Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chayes interviewed

As many readers will undoubtedly be aware, Sarah Chayes is a respected commentator on Afghan affairs, having lived in Kandahar province for several years running a soap cooperative. Here, Renée Montagne, host of the Morning Edition on National Public Radio, interviews Chayes:

Westerner in Kandahar: What Afghans Want
Morning Edition, June 26, 2008

... MONTAGNE: One thing about this is the Taliban have not been able to hold this land. They managed to infiltrate, get in, put up a good fight and then be driven off. That seems like a good thing for the NATO forces there, but is it really?

Ms. CHAYES: Good question. And in fact if you look just north of Arghandab, the three or four northern districts of Kandahar Province are now entirely in Taliban hands. So although they haven't been able to hold Arghandab District, which is right up against the city, they are holding about a quarter or a third of the province.

There's quite a lot of Canadian NATO-force presence in that area, and yet plenty of Taliban presence also. So I think it's important to realize that from the perspective of ordinary people, there are some places where there's almost like a shadow government of Taliban under the surface of apparent Afghan government control.

So you'll see villages who will actually send delegations to the Taliban to request permission to, for example, repair an irrigation ditch and will ask the Taliban, please don't destroy the bulldozers that we're going to use this work. And this in districts that allegedly are under Afghan government control.

MONTAGNE: At the moment, NATO troops are patrolling villages outside Kandahar, but where, from your perspective, does everything stand?

Ms. CHAYES: On the surface, it looks as though international forces in the Afghan army have, you know, scored a great victory against the Taliban, who really came very, very close to Kandahar City. Basically what I would say is, in the short term, yes, the dust is settling and displaced people are moving back into Arghandab. But I certainly expect that there will be more attacks on this district.

MONTAGNE: You were, at one time, a supporter of Hamid Karzai's government, have changed your thinking about that. What is this government not doing, that both it could do, and that is going to hurt Afghanistan?

Ms. CHAYES: It has hurt Afghanistan, unfortunately. The Afghan population, as I've been experiencing it, is really looking for equity, competent officials, fair treatment, and some sort of say in their collective destiny. And unfortunately, the government that President Karzai has been presiding over has really treated the Afghan population like a goose to be plucked, in a sense. And so I actually think that a lot of what's going wrong in Afghanistan, it isn't ideological at all, it's that people are so frustrated with the behavior of government officials toward them, that they don't really see much difference between the Taliban and the government.

They see them as two factions bent on power and money. And so what I reproach President Karzai for is not really cracking down on the behavior of his government officials. He should not be putting up with this kind of behavior toward his own citizens... (link to audio of interview)

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