Saturday, July 19, 2008

Foley comments

Conor Foley, a sometimes-writer, sometimes-humanitarian worker, is visiting Afghanistan at the moment. Writing in the Guardian, he speaks with an official of the Afghan Human Rights Commission and has some noteworthy observations about armchair generals posing as progressives:

A counterweight to a failing state
Guardian, July 18

The brave and decent people of Afghanistan are trying to create a decent society out of the rubble of three decades of destruction. The least we can do is listen to what they are saying.

Mirwais Ahmadzai had more important people to talk to than me on the day that we met and we both knew it.

Ahmadzai is a close friend and one of the former heads of office of the legal aid project that I helped to set up in Afghanistan five years ago. Today, he leads the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in its eastern region where US forces [operate]...

Local opinion is mixed about [the occupation]. On the one hand security is better than in other parts of the country, but stories abound about their high-handedness and cultural insensitivity. Traveling in local taxis I was twice almost forced off the road by their military convoys. "They are rude and aggressive," a local teacher told me. "And we cannot hold them to account when they kill people."

The killing of civilians by foreign soldiers is becoming an increasingly explosive issue. AIHRC sends its staff to video the aftermath of bomb strikes, record statements by victims and witnesses and try to sift through the propaganda, to uncover the truth of what has happened. The work is dangerous, because neither side fully respects the commission's independence or the strictures of the Geneva Conventions.

The US military is now at least prepared to meet with Ahmadzai, a recent breakthrough, and sometimes apologises and offers compensation to the victims. However, it only gives about $2,000 for a death and half that for an injury, which Ahmadzai says is too low to incentivise a change in tactics. Ahmadzai points out that the "blood price" for a killing under Afghan customary law is more than 10 times this amount and has lobbied for compensation levels to be raised.

There is a view among a section of the American and British left that the conflict taking place in Afghanistan today is a "liberal struggle", which progressives should, therefore, unconditionally support. To question the west's military strategy – or its increasingly threadbare predictions of imminent military victory – is seen as being "up for the other side", or to have a masochistic desire to see "your own side" getting beaten. But that is not how the Afghans that I know think.

There is no military victory in sight for either side and sooner or later they will have to talk. Building respect for human rights and the rule of law is not a "diversion" from the fight against the Taliban or a "luxury" that the country cannot afford at the moment. Indeed it was the initial neglect of these things that sowed the seeds for the Taliban's revival... (link)

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