The United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan, Mr. Kai Eide has called for more cultural sensitivity from NATO in their in-country operations. He claims that without NATO displaying more cultural light-footing, and a tad more caution when aiming weapons, civilian casualties will increase, and cooperation will evaporate.
He's kind of right. Afghanistan is that kind of place where kind-of-right and kind-of-wrong exist side by side.
In Kabul, where I have recently been based, there is a real love-hate feeling towards the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Having armed patrols may bring a sense of security and stability, but that is often tempered with resentment. In the capital ISAF presence has been relatively minimal up until recently and the urban population is generally more understanding though unhappy about their presence.
In the countryside (and most of Afghanistan's population live in the country - in small villages with little infrastructure) sometimes the forces bring medical aid or food. Accepting such assistance can have its drawbacks, because no matter how desperately ill your son and daughter may be, the hills have eyes. And mostly the eyes aren't friendly.
The troops can also be thuggish in their attempts to clear and hold. A civilian Pakistani friend of mine was recently terrorized for hours by US troops who handcuffed him and cocked a pistol to his head. Luckily my name in his cell phone address book was his get out of jail card and he was released after I was called to verify his identity. He had spent several hours kneeling in submission, terrified out of his wits. This was not a case of mistaken identity; this was a case of machismo gone haywire.
But there are always going to be incidences like this during war time. America is doing most of the heavy lifting in the NATO led ISAF forces. And they are about to send in another 20,000 troops to fight the insurgency. European countries have much fewer troop numbers, and they're mainly in the safer north. The US and the UK are doing the hard yards in the Taliban infested southern provinces, where whose side you are on depends very much on who was the last traveler through your village and what they offered you or what they threatened you with.
Hamid Karzai has tried to use anti-NATO sentiment most cynically in the past month, lambasting the military in particular for falling short in their duties.
But he also criticized the aid agencies - specifically the UN - and certainly they should be held accountable. The reconstruction and infrastructure building is eye wateringly slow, despite billions and billions and billions of aid money pouring into the country. Kabul still suffers from blackouts for up to five hours a day and rural areas go for days at a time without electricity. Roads are non-existent in some areas, gas and water facilities struggling to meet operable standards. Poverty, education and crime still lead the way in the list of all that is wrong with Afghanistan.
Afghans may not be fans of the ISAF forces, but the majority are not fans of the Taliban either. Like ordinary folk everywhere, they want peace and quiet and a home with electricity, a school for their kids and food on the table. They want the rule of law that actually works and a police force, government and army that is not so riddled with corruption that it is completely useless to ordinary citizens. Private investment has dropped by 50% from 2006-2007, according to the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce, because private businesses are fearful of rampant corruption and lawlessness like kidnapping for ransoms.
An Afghan friend who is very well paid by local standards makes $600 a month. He estimates that about $250 of that is forked out in corrupt payments every single month to keep his family safe and his house hold functioning. He is angry and outraged that he must pay it, but the notion, spread by UN Anti-Corruption agencies that you "just say no," to him, is laughable.
Karzai has been critical of everyone lately. But his failure to act on corruption condemns him more than he can admit or acknowledge.
He has long been a favored son of the West but isn't it time we turned the tables on both Karzai and Eide and said, gentlemen, our patience is wearing thin with you.