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Canada "Heading Toward Disaster" in Afghanistan

September 20, 2006

Canada "Heading Toward Disaster" in Afghanistan

Prominent Afghan MP says Canada "needs to prove it is a friend of Afghan people" by ending support for fundamentalist warlords

by Dru Oja Jay

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As long as the warlords are in power, Joya said in Montréal, "there will be no hope" in Afghanistan. photo: Dru Oja Jay
Afghanistan's youngest and arguably most famous member of parliament began an address to McGill students last week by saying that she was "deeply impressed with the sympathy expressed by Canadians" for the situation of the Afghan people.

The kind words for Canada's involvement, however, ended there.

Malalai Joya is famous worldwide for standing up during the Constitutional Loya Jirga and speaking out against appointing fundamentalist warlords to head planning groups. The men Joya told the assembly, should be tried for their crimes and violations of human rights instead of being appointed to positions of power.

Joya has since been physically and verbally attacked, has received countless death threats, and has survived four assassination attempts. However, her courageous action has also attracted massive grassroots support; she has since become one of her country's most popular MPs and has continued to pressure the government to stop appointing warlords to positions of power.

"For me, being in parliament is a shame," said Joya. "It is torture," because she believes that the Afghan parliament be a democratic institution while those guilty of murder, torture and rape are the majority of its members. Human Rights Watch has reported that "up to 60%" of deputies in Afghanistan's lower house are "directly or indirectly connected to current and past human rights abuses." Recent polling has shown that the majority of Afghans support disarmament and the trials of those guilty of major atrocities during and after Afghanistan's brutal civil war.

Joya's message to Canadians was unmistakable for its repetition: "Canada must have its own policies in Afghanistan, and stop supporting fundamentalist warlords."

Canada, said Joya, must "prove that it is a friend of the Afghan people." To do that, it must "act independently of US war policies," she said, adding that, "as long as Canada cannot act independently of the Pentagon," it will be inevitable that Canadian troops will die.

According to Joya, "the US is not concerned with the major causes of terror in Afghanistan--that is why my people do not consider them as liberators.

"The US government keeps promising not to repeat the mistakes of the past, but the US is supporting the fundamentalists more than ever," she said.

"The brutalities of fundamentalists are going on under the nose of foreign troops." Joya cited examples of threats and intimidation of journalists, murder, and rape. A husband who abuses his wife, said Joya, "can be sure that he has the support of the misogynist Northern Alliance," which are the allies of Canada and the US in the current war. Joya argues that the Northern Alliance is "as brutal and antidemocratic as the Taliban was."

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photo: Dru Oja Jay
"I'm sorry to tell you that Afghanistan is a land that is falling apart."

Joya pointed out several indicators that "the plight of the Afghan people has not improved" since the US-led invasion began, including an estimated life expectancy below 45 years and 40 per cent unemployment.

"Afghanistan's men and women," she concluded, "are not liberated," and are "heading towards a disaster worse than a Tsunami."

Joya kept returning to those governing the battered country as the source of the problem.

"All justice-loving people are calling for trials for the warlords," she said, noting that the Karzai administration--with US approval--"promotes war criminals to higher posts," most recently the police force. The majority of seats in Afghanistan's parliament are occupied by "some kind of warlord," who is "doing crimes under the name of Islam."

As long as the warlords are in power, Joya said, "there will be no hope."

She also said that it remains in the interests of the warlords to destabilize the country, as they benefit from foreign aid and reconstruction largess.

"When you go to Kabul, there are large buildings, but you should ask, who owns these large buildings? They are not helping the people of Afghanistan, they are helping those in power."

After a standing ovation from the audience of mostly McGill students, an audience member asked whether disarming the warlords would create a power vacuum, starting the cycle of violence over again.

Joya rejected the idea, saying that when it has suited the US, warlords have been removed from power very quickly.

The 27-year-old MP remains defiantly optimistic about the potential for democracy in Afghanistan.

"We can start right now, taking power away from the warlords. Instead, they give them more power."

But the problem of the warlords, Joya suggests, comes from abroad.

"Countries like the US have their own strategic policies in Afghanistan ... As long as [they] support the Northern Alliance with the mask of democracy, there will never be improvements in Afghanistan."

The young representative of Farah Province ended with a refrain familiar to her supporters in Afghanistan and abroad.

"You can cut the flower, but you cannot stop the coming of spring."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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