Q&A: Canada's mission in Afghanistan
CBC News Online | September 20, 2006
Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada Omar Samad (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
Canada's mission in Afghanistan has shot up to the top of the political agenda in Ottawa as the government defends the military's role in the country as more soldiers die.
Against that backdrop, Afghanistan President Harmid Karzai visits Canada this week and will address Parliament on Friday. CBC.ca spoke to Omar Samad, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, about the visit, our role in the country and why it's our duty to be there. Samad, 45, has served as ambassador since 2004. He spoke to CBC.ca producer Kenny Yum.
Q: Your president will be visiting Canada as the political debate about our mission to Afghanistan is heating up. What will be his message?
Samad: The president of Afghanistan will speak directly to the Canadian people and their representatives and explain the significance of Afghanistan in terms of security, post-conflict reconstruction, post failed-state recovery, regional and global security and other aspects of our relations at this point. He will also thank the Canadian people and government for their steadfast support in various fields over the past five years. He will express Afghanistan's condolences to the families and colleagues of Canadians who have lost their loved ones in Afghanistan.
Q: What has to be done in Afghanistan?
Samad: The needs in Afghanistan are everything that a country has to rebuild after 25 years of warfare and destruction, which means that it's anything from institutions to infrastructure to social political order and security. That is why the international community as a whole, and not just Canada, has realized since 9/11 that having ignored and forgotten Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew its troops in the late 1980s was a mistake because it resulted in transforming Afghanistan into a centre for international terrorism and a failing state that was taken over by extremists and terrorists.
Q: So you say we have a duty to be there?
Samad: [The foreign countries involved in Afghanistan] realize and recognized the mistakes of the past and the responsibility for today. I think that there is some mistaken notions that this is just about fighting and warfare and that this is just a clash of civilizations, as some people think of it. The reality is that it's to make up for the mistakes of the past and to rebuild a country that should have been put together 15 years ago.
Q: You once described it as a noble cause. Can you explain that?
Samad: It's noble because the human values that are enshrined in the world including Canada are helping Afghanistan by providing hope and opportunity to millions of women, children and men who otherwise would have no chance of a better life. When you provide schooling to a girl or boy who five years ago had no access to school, it's noble. When you provide health care to a woman who is pregnant, it is noble. When you prevent extremists and terrorists from taking a society hostage and imposing the draconian mindset on the people, it is noble.
Q: What do you think about the political debate happening in Canada now?
Samad: We obviously know that all Canadians, regardless of their political persuasions, have the right to express themselves and to take positions. All we're saying is to clarify and let's provide enough precise and accurate information for people to have a better-educated judgment about the Canadian role in Afghanistan. I think that there are certain notions that exist within society here and especially among some political interest groups that are far from reality.
Q: What are the notions?
Samad: For example, the notion that Canadians are invaders and occupiers. I would invite any of them to go and see for themselves because the Afghans have invited the foreign security to help us. The notion that Canada is following the footsteps of the United States, for example, is far from reality. The notion that we should solve the problem by bringing the Taliban into the political governance circles of Afghanistan. That would be an Afghan domestic issue that the Afghan people would reject because they rejected the Taliban mindset and ideology.
Q: NDP Leader Jack Layton has expressed some of those �notions' and he's the head of a political party.
Samad: A political party has a political persuasion and political interest in mind so I'm not going to discuss the pros and cons of particular groups and decisions.… And I invite, whether it's Mr. Layton or anyone else who has misgivings and particular positions about Afghanistan, to come a few days in the country and visit several provinces and talk to real Afghans.
Q: Have you talked to him?
Samad: Yes, I have had discussions with the NDP, not with Mr. Layton himself. Their position obviously seems to be shifting over time. At the end of the day, it will be the Canadian people who will decide what is best for Canada in the world.
Q: Troops are usually the focus of news reports and therefore the debate. What else is being done in the country?
Samad: There are all types of efforts in Afghanistan. There is a very vibrant private sector and it is spearheading economic growth. There is a civil society that we have never experienced before in our history. There is a free press that is unheard of in the whole region. They have so much access and freedoms under the law. Now, is everything successful? No. We are still at the very beginning of reconstruction and development but in order to help the country recover, you have to function within a secure environment, and that is why the security in the few provinces in the south and in the east and we are doing everything we can to roll that back and give Afghans the peace to rebuild their lives.
Q: Our mission in Afghanistan was extended two years this past spring. What kind of timeline do you think there is?
Samad: I don't think anyone can give the timeline at this juncture and it really depends on how we meet the criteria that we have set for security development, governance and overall recovery. I know as conditions improve over time, that timeline will shorten and the goal for Afghans is to stand on their own feet as soon as possible. Nation-building is not the job of a few days or a few months. It will take years.