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.

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MPs speaking

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3:35 p.m.


The Chair Rick Casson

Ladies and gentlemen, I'll call this meeting to order.

This is the 18th meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence under Standing Order 108(2), our study on Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

Today we'd like to welcome the Senlis Council, Norine MacDonald, president and founder, and Emmanuel Reinert, executive director. Welcome. It's good to have you here.

I understandt you've been briefed on the procedure to some degree, so we'll open it up with your comments. Take the time you need to make your presentation or clarify the points you need to, and then we'll open it up to questions in our usual manner.

Go ahead, Ms. MacDonald.

3:35 p.m.

Norine MacDonald President and Founder, The Senlis Council

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.

[Video presentation]

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.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Rick Casson

Thank you.

We'll move into our first round with seven minutes for Mr. Dosanjh and then Mr. Bachand.

October 25th, 2006 / 3:45 p.m.


Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

Thank you very much for visiting us and talking to us.

You said that militarily we're losing the war and that we're losing the war of hearts and minds. You've indicated what your approach would be and what your recommendations are. There is, generally, an argument that's heard in Canada, which is that we first need to provide security, and then we will do reconstruction. We're doing some reconstruction and humanitarian work, but it's negligible compared to what needs to be done.

Yesterday the governor of Helmand province in fact stated--it was reported in the press--that he needs more assistance with aid to provide security by wooing Afghans away from the Taliban. I would like you to address the chicken-and-egg proposition. It is a difficult one. You have been on the ground, and I'd like you to address that.

I'd like you to address one more question. There are estimates given to us by various sources as to how many Taliban we are fighting in Kandahar province or in Helmand. We're concerned with Kandahar. I would like you to tell me what you think we're fighting, how many, what force, what they're made up of, whether they are changing, evolving, increasing or decreasing. I'd like you to inform me of that.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

On the first point, next door to Kandahar is Helmand, and then there's Uruzgan as well. We have Kandahar, the British have Helmand, and the Dutch have Uruzgan, and they all have the same problems we have, exactly the same problems. When we're talking to those countries, we're having the same conversations. If Canada says in NATO we really need to solve this problem, we've all got the same problem, let's see if we can work together, I do think that's a useful thing to do.

I understand this silo concept of having the military separate from development and aid. I understand the history of that, but it's not working. When we say there should be a special task force and a special envoy, we're trying to deal with that, because that silo stuff has to stop. It's not working. It's malfunctioning. We have to innovate. The answer can't be that these are two separate things. It's not a war that's going to be won by military means alone. We have to innovate now. If CIDA is not constructed to deliver that aid, then things have to be reorganized. We can't say we're going to lose Kandahar because we have the military here and CIDA here, so it's time for some innovation to meet those circumstances and our commitment.

Regarding the estimated number of Taliban, the answer is endless. There's an endless supply. There are two types of Taliban. There is the al-Qaeda linked Taliban with Arab, Chechen, and Pakistani elements financing and campaigning and organizing that. Then there are the local boys from the village who are firing an AK-47, who've never been to the big city of Kandahar, and who are fighting for money. We had them, and we've lost them, and we can get them back. This lower group of people is endless, because the male unemployment rate is 80% to 90%, and what most of those boys can do is shoot a gun. There are 800,000 people in Kandahar; most of them are living in extreme poverty. Most of them now are angry at us. Helmand has one million. There are lots more over the border in Pakistan. Oruzgan is being called the house of death.

In the Russian war, two million Afghans died fighting foreigners. Two million. The Russians had ten times as many military troops in Afghanistan as NATO has at this moment. The Afghans will fight and fight. We have a formidable situation there. The Taliban is very smart in the way they are dealing with their grassroots political campaign and in the way they're doing their hearts and minds campaign. They're locals. They speak the language. Many of them are from the same tribe. We have to be very clever if we're going to win this one, and as I've told you, I don't think we can accept that we might lose.

3:50 p.m.


Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

So when you say there's an endless supply....

3:50 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

We hear reports that 150 or 300 Taliban have been killed, but it's hard to know who's the good guy and who's the bad guy when Afghan males are killed in a village. They look exactly the same and dress exactly the same, so you don't know who you've killed. There cannot be reliable body counts. If 150 Taliban are killed, you can go to a refugee camp where there are a thousand families and hire replacements in half an hour. We are living now inside a hostile population with recruits arriving every day.

