Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak once again about Canada's mission in Afghanistan, and particularly to echo today's motion on the role of Canada in Afghanistan.
Quebeckers find this role confusing, even ambiguous. What role exactly does Canada want to play by participating in the NATO and UN mission in Afghanistan? We believe that Canada must focus more on reconstruction and military training. That has always been the position of the Bloc Québécois, who would like to see this process begin immediately and continue until the end of the mission in February 2009. The Government of Canada must present a position that clearly reflects this role. It must make a clear commitment before the NATO summit in Bucharest, which is to begin on April 2, 2008.
Let us remember that this is not the first time Parliament is debating the mission in Afghanistan and its February 2009 deadline. Allow me to elaborate on some aspects of the last speech on this issue I gave in this House.
The war in Afghanistan was authorized by the UN from the outset, after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. At first, it was an operation—Operation Enduring Freedom—whereby the United States exercised its right to legitimate defence after receiving proper permission from the UN. The purpose of the operation was to push the Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban regime, toward the capital. The goal was to weaken the Taliban, who had been recognized by the UN as a threat to international peace and security.
Defeating the Taliban regime was relatively easy; achieving peace and rebuilding a viable Afghan state is a far more demanding task. The fundamental objective of the international coalition and the United Nations is to reconstruct the economy, the democracy and a viable Afghan state enabling Afghans to take control of their country and their development.
Canada has been on mission in the Kandahar region since October 2005. In February 2006, it assumed command from the United States of the regional command south in Kandahar. Canada was responsible for the Enduring Freedom operations conducted by the coalition in southern Afghanistan until November 2006. At that time, Canada also committed to keeping most of its troops there until February 2007. In May 2006, the Conservative government asked the House to support extending the Afghan mission by another two years, effective February 2007. The House agreed to this extension. At that point, the mission was to end in February 2009.
In July 2006, NATO officially took over command in southern Afghanistan. The Canadian Forces left Operation Enduring Freedom to join the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.
The situation in southern Afghanistan proved to be much tougher than originally thought. NATO troops, and particularly Canadian troops, have faced organized and ferocious resistance from the Taliban. It was at that point that the number of deaths of Quebeckers and Canadians started rising at an alarming rate, going from eight deaths between 2001 and 2005 to 70 deaths between 2006 and 2008. For a country of about 30 million people, we can consider that we have done our part. In fact, Canada has deployed the fourth-largest number of troops in Afghanistan and has suffered the third-highest number of deaths. Canada has paid a high human price to maintain security in Kandahar. The country has not lost so many lives since the Korean War.
Add to that the financial cost of the mission. According to figures published in National Defence's report on plans and priorities, the cost of Canadian operations in Afghanistan was over $7.7 billion for the period from 2001 to 2008. If it ended the combat mission in February 2009, Canada would have some financial flexibility to invest in development assistance in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, if we consider that NATO's mission in Kandahar is an international mission and that 38 countries currently have a military presence in Afghanistan, we can say without shame that Canada has carried out an important and dangerous mission in Afghanistan for over three years, and that the time has come for others to take over in that region.
Even though we want Canada to withdraw from Kandahar at the end of its mission, we do not think that the entire NATO mission should end. That is why we have always advocated handing the reins over to other NATO countries to replace the Canadian contingent in Kandahar. The federal government should notify NATO member countries now that our mission will end in February 2009.
Complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, as recommended by the NDP, would be irresponsible toward the Afghan people, their government and our allies, who are counting on our participation until 2009.
We need to create a new balance by the end of the mission in 2009. That is why for some time now, the Bloc Québécois has supported focusing on increasing development and diplomacy in Afghanistan.
For too long, all we have heard the government talk about is money and military and human resources. Since 2001, the primarily political process through which sustainable peace can be achieved has often been ignored in debate.
However, the crux of the problem is this: if our deepest desire is to give Afghanistan back to the Afghan people, that is, to support our friends in distress to help them regain their autonomy and sovereignty over the land they inhabit, then our actions must reflect this basically political paradigm and must involve representatives from the Afghan government. Otherwise, the legitimacy of our actions could easily be questioned by the Afghan people. We are in Afghanistan because the Afghan people want us there. We must act as partners with the Afghan people and their representatives.
However, since the very beginning of this mission that we are participating in along with 38 other countries, the coherence of our efforts has left something to be desired. This lack of coherence is one of the main reasons for the opposition expressed by people in Quebec and Canada regarding this mission. Indeed, can we blame these citizens for opposing a mission that sends their brothers and sisters to the other side of the world, when it is impossible to concretely measure the results?
We believe that Canada and the international community should give the mission in Afghanistan a “success program” that would include clear objectives combined with success indicators allowing us to measure our progress over the months and years, while recognizing that this will be a long process that will no doubt continue long after the departure of Quebec and Canadian troops.
So that we do not lose the support of the Afghan people, this political rebalancing would mean that Canada must immediately contribute to development assistance that is strategically planned and well monitored and that produces measurable results.
In that regard, all the NGOs that appeared before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development in the course of our study on Afghanistan emphatically declared that the amount of money invested must not take precedence over the quality of the programs created or serve as means of measuring the results achieved. It is the results that will determine whether the money invested was worthwhile and the foundations can be laid for an Afghan state.
