Friday, September 10, 2010

Our failure in Afghanistan

In late 2001 the United States was preparing to enter Afghanistan on the side of the Northern Alliance which was fighting the Taliban, the people the U.S. saw as sheltering Osama Bin Laden, the self proclaimed leader of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. Listening to B.B.C. Radio, I heard the writer, Frederick Forsyth, tell why he thought the U.S. would fail in Afghanistan.

He said that his military contacts described Afghanistan as a divided country, an artificial state of warring tribes; Tajiks, Pashtuns, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen and others. Fighting one another was their natural condition. They only united when faced with a foreign invader. In modern history this was the British, twice in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th. They always defeated the invaders. Then the Afghans went back to their default position of fighting one another.
The Northern Alliance with foreign help was victorious and Karzai led the government in Kabul. But despite the continued help of an international military coalition force, Karzai’s government is not the power controlling most of the country. Karzai is often referred to as merely the mayor of Kabul. The coalition’s death toll is now nearly 2,000 men from 26 countries. Taliban insurgents in the parts of the country closest to Pakistan continue to kill coalition soldiers, mainly American and British, and to terrorise the local population into supporting them.

In 2006 I was in Kabul. My best friend is a doctor there. At that time he was teaching post-graduate Afghan doctors in a government hospital, which had many expatriate workers from a voluntary agency (known as an N.G.O – Non Government Organisation). Funding of the hospital was from the U.S. He later left that work due to the endemic corruption, which manifested itself in that the doctors he trained were not promoted to posts in their profession according to ability. Afghanistan, with Somalia and Iraq is at the top of world corruption indexes.

Kabul reminded me of Northern Nigeria – very dusty brown, very Muslim, and traffic worse than Sabon Gari when Kano traffic lights failed. What was different from Nigeria was the security. We could walk in some parts of the city but not travel far outside by road. Security was even more evident than what I had seen in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles. Only in Kabul have I eaten in a restaurant which had an armed guard on the door.

In the past four years the situation has deteriorated. Expatriates can no longer walk the streets since the murder of one lady on her way to work. The Taliban claimed responsibility for her murder as they did two weeks ago when 10 medical workers from the oldest NGO in the country were killed on their way back to Kabul after taking eye care to a remote region, which is not a place where Taliban are active. The Taliban are murderers but also slandering liars. They said that these workers had been killed because they were engaged in Christian missionary activity.

Christian evangelism is against the law. N.G.O. workers are scrupulous in obeying this law otherwise such organizations could not have been operating there for over 40 years. Yes, the people murdered had Bibles in Dari, the main Afghan language, but working there an expatriate wants to learn the language and Christians have Bibles.

Four years ago only expatriate Christians could gather behind high compound walls and worship as church. There are no church buildings allowed. Any Afghan who is known to be a convert to Christianity will disappear, often killed by the family he/she has ‘shamed.’ Now the Kabul expatriates have lost their main place for worship.

In the UK, as political pressure increase for our troops to be withdrawn, I wonder what will be left in Afghanistan? I fear it will be a failed state, violent, torn by internecine fighting, a place unsafe for Christians with no freedom of religion at all. That is the way it always has been.

What will Western intervention have achieved? It has not found Osama Bin Laden. It has not defeated the Taliban or united the country.

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