Canadian Vote Defeats Proposal For Leaving Afghanistan
Canada’s Parliament on Tuesday narrowly defeated a proposal by opposition lawmakers that the Conservative government withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan at the end of its current commitment in February 2009. The 150-to-134 vote rejecting the nonbinding motion lacked the unanimous support from opposition parties needed to outnumber Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government. But it further illustrates the growing demand in Canada for a debate over the country’s role in the United States-led mission in Afghanistan and for talk of an exit strategy in the face of rising casualty figures and increased military spending. Mr. Harper has thus far rejected those demands, saying he does not want to put a fixed date on the end of Canada’s role in the mission. The deaths two weeks ago of eight Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan marked the deadliest week for the country’s military since the Korean War and renewed calls for Canada to inform NATO that it is time to begin negotiating for another member to assume responsibilities in the volatile southern Kandahar Province.Canada’s 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan have suffered heavier casualties since they took control of the southern region a year ago. Also, Mr. Harper’s recent announcement of the purchase of 120 tanks fueled discussions of the balance between military spending and foreign aid. “There is this squeamishness in the Canadian soul,” said the Carleton University historian Norman Hillmer. “We’re not a particularly military people, and yet over the last while we have put defense issues at the center, spent a lot of money on defense and elected a prime minister who talks tough on military issues.” Tensions surrounding the vote on Tuesday were heightened by allegations surfacing this week in The Globe and Mail that Afghans detained by Canadian troops were mistreated after being transferred to Afghan custody. The newspaper reported that interviews with Afghans revealed instances of abuse, like being whipped with electrical cables. All three opposition parties reacted to the reports by demanding an investigation into how Canada monitors the conditions of detainees transferred to the Afghan police. Currently, the government relies on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission for monitoring. But the commission’s chief investigator in Kandahar expressed doubt that the organization had the resources or access to adequately monitor detainees. “We have an agreement with the Canadians, but we can’t monitor these people,” the investigator, Amir Mohammed Ansari, told The Globe and Mail.