Published: June 2nd 2010June 2nd 2010
Quartermaine in AFG
The look is intimidating... this is what we have to wear for protection in the field. And we are the good guys!
Stuck in the high security prison - sorry compound - with the bad guys on the outside, we are in the centre of Kandahar City waiting for the "surge" to occur; I hope readers appreciate the irony of the folks from the most powerful nations of the world, here to help (we like to believe) cowering from a bunch of illiterate peasants armed with small arms, nothing more powerful than an AK rifle or an RPG. Time for a little reflection
The big picture is this: these powerful countries, led by the USA, would like to see an Afghanistan re-built in their image - a glance at my post on the history of Helmand and a look at the link to what AGF was like in the 1950s gives some idea of what the Western Powers would like to see. Failing that, they would like to see transparent government and a basis for genuine development. Despite its limited natural endowment, Afghanistan does have the agricultural base to be reasonable prosperous. Of course everyone would like to see the eradication of poppy; that's not impossible because there is enough data around to show that the per hectare returns to farmers
Armoured vehicles including MRAPS - taken over the Canadian PRT in Kandahar
Photo courtesy of Andy Burridge
from poppy are lower than alternative legal crops such as high-value vegetable.
No doubt the majority of Afghans would like to see the same thing. At the family level everyone everywhere really wants clean water, adequate food, shelter, health care and some education for the kids. Indeed we need to remember that Islam was the great civilizing influence in the 13th Century. The amusing thing about Liam Fox's ignorant comment about AFG being "a broken 13th Century country" is that if it were
the 13th century, one would find a relatively peaceful and prosperous society where education and the arts were valued. Afghanistan has been turned into a basket case not by Islam, but by repeated and ill-judged interference from first the Mongols and then the West.
The minority of Afghans - known officially as the AOG, the Afghan Opposition Groups and by the rest of us as the Taliban - fundamentally resent our presence, good, bad or indifferent. Imagine if you will an invasion of your country from Mars. The beings look different and indeed dress in a way you find insulting (yes, western-style dress is considered sexually provocative and that's the men!), insist that a way of governing the country is by their standards "corrupt" (but you don't really understand what this means - you've ALWAYS paid for services and protection) and drive around in ENORMOUS vehicles. Anyone who has not seen an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle) up close cannot imagine the size; crewed by folk in helmets and dark glasses swinging .50 calibre machine guns it is just about the most frightening thing you can imagine...and it's driving in your neighborhood!
I know many people who read this blog have sons and daughters, brothers and sisters serving here. I work with them. They are great kids risking their lives
. BUT you have to understand how they are perceived by similarly ordinary folks trying to get on with their lives in their country.
So we have the Taliban. They have a point, which is that the foreigners need to leave and take their foreign ideas with them. That's the simplest way one can put it.
But, but, you will say, it's more complicated than that, what about terrorism and Al Qaeda and a safe haven for Islamic fundamentalism? All valid points because the world is
complex. This aspect needs another post - maybe a book - but there is a wider geo-political argument about why the West is here. And there's even another
dimension: if you read the excellent article in the Washington Post on Monday 31st May Washington Post
you will see that the west is "carpet bombing" Afghanistan with cash. The idea is that once the soldiers have done their job (sometimes before) the project that I work on (mentioned in the article in the WP). The unpleasant thought arises that the TAliban have a good business strategy going on. For the small investment in bringing in a few dupes from the refugee camps across in Pakistan to lead hopeless attacks on the near-invulnerable NATO-ISAF forces, the Taliban can receive a HUGE revenue beyond their wildest dreams. $400 for every man, woman and child according to the WP. in a country where the average annual income is much less than that.
You will say the cash is for development and to stabilize the area, and that is what it is genuinely intended for. We give away vegetable seed, tools, tractors and employ thousands of young persons who otherwise might join the Taliban as fighters. The military say (I think rightly) that our work reduces casualties. But it must be equally true that these programs, benevolent though they are, provide a huge income stream for the radicals who extract tolls and rent at every possible opportunity. So the entire thing feeds on itself!
. The West provides the raison d'etre for the Taliban (do please just imagine an MRAP the size of a two story house driving down your street crewed by guys with wild beards and black turbans who eat and drink forbidden foods, dress in skirts and who tell you the American way is all wrong) AND the cash to pay for the resistance.
It makes no sense whatsoever and young Americans and Europeans are paying for this stupidity with their lives. Note: this post does NOT reflect the view of my current employer or any official agency and is purely my own opinion - and it is an opinion, not necessarily right!