Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Canada’s Pseuds Are “Clueless” - Afghan Envoy

This post will be longer than usual because today I had the honour of a conversation with His Excellency Omar Samad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada. Ambassador Samad was in Vancouver for a lunchtime address to a small gathering where, as luck would have it, I also got picked to ask the first question. I wanted to know what Ambassador Samad might like to say to all those protestors who were shouting “Troops Out of Afghanistan” during last weekend’s rallies commemorating the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Samad answered fully, thoroughly and passionately.

The Toronto Star and the Canadian Press reported the ambassador’s answers accurately and well (the photograph above was taken by Gary Fiegehen, an old colleague of mine who joined me for lunch).

Samad began with some questions that he would like to have put to those protesters:

"Where were you when the women of Afghanistan were imprisoned?" he asked. "Where were you when the children of Afghanistan were denied schooling? Where were these demonstrations for human rights and dignity and honour?" As for those pseudo-leftish flights of rhetoric about conditions for Afghan women being worse now than they were under the Taliban, Samad said: “For God's sake, these people have no clue whatsoever about what they are talking about.”

Samad then disclosed something rather disturbing. The Afghanistan Embassy in Ottawa has invited several “anti-war” groups in Canada to come to the embassy to sit down and discuss their concerns, and none has taken up the offer. “They're sort of reluctant to discuss the issues," Samad said. This was a charitable way of putting it, I thought.

Samad was joined at the event (sponsored by Fraser Institute, of all people; it should have been sponsored by the B.C. Federation of Labour), by Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, David Sproule. Sproule gave a thorough account of the work Canada is doing in Afghanistan, most of which doesn’t involve shooting guns or patrolling mountains or the other glamorous things that the television news networks like. The work involves mainly things like clearing landmines, guarding girls’ schools, setting up “micro-banks” to help women with small business loans, demobilizing militias, finding jobs for former combatants, training police officers, looking for fruit-tree substitutes for opium plantations, and so on. None of this would be possible, we should remember, if Canada called its troops out of the country.

Samad’s thoughtful account of Afghan history was a refreshing antidote to a convenient bigotry, now sadly commonplace in the “anti-war” left, which derives from the notion that Afghanistan is an inherently lawless and irredeemably medieval backwater, infested with wild men, and possessed of an irrational hatred of all outsiders. The consequence, the argument goes, is that progressive and humanitarian intervention in the country is folly (for Canada’s progressives who have not succumbed to this cynicism, see some outstanding examples under “Canuckistan Popular Front” in the Chronicles links, as well as this lad).

For much of the 20th century, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful and hopeful country, Samad pointed out. From 1919 onward, Afghanistan was steadily and inexorably evolving as a constitutional democracy. Things started to go wrong in the 1970s, when the Soviet shadow began to fall on the country. Then there was a Soviet-backed coup, and fierce resistance erupted. The United States, China, Saudi Arabia and other countries backed various competing militias, effectively destroying any hope of unity. The result was 20 years of warfare. After the Soviets withdrew, the “West” abandoned the Afghans to their fate. The mujahadeen, many of whom were foreigners, seized Kabul. Then the Taliban emerged, and restored order by turning the country into a concentration camp.

Here's just one lesson Samad says we might draw from this terrible story: "Don't allow a country to fail. And if you do, try to do something to help it get back, to help it recover." Which is more or less the point I was trying to make here.

After his talk, I spoke with Ambassador Samad for some time, and he offered, in the most diplomatic language possible, what would be good advice for those who can be said, in less diplomatic language, to have succumbed to the moral failure of Canada’s “anti-war” left.

“The first thing they should do is be prepared to have an educated and informed opinion,” Samad said. “Before resorting to rhetoric, or confusing Afghanistan with Iraq and other issues, they should look at what is really happening, now, and they should look at the recent history of Afghanistan. Anyone who claims to understand the situation, who would claim that Afghanistan was better off under the Taliban, should go and read some books. They should educate themselves. There are some groups that have misunderstood the case. But maybe it’s political. Or ideological. I can’t explain it. But to look at Afghanistan only through the prism of the United States is wrong.”

I also spoke with Ambassador Sproule for a while, and he went some distance to allay fears that Canada’s new Conservative government might abandon the hard work involved in helping Afghans rebuild their country for the more easier option of just following along behind the fatigued and badly-led U.S. military command. Sproule said that so far, he has no reason to doubt that the new regime in Ottawa will substantially change the course adopted by the previous Liberal government and tentatively supported by the New Democratic Party.

We live in hope.

