December 19, 2008
When Sarah Chayes left her job as an NPR reporter to help rebuild Afghanistan, she did so because she believed that Afghanistan had the potential to be a stable, lawful country. Seven years later, as the incoming Obama Administration looks to change course in Afghanistan and send in 20,000 more troops, Chayes joins Bill Moyers on THE JOURNAL to explain what she thinks U.S. policy should be in the region.
As one of the few westerners living and building a business in Kandahar, the erstwhile Taliban capital in southern Afghanistan, Chayes has unique access to the lives and thoughts of everyday Aghans. Chayes tells Bill Moyers that many of the Afghans she knows still expect the U.S. to deliver the lawful, democratic country it promised, but instead they see unwavering U.S. support for a corrupt central government and for Pakistan, whose continued support of the Taliban makes it an unlikely ally in the U.S. fight against the Taliban.
In the 1990s, Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, helped create the Taliban and is, according to some security analysts, the driving force behind its recent resurgence. On the JOURNAL, Chayes told Bill Moyers: "We need to get the knots out of our foreign policy here. It's very perplexing to Afghans to understand that we are providing $1 billion a year to the Pakistani military which is creating the Taliban. That's the other thing they don't understand. And they say, 'Wait a second, are you with them or against them?'"
>> Learn more about ties between Pakistan and the Taliban
Afghans are also angry that the U.S. supports the central government without challenging its corruption. After years of exploiting its monopoly on state power, the Karzai government has lost the support of many ordinary Afghans. The Taliban doesn't enjoy true popular support, according to Chayes, they have only come back to power in the vacuum left by a corrupt government and even then, only with violence and intimidation.
Chayes is not the only one to report this trend. In an article for the GUARDIAN, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad reported the rise of an educated, urban Taliban. One Taliban-supporting university student told him: "Lots of my university friends are with the Taliban not because they are Taliban but because they are against this government and the occupation. No one expected the Taliban to be back, but when the normal people saw the corruption of the government, when they saw that the warlords are back, people started supporting the resistance."
As Chayes wrote in an op-ed in the WASHINGTON POST: "Why would anyone defend officials who pillage them? If the Taliban gouge out the eyes of people they accuse of colluding with the Afghan government, as they did recently in Kandahar, while the government treats those same citizens like rubbish, why should anyone take the risk that allegiance to Kabul entails?"
Though Chayes does agree with the Obama administration that the US needs to commit more troops to Afghanistan, she argues that until corruption is rooted out of the central government the Taliban will continue to grow stronger. Create a strong and lawful government in Afghanistan, Chayes argues, and the Taliban will wither away, no concessions needed.
Sarah Chayes' Photos of Afghanistan
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After reporting for National Public Radio in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East, as well as nearer her base in Paris, Sarah Chayes left journalism in 2002 to help rebuild Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime. She has launched a cooperative in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, producing fine skin-care products from local fruits, nuts, and botanicals. (www.arghand.org) The aim is to discourage opium production by helping farmers earn a living from licit crops, as well as to encourage collective decision-making. From this position, deeply embedded in Kandahar's everyday life, Ms. Chayes has gained unparalleled insights into a troubled region.
Beginning in 2002, Ms. Chayes served in Kandahar as Field Director for Afghans for Civil Society, a non-profit group founded by Qayum Karzai, President Hamid Karzai's older brother. Under Ms. Chayes's leadership, ACS rebuilt a village destroyed during the anti-Taliban conflict, launched a successful income-generation project for Kandahar women, launched the most popular radio station in southern Afghanistan, and conducted a number of policy studies. Later, she ran a dairy cooperative.
From 1996, Ms. Chayes was Paris reporter for NPR. Her work during the Kosovo crisis earned her the 1999 Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards, together with other members of the NPR team. She has also reported from Algeria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Serbia and Bosnia, as well as covering the International War Crimes Tribunal and the European Union. Before that, Ms. Chayes free-lanced from Paris for a variety of radio and print outlets. She began her radio career in 1991 at Monitor Radio.
Ms. Chayes graduated in History from Harvard University in 1984, earning the Radcliffe College History Prize. She served in the Peace Corps in Morocco, then returned to Harvard to earn a master's degree in History and Middle Eastern Studies, specializing in the medieval Islamic period.
Ms. Chayes is recipient of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' inaugural Ruth Adams Award for writing on strategic issues. She has published articles in THE ATLANTIC, THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE BOSTON GLOBE, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY, and the TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL. She is featured in the Sundance/Frontline World documentary "Life After War"/"A House for Haji Baba." She has lectured widely as well as participating in the training of incoming US and NATO military officers. Her book on post-Taliban Afghanistan, The PUNISHMENT OF VIRTUE: INSIDE AFGHANISTAN AFTER THE TALIBAN was published in 2006.
>Read more about Afghanistan.
Guest photo by Robin Holland
Published on December 19, 2008.