19 September 2007

more on the 'stan

I really dig it when my women friends discuss issues in the blog environment. We are a group of brainy chicks (and that includes and anonymous non-commenters out there too I'm sure... ). However, sometimes here I would so much prefer to be having a glass of red with my homies, in their lounge room, and discussing the world's ills, with the many flaws in the way countries interact with each other. This is one of those occasions, But sadly, being on the other side of the globe kind of precludes that.. (sigh).

So just for the public record (because I know heaps of UN negotiators read my blog) and not not wanting to be combative, here's some background to the comment referring to "aid workers without guns", in the below post. I was going to put it in comments but it got too long. Disclaimer: I am no expert on the conflict in Afghanistan. I first met Mr B after he spent 10 months there in 2003 (yep, after the first troop invasion). He is very passionate and talks about it a lot to anyone who will listen, or who is captive and can't run away, and it rubs off.

Firstly there has been humanitarian aid based in that country for some 30 years, during the whole reign of the Taliban, flying under the radar to try to get emergency aid to people who needed it. Sure, you get good guys in aid and not-so-good-scary-fundamentalist-missionary-types as well. However, the basic principle of going to do education or development or medical work is the universal declaration of human rights, not national security, or political advantage. (In theory, of course. In practice there are all sorts of weird things going on with aid monies).

The Taliban had a terrible grip on the whole place, but its not as if the US or Australia was doing anything about getting rid of them just for the good of the country or the women for that matter. So for starters the whole reason they are there now is to do with security and the War on Terror, not to reclaim the autonomy of the Afghan nationals.

These days, it is just too dangerous for many of the international agencies to be there. Partly, this is because the local warlords (and Taliban, I think) associate non-affiliated groups with the US government. They have committed acts of aggression against them to make a very clear point to the public not to challenge their rule. In 2004, dearly beloved was a couple of days away from being sent back to assess the security situation, shortly after a targeted attack on the his colleagues who build hospitals and clinics. He didn't go, thankfully.

And about the poppy burning thing. Well the NY times says this year is going to be the biggest opium crop ever. "Although common farmers make comparatively little from the trade, opium is a major source of financing for the Taliban, who gain public support by protecting farmers’ fields from eradication, according to American officials. They also receive a cut of the trade from traffickers they protect." This article talks about people paying off the eradicators too - "If the government destroys our poppy, I will join the Taliban," said the farmer from Nadali" . Although that may just be a dodgy lefty propaganda rag.

The NY times also talks about needing to find alternatives, like high-paying legal crops, to actually be effective in controlling poppy cultivation. People grow to make money, not because they want to keep the Taliban in power.

About the Aus army's role - I watched a 4 corners special with one of the reporters embedded in a unit that goes into towns to do building, spending a day or so replacing a bombed school. It all actually looked really cool, and they came across really well as open honest Aussie soldiers just doing a day's work. But when you've been involved in warfare, part of the standard deal is to work on reconstruction isn't it?

But they did go in in full battle fatigues, with a tank in the lead and with soldiers in the hills all around to "secure the area". Mr B just tells me from personal anecdote that the downside for village leaders who collaborate with the army is that they can then get killed later by their rivals for collusion with enemy, which stops anyone else from bringing in services. In my opinion this is a warped and fucked up thing for the locals to be doing to themselves, and not something an Aussie soldier has much control over.

I've heard the relief agencies who know what they're doing make sure they stay separate from governments and militaries so people can accept their help, or do work for them in their own communities, without risking their lives. Also, I just wonder about how much the Aus military can spend on public relations, and get themselves on TV, and spread the word about their good works. I'd say it's a lot. So they've been very successful in communicating their aid activities, while playing down their primary role as a military force that supports the US in local security and helps them with their "war on terror".

And sure the Red Cross and MSF and Oxfam do a lot of publicity and fundraising too, but they also have to spend their funds on the ground, and they might actually build more for less in these remote areas? Also - there's water and sanitation, medicine and education to think about too. This is where my actual knowledge gets hazy and I start to rely on assumptions.... always a shaky position. I know for a fact that some readers have done higher studies in international relations so I'm a tad worried about sounding like an airy-fairy wide-eyed dunderhead on this issue.

I guess in the end the army is there, it has a situation to deal with, and I hope they're dealing with it in the most humanitarian way possible, not blowing civilians up, or killing many more animals, and trying to minimise the wider impacts to people that their presence causes. I just can't help think that Army is Army. They are trained in combat, first and foremost.

So I'll wrap it up there, and do some actual work rather than ranting off into the void. I think we are all in total agreement that Iraq is a total dogs breakfast, despite the desperate spin on it being important to keep the troops there. If you're still with me after all that, hi - thanks for reading. Comments welcome, keep em polite.

1 comment:

Max Volume said...

Phew! There is a lot of food for thought there.

In my view it is the unfortunate reality that interfering with another country is a minefield (awful pun not intended) of misunderstanding and good intentions with bad consequences. Especially when dealing with such prickly issues of religion and cultural differences big enough to build countries in.

Things like technology gaps, language, tradition, gender, democracy are all part of a grab bag of potential conflicts. First world countries trying to impose one version of freedom on other cultures is doomed to be a messy and protracted exercise in PR.

Sorry disjointed rant..... I know what I am trying to say, maybe we need to do the lounge room red wine thing for real : )