Canadian soldiers fought honourably against an enemy who preyed on the innocent civilians of Afghanistan. Our effort helped turn the tide against the Taliban. We've also helped create an institution, the Afghan Security Forces, that is respected in a country where other elements of Kabul's writ raise concerns over human rights and corruption. And as our mission changes, we can still look back on these years proudly. From Matthew Fisher in The National Post:
“I want to share our successes and explain how we got them, and I want to learn from their experiences,” Brig.-Gen. Habibi said of his upcoming trip during an interview at an Afghan army battalion headquarters, at an austere forward base in Panjwaii that was teeming with Canadian, U.S. and Afghan troops.
“It is a matter of fact that the Canadians sacrificed a lot here. I remember there were 400 or 500 Taliban in the area when the Canadians came to Kandahar in 2006. They are the ones who stood with us and fought not only in Panjwaii but across the province. The enemy is on its knees here now. The truth of it is that it is because of the hard work of the Canadians.”
Canadian army mentors went to great lengths to teach Afghanistan’s “new army” to respect human rights, the general said.
“It is from the Canadians that we learned how to treat prisoners of war,” he said. “All of our foot soldiers now know this. The Canadians taught us how to behave according to democratic principles.”
Activists say it’s Afghanistan’s women who can make a difference—and that Canada must still help
There’s a lot that’s confusing about Afghanistan. An expression here—translated from Dari—says, “I cannot answer your question because my mouth is full of water.” It means, effectively, “I cannot tell you the truth because someone may get into trouble.” That may explain a nation where so much appears contradictory: a country that embraces religious piety but treats its citizens with brutality; where violence is part of almost every family and men have impunity; where pop music blares from kiosks on the street while mullahs wail from mosques on the corners.
Liquor is forbidden, yet restaurants serve wine. In what may be the worst traffic chaos on the planet, hardly anyone wears a seat belt lest they be accused of copying the West. Garish palaces, built with the illicit gains of drug barons and known as “narcotecture” or “poppy houses,” have sprouted all over Kabul. Laws are written with verbal gymnastics—language designed to dance around religious jurisprudence. Police reform is a priority, but changing the cockeyed judiciary is not (how can you do one without the other?). And Afghans have made gossip and innuendo an art form. If you rise to the top, the likelihood of being accused of religious crime or drug smuggling or election tampering is as common as the call to prayer.
By Rebecca Lindell, Global News
May 31, 2011
When [Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committe member] Lauryn Oates started raising money to send women in Afghanistan to school, she wasn’t sure they would ever emerge from the underground classrooms that kept them hidden from the threat of the Taliban.
“We went at this in uncertainty, not knowing if anything was going to change and the best we could do was to make sure girls were going to school in secret schools,” said the 29-year-old, who has been working with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WA), an organization that has funded education programs for Afghan women since 1996.
But things did change in 2001, when Osama bin Laden took aim at the United States, starting a war that would come back to the Middle East and provide some hope for the women living under the strict rule of the Taliban.
Today, 50,000 women attend the schools and literacy classes supported by CW4WA in ten of Afghanistan’s provinces. More than 2.2 million girls are enrolled in school, braving daily threats to their safety, to get an education they could only dream of before 2001.
The surge in female students is evidence of the gains women have made since the Taliban fell. Women can now vote, run for office, are protected by stronger laws and have voices in institutions like the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Despite the impressive gains, the uncertainty has not disappeared for Oates or the women she works with.
Canada’s combat mission in Kandahar is wrapping up in July and will be replaced with a training mission based out of Kabul, but there is fear that the fragile advances will be put at risk in the transition if the government doesn’t set an explicit and detailed plan for protecting and building on the gains made by women.
“Women have gone after the opportunities that are there, they are just anxious that that is going to end prematurely if the international forces up and leave before those gains have been consolidated,” said Oates, who has travelled to Afghanistan over 20 times since the Taliban fell.
“You see all the programs in Kandahar closing down and that sends a message that we are only in Kandahar so long as the military is here,” she said.
A déjà vu
The shift comes at a crucial time for women in Afghanistan as the Hamid Karzai-led Afghan government focuses on political negotiations that will include some of the same groups that have sought to limit freedom for women.
