McArthur dodges bullets in Afghanistan

June 13, 2006, volume 36, no. 4
By Diane Luckow

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Gunfire and violence in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan were an unexpected counterpoint to SFU professor Doug McArthur's 10-day stint there recently. His mission was to help build the country's new democratic parliamentary institutions and processes.

A fatal vehicle accident between a U.S. army convoy and a number of Afghani vehicles in Kabul on his last day there, however, focused attention on just how fragile those new institutions may be.

“Some people are arguing it's an indication that things are getting worse - that the government there isn't really stable,” says McArthur, who was holed up for hours in the office of an international development organization and then in a staff member's residence while gunfire strafed the streets. A return to his hotel revealed significant damage from gunfire and stone-throwing. “I don't know if I would agree, but it's certainly part of the challenge of addressing issues of anger about how slowly things are improving. The country has a lot of economic, social and security problems. It no doubt was in part a reflection of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. People are unemployed and living in a huge degree of poverty.”

It was McArthur's first visit to Afghanistan. Invited by the National Democratic Institute in Washington, D.C., he delivered training and workshops on practices and procedures of parliamentary groups, counselled members of parliament and parliamentary committee chairs and also conducted research into their transition to a parliamentary system. Before becoming a professor, McArthur worked for many years as a senior public servant and provincial deputy minister in Saskatchewan and B.C.  and as an MLA and minister in Saskatchewan.

“It was scary to be around where there's a lot of gunfire,” admits McArthur. “It was made worse by the unpredictability and uncertainty. It was difficult to know if and how it would be brought under control.”

It was also, he adds, an uncomfortable sensation to be a foreigner during this event. “I felt a real sympathy and sadness for the local Afghani people I was working with who are very committed to building a new democracy. For them, this was a disappointment and a worry.”

He hopes that the security difficulties and other problems in Afghanistan do not deter Canadians from playing an active role in helping the country move forward. “A tremendous amount of assistance is needed, and it is important that Canadians are generous in their help during these critical times.”

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