Evidence of meeting #16 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was afghan.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Alex Neve  Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
Hilary Homes  Campaigner, International Justice, Security and Human Rights, Amnesty International Canada
Grant Kippen  Principal, The Hillbrooke Group
M.D. Capstick  Associate, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary
Gerald Schmitz  Committee Researcher
Clerk of the Committee  Mrs. Angela Crandall

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

I call this meeting to order. This is meeting number 16 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. It's Tuesday, March 4, 2008.

Today we will be continuing our study on Afghanistan and the mission in Afghanistan. As witnesses this afternoon we have Alex Neve, secretary general for Amnesty International Canada; and Hilary Homes, campaigner, international justice, security and human rights, with Amnesty International. We also have, from the Hillbrooke Group, Grant Kippen, principal; and from the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary, Colonel Mike Capstick, an associate.

As we've already discussed briefly, at the close of this meeting we will leave a few minutes for committee business. We have to pass a steering committee report and a few others.

We welcome you here today. It's good to have each one of you, and we look forward to your comments. Normally when we come together, as already mentioned, we have the hour, and because of the bells the clerk has taken the opportunity to bring in everyone here together and we can even extend it past the hour. That will give us extra questions.

I'm not certain which order you want to go in, but it's about a ten-minute presentation and then into questions. How about if we start with Mr. Neve?

3:35 p.m.

Alex Neve Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Amnesty International certainly welcomes the opportunity to be in front of the committee today.

Amnesty has researched, documented, reported, and campaigned about widespread and very serious human rights violations in Afghanistan for many decades--in the seventies, the eighties, and the nineties. Of course, in recent years we've highlighted systematic torture, grave abuses of women's human rights, breaches of international humanitarian law in various armed conflicts, fundamental problems with the justice system, and much more. We have put comprehensive recommendations for reform in front of various national-level authorities as well as the international community.

Obviously there has never been a period in which the Canadian government has been so actively engaged with Afghanistan. We look at this therefore as a valuable opportunity for Canada to ensure, not only in words but in practice, that human rights concerns are at the very top of our Afghanistan agenda.

My colleague Hilary Homes and I will share two sets of observations and recommendations. She will focus first on some of our overarching human rights concerns, including those associated with the protection of civilians in the midst of armed conflict. I will then focus on one particular issue, which committee members are likely aware has been a priority for Amnesty International, and that is, the handling of prisoners apprehended by Canadian forces in the course of military operations in Afghanistan.

I'll turn it over first to Ms. Homes.

3:35 p.m.

Hilary Homes Campaigner, International Justice, Security and Human Rights, Amnesty International Canada

I'm sure you are all familiar with the now very well-known pillars of the Afghanistan Compact, namely security, governance, the rule of law and human rights, and economic and social development. Much attention has been placed on security as a precursor to the realization of the other areas of the compact. However, genuine security can only be achieved through commitment to, and substantial progress on, all aspects in concert. The persistent failure of many actors, both international and domestic, to prioritize and support governance, the rule of law, and human rights has ultimately served to create further insecurity in Afghanistan.

Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Afghanistan have been a concern for decades, as Alex has referred to, and they certainly continue to be pervasive. Continual conflict and repression has had a devastating effect. It has literally destroyed institutions and capacity in this area. Significant reconstruction and strengthening is needed, as is the political will on the part of both the Afghan government and the international community to make sure that happens.

In the context of ongoing armed conflict and other military operations, all the actors, namely the Afghan security forces and armed groups as well as the various international forces, have committed abuses, including indiscriminate attacks and/or failure to sufficiently distinguish between civilians and military targets. All have also failed in their specific obligations to protect civilians. On the contrary, there have been some instances when their actions have put civilians at risk in many ways, including some forces that have unfortunately become a magnet for attacks while operating in or moving through civilian areas. Civilians are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

I'm sure a number of you read The Globe and Mail on the weekend. There was a feature on Afghanistan. The numbers quoted there are worth noting: in 2005, 1,000 deaths, rising to 4,000 in 2006, and at least 6,500 in 2007. Of course the impact goes beyond loss of life, to ongoing displacement of people and the closing of humanitarian space and access, notably the abduction and killing of aid workers.

This is a context in which the Afghan people themselves are often devalued. They are seen by the differing actors, both domestic and international, as possible human shields, collaborators, unfortunate disproportionate collateral damage, or potential threats if simply gathered as crowds straying too close to foreign forces or attempting to engage in debate and dissent. This situation is compounded by a lack of capacity to investigate by domestic actors as well as sometimes a lack of will among foreign actors, even though the capacity to investigate exists. The result is a troubling lack of accountability.

