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Tags Posts tagged with "United States"

United States

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If your daily commute involves a litter or some other people-powered conveyance, put Jonah Blank‘s “How to Negotiate Like a Pashtun” on your “must read” list. His “Field Guide to Dealing with the Taliban” helps unravel the complexities of those inscrutable denizens of Pashtunistan as only a RAND senior political scientist can, and finally puts into context the intricate inner workings of one of the more mysterious tribal groups in the Middle East.

This rollicking frolic of informed thought first asks whether America is ready to start playing the Afghan version of “Let’s Make a Deal,” a pop culture reference made with the same deftness one used to associate with the late Ted Stevens. Implied in that question is the supposition that the United States has only begun to think about beginning negotiations, and that the American effort in Afghanistan was always meant to achieve total victory, rather than a settlement agreed to by various stakeholders in Afghanistan’s future. It also allows the reader to extrapolate that Pashtuns are the only ethnic group with which the US need concern itself as it looks forward to a post-2014 Afghanistan.

The first pearl of wisdom from the “cultural anthropologist” is this:

“Every deal is precisely as strong as the relationship on which it is built.”

The takeaway that should be our key learning going forward is how different Pashtuns are from people in one vital respect: they value relationships over any deal. This is in stark contrast to people, who are always able to compartmentalize their personal and business lives. Pashtuns are unable to make this distinction, and insist on having a relationship beyond a simple business transaction. To help Americans better leverage this “relationship” concept, Blank offers the following “key points”:

A Pashtun deal is NOT a transaction. This point is best summed up in the closing sentence of the paragraph:

“To make stronger deals, Americans must learn to forge better relationships.”

This is the kind of wisdom that elevates RAND analysis beyond the scribblings of those who have spent far too much time “on the ground.” In a world where deals are made every day with soulless banks and car salesmen, it would serve us well to remember that there are those who grasp the value of relationships. That Americans, having been enormously successful with the approach in the past, can no longer rely on limited interactions like Key Leader Engagements to strengthen their negotiating position with the rugged Pashtun, but must spend time on “relationships.”

A deal is for now, not forever.” Blank flexes his intellectual humility here, using an outside source for this pithy saying: anthropologist Charles Lindholm, who conducted “fieldwork” among the native people in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Since both countries’ names end in “‘stan,” what works in one will unfailingly work in the other, regardless of other considerations. The idea that any deal with the Pashtun is not a permanent arrangement is troubling for those readers accustomed to Western mores of agreements without deadlines or the ability to re-visit said agreements. It’s no wonder that the Pashtuns, with their relationship-based approach, will never fully appreciate the value of ironclad negotiations.

The currency that matters is honor. In yet another sign that the backward ways of the mighty Pashtun can never be reversed, Blank explains that these fiercely tribal people will choose familial relationships over any deal made with a foreigner. Putting family first over arrangements made with non-family members is such an alien concept to Americans that there is no way this chasm could be bridged. And the Americans can never hope to counter the generations-long relationships of groups like Pakistan’s ISI, which are (per Blank) viewed by Afghans as a tolerated, if not terribly liked, partner, and not as an outside influence destabilizing the security of Afghanistan.

Concluding his briefly comprehensive course on the mysterious ways of the Pashtun, Blank moves into an assessment of how the Americans could be more successful following the drawdown of troops post-2014.

A smaller footprint may win Americans more friends. It is in this paragraph that Blank excels, since he paints for the reader a picture of Pashtun tribal structures that can be easily understood: the Pashtun elder as mob boss. Given the relevance of the Mafia in Western society, this comparison of Pashtun life to the likes of Puzo’s Godfather will resonate with readers, who should realize that Pashtuns are essentially criminals. Exotic, inscrutable, admirable, but criminals nonetheless. It’s the sort of simplicity that will aid in furthering US causes moving forward, since dealing with the nuances of family-related allegiances would take more time than Americans actually have at this point.

More money, more problems. Blank pulls the curtain aside a bit more here, and shows us the Pashtun’s “unquenchable appetite” for Western cash. This falls perfectly in line with the “Pashtun mafia” construct, and by itself explains the root causes of the corruption afflicting Afghanistan. Since they had no desire for cash before, in much the same manner that the white man brought firewater to Native Americans, foreigners have brought cash to the Pashtun. In order to counter this, the US must work on the “water” that “nurtures” the “growing plant” of the relationship being built with the Pashtun. “A constant stream of small gifts” is in order, which would fall in line with the shrinking budgets, which when they were more robust were intended to buy Pashtun goodwill.

