Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Harsh Season Overwhelms Afghans Hopes for Progress Battered by War, Weather, Economy and Regional Tension
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, February 12, 2008; A11
KABUL -- If all the winter woes of Afghanistan could be said to concentrate in one spot, it might be the wind-swept, frozen field on the outskirts of Kabul known as Charai Qamber.
Plastic and burlap tents are clustered on the icy terrain, each colony housing dozens of families who have fled different crises: laborers deported from Iran, longtime refugees forced out of Pakistan by camp closings, farmers from southern Helmand province whose villages were caught in fighting between Taliban insurgents and international troops.
Some families have dug trenches beneath their tents, lined with scraps of carpet, where they can keep a little warmer by sleeping around charcoal braziers. But with temperatures falling to 25 degrees below zero on some recent nights -- exceptionally cold even by Afghan standards -- every night is another ordeal, filled with the sounds of rattling wind and coughing children.
. . . American military officers at the scene said they had visited the tent colony several times to bring supplies, with soldiers pooling their own money to buy coal.
It's hard to know exactly where to jump in on this, but Guantannamo is too good a place for the State and Defense Department officers in charge, who allow such short-sighted and anti-humanitarian conditions to exist. Our troops on the ground (making $1,000 a month, while Blackwater mercenaries tap the national pipe at $1,000 a day) pool their own money for coal.
The 'comments' section on this article is ripe with commentary by overfed pundits jawing about how Afghans are always starving and are 'used' to watching their children die of cold and disease. These 'patriots,' who equate 'roughing it' with a morning in a chilly duck blind or actually attending a Bears or Packers game, are too stunned by their Doritos consumption to realize that 'hearts and minds' are won only with open hearts and creative minds.
Within ten days of the end of Israel's attack on Lebanon, Hamas was out there distributing $12,500 in cash to every family that lost a home. They weren't taking names or finalizing lists or helping with paperwork, they were handing cash money (in dollars, if you have a taste for irony). The money came from Iran, distributed by local Hamas agents, who knew both the territory and the recipients.
Somehow, lost in the fraud and profiteering of wasted billions, we are unable to supply winterized tents, stoves, fuel, minimal food, medicines and sanitation to the people we displaced by our war on their country.
"Charlie Wilson's War" has been followed by George Bush's indifference, but somehow I doubt Tom Hanks is willing to reprise the Bush role.
"The agencies say they cannot send help until they assess the needs. When people start dying, only then they start to assess." Another problem, he added, is that the vast majority of Afghans are poor, so it is difficult to isolate the neediest.
The UN isn't the answer and international relief agencies are not the answer, nor are NGOs. Hamas does not distribute money, schools, food and medicine by proxy, they do it in person and every recipient knows exactly where the help comes from. Tents and stoves, fuel and food ought to be distributed by military convoy (without the need of soldiers digging in their pockets) emblazoned with the white star of the U.S. Army. Until it is, until we are there in person to hand over the means of sustaining life, those who are will kick our butts with one tenth of a percent of our costs. That, along with the fact that we come as aliens from space, speech-wise, is why we will never overcome Muslim fundamentalism. Hamas provided the only services available in Palestine and when there was an election--surprise--they won overwhelmingly. Our immediate response was to cripple their democratically elected government (as we espoused democracy in the region), back the loser and support the cutoff of their mandated funding. This is the winter of the frozen Afghan family and the dying child, courtesy of American military and diplomatic stupidity. I am not only frustrated, but extremely angry that this international disaster is being perpetrated (there is no other word) in the name of my country.
In October 1987, the nation focused in on Midland, Texas, and became captivated by the story of 18-month-old Jessica, who had fallen in a well. Thousands of journalists descended upon the region to tell the story of the girl in the well, and cameras were fixed on the scene when a dirt-soiled baby Jessica, after 58 hours, was pulled out of the well. The entire nation held its breath.
When you pull the covers of your child snugly up to their chin tonight and kiss their innocent little face, give just the briefest of thoughts to the Afghan Jessicas, for whom no one is captivated.

* For more in-depth articles by Jim on Middle East, check out Opinion-Columns.com

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