Friday, April 30, 2010

Afghanistan: A Country Driven Mad By War

"It is not just the death and all the damage you can see around the city of Kabul," says Sohaila Alekosai, a 48-year-old counselor, women's rights activist, lawyer, radio personality, and therapist. "It is the damage to the people. And a person who is damaged like this, he causes damage to other people. This is a very big effect of war."

After the rout of the Taliban in 2001, a World Health Organization survey concluded that about five million Afghans, roughly a fifth of the country's population, had been driven mad, or close to it, from a quarter of a century of bloodletting. In 2002, a Centres for Disease Control study painted an even darker picture -- more than a third of the people were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Then a Healthnet International assessment found the country suffering "a huge morbidity of mental disorders," not least of which was clinical depression. Even by 2008, there was still only one small mental hospital in Kabul, a handful of mental-health hospital wards elsewhere in the country, and perhaps only two dozen properly trained mental-health professionals to care for all the sick.

"It is all because of the wars," Alekosai says. "So many people, they have lost their minds."

With nowhere else to turn, the people sometimes medicate themselves -- in a sampling of pharmacies in Kabul and Jalalabad, Healthnet discovered a huge stock of debilitating and highly addictive over-the-counter benzodiazepenes. Sometimes, they resort to opium, folk cures, or pilgrimages to shrines. Across Afghanistan, the mentally ill are often believed to be possessed by jinns. The cure is exorcism. Sufferers are chained to trees for weeks at a time and left and administered a strict diet of bread, pepper, water, and readings from the Koran. But for the women of Kabul, there is also Sohaila Alekosai. . .

The latest in the series. Directly related, in Foreign Policy: Is The U.S. Airlifting Taliban Troops Into Northern Afghanistan? No. But The Question Itself Poses More Questions Than You Might Think.

Directly related, on the collapse of the hollowed-out regime in Kyrgyzstan: The speed with which the Bakiyev administration collapsed is a salutary reminder of the risks of overemphasising Western security concerns in framing policy towards the region.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"They are coming to be on my team. They listen to me.'

For Yasameen and Raziea Rasoul, the whole thing began more or less as a lark. The next thing they knew they were international celebrities, greeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Kabul Airport, having lunch with ambassadors, and entertaining visiting journalists. The world moved on, but something unexpected happened along the way.

Yasameen and Raziea fell in love with soccer. Soccer fell in love with them. Nowadays, the Rasoul sisters are playing out their parts in a cultural revolution that's quietly transforming Afghanistan. Yasameen, 19, is the star forward of the Afghan national women's soccer team. Her 18-year-old sister Raziea, a midfielder, is the team's captain. Yasameen is also the coach of the Kabul Tornadoes. It's a boy's team.

The big story about Yasameen and Raziea is far from over, and the place it really begins is in a bombed-out neighbourhood of Kabul a short walk from the once-glorious 16th-century Babur Gardens, in the shadow of Sher-e-Darwaza Mountain. . .

. . .from the latest in the series.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ending Afghanistan's Agony: "Our Afghan Comrades Speak Out."

The absolutely indispensable Andrew Potter, in his Macleans column:

. . .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. . .

And our Afghan comrades are clearly annoyed with the 'Never you mind, dears, we bigshots have everything under control" approach to the question of Canada and Afghanistan Post-2011. It was a bit peculiar for Bob Rae to leave the impression that he was leaping to the defence of what Afghan-Canadians consider to be the worst aspects of the Conservative government's handling of the Afghanistan file - its opacity, its equivocation, its timidity and its ambiguity. Rae is as decent and competent a Liberal as you'll find in Ottawa. He should know that nudge-and-wink assurances of backroom horsetrading aren't going to mollify Afghanistan's friends. This is vital public policy. It goes straight to the matter of what kind of country Canada is. It's an issue that demands open public debate, and political leadership.

Intimately related: "Let Democracy Resound."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Once More Into The Breach.

Edmonton: Tuesday, April 27, 7-9pm, Telus Centre, University of Alberta campus (87 Avenue NW & 112 St NW, Edmonton): H.E. Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's Ambassador to Canada, Terry Glavin, journalist and founding member of the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, Najia Haneefi, Founder of the Women's Political Participation Committee (Afghanistan), Lauryn Oates, Canadian human rights and education activist.

Refreshments served. Free admission. Seating is limited. RSVP by email at or message by phone (604) 754-2413 (leave your phone number, name and number of seats to be held).

Calgary: A Panel Responding to the Question: What Should Canada Do in Afghanistan Post-2011? Wednesday, April 28, 6:30-9 pm, Kahanoff Conference Centre, 200-1202 Volunteer Way (Centre Street) S.E., Calgary. H.E. Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's Ambassador to Canada, Terry Glavin, journalist and founding member of CASC, Najia Haneefi, Founder of the Women's Political Participation Committee (Afghanistan), Lauryn Oates, Canadian human rights and education activist.

Free admission. Seating is limited. RSVP by email at before April 20 or message by phone 1-403-244-5625 (leave your phone number, name and number of seats to be held). Co-hosted by Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Latest George Galloway Stunt: Expect More Lies.

Fiction, reported in the Globe and Mail: "I didn’t give any money to Hamas, I gave it to the ministry of health in Gaza to pay for the salaries of the doctors and nurses who hadn’t been paid. By the way, we’re talking about 20 odd thousand pounds, not millions. It’s a symbolic donation. I gave it to the ministry of health in Gaza and I’m proud to have done so."

Fact, by Galloway's own admission, broadcast on several Arab television stations: "I, now, here, on behalf of myself, my sister Yvonne Ridley, and the two Respect councillors – Muhammad Ishtiaq and Naim Khan – are giving three cars and 25,000 pounds in cash to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics." Not charity, but politics. Not to "doctors and nurses who hadn’t been paid," but to the Hamas gangster "Prime Minister" Ismail Haniyeh who, in fact, is not and was not the Prime Minister of Palestine.

Fiction: Galloway's Viva Palestina raised £1 million for the suffering Palestinians of Gaza. Fact: "However, based on information obtained from PayPal and the IBB, the Commission was able to identify only approximately £180,000 as having been raised for the Charity. If the website’s claims were accurate this raised concerns that approximately £820,000 was unaccounted for."

Fact: Months before Galloway handed over three cars and a bag of cash to the head of a gang of clerical-fascist, Jew-hating lunatics who have pretty well strangled the prospect of a free Palestinian state in the womb - and Galloway has admitted to the British Charity Commission that this was "'personal money' that had been handed to Hamas" - the Government of Canada had already provided $4 million in emergency relief to the people of Gaza.

Galloway wasn't banned from Canada, either. Section 34 (1) of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act specifically cites “engaging in terrorism” as grounds to prevent a person from entering Canada. Engaging in terrorism includes raising money for terrorist groups. In Canada, the death cult Hamas, the worst enemy the cause of Palestinian freedom has ever faced, is listed as a proscribed terrorist group.

If you are a triggerman or a bagman for a proscribed terrorist organization, you are normally considered inadmissible to Canada, and being a rich celebrity white guy with a British passport and a cult following in this country doesn't mean you're above the law. The Canadian High Commission showed Galloway the courtesy of letting him know that. That is all.

No Pasaran.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How The Media Spins Afghanistan.

Reporting the speech of Afghanistan's newly appointed Independent Elections Commission head, Fazel Ahmed Manavi, the Associated Press presents this goofball version: Afghan Vote Chief - West Should Not Meddle, which appears to be a straight re-write of the Iranian government's propaganda version in Press TV: Kabul Warns Against Foreign Interference.

Even the Chinese Communist Party news organ presents a more honest version than the AP account, here, leading with Manavi's statement: "IEC welcomes any proposal from national and international institutions for holding a free and fair parliamentary elections but security is vital for ensuring the electoral process." And Lynne O'Donnell is completely reliable and thorough in her account for Agence-France Press.

So compare and contrast, and read for yourself a (slighlty stilted) English translation from Manavi's office, and note my emphasis in bold:

"Foremost, with due respect, I am to heartily appreciate His Excellency, President Hamid Karzai for his honorable trust and awarding me this huge responsibility. Additionally, I thank all leaders and the elites of my lovely homeland Afghanistan who have preferred me and not spared their consultations and good will to His Excellency, President Hamid Karzai with reference to my posting of this momentous responsibility.

"Moreover, I, from the deepest point of my heart, warmly appreciate UNAMA, the Afghanistan based special representative of the United Nations’ General Secretary, all the distinguished representatives of the cooperative countries including the United States of America, the European Community, NATO Headquarter and all other national and international organizations, who have announced their support upon giving me this crucial and huge responsibility. Also, I am really thankful to the noble and zealous nation of Afghanistan to take my appointment on this position full of responsibility as a good omen and hope to remain as they think. It is on the occasion to be told that I really appreciate the national and international media that have considered my posting as a positive change in the Independent Election Commission.

"Furthermore, I, warmly and respectfully thank the honorable colleagues in the leadership of the Independent Election Commission who have warmly welcomed my posting to this position with great optimism.

"Dear Friends!

"The success of a manager is possible as a result of the cooperation and assistance of the colleagues bearing the expertise and if the manager is lacking an effective and reliable working team, it is too difficult to overcome carrying the huge responsibility out. It is worth mentioning that, for the purpose of carrying our assigned duties out, I am in need of the honest and true to life cooperation of my colleagues and team and I believe that the success of a manager is an absolute success and a good name of the whole management.

"Electing and being elected is a sound right of all the people of Afghanistan and each and every eligible Afghan is deserving to choose one of them; we must have a special respect to the determination and decision of our people so as to enable each Afghan citizen to choose one of them and decide based on their self-decisions and we are the only ones, who are facilitating the concerned affairs and pave the way for holding transparent, free and fair elections. Exploiting people’s votes is; in fact, invading on their natural and God-given rights and the ones, who commit this crime, must never be forgiven. It is to be stated that I think violation or any kind of infringement or a change in people’s votes is a dreadful crime and those who commit election frauds, violations and infringements are the dangerous criminals who are bearing no respect to the natural and God-given rights.

"Anyway, we are the trustees of the people of Afghanistan and based on the different explicit Ayaas of the Holy Quraan, we are obliged to observe this trust-keeping and this treachery in trust is a big crime.

"It is important to be stated that the people of our country are experiencing the problems of their country and do not expect us to do more beyond our ability. In case we are carrying our duties out honestly and in conformity with the conditions of our work, our truth-knowing people will appreciate it and will add more to their reliance on us and if, despite all our efforts some faults occur in some cases, they will accept our excuses.

"Respectable Friends!

"We never want to be involved with national and international organizations and think of any issue under dispute, create any kind of pessimism, distrust or any atmosphere of detestation and we never want to think of us as sinless and blame others, but we, as the trustees of the people of Afghanistan, are willing to achieve our assigned duties devoid of any kind of party, regional, ethnical, racial and religious relations.

"My Honorable Companions!

"At the very beginning of my work and for the purpose of achieving a better success in the electoral process, I am willing to allude to some points which will be as the strategy in the agenda of my work.

"Holding elections in all countries of the world can be considered a very complicated and full of problems process and it is usually carried out with a lot of hubbubs, hues and cries. In a country like Afghanistan, in which the absolute democracy has not been established or the democracy has not yet reached to its social growth and maturity; it is safe to say that it is very difficult to apply this reality of democracy in Afghan Elections, but we, despite all these challenges, imperfections and difficult situations held two or three elections and now we are on the brink of holding Wolesi Jirga Elections in the country.

"One of the ways of ensuring success in Wolesi Jirga Elections is to close the file of previous elections and is better to go ahead because moving backward can give us nothing for the solution of our problems, but this does not mean that we have not learned anything from the previous elections. It is better to distinguish between the weak and strong points of the previous elections; we are to retain the strong or good points and add them to our experience and remedy the weak ones and this is the only way towards a success.

"The IEC has such an attribute that we would succeed if we could keep that and if it loses that feature, no real and legal person could trust on it any longer. That important feature which seems a firm support for the IEC is its independence. The best way to maintain the independence of the Commission is to act non-politically and impartially. We must not get involved in any political dispute, conflict and clash. In accordance with the Constitution, we are to manage and supervise every election and we would make any effort to implement that and to provide such conditions to get an election done in a better way.

"Any discrimination and prejudice is unfair and undesirable in our culture and religion. Discrimination and prejudice cannot be constructive in any area of life particularly in a national process like the elections. This is the most awful action which is not reasonable for a Muslim. Based on this principle, I am assuring you that we will not allow any discrimination and prejudice in this organization. Our organization is a component of Government of Afghanistan functioning at the side of the three main powers and pillars of the government. We would like to have friendly relations and when necessary good cooperation with all the three powers of the government including the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary.

"The Afghan laws have determined the basic lines of these relations and we are responsible to follow them. No problem would happen if the law is observed. We need our international colleagues. They have come to Afghanistan for the purpose of ensuring security, establishing democracy and stability and elections are the basis for a democracy. Therefore, we should have their support in the elections process. This will assist us in establishing democracy in Afghanistan. We need our national and international colleagues in the election process and we will let them participate in it as far as the laws and rules of our country make it possible, but we will never allow any illegal, immoral and unnatural interference in our national affairs. Imposing any action on us which is contradicting national and international principles, would not be acceptable. If so, we would not substitute democracy and elections for our national sovereignty. We and our international colleagues are committed to the success of Afghanistan. We would never expect anything beyond the law and we are thankful to them and appreciate their humanitarian assistance.

"I have been appointed to a new job at such a sensitive time which the election process had already begun, however, we will endeavor to succeed. We require some reforms which may be difficult to make considering the limited time left for the elections, but we have to do it. Some measures are required for the transparency of the elections and we should practice a number of plans in addition to those activities already performed to make the process more transparent. In this regard, we will embrace any national and international plan and suggestion which would help us in ensuring transparency and improving the election process.

"In conclusion, I have to mention that a good election depends on a good security. The more security is ensured, the better election will be conducted. For this reason, at the beginning of my work, I would like to urge all national and international security forces to make any effort for ensuring a better security for the elections and assure the Commission of this issue as the Commission will put ballot boxes in those areas where security is ensured. We will not place any ballot box in any area until we ensure that the life of the electoral officials, agents, observers, candidates and voters are protected.

"At the end, I thank donor organizations, which are essentially coordinated by UNDP, for providing and committing the election budget. I hope that everyone takes one another hand for the success of this national process and strive to hold a transparent, fair and general elections."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Voices Of The People.

