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9. In Afghanistan: Poverty, Women’s Rights and Civil Disruption Worse than Ever

Sources:

THE NATION, October 14, 2002
Title: “Afghanistan Imperiled”
Author: Ahmed Rashid

LEFT TURN, February/March 2003
Title: “Afghanistan: Lies & Horrible Truths”
Author: Pranjal Tiwari

THE NATION, April 29, 2002
Title: “An Uneasy Peace”
Author: Jan Goodwin
MOTHER JONES, July/August 2002
Title: “Childhood Burdens”
Authors: Photo Essay by Chien-Min Chung/Saba, Text by Scott Carrier

Mainstream Coverage:
TORONTO STAR, March 2, 2003, “Afghanistan Documentary Exposes Bush’s Promises” by Michele Landsburg

Faculty Evaluators: Richard Zimmer Ph.D , Greta Vollmer Ph.D., Rick Williams JD, and Maureen Buckley Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Kathleen Glover and Dylan Citrin Cummings

While all eyes have been turned to Iraq, the people of Afghanistan have continued to suffer in silence in what is considered to be their worst poverty in decades. The promised democratic government is too concerned with assassination attempts to worry about the suffering of its people. They still have no new constitution, no new laws and little food. Ethnic and political rivalries plague the country and the military power of the warlords has increased. While the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the 4,500-strong foreign peacekeeping unit is assigned to defend only the capital. Private armies of an estimated 700,000 people roam Afghanistan continuing a traditional system of fiefdoms.

The Nation covered the failure of women’s rights to materialize after the U.S. invasion. Despite the fanfare (stripping the Burqa, the signing of the “Declaration of Essential Rights of Afghan Women”), little has changed for the average Afghani woman. Many women have yet to stop wearing the burqa due to fear of persecution and the new Interior Ministry still requires women to receive permission from their male relatives before they travel. According to former Women’s Affairs Minister Dr. Sima Samar, the ministry is severely under-funded. As of April 2002 Dr. Samar had no access to the Internet and was unable to afford to operate her satellite phone. She was also receiving many death threats. Dr. Samar resigned later that year and is currently working as a human rights commissioner. Hafiza Rasouli, a UNICEF project officer, stated, “We felt safer under the Taliban.” As for the future loya jirga, or grand council, that will help determine governmental policies, only 160 seats out of 1,450 have been guaranteed to women.

As of July 2002 the life expectancy for the people of Afghanistan is forty-six years. The average yearly income per capita is $280. As for the children, 90 percent are not in school. After 23 years of war, the adult male population has been decimated, many children have taken the place of their fathers and mothers as the breadwinners in their families. Some scavenge for scrap metal, wood, or bricks, while others hammer sheet metal, fill potholes, or build coffins. They are lucky to earn five cents an hour. More than one out of every four children in Afghanistan will die before their fifth birthday. The growth of more than half these children is moderately or severely stunted from malnutrition. A UNICEF study has found that the majority of children are highly traumatized and expect to die before reaching adulthood. Beyond this, the region is just overcoming a three-year drought, which killed half the crops and 80 percent of livestock in some areas.

In January 2002, the Tokyo conference pledged $4.5 billion for reconstruction, of which donor nations promised $1.8 billion this year. Nearly one year later, barely 30 percent of what was promised had been delivered. The U.S. government’s own contribution has been half that of the European Union. The $300 million granted in 2002 was quickly spent. The US government has been hesitant to put funding into the ISFA or reconstruction-oriented groups and has been more focused on building an Afghan national army. However, the simultaneous funding of local warlords, now being referred to as “regional leaders” is undermining this work.

UPDATE BY PRANJAL TIWARI: News about Afghanistan seemed to drop off the mainstream radar following the U.S. invasion. For a while we heard about the new post-’war’ Afghanistan: radios being turned on for the first time in years, women going to school, men shaving beards, and the onset of the Karzai era. But what we didn’t hear about in the mainstream press forms the bulk of Afghanistan’s grim and continuing post-’war’ history. To help negotiate some of the blind spots, excellent resources include the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports cited in the article:

“Afghanistan’s Bonn Agreement One Year On” http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghanistan/bonn1yr-bck.htm

“All Our Hopes Have Been Crushed,” http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/afghan3/

Also, Human Rights Watch’s Key Documents on Afghanistan has a number of other reports and alerts on the subject: http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/afghanistan/

ZNet’s Afghanistan Watch section: http://www.zmag.org/terrorwar/znet_afghanistan.htm
“Unworthy Victims”: http://www.globalexchange.org/september11/apogreport.pdf

Robert Fisk reports from Afghanistan http://www.robert-fisk.com/index_fisk_articles.htm

RAWA (The Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan).
http://rawa.fancymarketing.net/recent2.htm

Project on Defense Alternatives: http://www.comw.org/warreport/index.html http://www.comw.org/pda/index.html)

The English-language Pakistani daily Dawn: http://www.dawn.com

Humeira Iqtidar’s article “Reconstruction of Iraq”, for example, appeared in Dawn on April 7 2003.

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