Afghanistan Recommendations Canadian leadership Bonn Summit
Monday, November 28, 2011
Translations in progress: Pashto and French
As we reflect on the outcome of the ten-year effort, we find growing insecurity, bad governance, a corrupt judiciary, official corruption, sabotage of political institutions such as parliament, inexperienced security organs, sluggish pace of economic development, lethargic rebuilding process and stalled political process. If there is one more chance, it will require that Afghans help the international community correctly diagnose the problem, so that at Bonn the international backers of Afghan democracy can pledge to aid real political reform.
- Hussain Yasa, Editor-in-chief, Outlook Afghanistan.
The international commitment to remain engaged after the withdrawal of ISAF forces is the political consequence of our common decision to engage ten years ago. That is why the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn needs to credibly assure Afghans—and thus, the region—that they will not be abandoned again.
- Michael Steiner, Germany’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, chair of the International Contact Group.
Who We Are
The Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee (CASC) was established in the autumn months of 2007 to bring together Canadians from all walks of life who were committed to international and Canadian intervention in Afghanistan with the aim of ending the violence of all illegal armed groups, alleviating poverty, and supporting Afghan struggles for democracy, peace, justice, and stability. We support the UN-sanctioned ISAF mission, and we have fully supported the UN’s call for Canada’s continued military contribution to the Afghan cause for security, democracy and the rule of law.
Where We Stand
We insist that human rights are universal, not culture-specific, that women’s rights are human rights, and that the world should heed the demands of the Afghan people for a democratic and accountable government. We will persist in our call for Canadians to pay close attention to Afghan public opinion, which consistently reflects these demands. We will also persist in encouraging Canadians to inform themselves about Afghanistan, its people, culture, and its history, and we will lend our voices to those of the many Canadians who are committed to supporting humanitarian and development projects that meet the needs of the Afghan people.
The contents of this document are partly informed by CASC’s March 2010 report, “Keeping Our Promises – Canada in Afghanistan Post-2011: The Way Forward.” That report was aimed at providing recommendations for a Canadian rededication to Afghanistan following the July 2011 conclusion of the Canadian Forces’ “combat role” in Kandahar province. We were not displeased with the Government of Canada’s decision to reconfigure the Canadian Forces’ contributions to a training role, based mainly in Kabul. However, Canada (and the international community in general) has failed to adequately address the critically important work of democratic and constitutional reconstruction in Afghanistan, and this threatens to undermine all the accomplishments for which Canadians and Afghans have suffered over the past decade.
Our “Keeping Our Promises” report was based on consultations within the CASC membership, within the Afghan-Canadian community, the community of academic and expert opinion, and most importantly, we consulted across the spectrum of Afghanistan’s emerging civil society and Afghanistan’s political leadership. We directly canvassed more than 100 organizations, agencies and individuals. In Afghanistan, we consulted a cross-section of opinion, from former warlords to women’s rights organizations. We interviewed opinion-makers, government officials, civil rights advocates, teachers, several MPs, journalists and power brokers. We also spoke with representatives of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and officials with NATO and other international community agencies.
With a year and a half of hindsight, we are convinced that our recommendations were prescient, and the need for a Canadian rededication along the lines we proposed has grown more urgent. Circumstances have radically changed since March, 2010. Some for the better. Some for the worse.
Perhaps the most significant event to threaten the prospects for Afghanistan’s re-emergence as a sovereign and independent republic at peace with itself and its neighbours is the radical shift that has occurred in the United States’ policy under President Barack Obama. State Department communiqués betray a fluid and sometimes contradictory overall approach. However, the new American policy appears to be a reversion to the same “We don’t do nation-building” posture that so encumbered the early years of American involvement in Afghanistan following September 11, 2011 – the posture that is in large measure the cause of the predicament Afghanistan finds itself in today.
