That the House take note of the on-going national discussion about Canada's role in Afghanistan.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to lead off in the debate today with regard to our role in Afghanistan. This side of the House has been and continues to support the efforts that our troops have made in Afghanistan since 2002. As is known, we have rotated in and rotated out in the past with regard to Afghanistan.
There is no question that we are bringing to Afghanistan a multiple of approaches in terms of development of democracy, education of women and the rule of law, et cetera. However, under the UN auspices and under NATO, we on this side of the House we believe this is not simply a Canadian mission. Therefore, everyone has to step up to the plate and do the heavy lifting.
In 2002, when we first went to Kandahar for six months, we rotated out. The principle of rotation is that the 35 members of NATO have to participate in the NATO-led mission, not simply a few. Unfortunately, today the British, the United States and the Dutch clearly are heavily engaged along with Canada. Then other covenants with countries such as Germany and others limit their activity, at night as an example. After Kandahar, we rotated out and went to Kabul. Again, on the principle of rotation, we rotated out and Turkey came in when we left.
No one said that this was a mission in which we would be there forever. We believe heavy lifting must be done by all members of NATO. Therefore, in April 2006, I had the pleasure to go to Afghanistan with the then foreign affairs minister, and we saw what our troops were doing on the ground. At that time, they said that we were the best equipped force on the ground in April 2006, except we needed medium lift. Both the foreign affairs minister and I were ferried around on American Chinook helicopters. We did not have that capability. That is something which I will come back to later, and it is addressed in the motion before the House.
From the beginning, we do not want to politicize this mission. For us, it is a Canadian mission.
In April 2006 the government put forward a motion to extend the mission in the form of military involvement until February 2009. It was after very limited debate, I believe about six hours. From that moment on, we said that the government needed to notify NATO about rotation. It needed to let NATO know that we would change and leave in February 2009. Unfortunately, the government dragged its feet when it came to notification. In fact, there was no notification.
Last month the government put forth a motion with regard to Afghanistan. This party looked at it very carefully and proposed our own approach. After consultation with the government, the government came back and embraced basically 95% of what we had put forward. I congratulate the members on that side for finally listening to Canadians. However, I point out that we said three key things: the mission must change; the mission must end; and it must be more than military.
In terms of the change, we have advocated training of Afghan security forces, whether they be the military, that is the national Afghan army, or the national Afghan police. I think all members of the House would concur, that what we want to see is the Afghans eventually have the ability to provide their own defence, that they are able to protect themselves. Therefore, the aspect of training is absolutely critical. At the moment, about 60,000 to 70,000 Afghan soldiers have been equipped and trained sufficiently.
The area of policing is absolutely critical. Where the national Afghan army is relatively well paid and trained, the Afghan police are not. We are trying to control an area with the local police that are not properly equipped and not properly trained. Many of these people are susceptible therefore to bribes and corruption because they do not have a sufficient salary and they do not have sufficient training. This is an area where we, on this side of the House, believe we can play a positive and useful role. That is in terms of changing the mission.
In terms of the mission ending, this is not an engagement in which we are there forever. This is a NATO-led mission in which all countries need to play an active and supportive role with regard to our Afghan allies. We have proposed that in terms of the training aspect, that this will all end in February 2011. The government has proposed July 2011 with an eventual withdrawal, I am assuming, by the end of the year. The government finally agreed to an end date, or at least an end year, which is 2011.
The mission must be more than military. We know, and history is a good guide, that military superiority is not possible. We see what happened with the Russians. The Department of National Defence produced a document, 3D, an evaluation of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, which came out in October 2007 which said that superior numbers in the field will not and cannot work. Eventually, it is an issue of national reconciliation, which I will talk about a little later.
The fact is that we also have to deal with the diplomacy side. Diplomacy is absolutely critical in dealing with some of Afghanistan's neighbours, including Pakistan. I have had the pleasure of being to Pakistan several times. I have a number of colleagues in the Pakistan senate, including the former speaker and acting prime minister of the day, Mr. Soomro, who have talked very much and were engaged on the issue of what more Pakistan can do.
Yes, they have 80,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan, but the question is, how effective are they? Obviously, from the diplomatic side, working with our allies, whether it be Pakistan or China to some degree, is important because diplomatic pressure is critical.
We have been very pleased to see a rapprochement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where President Karzai and President Musharraf have talked about some of the key issues with which they are dealing.
As we know, many of the tribes do not really recognize the border. They are very much interrelated across that boundary. Therefore diplomacy, putting pressure and working with our allies diplomatically, is critical, but the area of development is also absolutely essential.
The person in the local village wants to understand the value of what is going on. We have these national elections, which are all very nice, except where it happens is in a local village, a local hamlet.
As a former municipal councillor and former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I can tell the House that the FCM has done a lot around in the world in terms of empowerment at the village legal, which is absolutely essential.
People need to see new wells for clean water, a hydro-electric dam which will then actually bring electricity to a village, a clinic or a school where individuals who work in the clinic can be trained, whether they are cleaning the floors, doing the laundry or administering vaccinations. The whole program is all about substantive development at the village level.
We were pleased to see that the government, in support of the resolution, is prepared to put more emphasis on development because development is absolutely critical.
If we do not change the lives of people on the ground, it really does not matter about national elections if in fact the national government does not seem to be delivering on the ground at the local level. This is why of course things like training the national Afghan police are critical in terms of being able to hold that area as well. So, it has to be more than military. There has to be an emphasis on development. It needs to be more accountable.