Canadian senator Salma Ataullahjan is worried that could mean women are headed for a horrific déjà vu.
Ataullahjan, an ethnic Pashtun from northern Pakistan, saw how much freedom the women in Afghanistan had before the Russians invaded Afghanistan.
“They were business owners. They were modern. They were contributing to every aspect of life,” she said. “Then the Russians left and the world turned their face away and the women really suffered.”
With Canada poised to leave the country, Ataullahjan asked the upper chamber to come up with a way to protect the gains women have been able to make.
“Canada has played such an important role in Afghanistan and I wanted the advancement of women’s rights to be a part of the priorities for Canada in 2011,” she said. “It takes a long time to get those basic human rights, but you can lose them in a matter of days,” she said.
The ensuing report affirmed Ataullahjan’s worries. The final draft read; “… advances made since 2001 with respect to women’s rights could be compromised by demands pursued, or choices made, by the parties at the negotiating table, including the Government of Afghanistan, tribal leaders and the Taliban.”
The senators argue the government of Canada should make the advancement of women’s rights an explicit priority in its post-conflict training mission.
Canada pledges continued support
Women’s rights, including their right to education, have long been a stated priority for the Canadian mission.
On a surprise visit to Kandahar Airfield on Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the combat mission’s achievements when it came to women’s education in Afghanistan. In previous visits, Harper has pledged “Canada will do its part” on investing in education and human rights protections for women.
“[Rights] are pretty core to everything we do,” said Jennifer Myles, a senior gender equality specialist at the Canadian International Development Agency. “It’s a difficult issue not to address.”
Myles said the agency’s focus on education, especially in rural areas, the workshops in political participation and the projects that help women make their own income have been the most successful.
And this work isn’t contingent on a corresponding combat role, although it helps give Canada a stronger voice and has helped create the secure conditions for development, says Myles.
As evidence of CIDA’s ongoing support for Afghan women, Myles points to Minister Bev Oda’s comments when the government announced the transition.
“Thanks in part to our investments, we have achieved significant progress in helping improve life for women and children, but more progress is required, especially in Afghanistan’s education and health sectors,” Oda said in November. “Canada will continue to place an important focus on women in its development work in Afghanistan.”
Jennifer Rowell, an advocacy coordinator for CARE in Afghanistan, said the promises the Canadian government has made to include women in decisions and the commitments to continue supporting women’s rights are positive first steps, but she hopes Canada isn’t missing a chance to become an international champion for rights.
Leaving women behind
Canada’s pull-out is just the beginning of an onslaught of international withdrawal, she said. The Dutch, Germans and even the Americans are planning to wind-down.
As the troops plan to leave, women are coming out of the shadows and are seizing opportunities and rights.
The problem, says Rowell, is that the government and society are not yet ready for them.
“It’s an asymmetrical progress where women are being encouraged to come out of the woodwork and engage in these ways before the society and the system of government and the system of basic services is fully ready to accept them back,” Rowell said. “There will be repercussions for that.”
But the dream isn’t yet dead for Afghan women, according to Oates.
“People are no longer under the thumb of the Taliban. They are free to dream of a different future,” she said. “People are empowered in one sense and they think they are capable to do anything in the world.”
How has Afghanistan changed since the Taliban were in power? Outsiders with shorter memories may look at today's Afghanistan and wonder whether we've made a difference, but Sally Armstrong has been following this story since 1996, when she first published a story of Afghan women living under the Taliban regime.
We may not have come as far as our ideals, but there is no question that Afghan women are largely better off since those dark days. In no insignificant terms, it is due to Canadian support. Sally Armstrong gives a new interview:
Take me back to 1996. What was life like for women when you first visited Afghanistan?
It was horrendous. It was shocking. It was the kind of thing you observed and thought, “Where the heck is the world? Who knows about this? How could this possibly be happening in 1996?” But indeed it was happening and it carried on for five more years before anyone paid attention, and the only reason they paid attention when they did was because 9/11 happened....
What has changed for women since the international troops arrived in Afghanistan?
A great deal has changed and the problem is the public don’t know very much about it because we focus on the insurgency. We write about the insurgency because our men and women are in harm’s way and we need to report on that. We don’t seem to have the resources to report very much about what is happening in the rest of the country.
Women are better off. Are they as better off as we hoped? No, but they are definitely better off. And it is the women who are leading the reform of Afghanistan. It is the women who’ve demanded reform on family law. It’s the women who are doing the first-ever research on issues in Afghanistan that have a great deal to do with how the judiciary runs, for example polygamy. The women did a study on polygamy, the first ever, and found 86.5 per cent of Afghans are against polygamy. They’ve also discovered that there are ten reasons for polygamy and eight of them are against the Koran. God forbid, you do something against the Koran that is very bad.
They are not all back in school, the little girls, but a lot of them are. Almost 3 million, compared to zero are back in school. The women are definitely back at work. The women who are wearing burqas are much scarcer. And it is not quite as religiously strict as it was before, not to say there is not enormous room for improvement. There are miles to go, but things are better then they were...
At times it seems that Canada is fairly war-weary. What would you say to Canadians who are tired of our involvement to keep them engaged and interested?
I don’t think you can do that. I can address why they claim they are tired. Canadians don’t know the story because the government is silent. And it’s not just the Conservative government, the Liberals before them were silent. For some reason, I dare say it is because politicians are afraid they will lose a single vote, they have decided not to speak to the people.
This country is at war. We have soldiers at war and when you are at war you are supposed to tell the people what is going on. The government has chosen silence. When that happens the protestors own the conversation. It’s the protestors who are spreading the information.
The media has done a terrific job, but it focuses on the insurgency as they must. There are very few like me writing about the women, so the protestors own the conversation and the protestors are saying the most outrageous things to Canadians. They are saying things like the Afghan people wish you would leave. They are saying things like Canada invaded Afghanistan. This outrageous collection of revisionist of history is being visited upon the Canadian people and nobody is counteracting it. What the Canadians think about Afghanistan is not the true story.
The 9/11 terror attacks planned by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda led to the unprecedented international mission in Afghanistan. In the wake of the attacks, the Taliban continued to insist on giving safe haven to Bin Laden and his terrorist organization; they were defeated militarily, setting the stage for a long and arduous recovery.
How do Afghans feel in the wake of the death of Bin Laden? A new poll, Afghanistan Transition. The Death of Bin Laden and Local Dynamics has a complicated story to tell. Some highlights:
The US troop surge has brought unquestionable military success, with many Afghans interviewed now believing that international and Afghan forces are winning the fight against the Taliban. However, these military successes have also created “Blowback”, which is negatively impacting Afghan hearts and minds in the south.
The international coalition has not effectively communicated to the Afghan people the reasons for its presence in Afghanistan. There is a generalised belief among interviewees that the international community does not protect, and does not respect, the Afghan people or their culture and religion. Support is lacking on these indicators from respondents across the country, even in the more stable northern provinces. This has been compounded by a wave of recent negative news stories.
The negative impacts of the military operations revealed by the interviews, and the general backdrop of news in the south, give the Taliban an opportunity to “Pushback” and gain ground by capitalising on the increasing resentment of the foreign presence within the local population , which is emotionally volatile, traumatised, isolated, and easily manipulated by outside actors.
When we discuss Canada's role in Afghanistan, we often focus on the challenges... and there are many. That said, it's worthwhile noting the successes that have been achieved so far. Our Prime Minister was in Kandahar marking the end of one stage of the mission:
He made efforts in his visit to symbolize what has changed in years of war in Afghanistan, visiting Tarnak Farm – once the site of an al-Qaeda training centre that is now a wheat and barley field using Saskatchewan irrigation equipment to grow crops. It was a way for Mr. Harper to emphasize his message that despite the difficulties of the mission, it has made progress.
As he spoke to reporters at the end of his 12-hour visit, the Prime Minister argued that while Afghanistan may still be a deeply troubled country, the presence of Canadian and allied troops has helped reduce a perilous threat.
“The biggest single success of this mission, and this is the big picture: We came to Afghanistan, the world came to Afghanistan, because Afghanistan had become such a terrible and brutal place that it had become a threat to the entire world. And whatever the challenges and the troubles that remain, Afghanistan is no longer a threat to the world.”
