Part 6 – Hopeless and Helping

Part 6 of a series about a peace trip to Afgfhanistan. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

On our last day, the final voice we hear is that of a member of Parliament from the south, Roshanak Wardak, who expresses the opposite position from what we’ve been hearing in Kabul. She just moved to a house in Kabul because it’s no longer safe to commute to her village. The concrete slab house looks as if it was erected yesterday, surrounded by rocks, rubble and a security wall with barbed wire.

Roshanak is small and graceful, dressed in turquoise with a black head scarf. “I’m sorry for Americans, they waste their lives here,” she says. In the four years she’s been in Parliament, “everything in the south has deteriorated. America didn’t help us. Our country can’t help us. If you stand in the market and kill ten people, nobody will catch you. There’s no justice, no security.”

She says special forces killed a father and son working in their fields. When she asked the commander why, he said the son had relations with the Taliban. “I have relations with the Taliban,” she says. “We are living with them. When any person is killed, I have to go for the condolence. They ask why Americans did this killing and nobody knows. Now people are against Americans and against our government.”

Roshanak is a gynecologist who set up practice in Wardak in ‘96. When the new Afghan constitution was written in ’04, it required that 25 percent of the seats in Parliament be filled by women. Roshanak’s neighbors urged her to run but she resisted. “I hate politics, it’s a dangerous game, full of fraud,” she says. But her constituents prevailed, “and I won, even though I did not spend one dollar.”

With the video camera rolling, Jodie Evans, who organized our trip, asks Roshanak what she wants to tell President Obama. “Withdraw all troops,” Roshanak says, then proposes a three part solution to the war. “First, the U.S. should negotiate with the Taliban and ask them to participate in government. If you think it’s impossible to talk with Talbian—that’s not true.” Second, she says, “Everyone knows the center of insurgency and training camps is Pakistan. If you don’t give money to Pakistan for one year, the fighting will finish in Afghanistan.” Third, she says, “Instead of sending troops, send engineers, doctors, teachers.”

Her proposals are sensible but are they workable? What good will it do to send doctors and teachers if the roads are too dangerous for them to travel where they’re needed? Roshanak confirms what Jodie believes, though, and Jodie will post this clip online. Roshanak signs Jodie’s petition urging Obama not to send troops and we race to the airport, passing the Indian embassy where, three days later, a suicide bomb will explode, killing 17.

I ask Jodie how she can be sure the President will see the petition. She doesn’t know yet, she says, but ten days later she will find her opportunity.

A friend buys two tickets to a Democratic fund raiser in San Francisco for $32,400, which entitles her to a photo op with the President.She invites Jodie to come, and after Obama puts his arm around Jodie for the picture, she hands him the petition and tells him women in Afghanistan don’t want more troops and they’re upset that women are not at the negotiating table. The President says, “What do you mean, I have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton…” Jodie says, “No, Afghan women want to be at the negotiating table.” Later, Jodie reports that the President responded, “Oh.” He told her he would not be able to fix Afghanistan quickly. She said, “You won’t be able to fix it at all. Only they can.”

On our way to the airport, we have to stop for a huge convoy of U.S. army tanks and trucks to lumber by. Jodie says her views “haven’t changed but have deepened. We’ve created a situation here that’s so intolerable we can’t just leave right now, without real training of the Afghan police and army.”

Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, says she’s come full circle. “At first I thought, oh no, maybe you’re just having a knee-jerk anti-war attitude that doesn’t reflect reality on the ground. But at the end of the trip I feel I do have the right position. We definitely shouldn’t be sending more troops and the ones here should be phased out.”

Rabia Roberts, on the other hand, has reversed her original stance. “I feel we have to admit a terrible truth: the standard anti-war position of `bring the troops home now’ is in itself a violent policy. It will precipitate extreme violence.” She acknowledges that adding more troops will also precipitate violence. “But can we have any development in Afgthanistan without security?” She adds, “I liked it better when I knew what the moral high ground was.”

I’m leaving with no certainty but a humble appreciation of the complexities, of how there is “no solution on a white horse.” It pains me that we’re sending more troops and that the public dialogue is focused only on that number. I don’t believe there can be a military solution, but understand that it will be a long, hard slog to attain stability and peace and that the U.S. must participate in that effort.

This will require work on multiple fronts, including talks with the Taliban, agreements with neighboring countries, redirecting the military to do aid work, securing the roads, cleaning up corruption, ensuring women’s rights and launching an equivalent of the Marshall plan to build up the country, not to mention grace. The unexpected grace that, like the quality of mercy, “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”* A call for troop withdrawal or troop buildup now seems, to most of us, simplistic.

