Friday, January 29, 2010

Comment on the biggest opponent in Afghanistan

If you haven't seen the movie or read the book The Kite Runner (wiki) yet, we highly recommend it. The story shows a great contrast in quality of life over the years in Afghanistan.

The setting for the start of The Kite Runner is Afghanistan before the Russian war, what you see is relative freedom, some commerce and standing buildings. When the main character returns to Taliban controlled Afghanistan at the end of the movie, you see destroyed buildings, closed shops and religious oppression.

We bring all this up because we ran across a commentary from the writer of the book that was based on the film. Khaled Hosseini maintains that the biggest opponent in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or al Qaeda, but it is poverty. We found the comment from Hosseini at the London Evening Standard.

Poverty is not new in Afghanistan. The country was one of the world's poorest even before it was ravaged by 30 years of war. Today, more than 25,000 Afghan women die each year during pregnancy, childbirth or after delivery. Average life expectancy is 44. One in four children will die before age five. Seventy per cent of the country does not have access to clean water, and half live on less than $1 a day.

Combating this is no modest undertaking. But is a fight against poverty in Afghanistan worth taking on even as the military fight intensifies?

The Afghans themselves make a moral argument. They point to the huge sacrifices that they made during the Soviet war. They believe the final chapter of the Cold War was inked in Afghan blood. The West, they say, bears a moral responsibility to help them rebuild their country.

This argument might not find much traction in Washington. But consider this: poverty helps the insurgency. While it is true that some young Afghans join the insurgency because of grievances against the Kabul regime, or religious fervour, or because they see foreign troops as occupiers, many more join because of a shortage of options and a lack of opportunity. The insurgents benefit from the deplorable economic conditions in Afghanistan.

When people have a roof over their head, food on the table and a school for their children, they are not as vulnerable to exploitation by extremists. Young Afghans deserve a better option than being fighters, and it would serve us well to give it to them.

No comments: