Thank you very much.
First of all, I would like to thank the honourable members for inviting the Senlis Council to discuss the important issue of Afghanistan and Canada's involvement. I apologize for my inability to address you in French, but my colleague Emmanuel Reinert will answer any questions put to us in French.
The Senlis Council is a security and development policy group with a special interest in counter-narcotics. We have offices in Paris, London, and Kabul, and field offices in Herat, Helmand, Nangahar, and in Kandahar province, which is of particular interest to this committee.
I've been living and working in Afghanistan since January 2005 and I've spent a great deal of time, especially in recent months, in our field office in Kandahar and out in the rural areas of Kandahar. We've released a report, “Afghanistan Five Years Later”, which looked at the dynamics, particularly in southern Afghanistan, on the anniversary of 9/11.
We ourselves were surprised. I was surprised to find that even in the last eight to ten months there has been a dramatic deterioration in the security situation in Kandahar, as well as a poverty and starvation crisis among the rural communities of Kandahar.
Kandahar is now a complete war zone. The Taliban are not only winning militarily but, more importantly, they have begun to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the local Afghan people.
The poverty crisis we saw in Kandahar and the rest of southern Afghanistan was due to three factors. This is based on our interviews of the locals in the villages and what they told us was the cause for the refugee camps, and the problem with food and starvation.
First, there is a loss of livelihood through the U.S.-led forced poppy crop eradication last spring. As I'm sure you know, the economy of Kandahar is basically a poppy-crop economy.
There is displacement of the population due to the bombing and the localized violence, especially in Panjwai, and it is a desert area that has suffered from recurrent drought. It's a dust bowl now. And for those of you who are familiar with drought in the Canadian prairies, it's very similar to what my parents described to me during those years.
Makeshift unofficial camps have sprung up and a starvation crisis is jeopardizing the survival of many, especially the young and the very old. Children are starving to death, literally down the road from the Canadian military base in Kandahar, and there are people in makeshift camps who have received no aid from anyone, not from us nor from the UN.
It was clear I was the first foreigner they had seen. They asked us for food and they stated they had not received any food relief from any foreigners, nor any Afghans.
This extreme poverty has led to a growing anger and resentment against the international community and is directly fueling the insurgency and support for the Taliban. People feel abandoned by the internationals and by the Canadians, who they originally believed were there to help them. Canadian troops in Kandahar are therefore fighting the Taliban insurgency against the backdrop of an increasingly hostile local population.
Eradication is generating support for the Taliban. The U.S.-led forced eradication of poppy fields that took place in Kandahar meant that many farmers lost their livelihood and they are now struggling to feed their families. The Afghans are not able to differentiate between American and Canadian soldiers; they can't tell the difference between Americans, Canadians, British, Dutch. They can't tell the difference between military personnel and private military contractors who are operating in the area.
To us, it may be apparent who's a Canadian and who's an American and who's a private military contractor, but to them, and for good reason, we all only seem to be foreigners. So we are all seen by them as complicit in the eradication activities.
This year about 3,000 hectares of poppies were eradicated in Kandahar, but it was the poorest farmers whose livelihoods were lost, because they were unable to pay the necessary bribes to stop their crops from being destroyed.
The Taliban, who are very politically clever, have seen a political opportunity in the anger against the NATO presence that eradication triggered and they've used that to their advantage in building political support in the south. This has created a very dangerous environment for the Canadian military to operate in. And I should specifically state that as a Canadian I was very proud to see our Canadian military operating in extremely fierce fighting. There's bombing every day, fighting every day. The British military next door in Helmand, where we also do research, has stated that it's the fiercest fighting the British military has seen in a generation--and that was the British paratroopers, who are some of the finest military in the world, who found the fighting there very difficult. So you can see that we have much to be proud of when we see what the Canadian military is doing in Kandahar.
When we are in the villages doing research, we are now doing video footage. We're going to show you a very short video from the villages that I visited. There are photos that I took and video footage taken by my Afghan colleagues, and then I'll have some concluding remarks. I am being mindful of the time discipline.
Looking at this dramatic situation, what can we do to help the people of Kandahar in a positive way and make the mission of our troops there a feasible one? I would like to share with you our recommendations for a new Canada hearts and minds campaign in Kandahar.
We propose an emergency task force and a series of three immediate actions to create a more enabling grassroots environment for our troops in Kandahar. This task force would be led by a multi-party-appointment special envoy with the authority to coordinate and integrate the military development responses. A Canadian group of experts and organizations should be formed as part of the emergency task force on Kandahar and to support the coordinated work of the special envoy. The task force would enable Canada to launch three immediate actions to make a real difference in the living conditions of the communities in Kandahar.
Firstly, we propose that Canada should take the lead at the international and NATO level in Afghanistan, to formulate a new Afghanistan policy approach, especially for southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is strongest. This should be tailored to tackle the real hearts and minds campaign. Canada should convene an emergency meeting of NATO countries to reformulate immediately the approach in Afghanistan to deal with the insurgency.
As part of that, Canada should support the launch of test pilots for a poppy licensing system in Afghanistan for the production of much needed pain relieving medicines, such as morphine and codeine—and you should have the paper on this proposal in both French and English in your pack. An Afghan brand of fair-trade morphine and codeine would help Afghanistan provide to other developing countries medicines to deal with their pain and provide a sustainable and legitimate lawful livelihood for the Afghan poppy farmers.
In addition to the economic emergency plan to be developed, Canada should deliver an emergency food and aid package without delay, this month, as soon as possible in the coming weeks, to help calm the insurgency and engage with the local populations and prepare for the winter.
A series of Kandahar jirgas, the traditional community meetings, should be organized in order to listen to the needs of the Afghan population. In this way development will be tailored to what they say their needs are, as opposed to guesstimate of what their needs are.
And the emergency task force should organize the necessary infrastructure to allow Canadian citizens and organizations to get involved in helping Kandahar in a very practical way: to allow Canada to adopt Kandahar. There are about 800,000 people living there. Through the development of expertise—agricultural expertise, irrigation systems, community support programs—I believe Canadians, both as individuals and organizations, see our commitment to Kandahar and would like to help support our troops there. We can provide an infrastructure for that to happen.
We've made an historic commitment in Kandahar that's not only about Kandahar and not only about Afghanistan, but about who we are as Canadians. We must immediately implement a new approach. If the international community leaves Kandahar or is unsuccessful in Kandahar, we will essentially be making a gift to al-Qaeda of a geopolitical home for terrorist extremism.
Afghanistan is our new backyard. The winter is fast approaching here and in Kandahar; a winter harsher than the one we know here will come to those communities. So far, there is no relief plan either for the refugee camps around Kandahar city or for the rural population of Kandahar.
We have lost, to a great extent, the hearts and minds campaign in the last few months, but there's still an opportunity, if we act now, to win that back. We would call upon this committee to recommend this type of urgent action so that the people of Kandahar can see that Canadians are willing to fulfill their commitment there.
Thank you very much.