Diplomacy and Reconciliation in Afghanistan

John Siebert Defence & Human Security

John Siebert and Mike Hogeterp

Speaking Notes

Presentation to the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan by Mike Hogeterp and John Siebert for The Canadian Council of Churches

3:30pm – 5:30pm, November 17, 2010

Mr. Chair and Committee members: Thank you for the invitation to meet with you today. The brief before you, entitled, “Canada’s Role in Afghanistan,” was released on December 10, 2009, International Human Rights Day. It is a consensus position of the Canadian Council of Churches, the broadest ecumenical body in Canada with 22 member churches representing Anglican, Evangelical, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions. It is remarkable statement, given our diversity.

The recommendations were formed from a shared belief that robust public dialogue on Canada’s responsibility for advancing peace in Afghanistan is urgent. The Manley panel report in 2008 noted that public and Parliamentary dialogue would make an important contribution to sound and sustainable policy on Canada’s role in Afghanistan.

We offer the following thoughts in that spirit and indeed urge this committee to continue widely consulting civil society and citizens in Canada and Afghanistan as you explore next steps for the mission.

As CCC President, Rev. Bruce Adema, wrote in his forwarding letter to the Prime Minister, Canada should focus on two priorities:

  1. to support Afghans in implementing participatory reconciliation programs and responsive governance at district and local levels, and
  2. to encourage the international community to give significant new attention to diplomatic efforts to end the war.

We will also briefly comment on the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on the extension of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan in light of the Council’s recommendations.

We recognize the profound sacrifice made by many in the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, and the profound suffering of the people of Afghanistan through decades of war. Canada’s future efforts in Afghanistan should honour this sacrifice and suffering with integrity and commitment.

Through the process of dialogue, research and analysis we have concluded with you and others that peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved solely through military means, and that peace is a generational project requiring international commitment and resources well beyond July 2011. This is particularly true with respect to the challenges of reconciliation and peacebuilding at both the national and sub-national levels.

The question before us is, where and how can Canada best make its contribution to sustainable peace in Afghanistan?

Let me start by saying that reconciliation is a complex, multi-level endeavour in Afghanistan that will advance incrementally. Efforts towards reconciliation at the local and district level are distinct but related to national level negotiation for political reconciliation and reintegration of the insurgencies. My colleague John Siebert will address the national and international aspects of this in a moment. Right now I’ll make some specific comments on sub-national governance and reconciliation.

The reasons for conflict, and the corresponding need for reconciliation and peacebuilding in Afghanistan, are diverse. There is conflict over land and water; family and tribal grievances; the presence of Taliban, warlords and criminal elements; international forces; corrupt Afghan security forces and government officials.

The reconciliation priority,” or priority #6 in the Canadian Government’s quarterly reports, has struggled to gain traction. The reports suggest this is due to the inability of the Government of Afghanistan to focus on a direction and a lead agency. Canada to this point properly has been deferential to Afghan-led reconciliation. It is also clear that the working definition of Afghan-led is national government-led, an unfortunate limitation.

We know Afghanistan is culturally and geographically complex – indeed central governments historically have rarely exercised national reach. Authority, governance and basic service delivery have been focused at local and district levels. There are documented indications of continuing support for local, informal and traditional authorities in Afghanistan.

As such local Afghan leadership for effective governance and sub-national reconciliation is a significant resource for peacebuilding – one that needs further exploration and then support for its incremental development. Our brief details some of the complexities of sub-national governance and reconciliation activities, and we can explore those details in the discussion period.

Suffice it to say now that beyond 2011 it is our hope that Canada will put new energy and commitment into a sub-national reconciliation priority – specifically in collaboration with civil society organizations with a track record of support for local governance and peacebuilding activity in Afghanistan.

Progress in sub-national reconciliation will require a stable national context if these gains are to be sustainable. Canada should commit itself to a advancing a diplomacy surge, that has the political energy and financial resources on a scale comparable to the military surge, to end this civil war in Afghanistan.

What is true of local and regional reconciliation is also true for creating a national cessation of hostilities and a new workable political and social framework in Afghanistan. It will be complex, multi-level and take time.

As some have put it, the peace process in Kabul runs through Islamabad and New Delhi. There are other neighbours who must appropriately play a role in finding peace, along with the USA and ISAF members, including Canada.

In our view, the national peace process must be led once again by Afghans, but not necessarily the current Afghan Government. It has been drawn into an entrenched civil war along with supporting international forces. The Government of Afghanistan must be part of reconciliation efforts, but not the manager or custodian of the process. Part of the responsibility of the international community is to work with Afghans in and beyond the government to develop a trusted process through which reconciliation and negotiation efforts can take flight.

Current attempts to induce individual insurgents to switch sides have largely failed. The reasons speak to mis-judging their primary motivation for fighting with the Taleban or other insurgent groups, and the resulting lack of attraction for what is on offer.

The goal of national negotiations ought to be the creation of an inclusive political order in Afghanistan. It must include the Taleban and other insurgents and address the legitimate fears that a new political order will compromise the hard won expansion of civil and other human rights in Afghanistan.

We recognize that Canada cannot be the sole or primary international actor in this diplomatic surge, but it could play a decisive role in persuading the international community to work for a political settlement. To this end we would recommend Canada appoint a special envoy on Afghanistan with the required staffing and financial support to be effective.

Finally, a comment on Prime Minister Harper’s recent announcement that Canada will continue to field up to 1,000 Canadian Forces in Afghanistan after July 2011 to carry out a training mission through 2014.

As you can well imagine, the member churches of the Canadian Council of Churches have not had the time to deliberate on the specifics of this announcement. To the extent that we can discuss this today, Mike and I want to be careful not to inappropriately speculate. Perhaps we can ask some questions based on the primary recommendations of the December 2009 CCC brief.

Will continued training and equipping of the Afghan National Army and Police bring us closer to the goal of a negotiated, sustainable, inclusive peace in Afghanistan? The answer isn’t immediately apparent.

Better trained Afghan military and police personnel could helpfully extend the services and legitimacy of the national government to local areas where insurgent fighting is light or non-existent. Elsewhere, to simply substitute Afghan troops for ISAF troops presents no gains for a political resolution of this civil war.

With this continuing and expensive military commitment in Afghanistan, will Canada also increase its diplomatic activity to support a negotiation surge, as well as increase development and other forms of assistance to address local governance and development needs? If it does not, then we continue to play a role in sustaining the current military stalemate while missing the opportunity to support the war’s conclusion.

Thank you once again for this opportunity to be here. We look forward to your questions.

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