Ruxted has spent the summer calling for a greater show of leadership from the Prime Minister and his deputies with respect to the Afghanistan mission. Ruxted has called for more and better communication from the responsible departments, particularly DFAIT and the PMO, in order to educate Canadians. Recent comments from Peter MacKay suggest that the government is learning.
Unfortunately, the importance of supporting the 2006 Afghanistan Compact is not being effectively communicated in such a way that Canadians hear the message. Even worse, the government has failed to outline its vision with regard to how it sees Canada meeting this international obligation that lasts until 2011.
Now, in the absence of a clear vision from Mr Harper, the opposition has taken the initiative. Both the Liberals and the Bloc have threatened to topple the government on the issue of Afghanistan.
It is a gamble on the opposition's part because the Afghan mission can be easily sold to Canadians as being in keeping with our national principles. In fact, turning our back on the Afghan people would be hypocritical of a nation that self-indulges in a vision of itself as a peacekeeper.
Unfortunately, it appears the opposition's gamble is working and senior members of the Harper government have begun to hint that the military mission will end in 2009. Ruxted knows that there cannot be success in Afghanistan without the military component. We hope this is a truth that Canadians can understand and one that politicians will not ignore for political gain.
Since reconstruction and infrastructure work in Afghanistan attracts the population toward the legitimate Government of Afghanistan, the Taliban and their allies will continue to attack schools, hospitals, infrastructure and the people who work there or partake of their services; security has to be provided.
Helping the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in the daunting task of defending the people and infrastructure will inevitably involve Canadian military action and the use of force, and it seems obvious that as reconstruction proceeds and greater success is achieved by ISAF and the Government of Afghanistan, the Taliban will resort to increasingly violent attacks to stop reconstruction and to negatively influence western media and public opinion. Regardless what role Canadians fill in Afghanistan, they will continue to be targeted and therefore must continue to take proactive steps to protect themselves and continue the mission. It will be impossible to separate military action from reconstruction for several more years.
If we are serious about Afghanistan, then we must continue to stand with the Afghan Government and its people for many years to come. Women who are starting businesses with Canadian micro financing need two or three years to learn their business and make a profit. The forty thousand or so children who are now surviving infancy who might not have before our arrival need us to stand with them until they can go to school. The seven million children who are in school now need us to stand with them for a decade or more until they can graduate and begin to take up skilled trades and professions. As the years go by, our contributions will change with the circumstances, and the field force will eventually be able to go home, but it is currently the most effective and enduring symbol of our commitment to Afghanistan and the Afghan people.
Ruxted has suggested there may well be another way to execute the military component of the mission. Change and evolution are not bad things when driven by a rational assessment of mission requirements. The opposition calls for military abandonment do not appear to meet this rational threshold.
In fact, reducing Canadian contributions to Afghanistan not only violates the spirit of the Afghanistan Compact, which our government signed in early 2006, but is also in direct opposition to the stated values of all Canadian political parties, as well as our historical role as a leading middle power. Canadian history is all about taking up great challenges and winning; why should we stop doing great deeds now because a few politicians don’t see personal benefit in this?
Once again, Ruxted requests that the Prime Minister show leadership on this issue. In this regard, he must articulate not just why we help the Afghan people but how he feels we should help the Afghan people.
Debating the next leg of the mission in Parliament is fitting with our democracy. Waiting for that debate in order to unveil a plan will only allow time for the opposition to not only undermine the importance of the essential military component, but also to frame the question itself in the most negative and ideologically driven way possible.
Therefore, the PM must voice and sell his vision now. He must sell it in the House he must sell it in the media, and he must sell it to Canadians.
He must not allow the opposition to put him on the defensive; he must seize the initiative. He must remind Canadians of promises, forged under the previous Liberal government, to support the Afghan nation until the end of 2010. He must remind Canadians of the peace and stability that we are bringing to Afghanistan.
He must also remind Canadians using the world's recent history - the darkest days of international inaction in Rwanda and the Congo, the feeble and misguided efforts at peacekeeping without first ensuring security in war zones like Bosnia and Somalia - that human rights and humanitarianism without the courage of conviction and a willingness to fight when the going gets tough are just pitiful words without power, without the ability to change the world or even save a single life.
The goal that the Liberal Government of Canada agreed to in 2002 was the creation of a stable Afghan state, with a consensual government under the Rule of Law. To signal a withdrawal now or set an end date of 2009 can only serve to embolden our enemies and prevent us from reaching that goal. Ruxted asks: What are the motives of Canadian politicians who work against that goal?
Prime Minister Harper must act now if he wants to avoid an ignoble defeat for Canada. Every day that passes without leadership brings us a day closer to the opposition forcing our capitulation to the Taliban.