MUELDER: Afghanistan people need aid, not bombs (Afghanistan)
Afghanistan, a mountainous territory slightly smaller than Texas, is bordered by Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Russia, India, China and Pakistan. Its main cities are Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Konduz.
Historically, moderate Islam has been the primary religion; roughly 80 percent are Sunni, the rest Shiite. The Pashtun are the largest ethnic group; others include Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaris, Aimaqs, Turkmen, Baluchs and Nuristani. The main languages, Pashto and Dari, connect Afghans linguistically with Iran. More than 70 other languages and many dialects are also spoken by smaller groups. Afghanistan is not so much a country as it is a collection of tribes and tribal regions. It's not like France, Japan or Costa Rica where most people share a common language, literacy and culture. The literacy rate is 28 percent; educated people are nearly all in the cities. Extremely poor, with the highest infant mortality rate in the world, 70 percent of Afghans live on less than $2 a day; life expectancy is 45. Three fourths of the people are rural, there is little electricity, even in the capital, and roads are poor or non-existent. It is a warlord state of tribal fiefdoms with no legitimate national leader. Handpicked by the Bush administration, President Hamid Karzai is seen as a corrupt American puppet with no authority outside the capital; he's ridiculed throughout Afghanistan as the "mayor of Kabul." According to a former State Department analyst, Afghan people have "no memory of a centralized state."
As they did elsewhere, the British established the borders of Afghanistan without regard to local realities. The 1893 Durand Line was drawn right through the middle of the Pashtun lands as the western border of what was then British India. In 1947 the British left India and Pakistan was created from Indian and Afghan lands, including Baluchistan. The result is a borderless Pashtun nation in both eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan - a complicating factor in cultures where one's first loyalty is to the tribe.
Since 2001 we have sent $5 billion for training the Afghan police and building schools, clinics, roads, etc., a pittance compared to the need even if it had been effectively spent, which it was not. No-bid Halliburton style contracts were awarded to well-connected profiteers like DynCorp; the result has been a debacle of slipshod work and missing money. DynCorp got nearly a billion dollars to train Afghan police; a training effort State Department official Richard Holbrooke called "an appalling joke a complete shambles." After the supposed training was over no one at the Pentagon or DynCorp could say where the thousands of trucks and other missing police equipment had gone or how many trainees were now serving. A 2006 government report concluded that the American trained force was "incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work" and police incompetence was a direct cause of the Taliban's resurgence and overall government corruption. Last August the Bush administration awarded another contract for $317 million to DynCorp to "continue training civilian police forces in Afghanistan."
Meanwhile, we are spending about $24 billion a year killing and maiming Afghan people. Since 2006 we have drastically increased the number of bombs dropped in U.S.-NATO air raids, tripling the numbers of civilians killed. As many as 500 Afghan civilians are dying monthly from U.S. cluster bombs, most of them children and teenage boys.
The British lost all three Anglo-Afghan wars; the Russians fought there from 1979 to 1989 with 40,000-50,000 casualties before conceding defeat at the hands of the mujahadeen. We seem to be in danger of having learned nothing from their experience nor from ours in Vietnam and Iraq. At the end of World War II we were seen as good guys who had helped put down the Axis bad guys, and then sponsored the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. We aren't seen as good guys many places any more. Our military has been decimated by imperial overreach and now is overstressed and reduced to recruiting and accepting felons, white-supremacists and neo-Nazis - groups we should not be giving military training and weapons to. We are heavily in debt to China and Saudi Arabia. Doing more of what has failed is unwise.
We need one policy with a clear set of goals. We must stop killing Afghan people and start helping them, turning our efforts to aid and restoration, focusing on local needs, building roads and irrigation systems. The Russians deliberately destroyed centuries-old irrigation systems which brought mountain water to the arid valleys. Retrieving that water supply would gain us immediate appreciation and cooperation. We need to help establish a workable, secular education system to offer an alternative to Pakistan's madrassas, send civilian experts to help the country rebuild, and secure women's rights with equal protection under the law which will speed economic development. We need a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan.
Laurie Muelder of Galesburg taught English and social studies for 20 years at Churchill Jr. High and now substitute teaches for the Galesburg School District. She's a former writer on the Community Roundtable.
Von: http://www.galesburg.com/opinions/x631634069/MUELDER-Afghanistan-people-need-aid-not-bombs, 18.07.2009