Don't pull troops, local Afghan émigrés warn

Expat Abdul Rahim Parwani is relieved that his wife, Sami, and daughters (left to right) Soraya, Maryam, and Asma don't live under the Taliban's rules.


Expat Abdul Rahim Parwani is relieved that his wife, Sami, and daughters (left to right) Soraya, Maryam, and Asma don't live under the Taliban's rules.
Genuine Health

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper recasting the Afghanistan mission he inherited from his Liberal predecessors as an act of revenge for the Canadians who died in the 9/11 attack in New York, and with Canada's "antiwar" left showing disturbing signs of senility, Canada's Afghan émigré community is becoming increasingly worried about where all this is leading.

"I'm very afraid that we are going to make the same mistake again, like when everyone forgot about Afghanistan until 9/11," Vancouver's Abdul Rahim Parwani told the Georgia Straight. "Now, in some areas, the security situation is already worsening, and the Taliban is reorganizing."

Parwani, 42, was editor of the Kabul literary journal Tarjuma, which lasted until the Taliban, a theocratic-fascist movement with strong ties to Pakistani Islamists, seized power in Afghanistan in 1996. Parwani fled to India. Except for a stint working in that country, he has lived in Vancouver for six years. He is currently director of the weekly Ariana television program on Vancouver's M Channel.

"That's what I'm afraid of, that we will do this mistake again, that we will forget. And when we have placards on the street that say, 'Troops out of Afghanistan', then maybe one day they will have to go into the streets with placards that say, 'Terrorists out of Canada'," Parwani said. "Canada is my country, too, now. Canadians have to understand that this is the better way."

By "the better way", Parwani was referring to Canada's many efforts in Afghanistan, which include clearing landmines that still kill about 100 people a month, guarding girls' schools that Islamists are still burning down, setting up "micro-banks" to help women with small business loans, demobilizing militias, training police officers, and so on. All this would come to an end if Canada's "antiwar" campaigners get their way and foreign troops were withdrawn.

Ferooz Sekandarpoor, with the Vancouver Institute for Afghan Studies, considers himself "antiwar", but unlike so many of Canada's "troops out" protesters, Sekandarpoor is capable of distinguishing between necessary humanitarian intervention and imperialist occupation. "Canada and all the other countries that are helping Afghanistan right now are not invaders. They are saviours," he said. "I could be one of those people shouting 'no war', but we have got to help people. That is what the UN is for. Think about Rwanda. There was a terrible genocide there, and now we regret that."

With Harper sounding increasingly like a White House press secretary and Canada's Liberals embroiled in the early throes of a leadership race, the time couldn't be better for a principled, internationalist position to finally emerge from Canada's left. Instead, what's on offer is mainly an incoherent echo of American counterculture slogans from the Vietnam era.

During a recent visit to Vancouver, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad, told the Straight he can't understand why "antiwar" groups have refused his offers of a dialogue. "But maybe it's political. Or| ideological. I can't explain it," he said. "But to look at Afghanistan only through the prism of the United States is wrong."

New Democratic party leader Jack Layton isn't helping much. Demanding a parliamentary debate is all well and good if you've got something to say, but sometimes it's as though Layton simply hasn't been paying attention.

On March 26, Layton told reporters the decision to deploy Canadian troops from Kabul to the southern part of Afghanistan was only made "in the middle of the election".

In fact, it was last May that former defence minister Bill Graham announced that Canada would head up the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar, one of about two dozen such teams in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers were first deployed to Kandahar in 2002, and the Kandahar PRT was up and running by last August.

The good news in all of this is that the job of NDP defence critic has fallen to Dawn Black, the eminently capable and progressive New Westminster MP who regained the riding in the January 23 election. In an interview, Black, who has worked in democracy-training efforts in Bosnia and Cambodia, agreed that the NDP's position on Afghanistan is still evolving. But she was clear on this much: "I think there is a real role for Canada to play and that Canada is playing."

Canada has contributed generously to NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which enjoys United Nations' backing along with the gratitude of the Afghan government and the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people. The Canadian Forces' effort in Kandahar is temporarily assigned to the separate U.S.'led coalition, which continues to enjoy popular support in Afghanistan despite its ham-fistedness and is intended to revert to NATO control in the coming weeks.

It hasn't been easy for the NDP to find its voice on the subject. Canadians are legitimately worried about the direction the Harper government might take the mission in Afghanistan, Black said.

The difficulty in enunciating a robust, progressive, and humanitarian approach is complicated by Canadians' uneasiness about close cooperation with American military forces, Black said, and Harper isn't helping by parroting U.S. President George W. Bush all the time. "I find that chilling," she said. "Very chilling."

So what is the NDP position? For now, it's this: "I think that Canada has a role to play, but it has to be a Canadian role and it has to reflect Canadian values."

Von: 31.03.06, by Terry Glavin

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