In terms of CIDA, as we know, Afghanistan has become the number one recipient of Canadian aid. Yet, we have had difficulty in the past getting both the previous minister and this minister to account in terms of where the actual money is going, what is the status of many of these projects, and what is actually happening on the ground.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to co-host with my colleague from British Columbia the international Red Cross committee based in Afghanistan which talked about the kinds of projects that are successfully being delivered, why they are important, how we are evaluating these projects and what kind of benchmarks we are setting to ensure that in fact these things are happening.
That is something which people want to see, both at home and abroad. They want to see that we are being successful. And so, part of that again is changing the end date, and being more than military. That is something that this side has emphasized very strongly in this House over the last year and a half.
I want to speak about the issue of training of the national Afghan army. We know that when we train people, sometimes we are going to obviously train them outside the wire. There has been some debate about how these troops would respond if they were fired upon. We do not intend, and it has never been our intent, to hamstring our soldiers on the ground in terms of being able to execute their responsibilities. There will be training. If fired upon, of course they would respond. This is not the situation where the UN handicapped former General Dallaire in Rwanda in 1993. We are not looking at that. We are looking at: if fired upon, obviously they would respond.
However, the major focus is obviously training, not just training in terms of the national Afghan police being able to do their job or for the army being able to do their job but also to have the confidence of people on the ground who are there to be protected. So, that is important.
Again, it is the reorientation of this mission which we have argued for. Reorientation also means rotation. I am pleased to see that the government is finally using that word and understanding that rotating means that others will have to come in.
In the resolutuion we talked about sufficient forces coming in. The government has talked about 1,000 troops. I am still not clear as to this magical number of 1,000, but I can tell members, again going back to that 3D report of Department of National Defence, that military superiority on the ground is not going to win. Eventually, it is going to be national reconciliation. But in terms of having more troops on the ground to assist us in terms of protecting our flanks, this is absolutely critical.
Again, our continuation is based on ensuring that there is protection for our forces who are there and also to continue with the provincial reconstruction team and development on the ground.
With regard to medium lift clarity, the government has indicated that it will not go forward without medium lift. We certainly agree with that. Again, because of the conditions on the ground at times, it is unsafe to move. We unfortunately had Canadian casualties and deaths because of a $10.00 device that blows up a million-dollar vehicle. Therefore, the ability to move troops by air is absolutely essential and, therefore, medium lift. However, this should have been requested over a year ago by the government.
We have a situation, at the 11th hour, where with the NATO meetings in Bucharest coming up the first week of April, we still do not have answers with regard to that. That is a very sad commentary about NATO in general, that no one has stepped up to say they are going to offer the appropriate airlift that we need.
A balance is obviously required and, again, we go back to the issue of defence, diplomacy and development. We have argued all along that this is more than military. It has to be about concrete development with clear benchmarks for Canadians, so that they will know where the money is going, and they will be able to say these are the success stories and we can now move this along.
There is no question that we have, both in the House and certainly in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, been seized with the Afghan issue. An array of speakers have come before the standing committee. They have had various viewpoints but all of them agree that this mission cannot be simply a military force on the ground and that this is certainly not Canada's mission alone.
We need to ensure that we deal with issues such as the narcotics economy, the issue of poppies, and how we deal with the situation where farmers get money for poppy crops. They are eventually developed into products such as opium and of course land on the streets in Canada and other countries around the world. We need an effective strategy to assist our Afghan partners in ensuring that other types of crops can be developed that will be lucrative for those farmers.
We need to have accountability to Parliament. Liberals have argued, and the resolution stresses it very strongly, that the government, particularly the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence and the Minister of International Cooperation, reports back on a regular basis to parliamentarians. Ultimately, it is Parliament and Parliament's will that is essential in understanding what is going on. We need those updates on a regular basis and Liberals have called for it.
In the resolution we have also called on the government to support the fact that departments have to talk to each other. Instead of silos, which unfortunately we are often famous for in Ottawa, National Defence, Foreign Affairs and CIDA need to talk to each other and be on the same page in understanding where we are in Afghanistan. That is absolutely essential.
There is the issue of cooperation. We, on this side of the House as well as the government because of the resolution, are going to have to work much more effectively and closely with our allies on the ground in terms of diplomatic issues and development. These are essential in order to improve the life of the average person in Afghanistan.
The Liberals chose today to debate this topic for another day in the House because it is important for all colleagues to be able to have their say so people will understand the various issues prior to whenever the vote is taken on the issue of 2011. We have some clarity now from the government on 2011. There is still the issue of why the July date and we need to have that dealt with.
As for accountability, reporting to parliamentarians is critical. This is something Canadians have stressed. People need to be reminded that this debate should not even be occurring now. Had the government taken the actions that the Liberals had called for over a year and a half ago about rotation after the April 2006 vote, we would not be in the situation now, with less than a year to go until the end of February 2009, and having this debate.
Of course, the other question is: What happens in Bucharest? The government has made it very clear, and Liberals certainly concur, that unless certain conditions I have outlined are met, the mission will have to end totally in February 2009 simply because the conditions need to be met.
There is certainly agreement in the chamber on the fact that, without the conditions, we are not prepared to move ahead. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of International Cooperation all realize that we have to have those conditions not only for our soldiers and CIDA workers on the ground but in general.
If NATO is serious about making sure that this mission is successful, and there is much debate and discussion as to not providing the same resources it did in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time, without that kind of support, the mission is not going to be successful.