Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Can NATO troops ever get their message across to Afghans?
I was with Western forces the other day as they tried to persuade a group of Afghan farmers to come to them for help if they saw Taliban militants plant an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or intimidated them.
A NATO soldier had urgency in his voice. To prove his point, he told the villagers that a Taliban IED had killed a five-year-old boy a few days earlier . Unlike many other NATO soldiers, he had actually taken the time to learn the local language. This made him popular. Many people smiled and shook his hand when he walked through villages – although he was constantly on the lookout for suspicious activity.
He explained why NATO troops had arrived in their troubled country in the first place – to punish the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders after the 9/11 attacks. But the farmers said they did not know why Western forces were here – after nine years of war. Perhaps it was because they are used to turmoil and uncertainty after three decades of conflict. Maybe they thought it just another group of fighters commanded by powerful warlords who had carved their own fiefdoms.
It seemed they were just nodding politely and making all the right noises as the Canadian tried so hard to persuade them that U.S.-led forces can protect them from what he called the bad Taliban.
I guess they had good reason to be cautious. One of the farmers recalled how Taliban militants showed up in Western military uniforms and slaughtered seven people. So the farmers are likely to return to their grape fields to scratch out a living and maintain a low profile.
Taking sides has always been a dangerous game in Afghanistan.