The beginning of the inevitable
Seeing the images of rockets being fired on Kabul, my mind reels back to my time there. I was shocked then by encountering mere remnants of a once-magnificent capital. Entire neighbourhoods were levelled, with massive rocket holes gaping in the sides of the remains as reminders of the cause. Stories of friends and colleagues helped me to understand the lives that were destroyed beneath all the rubble.
As an American, I find the reality of US bombs falling on Afghanistan disturbing. There is an inevitable uneasiness that comes with knowing that your country is at war. However, the gravity of the attacks which began late Sunday night is even more striking to me as one who spent the past year and a half working with a humanitarian aid organisation assisting Afghans.
While I feel reassured by the contained, cautious approach the US and UK are taking - one that is aimed at minimising the impacts on Afghan civilians and addressing the humanitarian crisis so many of them are facing - it is still difficult to shake my concern for the families I know who remain in Afghanistan and are now facing yet another siege on their country and threats to their lives.
Beyond the immediate dangers to vulnerable Afghans, I am greatly preoccupied by what will become of their country following these assaults against terrorism. Since the attacks of 11 September I have seen world opinion sway 180 degrees from stereotyping Afghans as Taliban supporters to seeing them as victims of Taliban oppression. While the latter view perhaps closer represents the reality, I cringe at the sentiment that we will be doing the Afghans a favour by toppling the Taliban.
On one hand, it is tormenting for many Afghans to see their country, a once prospering land full of many learned people, now being ruled by a band of uneducated zealots. I met former senior staff from the Ministry of Agriculture who can now only find work as gardeners, former high-ranking military officials putting their strategic thinking skills to use as photocopy operators, and one time professors who are now forced to peddle goods in the streets. Such people are appalled to see a band of turbaned youth inhabiting the government offices, squandering the country's remaining resources on the only vocation they know - war.
But it must be remembered that the Taliban also brought much-needed stability to a large part of the country. Grave human rights violations, lawlessness, and general destruction of the capital are the greatest legacies of the coalition mujahideen government from which the Taliban wrested control. I didn't meet many Afghans who hope for a return to power of these groups, many of which now make up the Northern Alliance.
My concerns revolve around the power vacuum that will arise if the Taliban are ousted. For the country to fall back into a protracted, bloody civil war would be the most disheartening of futures. The Afghans I worked with are strong people who have shown resilience in the face of years of hardship. But they are tired of fighting, tired of living as refugees. Most want nothing more now than to be able to rebuild their homes, educate their children and regain the basic rights of freedom and security of which the past two decades of war have deprived them.
The peace and stability Afghans seek for their country is in the interest of all.
It is possible the actions against the Taliban and terrorist networks could pave the way. But in the short term, it appears that the bombing is pushing the country further away from reaching these prerequisites for development. | Jon Kurtz
MAKS MSc student