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The Battle for Afghanistan’s Hearts and Minds has been Lost

Letter from an Afghan
Asar Iqbal
Sunday 11 April 2010

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Hamid Karzai has been the leader of Afghanistan since the Bonn Conference, which took place shortly after the expulsion of the Taliban in 2001. This means that President Karzai has been in office for eight years with another four yet to be served. With all that time under his belt, shouldn’t we have seen some accomplishments? His speeches, full of promises, are merely black lines on paper; he has not brought us peace, nor prosperity, nor the hope for a better future.

The Afghan people had high hopes for Mr. Karzai. Few had heard of him before 2001 and he was an unexpected choice for the transitional authority. He was perceived to be a down-to-earth leader to whom most Afghans could relate and we were comforted by his close family ties to King Zahir Shah. In the beginning, we believed in him but he has failed to meet many basic, yet crucial expectations.

The Afghan people, like people everywhere, want ordinary lives. We want running water. We want electricity. We want hospitals that are staffed and operational especially in rural areas. It is shameful that in this day and age the wealthy can get cancer treatments while the poor die of malaria. We want everyone to be able to eat at least two meals a day. We want our children to stop laboring in fields and go to school. We want women to cease being the targets of violence. We want women to have equal rights and engage in public life. We want a government that functions.

Karzai is our first and only experience with democracy and our country continues to deteriorate. Many of our leaders are unqualified and lack formal education. Yet we find them, working with the powerful people in our country and getting wealthy from bribes. I am sorry to say this, but the worst affronts on our liberty have happened under our new, western-backed government. This isn’t democracy; this is a joke. For all the money that the western world spends on aid, little, if any of it, is reaching the people who need it most.

We have waited so long for the light of democracy to reach us. We are still waiting. Our country and our people have been washed in war and we are weary of pointing out corruption, greed and inefficiency. I do not know what it would be like to sit in an air-conditioned office wearing an expensive tailored suit with an array of exotic foods before me, but I do know what it’s like to live in a remote village with no electricity, no safe drinking water and very little to eat.

My government does not notice me, or those like me. I want someone to ask where the millions of dollars in foreign aid are going. Who is eating the hopes and dreams of the poor? As I read back over this, I think to myself, “the battle for Afghan hearts and minds has been lost.”

— edited by Bethany Niebauer

Asar Iqbal is an Afghan refugee writer living in the UK.

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Forum posts

  • Ya Asar karzai has really hurt our expectations. I think we should beg America to make Karzai a monarchy king then he (karzai) would have whole life to deliver our basic necessities. Shame ...

  • Hi,Iqbal
    You wrote very well. If our young generation participate in this journey of our country. it will one time make our dreams come true. From those old folks, do not expect anything!!!!

  • I was in your wonderful country once and can tell you one thing for sure: for rich powerful Americans you are a great place to steal. You have everything: mountains, gemstones, geographic and political position. And Americans will steal it all the same way they did to us Native American Indians. I recently presented the female chief of a local Native American tribe in Oregon USA a photo of your refugee camps and said "looks just like the first reservations (concentration death camps) for Native Americans when the Europeans stole their land. Try to realize, that all the great freedom and beauty they lie to you about in America was bought at the price of blacks in slavery and stealing the land from the natives (exactly in the same way Israel has stole the Palestenian land). There is no difference: there is one goal: to make your country into a big resort/military base/natural resources theft bank for rich Europeans and Americans. If by the way they have no other choice than to win the hearts of you Afghanis — they will pretend to do so. I feel very sorry for you. They are huge, powerful and violent and mean and you will have to learn how to jump when they snap their fingers and dance when they play their songs. They will turn your women into their slaves and prostitutes and sell your souls to their banks. Good luck. There are some nice ones.....they tag along and pick up the dead children and teach Christian love.

    • regarless of the rich soil and importnt geographical location of afghanistan, i cld say without any hesitation that we need a diplomatic way or compromise with Americans. For instance if we have diamond & gold in our mountains, we do not have technology to execute it.if we have stragic geo-g location, we can not alone stablise our country to get benefit of this. In our histry none of our leader did well to steer our country to the right direction (peace & prsperity).All is fake there.Later in Taliban regime, most afghan condemn thier way of governing. many has failed right there.If we do not like to go with Russai, nor with westren, where we cld stand. we shldn’t miss this opportunity to progress but we really need committed and "can do" leader with telants of leading this challenging country.many thanks

    • I do understand what you mean: your country needs help to develop. but you will pay a price for that help one way or another. nothing is really free you know. Americans and all colonials have a way of approaching development of poor countries. first of all the give tons of money to the country’s military and officials to buy their loyalty and attention and get contracts. then they do roads and military bases and police and tax things first. Americans are kind of new to this. The British have a lot of experience. But then you need to come to an American City such as Chicago or Los Angeles to see just how bad some americans live there, especially minorities. And then you will realize that "those who need help the most" are usually the last to get it. The way the government looks at it is called "the trickle down effect". In other words if they help the rich companies and military first...........the benefits will eventually trickled down. Obviously this tricke down never happens sometimes. so what you are doing is the first step: complain and activity to get what you want. But first of you need to get inside the eyes and head of a typical american. They look down on any body who lives like a tribe or like a desert person in a small clay hosue. I saw one video where the american soldiers used an afghani villager’s house for a toilet to go to bathroom in and ruined his small humble clean room. To these kind of young mean american soldiers: all others who are different are nothing and to be kicked and used and laughed at. Soon you will see big high rise resorts where you can get a job as tea boy or waitress or room cleaner at a small wage. this will be the first help you get. shall i go on??? or do i make you sick and angry at me and other americans????

    • Thank you for the interesting true picture of America & their attitude towards Afhans!

