Three weeks after Afghanistan was engulfed in a wave of violence following the apparent burning of the Quran by a Florida pastor, Kabul remains in a state of calm. Such unease is consistent with reports, verified by Erin Cunningham, that just after the incident the capital was eerily quiet. In the aftermath of the Mazar riots the international community in Kabul have found themselves subject to more stringent security protocols than ever before. Organisations remain on high alert and Friday, the day of prayer in Afghanistan, remains a day of caution. As predicted by international aid observers, the attacks in Mazar on a United Nations compound have left their indelible mark on the psyche of foreigners living in Afghanistan.
With such tensions rising in the country, the international community is being forced to consider their work being done and whether development objectives are being satisfied, in other words are the costs commensurate with the benefits being delivered. Calls, such as those from J F Kelly Jr., have been made for the international community to leave Afghanistan and let the people sort out the country themselves. Una Moore makes the ridiculous assertion that in her opinion, "this isn't the beginning of the end. This is the end." To deliver such nihilistic comments is an insult to the work people are doing here. These attacks should not be an excuse to prophesize the doom of aid work in Afghanistan.
Nobody wants the international community to remain in Afghanistan forever. However, when the development agencies do leave it should not be because they have been driven from the country by an atmosphere of fear. The time to leave Afghanistan will come only when the reasons to leave are right. Leaving in a midst of extremist fervour flamed by bigoted provocation is not the appropriate time. It would be perceived as abandoning the country and would completely undo the outcomes of so many people who have sacrificed their way of life to come here in the first place. Leaving at a time like this, when Afghanistan is not yet equipped for self-autonomous rule, will be disastrous and only serve to justify the Taliban's use of force.
Those who are here to help and who are here for the right reasons have already undertaken their own risk assessment into the move here. You would hope that those who come here are not as easily deterred in trying to do something for the benefit of the country. Those who have come here do so usually for the best intentions and want to actually achieve something discernible in improving the lives of ordinary Afghans. Instilling even more of a mindset of fear in the foreigner subconscious serves no benefit but to infect everyone with a sense of paranoia. This does not signal the end of anything, only that it is now more important than ever before for tolerance and empathy. It is not the time for blanket statements of despair.
As Tom Peter rightly points out, the burning of the Quran helps the Taliban. This provocative act only gives extremists an excuse to conduct witchhunts. So too does leaving Afghanistan out of fear. The last thing the international community should do now is vindicate the actions of the Taliban by skulking away with its tail between its legs. It's not as if the international community came to Afghanistan in the first place because it was safe. A sudden eruption of violence should not be the reason to leave. Development work was required in Afghanistan to deliver benefits to the Afghan people. It is only when these objectives are met that the time will be right to depart.
It is true to say that day to day in Afghanistan is not easy. Life in Afghanistan is a frustrating symphony of highs and lows. However, the people who come to this country and stay are bound to the land with an overwhelming sense of hope. Anyone who has been to Afghanistan will tell you of the incredible strength of the Afghan spirit. This is a country where the people's pride in their land has defeated empires, where the beauty of the land has inspired conquests, and where the perpetual pursuit for peace is at the forefront of everyday life. There is already enough cynicism in the hearts and minds of people here about when Afghanistan's never-ending battle against insurgents will cease. This sense of cynicism does not need to be passed even more on to the people we are trying to help.
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