27 November 2006

Kabul blossoms but not for the poor

This is taken from an article originally appeared in the Boston Globe on 11 November. It was also issued as a RAWA newsletter a few days ago. If things do not change for the better, then the poor of Kabul might just prefer the Taliban back. It is chilling to think that those evil theocrats might be seen the lesser of two evils but it may well happen.

Eight-year-old Sajjad's kite struggles upward. It's nothing grand -- a plastic bag salvaged from a heap of garbage and fashioned into a diamond shape. But it's a symbol of change in Kabul, five years after the Afghan capital was freed from a Taliban regime that believed activities such as kite-flying would distract youngsters from studying the Koran.

Sajjad lives in a neighborhood called Shirpur. Part of it has been demolished and its inhabitants evicted to make way for a "new Afghanistan" of palatial homes -- scores of four- and five-story mansions boasting gold-painted marble columns and floor-to-ceiling windows flanking grand wooden doors. The owners are the successors to the Taliban who in 2003 used their new power to seize and clear the land. About 250 of Sajjad's neighbors were tossed from their homes.

Sajjad lives with seven brothers and four sisters in a single-story house of dried mud, straw and pebbles.. One of his neighbors, Aziz Mohammed says he has been told that his and his neighbors' houses will be flattened soon to make way for more mansions. The owners of these mansions "are commanders, ministers. It makes me angry. These people use everything that isn't theirs and they ruin the houses of the poor people to build their homes," said Mohammed. "The Taliban were no good, they were just stupid people. But in this new life there is no job, nothing."

Gul Haider, a commander of the Northern Alliance that swept into Kabul after the Taliban's collapse, makes no apology for owning a mansion in Shirpur. "This is the new Afghanistan. We are just beginning. All these houses are from the private pockets of Afghans and I hope one day that all of Afghanistan will be beautiful like Shirpur," he said in an interview. "We are praying for the poor people to have houses like us," he said. "But everything belongs to God. God knows better who should be given property and who shouldn't. God gave us this property and we built our houses. We are praying that God will look more favorably on the poor."

In the months following the Taliban's collapse there were signs of a business renaissance. Barbershops, beauty salons and music stores reopened. Afghan exiles returned to start businesses. But many have since been driven out by runaway corruption, lawlessness and the violence perpetrated by a resurgent Taliban, highlighted by a string of recent suicide bombings in Kabul.

Mohammed Habib, an out-of-work laborer, carried his 1-year-old son Mujtaba as he walked the streets begging for food. He said the infusion of foreign aid hasn't changed his life. "Money comes to help the poor people but the commanders and the government people take it," he said. With the Taliban gone "we thought our future will be better, but every day we are poorer." Habib looks at the new mansions in Shirpur and sees injustice. "These people are very bad people. That money was for us and they took it," he said. "The Taliban time was very bad and now it is very bad for the poor. Where is the difference?"


mullet said...

the poor get fucked all over the place......a world that doesn't deal with the world on it's terms....is automatically defunct

Frank Partisan said...

Very powerful post.

RAWA does good work.

Steve Bates said...

This is like the situation in Fresno I mentioned last week... made worse by a factor of a thousand. And in this case, when people justify taking other people's land and destroying their homes on some religious basis, I just want to... do something uncharitable.

These days, America seems to be very good at displacing repressive theocracies and/or dictators... only to see them replaced with other equally repressive governments. Considering what we've got at home, I shouldn't be surprised.

jams o donnell said...

Of course it's the poor that get it, Mullet. Unfortunately if things don't change they may well start to think "well things were not that bad under the Taliban" - especially if the Taliban are doing well militarily.

I am a big fan of RAWA (if fan is the right word), Ren. Meena was an inspiration to the world.

That was an appalling act on the part of teh council in Fresno. I hope they get their arses handed to them for what they did to the homeless.

Sadly the USA has had an abysmal foreign policy since the end of WWII. How many progressive gonvernments has the US had deposed too? How many vicious despots has it supported in the name of national interest"?. I wont say teh UK or FRance are much better but we have been minor players in these games since 1945.

mullet said...

it all gets convoluted in the end...the one stay at home fact....is that the poor get fucked. Religious persuasion only adds a tiny dimension to that

jams o donnell said...

That is true Mullet. One thing seems to be a universal truth is that the most vulnerable will be kiecked, then kicked again when they are down