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

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Norine MacDonald  President and Founder, The Senlis Council
Emmanuel Reinert  Executive Director, The Senlis Council

4:40 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Right.

Since we released our first feasibility study, we got a bunch of Afghan experts from Britain to go in there and study at the village level. In every village—so maybe it's a little bit like our prairies—everybody knows how many jeribs or acres of land everybody else has. They really do know. They know how many kilograms of opium can be grown on every jerib. They really do know. So you pretty much know, if you're a farmer, what the yield is of the guy next door. So our idea—to kind of use your micro-credit idea, so we can find something to agree on—is to give a community licence to a village, to the jerga, and say, “You have a licence to produce this many kilograms of opium because your community has that many jeribs. So you must deliver that amount, and if you do not deliver that amount, the whole bunch of you farmers, all of you are going to lose your licence.” So you've got the community committed to that community's not allowing any diversion of opium.

If you think of maybe a small community in Saskatchewan--for example Yorkton, where I was born--all the farmers, my dad and my uncles, all knew how many acres they had, what their yield was, and how everybody's crop was going. So they pretty much knew what the guy next door was earning every year. And it's the same idea, that the whole community gets the licence, and if one guy yields to the pressure everybody loses.

Now, at the moment, as I said, the democracy is just in its infancy, and that has to be supported and continued. We cannot rely on democracy and the rule of law to support a licensing system, but this type of village-level discipline exists among the Kandahar farmers, as it exists in Canada, and that's the type of enforcement mechanism that we want to try. So what we have said, specifically, is that we do want to run and we will finance pilot project tests in Kandahar, to see whether they work and to answer all these very legitimate questions that people have been putting to us, to see whether we can actually run these poppy farms for medicine without diversion and without their going into the hands of the insurgents. We don't know. We're academics and policy people. We want to go in a give it a try in the field in Kandahar.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Is it practical? It doesn't seem to me that the local councils.... You've already stated that they'll go back and forth, that the loyalty can be purchased, if I can paraphrase what you've said.

4:40 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

How would the local council be strong enough? All it would take is a bit more money being offered by the drug lords to basically implode your plan. Do you think that local councils are strong enough to override the financial resources of the drug lords that are already there?

4:40 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

That's such a good question, and I've asked them that directly when I've sat in their jirgas. I don't want to go and run a pilot project in a community that can't do it. And I've said to them directly, “Will you allow this to be diverted for heroin?” They have a type of Islamic oath that they sign, which they use all the time. It's like our personal guarantee or our promise on my word. They've said that. They want it. They want that opportunity. They want to make a lawful living.

All I can tell you is we want to go and run the pilot projects. That's the appropriate next step.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

If I follow this line of thinking, then--and I'm trying to work my way through this from a logical perspective--if we were to put the onus on the local jirgas and the community with the little plot of land and have some kind of pool board mentality where we pool all the resources--

4:45 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Like the co-ops.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

I don't want to get into the Wheat Board.

4:45 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

You might have something there.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

I'll tell you how well that's working.

But the thing that I see here is that is we'll be putting the villagers in that pilot project--in that test situation--a situation in which they'll either be fighting us or they'll be fighting the drug lords. Either way, they're going to be fighting. Don't you think that's what's going to happen? They'll have to pick up their guns to defend their crops from the drug lords, or they'll be paid by the drug lords to pick up their guns and fight against Canadian soldiers. I don't see any way out of this with your plan. If you could convince me otherwise--

4:45 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

These are the conversations I'm having with them. So that's why I go and talk to the local commander. And the local commander is committed, in fact, to his community. They're all his relatives. So you have to make the deal with the shura and the local commander.

In that case, they will have to choose between us and the other forces that are at play there. They have to decide that they'll have a more interesting future with us than with them. That's why we have to try it and see which way they go. I can't tell you which way they'll go, but they're telling us they want to try. So I think we should make an attempt.

In the end, it will divide those people. They will either choose to be with us, or they will choose to be with the al-Qaeda. But at the moment, we're not even giving them an economic choice.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Okay. But--

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rick Casson

There may be time later.

Mr. McGuire, for five. Then over to Ms. Gallant.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I don't know if you're a monopolist like the Wheat Board, or if you want to give the producers choice.

4:45 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

I'm a prairie girl.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

I suspect somebody is growing poppies for the medicinal trade. I'm not sure how many acres you need to support that particular endeavour, how you would satisfy that supply, or where it's coming from now, but maybe it's not as far-fetched as we first thought when we heard about it.

I think your position of supporting our troops and supporting the people of Afghanistan is basically the position of the Canadian people and people around this table. It's certainly our position that we should support our troops and we should do what we can to support the people our troops are sent there to help.

To leave Kandahar for a while, what is going on in the rest of Afghanistan, as far as progress being made and as far as good government is concerned? You've been in Kabul and in other areas outside of Kabul. Describe the situation there. Are hospitals being built? Are girls going to school? Are schools being built? Are highways and the infrastructure being...? Is the money and sacrifice we're putting in there showing dividends elsewhere, while we're still trying to grapple with Kandahar province and so on? Can you give us an idea of what's happening in the rest of the country?

