Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Afghanistan: The Conservative Position is as Clear as Mud

Ever since the Harper government released its proposed motion of the fate of Canada's role in Afghanistan, the Liberals have repeatedly asked the government whether the mission will really end in 2011 - a deadline the Liberals support. Harper's answers have been anything but clear, of course, since that's not what their motion says.

whereas the results of progress in Afghanistan, including Canada's military deployment, will be reviewed in 2011 (by which time the Afghanistan Compact will have concluded) and, in advance, the government will provide to the House an assessment and evaluation of progress, drawing on and consistent with the Panel's recommendations regarding performance standards, results, benchmarks and timelines;

Today, during question period, Harper said he expects the mission to end "around" 2011. That drew some loud guffaws.

Note the following passage in the Cons' motion as well:

therefore, the House supports the continuation of Canada's current responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to the end of 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan,

Actually, the most current expression of the UN Mandate on Afghanistan makes no mention of that 2011 date. In fact, it says this:

The resolution says the Security Council agreed to, "extend the authorization of the International Security Assistance Force, as defined in resolutions 1386 (2001) and 1510 (2003), for a period of 12 months beyond October 13, 2007."

So, where did the Conservatives get that 2011 date from?

The Liberals' motion notes:

this House takes note that in January 2006, the government participated in the London Conference on Afghanistan which resulted in the signing of the Afghanistan Compact which set out benchmarks and timelines until the end of 2010

According to the Afghanistan Compact, "end-2010" is indeed the date agreed upon.

Since the last house motion on Afghanistan committed Canada to the mission until February, 2011, the Liberals have offered this proposed timeline for withdrawal.

(c) the government of Canada immediately notify NATO that Canada will end its military presence in Kandahar as of February 1, 2011, by which point the time allotted to reach all of the benchmarks set out in the Afghanistan Compact will have expired, and as of that date, the redeployment of the Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar will start as soon as possible, so that it will have been completed by July 1, 2011;

Compacts, mandates, UN resolutions - it would be helpful if these parties would at least agree on what these agreements actually say. That would be the place to start.

As the Manley report stated, the Conservative government has a major communication problem when it comes to informing the public and parliament about what's happening in Afghanistan. You would think that any motion it would attempt to present on the mission would start from a factual and crystal-clear basis.

I suppose that's too much to ask from this government - as has been proven time and time again.

As for the Liberals position, as The Star's columnist, Thomas Walkom, points out:

Nowhere in the new Liberal motion is there a specific call for an end to the combat mission. Dion says the Liberals want to end the fighting role, but their motion does not.

He's right.

So, while the Liberals and Conservatives perform their confrontational kabuki dances in parliament every day over who wants to do what when, the fact is that both parties are determined to commit Canada's soldiers to more fighting and dying past February, 2009 in a mission about which it was long ago concluded that, just as in Iraq, there can be no military solution.

I'm with the NDP and the BQ on this war: bring the troops home now. Enough is enough.

And, to the Conservative and Liberal leaders: stop the dancing and tell the truth.


According to the National Post:

A government source said Wednesday the government is "fairly certain" it will withdraw its motion and table a new one after reviewing the Liberal amendments over the next "few days."

That should be interesting.

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