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Rebuilding Afghanistan: Promises, Promises, Promises
19 June 2002
Over the past two decades, as their wild and once-beautiful country has been wrecked by a revolving cast of super-powers, religious fanatics and thugs, the people of Afghanistan have been promised much. Almost nothing has been delivered, a reality that hovered like the proverbial dark cloud over the lofty speeches and ambitious plans of the recent loya jirga.
This time, thanks to eight months of hunting Osama bin Laden with jets and bombs, the promise-makers are we. But, as Abdul Azimi, a law professor, told the Los Angeles Times last week: "A lot of Afghan people are still not sure if the United States is sincere this time or will disappear after a year or two when the first part of its goals are achieved."
A lot of Afghan people are smart to be unsure. The United States has a bad habit of disappearing from messes we've helped make after our initial goals have been achieved. We also have a bad habit of then popping up elsewhere to help make a new mess.
Millions of Afghans may be illiterate, but they can read the political handwriting on the wall. What's writ these days by the White House, be it peanuts for aid or George W. Bush's announced contract on Saddam Hussein, does not engender optimism.
All the while talking about its commitment to rebuild a democratic Afghanistan, the Bush administration puts most of its money into U.S. military operations. Never mind schools or water systems, even something as fundamental to a country's stability as effective, nationwide security has been treated as a luxury item.
Every aid and human rights organization in Afghanistan has complained that security outside of Kabul is either nonexistent or entrusted to war lords whose methods are merely a variation on the Taliban's cruel theme. Our answer to the dangerous vacuum? We're teaching Afghan men the art of soldiering and leaving Germany to try to find and train a police force.
How about something as politically sensible (and moral) as compensating Afghan victims of U.S. bombs? It isn't on Bush's list of must-do's. Just ask the members of a U.S. group called Peaceful Tomorrows - see http://www.peacefultomorrows.org
Formed by families of people who were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Peaceful Tomorrows is pressing Congress and the White House to make financial amends to Afghans who lost relatives, homes and businesses to U.S. bombing. In the Bay Area, such representatives as Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey have joined the effort.
After several members traveled to Afghanistan in January and saw the devastation for themselves, the group wrote Bush and requested a meeting.
"We waited for a couple of months and finally got an answer from his scheduling office. They turned us down, saying that he's tremendously busy and has had many similar requests," said Kelly Campbell, a Bay Area member of Peaceful Tomorrows. "We kind of doubt that: Many requests? From families of Sept. 11 victims who want compensation for the families of our sister victims?"
Despite being blown off by the White House, Peaceful Tomorrows has been encouraged by the results of a new Zogby International poll. Commissioned by the human rights group, Global Exchange, the survey found that 69 percent of Americans think the United States government, "as a goodwill gesture, should provide humanitarian assistance" to Afghan civilians who've been injured by our war on terrorism in their country.
"In the grand scheme of what we spend money on, it would not take a lot to help these people," said Campbell. "And it's not just the compassionate thing to do, it's in our strategic world interest. It would show people that Americans are human beings, too, that our commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan is not just a facade; it's really true."