The Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan

John Siebert

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2007 Volume 28 Issue 4

In keeping with his spring statement that a new consensus among Canadians and in Parliament was needed on Canada’s role in Afghanistan (see Siebert 2007), Prime Minister Harper announced on 12 October 2007 the creation of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan to “review, analyse and make recommendations on Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan beyond February 2009” (Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan 2007). The panel is headed by John Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister.

NGO response

Coincidentally, the same day the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and the Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee (CPCC), umbrella groups to which Project Ploughshares belongs, held a press conference on Canadian options in Afghanistan. One of the featured speakers at the press conference was Ernie Regehr from Project Ploughshares.

On 27 October a delegation of 17 representatives of nongovernmental organizations, including John Siebert from Project Ploughshares, met for two hours with the panel to convey the need for alternatives to the four options presented in the panel’s public mandate (Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan 2007), drawing heavily on materials presented at the earlier press conference. Gerry Barr, President of CCIC opened the discussion by stating that the panel needs to add peacebuilding and development to its options. David Lord of CPCC offered panel members connections to civil society partners in Canada and Afghanistan that could provide insight and commentary outside of official Canadian Government contacts.

The primary message from the NGO spokespersons was that Canada needs to reframe its role in Afghanistan from participation in a “war on terror” to peacebuilding, and military efforts must shift from anti-insurgency fighting to supporting comprehensive peace negotiations facilitated by the international community. The NGO presentations focused on security, diplomacy, humanitarian aid, development, gender, and human rights.

Options on the table

The following options are those expressly laid out in the mandate of the Manley Panel:

Option 1:

Train, support and develop the Afghan army and police towards a self-sustaining capacity in Kandahar Province, with a phased withdrawal of Canadian troops starting in February 2009 consistent with progress towards this objective.

Option 2:

Focus on development and governance in Kandahar, with sufficient military to provide effective protection for our civilians engaged in development and governance efforts. This would require another country (or countries) to provide a military force sufficient to ensure the necessary security in which such efforts can take place in Kandahar province.

Option 3:

Shift the focus of Canadian military and civilian security, development and governance efforts to another region of Afghanistan.

Option 4:

Withdraw all Canadian military forces from Afghanistan after February 2009 except those required to provide personal security for any remaining civilian employees.

Operation and composition of the panel

The Manley panel, like the military mission to Afghanistan itself, has been controversial from its inception. The national opposition parties asked why such an important public policy issue was not being debated openly in Parliament. Canadians hoping for a broadly based public consultation process on Canada’s role in Afghanistan also may be disappointed in the panel’s short timeframe and primary method of consultation. It is to report to the Prime Minister by 31 January 2008, and to make its report public the same day. The public were encouraged to make written submissions to the Independent Panel on its website (2007) from 5 November until 1 December, but had no opportunity to interact with the panel in public forums.

The composition of the panel—politically balanced between Liberals (John Manley) and Conservatives (Jake Epp), former politicians (Manley and Epp) and former senior officials (Derek Burney, Paul Tellier and Pamela Wallin)—has been questioned. Manley, the panel chair, is a former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister who sat at the cabinet table when early decisions were made about Canadian Forces going into Afghanistan after 9/11. Burney and Wallin have both served in senior Ambassador-level positions in the US. Does this tilt their views towards those of the Bush Administration? Would the appointment of a respected person outside official circles have increased the breadth of the panel and strengthened its legitimacy?

The Secretariat staff assembled to support the panel is limited by being drawn primarily from the three departments and agencies currently implementing the strategy of the government in Afghanistan—the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). In assembling submissions and making logistical arrangements will they inevitably steer the panel’s considerations toward defending the status quo and their colleagues who are continuing to implement current policies?

Whatever the answers to these questions, the Manley panel is the process the Prime Minister has chosen to assist the Government in building a consensus for Canada’s role in Afghanistan after February 2009, when its current commitment to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan concludes.

Canada’s role in Afghanistan after 2009

A primary consideration of the NGO representatives on 27 October was whether the panel was mandated to take into consideration options that went beyond the panel’s four options. The answer on the panel’s website is Yes: “The following options have been identified for consideration, without intending to exclude others.… Each option carries inherent costs, risks and opportunities. Options are not mutually exclusive and a final decision could include elements of more than one option.”

The debate on the role of Canadian Forces in Kandahar up to and beyond February 2009 has become deeply politicized. Opinion polls indicate that Canadians are ambivalent—supportive of the troops but wary of the conduct of, and prospects for, the current anti-insurgency fight. Will the report of the Manley panel provide a way out of this dilemma? It depends in part on what the panel sees as its role. Is it to help the current Conservative Government out of a jam? Is it to help Canada out of a jam? Or is it to help the Afghan people out of a jam? The NGO delegation that met with the panel in October strongly encouraged it to look first and foremost at the last question, giving priority to a comprehensive peace process and subordinating the tools of the military, development, and diplomacy to that end.



Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan. 2007.

Siebert, John. 2007. “Building consensus on Canada’s role in Afghanistan.” The Ploughshares Monitor. Autumn, pp. 3-5.

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