Mr. Chair, I will be splitting my time with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
This is my first opportunity to speak in this Parliament and I want to thank the people of Scarborough—Guildwood for once again re-electing me. It is a great honour to be elected once to this chamber, but to be elected four times in a row is indeed quite humbling and unique, and I am grateful for that.
My riding is probably one of the most culturally diverse ridings in all of Canada and it includes many Afghans. As a consequence, I have become quite interested and informed by my constituents about what this conflict is all about. In fact, a key person in my riding office is an Afghan refugee and she has provided me with great service over the last nine years and helps me sort my way through this very difficult conflict.
The history of Afghanistan is one of violence. It is of war, invasion and deception. It seems that over time pretty well all of the empires have invaded Afghanistan, the latest of which was the Russian invasion and prior to that there were at least three British invasions. The pattern is always the same. The invasion seems to be relatively easy, but the exit seems to be somewhat less easy. The Russians and the British have lost literally thousands of soldiers and impoverished their treasuries in trying to invade Afghanistan.
I recommend Gwynne Dyers' book called Ignorant Armies: Sliding into War in Iraq. He writes, “Afghanistan's reputation for eating up and spitting out invading armies is one of the most deeply entrenched myths of military history. It is a myth because in fact Afghanistan has always been quite easy to conquer; hardly any invading army failed to make it to Kabul. It's just a very hard place to stay for very long because the tribes simply can't get along and they can't stand having foreigners in their country telling them what to do and every male over the age of 14 has a gun”.
Now we seem to be at it again. History is not on the side of the occupying force. Initial success is bled away by passive and aggressive resistance. It is naive to say that victory will be swift and it is naive to say that we will cut and run. There is a national and international consensus that we are here for the long haul.
We are in Afghanistan, frankly, for the best of reasons: freeing the people from an oppressive form of Islamism, allowing a form of government that allows people to make choices, reducing opportunities for international terrorism, and giving young Afghans, particularly girls, an opportunity for education. There are other reasons. We are all full of mixed motives, some of which are self-serving, but I would argue that Canada and the international community have a responsibility to be there and be there in force.
This brings me to the central contradiction of the mission stated very well by Ernie Regehr from Project Ploughshares who states quite eloquently, “On the one hand, there is no military solution to the crisis in Afghanistan and, on the other hand, foreign military assistance continues to be essential to the pursuit of a workable solution”. In other words, no military solution and there is no solution without the military.
Thus far the debate has been about the military intervention and we are, as MPs, struggling with what will be the winning strategy. Obviously, the commitment to build economic, social and political measures that build the infrastructure, both social and physical of the country, is the right direction, but is a lot easier said than done. However, I would argue that we have a question and it is an important question to ask: How can foreign military forces which are necessary but not a sufficient component of a resolution be deployed over time to build peace and in so doing, defeat the insurgency?
That is the central question of this debate. I hope that Canadians see MPs struggling with this question because it is the central contradiction about the mission and our thinking about the mission.