The rule of law is an essential component in the reconstruction in Afghanistan. Failure to uphold the rule of law, particularly in a context where institutions are weak, if they exist at all, results in continuing widespread human rights violations. In Afghanistan, this fosters a number of things, including the perpetuation of violence against women; the renewed marginalization of vulnerable people and communities; the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience; unfair political trials; torture and ill-treatment; disappearances and unlawful killings; and unfortunately, ongoing impunity for past and current violations, which is complicated further by continuing failure to remove human rights abusers from positions of power.

Some of the additional obstacles to the delivery of effective human rights protection, justice, and rule of law include a judiciary that is staffed with unqualified personnel; a police force that continues to be poorly trained and poorly paid--there have been some improvements, but there are certainly real challenges there--and a force which is itself a target of attacks; threats to judicial independence, be that from armed groups, persons holding public office, warlords, private individuals; unfair trial procedures, including violations of the right to call and examine witnesses; and an overall lack of confidence in, or access to, a formal justice system, which results in a reliance on informal justice systems, particularly in the rural areas.

In 2003 the UN Commission on Human Rights called on the Afghan government to declare a moratorium on the death penalty in light of procedural and substantive flaws in the Afghan judicial system. Fifteen recent state executions marked an end to a three-year moratorium on executions in Afghanistan and came shortly after the Taliban executed a 15-year-old in southern Afghanistan. That executions have resumed is itself a concern, given the worldwide move towards abolition. That it is occurring in a context where the basic legal system is still weak is deeply troubling.

While there have been some improvements for some Afghans, particularly in the areas of freedom of expression and access to education and health care, the overall experience of basic human rights across Afghanistan remains very weak. Human rights offenders face harassment, intimidation, and even murder. To speak out is not without risks.

Many promises have been made to improve human rights through the mandates of the international forces, the United Nations, the recent Rome conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan, and of course the Afghan constitution itself. These commitments to creating and strengthening institutions and building a broad culture of human rights to ensure their survival must be followed through if the progress that has been made is not to be lost.

I'll now turn things over to Alex.

3:40 p.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

Alex Neve

I'm just going to say a brief word about the issue of prisoners apprehended by Canadian forces during military operations in Afghanistan.

Amnesty International first raised concerns about this issue in early 2002, when Canada first deployed in Afghanistan. At that point, our concerns were with respect to the policy of handing over detainees to U.S. forces and the likelihood of such prisoners ending up at Bagram Air Base or Guantanamo Bay. That approach came to an end in December 2005, with the first agreement between Canada and Afghanistan, under which prisoners were to be transferred into Afghan custody, with indications that the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission would play a role in monitoring.

We immediately stressed that it had not solved the problem, given the widespread, long-standing reality of torture throughout the Afghan prison system. We urged Canada to consider a different approach, one that would accord with our international obligations. We noted that one possibility would be to work alongside our NATO allies and in very close collaboration with Afghan officials to develop a shared strategy for the handling of battlefield detainees, ranging from all parties working together to build a new prison and running it together to working together within existing facilities. That proposal was not taken up.

By February of 2007, after five years of unsuccessfully pressing for a strong human-rights-based approach to dealing with prisoners in Afghanistan, we felt we had no other choice than to turn to the courts, and we commenced an application in the Federal Court, along with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. I'm sure everyone here is aware of the developments since that time.

In May 2007, in response to the court application, the government did negotiate a stronger bilateral agreement with the Afghan government, one that established a specific monitoring role for Canadian officials. In the months that followed, Canadian officials received at least eight detailed allegations of torture from prisoners during prison visits. The last of those, in November, was sufficiently troubling that a decision was taken to suspend any further transfers.

The allegations received involved very worrying descriptions of harrowing forms of torture, including being beaten repeatedly with cables, subjected to electric shocks, having fingers cut and also burned with lighters, and being forced to remain standing or staying awake for extended periods of time.

However, transfers were resumed on Friday of last week, February 29. The decision to resume transfers was made on the basis of a number of developments, including one individual being charged for the incident of torture in November.

That's a very broad-stroke overview, but let me stress three key points here. First, it has often been asserted that monitoring solves this problem. It's been urged upon us that the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Canadian government all play a role in monitoring the prisons where transferred prisoners are held, and will thus reliably protect prisoners from torture. If only that were true.

Monitoring is a good thing, and we regularly press governments to adopt more rigorous systems for monitoring their prisons, with an eye to preventing torture, but in a context such as Afghanistan's, where torture is endemic and long-standing, it does not solve the problem overnight or even in a few weeks or months. It may help to occasionally detect torture after the fact. It may play a role, eventually, in combination with several other initiatives, in diminishing the incidence of torture and even, in the long term, eradicating it, but it is not a quick-fix or short-term solution, such that it could be relied upon to protect prisoners. The worrying allegations made throughout the months that Canadian officials were on monitoring visits in the prisons underscores that to be the case. So unconcerned were some Afghan guards that they even left the torture implements in a prison cell even though they knew Canadian officials were, on occasion, coming by to monitor.

Second, it is often suggested that we're advocating some sort of parallel justice system in Afghanistan—a Canadian jail, a Canadian correction system in Kandahar, operating entirely outside Afghanistan's own justice system. Absolutely not. We've never made that recommendation, nor would we. We have always talked about close collaboration, working together and capacity-building. If this were done right, it would provide both the short-term solution to detainee transfers and a long-term contribution to improving the prison system and better protecting human rights in the Afghan justice system.

Finally, some assert that this issue is not important because these are Taliban fighters, after all, responsible for serious atrocities, and we should not be overly concerned about their treatment. Let us remember that the issue at stake here is torture, not the Taliban. Some of those captured will be hardened Taliban loyalists; some will be local farmers in the wrong place at the wrong time. All should be protected from torture. That has to be Canada's approach unequivocally. Freedom from torture is a fundamental human rights value. It is a clear international obligation. If our engagement in Afghanistan is not about scrupulously advancing such values, what is it about?

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

We'll move to Mr. Kippen.

3:45 p.m.

Grant Kippen Principal, The Hillbrooke Group

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to thank you and the other members of the committee for the opportunity to be here this afternoon. I'd also like to commend the committee for its methodical and thoughtful deliberations about the challenges that Canada, the international community, and the government and people of Afghanistan face with respect to issues of security, reconstruction, and sustainable economic development, as well as building effective governance structures and processes.

My particular perspective comes from working in the fields of elections and democratic development in Afghanistan, as well as in a number of other countries in the region. I'm sure that I echo many previous witnesses by saying that our commitment to the people of Afghanistan should be long term, as the nature and the magnitude of the challenges simply demand this perspective.

It's my opinion that as Canada looks ahead to its future role in Afghanistan, it should choose to make democratic development and governance a cornerstone of the work we support and hopefully, in some cases, take the lead on.

In January of this year I wrote an article that appeared in The Globe and Mail that called on the Government of Canada to work with the people and the Government of Afghanistan to build a robust and functioning representative democracy. I suggested in the article that Canada use the next set of elections—presidential, parliamentary, and the provincial council scheduled for next year or the year after—as a short-term goal in helping the government build legitimate, effective, and sustainable governance structures and democratic institutions. My belief is that the next set of elections will be critical to building up the legitimacy and credibility of the government there, at all three levels.

The euphoria of the first set of elections in 2004 and 2005 no longer exists, and that is why Canada and the international community, in partnership with the Afghan government, need to commit to doing everything possible to ensure that this next set of elections is successful. Such an effort will require working with a broad spectrum of stakeholders and institutions, the judiciary, the public service, including the military and the police, legislators, and political parties.

Some of the suggestions for areas where we can make a positive difference, I believe, include funding civic education projects in order to engage citizens so that they understand the purpose and process of elections. As elected representatives, you are keenly aware that time in an electoral process is a precious commodity, so every effort needs to be made to start civic education projects as quickly as possible.

One suggestion is to establish a public service training institute. This was specifically identified in the recent Afghanistan study group report that Ambassador Pickering and General James Jones co-chaired. The short-term focus should be on training public servants on their roles and responsibilities during the elections process. I know the Afghan ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Omar Samad, has made this suggestion on a number of occasions, and both the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University and I have also made this suggestion.

Another suggestion is to support the development of a governors' council, where governors from across the country can come together on a regular basis to exchange information and ideas relating to economic development, security issues, challenges facing public service delivery, etc. At this point in time, there is no such forum in the country.

