Peace in Afghanistan should be strategy

By 
  • February 21, 2008

{mosimage}OTTAWA - The upcoming debate on Canada’s Afghanistan mission should work towards a constructive plan, say Canada’s Catholic bishops.

“Political and electoral considerations must take second place when it is a question of human lives and a people’s future,” said Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a Feb. 14 public statement (for full text, see Page 27). “We would invite the members of Parliament to put aside any predetermined stances, recognizing that the truth will involve concerted efforts.

“Diverse points of view need to be welcomed as contributions toward developing a detailed and constructive action plan, with peace as the ultimate goal,” he said.

Weisgerber referred to the Manley Commission report on the future of Canada’s role in Afghanistan which recommended greater transparency.

“More complete and reliable information from the government will help Canadian citizens better understand the objective, the questions and the conditions involved in the Afghanistan conflict, and also how to evaluate the engagement there of Canadian armed forces and humanitarian agencies,” he said. “This information is essential if all Canadians are to be involved in making decisions that can lead to real and lasting peace in that country.”

The statement also refers to recent concerns about transferring detainees to Afghan authorities where they risk torture, the lack of support from other NATO countries, justice concerns about the war and the cost in human lives, Canadian and Afghan.

Weisgerber made three suggestions based on Catholic social doctrine: good faith peace negotiations involving all parties; a clear distinction between military operations and humanitarian aid; and the safeguarding of Canadian soldier’s moral integrity, especially where prisoners might be tortured.

As the bishops released the president’s statement, Afghan peace expert Seddiq Weera appeared before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, calling for a political peace process.

At a news conference, Weera, an advisor to the Afghan government, warned the “unresolved civil war” in Afghanistan is not going to end even if all the Manley Report recommendations are followed. What’s missing, he said, is a political track for negotiating peace that will work on multi-levels and involve all the regions and ethnic groups in the country.

In a February briefing, Project Ploughshare’s senior policy advisor Ernie Regehr also called for a comprehensive peace process and more efforts to solidify the peace that already exists in northern areas of the country (see an excerpted text on Page 27).

In a detailed critique of the Manley Report, Regehr called for the end of Canadian participation in the counterinsurgency in the southern part of the country.

The House of Commons is expected to vote on an Afghanistan motion some time in late March. It is based on Manley Report recommendations and would extend the mission “to the end of 2011.” It will be a confidence motion that would trigger an election if it fails to pass.

The Tories and the Liberals have been negotiating possible amendments that indicate a growing convergence. Neither party seems eager to fight an election over the Afghanistan mission. The NDP and the Bloc want Canadian troops out of Afghanistan immediately.

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