Bill Moyers interviews Sarah Chayes a formerÂ NPR AfghanÂ war correspondent who stayed behindÂ after covering some of the war to help rebuild.
Ms. Chayes was Paris reporter for NPR. Her work during the Kosovo crisis earned her the 1999 Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards, together with other members of the NPR team. She has also reported from Algeria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Serbia and Bosnia, as well as covering the International War Crimes Tribunal and the European Union. Before that, Ms. Chayes free-lanced from Paris for a variety of radio and print outlets.
She has published articles in THE ATLANTIC, THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE BOSTON GLOBE, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY, and the TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL. She is featured in the Sundance/Frontline World documentary “Life After War”/”A House for Haji Baba.” She has lectured widely as well as participating in the training of incoming US and NATO military officers. Her book on post-Taliban Afghanistan, The PUNISHMENT OF VIRTUE: INSIDE AFGHANISTAN AFTER THE TALIBAN was published in 2006.
runs a cooperative in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, producing fine skin-care products from local fruits, nuts, and botanicals. (www.arghand.org) The aim is to discourage opium production by helping farmers earn a living from licit crops, as well as to encourage collective decision-making. From this position, deeply embedded in Kandahar’s everyday life, Ms. Chayes has gained unparalleled insights into a troubled region.
BILL MOYERS: We’ve also given a lot of money to Pakistan, across the border.
SARAH CHAYES: Right. Correct.
BILL MOYERS: To help fight the insurgents, right? What’s happening to that money?
SARAH CHAYES: Well, we’re paying a billion dollars a year to Pakistan, which is orchestrating the Taliban insurgency. So, it’s actually us-taxpayer money that is paying for the insurgents, who are then killing, at the moment, Canadian troops. Â Now if I were the government of Germany or France, I’d have a hard time putting my troops in that kind of equation. I would demand from Washington, that Washington require a lot different behavior from Pakistan.
BILL MOYERS: But the money’s supposed to be to stop the Taliban in Afghanistan.
SARAH CHAYES: Has anybody done very strict accounting on where that money is going? I suspect that if you start looking at some of the receipts, you’ll find that there’s money missing. I mean, I find it really amazing that, for example, recently, there was a cross border raid, that killed an Al Qaeda commander named Al-Libi in Beluchistan province of Pakistan. Now, the entire Taliban top command, or at least the top command of the part that’s operating in the south, is based on Beluchistan provide. People know exactly where they are. Why has we never required those guys heads from Islamabad? Or why have we not considered taking them out ourselves? It’s been very clear to me, watching since 2002, that Pakistan has been buying us off, by a well-timed delivery of an Al Qaeda operative, which has then caused us to look the other way about the Taliban.
As the civilianÂ death toll continues to rise (140 Afghans died last week in bombings)Â the Red Cross is issuing strong warnings of the growing humanitarian crisis.
What is the bind in Afghanistan?
SARAH CHAYES: I think there are two binds. One is our relationship with Pakistan, which is a contradictory one. And the other is our unwillingness to hold Afghan public officials to any standard of decency in government. We keep hearing in the west, about the democratically-elected Afghan government. And, oh, no, we can’t get in there and interfere with any of these people, because they’re the government of a sovereign country. Well, you could have fooled the Afghans. The Afghans– the only person who’s really elected, who has any power, is president Karzai. But every other government official that Afghans interact with on a daily basis, they didn’t elect. And they don’t have any recourse. They’ve got no way of lodging a complaint against this person. Or nobody who can put any leverage on them. And that’s the other bind. We’re only fooling ourselves when we talk about this democratically-elected Afghan government.
The risk for Chayes and her workers is too great to leave the city ofÂ Kandahar.
BILL MOYERS: Are they tempted to join the Taliban?
SARAH CHAYES: No. But, I did ask one of them–one of my guys has an orchard. His sharecroppers were killed in one of these drive-by incidents. There was an improvised bomb that hit a Canadian armed vehicle. The scared Canadian soldiers fired. Killed a sharecropper and his 7-year old son. The 12-year old son survived. We started talking about this in the cooperative. And I asked my other guys, “you know, well, if that happened to you, if your brother, for example, got killed in one of these things, what would you do?” One of them said, “I would resign on-the-spot, and I’d pick up my gun and start shooting Canadians.” Then I said, “what if it was the Taliban who killed your brother?” And he said the same thing. So this is another way that I can see this whole thing coming apart. It’s a kind of privatization. You know. You’ve got people now with blood feud against NATO troops because of things like, you know, civilian casualties. These are people who need– it’s blood debt. They need to recoup that debt. And they’re not going to be persuaded out of that.
BILL MOYERS: There’s a thin line. As I listen to you, there’s a thin line we sometimes walk, we human beings, between hope and folly.
SARAH CHAYES: Hmm.
BILL MOYERS: Are you very close to that line?
SARAH CHAYES: I don’t think that hope is relevant. I think determination is all that counts. You just have to try. It doesn’t matter if you hope you’re going succeed or not. You have to keep trying.
A transcript and video is available at the Moyers link. NATO,Â US Defense Secretary Gates, rebuilding and aidÂ are brought up in the interview.
The ‘Manley Report’ - Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan
January 2008 to The Right Honourable Stephen Harper