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Canada’s At A Pivot Point In Afghanistan; published article by Senator Pamela Wallin

Rebuilding and Strengthening Places Like Afghanistan Is One Of The Critical Challenges Of Our Times

Published Article By Senator Pamela Wallin

Originally Published: The Hill Times, May 25, 2009

We are at a pivot point as they say in political campaigns but it applies on the battlefield too. As the American troop surge puts thousands of new boots on the ground, the new and more numerous targets will no doubt inspire more Taliban terror. It will give us pause.

But this bulk-up is also necessary if we are to hit the Taliban hard and move closer to achieving our ultimate objective: to hand over Afghanistan to the Afghans in a better state than we found it in 2002. It may be a democracy as we know it and many will not enjoy the rights we take for granted. But it is their country.

And if we can help them rid the place of the Taliban then we will have served them and our own national and security interests. We cannot forget Afghanistan was the base of operation for those who killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 in 2001.

Canada has done a remarkable job since first going into Afghanistan in 2002. By 2005, we sought out the high-risk Kandahar assignment for NATO, sending 2,500 of our young men and women into the toughest part of a very tough neighbourhood. Morale remains high.

And our Forces have earned international respect for their work and sacrifice. Canada has clearly shed its more recent image as a spectator nation.

That said, Canada has paid dearly and with our most precious resource-our brave sons and daughters.

With each loss of life, many ask why we are there. I only wish that each and every mind-altering, pride-generating experience of those of us who travelled to Afghanistan as members of the Independent Panel on Afghanistan, known as the Manley Panel.

As a journalist for many years, I’ve had my share of war zone assignments and the responsibility to interpret for the viewers back home-whether the conflict in question really mattered to us and what Canada stood to gain from being there-was real and important.

But as a member of the Manley committee, our “mission” in Afghanistan was that and so much more. We had to render verdict on the most difficult question anyone faces – should we send young men and women into harm’s way? Is the national self-interest important enough to justify such a decision?

If we stay, at what cost? And if we were to leave-what would be the cost of innocent Afghan lives lost?

And the greater unknown-would there have been another 9/11 if the allies had not acted?

Our answer was that in Afghanistan there was no doubt of the humanitarian need or the security imperative. The terrorist threat remains clear and present.

Although the horror of 9/11 may have faded, the fear is not gone-as we witnessed anger in the wake of the recent high flying photo-op of Air Force One over the place where the Twin Towers stood.

But there is also much real progress on the ground. The Prime Minister recently visited one of Canada’s signature projects, the Dahla Dam. So many Afghans told us that while Canada’s promise of governance and guidance was welcome, what they needed first and foremost was food and clean drinking water. And the dam will do just that.

Afghans want to take charge of their own future and take on full responsibility for keeping their citizens safe because when they do they will have met the most basic definition of statehood.

But their country, their infrastructure,their political and governance systems are broken, pounded back into the dark ages by the Russians, then the Taliban. So there is much work to be done and the top U.S. commander in the region General David Petraeus explains that this kind of battle requires “strategic patience.” Counter insurgency, he says, is really armed social work requiring more brain than brawn. And that is how our mission is morphing. And Canada is good at it.

We have played a key role in ensuring that millions of young girls are now in school and have been vaccinated. Most Afghans now have access to at least some health care, they have a police force, an elected Parliament and a fledgling media.

Rebuilding and strengthening places like Afghanistan is one of the critical challenges of our times.

But as journalist David Brooks put it: “If you can’t offer people a vision of what a government should do, you won’t be able to persuade them about the things it shouldn’t do.”

So this is the imperative for all of us whether as senator, citizen, or soldier-to offer a kind of military and humanitarian leadership that both reflects reality and offers a vision of what is possible.

Saskatchewan Conservative Sen.Pamela Wallin is deputy chair of the Senate’s National Security and Defence Committee and is a member of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee.