Afghan path: self-sufficient to hand-out dependent
Internal refugees fleeing drought and war may number as many as 800,000.
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Near Mazar-i-Sharif - a military camp that was once controlled by the Taliban's opposition, hundreds of families from the Alburz mountain region have lived for nine months in cold concrete bunkers. Some men climb the mountains to chop firewood to sell in the city. Others go to the city to work for as little as one kilo of rice a day. But most families here rely entirely on aid agencies to bring them food, medicine, blankets, and fresh water. The WFP has flown in three separate shipments of grain over the past nine months, doling out 100-kilogram bags of grain to each family. But since rural families have as many as a dozen members, even this large amount of food runs out quickly.Skip to next paragraph
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"One bag of wheat is enough for 13 days, and we often don't get another bag for several months," says Faiz Muhammad, a tall, courtly elder from the Alburz region who is responsible for 100 families at Camp 65. "WFP brings us food, Medecins Sans Frontieres brought us blankets and medical clinics, and UNICEF still gives food for children if they are underweight. But more than anything, we need food."
Some diplomats say that Afghanistan's wounds are at least partly self-inflicted. Despite the drought, neither the Taliban leadership nor the rebels up north have seriously considered declaring a truce and turning their attention to the humanitarian crisis facing those they seek to rule. Other provocative actions, such as the controversial destruction of 1,500-year-old Buddhist statues in Bamiyan province, also make it difficult for aid agencies to peddle the plight of the Afghans to donor nations.
"We remain committed to helping the Afghan people, and we will do what is in our power," says Hans-Joachim Daerr, the German ambassador to Pakistan and head of the Afghan Support Group of donor nations. "But the Taliban government should be aware that all the efforts to obtain that aid operate in a political environment. And the Taliban makes moves that do not improve the situation for the overall framework of aid."
For their part, the Taliban leadership admits that more could be accomplished for the Afghan people if peace was restored, at least temporarily. "It's a very good suggestion," says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan, one of the few nations that officially recognizes Taliban rule. "But in the past, when we have laid down our weapons, we have been hit from behind. There are always tricks, gimmicks, and we don't have confidence that our foes will abide by their promises."
As for Afghanistan's growing reliance on aid, Mr. Zaeef says, "What the people of the international community are doing in humanitarian aid, we are grateful for that, but we don't want our country to be a begging nation. We want to stand on our own feet."
But Zaeef says Western nations pushed the UN to impose sanctions on Afghanistan last September - including travel bans for Afghanistan's top Taliban leaders, bans on international flights for the state-owned Ariana Airlines, and economic freezes on Taliban government assets. "We just want the world to leave our country to make our way, to have a scope for redevelopment of the land, and to wipe out poverty," says Zaeef. "We don't want aid for all time. But we don't want the world to create hurdles in our way to recovery."
For Bibigul, a mother who has already lost two children in Camp 65 to cold and hunger, all she can hope to do is carry on.
"We had a good living in our village, but we lost all the things we had," she says, sitting in a room with her last possessions: three blankets, one cooking pot, and a trio of artillery shells that she uses to carry water. "We are a very needy people right now. But if we fulfill our needs, then we can buy seed and fertilizer and we will go back to our village to start our lives over."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor