Mr. Chair, I rise with pleasure to speak this evening on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on the subject of our forthcoming dispatch of troops to Afghanistan. I say forthcoming, for a large contingent will be going to Afghanistan in February. I am aware, nonetheless, that there are already people there on the ground.
To begin with, for the benefit of our listeners and those watching on television, it is worthwhile to give a very short history of the reasons for this situation. It is, I think, unnecessary to recall the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The Americans very quickly identified the terrorists as well as the places where they had been trained. The eyes of the world turned to Osama bin Laden with his training camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime then in power encouraged this type of terrorism, harboured it and provided an oasis for terrorism.
The Americans decided to intervene with a coalition of people who decided to accompany them. Twenty-six days later, on October 7, the Americans entered Afghanistan. It took several months before the UN finally decided to support them by creating the ISAF following the signing of the protocol in Bonn. This was an international intervention force under American leadership, but with the authority of the UN.
There are several types of mission that I would like to consider. The current mission is a dangerous one. That is, moreover, why the Minister of National Defence has already begun to engage with public opinion. He has said that it is not a traditional peacekeeping mission and that there is a risk that soldiers will be lost in this undertaking.
I will call this a stabilization mission, which ultimately allows for all kinds of operations. I have here a description of the mission, which includes a full spectrum of operations. Not only will there by an attempt at reconstruction with the PRT, but they will also attempt to seize members of al Qaeda or high profile Taliban figures. These are likely to be highly dangerous missions. The entire range of operations is thus included in the current mission.
In regard to this commitment, we must see why we are there. I am taking excerpts from documents given to us by Brigadier General Ward. He came to tell the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs how both the mission and the commitment were seen. I think that it is important to read the mission statement. Ultimately, it is about helping the Afghans progress toward independence in terms of their security, stabilize their country, develop their government and build a better future for their children. This can take different forms, as I said. It can take aggressive forms, as in the pursuit of the Taliban who want to destabilize the country, but it can also take the form of reconstruction. The PRT is there to accomplish all parts of this mission.
I would like to speak about command. There is one thing that currently bothers us in the Bloc Québécois. As we speak, the zone in question is under American command. We are anxious for it to pass to NATO command. We hope that before the contingent is fully deployed, NATO will have taken over all operations in the region. For us there is a certain gradation in the type of command. I will explain.
We refused to join the Americans in Iraq in a coalition of the willing because it was not under UN control. The priority for the Bloc Québécois is certainly to be under UN control. This might not always be the case, but it is our first priority.
We can agree to being under NATO authority. That was already done in Kosovo. There may be conflicts, as in Rwanda, where we should have intervened. International law seems to be developing now in regard to the duty to protect. The Bloc Québécois is following this closely.
All of this is to say that we have an order of priorities in regard to command. The Bloc Québécois prefers the UN first and then NATO. We are very resistant to coalitions of the willing, such as is currently the case in Iraq.
I would like to turn now to the PRT concept. It is relatively new. People have said that there is a certain inconsistency when the armed forces arrive in a country and there is a lot going on. There is a war going on with shelling, attacks, infantry, air forces, navies, cruise missiles launched from ships, and so forth. These kinds of activities are inconsistent with our saying, at the same time, that we have come to reconstruct.
As a result, the international community expressed its concern with the creation of provincial reconstruction teams. This is important. There are a number of different models. The current difficulty is that there are no specific models or definitions. People are doing things, and we are trying to determine the best course of action here.
The American model, among others, may not be the one to follow. The Americans tend to shoot first and ask questions later. In fact, a few years ago, the coalition fired on a school, killing nine children and a number of adults. The next day, the PRT came in to rebuild. They shoot and kill a number of civilians and, the next day, they talk about development. It goes without saying that they were summarily asked to leave.
Currently, the NGOs tend to say that the British model may be the best. The armed forces have a very clear role. The local NGOs are responsible for reconstruction.
We will see what the Canadian model will be. For now, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is talking about the 3-D approach. I asked General Ward a question when he came. We believe that there is a problem. About 95% of the contingent about to leave for Kandahar are military personnel. The 3-D approach is a nice concept, but more emphasis needs to be put on development and diplomacy. I understand that Kandahar is a dangerous region, but there is a difference between that and saying that 95% of the contingent are military personnel. I think that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has not given this enough thought. It needs to be addressed.
We have a great deal of respect for the Geneva convention. Everyone remembers seeing the three JTF2 prisoners exit the plane and be handed over to the Americans. We are not saying that the Americans are tyrants, but I do not think that, when it comes to treating prisoners, they get a passing grade. We need only think of all the scandals at Guantanamo or in Iraqi prisons. Just recently, we learned that the CIA had almost secret prisons in Eastern Europe. What are they doing to these prisoners? This is one of our concerns.
In a fight against a tyrannical regime, the people captured must not be submitted to the same treatment. A decision has to be made at the outset on the treatment given prisoners. It is a very important point for the Canadian Forces going to Kandahar. What do they do if they arrest Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters?
We have clearly supported and will continue to support the intervention in Afghanistan, because we approve of the mission, as I said earlier. We want this country to return to democracy. It has not really enjoyed democracy, it has to be said, but it is changing. In a context of instability, it is not possible to think of setting up a democratic society. So we think the Canadian contribution is good.
As for what awaits the prisoners, we call on our government to define the legal status of the opponents. How will we consider the people we capture? Will we bring them before our own justice system, keep them prisoner in our prisons or hand them over to another country? Handing them over could be a secondary recourse. However, we would want to be sure the Geneva convention would be honoured. Otherwise, we cannot allow a Canadian envoy to capture people and then turn them over to the Americans, only to discover later in the news that they have been taken to an unknown location and tortured.
We can ask that of the government. We can also point out the importance of setting certain limits on reconstruction and of determining our course of action. The minister has to add a fourth dimension to his three d s, that of the NGOs. We have to have agreements with them. Their job is to help people. It is not just the job of the Canadian army with its notions of defence, diplomacy and development. Let us agree with the NGOs as well and ensure the collective contribution of all these people in ensuring that the work done by the PRT in Kandahar is the best in Afghanistan.