Fahim Masoud on the overwhelming need in Afghanistan

Fahim Masoud has written on Afghanistan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Chinese affairs has paid a visit home to see his family in Herat.  He has been sharing his experiences and observations with us.  Here is the latest report:

It happens every time I come to Afghanistan. During my first days I am shocked by the amount of pain and poverty I see. During my first days I go out of my way to give out money to the poor and to the people on the streets. Even though it relieves me to know that I just gave someone money to buy himself/herself a dinner, I become down as soon as I realize how temporary the fix to the problem of poverty is. You can’t keep giving these people fish — without teaching them how to fish, any aid is useless. People in Afghanistan have been given a lot of fish in the last 15 years, but they were never given lessons on how to fish. That’s why we have so much pain and poverty in this country today.

Foreigners gave Afghans billions of dollars in aid, but the majority of that money left Afghanistan for foreign banks before they arrived to Afghanistan. Corrupt leaders and politicians stole every dollar they could get their hands on and deposited it into their foreign banks. I think had the world community spent the money on building factories and industries in Afghanistan, today the people of Afghanistan would have been much better off in every way.

Before I proceed, please allow me to say what I mean by normalization of pain. Earlier I said that the amount of pain and poverty on display in this country shock me. However, after a few days of being here, I’m no longer shocked. In fact, because I see so much misery, it no longer bothers me. I no longer go out of my way to help out the poor. I become de-sensitized. I feel like I no longer have warm feelings toward my fellow human beings. Pain can become normalized. Pain can be processed like all other things and feel like it’s not there when it’s right in front of you. Pain — even though it’s very visible — can become very invisible.

Everyday I spent hours with people from all walks of life. These people are teachers, students, intellectuals, and laborers. Even though these people are so different in their occupations, they are very similar in their forecast of how the affairs will turn out for Afghanistan. They know that Afghanistan has traveled beyond the point of being fixed.

Some say that a lot of good things have happened in Afghanistan — an idea that bears some truth. What they mean is that Afghans shouldn’t forget where they came from. They compare the current situation to the times of the Taliban. Then Afghans were stripped of every basic right there was. Now, they are endowed with some rights; it’s not perfect but in comparison to the the Taliban times, it is much better. The same argument is held when it comes to the sphere of economics. The majority of Afghans are much more better off. Yes, there’s a lot of poverty but poverty is universal. People who hold this line of argument say that Afghanistan will get better. We, the Afghans, need to be patient because this situation of terror and panic cannot last for too long.

So many issues and so much poverty in this country that it breaks my heart to be witness to so much misery in this country.

We have stress and misery everywhere, but the kind that is manifested in this country is beyond comprehension. One of the guards — at a school that I frequent and utilize their wifi services — works for $100 a month day and night. The interesting thing is that he feels very lucky to be working at this job.

When I see so much pain and poverty, I feel extremely lucky to be a citizen of America. We have our stresses and pains in that world too, but at least we are entitled to rights and have options. Not in this country. The status of women is especially appalling. People treat their women worse than property. At least there are people in this world who take care of their properties but in Afghanistan there are some people who have no respect for women. I have heard some “intellectuals” say: zan che ast ka aql-ash bashad — what is a woman for her wisdom to be of any value? I feel sorry for so many people in this country.

What’s amazing is that some very patriotic Afghans who would have never imagined leaving Afghanistan are now thinking of leaving this country. There’s a doctor who’s a close relative of ours. He’s considered the best heart doctor in this country. This man has many good skills — skills and an education that makes him about $10,000 a month in Afghanistan now. But he’s too decent of a human being to think about money. This man with so much money and so much prestige is now leaving Afghanistan. Another friend of mine who knows this doctor said: I thought he would never leave this country. Now that he leaves, I realize how dire our situation has become.

This paragraph will intrude on the coherence of my other paragraphs, as it doesn’t bear relevance to them. The other day I was in a busy part of the city of Herat. All of a sudden I saw a number of police vehicles cruising through the crowded streets in an extremely unprofessional way. The convoy of the police cars were still on the streets when people on my right and left began to curse them. Such a scenario — people holding feelings of disgust and anguish toward their government and security officials — seems to be prevalent throughout the city of Herat and Afghanistan in general.

The people of Afghanistan have lost all their faith and confidence in their government. A government that is losing the fight against the insurgents is not because it doesn’t have enough security forces capable of doing the fight, but because it doesn’t have the backing of its own people. Today, a BBC article says that only 20 percent of the Afghan people approve of Ghani’s government. That’s the lowest of any other government I know around the world. Another recent report, which was prepared by Tolo TV, claims that corruption has gone up under the Unity Government. These are not good signs. Ominous dark clouds are gathering over the skies of Afghanistan. I’m afraid no sun can smash these clouds and make them go away . . .

I’ll be back with more to say.
Fahim

Fahim Masoud: The view of the taxi driver

I take taxis or rickshaws everywhere in Herat. Most of the times I avoid taxis — instead I take rickshaws because I can save some money and give it to the poor. I say this not to show off my virtues. But to tell you that people here are very desperate and any amount of money can help mitigate their hunger.

Today, on my way to the doctor I took a taxi because I was in a hurry. The cab driver looked really interesting — his physical stature and form looked like an elite soldier, which prompted me to start a conversation and ask him: how is business. He said it was alright — not as good as it used to be only to finish his sentence with saying that there’s not “maza” in anything anymore. Maza means taste but in the vernacular sometimes people say that business maza nadara which means business is not too good.

The long taxi drive and the rush hour spearheaded our conversation into political issues. In a country like Afghanistan, everything and everyone is political. Necessities and pressing social and economic matters have made everyone political. To be political is to be bedar (awake) in this country. So no matter who you meet the issue that they want to engage in talking to you about is politics.

We, the driver and I, came across a number of traffic cops — and his disgust for them became obvious immediately.He talked about this morning and that he was pulled over by a cop for having run through a red light. While he was being questioned as to why he committed this traffic violation, an important car which meant it belonged to some high ranking commander or wali (governor) did the same thing as this cab driver had done. Instead of pulling over this traffic violator, and to the taxi driver’s surprise, this cop and his colleagues didn’t even bother going after this important car.

In Afghanistan, there are some laws and regulations — but only for the poor. The rich and the governing class can get away with anything and everything. Go murder someone, but if you have money, you will walk away Scott free. These are things that have turned people away from the government — to the point that some want to join ISIS or the Taliban in order to be free of this constant oppression and subjugation.

The taxi driver continued to register his frustration with the government. He said this current government is over. It’s been six months, he said, since its employees have been paid. He said every public official knows that this government cannot work and that its doomed to collapse. But he said they are here to enrich themselves and walk away. It’s amazing how much corruption there’s in the government of Afghanistan.

You cannot find one government office — one office that’s clean. The high degree of corruption combined with the regular abuse of the people by the security officials are driving the people into the arms of the insurgents.

Today is the 19th of August. It’s the day Afghans claim to have gotten their independence from the British. A number of celebrations are underway. For example, at the stadium of Herat there will be a large number of people talking and celebrating their independence. Around the city there are small gatherings in which a mullah or a prominent leader talks about Afghanistan’s heroic history and how Afghans have always maintained their independence.

As my taxi was making a turn toward our destination we heard a bunch of people clapping to the words of whoever was speaking to them. The driver started laughing out loud. He said I don’t know what our officials and politicians are thinking. He said either they are mad or we are mad. He interrupted himself right away and said: I know we, the Afghans, are not mad. These politicians aren’t mad either. They are just too stupid celebrating an independence that doesn’t mean anything because Afghanistan is still occupied and has become a rentier state. How can we claim independence, he said, when we are so dependent on foreign governments? Independence must mean not only political independence but also economic independence.