This is an urgent matter. In the wake of over 20 years of war, devastation reigns in Afghanistan. There is next to no civil infrastructure or economic growth. Everything needs to be reconstructed. It is therefore not surprising that Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest countries in the world.
It is becoming increasingly clear that concerted action by the international community is required for successful development in Afghanistan. To convince our allies to do more, Canada must lead by example and increase aid immediately, and we must ensure that the money invested produces compelling results as quickly as possible.
Canada can and must invest more resources in Afghanistan and must increase the budget for development assistance. This would enable us to achieve the goal of 0.7% of the GDP by 2015, as promised, and as recommended by the UN. Let us not forget that currently, Canada allocates 0.27% of its GDP to development assistance.
We have to increase that amount to provide humanitarian aid in the short term and to help with the construction of roads, wells, and basic infrastructure.
Furthermore, it is well known that, generally speaking, international aid and reconstruction efforts are poorly coordinated. As the Secretary General of NATO stated:
We need a better international coordination structure for Afghanistan. We must provide the security and do the reconstruction but we must also do the politics.
His comments echo those of the UN Secretary-General:
—without stronger leadership from the [Afghan] government, greater donor coherence—including improved coordination between the military and civilian international engagement in Afghanistan—and a strong commitment from neighbouring countries, many of the security, institution-building and development gains made since the Bonn Conference may yet stall or even be reversed.
In January 2007, inspired by what was done in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Bloc Québécois proposed the appointment of a senior UN official with real, considerable power to better coordinate all international aid in cooperation with the Afghan government. This senior representative would also act as the link between NATO and the reconstruction teams in order to direct aid to where it is needed most.
We were pleased to hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs say he was in favour of appointing a development assistance coordinator in his speech to the UN General Assembly on October 2, 2007.
Canada and its allies must also channel their aid as much as possible through multilateral organizations, and in particular United Nations agencies, since this will eliminate duplication and avoid working at cross purposes.
As well, the issue of poppy cultivation is key to the economic development of Afghanistan. The illegal opium trade feeds corruption in the Afghan government and is also used to finance the Taliban insurgents. The difficulty, however, lies in the fact that the poppy crop that is the source of opium is still a lucrative means of subsistence for some Afghan growers.
We must recognize that since 2002, poppy production has risen steadily. It has increased from 70,000 hectares under cultivation in 2002 to 165,000 hectares in 2006.
We therefore have to try to square the circle: how do we put an end to a crop that is the source of over 90% of the heroin in the world while at the same time making it possible for Afghans to work and earn a living? So far, the strategies used to combat this scourge have been synonymous with failure.
We believe that we must now give serious thought to a three-stage strategy. First, continue and intensify enforcement efforts against drug traffickers. Second, fund and implement programs to encourage alternative crops, while building the infrastructure needed for marketing them. And third, for a transitional period, buy the poppy harvest directly from the small farmers, for medical use.
Canada should play a bigger role in the diplomatic realm, as well.
One of the major problems facing the international forces in southern Afghanistan is that the Taliban have a safe haven in Pakistan. That border can be described kindly as extremely porous, and Afghanistan has never recognized the border it shares with Pakistan. Some Pashtuns who have been blithely crossing from one country to the other for millennia even want to see a “Pashtunistan” created on that border.
The Government of Canada must bring more diplomatic pressure to bear on the Pakistani government to solve this problem. Pakistan is the linchpin for the stability and coherent development of Afghanistan.
At present, Pakistan is experiencing widespread political instability. Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the country has been on the brink of a civil war, with democrats, the military and religious groups engaged in a struggle for power.
Canada should use diplomacy, as far as possible, to create the conditions that are needed for stabilizing the country. If Pakistan were to descend into chaos, the impact on Afghanistan would be far-reaching.
In addition to Pakistan, we must also intensify diplomatic efforts in dealing with other actors in the region of Afghanistan, including Iran, India and China. Those countries will have to be involved in resolving the conflict and, as far as possible, in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
And last, the Afghan government, the international community and Canada must be open to negotiations with the Taliban, again, as far as possible, in order to achieve a lasting peace.
Again, development assistance and putting new infrastructure in place must go hand in hand with a process of political dialogue that must include Afghans from every region. This is essentially a matter of implementing a national reconciliation process where the different cultures of the Afghan mosaic will find their place in the construction of a modern Afghanistan and where differences will be resolved democratically and not through the use of weapons.
Allow me to add this, Mr. Speaker: whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the Bloc Québécois has always supported the principle that Canada must treat detainees humanely and in accordance with the Geneva convention and the convention against torture. This has hardly been the case for the detainees transferred to the Afghan authorities. Having heard about major problems and the torture of detainees, we asked repeatedly for changes to the relevant agreement between Canada and the Afghan defence minister.
As a result of all the pressure exerted by the Bloc Québécois and civil society, Canada signed a second agreement with Afghanistan on the treatment of detainees on May 3, 2007. It was an improvement on the 2005 agreement, but to be effective, it must be vigorously enforced.
In the Bloc Québécois' view, there should be a framework agreement between NATO and the Afghan government on detainee transfers. It would ensure greater uniformity in the treatment of detainees and more control over what goes on in Afghan prisons.
The Bloc Québécois feels as well that, in proposing to extend this mission until December 2011 instead of ending it in February 2009 as originally intended, the Harper government is completely disregarding the desires of the people of—