Canada failed Afghanistan by choice
By Joyce Green
On August 16, the world watched as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, city after city and finally by government collapse and the flight of its president.
Canadians had supported a mission in Afghanistan that spanned the years 2001 – 2014. During that time, Canadian troops executed government commitments to improve Afghan political capacity and civil society, particularly human rights, especially for women and girls. This was, of course, not merely altruistic: Canada was motivated by a western focus on terrorist organizations. Our presence in Afghanistan was intended to eliminate any Taliban political threat by building alternative political capacity.
The troops could not have done their jobs, nor could the army of brave journalists that scattered throughout Afghanistan to tell us the stories of the struggle, the politics and the people, without a corollary army of Afghan interpreters, guides, and instructors in the who’s who of the power dynamics in the country. Now all of that is trashed.
The awful scenes of Afghans, desperate to be taken to Canada, the USA or anywhere safe, culminated in an American plane leaving the tarmack with some Afghans clinging to its fuselage and then falling to their deaths.
It didn’t have to be this way.
CBC journalist Carol Off wrote a magnificent, wrenching book All We Leave Behind (2017) detailing her time in Afghanistan, during which she met and became friends with an Afghan activist and his family. After Off returned to Canada she learned that her friend was in imminent danger of being murdered for his activism, which included participating in a documentary Off produced. The then—government of Stephen Harper refused to facilitate the family’s immigration to Canada as refugees, and Off worked tirelessly until she and others could save the family from certain catastrophe.
If Off could tell the world about this in 2017, in the process winning the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction Finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and placing as finalist for two other major literary awards in Canada, how could the Canadian government not know of the grave danger faced by those who oppose power and corruption in Afghanistan?
Moreover, Canadian forces members who returned home carried similar stories with them, and have pressed the government to waive paperwork and do what it takes to bring Afghans who helped Canada here and thus, save their lives and the lives of their families.
Nothing happened, apart from some smoke being blown at us about regulations, filling out applications, and the time all of this takes… yada yada.
The Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada did not act as Prime Minister to clear the bureaucratic path for a humanitarian rescue of the people Canada fought to help, and who risked their lives to help Canadians in Afghanistan. As those people dropped off of that plane, their desperation and deaths reflected what Off knew and wrote about. Governments may have different priorities, but none are so stupid as to not know the facts of this matter and the political context that produces it. Yet there has been little to distinguish the Harper and Trudeau record on caring for Afghans who assisted us. Both may be cited for callousness and humanitarian failure — in our name.
In this election the Leader of the Liberal Party should be made to answer for this failure in our country’s name, and at the cost of so many lives and dreams. So too should the Conservative leader, a former member of the Harper cabinet and government. And Canadians should demand that the Canadian army and civil service be given the funds and the authority to direct an immediate rescue of, and provide refuge in Canada for, at least some of Afghanistan’s brave and suffering people.
– Joyce Green is a Cranbrook-based writer, political scientist and member of Fair Vote Canada