Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Canadian political parties against the war in Afghanistan," February 19, 2007.

Five Canadian political parties have taken positions counter to the war in Afghanistan: the NDP, the Greens, the Bloc Québécois, the Canadian Action Party and the Liberals.

To put it differently, in the next election these five parties will compete directly with one another for antiwar votes. Although the Canadian Action Party will almost certainly not elect an MP to Parliament, it will attract hundreds--possibly thousands--of voters across the country, some of them in ridings with closely contested elections. The CAP may play a decisive role in one or more of them.

Nor does the Liberals’ leadership getting us into this war negate the possibility of their being influential with antiwar voters. On May 17 when Parliament voted by a narrow margin to extend the mission in Afghanistan to 2009, 63 Liberals still sitting in the House voted against the extension. Liberal candidates will almost certainly win votes, some may even win seats in the House, on the strength of their opposition to the war.

NDP and Bloc Québécois

Nevertheless, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois are certainly the most important antiwar parties in Canada and both focus their opposition on the idea that Canada should return to its traditional role as a peacekeeper.

A recent brochure mailed out by the NDP to local constituents cites a report commissioned by the Council of Canadians and written by the Polaris Institute's Steven Staples in support of the idea that Canada has abandoned UN peacekeeping to conform to US priorities. (Marching Orders Oct 06

The report vindicates the UN, demonstrates that UN peacekeeping is effective, and points to Gen Rick Hillier as the chief "hawk" in the military trying to replace Canada's peacekeeping role with a "three-block war" or 3D concept which combines defence, diplomacy and development into a single mission.

Unfortunately, Staples’ report refers only dismissively to Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone, treats the DRC as an exemplary case, and ignores the current rash of sexual abuse cases involving peacekeepers.

It makes no recommendations to link the excellent idea of a return to peacekeeping with the intractable realities on the ground including rampant crime, corruption of the Interior and Justice ministries, starvation, homelessness.

Last September, NDP Leader Jack Layton called for Canadian troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan and
while the party's Foreign Affairs and International Development Critic Alexa McDonough has called attention to Canadians "desire for greater balance among Canada’s diplomatic, development, and defence contributions in Afghanistan."


Green Party leader Elizabeth May has called for a strategic plan to address illicit opium production.

The Green Party press release cites recommendations of the Senlis Council that Canada help Afghanistan develop sustainable alternatives to poppy cultivation and investigate the feasibility of a controlled opium market to drive a wedge between farming communities and illegal heroin traffickers.

In fact, the Senlis Council has already examined the feasibility of licensing Afghanistan’s poppy to the extent that it has proposed a plan consistent with the Afghan Counter Narcotics Law of 2005. The Senlis plan is economically viable, i.e., Afghan farmers' net income would remain the same and there is known to be a world market in which opium for legal painkillers is in short supply. The Senlis proposal draws on successful experience of legal opium production in India and a successful transition from illegal to legal production in Turkey. It also proposes controls consistent with traditional Afghan social institutions.

The Senlis Council has developed the idea that poppy cultivation occupies a central position, that "The illegal opium economy lies at the heart of the country’s extreme levels of poverty and escalating violence, yet by over-emphasising failed counter narcotics strategies such as poppy eradication, the US-led international community has failed to unlock Afghanistan from its development crisis..." (

Canadian Action Party

Connie Fogal, leader of the Canadian Action Party, proposes that the Canadian "military should be in Afghanistan only as peacekeepers," should participate "only under Canadian Command" and UN Authority. She urges that "all our missions meet the standards, (morally and humanely) that Canadians support as peacekeepers and as protectors of civilian safety" and that "our military should cease immediately their rendering of prisoners over to the US authority."


On November 22, before he was elected leader of the Liberal party, Stephane Dion said Canada should withdraw its troops ''with honour'' from Afghanistan before 2009 because their current mission is ill-conceived and misguided.

In an interview with CanWest News Service, Dion said the current military mission is not making progress. But he quickly added any pull-out of troops would only occur after discussions with the other NATO countries involved in the military mission.

