Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister Oda.
I am here with
Yves Brodeur, who is the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Afghanistan Task Force. It is a pleasure to be with you today to take part in this important discussion of one of the most important issues for our government.
Members of the committee, thank you for your interest in Canada's role in Afghanistan. It is a privilege for me to be here alongside the Minister of International Cooperation to explain the importance and multifaceted nature of our engagement there.
Canada is in Afghanistan, along with over sixty nations and international organizations, at the request of its democratically elected government. We are in Afghanistan as part of a UN-sanctioned mission to help build a stable, democratic, and self-sufficient society.
Canadian diplomats, development workers, military personnel, civilians, police, and corrections advisers are helping the Afghan government. Our shared goal is to build the institutions required to achieve stability, good governance, and lasting peace.
Afghans have suffered through decade after decade of war, leaving most of their country's infrastructure destroyed. The Afghan people are looking to the international community to help Afghanistan get back on its feet. Much has been accomplished in the past six years. It is important to explain to Canadians just how far Afghanistan has come since 2001 and the brutal, oppressive days of the Taliban's rule.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have had the opportunity and privilege to travel to Afghanistan so that I could see first-hand the difference we are making there, and the difference we are making for the Afghan people. The facts speak for themselves. Per capita income has doubled in the past three years. Over 80% of Afghans now have access to basic medical care, as opposed to just 9% in 2004. These are historical firsts in Afghanistan's legacy of war and conflict.
I've just come back from a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. I had a chance to engage with my counterparts and the Alliance's Secretary General. I can tell you today, and assure you, that the countries assisting Afghanistan are united in the conviction that there can be no reconstruction without security. Without security, there can be no construction. Without security, there can be no economic growth. Without security, there can be no progress on human rights. And I can assure you that NATO's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan remains strong.
In the past months, l've also spoken with colleagues and government officials, NGO workers, and international policy experts.
I can tell you today that these people expressed varying shades of opinion as to what we are doing in Afghanistan and how we should do it. That is very healthy. But not one of them has questioned the critical importance or the legitimacy of this mission.
Military forces from 39 countries, including Canada, are involved in the UN-sanctioned, NATO-led mission at the request of the Afghan government. This includes all of NATO's 26 member states, in addition to 13 other countries.
Collectively, the nations of the International Security Assistance Force have deployed over 41,000 troops. Their objective is very simple—to help bring peace and security to the people of Afghanistan. This is in addition to thousands of civilians from allied countries, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, all working on the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.
The international community has reiterated its belief in this mission on many occasions. Last November all 192 countries, members of the UN General Assembly, agreed that the international community should continue its efforts in Afghanistan. Over 100 countries co-sponsored the resolution. This made it one of the most broadly co-sponsored resolutions at the United Nations. This is important.
It's an international community all together working for the same goal, working for the same achievements. We want the Afghan people to be able to live in a free country and to be able to have the possibility, as we have in Canada, to go to school, to have a legal system that respects the rule of law. It's a huge challenge, but it's a challenge that we're working on all together in the international community.
A few months before, the UN Security Council extended the authorization of the International Security Assistance Force mission for another year, until October, 2008. So Canada is helping the Afghan people bring peace, stability, and reconstruction to their country. We take our international responsibilities seriously. Like our international partners, we know how important this mission is to regional peace and stability.
The Afghanistan Compact is the joint plan developed in January 2006 by the Afghan national government and over 60 members of the international community. It guides our engagement. It is a road map that lays out detailed benchmarks in over 40 areas, including security, governance, human rights, and the rule of law. The international community is behind these goals. The Government of Canada is behind these goals.
The Afghan Compact talks about security, governance, and development as three pillars. Each pillar is equally essential, and the three are mutually reinforcing. Canada's approach entirely reflects this interdependence. In fact, we have actively sought out issues where we can best leverage our resources, for example, where our securities effort will help build capacity in governance or where our development projects will help ensure a more secure environment.
Our best example of Canada's multifaceted approach is Canada's provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar province. The 350-person team utilizes the expertise of diplomats, development experts, corrections advisers, the police, and the military. Its mandate closely mirrors the priorities of the Afghan Compact and Afghanistan national development strategy, namely, security, governance, development.
The provincial reconstruction team supports key national Afghan programs such as the national solidarity program. As my colleague the Minister of International Cooperation will tell you, Canada helps to fund this. The provincial reconstruction team also carries out a broad range of programming, such as police training, strengthening local governance and justice capacity, and delivering material assistance.
Another important part of our engagement is the tremendous work being done by the Canadian Forces with respect to training the Afghan National Army. The Afghan National Army is well on track to reaching its goals. Canada has had great results with our operational mentoring and liaison teams. These Canadian military units work directly with the Afghan army, teaching them how to be a professional and effective force. This approach is clearly delivering results, because they are increasingly capable of mounting independent operations.
Rebuilding Afghanistan after decades of war is not an easy task, and not one that can be reduced to a simple equation. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are working to ensure that the progress being made becomes irreversible.
In the coming months, Parliament will be asked to consider the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. While we are committed to having a vote on this issue in Parliament, our government does not believe that Canada should abandon the Afghan people after February 2009. Given what's at stake, both for Canadians and for the Afghan people, we also want the debate to be as non-partisan as possible.
That is why the Prime Minister has appointed an Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan to advise Parliament and Canadians on options for the mission after the current mandate ends in February, 2009.
Canada, along with our international partners, is fully committed to help the Afghan government provide security, education, greater economic opportunity and a better future for its people. Every day we see the difference we are making as Canadian soldiers and civilians work with Afghans to help them build a better society.
We welcome the Committee's interest and I look forward, along with Minister of International Cooperation, to discussing with you in greater detail Canada's engagement in Afghanistan.
Thank you very much.