Another suggestion is to develop programs to support the work of elected representatives and political parties. As you know from the House today, there is a delegation of women parliamentarians from Afghanistan visiting Ottawa, and I would strongly encourage that such exchange programs be further strengthened.

Given that our military commitment and mission is located in Kandahar, I would suggest that we look at focusing our efforts with the aforementioned stakeholders in this region. This effort will only be successful if we give Afghans at the local level the responsibility, authority, and accountability for the elections process, as well as building effective governance structures and processes.

Former Afghan interior minister Ali Jalali recently wrote in a very insightful article that building effective governance at the provincial and district levels in Afghanistan is key to the legitimacy and stabilization of the country. He went on to state that non-military action needs to be focused on assuring, persuading, and influencing the local populace through the provision of security, humanitarian assistance, and basic services, establishing infrastructure, institution building, and support for the rule of law.

Removal of the sources of insurgency in Pakistan requires a new regional approach and needs to address a number of legitimate concerns of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among the most compelling of these concerns are development and the education of the populace in the rural tribal areas on both sides of the border, promoting democratic values within Pakistan, and enhancing governance in Afghanistan.

For our part, it's going to require a synchronized military and aid development strategy. However, we need to move quickly if we want to make a positive, enduring impact. The timelines are short if we want to mount a major effort in this area.

Other countries and organizations have already started preparing the groundwork for the next set of elections. For example, the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, which committee members are familiar with from your work on democratic development, just recently announced a project in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, since 2005 there has been no major work done by the international community on working with political parties in Afghanistan.

The United States Agency for International Development is currently evaluating proposals for what is likely to be the single largest election assistance project in Afghanistan, with a decision likely in the next couple of months.

The recent elections in Pakistan point to the need to invest in strengthening democratic institutions and processes. While the outcome was seen to generally reflect the will of the voters there, there were significant challenges to the electoral process. Both the PPP and PML-N, as well as domestic and international election observer groups, catalogued thousands of cases of alleged electoral violations.

In the 2005 Wolesi Jirga and provincial council elections, there were close to 7,000 challenges and complaints filed. While many of these related to alleged criminal offences and past human rights abuses, there were nonetheless a significant number that pointed to electoral violations related to the involvement of public servants and the use of state resources in the process. More needs to be done for the upcoming elections to address these shortcomings.

With new governments elected at the national and provincial levels in Pakistan, I would also suggest that now is the perfect time for Canada to reassess how it can support democratic development activities in Pakistan. This House will soon have the opportunity to strengthen professional relationships and dialogues with new counterparts in both the national and provincial assemblies in Pakistan.

If Canada hasn't already done so, it should consider establishing a three-D working group to assess how it can best respond to the new government's agenda.

As elected representatives, you are all well familiar with the expression that “all politics is local”. That particular quote is attributed to Tip O'Neill, the second-longest-serving speaker in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. However, the remainder of the quotation is often forgotten. I think it is worth repeating, because it epitomizes what I believe is the important work this committee does when it comes to helping shape our future role in Afghanistan. I quote Tip O'Neill:

I have been in politics all my life. I am proud to be a politician. No other career affords as much opportunity to help people. Let us not concern ourselves with what we have tried and failed, but with what it is still possible to do. Let us spare no energy that the nation and the world may be better for our efforts.

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Kippen.

We'll move to Colonel Capstick, please.

3:55 p.m.

Colonel M.D. Capstick Associate, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

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.


4:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

We'll move into our first round of questioning. We'll go to Mr. Martin for seven minutes.

March 4th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you.

Thank you all very much for being here. Your interventions were all superb.

No one is going to blame the victims. We all know the horrible history of Afghanistan. But I have to ask, at the end of the day are we really going to be able to take a feudal, tribal, Islamic country and change it into a maybe secular, human-rights-embracing nation without generations and generations of intervention by us? And maybe, even with that, it isn't what we, (a), should be doing, because it would be an act of hubris; and (b), it may not be possible at all.

I believe, at the end, that maybe our most pragmatic solution perhaps would be to enable the Afghan people to provide for their own security--through enabling them to have a competent judiciary, police force, army, and correctional system--and to on top of that be able to engage in the development initiatives that are congruent with what they want to have done.

Can you walk us through what specifically we can do, practically speaking, to end the culture of impunity, particularly within Mr. Karzai's government, that undermines, I think, his government in the eyes of his citizens against this backdrop of what we have seen with the narco-warlords, the corruption that is endemic within his country?

Secondly, can you tell us what we can do, practically speaking, to engage in the tribal reconciliation that is required on the ground, I believe, to mend bridges that have been destroyed over the last 30 years of conflict?

Lastly, perhaps Alex or Hilary could tell us how we can practically strengthen an Afghan judiciary congruent with the cultural environment that exists within the country.

Thank you.

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Martin.

Madam Homes, do you want to begin?

4:15 p.m.

Campaigner, International Justice, Security and Human Rights, Amnesty International Canada

Hilary Homes

Yes. That was an immense series of questions.

Sometimes we think there's a huge gulf between what we talk about as universal human rights values and what the average person in Afghanistan might. A number of organizations have done studies on what the Afghan people want in terms of addressing impunity. One of those organizations was the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. They released a very good report a couple of years ago called “A Call for Justice”, which I would really recommend reading. It's quite thick. I have a copy I can leave behind for you.

They went outside the cities to talk to people in formal and informal settings and ask them what they wanted. They found that contrary to what a lot of people assumed, 90% of the people supported what we consider very classic examples of how to combat impunity. They supported what we call vetting--in other words, removing people from office who are perpetrators of human rights violations or other serious forms of criminality, not down the road but now.

The second area was what we call truth seeking--the establishment of something like a truth commission, or other less formal ways of bringing out the story of what has happened. Compensation was the third area--some sort of reparation for what has happened. The fourth area was prosecutions and criminal justice.

So the gap isn't as big as we think it is. Those are recommendations that an organization like Amnesty International makes all the time. How to get there clearly involves things like a lot of training of all the sectors of the justice system together. You need to focus on everything from the judiciary through to police systems, corrections, rehabilitation, and so on, and bring it together.

Part of what often happens is that the priority is very much on the army and the police and not so much on these other areas. They're sort of left to wobble all over the place. That's a fundamental part of the problem and why people lose faith; it's why their hopes are dashed. But this often becomes the lower priority. It simply has to be raised up to be a strategic program, instead of sort of this, then this, then this. To give you an exact plan with all 150 steps would be hard to do right now. I recommend reading this report, and I will leave you my copy if you like. That's fine.

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Madam Homes.

Colonel Capstick.

4:15 p.m.

Col M.D. Capstick

I'll just make a couple of points on that package of questions.

In the first place, what we have to appreciate about Afghan society is that we have a very limited view of it, because we are focused on Kandahar province, one of the most rural and deprived areas of the country. Those of us who have worked there find that Afghan society is far more diverse than you would get the impression of by looking at it from here.

This is an Afghan-led process. During the presidential elections in October 2004 and the parliamentary elections in September 2005, the vast majority of Afghans voted in favour of a moderate Islamic republic; they voted against the extremes. We haven't been able to follow through properly on that vote of confidence.

One of the biggest problems—and I think it goes to the question of this culture of impunity—is that when Karzai first formed that government, it was the result of classic brokerage politics. It was like forming a Canadian cabinet in the early 1900s; you needed some from here and some from there, and some from everywhere. The big difference was that their “some from here, there, and everywhere” had guns, and some had pretty bad track records.

Grant is far more qualified than I to talk about the elected people with some pretty bad track records. But key to getting rid of this culture of impunity is that as the international community presses President Karzai's soft spot and says, clean up your act, we have to figure out the mechanisms to support him at the same time. I'll tell you what, if I were President Karzai—God forbid, I don't know why anyone would want that job, as it's second only in terms of security risks to Musharraf's—or if I were an Afghan cabinet minister, I'm not too sure how confident I would be that what we had said when we signed the Afghanistan Compact was true. I'm not too sure how confident I would be, in particular, in the west's real commitment to Afghanistan. All of this wobbling sends a very, very strong signal to Kabul.

I think, Dr. Martin, we're going to disagree on tribal reconciliation forever. Many of the problems in the Pashtun belt.... There are some problems because certain Pashtun tribes—Pashtun is an ethnic group, but with various tribes—feel left out of the process, because they didn't get in the process in the first place. A huge percentage of the problems down there are Pashtu tribe on tribe—and that's a very complicated exercise. There are several prominent Pashtu in the government, including the president and Minister Atmar, and it goes on and on and on.

I guess I'll end it there. I could go on all afternoon on a little rant.

4:20 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Capstick.

Unfortunately, we have gone on three minutes too long, and I want to get to Madame Barbot.

You have seven minutes.

4:20 p.m.


Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

I just have one point for our guests: each party has seven minutes, including the questions and answers, so try to make your answers fairly concise.

Madame Barbot.

4:20 p.m.


Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Madam, gentlemen, for coming here today.

I will try to put myself in the shoes of the average person following developments in Afghanistan in the newspapers and through the representations of parliamentarians. Most people realize that they do not have enough credible information to form on opinion on the mission. The vast majority of people would like to see our soldiers ordered home. The members of the Bloc Québécois are not saying that the mission should end. However, we believe that the focus of the mission should shift, so that Canadian soldiers are allowed to do what they do best. It should be left to those countries that, for the time being, do not want to assume their responsibilities to wage war.

People often tell us that we have abandoned our soldiers, but I believe the very opposite is true. We feel that as Canadians, we have done our share and we would prefer to do what we do best. People are struggling to understand the plight of the soldiers. We want the Canadians in Afghanistan to act in accordance with Canadian values, to abide by the terms of the treaties Canada has signed and to act in a manner that Canadians can relate to.

We have heard about the soldiers who were turned over to Afghan authorities and subsequently tortured. This practice ceased, but then started up again. Can you tell me, Mr. Neve, what concrete steps the Canadian government or the Canadian Forces have taken to avoid a recurrence of this situation, if soldiers are turned over to Afghan authorities? Has anything really been done and can we be assured that the continuation of this practice will not have the exact same results as before?

4:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mrs. Barbot.

Mr. Neve.

4:25 p.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

Alex Neve

There are likely a number of options as to what could be done to ensure our approach to handling prisoners in Afghanistan accords with our international legal obligations. We absolutely agree and accept that some of the measures that have been taken--improving monitoring, one official now having been brought to justice, putting some training in place--are the steps that are taking us in the right direction.

Does that mean we feel we've reached a stage where the risk of torture has diminished to such a degree that Canada can now resume transfers in a manner that's consistent with our international legal obligations? In our view, it does not. Torture in Afghanistan is too long-standing and too systematic to disappear that quickly, and the sorts of reforms that are needed are longer term.

We have put in front of the government, and not just in these last few months of controversy, but several years ago, the idea of a more collaborative joint correction strategy with the Afghan officials. It's often been represented in the media that Amnesty International is calling on Canada to build its own prison off in the wilds of Afghanistan. That's not at all what we've been suggesting. We think, number one, it's something that NATO should take on comprehensively, together. We think it's problematic that there are 34 different strategies with every country pursuing its own particular approach as to how it's going to handle prisoners. There needs to be a concerted, comprehensive NATO approach, and it needs to be collaborative with the Afghan government, and go forward in a way that's going to have some lasting penal reform impact.

It is one of the very serious human rights concerns in the country, not just for battlefield detainees, but for anyone who ends up in the Afghan prison system. Torture, arbitrary detention, cruel and inhuman treatment, abysmal prison conditions, all of that needs attention. It's all part of the country's human rights agenda, and a collaborative approach would get us there.

4:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Anyone else?

Mr. Capstick.

4:25 p.m.

Col M.D. Capstick

I'll just add, and as scary as it is, I think I just agreed with everything Amnesty International said, but we have to very careful here. What we're talking about is what I talked about in my script. We have a failure to develop the proper governance strategy. The prison system, as important as it is, is one of a hundred systems in the country that's hollow. The human capacity is not there. It's just not there. They lose track of prisoners because the guards are illiterate. You can't keep track of people if you can't write their names down.

Through all of this, what we have to understand is that the people we're talking about, the detainees we're talking about, are, for the most part, Afghan citizens captured on Afghan sovereign territory. In the mind of the Afghan government they are Afghan criminals, no more, no less.

We have to be very careful in our conceptualization. These aren't the German POWs we shipped to Petawawa in 1944.

4:25 p.m.


Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

However, are Afghan and French prisoners treated any differently? How so?

4:25 p.m.

Col M.D. Capstick

No, and I didn't mean to imply that was true. What I'm saying is that from an Afghan point of view, it's an Afghan problem. The solution is in what Alex said about capacity-building in the Afghan penal system.

We need to put our money where our mouth is, and we need to put our people where our mouth is. There are practical problems with doing that. There are only enough Correctional Service of Canada officers to run the Canadian corrections systems. They're not an army. You can't find 100 of them and bring them to Afghanistan and tell them to help the Afghans run two jails in Kandahar City. We need to find solutions to that.

4:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.