Item(s) for August, 2008

Aug 10,2008

Farrah Musani: Action Diplomacy

Kandahar, Afghanistan — Kandahar might seem like an unusual place to run into a diplomat. It’s a conflict area, after all, and whether or not you have diplomatic passport, stepping outside prescribed safe areas can land you in a good bit of hot water.

But that’s exactly where Farrah Musani, an officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs, has been for the last year.

“This is a totally atypical environment for DFAIT to be working. I don’t think there’s anything else like it,” Musani tells me over coffee in the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) cafeteria.

“It’s been a pretty intense experience – but a very good one.”

Born outside Toronto, Musani moved with her family to Calgary in 1987. She graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government before joining the Foreign Affairs team 2 years ago.

After a year with START– the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force – in Ottawa, Musani got the call to head south. “I remember I got a phone call in mid-May last year,” she recalls.

“I called my parents and said, ‘How would you feel about my going to Kandahar for a year?’ At first all I got was silence on the other end of the line, but actually they were pretty cool about it.”

Musani’s work has focused on a number of areas, including assessing the state of the justice system in the region.

“A lot of what I do has focused on gathering information, and assessing people’s perception of what’s needed.”

The policing sector in Afghanistan is widely acknowledged – by Afghans and the international community alike – as needing fairly comprehensive reform. Indeed, this will increasingly be a focus for Canada, both in Kandahar, and country-wide.

Through the Global Peace and Security Fund, Musani is bridging the intangible diplomatic work characteristic of her department, with bricks-and-mortar projects like building police sub-stations. She suggests that Canadians and Afghans have been working closely on the file, and are starting to see results.

The Government of Afghanistan’s effort to further the justice file is also a focus for Musani. She suggests that presently the justice sector is divided between the formal system, with judges and lawyers, and the informal system, which is generally described as being more “restorative” and is “supposed to return a sense of balance” to society.

“There are clearly limits to both systems,” Musani says, and she has been working with leaders from all walks of life in Kandahar to determine how best to identify and work within those limits.

It’s with talk of meeting chief justices and prosecutors, that one gets a sense for Musani’s background in diplomacy, and of the tremendous impact that such political officers can – and have – make on the ground. “I can really see the progress made since I started last year – we’re learning how to work as a team.”

The team she’s talking about involves not just Afghans, but also Canadians from a wide spectrum of agencies: the Canadian Forces, the Canadian International Development Agency, Corrections Canada, her home department of DFAIT and the RCMP. “There’s a complementary way of operating here in Kandahar. We’re not pinned into any one department’s possibly narrow way of doing things.”

Canada’s engagement in rebuilding Afghanistan is the largest in our country’s history. And Musani seems proud to be a part of it. “This is a huge engagement for Canada – and I feel like if we’re going to do it, we should do it right.”

Musani wraps up her stint in Kandahar this summer, but further adventures are not far off: she’s slated to start at Canada’s embassy in Kabul come the fall.


Aug 7,2008

Arif LalaniBy Graham Thomson

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Calling Afghanistan the most underdeveloped country in which he has ever worked, Canada’s ambassador here says Canadians “should be realistic” about how much progress can be achieved before Canada’s combat mission in Kandahar province ends in 2011.

“What is hard for Canadians to understand, as it is for the public in the rest of the Western countries, is just how big the development task is here,” said Arif Lalani, who is packing his bags to leave the country after a 15-month posting in Kabul. “This is an extremely underdeveloped country. It’s the most underdeveloped country I have worked in. And it has had 30 years of war.”

Lalani’s comments in a telephone interview reflect a lowering of expectations by the federal government on what Canada can do to improve the situation in an impoverished country where insurgent-led violence has increased over the past year.

“We have had a tough summer both in terms of Kabul and Kandahar in terms of security incidents,” said Lalani, making a reference to almost daily attacks on soldiers and civilians by Taliban fighters whose most spectacular assault involved freeing almost all the prisoners at the Sarpoza prison in Kandahar City in June. The escalating violence has meant more American troops are dying in Afghanistan than Iraq, and insurgents seem to be destroying schools as fast as coalition countries can build them.

However, Lalani – who has worked as a Canadian diplomat in Jordan, Iraq, Georgia and Azerbaijan – said the news isn’t all bad. He defended Canada’s record on development work that includes helping feed countless Afghans, immunizing thousands of children against polio and taking the lead on building a national education system.

