Skip to main content

Canadian soldiers and civilians mingle in front of the Dand district centre in the "model village" of Deh-e Bagh just south of Kandahar city on Tuesday, June 23, 2009.

COLIN PERKEL/COLIN PERKEL/CP

Security is appreciated by the men who live in the model village that Canadian soldiers are defending in the dusty land southwest of Kandahar - but it's the money that is truly valued.

Canadian forces moved into Deh-e-Bagh last spring, secured the ground, provided some infrastructure, and set up a permanent base to keep the Taliban out. Citizens are more likely to join the long-term fight against the insurgency when they witness the makings of a stable future, their military bosses argued.

The strategy, which is now being replicated in villages deeper inside Taliban territory, seems to be working, but its long-term viability is a question mark. The people of Deh-e-Bagh say the model community will last only as long as the Canadian presence and the corresponding influx of cash.

Story continues below advertisement

The Globe and Mail met with four men from the village this week to find out how they feel about the social and military experiment that is being conducted in their backyards.

One of them is so angry at a Canadian cultural blunder that he said he is forcing himself to overcome thoughts of revenge. He's the exception.

The other three said they are glad that their boys are in school and their villages are safe, even if that safety comes at the cost of some basic personal freedom. But most of all, they said, they are delighted to be paid for cleaning the canals in Deh-e-Bagh where, just two years ago, the economy was based on growing poppies for opium and cannabis for hashish.

"They give us a good salary," says Faridullah. "I am happy with Canadians because they keep our young people busy. Without work, maybe they would make problems for their families. I don't like to say it, but maybe they would take actions that we don't like."

Sultan Mohammed, who supervises the canal projects, says many of the local people once worked for the Taliban.

But there is a saying in Kandahar province: The fight is for food. So the men of Deh-e-Bagh put down arms and picked up shovels when the Canadians offered to pay them $6 a day to clear out the village's irrigation system, money that would feed their families.

If, in return, they must report insurgent activities in their area, the men said they are willing to do so.

Story continues below advertisement

"We like the projects for two reasons. We clean our canals and we get the money," said Mr. Mohammed.

For three or four months this year, there were 200 men from Deh-e-Bagh on the Canadian payroll. The men say that has been reduced to about 30 as the canal-clearing nears an end and the foreigners shift their focus to other towns.

"But four days ago, they told us they will come next Tuesday, give us the money that we have earned, and announce a new project for us," said Mohibullah, a young man with finely chiselled features. "And maybe these 200 people will start a new project."

Wali Mohammed was one of the 30 men who still had a job even after the number of workers was trimmed. But he is furious with the foreigners.

On Saturday, while he was at work elsewhere in the village, Canadian troops received information about a potential suicide bomber that led them to enter his house with members of the Afghan National Police.

In Pashtun culture, a man is entitled to kill any other man who goes into his home and talks to his female relatives without his permission. The fact that the intruders were not Afghan compounded the offence, said Mr. Mohammed, a member of the local government who said he was never directly accused by the Canadians of having been involved in something unlawful.

Story continues below advertisement

"When I wanted to enter my house, the police stopped me. This is my house. So they didn't let me enter my house and they let the foreigners into the house to speak with the women. This is very bad for us," he said.

"I don't want a foreigner, an infidel, speaking with my wife, sitting with my wife, asking questions of my wife. It shames me. If an Afghan man - the police or the army - speaks with a woman, no problem. But a Canadian or a British? This is very bad."

The work provided by the Canadians is good, said Mr. Mohammed. "All of the people like it. Many people stopped working for the Taliban and they started working for the Canadians. On the other hand, they are entering houses. I promise with you, if they enter my home again, I will start fighting against them."

The other men interviewed by The Globe were less perturbed. They put the blame on the police, who know better than to let Canadians enter a dwelling when women are inside alone.

But Sultan Mohammed had an observation about the Canadian military: "They sent the troops but they didn't train them about the culture of Kandahar and Afghanistan."

A military spokesman said he recognizes that entering the home was less than ideal.

Story continues below advertisement

"The only reason I believe this happened is because there was a genuine concern for the security of the people in the town," said Major Mario Couture.

The Canadian military has cultural advisers and the soldiers understand the sensitivities, said Major Couture. But in a situation where there are suspicions that a suicide attack is being planned, the troops "have to do what they have to do" to protect the villagers, he said.

"We actually want to build trust, confidence," said Major Couture. "And that's exactly what we've been doing by employing these people down in Deh-e-Bagh."

Still, there is a disconnect.

The soldiers are living in Deh-e-Bagh but they have not become part of the village, said the men. Most of the foreigners, they said, do not recognize their faces or seem able to distinguish the village inhabitants they see every day from outsiders.

This means they are constantly being searched - coming into Deh-e-Bagh, going out of Deh-e-Bagh, even just walking the streets.

Story continues below advertisement

"Every time we get to a checkpoint, they search, check," said Mohibullah. "I think it's their obligation to check people, to search people; we don't hate this action. It is a good action. Because they don't know who is their enemy and who is their friend."

Wali Mohammed is less forgiving of the inconvenience. He says Canadian soldiers held him up for hours this week as he was trying to drive his father to the hospital.

And the presence of the troops in the streets means the women cannot leave their houses to visit friends lest they have an encounter with a foreigner, he said. "The women are trapped."

The other men also had complaints.

Mohibullah said the Canadians don't always keep their promises. They said the canal clearing would employ many people for a long time but it lasted just three months, he said. And, although requests for more teachers and a bigger school have been answered, requests for solar-power systems for all the houses have not.

On the other hand, said Mohibullah, the people of Deh-e-Bagh like the Canadians. They are certainly better than the Americans or the British, he said, and the villagers don't want them to leave in two years, taking their money with them.

Story continues below advertisement

"If the Canadians want to move in 2011, then the Taliban will capture our area the next day," said Sultan Mohammed.

Faridullah, a wizened man of about 60, said he does not believe the Canadians will go.

It will be many years before the community has the security forces and the economic resources to sustain itself - and there is only one other employer in the region: the Taliban, he said.

"Today," said Faridullah, "the people are working. They don't have time to speak with the Taliban. So I need to tell the Canadians to continue for a long time. Do not stop."

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies