Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on Afghanistan today.
I often listen to ministers of the Crown and soldiers in uniform speaking. There is a marked difference when the uniforms come off. There are two perspectives on what is happening on the ground. The ministers of the Crown and the generals tell us that everything is going very well. General Atkinson is one of the officers who give us regular briefings. Unfortunately, it is impossible to find out what is going on with the schools, the wells or the irrigation systems. He always tells us that something really good has happened, that they have built a bridge. The other day, he showed us photos of a bridge from many different angles. Supposedly, army engineers worked on that bridge. From time to time, they show us things like that.
The ministers of the Crown have been telling us the same thing over and over since 2001. They say that we are going into Afghanistan to build schools so that children, especially little girls, can go back to school, to ensure security, and to re-establish agriculture in some way, with irrigation wells. We know what is going on with agriculture at the moment: opium is about the only crop for sale. In short, the ministers of the Crown and the generals who are passing along the information must be wearing rose-coloured glasses.
Later, I will explain the Bloc Québécois' parliamentary approach. Some people like to point out that at various times over the years, the member for Saint-Jean said this, or the Bloc Québécois leader said that. Later on, I will explain that the Bloc Québécois has been guided in its actions by a consistent, logical approach.
Let us come back to what is happening on the ground. It is inaccurate to say that everything is going well. We have other sources of information. We read the newspapers. Reporters regularly go into the field. For example, two weeks ago, the Globe and Mail ran an absolutely disheartening report on what is happening in Afghanistan. No one is talking about that here. Yet what was described in this analysis was terrible. We also get information from major international organizations like the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Senlis Council. There are many groups in the field that are giving us a completely different picture than the government and Canada's senior military officers.
Let us look at what some of these organizations are saying, because the famous Manley report refers to them. I was talking earlier about the report with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Bloc never hid the fact that it did not appreciate this panel. We believe that the House of Commons was quite capable of creating a committee of members of the different parties in the House, which could have made a recommendation to the government. Naturally, being in a minority position, the government was afraid to entrust this task to a committee of the House. It decided that the committee's report might not contain the things it wanted to hear.
The Manley report tells the government exactly what it wants to hear. I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs about this earlier. Why is everyone in the House, regardless of their party affiliation, saying that this mission is unbalanced? What the government has retained from the Manley report is that Canada should extend the mission and add 1,000 soldiers and that helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles are needed. Once again, everything has to do with the military. That is why we denounced the Manley report as soon as it was released.
For months and even years, we have been demanding that the mission be rebalanced, but the government is jumping on the Manley report and saying that we have to add 1,000 soldiers and deploy helicopters and unmanned planes, supposedly to conduct surveillance day and night and see exactly what is happening. We feel that the Manley report is far from definitive, and we said we did not agree with it.
With regard to the major issues involved, we often hear about the three D policy: development, defence and diplomacy. The minister is telling us that she has sent more people into the field. When I went to Kandahar barely two years ago, there were 2,500 soldiers to handle defence, six people from CIDA and six people from Foreign Affairs.
That was nowhere close to a balance. I am not saying that there should be 2,500 people from CIDA and another 2,500 in the diplomatic corps, but there is a limit. We are told that big efforts were made and, as a result, their numbers have now risen to 20 and are likely to reach 35.
Before addressing diplomacy and development, I will start by focusing my remarks on governance. Reference is often made to the Afghanistan Compact. An important element of that compact was actually governance. Do members know what President Karzai is called in Afghanistan? He is referred to as the “mayor of Kabul”. That is because, without international support, he cannot extend his influence and authority beyond the country's capital. The two Globe and Mail reporters I mentioned earlier said they were not even sure that he was still the “mayor of Kabul”. Some might say that he is the master of his castle, where he has dug himself in because the roadblocks put up by factions, warlords and corrupt police pretty much encircle Kabul, which means that anyone who has to drive out of Kabul encounters a roadblock. I am not the one saying this.
When we travelled to Afghanistan, we were not allowed out of the camp in Kandahar. We had to insist that reporters relay to Canada the message that we were prisoners in our own camp in Kandahar. We wanted to go out and visit schools, dispensaries, hospitals, irrigation systems and water wells that allegedly had been dug, but were told we could not leave the camp for security reasons. That is odd, because, when Conservative MPs travel there, they can be seen outside the camp mingling with little children or going down streets in Kabul. They are seen visiting many kinds of sites, but we were not allowed to. That is something else.
