October 11: Afghanistan

Afghans Skeptical of US Aid
.c The Associated Press

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) - In their clinic at the edge of town, Afghan volunteers with no love for terrorists or the Taliban offer their own damage assessment of an allied campaign they hope may free Afghanistan.

``With all respect, this is nonsense,'' said Mohammed Arif, who administers the Guardians, an Afghan aid agency. ``You bomb on one hand and drop food on the other? What are these poor people supposed to think?''

In the end, he added, he fears Americans might win their war and then walk away again, leaving a mortally wounded Afghanistan to bleed itself dry.

The Guardians' medical teams are partly supported by U.S. aid, although they've painted the familiar American symbol of clasped hands off their sign in these uneasy times. U.S. Embassy officials agreed that was a good idea.

But like many people in poor countries, their sympathy for Americans isn't matched by enthusiasm for decades of U.S. foreign aid policy, Republican or Democratic.

Arif said that uneducated Afghans who learned to fear Soviet mines dropped from the sky, and who were warned by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers against the Americans' new airdrop, are likely to run from the strange cartons.

Where medicines are included, he said, people who cannot read will almost certainly use them wrongly, possibly dangerously.

The United States hopes the airdrop will demonstrate that although 5,500 innocent people are missing or dead in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, America is not waging war on the Afghan population, or on Islam as a whole.

But Arif calls it a U.S. domestic public relations exercise that will squander money while trained teams on the ground who can actually help are starved for supplies and funds.

``If simple people like us can figure out what is wrong, why can't the Americans understand, with all their resources in Washington?'' he asked.

Echoing sentiments heard for years from Pakistan to Paraguay, he said that Americans were generous with emergency aid when faced with sudden calamity but that their long-term policies by far overshadowed the impact.

For instance, he said, Afghans were grateful for U.S. military aid against the Soviets who occupied Afghanistan for nine years, but when the Soviets departed in 1989, the Americans lost interest overnight.

The United States says it has contributed more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid to the Afghan people since 1979, more than any other country, and provides 80 percent of all food aid sent through the United Nations. Last week the White House announced an additional $320 million in aid for Afghanistan and neighboring states.

But Arif said Washington spent billions of dollars on the war against the Soviets, and had it devoted a fraction of that amount to educating people and strengthening Afghan society, history might have turned out different.

His colleagues rocked their heads in eager agreement. They reason that Afghans with education and a working society would have resisted warlords and the Taliban which followed.

``Look what they did in Japan,'' Arif said. ``They had to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end a war, but then they spent all that money to rebuild the society. Look at Japan today. Why them and not Afghanistan?''

Across town, Abdul Mustafa directs a different voluntary agency, which also has U.S. and U.N. support. For his group's future safety in Afghanistan, he asks that it not be named.

Mustafa cites Germany rather than Japan, but for him that makes the same point.

An Afghan, he is humiliated by what he calls the result of Western neglect.

``We have lost our pride, our honor,'' he said. In a society torn apart by overarmed rival rebels, people under 25 have never known a united Afghanistan at peace.

The old ties that bound Afghan society broke up, leaving a vacuum filled by mullahs preaching an extremist line of militant Islam.

With a flourish, he produced a dog-eared book with illustrations of Afghans in court dress, ambassadors to European courts, and leaders who ruled over the Texas-sized nation when it was a different place.

``If I tell young people today that their country used to have universities, hospitals, a decent life, they think I'm crazy,'' he said. ``All they know is the neglect of people who have passed through.''

AP-NY-10-11-01 1441EDT

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