| Ander Nieuws week 16 / Midden-Oosten 2012 |
It is naive to presume that all Afghans want the tanks to stay, writes Phil Sparrow.
The Sidney Morning Herald
April 3, 2012
Jillian Hocking's recent piece on Afghans not wanting the tanks to leave offers an alternative view on the current impetus to hasten the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
She writes from the perspective of one who has spent a "12-month contract working for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as head of radio broadcasting". She suggests that Afghans whom she spoke to pleaded with her: "We like the army tanks; they brought peace to our country."
I am glad Ms Hocking spent a year in Afghanistan. That's more than many people. Yet much about her story is strongly in conflict with the views formed by those of us who actually live here: and by live here, I mean really living here, not holed up in the fortified UN complex out on Jalalabad Road, where ordinary Afghans never even get close. And unless Ms Hocking is a pretty proficient Dari or Pashto speaker, I doubt she really spoke to Afghans; either she spoke to those who speak English, and so who represent a particular class and mindset, or she spoke through interpreters, who inevitably filter and fit what they hear.
For the record, here's my own qualifications to comment: I have lived here, with my family, since 1999, (albeit with a few breaks). My wife and I are fluent in Dari, and I get on pretty well in Hazaragi and Urdu too. I have worked as a translator and interpreter.
We lived in an Afghan suburb in Kabul, with Afghan neighbours, and very low (you might say non-existent security). We do our own stuff: our own shopping and sweeping, I arrange to have our plumbing fixed, or the internet, or the car, or the roof. At the office, I work about half the time in Dari.
We lived for 3½ years in Mazar, and also in remote Faryab province, working in far-flung villages. I have been shot at, beaten and evacuated; Afghan and international staff of mine have been kidnapped and killed; we have been looted, pillaged and colleagues of mine, raped.
I think Afghans do want the troops out. I hear it all the time. Yes, they want security, but the international military are not providing that. As an example: Faryab, of the five northern provinces, has the highest number of conflict-related internally displaced people at present: some 25,000, compared with 1200 in Balkh. The reason? Taliban moved into Faryab, and this caused some initial unrest, which quickly dissipated.
Then the US military moved in: drone attacks, night raids, ground assaults, and a heavy, overt presence in the main city, Maimana. That ratcheted everything up, and of course, as is well known, US policy is to tie aid spending to military activity.
So the aid budget for Faryab rose about 500 per cent, providing a clear incentive to keep the conflict alive. Are the Taliban innocent? No. But if the US had left them alone, they would have moved on, or settled down; in fact exactly that had started to happen, when Uncle Sam arrived in town. Now that's the reason for "people huddled in displaced persons camps, enduring the lack of food and freezing in makeshift tents", as Ms Hocking accurately puts it.
Another example: US military spending, coupled with careless aid spending, has fuelled a massive jump in corruption and economic warping. Twenty-something Afghan boys (and they are boys, according to the norms of Afghan culture), are earning $3000 a month translating or "managing" education projects.
Once the aid money and the military money goes, will these young men be satisfied going back to work in Afghan organisations or ministries for $300 a month? Of course not. And the anger at the huge wealth disparities - those who have gotten mega-rich on all this money, and those who are pretty much exactly where they were 15 years ago - that anger is palpable.
It was, under the Taliban, a time of depression and darkness. Then there was a time of optimism, but that is long gone. We are now in a time of anger. This can go two ways: the anger will morph into civil war, or into realism. A continuing foreign presence will trigger the first. Pulling out the military should lead to the second: it will present Afghans with reality, a reality they desperately need to embrace, a reality without foreign money and security.
They'll have to work out their own internal revenue, negotiate political solutions themselves, build their own national cohesion.
In essence, I think Ms Hocking has confused political presence with military. I fully advocate getting the military out ASAP.
But those involved in political capacity building, governance and nationhood development should stay; at least some of them. And on renegotiated terms. But an enduring, or even mid-term, military presence will continue to undercut any political gain.
Phil Sparrow works with an international aid group, based in Kabul.
© 2012 Fairfax Media
| Ander Nieuws week 16 / Midden-Oosten 2012 |