NGOs meet with John Manley panel on Afghanistan
There should be a clear separation in Afghanistan between development work and the military, according to the head of an aid group who met with a government-appointed panel on Canada's mission in the country.
The panel is headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley and is examining Canada's commitment to Afghanistan.
Specifically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked the group to look at four options for the mission's future:
* Continue training Afghan troops and police, so they can continue to stabilize the country after Canadian soldiers leave;
* Shift Canada's focus on reconstruction efforts in Kandahar, while another NATO country take over combat duties;
* Leave Kandahar and focus on a different region of Afghanistan; and,
* Withdraw troops by February 2009.
Gerry Barr, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said there are two additional options the panel needs to consider: ensuring a division between the military and aid groups, and building consensus among Afghanistan's political entities.
"One of the things going on in Afghanistan that's very troubling to NGOs (non-governmental organizations) is the confusion between the military role and the role of humanitarian actors and aid workers," he told CTV Newsnet.
"There needs to be some space between them. They need to be independent. If not, we can end up with civilians being targeted."
He said the military is crucial for creating the security needed for development projects. But when such projects become associated with the military, they are often targeted by the Taliban.
According to Barr, about 35 per cent of the schools in southern Afghanistan are closed because they have been threatened by insurgents.
"We're building schools that can't be attended," he said.
Barr also urged the panel to look at how Canada can foster peace in Afghanistan, by establishing a dialogue between the different groups.
"The first thing it needs to do is look at how Canada might contribute to generating broad political consensus in Afghanistan -- the search for a durable peace, which is of course the first condition for sustainable commitment," he said.
There will be no public hearings for the panel, which is expected to release a report on its findings by January.
Critics say Harper created the panel to gain political support for extending the mission, and that it's less independent than U.S. President George Bush's advisory panel on Iraq.
"The American panel had much more freedom than the Canadian one does," Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, told CTV News.
"This Canadian panel is a puppet of the government, even with Mr. Manley present."
Critics also note that whenever the opposition parties want action on the mission, Harper can ask them to wait for the panel's report -- and note that it's headed by a Liberal.
While Maj.-Gen. (Ret'd) Lewis MacKenzie said the panel was an example of "brilliant domestic politics," he said it was also useful for a fresh perspective on the war.
"The prime minister doesn't have to take the recommendations and implement them, but they will in fact come up with a long study -- a fairly extensive study -- and hopefully with some advice," he said.
Along with Manley, other panel members include: