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Kandahar governor set to leave until Bernier spoke, says Afghan official

The controversial governor of Kandahar was on his way out until a political gaffe by Canada's foreign affairs minister, an Afghan politician says.

The controversial governor of Kandahar was on his way out until a political gaffe by Canada's foreign affairs minister hindered those plans, an Afghan politician says.

Afghan parliamentarian Khalid Pashtun said Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's comments left the Afghan president with no choice but to leave Gov. Asadullah Khalid in his post.

Last week Bernier publicly said Afghan President Hamid Karzai should remove Khalid from office based on allegations of corruption. Khalid was among Afghan officials alleged to have participated in torture of detainees. Khalid has denied the reports.

Bernier later clarified his comments, saying Canada isn't calling for any changes to the Afghan government. The Liberals have called for Bernier's dismissal, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he has no plans to remove his minister.

Pashtun says Bernier's call left Karzai with no choice but to leave Khalid in the posting or appear as if he's following Canada's bidding.

Bernier made the comments during a visit to Kandahar, where Canada has roughly 2,500 soldiers serving as part of the NATO-led mission.

Comments a 'misunderstanding'

Khalid, who toured a Canadian-funded facility in Kandahar City Tuesday with International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, called Bernier's comments a misunderstanding.

"This issue is solved already … it was a misunderstanding," said Khalid. "For me, the relations between the Afghans and Canadians [are] more important than small issues."

Oda said Bernier's comments had no negative impact on her meetings with Afghan officials.

"Not at all, and again, it was a matter of them continually saying how much they appreciate Canada's work here and how they want to increase the partnership," said Oda.

"They are delighted with the way Canada works with the government and we've had very good discussions."

Literacy centre trains thousands

Oda said she has "absolutely no concerns" about corruption in Afghanistan.

"Canada can account for the money that it is using for development here in Afghanistan," she said.

She said it's crucial to establish benchmarks for development efforts in Afghanistan.

"I think we owe it to Canadians, the Afghan people, Kandaharis to say what we are going to do, want to accomplish and the time frames so they can see what they are going to get from Canada's work here," she said.

Oda was in Kandahar to open a new literacy centre aimed at reducing the province's high adult illiteracy rate. Ottawa pledged $1.4 million to the program last February.

She spent Sunday and Monday in Kabul meeting with aid agencies and government officials, including the Afghan minister of finance.

The literacy program funding, given to UNICEF through CIDA, will train close to 200 teachers, and provide dozens of literacy classes, along with textbooks, stationery and food aid for students and teachers.

The literacy rate in Kandahar province is 16 per cent, with lower rates in rural areas of the province. About 26 per cent of males can read, compared to five per cent of females.

So far, the program has given literacy training to 4,770 females and 450 males.

With files from the Canadian Press

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