Thursday, January 31, 2008

Exactly what are we in Aghanistan for?

Notwithstanding that sometime in the near future I have something of a horror story to tell you about the attrition rate of troops returning to Canada , the question of Canada's strategic purpose for being in Afghanistan arises once again.

If we are having to explain to the governor of the province in which Canadian troops are providing a primary combat force that prisoners turned over to his custody are not to be beaten senseless with an electrical cable and rubber hoses, somewhere a lesson has been missed.

Now we have the story of a young Afghani journalism student facing a death sentence - for downloading and distributing information from the internet.
A young man, a student of journalism, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country's rulers. This is Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after "liberation" and under the democratic rule of the West's ally Hamid Karzai.

The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.

Mr Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he was arrested, tried by religious judges without – say his friends and family – being allowed legal representation and sentenced to death.

And if you are taken to believe that this is the unsanctioned act of an independent religious court you would be wrong.

The Independent is launching a campaign today to secure justice for Mr Kambaksh. The UN, human rights groups, journalists' organisations and Western diplomats have urged Mr Karzai's government to intervene and free him. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion yesterday confirming the death sentence.

The MP who proposed the ruling condemning Mr Kambaksh was Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of Mr Karzai. The Senate also attacked the international community for putting pressure on the Afghan government and urged Mr Karzai not to be influenced by outside un-Islamic views.

The case of Mr Kambaksh, who also worked a s reporter for the Jahan-i-Naw (New World) newspaper, is seen in Afghanistan as yet another chapter in the escalation in the confrontation between Afghanistan and the West.

It comes in the wake of Mr Karzai accusing the British of actually worsening the situation in Helmand province by their actions and his subsequent blocking of the appointment of Lord Ashdown as the UN envoy and expelling a British and an Irish diplomat.

This is the new crowd, same as the old crowd. If the non-Taliban is behaving the same as the Taliban did, what is it exactly we're supposed to accomplish?

Canada has a position of leverage here. Very simply Karzai needs to be told a few facts of life. If Karzai, as he has so often repeated, insists that Canadian troops remain in Kandahar then he needs to accept that the cost of our presence is acquiescence to demands for a much more just and civil system of government and law. Killing people for what they read doesn't pass muster.

If Karzai can't accept that then the solution is simple. We leave and Afghanistan can defend itself.
The Independent has put together a petition.
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh's imminent execution is an affront to civilised values. It is not, however, a foregone conclusion. If enough international pressure is brought to bear on President Karzai's government, his sentence may yet be overturned. Add your weight to the campaign by urging the Foreign Office to demand that his life be spared. Sign our e-petition at
There is no reason for Canadian troops to be dying for a country which is unable to embrace basic human rights and the most simple principles of civilization.

Hat tip Sam in comments and Cat via email.

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