Today in the Afghan Heroes Series, a portrait of the brave young civil rights lawyer Mohammed Ishaq Faizi:

The conflict that shapes Faizi's life and work isn't between an enlightened western civil rights tradition and an obscurantist Muslim religious canon. It's between the west's occluded vision of what Afghanistan's sharia laws will necessarily and always entail, and a deeply-entrenched Afghan misapprehension that human rights are merely a foreign, western innovation.

The result sometimes erupts in international headlines. Most often, it involves innocent people getting locked away in jail in perversions of justice nobody ever hears about.

"But there does not have to be some fight between sharia and international human rights law," Faizi insists. "Human rights are not brought only from western law."

Afghanistan's 2004 constitution demands that no law must offend the Koran. But the constitution also requires that all laws must be consistent with international human rights standards and conventions. It's not going to be an easy fit, Faizi concedes. But it doesn't have to be as fractious as one might think.

Where the "west" gets it wrong is in a failure to appreciate that like the English common law tradition, sharia is a vast body of laws, most of which are inoffensive to universal human rights norms. But the semi-literate political appointees that often end up as Afghan judges also get it wrong. . .

More on the series here, and coincidentally our good friend Fakhria Ibrahimi, who helped me when I was in Afghanistan working on the series, is profiled by Minority Rights Group International today, introduced this way: "Seldom does a day go by without the latest atrocities of the war in Afghanistan being splashed across the pages of the world’s media. Yet, we rarely hear the voices of ordinary Afghans who continue to go about their daily lives despite the conflict." I'll say.

I live in Kabul and am a member of the Hazara community, most of whom live in central Afghanistan. Our customs and culture are not so different from the Pashtun majority, but we are mainly Shia Muslims and speak Farsi. We also have some special words from the Mongolian and Turkish languages.

The discrimination faced by Hazara people in Afghanistan is mostly political, not social. We do not have as much political representation as we would like and this means that in Hazarajat the government does not have much of a presence. The infrastructure is not as good as in other provinces, there is not much development and few good roads.

I work for an organisation called Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan which supports women in my country through education, capacity building, health care, handicrafts and libraries. My work involves collecting reports, documents and photographs of our local Afghan partners. . .

It's a small world.

And what has the UN Human Rights Council been up to? "The Council views the Israeli government's actions as its most urgent human rights concern -- more dire than, for example, the assassination of human rights defenders in Russia; the continuing genocide in Sudan; the 8 million forced-laborers in China's Laogai prisons; the 200 political prisoners in Cuba; the assault on independent media in Venezuela; the persecution of gays in Uganda. Missing from the Council's resolutions are the cruel dictatorships in Vietnam, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Eritrea, and the brutality of Iran's government against its own people. . ."

Contrast that with the work of a handful of schoolchildren in the Okanagan Valley. They've raised $250,000 to employ teachers in Afghanistan, so far. You can employ an Afghan teacher for $120 a month. Do the math.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Discussion For Grown-Ups.

Nanjia Haneefi (Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee) and author Sally Armstrong (greatly admired among my crowd) with Roland Paris and Lew Mackenzie. An intelligent debate.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Naming Names: Tehran's Operation In Toronto And Its "Anti-War" Friends.

Michael Petrou reports on an organization in Toronto that describes itself as a non-partisan centre for Iranian culture and scholarship, but is in fact funded by the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. Founded by a well-connected Iranian diplomat, The Center for Iranian Studies, located at 290 Sheppard Ave. W., was incorporated in January 2008. One of its three directors at the time was Fazel Larijani, who was then Iran’s cultural attaché in Ottawa. He is the brother of Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, and Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary.

It is now time to begin to name names, dates, and places, writes Samira Mohyeddin, whose torments readers will remember from this column. "These students, a lot of them bursary students, were in many of my classes and were adamant supporters of the Islamic Republic. It was often noted by other students that these students from Iran would spy on those of us who would vocalise our opposition to the Iranian regime. I myself have been threatened on numerous occasions, particularly while writing for the University of Toronto newspaper, The Varsity."

Here's some names to keep in mind: The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War (TCSW) and the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA) jointly sponsored a conference in Toronto that concerned itself with "US imperialism and the increasingly bellicose threats against Islamic Iran." Key speakers: Mohamed Elmasry, Zafar Bangash, Fazel Larijani, Imam Mohammed al-Asi, Sid Lacombe (Canadian Peace Alliance), James Clark (Toronto Coalition to Stop the War) and Barbara Abu Zahra (International Women's Peace Service).

See also "Hundreds Against Imperialism in Richmond Hill Conference": Sid Lacombe, James Clark, Fazel Larijani, Imam Muhammad al-Asi, Mohamed Elmasry, Barbara Abu-Zahar, and Ali Mallah, currently a member of the executive board of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Petrou followed up: Of the four individuals the Center promotes, three – Richard Foltz, Soheil Parsa, and now Mahdi Tourage – have confirmed that they have nothing to do with it. "It's a safe bet that the fourth doesn’t either."

(Oh dear: Suddenly the Center's website is down for maintenance. What a coincidence!)

Writes Mahdi Tourage: "I have no idea who these guys are and have never heard of them before. I am certainly pissed that they have used my name and academic affiliation to somehow give the impression that I am in some way affiliated with them or support their work. In any event, I am going to send them a letter asking them to remove my name… Furthermore I am absolutely against the Iranian fascist dictatorship regime and support any efforts to expose its atrocities. Feel free to quote me on this. . ."

Background: How Tehran's Intimidation Reaches Into Canada.

Remember this?

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.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Forgotten Heroes From A Forgotten War.

"The worst is when we have someone who has lost his legs and his eyes. We have a young man right now who has this."

Makay Siawash stops talking for a moment. Then she carries on with all the reasons why up to 8,000 Afghans a year turn for help to the Kabul Orthopaedic Organization. This is the agency she runs from a Soviet-era building within the Afghan National Army hospital compound in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul.

"A lot are from mines, rockets, bombs. But there are also traffic accidents, children who have been blinded, or they are deformed from malnutrition or from some trauma, or malformation during pregnancy. And women, sometimes it is from hard physical activity, or they have been hit by their husbands. We have a lot of children and women. But a lot are from mines."

The young, blind and legless man whose sad story caused Siawash to catch her breath had stepped on one of the Taliban's "improvised explosive devices" -- of precisely the kind that so routinely kill so many American, Canadian and British soldiers. . .


Background here. The series begins today and runs Thursdays and Fridays for some time to come.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heads Should Roll.

“I saw Canadian military intelligence sending detainees to the NDS when the detainees did not tell them what they expected to hear,” Mr. Malgarai told the special Commons committee on Afghanistan. “If the [Canadian] interrogator thought a detainee was lying, the military sent him to NDS for more questions, Afghan style. Translation: abuse and torture.”

Effectively, he said, “the military used the NDS as subcontractors for abuse and torture.”

Mr. Malgarai’s testimony is the most explosive to enter the long-running and divisive political debate about Canada’s conduct in Afghanistan since last November. . . .

I'll say.

"There is friction between Mr. Malgarai and the Canadian government," we are told. Fair enough. But Chief of the Defence Staff General Walt Natynczyk insists: “I can assure all Canadians that we take all allegations seriously and will investigate new allegations appropriately.”

I should bloody well hope so. And if it's Malgarai who's playing loose with the truth, it's his head that should roll.

Meanwhile, Franz Kafka is tediously evoked in Richard Colvin's defence over at the Military Complaints Commission, where all these sordid allegations should have been dealt with in the first place, which would have obliged the Special Committee on Afghanistan to do the job it was established to do.

Colvin can't cite his own censored allegations because "censorship is vital to national security," or so the Globe reports. But it's here that a Kafka reference really is allowable. What was the job Parliament assigned to the Special Committee on Afghanistan? It was supposed to review the laws and procedures related to Afghanistan-related operational and national security exceptions to the disclosure of information to Parliament, the Courts and the public.

Did it do its job? No. And that's why things got so Kafkaesque for Colvin on Tuesday.

Heads should roll.

UPDATE: There's far more to this than would meet the eye of a Globe and Mail reader, it turns out. "Here we are yet again, dealing in sensational and uncorroborated second-hand allegations that Canadian Forces personnel have engaged in war crimes. Yet again, Amir Attaran is involved. And yet again, the real beef is the detainee transfer policy."

Heads should roll.

UPDATE II: The heads should be those of Amir Attaran and Mr. Malgarai, it seems:

"A shooter who was providing support to the operation identified the individual and assessed that he was a threat, and shot the individual," he writes in the letter to Kevin Sorenson.

"The actions of the shooter were an appropriate application of the rules of engagement and saved the lives of a number of Canadian Forces members that night."

Natynczyk said the suspect was armed and not a detainee.

During his testimony, Malgarai alleged troops "panicked" after shooting the unarmed man and rounded up 10 innocent villagers, including a 10-year-old boy and a crippled 90-year-old man, and transferred them to the Afghan security service.

Ten Afghans were detained. "Nine of these detainees tested positive for explosive residue," Natynczyk said. "In accordance with standard procedures, these detainees were taken to Kandahar Airfield where they were processed and determined to be uninjured and in good health."

Natynczyk said two of the detainees said coalition forces "planted a pistol on the deceased insurgent" during questioning but that one of them later recanted his allegations.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Toronto, Taj Hall, April 17: Ending Afghanistan's Agony and Canada's Paralysis.

TORONTO - Former United Nations’ deputy special representative in Afghanistan Christopher Alexander will join Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae and Najia Haneefi, founder of the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee, in a public discussion this Saturday about Canada’s future role in Afghanistan.

Other speakers include Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Canada Jawed Ludin, Toronto coordinator for the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee Babur Malawdin, and journalist Terry Glavin, a Solidarity Committee co-founder.

