OVER THE past two decades, as their wild and once-beautiful country has been
wrecked by a revolving cast of super-powers, religious fanatics and thugs, the
people of Afghanistan have been promised much. Almost nothing has been delivered,
a reality that hovered like the proverbial dark cloud over the lofty speeches
and ambitious plans of the recent loya jirga.
This time, thanks to eight months of hunting Osama bin Laden with jets and
bombs, the promise-makers are we. But, as Abdul Azimi, a law professor, told the
Los Angeles Times last week: "A lot of Afghan people are still not sure if the
United States is sincere this time or will disappear after a year or two when
the first part of its goals are achieved."
A lot of Afghan people are smart to be unsure. The United States has a bad
habit of disappearing from messes we've helped make after our initial goals have
been achieved. We also have a bad habit of then popping up elsewhere to help make
a new mess.
Millions of Afghans may be illiterate, but they can read the political handwriting
on the wall. What's writ these days by the White House, be it peanuts for aid
or George W. Bush's announced contract on Saddam Hussein, does not engender optimism.
All the while talking about its commitment to rebuild a democratic Afghanistan,
the Bush administration puts most of its money into U.S. military operations.
Never mind schools or water systems, even something as fundamental to a country's
stability as effective, nationwide security has been treated as a luxury item.
Every aid and human rights organization in Afghanistan has complained that
security outside of Kabul is either nonexistent or entrusted to war lords whose
methods are merely a variation on the Taliban's cruel theme. Our answer to the
dangerous vacuum? We're teaching Afghan men the art of soldiering and leaving
Germany to try to find and train a police force.
How about something as politically sensible (and moral) as compensating Afghan
victims of U.S. bombs? It isn't on Bush's list of must-do's. Just ask the members
of a U.S. group called Peaceful Tomorrows (www.peacefultomorrows.
Formed by families of people who were killed in the attacks on the World Trade
Center and Pentagon, Peaceful Tomorrows is pressing Congress and the White House
to make financial amends to Afghans who lost relatives, homes and businesses to
U.S. bombing. In the Bay Area, such representatives as Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee
and Lynn Woolsey have joined the effort.
After several members traveled to Afghanistan in January and saw the devastation
for themselves, the group wrote Bush and requested a meeting.
"We waited for a couple of months and finally got an answer from his scheduling
office. They turned us down, saying that he's tremendously busy and has had many
similar requests," said Kelly Campbell, a Bay Area member of Peaceful Tomorrows.
"We kind of doubt that: Many requests? From families of Sept. 11 victims who want
compensation for the families of our sister victims?"
Despite being blown off by the White House, Peaceful Tomorrows has been encouraged
by the results of a new Zogby International poll. Commissioned by the human rights
group, Global Exchange, the survey found that 69 percent of Americans think the
United States government, "as a goodwill gesture, should provide humanitarian
assistance" to Afghan civilians who've been injured by our war on terrorism in
"In the grand scheme of what we spend money on, it would not take a lot to
help these people," said Campbell. "And it's not just the compassionate thing
to do, it's in our strategic world interest. It would show people that Americans
are human beings, too, that our commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan is not just
a facade; it's really true."
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle