Liveblogging the Afghanistan committee: Candid Kandahar

12:43:25 PM
Well, this worked out better than I’d hoped. To the superficial eye, I am currently cooling my platform heels outside the still in camera meeting of the Afghanistan committee, but as it happens, that’s exactly where I want to be at this precise moment in time. How often, really, can anyone say that?

I was prepared for back-to-back meetings – I was at PAC ’til noon, remember. But thanks to an hours’ worth of committee business that kept the door firmly shut, I was able to sneak outside for a bit of fresh air and a date square. Now I’m back, refreshed and rejuvenated, and ready to hear from the UN Special Representative, Kai Eide, just as soon as the room is opened to the public.

12:48:38 PM
Well, this is new. A pair of House clerks just turned up with, of all things, a United Nations flag, complete with pole, which has been lovingly placed on one side of the (still-closed) door. Is that normal? Do we always break out the courtesy flags for foreign witnesses? What happens if there’s more than one, from different countries? I bet there’s an entire wing of the Protocol office dedicated to those sorts of dilemmas.

12:51:51 PM
And we’re in! Operation Fourth Estate is proceeding according to plan, although so far, there are only two of us. I bet a lot of people – reporters and otherwise – are watching via parlvu. The combination of a moveable start time and, well, being in West Block does tend to discourage spectators.

12:53:54 PM

Ooh, guess who’s here? Michael Ignatieff! AND Bob Rae. Is this the first time that’s happened at committee?

12:58:03 PM
In case you wondered, no, I’m not ignoring the witness. We’re actually in a ten minute recess, cunningly timed to allow members to hit the buffet table that mysteriously appeared at the back of the room. That almost never happens at the lunch hour meetings I cover. Maybe they want to make sure no one goes to the Bad Low Blood Sugar Place in front of such an eminent witness.

1:02:31 PM
I wonder who will get bumped from the Liberal lineup to allow Iggy to ask a few questions.

No, in case you’re wondering, I’m not sure exactly when they’ll get back to work, but I promise to stop babbling as soon as that happens.

1:11:19 PM
You know, not to get all clockwatchy, but… tick tick tick. Given the already tight squooshed-innedness of this meeting, timing-wise – right before QP, which means no overtime  – every minute this meeting is in recess means one less with the witness, and I have a feeling there will be no shortage of questions.

1:19:44 PM
I just heard a Liberal ask the chair, “Do we know where he is?” Silence. Mutter. Oh, this doesn’t bode well.

1:21:42 PM
This may be the first committee liveblog to feature absolutely no committee content: my colleague just told me that Eide is supposed to deliver a speech at Pearson at 2pm, which means — he’ll only just be able to deliver his opening statement before he has to flee.

The members are in good spirits, though. That’s always heartening to see. Actually, some of the most boisterously jolly meetings I’ve covered were the PROC filibusters.

1:24:46 PM
“Okay, let’s get started,” says a jovial Claude Bachand. “I’m the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan. Any questions?”

Oh, Bloc. Love you. Kisses.

1:28:11 PM

He’s here! Kai Eide, that is. He gets a hearty welcome from Claude Bachand – yes, feel free to stop and appreciate the irony – and tells the committee, “It’s not my fault!” Also on hand: Chris Alexander, Canada’s former ambassador, and a blonde woman who didn’t get a formal introduction.

The chair gives the world’s most concise opening statement ever, and with that, it’s all over to Eide for what we can only hope is an equally concise opening statement.

1:30:29 PM
Eide recaps what he’s seen so far in his capacity as Special Envoy, but also his previous incarnation as a NATO commander. Short version: yes, there has been progress, but there are also “shortfalls” – particularly in police and justice, as well as governance. Okay, no one tell him about the whole Elections Canada thing.

1:33:14 PM
In order for the security to be stable, Afghanistan needs a stable government, especially law enforcement, as well as a strong economy-not one so driven international aid. Infrastructure, irrigation, all that stuff is important as well.