Macleans magazine columnist Andrew Potter will moderate a panel discussion with Alexander, Rae, Glavin and Haneefi that will focus on Alexander’s seven-point proposal for “ending the agony” in Afghanistan.

More here.

It's all about keeping our promises.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Full Employment For Stoppists!

Iran's president has urged the UN to launch an investigation into the aims of Western military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.The office of Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said that it was studying the letter from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but had no comment. Mr Ahmadinejad asked the UN to set up a fact-finding team.

Outsource the entire enterprise to Amnesty International:

"I can testify to the fact that over the past 25 years I have talked to various senior staff members of Amnesty International. I have talked to them about the imbalance in their reports on Algeria; about the way they constructed fundamentalists solely as victims of state repression and not as perpetrators of violence and violations against people in general and women in particular; about the way victims of fundamentalists were ignored and not defended; about the way supporters of fundamentalists were invited to AI functions as victims of state repression and then used this platform not just to denounce violations that were committed against them but to voice their political analysis of the situation; about the way the defence lawyer of fundamentalists belonging to the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) in Algeria was repeatedly invited to AI’s functions and introduced as ‘a human rights lawyer’ without any reference to the fact that he was not defending their victims; about the fact that AI induced a hierarchy among victims, in which fundamentalists were privileged as victims of the state while women, the vast majority of whom were victims of the fundamentalists, disappeared from the scene; about the fact that AI also induced a hierarchy of rights, in which minority rights, cultural rights, religious rights (and fundamentalist interpretations of these rights were accepted) came first and women’s rights came last. . . "

A Job Opening: "I invite you to join me as I continue to campaign for public accountability at this moment, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others?"

Gita Sahgal is now the former Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit of Amnesty International.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ce matin, ma lettre m’est revenue estampé destinataire inconnu.

Private Tyler William Todd of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton, Alberta, has been killed by an improvised explosive device, detonated while he was on patrol in the Dand district, approximately eight kilometres south-west of Kandahar. "In the face of countless dangers, Private Tyler William Todd’s brothers and sisters in arms are fully committed to completing their difficult mission with unwavering resolve."

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Short Version: French Symbolists To Polish Strikers, Topic Sentences And Desire.

Stan Persky is the winner of the 2010 Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.

Previous winners: PK Page, Robert Bringhurst, Jack Hodgins, Patrick Lane, Gary Geddes, and me.

The $5,000 prize rewards established B.C. writers for contributing to the growth of literary excellence in British Columbia. Persky said he expects to donate the prize money to charity.

Born in Chicago in 1941, Persky began to make his mark on B.C. in the 1960s, when he co-founded the Georgia Straight Writing Supplements, which led to the establishment of New Star Books, a Vancouver publishing house. An essayist and author, Persky is also a long-time philosophy professor at Capilano University.

Quill and Quire reports: According to jury member Terry Glavin, “Stan has always taken British Columbia seriously. He has subjected British Columbia to thoughtful inquiry, and has held British Columbian literature to the highest standards… British Columbians can rightly boast that he is truly one of ours. We are enormously proud to offer him the recognition of the 2010 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.”

Elsewhere: “His grace as an essayist, his curiosity and independence of thought as a critic and newspaper columnist, and his exuberance as a civil rights activist and a leading voice of the gay community have enriched us all. Stan Persky is our Socrates.”

Persky's 20 books include: The Short Version, Topic Sentence, Lives of the French Symbolist Poets, At The Lenin Shipyard: Poland and the Rise of the Solidarity Trade Union and Buddy's: Meditations on Desire.

New Star Books, which has published most of Stan's titles, presents this nice biographical sketch: As a seven–year–old boy in 1940s Chicago, Stan Persky tugged Carmen Miranda's hair (at her invitation) to confirm to an audience of shoppers that it was real. On leave from the US Navy in the early sixties, Persky stayed in Paris's Beat Hotel, where Allen Ginsberg was a fellow guest. Later he marked his Navy discharge with a tattoo of an unfouled anchor: one not encumbered by rope, or the past. Most importantly, Persky has written about these things – written intelligently, as is his wont, but also engagingly, in a way that invites rather than demands. It's part and parcel of what Persky does, whether in a classroom full of students or on the pages of a book. Explicate. Explain. Entertain. Persky came to Canada in 1966, after adventures in romance and writing in Europe and San Francisco. He has taught at Northwest College, Malaspina College, and Simon Fraser University. Persky has written for a number of magazines and websites, including the Globe and Mail and Dooney's Cafe.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Kyrgyzstan Revolt: Gosh, I Wonder Why That Happened.

Just a wild guess, but it could be: Restrictions on citizens' right to change their government; arbitrary killing, torture, and abuse by law enforcement officials; impunity; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of judicial independence; pressure on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and opposition leaders, including government harassment; pressure on independent media; government detention of assembly organizers; authorities' failure to protect refugees adequately; pervasive corruption; discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, and other persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity; child abuse; trafficking in persons; and child labor.

