What do they Need?

Janis nailed it…”Freedom’s just another word for nothing
left to lose.” (Kristofferson and Foster) Crazy as this world gets, those
nine words explain quite a bit.

Americans and our coalition of forces attempt to
“help” Afghans. We want to give them, “something” to lose.
But? What the heck is an Afghan? What do they want? What do they not want? 10
years later, do we even know?

Indulge me while I inject some confusion into our clarity
regarding Afghans. This is a paraphrased version of a Benedictine
Grima
tale from her field work. If one desires knowledge about AfPak, particularly the
female’s role, Ms Grima is THE source.

The tale….Two men travel to village 1. While there, they
commit robbery and murder. These crimes are detected by local police. The
police debate their response, and decide to chase the perpetrators.

They enter the criminal’s village (village 2) where locals set
upon the police and kill them. These villagers for whatever reason don’t
appreciate nor require police involvement in their affairs. Villages 1 and 2
are content to solve crimes of any type within their own system of justice. In
response to the police incursion, village 2 blocks outside access to the road
preventing further police/outsider interference.

Up the road a bit, the next village (village 3) hears of this
incident. The road blockage makes them fighting mad. A village 2 v. village 3
mini-war occurs; people die. Why? Village 3 needs that road to survive or,
shoot–some other reason. We don’t and honestly; we can’t know.

The point isn’t “should we” or “shouldn’t we” be here; that’s a
different blog…Fact is we are here.

So let’s do this…Let me take you to a village. You comment
below on how we are going to help….maybe we’ll all learn something.

On the approach to the village we see a few hundred goats and herders.
(When was the last time you saw a herder?) Wild dogs bark our arrival, but
never approach us. We have to walk, just like locals; there are no cars or even
horse drawn carts. There isn’t a cell signal and there hasn’t been one for
miles in any direction. GPS? eh….even satellite navigation is not reliable.

Supplies move on foot. The men and kids seem dirty but not
filthy. There is no electricity or running water. The buildings are all made of
mud bricks and mud stucco. The ground is the same color as the buildings. We
see donkeys, chickens, but no females. Even if we do see a female, she’s
treated as if she’s invisible. Yet, female empowerment is considered critical
to success.

The goats, chickens and orchards tell us these are farming
people. There are no flags that indicate any sort of government building or allegiance.
A pond in the middle of the village isn’t likely potable.
The men wear a loose fitting pantsuit type garment, sandals and a vest. Nobody
wears glasses (or contacts) but always a head covering of some sort.

We’re told the kids don’t go to school. The last teacher was
killed by the Taliban more than 8 years ago. A local leans in and says,
“The Taliban left town as soon as the dogs started barking. You just
missed them.” The closest “city” is three hours away by car. The
information highway is 2,000 years ahead.

10 thoughts on “What do they Need?

  1. I’d say the bigger question isn’t about how we’re going to help, but more what can we possibly do to help. Do we offer to train someone from the village to be a teacher (or some other sort of leader). That sounds like a good idea, but will the Taliban just come back after we leave & kill this teacher like they did to the last one?
    Can we bring them potable water? Sure, but that’s a band-aid, not a cure.
    Isn’t the key to getting rid of the Taliban more tied to getting the locals to want a change than US Troops eliminating the Taliban when/if they find them? Sounds like that’s a tall order right now.
    Just my $.02. I don’t think the “Big Picture” guys in Washington get it, and they probably never will.

  2. Hard to tell what they need. They have done without for so long. They don’t know what they don’t know and don’t know what can help them. Clean water would be a start.

  3. Sad to say it, but they’ve been living without any shred of a decent life for so long, they’ve gotten used to it. Now that Bin Laden has been killed, and most of Al Queda and the Taliban are on the run, is it time to end the mission? Maybe, but we definitely need to keep a presence to help with humanitarian needs, at the least.

  4. Are they hungry for freedom? Are they hungry for what we have to offer? Or are they sitting by, knowing that they are not happy with the Taliban and waiting for us to do SOMETHING…ANYTHING. And, like an average ungrateful teenager, mad that we are trying to help. I watched Iraqi people dancing in the street as the towers fell. Why am I helping that?

    I believe it was Thomas Jefferson that told us it was our duty to spread freedom. I support our troops in this effort. May God bless them in their mission. I love welcoming home our military men and women, in a manner befitting their service. I am so very thankful to be born in a free nation. Reguardless of their geographical location, all men and women have a right to the same freedom. I wonder if the poeple that we are trying to help really want the help and are they hungry for it. If not, once we leave, the structure we set in place will crumble. IMHO.

