Women, Afghanistan and Taliban threat letter to Canadian aid workers

Personally I would be tempted if I where the minister of defence to temporarily suspend all civilian aid to Afghanistan and double the armed personel for a while. Such as it is, here is an article from today’s National Post, a major Canadian daily about the letter from the Taliban threatening Canadian aid workers with some commentary. After that I have posted another article about women in Afghanistan in jail for being raped. Worth reading both and watching the video in a previous but recent article about improved but still horrifying conditions for women over there. One revealing line from the second article is

“Ostracised from her family and village, Saliha was convicted of escaping from home”

I think that say’s more than the rest of the article in some ways.

Vlad

Taliban threaten to target Canadians

Letter promises more attacks on aid workers if troops don’t leave Afghanistan

Scott Deveau and Linda Nguyen, National Post and Canwest News Service

Published: Monday, August 18, 2008

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The Taliban issued a dire warning to Canada yesterday that if it does not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, insurgents would continue to target all Canadians in the country, like they did earlier this week in an ambush attack on female aid workers outside Kabul.

The Taliban urged Canadians in an open letter to press the government to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan or risk further attacks.

“The Afghans did not go to Canada to kill the Canadians. Rather, it is the Canadians who came to Afghanistan to kill and torture the Afghan,” the letter states, adding that they felt Canada was pandering to the United States in doing so.

“Therefore, you have to convince your government to put an end to the occupation of Afghanistan, so that the Afghans are not killed with your hands and so that you are not killed with the hands of the Afghans.”

In a statement, Defence Minister Peter MacKay condemned the letter, saying that it will not deter Canadian soldiers currently in Afghanistan.

“This letter is a disgusting attempt to justify the deliberate killings of innocent civilians. There is no justification for these killings by the Taliban,” Mr. MacKay said yesterday. “Canada is in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government of that country,” Mr. MacKay said

He added that Canada will continue to try to bring stability and security to the Afghan people.

“We will continue to fight for these goals,” he said. “We will continue to protect the Afghan people from these ruthless killers.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada does not respond to threats from the Taliban.

“This has no effect whatsoever on the Canadian mission,” spokesman Kory Teneycke said. “The Taliban demonstrates, time and again, its willingness to target civilians, including Afghan civilians as part of their efforts.”

Earlier this week, four aid workers from the International Rescue Committee, including two Canadians, were killed in a brazen daylight ambush on a stretch of road just south of Kabul.

The Taliban have taken credit for the shooting deaths of Jackie Kirk, 40, of Montreal; Shirley Case, 30, of Williams Lake, B.C.; and Nicole Dial, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Trinidad. Their Afghan driver was also killed.

They were in the country working on educational programs for Afghan children.

The situation in Afghanistan has become increasingly treacherous for foreign aid workers, who were once deemed neutral in the conflict.

In an interview earlier this week, Mohammad Hashim Mayar, the deputy director of Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief, said he believed the security situation outside of Kabul is worsening. He said it is no longer safe for aid workers to travel further than 35 kilometres outside of Kabul, which poses a serious challenge to the much-needed work they are doing in rural areas.

The relief agency represents more than half of the 200 NGOs doing development work in the country.

The Taliban say they are now targeting western aid workers because they are promoting the agenda of the West. However, their critics, including Mr. Mayar, say their efforts are aimed at destabilizing any development in the country in order to make the NATO-backed government of President Hamid Karzai appear weak.

Liberal leader Stéphane Dion said during a visit to Montreal yesterday the Taliban warning does not surprise him.

“This letter is nothing new. We know the Taliban will use any means for their terrorist goal,” he said. “So it’s very important for NATO and the government of Canada to do everything to protect our civilians, not only brave men and women in uniform, but the brave Canadians who are doing their best as activists to help the Afghan people.”

The defence critic for the New Democratic Party urged Mr. Harper to take yesterday’s threat seriously.

“It’s another dramatic example of the security situation in Afghanistan,” said Dawn Black, the MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam. “The NDP has been opposed to the counter-insurgency mission for a long time and this is another indication that Harper should acknowledge the deteriorating security measures and change course on our mission in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, World Vision, a non-profit international agency with workers in Afghanistan renewed their vows yesterday to continue their work.

“All our staff go through rigorous security training and we’re going to be increasing and strengthening security measures so we can continue to meet the dire needs of children and families in Afghanistan,” spokeswoman Karen Homer said yesterday. “We have no plans to suspend or plan to stop our work in Afghanistan.”

World Vision has been in Afghanistan for more than 10 years and focuses on community development programs in a wide range of areas including education, agriculture and health care.

In their letter to Canadians, the Taliban say future killings will be done for “revenge.”

“Afghanistan has to try to have good relations with you,” the Taliban said. “But if your government continues a reversed policy, the Afghans will be obliged to kill your nationals, in revenge for their brothers, their sisters, and their children.”

Zabiullah Mujahid, who identifies himself as spokesman for the Taliban, said in a telephone interview that journalists may also be targeted.

“If we arrest their journalists or aid workers we will target them as we did in Logar province. They are not differentiating women and children with military targets, and we will not differentiate theirs, too.”

Neither the Canadian Forces nor the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan would comment on the letter.