The situation, so labile and confounding, makes me think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dictum: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

Despite the tensions in our group, we’re grateful we’ve come and grateful to Jodie for organizing the trip. And we’re grateful to be on the plane heading out.

*Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice”

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT: Where do you stand on this issue now?



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22 thoughts on “Part 6 – Hopeless and Helping

  1. Peter Lake, LAKE Real Estate

    At least we don't have to hear about Bush, Cheney and Halliburton anymore.
    But I'd like to hear more about how all you Obama supporters feel about his management of the war.
    You didn't mention the SOFIA program. Thoughts about that?

  2. Anonymous

    the plain fact is that nobody is minding the store, whether it's in washington d.c., harrisburg, pa., iraq or iran.

    each of the political leaders sara interviewed or met, is in it for himself or herself. that is the nature of politics. that, dear readers, is how the world works.

    i worked as a journalist on several caribbean islands, including nevis, st. kitts, antigua and st. maarten. after a devastating hurricane that did considerable damage to nevis and st. kitts, an international peace organization sent tons of food, clothing, and other essentials to basseterre, the capital of st. kitts, to be distributed to the hurricane victims and especially the poor.

    i was working for a newspaper on the island, and one of our photographers went up in a helicopter to view the hurricane damage. they flew over the home of dwyer astaphan, who then headed the tourism department for the federation. (astaphan later was promoted to become head of police and security for the islands of st. kitts and nevis. he is now returned on a healthy government pension.)

    The photographer howled. there in astaphan's back yard, was a huge metal container that contained some of the food, clothing, etc. sent from the united states to benefit the poor people of st. kitts-nevis. so much for government leaders. my newspaper published the story, i was threatened because i was an 'outsider' and i had to leave the island because my work permit no longer existed. now if the readers of this wonderful column by sara cannot relate to that, you have no hopes of understanding what is really happening in afghanastan and the self-serving leaders who are quoted in sara's piece. the world is corrupt and it is ruled by corrupt individuals — and that includes the harry reids, the nancy pelosis and the barack obamas as well as the elected and appointed leaders in the mideast.

  3. Laura G Ross

    My son is in Iraq, luckily coming home in 50 days (I'm counting!). I am strongly anti-war but with him there I try to listen to everything, seek out different views.I am proud that my son and at least some others can give an example of level-headed, thoughtful Americans instead of bigots or gorillas carrying guns. I don't believe everyone is in it just for themselves – but I'm not ignorant and know that everyone is biased in one way or another. I believe pulling out fast will be a mistake. I believe as world “leaders” we should set an example of negotiating, pulling in as many people as possible to talk, send in teachers, non-corrupt contracters, peace corps – type workers, etc and help to build the country up thru education and increasing prosperity – and hope. I believe people going in on missions such as yours, to talk, to listen, is the best place to start.

  4. Carolyn Sargent

    WOW Sara, how profoundly you came to your conclusions with open ended commas of compassion .I felt like I was saying grace. Thank you and Happier Holidays each and every moment. Carolyn Sargent

  5. rick lanning the celestial cowboy

    excuse me for the mistake i made in my post. dwyer astaphan is not 'returned', as i wrote, but he is 'retired.' the only good thing about that is that he is out of government and perhaps the person who replaced him is not so bad.

  6. sam crespi

    Sara, I am deeply moved by your posts from Afghanistan; your courage which shows in your thoughtful writing.
    What is and how it will unfold is troubling and unpredictable at this point.
    I'm unhappy that we've sent troops, and torn by the idea of dumping what we helped create. I agree that sending doctors, engineers, etc probably wouldn't work for security reasons and am reminded of incidents where peacekeepers, not soldiers were brutally killed. Although, I would like to believe that dialogue with the Taliban is appropriate, I can't match that to their position with women.
    Thank you for sharing your journey.


    I agree with Anonymous, above, who saw evidence of corruption from the air in St. Kitts.

    There is opportunism in addition to corruption: I recall hearing one military officer saying that he didn't want to leave his family, “but it is the only war around, and I need it for my career.” His buddies agreed. This was well before they saw combat, when they were still “virgins.' Still, such attitudes give impetus.

    No way we can fix these attitudes, short of Thought Police.

    I may have to drop out of this blog; I am failing Scott Fitzgerald's test of high intelligence. Would much rather leave the War to the Pros and just veg out by the pool…..

    Is this an irresponsible stance??

    And if so, what good does my concern do – -short of my also picking up and going to the Middle

    I give you moral support, Sarah, and am very glad you made the trip. But right now, the old song runs through my head, “Stop the World, I want to Get Off.” Enough, already.

    As I write, it is the shortest day of the year, a time when gloom and the holidays coincide. I wish you all a great Holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and you can hope that my mood improves as the days grow longer.

    Right now, my first coherent memory is of reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ever since then, all the wars look alike, and just run into a blur.

    It is tiring.

    It is discouraging.

    I will “rage, rage, against the dying of the light….” (I forget the source of this line.)

    The wheel turns. The cycles go on. Things WILL get better.

    Love and Aloha,

    Bev in Honolulu

  8. Carolyn Sargent

    WOW Sara, how profoundly you came to your conclusions with open ended commas of compassion .I felt like I was saying grace. Thank you and Happier Holidays each and every moment. Carolyn Sargent

  9. Carolyn Sargent

    WOW Sara, how profoundly you came to your conclusions with open ended commas of compassion .I felt like I was saying grace. Thank you and Happier Holidays each and every moment. Carolyn Sargent

  10. Tom

    sara – brave reporting, thanks. i am concerned, however, that you think US troop withdrawals are “simplistic” because it gives comfort to the Pentagon and the fence-sitting media. I am glad though that you see the need for talks with the Taliban, since many in the feminist movement have joined the Right in saying the Taliban must be extinguished, not accomodated. Tom hayden

    The 2 are linked. There won't be any direct or indirect agreement with the Taliban and insurgent forces unless a US timeline for withdrawal is on the table [Feingold's] position.

    Get ready for a slaughterhouse led by McChrystal and Special Forces now, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to destroy as many Taliban as possible in the coming year. They did that in Iraq in 2006, a resumption of the once-discredited Phoenix Program in Vietnam.
    Do you agree that Obama must be held to a deadline for withdrawals starting in 2011 with a date certain for completion? best, tom

  11. Anonymous

    A burka can hide a handgun. What if Taliban men were afraid of women in burkas, thinking they might have a gun aimed at them?

    US feminists should come up with money to buy handguns & ammo for Afghan women. Make them all the same type, so the Afghan women could trade ammo. Imagine a group of burka clad women, after the US leaves, seeing a bunch of Taliban guys with sticks headed over to beat them, with some of the men with Kalashnikovs. The women could subtly spread out, get close enough so that the handguns were a match for the Kalashnikovs, and then execute them all. There a lot more burka clad women than Taliban guys.

    Mao Tse-Tung had a comment on where political power came from.

    UCB, -68

  12. Greg

    Sara, congratulations on the completion of your “mission”. At least the fact finding side of it. I applaud your efforts. I have had some experience in these “fields of battle” as well, having been in Israel in 2004 working for an inter-faith Peace Rally (Christians, Muslims and Jews). There you also get a multi-faceted picture. Hope, no Hope, and “Impossible for 1000 years”. Although not as inflammatory or as dangerous as Afghanistan, it was volatile and on numerous occasions our group was reminded of that ever present reality by bus explosions a few blocks away from where we were standing and the unforgettable image of soldiers with automatic weapons at the entry way of EVERY shopping center or restaurant in Tel Aviv. Still our group pressed on (soldiered on?) and we held a successful rally of 10,000 in The Peace Park in the center of Jerusalem. Through it all you realize that the solution is very complex—there is no easy answer. But there is a way. Peace is the Way. Good luck on your continuing journey.
    And yes, don’t forget grace.
    Definitely, grace.

    Your friend,

  13. Anonymous

    bev in honolulu should be appreciated by all those on this site. she understands that all things are not 'understandable.' and by he way, bev, dear, that sentence 'rage, rage against the dying of the light,' was said by poet dylan thomas.

    wars don't solve a damn thing.

    they are simply desperate gambles by idiots in government who cannot win an argument on the issues of trade, economics and border problems, as was evidenced by japan's 'surprise' attack on pearl harbor and adolph hitler's poor decision to invade neighboring countries in order to destroy the communist threat and put the german people back to work.

    the japanese attack on pearl harbor was not a surprise attack at all, as all true historians must realize. president franklin delano roosevelt knew the japanese were being forced into a corner because of economic sanctions and other things america and her allies had forced on japan. FDR deliberately tried to provoke japan into an attack. he didn't realize the japanese air force was so powerful that it could make a major dent in the u.s. navy by the cleverly planned strike against pearl harbor.

    until the american people wake up and start electing real leaders, and not just creatures of opportunity like barack obama and harry reid, the american people will continue to pay the price for inept elected government leaders who are just opportunists. and that goes for the rest of the world, including the caribbean nations like st. kitts, nevis and all the rest of them who are filling their pockets while ignoring the true needs of their constituents.

    bev in honolulu, i tip my stetson to you.

