PoliticalAffairs.net, November 30, 2007
Corruption and Torture Continue in Afghanistan
Canada's alliance with the warlords has come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks, in part due to the cross-Canada speaking tour by Afghan MP Malalai Joya.
By Kimball Cariou
A spate of recent news reports indicates that the NATO occupation of Afghanistan is becoming a deeper disaster.
It has been revealed that many victims of the Nov. 6 bombing in northern Baghlan province were children shot by government bodyguards. About 77 people died (including four members of the Afghan parliament), and another 100 were injured. According to an internal United Nations security report obtained on Nov. 19, bodyguards for the politicians shot at least 100 rounds of gunfire "deliberately and indiscriminately" into the crowd after the suicide bombing, and that schoolchildren bore "the brunt of the onslaught at close range."
Afghans say corruption is worse now than at any time in the past nearly 30 years, including under Taliban and Soviet rule. About 60 per cent of 1,250 Afghans questioned for the survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan thought his administration was more corrupt than any since 1970s. Around 93 per cent believed more than half the public services required a bribe.
Zee News, Mar.19, 2007
The gunshots could account for as many as two-thirds of the casualties, the report said. "Regardless of what the exact breakdown of numbers may be, the fact remains that a number of armed men deliberately and indiscriminately fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians that posed no threat to them, causing multiple deaths and injuries."
The UN spokesperson in Afghanistan, Adrian Edwards, confirmed the validity of the internal report, but said it was one of "several conflicting views."
The bombing has yet to be explained, since it took place in an area considered "friendly" to the NATO occupation. But the response of the bodyguards is further proof that after five years in power, and despite massive NATO support, the warlord-dominated Karzai government remains utterly incapable of providing security for the population.
In another development, a lawsuit launched by Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association accuses the Canadian government of handing over prisoners to Afghan authorities despite widespread torture in Afghan prisons.
When the Canadian military first entered Afghanistan, it handed over all prisoners over to U.S. forces. Serious concerns were raised that many of those prisoners would end up at Guantanamo Bay, and the practice was finally changed, but not for the better. Since late 2005, Canada's practice has turned over prisoners to corrupt Afghan authorities, into prisons where torture is rampant and systematic.
"If the risk of torture is a real one, which Amnesty believes it is," says Alex Neve of AI, "it's a matter of international legal obligation not to hand the prisoners over and to instead adopt some other approach, some other way of keeping those prisoners in custody that corresponds with international law."
Instead of responding to questions in the House of Commons about the scandal, the Harper government has dismissed the torture allegations, saying these come from "Taliban fighters" and aren't worthy of consideration.
As Neve says, "When it comes to torture it doesn't matter if you are a Taliban fighter or a humanitarian worker, you should not be tortured and allegations made that you have been tortured should be fairly and impartially investigated and that's where Canada is falling short."
Canada's alliance with the warlords has come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks, in part due to the cross-Canada speaking tour by Afghan MP Malalai Joya. Suspended from parliament for her outspoken criticisms, Joya spoke directly to thousands of Canadians and appeared in several media interviews. She bluntly condemned the Karzai government as a body controlled by the former Northern Alliance warlords, comparing them to the Taliban but wearing business suits.
ASADABAD, Afghanistan - International war planes going after insurgents in northeastern Afghanistan struck a road construction camp and killed 14 workers, leaving many unrecognisable, officials said Wednesday.
AFP, Nov.28, 2007
Joya's criticism was vindicated in mid-November with revelations of lucrative Canadian military contracts in Afghanistan.
The CanWest News Service, which has been strongly pro-war in its coverage of the conflict, reported that the Defence Department is keeping secret the names of dozens of companies which received almost $42 million worth of contracts in Afghanistan.
This includes $1,140,000 in business awarded to an Afghan company known as "Sherzai." The military refuses to say whether the company is owned by Gul Agha Sherzai, a powerful warlord and former governor of Kandahar who was a key backer of Hamid Karzai during the struggles against the Taliban in late 2001. As CanWest reports, "Sherzai immediately filled the power vacuum following the Taliban's ouster, establishing a fiefdom with the backing of his own private militia before he was appointed governor" of Kandahar province.
A book by U.S. journalist Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue, describes how Sherzai provided the U.S. army with fleets of trucks, loads of gravel, and other assorted labour, all at inflated prices. Chayes says that Sherzai extorted kickbacks amounting to one-quarter of the daily wages of his workers for the work his company provided at Kandahar Airfield. He was replaced as governor in 2005 under a cloud of corruption charges.
The Canadian military has paid the company Sherzai $900,000 for transportation services, and another $240,000 for services described as "defense" or "research and development."
A CanWest article on the matter says that this "censorship is only one example of the growing trend toward secrecy that appears to be enveloping the Canadian Forces as it expands its use of civilian contractors. This persists despite pledges by the Harper government to improve accountability and transparency, a key plank of the platform that brought the Conservative party to power nearly two years ago."
In another corruption scandal, the CanWest series revealed that it cost Canadian taxpayers over $4 million to open the Tim Hortons doughnut shop at Kandahar Airfield.
Early in 2006, five days after top Canadian officer Rick Hillier said that Tim Hortons would set up shop, Canada's Afghanistan commander, Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, told a CTV reporter: "Tim Hortons better get its ass over here."
Despite legal concerns that this arbitrary decision could be seen as favouritism towards one corporation, or that the "Timmy in the Stan" logistics might displace important military shipments, the operation was driven full speed ahead. In a classic example of mutual back-scratching, Tim Hortons has received enormous free publicity, and the company re-invests profits from the Kandahar venture into programs to "boost military morale."
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