Canada?s public broadcaster, CBC-Television, admitted its own surprise earlier this month when its own scientific poll demonstrated that 60% of Afghans fully support the presence of foreign troops in their country, while only 16% oppose the UN-sanctioned, NATO-led military efforts in Afghanistan.
Perhaps CBC-TV staff should have conducted that poll long ago. They could have saved themselves the ?surprise? ? and the awkwardness ? at somehow not knowing what the vast majority of reporters and Canadians who have visited Afghanistan, including myself, already knew. Average Afghans view Canadian troops as a comforting sign of security and hope for future peace and prosperity.
As for Canadians, the only way they would have been surprised by the poll?s results was if they had depended exclusively upon the CBC for their news fix.
The CBC/Environics poll, which interviewed 1,600 Afghan men and women, also found that more than 70% of Afghans hold a positive view of their government, led by President Hamid Karzai. That?s a popularity rating leaders in most countries can only dream about!
Meanwhile, 73% of Afghans have a negative opinion of the Taliban and used words like, ?I hate them? and ?They are demons? to describe Taliban insurgents.
Again, nothing surprising there given that so many innocent civilians, including children, have been killed as a result of the Taliban?s efforts to destroy schools, roads, bridges, power plants, hospitals and other essential infrastructure needs the Afghan people are desperately trying to establish.
It?s reassuring to know the Afghan people value the ongoing sacrifices and efforts of Canadian troops and their families. Yet it?s especially heartening that progress in Afghanistan means its citizens are now able to freely take part in a democratic process like polling.
Nevertheless, Canada?s role in Afghanistan must be decided by Canadians here at home. That?s why Prime Minister Stephen Harper created an Independent Panel on Canada?s Future Role in Afghanistan. The panel is comprised of Canadians with extensive experience and expertise in foreign affairs and international relations.
It will be chaired by former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister John Manley. He?ll be joined by Derek Burney, former Canadian Ambassador to the United States; Pamela Wallin, former Canadian Consul General in New York City; Paul Tellier, a Montreal business executive and former Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada; and Jake Epp, former federal cabinet minister and current chair of Health Partners International, a non-profit organization which provides medical aid to Afghanistan.
The panel will examine, but is not limited to, the following four options:
1.Continue training the Afghan army and police so Canada can begin withdrawing its forces in February 2009;
2.Focus on reconstruction and have forces from another country take over security in Kandahar;
3.Shift Canadian security and reconstruction effort to another region in Afghanistan;
4.Withdraw all Canadian military except a minimal force to protect aid workers and diplomats.
The panel will report by the end of January 2008 and their impartial advice will help Canadians and parliamentarians choose the right course for Canada in Afghanistan.