OTTAWA – Robert Fowler, the retired Canadian diplomat who was kidnapped by terrorists in Africa, blasted the Harper government Monday for saying it has not been asked to contribute to the international military mission to Mali.
Fowler condemned the government for advancing that position on the eve of a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen and the head of the African Union in Ottawa, where a request for a Canadian troop contribution was widely expected.
Fowler, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, accused the government of ignoring last month’s resolution by the UN Security Council that called on all countries to contribute to halt the spread of terrorism that has taken root in Mali.
“The government has been asked. In the Security Council resolution 2085 of 20 December, the Security Council urges member states — of which I believe Canada is still one — to provide a whole set of things, including military training, provision of equipment, intelligence, logistics support and any necessary assistance to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organizations,” Fowler told The Canadian Press.
“Therefore, we have been asked.”
Earlier in the day, a government official who spoke only on condition on anonymity offered the exact opposite view.
“Nothing has been asked of us as yet,” the official told The Canadian Press.
Harper hosts AU President Thomas Boni Yayi on Tuesday on Parliament Hill, where the chaos and violence that have gripped Mali for much of the last year will be high on their agenda.
Mali was struck by a military coup in March and now has a group linked to al-Qaida controlling its north.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay stoked speculation about the mission last week when he said Canada would be willing to send military trainers.
The office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird countered that Canada was not contemplating a military mission to Mali — the same position the government official put forth again on Monday.
“We will wait to hear what people are requesting, if they are requesting anything,” the official said.
“As minister Baird has said, we’re not contemplating a military mission, and minister Baird is on the record with that. It’s the government’s position.”
Fowler denounced that position, saying Canada does not need a special invitation following the passage of the recent UN resolution.
“This is how one asks. It’s a way that enables some people to pretend they haven’t been asked. But they’ve been asked. All member states have been asked,” Fowler said.
“It is a clear invitation to anybody that can, and anybody that cares, to play.”
Fowler urged Harper to answer the renewed personal request he expects he will receive in Tuesday’s meeting with a resounding yes.
Fowler came face-to-face with the threat that is currently destabilizing Mali and its West African neighbours when he and fellow Canadian diplomat, Louis Guay, were kidnapped in 2008 and held for 130 days by the Islamic Maghreb, the al-Qaida linked group in Mali.
At the time, Fowler was the UN special envoy to Niger, where he and Guay were abducted.
“We’re going to have to intervene now or later. And it will be a lot more expensive and a lot bloodier later,” Fowler said.
“Quite often I’m asked, ‘How are you doing?’ And my usual answer is: ‘I’m doing fine, and so too is al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.’ They now have a country. They have a base, and they are doing what they told me they would do.
“They told us that their objective was to spread the chaos and anarchy of Somalia across the Sahel region from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, and in that chaos their jihad would thrive. And that’s what they’re doing.”
The official said Harper is well aware that Boni Yayi is an advocate of military intervention in Mali, but that the government doesn’t want to get involved in a military mission there.
Harper is expecting a full briefing on the latest developments in Mali, but the official would not say whether the prime minister was expecting an “ask” from Boni Yayi.
Mali was a stable recipient of Canadian aid and one of the continent’s best partners before its democratically elected government was toppled by a military coup in March.
That enabled al-Qaida’s African affiliate to swoop into the north and capture the largest piece of land that the terrorist network has ever held.
Two analysts agreed Monday that Canada had a duty to contribute to the international military force, to stop the spread of terrorism across Africa.
But they offered sharply different views on what could be in store for the Canadian Forces.
“We should also be under no illusion that such a training mission will be easy or can be undertaken without making substantial investments on the ground,” said Fen Hampson, head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.
“There is no quick fix here and we should not be doing something just to feel good about ourselves. We either get serious or we don’t do it at all.”
Andrew Grant, an Africa expert at Queen’s University, said that the government needs to help a country with which it has had a stable 40-year relationship.
“I think they will contribute, but it’s not going to be an overly robust contribution. You’re not going to see active engagement by Canadian troops out in the field.”