Canadians will have a rare opportunity to hear from the courageous Afghan activist and member of parliament, Ms. Fawzia Koofi. Ms. Koofi will address audiences at various events in Canada, including in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto.
Please find below further details about the Toronto event. We would appreciate if you shared this notice with your contacts in the Toronto area.
Also, Fawzia's book is on sale in Canada as of May 21 and you can already order via Amazon.ca. Thanks for supporting this event!
An Evening with Fawzia Koofi
hosted by the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, in conjunction with Canadians in Support of Afghan Women (CSAW), the Afghan Consulate in Toronto, and Douglas & McIntyre Publishing.
Date: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 - 17:30
Address: Taj Banquet Hall 4611-4619 Steeles Avenue West Downsview (Toronto), ON
5:30 pm Doors open
6-7 pm Reception and Welcome with special guests
7-8 pm Address by Ms. Fawzia Koofi
8-9 pm Music & Entertainment
Reservations required. Space is limited and advance reservation is required by May 25, 2011. Call CASC at 1 905 301 0761 or email info@afghanistan-canada-
Ms. Fawzia Koofi is a member of parliament in Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) and a 2014 presidential candidate in Afghanistan. She previously worked with UNICEF and various NGOs as a women's and children's advocate. In 2009, she was chosen as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
DOWNLOAD a PDF copy of the event poster at the following link:
Government officials say teacher had ignored death threats from hardline Islamists warning him not to teach girls
Wednesday 25 May 2011
Taliban gunmen have killed the headteacher of a girls' school near the Afghan capital after he ignored warnings to stop teaching girls, government officials have said.
Khan Mohammad, the head of the Porak girls' school in Logar province, was shot dead near his home on Tuesday, said Deen Mohammad Darwish, a spokesman for the Logar governor.
"He was killed because he wanted to run the school," Darwish said.
Mateen Jafar, the education director in Logar, about an hour's drive from the capital, Kabul, said Mohammad had received several death threats from the Taliban warning him not to teach girls.
Jafar said Mohammad's son was wounded in the attack.
Education for women was banned by the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001 as un-Islamic. There are periodic attacks against schoolgirls, their teachers and school buildings.
Women have won back some rights, including education and the right to vote, since the Taliban were toppled after the US-led invasion of late 2001.
The Afghan government and its western backers have pledged to guarantee those advances, although the promise seems precarious as Afghan leaders begin a reconciliation process that includes talks with the Taliban.
Development agencies fear that western governments are focusing too heavily on plans to complete a security handover from foreign forces to Afghans by the end of 2014 without cementing gains for women, such as education.
Girls have returned to schools in recent years, particularly in Kabul, although such rights are harder to enforce in the more remote and conservative areas of Afghanistan.
Under the Taliban women were barred from access to healthcare and made to wear burqas covering them from head to toe, and only boys were allowed to attend school. Many of those customs are still widespread.
Girls have had acid thrown in their faces by hardline Islamists while walking to school and schools have been set on fire. Last year there was a spate of mysterious gas poisonings at girls' schools, including some in Kabul, in which dozens of girls fell ill.
The Taliban have not made any public comment on such attacks.
A report by aid groups in February said girls' education was at risk because of poor security, lack of funds and equipment and inadequate teacher training.
It said 2.4 million girls were enrolled at school but about 20% of those did not attend classes regularly. Those who did often faced obstacles such as open-air classrooms and journeys of up to three hours.
The report noted a shortage of female teachers – as few as one in every 100 educators in the most remote and conservative areas – which limited girls' hopes of receiving anything more than a primary education.
Afghanistan's many problems stem in part from a failed way of looking at the world, that mistakes arbitrary repressive customs for positive cultural traditions. Canadians are helping persuade Afghans that other ways are possible. Barb Pacholik explains:
An armoured vehicle rolls into an Afghanistan community and out jumps a woman with a helmet and rifle who is in command of a battalion of mostly male soldiers.
"It's one of the most powerful ideas we have, visual images," Lt-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who led the Canadian army for four years during the Afghanistan mission.
