Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hope for residents of Deh-e Bagh Afghanistan

Afghanistan a battle for hearts
By LYN COCKBURN For the Toronto Sun

It only took eight years for some truly good news to come out of the mess that is Afghanistan.

Last week, in Deh-e-Bagh, a small village of about 900 people south of Kandahar City, Canada threw a coming-out party to celebrate Operation Kalay, its one village at a time project.

And a fine project it is. In Deh-e-Bagh, CIDA, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Forces have combined to improve conditions in the town. So far, this village without electricity has received some solar-paneled streetlights, much improved irrigation and road repair.

And for the first time in years, local people are employed at reasonable wages to do the work. Future plans include rejuvenating nine mosques, building a road through another nearby village and creating a grain co-operative.

Interviewed on TV Saturday night, villagers expressed their approval of the new jobs, new infrastructure and most important of all, new hope.

One man pointed out that this village had never wanted to hook up with the Taliban, but had no choice. Now, he said, things are different and we will fight them.

Dare we hope that this adopt-a-village approach will succeed where bullets, bombs and air strikes did not?

Thomas Johnson, a professor from the Naval School in Monterey, Calif., thinks so. An expert in counter insurgency in Afghanistan for almost 30 years, he toured the village and said: "The Canadians have adopted a very innovative program at the village level, looking at how you can win the trust and confidence of the people."

Way to win

He went on to say: "I think the way we win in Afghanistan is to multiply the Canadian project by about 200."

All of this against a backdrop of a reluctant admission from the Defence Department last Wednesday. It released new figures which show the projected cost of the war for 2009-10 is $1.513 billion, compared to the previous estimate of $261 million.

Compare that astronomical amount to the cost of adopting a village, which rings in at mere tens of thousands of dollars.

And to give the Americans their due, note that Richard Holbrooke, the American special envoy to Afghanistan announced at last weekend's G8 summit in Italy that the U.S. policy of poppy crop eradication will cease.

It is, he said, "the least effective program ever." He promised that the U.S. will instead begin "using the money to work on interdiction, rule of law, alternate crops."

About time. In the eight years since the U.S./NATO invasion, Afghanistan has come to supply some 90% of the world's heroin -- an increase of 40%. The Taliban, once determined to get rid of poppy crops, quickly realized the potential for income and used the money from heroin production to fund its violent activities.

In fact, American crop spraying succeeded only in ruining all crops, thereby alienating farmers and sending them into the Taliban camp.

Canadian Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance sums up the new approach as a turning point.

"We're trying to go from security at the end of a gun, which is defence, to human security. Broad security means re-establishing the economic, political and social fabric."

Is it possible we may finally get it right in Afghanistan? Is it possible we can kill the Taliban -- with kindness to the Afghan people.

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