The Manley report calls for transparency. This is not complicated. The government and the generals who give us briefing sessions are not being transparent. There is propaganda in what they give us, and everything is designed to show us that everything is just fine, when that is not what our sources are telling us. As well, our own physical presence tells us that they do not want to show us those things. Why do they not want to show them to us? Is it really for some security reason or is it because there is nothing to show? That is the problem. Otherwise, the media would be happy to show us these fine hospitals, clinics and schools that supposedly exist. They are not able to do it, because there are none. That is what we have been speaking out against for a long time, and that is why we want to rebalance this mission.
Everyone says that it must not be military, that there is too much emphasis on the military aspect. The first thing the government does after the Manley report is submitted is increase the number of troops yet again. It says virtually nothing about development and diplomacy.
Let us talk about development now. I have said a little about it. There are no schools, it is as simple as that. We also have a major criticism. When we were in Kandahar, I put these questions to people who are working on the ground. They told us not only that there are no schools, but that there is no longer any accountability to CIDA, something that is even more serious.
We are always being told that Canada will be giving a billion dollars to Afghanistan. Sure. Someone can go and see one of the six CIDA staffers and tell them he has an idea: he wants to dig a well in his village 500 km from Kabul or Kandahar. CIDA will tell him this is a good idea because there is no water in the village and will ask him how much money will be needed. He will reply: $15,000. So the cheque will be signed, but we learned on site—we, members of Parliament—that it costs about $1,000 to $2,000 to build a well. And yet a cheque for $15,000 has been signed. In addition, no one will go to the village in question to see whether the well has been dug. Billions of dollars are fine, but money is flowing like water over there. We hear about roads. Gravel is needed to build roads. We learned over there that the gravel used to build the road we were told about normally costs $5 a tonne, and yet a tonne of gravel is being sold to the Canadians for $80. That is how it works.
It is unfortunate that I could not question the minister, but that is how it is. There is virtually no accountability. So that money is not going to the people at the grassroots, it is going to the people who already have assets, like the warlords, who are getting rich off Canada’s contributions.
We can be told that everything is fine only for so long.
Diplomacy fell by the wayside when a Canadian diplomat was killed early on. It is not complicated. There are jirgas in the villages. Diplomats do not go there. Soldiers are the ones who go and sit down with village elders to ask them what can be done and to engage in dialogue.
Imagine if, the next day, the village is bombed or there is a shoot-out and 6,000 civilians are killed. The next day, army personnel return to sit down with village elders and ask them what they can do, if they can give them Joe Louis cakes, cookies and little backpacks for the children. Well, that is not what is needed. What is needed is real diplomacy, meetings with the governor, with President Karzai, in order to ensure that diplomacy prevails over the military aspect.
We also often hear about international diplomacy. In the case of the countries surrounding Afghanistan, it is important that Canadian diplomats meet with representatives from Iran, Pakistan, China, India and Russia, who all have something to say on the matter. That is not what is happening. That is not what the Manley report suggests. That was not what sparked the interest of the government. Rather, it was the question of adding more soldiers and military equipment. As for the rest, the government says that we will wait, because everyone knows that if there is no security in Afghanistan—we hear this all the time—there can be no development or diplomacy.
Well, this is not working. The insurrection is gaining strength. We are losing control of the territory. Perhaps four or five times more soldiers are needed, yet NATO and other countries do not wish to mobilize any more. I will talk more about this a little later.
With regard to defence, I believe that I have expressed my point of view. We have 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan. I wish to state that we have nothing against the troops. I trained with the soldiers of the Royal 22e Régiment and was deployed with them to Bosnia in 2001. They do an excellent job. They do what they are ordered to do, and that is fight. Everyone here says that that is not the solution. However, we have 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, plus logistics support, who are fighting. Even General Richards, whom I met down there and who is responsible for all of Afghanistan, said that it did not make sense. We suggested that he tell his superiors. It is all well and good to tell NATO; someone must realize that we cannot continue with the military plan. And yet it is continuing, and this government is going forward.
A while ago, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs to press NATO on the rotation issue; however, he did not. Instead, he is ensuring that we stay in Afghanistan until 2011. That is what will happen. Additional soldiers will be mobilized. Another nation—we do not know which one yet—will mobilize them. Personally, I am convinced that this has already been decided. The government would certainly not impose this condition if it knew in advance that it would not be met.
