Our Afghan comrades speak out - Macleans.ca

Our Afghan comrades speak out

POTTER: What Afghan-Canadians think of our role in Afghanistan


Candian Press

To what extent should questions of honour, duty, and friendship enter into Canada’s foreign policy? It’s the old problem of principle versus realism, and every country needs to find its own balance between the two. It helps, though, if that balance is understood by your international partners, especially the ones you are supposedly trying to help.

The question was raised anew last weekend at the Taj Banquet Hall, a weddings/parties/everything venue attached to a Kia dealership in north Toronto where 250 or so people, most of whom were Afghan Canadians, had gathered to listen to a debate on the future of Canada’s mission to Afghanistan.

The event was organized by the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, and I was there to moderate a panel that included Bob Rae, Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan (and now federal Conservative nominee) Chris Alexander, and the B.C. journalist and CASC co-founder Terry Glavin. The keynote address was given by Jawed Ludin, the Afghan ambassador to Canada.

The discussion was pegged to a new paper, written by Alexander, called “Ending The Agony: Seven Moves To Stabilize Afghanistan.” In the paper, Alexander lays out what he sees as the international priorities for success in Afghanistan, which include ensuring fair elections, renewing the public service, and doing a better job coordinating the civilian and military missions.

It’s fairly obvious stuff, which is why the question at issue was not what should be done over there, but what role Canada should play. After all, while there is a parliamentary resolution requiring the termination of only our combat mission in Kandahar province, every political party in Ottawa has encouraged the widespread perception that it demands the end of our entire military mission. Meanwhile, despite various trial balloons flown from NATO headquarters and explicit requests from the Americans that we consider staying in Kandahar or maybe moving to a different province, the government has shut down the beginnings of any debate.

And so the people of Afghanistan could be forgiven for feeling that Canada is preparing to abandon them. This was clear from the opening remarks by one of the organizers, Babur Mawladin. I expected the slightly nervous, bespectacled fellow to say a few words of welcome before turning the microphone over to the speakers. Instead, he gave a 10-minute stemwinder, in Dari and in English, that had them pounding on the tables. “We made mistakes,” he yelled. “But we did not make a mistake when we freed Afghanistan, and the job is not done. We must finish the job, and we must do it right.”

That was a prelude to Ludin’s opening remarks. When things go well, said Ludin, for his part, we all like to take the credit. But when things go rough, “the critical thing, the honourable thing, is to stay committed.” Yes, he conceded, Canada has suffered, but you can’t leave because things have got hard. “Canada has been a friend to Afghanistan in good times; we need Canada to be a friend in bad times.”

Ludin, too, got a huge cheer from the gathering. And he was followed by Najia Haneefi, the former director of the Women’s Educational Centre in Kabul, the largest women’s organization in Afghanistan, who now works out of Ottawa. She likewise pleaded with Canada to stay in her country. Not only would a premature pullout be perceived negatively by the Afghan people and our NATO allies, she said, but it would also undermine all of the work we have done so far.

Bob Rae was clearly annoyed with the suggestion that Canada is abandoning Afghanistan next year, describing it as a “misleading assessment of what we have done or are proposing.” He stated flatly that there is no question that while it is time for the combat mission to end, Canada will continue to be engaged as much as possible. In what manner? That depends, he said, on what happens this summer with the surge in Kandahar, with the scheduled parliamentary elections, and with progress on other fronts.

Events, in other words. In Ottawa, meanwhile, Stephen Harper simply does not want to talk about Afghanistan; his defence minister is openly contradicting him on the file; and the only thing Bob Rae’s colleagues on the parliamentary committee on Afghanistan are interested in is what ambassador Ludin described, with a sigh that spoke not volumes but entire libraries, as “the detainees saga.” Meanwhile, the military continues to make preparations for its departure and our development and governance teams on the civilian side mark time waiting for the vaguest of signs of what is to come.

The truth is, Canada’s self-image as a liberal internationalist nation was always vastly oversold. We joined the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 as part of an effort to rid the country of the Taliban regime that had terrorized the country and harboured Islamic terrorists. It was originally billed as an exercise of aggressive self-defence, to deny al-Qaeda a base from which to launch further attacks on the West, as well as an easy way of ensuring our position in world affairs.

But over the past decade, our mission there has taken on a character that is in many ways far more about morality than enlightened self-interest. The goals of our adventure in Central Asia are now explicitly dedicated to bringing peace, stability, and national reconciliation to Afghanistan. It might surprise Canadians to learn that many Afghans take that commitment quite seriously.


Our Afghan comrades speak out

  1. Yeah, and the US put Osama there to seal the deal. I guess that means we knocked down our own buildings too. Sure genius.

  2. How is realism not principled?

    It has to do with compromising one's ideals when faced with sobering reality. For example you may fancy yourself as a pacifist and may lecture the entire universe about the virtues of unilateral disarmament. Then one day you are about to pull into your driveway when you see your young 8 year old daughter crying, screaming as a strange man is trying to pull her into his car. Most idealists, would all of a sudden become exceptionally physical as they attempt to do what all parents should do in such a situation. But a few stoned on the myth of Pearsonian peacekeeping, would put on the blue helmet, sing Kumbiya, and watch the guy speed off with the kid.

  3. I loved the conference! and Baburs speech too!!!

  4. It was a blessing for me to be a member of the Organizing committee of this extraordinary conference, and I really admire Your speech, Babur!! I think your speech has had a great impact on the conference! We're so proud of you! Best of luck!!
    A Huge Thanks to Andrew Potter

  5. Why are you fantasizing about my daughter being kidnapped?

    You need psychological help.

  6. The principle Realism invokes is how best to advance the national interest.

    Neo-conservatives claimed invading Iraq would advance American national interests. At the time, Stephen Harper seemed to feel that submission to US goals was natural and right.

    Most realists were aghast. They saw neo-conservative claims as intangible, fantastical and utopian. Liberal interventionist arguments were not worth the expenditure.

    The point is Realism is malleable. Definitions of national interest change and are always changing. Canada's present Conservative government clearly believes Canada's national interest is best served by providing Israel the cover to build more settlements in East Jerusalem.

    Liberal internationalism suggests it is in our national interest to strengthen Nato as that organization has long been a central pillar of Canadian foreign policy.

    Historically, Canada's foreign policy has reflected our values and our interests. Unfortunately our present government has no idea what those interests or values are.

  7. I agree with Miss Shams!!! ;) LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

  8. Osama has been dead for years, genius. Do some research about Unocal and their plans to put a pipeline through Afghanistan, initiated long before 9/11.

  9. No negotion with Terrorists, we must fight and eliminate them! Afghans like the speaker you mentioned like Babur Mawladin and others must take leading role in thier fight against Taliban others like Canada and NATO can support them but we can not govern this country! History proven that!

  10. Good job of moderating, Andrew, especially with all the comings and goings.

    I as well thought Bobur was about to blow a headpipe!

    Reconciliation really is a key issue, as was made clear by the panel discussion; or rather, defining what it means. Chris Alexander appears to mean trying to drain the insurgency of non-ideological stragglers. Others see it as a high-level discussion between Kabul and Islamabad. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that there can be no accomodation with Talibanism.

  11. Thanks a lot Andrew you did a great job as a moderator and a good report about the conference here!

  12. You are so wrong.