In an exit interview before leaving Kabul at the end of the month, outgoing Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan Ron Hoffmann said Canada has much to be proud of about its mission here.
He admitted that he's leaving a country with "major gaps in governance," high corruption and a worsening security situation, the latter he attributed in part to Pakistan, but sees these issues as increasingly the responsibility of Afghanistan's government, rather than the international community.
"I leave here being very upbeat about our country, but also recognizing that Afghanistan has severe challenges still ahead," Mr. Hoffmann said. "There is concrete progress, I see it every day. There have also been some setbacks, there are some deeply-rooted challenges."
Mr. Hoffmann admitted that the security situation has gotten worse during his two-year tenure as Canada's top politician in Afghanistan. However he added that security in the capital, Kabul, has improved, and that Afghan forces are doing more of the heavy lifting.
Mr. Hoffmann attributed the deteriorating security situation to the free flow of militants over the Pakistani border. "My sense is that Pakistan continues to play a key role," he said. "The border is a long, complex and porous one, and brainwashed young men from madrassas continue to come over the border, vulnerable to the vile ideology and practices of elements of the insurgency that drive these men to kill themselves and others.
"But I think there's also an insurgency that has found some fertile ground to operate because parts of the population still have not seen the progress in this country that they hoped for and expected after the last election."
The relationship between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the West appeared to be much more tense in recent months, as more foreign leaders complain about corruption in Kabul. Mr. Hoffmann played down those tensions, saying the relationship between Ottawa and Kabul is still strong. Nonetheless, he conceded that there are still many major problems with governance in this country.
"Governance in general still has a long way to go before it meets the expectations of Afghans," he said. "Corruption is high, and services are not yet transforming people's lives to a degree that's comprehensive enough for them to have complete faith in the future of their own government.
"There is a wide range of challenges facing this country. Increasingly, these fall on the shoulders of a sovereign and self-sufficient Afghan state."
Mr. Hoffmann leaves Afghanistan soon, but will remain in the same continent. He will become Canada's next ambassador to Thailand, with additional responsibility for Burma, Laos and Cambodia.