Taleban's tyranny is hurting Afghans
Bangkok Post (Editorial)
The Taleban fanatics have done it again. The same fundamentalist Islamic regime that so disgraced itself by destroying the world's tallest standing Buddha statues earlier this year for reasons that much of the world-including most Muslim nations-found impossible to comprehend, has decided that the "dignity" of Afghan women is more important than their survival.
While the Taleban claim their position is based on noble concepts, in reality their intractability involving the distribution of subsidised bread from United Nations World Food Programme-run bakeries is nothing more than an attempt to use western aid as a weapon in maintaining their harsh control over the people of Afghanistan.
The main issue at the centre of this breakdown in the already shaky relationship between relief workers seems, on the surface at least, to be so petty as to be beyond belief. Relief work ground to a halt when the UN relief agency asked the Taleban for permission to employ some 30 impoverished widows to survey other husband-less households throughout the capital in order to determine if the current system was succeeding in getting food to those most in need. The study had to be carried out by women because under strict Taleban rules men cannot view women who are not related to them. But the Taleban, which refuse to allow women-even widows with large families-to accept work outside the home in any form, insisted that the relief agency use members of its own organisation to conduct the survey.
The World Food Programme could not agree to such terms since the whole point is to get a clear assessment of the distribution system whereby 46,000 card-holding families on the UN's lists receive five pieces of "nan", a kind of flat, unleavened bread, each day. Without the study, say World Food Programme officials, it is impossible to tell whether the programme is effective, and many aid workers already suspect that a thriving black market has emerged involving the trade of recipient cards.
The World Food Programme, which rightly accuses the Taleban of allowing the harassment of aid workers and imposing unreasonable restrictions on humanitarian relief work, such as forbidding female foreign aid workers from driving, has offered to continue negotiations until tomorrow at the latest. Gerard van Dijk, the World Food Programme's director for Afghanistan, said he would leave the country if a solution could not be reached, putting the future World Food Programme work in doubt. The Taleban responded to this by saying it did not care if western aid was cut off as it preferred to rely on help from Islamic relief organisations. While many such groups are currently operating in the country, none have the means to provide for the estimated 800,000 Afghans displaced by drought and 21 years of bloody civil war once the World Food Programme pulls out.
Working with the likes of the Taleban, who don't allow music, TV and other light forms of entertainment and insist that the sexes must be prevented from mingling at all times, must be an unimaginable headache for relief workers. Religious fanaticism is a tricky thing to deal with since the zealots themselves are totally convinced of their righteousness and the supremacy of their principles. But with no bread for their children and no hope for a better future under the Taleban's tyranny, one wonders how much cherished "dignity" can survive.
It would be easy for the UN workers to give in to their frustration and turn their backs on this tragic country, but a compromise must be found for the sake of the thousands who are at risk of starvation as Afghanistan struggles with the effects of drought, war and international sanctions.
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