“When we have setbacks it’s too easy to think that any bad day ruins whole years of work and that’s just not true,” said Lalani who credits the work of the NATO-led coalition in general and Canada’s help in particular with improving life in Afghanistan since 2003 – even if the improvements don’t always look impressive at first glance.

“When we look five years later at Kabul City or Kandahar City and there are tin stores with a paved road with some basic lighting selling some basic things well into the evening, that actually is a sign of recovery and success. But it may not look like it if we’re expecting a higher level of development. I think that’s the hard part for people to understand, just how basic it is and how difficult the challenge is to move this community, to get around 30 years of war.”

Experts, including several Canadian military officials, have said any long-lasting reconstruction work will take decades. With such a huge task still ahead, Lalani confirmed Canada’s development work will carry on after Canadian troops leave under a parliamentary order in 2011.

“Our development program is going to continue, and that means our development work will continue. So, I think we need to look at how that’s going to take shape in 2011.”

What is not clear is how Canada will deliver that development help in Kandahar province. At this point, it’s not even known whether Canadian civil servants who now administer the programs will be pulled out along with the soldiers and sent to another part of the country, or whether they would remain and do their work under the protection of whichever NATO country takes over the combat mission from Canada.

One possibility would see the development work handed over to non-governmental agencies, such as the Aga Khan Foundation, which already does anti-poverty projects with Canadian money in Bamiyan province under the protection of New Zealand troops.

“Development assistance is very dependent on security but it’s not dependent just on Canadians providing security,” said Lalani. “Canada has projects in the north, in the east, in the west of this country where we’re implementing projects where other troops are actually providing the security. So let’s not forget that we work throughout the country, not just where we have Canadian soldiers.”

No country has yet volunteered to take Canada’s combat role in the volatile Kandahar province, which remains the heartland of Taliban support. The United States might be the most obvious candidate, having already promised to send 1,000 troops to help Canadians sometime this year while American politicians talk about sending thousands of troops to Afghanistan next year.

Another possibility suggested by Canadian senators who wrote a report entitled “How are we doing in Afghanistan?” is that Canada will decide not to pull out of Kandahar as planned because it will have fallen short of its goals.

The alternative, though, seems to be to shrink the goals, not extend the mission.

Canada has adopted new, moderate priorities for progress which replaced its once lofty ambition of undermining the Taliban as an effective fighting force and substantially cutting the opium trade.

Canada is now focused on the delivery of humanitarian assistance, enhancing border security with Pakistan and promoting law and order.

“Canadians should be realistic about what we’re doing,” said Lalani, “but they should be proud of what Canada is doing here.”

Lalani will be leaving Afghanistan within days but his exact departure date is a secret for security reasons. His replacement has not yet been announced.

Edmonton Journal

Aug 6,2008

By: Julie Slack

Brothers Amyn (left) and Rahim Mawani are passionate about poverty after witnessing circumstances of the very poor in countries such as Kenya and Cuba.

June 9, 2008 01:29 PM – An eight-year-old Mississauga boy has raised more than $10,000 in his quest to end world poverty.

Amyn Mawani recently walked from Toronto’s Metro Hall, along with thousands of Torontonians, at the 24th annual World Partnership Walk. The largest event of its kind in Canada, the five-kilometre fundraising walk helps alleviate global poverty. Some 38,000 people participated in the event in nine cities across Canada.

Last year, the walk raised more than $5 million.

Amyn, who raised $10,000 through pledges from friends and family, and his brother, Rahim, 16, are passionate about poverty after witnessing circumstances of the very poor in countries such as Kenya and Cuba, and hearing stories of their own father’s childhood of poverty in Kenya.

Together, they formed a 13-member team, End to Poverty, which raised $11,768 in total, with Amyn raising the majority of the funds. Rahim raised more than $600.

The brothers also made a lifetime commitment to the cause.

“Our goal is dedicated to helping the three billion people who live on less than $2 per day,” said Rahim. “One goal is to raise $1 per Canadian, which is $35 million annually. Our lifetime total goal is $99 billion. We know it is a big goal, but we are ready to start small and grow together with our supporters and socially responsible Canadian citizens.”

Amyn and Rahim have been participating in the walk with their parents, Nizar and Rafika, for as long as they can remember.

All funds raised through the World Partnership Walk go directly to programs supported by Aga Khan Foundation Canada, a private Canadian development agency.