NATO is an unwelcome wedding guest

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The downside of holding a wedding in Ontario this summer is that, chances are, you'll be rained on. The upside is that, chances are, you won't be bombed.

That can't be said of Afghanistan, where the sun is more reliable, but the bride has been known to wear blood. Since 2001, dozens of celebrants -- including brides and grooms -- have been killed when their wedding parties were bombed by NATO planes mistaking them for Taliban operatives.

While Canadian troops haven't been involved in these air strikes, they have been involved in civilian killings on the ground. Just last week, Canadian soldiers fired a warning shot at a motorcyclist speeding toward them. The bullet ricocheted off the ground and entered the body of a young girl nearby, killing her.

Such killings are a big part of the reason the NATO mission appears to have failed to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. One person's collateral damage is another's fiancée.

The attitude of our military authorities toward these civilian killings is disturbing. Last week, Maj. Mario Couture simply shifted the blame onto insurgents: "We know that insurgents want to drive a wedge between the coalition force and the population, so if they can make us make mistakes, then it serves their purpose ... If we fire, it works in their favour."

So we kill a young Afghan girl, and it's the fault of the insurgents?

The girl's killing at least got some media attention here. Male deaths are more readily discounted. A week earlier, Canadian soldiers killed an Afghan man and wounded three others after the minivan they were travelling in failed to slow down, according to the Canadian military. Maj. Couture explained that the victims were "all males of fighting age." Enough said, apparently.

Canadian soldiers are understandably keen to protect themselves from suicide bombers. And the Taliban undoubtedly does want to drive a wedge between us and the population. But that simply underlines why our presence there is so problematic -- and wrong.

Left out of Maj. Couture's explanations is the context that we are in Afghanistan as a heavily armed foreign military force. Ottawa says we're there to champion democracy, but many Afghans see us as part of a Western occupying power that has killed, imprisoned and tortured people they love.

We're not much interested in that side of the story. While the Harper government and Canadian media show great interest in dissidents in Iran, China and Burma, they've shown little in Malalai Joya, an elected Afghan MP who was expelled from parliament for calling for the prosecution of war criminals in the Afghan government and parliament.

Hers is a compelling case championed by women's groups around the world -- a young female MP in a viciously patriarchal land daring to challenge Afghanistan's powerful warlords. Yet, despite our supposed concern about Afghan women and democracy, the Canadian government and media have paid scant attention to Joya -- perhaps because she considers NATO an occupier and calls for its immediate withdrawal from her country.

Although the Canadian media remain largely supportive of our military involvement in Afghanistan, Canadians aren't. An EKOS poll released earlier this month found that support for the mission has fallen from 60 per cent in 2002 to just 34 per cent today. Yet two more years remain in our commitment.

Meanwhile, best to avoid weddings in Afghanistan, particularly if the party includes any "males of fighting age."

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet.

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