As we got closer to my drop-off spot, the driver said: I’m so tired of the government that sometimes I’m tempted to join ISIS in Afghanistan. Then before stating his last sentence, he looked at me to reveal the seriousness of his tone to me, he said: “sometimes I am tempted to join ISIS so I can kill as many officials as I can. It pays $500 a month. What can be worse than that?”

PS: a bomb went off a couple of hours here in Herat. About half a mile from our house.

A Critical Note from Afghanistan July 2015

The following is a note from Fahim Masoud, who is visiting his family in Herat, Afghanistan.  I present it here as received.  This is Mr Masoud’s sincere appraisal of the situation.  He is deeply discouraged about the prospects.  This is significant because in the past he has held high hopes for the future of his country.  Fahim is a well informed commentator on affairs in Afghanistan and Central Asian affairs, which makes his dark estimation of the situation all the more sobering.  RLC

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the first female Afghan pilot who has been getting a lot of recognition from around the world. Though now her life is at risk. She’s getting all kinds of threats from the Taliban and her own relatives. This is one example showing how terrible the security situation is in Afghanistan.

This will break your heart, but I believe (BELIEVE) there’s no future for Afghanistan. There’s no order in this country. The people of Afghanistan have devolved into a soul-less bunch. They have no compassion. No understanding of one another. They are too intolerant and cannot accept each other’s differences. This is what the war has done to them. This is what unemployment and lack of resources are doing to them. Ethnic divisions have become much more obvious and pronounced.

Leaders from all around the country voice their support of one ethnic group over another vociferously. Tonight I’m at a gathering in which a bunch of people from a prominent village in Herat are here. They are talking about an “arbab” or village leader chosen by the people of the village. It’s been months since this village is without an arbab yet no one has been chosen yet — even though the village desperately needs one.

Folks in this village cannot choose their leader because they haven’t reconciled their tensions over whether a Tajik or Pashtoon leader should get elected. It’s a shame because most of my father’s relatives claim to be Pashtoon yet they cannot speak a word of Pashto. It’s crazy to be fighting over the election of a leader when you have nothing but the zai suffix at the end of their names.

This county is in a lot of mess. You need to be here to see the degree of chaos and disorder. No one cares. No one. Everyone is here to enrich themselves and walk away. Thousands of people are leaving this country on a daily basis. What’s so amazing is that there are a great number of really, really nice houses on sale in Herat now. The owners of these houses are not only selling their houses but also everything in them. Home prices have gone down significantly because no one is buying anything anymore. There’s no flow of cash. Too many people are on the streets begging for money to feed themselves.

The whole survival of the country depends on the presence of U.S. troops.

Ghani has proven himself a very incompetent leader. He’s disappointed everyone in this country. I doubt he came make it.

A guest of ours a few nights ago said something very wise. He said we liked Karzai because he was our beggar. He said Karzai didn’t mind going abroad and begging for money — to the point that once on a trip to Iran, he brought a bag of cash with him on the plane. Ghani — on the other hand, he said, is too proud and arrogant. He’s too proud to ask for aid. Instead, to make up for the government’s expenses, Ghani has raised taxes on people. This gentleman, after changing his posture, and making sure I was fully listening, said to me, “how dumb is it to raise taxes when people have no money and there’s no business?”

The seriousness and sincerity of his voice, the gravity and reality of the situation made me think very hard about this issue. It reminded of the United States. The reason Americans began their war of independence against the British was taxation without representation. How can you tax people heavily when you can’t give them proper representation, security, and employment? Such a really stupid move on Ghani’s part.

One thing is for certain. This situation is not sustainable. Something catastrophic is inevitable in Afghanistan. Most foreigners don’t say this because they are in Kabul. They don’t visit the provinces often. Kabul is pretty safe. There’s money. Bureaucracy and lots of non-governmental agencies are in Kabul, keeping many Kabulis employed. This is not the case in provinces. None of Herat’s districts and villages are safe and there are Taliban presence in almost all of them.
More later.
Fahim

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