Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Don't Forget Afghanistan

A media hack gave up many (tough not all) of his delusions and wrote an article titled "The situation in Iraq right now is not as bad as the news media are portraying it to be. It's worse." Well, the same goes for Afghanistan.

I saw a heartbreaking documentary on German TV yesterday. Two reporters were travelling across the country, repeatedly showing signs of hope, only to show later why they won't work.

They flew on a helicopter with Zalmay Khalilzad, de-facto senior warlord of Afghanistan (officially US Ambassador). He doesn't travel any other way - outlining both the security stuation on the ground and his detachment from Afghan reality. Being Afghan-born, his recitation of the complete neocon creed about having to confront Muslim backwardness after confronting the USSR sounded hilarious, and his neocon philosophising about not using the big stick most of the time but using it toward those who "don't understand anything else"; and his apparently sincere belief that the demonstrations of the US big stick indeed made the intended impression, while flying in a helicopter above unsafe-to-pass country, was downright surreal.

Later the reporters travelled to Khost with an ex-Mujahedeen. But even he didn't want to travel by night on the unpaved dirt roads. Once in Khost, they visited a girls' school, where in groups of one or two hundred, in clean white rooms, 1400 girls learn reading and learn to recognise all kinds of unexploded ordnance ("DON'T PLAY WITH IT!" they say in choir). But only 20% go to the school, which is fire-bombed regularly, and both teachers and the little girls are threatened.

In the city, people were paving a road, but it was some local project as aid agencies long ago fled the city and the US brought nothing. People asked on the street, and the ex-Mujahedeen guide too, were angry about unfulfilled promises. US patrols were like Martians - in appearance as well as understanding. In one sequence, they would search the entire neighbourhood for gunmen after a mortar attack, then tell the reporters "we found everyone is peaceful here", while the ex-Mujahedeen guy knew the guerillas use remote-controlled stuff.

Elsewhere, Pashtuns from the North hunted away by Northern Alliance warlords camped in the desert. They were contemplating why the US doesn't eliminate them - if it could eliminate the Taliban. They gave every hint of waiting for the US to leave to start a new civil war.

Then the reporters visited a new Afghan Army training camp, talking to the optimistic and idealist recruits who just finished training - marching in a Russian way at Afghan tunes in front of their US trainers. I seldom felt as positive about people in uniform as when I saw this. However, later they met one of the guys in civilian clothes in Kandahar, talking a very different language for his own security - or not just his security, his idealist-recruit-talk might have been not entirely sincere either. And the reporters also told that many recruits soon desert to join a warlord.

Worse: the training is laid out to have a large army until the November elections - rather than a smaller but qualified one, one that could smash the warlords if the US won't. Training takes just six weeks. And at the end, the 'behind-the-curtain' moment of the film: flashback to the 'graduation ceremony', the reporters interview an American military trainer. He tells all the PR stuff about how these soldiers are able to secure the country.

The reporters ask back, "These soldiers, with this little training? C'mon, you're not serious!", to which he answers with a sarcastic smile: "We're Americans. Always optimistic!"

An awful feeling of futility must be simmering behind that smile - I really felt sorry for the guy. I mean, this is not the pilot bombing wedding parties or the patrolling soldier invading private homes and mishandling the natives, this is a guy who could have been doing something positive - and watching the orderly march, he seems to have been doung to best he could do with his short time - but the orders and the circumstances are not the right ones.

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