Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister.
I want to start off with your comments about communication and getting the message
out. I want to be precise. In looking over the shop that you chair, the Afghanistan task force, something came up that caused me considerable concern. When I asked officials responsible for training military and police whether they were able to read the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's report, a wonderful project that we helped fund, they told me they couldn't read it because it was in Dari. I was happy to provide a translation for them.
I looked into this, and I asked an order paper question about translation and the capacity of the task force. You talked about getting the message out, and that's fair enough. What came back was rather stunning to me. Not one person in the PCO, the Afghanistan task force, knew Dari or Pashto. In this country, I'd think we'd be able to find someone—I have. Those six communication assistants in that shop are doing something. From 2006 to 2009, the government spent a total of $4,512 on translation into Dari or Pashto, whereas in this same time period they spent $9.2 million on communications about the war.
I point that out to you because I think there are a lot of deficits. It's about priorities. I don't think we should be spending $9.2 million on getting the message out about the war. We should spend more on translation services. We have a critical role. If we can't even find people to translate the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's report about torture by the people we're training, we have a problem, Minister.
I will leave that with you as a concern, because you asked for advice. It's not acceptable, from my point of view, and I'd like to know the response. I think it's an area where we have failed.
There's been a lot of attention paid to the transfer of prisoners. I'm going to make a motion to have this committee talk to people about this and bring people before the committee. Are the transfer agreements that the government brought in and we signed onto being followed by Afghan government officials? Are we certain that they're following the procedure we put in place?
Hon. Stockwell Day: It's my understanding that they are. I'll get back to you on how we came to that understanding and what gives us that sense of confidence. Then you can judge whether it's a good checking process we have.
On the issue of translation, there actually is a Dari speaker on our task force. This may not have been true when you asked for that information, but there is somebody there now who speaks Dari. Is one person enough? I don't know.
You've raised some good issues on translation. I'll get some information back to this committee, because I know we receive it from other sources. We get the reports of those human rights—
Mr. Paul Dewar: But you understand the disproportionate nature of the numbers.
Hon. Stockwell Day: With respect to communication itself, I'll come back to you with the costs. The cost of printing and distributing these reports—that's got to be fairly significant. There are quite a number of other communication methods that are used. More communication was one of the key recommendations of the independent panel that looked at Afghanistan. In fact, it is the reason we're here today: communication, communication, communication. It was very strong. So I'll get back to you on that.
Mr. Paul Dewar: Fair enough.
I want to get back to the transfer. When the Afghan government releases a prisoner, one of the things that is of concern to all of us is whether we are being notified by the officials. Is that part of the protocol? Are we being notified by the officials when those prisoners are released from jail?
Hon. Stockwell Day: I'll have to get back to you on that. I'm not sure what the notification process is. I don't know whether that would be our responsibility, but—
Mr. Paul Dewar: But we should know.
Hon. Stockwell Day: —let me check on it. I have visited the principal prison under our jurisdiction. I went through pretty well every area of it and talked with a number of the individuals who were kept there.
Mr. Paul Dewar: I appreciate that. Please get back to us. For obvious reasons, this is something I think we should know .
We're training the military, the Afghan National Army, and that's an important job. I've had concerns about the police. I wonder if they know the human rights criteria of their own country, of their own constitution. That's a serious concern, and I've mentioned it before in committee.
I found it very surprising that the AWOL rate for the Afghan army is 10%. Is that your understanding? If so, how is it being dealt with by our military? If 10% of 94,000 men are AWOL, that's quite a significant number. What's our response to that?
Hon. Stockwell Day: Whether it's 10% today or not--I can't say--any rate at all is of concern. Are we going to look at it in comparison to the Canadian Armed Forces, which results show are the best in the world, in a mature parliamentary democracy, with incredible training? We hold this brand-new Afghan army to high standards, but if we expect the same kind of attendance rate, we may be disappointed. So we have to measure it in terms of progress. The number of those being trained and staying are higher than they ever were, but this is fairly new. So it's a concern. It's something we'll work with in our mentoring and training.
Also remember that if you're a member of the armed forces in Afghanistan, you are a target within your own country. In Canada, when our soldiers walk down the street, they are greeted with respect everywhere they go. In that country, if you're a soldier, your family is at risk and you are at risk.
Mr. Paul Dewar: We're not at war, though, and I guess that's the point. It was reported by Persian BBC a couple of weeks ago that ANA and others are handing over their arms to the Taliban. So this is a critical piece. I'd like to know that we have something in place to track the soldiers we train. If they're going AWOL, where are they going?
Hon. Stockwell Day: Remember, this is a culmination of us working with Afghanistan. They have to get to the place where they are controlling their own security and learning the methods and processes. Sometimes it's a simple matter of pay. They're getting paid more than ever, but in some areas of the country, where the narcotics economy is strong, it's pretty easy to buy them away from where they are.
So a 10% AWOL rate is not something a modern-day, sophisticated armed forces could tolerate. But we have to remember that 90% of them are staying on the job under threat of death and their families being slaughtered every day.
Mr. Paul Dewar: But we want to make sure that 10% of them aren't going to the other side. You mentioned Iraq, and that was an issue there. So do we have a strategy to deal with that? If we don't, we darn well should. We could be indirectly fueling the insurgency, and I don't think anyone
Hon. Stockwell Day: Clearly these are things that make up part of the overall security matrix. We are seeing a maturing in Afghanistan of their capabilities, not just on the military side but on social development, in virtually every area. But you can't compare it to where we are.
Mr. Paul Dewar: I'm not.
Hon. Stockwell Day: I know you're not, but we have to look at the progress and the fact that they are learning. They are also learning how to go after these types of inconsistencies.
The Chair: You have one minute left, Mr. Dewar.
Mr. Paul Dewar: We want to see the government do more in engaging with other countries in the region. As was mentioned, this war cannot be won through military means, and I think that's pretty clear. So I want to know what the government has done.
Has there been any initiative to talk to countries in the region, like India, Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, etc.? I think that's something Canada could do, and I certainly encourage you to do that if you haven't.
Hon. Stockwell Day: The entire United Nations force that's engaged there is involved in that type of diplomacy. But Canada specifically has put together a very successful program called the Doha process. We engage and encourage people from Pakistan and Afghanistan to meet and discuss everything from borders to reconciliation. So Canada is very much involved in those types of discussions.
Mr. Paul Dewar: But I'm talking about all the other countries in the neighbourhood. Has there been something of that nature?
Hon. Stockwell Day: From the point of view of diplomacy, discussions are ongoing on a variety of levels.
Mr. Paul Dewar: But are they with those other countries?
Hon. Stockwell Day: Yes. When I was in Saudi Arabia we had discussions about Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia's role, and how they can do more.
Mr. Paul Dewar: But what about the other countries I mentioned?
Hon. Stockwell Day: There are discussions with other countries too.
The Chair: Mr. Dewar, your time is up. Thank you.
Mr. Minister, a couple of issues were raised that you said you would respond to.
Hon. Stockwell Day: I'll get back to you.
The Chair: Hopefully we'll see them.
Hon. Stockwell Day: I appreciate some of the points that have been raised. We'll look into them and get back to the committee.
The Chair: Okay.
We'll suspend for a few minutes while we move in camera.
Yeah, "I'll get back to you on those basic points." Whatever.