Monday, April 10, 2006

what type of govt do we have when we get no real answers; i will never support our role from peacekeeping to this type of open warfare ...

Parliment debates Canada's role in Afghanistan
April 10, 2006, The Canadian Press

{'no answers from O'Connor ... Dosanjh said: he thinks that happened because recent polls have indicated faltering support for the mission, especially as it has drifted far from peacekeeping and into open warfare .... Bachand said: Canadians will support the mission when they realize what it is trying to accomplish.'}

OTTAWA -- Fighting terrorists in Afghanistan is better than waiting until they show up in Vancouver, Montreal or Ottawa, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor told the Commons on Monday.

"Canada is in Afghanistan because it is in our national interest,'' he said. "Our security begins very far from our borders.''

MPs debated Canada's role in Afghanistan amid growing casualty lists, blood-curdling threats from terrorists and polls which suggest Canadians are divided on the mission.

The "take-note'' debate was more of a discussion than an actual debate, with no party opposed to the deployment and no vote held.

Interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham, who led a similar House debate on the topic as defence minister last November, said he saw it as "an opportunity for the Canadian people to better understand this mission.''

A small group of peace protesters on Parliament Hill demanded an immediate withdrawal from the southwest Asian country. One called Monday's debate "an absolute sham.''

The NDP, while supporting the troops, went after both the Liberals and the Tories on some aspects of the mission.

Party defence critic Dawn Black raised the question of an agreement signed with the Afghan government regarding prisoners. Some international law experts have suggested the agreement might see Canadian troops turning prisoners over to torture, something that might leave Canadian troops open to charges under international law.

O'Connor and Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh both defended the agreement, saying it provides for the Red Cross and Red Crescent to monitor prisoners.

Black said her party backs the military: "Of course we support the men and women of the Canadian Forces.''

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the debate was a chance to ask key questions, including some raised by O'Connor himself while he was defence critic:

- What is Canada's role?

- How long will it take?

- How is victory to be defined?

"Too many of these questions are not adequately answered.''

He got no answers from O'Connor.

The new Conservative government had tried to fend off calls for a debate, saying it wasn't needed and would only serve to hurt morale among the troops.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper reversed himself abruptly last week and scheduled the debate.

Dosanjh said he thinks that happened because recent polls have indicated faltering support for the mission, especially as it has drifted far from peacekeeping and into open warfare.

He commended Harper for holding the debate.

He also said it's vital to have troops there if the country is to have a chance at rebuilding.

"Reconstruction is not possible without security,'' Dosanjh said.

Layton said Canadians incorrectly thought the mission was one of traditional peacekeeping and have been taken aback by recent gun battles between Canadian and Taliban forces.

Terror attacks against civilians as well as foreign and Afghan troops are now routine. Afghan authorities say domestic insurgents have been reinforced from outside the country, with Iraqi-style suicide attacks growing in numbers.

A survey by Decima Research last weekend suggested an even split among respondents when asked if Canadian troops should be in Afghanistan.

Neither Harper nor Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe took part in the debate. A spokesman for Harper said the prime minister made his support for the mission clear while visiting Afghanistan last month.

"You would really think that on something of this magnitude and importance that the prime minister would be here,'' Layton said.

Peace activists, who want Canada out, have denounced the operation as nothing more than a branch of U.S. President George W. Bush's war on terror.

However, non-governmental groups are more supportive, recognizing that aid workers need protection in a country that is slumping into chaos.

Canada has been deeply involved in Afghanistan since February 2002, when a battle group went in to co-operate with American and other coalition forces in rooting out Taliban holdouts. In August 2003, Canadian troops moved into Kabul as part of an international stability force.

Last fall, Canadians set up shop in the troubled southern city of Kandahar, where they have since found themselves attacked by suicide bombers and roadside booby traps, and fighting rural skirmishes with militant holdouts.

During the various missions, 11 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killed.

Last weekend, Afghan insurgents threatened more mayhem.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, insurgent spokesman Qari Yuosaf Ahmedi said the Taliban are convinced the resolve of the Canadian people is weak and that public support will sag as suicide attacks and roadside blasts increase.

"We think that when we kill enough Canadians they will quit war and return home,'' he said.

Monday's Commons debate was a sign of that weakness, he added.

Claude Bachand of the Bloc Quebecois scoffed at that comment.

"I think this is a sign of the health of our democracy as opposed to a dictatorship with the Taliban,'' Bachand said.

He said Canadians will support the mission when they realize what it is trying to accomplish.

"Once people learn what the Canadian troops are really doing there, I think that they will agree with what we are doing and we will have more support.''

Canada is ostensibly in Afghanistan as part of a NATO operation, although in practical terms the mission is under an American umbrella. Washington provides much of the clout for the entire deployment.

Afghanistan remains a dysfunctional country. Hamid Karzai was elected president in the fall of 2004 in a vote made possible only by the presence of thousands of foreign soldiers.

Karzai's power barely reaches the Kabul city limits and even within he is protected by foreign bayonets. The outlying regions are run by warlords or have descended into outright anarchy benefiting only the bandits and opium farmers.

Afghanistan has been in turmoil for a generation. The Russian invasion of 1980 exacerbated old tribal rivalries and produced a long guerrilla war which eventually brought the fundamentalist Taliban regime to power.

After the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, the Taliban refused to expel al-Qaida forces and brought an American invasion, which ousted the regime.

Since then, foreign troops, including Canadians, Americans and Britons, have tried to keep a lid on the country with one hand while trying to encourage a more moderate, popularly elected government and promote reconstruction and development on the other.