Afghan mission bound to fail, says Caritas head

  • December 18, 2006
TORONTO - Canada's twin goals of military success and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan are doomed to failure, the president of Caritas Internationalis told The Catholic Register as he visited the international aid network's Canadian partner.

"We are making many, many mistakes and a lack of analysis of the situation and of history," said Denis Vienot about the NATO-led military intervention in Afghanistan. "Never, never this country has accepted any external forces in its territory. It was the case for centuries — for the Russians and for the British."

Of 162 Catholic aid and relief agencies around the world linked to Caritas, the American, German, Dutch, Italian and Irish arms of the network are running education, peace building and agricultural projects in Afghanistan. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis, but has no projects in Afghanistan.

The biggest problem with Canada's presence in Afghanistan is the mix of more than 2,000 troops with various humanitarian and relief projects. When the military is responsible for imposing a particular political outcome and delivering aid, aid becomes politicized and the divisions in the country deepen, said Vienot.

"It's a matter of principle," said the 60-year-old Parisian lawyer. "The confusion of co-operation between military and humanitarian workers — our position clearly is that it is not a good idea. It is not a good practice to create confusion when the armies are involved in the humanitarian field."

A 16-page Caritas policy directs all Caritas agencies to be leery of working with military authorities for fear that when troops deliver aid or even guard aid convoys and projects it will "undermine the impartial and independent nature of humanitarian aid."

"Examples of the negative and destructive nature of armed forces include civil wars, ethnic conflicts, coups, the phenomenon of child soldiers and the militarization of emergency aid," said the Caritas policy on relations with the military.

Since 2001, Canada has sent more than 14,000 soldiers to Afghanistan and pledged $656 million in development aid through the Canadian International Development Agency. Canadian aid projects include retraining ex-soldiers from various forces fighting in Afghanistan, clearing land mines from 850 square kilometres of the country and support for the democratic process. Troops have been involved in building schools, digging wells and training and equipping Afghan police.

It's no accident that military and civilian aid to Afghanistan are working closely together, said a spokesman for Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay.

"That complementary, mutually reinforcing military and civilian engagement is essential to success in Afghanistan," said Andre Lemay.

Vienot maintains the Canadian troops can't fight their way to peace.

"Promotion of dialogue is key for the future of Afghanistan. If it is useful to appoint troops in Afghanistan, certainly it is not the way to solve the problem," he said. "Promotion of dialogue among warlords. It is a society of tribes. It is a society of warlords. It has been the case for centuries."

Vienot believes all 37 countries with troops in Afghanistan should be talking to Afghani warlords and encouraging the warlords to speak with one another.

"I don't believe anybody is considering negotiations at this point," said Lemay.

Without a clear mandate from all the countries involved in the NATO effort in Afghanistan, Canada is "not in a position to negotiate at this point," he said.

Vienot said his criticism of Western policy in Afghanistan was not limited to Canada.

On other issues of aid, Vienot said Canada is among the nations which should be encouraged to live up to its United Nations commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on overseas development aid. Canada's foreign aid budget is $3.74 billion, or 0.34 per cent of gross national income.

Afghan facts

Canada has both humanitarian and military commitments in Afghanistan. Some facts:

  • Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 14,000 Canadian troops in total have been deployed in Afghanistan.
  • Canada has pledged $656 million in development aid through CIDA covering the period from 2001 to 2009.
  • Canada is the second largest foreign contributor to Afghanistan's disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program for ex-combatants. So far the program has demobilized 63,000 Afghani fighters and collected 35,000 weapons.
  • Canada's 2,200-member task force in the Kandahar region includes a provincial reconstruction team of soldiers, civilian police, diplomats and development officials.
  • Since 2001 Canada has contributed $33 million to support elections and maintain an Afghan parliament in Kabul.



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