Mr. Speaker, I take the responsibility we have with great seriousness. In my view it is unfortunate the debate has not happened in a more fulsome way across the country.
This government initiative is of fundamental importance to all of us. Nothing the government does is more serious than sending our armed forces into another country. In light of that, it is important that we have this debate, but we also have to find some way to reach out to the broader society and allow Canadians the opportunity to have their say. People want to engage in debate on this issue because they are concerned. They are on both sides of this issue. We need to be respectful of and open to the possibility of their coming forward to put their thoughts on the table for us to consider.
In my few minutes today I am going to bring to the table some thoughts on this subject from some of the faith groups in Canada. They have taken great pains to gather information, to do research, to put together positions, and write letters to the powers that be on the important subject of our engagement in the lives of the people of Afghanistan.
There are a number of questions that need to be addressed, and they will be addressed ultimately by all of us as we stand to vote this afternoon.
Is the war winnable? If so, at what cost to Canadians, at what cost to the Canadian armed forces, and most important, at what cost to the people of Afghanistan? Is there a higher moral and ethical value that we need to consider than simply the logistics of executing a war in order to win that war? Is there a higher moral and ethical value that we need to consider if we want to be helpful in that area of the world that has been wracked with difficulty for such a long period of time?
Ultimately then, having considered those questions which I put forward with respect and humility to my colleagues, will this resolution that we are debating today get us there? Will it set us on a path to something which would be a win for everybody concerned? Will it respect the higher values and moral and ethical considerations of many around the world who look at war from a different perspective after having fought world wars and other wars of great consequence and great devastation and destruction?
The first question I will address is, is the war winnable? That is questionable at best and it is certainly not winnable without more troops and artillery as was outlined so clearly in the Manley report.
The story of the Afghan people is not dissimilar to stories in other parts of the world where outside forces try to impose new cultural mores or a new set of values. People will resist and defend with their lives what they treasure most, their land and their freedom.
I only have to look at my own story and the story of the Irish people to understand to some degree what is at play in Afghanistan. The war in Ireland could not be won no matter how many British soldiers were sent in. A resolution and a cease to hostilities was only possible with the Good Friday agreement, a negotiated agreement that involved sitting down with the IRA. As my colleague from Outremont related the other night, Canada played a significant and central role in that effort because we were trusted and because we were seen to be non-aligned.
Two nights ago, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior shared brilliantly the recent experience of the failed Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians used the same tactics as ourselves and yet, after engaging over 100,000 troops, they had to leave not having achieved any of their goals, however noble, and interestingly not unlike our own.
Manley outlines the many signs of failure in Afghanistan. Our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, spoke about them in his opening remarks in this debate. The Associated Press reported 5,000 lives lost in Afghanistan in 2007 alone, 27 of them Canadian soldiers, but that number has now gone up to 31, and thousands of Afghan soldiers, women and children.
History and our experience today should tell us that under the present circumstances this war cannot be won. Even Manley tells us we will need at least another thousand troops. The Liberals asked a good question here in this House. How was that number arrived at? Will that be enough? Will we need more after we discover that a thousand just is not enough? And when do we stop?
I now take us into a broader discussion of the moral and ethical values which need to be considered as we look at this resolution and the further engagement of Canada in this insurgency. In its communiqué of January 24, 2008, the Canadian Council of Churches referred to its letter of June 25, 2007 to the Prime Minister, in which it emphasized three points:
1) the primary goal of Canadian engagement in Afghanistan must be the pursuit of peace for the people of Afghanistan rather than forwarding the war on terror;
2) a political solution for reconciliation among the people of Afghanistan must be found using all available diplomatic means, including engaging civil society and religious networks; and
3) the efforts of Canadian Forces must be directed to the protection of lives and the preservation of civilian infrastructure.
In a statement in February of this year, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said:
The people of Afghanistan want peace. We hope this conviction will be central to the deliberations by the Parliament of Canada. Political and electoral considerations must take second place when it is a question of human lives and a people's future. We would invite the members of Parliament to put aside any predetermined stances, recognizing that the truth will involve concerted efforts. Diverse points of view need to be welcomed as contributions toward developing a detailed and constructive action plan, with peace as the ultimate goal.
Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has developed a rich and wise social teaching that can help inform the present discussion. I wish to suggest three points that flow from this teaching:
1. "It is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an instrument of justice." Peace negotiations, carried out in good faith and involving all the parties concerned - this approach needs special consideration.
2. A clear distinction must be made between military operations and humanitarian aid. In particular, "humanitarian aid must reach the civilian population and must never be used to influence those receiving it." Otherwise, one endangers the lives of numerous civilians as well as those humanitarian workers who become targets for the insurgents.
3. The human dignity of Canadian soldiers must be safeguarded. Their moral integrity is brought into question when international law is not respected, especially when the troubling issue is the torture of enemy combatants. Furthermore, the personal well-being of Canadian soldiers and their families must be ensured.
In August 2007 a number of Christian leaders wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister:
We share with you and all Canadians of good will the desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan. As churches, we are committed to protecting human life, promoting human dignity, working for justice, practicing forgiveness, and building peace and reconciliation. These commitments are part of our vision of living out the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
They ask a number of important questions. For example, under the rubric “Reconciliation”:
How can Canada support reconciliation within Afghanistan?...How can Canada support negotiations leading to peace in Afghanistan?...How can Canada foster greater respect for human rights in Afghanistan?...How can Canada support Afghanistan, a fragile state, and promote human rights?...How can Canada best support reconstruction and development in Afghanistan?...How can the Canadian Forces best be deployed in Afghanistan to advance the safety and well being of people wherever they are threatened?...
These are the very questions that we in this caucus, in this little corner of the House, are asking in this very important debate on our engagement in Afghanistan. These leaders of many of the major church groups in our country went on to say:
We believe that The Canadian Forces should focus on enhancing protection of vulnerable Afghans rather than on aggressive engagement with insurgents in areas where the local population is suspicious or alienated from the central government. Such a shift in The Canadian Forces’ operational mandate would be an important consideration in the ongoing public dialogue regarding Canada’s role in Afghanistan.
These are words and thoughts which all of us should consider seriously and very thoughtfully as we make up our minds as to how long we are going to prolong this engagement and how that engagement is going to unfold in the next few years as we put our resources and efforts toward it.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, an organization that does aid work in the third world, had this to say in its paper of October 23, 2006:
1. We are in favour of a prosperous and secure Afghanistan for all, a country where Afghan men and women can live in dignity and enjoy a clear and active participation in the country's social, economic and political life.
It puts forward a number of positions, but I will share with the House two or three of the ones that fit with my thoughts and the presentation here today. That organization said:
3. We ask that responsibility for foreign military operations in Afghanistan be turned over to the United Nations as soon as possible, and that NATO be relieved of this responsibility. It is essential that all military operations avoid being or being seen as a western occupation of the country. All NATO countries (with the exception of Turkey) are western nations.
The organization also stated:
8. We ask that the all party intra-Afghan dialogue, involving both those within and those that have left the country, be re-established. The dialogue must be frank, open, and without fear of retaliation. All parties must have the ability to express their perspectives and grievances and, in doing so, contribute to building a new national consensus.
Those are the thoughtful comments of many of our esteemed church leaders who have spent years thinking about this issue and talking with their colleagues, their communities and others across this country. As we consider where they feel from a moral and ethical perspective we should be going, the question we need to consider as we move toward the vote on this resolution tonight is, can the results of this resolution, based on the Manley report, take us to another place based on the values outlined by many of our faith communities?
Will a recommitment to the insurgency for another three years or more after 2009 lead to peace ultimately, and peace is what all of us want, or will more troops get us there? Really, when we boil it down, that is what is being asked for by the Manley report. It says that we cannot win the war under the present circumstances and with the present engagement, but that if we add more troops and more artillery, we can win somewhere, somehow, down the way. We do not know when and we do not know how much it will take.
All we know, as was ably presented to us the other night by our colleague from British Columbia, is that the Russians, after laying out all the same reasons that we are now laying out for our engagement in Afghanistan, and after having brought in 100,000 troops, had to concede defeat and leave.
As for that report, I do not think so, personally, and that is why I am standing here today to make this thoughtful and serious presentation to all members in the House. There were many intelligent and cogent arguments made by my colleagues and others over the last few days to suggest that they agree as well: this resolution will not get us to that place of peace and freedom that the Afghan people so desperately want.
I will leave my thoughts with members. I will add a couple of ideas more, which members might ruminate on and think about during the few hours before the vote takes place, a couple of conditions that are laid out by those who do this kind of work of looking at what the conditions for a just war in our world today might be.
They say that a just war must be an effort of “last resort”. They say, “For resort to war to be justified, all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted”. That is what we are asking for here as New Democrats: that all peaceful alternatives be exhausted in this exercise, this effort and this work that we do in Afghanistan.
There are a few other conditions that I think are important. Members might want to take some time to look at them. They are readily available on the Internet, which is where I found them.
The article goes on to say that there has to be some high degree of “probability of success”. The authors say, “This is a difficult criterion to apply, but its purpose is to prevent irrational resort to force or hopeless resistance when the outcome of either will clearly be disproportionate or futile”.