If a member of my family were in the Canadian military in Kandahar, I would be very concerned about the environment in which they are being asked to fight. We, the international community, are doing things in Kandahar that put our military at risk and make their mission so much more dangerous than it should be.

I think we're all very well-intentioned when we're there, but there's a lot of blow-back going on from these other policies in other departments. This has to be coordinated. You need a proper counter-narcotics policy that actually addresses their situation. You need a proper development and aid policy that is matched up and supports the military. It all has to be coordinated in some way.

3:55 p.m.


Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

When President Karzai was here, I heard him say in his speech to Parliament that if we don't kill the poppies, the poppies will kill us. You're giving us a different message, which is to regularize the poppy growth and utilize it the world over--provide an economic base.

Why would President Karzai say that to us, if he knows, presumably, that simply antagonizes people and makes more enemies for him and for us?

3:55 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Of course I can't say what's in the mind of President Karzai, but I can tell you that our impression of the situation is that the Afghan government does not believe that the international community has given them the option of licensing for morphine and codeine, and that's being resisted by elements of the international community.

The Afghan government is a fledgling government that is in a very insecure political situation. They rely on us to know what their policy choices are. So the international community has to start saying to the Afghan government, let's run some pilot projects to see what happens--which is specifically what we've asked to do--and send a positive message.

I think he needs to hear that from us before he is willing to stick his neck out and say that's what they want to do.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Rick Casson

Thank you.

Mr. Bachand is next, and then Ms. Black.

3:55 p.m.


Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Good afternoon.

First, I want to congratulate you on your presentation, because a picture is often worth a thousand words, and what we've just seen is worth any number of theoretical presentations.

I'd like to discuss a few topics with you, but first I want to clarify one point. You can eventually answer a few of my questions. I don't want to give you too much time, because I want to ask my questions. Then you can answer them briefly.

It seems to me there's a difference between the war the Russians waged and the one the international forces are currently conducting. In my opinion, the Russian war was a land occupation war, whereas the war waged by NATO and the international community—even though mistakes have been made—is a war of liberation. They want to improve the lot of Afghans. Perhaps they're going about it wrong, but I nevertheless think that these two interventions are different in kind.

You also put a lot of emphasis on NATO. Would it be possible for you to provide us with more instruments like this, such as documents like that or even, possibly, the cassette?

My colleagues and I have to go to a meeting of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association in Quebec City. And I'd like us to talk about that in a moment. If you could make a little detour, I would like to introduce you to the people there. That will take place from November 13 to 17. If we had instruments, that would be interesting for the parliamentarians who will be there representing all the nations.

There have been interesting discussions at NATO—I've been taking part in them for a number of years—on crop substitution. You say that perhaps the pharmaceutical industry could take part of the poppy production. Talks are currently under way between NATO and the European Union to replace the crop over there. The European Union would guarantee the Afghans a market share. The problem when you change crops is that you can grow potatoes, but if you can't sell them, you're stuck with your potatoes. But if the European Union undertook to make an effort to buy those potatoes and carrots, that might work.

I'd also like to have your opinion on democratic aid. For example, could a country like Canada make a contribution to the Afghan Parliament by sending MPs to explain democratic parliamentary life here? Perhaps the Public Service Commission could help the Afghan civil bureaucracy by talking about the civil service.

I'm considering all the areas where we could participate, and I'd like you to tell us particularly about the poppy crop and democratic aid that we could provide.

I read your document, and I agree with you: if we don't change our current military tactics and focus more on reconstruction and humanitarian aid, things could well get even worse. And yet General Richards, whom I met when I was last in Afghanistan, agrees on that. He says that, if we want to win the war for hearts and minds, we won't be able to do it militarily. It's by providing actual aid on the ground that people will see that conditions are finally improving.

Pardon me, but I had a number of questions to ask you. I'm going to leave you the rest of my time to answer them. I hope that's enough.

4 p.m.

Emmanuel Reinert Executive Director, The Senlis Council

I'm going to answer your questions in order.

As regards the difference between the Russian intervention some 15 years ago, or even 20 years now, and the situation of NATO troops in Afghanistan—and more particularly that of Canada in Kandahar—I think that what you said was true five years ago. At that time, the situation suggested the possibility of positive cooperation between the international community and a nascent Islamic democracy. But that situation has changed, and the troops, it must be admitted even though this is indeed a fairly sombre view, are now seen as occupation troops. This is a conclusion we've drawn from the interviews we conducted with thousands of people living in Kandahar and Helmand, in southern Afghanistan. In fact, we're talking about perceptions, about the reality of local perceptions.