Last month, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said he was simply growing bored with democracy. "There is no certainty that such a model is suitable for all countries and peoples," he said. Yesterday, Bakiyev learned the hard way where that sort of attitude leads. He was forced to flee Bishkek as an uprising spread across the country and circled the capital.

In his place is a provisional government headed by former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, who has won the backing of a coalition of opposition parties in a provisional "people’s government.” Because there are only a handful of English-speaking journalists even remotely familiar with Kyrgyzstan, the news will likely be dominated for some while by ill-informed speculations about a Russian hand in it and American ruminations on the theme, What's in it for us? After all, it "could provide yet another blow to President Barack Obama's diplomatic efforts."

Jeepers, would you leave off of it for once. For Pete's sake.

Harper's Conservatives Guilty of War Crimes: Massacres, Rapes, Crucifixions, The Lot.

“They came and met with Taylor and told Taylor about how Bill would crucify—I mean, at the time, when you hear about executions, it was like nothing—but when they talk about nailing people alive to the cross, it resonated even among the wicked people that were there.”

The allegations - credible, voluminous, ghastly - concern a certain Bill Horace, a gentleman living the high life in Toronto. No one in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is involved at all. I was just trying to get your attention.

The evidence, and the whole sordid story, has been meticulously assembled by the indispensable Michael Petrou, of Macleans Magazine, without benefit of a Special Committee of the House of Commons and with no subpoena powers, just the curiosity and the skill and the determination of a proper journalist. But because no cabinet minister can be implicated, I can't help but wonder how many of you will read the story. You should.

Elsewhere, Some Statistics for the Torture-Rendition-War-Crimes Crowd. Which raises the question: How much of the "Detainee Scandal" rumpus is driven by a concern for powerless people in faraway places and a concern for the victims of war crimes, and how much is driven by cheap partisan politics and a desire to smear Tories?

You will notice the hint of an answer in how closely Michael's story will be followed in comparison with how obsessively the latest "Afghan abuse" drama is spun. I see what we're all supposed to get worked up about now is how the Military Police Complaints Commission is holding close-door hearings. But before you make a fool of yourself by marching down Wellington Street brandishing your placards and your torches, you might want to ask yourself why this is happening.

It's because the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan was supposed to resolve the issue of proper rules to govern the release of information sensitive to national security questions, and it didn't do its job. It gave you bread and circuses instead. But you're not supposed to know that. You're supposed to salivate.

So go ahead and drool. Bill Horace will thank you for it.

Monday, April 05, 2010

‘I am the one who hit you, you f-----g Jew.'

OTTAWA - A well-known student supporter of Israel at Carleton University and an Israeli engineering student at the university say they are counting themselves lucky to have survived an attack with what they say was a machete near a Gatineau bar early Monday.

Nick Bergamini, 22, vice-president of the Carleton University Students’ Association, said he and roommate Mark Klibanov were leaving Le Volt bar on Promenade du Portage at 1:45 a.m. when a group of about 10 men began yelling in English and Arabic that they were Zionists and Jews.

An Easter Monday Greeting From The Brave Abolitionist Ehsanullah Ehsan

Dear Friends of Afghanistan:

Let me wish you all Happy Easter, and would like to take the opportunity to thank you very much for your very noble and generous services and sacrifices for bringing us, the Afghans and the world peace, justice, security and prosperity.

The challenges in Afghanistan have caused some of you to celebrate this great occasion of Easter away from your homes and love ones. We thank you and wish you all a joyous and peaceful Easter, the holy-day in commemoration of resurrection of Jesus Christ, peace be upon him.

Let’s pray for promotion of peace, justice, dignity, unity of faiths in religions, in ethics, and in all of humanity. Let us wish for this day bring us healing and peace to our suffering Afghanistan and the world as a whole.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, Director of the Afghan Canadian Community Center, Kandahar, Afghanistan.

In today's Independent, Ehsanullah explains his role in Kandahar's underground railroad: I always saw that – why do women have to wear burqa, not men? Why do women have to be treated so inhumanly? My mother was the one who loved me most. It was my mother who nursed me. Why alienate half of humankind? So, I thought, I have to do what I can do.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has just slaughtered at least 43 of our comrades in the Awami National Party. To our ANP friends: Canadians stand with you in your hour of tragedy.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Moral Dimensions.

Moral Clarity:

On Easter Sunday, 2007, Pte. Kevin Kennedy was killed in Afghanistan. Today in Kandahar, at an Easter ceremony for the families of fallen soldiers, Kevin's father Myles said this: "If you look at our history, we always went in with strong moral causes, and we went in to do a job. Our job will not be complete if (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) pulls out the whole group. We have to maintain some type of military presence for security . . . to let the world know that we haven't really abandoned this mission."

