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Kate Buggeln : Here’s why I’m going back to Afghanistan

December 17th, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

As an ongoing feature, we would like to publish the words of people who are involved with development and education in Afghanistan. These types of article add a real, human dimension to what can often seem to overwhelming difficulties.

In the end, it is ordinary people like you and me who have the potential to make the greatest difference. It all starts with the acknowledgement of a problem’s existence and the recognition that your actions can directly impact the lives of others.

If you know of any articles that meet this criteria and deserve a wider audience, please send them to [email protected] along with the author’s contact information, if available.

The Taliban exists because there is a vacuum of power and a lack of funding to fill it.

YOU’RE NOT going back over there are you?” I get asked that question a lot these days because “there” is Kabul, Afghanistan , and my mother, among others, doesn’t like what she has been reading lately, particularly about the suicide bombings.

In December, for a fourth time, my volunteer work for the not-for-profit Business Council for Peace (www.bpeace.org) will bring me back to Kabul, where indeed the news has been grim. Over the past few weeks I have awoken each morning to read the overnight emails from Bpeace associates, Afghan friends and contacts. They write of road-side bombs, rocket attacks and of Taliban notices warning women not to leave their homes. Our Bpeace associates are frightened for the first time since the fall of the Taliban, and some are putting plans for the future on hold.

Deteriorating situation

Suria, Bpeace’s program director writes that “the situation is very bad these days in Kabul , and all people afraid, everywhere people think of bombing and attacks and daily lots of people die. Also they say that we should think about escaping from the country.” Masuda, a Kabul businesswoman writes of the Taliban, “I heard that Taliban has sent a notice to Macrorayon Place , where there are English courses for both girls and boys that the girls should not come out of their home”. Nadir our local guide sadly emails that “some people who are helping Taliban, they have nothing to do, no work, no income, so they join with some who give them a little money.”

Bpeace works in Afghanistan (as well as Rwanda and Iraq) to help women grow businesses. Our aim is simple. Create economic opportunity and in the doing create hope and a rejection of conflict. We work with women because they generally have the most to lose and the least to gain in war. Because of this work I remain both committed and hopeful in Afghanistan, despite the current environment. Bpeace associates — women who just five years ago could not leave their homes under the Taliban — have been making progress in the development of their businesses. In the weeks before the recent surge of violence, my email in-box was filled with pictures of a new co-operative store site.

Fearing a loss of will

Clients were losing weight at Afifa’s women’s only gym. Nasria and Alia were landing purchase orders for their manufacturing businesses. Tami’s day-care center opened where the children have been singing songs. And the newly founded Afghan Women’s Business Federation opened its business training centers with the help of Bpeace curriculum. Almost 100 students have sufficient hope in the future that they paid tuition to receive training so they could open or grow Afghan businesses.

My hope does come with a big caveat. Does the American public have the will and attention to see this through? Much has been made in the past months about the Bush administration’s spoiled opportunity in Afghanistan. I am worried that in our rush to judgment on Bush, and in the heat of the November elections, our will to stay the course will be lost.

There are reasons for the current disintegrating situation, reasons which can be addressed if we have the will. Through my conversations with Afghan policemen, educators, business people and Bpeace’s associates, I know that the opium trade is not exploding in the provinces because Afghan’s like illicit industry; it exists because there is no alternative industry.

The Taliban is not resurging because the Afghan people want them; they exist because there is a vacuum of power and a lack of funding to fill it. I read recently that the police in Nuristan on the Afghan-Pakistan border have not been paid in months. And when in Kabul this July, we waited and hoped that a demonstration by the military would not turn riotous. The rumor on the street was the military had not been paid either. Not surprisingly Afghans fear that their government can not protect them.

People like us

I have come to know these people. Despite our cultural differences, these are women and people just like me, just like you. They want security, a paycheck and a home for their families and are willing to work hard for it. Afghans fear that we will leave them. It’s a fear the Taliban is happy to prey upon while Afghans wait for the international community and their own government to do something about Pakistan, which continues to support the insurgents.

Well-managed and adequately funded programs delivering education, infrastructure and security to the entire country, not just Kabul, are urgently needed to fill gaping voids, voids that will be otherwise filled with tragic consequences for Afghans and likely once again, Americans.

Afghans need the courage that will come from knowing that the international community and America is committed, and the Taliban needs to feel the threat. Bpeace is one small piece of demonstrating that commitment.

So yes, mother I am going back to Kabul.

Kate Buggeln, a New Jersey native and graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rutherford campus, is a marketing consultant.

This piece was originally published in the The Bergen Record on October 22, 2006. It has been republished with the permission of the author.

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