Fewer guns, more glory. For those readers still doubting the value of RAND analysis to decision makers, their unparalleled access is revealed: Blank introduces us to the endemic deafness afflicting Pashtuns, describing F-18s that Pashtuns only sense “after the bombs have reached their targets.” Unfortunately, he offers no suggestion how this virulent health problem should be addressed, but does go on to detail the perception of foreign Special Operations Forces (SOF) by the Pashtun, and how it should be leveraged in order to gain their respect.

Since Pashtuns see any combat from the sky as cowardly, they would naturally gravitate toward a greater SOF presence on the ground post-2014. These are a people who dismiss the use of aircraft, instead gleefully embracing the need for night operations and the detention of assorted family members. There is no concept the Pashtun understand better than extra-judicial proceedings when it comes to family: if the US decides guilt, then no amount of izzat or Pashtunwali can possibly stand in the way.

Afghans will take the lead. Based on Blank’s assessment, where the US has failed miserably is in equipping Afghan military forces: the US wants them to wear boots, while they are perfectly content to operate in flip flops. This is true whether one is in Kabul or Kandahar: chappals reign supreme as chosen Afghan footwear. What should have happened all along is to let Pashtuns do things the Pashtun way, and Blank makes it clear that a Pashtun would never debase himself to the point of typing up a report or conducting surveillance.

Given the insurmountable depth and breadth of Blank’s analysis, his consultation with a cross-section of Pashtuns allows for a rare glimpse behind the Pashtun curtain, and is sure to inform a generation of future RAND analysts. It’s a world the West can never fully comprehend, and he closes with this chilling prediction:

“After years of talking past our Afghan friends and foes alike, perhaps we will be forced to learn how to talk to them.”

On so many levels, and for so many reasons, let’s hope not.

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Someday this will be a different world. A world where our differences unite, not divide. A world where borders are crossed by invitation, not intervention. In other words, a world that Max Boot would not understand. In his latest Afghan-centric interventiongasm, the Lord of the ISAF Latte is once again advocating for foreign intervention in this, the graveyard of common sense, and it is on par with his usual collections of words. Which is unfortunate.

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Per a nice blurb in Foreign Policy that, admittedly, was in reference to the Tumblr, the writer said that I spend a lot of time countering Peter Bergen‘s assertion in March of 2013 that things are actually going pretty well in Afghanistan. Since I was on vacation at the time, and stuff was shiny, I’ve been remiss in responding to his premise. Like most analysis of Afghanistan, Bergen goes the Miracle Max route, and only gets it mostly wrong. How? By Citing surveys, cell phones, and the streets of Kabul, Bergen reaches the right conclusions, but for all the wrong reasons.

First, a question:

Nobody is claiming all is coming up roses in a country devastated by decades of conflict. But not everything has gone wrong, either. So perhaps the more interesting question — and certainly a more underexplored one — is this: What went right?

Indeed, what is going right? For starters, let’s ask the Afghans.

A poll by Rasmussen at the end of December found that 33 percent of American voters believed their country was going in the right direction. By contrast, a poll of some 6,000 Afghans conducted by the well-regarded Asia Foundation found that in 2012, 52 percent of Afghans thought their country was on the right track.

The Asia Foundation is “well-regarded” since their annual survey helps promote the narrative that the effort in Afghanistan isn’t wasted, and that the billions we’ve spent on this country are getting things done. And it’s true that the 52% he references is an increase from previous years. Where this falls apart is in the methodology used by the surveyors: 24% of all respondents to the survey live in the Central/Kabul region. So fully 1/4 of the people being interviewed are living in the most secure/best-funded part of the country. Naturally their responses are going to be skewed to the positive. The “52%” further breaks down when examining the percentage of respondents by province: Kabul accounts for 15% of all respondents, and the next highest percentage of respondents by province is Herat, with 7%.

It gets even more complicated when looking at the reason some sampling points had to be changed. In 2012’s survey, 16% (or 168 total sample locations) had to be changed for security reasons. This was a 5% increase over 2011, and was equal to the high set in 2010, at the height of the coalition troop surge. What does this mean for the survey?