The idea of discussions with other NATO countries sounds much like another Senlis Council proposal
that "Canada should call for an emergency NATO Meeting to reset international community’s course."

Neither Dion nor the Liberals have elaborated on this position, but Canadian-born Lawyer and founding President of the Senlis Council says, quote “Canada took on responsibility for Kandahar and should see it through. We all should be deeply concerned about the return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to Afghanistan, if not for the Afghan people themselves then for what that would mean for our own security.” endquote

In December, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the Bloc was willing to bring down the government over Canada's combat role in Afghanistan, but failed to gain the support of either the Liberals or the NDP for the idea, possibly because of the obvious divisions among parties opposed to the war. Peacekeeping? Or poppy legalization? Withdrawal or rebalancing?

Furthermore, none of the parties has concerned itself with the critical--possibly central--issue of Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice. Human Rights Watch has long championed the idea that justice for war criminals is essential for peace. The divisive behaviour of warlords and former Taliban in the National Assembly has, for example, been mentioned by women sitting in the legislature.

On November 2, 2006, the International Crisis Group in Brussels published a report on the Afghan insurgency with a list of 21 recommendations for the Government of Afghanistan, the National Assembly, the US and other allied and donor governments, for NATO/ISAF governments, and for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Second only to the launching of an anti-corruption drive was the recommendation that the government
of Afghanistan "revive and push ahead with the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice. “

"Following conclusion of the Bonn process, which created the country’s elected bodies, the Afghan government and the international community committed at the London Conference (31 January-1 February 2006) to the Afghanistan Compact, which identified 'three critical and interdependent areas or pillars of activity' over five years: security; governance, rule of law and human rights; and social and economic development. The government signed on to realising a 'shared vision of the future” for a “stable and prosperous Afghanistan', while over 60 nations and international institutions promised to provide the necessary resources and support"(ICG Jan 29 07

The premise of relative stability that was the foundation upon which the Compact was built has been undercut by the insurgency in the south and east. The ICG concludes that "long-term efforts to build the solid governmental institutions a stable Afghanistan requires are faltering" (Jan 29 07).

The Afghan government committed itself in the Compact to implement the Action Plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation, “with the support of the international community”.83
Afghanistan’s Endangered Compact, ICG, Jan 29 07

The International Center for Transitional Justice is an NGO that assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocities or human rights abuse. With offices in New York, Bogotá, Brussels, Cape Town, Geneva, Kinshasa, and Monrovia, Liberia.

The Center works in societies emerging from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as in established democracies where historical injustices or systemic abuse remain unresolved.

ICTJ notes that in order to promote justice, peace, and reconciliation, government officials and nongovernmental advocates are likely to consider a variety of transitional justice approaches including both judicial and nonjudicial responses to human rights crimes. The ICTJ assists in the development of integrated, comprehensive, and localized approaches to transitional justice comprising five key elements: prosecuting perpetrators, documenting and acknowledging violations through non-judicial means such as truth commissions, reforming abusive institutions, providing reparations to victims, and facilitating reconciliation processes.

The ICTJ has opposed Afghanistan's proposed amnesty law currently before the National Assembly on the grounds that it would not only weaken the fragile foundations of democracy, but would also erode the public's trust in the government. (ICTJ Feb 3 07 Closely related to the issue of peace, justice and reconciliation in Afghanistan, the ICTJ released a book on Gender and Reparations for Human Rights Violations this last December.

With support from the International Development Research Centre and published by the Social Science Research Council, the book asks, What happens to women whose lives are transformed by human rights violations? What happens to the voices of victimized women once they have their day in court or in front of a truth commission? Women face a double marginalization under authoritarian regimes and during and after violent conflicts. Nonetheless, reparations programs are rarely designed to address the needs of women victims. What Happened to the Women? Gender and Reparations for Human Rights Violations, argues for the introduction of a gender dimension into reparations programs. The volume explores gender and reparations policies in Guatemala, Peru,
Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and East Timor.

No shortage of good ideas. Each of the five parties brings a piece of the puzzle, and they all miss at least this one important one. What's missing is strong independent leadership with a stable, coherent and comprehensive plan.

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