international technical assistants, there is still no comprehensive strategy to reform the entire system and its processes. Canada could exercise leadership in this area by working closely with the UN and the World Bank to develop the necessary strategy and to focus international efforts.
The actual shape of this effort needs further analysis, but it could range from the provision of senior officials to manage the program to reinforcement of the Strategic Advisory Team Afghanistan with governance professionals, and widening its mandate accordingly.
There is also a desperate need to extend good governance to Kandahar Province. The entire subnational governance structure in Afghanistan is problematic, and I'm being generous. Corruption, weak capacity, and arbitrary decision-making are all common. Clearly, projects intended to correct this situation in Kandahar should be a Canadian priority. This must include projects designed to reform the public administration system, the police and security forces, the penal system, and the control of public finances. At the same time, Canadian efforts must also focus on assisting the Afghan government in its efforts to deliver basic services to the population.
In the simplest terms, most Afghans want the same things that Canadians wanted in 1867: peace, order, and good government. Our development efforts must focus on helping them achieve this.
In conclusion, I'd like to close by emphasizing the importance of this mission to the people of Afghanistan. I often begin and end presentations on Afghanistan with a quote from the Melian dialogue, which says that “the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must”. This expression of political realism has characterized Afghan history, politics, and society for far too long. Overcoming the predators is crucial to the future of Afghanistan and its people. This will take time, a long time. It is simply impossible to repair the damage wrought by three decades of conflict in a matter of a few years. It is easy to see the physical damage to the country's infrastructure and institutions, and those are things that are repairable with money and time. It is, on the other hand, more difficult to see the damage that constant conflict has done to the social fabric of the country, and the issues of human security, good governance, and human capacity are far more difficult to fix than are bridges, roads, and schools.
The international community has failed because of a lack of strategic vision, and in some cases strategic hubris, to establish the conditions required for human security and good governance. I believe that Canada can help rectify this reality by exercising leadership internationally and in Kabul. The first steps have been taken in Ottawa. I also strongly believe that the development of a public Afghan strategy, the appointment of a prime ministerial envoy, supported by a strategic coordination team, and a development focus that reinforces the legitimacy of the Afghan government in Kabul and Kandahar would, over time, rectify most of the strategic errors of the past few years.
Afghanistan and Afghans are often complex and contradictory. Proud, hardworking, and resilient, the Afghan people have learned to survive the worst. The Soviet invasion, a vicious civil war, the Taliban, U.S. bombing, and now a persistent insurgency have combined to destroy the state's institutions and society's traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution.
My biggest fear is that in its frustration with slow progress, confusing politics, and weak governments, the international community will blame the victim and simply abandon Afghanistan and Afghans yet again. Others have made the national interest argument against this course of action.
Perhaps strangely for a former soldier, I will simply remind the committee that Afghanistan is at or near the bottom of every single UN human development indicator. Canada, a country at or near the top of the same indicators, made a strong commitment when we signed the compact in 2006. We reinforced that commitment when the UN Security Council endorsed it, and we have further strengthened it with the human sacrifice that we are all too well aware of.
Opponents of the mission often recite the litany of failures and issues as proof that stabilizing Afghanistan and ameliorating its grinding poverty is mission impossible--as in the Globe and Mail article last Saturday, entitled “Mission impossible?”--and that abandoning the country is the only option. This is simply wrong-headed, and would consign Afghans to a few more decades of predation and violence.
The only moral response, in my opinion, is to absorb the lessons of the past few years and exercise the kind of political leadership that is essential to an effective Afghan international strategy, the kind of leadership that Canada and Canadians are known for.