Said Theresa Charbonneau, whose son Cpl. Andrew Grenon died in September, 2008: "One hundred forty-one lives have been lost. The journalist has been lost. The diplomat has been lost. I don't want their deaths to be in vain. I don't want to see (Afghanistan) collapse. If by staying longer we can help that not happen . . . I would like to see that."

Moral Squalor:

After their spectacular display of academic incompetence, pathological narcissism and ahistorical gibberish-mongering last month, a gaggle of University of Regina professors are now presenting themselves as persecuted truth-to-power speakers. It's just too faint-making for them, now that people have noticed how stupid they are, politicians have had the audacity to disagree with them and people on the internet are saying mean things about them and sending them emails containing hurtful four-letter words. Their initial protest was that a university scholarship program for the children of fallen soldiers was "a glorification of Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. . . a dangerous cultural turn" that "erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices." Now they're trying to pretend that they merely meant the program was redundant, and that everyone is being beastly to them, so they're rallying their friends to defend them against "mindless verbal violence."

Moral Courage:

. . .The school is funded with $10,000 a month from the Canadian government and a private Canadian sponsor. Canadian forces are responsible for Kandahar. Ullah has also set up a free internet cafe for women only, believed to be the only one of its kind in Afghanistan. There are regular threatening phone calls and “night letters” dropped off under cover of darkness by the Taliban. “One of them phoned and said if I didn’t quit my job and close the school, ‘We will boil your children’,” he recalled. “It’s barbaric. Barbaric.”

. . . The young women at the school are evidently his life’s work. They are so full of hope, so free of cynicism as they talk with shining eyes about their visions of the future. But they also worry about reports that President Hamid Karzai’s government will enter negotiations with the Taliban, fearing the few gains that women have made may yet be lost. “These are such very hard times. We’re afraid history will be repeated,” said Yelda. “The Taliban will never change. But we’ll keep trying to build our country and give ourselves a future.”


I was on Rex Murphy's Cross-Country Checkup today. So was Bob Rae, the Liberal Party's foreign affairs critic, whose declaration that Canada must re-dedicate itself to Afghanistan was a delight to hear, as I'm sure Laurie Hawn will agree. Richard Gordon of Books With Wings called in, as did the indispensable David Burcuson, and we also heard from Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims, who was tremendous. Only a couple of the usual stoppist crackpots called in, but that's always a good thing. They ridicule themselves perfectly well every time they open their mouths, saving the rest of us the trouble.

The people will win.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Easter, Passover, Catholics, Protestants: What Are Friends For?

Citing "an Irish friend," the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom we might call the Anglican Pope, slagged off the Catholic Church for its handling of pedophile-priest scandals. But before we'd figured out what His Grace was saying, exactly, along comes Father Raniero Cantalamessa, pastor to Auld Red Socks himself in Rome, and he cites "a Jewish friend" to invoke antisemitism as a sort of allegory to the growing rage against the Catholic Church.

I will cite my imaginary Zoroastrian friend in order to assert my claim that both these geezers should just administer the sacraments, visit the sick, bury the dead, and shut their big yappers. If they and all the rest of that class that wears its collars backwards had been attending solely to those minor obligations of their trade all these years, we all would have had a great deal less misery.

Archbishop Rowan Williams appears to have only now discovered that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has a slight difficulty in the reputation department, "suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility - that's not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland." He might have had a point there somewhere except that the Catholic Church has been squandering its credibility among the Catholic Irish for some generations now, and this is hardly a "problem" for Ireland. It's been positively liberating.

Father Cantalamessa's astonishing discovery is that sometimes Passover and Easter fall during the same week. This gives him the notion that his Easter homily might allow a disingenuous comparison between antisemitism as collective punishment (for what crime he does specify) and the transfer of personal responsibility for child-molesting to the pope and the church itself. Or something. Cantalamessa is a smart guy. If you die and and go to heaven and years later your widow and the guy she ended up marrying eventually show up, Cantalamessa can explain who's legitimately married to whom.

Anyway, say that in the spirit of the Easter-Passover thing Cantalamessa had wanted to make the point that Rome's indifference and complicity in the abuse of countless Catholic victims by predatory priests owes its origins to the same institutional pathology at work in Rome's historical indifference and complicity in the sufferings of the Jews. He might have had an arguable if unnecessary indictment to propose. But that would have invited the unpleasant inference that his bishops were like Nazis or something. Which would have been embarrassing.

But nevermind. My imaginary Zoroastrian friend just interrupted me to say we're all getting it completely wrong. To assert his claim, he cites his "former Living Marxism correspondent friend" Brendan O'Neill, who says Catholic-bashing is the thing to keep your eye on and illiberalism, scaremongering and elitism are behind it. I think this means that Brendan would want to have Father Cantalamessa's cake and eat it at Archbishop Williams' table.

I miss Noreen. She can properly interrogate touchy ecumenical subjects. True, she flirts with a view of certain Old Testament events that might be considered slightly schismatic, but still.

Good Friday: The Lament of Cu Chulainn.

The great Davey Spillane: