Last week, a Canadian soldier shot and killed Nasrat Ali Hassan as he was driving to his Kandahar home along with seven members of his family in a tiny rickshaw cab.
An embedded CBC journalist dutifully reported that the troops had done everything possible to avoid the incident.
The rickshaw had blasted through a checkpoint, ignored repeated warnings and warning shots, and come within two feet of the Canadian convoy.
Only as a last resort, to save his own life and those of his comrades, had the soldier fired.
The victim’s wife, Semem Gul, who was among those in the cab, told the Toronto Star a different story.
“I lived for many years in Iran. I know all about police checkpoints,” she said. “We were not stopped by the Afghans. And there was no warning shot from the Canadians, no shouting, no shots fired in the air, no light shining on us. There was only this sudden gunfire — three shots — and my husband falling out of the rickshaw into the street.”
Accounts also differ on how long it took for a Canadian medic to examine Hassan where he lay on the street, put a bandage on his wound, and abandon him there to the mercy of Afghanistan’s impoverished health-care system.
The Canadian military’s version has this occurring right away, the victim’s relatives and other observers say it took 15 minutes, but in either case, it served no purpose. The man died.
An investigation of the incident is underway, but whether the soldier who shot Hassan is found to be at fault is irrelevant.
It won’t make any difference to the family, who are now left without their breadwinner, it won’t change much about the way convoys interact with potentially deadly civilian traffic, and it won’t make any difference to the image of Canadian forces in Kandahar, who are now one death closer to being perceived as no different from their American predecessors.
And how could they be different?
They are on the same mission, under the same command structure, fighting the same enemies under the same rules of engagement.
They have been attacked by suicide bombers and know full well they will encounter more of the same.
Their own lives are at stake, and their orders are clear.
When a vehicle gets too close, they must shoot to protect themselves. In short, they are in very much in the same position as US forces in Iraq.
Right now, some Afghans still say that they don’t blame the Canadians, that they still support the mission.
It’s worth noting that many who says these things are either maintained in positions of power by the US led coalition, or they are ordinary Afghans speaking to embedded journalists through military translators. But even this suspect brand of support will only last through a few more roadside killings, and as the US experience in Iraq proves, such killings are inevitable.
The streets of Kandahar teem with cars, carts, motorized rickshaws, and donkeys, all of which have been used in attacks on military convoys in the past.
Canadians patrol these streets, and it’s not always possible to avoid close encounters, some of which will result in the deaths of innocent civilians.
Every day, the experience of Canadian troops in Afghanistan reflects that of American troops in Iraq, and their actions are justified by politicians using exactly the same language.
Just like George Bush, Stephen Harper promises not to “cut and run” at the first sign of danger, thus attempting to paint the war’s opponents as cowards and its proponents as heroes.
It must be comforting to believe that Canada is patrolling the streets of Kandahar out of a sudden concern for the welfare of the poor war-battered Afghan people, but the argument won’t stand up to a critical examination.
We are joined in a US led war, ostensibly to catch enemies who attacked America. Afghans had been impoverished and oppressed for a long time before that attack without attracting much official interest in Canada or the US
Wars are fought over national interests, not for humanitarian reasons.
George Bush serves the interests of America as understood by corporate giants like Halliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, and the Carlyle Group, who profit to the tune of billions by selling the weapons to blow the hell out of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and again by rebuilding them, and a third time by gaining access to their resources.
Stephen Harper serves the interests of Canada as understood by the Canadian Council of Chief Executive Officers, who want a piece of the action.
Last week, during a visit from the American ambassador, the governor of Helmland province announced Afghanistan’s latest strategy to deal with the heroin trade.
Drug traffickers will be encouraged to invest this year’s profits, more than $3 billion, in the national reconstruction program.
He didn’t mention it, but the vast majority of that sum will fall into the hands of North American war racketeers, to add to the billions they’ve already raked in.
The so-called War on Terror hasn’t turned out so well for the family of Nasrat Ali Hassan, or for tens of thousands of others killed or maimed by tanks, bombs, bullets, napalm, white phosphorous and torture.
On the other hand, if you happen to be in the business of supplying these goods and services, it’s a lovely war.