The replacement of 168 out of 1,055 sampling points for security reasons means that some areas with high levels of insecurity could not be accessed by the field survey team. This, in turn, means that the opinions of those living in insecure areas are likely to be underrepresented in survey findings. This year, the total number of sampling points is 25% higher than in 2011, 2010 and 2009. This is at ACSOR’s recommendation to spread sampling points more widely and decrease the margin of error.

That last point is telling: they sampled more places, and what they found was a 5% increase in insecure locations. Bottom line: they’re interviewing people in the most secure areas in the country. The main reason people thought Afghanistan was headed in the right direction? Security, with 41%. Next up? Reconstruction/rebuilding, with 35% of the vote. Which makes sense, since, over time, the areas of greatest focus when it comes to reconstruction funding have been those parts of the country that are the most secure.

Bergen then walks us through some of the positive changes in the Afghan economy:

Afghanistan’s GDP in 2001 was some $2 billion — about the size of Burkina Faso’s. In a decade, GDP has gone up to $20 billion (though much of it is attributable to foreign aid). Today, one in two Afghans has a cell phone, which they use for everything from getting their salaries wired to them to making utility payments. There are also now dozens of newspapers and TV channels. Where once Kabul’s streets were largely silent, they are now a bedlam of traffic and thriving small businesses.

So Bergen admits that the growing GDP is due mainly to foreign aid. And while it’s true that 50% of Afghans have a cellphone, it’s also true that only 1/3 of the country has access to electricity, so making those utility payments isn’t really a great metric, either. TV channels? Sure, they are there, and in abundance, but with 33% electricity access, is that really such a big deal? If you can’t keep the lights on, is TV that high on your list of priorities?

His last sentence here, though, is the one that makes me twitch worse than the idea that they’re remaking Point Break: all that traffic in Kabul? It’s a sign of poor security, not economic growth. I regularly hear from Afghans that they can’t go back to their home villages because of the provincial security situation. I’m fully aware that the small circle of Afghans I deal with isn’t a scientific sampling of the population, but the bustling streets of Kabul are also home to several IDP camps. There’s a reason those camps aren’t in say, Kapisa, or Ghazni: they’re refugees, not residents.

So we’ve covered feeling good about feeling good, economics…what’s next? How about governance? Let’s keep it real, people: Karzai‘s not so bad, when you compare him to the alternatives, right?

Karzai should also be judged by his immediate predecessors. Let’s recall Taliban leader Mullah Omar, a dimwitted religious fanatic who turned his country into an international pariah; the warlords who preceded him; and before them Mohammad Najibullah, the communist puppet who replaced the Soviet occupiers when they retreated in 1989 and ended up being hanged from a Kabul lamppost seven years later.

So his argument here is that Karzai’s better than a Soviet puppet and an oppressor of all things fun. As for the hapless Najibullah, given that we toppled that Soviet regime in the first place, we probably had something to do with that. Since we, well, financed that little revolution. But nice touch on the Mullah Omar aspersions. You stay classy, sir. Dimwitted or no, his Taliban did manage to run their own country for a while.

Then of course there’s the basis of good governance: elections.

By both regional and Afghan historical standards, Karzai is a reasonably competent leader who — despite his feckless image in the West and despite being in office for 11 years — retains considerable popular appeal. In the last Afghan presidential election, when the votes were finally correctly tallied, Karzai had received 49 percent of the vote against dozens of challengers. By contrast, Obama prevailed in the 2012 election against one challenger with 51 percent of the vote. And Britain’s David Cameron leads Britain despite his Conservative Party only receiving 36 percent of the vote in the 2010 election that made him prime minister.

Bergen’s actually using the 2009 election as an example of how much Karzai is loved. Since that election was viewed by both Afghans and foreign observers as deeply flawed, it’s hardly surprising that he beat out a disorganized mass of “dozens of challengers.” Karzai is widely seen as a Western-supported construct who managed to steal that election from all comers, and that win was not due to his overwhelming popularity.

Bergen goes on to discuss insurgent attacks, another fine example of how well things are going here:

That war is not going as badly as you think, either: In 2012, for instance, Taliban attacks dropped as much as a third compared with the year before. Is this just NATO cooking the books? Nope: These figures come from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), an organization that has collected data about violence in Afghanistan for many years and is far from a cheerleader for the military. In a 2012 report , ANSO stated that the sharp drop in violence is “the first reliable indicator that the conflict may be entering a period of regression after years of sustained, and compounded, growth by all actors in the field.” In January, three U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan — the lowest monthly American casualty count in four years.

Except that ANSO’s report from the 1st Quarter in 2013 (which, admittedly came out after this article), shows attacks way up from the same period the previous year — 47%, in fact.

Countrywide, the number of attacks by the armed opposition has grown by 47% on Q1 2012, challenging the linear logic that the shrinking IMF presence will result in less military determination by the IEA.  Instead, the opposition has demonstrated an effective transition to domestic targets while consolidating its position in the East.   This increased conflict activity has resulted in NGO staff and projects being impacted in 39 separate incidents this quarter, a 63% increase over Q1 2012, denoting a return to the levels recorded for the equivalent periods in 2011 and 2009.

So while attacks on foreign military forces have diminished (which isn’t surprising, given the reduced coalition footprint — makes it hard to shoot people when they’re not actually there anymore), attacks have instead shifted to the civilian population. Good news if you’re ISAF. Bad news if you’re an Afghan. Finally, though, Bergen asks some smart questions:

Could that momentum return? Some smart commentators on Afghanistan worry that the Afghan civil war will renew itself after the United States and other NATO countries withdraw combat troops at the end of 2014. In an influential July report in the New Yorker, veteran war correspondent Dexter Filkins described how Afghans are girding for another civil war, and he quoted a former U.S. official based in Kabul as saying, “A coup is one of the big possibilities — a coup or civil war.”

This is overwrought.

Here, Bergen and I very much agree. Things here are not going to be as bad as some observers (and admittedly many Afghans) make it out to be, but it won’t be as good as NATO/ISAF want it to be. And I absolutely do not hate this.

Afghanistan is not hopeless. Forty years ago, it was a country at peace with itself and with its neighbors.

Maybe, not too long from now, a new generation of guidebooks will again be raving about the joys of springtime in the Hindu Kush. Nothing, not even a failed state, lasts forever.

While I agree with Bergen’s conclusions regarding the post-2014 hysteria that’s all the rage in some Western media outlets,  he’s missing the point, chasing metrics that measure nothing tangible. The fact is that we just don’t know enough about what’s really going “right” here to point to any solid indications of how things will be in Afghanistan post-2014. That’s because so much of that “right” is dependent on the future commitments by foreign governments. The international community has made quantifiable commitments to the future of Afghanistan, but it’s going to take quite a bit of effort (and money) to maintain the gains made until now. The fact is, there are signs of genuine progress here: foreign investment, developing security forces, and improved life expectancy for the Afghan population. Maybe next time, Mr. Bergen, you can tell us more about those.

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I take exception to public affairs releases quite a bit, since I think they’re trying to tell the story of what’s happening here. And I think they do it badly. Don’t get me wrong: there are times when the PAO gets it right, and I get the fact that it’s tough to be honest and still positive about things here. This would be one of those times.

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Sometimes this happens in Afghanistan:

A low-water crossing, or wadi, along the route completely washed out due to heavy rains, hindering the freedom of movement for both coalition forces and the local populace.

It happens a lot of places, actually. Where there’s rain, and dirt, well, then there’s mud. And in this case, it was easy to see why this happened.
“The culvert denial systems got clogged with debris and runoff,” explained 2nd Lt. Eric Slockbower, the Combat Engineer Platoon commander. “This led to a build-up of water, which flooded the surrounding farmland, eroded the berm and eroded through the road.”
Ah yes, the “culvert denial systems” that are intended to keep ISAF troops safe from the IEDs that could be emplaced in said culverts and then used to destroy vehicles. They’re supposed to make it harder for the insurgents to place bombs in culverts and therefore kill people. They look like this:
Can you see why this might be a problem? (cryptome.org)
And, obviously, they’re doing a bang-up job of IED protection and deterrence, since over the course of the war, they definitely drove down the IED threat, right?
The number of improvised explosive devices that were cleared or detonated rose to 16,554 from 15,225, an increase of 9%, according to data obtained by USA TODAY. In 2009, total IED “events,” as they are known, came to 9,304.
That was from a USA Today report in January of 2012. Which means that the system that’s designed to prevent IED attacks really isn’t that successful at its intended purpose. Yet, given how vital they are to the war effort, one could also assume that they receive a greater-than-average level of project oversight.
The inquiry stems from the killing of two American soldiers in July on a highway in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan. An Afghan contractor didn’t install grates that could have prevented insurgents from planting bombs in culverts carrying water under roadways, according to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
 Glad someone’s paying super close attention to these uber important systems.
So they’re not great at stopping IEDs, and apparently not always built properly. But culvert denial can also mean road denial. And, since people hate roads and their facilitation of easier travel between places, it’s a good thing this secondary effect of road destruction turns out to be such a success. Fortunately, ISAF has its eyes on the prize as far as who it’s here to really help.
“A lot of convoys and also the Afghan people can use this road (again),” said Akery. “It benefits everybody.”
Good to see that road usage by the people who live in this country rate an “also” when it comes to their mobility. Since this is a problem that ISAF created in the first place. Once again, everyone wins.
Even the Afghans.
Until next time, stay on that sunny side!
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So this is usually the point in the week where I usually do a “5 Things I Learned This Week in Afghanistan” post, but this week I’m opting for something a little different. In the spirit of the “Where’s Waldo?” series of fine literature, let’s take a look at a series of photos that probably spell out more than anything the current state of the relationship between the US and Afghanistan.

