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NATO's steps to an Afghan win: defence, development, diplomacy

Stephen Harper & Jan Peter Balkenende, Globe & Mail, 28 Nov 06

Article Link


Tonight and tomorrow, we will meet other NATO leaders in Riga, where we will renew our commitment and resolve to bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.


Our two countries, Canada and the Netherlands -- along with all NATO allies and 11 partner nations -- have committed troops, resources, development assistance and political effort to help the Afghan people secure a better future. It has not been an easy task. But it is an essential task. The NATO summit is also an opportunity to recall the reasons why we are in Afghanistan, what has been accomplished, and what needs to be done to bring the NATO presence there to success.


Let us begin with why we are in Afghanistan. The people have been subjected to instability, oppression and insurgency for decades. Afghanistan has been the site of terrorist bases with links to groups that have attacked NATO countries. We have decided unanimously to send forces to Afghanistan to confront the challenge to our security that exists in that country.


We are in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government and under the authority of the United Nations Security Council. Security and stability are the indispensable precursors to building a newly democratic state. Canada and the Netherlands have roughly 4,500 troops in southern Afghanistan, a major commitment from our two countries. We are in perhaps the most troubled region of the country, where the challenges of establishing security and stability are more pointed than in other parts of Afghanistan. We are there because the job has to be done, if reconstruction and a better life for the people in the southern region are to be a reality.


Yet, at the same time, we are fully aware that Afghanistan's future will not be secured through military means alone. So, too, are the many members of the international community involved in Afghanistan. For example, there are more than 60 nations contributing to the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, one of the UN's largest special political missions, oversees 16 UN agencies on the ground -- all working to assist the Afghan people.


So what has been accomplished to date?


In the five years since the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghans have taken control of their destiny. They have done so by voting for it in peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections; by establishing institutions to provide services to Afghans; by introducing new initiatives to tackle corruption; by implementing national development strategies; and by working to ensure that development is spreading across the country.


Consider that more than 10,000 community councils have been elected across Afghanistan, implementing 5,000 projects devoted to, for instance, establishing health centres, providing water wells, and building schools. More than five million children, a third of them girls, are going to school. More than 65,000 land mines have been cleared and destroyed in four years. These are significant achievements.


In Kandahar province alone, more than 1,000 wells have been dug, 800 hand pumps provided, and four large water reservoirs are now in operation. There are three kilometres of water supply networks. There have been improvements in the provincial transport network and power grid; 150 kilometres of new roads; four bridges; 50 kilometres of power lines; 10 transformers; 42 power generators -- all in support of the province's villagers and rural people.


Uruzgan is one of the most remote, traditional and poorest provinces in Afghanistan. We have kick-started the reconstruction process with 150 "cash for work" projects that are directly benefiting 20,000 Uruzganis. Basic rural infrastructure, such as irrigation ditches and rural roads, is being repaired after years of neglect due to civil strife. Military engineers from Australia are laying bridges. Bigger programs on education and health are being rolled out in co-operation with the provincial government.


What needs to be done to build on these achievements?


First, we need to ensure security in the five southern Afghan provinces. This is where Canada has just transferred command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force to the Netherlands. There is still hard work to be done there with boots on the ground. We are confident that allies understand the importance of standing together and ensuring that ISAF has the forces, resources and flexibility for success in these provinces. It is our shared interest to always adhere to international law. We operate in strict accordance with the Geneva Conventions. That will also improve NATO's image in that part of the world.


Second, the Afghan government needs to further extend its reach to remote areas and support governance at the local level. We will continue to vigorously support Afghan efforts to strengthen the rule of law, tackle corruption, and take action against illegal narcotics. This begins by helping the Afghan government bring security to its people through a national army and police force. Working on these issues is as important as countering the Taliban with military means.


Third, we need to harness more effectively the resources within NATO and with Afghan partners and the international community to promote greater co-operation and unity of effort. The roles and responsibilities of Afghanistan's neighbours, particularly Pakistan, in bringing about a stable, secure and democratic Afghanistan are essential. A constructive dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan on border security and refugee issues is key in this respect.


Canada and the Netherlands are prepared to face the difficulties we may encounter in establishing security in southern Afghanistan. We have highly capable troops, diplomats and development workers on the ground. These professionals know what the stakes are.


The Afghan people are beginning to see progress brought about by reconstruction efforts throughout the country. For the first time in decades, a secure, independent, peaceful and prosperous life is within reach for many Afghans.


Now is the time to consolidate these achievements and to deliver on our commitments to the Afghan people through a sustained partnership with NATO, the UN, the European Union and the rest of the international community.


Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada. Jan Peter Balkenende is Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

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