Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to participate in this important debate tonight.
Nothing is more important than a vote to send Canadians to war than a vote to engage in war, and there is no more serious matter that will ever come before the House of Commons.
The decision to send Canadians into war, to ask members of the Canadian armed forces to engage in war and risk their lives is the most serious matter that I can contemplate being asked to consider as a member of Parliament. We must ensure any mission that they are asked to undertake supports the values that Canada represents. We must ensure it is a mission that is not futile. We must ensure it is a mission that has the strong support of Canadians.
The decision to engage in armed conflict, to kill other human beings is something that I will not take lightly. I have to remind the House that this is also what we are doing in Afghanistan. We do not talk a lot about that aspect of the mission, but we are killing people with whom we disagree. Taking others lives must never be done lightly.
I worry that we have not been struggling much with this in Canadian society, that we have been protected from that ugly reality of the war in Afghanistan, that we cannot get those kinds of statistics out of the Canadian armed forces or the government. However, there are many Afghan families for whom the reality of our role in that war has hit home directly because of the death of one of their loved ones in this conflict.
I am not a pacifist, but I do struggle with pacifism and I am challenged by friends and other Canadians who are pacifists.
I remember the legacy of J.S. Woodsworth, the leader of the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor to the NDP. At the beginning of World War II, he said the following in the debate in his opposition to the war of Canada entering the second world war:
I rejoice that it is possible to say these things in a Canadian parliament under British institutions. It would not be possible in Germany, I recognize that...and I want to maintain the very essence of our British institutions of real liberty. The only way to do it is by an appeal to the moral forces which are still resident among our people, and not by another resort to brute force.
I think those are important words for us to consider again at this time. We have to be very clear about what engaging in war really means, what the costs of that are, both the personal cost and the cost to our country as a society. It has to be a last resort, as something that must be engaged in only when all else has failed, as a direction that has to be taken for clear and definable reasons related to protecting our security. However, going to war has to be seen as an act that must ultimately be regarded as a failure in itself.
There is a role for the Canadian armed forces, that a traditional peacekeeping role is one of which Canadians have been proud, of which our armed forces have accumulated significant experience and expertise and one that does require that members of our armed forces understand and have trained for war. Sadly, I do not believe that we have that option any longer in Afghanistan now that we have committed to being a combatant in that war. However, this is something that Canada has been known for and of which Canadians are justly proud.
Doing due diligence on sending Canadians to war is the best way I, as an elected representative, can support the women and men of the Canadian armed forces. It is my job to ensure that they are only asked to risk their lives for the most important of reasons, especially when that mission is far from home and when the direct threat to Canada is harder to perceive.
We know the members of the Canadian armed forces will do as they are asked to the very best of their ability. Our job here is to ensure the justice, the feasibility of that request is clear and we have to make sure that it is clear when so much is on the line.
I am glad the government has put this motion before the House. The decision to go to war properly belongs here with the elected representatives of Canadians. I commend the current government for recognizing that. I wish the previous government had followed that path.
The motion before us commits Canada continuing its combat role in Afghanistan through to 2011. I do not support continuing the mission in Afghanistan. It is the wrong mission for Canada. It is a radical departure from the role that Canadians have come to expect from our armed forces, that of peacekeepers who separate combatants rather than taking sides and joining in combat. Canadians know that peacekeeping is a dangerous role and have mourned the death of many Canadians who risked their lives carrying out that task. This should be the role of our armed forces.
We should ensure a clearer understanding of that role as an aspect of public policy, not just as an assumption or understanding. We need to have that understanding more clearly enshrined in our public policy.
We should give immediate notice of our intention to withdraw and that any withdrawal should be done immediately, but should be done in a safe and secure manner.
Why are we in Afghanistan? That question is at the heart of why I believe this is the wrong mission for Canada. We have heard often that we are there because we want to ensure women's rights. We have heard that in the last hour. We have heard that we wanted to ensure that girls could attend school.
As noble as that is, I do not believe for one second that is why Canada sent troops to Afghanistan. Bad as the situation was in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and it was absolutely horrible, it is absolutely wrong to say that that is the reason why Canada is fighting a combat role there today. In any case, I do not believe that many women would want us to engage in an armed conflict to ensure women's right. If that were the case, our military would be very busy around the world and perhaps even have been busy here at home.
In fact, the situation for women and girls has not dramatically improved. A case in point, the only woman elected to the Afghan parliament from a constituency, who was not on a party list, Malali Joya, was suspended recently for her criticism of the Afghan government, hardly a shining moment for democracy in Afghanistan or a shining moment for the participation of women in that government.
We are in Afghanistan because of the fear that gripped the United States and Canada and many other countries after the events of September 11, 2001. Post-September 11 the U.S. was looking to retaliate for the horrible attacks on New York and Washington, and we got caught up in that call for retaliation.
It is hard to see how invading Afghanistan was the appropriate response to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Those who carried out the attacks were Saudis, for instance. How conventional warfare can defeat terrorism has never been clearly demonstrated to my satisfaction in any case.
Frankly, I worry there are other reasons too that we are in Afghanistan, reasons related to the control of oil resources and the security of their transport. I worry too that we are there to take the pressure off the United States for the difficulties of the war in Iraq, a war that most Canadians believe is an illegal war and which our government refused to participate in.
Also, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is internal Afghan politics, regional disputes, the ambitions of warlords, which will never be solved by western intervention, especially western military intervention. This war has only made the situation worse.
We have a choice. The choice is between continuing the war or charting a path to peace. That is what the NDP is proposing. We do not say we should just abandon Afghanistan. We do not believe we should abandon our responsibilities as members of the global community or as a country that has participated actively in this war. However, we must put all our efforts into seeing a plan for a political solution in Afghanistan.
There is considerable opinion to say that the war in Afghanistan will not be won, that the war is an approach that only creates more problems, or that situation is getting worse, not better. Who said that? Here are some of the quotes that we have heard a number of times already in this debate.
One quote is, “every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating 15 more who will come after you”. Major General Andrew Leslie, former chief of the Canadian land staff, said that.
Another quote is from retired Colonel Michel Drapeau, who said, “I don't think Canada is winning the war, and this war is not winnable”.
British Captain Leo Docherty said that Afghanistan is a “textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency”.
Another quote is, “the situation is deteriorating and...NATO forces risk appearing like an army of occupation.” That is from the defence minister of Belgium.
Another one is, “one should not try to bury one's head in the sand...the operation is encountering real difficulties.... the situation is not improving.” The French defence minister said that.
Finally, “if...the international community cannot find a”—political solution—“...then...we have no moral right to ask our young people to expose themselves to that danger”. The United Kingdom's defence minister said that.
Even the Manley report has noted that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in the Kandahar region. It states:
By many knowledgeable accounts, security generally has deteriorated in the South and East of Afghanistan, including Kandahar province where Canadian Forces are based, through 2006 and 2007. The Taliban insurgency to some degree has regrouped during the past 18 months; the frequency of its small attacks and the numbers of civilian fatalities it has inflicted were higher in 2007 than in 2006.
The war in Afghanistan has now gone on longer than the world wars and there is no end in sight, and by any measure this war is not being a success.
We can chart a path to peace, and here in this corner of the House we believe we can do that. That is expressed in our amendment to the motion before us, wherein the NDP has called on the government:
—to begin preparations for safe withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from the combat mission in Afghanistan with no further mission extensions;
—that the government should engage in a robust diplomatic process to prepare the groundwork for a political solution under explicit UN direction and authority, engaging both regional and local stakeholders and ensuring the full respect for international human rights and humanitarian law;
that, in the opinion of the House, the government should maintain the current suspension of the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan authorities until substantial reforms of the prison system are undertaken;
—that the government should provide effective and transparent development assistant under civilian direction consistent with the Afghan Compact.
We need to get the control out of the hands of NATO, a military alliance, and put it back in the direct control of the United Nations. If the United Nations has a skill set, it is at dealing with regional conflicts, and there is a significant regional conflict at the heart of the war in Afghanistan. The United Nations can bring significant civilian resources to the solving of the situation in Afghanistan.
Some will say that the United Nations has authorized the NATO mission. The United Nations has essentially contracted out the war in Afghanistan to NATO and it should take back direct control of that operation.
We need to support the kind of measures outlined by Oxfam in its Continuing Peace Building in Afghanistan report. Robert Fox from Oxfam said:
Our report shows that a national strategy for community peace-building is five years overdue: with increasing levels of violence, there is no time to lose.
