Editor’s note:Â Our guest, Connor O’Steen, is a special correspondent to ScholarsÂ & Rogues.Â He’s currently in Afghanistan working for PARSA, a non-governmental organization (NGO) specializing in microeconomic development with an emphasis on women and children.Â He is often in rural areas far from Kabul where most other journalists cannot, or will not, go.Â You are unlikely to find his insights in the mainstream media. Often, he has no access to the Internet, so excerpts will be sporadic, at best.Â His correspondence to us is edited for context and to remove information that might put him or his coworkers in danger.
Dogs, generals, and orphans
by Connor O’Steen
One of the things we have no shortage of in Kabul is dogs. Marnie Gustavson, the executive director of PARSA and the person who’s been nice enough to put me up in Afghanistan, currently has seven dogs living under her roof.Â It wasn’t exactly that she wanted this many; it was just how it turned out, really.
One of the biggest problems I’ve had adapting to Afghan culture isÂ its casual cruelty and neglect of animals. Marnie even said that one of the drivers she had here would laugh while he swerved trying to hit stray dogs. Given the situation, where children will beat and sometimes kill strays for the fun of it, the staff of PARSA has ended up rescuing a lot of animals. A number of these have been given to ex-pats or caring Afghan families, but some are simply too stubborn or loved to be given away.
The dogs at Marastoon (where the international staff of PARSA live) are mainly Afghan hounds or ex-jongi (fighting) dogs. The biggest jongi dog, ironically named Puppy, could easily fit my head in his jaws but actually has the best temper. Most of the dogs have had their ears and tails cut short; that’s to keep other dogs from grabbing them there during a fight. Despite all of the mischief they cause, they’re great dogs, and another example of making a change in Afghanistan–human or animal.
We went to Alhouddin orphanage a few days ago and took along two British ISAF generals who are kind and smart enough to realize that this is an important program to fund, and who wanted to see the results of their efforts. To emphasize how great these guys were, their money wasn’t coming from any kind of ISAF budget, it was raised through fundraising projects in Britain, Dubai, and other British embassies around the world. Through their own personal clout, they made this a priority.
ISAF generals, however, are not allowed to leave their bases without an armed convoy following them. This is true despite the fact that in Kabul, the only target that could draw hostility is a very apparent, very slow, ISAF convoy. By requiring extra measures of security, these ISAF regulations only serve to make the situation more dangerous for their personnel.
Fortunately, the ISAF generals agreed on this conclusion, so they snuck out in civilian clothes and the three of us climbed into the trunk of a Toyota as we dodged security. On the ride over (a rather bumpy one, particularly without any seats to cushion the blows of the lousy Kabul roads) the generals and I discussed our views on the war in Afghanistan, the security situation, and what should be done to improve the quality of life for Afghans.
The big conclusion that weÂ reached is there has to be an agreement among the international community and the aid community about the consistency of aid to social and political programs in Afghanistan. Easier said than done obviously. It’s not easy to solve donor fatigue or convince nations to continue to give when corruption is rampant and the results seem few. Still, if we lose interest now and refuse to continue what we’ve started, we have no right to be outraged when another security threat arises. The security threats are the result of a base of social and political instability. If you can solve the vacuum of Afghan power, you can improve the security situation, but it all takes patience and continued assistance.
The experience was surreal. Riding in the trunk of a car with two senior staff members of ISAF and discussing aid and security policies with them-even after I’d been told I was going to Afghanistan, I don’t think I would’ve believed that could have happened.
More to come.
Connor O’SteenÂ is the former editor-in-chief of the Shady Dealer, the humor magazine of the University of Chicago, is a Fellow of the International House, and is currently awaiting publication of his policy white paper on the inherent dangers of the Pakistani military’s ownership of private sector companies. Â He has language skills in Dari, Urdu, and Arabic.