Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the House, and I would like to inform you that I will share my time with the hon. Minister of International Cooperation.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak to the House today about Canada's role in Afghanistan. Last week, as you know, I attended a meeting of NATO's foreign affairs ministers in Brussels. My NATO counterparts and I had very productive and constructive talks. We discussed several issues, including NATO deployed operations and partnerships. We discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the NATO-led mission there. One of the main objectives of this meeting was to present the measures our government is taking in response to the recommendations made by the panel led by Canada's former foreign affairs minister, Mr. Manley.
I informed my colleagues of Canada's conditions for continuing the mission in Afghanistan after February 2009. First, we need to secure a partner that will provide a battle group of approximately 1,000 to support our efforts in Kandahar. Second, I told my counterparts that we need better equipment for our troops, such as medium-lift helicopters and high performance unmanned aerial vehicles. We would need this equipment and the troops before February 2009. I hope—and I am optimistic—that we will be able to find a partner in the coming weeks.
The equipment and troop requirements have been made clear to our allies, and I can say that they were very receptive to our objectives. They understand how important this mission is to NATO, and they understand how important this mission is to our country. I would like to assure my colleagues, the members of this House, that the mission in Afghanistan is our government's top priority.
The mission of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan demonstrates that NATO can play a significant role in establishing peace and security outside of the Euro-Atlantic region. Forty countries, including Canada, are participating in the international force's UN-mandated , NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. In addition to 26 NATO member countries, 14 other European and Asian countries are participating.
Why are we taking part in this mission? This is a legitimate question, and I would like to answer it today: we think that countries like Canada have a role to play on the international stage. Together with over 60 countries and international organizations, Canada is in Afghanistan as part of a UN-mandated mission to build a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society.
Two years ago, the United Nations, the Afghan government and members of the international community, including Canada, adopted the Afghanistan Compact. The purpose of the compact is to improve coordination between the Afghan government and governments in the international community. It provides direction for our involvement and details results, benchmarks, deadlines and mutual obligations in three specific areas: security; governance, rule of law and human rights, of course; and economic and social development. What this really means— and we have heard this many times—is that there can be no development without security.
Conversely, security will not last if development does not progress, bringing better roads, improved access to health care and education, and significant economic opportunities for Afghans. Access to more opportunities will encourage the Afghan people to take control of their country's stability and prosperity.
Let us not fool ourselves: this is a major challenge for Canada and the international community. Despite the difficulties, we must not lose sight of the progress we have made over the past few years.
For example, nearly six million children are now attending school, while under the Taliban regime, only 700,000 children went to school, and sadly, none of them were girls.
As a result of the wide-ranging international efforts there, Afghanistan has been able to begin to rebuild itself. The security we are helping to create is vital for this process of reconstruction. Every day the Canadian Forces and others work to create security in Afghanistan.
Last week, all hon. members of the House saw another measure of progress in Afghanistan. I refer to the recent visit of female Afghan parliamentarians to Ottawa. As the Prime Minister has observed, these brave women are fighting to change the history of their country. Their lives are on the line every day. These women know what a return to the rule by the extremist brutal Taliban would mean. Canadians should be proud that our country is backing up these brave women, our men and women in uniform, our diplomats and our aid workers, all helping Afghanistan rebuild itself.
Yes, our presence is needed in Afghanistan. That is why our government believes Parliament should approve the extension of our military mission in Kandahar. We are making a real positive difference in Afghanistan. We are demonstrating to Afghans and to our allies that Canada is a reliable partner in the quest for global security.
Parliamentarians also demonstrated that resolve in 2006. I refer to when the House voted for a two year extension of the mission. The end of the mandate is approaching and so the House will have to reach a decision on what comes next.
Our government has already been clear. We believe Canada should live up to its international obligations and commitments. We are optimistic that the majority of the members of the House will support our position. It is based on principle. It is based on a clear assessment of our international obligations.
We introduced a revised motion on February 21. It acknowledges what is required for Canada's mission to succeed in Afghanistan. It reiterates our commitment to the UN mandate on Afghanistan, but it also affirms that our commitment is not open-ended. It commits our government to notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011. We would complete redeployment from the south by December of that year.
We believe this is a reasonable compromise. We believe it addresses the important questions Canadians have about the future of the mission. It is a clear and principled position. Our NATO allies must know where Canada stands. The government and people of Afghanistan must also know. We must also ensure our troops on the ground know where Canada stands. They deserve no less than this.