The following is the second of three articles on the death of Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry in Kandahar, Afghanistan on January 15, 2006.
Glyn Berry was uniquely suited to fill the assignment of providing political direction for a multi-departmental operation in a war zone for which there was no precedent in the annals of Canadian diplomacy. When he learned that the Department of Foreign Affairs was hunting for an officer to serve as the “senior Canadian representative” at the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to be established in Kandahar in the fall of 2005, he had applied immediately. But it took the department months to come around to the realization that Glyn was the right man for the job.
Glyn was ideal. Few, in fact, had better credentials. He knew the territory from having travelled to Afghanistan when he had been Deputy High Commissioner at the Canadian mission in Islamabad, Pakistan from 1999 to 2002. He was an expert in political-military affairs — and there were not many of them at Foreign Affairs. He had served in Ottawa in the Defence Relations division working with National Defence officials and the Canadian Forces on international security affairs, including NATO whose International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was coordinating allied and coalition operations in Afghanistan. Moreover, Glyn was well acquainted with the United Nations, the other major international organization with operations in Afghanistan. In 2005, he was working in New York at the Canadian mission to the UN where he co-chaired a UN special committee on peacekeeping operations.
Glyn was also a scholar of the problems of developing countries, although so modest about his academic accomplishments that few knew of his PhD in political science from Dalhousie University. His dissertation had been on Bureaucratic Politics and Canadian Economic Policies Affecting the Developing Countries – the Case of the Strategy for International Development Cooperation 1975-1980. Finally, Glyn also had the executive-level seniority in government which the job would require.
But Glyn was not the department’s first choice for the job, not even the second or third. Partly it was because the requirements of the job were a mystery to Foreign Affairs and the department was reluctant to devote any important resources of its own to the assignment. Although several dozen PRTs were up and running in both Afghanistan and Iraq, they were still a relatively new phenomenon and not one Canada had had any direct acquaintance with. Other than a briefing from a British delegation which had visited Ottawa many months before, Foreign Affairs had very little knowledge of the world of PRTs until the department sent a reconnaissance team out to Afghanistan to look at some of the PRTs that allies were operating there.
There was also another problem. There were people at Foreign Affairs and CIDA who were opposed to Canada taking on responsibility for a PRT, some arguing that Canada should not even be considering participating in one. In these peoples’ view, PRTs might be hybrid military-civilian operations but they focused primarily on their security functions and only peripherally on their “reconstruction” functions. By their very nature, PRTs would provide the means for the military to encroach on the “development space” which the government aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) held to be their own, would compromise the “neutral” standing of aid workers in the eyes of the local population, and would make them targets for the Taliban.
A related objection was that the Canadian PRT in Kandahar would initially come under the jurisdiction of the US-led anti-terrorism Operation Enduring Freedom until such time as the southern provinces of Afghanistan were judged safe enough to be assigned to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. ISAF had already assumed command of allied operations including the PRTs in the north and west of the country, but the transfer of command for the southern and eastern regions was not due to take place until 2006. (There would eventually be some two dozen ISAF PRTs in Afghanistan).
So what the department initially thought it wanted was someone with field experience working for the UN or an international aid organization, and that was who it went out to recruit. Some promising candidates from outside government expressed an interest in the assignment in Kandahar, but by July of 2005 the job was still not filled. With a military advance team already in place in Kandahar and the PRT scheduled to become operational in August, Foreign Affairs concluded it would have to look inside the department for a candidate. Within short order, there was a roster of volunteers who potentially fit the bill, but none with Glyn Berry’s combination of local knowledge, ability to work with the Canadian Forces, familiarity with NATO and UN peace operations, and seniority in the public service.
Even so, officials at Foreign Affairs were reluctant to settle on Glyn. Once upon a time, the department had been one of Canada’s most intrepid and entrepreneurial organizations. Over the years, however, it had become exceedingly risk-averse and bureaucratic – and there was little enthusiasm on the eighth floor of the Lester B. Pearson building for putting a highly intelligent and strong-willed officer in charge of a new-style interdepartmental agency located in a war zone. For want of alternatives, however, the department ended up getting the right man for the job.
Then it lost interest, sending one of its most able officers into harm’s way without the support it had promised him and reacting with astonishment that it all came to a bad end. There were professionals throughout Canada’s campaign in Afghanistan, but it was amateur hour at Foreign Affairs – the subject of the third article in this series.