8 Comments:

Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

I don't get it.What exactly is Canada doing in Afgan.Other than providing security (very limited).Which in fact was done to take up the slack for the Americans.
For sure its nice to see canadians getting along with the locals,and providing some help with infrastructure.But it is all very very limited,indeed it does not even come close to meeting the needs.
Whats needed is:funds.Where are the millions that were promised by the international community?
The problems in Afgan are home grown,and that were severly excerbated by the US funding and arming of the most violent and fundamentalist of groups.What hope has Canada of disarming these groups.
In the end these problems will have to be solved by the people of Afgan.
Canada's role in Afgan has to be, more one of real aid,trade,investments etc etc.
Our troops are and were a stop gap measure.Little thought was given to what our role should be or what the long term objectives should be.It was Canada's way of showing the Americans that we were on board with their "war on terror".It was window dressing,a kiss and make up gesture for Canada not supporting the war in Iraq.
Until real meaningful aid worth,(supported by the whole "developed" world) hundreds of millions of $s is poured into Afgan.The stuation will change little.All the freedom in the world or security is meaningless if there is no viable economic system,and the country remains divided and in shambles.
The Afgans were severly repressed under the Tailiban which was an aberation and a creation of the Pakistan gov.
That said they have had just as much "freedom" as they have now at variuos times in their long and troubled history.
The point I am making is that the freedom of the people of Afgan does not depend on the presence of Canadians or Americans.It depends on them selves,on the common human aspiration to live within a semblance of peace and normality.
Most of the Afgan history has been one of,one power after the another meddeling and warring at the expence and suffering of the Afgan people.This is the tradgedy and cause of much of the suffering in Afgan.
I fail to see the noblity behind Canada's Afgan efforts.But I do agree something must be done.But long term real thinking and stratagies(which is whats needed) is beyond the capabilities or intrests of most Western governments.
We like the US are prone to short term quick fixs with no real thought beyond the length of a soundbite.
That some on the left doubt the sincertity or purpose of Western involvment in Afgan is based on a long history of Western double talk and oppurtunism.
Canada is still a country built on colonolism which it practices todate.One only need examine the situation of First Nations.
This is not to say what Canada is doing in Afgan is colonolism.
But looking at history and Canada latest actions in Haiti there is much reason to doubt.
Also who is this "left" you speak of.It don't believe its right to lump all those on the left under one labal.You must state who or what org you speak of.
Those on the "left" have many views and opinions and sure as hell are not one big homoganized group.
I also would be distrusting of anything organized by the Fraser Institite.They are not after all a non-partisian group,they do have an agenda.
Perhaps the Afgan Ambassador should reach out to the variuos groups that are opposed to Canadian troops in Afgan.Explain their position,if it is worthy of consideration I am sure there there are many on the "left" with open minds.
I have looked,but have yet to come across any thing from the Canadian govt explaining their purpose or goals in Afgan.
In closing I would just say do not dismiss the"left' for doubting government policies.Policies not even it self is sure of,policies it has put very little thought into.

3:11 PM

2:10 AM  
Blogger waterdragon52 said...

It's nice that people like Dirk admit to their cluelessness right at the outset.

Afghanistan's troubles are not purely homegrown. You seem to forget the "institution" of a Communist government backed by Moscow, followed by a brutal Soviet invasion, which was the reason the US naively supported the fundamentalists. Now, the problems have to do with the ongoing support the usual suspects are giving to keeping the "insurgency" going despite the freely expressed wishes of the population to have a more democratic and secular society.

The other fact that the Dirks of the world overlook is that although we are in danger of terror attacks here, there haven't been any successful "operations" on North American soil since 9/11 and the anthrax attacks shortly afterward that were probably the work of Iraqi operatives. Our being "over there" is keeping most of the "mujahadden" over there in the main theatre of war.

Thank God jerks like you didn't prevail back in the late 1930s.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

I am all to awary of the russian invasion and the british before that and the one before that.So piss of dingbat.
Afganistan is no threat to ANYONE BUT ITS OWN PEOPLE THEY ARE THE ONES DYING BY THE THOUSANDS.
Perhaps you should volunteer,arm chair combatents like you are a dime a dozen and a joke besides.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Okay you two, take it outside.

Waterdragon: You made good points, but then you went and provoked Dirk with the "jerks like you" reference, and besides, it's not true that the only reason Canada is in Afghanistan is to pin down the jihadists there so they won't come bothering us.

Dirk: "Piss off dingbat" isn't a civil response, and you're not helping your case by lashing out and calling people "arm chair combatants" just because they hold fairly mainstream opinions about Afghanistan's need for both military and civilian assistance.

So come on, you guys. Be civil about this, or go away.

Thanks.

tg

8:50 PM  
Blogger Freedomnow said...

I agree that they are both acting badly. Waterdragon got a bit too nasty in response to Dirk's comment. I can see why, but Dirk was not being nasty in his first comment.

It is annoying that Dirk asks questions that have been already been answered, but he isnt listening.

Dirk claims to not understand what Canada is doing in Iraq besides security. It is disturbing that Dirk would ask such a question. Either he didnt read the article he is replying to or he just read it through a biased filter without absorbing anything that didnt suit his ideology. Clearly the article states, that Canada is

"clearing landmines, guarding girls’ schools, setting up “micro-banks” to help women with small business loans, demobilizing militias, finding jobs for former combatants, training police officers, looking for fruit-tree substitutes for opium plantations, and so on."

This is exactly what Ambassador Samad was talking about when he said, "these people have no clue whatsoever about what they are talking about".

3:19 AM  
Blogger Cam Strandberg said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Cam Strandberg said...

wonderful, wonderful post. thank you kindly.

4:42 PM  
Blogger kid A said...

So let me see if I have this.

The Afghan Ambassador says everything Canada is doing is greeaaat!!! Just like Tony the Tiger.

The anti-war crowd is obviously evil for trying to trick everyone into thinking that war is a bad thing.

That being said, it would seem the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, placed in power a puppet regime and continues to occupy the country.
Therefore, is it out of line for me to suggest that it is entirely predictable for the Ambassador to state such a position? Is he the best person to ask?

Are you telling us that if we spoke with Soviet officials in the 80's they would have advised us that what they were doing was wrong and detrimental to that country? If so then I must have a basic misunderstanding of how governments operate.

3:04 AM  

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