By Babur Mawladin, President of the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.
This week, Malalai Joya will begin her latest speaking tour of Canada. The message of Joya, who has long collaborated with Canada’s anti-war community, is that Canada is part of a foreign occupation which has invaded Afghanistan and which is unwelcome by the Afghan people.
This could not be further from the truth.
As an Afghan-Canadian, I am alarmed that another Afghan is working so hard to spread a view that is not widely held among either those in Afghanistan nor among Afghans living here in Canada. My assertion can easily be verified by referring to the many polls that have been conducted in Afghanistan, including in 2010, by ABC News, the BBC, Gallup and other sources that used large sample sizes, which have consistently showed that a clear majority of Afghans support the presence of the NATO and US soldiers working to bring peace to our land.
Further, Joya’s message is that NATO and the “foreign occupiers” have brought destruction to Afghanistan. This too, is untrue.
There have been tremendous achievements in Afghanistan. For the first time in three decades, people have been able to move forward with their lives. They can send their children to newly built schools, they can vote for a representative in parliament, they can walk to a nearby hospital or clinic when they are ill. There are more than 7 million children back in school, the same schools that the Taliban closed down. Child mortality has dropped. New roads were built for villagers to transport their agriculture products, and the economy is booming. There are women sitting in parliament; more women, in fact, than sit in Canada’s parliament. Many brave Afghans are working hard to rebuild our country from the ruins. The Afghanistan of today is simply incomparable to the Afghanistan of the Taliban.
I feel compelled to speak up because of the misinformation I believe Canadians are subjected to. The news reports only the negative, giving a skewed picture of what is really happening in Afghanistan. Further, many of those calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan have ulterior motives for their positions, whether it’s their alignment with ‘troops out’ organizations in western countries, to connections to the insurgents or their regional backers. When individuals such as Malalai Joya demand the withdrawal of foreign troops, before peace has been achieved, they are effectively saying they want Afghanistan to be drawn back into the darkness of the Taliban time, of civil war, of bloodshed. I can only be suspicious of someone who would take such a position.
Meanwhile, thousands of Afghan women rights activists, women MPs and other progressives who actually still live in Afghanistan, unlike Malalai Joya, are giving the opposite message. They want democracy, rights for women and girls, and to be protected and supported by the world community, unlike in the past when the world turned its back on us, leading to the Taliban taking power and then to the attacks of September 11th. But their voices are not heard. Too many Canadians are too willing to take the words of one single Afghan at face value. Malalai Joya’s message is anti-peace, and it is harmful to Afghanistan’s future.
Unfortunately the realities of the conflict in Afghanistan and the “war on terrorism”, and its implications for global security, are not clear for many here in Canada. The Taliban are not a natural part of Afghan culture or politics; or governors that we Afghans will ever accept lying down. Rather, they are killers who took the lives of thousands of innocents in New York, London, Madrid, New Delhi, Islamabad, Kabul and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan experienced decades of war and the ravages of fundamentalism, and then was left to fend for itself following the Cold War. Afghans recall the time that came after that, when the Taliban governed us, as a dark time when women were confined to their homes like prisoners, and men were brutalized for every transgression of the Taliban’s warped version of sharia law.
The Taliban’s mission is to spread hatred and radicalism, yet Malalai Joya lumps them together with the international community and the current government of Afghanistan as common enemies. It’s nonsensical, when Afghans and the international community, including Canada, share a common interest in defeating the Taliban, their ideology of hatred, and their terrorist sponsors. We Afghans welcome Canadians as our allies, not our enemies, and we are not yet ready for them to leave Afghanistan. We all want a permanent peace and for international troops to depart eventually, but a premature withdrawal would lead to more violence.
The Taliban run a powerful propaganda machine powered by intimidation. They use leaflets, local radio stations, and the Internet to recruit new members and publish their beheadings and suicide attacks, with the primary goal of terrorizing people in Afghanistan and beyond. Canada must confront the Taliban head-on, and Canadians should question any person—Afghan or otherwise—who advocates a course of events that would ever make it possible for the Taliban to return to power or even to share power in Afghanistan.
Afghans want progress and peace, not death and destruction. Malalai Joya, and her call for the world community to abandon Afghanistan, has failed to speak up for Afghanistan, and for Afghans.