Karzai: Canada's military presence 'is a must'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai later told CBC News on Friday that the situation in Afghanistan is such that Canada's role there can't be defined narrowly.

The situation in Afghanistan is such that Canada's role there can't be defined narrowly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CBC News on Friday.

"Your military presence is a must because without that, we would not be able to keep our country together, and your reconstruction activity is necessary because it gives us economic opportunity and employment and a better quality of life," Karzai said.

Amid pomp and ceremony on Parliament Hill earlier in the day, Karzai thanked Canada for its financial aid to his devastated country and a military mission that has cost about $2 billion and the lives of 37 Canadians.

Noting that the bodies of four soldierskilled on Mondaywerebeing brought home, he told a joint session of Parliament earlier in the day thathis heart goes out to their families and friends.

The fallen soldierssacrificed their liveshelping Afghanistan win a better future, he said. Since the first Canadian troops arrived in February 2002,36 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killedin Afghanistan.

"Yes, it is sad but it is worth it," Karzaiadded. "Afghanistan also sheds blood. Every day we lose the lives of our children, we lose the lives of our soldiers, we lose the lives of our teachers … All of that is for a common cause, the cause of security for all of us, and it is for this cause of security that you're serving in Afghanistan.

"But in Afghanistan, you are not only serving the cause of of security for the international community and your country. You are also helping one of the oppressed societies in the world and the little children that they have.Thank you."

According to government figures, Canadahad spent$1.8 billion on the Afghan military missionby Mayof 2006 and expects to spend another$1.25 billion by early 2009, bringing the total to more than$3 billion.

At the same time, Afghanistan has become Canada's No. 1 foreign-aid recipient.Ottawa has spent$466 million on Afghandevelopment since 2001, part ofnearly $1 billion earmarked for the countryby 2011.

A history lesson for parliamentarians

In hisspeech,Karzai indirectly reproached the United States for abandoning Afghanistan after CIA-backed Afghan and foreign militants defeated a Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

"Honourable members, the people of Afghanistan have suffered from over two decades of invasion and destruction," he said, offering the Canadian politicians a shorthistory course.

"The miseries of the Afghan people began with the [Soviet] invasion of our country in 1979 and continued until the tragedy of Sept. 11 [2001], brought to the world by al-Qaeda and their associates.

"The freedom-loving Afghan people, backed by supporters from what was then referred to as the 'Free World,' fought and defeated the invasion, facilitating the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These were indeed significant accomplishments of our time, for which Afghans paid dearly.

"Overone million Afghans lost their lives. Another million were disabled. More than a quarter of our population became refugees in our neighbours and elsewhere, and our country's infrastructure was razed to the ground. Whereas Afghans had fought this war against communism, the reward that Afghanistan received was abandonment by the international community.

"We were left with a world of destruction to rebuild, at the mercy of a predatory neighbourhood and the bellicose extremist forces that had been brought to Afghanistan [to fight the Soviets]. Few cared about the dismal plight of the Afghan people and even fewer thought about the consequences of leaving a country so dangerously vulnerable to foreign extremists.

'It was as if Afghanistan didn't exist'

"It was in this environment that al-Qaeda, with supporters in the region and beyond, set up its deadly campaign of terror against Afghans and the whole world. While the Afghan people continued to suffer, and while we continued to warn the international community about the danger of international terrorism that was brewing in Afghanistan, the world remained unmoved. Both our sufferings and our warnings were ignored. It was as if Afghanistan didn't exist."

In 2001, the attacks on New York and Washington "brought home to many in the West the pain of terror and the fear that we in Afghanistan had been feeling at the hands of foreign terrorists for so many years."

After the attacks, international forces arrived "to liberate Afghanistan from extremist forces," he said.

Canada's role 'will evolve and change'

Later, Karzaidealt diplomatically with a reporter's question about how long he expects Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan.

"Canada has committed to stay till 2009 and we respect that service. …Whether it's enough, what we are having today from Canada we are very grateful for, extremely grateful."

Afghans will remain grateful to Canada if the troops leave in 2009, and will also be grateful if they stay longer, he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the mission will be reviewed duringthe next two years.

"I don't anticipate that we will leave [in 2009]," he said, "but I certainly anticipate our role will evolve and change, particularly as we achieve one of our objectives, which is to ensure that the Afghans themselves and theAfghan forces areincreasingly able to take care of their own security."

Before striding up a red carpet into the House of Commons,Karzai reviewed a guard of honour made up of soldiers who have served in Afghanistan.

He was greeted by Harper and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and receivedprolonged applause from MPs and senators.