4/04/2005

Forgetting Afghanistan again

From Sonali Kolhatkar of AlterNet:
Aside from its "democratic development," the Bush administration refuses to mention serious life-and-death issues plaguing Afghanistan. Obediently following suit, the U.S. media do not cover the struggle for survival. In the 2004 National Human Development Report for Afghanistan, conducted by the United Nations, the country ranked 173 out of 178 countries in terms of human development. Only five countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, were worse off: Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone. Refugees, whose (sometimes forced) return was loudly praised by the Bush administration as evidence of Afghan freedom, are now homeless in their own country and have turned parts of Kabul into squatters' camps. They have no homes and little to no training, employment opportunities, or health care. Maternal mortality, especially in the provinces where the majority of Afghans live, is among the highest in the world, just as it was before 9/11 when the media were ignoring Afghanistan. Education--most vocally cited by the Bush administration as a measure of the success of U.S. policy in Afghanistan--is deemed the "worst in the world" by the UN. Outside Kabul there are dismally few educational opportunities for Afghan girls and women. In the cities, I was told that most schools have a curriculum limited to Islamic studies. Most women are still wearing the burqa (veil), or hijab, in Afghanistan. This is admittedly far too simplistic a measure of women's oppression, but it was exploited by the Bush administration and the media after 9/11 to visualize the brutality of the Taliban against women. Likewise, the discarding of the burqa after the fall of the Taliban was widely used by the media to showcase women's "liberation." Today in the cities and provinces outside Kabul, most women dress exactly as they did under the Taliban's rule. Nasreen, an 18-year-old returned refugee living in Heart, told me she does not want to wear her hijab, but is afraid of attracting too much attention in an atmosphere that is still hostile to women. There is an obvious pattern here: before 9/11 the media did not deem Afghanistan and its myriad problems (most of which were initiated by U.S. policies in the '80s and '90s) worth covering. After 9/11, when it was convenient for the Bush administration to highlight mass oppression and poverty as justifications for war, the media complied. Now, despite continued mass oppression and poverty, Bush and Rice have informed us that Afghanistan has been "saved" by our military intervention and installation of "democracy" and so it no longer needs our attention. The media continue to comply with government wishes. The very people that Americans compassionately and generously supported after 9/11 are suffering once more because of a lack of attention and interest. Donations toward life-saving projects like hospitals, clinics, schools and training centers, have plummeted. Armed militias led by US-backed warlords have replaced the Taliban, financing their armies through heroin sales. In the short term, this compliance has had tangible consequences for the people of Afghanistan. In the long term, the lack of media coverage of the rise of these armed groups could once again have horrible and shocking consequences, like the attacks of 9/11.

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