Afghan émigré Dr. Karim Qayumi has visited Kabul regularly in recent years. There, in the Afghan capital, the 58-year-old medical doctor maintains an extension office of his Vancouver-based nonprofit group, Partnership Afghanistan Canada. Early this month, according to Qayumi, that office received a shipment of 280 wheelchairs from Canadian donors.
As politicians in Ottawa ponder the future of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan—a matter that could trigger a federal election—Qayumi hopes there will be some changes in the situation in his native land.
“I think most of the effort is towards the stabilization of Afghanistan through military means, so there’s not much done for the civilian population,” Qayumi told the Georgia Straight. “In the last four or five years, more than $80 billion had been spent on war in Afghanistan and only $4 billion on aid.”
Currently director of the UBC Centre of Excellence for Surgical Education and Innovation, Qayumi noted that members of the international community haven’t delivered on their promises to help Afghans get back on their feet.
“First of all, I want to see the war stopped in Afghanistan, because no matter how you want to rebuild, it’s going to be destroyed again,” he said. “With respect to rebuilding, I want to see projects that are enabling Afghans to stand on their own.”
According to The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar by Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang (2007, Penguin), international military spending has significantly eclipsed expenditures for development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
“The international community has spent only eight percent of the total funds it committed to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2006 on development and poverty relief,” the book states.
Stein is director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, while Lang was chief of staff for former Liberal defence ministers John McCallum and Bill Graham. The authors note that the Canadian government pledged $1 billion in development aid in 2001, or about $100 million each year throughout the decade. In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed another $200 million for development. Still, there is a “strange skewing of priorities”, according to Stein and Lang.
“Even though Canada is a large and significant donor, its development assistance is only one-tenth of what it is spending on the military effort in Afghanistan,” the authors write. They note that only 28 percent of funding given by the Canadian International Development Agency goes to the south, where Canadian forces are operating.
The Conservative government has tabled a motion in Parliament seeking to extend Canada’s combat mission in Kandahar, an insurgent stronghold in southern Afghanistan, until 2011. The Liberals, in turn, have proposed an amendment to provide a continuation of the country’s military presence with troops mostly involved in training Afghan security forces.
Federal NDP defence critic Dawn Black noted that the Conservatives and the Liberals haven’t departed from the NATO approach, which is to wage a counterinsurgency war to provide the conditions for stability and development.
“NATO is a military alliance, and as such, its mission is basically military in nature,” Black told the Straight. “What we need is for the United Nations and its many agencies to step up to the plate. These agencies have the mandate and expertise to undertake rebuilding and development.”
Federal NDP leader Jack Layton has long called for the immediate withdrawal of Canadian soldiers, arguing that the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be solved by military means.
Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson describes the discussions in Ottawa about extending the presence of Canadian troops until 2011 as “bizarre”.
“Clearly, the presence of foreign troops is a factor that is contributing to the deterioration of security at all levels,” Davidson, cofounder of Lawyers Against the War, told the Straight. “We don’t need people trained to kill over there. We need people trained to negotiate peace between warring groups of people.”
Davidson recalled that in May 2007, the Afghan senate passed a motion urging President Hamid Karzai to hold direct talks with the Taliban and other opposition forces. More important, according to Davidson, is that the same motion urged western troops to halt operations against Taliban fighters.
“There’s no solution in Afghanistan except to conduct negotiations with all parties,” she said.