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Sarah Chayes
Sarah Chayes, photo by Robin Holland
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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. ( 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.

Related Media:
Sarah Chayes
Sarah Chayes, author and former journalist who has been helping rebuild Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime, with a look at the front lines of America's war there. (April 4, 2008)

Christian ParentiChristian Parenti
Journalist Christian Parenti, just back from his fourth visit to the forgotten frontline, speaks to Moyers about the growing influence of warlords in government and the resurgence of the Taliban (June 8, 2007)

Christian ParentiForeign Policy and the New President
What will President-elect Obama's promises of change mean for the Middle East? JOURNAL guest host Deborah Amos sits down with Elizabeth Rubin, the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Slate magazine columnist Fred Kaplan. (November 14, 2008)

March in PakistanPakistan in Peril
Bill Moyers on the unrest in the streets of America's ally. (November 9, 2007)

FBI Domestic Spy PosterLeila Fadel
Just back from being under fire in Sadr City, award-winning journalist Leila Fadel, Baghdad Bureau Chief for McClatchy, gives viewers on-the-ground analysis of the latest events and close-up look at the state of the war. (April 18, 2008)

OWhat's Next for Iraq?
What's Next for Iraq? NPR's Deborah Amos — just back from Damascus — and THE NEW YORKER's George Packer on the Iraq war and what you haven't heard from Washington. (September 28, 2007)

References and Reading:
Sarah Chayes
The Arghand Cooperative
Visit the official website for the Arghand Cooperative.

Sarah Chaye's NEW YORK TIMES Blog
Read archived articles from the blog Sarah Chayes kept for the New York Times in 2006.

"Scents and Sensibility"
by Sarah Chayes, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, December 2007.

"The Other Front"
by Sarah Chayes, THE WASHINGTON POST, December 14, 2008.

"Days of Lies and Roses: Selling out Afghanistan"
by Sarah Chayes, THE BOSTON REVIEW, March/April 2007.

Sarah Chayes Web site
Learn more about Sarah Chayes' work as a reporter on her professional Web site.

FRONTLINE/WORLD interview with Sarah Chayes
FRONTLINE/WORLD interviewed Sarah Chayes in 2003.

"Policing Afghanistan"
by Graeme Wood, THE NEW YORKER, December 8, 2008.

"Face to face with the Taliban"
by Ghaith Abdul Ahad, THE GUARDIAN, December 14, 2008.

"Bid to split Taliban, Al Qaeda"
By Anand Gopal, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, December 16, 2008.

"Battle Company Is Out There,"
By Elizabeth Rubin, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, February 24, 2008.

"Taking the Fight to the Taliban "
By Elizabeth Rubin, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, October 26, 2006.

"Women's Work"
By Elizabeth Rubin, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, October 9, 2005.

BBC News In Depth: One Day in Afghanistan
The BBC News Web site reported in detail on events in Afghanistan throughout one entire day back on 2005, in order to try to convey the fullest picture we could of life there ahead of parliamentary and local elections.

UC Berkeley Library: Afghanistan and the US
The Library at UC Berkeley has compiled a large number of Internet resources regarding many aspects of life and politics in Afghanistan, including: political parties and groups, rebuilding Afghanistan, voices of peace, effects of the recent war and the Taliban.

"As President Bush pledges another $10 billion to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, and a spring offensive is expected against a resurgent Taliban, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sam Kiley reports from the frontlines of the conflict, where dual battles are being fought to win the trust of the Afghan people and combat the extremists living among them. In the film, Kiley and his crew are granted unprecedented access to the outgoing British NATO commander David Richards who led 37,000 troops from 37 countries."

Center for Strategic and International Studies: "The Uncertain Metrics of Afghanistan (and Iraq)" (pdf)
By Anthony Cordesman, May 18, 2007.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies is "a bipartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C" that "seeks to advance global security and prosperity in an era of economic and political transformation."

"From Pomegranates to Poppies"
By Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, November 27, 2007.
Read more about Afghans switching back to growing opium in this story written for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Also This Week:

As a new administration is set to take over in the White House, Bill Moyers checks in with author Sarah Chayes on the state of affairs in America's other war in Afghanistan. An author and former journalist, Chayes has lived the last seven years in Afghanistan helping to rebuild the country.

As 43 states face budget shortfalls, New York Governor David Paterson talks with Bill Moyers about how states are dealing with the economic crisis.

The JOURNAL and EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS examine a whistleblower's tale of military housing contracts gone awry.


View a preview of next week's documentary special.

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