Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak tonight with regard Canada's mission in Afghanistan.
When I was elected in 2000, this matter became an important issue for me and the House. I have followed this mission closely. I always looked to the leadership that was going to make these decisions. The Liberals took leadership first by agreeing with the mission in Afghanistan. Then our Prime Minister took it up, and he is doing much to help the people of Afghanistan.
A comment was made by an NDP member today during the debate. Although the word hopeless was not used, that party sounded hopeless.
I want to go back to when President Karzai was here and what he said to the House. He thanked Canada for its contributions and said:
—Afghanistan today is profoundly different from the terrified and exhausted country it was five years ago. Today, Afghanistan has the most progressive constitutions in our region, which enables the Afghan people to choose their leadership for the first time in their history. Over the past five years, our people have voted in two elections, one for the President and another for the Parliament. With the inauguration of the Parliament, 27 percent of whose membership is made up of women, all the three branches of state have now been established. More than six million children, about forty percent of them girls, have returned to school. Over four million refugees have returned to their homes. We have disarmed tens of thousands of former combatants, and have begun the vital task of building up Afghanistan’s security institution–the Police and Army. We have also achieved fiscal stability and substantial economic growth. In short, we in Afghanistan have embraced the vision of a prosperous and pluralistic society which Canada so richly embodies.
I will be splitting my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for Edmonton—Strathcona.
The government supports our troops and understands that they go to war to help countries such as Afghanistan, to defend their people, to build its bridges, to teach its troops, to help rebuild the devastation that the country has undergone, to give women back their rights and to give its children back their future.
Our troops and their compatriots from other countries are the bravest of the brave. It is their efforts and those of the people in Afghanistan that we defend.
Canada is in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led United Nations sanctioned, multinational security assistance force. At the invitation of the democratically elected Afghanistan government, along with our international partners, Canada is helping Afghanistan build a stable, democratic and self-sufficient country.
Dr. Lee Windsor, deputy director of the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, and a former soldier himself, described how, due to world events like the former Yugoslavia deterioration, aid did not come through for Afghanistan after the Afghan people helped defeat the communist threat during the Cold War.
Afghanistan collapsed into a state of civil war, ripe for the Taliban to take over. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, reminded Canadians of the impact this had on Afghanistan. In a Globe and Mail column on January 24, 2008, he said:
Afghanistan is a potent symbol of the costs inherent in abandoning nations to the lawless forces of anarchy. That alone justifies international efforts to help rebuild the country. Lest there be any doubt, remember Sept. 11, 2001, and its worldwide reverberations. We learned then how a country, shorn of its civic institutions, becomes a vacuum filled by criminals and opportunists. In its chaos and poverty, Afghanistan became a home base for terrorism.
Before the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women had virtually no rights in Afghanistan. Human rights abuses of women included being forbidden access to basic health care. They were forbidden to work outside the house. They were forbidden to go to school or to university. They were forbidden to leave their homes without a close male relative. They were forbidden fair trials and executed for sexual crimes. Public executions and floggings were the norm under the Taliban.
There is no negotiating with a terrorist organization and regime that treats its own people in this manner.
Today things are much different. We learned of real progress through personal reports and stories and just last week from the delegation of Afghan women visiting Parliament. Some of the important accomplishments include women representing 25% of the democratically elected national assembly and more than two million girls enrolled in school.
In 2006, as I said, Mr. Karzai, Afghanistan's president, had explained how Canada's assistance was helping his country and he thanked us for the contributions. He went on to talk about how Afghanistan had the most progressive constitution in the region, enabling the Afghan people to choose their leadership for the first time in their history. He talked about the parliament and how 27% of its membership was made up of women. He talked about the six million children, over 40% of them girls, who had returned to school and the over four million refugees who had returned to their homes. He talked about how the Afghans had disarmed thousands of former combatants and had begun the vital task of building up Afghanistan's security institution, the police and the army. They also achieved fiscal stability and substantial economic growth. In short, Afghans had embraced the vision of a prosperous and pluralistic society, which Canada so richly embodies.
Canada is the top donor for the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan, which is helping Afghanistan's economy by helping Afghan people create their own jobs. Afghan women are taking control of their own lives by starting their own businesses through this program. More than 325,000 Afghan people have taken advantage of the program, 75% of microfinance clients being women, and significantly 98% of these loans being repaid with interest.
Another program, integrating women into markets, helps women develop horticulture, mostly fruits and vegetables in home-based gardens to supplement family diets and generate income.
In October of last year we were introduced to artezan designs, a project that provides skill development and weaving, income generation and literacy classes to Afghan women. Silk shawls were available for purchase. The proceeds go directly to help support the project in Kabul.
This is just one more example of how Canada's presence in Afghanistan is providing women with the opportunities to create, to produce and to earn money.
General Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, recently explained the important role of development in Afghanistan. He said:
We are in Afghanistan to help Afghans. We're not there to build an empire. We're not there to occupy a country. But we are there to help Afghan men, women and children rebuild their families.
General Hillier also clarified the connection between security at home and security in Afghanistan when he said, “We must be imparting the conditions for stability there before that instability is exported here”.
I see I have been given a signal that my time is up and I am only halfway through my speech. If I would have had the attention of the House, I would have gone a little quicker, but everyone was talking and not listening to my important points.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to say a few words tonight in speaking about democratic change and the economic renewal and social progress to a nation that yearns for freedom and stability. Canadians can be proud that we have done so much to bring such change to so many. It is a legacy that we can celebrate and agree to sustain together.