U.N. Sanctions Continue to Strangle Afghanistan
On the battered highway between Jalalabad and Kabul, you can see scores of bombed out mud villages at the base of mountains, graphic evidence of how desperate the Soviets were in their attempt to conquer Afghanistan. The highway is deeply pockmarked by Mujahedeen bombardment of Soviet troops with artillery dating back more than 15 years, so much so the 150 km trip takes more than five grueling hours by road. The road is smooth only in the few stretches where the Soviets could not be reached. Carcasses of soviet tanks and military vehicles litter the roadside, serving as deadly war memorials to the 1.8 million Afghanis killed in the 1979 war with the Soviets. The war left approximately 1,000,000 orphaned, nearly 600,000 maimed or disabled, and over 300,000 widowed.
With the Russians 1985 humiliating retreat from Afghanistan, civil strife and anarchy overtook the Afghan people, with rampant kidnappings, rape, extortion, murders, and robberies that were carried out by bands of ruthless gangs. Forty-three brothels thrived in Kabul alone. This continued for the next 10 years until in 1995, mullahs trained in the universities and mosques of Afghanistan and Pakistan rose up and effectively proclaimed, "enough is enough, we won't let our people live in such conditions." They routed out virtually every criminal gang from the country making Afghanistan a much safer place. They called themselves "Taleban" ("students") and are mainly Sunni Muslims and Pashtun.
Strict Islamic shari'ah was implemented throughout Afghanistan. All 43 brothels in Kabul were shut down, cinemas and theatres were closed, satellite dishes were banned, and television stations were shut down. Women were required to wear the burqa, and men were made to grow beards. Failure to do so could result in imprisonment.
Wary of the new Islamic government, the West has launched a fierce media campaign to discredit the Taleban government. Afghanistan was shortly thereafter branded a "terrorist state" and, in late 1999, UN sanctions were imposed over the harboring of alleged "terrorist" Osama Bin Laden - this after hailing the Afghans as heroes for driving the mighty Soviets off of their lands. The Taleban are chided for their human rights practices, particularly with regards to women, and for closing schools that refuse to conform to the Islamic laws of the country with regards to segregation of the sexes.
Many western feminist groups are circulating e-petitions throughout the internet world filled with misinformation and false allegations over the treatment of women, allegations that I have personally seen to be false. For example, I have seen women in burqa (and some with just a colorful chador covering) walking freely in the markets alone or with their children. Moreover, contrary to many western reports, there are a growing number of schools for women that teach employable skills. There are all-girl schools and orphanages as well. The medical school at Kabul University has a large population of female students, and Kabul has it's own hospital dedicated to women called the Women's Gyne and Maternity Hospital.
Aside from feeling safe, the Afghanis have little else to celebrate now. War continues to plague the nation at the hands of opposition forces led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and former defense minister/mujuhadeen hero Ahmed Shah Massoud, both ethnic Tajiks. Interestingly, the Russians are supporting the opposition forces with weapons, artillery, tanks and pilots with most of the fighting localized to the northern provinces bordering central Asia. They fight over control of the remaining 5% of the country. In August, Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering and Russian officials proudly announced their intentions to work together to win more UN sanctions against Afghanistan.
More than 70% of Kabul lies in ruins. Factories have been destroyed. Jobs are non-existent. Poverty runs rampant. To make matters even worse, the UN confirms that severe drought conditions exist in Afghanistan and is expected to last more than two years. People are starving to death.
Doctors and health care workers are leaving the country due to poor wages (the typical Afghan doctor makes the equivalent of US$10 per month). Furthermore, doctors suffer from high workload, and lack of medical equipment and supplies, leaving thousands without basic medical care.
Major hospitals operate with frightening shortages of basic laboratory supplies and medical equipment. Operating rooms lack monitors to follow patient critical vital signs during surgery, and the main children's hospital that sees more than 600 outpatients a day has only one functioning incubator for premature babies. I have even seen emergency physicians stitching wounds without the use of surgical gloves.
Basic sanitation is dismal. Two to three cases of young children a day receives emergency abdominal surgery for bowel obstructions caused by severe intestinal worm infestations.
Infrastructure rebuilding has been put on hold due to the expense of continuing war in the north. Ahmed Khader, a Canadian NGO worker with Health and Education projects International in Kabul remarks, "All the Afghan people need is two years of peace. Then the world can see how they can rebuild."
The degree of poverty is striking. Just look at the markets and Kabul and you will see the evidence - many shops sell used furniture and personal belongings. "People sell their belongings to buy food for their children, they start with their furniture, then their clothing. When everything has been sold, the last things they sell are their cooking pots and kitchen utensils..." remarks Khader. "Mothers beg in the streets, holding prescriptions for medications for their children because they can't afford to buy them."
Dr. Raza Khan recently returned from a medical tour of Afghanistan where he documented the current social and health problems in that country. You can read his full report at http://www.hamzamed.com and http://www.taleban.com/taleb.htm.
Topics: Afghanistan, Kabul