4:45 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Absolutely there's good news in lots of parts of Afghanistan, in the north in particular. There is a lot less fighting. There is some indication of Taliban resurgence in Badakhshan.

In Kabul there's a lot of economic development. If you listen to the complaints, there's a new rich, but the poor are still poor. So there's a big income divide going on there.

Somehow Canada got one of the three worst provinces. There is Helmand, Oruzgan, and we got Kandahar. Most of the people in Kabul will not travel to Kandahar. The southern part is the area that is now a Taliban no man's land. You can really divide the country that way.

The poppy problem is a problem throughout Afghanistan. Alternative livelihood programs don't last long enough. A lot of the schools that have been built in the south have been burned.

For every good story there is a really bad story. Afghanistan is a bit like a roller coaster. You can have one day where you think there are wonderful things happening here, it's a beautiful country with beautiful people, and somehow we're going to see this through. Then the next day, all you can see are the difficulties we are faced with and you feel like we'll never sort it out, it's always been a problem and always will be. You want to throw up your hands.

When we went there after 9/11, we all did a remarkable thing. They welcomed us with open arms. They thought we were freedom fighters. That was a fantastic opportunity for the western world to build a really close relationship with an Islamic nation. We're kind of on a cusp now, a tipping point, as to which way this is going to go. That is why I'm pleading so strongly for staying the course there and finding new initiatives.

I can walk around on the streets in Herat, in Kondoz, in Mazar, in Jalalabad. I cannot walk openly on the streets in the city of Kandahar or in Lashkar Gah. You can really see two different stories at this moment. Unfortunately, we are responsible for part of the area where it's most difficult.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Do the people in that area know what's happening in the rest of Afghanistan, that their fellow citizens are enjoying at least a level of prosperity and peace and safety?

4:50 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

The people you saw on that screen live in villages, and they've never even been to Kandahar. When I ask them about their aspirations, they tell me they would like to go to Kandahar one day. It's a half-hour drive away. They're very unsophisticated people, and they don't read and write, but they're clever about survival.

In the city of Kandahar, you can see the international community and you can see our wealth. You can see our cars, you can see our gadgets. There is this huge disparity between what they perceive to be the immense luxuries of our lives and their struggle for survival. That does cause a real tension on the ground.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rick Casson

Thanks, Joe.

Ms. Gallant, five minutes.

October 25th, 2006 / 4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for your presentation thus far.

On the topic of the drug trade in Afghanistan, we can all take great pride in the job the Canadian Forces are doing in Afghanistan. They were successful in seizing nine tonnes of marijuana. In the south, 55 kilograms of opium was seized. That's a significant amount of dope that won't be poisoning the youth of our countries. The profits of these seizures will not be used to pay insurgents who in turn kill our soldiers. It's something we can celebrate.

I applaud your philanthropy. I wish you were around to help our maritimers when foreign countries ganged up on them when they were struggling to survive and they lost one of their livelihoods.

It was asked during the course of this discussion if simply cutting a cheque would help the starving people in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, the Canadian government did cut a cheque for approximately $40 million--$18.5 million over the next four years. That will hopefully assist in dealing with the starvation. In the foreign affairs committee, I believe the minister made a statement as to how much food distribution is going on. We'll probably have those details in a little while.

It may also comfort you to know that Canada's defence minister testified before this committee one week ago that whatever solution NATO and the Afghan government come up with to suppress the drug protection, there has to be some way to legitimately compensate farmers. That's the position of this government. The minister also advised us that at the moment it's the U.K. that's responsible within NATO to try to bring the opium production under control.

I do have questions.

You claim that the Afghans living near the Canadian troops are starving. The Minister of Defence, who is currently testifying before the foreign affairs committee, has just confirmed that our troops have scoured the area surrounding Kandahar, and they have handed out food to over 8,500 people. The minister for CIDA has just announced an additional $5 million towards an emergency food program on top of the money announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year.

Can you be more specific and inform this committee about exactly where the starving people you have seen are located?

4:55 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

I can. And I'll reiterate my invitation. I'm going back to Kandahar soon, and if you'd like to join me, I'll take you there.

You drive south past the Pakistani embassy and into the last development. There are about a thousand families there. In Panjawai, when you leave the main road, you turn left and go about 15 minutes past the Canadian military presence in the desert. You'll find about another 1,500 families there. If you would like to go north of Kandahar, you can go to Arghandab district, and you will see three Kuchi villages by a small river there. If you want to go farther north into Nazyan district, which that gentleman lives in, you will see two villages with about 6,000 families together. If you drive south through where the Panjawai battles were, you'll find another village in the desert with about 10,000 families. It takes about a half an hour to drive through that one.

Would you like me to continue?

I suggest you come and visit.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

I hope we have that opportunity.

How much time do I have?

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rick Casson

You have one minute.