An armoured vehicle rolls into an Afghanistan community and out jumps a woman with a helmet and rifle who is in command of a battalion of mostly male soldiers. It's one of the most powerful ideas we have, visual images," Lt-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who led the Canadian army for four years during the Afghanistan mission.
"The women of Afghanistan see that, they see what's possible," said Leslie, who added that the country can't be transformed by might alone and the "humble Canadian way" can also be a persuasive force.
Leslie was in Regina Wednesday to speak at the annual Law Day Luncheon, hosted by the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Bar Association. Appointed deputy commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan in 2003, Leslie became chief of land staff three years later and last year was named chief of transformation.
Showing a video of the work in Afghanistan, Leslie noted one of the key images is of an Afghan woman teaching female students in a school.
"I and others believe the future of Afghanistan rests on the shoulders of those women," he said. He said the country has for too long been dominated by "grumpy, middle-aged males" and warlords.
In his Idealism Without Illusion column, World Affairs writer Alan Johnson discusses David Miliband and Exit Strategy Fetishism - a problem that applies keenly in Afghanistan:
Miliband was formed politically by Tony Blair’s New Labour project. So a “can-do” spirit infuses the speech. (One can imagine an “Afghan Delivery Unit” being set up to “audit” the progress towards the “targets.”) However, the Achilles’ heel of New Labour was its tendency to bracket evidence and construct hopeful scenarios atop of false premises, wishful thinking, hypothetical and nearly-impossible-to-imagine serendipities, and wholly unexamined assumptions. (Gordon Brown for example, promised to “end boom and bust” while Defense Secretary John Reid speculated when UK troops went into Afghanistan that they may not have to fire a bullet...)
Here are three words not mentioned in Miliband’s New York Times op-ed:
(1) Iran. As 2014 looms, there is a rising Khomeinist influence in Afghanistan. Follow the money and you find Iran has been buying influence since 2003 by sending sacks of cash to Karzai (as well as arming the Taliban to keep NATO off balance). And Iran knows the West is heading for the exit doors. Yet Miliband is confident a “process” can persuade Tehran to become a responsible partner in a regional compact. Before Christmas.
(2) Jihadism. Miliband talks as if a Taliban version of the IRA’s Martin McGuinness is about to agree to power sharing. This is impossible. First, the IRA had limited secular goals. Second, McGuinness and the IRA had been defeated on the battlefield. Only when he was the leader of an infiltrated, demoralised, and defeated military force did McGuinness ring the British government to say “the war is over but we need your help to bring us in.” In sharp contrast, George Packer writing in the New Yorker about Afghanistan has pointed out that “the years since 2001 have radicalized the insurgents and imbued them with Al Qaeda’s global agenda. Tactically and ideologically, it’s more and more difficult to distinguish local insurgents from foreign jihadists.”
As for the Pakistan Taliban, they look more like al-Qaeda with each passing month. On April 3rd, they attacked the 13th-century Sakhi Sarwar shrine, near the southern Punjabi town of Dera Ghazi Khan, slaughtering 50 people. Deobandis slaughtering—as they would see it—“blaspheming Barelvi heretics.” They routinely kill Shiites at their shrines. And they massacred 93 Ahmedis in Lahore. Miliband’s claim that the Taliban are just a very “conservative” strand of Islamic thought is too sanguine by half.
(3) Victory. Terry Glavin, research coordinator of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, and one of the most astute commentators on the country, argues that exit-strategy fetishism is changing every calculation on the ground for the worse. It is pushing Karzai and his Popolzai cronies toward the Khomeinists, demoralizing the democrats (why take a risk if the Taliban are on their way back?), encouraging corruption (why not get what you can while you can?), and deepening antiwar feeling in the West (why should our young men die if “their killers are being wooed to come back to their comfy cushions in Kabul”?).
It is right to try to win over groups of Taliban fighters, of course. Glavin points out that Canada’s Task Force in Panjwaii has done this successfully with the tough message “Reintegrate or Die.” Many Taliban grunts are “illiterate and lumpen ruffians from the backcountry of the Pashtun belt who don’t know who they’re fighting against or what they’re fighting for.”