Mr. Speaker, today is a very important historical day. The Afghan ambassador told me yesterday at a function that today is a very important historical day for Canada and the international community, because today we are discussing Afghanistan. Today we are discussing international efforts to bring peace and stability in the world. Today we are talking about providing security.
It is an international effort mandated by the United Nations under NATO command, but the whole community is coming together. Not only is NATO providing security, but it is also important that all the regional countries are in Afghanistan to rebuild it: India, Pakistan, China, all of them.
I have attended the rebuilding conferences on Afghanistan in New Delhi to see how all the regional countries have joined together to provide development assistance. Although NATO and Canada are providing the security aspect, we must not forget that the development effort in Afghanistan is not only done by us, but also by all of the regional countries that surround Afghanistan. They know the importance of stability in Afghanistan because it provides security for them as well.
Today I would like to give the House an update on our mission in Afghanistan. I would like to take this opportunity to remind all members why Canada is in Afghanistan and why it is so important that we continue the work we are doing.
What has been achieved in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban is remarkable. Through Afghanistan's determination, Canadian efforts and the support of the international community, Afghans are showing leadership and taking control of their own lives and their country as a whole. Let me list a few achievements in this regard for the benefit of the House.
Close to six million children, one-third of them girls, are enrolled in schools in 2007-08. That compares with the 2001 figure of 700,000 consisting of boys only. Canada is supporting work to establish 4,000 community based schools and train 9,000 teachers, 4,000 of them female. About 120,000 children, 85% of them girls, will benefit.
Afghans' per capita income doubled between 2004 and 2007. Canada is the top donor to Afghanistan's microfinance program. This program is benefiting more than 418,000 savings and small loans service clients in 23 provinces, including Kandahar. More than two-thirds of the program's clients are women.
Some 83% of Afghans now have access to basic medicare. That compares with 9,000 in 2004. The infant mortality rate is down by 22% since 2001. To look at it another way, this means 40,000 more babies survive every year. The under five child mortality rate is down 26%.
Behind these numbers is the undeniable truth that the living conditions of the people of Afghanistan are improving, that this country, which suffered so terribly under the brutal Taliban rule and through years of civil war, is being rebuilt. We are proud that Canada is assisting in this. We are especially proud of the tremendous work being accomplished by the brave Canadian men and women, both military and civilian, who are serving in Afghanistan. Through these collective efforts, the Afghanistan government is developing institutional capacity that will have enduring results. However, rebuilding a country like Afghanistan after decades of war takes time and commitment.
For these reasons, the Canadian government has taken seriously the recommendations made by the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan. This group of eminent Canadians was given the difficult task of providing Canadians with the high level of debate, insight and analysis that goes beyond partisan politics. The result of their efforts is a balanced, thoughtful and comprehensive report to Canadians.
The government has accepted the panel's specific recommendation of extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan under the conditions that the right steps are taken to ensure that our young men and women who are in harm's way are given the best chance of success.
Alongside the United Nations and our international partners, Canada has been effectively engaged in efforts to strengthen Afghan governance at the national and subnational levels. Canadian efforts focus on helping the Afghan government strengthen the efficiency, transparency and accountability of its institutions.
Let me comment on the revised motion on Afghanistan that our government has presented to the House. The revised motion represents an effort to achieve a bipartisan consensus on the future of Afghanistan. It acknowledges what is required of Canada's mission to succeed.
It is evident that the commitment to Afghanistan made by successive Canadian governments has not yet been completed. The ultimate objective is to enable the Afghans to govern their own country. By signalling our intent to withdraw now, we would run the risk of losing everything that we have worked for. There is no doubt that the cost of failure and abandonment would be hard.
We can all take heart from the fact that there is some fundamental common ground between the government and the official opposition on Afghanistan. This is visible particularly when it comes to the idea for the mission to continue until 2011. We also see common ground on the notion that operational decisions should be left to Canadian commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. On this side of the House we believe this is a reasonable compromise. We believe this addresses the important questions Canadians have about the future of the mission.
The revised motion states a clear and principled position. This is a Canadian position, rather than just a Conservative position or a Liberal position. As a Canadian position, it is one that can be supported by the majority of the elected representatives of the Canadian people. This is the duty we owe to our troops. Every day they put their lives on the line for us. It was politicians of both parties who asked them to do that. It is now up to the politicians to do their part for the people of Afghanistan and to work together to reach a consensus on the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan.
Yesterday I was at a function on the promotion of democracy, something which the foreign affairs committee had presented last year to the House. It talked about how Canada would be involved in the promotion of democracy. This conference was being held at Queen's University.
Sitting next to me was a young German lady from a German institution that does development work in Afghanistan. We talked about the development of Afghanistan. She said she represented an institution with the same left-wing ideology as the NDP. I asked her what she thought about the position of that party. She said she was there to tell them that without security, there will be no development in Afghanistan.
That institution has the same ideology as the NDP, the party with its head in the sand and the attitude of hear no reason, see no reality. That party is the only party around the world with the ideology that says to leave Afghanistan without development. Yet the NDP's own brothers and sisters around the world, including the lady from Germany, are saying that there can be no development without security.