By Kathy Kelly and Joshua Brollier
June 2, 2010
Islamabad– “Our situation is like a football match. The superpower countries are the players, and we are just the ball to be kicked around.” This sentiment, expressed by a young man from North Waziristan, has been echoed throughout many of our conversations with ordinary people here in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Most are baffled that the United States, with the largest and most modern military in the world, can’t put a stop to a few thousand militants hiding out in the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Just about everyone we have spoken with, Pashtuns included, has little to no sympathy for the Taliban or their tactics. Many people have lost limbs, homes and loved ones to the brutal assaults of suicide bombers or the indiscriminate violence of IEDs. Yet, people expressed frustrated confusion over uncertainties regarding U.S. government goals in relation to the Taliban. Some believe that the United States might be working with the ISI (Pakistani Intelligence Services) or at least not working against them, to enable continued Taliban resistance. If there is no resistance, according to this view, a military presence in the region cannot be justified. Nor can a so-called humanitarian presence further flood the Pakistani and Afghan economies with millions of dollars in aid that most often lines the pockets of the politicians, elite bureaucrats, and United States corporations involved in construction and security.
The fact that very little aid money has reached the impoverished and war weary people who need it most has been confirmed to us by members of the Afghan and Pakistani governments, human rights organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations and several very unfortunate families forced to live as refugees. As Hyder Akbar, a Pashtun working on NGO assessments in Afghanistan, said to us, “If you are pouring 100 million dollars into a tiny and impoverished province like Kunar and seeing no results, you’re obviously doing something wrong.” With a population of less than 500,000, you could easily give each Kunar resident over a million dollars. But, several seasoned analysts agree that money alone can’t solve problems faced by impoverished people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Both Dr. Mubashir Hassan, former finance minister of the Peoples Party of Pakistan, and Nur Agha Akbari, from the Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan, strongly believe that efforts to bring people out of poverty in South Asia must be initiated, at district and village levels, through consultation with grass roots, indigenous community groups. Mr. Akbari stressed that there is still an opportunity for the United States government and people to play a positive role in Afghanistan, but that role will not be possible until the United States stops giving orders and starts listening to community groups living in Afghanistan.
Photo by Joshua Brollier: Hillside near Kabul.