The word “democracy” now only rarely appears in any American pronouncement about US objectives in Afghanistan. A US Department of Defence October 2011 statement of strategic goal is a case in point: “The goal of the United States is to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda, and to prevent its return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan. The specific objectives in Afghanistan are to deny safe haven to al Qaeda and to deny the Taliban the ability to overthrow the Afghan Government. To support these objectives, U.S. and coalition forces will continue to degrade the Taliban insurgency in order to provide time and space to increase the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan Government so they can assume the lead for Afghanistan’s security by the end of 2014.”
Tragically, many NATO countries appear reluctant to challenge the new US administration’s narrow, wholly self-interested and short-sighted position. The new US strategy places no priority on the necessity of working with Afghans to ensure that accountable and effective state institutions replace mob rule, the way of the gun, warlord law and the fanatical “justice” of the Taliban throughout the country. Most informed observers recognize that it is the absence of accountable and competent state institutions that is most effectively fuelling the so-called “insurgency” in Afghanistan. The result is a vacuum, a state of affairs that invites Taliban terror, shadow-government subversion and proxy-war depredations fostered by the avowed and committed enemies of Afghan democracy in Tehran and Rawalpindi.
Canada is uniquely positioned to show leadership at the Bonn conference to staunch the haemorrhaging of the trust Afghans have placed in the international community, especially in the NATO countries and other democracies in the International Security Assistance Force alliance. At Bonn, Canada should work closely with Afghan civil society, especially with the Afghan women’s leadership, to ensure that the international community does not lose sight of the objective for which Canadian soldiers and their families have sustained such sacrifice and suffering.
Unlike any of the other leading contributors to the 47-nation ISAF coalition (the United States and Britain, for example) and unlike the key regional powers (Pakistan, Iran and China) Canada is understood to be unique. Among Afghans, Canada is known as a democracy with no history of foreign conquest, and particularly, no authorship of or involvement in the wars, imperialist adventures and proxy wars that tormented Afghanistan during the 19th century and especially in the latter half of the 20th century. Canada is trusted and well placed to play a particularly assertive role in the advance of democracy, security and human rights in Afghanistan. This is the cause for which Canadian soldiers have fought and the purpose to which the Canadian public has tolerated, as much as $18 billion of Canadian tax contributions since 2001.
Canada is exceptionally well suited to take on an aggressive role in support of self-reliant, Afghan-led institutions answerable to a fully accountable, transparent, and representative Afghan government. Canada must be uncompromising in its insistence that the Afghan government conducts all its affairs in accordance with democratic principles and international human rights norms. In its insistence upon an Afghan government that is democratically accountable to its people, Canada need not be concerned with trespassing upon Afghan sovereignty.
The promise of Afghan democracy is a promise that Canada (and other democratic states) made to the Afghan people. Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan amounts to a solemn promise that is not made merely to the current occupant of Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace, or to the current occupant of the American White House. Afghan sovereignty is the function of a triangular relationship between the Afghan people, the Afghan government, and the
international community. Afghan sovereignty consists of a complex suite of rights and obligations. In all of our engagements in Afghanistan, Canadians should be informed by this reality, and our government should act accordingly.
Recommendations for Canada’s Position at the Bonn Conference:
The way forward in Afghanistan is democracy: equal rights, the rule of law, a representative and accountable government, freedom of speech and assembly, a comprehensive and generous education, an entitlement to basic health services, and a fair chance at prosperity. There is no other way forward to peace and security in Afghanistan. So long as the international community allows Afghanistan’s neighbours to subvert Afghan sovereignty and democracy, there will be no peace or justice in Afghanistan, no matter how much or how little military effort is expended upon the fighting, degrading or containing the so-called Afghan “insurgency.”
1. Canada should actively oppose any initiative undertaken by any power (including the United States) under the auspices of “reconciliation” or “negotiation” with the Taliban or with any other armed groups involved in Afghanistan (including the Pakistani ISI) that do not fully engage the ISAF states, the Afghan parliament, Afghan civil society and women’s movement, and Afghan national minorities.
2. At the Bonn conference, Canada should take every opportunity to make space for the participation of Afghanistan’s parliamentary opposition and civil society, including representation from women from both of these groups.
3. Working with the Afghan parliament, Canada should lead and support a robust democratization initiative that includes the guarantee that by 2014, the Afghan Constitution has been subjected to a thorough review for the purpose of removing the constitution’s anti-democratic provisions, particularly the crippling centralization of political power in the presidential palace.
4. Working with Afghan parliamentarians, Canada should ensure that by 2014, Afghanistan’s absurd and unworkable single non-transferable vote electoral system is replaced by a rational and effective electoral law. Further, Canada should work with the major donor countries involved in Afghanistan to develop a clearer definition and determination of the breadth and scope of Afghan citizenship by way of a national census.
5. Canada’s military and police presence in Afghanistan should not be determined by any arbitrary 2014 end-date or by any American timetable, but rather by the objectives the training function is intended to accomplish. Further, the Canadian Forces should assist all branches of the Afghan security forces in developing their competence in the monitoring and enforcement of free and fair elections.
6. Canada’s role in assisting Afghanistan with its elections processes should be elevated to include an ambitious, long-term program of education and training aimed at all participants in the elections process – not just all relevant Afghan National Security Forces components but prospective candidates, their campaign teams, government officials at the national, provincial and district level, and the emerging political parties and coalitions. Voter education should be dramatically enhanced. Canada should actively recruit among Canadians with experience in running and monitoring elections to train and mentor their Afghan counterparts.
7. Canada should insist that for both practical reasons and for reasons of public trust, “Afghanization” of the elections process must not exclude the unencumbered engagement of internationally-appointed observers, monitors and overseers.
8. Afghanistan should be identified as a high priority for the on-again, off-again proposed Canadian democracy-promotion agency – an agency that should be established by consolidating the various efforts different Canadian institutions already make in this foreign-policy field. An agency field office should be established in Kabul as soon as practicable. The Agency should play a leading role in a new Canadian mission in Afghanistan, with a focus on the entrenchment of democratic institutions, good governance, and democratic capacity-building.
9. Canada should directly fund broad-based Afghan institutions with mandates to promote the study of democracy and the dissemination of democratic ideas, to advance national unity and the administration of justice, to elevate the legal and social status of women, and to restore Afghanistan’s central place in the intellectual, cultural and economic life of Central Asia.
10. To strengthen the protection of women’s human rights, Canada should focus on supporting the enforcement of existing domestic laws and of international law to which Afghanistan is a party to protect women, through the gender rights sensitization and training of the Afghan
National Police and by advocating for and supporting the reform and expansion of the judiciary. This should include the removal of judges with no formal training in secular law, the expansion of the family courts, and a well-funded monitoring agency to better prevent the use of tribal and other informal legal prescriptions within the courts system that systematically harm women’s rights.
11. To build on the investment Canadians have made in Afghanistan over the years, a sharper focus on long-term results is required. A substantial and long-term Canadian commitment to all levels of Afghanistan’s education sector would allow Canada the leverage to control the quality of the “outputs,” force greater coordination among Afghanistan’s donor partners, ensure greater efficiency in program delivery, build administrative capacity in Afghanistan’s education ministry, and eliminate corrupt practices particularly rampant in this Ministry.
12. Canada should remain committed to key education projects initiated during Canada’s tenure at the helm of the Kandahar PRT, and enhance Canadian involvement in the development of Kandahar University, with an emphasis on women’s education and Canadian-Afghan academic partnerships.
13. Canada should aggressively foster and fund initiatives in the recovery of Afghanistan’s cultural patrimony and its literary canon, the development of a vibrant Afghan publishing industry, and the cross-translation of works in English, French, Dari and Pashto. Canada should directly invest in the national public library, a network of provincial and regional libraries, village libraries and mobile libraries for remote rural areas.
14. Canada should further enhance Afghanistan’s intellectual, academic, trades and technical capacities by fostering partnerships between Canadian and Afghan universities and institutions, and by investing in scholarships, academic exchanges, civil-service exchanges, and a range of vocational and skills-transfer programs.