MacKay visits Kabul, Kandahar

By Bill Graveland
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Afghanistan is not sliding back into chaos despite an ongoing insurgency and escalating drug trade, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday at the start of his two-day visit to the war-torn country.
"We're here to talk about a lot of the good work that's being done," MacKay said after arriving at Kandahar Airfield, home to most of the 2,500 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, after a brief visit to Kabul.
"We're going out to the provincial reconstruction team (Monday) and see some of the work that they're going."
"We're looking at a whole government approach and all of the government that's underway now."
While in Kabul, MacKay met with President Hamid Karzai to discuss, among other things, the contentious Pakistani border security issue as well the training of the Afghan army and police.
"We did have discussions on the necessity to continue this work," he said. "We're working with all the NATO allies to profile the importance of helping the Afghan people build this country."
Earlier in the day, MacKay spoke with reporters via a teleconference hookup, in which he disputed claims that the West's mission in Afghanistan is failing.
One recent critique appears in the widely read U.S. journal Foreign Affairs, which suggests Afghanistan is sliding into chaos, with rebel attacks increasing and the opium trade exploding. The journal is published by the non-profit Council on Foreign Relations, which includes nearly all past and current U.S. presidents, secretaries of state, defence and treasury, and other top U.S. officials.
MacKay said that while he respected the opinion of critics, "I don't see a factual basis for a commentary suggesting that this country is sliding into chaos."
"Quite the contrary. In fact, I think we're seeing more and more evidence of capacity-building starting to take hold, the efforts of the Afghan government in particular to build a more functioning and more dedicated police force," he said.
MacKay said there was a lot of "tangible proof" of improvements that have been made in Afghanistan, citing new schools, hospitals and roads along with vocational training and microcredit programs to help develop the Afghan economy.
"All of this shows that the Afghan people and the government have moved ahead considerably," he said. "And the pace, in my opinion, is only going to increase as we're able to bring about greater stability - particularly in the southern region."
After Afghanistan, MacKay is travelling to Pakistan where he will use "blunt talk" to press President Pervez Musharraf to take stronger measures to stop Taliban fighters from crossing the border into Afghanistan, while also offering Canadian assistance in managing the border.
He underscored the need for Pakistan "to do a better job of stopping the movement of Taliban," who have been able to mount attacks on Canadian and other NATO forces in the south, often by moving combatants and supplies unchallenged across the Pakistani border.
Asked how he could bring more pressure on Pakistan to tighten border security, MacKay replied:
"Well, I think repetition here and blunt talk. I suspect strongly that you're going to see this coming from all countries. . . . Everyone says that the border issue has to be dealt with in a more comprehensive way - whether it's . . . aerial surveillance, fencing, border guards," he said.
"Canada has a particular interest, of course, because of the impact it's having on our military. But we also have some expertise in the area. We have a large border that we share with the United States. Some of our techniques and our technology that we're using there may be of assistance."
Meanwhile, MacKay said Karzai was effusive with his praise for Canada during their hour-long meeting.
"He basically has been telling his fellow countrymen: 'Canadians are protecting us with their lives. . . . They're coming here all the way from Canada with goodwill in their heart, with investments in our business, in our future, in our people.' "
MacKay was accompanied to Kandahar by his Afghan counterpart, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who said he wanted to thank Canada "for their peace building in Afghanistan and . . . building of our common goals against terrorist activities."
MacKay sidestepped a question about whether the Canadian government had put too much emphasis on the fight against the Taliban.
"We're here to talk about the work that's being done on the ground, the construction work, the reconstruction work," said MacKay who told reporters he would make announcements Monday regarding the Canada's provincial reconstruction team or PRT.
"They will be in keeping with the effort to further the progress that's being made and we're going to have a chance to go out in the field," he said.
MacKay was also expected to meet with Maj.-Gen. Ton Van Loon, head of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, to get an update on Operation Baaz Tsuka, the offensive against Taliban insurgents launched in December.

Copyright © 2007 Canadian Press
I'm sure all the soldiers where thrilled to see MacKay.

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