I think they are playing games and they want to make us believe that it is difficult. Discussions are already underway with representatives from France, who may send their troops to the south. However, if the French do not wish to send their troops to the south because they are more comfortable with the Americans, the latter will be sent instead. That is what will happen in the end. They have probably already agreed to the helicopters and the UAVs, the unmanned aerial vehicles.
The government will tell us that all the conditions have been met. However, these conditions are not conducive to success. These conditions also include diplomacy and development. If we do not have that, we could have a million soldiers, we could be monitoring every village in Afghanistan, and we would not succeed in earning the trust of the Afghans or in re-establishing governance by having soldiers in every village of Afghanistan.
We have been saying this for a long time now, but no one ever listens. This is what is happening: not only are there no schools and clinics, but we are told that opium trafficking is fuelling terrorism, and I agree. In fact, since Canada has been there, this has continued—and is on the rise. Afghanistan now provides 90% of the world's heroin supply.
I travelled with the Germans to Fayzabad, in the north, and to Kandahar. In Fayzabad, travelling by jeep with the German army, we saw poppy fields everywhere, indeed everywhere. No one is addressing this matter and those who want to deal with it propose eradication. That is precisely what should not be done; the Afghans need to be offered another type of crop, but that is not being done.
The British and the Americans want to spray the fields and completely destroy the poppies. The poor farmer whose family's survival depends on those poppy fields will see his crop disappear. When he wonders what to do next, now that he is left with nothing, the Taliban will offer him protection, assurance and food. In exchange, he or one of his sons will have to take up arms from time to time, since the Taliban needs that type of help. That is what will happen.
In fact, that is what is happening and will happen in years to come. There is not enough vision to come up with another solution. And yet, solutions exist. I even heard that NATO may enter into discussions with the European Union to ensure that the new crops to be developed in Afghanistan will have new markets, for instance, in Europe, a continent that is not far from Afghanistan. I heard mention of that, but then I did not hear any more about it. It is over. Now we are into eradication.
By all accounts, the strategy being used in Afghanistan will not resolve the issue.
I was also surprised in Fayzabad when the Germans told me it was 8 p.m. and they had to return to camp. I asked if it was because they were supposed to go and have supper but they said they had orders not to be out after 8 p.m. It is very strange. Our soldiers in the south are patrolling day and night. So a lot of things are unfair. When I went to the Bundestag in Germany to tell them that, they said they could not introduce it before their Parliament for fear of being defeated if they allowed their soldiers to be out after 8 p.m. It really is unjust.
As is now policy here in the House of Commons, the Conservatives have twisted the mission, as I say over and over. This mission was supposed to be focused on diplomacy and development, but that is no longer true. It is almost entirely a defence mission.
For a whole year the Liberal Party carried the standard for those who wanted to end the operations in February 2009 but now they have surrendered and gone over to the Conservatives. That is terribly disappointing.
The NDP also has its faults. At just about this time last year, a decision had to be made on ceasing military operations in 2009. The Liberal Party voted in favour, as did the Bloc Québécois. To our great surprise, the NDP joined forces with the Conservatives and voted against.
So here we are now facing an extension of the mission, when if the NDP had just been willing to end combat operations in 2009, we would be packing our bags and it would all be over. They took an ideological stance, voting against the motion because it did not propose to withdraw our troops immediately. Here we are now in a worse position with a mission that will no longer end in 2009 but 2011.
We in the Bloc Québécois have been very consistent. Some people told me that I said this and that on this or that date. I want to correct the record. On October 8, 2001, we supported the mission to Afghanistan. On January 28, 2002, we supported it again after further discussions in the House. On November 15, 2005, we supported the new deployment outside Kabul.
That was when we started laying down conditions. The longer things dragged on, the tougher our conditions became. On May 16, 2006, the Bloc Québécois proposed a motion in a session of the Standing Committee on National Defence. We had been asking the government for a long time to change things and it did not want to. We proposed a motion, therefore, asking it to tell us how much longer the mission would last, what the state of our troops and equipment was, what proportion of the mission was combat and what proportion reconstruction, and what the evaluation criteria were. The next day, the Conservative government introduced the motion to extend the mission until 2009 without answering any of our questions. That was when we started to say we were finished with all this.
Our positions have always been very logical. We have always been responsible. We took these positions on the basis of the information available to us at the time.
I will conclude by saying that we were in perfect sync with the desires of the Quebec people. The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP will find us in their path in Quebec during the election campaign.
We will tell Quebeckers who was there for them, who listened to them, who is defending their interests and values, and that is the Bloc Québécois.