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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

As Canada ends military mission in Afghanistan, advocates fear for those left behind

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TORONTO — As Canada and the U.S. pull out of Afghanistan, a political scientist and a journalist each say the people who remain face increased risk of death, restriction of rights, and uncertain access to education.

Sher Jan Ahmadzai, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha, is greatly disheartened by the departure of Western forces, saying it has left potentially millions of people helpless.

“I’m disappointed, dismayed, and I think the Afghans have been betrayed,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Thursday. He expects to see an increase in the number of deaths, restriction of rights, and uncertain access to schools under the Taliban.

Ahmadzai, who has spent years working in the Afghan government, said he and others are lamenting the loss of two decades worth of improvements to the educational systems and human rights, especially for women.

Many now fear a return to the harsh conditions of when the Taliban ruled the country before 2001. Back then, women weren’t allowed to work or go to school, or to leave their home without a male companion, and some were publicly punished for so-called moral crimes, such as infidelity.

Ahmadzai said memories “are still fresh in the minds of the Afghans, and that is why there is an exodus.”

But that exodus has ground to a halt, with the country’s borders closed off and road checkpoints set up.

He also said that it is “very devastating” for Afghans to see American and Canadian troops leave before their eyes, given “this great possibility” of Afghans being targeted by the Taliban.

Ahmadzai says the Afghans’ loss of trust in Canada and Western forces cannot be overstated.

“The generation that was born post 9/11 … had seen liberty and freedom, and are now seeing those freedoms and liberties being snatched away from them,” he said.

ALREADY TOO LATE FOR MANY WISHING TO FLEE

But for those desperate to leave Afghanistan, it may already be too late.

The U.S. says it intends on leaving by its Aug. 31 deadline. And on Thursday morning, Canada’s acting chief of the defence staff said that the Canadian mission in Kabul has officially ended.

And the coming days may be even more trying, as there is now great uncertainty around the safety at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Ahmadzai said people in Canada and the U.S. “should really question their political leadership” and their decision to pull out as it’s affected more than 38 million people in the country.

Political science experts like Ahmadzai and Afghan families in Canada have also been warning that people, particularly Sikh and Hindu populations, are also at risk of persecution and even death if they remain in the country.

Ahmadzai said that young Afghan men – who are typically the breadwinners — at also at risk. Some who are not ideologically aligned with the Taliban might be forcefully recruited into their ranks, in order to prevent retribution against their families.

He said desperation for them to make ends meet is also on the minds of many young men — and that’s only going to be intensified by the ongoing drought. Many may try to leave the country to provide for their families, he said.

AFGHAN WOMEN UNSURE HOW MUCH TO HOPE FOR: JOURNALIST

Journalist Mellissa Fung was in Afghanistan last month finishing a documentary about the murders of women there since the U.S. signed a peace deal with the Taliban in 2020. For weeks, she’s been flooded with texts from women she’s known for decades.

“I just spent the last two weeks basically trying to help people get out of the country,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

“They’re just desperate, because these women know that their way of life could very well be over now that the Taliban are back in power,” she said, admitting they’re all in shock and disbelief over what’s unfolded in the past few months.

Fung, who was kidnapped for a month while on assignment in 2008, said that before she last left the country, she spoke with a Taliban commander in the province of Ghazni. He himself was unsure what women would or wouldn’t be allowed to do for work now.

Ahmadzai said that teachers will likely have to find other means to provide for their families, as he severely doubts that the Taliban government will continue to provide teachers’ salaries.

For Fung’s documentary, she spoke to a father who lost his two daughters in May, when their school was bombed, killing more than 80 people. The female-run school is now closed and Fung is unsure if the Taliban will re-open it and allow older girls to continue going to school.

Fung was at a loss when one of the Afghan women she knew asked her: “how much do I dare to hope?”

“I think that we forget that for the past 20 years, we’ve educated a generation of girls and they feel like they have the right to dream, to work, to be educated… the resilience of Afghan women you can’t ever underestimate,” she said.

“And now? What are we leaving them?”

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