I was driving from Brantford (my family’s Christmas) to Almonte (Claire’s family Christmas) when I heard of Benazir Bhutto’s death. (I couldn’t help but have the same initial thought as James; that the interruption of the holiday season by tragic news has seemed all too common in recent years.) All sorts of politicians and observers filled radio airtime for hours with the painfully obvious: that this was a sad and deplorable act, that it was an attack on democracy, and that it has ramifications for the whole world, including Canada.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until we switched to Radio Canada (en franÃ§ais) approaching Ottawa that we heard the first reports of inevitable conspiracy theories involving various aspects of the government and/or military. Feeding that distrust is the ever-changing explanation of how, exactly, Bhutto was killed. First there was a shooter and a bomber. Then just one person, who was both the shooter and the bomber, and shot her in the neck and head. Then a report from the hospital said that she hadn’t been shot, but instead had been hit with a piece of shrapnel from the explosion. Now, the government is saying that she wasn’t shot or hit with shrapnel, but instead hit her head on her car’s sunroof. (Eye witnesses who were in the car have called this latest explanation a “pack of lies.”)
After a failed assassination attempt in October of this year, Bhutto gave an interview calling for an independent international investigation to uncover the truth surrounding the attack. Today, that request resonates as a request from the grave. Canada should do everything it can to advocate for and assist with such an investigation. Only the truth can lead to the conditions needed for peace, stability, and democracy.
Around the same time, Bhutto was asked by a CBC reporter what she thought of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, given the close relationship between the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani “neo-Taliban” and al-Qaeda. She was diplomatic in her answer, saying that while she understood it was hard for Canada to suffer the casualties and sacrifices of serving in Afghanistan, it was necessary to ensure that the country didn’t fall back into the hands of those who would oppress human rights and oppose moves towards democracy. It helps to illustrate why this obsession that the parties of the past have with our withdrawal date from Afghanistan misses the point. The NDP would have us withdraw our troops right away, likely leaving a civil war in our wake. The Liberals propose the same thing, but would wait a year to do it. The Conservatives refuse to propose anything of substance and instead resort to shameful partisanship and perverse patriotism.
What’s needed, instead, is a rebalancing of the mission. A recognition that there is no military solution to George Bush’s “war on terror,” and that the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan cannot succeed since it is viewed as a “clash of civilizations,” along with a realization that the people of Afghanistan do need and will continue to need our help rebuilding critical infrastructure, promoting regional diplomacy, development assistance and the training of the Afghan national army and police force. I’m proud to be associated with the Green Party’s sensible, balanced, and realistic approach towards building peace in Afghanistan.