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Tough questions for Tories: Mission likely to dominate in House

John Ward, Canadian Press, Ottawa Sun, 24 Aug 06


RISING casualty rates, a seemingly resurgent Taliban and the tragic shooting death of a 10-year-old are pushing Afghanistan into the midst of Canadian politics.


When Parliament resumes next month, the military mission in Kandahar is likely to be a set feature of question period.


"Afghanistan is an issue amongst Canadians," says Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberal defence critic. "It was an issue during the spring, it will continue to be an issue."


Dawn Black, the NDP defence critic, agreed.


"I think it will be front and centre when the House reconvenes."


The opposition, however, will have to dodge government accusations that in questioning the mission, they're undercutting the troops.


Recent public opinion polls have shown an almost even split between those who support the Afghan commitment and those who want out.




The casualty rates -- eight soldiers killed this month alone -- may be eroding support, analysts say.


"The problem with any counter-insurgency is that there are no quick solutions, no easy victories and every now and then there will come a report, such as the shooting of the boy, that most people don't understand or want to hear about," said John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based group that studies international unrest.


Dosanjh and Black say Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government haven't answered the tough questions, even as they pushed a parliamentary vote last spring to extend the mission to 2009.


Black says she doesn't see how you can win over hearts and minds at gunpoint.


"What is the end point of this?" she said. "Is there an end point that is successful? What are the goals of this mission? Canadians are seriously questioning this and I think the government has a hard obligation now to answer the questions that many MPs and people in Canadian society are asking."




The government is sticking to its guns, saying the mission is dedicated to helping the Afghan people preserve democracy against insurgents and rebuild their battered country.


While the opposition is ready to pounce in question period, others wonder about the real meaning of the polls. John Wright of pollster Ipsos-Reid points out that even a new government would likely be loath to pull out of Afghanistan because it's a commitment to NATO.


"There's no going back," he said.


David Rudd of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies said the poll numbers may not mean a lot.


"Yes, there's a split and the polls show people are subtly against it but no one's demonstrating out in the streets, no one's vigorously calling for withdrawal," he said.

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