Canada’s involvement with Afghanistan

Former CBC journalist, Mellissa Fung, regularly reported on the Canadian military’s presence within Afghanistan until she became the headline in 2008 when she was abducted and held captive for 29 days.

After her release, Fung says she faced new challenges as a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Struggling to cover the story that she set out to tell in 2007, Fung eventually quit the C.B.C. and is now focusing on her new career as an independent journalist and author.

Fung recently wrapped up a cross-Canada university tour with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

Fung visited Mount Royal University Nov. 13 for an interview with the Calgary Journal. In the last of three instalments, Fung discusses Canada’s reaction to the crisis unfolding in the Middle East.

 MELLISSA FUNG: PART THREE OF THREE

What made you go back to Afghanistan after 2008?

It’s a complex question; I guess it goes back to feeling a little bit of guilt that I became story when I went in 2008. It’s sad because the story that caused me so much grief was the story that I really wanted to do and that was about the IDPs, the internally displaced people, internal refugees. 2008 was a really difficult summer in the south in Kandahar and Helmand because the fighting was really intense that year. So a lot of Afghans from the south had fled north and set up sprawling refugee camps. I felt very strongly that was the story that Canadians needed to see because it was a direct result of our being there. That’s a story I wanted to tell. And I spent 45 minutes at the camp and just interviewed some amazing people. A woman who had lost her two kids and her husband in the fighting at Kandahar, was among other people, and I felt that Canadians needed to see and hear her story. Well, instead we all know what happened. My story (the abduction) became headline news in Canada and that never really sat well with me as a journalist. It was a lot of guilt that that my story had taken over more important stories and when you talk about what I went through, it was very minor compared to what Afghans go though on a daily basis and are still going though. So part of my need to go back was to make that right, to put a spotlight back on the people whose stories really needed to be told.Fung recently returned from her second trip back to Afghanistan since 2008.
Photo courtesy of Aga Khan Foundation

Were you able to tell the story from the refuge camp?

I have not been back to the refuge camp yet.

Is that what you’re planning for this spring?

I don’t know yet. It’s on my list of things I need to go back to. That camp has only grown since 2008 and every winter there were stories of children dying from exposure of the cold because they’re out there. So hopefully I’ll get to go back at some point.

What are your thoughts about ISIS?

This is interesting. I was just reading something this morning in the Christian Science Monitor about the fact that several senior Taliban officers have actually left the Taliban and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which is kind of scary and I worry. Right now there are sort of two groups of Taliban that we are dealing with. You can lump it into good Taliban and bad Taliban. And the good Taliban are the ones that President Ghani would want to involve in reconciliation discussions and bring them into the new peace. But for the bad Taliban that would freeze them out. So where does that leave them? They would be joining more militant minded groups. It is a concern, but I don’t have an answer to that because it worries me that as we are trying to reconcile things in Afghanistan, maybe bring some of the Taliban into the peace process, that those who don’t want to be apart of that will pledge allegiance to groups like ISIS. And that would not be good if ISIS spread its influence into Gaza or Pakistan.

Do you think the flack Prime Minister Harper is getting about bringing Canada into another war by engaging ISIS is warranted?

I can’t really answer that, but I see what ISIS is doing to women and kids. They are being married off, sold off, abused and used as sex slaves, and that is not right. So if airstrikes or coalition airstrikes will somehow help to stop ISIS from advancing and enslaving more women and creating hell for more Iraqis then I think the international community should try to do what it can.

With war and conflict surrounding them all the time, how does that impact their day-to-day lives?

They are basically living the same way we do. It is just a different sort of life for them. It is chaotic. But I was saying this yesterday, if you have been to Bangkok or Vietnam, it’s chaotic. It’s like any developing country. People do have jobs as menial as they might be. Most women who work as cleaners, housekeepers or cooks but they go about life the same way we do. It is just a different setting. They really aren’t that different from us.

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What kind of message are you hoping to get across to Canadians on your university tour?

I am hoping to interest some of you in pursuing some of these stories as you embark on your career. It is not my main message to Canadians as a whole but when you are thinking about what you want to do as a journalist and think of journalism as a whole, I am just hoping to peak your interest in some of these stories. I do a lot of work with the Pulitzer Centre that reports on? crisis reporting in Washington, and they call them untold stories. I think my message to you is just to look for them because they may be the most obvious things in front of you or they may not. So if you guys could take away anything from me being here it would be to try to find those stories. They are not the most obvious ones but they are sometimes, the most compelling.

What brought you to conflict journalism; I mean you could be a sports reporter, reporting for the Canucks. What pulled you into conflict journalism?

I would give this all up to do play-by-play for the Canucks. I would trade places with Jim Husen in a heartbeat! As an immigrant, I came to Canada and had a different sensibility to begin with and I was a bit of an outsider already. And that I think drove me to pursue stories where — I know it sounds really idealistic, and I hate to sound so idealistic sometimes when really I am a jaded old reporter — but I really believe that if I can help different cultures understand each other, the world would be a better place. So that is what drove me to it. And sometimes it is not just the conflict but the post-conflict too. It is what happens after. And I guess we are going to have to start looking at Afghanistan as a post-conflict situation.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. This interview is the final instalment of a 3-part series on Fung’s conversation with the Calgary Journal online editorial board.

Photo by Ryan Rumbolt
bfong@cjournal.ca, ksimpson@cjournal.ca