Text of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's address Monday to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan:
CBC News Online | March 13, 2006
Thank you for your warm welcome. I want to begin by telling you how proud I am of the work you're doing.
You have put yourself on the line to defend our national interests; protect Canada and the world from terror; help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country.
I thank you. Canadians thank you. And I know that the Afghan people thank you.
Your work is important because it is in our national interest to see Afghanistan become a free, democratic and peaceful country.
Before its liberation, under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan often served as an incubator for al-Qaeda and other terror organizations.
This reality hit home with brutal force on 9-11, when two dozen Canadians lost their lives suddenly and senselessly in the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Those were ordinary Canadians, people with families, partners, children and dreams for a better future. Just like all of our citizens, people who died suddenly and for no reason at the hands of fanatics.
Since that time, al-Qaeda has singled out Canada as one of the countries targeted for terror.
And beyond the threat of terror there's the threat of drugs.
An unstable Afghanistan represents easy pickings for drug lords who would use the country as a safe haven for the production of heroin, which wreaks its own destruction on the streets of our country.
Our Canada is a great place, but Canada is not an island. And what happens in places like Afghanistan threatens and affects all of us back home in our own country.
Your work is about more than just defending Canada's interest.
It's also about demonstrating an international leadership role for our country. Not carping from the sidelines, but taking a stand on the big issues that matter.
You can't lead from the bleachers. I want Canada to be a leader. And I know you want to serve your country, a country that really leads, not a country that just follows. That's what you are doing. Serving in a UN-mandated, Canadian-led security operation that is in the very best of the Canadian tradition, providing leadership on global issues, stepping up to the plate, doing good when good is required.
Finally, but no less important, is the great humanitarian work you're doing. Working with the Afghan government and Afghan people to enhance their security helps them. It helps them rebuild their country to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Already a great deal has been accomplished. Reconstruction is reducing poverty; millions of people are now able to vote; women are enjoying greater rights and economic opportunities than could have been imagined under the Taliban regime; and Afghan children are now in school studying the same things Canadian kids are learning back home.
These are important victories for the people of Afghanistan, and they represent things worth standing up for.
Of course, standing up for these core Canadian values may not always be easy at times. It's never easy for the men and women on the front lines. And there may be some who want to cut and run. But cutting and running is not your way. It's not my way. And it's not the Canadian way.
We don't make a commitment and then run away at the first sign of trouble. We don't and we won't.
Friends, we have made real progress here. Your work is vital to Canada, to the free world, to the Afghan people.
As you get ready to go back to work, know that I am behind you. Your government is behind you. And, most importantly, the Canadian people are behind you.
Thank you. God bless Canada.
Area: 647,500 km sq. (same size as Manitoba)
Population: 28,513,000 (2004)
Head of State: Hamid Karzai
GDP (2003): $20 billion US (est.)
Exports to Canada (2003): $618,889
Imports from Canada (2003): $9 million
Median Age: 17.5
Life expectancy at birth: 42.46
Ethnic groups: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%
(Source: CIA World Fact Book, Government of Canada)