  14. Garage Sales For Gaza

    I live between two neighbors.
    The one on the right is always trying to tell me what to do…yard, car, paint, etc. I ignore him.

    The one on the left, always compliments me on my yard, car, etc….and offers me a beer.
    I appreciate him.

  15. susan

    I think the United States has not yet come to terms with the limitations of its power- both military& financial.We must learn to be strategic in the use of our resources-and leverage our assistance to bring about best outcomes.
    Perhaps, this would be through supporting NGOs in Afghanistan, interdict drug trade,negotiate extradition treaties, or provide special ops in international police actions.
    But, we do not have the resources to move into and hold entire countries with which we have problems.

  16. David

    Sara, I hope we get through this. Get through this without a VietNam-like ending.
    Forgive me if I have misunderstood your comments, but I get the impression that you, as I am, are more confused and confounded now than when you started this mission. However, as Fitzgerald said, we must be able to function while holding onto two opposing views. We see that things are hopeless but are determined to make them otherwise. I am not totally confidant that the majority in this “cause” feel that way. I am confidant that the people of Afghanistan will prevail.
    But tonight is not the time for such things. I hope you are having a loving, peaceful, and good-intentioned time with family and loved ones celebrating and honoring this time of year. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I and my family thank you for your efforts. Arms around you.

  17. Douglas C. Smyth

    We've been mucking about in those parts since I did grad research in India in 1969-70. It's been far worse since Carter stuck his nose in there.

    So, the worst part is that we're partly responsible for this mess, but I still don't think we can resolve it by being there.

    I agree that just withdrawing could pump the violence, but so will more troops.

    What I would like to see is a graceful withdrawal, in which US troops are replaced by Afghans, development aid goes to people, not the corrupt officials, and everyone, including the worst of the Taliban, are included in negotiation for a new constitution through a loya jirga.

    Yes, the people you met in Kabul would be at risk, but the whole country is, and the US and/or NATO can't and shouldn't resolve this conflict. All it really should do is provide incentives (as in peace, and money) for arriving at a consensual solution (a majority would mean that a minority would continue civil war): consensus means everyone has to at least passively accept the solution.

  18. Keri West

    I'm sorry Sara! .., *but P.E.A.C.E will NEVER include DROPPING BOMBS ON HUMAN BEINGS! (nope!) sorry… WAR = WAR (death) AND PEACE = PEACE (life) … *WARRIORS are ATTEMPTING to SWIPE-AWAY p.e.a.c.e. by imitating-IT … {hint hint}

    PEACE of the ACTION!

  19. wordwarrior

    If America thinks it can win in Afghanistan, it has another think coming. How much time and how much money is the American people willing to expend on a war without end and so far away?

    Just what are the moms and dads sacrificing their sons and daughters for over there?

    When the military kills people without discrimination, they are the best advertisements and recruiting tools the Taliban ever had for replenishing their ranks.

    Hasn't America learnt any lessons from its aggressions in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq?

    Isn't the near bankruptcy of the nation and of the world as a result of G W Bush's rash actions enough to deter any more military adventures in foreign lands?.

    We have to transport men and materiel over thousands of miles to a far off mountainous and inhospitable land to wage war on the pretext to safeguard the democracy of a non-believing people and in the process sacrificing the cream of our youth; however, when some of these displaced people, as a result of our actions, seek refuge in our country, what do we do? We imprison and incarcerate them worse than dogs. What kind of hypocrisy are we practising?

    No wonder, the rest of the world dislike us when we treat them with such disdain.

    After all it said and done; how much time, men, women, money and political will have we got to continue prosecuting this war of aggression without end?

    Not for nothing Afghanistan is called the graveyard of nations. So America must prove to itself, it is otherwise? Even if the Taliban do not lift a finger in retaliation to the American forces, it will gradually bleed our troops and our resources to death.

    This is another of the American military misadventure perpetuated by the government as vital to our security and freedom.

    People; try using your mind to think how any terrorist can come to the homeland without airplanes or ocean going ships. Besides, if we are so aggressive in harming others, are we so naive to think that there will not be any score to settle with us by the other side?

    Jesus said, “Whatsoever you sow, so also you will reap” Try sowing Peace instead of the seeds of war and lies!


  20. Anonymous

    There is no limitation of American Power, only restrictions and guidelines.The faster we kill the bad and allow the good to thrive the faster we go home. Code Pink and other Liberal agents are just making the war last longer. How killing a bunch murderous thugs can be described as “slaughter” I will never know. The Taliban would gladly drown Obama and Bush supporters in their own blood, side by side…politics is a luxury people.

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