Afghan ambassador upbraids Liberals’ Ignatieff

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has ruffled diplomatic feathers with his suggestion that Canadian aid money shouldn’t be going to “crooks” or “warlords” running Afghanistan’s government.

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has ruffled diplomatic feathers with his suggestion that Canadian aid money shouldn’t be going to “crooks” or “warlords” running Afghanistan’s government.

Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, issued a statement Wednesday rebuking Ignatieff for his “unjustified” characterization of the Afghan government as corrupt and illegitimate.

Whatever its democratic deficiencies, Ludin said almost no foreign aid is channelled through the Afghan government in any event.

Ludin was responding to remarks Ignatieff made a day earlier during a Liberal-sponsored roundtable discussion on foreign aid and development assistance.

The Liberal leader said Canada has to get “tough” with aid-receiving countries whose governments aren’t accountable for how the money is spent. And he pointed to Afghanistan, the largest recipient of Canadian aid, to underline his point.

“We’re dealing with a government who’s stolen an election,” he told the roundtable.

While he’s “strongly in favour” of continuing the flow of aid money to Afghanistan, Ignatieff said the Afghan government must be more accountable.

“I cannot go to the Canadian people and create the consensus we want in favour of international development assistance unless I can show you and show Canadians that it’s not going to crooks,” he said.

“You really don’t want the dollar to go to warlords.”

But Ludin said Ignatieff’s blanket criticism is unfair to the “many selfless, dedicated Afghans in the government.”

“While the Afghan government makes no claim of being an exception to the systemic flaws that affect many poor countries around the world, any wholesale labelling of the government as ’corrupt’, ’crooks’ and ’warlords’ is unjustified,” he said.

Ignatieff’s charge that the government “stole” last summer’s election “also warrants concern,” Ludin added.

He acknowledged Afghanistan’s first election was tainted by widespread irregularities and allegations of fraud. But even after invalidating 1.3 million of his votes, he said Hamid Karzai was eventually declared the winner “in full accordance” with the Afghan constitution and with the approval of an independent election commission.

“Under President Karzai’s second term, the Afghan government is at this time the legitimate government in the country and a lawful partner to the international community in the year’s to come.”

In any event, Ludin said Canada’s development assistance “is not wasted on the Afghan government.” Indeed, he said 80 per cent of all foreign aid in Afghanistan is spent directly by donor-nations, bypassing the Afghan government altogether.

The other 20 per cent is almost entirely channelled through an internationally administered trust fund, overseen by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, he said.

Ludin said the Afghan people are “very grateful” for Canada’s generous development assistance and the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers. He said Canada has been “a true, steadfast friend.”