You may have heard that General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) this week.

So what happened at the ceremony? Can you spot the Karzai?

There were four white dudes in uniform. I understand they do stuff here in Afghanistan.

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

There was a band.

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Some manly hugging…

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

And now…let’s spot the Afghans.

Here’s one:

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Nope. Not Karzai.

And another one:

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Still not Karzai.

Wait, here’s one in a suit. I also understand he’s important.

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Still no Hamid.

So, where’s Karzai? Maybe he just doesn’t like being photographed with the commanders of ISAF?

Karzai…and McChrystal (ISAF Media)
Karzai…and Petraeus (Washington Post)

 

Karzai…and Allen (ISAF Media)

Huh.

So it doesn’t appear that the man’s photophobic when it comes to ISAF commanders. Maybe he just doesn’t like change of command ceremonies?

McKiernan takes over as COMISAF. Um, that’s Karzai on his right (Army.mil)

So he’s been there before.

Back when we did these things outdoors vs. in the gym. Let me draw your attention to the pullup bars directly above Mohammadi’s head:

You stay classy, ISAF! (ISAF Media)

So we’ve gone from outdoor ceremonies attended by the President of Afghanistan to huddling in the gym under the pullup bars, while Karzai is noticeably absent from the festivities. And the future hope for ISAF?

Well. That is a rousing sendoff, huh?

When the President’s not there, and your “ceremony” is being held in the same place they do the Zumba, maybe it’s time to realize that the overall tone of the adventure has decidedly…dimmed. This isn’t “Afghan first” or any other cute phrase that’s going to help explain this away. This is just a sad beginning to the inevitably depressing epilogue to the last chapter of “Operation Ready or Not.”

Until next time, you stay on the sunny side!

 

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Since I was otherwise engaged yesterday in probably yet another round of introspective navel gazing, or whatever,  I missed this:

At least four civilians have been killed and nine more injured in a bomb blast in northern Faryab province, local officials said Tuesday.

The incident took place in a hotel in the Khwaja Sabz Posh district about 10:30am local time, when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off, provincial police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhil told TOLOnews.

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when we gather together in Pennsylvania to brace ourselves against impending disaster. No, I’m not talking about opening day at PNC Park, although that is depressing. Not quite as depressing as the fact that a) there’s such a thing as a Spice Girl and b) they keep coming back, but, still sad.

No, I’m talking about Groundhog Day, when those in America bound by the icy clasp of winter hope that some rodent can tell them whether spring is on the way. Or if they’ll have to endure long, dreary weeks of more cold. Which, of course, disproves global warming. It’s an event so magical that Bill Murray made a movie about it, you may recall.

Bill Murray plays a self-centered, egotistical man who mocks Punxsutawney Phil and the whole tradition surrounding that overgrown rat’s emerging from his winter slumber. He’s only focused on doing things that make him feel good. Kind of like this guy:

“We like to do this sort of thing because it makes us feel good.”

Well, so long as you feel better.

Naturally. Why else would someone take time out of their busy day to distribute clothes to Afghan refugee kids?

