Friday, April 16, 2010

The descendants of the Qilibash walk the streets of the Murad Khane to this day.

From the Heroes series:

. . .It all goes back to the people who built and settled the Murad Khane in the late 1700s. The Qilibash were Shia warrior-noblemen, followers of the great Nadir Shah, the Persian Napoleon whose empire once stretched from what is now Pakistan to the Caucasus Mountains. They were Persian speakers, "red heads" from Anatolia and Turkey. The Qilibash of the Murad Khane survived the ruthless emir Abdur Khan and his late 19th century pogroms. They survived in those hidden places known only to local Kabulis, and they survived even during the reign of the clerical-fascist Taliban, when just a hint of heterodoxy would invite the most macabre sorts of punishment and repression.

In these places, the old Afghan civility persisted. While many of the old families were bombed out or fled during the Mujahedeen wars and the Taliban tyranny, the descendants of the Qilibash walk the streets of Murad Khane to this day. You will find them among the boisterous young girls in their school uniforms, and among the wizened old men in the late-autumn sun in the grand serai, the ones with the look of Old Testament prophets about them.

When Zabi came here to start work with Turquoise Mountain, it was still the official intention of the municipal authority to demolish the whole place. This remained the municipal plan long after the Murad Khane project was well underway. That's not the plan anymore.

Zabi returns to his enumerations. Of the 600 residents, about a third are from the old families, the people who have been here for countless generations. There are roughly 120 children in the school. Average depth of the garbage and detritus removed to excavate the courtyards and passageways down to street level -- two metres. Number of dump truck loads it took to haul it all away -- 12,000. The restoration project's largest backer -- the Canadian International Development Agency, with $3 million over four years. Number of buildings identified for special protection or restoration -- 65. Carpenters and other tradesmen are now busy working on 22 of them.

"I love this place," Zabi said. "I love the work. I love it here."

Starts here. The backstory is here.

Elsewhere, a certain Globe and Mail columnist writes about "Afghanistan" but confuses the country with Lalaland, and further confuses an imaginary country called "Somalia" in some faraway galaxy with the former nation-state of the same name that once existed on this planet, and consequently settles upon a different idea about what a hero is. Meanwhile, back in the real world, where there is an actually-existing country called Afghanistan, actually-existing Afghans respond as you might imagine when the comforting fictions that protect the delicate sensibilities of a certain class of Canadian intrude upon the realities they're stuck with:

Najia Haneefi, a founder of the Afghan Women Political Participation Committee in Kabul, who now lives in Ottawa, said that the obsession with the issue in some quarters of Ottawa and the Canadian media is misplaced. She told me she wishes that Canadians would instead pay more attention to the threat of a sellout of human rights by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is pursuing negotiations with senior Taliban leaders.

Zaman Sultani is the Kabul representative for the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee. He said that the people he has talked to have not brought up the detainee issue.

“I am not sure if people would care much, because they are still suffering from insecurity, road-side bombs, and suicide attacks from the Taliban,” he writes via email from Kabul. . .

It's great to hear from my pal Zaman, and I will be joining Najia in Toronto tomorrow with Christopher Alexander, Bob Rae, Babur Malawdin, Andrew Potter and His Excellency Jawed Ludin for this event: Ending Afghanistan's Agony and Canada's Paralysis.

On Monday I'll be in Ottawa where I've been summoned to appear before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. I'll be joined by our friend the retired colonel Mike Capstick of the Peace Dividend Trust, and Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance, who was until recently the commander of all Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. I promise I will be on my best behaviour.

UPDATE: The indispensable Mark Collins has submitted this corrective to the Letters Editor of the Globe and Mail:

Dear Editor,

Rick Salutin writes about the Canadian mission in Somalia (Afghanistan: Who are the heroes here? April 16) that "Canada went there to back up a U.S. invasion, designed to show American ability to impose its control anywhere, as the world’s “sole superpower,” after the Soviet Union imploded." Stuff and anti-American nonsense.

Mr Salutin just cannot let facts intrude on his ideological bias. The U.S. operation in Somalia supplemented a UN mission already in place; the operation was undertaken with the unanimous authorization of the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. acted not to demonstrate its unchallengeable power but rather to deal with the prospect of mass starvation in Somalia.

What more could Mr Salutin ask to justify the legitimacy of the American military action? And Canadian involvement (already long in planning before the US decision to intervene)? Was not such action and involvement the essence of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine that so many Canadians support? And perhaps at the same time a cautionary example about how difficult humanitarian intervention can turn out to be?

- Mark Collins.

A further corrective here, and from someone with on-the-ground expertise in the specific matters at hand: It would likely take some form of proceeding involving real cross-examination, not just the work of the intrepid Laurie Hawn, MP, an ex-pilot, to sift through the witness' statements to find whatever kernels of truth are there, no offence to Mr. Hawn. It's notable to me how the witness' prepared statement ("The military used the NDS as subcontractors for abuse and torture") and his extemporaneous remarks ("I don’t call nobody a liar") differ, indicating extensive preparation, possibly by his interlocutor, Prof. Attaran, who himself has a long history of making allegations later found to be unsupported about the Canadian Forces.

To merely point out these contradictions nowadays is to be exposed to a series of canards: You're a Tory shill, an apologist for the military, a war monger who doesn't care about torture, an enemy of the role of Parliamentarians to "hold government accountable," and so on. But somebody's got to do it.


Blogger Christian said...

Great read. But it's "Qizilbash" rather than "Qilibash."

5:47 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Same thing. Locals say Qilibash. Go figure.

8:01 PM  

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