The CBC interviewed CASC founding member Terry Glavin on its Cross Country Checkup show today, about what Canadians know about the mission, what they should know, and what is in store for our future involvement.
There are more than two million orphaned Afghans. That's enough to populate a city. It's a serious problem and a challenge to Afghanistan's long-term prospects. Yet thanks to organizations like the Omid-e-mirmum that have grown up since the fall of the Taliban, more of these children will have a chance for a happy future, as CASC founding member Terry Glavin reports in the Calgary Herald:
The Omid-e-mirmun orphanage is hidden away behind high walls and a sturdy metal gate down a dusty back street in the Koshalkhan district of Kabul. When you arrive for a visit, you are ushered into a courtyard and up the stairs. A flock of girls will hurry to greet you at the door.
The girls are bold, and each of them offers a broad smile and a firm and hearty handshake. "Good morning. How do you do? Salaam."
Afza Hosa, the 45-year-old house mother, is quick behind them, and she shoos the older ones away to make tea and to clear a place among their toys and their books in the living room.
"Around Eid, it is really hard," Hosa says as about a dozen of the girls clamour around the room to find a place to curl up and visit. "They want shoes and underwear and bangles and socks. 'I need the kind of scarf that I saw at school! I want this! I want that!' " Hosa laughs at herself, and the girls laugh along. "They drive me crazy."
The girls of Omid-e-mirmun defy all the odds that are spelled out so bleakly in all the relevant statistics assiduously accumulated by the United Nations and its various departments and agencies since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that even by 2008, one out of every four babies born in Afghanistan wasn't expected to live to the age of five. Half of Afghanistan's 28 million people are under 18. Close to half the country's children are still not in school.
Child labour is ubiquitous. More than one million Afghan children are their families' main breadwinners. Even schoolchildren are not safe from harm: between May, 2007 and February, 2008, the Taliban attacked and burned 98 schools, killing 147 teachers and schoolchildren.
More than two million Afghans are orphaned children -- enough to populate a huge city, all on their own.
There are 29 orphans here at Omid-e-mirmun, all girls, all in school, all healthy. The youngest is Zarina. She's about 18 months old. Zarina was a newborn abandoned at Kandahar Hospital, and Hosa heard about her and arranged to take her in.
Strictly speaking, Zarina is not a resident here. She lives with Hosa, who wants to adopt Zarina -- but Islamic law prohibits adoption. Afghan law allows only a form of guardianship that isn't recognized by many countries.
Five million Afghans are returned refugees -- more than twice the number of the country's orphaned children. Many returned Afghans, like Hosa, have dual citizenship. Like Hosa, many would be happy to adopt an orphan, but mere guardianship is insufficient to qualify as adoption in most countries. This puts Hosa and Zarina in a predicament.
Hosa is an Afghan-American, but she can't return to the United States with Zarina. At least not yet. There's hope: a new adoption law is slowly making its way through the Afghan legislative process.
That's the thing about those statistics. For all the ghastly conditions that still haunt Afghanistan all these years after the Taliban's fall, at least now there's hope. For the 29 girls of Omid-emirmun, at least there's Afza Hosa. In the Dari language, "omid" means hope.
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 Mawladin 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.
The event - at the Taj Banquet Hall, 4611 Steeles Avenue West, starting at 3:30 p.m. on April 17 - is one in a series of public events the Solidarity Committee is sponsoring across Canada to build support for a “new mission” in Afghanistan after 2011, when the Canadian Forces’ battle group is expected to be withdrawn from Kandahar Province.
“Canada’s brave soldiers did not go to Afghanistan to lose. Canada went there to win, and the job is not done yet,” Malawdin said. We want Canada to focus on democracy building, literacy and the advance of human rights, support for institutional capacity building and the training of Afghan security forces so Afghans can take over their own responsibility in the long term.”
Concerned about the paralysis in Ottawa on the Afghanistan question, the Solidarity Committee recently embarked upon a series of public events in cities across Canada in order to kickstart a national debate. Later this month, the Solidarity Committee will convene events in Edmonton, Calgary and Regina.
