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The Failure of Peace-building in Afghanistan


Only three cups of tea?

As an Irish tea drinker it could not have been easier to break the ice with the Afghans. Sharing a cup of tea creates that moment of welcome and conviviality that opens every meeting, giving everyone a moment to settle in and eye up your fellow tea drinkers. Drinking as much tea as I do made me an honorary Afghan. I loved the time I spent in Afghanistan, criss-crossing Kabul from meeting to meeting, Ministry to Embassy, and occasionally to small NGO offices.

I loved observing the interactions of these gentle, welcoming, generous tea-drinkers. I remember the evenings in the high mountains spent wrapped in a blanket staring at the fullest-starred sky I have ever seen. I cannot forget the times, too numerous to count, where my Afghan colleagues, doctors, drivers, teachers, engineers, civil servants and night watchmen, put themselves out so that I would be safe. Instead of a handshake, my hand learned to go straight to my heart as a gesture of greeting. I listened to the sensible advice to a foreigner on how to stay alive, safe, respectful and eventually comfortable.

Of course I recognize that this was not the whole picture of a country still at war: we did not emerge from our highly secured guest house in the mornings without having checked the day’s security assessment with at least 3 sources; we did not travel to certain areas of the city if there was an alert for a particular Ministry or Embassy; we waited to venture outside Kabul until we got the all-clear from all our sources; we travelled in a small minivan, unmarked with any foreign symbol; we dressed discreetly in typical local clothing and we let our Afghan staff take the lead. I witnessed a large bombing, we crossed a minefield, both in a car and on foot (just us women, trying to find a discreet and far enough away from the road place to relieve ourselves during a long car journey), we were ever aware of the risks of kidnap, we controlled our panic as the rain washed out the road and we had to walk through mud to try to get back to our guesthouse before nightfall, we watched warily as truckload upon truckload of armed soldiers passed us as we drove in a remote valley.

The tension was constant between fellowship and wariness, trust and distrust. From our guesthouse we could look across the river at the rusting Russian tank left over from an earlier decade of war
and be reminded that we foreigners did not have the full context of the situation we thought we managed.
At each meeting with members of one military force or another (often at a PRT and without even one cup of tea), we were forced to confront the fact that they had barely taken one single step along the path of trust. They looked at us with a level of contempt and ridicule and sometimes actually came out and said to our faces that we were just naïve, overly trusting do-gooders. How could we possibly understand the real situation? We were just being taken in whereas they knew what was really happening. Looking back, I ask myself what the military lack of trust in the Afghans actually achieved.

Carmel Crawford

Headquarters : Centre Quaker International
114 rue de Vaugirard
75006 Paris
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