DROPPING quasi-nuclear bombs on Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan will not end the war, but will reinforce the Taliban ideology that the United States is an “occupying force” for its own political and economic gain, the national director of World Vision in the country, Jim Alexander, has said.
He was referring to reports that the US military had dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), its largest non-nuclear bomb, on a suspected stronghold of the IS in Nangarhar province, this month. The former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, condemned the intervention, which is reported to have wiped out as many as 36 IS fighters without affecting civilians.
But this week, Mr Alexander, who has been working in Afghanistan on and off for more than 40 years, the past four with World Vision, warned that a political settlement was the only solution. “The Trump administration is making a higher-level statement about reasserting American military force in the world. This will not solve anything, and can reinforce the platform the Taliban and Isis has been using: that America has invaded, and remains in Afghanistan, for its own economic and political reasons, not for the good of the Afghan people.”
Afghans, he said, would “applaud” the bombing, because, despite IS’s being a “tiny element” of the insurgency, “the atrocities that they have committed have been [their] modus operandi, and Afghans are worried.”
The Taliban raided Camp Shaheen, a northern army base, last Friday, killing or wounding as many as 140 people, reportedly in revenge for the deaths of two Taliban officials in the region.
Mr Alexander said that, in unoccupied areas, people were “just mortified” that the Taliban might regain power, “because they know that the advancements that have been made in terms of education, and women joining the workforce, are very tenuous; that the tide can turn any time.”
World Vision launched its Women’s Empowerment programme, working with Islamic faith leaders to end child marriage in the country, with support from the European Union, last month. It came after Rula Ghani, who is the wife of the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, made a plea to bring the issue of forced child-marriage to international attention. In Afghanistan, 57 per cent of girls are married before the age of 19. Of these, 40 per cent are married between the ages of ten and 13.
“Afghanistan is 99 per cent Islamic, and faith permeates everything; so to partner with faith leaders gives us a natural bridge, and a way to address attitudinal and behavioural change,” Mr Alexander said. “Not just the surface-level change, like health clinics, but challenging value systems with the Islamic leaders using Qur’anic text, which is very effective.”
Since 2011, World Vision has trained about 4000 mullahs (or scholars) in issues such as HIV/AIDS, mother-and-child health, and now women’s empowerment and child marriage. “That conversation has certainly made a difference,” he said. “You might not imagine that the Qur’an has such texts, which support and defend women, but it does, and they are not ones that are taught generally, especially in the rural areas. The mullahs are gatekeepers to changing attitudes and behaviour.”
World Vision runs an education programme for five-and-six-year-old children, to get them into school, besides teacher-training programmes. “When girls reach the age of puberty, the families do not want them to sit under a male teacher, and there are very few female teachers in most areas; so the parents take the girls out of school altogether, and marry them off.”
The charity also assists about 5000 children who have been forced to work on city streets. It offers them primary care, education, and psychosocial support-counselling. “I asked two girls what their hopes and dreams were,” Mr Alexander said. “The first said that she wanted to become a policewoman — not because it would bring income and security in the family, but because she wanted to help to ‘protect my people’: she is eight years old. Another girl, who was shy, and even younger, said she wanted to be a doctor to bring free medical care to her people.
“Our motto is to plant the seeds of hope for Afghani people: these were two desperate girls in desperate situations who can now see a bright future, have hope, and be a part of making Afghanistan different.”