Thursday, March 30, 2006

“Canada is my country, too”

Abdul Rahim Parwani, 42, lives in Vancouver with his wife Sami, and daughters Soraya, Maryam, and Asma. He’s the director of the weekly Ariana television program on Vancouver’s M Channel. He was the editor of the Kabul literary journal Tarjuma, which published its last issue just as the theocratic fascists known as the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 1996.

Parwani fled to India, and except for a short stint working back in New Delhi for the Afghan embassy there he has lived in Canada for six years. He loves this country, but he is worried. He’s worried about the incoherence of the public debate in Canada about our role in Afghanistan – an incoherence I attribute as much to certain sections of the so-called “anti-war” left as to the American spin our new Conservative government is putting on everything.

“I’m very afraid that we are going to make the same mistake again,” Parwani says, “like when everyone forgot about Afghanistan until 9/11. Now, in some areas, the security situation is already worsening, and the Taliban is reorganizing.”

Canada has a greater contribution to make to Afghanistan than just killing fascists, no matter how necessary that work may be. In my Chronicles column today, I try to make the case that a robust, internationalist, progressive and humanitarian perspective on Afghanistan may yet emerge from Canada’s “left.” I’m optimistic because of people like her, and people like him, but mainly because of people like the guy in the photograph above.

Pte. Robert Costall was “a gentle kid” from a place just across the water from the island where I live. He graduated from the Sunshine Coast Alternative School. Robert was a guy who wanted to “make a difference” for the people of Afghanistan. He was a kid who “cared about what was right and wrong.”


Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

I got to agree with much of your post.
But I can't help but doubt and be pessimistic about Canada's role.
Percisly due to as you stated the "American spin" being put on the Canadian mission to Afganistan.
I have a hard time understanding people who waving the flag and bark hurrah.
The humantarian aspect of Canada's Afgan policy I fully support.In deed I feel this is,should be the most stressed part of the mission(in the end only this will make a real difference).
But I am doubtful of whether or not in the end the Humantarian aid will be long lived enough, or committed enough to make much differance.
I also understand while Canada attempts to provide this aid security must and will be part of this undertaking(some Canadians will be killed).
If we do this it must be done whole hearted with realistic goals,so the inevitable deaths would not have been in vain.
The history of Western Governments solidarity with the Afgan people has been a very self serving one.That I or many other have doubts should be all to easy to understand.
Perhaps this time something will go right.We can hope.The suffering of the Afgan people is not something that can or should be ignored.

4:46 PM  
Blogger mark davison said...

I remember when an article by Glavin promised sound insight and intelligence. Perhaps I've gotten smarter while he hasn't...

So Glavin warns that the kindly acts of Canadian troops will be senselessly halted if antiwar protestors have their way. If Mr. Glavin had done his research, he might have discovered that agencies like Oxfam are OPPOSED to this type of activity by the military. Why? Because it makes REAL humanitarian agencies suspect in the eyes of the local population. Indeed Doctors without Borders pulled out of Afghanistan after 22 years on account of murdered workers whose security had been compromised by such acts.
As for Canada's participation in true peacekeeping, that seems unlikely as long as NATO acts as an arm of US policy. The US has so far shown little interest in serious disarmament of warlord militias.
Glavin lets one of his interviewees voice the weakest argument in the article. Parwani tries to stoke fears that terrorists may come to Canada if we don't help root them out in Afghanistan. Funny but Maj. Gen. Leslie said that for every one you kill, 15 more spring up.

Glavin should do his homework.

7:54 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...


I don't know why you think it's alright to post gratuitously insulting and inaccurate comments on this page, but next time, before you do, take your own advice, and do your own homework.

The work that aid agencies are doing in Afghanistan would not be possible without the UN-sanctioned NATO/ISAF mission. You should get it over it and accept that fact, Mark. You also seem unaware that the reason MSF pulled out of Afghanistan two years ago was precisely because of the lack of adequate security, which Canada, mainly through NATO and ISAF, is trying to help the Afghan military and police provide. And it was the Taliban that claimed responsibility for the murders of those MSF workers that prompted MSF to pull out in the first place.

There are many reasonable differences of opinion among and between people of good will in Afghanistan, both military and non-military, about whether it would be more effective for aid agencies alone to deliver humanitarian relief and provide humanitarian services. These debates are public and the positions are well known. I have no strong opinions on the subject either way.

But when you criticize me for having "let" Mr. Parwani express an opinion in my column that you apparently don't like, you betray exactly the thing that is so transparently grotesque about the so-called "anti-war" left in this country: It doesn't like hearing the opinions of the Afghan people, or of Afghan - Canadians. It can't honestly face up to what the Afghan people have to say about all these things, or what the democratically - elected (yes, get over it; it was democratically - elected) government of Afghanistan has to say.

The fact is that what the people of Afghanistan have to say is the opposite of what Canada's "anti-war" left says. The people of Afghanistan are not saying "troops out." They are overwhelmingly in favour of what Canada and 36 other nations are trying to do in their country, with the UN's backing, under the auspices of NATO and ISAF. And they are also overwhelmingly and ethusiastically in favour of the what the U.S.-led multinational brigades are doing in Afghanistan.

You can look it up, Mark. Do your own homework.

11:12 AM  
Blogger mark davison said...

Sorry i've made you so angry, Mr Glavin.

Anyway, InterAction (a coalition of 160+ AID agencies including MSF) "does not believe the military members of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams should be engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction activities" for the reasons I mentioned. These are the militarty actions "through which ... Canada is trying to help", in Glavin's words. Glavin warns that badly needed aid "would not be possible" without the NATO presence, yet aid agencies are saying that the character of the NATO mission is making their jobs harder. So while Glavin has "no strong opinions" on the matter, it seems that 160 aid agencies do, and they are opposed to the mode of our involvement.

As for Mr. Parwani's comment, I contrasted his view with General Leslie's to show how easy the article could have shed some edifying light on the subject, and not have been so polemical. I mean, unnamed leftists are mocked for knee-jerk positions, yet Mr. Parwani's comments sound like they come straight from GWB, and are contradicted by Canadian military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

Finally, Mr. Glavin, I wonder how you know that the people of Afghanistan are "overwhelmingly and enthusiastically in favour" of US-led actions there? Looking at what opinion polls I could, as well as published accounts by observers in Afghanistan, I don't find reason for that. Could I get those sources?

1:15 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...


I'm not angry with you, I'm just annoyed. I told you to do your own homework before making inaccurate assertions here, and now here I am, doing your homework for you.


On Afghan public opinion, you can start here:

You could also refer to the results of the Parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, or any statement by the President of Afghanistan, or any one of his ambassadors.

Maybe you should start by actually reading the column I wrote in the first place. This is the paragraph you seem to be upset about:

"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."

If you have some real reason to complain about that paragraph, then I'd like to hear what it is.

I'm not going to apologize for not expressing an opinion about aid-agency concerns about soldiers sometimes doing work that aid workers usually do. And you should take care, by the way, to not misrepresent the views of the InerAction aid coalition. They most certainly do not support a "troops out" position - in fact they have long been calling for a more robust security effort and an expansion of the NATO/ISAF mission that Canada is involved with in Afghanistan.

My point was, and remains, that this work would not be possible - "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" - if foreign troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.

If you want have an honest objection to that statement, then say what it is or go away.

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