  5. I am curious when we are talking about size of villages how many people are we talking about. When I read the beginning tale about the police taking action and getting killed it seems to me its more like the Old West tales we have stories of here in the U.S. Unappreciated outsiders not welcome when you have very tiny tightly knit communities. Wasn’t the biggest thing the U.S did back then was to create a better transportation and communication system so that larger communities could more efficiently help govern smaller ones and more commerce would come through. When you were saying the nearest city is 3 hours away by car to us that isn’t that big of a deal. Lots of small communities in the Midwest like that but because of our roads and power grid setup they are not considered “isolated”. Small scale you asked What do Afgans want? Basically I imagine they want what everyone wants to be safe and happy and to watch their kids grow up to do better than they did. It sounds like in a community that small your talking about better food production. I think water sounds reasonable. Also would you have to bring it to everywhere if word got out that there was better living conditions in another village I imagine those smaller communities would start to condense over time and become larger. Are larger communities less susceptible to intimidation by the Taliban? Anyway this is all me speculating I am not in the least bit political or intelligent on stuff like this. So if it sounds naive its because I am. Love the blog and keep it up I am telling everyone about it!

  6. I have no idea how to answer your question, so I’ll address the herder inquiry instead. Last time I was in Benicia (maybe April?) there was a herder and his sheep eating the tall grass in the valleys between the housing developments in Southampton. I understand that he is a traditional shepherd and will sell some of his herd for food at the end of the journey – some where in Napa. He is making a living in an environmentally-friendly manner. Sometimes traditions have a place in modern society but balance is required.

  7. Do the people in this village really require our help? From what I am seeing, they don’t. If they need it, they should ask. I’m thinking that us helping this particular group will likely hurt them more than help. Say you dig a well or provide them with the technology to drill their own and help surrounding communities. Water is life, right? And you would think that like here, they would build a better relationship when helping their neighbors with this new technology. But no, if we teach them and provide them with the ability to drill for their own water, now they have a target on their back. “Good” people and the bad will want it for themselves and instead of working with them, they take it at any cost. That is what makes helping these people so ever chanllanging. It is a chatch 22 with us being out there.

  8. Peter my good man. It seems to me that the first need of these folks it the means to protect themselves from the Taliban etc. Arming them? Communication links to the US forces when the Taliban come into their village? Get rid of all the wild dog alarms. Until they want our help whether drilling wells, building schools etc. and are willing to work for it, it is hard to inagine much change there. The A Gans need to want progress enough to do it themselves and/or support our efforts to help them. If the US is benifiting from all of our efforts, continue to try to help. If we are not benifiting and the A Gansdon’t want us, or are indifferent to our efforts, get out. They have been living that way for millenuims.
    We are not the answer to everyones problems nice as it would be if we could get everyone to sit down for tea, that is not likely to happen.

    Provide the means, let them provide the effort to win this battle.

  9. We’re here in class in good old BHS reviewing for first quarter exams in World Civ and US history….we’re talking things like Social Contract a la Rousseau where the people give power to a government in exchange for protection of rights and some security in their lives….in exchange, the government provides this….should the government fail or misuse that power, the people have the right/obligation to replace/overthrow it….the conversation though extended from the ideas of John Locke: Natural Rights- Life, Liberty and Property , the Government’s Role – to PROTECT these individual rights; the Citizens’ Right – Overthrow the government should it fail to protect their rights and The PEOPLE – provide final authority of government and Voltaire: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Religious Tolerance, and The Use of Reason. These ideas have been so ingrained in our thinking it is difficult for us to consider them not existing as a part of the human equation….but, in county’s where these ideas are not a part of living and breathing as they are for us….just surviving, by whatever means, is often what constitutes ‘rule of law’……I would wonder when, if ever, these conversations may have taken place in the history of the land we now call Afghanistan…..makes me wonder more about how they came to the place they currently are……

  10. “Basically I imagine they want what everyone wants to be safe and happy and to watch their kids grow up to do better than they did.”

    — Dangerous to assume people are similar everywhere you go- and that they are rational.

    “Protection from the Taliban”

    — I met a lot of Afghans who liked the Taliban they were related to much more than the “elected” government officials…

    Here’s my answer:

    This town needs an armed force to get the surrounding towns to accept their 1000 year-old claims on grazing land, road passage, and water rights. Back then this town’s citizens were powerful enough to control those things themselves- but after the Soviets came in they lost that power. So, naturally, they want them back now. Oh, they also want that armed force to keep the local police from other towns, the provincial and district police, unfriendly Taliban from a different subtribe, the Afghan Army, and Coalition forces away from their town- as mostly all of those entities make lots of noise, interrupt normal daily life, cause collateral damage, get involved in disputes that just piss everyone off, steal, and offend everyone in the town. Lastly, this armed force needs to stop and tax travelers who are using their roadway, but not stopping in the town. The roadway is expensive to maintain and protect- and thus these folks need to be taxed- or shaken down- whatever you want to call it. This armed force should probably live within the town, comform to the town’s religious and cultural norms, and generally pay homage to the town’s elders.

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