Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Streets On Fire

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has just recently released a report on the deplorable conditions in Afghanistan. The report is filled with words and phrases like “absolute poverty”, “widespread corruption”, “disillusioned” and “abuse of power”. Since 2002, over $35 billion dollars of aid has been poured into the country and yet, the country has seen no significant improvement. The report criticizes the international community for placing too much focus on security rather than long-term development and ignoring the basic needs of the people. As expected, the report also lists numerous statistics relating to the appalling living conditions including the “world’s second highest maternal mortality rate” and the “third worst child mortality rate”. Furthermore, the report criticizes the corruption within the country where the “abuse of power is the key driver of poverty in Afghanistan.”
As I went through numerous articles, members of the of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner’s office blamed corrupt vested interests which shape the public agenda to be one of the primary factors behind the fact that only “23% of the population have access to safe drinking water” and the incredibly low literacy rates (only 24% above the age of 15 can read and write). Additionally, the report draws attention to the dire need for abusive power structures to be “torn down as a matter of urgency”. An article posted from the Associated Press addresses the “vicious cycle” that Afghans are trapped in; for Afghanis, the only way to survive is to take up arms and “perpetuate the vicious cycle of war and poverty that has plagued the country for decades.”
At this point, it is important to note that this report comes days after President Obama’s surprise visit to Afghanistan who pledges to not “give up” on Afghanistan. If anything, it seems that the U.N. wants to hint out to Obama’s administration and the international parties involved that after 8 years, nothing has change. I also looked at an interview on MSNBC with Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films who is directing the movie, Rethink Afghanistan of which I have attached a short clip.

From the clip, it seems apparent that after the billions of dollars spent on the war, the focus of the war needs to shift from this whole “in it to win it” to a more substantial future for the country. Robert Greenwald brings up a great point that “war is not free”; spending 2.5 million dollars itself while President Obama was giving his speech is astounding. Moreover, there seems to be inherent flaws in the system being used in Afghanistan. Six billion dollars have spent on security including police forces, arsenal, etc. in Afghanistan but it still seems that the Taliban are well in control of the population.
One discernable aspect of this interview was that Robert Greenwald brought President Karzai’s corruption into the picture; how can a war-torn Afghanistan enjoy any positive change if its leader itself if corrupt? Though the U.N. report did not mention President Karzai’s corruption in particular, there does seem to be this consensus that corrupt officials are one of the root causes of this poverty. This U.N. report describes the Afghan people to be “disenfranchised and marginalized; their voices are rarely heard.” At this point, a number of questions are yet unanswered; Does America need to keep 120,000 active troops in Afghanistan? If so, do these troops need to shift their focus toward improving the lives of Afghans? Does the U.N. need to do more than just post a report but actively participate in the distribution of Aid?
I titled this post, “Streets on Fire” (a song by Lupe Fiasco) because to me, it honestly seems that way. This war in Afghanistan has been going on for almost a decade, billions of dollars have been spent and thousands of lives have been lost but to what avail? “Poverty is neither accidental nor inevitable”; it seems that this dwindling lack of interest in Afghanistan’s future by the international community has left their citizens “disillusioned”. It seems to me that this pursuit of a military stronghold has ignored or even exacerbated the plight of the poor. After 2001’s Bonn Agreement, reconstruction, developmental, education and sanitary projects have all taken a back seat to security. Ironically, even security is a luxury Afghanis cannot enjoy.

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