CARE urges debate about Canada’s role

Canada’s non-military future in Afghanistan needs to be the subject of a much “richer” debate that ought to be taken up by Parliament, says a leading aid agency.

OTTAWA — Canada’s non-military future in Afghanistan needs to be the subject of a much “richer” debate that ought to be taken up by Parliament, says a leading aid agency.

That suggestion by CARE Canada on Wednesday echoed recent demands by federal opposition parties for a more robust debate in Parliament on what Canada will specifically do in Afghanistan once Canadian Forces personnel withdraw from combat.

It came as CARE released a report Wednesday that urged the Harper government to focus on the fight for the rights of Afghan women after it pulls Canadian troops out of the country next year.

“We feel that the discussion could be much richer,” CARE executive director Kevin McCort said.

McCort said he wasn’t being critical of the government. But Conservatives have so far brushed aside Opposition requests for a full Parliamentary debate on the future of the mission, saying only that it will focus on diplomacy and development after combat operations end in 2011.

Allies such as the United States and Britain would like to see Canada leave at least a few hundred troops behind to assist NATO in its training of Afghan security forces.

“We feel that this is a great opportunity, right now, as Parliament’s back in session, where Canadians are starting to question, in more detail: what are going to do after 2011?” said McCort.

“CARE’s been in Afghanistan for 50 years; we’re going to stay, but we would like to see a richer discussion in Canada about these options.”

McCort noted that CARE has always received a positive welcome from the Conservative government when discussing the way forward in Afghanistan.

But as the report’s author made clear, the future of the mission needs to be moved into the public domain, and the future of Afghan women should be front and centre.

“We think that from consulting with folks around Canada, both formally and informally, that the protection of women is something that Canadians care about. So we’re putting this out there as a primary focus with a whole bunch of suggestions,” said Jennifer Rowell of CARE Afghanistan.

“We want to kick-start that broader debate within society and make sure that the Canadians are telling the government that as well.”

Rowell said 87 per cent of Afghan women have suffered some form abuse in their lifetime.

CARE says placing women’s rights at the centre of Canada’s post-2011 development strategy would fit nicely with the Harper government’s child and maternal health initiative, which it pushed at this year’s G8 summit.

The report says Canada should designate Afghanistan a priority country for funding under its Muskoka Initiative, unveiled at the G8.

The CARE report calls on Canada to lead improvements to the Afghan justice system to make it more sensitive to domestic abuse issues that affect women.

It also urges Canada to “lead the world” in championing women’s rights in education, health, economics and national reconciliation.

“Canada can be the broker of the women’s voice in higher level areas, higher level policy spheres, where they simply don’t have a voice yet,” said Rowell.

Rowell called for a deeper public discussion about what Canada can do to help women in Afghanistan, one that sets aside cultural stereotypes.

“The public perceptions of that debate are often, we find, quite simplistic,” she said.

“There are things we can do for women in Afghanistan, even if the troops, our troops, are not there.”