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The Canadian Press, September 26, 2007

NDP says Canadian military wrote Afghan president's speech

"What Canadians heard was not the voice of the Afghan people, but the talking points of the Department of National Defence," Black said.

OTTAWA - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's speech to Parliament last year was written by the Canadian military as part of an "elaborately staged political stunt," the NDP is charging.

The claim, based on heavily censored access-to-information documents, ruffled diplomatic feathers Tuesday and prompted a strong denial from the Afghan ambassador in Ottawa.

Dawn Black, the NDP defence critic, said the documents indicate military advisers were asked to prepare an initial draft of Karzai's speech, delivered on Sept. 22, 2006.

"What Canadians heard was not the voice of the Afghan people, but the talking points of the Department of National Defence," Black said.

"I find it incredible that any foreign head of state would be handed their remarks by the host country's military. It's totally incredible to me. When our prime minister visited the Parliament in Australia, I can't imagine the remarks were prepared by the Australian government."

Black quoted a situation report from Task Force Afghanistan as saying: "Team prepared initial draft of President (Karzai's) address to Parliament 22 Sep."

And Gen. David Fraser reports in the documents that: "key statistics, messages, themes, as well as overall structure (of the speech), were adopted by the president in his remarks."

Afghan ambassador Omar Samad bristled at the allegation.

"I can say something simple and say it's laughable and I could say something a bit more serious and say it verges on being insulting."

Canadian diplomats may have been asked for input as part of the the normal planning process prior to a state visit, Samad acknowledged.

"I have no knowledge of that, but it is customary. Diplomatically, governments talk to each other at all levels."

But the ambassador said he and several other Afghan advisers, including the president's chief of staff, prepared their own versions of the remarks and the final speech went through several drafts, which Karzai edited himself.

"He personally added and took things out and we worked on it for several hours before he delivered it," said Samad.

In the speech, Karzai thanked the families of soldiers killed in combat and painted an optimistic, but not rosy picture of his country's future.

He also took direct aim at NDP Leader Jack Layton's opposition to the war, saying that those who believe the mission was weighted too heavily toward combat and not enough toward reconstruction were wrong.

The documents released by the NDP suggest the Canadian military's strategic advisory team - a 15-member group that has been helping create and train a new Afghan civil service in Kabul - was the organization that provided the draft of the speech. The unit also apparently provided a communications officer who accompanied Karzai's delegation on his trip to Ottawa and New York.

Calls to military officials went unanswered Tuesday, but a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay dismissed the claims as political sniping.

"The NDP's attempt to undermine President Karzai's integrity shows once again its willingness to say anything as it opposes Canada's commitment to the United Nations and NATO to help Afghanistan," Dan Dugas said in an e-mail note.

"President Karzai's speech to Parliament was an eloquent and heartfelt thank you to Canada for the sacrifices of its soldiers in helping Afganistan live in freedom. That a visiting dignitary's office would want facts and figures to deliver a speech to Parliament is neither a precedent, nor a surprise."

Black said she plans to call for an emergency debate on the issue in the House of Commons when Parliament resumes next month.

She also said she will seek an investigation by the Commons defence committee into the military's communications campaign.

The revelation about the speech raises questions about Karzai's meeting with Canadian reporters last week and his impassioned plea for combat troops to remain beyond a self-imposed February 2009 deadline

Journalists embedded with the Canadian army in Kandahar were flown by the military to Kabul for a sit-down interview with the president.

A Foreign Affairs official said the group interview was offered by Karzai's office following individual requests from several news organizations. Those requests were passed to the Afghans through Canadian diplomats in Kabul.

"There has been speculation about the resources that the Department of National Defence is pouring into trying to sell this mission to the Canadian people," Black said.

"I never thought that the Canadian military would go this far. This raises serious concerns about the independence of the Afghan president and origin of his recent comments to Canadian media in Kabul."

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