the Disillusioned kid: A Frontier Too Far
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Thursday, July 29, 2004

A Frontier Too Far

After operating in Afghanistan for 24 years, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) yesterday announced that they intended to pull out of the country. The decision came after 5 MSF workers, in a clearly marked vehicle, were killed in an ambush on June 2. Tragically 30 humanitarian workers have been killed in the country since the beginning of 2003. MSF have worked in the country through the Soviet invasion and the war with the Mujahideen resistance, the brutal civil war which followed and under the Taliban regime which took control of most of the country. For them to have decided to pull out, the situation must indeed be serious.

Among their reasons for withdrawing they cite the failure of the US-installed government to detain or publically call for the arrest of local commanders who they believe, on the basis of "credible evidence" where behind the attacks. They comment, "The lack of government response to the killings represents a failure of responsibility and an inadequate commitment to the safety of aid workers on its soil."

They are also highly critical of "coalition" efforts "to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions":
MSF denounces the coalition’s attempts to co-opt humanitarian aid and use it to “win hearts and minds”. By doing so, providing aid is no longer seen as an impartial and neutral act, endangering the lives of humanitarian volunteers and jeopardizing the aid to people in need.
Indeed a Taliban spokesman who claimed responsibility for the June 2 attack accused groups like MSF of working for American interests and said they were therefore targets and would be subject to further attacks.

Among US attempts to co-opt humanitarian aid is the American-run provincial reconstruction teams deployed across the country to carry out who carry out civillain and military operations, from rebuilding schools to collecting intelligence on insurgents. Aid agenices argue that such a strategy blurs the lines between the military and humanitarian work. More worrying was the distribution of leaflets in Southern Afghanistan which informed locals that the continuation of aid was consequent on them providing information on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The US defends its efforts in reconstruction work as part of a "hearts and minds" campaign, one the ongoing insurgency suggests they may not be winning.

What MSF's decision confirms is something that many of us in the anti-war movement have known for sometime. Contrary to many people's perceptions, intervening in someone else's contry is not easy. Many people seem to accept the line that no news equals good news. Once John Simpson had liberated Kabul and the cameras left, people settled back into their armchairs content that all was well. Reality of course is very different. One can see the same phenomenon regarding Kosovo, which recent events suggest still has serious problems. Iraq seems to have remained in the headlines primarily because of resistance successes in inflicting serious losses on "coalition" forces.

By failing to show us the genuine consequences of our government's actions in other countries the media prevents us from being able to make educated decisions on future interventions. As the picture presented is typically a rosy one (we've "liberated" Afghanistan, all is well etc.) this serves the interests of those who want to take us to war. Worth bearing in mind as the US begins to make noises about invading Iran.

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