2006.10.17: October 17, 2006: Headlines: COS - Morocco: COS - Afghanistan: Journalism: Canada: Globe and Mail: Jeffrey Simpson writes: We can only hope, perhaps against hope, that Sarah Chayes is wrong

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Afghanistan: Special Report: Writer, Journalist, and AID Worker Sarah Chayes (RPCV Morocco) and her work in Afghanistan: Sarah Chayes: Newest Stories: 2006.10.17: October 17, 2006: Headlines: COS - Morocco: COS - Afghanistan: Journalism: Canada: Globe and Mail: Jeffrey Simpson writes: We can only hope, perhaps against hope, that Sarah Chayes is wrong

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Jeffrey Simpson writes: We can only hope, perhaps against hope, that Sarah Chayes is wrong

Jeffrey Simpson writes: We can only hope, perhaps against hope, that Sarah Chayes is wrong

If her description and analysis of what has been happening is correct, then the Canadians stationed in Kandahar province are operating at least partly under false assumptions. Forty-two Canadian soldiers have died there, two on the weekend. Others have been wounded, their lives scarred forever. Afghanistan is now Canada's largest recipient of foreign aid. Parliament has approved a two-year extension of Canada's mission there. And the government insists that Canada will "finish the mission" and "get the job done." Morocco RPCV Sarah Chayes has made a home in Kandahar, Afghanistan, became fluent in Pashto, one of the main Afghan languages, and devoted her energies to rebuilding a country gutted by two decades of war

Jeffrey Simpson writes: We can only hope, perhaps against hope, that Sarah Chayes is wrong

Pay attention to this voice in the Afghan wilderness


From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

We can only hope, perhaps against hope, that Sarah Chayes is wrong. Ms. Chayes, a U.S. radio reporter turned civil society advocate who has lived largely in Kandahar since 2002, recently published an engrossing, angry, hopeful, sometimes poetic book, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban, about her experiences.

If her description and analysis of what has been happening is correct, then the Canadians stationed in Kandahar province are operating at least partly under false assumptions. Forty-two Canadian soldiers have died there, two on the weekend. Others have been wounded, their lives scarred forever. Afghanistan is now Canada's largest recipient of foreign aid. Parliament has approved a two-year extension of Canada's mission there. And the government insists that Canada will "finish the mission" and "get the job done."

But what if some of the assumptions on which this mission is based are wrong? What if, as Ms. Chayes suggests, Pakistan is deliberately destabilizing Afghanistan? What if Pakistan knowingly allows Taliban fighters to live and thrive across the border, gives them easy passage to and from Afghanistan, and pays complicit Afghan provincial governors and police officials?

What if it suits Pakistan's purpose to serve up the occasional al-Qaeda member to appear as a steadfast ally in the "war on terror," while Pakistan's notorious security service simultaneously and duplicitously encourages the Taliban? And what if, again as asserted by Ms. Chayes, corruption sanctioned and organized by Afghan officials is so pervasive that it has turned Afghans into at least closet Taliban supporters?

Putting the Chayes matrix atop the sort of official Ottawa/NATO/Washington line -- we are there to fight the Taliban -- produces a severe disconnect between that line and reality -- the Chayes reality being that the Taliban enjoy a safe haven in Pakistan and that endemic corruption, rather than the Taliban, is peace and stability's greatest foe. In other words, Pakistan and corruption are the fundamental enemies, while the Taliban are the deadly but surrogate ones.

Ms. Chayes tells a gripping story about individuals and senior officials caught up in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Her portrayal of U.S. policy is devastating. Washington blasted Afghans' hopes for a better future by making alliances with warlords. U.S. officials and soldiers constantly misunderstood who was doing what in a country they barely knew. Arms of the U.S. government -- the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA -- often did not know what the others were doing.

Ms. Chayes played many roles: activist, journalist, observer, confessor, friend, foe, missionary. She clearly had favourites in Afghanistan, including President Hamid Karzai, who nonetheless disappointed her by refusing to move against warlords and corrupt provincial governors.

Her detailed story aside, The Punishment of Virtue depicts an entire country suffering from "collective post-traumatic stress disorder" in which no one trusts anyone outside their immediate circle. "Loyalties and allegiances are to individuals," she writes, not to government or legal institutions.

Afghan tribes have become accustomed to foreigners paying them tribute: British, Soviets, Americans, Canadians. Foreign money is a "badge of honour" to

be used by leaders to command loyalty.

The government in Kabul represents a yearning for national coherence, but it cannot compete with a deeper Afghan yaghestan: "dissolution into tribal units whose vertical ties are reinforced by the distribution of booty."

If this be so, then presumably much of the foreign aid in Afghanistan -- the vaunted "reconstruction money" -- has fallen and will continue to fall into corrupt hands for the political agendas of local strongmen.

"Kandahar," Ms. Chayes writes, "like much of Afghanistan, has survived through the years on three main sources of revenue: pillage, tribute or tolls, and subsidy. This latter is dutifully handed out by the Great (foreign) Power of the day, in an attempt to buy docility from the denizens of Yaghestan."

Wealth, often improperly amassed, exists amidst the overwhelming poverty, because "Kandaharis have a reputation for hiding their gold in rags and bones." Ms. Chayes says that, "even within Afghanistan, Kandahar is reviled. Its people are known as the greediest, the rudest and the most unruly, the most treacherous of all."

Ms. Chayes recently wrote in this newspaper that people in Kandahar "are deeply grateful for the presence, the courage, and the sacrifice of the Canadian troops. But . . . unless the Afghan government cracks down on its own corruption and brutality . . . villagers will keep making room for Taliban."


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Story Source: Globe and Mail

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