      To me it all comes down to how young people are educated. The Jews, responsible for education in the US, teach youth there are no absolutes! There are no rules necessarily...so when they enter life they figure rules are made to be broken! This careless attitude about life caused by rejecting love from their Savior Jesus who teaches us strong convictions is the problem with american soldiers!
      If they are at home, & they throw trash on the street from there vehical they have to pay if caught. There are some rules they keep! ha! The true way we view american kids is how we see them as they act without restraint! Then their true character is revealed to the public. —e
      google activated magazine

  • HI,

  • Foreigners can give you not democracy but a colonial administrator, and that if Afghan people want democracy, they must create and nurture their leaders and their own democracy harmonized with Afghan culture. U.S. military bases have been located for many decades in my country called "a democratic and advanced nation." But I believe that people can not consolidate democracy under military occupation. The U.S. national interests always get priority over our human rights and welfare in my nation. Not only you but my people need to be more aware that democracy fails, without all citizens’ lasting efforts.

    Though your nation is rife with corruption, Western countries, the UN, and other organizations are free neither from corruption nor from waste of money. From the point of my view, they are trying to justify their military aggression and to connive at their corruption by emphasizing corruption of Afghan people. When my nation had been totally occupied by U.S. forces, they had enforced strict censorship and had carried out propaganda aimed at all age levels on a large scale, in order to lead my people to believe that American culture is absolutely superior to ours and the U.S. is very gracious to us. Though it is absurd to measure one culture against others, our people had believed their propaganda and had given up something essential. Its invisible harmful influence have been gradually heavy over the years, and only recently, visibly serious damage on our society opened our eyes to this fact. In many ways, Afghan people need to improve their nation and to break some bad tradition, but they must grasp part of Afghanistan worth protecting — some of which must have been destroyed in decades-long wars, but don’t give up recovering them for your people and the next generation.

    The West have looted natural resources of developing countries in various methods exceeding the domestic allowable environmental limits set by the West. Those ways are as pernicious as corruption but they are not classified by Western law as illegal. If a leader of a developing country demands that they stop environmental contamination or exploitation, the US and their allies will replace him/her with a puppet by force, which is more pernicious than corruption but is not regarded as illegal, according to the U.S. interpretation of international law. Therefore, for protecting their subsistence rights, many indigenous people in the world are associating themselves with steady movements against exploitation of resources. It is a double-edged sword that a developing country depends on foreign capital for developments, though Karzai are trying to attract foreign funds to Afghanistan by actively pushing underground resources. In the worst case, what mineral resources bring your people, except the few people with vested interests, is only the state’s expanding debt and polluted homeland where people can not live. Both democracy and capitalism are not flawless, and if you make incorrect use them, the former based on majority rule abandons minorities or the weak, and the latter, which places absolute trust in market and its efficiency, ruins moral. The current U.S. is a case in point.

    Most of "aid money" is used for prosecuting military operations, for corrupting the ruling class, for silencing the people who violently resist military occupation, and for dividing Afghan people — to put it briefly, for facilitating military occupation. On the other hand, the poor people are neglected, because their voice is too weak to protest against military occupation and to demand for the accountability of the occupation forces and the puppet regime. If you and your mates can access the Internet, I suggest that you continuously post or blog your plight and opinion, because international community including my country little understand what Afghan ordinary citizens want to say, while it is in a siege of propaganda made by U.S. military and CIA.

    You said, "we need compromise with Americans," whose troops have bombed, raided, and been displaced Afghan people, and have a few hundred of military bases in Afghanistan. Still, if you can consider the possibility of a compromise with the U.S., which is a very painful choice for the people who were killed their folks by the foreign troops, how about considering making peace among Afghan people, including Taliban? Of course, I approve neither violence nor discrimination against women nor narcotics trafficking nor unconditional immunity from prosecution of crimes. But civil wars kill your people, foment their hatred, worsen poverty, and give the U.S. an excuse for military occupation. The U.S. will continue to give your people tons of arms on the pretext of ensuring public safety, which leads to extension of the civil war. The U.S. will continue to interfere in reconciliations and dialogue among Afghan people to perpetuate occupying Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Afghan people should stop the civil war by any means. Your people should compromise each other who oppose military occupation and the puppet regime. Unless Afghan people join forces, international community which is partaking directly or indirectly in military invasion on Afghanistan does not treat your voice with gravity, and Afghan people can not change their nation’s course.

    • It is very sincere comment with sense of reality and refer to history. The millitary occupation is always effect a state ability to function in thier traditional way as well as it disable a state to secure thier local and international interest. As far as concern the american interests in afghanistan, it is for sure, there are many. I like the phrase used by Zen above says"Nothing come free". what the America spent or spending in afghnstn will definitly cost our people in some ways. there is also a less chance to eliminate the question that america will turn our country in a millitary base or weapons market or so called. the word of compromising with america does not mean that USA sould have 99% stake to decide the future of our people which wld be dangerouse and conflicting with our culture and wld not be able give a fruitful expected results in future. Nor i mean that USA shld stay there unlimitedly. if they are, it wld lead to give further strength to the thinking of our people that USA is not developing a democracy in our country but it is a Hypocracy.
      USA did lot of mistakes in our country which really damage thier interests as well as ours. But to the point of debate, it is the very much demand of time & situation that Americans troops shld stay there for some time. In the near future we all wld have the answers to many uncertain questions which wld reveal the real inside spice news and secrets. if an analyst who anlaysing the ups and downs of our country cld go and live in one of our remote village, he/she cld have approach to many questions like why most of afghans support the current occupation of our country by western.we are really tired of our own fake leader.It is very interesting to study the mindset, thoughts and beleifs of our warlords who took part in different proxy war.After it wld be very easy chose from either foriegn occupation or our own cursed leader.
      2marow i will explain to the some deep level. thanks

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