The Solidarity Committee began this initiative in Ottawa March 9 with the release of its “Keeping Our Promises: Canada in Afghanistan Post 2011 – The Way Forward” report. The report outlines a broad consensus in Afghanistan and Canada for a re-dedication of Canadian effort in entrenching Afghan democracy, institution-building and investment in education.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
“Ending The Agony: Seven Moves To Stabilize Afghanistan,” By Christopher Alexander.
“Keeping Our Promises: Canada in Afghanistan Post 2011 – The Way Forward.”
Event Panel Bios
CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER is the former United Nations’ Deputy Special Representative in Afghanistan. He served as Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and is currently the Conservative Party nominee in the riding of Ajax-Pickering.
BOB RAE is the federal Liberal Party’s Foreign Affairs Critic and serves on the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan. A long-serving Canadian politician, Mr. Rae is a former Premier of Ontario ad is currently MP for Toronto-Centre.
HIS EXCELLENCY JAWED LUDIN was appointed Afghanistan's Ambassador to Canada in May,
2009, after serving as ambassador to the Nordic countries, based in Oslo. Prior to his diplomatic posts, Ambassador Ludin served as chief spokesperson for Afghan President Hamid Karzai between 2003 and
2005 chief of staff to the president from 2005 to 2007.
NAJIA HANEEFI is a founder of the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee and is the former head of Afghanistan’s largest women’s organization, the Afghan Women’s Education Centre (AWEC). Ms. Haneefi currently resides in Ottawa.
ANDREW POTTER writes on culture and politics as a columnist for Macleans magazine. He is a former philosophy professor and co-author with Joseph Heath of the best-selling Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed. His new book is The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves.
BABUR MAWLADIN is the Toronto Coordinator for the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, Program Manager at Jane Alliance Neighbourhood Services, and chairperson of SEED for Relief of Poverty, a Canadian international NGO. He has extensive experience building schools and training centres in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
TERRY GLAVIN is an author of several books and a journalist whose writing from Afghanistan has appeared in newspapers and magazines as diverse as Democratiya, the National Post, the online daily The Tyee and Vancouver Review. He is a co-founder of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.
Jonathon Narvey, CASC Board Secretary
Phone (604) 230.2638 Email jnarvey@afghanistan-canada-
The Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee is about to unveil its vision for Canada's role in Afghanistan post-2011. It's time to put aside this irrelevant debate about detainees and get to the real conversation about how to meet Canada's strategic objectives. An excerpt from the Montreal Gazette:
The document takes no issue with the plan to withdraw Canada's battle group from Afghanistan at the end of 2011.
But what many have missed, Glavin said, is that Canada's development and aid package in Afghanistan is also due to expire at the end of 2011.
Yet Parliament is "paralyzed. Nobody knows what to do," Glavin said. Instead, MPs are engaging in an "elaborate work-avoidance activity" focused on the treatment of Afghan detainees more than three years ago.
"We need to have a new conversation in this country about a new mission," Glavin said. "We have to think about 2011 as the beginning of something, not the end of it."
Canada's mission in Afghanistan is the biggest thing the country has done militarily since the Korean War, he said.
"Are we going to turn that legacy into the greatest shame and embarrassment?
"We need to sharply refocus our objectives in Afghanistan. What are we there for? Why did all those soldiers die? How are we going to finish the job?"
To find out, the committee — made up of human-rights activists, Afghan-Canadians, academics, writers and journalists — consulted more than 100 organizations and individuals in Canada and Afghanistan.
"Everyone we talk to says, 'democracy,' " said Glavin. "Anything that gets in the way of that, we have to go through it like a wolf in a flock of sheep."
2011 Tour Schedule
Lancaster Chapter Dinner of the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) March 1-
21, 2011, Lancaster, PA (USA)
International Women’ s Day Celebration, by Women of Hope Project, March 8, 2011, Frederick, MD
Afghan Film Festival, Winnipeg, Manitoba, to March 31, 2011
Nawruz Celebration, Tufts University, Boston, MA
A Day for Afghanistan, Woodlawn Public Library, Dartmouth, NS, May 7. Info:
Public Presentation, Afghanistan: Building Peace Through Education and Literacy, Confederation Centre
Public Library, Charlottetown, PEI, May 12 Info: 902 368-4642
Upcoming Locations - Watch for Details Coming Soon!
Canada should make a concerted effort to block any attempt by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to strike a backroom peace deal with the Taliban, says Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's main opposition leader.
