Near and Far is a column about public issues and cultural affairs.
Let me be perfectly clear, as the politicians say and then often aren’t.
The situation in Afghanistan is a cruel crime against humanity. A crime in which Canada is complicit.
Jean Chretien joined George W. Bush’s disastrous war on terror in 2001. Paul Martin kept Canadian troops on the ground as the American war morphed into an ill-conceived nation building exercise. Stephen Harper inherited the hybrid mess, and kept Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Justin Trudeau inherited the legacy of failure and bloodshed. And now the whole ignominious nightmare ends with betrayal, on Trudeau’s flickering watch.
As the world’s only military mega-power, the United States betrayal of the Afghan people is greatest of all. But every country that went along with the US war bears the ugly mark of betrayal, including Canada.
Afghanistan is a country of 38 million people. Women and girls make up 48 per cent of the country’s population. In abandoning the Afghan people and, specifically, the tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and others, we are leaving a mass slaughter that has already begun.
Taliban reprisals are underway and the terror unleashed is indescribable. Most of us will never truly know what is happening right now. Most of us will never know what is about to happen as the US, Canada and others head for safety. Women and girls will suffer most of all.
Women and girls who were students, journalists, lawyers, judges and teachers up until the Taliban rolled over the Afghan army a few weeks ago are all now targets of Taliban brutality. The interpreters, guides and contractors for Canada’s armed forces for more than a decade who are being left behind have little chance of survival.
The scope of the callous betrayal is almost too great to comprehend. And what will the political consequences be here in Canada? Will there be any at all?
When the prime minister and other politicians much closer to home say things like, “right now Canada must dedicate all necessary resources to helping people there,” what does that mean? Does it mean anything at all?
Does it mean that Canada should send 15,000 troops to Afghanistan to protect the most vulnerable and to help hundreds of thousands of people flee? Well, no, it doesn’t appear to mean that at all. Quite the opposite. And that is both a tragedy and a travesty.
No wonder so many Canadians have lost whatever faith they once had in the things politicians say.
You may be asking what Afghanistan has to do with life in Powell River. One answer is nothing at all I suppose. Another answer is everything that is good and important about being human.
Most people don’t like to sit with uncomfortable or terrifying thoughts. But out of respect for the Afghan people, who supported Canada’s long presence in their country, just try for a minute or two to imagine their reality.
Mothers and fathers. Little children. Lovers. Those millions whose hopes have been dashed and who are now being abandoned. If it’s painful for us to think about and allow ourselves to feel, just imagine the tiniest fraction of what it must actually be like in Kabul and all over Afghanistan today.
There are many wonderful things about Canada. I am very grateful to live where and how I live. There are also some truly shameful and despicable things about Canada. The betrayal and abandonment of the Afghan people is one of those things.
John Young has been an advisor to political leaders in Ottawa and Victoria. He was the founding executive director of ACORN Canada, a national advocacy organization working with and for low and moderate income Canadians. He has been a Buddhist monk in France and an organic farmer in Powell River. He lives in Wildwood.