Mr. Speaker, Afghanistan, as we all know, is an issue that has divided Canadians mostly because of the government's lack of transparency and accountability about the mission.
In 2006, the six hour debate on whether or not to extend the mission was simply not enough time and not enough information was given by the government. It was actually a bit of a joke, I thought, at the time since the Prime Minister said that he would extend the mission regardless of what the House said.
It was for that reason that I voted against it, although I am happy to see today that the government has changed its tune and is willing to have an open debate about Canada's future role in Afghanistan. It is not a secret any more that the future of Canada's role in Afghanistan has to change. I think most Canadians want that.
The Prime Minister was told by the Leader of the Opposition to inform NATO at least a year ago that Canada would rotate out of the combat mission, that is, the counter-insurgency part, by 2009.
The Prime Minister, who obviously disagreed with that, continued to persist on his position, knowing full well that he did not have the support of the House. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs would say abroad that they would like to leave in 2009 and were looking for replacements, but that they would rather stay and finish the job, as the Prime Minister has said a number of times, which to me meant that they were prepared to stay indefinitely.
There were no replacements. Of course, we should not be surprised that they could not find any replacements. Why should any other country go against the popular vote of its own population when it knows in fact that Canada was prepared to stay? Why would it offer anything?
In essence, we have wasted a year by not letting NATO do its job. It is not Canada's role to look for replacements. That is a NATO responsibility and if the Prime Minister had in fact informed NATO with proper time, it may have happened long before now.
Finally, after pushing and shoving by the official opposition leader for some time, the Prime Minister has adopted the Liberal motion, except for some areas which I am still not too sure of and need to evaluate, as I believe they still need some changes.
Clearly, Canada must change the mission. There is no question about that. That has been said for some time now.
The mission should move out of a combat role, that is, the counter-insurgency part, and let other NATO countries move into that role. The Canadian mission then will focus on reconstruction and diplomacy.
The reconstruction part consists of things such as training the troops on the ground, which would be helpful, but there are also areas of reconstruction which are absolutely important and necessary. Canada has a tremendous amount of experience in the area of reconstruction and development, and can provide extreme support.
I will provide one example. We are trying to change the growing of poppies to growing produce instead, vegetables and other crops. Afghanistan used to have a very good system of aquifers, underground pipes, to irrigate their land. These canals were destroyed when the Russians were in Afghanistan.
These canals were used by the Afghani people in fact to attack at different times, so they were destroyed. We need to rebuild the irrigation system, not to mention the larger water supply problem in Afghanistan. This is just one example of reconstruction that is needed in the country very desperately.
We also need a Canadian envoy. We have had envoys before in dealing with countries like Burundi, Sierra Leone and other places. This is very much needed in order to start discussing and looking at a national reconciliation process. There is not going to be a military solution in Afghanistan alone. That is just not possible.
It was not possible in many other countries and I could list a number of them where that happened. A national reconciliation has to take place so that all other parties in Afghanistan are part of the solution. A political and diplomatic solution has to be found.
In addition, I would like the government to set up a House committee to allow for transparency and accountability, and to report back to the House. We had this in fact under the previous government, when Canadian troops were in Kosovo, and it worked very well. Accountability is very important.
Leaving Kandahar by 2009 is a must and NATO needs to be informed now. Canada needs to get into the reconstruction, development and diplomacy mode.
There is a general consensus that we must not abandon the people of Afghanistan for strategic and humanitarian reasons. We cannot allow Afghanistan to be another failed state.
The job our soldiers have done is tremendous and second to none. I saw them when they worked in Kosovo and in Haiti. Indeed they are the best, but they also deserve a break. They also deserve to do some of the other excellent things they do.
Let me focus on the humanitarian aspect of why we need to be there. As a former minister for international cooperation, I saw firsthand the conditions in which Afghan women lived under the Taliban rule, conditions that no living creature should ever be forced to endure. Women and girls experienced gender apartheid in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule and lost all basic human rights. Afghan society as a whole has much to gain by women re-entering into the dialogue with the various sectors of Afghan society. They must be involved in the solution from the bottom up. They must be involved in civil society, governance, political, cultural and social decisions.
Outside Kabul there is a perception that the minister of women's affairs is not even a legal entity. In some regions of the country Human Rights Watch reports that women continue to be assaulted or abused for not adhering to edicts that strictly control women's behaviour, dress, expression and movement.
Under the old regime, women were not permitted to see doctors as the doctors were males. There were not many women doctors as women were not allowed to be trained as doctors or to study. Women were denied health care for any reason. Women were also malnourished and there were frequent deaths because food would first be supplied to the men in the armed forces, then to the boys and then to the girls and women. Their bones were weak and feeble and they would not develop properly. Women were not permitted to get an education. That was only allowed for men. The life expectancy of a woman in Afghanistan was 42 years. Imagine.
Only 12.6% of women age 15 and up were literate, compared with 43.1% of males. The youth literacy rate for females age 15 to 25 was 18.4% versus 50.8% for males of the same age.
Child malnutrition prevalence, weight for age, was 39% in 2004.
These statistics indicate that much more is needed in terms of development and reconstruction. Also, NATO must not fail in providing more troops and appropriate forces so that development can in fact take place. All of these things cannot take place if there is not some secure and more aggressive attention to reconstruction and development. It is very important.
Contrary to what the government wants us to believe, international intervention in Afghanistan did not present women with an immediate change in status, rights and opportunity. The deteriorating security environment has actually made it harder for women to enjoy the rights promised to them by the international community. For instance, 85% of Afghan women in rural areas have seen little or no benefit from the strategies or interventions by the international community.
Again, women continue to remain oppressed, particularly in education and health care. Maternal mortality still sits at 1,600 per 100,000 births and the child mortality rate is the highest in the world.
Violence against women is widely believed to have reached epidemic proportions and consists of marital rape, sexual assault and other forms of violence in the household, the physical and psychological violence associated with child and forced marriages, neglect through malnutrition and inadequate health care. Forced and childhood marriages constitute 60% to 80% of all marriages.
One area in which Afghanistan seems to have surpassed Canada is that women are guaranteed a particular proportion of the seats in the lower and upper houses of the national assembly. However, it is widely believed that these women are marginalized even within the assembly and that their level of influence is highly questionable, as is reflected with only one woman having been appointed to cabinet. The women's affairs program is considered to be a dumping ground for women's issues.
Development without women is no development at all. I saw it in many other countries while I was minister, that when women are not part of the development process, development is almost non-existent. It does not happen. Development, reconstruction and reconciliation are extremely important if we are going to see a stable country, a successful state and some success in Afghanistan.