KABUL, Afghanistan – Canadians could go from digging trenches to helping dig gold and copper mines in Afghanistan if the Harper government has its way.
The country’s ambassador to Kabul signalled this week that the moribund Afghan economy will be a principal focus for Canada, which has formally ended its military mission.
The hope is to turn the page on a decade of military involvement and aid handouts in the desperately poor, war-torn nation. Standards which Canada has long promoted, education, good governance and women’s rights, will still be there, with an additional emphasis on business.
“Our diplomatic focus will also be on economic development,” said Deborah Lyons, who took over as Canada’s first woman ambassador to Afghanistan six months ago. The approach has the enthusiastic endorsement of Shamial Bantija, Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate to Canada and an economic adviser to President Hamid Karzai.
“We see Canada as our closest partner, not in terms of assistance, but the capacities you have that we want to take advantage of,” said Bantija. “I should like to see now Canada and Afghanistan get into more economic connections.” The Canadian business community has expertise Afghanistan can use, particularly in mining, he said.
It may seem like a tall order in a country that’s in a perpetual state of security lockdown, where roadside bombs and shootings disrupt daily life, civilians die by the thousands each year and foreigners cower in heavily guarded compounds.
Nevertheless, the government is embracing one of the main pillars of long-term, counter-insurgency strategy which says the best way to disarm a guerilla is to give him a job.
And, all of this supposed to take place in country that Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said didn’t deserve a “dime” of direct foreign aid money until it cleaned up its official corruption.
Lyons said it’s getting there.
“We’ve got to work with the Afghan government to get the necessary legislation in place, whether it’s mining legislation or anti-money laundering laws, to get an environment in place for business to do business,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
Reports by the Pentagon and U.S. geological experts suggest Afghanistan could hold up to $1 trillion in mineral reserves, a jaw-dropping estimate that’s been lost amid the violence and bloodshed.
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