Mr. Speaker, as we debate Canada's mission in Afghanistan, we should recognize our profound responsibility to fully and thoroughly consider the sacrifices already made, the nature of our work in that country, and the reality of the situation in that troubled region of the world.
We all recognize the work of the men and women of the Canadian Forces who each day put their lives on the line in the service of our country. They do so with valour and courage and we as a nation owe them a great debt. We are even more so indebted to those who have lost their lives in service to this country and to us as a people.
Around the world there are numerous conflicts that rob the young of their precious lives, cause immeasurable human suffering, and deny to humanity the most cherished of our blessings, peace.
Conflict is not new, nor is it any less senseless than it has ever been. There is an old expression that war is hell. Few who have experienced the reality of war, civilians or soldiers, would, I imagine, disagree.
Debates like the one we are undertaking today on the nature of conflict have been ongoing for as long as the scourge of conflict has characterized the nature of human existence.
One of our country's most prolific and profound writers, Margaret Atwood, once said, “War is what happens when language fails”. I agree with Ms. Atwood's statement. When language fails and armed conflict takes its place, it is fair to say that the language then used is force and violence. It is the most horrific and disheartening of all human endeavours.
Instead of the language of conflict, we should always strive to use the language of diplomacy, transparency and security. There is no greater means to avoid conflicts than to work toward these objectives.
Fundamental to the discussions of all conflicts is the question, is it just?
Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas have long been credited with deep and transcending philosophical discussions on the nature of a just war. Their work is, generally speaking, characterized by probing questions on war, which we would do well to consider: Does it punish those who have done wrong? Is it undertaken by duly constituted authorities? Is there right intention? Is there a probability of success? No war should be undertaken if it is futile. Is it truly the last resort? Is there distinction between combatants and non-combatants? Is it proportional to the wrong done? Minimal force should be used to achieve success. Although posed hundreds of years ago, these are fundamental questions, among others, that we should consider as we debate the mission in Afghanistan.
Indeed, “The Responsibility to Protect” doctrine as enunciated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty poses similar questions as those asked by Augustine and Aquinas so long ago.
Fundamental to the concept of a just conflict is the question of probability of success. First and foremost, if we are to ask this question, we must first know what success looks like in Afghanistan.
As noted by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, the success of our mission in Afghanistan requires a change in approach based on three main points: the mission must change toward training, security and reconstruction; the mission must have an end date, not just another date for review; and the mission must be about more than just a military operation. Likewise, we must have a real sharing of the burden which is only attainable through meaningful rotation with other NATO allies.
A fundamental question is this: Is success in Afghanistan measured by the creation of a viable state that functions with stability, justice and compassion? If this is our definition, and it would certainly appear to be a reasonable one, then a great deal of work lies ahead and it is far in excess of simply acting militarily between now and the end of our mission.
Afghanistan is a very troubled nation. Even prior to 2001, that nation was the subject of some 38 different United Nations General Assembly resolutions on varied subjects. During the period of British rule there were no fewer than three Anglo-Afghan wars ending in 1919.
Despite being governed by monarchs until 1973, Afghanistan was continually destabilized by civil war and foreign invasions. From 1973 this instability continued, including the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s.
The point is that Afghanistan is a nation with a long history of protracted conflicts, instability and both internal and external efforts to establish order and various systems of government.
In today's Afghanistan, we have a deeply entrenched and seemingly unrelenting illegal narcotics trade that defies any and all changes launched against it. This activity generates between $1 billion and $3 billion in revenue each year for those who participate in poppy cultivation and the distribution of narcotics in and from Afghanistan. It is clear that much of the military activities that confront us in Afghanistan is likely funded by revenue from these sources. There seems to be no end in sight to this revenue source and we are, therefore, likely to see increased activity and, consequently, greater funds available to those who fight and challenge us in Afghanistan.
We are also witness to cross border support for the militants who operate in that country. Recent political developments in Pakistan are more likely to complicate efforts to confront this challenge than they are to resolve them any time soon.
The length of our nation's military commitment was to conclude in 2007, then 2009 and now, as proposed, in 2011. We certainly need to be clear to both the government of Afghanistan and to our allies that our mission will in fact end definitely in 2011.
It is interesting to note that just last year the New Democratic Party voted against the official opposition and with the Conservative government when we proposed an end date of 2009 for the military mission in Afghanistan.
Once again, we must be clear that if we are to extend the mission to 2011, with a change in our role from 2009 to 2011, that all parties are clear on our new mandate in Afghanistan.
I would remind the House that in December 2001, the United Nations passed resolution 1386 that authorized the creation of the international security assistance force for Afghanistan which was to end its mission in six months. We all know, of course, that this did not happen.
It is also important to note that, despite resolutions passed in the House, our system of government establishes that our forces are directly accountable to the executive branch of the government, not directly to Parliament.
Afghanistan is a nation of almost 32 million people but it has over 90 political parties and these are only the parties approved by the Afghanistan ministry of justice. Others that are not recognized are excluded from this list. With this political reality, is it realistic to imagine a scenario where we can envision a functional and stable state in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future?
We recognize that current assessments of the situation in Afghanistan are made in the context of pledges from nations across the world of $24 billion in aid to this country. However, the prospect of peace and stability in Afghanistan remains elusive. The political realities of Afghanistan also cloud the nature of the mission there for all nations participating to this point.
As noted previously, a successful military undertaking requires fundamentally a definition of what constitutes success. The reality is quite simply that the mission in Afghanistan has not been clearly defined. Success has not been enunciated in terms that are measurable.
It is for all those reasons that I believe we as a country need to accept the true realities of Afghanistan. We need to understand that, like the seemingly endless list of conflicts from the past, military solutions alone have never succeeded in solving the problems of Afghanistan or even the broader challenges of that region of the world.
Canadians have always been willing to make the sacrifices necessary to promote freedom and justice throughout the world. However, let us not embark on such undertakings that, as noted in the concepts of Saints Augustine and Aquinas, have no reasonable prospect of success.
Afghanistan needs the world's help. We do not dispute that. However, the nature of that assistance needs to form the foundation of our debate.
We owe it to our courageous men and women who serve in places like Afghanistan to ensure that the task at hand is just, that it is achievable and that we are not committing them to a battle far in excess of what can be reasonably expected of us as a country.
We ought to ponder these questions today as we reflect on our mission in Afghanistan, consult our conscience and, hopefully, strive to seek new ways of achieving our goal as human beings, as nations and as fellow inhabitants of this planet.