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Canada-NATO rift on Afghan mission widens

Reacting to Canada's threat to pull out of Afghanistan, the NATO warns any withdrawal will amount to abandonment of the Afghan people.

world Updated: Jan 30, 2008 11:29 IST

Reacting to Canada's threat on Monday to pull out of Afghanistan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Tuesday warned Ottawa that any withdrawal will amount to abandonment of the Afghan people.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had announced in the House of Commons Monday to withdraw 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by February 2009 if NATO allies didn't send 1,000 soldiers to fight alongside its forces in Kandahar.

The failure to send in extra troops, Harper warned, would put the reputation of NATO on the line.

Canada's Afghan mission has come under increasing criticism for rising death toll of its troops. Two of the three opposition parties want troops to be brought home immediately.

An independent panel has recommended that Canada pull out if NATO does not provide 1,000 extra troops by February 2009 to fight alongside its forces in Kandahar.

Accepting the panel recommendations and bowing to public and opposition pressure, the prime minister, who is considered close to US President George W Bush, gave the ultimatum to NATO on Monday.

In its reaction, NATO warned that it (Canada) would become the first ally to abandon NATO and the Afghan people if its goes ahead with the withdrawal decision.

NATO military spokesman James Appathurai said in Brussels, "We are not yet at the stage where the Afghan forces can stand on their feet alone.

"If you believe in defending human rights, you cannot do that in Afghanistan without a combat presence. If you believe in defending women's rights, you cannot do that unless you can stop the Taliban from taking power, because we know what they do when they're in power."

He said NATO would urge Canada to extend its mission beyond February 2009 as the Dutch have already done and 10 other allies have committed more troops for the Afghan effort.

The Canadian prime minister is likely to travel to Bucharest for the NATO meeting in April to pressure its allies to spare extra troops for Kandahar.

He is also reaching out to Stephane Dion, leader of the Liberal party, to work out a consensus on the mission as the Canadian parliament has to vote on its fate soon.

The Liberal party, which is ahead of the ruling Conservative party in opinion polls, favours the extension of the Afghan mission but only in non-combat role.

The other two parties in the opposition - the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois - are for withdrawal of troops.