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MCC raises Afghanistan concerns with Canadian prime minister

Amanda Thorsteinsson
May 29, 2009

WINNIPEG, Man. -- Engaging the military in development and reconstruction in Afghanistan is endangering aid workers and civilian recipients, says Mennonite Central Committee.

In a recent letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, MCC Canada said blurring the line between military operations and development is politicizing the delivery of aid. In 2008, 38 aid workers in Afghanistan were killed by insurgents and 147 were abducted.

"While we admire the concern the Canadian Forces has for development, evidence shows that humanitarian aid and long-term development is most effectively and efficiently performed by non-governmental organizations and government development agencies, not military personnel," writes MCC Canada executive director Don Peters.

The militarization of aid is one of several concerns identified in the letter. These concerns arise from the counsel of MCC’s partners in Afghanistan. In April, MCC representatives met with local Afghan partner organizations to hear their perspective on the impact of international groups on their country.

MCC’s Afghan partners estimate that up to 90 per cent of people join the Taliban for economic reasons. Afghans are hungry, impoverished, and without work, and the Taliban provide them with an income.

To counter this, MCC suggests that Canada invest more in projects that directly improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. In the letter Peters points to a new Canadian law stipulating that Canada’s official development assistance should first and foremost go directly towards alleviating poverty,

MCC has worked in Afghanistan for more than a decade, providing assistance in the areas of food aid, education, irrigation, and support for community-level peacebuilding.

Peace and peacemaking are central to all aspects of MCC’s work. According to MCC peace ministries coordinator, Esther Epp-Tiessen, “our commitment to peace is rooted in our faith in Jesus, the prince of peace, who invites us to be people of peace.”

Violence begets violence and international military operations, even with the best of intentions, contribute to new grievances that fuel the cycles of aggression, writes Peters.

The letter stops short of calling for a withdrawal of Canadian troops, as MCC’s partners have counselled against it at this time. The letter does urge Canada to more actively promote a comprehensive peace process that will engage Afghans from all sectors of society.

"Like other Canadian, we are deeply saddened by the losses this war has meant for both Afghans and for our own Canadian soldiers," writes Peters.

"We will continue to pray for the people of Afghanistan, and for the Canadian serving in both military and non-military roles in Afghanistan. Our prayers are also with you (the prime minister) as you lead our country."

MCCC’s letter can be found at

Amanda Thorsteinsson is a writer for MCC Canada.