Carly Weeks, CanWest News Service
Wednesday August 9, 2006
OTTAWA – A Liberal MP has agreed to become a special adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the Middle East and Afghanistan, it was announced Tuesday.
Liberal MP Wajid Khan could be on his way to three countries in the Middle East next week along with other backbench MPs provided the situation in Lebanon stabilizes by then. Senior government officials say it’s part of an effort to remove party politics from the escalating Mideast violence as well as Canada’s mounting death toll in Afghanistan.
”This announcement demonstrates that the government and the prime minister understand the importance of building a broad national consensus across party lines that supports our democracy building mission in Afghanistan,” said Jason Kenney, Harper’s parliamentary secretary. ”We are prepared to reach out across party lines to do that.”
As well, Khan is tentatively scheduled to leave in mid-September on another trip to the Middle East and South Asia. He is to report back to Harper in October.
Khan, born and raised in Pakistan, served in the Pakistani air force before moving to Canada in 1974, where he became a prominent member of Toronto’s Pakistani and Muslim communities.
But Khan was also chosen in part because he understands and supports Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and can send that message to other Canadians, said Kenney.
”Mr. Khan is very passionate about communicating the importance of our presence in Afghanistan to Canadians, including Canadians of Muslim background,” he said. ”I think he brings a lot of expertise and knowledge to that task.”
On the proposed three-nation stop next week, Khan is to be joined by Liberal MP Boris Wrzesnewskyj and Tory Dean Del Mastro on the Middle East trip, on a venture organized by the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations. ”It’s just to give a real perspective. That’s different from the news and propaganda and see for themselves the situation on the ground,” said Mazen Shouaib, the council’s executive director.
The MPs, along with Shouaib, will tour devastated parts of Lebanon, meet with Arab politicians and also visit Cairo, Damascus and Beirut. Shouaib hopes two other MPs, one from the Bloc Quebecois and one from the New Democratic Party, will also attend.
Shouaib said that he hopes to take the entourage to southern Lebanon, which has been devastated by attacks from Israel.
Despite direct warnings from Foreign Affairs not to travel to the region, Shouaib said they are proceeding with the hope a ceasefire will be announced in coming days. If not, the trip may not happen, he said.
”We have received the express concerns from Foreign Affairs Canada that we should not proceed unless there is a ceasefire because of the current situation,” he said. ”Security of individuals is more important than just getting on the ground right now.”
Kenney said it’s important that the MPs plan to travel to the heart of the conflict to see the situation for themselves.
”I think it’s useful for our parliamentarians to get a feel on the ground, of the situation on the ground, rather than just reading distant news reports. I think that will help to inform and elevate the debate in Canada.”