Afghanistan is a poor country - much poorer than any place I’ve seen before. These people make the Cambodians look rich and the Iraqis, well, evolved. Most of the kids I see have a sort of empty look in their eyes. You can smile, wave, or say hello in their native language, but you don’t get much of any response/reaction. We’ve heard the kids have been told all sorts of lies about us and our intentions, but the lack of reaction to external stimulus is a little disconcerting.
This being such a poor country, the people don’t have much, especially out where we are in an isolated, difficult to reach corner of the country. So we give the locals all sorts of stuff, usually clothing and blankets these days. It’s a kind of payment for the right to search their house oftentimes. We don’t need permission to do it, but we try to give a little in the end. Given how poor the locals are, one always whether he’s doing the right thing by giving to them. This place is so far behind and so seemingly so unable to progress that a blanket doesn’t seem like much in the long run. Somehow teaching them to be industrious and value things like education would seem to be the solution, but how to change a culture? Is it their religion holding their culture, and thus, their lives back? Could be, but that’s beyond the scope of this article, and my abilities to intelligently expound. At any rate, I don’t believe people get much out of handouts. It may change their lives a bit for that small period of time while the object lasts, but it doesn’t change them. But I guess I’m missing the point. The point is to buy their allegiance somehow. And if we can somehow get their allegiance and thus win this war, then dragging them into the 21st century is a doable objective.
Our Afghan soldiers sometimes have a hard time understanding why we don’t give the handouts to them, the Afghan Army, who works with us and supports us, rather than the local people who don’t support us and oftentimes hate us. I can understand that point of view, but I still don’t go out of my way to give our soldiers much, since it’s the responsibility of their chain of command to supply their own soldiers, and as long as we’re doing it for them, they’ll never do it. In the end, my soldiers will get some things out of me that they should get from their own supply system, but I’ll make them wait to try to make a point.
A man came to visit our little base today to tell us about a wedding taking place in a couple days. Large groups of people invite our suspicion, so the locals try to advise when such a gathering is going to occur. As an aside, I asked my interpreter what the deal is with all the weddings and he mentioned that winter is the wedding season here since "women are very important in the winter for keeping warm". Anyway, the local man asked me to provide him with a bit of diesel so they could run their generator for the wedding festivities; a small decision to be made on my part, whether or not to give the man some fuel. On the one hand, though we’re at the end of our supply chain and fuel has to be flown up here in a helicopter, we’re in little danger of actually running out, so it’s not much skin off my back to give it. On the other hand, this man lives in a town that we know has some bad guys in it so odds are he doesn’t support our presence here, and furthermore I don’t need everyone in the valley coming to me for fuel.
In the end though, our goal is to get the local populace on our side. In these types of situations I often ask myself what the Russians would have done when they were here in the 1980’s, and I then do the opposite…not that I can ever really know what they would have done, but I suppose I can surmise based on things I’ve read. So even if the man is an incorrigible Taliban-supporter, I have to take the view that he can be brought over to our side, and a wedding gift of some diesel fuel seems an appropriate opportunity to contribute to the populace. I may change my tune about giving these people anything at all after a few more months here, but for now…he asked for 10 liters…I gave him 15. We’ll see.
.One has been a bad spectator of life if one has not also seen the hand that in a considerate fashion - kills. - Friedrich Nietzsche