Of course, the international community does not view itself as an occupation force. That's not at all the spirit in which we've intervened in Afghanistan. But that means nothing if we don't take into consideration the way the Afghans there perceive us. The vast majority of them now perceive us as an occupation force or—and this is what we hear most often—as crusaders. Once again, and this is one of the most important nations in the Islamic world, and it won't take much for us to be considered once again as Christian armies invading a Muslim country. The balance was extremely fragile, and it was broken two or three years ago by the U.S. military machine and by the priority that was given to military actions over the campaign for the hearts and minds of Afghans.

You mentioned the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, which will be meeting in Quebec City in mid-November. As Ms. MacDonald said, it's true that NATO has an extremely important role to play in Afghanistan. In a way, it's forging its future as an international organization. This is the renewal of NATO's role following the Cold War. So we'll be absolutely delighted to send you all the necessary documentation to inform your parliamentary colleagues in the association.

You mentioned the substitution issue. Since we've been in Afghanistan, that is since 2005, all the substitution programs that should be put in place have been explained and presented to us in a highly detailed manner, and we've been shown the funding tables and programs that the consultants have put in place. The only problem is that, in the field, when we go into southern and eastern Afghanistan, in the provinces of Angar, Helmand and Kandahar, and when we ask people whether they've seen anything, they answer that they've seen nothing. And we ourselves observe that nothing is in place.

This is all plans that attest to a great deal of good will, but that are not actually being implemented there. That's also one of the reasons why we've lost the war for hearts and minds. We promised a lot, and the Afghans remember that. That's also created this poverty crisis that the pictures we showed earlier unfortunately illustrate perfectly.

Substitution and the diversification of Afghan agriculture are obviously essential, but we can't ask Afghan peasants first to eliminate their crops, their sole source of income and their only livelihood, then to start something else. It's as though you told a contractor here, who has a flourishing business and who's deciding to diversify his operation, that he can only do so if he closes down. It can't work. But that's precisely what we're asking of peasants in rural Afghanistan who cultivate extremely arid lands where, to date, only one thing has grown, opium.

This poppy crop regulation program for the production of morphine and codeine is in fact a form of alternative development. You take the same plant and develop it differently. That should then enable Afghan farmers to diversify their production.

I'll speak briefly to your third point, the development of democracy and aid that Canada could provide for democratic development.

This notion of legitimacy is an extremely important point. All democratic institutions that have been built in Afghanistan in the past 2,000 years are dying as a result of the strong rise of the Taliban. So it's very important to reinforce institutions, and Canada has well-known traditions in this field which could be extremely useful.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Rick Casson

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Bachand.

Ms. Black is next.

4:05 p.m.


Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Ms. MacDonald and Mr. Reinert, for being with us today. I found your video presentation really compelling and disturbing. I'm sure that everybody on the committee felt the same way in viewing those pictures of starving children and very distressed people.

You're working on the ground in Afghanistan, and we heard again in the House today from the minister that there are a number of aid projects in place on the ground in Kandahar. What presence have you seen have experienced with CIDA? What CIDA projects have you witnessed, or what communication have you had with CIDA projects in Kandahar?

4:05 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Thank you.

I visited villages outside of Kandahar. I visited informal refugee camps around Kandahar, in Panjwai. I think you're familiar with it; that's where most of the fighting has been.

It is on the outskirts of Kandahar. Just where Kandahar City ends, you turn south and drive out to Panjwai. It's about 15 minutes. I visited informal refugee camps inside Kandahar City--I'm living there. Every day, day after day, week after week, they had never had a foreigner visit them, and they had never had any aid from anybody.

I did not see any evidence of CIDA projects in those villages and informal camps where the poorest people are.

When we went there, we would open the door of the vehicle, and the men would come to us and say, “Do you have any food? There are children starving here,” so we started taking food with us. They asked us to bring them food, and they asked us to bring them doctors, because there were very sick babies, very sick children, and very sick elderly people there. We started doing that, continuing our research and taking the videos.

I think you saw some of the people in the videos with bread in their hands. We would arrive with bread, and they would immediately come to the bread. They would pick up a piece of bread.... A grown man would pick up a piece of bread and put it in his mouth. They're hungry.

We started doing food aid there, and that's the first food aid. We started doing food aid because we wanted to do our research, and just as you would, we could take food, so we took food. We could take doctors, so we organized to take doctors and medicine. My staff is still there; they're still visiting those camps--and there still is no aid.