Mr. Speaker, I first would like to salute our brave men and women in Afghanistan who put their lives on the line every day for this country.
Having visited our troops in Afghanistan in May 2006, I can tell members they are the most committed personnel we will ever see and they understand why they are there. I believe all members of Parliament, regardless of party, support our troops in the field.
However, we should understand this motion. The motion clearly says that we will end our military engagement in Kandahar in February 2009. It does not preclude other Canadian activity, military, diplomatic or development-wise, in other parts of the country. It talks about in Kandahar.
This is not solely a Canadian mission. Under the auspices of the United Nations, and NATO in particular, we are shouldering the responsibility along with other NATO allies. What is important to keep in mind is that the government has not announced, in terms of rotation, to NATO who will come after us, as we did before, under the previous Liberal government, in Kabul where the Turks came in after Canadian troops had served there. Therefore, the issue is about notifying NATO that someone else will have to step up to the plate.
We are not abandoning Afghanistan. Nor are we walking away. We may in fact have a different focus in Afghanistan after February 2009. However, as long as we are in Kandahar until February 2009, this party and our leader has made it very clear that we support our men and women in the field. Do not suggest otherwise. To be very clear, we support our men and women.
We want to point out that Canada has contributed significantly in the field. Although some NATO allies have covenants about terms of engagement, we believe very strongly on this side of the House that the government needs to continue to pressure our NATO allies to put more troops in the field and to assist in shouldering the responsibilities that we have under this mission. Now we only have six countries out of twenty six that are prepared to do so. That is not good enough. Canadians are prepared to, in some cases, give the ultimate sacrifice, but we cannot do it alone. It is not solely a Canadian mission.
We also need to ensure that the government puts more pressure on Pakistan. Having been in Pakistan on two occasions, recently in February, I had the opportunity to speak with both the foreign affairs chairs for the Senate and the House of Pakistan. They indicated they had 80,000 troops along the border, but, clearly, it is a very porous border. Obviously there are also political issues in Pakistan itself, but it recognizes the contribution of this country. Pakistan is stepping up to the plate more than it has in the past. Prime Minister Aziz had indicated very strongly to me that it was working with their allies, including Canada and the United States, to seek out, capture or destroy Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. However, we need more diplomatic pressure, and the government can do that.
The problem is the focus of the government has been purely military. It has not been on the other two aspects, which are critically important, diplomacy and development, which I will speak about a little later.
We have an opportunity not only in assisting and training the national Afghan army but, in particular, the national police. Back in May 2006, six RCMP officers and one officer from Charlottetown were in Kandahar helping, but that is not enough. We have a lot of opportunity and expertise to assist the police. One of the problems, quite frankly, is they are not paid on a regular basis. Another aspect is they do not have the right training and motivation, and that needs to be done.
Again, we are shouldering our responsibility. It was the Liberal government that stepped up to the plate after 9/11. We support this mission. Any suggestion that we do not is pure fallacy. The fact is, by February 2009 we are saying that others have come up to the plate and we need to look at other opportunities for Canada.
I would suggest a couple of things. First, when our leader indicated very clearly that we support this mission, he also said that we should not forget the important role that we have in the diplomatic community and how we can assist in that regard. Again, we do not hear enough about that. If in fact that is going on, we need to hear more and see more transparency on that particular issue.
We know that when it comes to the issue of the poppies, we could be doing more. We know we could be doing more in terms of CIDA. We hear about all these projects that are being created by CIDA. I can say that, in the short term, these projects are very good and putting young women and young children back to school is extremely important. However, the sustainability of some of these projects is what we must question because three or four months after the buildings have been built we often hear that they have been destroyed by fire and so on by either the Taliban or al-Qaeda forces. Therefore, we need to look at a strategy more in terms of longevity. I think that is extremely important.
There is no question that we have had a disproportionate number of casualties compared, say, to the Dutch who are in an equally difficult position, but we have never shrunk from our responsibilities. However, the question I have for the government is why is it reluctant to put pressure on our allies to say that by February 2009, a date which the government proposed in the House back in May 2006, we will end our military involvement in this region, we are now seeking a rotation ,as we did previously, but we will not be walking away.
The Prime Minister used the term “cut and run”. I do not remember anyone on this side of the House ever suggesting that. In fact, I find it extremely offensive to suggest that anyone on this side of the House would do so.
We believe, though, that we cannot have a military option without a diplomatic option and without a development option. If we really want to improve the lives of the average Afghani, we need to coordinate better all of the development aid that is going in, to which about 44% can only be spent currently by five major ministries in the Afghan government.
Again, there is the issue of accountability. Where is this money going? In terms of our aid, Afghanistan is not even among the 25 CIDA recipients and yet the bulk of our aid is going to Afghanistan. If it is going to go there, we need to be able to say that this is the status of the project, this is what is happening and this is where we are going with this particular project because we must ensure we are getting value for dollar.
At the moment, through our provincial reconstruction teams, as the House knows, we are very active but again we cannot do one without the other. We need to have them there.
I think President Karzai has been very clear on that. A military option alone will not solve the problem. We must work with our allies to be effective. Again, without that ability and without the government making it clear to those allies, we will continue to have uncertainty. Uncertainty is not good for our troops overseas and it is not good for the Canadian public. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to do our utmost to ensure an improvement.
When I see young girls going to school for the first time and learning to read and write and learning certain skills, this is something we did not see under the Taliban. We want to ensure this continues forever but we will not be able to do that unless we work in a coordinated manner with our allies to ensure this is done.
The government's response is that if we do not support 100% the direction of the government we are not supporting the troops. That is not true. We will not take a back seat to anyone when it comes to the support of our personnel overseas but we also will not shirk from our responsibility of indicating very strongly to Canadians and to our allies that they need to take more responsibility and that from six of the twenty-six that they all must end these covenants, that they must become actively engaged and that we must be doing what is the right thing, not only for the Afghan people but for our personnel whether they be military or otherwise.