The chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says that if the Hamid Karzai government doesn't receive foreign aid from Canada and other countries, it will never achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Dr. Sima Samar made the comment to the Georgia Straight following a lecture on human rights at UBC's Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
"After all, he is elected president," Samar said of Karzai. "We want him to complete his term, so we have to find ways to help him and to put him in the right direction."
On November 17, Samar was made an honourary officer of the Order of Canada for her human-rights work in Afghanistan. She founded the Shuhada Organization and Clinic in 1989, which provides health services to women. It's the largest women-run nongovernmental organization in the country.
At a NATO summit in Lisbon a couple of days ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Karzai must reduce corruption if he wants to continue receiving Canadian foreign aid.
“In general terms, what I and others told President Karzai was that the support of our governments and, indeed, our populations depend on the government of Afghanistan’s respect and its acting upon basic principles—respect for democracy, rule of law and fair elections, for human rights, for good governance, and for cleaning up corruption,” Harper told reporters. “We will not dispense a dime to the government of the Afghanistan unless we are convinced that money will be spent in the way it’s intended to be spent.”
When asked for a response to Harper's statement that foreign aid won't go to the government of Afghanistan, Samar replied: "Part of it should go, to the Afghan government with accountability. And keep them accountable for spending it. Because otherwise, the government will not find their...legitimacy if they cannot really provide the basic social services to the public."
Dr. Sima Samar comments on Stephen Harper's statement about aid to Afghanistan.
In a question-and-answer session following her lecture, Samar said that Canada, the United States, and other countries are under public and financial pressure to find an exit strategy from her country.
She noted that there are between 70,000 and 80,000 Afghan soldiers and nearly as many police officers—which is a huge difference from the situation in 2002 and 2003, when there were no Afghan security forces.
Samar also offered positive comments on the Canadian government's decision to scale back its military role in Afghanistan next year from a combat operation to a training mission.
She told the audience that Canadian combat forces don't know Afghanistan very well, and they're rotated out of the country every six months.
She also pointed out that the former Soviet Union couldn't control the country with 140,000 soldiers. There are now about 130,000 members of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, according to NATO.
"We have a saying...a hundred committed fighters is better than 100,000 noncommitted or noncapable fighters," Samar said. "So maybe... the number of lower soldiers to train the Afghan security forces will be more helpful."
She also called for conditions to be attached to reconstruction contracts. "Give it to a big company," she said, "but say that they have to employ 2,000 young boys to work on the streets because that way, you give an ownership to the people."
And, she suggested, when local people build roads, they will have a greater stake in stopping other local people from blowing them up.
Samar's lecture was attended by several people who were born in Afghanistan, including Abdullah Hamid, who said he is a "proud Canadian citizen".
In a short interview with the Straight, Hamid said that prior to Karzai's rise, Afghanistan was never an "Islamic republic". And he claimed that there will never be real advancement for women as long as it remains an "Islamic republic", because its very nature ensures that women will face discrimination.
Abdullah Hamid questions why Canada is shedding blood in Afghanisan.
"I wonder why would Canada be wasting all their money and resources and shedding the blood of Canadians for the sake of the defence of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, because Afghanistan has never been an Islamic country," Hamid said.
By that, he meant that Afghanistan was a monarchy for many years. After the king was ousted, it became a republic. Only under the Mujahadeen did it become an Islamic state.
But even then, Hamid noted, it was not an "Islamic republic".
"The bottom line is if Canada wants to play a positive role, they need to defend democracy and security in Afghanistan—not an Islamic republic," he declared.
Wafi Gran, an Afghan student who is attending Simon Fraser University, told the Straight that Samar's lecture offered "a great lesson for people outside of the country".
Afghan student Wafi Gran comments on Dr. Sima Samar's lecture at UBC.