Cons, Libs talking about new Afghanistan role?

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Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is among those pushing for a continued Canadian presence in Afghanistan

The federal Liberals and Conservatives are informally discussing Canada’s role in Afghanistan following the scheduled end of the combat mission in Kandahar, the Canadian Press reports (Steve Rennie, “Tories, Grits talking post-2011 role in Afghanistan; combat off the table,” Canadian Press, 2 May 2010):

The overtures aren’t formal. People interviewed for this story stressed the talks are more like feelers going out than anything else.

But what arises from these casual chats could have profound implications on Canada’s military and civilian functions in Afghanistan….

A senior member of the Conservative caucus said “two or three” top Liberals approached him recently about the Afghanistan quandary.

Tory Senator Hugh Segal, a one-time adviser to Harper who also served as chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney, said the overtures started a few months ago.

“I’ve had at least two or three senior people (from) the Liberal party say that they are more than open-minded to a discussion about a military training presence,” he said.

Segal said he has not spoken about this to the prime minister, and he has no formal authority to broker a deal on the Afghan mission. But that hasn’t stopped him from having private chats with Grits.

“I’ve actually had them, off and on, for the last two-and-a-half to three months,” Segal said.

“The Liberal caucus people with whom I have spoken are all kind of front-bench people who noticed and asked many questions of the kind you’re asking, and who have indicated that they would be open if something were to come in the process,” he added.

“But they’re people who struck me as reasonably senior in the process.”

Both parties seem to be sussing each other out. Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh said some Tories have casually approached him to get a read on his party’s position on Afghanistan.

“(The) odd Conservative has asked me: ‘Where are you guys?’ And my answer always has been” ‘Look, come up with a proposal, give it to us,'” he said in an interview.

Another senior Liberal told The Canadian Press the party has “tried to be constructive, trying to make it clear to the government we’re open to discussions on training.”

But so far the Grits have been “surprised by the rigidity of the Harper government.”

“It sounds like they want out, period.”

However, the Liberal source doubted the majority of the Tory caucus wants to fully withdraw from Afghanistan — a view Segal echoed.

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