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Canada 'Light wins over Dark'

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Aug 13, 2010.

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  1. spnadmin

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    Spending the past 25 years in Canada gave Saleem Wardak a new life, but he is well aware that many people in his native Afghanistan aren't so fortunate.

    "I was one of the lucky ones," he said. "I feel grateful because my children have a safe life in Canada."

    But Wardak doesn't spend a lot of time here; he has spent the past two years working in his homeland as a cultural adviser to Canadian Forces stationed in Kandahar, where he sees the effect of Taliban oppression and years of war.


    "I felt the obligation to go back," he told The Examiner on Wednesday evening after addressing 20 people who had gathered at the Peterborough Armoury to hear him talk about his experiences in the war zone. "It's a great feeling to be working for Canada and also for the people of Afghanistan."
    He has made several trips to Afghanistan, returning to his family in Canada for brief visits.

    During one mission, he worked with and became friends with Cpl. Nick Bulger, the Buckhorn soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2009.

    "It was because of him that I found this backbone of the community, to see and ask questions," said Wardak, who came to Canada when he was 20.

    "When soldiers die for the honour of their country, when they die for my children, I honour them."

    He works closely with soldiers whenever he's in Afghanistan.

    "I am not permitted to say much about my work," he said.

    He offered instead an overview of the changes the past nine years have brought to Afghanistan.


    "I can tell you that Afghanistan in 2001 was like the time of Moses," he said.

    "When the Taliban were in charge, men could be beaten with a stick for not having a beard. There were no freedoms. We would hear a story of a Sikh man, with a turban and a beard, being grabbed and taken to a mosque to pray. And when he said 'I am a Sikh,' they told him 'you are going to the mosque.' Remember that Sikhs have been in Afghanistan for hundreds of years, they are Afghans too, but their freedom was being taken away. It was a very bad time."

    That all changed with the arrival of soldiers from Canada and other western nations, he said.

    "The changes are very clear to anyone who saw Afghanistan then and sees Afghanistan now," he said. "For instance, there is 24-hour electricity. That's something that was unheard of. There is growth, there is prosperity. Many Canadians don't realize the war is only in some places, some provinces. The rest of the country is growing and becoming prosperous again."

    He said there's still work to be done.

    "I would say Afghanistan is still five to 10 years away from being able to make it on its own," he said. "This is my opinion, not the opinion of the government, I should add."

    The parents of Cpl. Mark McLaren, a Peterborough man who died in action in 2002, were in attendance.

    "Mark came back from his first tour in Afghanistan, when he was wounded," said Jo-Anne McLaren.

    "And we were surprised when he said he wanted to return for a second tour. That was the tour where he died.

    "But we have always thought that Mark must have seen something good in the people of Afghanistan or he wouldn't have gone back."

    This is indeed the case, Wardak said.

    "I have heard this many times. Soldiers who spend time in Afghanistan learn about the people and how great a place it is, and they feel the obligation to help them. Without Canadians, Afghanistan would still be under the Taliban, and that was not a good time."

    After one audience member asked if soldiers can identify Taliban on sight, Wardak said no.

    "They look like everyone else," he said. "They could be a farmer out in his field, and when the sun goes down he puts down his tools and picks up a gun."

    Taliban insurgents, toppled from power by allied forces, continue to wage war, he said. But despite their hardline Islamic rhetoric, they do not represent Muslim beliefs, he told the audience.

    "Let me tell you -- everything the Taliban do is against the principles of Islam," he said. "Suicide bombers -- suicide is forbidden in Islam. So the guy who blows himself up, and others, is not going to paradise despite what he is told."

    It's a similar situation with hostage-taking, he explained.

    "Islamic principles in war are just like the Geneva Convention. If you capture someone in war, you cannot hurt them, you cannot humiliate them."

    He warned Canadians to avoid feeling complacent, that the war is far away and doesn't affect them.

    "It affects all of us. The soldiers there are fighting the Taliban to keep them from coming here, but they still come here. We are not free of terrorism; have we not arrested, captured men who planned to bring terrorism to Canada and to the United States? That's what the Canadian military is doing in Afghanistan. They are protecting all of us here."

    But it isn't all combat.

    One of the priorities of the Canadian military in Afghanistan is the development of a sustainable employment market for Afghan youth, Wardak said.

    And the reasons for that go beyond just finding work.

    "Let me tell you: only about 10% of Taliban do it because of ideology," he said. "The rest do it for the money. They are paid to do the things they do, and for many young people, uneducated, this is their only option. So we are working to give them another option to keep them away from the Taliban."

    He said he believes Afghanistan is still a generation away from recovery from Taliban rule, but the war will continue so long as Taliban members keep fighting.

    "You cannot change a fanatic," he said. "But you can wait for the fanatic to die. Light always wins over dark. That's my philosophy."

    http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2709535

    kgordon@peterb
     
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