The Afghan winter poses a difficult – and sometimes deadly – challenge to refugees crowded into camps that surround the capital city. Overnight temperatures routinely dip below freezing, and the treeless countryside offers little in the way of firewood for the poorly-clothed refugees and their children.

Nearly two hundred of those children who attend the Aschiana School in Kabul got welcome relief from volunteers with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters who, on Jan. 27, delivered bags of donated hats, mittens, scarves and other cold-weather clothing.

Local Afghan children wait on line for the chance to get some much needed warm clothes at the Aschiana School. (Photo by Laila Khoshnaw, ISAF HQ)

Enter expatriates in shining armor.

Project coordinator Parween Omidi is an Afghan American who for the past three years has worked as an ISAF civilian media advisor and interpreter. Born and raised in Kabul, Omidi and her family fled the country following the Soviet invasion in 1983, settling in Orange County, Calif.  As the years went by Omidi never forgot about the children of Afghanistan and was involved in several programs to provide them with care.

“I felt guilty,” she said. “I could get away, and they couldn’t. I wanted to give them a little hope that someone was looking after them.”

So they’re…orphans? Oh. Right. Not orphans.

Yes, because what Afghans need more than anything is someone to look after them. What the world in general needs is more expatriate types coming back to their home countries from America, letting people know that Americans…are there for them. Never mind that these aren’t orphans. They actually have families that probably think they’re the ones looking after their kids.

“Of course there is no way to know what any one child might need,” Omidi said. “But once the clothes are taken back to the family, the families can trade with each other for what they need. And sometimes you can tell. Like I saw a girl who was just wearing slippers outside, so I tried to quickly look through the bags and find one that had shoes.”

Why waste all that time trying to find out what the kids might actually need, when you “can tell”? And above all? Make sure they have good manners.

“The children there are very polite,” Omidi said. “While they were lining up to get the bags, I told them to be sure to say thank you to the Americans handing the bags out. They laughed and said, ‘We know to say thank you!’”

Oh look…they can say “thank you.” Just like people!

Imagine. Afghan kids. That know how to…say thank you. And yes, let’s make sure that no matter what happens, you thank the Americans for the wonderful job they’ve done. Bringing you clothes you may or may not need.

“I do feel that we make a small difference,” Omidi said. “These kids need proper clothing as [do] any other kids. Their families live in the refugee camps and are not able to provide warm clothing for their children. They should not become only the responsibility of the government or the U.N. It is up to the community to try to provide them whatever they can.”

No, I have no idea how clothing donated by Americans and distributed by ISAF troops is in any way a community-based relief effort. But then, I’m not terribly bright. Otherwise, this would make a lot more sense to me than it actually does.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying we shouldn’t donate clothing to Afghan kids. There are some genuinely needy and hurting people in this country, especially in the wintertime. But what I am saying is this: we need to be doing it better. Not out of pity, not out of some condescending “oh, too bad they can’t help themselves” aid approach.

We keep doing this. Over and over.

This clothing drive is a microcosm of the cataclysmic failure that is development aid in Afghanistan. We don’t find out what they need, we just give it to them, and sort it out later. Sounds like our plan for the billions in aid dollars we’ve pumped into this country over the years.

Looking at the picture, most of those kids look fairly well dressed to fend off the cold. While I want to believe they’re taking that stuff home to sort out and hand to their brothers and sisters, there’s the much more likely possibility that they’re going to sell it somewhere.

Why?

Because that’s what they need, is money. Money to buy fuel so they can heat their homes at night and not die. When the temperatures drop below freezing, all the clothing drives in the world aren’t going to fend off that chill. Yes, ISAF volunteers have put together fuel drives, and that’s great.

But what happens when ISAF leaves? Sustainability isn’t something you tack on to a program as you’re wrapping it up. Sustainability has to be a primary component for consideration when you’re trying to put together something that’s going to last after you’re gone.

That’s why Groundhog Day worked: Phil Connors fixed what he could, and in no way made himself  a permanent part of the solution. Sure, he was probably doing it just to get the girl. I’m not trying to make him out to be the model for all things Samaritan. But instead of fixing what we think we should fix, why don’t we just fix what’s actually broken? And in a way that stands a decent chance of staying fixed?

So here’s what I’d like to hear from you as a reader: do you have any stories of aid/development efforts that actually worked? I’m not just talking about Afghanistan, but anywhere? I know those stories are out there.

Until next time, you stay on the sunny side!

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