Saturday, June 23, 2007

Quebeckers' Incomprehension on Afghanistan

Yesterday, a military parade was held in Quebec City. It was formed of 2000 soldiers who are part of the 5th Mechanized Brigade and the Royal 22nd Regiment, which will be sent in Afghanistan in July and August for 6 months. Apparently, 70% of Quebeckers are against the mission. No surprise here. Quebec has always had a mainstream tradition of being opposed to Canada's military commitments oversea.

Soldiers with the Canadian battle group take positions for a second day of operations to root out Taliban just west of Kandahar. (John Cotter/Canadian Press)

However, this opposition to this country's presence in Afghanistan can hypothetically be due to most Quebeckers' lack of information on the mission itself, according to Jocelyn Coulon, the director of the University of Montreal's Francophone Research Network on Peace Operations.

According to many anti-war protesters who talked yesterday, Canada is taking part to an "imperialist" adventure. In a poll conducted by Léger Marketing, 62% of Quebeckers believed that Canadian troops are in Afghanistan so that Canada can be in good terms with the USA rather than participating to the restoration of democracy and peace.

The mission is evidently led by troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Nevertheless, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO's general secretary, reminded everybody during a press conference in Montreal yesterday that the mission in Afghanistan is done with a mandate from the Security Council of the United Nations (UN). Needless to remind you that the UN forbids military occupation mission.

Moreover, many UN's representatives are in Afghanistan to contribute to the development and reconstruction of this Central Asian country. This means that many provinces of Afghanistan are stable, especially those who are far from the border shared with Pakistan.

Obviously, Scheffer also added that Canadian troops are making quite a difference not just in the province of Kandahar, but also in Afghanistan. Indeed, do you need to be reminded that most Afghan people support the presence of the NATO's troops on their national territory?

Reconstructing Afghanistan is not just a job done by soldiers, unlike what many people think. According to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the reconstruction is the result of a "complementary and mutually reinforcing efforts of the Canadian Forces, Canadian diplomats, development experts and civilian police." In fact, Scott Gilmore, the executive director of Peace Dividend Trust, stated that "whether it's microcredit, health care, justice, or private sector development, [the CIDA] and Canadian agencies are making an impressive difference in Afghanistan."

Many people believe that the mission in Afghanistan is devoid of humanitarian aid. Hopefully, with the help of the CIDA, which is responsible for the construction of many schools in Kandahar, 6 million children will be enrolled in schools in 2007-2008. Besides, with the economic programs conducted by the CIDA, over 220 000 women obtained saving services and small loans that will help them to test their entrepreneurship, which is something that they couldn't do under the Taliban's governance that isolated Afghanistan from modern influence.

If we also take in consideration the villages that have been reconstructed with the help of the CIDA in the province of Kandahar, 334 000 landmines were destroyed (as of January 18, 2007). Therefore, this contributed to free millions of square metres of land for agriculture and housing.

All in all, believing that the province of Kandahar is solely under the grip of Canadian troops is plainly wrong. Canada's mission in Afghanistan has a military aspect and also a humanitarian one as well. In fact, while Canada, through the CIDA, is supposed to spend over $100 million a year from 2003 to 2011, the CIDA spent $39 million in 2006-2007 to support international reconstruction and development activities in Afghanistan. After all, some myths about Canada's presence in Afghanistan need to be destroyed.


PS: Notwithstanding the opinion expressed by myself, this blog post was dedicated to Émilie, one of my former college classmates. I wish you the best of lucks in your future career in international development.

Yours truly,

Anh Khoi

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