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Canada’s combat role criticized

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But suspended MP from Afghanistan doesn’t want Canucks to leave

By Markus Ermisch, Kamloops This Week, November 10, 2007

Malalai Joya’s reputation as an uncompromising, relentless critic of Afghanistan’s parliament and administration seemed to be at odds with the tone of her brief guest lecture at Thompson Rivers University on Sunday.

The 29-year-old, who was suspended from parliament for the duration of her four-year term in May because of her verbal attacks against the Afghan government, spoke in a soft voice about the plight of the people in her war-ravaged country.

To be sure, the facts she mouthed quietly to the packed auditorium were staggering — 95 per cent of women in the Asian country suffer from depression; every 28 minutes a woman in Afghanistan dies during childbirth — but the fiery orator many in the audience had expected was nowhere to be heard.

That changed once the formal part of the lecture ended and the question-and-answer period began.

“The policy of your government was the wrong policy and is the wrong policy,” she said of Canada’s role in Afghanistan, invigorated by the exchange.

Malalai Joya
Malalai Joya is on a cross-Canada trip speaking out about the multitude of problems facing her fellow Afghans — in particular, the women.

“Foreign invasion is not the solution to the disastrous situation in Afghanistan.”

Canadian troops, she argued — and, judging from the applause, many in the audience agreed — should not follow U.S. foreign policy, which, she said, is making a “mockery of democracy and a mockery of the war on terror.”

Instead of being engaged in combat, Canada should support the democratic-minded people in Afghanistan, Joya said, and focus more on peacekeeping.

However, she stopped short of advocating a troop withdrawal, because doing so would plunge the country into an all-out civil war.

Joya said the current situation in Afghanistan — she called it an “occupation” — is one in which fundamentalists and warlords remain in key positions within a corrupt administration. And any aid pumped into the country lines, for the most part, the pockets of exactly these people.

Meanwhile, the people, especially women, continue to suffer, she said, arguing it’s a fallacy to assume the lot of women has improved since the invasion in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Joya dismissed a question suggesting that perhaps Islam may have something to do with the low status of women and their treatment.

Islam, she said, is used as a political tool in a country where 99 per cent of the population is Muslim.

“Especially they use Islam against our people,” Joya said. “This Islam of the terrorist people is not the real Islam.”

During the lecture, a basket was passed around the auditorium to collect money for Joya’s humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, and to help pay for her security.

Following several assassination attempts, Joya now travels under guard while at home.