RaisingAwareness.org

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Face of Afghanistan (6) - Helping Them, Helping Us




Afghanistan needs help to move on, more help than was promised, and surely much more than has been given. Afghanistan became a hotbed of insecu-rity not only for Afghans but also for the rest of the world; today Afghanistan is the largest producer of poppies used for narcotics and used to be a haven for terrorists. Afghans, especially children, have been exposed to atrocious living conditions for years. They are going to wear the scars of brutality outside and inside. Like an Afghan poet said, they may become trees grown out of bitter seeds. Even those who are not moved by the utter injustice Afghanistan lives in should help out of enlightened self-interest.

Irrespective of what some claim, devel-opment experts affirm that sufficient quantities of aid can still reach the communities and individuals it is aimed to despite the mayhem of power strug-gles and insecurity. In 2002 the rich countries promised the country's gov-ernment 4.5 billion dollars over five years to fund rebuilding efforts – not all of it was actually disbursed. Another 4.5 billion dollars was promised in March 2004. These amounts may seem substantial, but they are minimal com-pared to well over 300 billion dollars that the recent military campaign has cost in its first three years alone.

We must learn from our mistakes.



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The Face of Afghanistan (5) - A Failed State




Afghanistan is what economists and political scientists call a “failed state,” a nation that spiraled into poverty and violence and a society that collapsed and regressed into a dark medieval nightmare. Here poverty contributes to civil strife and ultimately protracted war. Among over 110 countries surveyed that followed a trajectory of economic freefall after 1953, Afghanistan’s fate is one of the most cruel and - due to Al-Qaeda - the one with arguably the largest influence on world politics. Afghanistan fell into, and still is in, a “poverty trap,” an economic state from which it is nearly impossible to exit without external help. It is superficial and wrong to say it is just Afghanistan’s fault. Famous economists like Jeffrey Sachs indicate why Afghanistan has always been a country prone to poverty: landlocked away from international trade with very high internal cost of transportation; ravaged by disease; poor in good soil to grow crops on; scarce readily accessible natural resources; and constantly a paw in larger countries’ political games.
Poverty, strong disparity of income, and poor education and health exacerbated and sustained the Afghan conflicts while the absence of viable and alternative livelihoods perpetuated the sense of frustration and created new frictions. While underdevelopment may not have directly caused violence, poverty, poor social conditions, and weak political in-stitutions certainly eroded Afghanistan’s capacity to manage tensions peacefully.
 

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The Face of Afghanistan (4) - First Day in Afghanistan



The first sight of Kabul is the road from the airport. Armored anti-aircraft guns bask in the reddish light of the dusty highland on a background of bullet-sprayed walls. There you also see the first Afghans.

Boys of all ages swarm the streets, like in any other Middle Eastern town. Here, however, their clothes are more ragged and their shoes made of rubber. They look lonelier, and they seem very busy. That is, they are looking for something to do, anything that can bring some money into their families. They sell plastic bags and look for used ones. They repair tires and push carts. They beg and clean the pavements. They pull their legless relatives and carry goods to the market.

The girls are more conservatively dressed and less conspicuous. You can catch a glimpse of them while they tend to their younger brothers in the alleys bordered by rubble or when they accompany their mothers to the main bazaar, of course, before they disappear under the burka - a die-hard practice that no western tank has erased.



Afghanistan, years after the Taliban were overturned, is still a country with a ravaged past and an uncertain future. Millions of children, women, and men have perished in the cruelty of over twenty years of war. An entire generation has known no peace, no normal life, and has been deprived of virtually any education. The infrastructure is in tatters, its huge needs barely scratched by too little rich countries’ money, too slowly dispensed. Half of Kabul and much of the country is still in rubbles. After having been exposed to years of hell, Afghanistan's dusty and fascinatingly eerie landscape looks like hell indeed.




Still, children smile, and adults are as jovial as one can be when living on two dollars a day, somebody in the family has been killed somewhere, tanks are patrolling the streets, and peace is perhaps not going to last. For there is some hope, Afghanistan thinks, at least as long as international troops are around to somehow protect the popula-tion from factional strife and greed, to protect it from centuries of "might is right."
Stability, and democracy, should be in the future of the people of Afghanistan. But force alone will not be sufficient to maintain peace, because Afghanistan’s illnesses are deeper than just a culture of violence.
The journey into Afghanistan starts here.




[continue reading The Face of Afghanistan]
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Face of Aftghanistan (3) - A History, and a Chronicle




If Afghanistan was a person, its history would be a clinical case.
At the beginning of the 20th century, protracted hostilities between the British Empire, Russia, and Afghanistan for the control of the Afghan territory lead to failed treaties, conventions, and open war. In 1921 the third Anglo-Afghan war ensues with both parties suffering heavy losses and results in England abandoning its plans of control. In 1929 king Kalakani is deposed and assassinated by Nadir Kahn, whose tribal forces loot the country. In 1933 Nadir is killed and Zahir Shah, age 19, takes the throne. He will rule until 1973 and will keep Afghanistan neutral during the Second World War.
In 1973 Daoud Khan overthrows him, abolishes monarchy, and declares him-self president of the Republic of Afghanistan. In 1978 he is killed in a communist coup, where Taraki takes power, backed by the USSR. Taraki will be killed the following year.




