Monday, August 20, 2007

Three Cheers for Keith Martin

Liberal MP offers good advice for Defense Minister Peter MacKay

In a letter in today's National Post, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP and former parliamentary secretary to former Minister of Defense Bill Graham, offers some timely and good advice to current Defense Minister Peter MacKay.

Martin begins:

"The recent Cabinet shuffle by Prime Minister Harper presents an opportunity for the Conservative government to address three significant shortcomings with respect to our mission in Afghanistan."

While all too many of his colleagues would be taking the opportunity to lob typical partisan shots at the Conservatives, Martin keeps his letter very low-key, and instead offers three ways Canada can improve its fortunes in Khandahar.

"1. Canada should immediately repair, rebuild and re-equip the Mirwais General Hospital, the only medical facility in Kandahar accessible to the average Afghan. Its dilapidated condition is a constant reminder of our failure to effectively help those most in need in this beleaguered country and a political symbol that can be used by those who seek to increase dissent against us."

Martin makes an excellent point. Refurbishing the Mirwais Hospital would be an excellent "hearts and minds" exercise for Canadian forces in Khandahar. And while this would require a full-time, full-scale security effort from Canadian forces, it would also present them with a new resource for helping not only the Afghan civilians in the area, but also wounded Canadian soldiers.

"2. Canada should work with NGOs and our allies to redirect Afghanistan's opium production towards the manufacture of legal, pharmaceutical-grade narcotics. This would destroy the insurgency's financial underpinnings and give farmers, and the country, a value-added industry. The U.S.-led poppy eradication program has proven to be an unmitigated disaster."

With his second point, Martin strikes a gold mine in terms of addressing what has become a very serious dilemma for Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan, one that has reportedly come to pose a risk to Canadians.

To make this an even more preferable solution, medical pharmaceuticals would offer the average Afghan poppy farmer a greater share of the profits for their crop, as they would be able to cut out the networks of criminal middlemen, including the Taliban and non-Taliban insurgents.

"3. Canada should lead an all out effort to increase the training, funding and equipping of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and especially the Afghan National Police (ANP). In the end, southern Afghanistan's security will be dependant on the ability of the ANA and ANP to provide security and stability in that region."

With this particular point, Martin has completed the natural hat trick. While fairly academic in nature (it's obviously preferable to have native Afghans fighting the Taliban rather than having them depend on NATO forces to carry the fight), it's simply good advice. And while Canadians would have to go to great lengths to ensure that weapons provided to Afghan security forces don't suffer the same fate as weapons provided to Iraqi security forces, this is simply a good common sense suggestion.

And Martin is right, "The future of Afghanistan and the success of our mission relies on the implementation of solutions that, to date, have been neglected," and one can hardly accuse him of white-washing the Liberal party's failure to utilize these sorts of tactics, one that the Conservative party admittedly shares.

Most admirably of all, however, Martin understands the very point of the Afghanistan mission.

"Adopting these initiatives will truly be supporting our troops and will enable the Afghan people to achieve the peace and security they richly deserve."

And he says all of this with nary a partisan word. Which is fitting, considering that Afghanistan is a non-partisan war.

It's a shame that the Liberal party's defense critic, Denis Coderre, can't seem to find anything as constructive to say. Perhaps the Liberal party -- and Canada as a whole -- would be better served by a defense critic that isn't afraid to rise above petty partisan politics and contribute constructively to the war effort in Afghanistan.

Three cheers for Keith Martin. He may not be the Liberal party's defense critic, but he should be.

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