Conservatives Shedding Crocodile Tears?

Along with almost all world governments, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives immediately condemned the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier issued this statement on December 27, "Canada condemns in the strongest terms this attack on the restoration of Pakistan’s efforts to return to full democracy. Today’s violence is especially heinous in view of the upcoming elections on January 8, 2008. The anti-democratic intent of the perpetrators could not be more obvious."

If we take Bernier at his word

in support of full democracy and against heinous violence how then can the Conservatives justify their complete silence with regard to the case of Malalai Joya in Afghanistan? according to most sources extremely corrupt. Joya is young, uncompromising in speaking out, and very far from holding the levers of state power. her critical stance towards the policy of the western powers in Afghanistan that explains the double standard of the Canadian government.

Joya, at only 29 years old, has emerged as a powerful representative of the Afghan people’s desire for genuine democracy and self-determination.

In 2003, at the Lloya Jirga where the new Afghan government was being discussed, she made international headlines by denouncing the overwhelming presence of warlords and war criminals at the assembly. Elected in 2005, with the second most votes in Farah province, she continued to speak out in the face of death threats and several assassination attempts.

In May of last year, the "democratic" government of Afghanistan voted to suspend Joya from the parliament, an outrageous move that has prompted an international outcry in opposition. MPs from Canada, the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, and beyond have protested Joya’s suspension, and her case is currently being appealed in Afghanistan. She was nominated for the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2007, and has been invited to address the European Parliament later this year.

Still a very young woman, Malalai Joya has already been compared to Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational leader of the democracy movement in Burma who was bestowed with honourary Canadian citizenship by the Harper government.

Any comparison with Pakistan’s Bhutto must, of course, be qualified. The slain leader of the People’s Party had held power in her country, and became compromised and

Bhutto, of course, had also long since muted or abandoned her criticism of the West’s "war on terror," and of U.S. military interventions in Central Asia and the Middle East. Joya, in contrast, describes U.S. policy in Afghanistan as a "mockery of the war on terror," and as "occupation, not liberation." It is precisely this

Joya has become an important symbol of the democratic aspirations of Afghans, as Bhutto had again in a sense stood as a beacon for those opposing the military dictatorship in Pakistan. And yet the Conservative government, and specifically Foreign Affairs Canada, has maintained a total silence on Joya’s case despite concerted efforts to have them make a statement in support of her democratic rights.

The explanation for the hypocrisy is the simple, and brutal, politics of war and occupation. Canadian forces, as part of the NATO operation, are backing the corrupt regime in Kabul, and together with Karzai they are working with a number of the reactionary warlords and extremists who have plagued Afghanistan for years.

Malalai Joya speaks an inconvenient truth to the warlords in power, and for that Ottawa has maintained a convenient silence about her case.

If this shameful situation continues, Harper will be complicit in the event that anything happens to Joya. And all the rhetoric about feeling for the tragedy of the people of Pakistan or Afghanistan will amount to nothing more than cynical PR and mere crocodile tears.

-Derrick O’Keefe is co-chair of Vancouver’s StopWar Coalition and the editor of the on-line news site

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