Pamela Constable writes for the Washington Post Foreign Service. They still have a foreign service, what with all the downsizing and cost-cutting? Apparently so, and it makes evident why we so badly need those incredibly important bureaus in America's print media.
Harsh Season Overwhelms Afghans
Hopes for Progress Battered by War, Weather, Economy and Regional Tension
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.
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.
The 'comments' section on this article in the Post was 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.
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.
One can but wonder how Donald Rumsfeld feels about our troops on the ground (making $1,000 a month, while his Blackwater mercenaries tap the national pipe at $1,000 a day) pooling their own money to buy coal for displaced and freezing Afghan families. Is human misery like that factored in with the known unknowns or the unknown unknowns. The world as victim of the American war that is, instead of the American war they might like to have.
To the subject at hand, American treatment of those damaged by its wars, conspires to turn militants against us for decades to come. No expense is spared in the waging of war and yet, where it would count, where it would actually buy some goodwill (very cheaply), our policies are ignorant beyond belief.
Within ten days of the end of Israel's attack on Lebanon, Hamas was on the streets, 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 out 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 the cheap stuff--winterized tents, stoves, fuel, minimal food, medicines and sanitation to the people we displaced by our war on their country.
"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.
"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 UN isn't the answer and international relief agencies are not the answer, nor are NGOs. Hamas does not distribute money or provide 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.