This First Person article is the experience of Ahmad Malgarai, who served as a cultural and language advisor to both the Canadian and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
My name is Ahmad Malgarai. I was born in Afghanistan. I came to Canada as a refugee and am currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at Carleton University.
The recent miseries of the Afghan people began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by what was then referred to as the Soviet Union. The Afghan people fought and defeated the invasion, helping to facilitate the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These were significant accomplishments in the world’s recent history, for which the Afghan people paid dearly. Over one million Afghans lost their lives, another 1.5 million were disabled, more than seven million of our people were forced into exile, and the country’s infrastructure was razed to the ground.
In April 1992, various rebel groups, together with newly rebellious government troops, stormed the besieged capital of Kabul and overthrew the president, Mohammad Najibullah. A transitional government, sponsored by various rebel factions, proclaimed an Islamic republic, but jubilation was short-lived. Mujahideen parties began to barrage the city with artillery and rockets. These attacks continued intermittently over the next several years as Kabul slipped into chaos.
Like many young Afghans, I had the ambition to live in peace and pursue my education. My father had an import/export business and frequently travelled to Europe. I remember my father used to tell us that he heard nice things about Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau from his German friends. He advised us to choose Canada for resettlement if we ever got a chance to leave Afghanistan.
I was a young man when I came to Canada as a refugee and hardly knew anyone. I landed in Montreal and moved to Ottawa, which has been my home ever since. My family meanwhile moved to refugee camps in Pakistan; I worked tirelessly in low-paying jobs to provide for them.
With the arrival of the international community to rescue Afghans after 9/11, like many Afghan Canadians, I saw this as an opportunity to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan, so I returned there.
The Canadian and U.S. forces employed me as a civilian in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008 and from 2011 to 2016. During that time, I served as a cultural and language advisor.
Taliban fighters sit over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan. Ahmad Malgarai says his family is in danger and faces reprisal from the Taliban because of his work with Canadian and U.S. forces. (AFP/Getty Images)
I worked both inside the wire at the Kandahar airfield, known as KAF, and outside the camp in the dangerous districts of Regional Command South (RC-South). I was on patrols hit by rifle fire and IED explosions. I risked my life for Canada’s soldiers and the Afghan people. I earned many recommendations from the Canadian military and the Afghan government for my service.
I was praised, but not always trusted.
Once, while en route to see the governor of Kandahar province, our convoy was hit by a massive car bomb (1.5 tonnes of ammonium nitrate). Our casualties were evacuated to Kandahar city. While on the stretcher, as a military physician assistant was removing sands from my eyes, I felt someone’s hand in my pocket reaching for my phone. They told me they were from the Canadian forces protection team and wanted to check my phone to see who I called before we departed KAF.
I was very offended and complained to the task force commander. I got a call from the intelligence commander and was told that what happened to me was justified because I was the only Afghan Canadian in the convoy, which would make me a suspect. He (a major) continued by saying, “You love the people of Afghanistan and you are influential and smart and that makes you dangerous for us.”
‘I was considered dangerous’
During my tour in Kandahar, I worked hard to make it easy for people to engage with Canadian forces to help build relationships and save the lives of Canadian soldiers and Afghan civilians. And yet I was considered dangerous.
Now my family in Afghanistan is in danger and facing Taliban reprisal — and the ministers of Immigration and Citizenship and Global Affairs say that they don’t qualify for the emergency resettlement program introduced by the Canadian government.
I need help and yet receive none from the Canadian government as a token of appreciation for my service.
The Taliban is intensifying a search for people who worked with U.S., Canadian and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been conducting “targeted door-to-door visits” of people they want to apprehend and their family members.
They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing those families according to Sharia law. My family members are in hiding, but the Canadian government says they don’t qualify for help.
I guess I did not sacrifice enough.
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