"The sacrifices you have made here, and all your taxpayers' money. What for? You will have to ask that," Mr. Abdullah said in an interview.
He said Canada would not be trespassing on Afghanistan's sovereignty if it moves to block a "reconciliation" deal that circumvents Afghanistan's parliamentary system. More importantly, he said, Canada is burdened by a duty to its own citizens to see that it does not happen.
"You have more than a right to stay firm in that," Mr. Abdullah said. "Not just for the sake of any Afghan persons or an Afghan movement, but for the sake of the sacrifices you have made here. You are not in the business of betraying your own people. In that sense, it is an obligation."
The former Afghan foreign minister, who was Mr. Karzai's front-running challenger in last year's fraud-plagued presidential election, credited the Canadian-led Electoral Complaints Commission with heading off a fatal rupture in Afghanistan's young democracy last November.
A recount ordered by the commission forced Mr. Karzai to a runoff vote, but Mr. Abdullah declined the rematch, citing entrenched corruption in Afghanistan's elections system.
Mr. Abdullah said that despite the calamitous result, the intervention of the complaints commission and its Canadian chairman, Grant Kippen, saved the day. But he said that Canada cannot give up now, with a complete political collapse looming after Mr. Karzai's attempts to strike a power-sharing bargain with the Taliban.
"Had it not been for the commission's efforts, we would have had no hope," said Mr. Abdullah, who is in the early stages of building a broad-based political party with a focus on political accountability, transparency and fully free elections.
"There was a complaints commission that we could trust. They gave us hope. Without it, this country would have been in turmoil, and I'm not just talking about the Taliban. I'm talking about the whole political scene. It would have been in turmoil."
Unless Mr. Karzai is held democratically accountable as he proceeds with his Taliban reconciliation schemes, a far worse scenario looms.
While Mr. Karzai has been offering peace deals to the Taliban ever since he was first elected in 2004, he has ramped up his entreaties since his close-call re-election last November. The Taliban leadership has repeatedly rebuffed his appeals, but Mr. Karzai has lately won some Western backing for an internationally funded package of buyouts to Taliban fighters.
That plan has been overshadowed, however, by Mr. Karzai's oblique suggestions of outright power-sharing with the Taliban by granting its leaders top government posts and control of government ministries. At an international conference of more than 60 donor countries in London last month, Mr. Karzai further surprised delegates with an announcement that he intends to invite the Taliban to a traditional "jirga," or grand assembly, later this year.
While this enthusiasm for deal-making has won some support in the war-weary countries that make up the NATOled ISAF coalition, Mr. Karzai's recent moves have set off loud alarms in Afghanistan.
"With whom are we going to negotiate? Who are the decision-makers?" Sabrina Saqib, an outspoken young Afghan MP, said in a separate interview. "The Taliban ... say that they want the foreign forces gone. Is this negotiable? Canada has come to bring us democracy. If you leave, I don't know how many days I will have."
She said an "exit strategy" sell-out to the Taliban would reverse all the gains that Canada and the other 42 members of the International Security Force have made in Afghanistan, Ms. Saqib said.
Canada's Lawrence Cannon was one of the few foreign ministers to express skepticism about Mr. Karzai's reconciliation scheme in London last month. Nevertheless, while Ottawa's long-standing policy of backing "Afghan-led reconciliation efforts" is appreciated by the Afghan people, the policy could be easily subverted, Mr. Abdullah warned. The policy could make Canada complicit in a power-sharing deal that reverses Afghanistan's slow and painful strides toward democracy.
"I know how bureaucracy sometimes works," Mr. Abdullah said. "You go along with something if it suits."
He said Afghanistan's friends around the world should hold Mr. Karzai accountable to democratic principles and not let him get away with turning back the clock. "The government is shifting the whole focus to how we should bring the Taliban back. This is very dangerous.
"If the Taliban will finally break the resolve of the North American public to stay in Afghanistan, they will be back," he continued. "They don't want to be part of the political process. They want to destroy it and replace it with their own.
"All this talk about reconciliation is very tempting for the international community, but this is a charade. Who is talking about fighting corruption? Everybody is talking about reconciliation, and it doesn't have a foundation, it doesn't have a basis. If you pay bribes to people through the same corrupt system, then all you're left with is corruption."