17 August 2007

Use the Time We Have

It's become clear in recent weeks that, barring a major policy shift from the opposition parties, Canada's commitment to Afghanistan will end in February 2009. They are overtly pre-occupied with extricating the Canadian Forces from Kandahar at that arbitrarily-set deadline, and have demonstrated no enthusiasm whatever to re-deploying to another region or a strategic recalculation of what Canada's military, diplomatic, and development personnel could and should do in Afghanistan beyond the current commitment. For its part, the government has indicated it is unwilling to forge ahead with a renewed commitment if it unable to secure the support of the other political parties. This is a bizarre way to conduct foreign policy, putting political interests ahead of national interests and principles, but nonetheless, this is how Canadian policy-makers operate.

I have been and remain a staunch advocate of Canadian participation in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to secure victory, which can be defined as creating conditions in Afghanistan that: eliminate the threat of the Taliban to the extent that the Afghan national security forces can police and subdue them without international assistance; provide for a stable democratic government with political institutions that are more likely to progress than to backslide into an illiberal authoritarian regime; permit a reasonable level of infrastructure in the areas of housing, education, health, and a legal justice system. We're not looking to create a landlocked Sweden, but we can assist in putting Afghanistan on the road to develop its future according to the wishes and interests of its people.

With the political context and conditions of victory established, I would like to urge the government to do all in its power to contribute to the success of Afghanistan in the months leading up to February 2009. We need to establish benchmarks in Kandahar so that we can determine whether or not progress is being made in critical areas of defence and development, and determine what tactics and strategies we can employ in concert with the Afghans and our allies to achieve those benchmarks and ensure that progress, to the extent possible, is linear. If this requires a larger contribution of Canadian personnel and resources, so be it. If this requires a diplomatic initiative to obtain greater contributions from our allies, so be it. There are going to be necessary commitments to make to Afghanistan in the forthcoming 18 months if we are to utilize our (apparently) remaining time there efficiently and effectively in order to leave a lasting mark on that country.

As I see it, this will be the great objective for the trio of Defence Minister Peter Mackay, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, and International Development Minister Bev Oda. They will have to work long and hard on this endeavour, garnering support for a strong push to the finish line from our allies, from the government, and from a still-skeptical Canadian public. I wish them all the best, and for continued progress in Afghanistan.

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