1:36:07 PM
Ah, here we go. His central message, which he debuted in Washington earlier this week: Foreign aid. More money is always welcome, he notes, especially from countries that haven’t given as much as they could. He also touches on the need for increased coordination

1:37:47 PM
Two other points: the upcoming elections, both presidential and parliamentary, are scheduled for the fall. It’s crucial that Afghans see this as a fair, democratic process.

Relations with other countries – check.

And… Yes, he’s going there – “reconciliation,” otherwise known as talking to the Taliban, as mentioned in this morning’s Globe and Mail. I’m really, really curious to hear what Peter MacKay has to say about that. For all I know, he already has. I’ve been in a floating committee bubble since this morning.

1:41:06 PM
And – questions! First up, Bob Rae, who tries, but fails, to drop the preamble entirely; to his credit, he does shorten it dramatically. Rae goes straight to the “reconciliation” issue. Eide, however, refuses to comment on the mechanics; that’s up to the Afghan government.

What about troops engaging in “tactical discussions” with the Taliban? Eide chooses his words carefully, “Outreach efforts,” he notes, are important, but the larger reconciliation process must be driven by the government.

1:43:46 PM
Byron Wilfert takes over, and asks for more thoughts on the delivery of aid, particularly under local government. The governance issue, Eide says, must be addressed at every level-provincial, district and national.

1:45:06 PM
And we’re back to Rae. Sorry, Iggy, looks like you may not get a shot. But you have the second slot during QP, so maybe that’s a fair trade. Rae asks about the involvement of the UN and Eide once again stresses the need for the Afghan government to be in the lead.

“I’m sure our government will be happy to offer the services of Elections Canada in that regard,” Rae concludes, which makes most of the room giggle and no doubt leaves Eide somewhat puzzled.

1:47:29 PM
Vivian Barbot wants to know about corruption, which Eide acknowledges is a problem. In recent weeks, he says, the Afghans have shown a willingness to put in mechanisms to ensure accountability. “I’m in the early days of this,” he reminds the committee.

1:49:23 PM
Claude Bachand takes the baton, and brings up the “three D” approach – to which, he adds, we want to add governance. What about Eide’s mandate?

Military-civilian relations, for one, Eide notes, as well as discussions with ISAF on coordination of efforts, provincially and locally. But the UN mandate is very different from the NATO mandate; there are some common areas, but it is distinct.

Afghanistan is not a diplomatic or military project, he says, it is a political project. I think he means that the focus has to be on strength in governance, and governments in Afghanistan. “I want to make sure all interlocutors out there know who we are: We’re from the United Nations.”

1:52:48 PM
Dawn Black notes that her party has always been a strong supporter of the UN taking a more active role, and asks whether he’ll be expanding the office.

Eide says he needs more resources-human, financial and others-and says he’s pleased to see that Canada and other countries believe the UN is the only legitimate organization to coordinate that effort.

Moving on, Black asks about another media report, this time on reports that the American military may take over operations in southern Afghanistan. Really? Huh. How could that affect the Canadian mission?

1:56:41 PM
After demurring to answer the question directly, Eide goes out of his way to praise Canada’s support for the Afghan people. It is hard, but it is important, he says.

1:57:20 PM
With three minutes left, the government side gets a turn at the mic: Laurie Hawn is on the job, and he wonders how aid can be delivered in a more efficient way, particularly in the south. Once again, Eide stresses the need to strengthen the Afghan government.

As far as aid effectiveness, “much has been done,” but there are still problems, especially spending too much of the money in the donor country rather than in Afghanistan.

2:00:24 PM
Last question goes to Gerald Keddy, who wants to go back to capacity building – specifically, the modernization of agriculture, and independence of the small agrarian movement, as well as manufacturing.

That’s an awfully specific question, and, as Eide says, he can’t really answer it after only fifteen days on the ground. The goal is to enable the Afghan people to feed themselves, and then create the basis for industries emanating from that. Some will take time but not everything, he notes.

Speaking of time, I think this meeting is out of it. It’s past 2, and Question Period waits for no man. Or woman. Or liveblogger.

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