Read The Punishment of Virtue by Sarah Chayes Free Online
Book Title: The Punishment of Virtue|
The author of the book: Sarah Chayes
Edition: Portobello Books
Date of issue: January 1st 2007
Loaded: 1755 times
Reader ratings: 3.2
ISBN 13: 9781846270758
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.83 MB
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Sarah Chayes offers an incisive, on-the-ground look at the reality of the conflict in Afghanistan. She informs her observations with historical research, ongoing contact with many significant political players in the country and the experience of living in the country for many years, and comes up with a better understanding of the forces at play than I have seen anywhere else. Her story begins while she is working as a foreign correspondent for NPR, and living with an Afghani family in Kandahar. Most telling, perhaps, is her recollection of the reaction to her stories by NPR management. It comes as no surprise to those of us who have mourned the right-wing tilt of much of NPR since the Republicans took control of Washington in 2000. (See http://nprcheck.blogspot.com/ for daily updates) So many mornings in my home have been interrupted by screams of outrage. I cannot imagine how unspeakable it must have been for a reporter of Chayes’ depth to have to confront such daily ignorance back home. Sorry, we don’t want to confuse the American public with nuance or any story that does not toe the extant political line. Thankfully, Chayes was offered an opportunity, outside of NPR, to do some good in a country she had come to love.
Taking a position as a representative for a non-governmental-organization, or NGO, Chayes sought to make a difference in this broken country. Chayes offers us further insight in to the workings of non-profits in Afghanistan, but most of all tells us about how the Afghans relate to each other and to the USA and where those relationships fall in a historical perspective. You will learn a lot and find answers to questions you never thought to pose.
Structurally, Chayes offers contrasting pictures of two main characters. Muhammad Akrem Khakrezwal was a police chief and ultimately a friend to Chayes, a bright, basically good guy who tried to do the right thing in the wrong place. Chayes attends his funeral in the opening chapter and pledges to find out who killed him. She offers us a history of his career, pointing out the influences that impacted his ability to function in this or that place and job. Gul Agha Shirzai is his shadow image, a warlord with considerable political savvy and very little by way of scruples. Following the trail of these two individuals offers considerable opportunity for explaining how things work in Afghanistan.
It is a grim portrait Chayes paints. There was a time when Americans were indeed welcomed, and the Taliban reviled. But now, having seen how the USA drove out one band of psychopaths only to install another, patience with America has run out. Chayes goes into serious detail about how this works in the real world, why it is that the US selects this group or person to support while that or another group or person is ignored.
One of the wonderful things about Chayes' book is that she offers several chapters on the history of Afghanistan. These help explain why some ethnic groups view each other with such suspicion and hostility, tradition.
It was interesting to learn that the word “chain” refers not only to a set of overlapping metallic links, but also to having to pay off a chain of brigands in order to travel on major roads in the country. It was this chain that the Taliban was able to remove, but that the USA has inadvertently restored.
She shows how the Taliban is pretty much a creation of Pakistan, designed to keep Afghanistan from becoming a functional nation. There is much reportage on specifics supporting the fact that without Pakistani support, the Taliban would never have become a major power in Afghanistan, and would not, now be resurgent there.
Most alarming was the disappointment she felt with Karzai, the prime minister who seemed to have the charisma, intelligence and courage to lead the nation in a new direction. As it happens, not so much. And so, our hopes for the nation’s future are not reinforced. We get to see that there are many good people in Afghanistan. But the odds are against them.
Chayes' story is one told from the living rooms of the powerful (she worked for one of Karzai’s relatives and had met with most of the important people in the nation) to the neighborhoods in which she lives, among the locals. Hers is a hands-on view, visceral, grounded, incisive, informative and compelling. The Punishment of Virtue is a clear must-read for anyone with an interest in goings on in that part of the world.
[following the ouster of the Taliban from Kandahar in 2001:] it is no wonder many Kandaharis viewed the coming change with trepidation.
“Now will be the era of robbers,” a young auto mechanic told me in late November 2001, after tribesmen had looted a warehouse for refugees just inside Afghanistan, in the last days of the U.S. bombing. I asked if he didn’t trust the tribal elders to maintain order after the Taliban departed.
“No, I don’t.” He was emphatic. “They held power before, and they plundered the people and did bad things to them.”
Other shopkeepers and small businessmen told of reverting to the defensive measures they had learned during the mujahideen nights: sleeping in different places each night, bringing all their wares home at the end of the day, and shuttering their empty stalls.
As Michael Barry analyzes it, leadership among Pashtuns is acquired by a pretender’s ability to extract wealth from a lowland power in one of those three familiar forms—plunder or tribute or subsidy—and distribute it among his men. Ahmed Shah’ ability in this regard was undeniable.
[Afghanistan:] is a state founded not on a set of thoughts held in common and articulated through texts and institutions, but rather a state founded on the strategic nature of its territory—the crux between empires. It is a state founded on a fluid and tenuous interaction between collective structures, structures of nation, of tribe, of family, and a highly developed sense of freedom, a violent aversion to submission.
[In Kandahar:] there was no hostility to the American presence. On the contrary, Kandaharis were looking to the Americans for help. They expected the Americans to help them gain their country back, help them rein in their own leaders’ well-remembered corruption, help them come up with a new version of qanum, of law and order, which would be a little less repressive than the Taliban’s rendition. Help them start making something of themselves.
I told this to the young marine. I told him U.S. soldiers were in zero danger. They were seen as Kandahar’s ticket out of backwardness.
“That’s really interesting,” the marine replied. “I had a feeling that’s how things were. See, they keep giving us these briefings about the situation here, and I’ve been wondering if they’re bullshitting us. They keep saying this is a combat mission. ‘Combat?’ I’m saying. ‘What combat?’ There’s nothing happening out here. I’m feeling pretty dumb in this hole in the ground. And I’m getting a little ticked off too. I think they’re taking advantage of us. I feel like we’re just a symbol—like a great big American flag stuck in the dirt out here. What’s the use of that? I’d like to do something real. I’d like to get out there and start building that road.
I wanted to throw my arms around the kid. “And you know what?” I said. “If you built the road, it would do more for your security than another thousand guys out here in foxholes. The Afghans would protect you. If they saw you helping them, they would take care of you.
I had this entire conversation down on tape. It was going in my story. Because, like the tale young Fayda had told me on the way to Kandahar a couple of weeks before, it seemed to hold the crux of what was already going wrong.
But my editor nixed it. She said there was nothing new or interesting in this conversation. Soldiers are always disgruntled. This marine was just the same as every other grunt.
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