Oxfam points out that most efforts to build peace have been at a national level, where they have been stymied by warlords, corruption or criminality. It states:
The recent deterioration in security, particularly in the south and southeast, is evidence that the top down approaches by themselves are inadequate without parallel nationwide, peace-work at the ground level.
For the vast majority of disputes, Afghans turn to local institutions to solve them....Yet little has been done to enhance communities' capabilities to resolve problems peacefully, reduce violence and resist militant interference.
It talks about the key elements of a national community peace building strategy, which include: phased capacity building throughout the country; peace-building taught in all schools and incorporated into teacher training; awareness raising initiatives, at national and local levels; mechanisms to monitor shuras' adherence to the constitution in human rights; measures to clarify the role of informal justice in the courts.
Mr. Fox noted:
Existing measures to promote peace in Afghanistan are not succeeding, not only because of the revival of the Taliban, but also because little has been done to support families, communities and tribes—the fundamental units of Afghan society—to resolve disputes among them.
There have been serious problems with how we have conducted the war. We know the problems of prisoner transfers. We should never have transferred prisoners to Afghan authorities and should not be doing so.
We know that torture has been practised in the Afghan prison system. We have obligations under the Geneva Convention about how we deal with prisoners and we must take responsibility for their safety, security and treatment. If we are prepared to be engaged in war in Afghanistan, we should have engaged all of the responsibilities related to that engagement and our obligations to prisoners taken have not been met.
The whole question of the military delivery of development aid is one that I first raised in the previous Parliament in discussions in a take note debate on Afghanistan. We now hear that the Manley report is recommending so-called signature projects, mostly for Canadian consumption, to show how the war is going well. We know that military projects, military delivered aid, have often been to allow for more effective military operations, not necessarily to assist the civilian population.
Canada has traditionally not used the military to deliver aid. It has been for us a civilian exercise. We need to get back to that tradition.
I also want to mention the situation of Omar Khadr, the Canadian child who was caught up in the war in Afghanistan, a Canadian child soldier who remains the only western foreign national in the Guantanamo detention camp. We should have had him home a long time ago. We put a lie to any concern that Canada has ever expressed for child soldiers around the world and the adults who manipulate them by not having done something about his situation. It is another example of how we are not taking all aspects and complications of being at war seriously.
I do not believe that more troops will solve the problem. Where does the number of 1,000 come from? Where is the commitment from other countries to support that number? Look at the experience of the Soviet Union. There are so many parallels and it had so many more troops in Afghanistan than we do and were still unsuccessful there in a mission that looks very similar to what we purport to be doing there.
There is the question of the spending on the war. We are spending billions of dollars on the war effort. We are spending to outfit our armed forces for combat. As I have already said, I do not believe that this should be their international role and I am concerned that a peacemaking role may demand other kinds of equipment and resources. We may be tying our hands for many years to come.
We have spent over $7 billion so far and now we learn that we have overspent this year's budget for the war by $1 billion alone. The fiscal management of the war effort seems to have been lost. The so-called great financial managers in the current government seem to be failing and dramatically so when it comes to managing the costs of the war in Afghanistan. It is taking significant resources at a time when there are other significant needs here at home and around the world. The proportion of aid and development aid to military spending is all wrong in terms of this effort.
The significant problems faced by returning veterans and their families and the failure to ensure appropriate health care support and assistance is also a serious issue. We have asked these people to risk their lives and their health. There should be no questions asked when it comes to providing the best care for any veteran who served in Afghanistan. There is absolutely no excuse for this continuing to be a problem in Canada.
This is the wrong mission for Canada. Canadian and Afghan lives are being lost. Life in Afghanistan is not improving. Opium production is up. Corruption is up. Suicide attacks are up. Security has not been improved. Women are not more equal or freer. We are not winning this war and I do not believe we can win this war. We must begin in earnest the search for a political solution, the search for a path to peace.
I cannot in good conscience vote to commit to Canada's continuing participation in the war in Afghanistan. We should withdraw immediately, safely and securely. We should undertake a comprehensive peace process. We should make sure that we have an ongoing commitment to aid and development work in Afghanistan.
We should live in the hope of these familiar words, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.