Damned in Afghanistan

by Barry Weisleder

Touted as the Canadian state’s best chance for a lasting legacy in Afghanistan, the $50 million Dahla Dam irrigation project in Kandahar is all but dead in the water.

The Canadian engineering giant SNC Lavalin is losing the battle for control of the project to a violent Afghan security firm loyal to Afghanistan’s ruling Karzai family. While Ottawa claims the project is on time and budget, a Toronto Star investigation, including interviews with more than 20 private contractors, government officials, Afghan tribal leaders and others, reveals the opposite is the case.

A nearly deadly showdown on February 20 between Canadian security officials and Afghan mercenaries proved critical. It led to the resignation of Alan Bell, a Toronto-based security consultant hired by SNC Lavalin, who now refuses to discuss the situation.

Watan Risk Management, a company operated by Rashid Popal, a cousin of President Hamid Karzai, who’s largest shareholder is one of the president’s brothers, Qayum Karzai, apparently seeks ‘protection’ money. Watan recently was stripped of the highly lucrative task of escorting NATO convoys on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar. But the removal of Watan and another Afghan firm, Compass Security, lasted barely two weeks.

On the very first day, a NATO supply convoy was attacked, with one truck overturned and burned. Two weeks later, with more than 1000 supply trucks stalled on the highway, the company’s security privileges were restored. U.S. officials are investigating whether the Karzai-linked firm may be colluding with insurgents to maximize profits. While Watan denies this, the mere mention of its name causes Kandahar-based staff with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) “go pale and silent”, according to the Toronto Star.

To date, 20 per cent of the silt blocking canals and sub-canals has been dug out. In other words, 80 per cent of the planned works, including the replacement of neglected hydraulic systems and generators at Dahla Dam itself, remains not done. Canadians involved in the project live like prisoners inside a police compound, unable to move without Watan’s permission.

The fiasco of the Dahla Dam, set against the mounting death toll of foreign soldiers and local civilians, reveals the wages of imperialist occupation — in support of a regime of war lords and drug barons. This is what the Liberal Party openly, and the Conservative government covertly, wish to extend past the 2011 deadline for removal of Canadian troops.