Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity this morning to participate in the debate. We are dealing with a government motion, crafted by a Conservative-Liberal marriage of convenience, to extend the Kandahar counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan for three more years from the time when we find ourselves debating on this occasion.
I want to make reference to the acknowledgement, widely shared and widely expressed, that there is no military solution to the devastating problems that are plaguing the lives of people in Afghanistan today.
That is not a recent idea that has come from the New Democratic Party. It has been acknowledged repeatedly over a period of several years, including by members of the government, by the UN secretary general, by the NATO secretary general and by the President of Afghanistan himself when he spoke in this place two years ago.
What does it mean to say that there is no military solution? It means that Afghanistan has serious political problems and that those problems can only be resolved through political solutions.
From the perspective of many people who have studied those problems, it requires that we shift from what is primarily a military counter-insurgency effort. The dollars that Canada expends and how we distribute those dollars indicates how overwhelmingly this is a military mission to which Canada has committed itself. We must shift on to what needs to be a comprehensive, complex peace-building mission.
Unfortunately, the Liberal modified Conservative motion, which we find ourselves debating today, simply fails to recognize that fact and all of the evidence that backs up that position.
The problem with the mission is not that more time is needed. We need to be clear that this motion would extend the military mission to 2011, three more years. The problem with the mission is that it is flawed and, because it is flawed, it is failing in some of the most fundamental ways that matter most to the people of Afghanistan.
I do not want to take all of my time to talk about the six courageous, articulate women members of Parliament from Afghanistan who were here visiting last week, but I too had the opportunity and I welcomed the opportunity to talk to those six members of Parliament from Afghanistan, as I have other members of Parliament from Afghanistan.
Yes, they understandably pleaded the case for Canadians not to turn their backs on the people of Afghanistan. I welcomed the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that it has never been the view of the Canadian people nor the New Democratic Party, as has been disgustingly suggested again and again by government members, to cut and run, one of the most vile terms that could possibly be used to characterize the view of Canadians and my party. As a representative of my party, I deeply resent that representation, not just because it came out of the mouth of George Bush and was immediately parroted by Conservative members of Parliament and now by Liberals, but because it is such a pathetic misrepresentation and distortion of what the view is, which is that there needs to be a comprehensive, robust, diplomatic effort if this series of political problems are to be solved and the people of Afghanistan will be able to get on a positive constructive course to build their lives.
One of the things that is deeply disturbing is the distortion that is created about the position we have consistently advocated. It does such a disservice. It is so insensitive to our troops who are serving as they have been asked to serve by their government in a mission not of their choosing and not of their creation, but one in which they respond to the call of duty. Our troops have never done otherwise. They have always served courageously and competently in carrying out the duties assigned to them.
Clearly it needs to be recognized that NATO is not a diplomacy agency. NATO is a military alliance. It is not multilateralist military alliance either in any global sense or even regional sense that has any relevance to the region in which Afghanistan is located. NATO is primarily a war-fighting machine. It does not have the competence, mandate or experience to be involved in the kind of multilateralist mission to get us on a path to peace. That is why there is a growing crescendo of persons who are involved in the international development field who have long experience in peace building, in peace seeking and peacekeeping who say we need to shift that mission from one that is NATO led to one that is lodged within the purview of the United Nations.
The Manley panel itself identified again and again the lack of coordination that is taking place under the NATO umbrella. The problem with the Manley commission report, as I see it, is that much of its analysis and many of its conclusions were actually quite accurate. The difficulty is there was a huge gulf between the panel's analysis and conclusions, and the recommendations it made. Essentially the panel said that the approach is not working, that insecurity is becoming even more of a problem, that it is not coordinated, and let us do more of the same for another lengthy period of time. That is exactly what the Liberal-Conservative motion on the floor of this House today is prescribing.
It is time to acknowledge Afghanistan for what it really is. It is a conflict among Afghans and other regional actors. Our role is to find a way to contribute to ending that conflict, not prolonging it or, worse still, becoming a party on one side of the conflict. It requires a shift from the role of combatants on the front line in the so-called war on terror to peace support professionals in a dynamic interstate conflict that is in a multilateralist framework. That means reorienting the current strategy away from combat and toward a coordinated diplomatic, developmental and peace support mission.
In the absence of a concentrated political effort, coordination of the military, diplomatic and development strategies in Afghanistan has been severely hampered by internal divisions. This has been hampered by duplication and sometimes competing objectives in terms of various initiatives. This has been hampered by a failure to address Afghan's most pressing needs as outlined in the Afghanistan Compact. Canada must channel its contribution through new and different avenues to support a comprehensive, intelligent peace process and real nation building efforts.
The path to peace has to be organized around institutions that are designed for such tasks. The UN constellation of agencies, the very raison d'être of the UN, is surely in the best position to host those vital roles and initiatives. There are roles for UNICEF and the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Heaven knows we have a major problem to find the way to support and protect women in that society. There is a role for the United Nations Development Programme. Our development contribution has been outstripped 10:1 in terms of the resources allocated for Canada's current mission in Afghanistan. There is a role for United Nations Disarmament Commission, and there may be a role for the UN Peacebuilding Commission, which is led by a proud, distinguished Canadian woman who served this country as a distinguished CIDA official, as a long-time UN official doing effective peace building in a number of countries.
At least two years ago, former deputy minister Gordon Smith stated before the foreign affairs committee, “What is needed is a process of substantial conversation or reorientation of anti-state elements into an open and non-violent political dynamic”. This means placing our diplomatic weight behind peace initiatives at the local, regional and international levels in a coordinated fashion.
We need to be using the considerable skills and expertise of Canadians to help bring the various actors who are parties to these conflicts in Afghanistan to the table. Taking the path to peace through diplomacy also means involving the regional actors who are now excluded and often are contributing in devastating ways to the problems of violence in the region.
More than just new diplomacy, we also need better aid and development. Time does not allow me to talk in detail about this in the context of this debate, but we must do a better job in meaningful development work. There are some good, positive results where we are doing that in some parts of Afghanistan. We should acknowledge that and build on those strengths. What is needed is greater civilian oversight of the Canadian development aid, not more military engagement in a role that does not belong lodged within the military.
Given the decision the government has made to extend the current mission with the support of the Liberals, we are in danger of turning some of that good work that is being done in Afghanistan through the development effort, but not enough of it and not accompanied by a robust peace building effort, in the wrong direction.
It is very worrisome for those who have experience on the ground both in Afghanistan and in other conflict zones that the Manley report and the government apparently advocate directing more of our international development efforts into so-called signature projects.
What people need in Afghanistan is meaningful international development initiatives that will change in a positive way the lives of Afghans, not more Canadian flags to try to gain more Canadian support and approval for what we are doing in Afghanistan that is so deeply flawed.
We also know that a great deal more accountability is needed. Although this Liberal-Conservative motion to a large extent misses the very point of what is needed, it has to be acknowledged, and this is a positive thing, that there has not been the transparency and accountability and we need to build those in. In that respect there is some progress in this otherwise inadequate and flawed motion that is before us.
There were six women members of parliament here from Afghanistan. I was not surprised to hear both the foreign affairs minister and the CIDA minister say that they were just cheerleaders for exactly what the government is doing.
It is very tricky to have a debate here about the true sentiments of women who know what kind of punishment can be meted out to them for speaking out either inside or outside of parliament, especially outside of one's country.
We know what happened with Malalai Joya, also a courageous woman member of parliament. She told the very same truth that was acknowledged by the six women members of parliament that women are at severe risk not just at the hands of the Taliban, but also at the hands of warlords and drug lords, and in some cases the northern alliance and even male members of parliament. For speaking out, Malalai Joya was not only evicted from parliament, but the protection she needed for her life to be safe was removed. This makes her at even greater risk.
I listened to those six members of parliament respectfully, and I welcomed the opportunity to do so. There were three points on which they expressed considerable interest and support. I thought one was quite interesting.
The leader of the NDP, the Afghan ambassador and I met with them. We raised the question of the UN getting on with the diplomatic effort and meaningful development. They looked us straight in the eye and told us that we needed to do that because they were too busy dealing with what needs to happen around working in compliance with the Afghanistan Compact and other important work.
They did not reject at all the notion that there needs to be a great deal more in terms of meaningful humanitarian aid and development effort. They indicated, and these were their words, that many of the people are being drawn into the Taliban because they are starving, because they are desperate, because they do not have jobs, because they do not have income and they cannot feed their families. Those people are easy prey for bribery or being paid so they can feed their families. How many times have we heard that from others? Who is in a better position to confirm that than those six members of parliament?
An increasing number of voices are speaking out about getting on the path to peace and getting off the war effort. They want us to begin to seriously undertake diplomatic and development work. I start by quoting the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan who several months ago stated:
--there is a cry for peace in Afghanistan, from the civil society...and there are possibilities for peace.
It is obvious that among those who support the Taliban and even among those who support their violent actions, there are...people who are tired of war and who respond to the cry of the people for peace. We from the United Nations will certainly support peace talks because the insurgency cannot be won over by military means and we have to keep the door open for negotiations.
Ernie Regehr, a much respected internationalist in terms of peace building and progress to peace, stated:
A comprehensive peace process is required to address the fundamental conflicts and grievances that remain unaddressed in Afghan society. This is a process to build a relationship of trust between the southern Pashtuns and the rest of the country, in the context of respect for fundamental rights and addressing the conflict that fuelled the civil war that predated the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion and is--