And now, WHY those aid workers may be there and what they should arguably be trying to fix:

The Afghan women jailed for being victims of rape

In Lashkar Gah, the majority of female prisoners are serving 20-year sentences for being forced to have sex. Terri Judd visited them and heard their extraordinary stories

Monday, 18 August 2008

Zirdana, right, with her son and Saliha, centre, in Lashkar Gah prison

Zirdana, right, with her son and Saliha, centre, in Lashkar Gah prison

Beneath the anonymity of the sky-blue burqa, Saliha’s slender frame and voice betray her young age.Asked why she was serving seven years in jail alongside hardened insurgents and criminals, the 15-year-old giggled and buried her head in her friend’s shoulder.

“She is shy,” apologised fellow inmate Zirdana, explaining that the teenager had been married at a young age to an abusive husband and ran away with a boy from her neighbourhood.

Asked whether she had loved the boy, Saliha squirmed with childish embarrassment as her friend replied: “Yes.”

Ostracised from her family and village, Saliha was convicted of escaping from home and illegal sexual relations. The first carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, the second 20. These are two of the most common accusations facing female prisoners in Afghanistan.

Two-thirds of the women in Lashkar Gah’s medieval-looking jail have been convicted of illegal sexual relations, but most are simply rape victims – mirroring the situation nationwide. The system does not distinguish between those who have been attacked and those who have chosen to run off with a man.

Sitting among the plastic flowers around his desk, where an optimistic United Nations scales of justice poster competed for space with images of Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, Colonel Ghulam Ali, a high-ranking regional security officer, explained sternly that he supported the authorities’ right to convict victims of rape. “In Afghanistan whether it is forced or not forced it is a crime because the Islamic rules say that it is,” he claimed. “I think it is good. There are many diseases that can be created in today’s world, such as HIV, through illegal sexual relations.”

But there are signs of progress. A female shura, or consultative council, was established in Helmand province last week to try to combat the injustice of treating an abused woman as a criminal, and not a victim. British officers and Afghan government officials from the province’s reconstruction team are also overseeing a project to build humane accommodation for the 400 male and female prisoners.

Inside the fortified compound of the prison in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, the 330 male prisoners laze about in the shade of their straw huts. The prison security was was recently upgraded with new razor wire and guard posts following the attack on Kandahar’s prison in which more than a 1,000 inmates escaped, including 400 Taliban. Past the main gate, inmates – whether on remand and awaiting trial or convicts – are incarcerated alongside 50 insurgents.

In a separate area are the female “criminals” – the youngest is just 13 years old – along with their small children, who must stay with their mothers if no one else will claim them. Their only luxury is a carpet, two blankets, basic cooking facilities and two daily deliveries of bread. They have neither medical care nor, as Colonel Ali acknowledged, “basic human facilities”, such as washing areas, electricity and drinking water. All this he hopes will be rectified when the new building his finished.

Pushing her five-year-old son’s arm forward imploringly, Zirdana, 25, pointed to the festering wound buzzing with flies. The little boy was just two months old when his mother was convicted of murdering her husband, his father. Zirdana had been handed over to him at the age of seven, as part payment in a financial dispute. She gave birth to the first of her children when she was 11 and was pregnant with her fourth when her husband disappeared and she was accused of killing him. Her three older children were taken from her by her brother-in-law. “When I first came to jail I cried so much blood was coming out of my mouth. My husband’s brother told me he would give my children back when I came out of jail but he has become a Talib. Nobody comes to see us in jail. There are a lot of diseases,” she said.

Next to her, Dorkhani, 55, sobbed so much that the glint of her tears shone through the mesh of her burqa. Married for four decades to a relatively wealthy man from Nowzad, the couple had fled to Lashkar Gah after a family dispute. When he returned to Nowzad, to try and reclaim his money, he disappeared. “The ones who killed my husband, they have money and they threw me in jail. I am 100 per cent innocent. I have no one, no brother to look after me,” she said, explaining that those with cash could buy their freedom.

Last week, in Helmand, the new Women and Children’s Justice Shura met and voted in its constitution with the help of advisers from the Afghan Human Rights Committee and support from the Women’s Affairs Department, as well as a government legal adviser.

The shura, made up of 20 influential women, mostly teachers, hopes to tackle the inequality of the system by first ensuring that women in the province become aware of their basic right: not to have to endure abuse.

Earlier this year a report by Womankind, Taking Stock: Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On, revealed that violent attacks against women, usually in a domestic setting, are at epidemic proportions – 87 per cent of women complain of such abuse, and half of it is sexual. More than 60 per cent of marriages are forced and, despite laws banning the practice, 57 per cent of brides are under 16. Many of these girls are offered as restitution for a crime or as debt settlement. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with a higher suicide rate among women than men.

In the UK, the MP Malcolm Bruce, chairman of the House of Commons International Development Committee, warned: “There is a dangerous tendency to accept in Afghanistan practices which would not be countenanced elsewhere, because of ‘cultural’ differences and local traditions.”

The shura is hoping to provide a place where women can report abuse and create a separate centre for women and girls incarcerated for running away. It would be a compromise of custody without the stigma of being thrown in jail.

“They are very aware of the inequality in the system,” said Royal Navy Lieutenant Rebecca Parnell, a member of the Cimic, or civil-military co-operation, team. “The most refreshing thing is that there are plans coming from the Department of Women’s Affairs. It is not just us pushing our ideas on to them.” The military aid team has programmes for monthly health checks and trauma counselling in the prison as well as vocational training in carpet weaving, tailoring, literacy and basic health education.

As she was led away to her jail cell yesterday, Dorkhani lifted her burqa to reveal a sun-battered face streaked with tears and pleading eyes: “Please, please take our words somewhere where people will be kind and help us.”

About Eeyore

Canadian artist and counter-jihad and freedom of speech activist as well as devout Schrödinger's catholic

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