In June, 1978, the Mujahiddeen guerrilla was born, backed by the CIA in an effort to contain the USSR’s influence in the region. Hafizullah Amin takes the presidency in a state of chaos where civil war starts; the US ambassador is killed, and Amin himself is executed. Karmal takes power, only to be replaced by Najibullah when the URSS occupies the country. It is December 1979. The last Soviet tank will leave ten years later, ten years of guerrilla and destruction. In April 1992 the Mujahiddeen takes control of Kabul while Najibullah finds shelter within the UN compound. Rabbani takes power backed by Masood. Infightings between Mujahiddeens’ factions intensify and much of Kabul is finally reduced to rubble.
In 1996 Taliban militia force President Rabbani out. After the capture of Kabul, the Taliban break into the UN compound, execute Najibullah, and crack down on resistance in the provinces through widespread repression and often even ethnic cleansing. Masood himself is killed in 2001. After Sep 11, 2001, a US-led coalition overthrows the Taliban and in December appoints Hamid Karzai as head of the interim Afghan government. In 2005 the first democratic election is held.



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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Face of Afghanistan (2) - Foreword


In 2003, just after the allied forces had routed the Taliban from Afghanistan, I joined a group of volunteers from Right To Play to establish a program in Kabul. Their mission was to restore a modicum of decency through sport and play for those children who had been deprived of almost everything. It was, with great foresight, an attempt to stop the re-growth of violence without using the conventional military or humanitarian aid means.

Some of the "cliff notes" of that trip, as well as some of the photos, are here. Ultimately, this was an attempt to share the story of Afghanistan told by those who live it every day. More than a decade later, they still feel contemporary.

..."Their portraits are perhaps a good way to narrate what it means to be Afghan in the early twenty-first century, to be living in one of most atrociously poor and dangerous places on earth, in the richest world society on record.

In Afghanistan, misery creeps out of every line in the old man’s frown, out of the children’s smile. Afghanistan is one of the five poorest countries in the world; Afghans live on average with two US dollars a day. To this, they must add appalling housing conditions, lack of safe water for both people and agriculture, and a vicious cycle of scarce education and work opportunity.

Cause and effect of this barbaric situation, Afghanistan is one of the most fearsome places in the world: fear of death of your children at birth, fear of fatal illness, fear of starvation, fear of others; both when you are a woman being mistreated by men, or you are a man being trodden upon by the rich or the armed. Fear of tomorrow.

It is not all Afghanistan’s fault. Beside many other factors that make this country naturally prone to poverty, Afghanistan has long been sitting on one of the main fault lines between eastern and western blocks. US-backed Mujaheddin guerrilla and USSR domination finally set the stage for civil war and the Taliban. In many respects, Afghanistan's present is a living legacy of the Cold War, of our own past."


[continue reading The Face of Afghanistan]
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

What YOU Can Do

Everyone counts. Here is a list of things that fit your interests and schedule


DONATE AND CONTRIBUTE
Donate to the organization of your choice
Fair Buying: Buy fair-traded products from developing countries and from manufacturers that donate
Fair gifts: make presents of a charitable donation to your friends and family
Fair holiday: make your holidays "socially conscious"
Fair internet: surf and shop - Change slightly your buying and internet habits and make “free donations”
Give in-kind and recycle: Collect unused goods from family friends and colleagues and donate them
Donate your brain - and its creations - to nonprofit sites and projects, to teachers and school kids; publish valuable content on a website, a blog, a wiki
Raise funds for charities: more than your own money...
Volunteer and work: volunteer your skills and your time on the field or remotely, or start a career in the nonprofit

RAISE AWARENESS
Keep yourself informed and talk about it with your family, friends and colleagues, or campaign about it
Pressure foundations, politicians, companies and wealthy individuals to give more money more wisely, or operate in developing countries and sensitive areas (e.g. biotech) to respect ethics and fairness
Promote social awareness initiatives. Many things can multiply your voice - in little time
Fair Wear: use clothes or use accessories that remind everyone of a just cause
Pressure foundations, politicians, companies and wealthy individuals to give more money more wisely, or operate in developing countries and sensitive areas (e.g. biotech) to respect ethics and fairness and involve more people and the media in doing so with you
Educate: Raise your kids' awareness of important issues and have them participate in meaningful activities such an e-mail "pen pal" program.
Improve the nonprofit world: help professionalize this industry, connect key people with and within nonprofits, search for advice

The Face of Afghanistan - Portraits and Life of a Wounded Land - 1


This is the first chapter of a series of articles dedicated to Afghanistan, originally written in 2004, edited in 2007 and still poignantly current.


This is the story of Afghanistan told by those who live it every day.
Their portraits narrate what it means to be Afghan in the early twenty-first century, to be living in one of the most atrociously poor and dangerous places on earth, in the richest world society on record. Afghanistan, years after the Taliban were overturned, is still a country with a ravaged past and an uncertain future.
It is not all Afghanistan’s fault. Beside many other factors that make it naturally prone to poverty, Afghanistan has long been sitting on one of the main fault lines between eastern and western blocks. US-backed Mujahiddeen guerrilla and the rule of the USSR finally set the stage for civil war and the Taliban. In many respects, Afghanistan's present is a living legacy of the Cold War, of our own past.
Afghanistan is not only a humanitarian disaster – it is also an example of poor intervention of the international community. Of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan by the international military coalition, only a small fraction has been directed to reconstruction. The vast majority has been funnelled into military operations.

We argue that the best way to consolidate the peace process is to build hope into people, hope that today’s peace will bring tomorrow’s welfare. If Afghanistan is to be convinced that it should now play with new rules, we must show that new rules do bring some prosperity into everyone's home. Distributing that prosperity can be done, and it would be done if the same level of competence and effort used in the military operation were applied.

We are wasting precious time, and by not having yet brought tangible material improvements to ordinary Afghans, we are failing to convince them that democracy, markets, and indeed peace are good for them. We are exposing Afghanistan to the risk of reverting into a warped nightmare.
There is a time when more of our money is spent more effectively in rebuilding a society rather than just imposing a truce through military control.
That time is now.

The journey into Afghanistan starts here.


[continue reading The Face of Afghanistan]
[see the video]
[see the photo gallery]