while the u.s. delivers rhetoric-filled ultimatums, peace activists and foreign policy experts are praying that the Bush administration doesn't make a tragic situation worse by raining First- World firepower on the destitute of the earth in Afghanistan or Iraq.That's certainly the fervent wish of Afghani expat Dr. Seddiq Weera, who heads up the Afghanistan Project of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University. Weera, who trained as a physician and was imprisoned by the Soviet-backed regime for five years in the mid-80s for treating mujahedeen fighters, believes his homeland has already been "hijacked and victimized' and can't possibly take more.
The ultimatum for the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden is, he says, far from the concerns and power range of an exhausted citizenry who have suffered from more than three decades of brutal rule by the Communists, the mujahedeen and now the Taliban and the Northern Alliance (the Iran-backed guerrilla oppositionists).
"(A military attack would be) like punishing a nation for something it has nothing to do with -- a lot of Afghanis don't even know what the World Trade Center was and they couldn't care less about NATO or Arabs or these extremists. What they are concerned about is some kind of peace, so they can have their routine lives. They're so sick of the failed regional and internal politics."
It's a nation, he says, whose people have been left for dead by the world community after more than a century of being used and abused by superpowers and neighbours -- the British, the Soviets, the U.S., Pakistan, Iran, all of whom controlled warring factions and tribes at one time or another.
Weera rhymes off the consequences:
a million dead and the complete destruction of the nation's infrastructure after the 14-year war with the former Soviet Union.
a recent famine and millions of refugees.
an estimated 10 million land mines left behind by the Russians or the mujahedeen, only 25 per cent of which were cleared by last year.
an infant mortality rate of 150 per 1,000 births, as well as one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
average life expectancy of 45 years.
only 7 per cent of children have access to elementary schools (most of them boys) and the literacy rate is 32 per cent.
Besides all this, the country has been crippled by international sanctions. Practically all social services are provided by foreign NGOs, that is until they had to flee the country a few days ago because of the U.S. bombing threat.
Reconstructing a broken nation takes strategy and resources -- but few of the world's rich countries are interested in the chore. Weera himself has been part of a team of NGOs trying to breathe life into civil society. After his release from prison, the professor emigrated to Pakistan and helped set up an interim Afghan government there, becoming one of the founding members of the ministry of health, which attempted to establish public health offices in free areas controlled by the mujahedeen. In 1991, he came to Canada and ever since has been preoccupied with health and peace-building.
Afghanis, he says, have repeatedly pleaded with the world community to put pressure on neighbouring countries not to interfere with their internal politics. Last February the Afghanistan Project hosted a nation-building conference in Peshawar, Pakistan, that was attended by Afghani intellectuals, political party leaders and tribal leaders. Although members of the Taliban did attend, they didn't stick around to adopt resolutions.
But, says Weera, "there was a consensus from all the audience, with no exceptions, that they wanted Afghanistan not to be a threat to anyone. They understood that every country, including neighbouring countries, has some legitimate fears and concerns and economic and political interests. But could we, for God's sake, find a mechanism which allows cooperation instead of this unhealthy competition?"
If Afghanis were allowed to decide their political future on their own and set up democratic procedures, he says, terrorist groups in the country would wither and die. "Afghans are very sensitive to foreigners who have political goals on their soil and who are interfering with national decision making.'
Finding that mechanism for change, however, has proven difficult. Despite a United Nations appeal for support, the West has kept its distance, Canada included. "We were very frustrated to hear that Canada did not have any strategic interest in Afghanistan and would only provide emergency relief," he says. "This is now the price we're probably paying for our lack of involvement or indifference."
It's a point poignantly made by Barnett Rubin, whose 1995 book, The Fragmentation Of Afghanistan, was prophetic: "If the international community does not find a way to rebuild Afghanistan,' he said, "a flood tide of weapons, cash and contraband will escape that state's porous boundaries and make the world less secure for all."