An Afghan View Of The Surge
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Coalition forces say they want to win over the loyalty of the local population in Helmand Province to loosen the Taliban's grip on the region. For a sense of the challenges in achieving that goal we're going to hear now from Rangina Hamidi. She lives in the neighboring province of Kandahar, also a Taliban stronghold. She's an Afghan-American, grew up in the States and went back to Kandahar in 2003. She runs a nonprofit there called Kandahar Treasure that markets the embroidery of local Afghan women. And she says the Taliban's control is strongest in areas outside of cities.
Ms. RANGINA HAMIDI (CEO, Kandahar Treasure): It has really created a sense of basically belonging to almost two different nations. If you're in the city you - at least you know that there is a sense of government and that there's a sense of international community presence. But if you go to the districts there is no presence of the current government, and basically the Taliban are in control. It's fearful but at the same time it's almost ironic that even after seven years of supposedly, you know, hard work from the government and as well as the international community, we have the majority of the southern region in control - in the hands of the very, you know, people that we fought against in 2001.
BLOCK: Well, as U.S. forces try to dislodge the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, how would you think they are going to be viewed and approached by local Afghans? We heard about cautiousness just now from Jackie Northam.
Ms. HAMIDI: You know, there's one fact that needs to be either accepted or acknowledged by the listeners and people living outside of Afghanistan. You know, this term called Taliban or these people that they call Taliban, they're not aliens, you know, they're not people that look different or act different or speak a different language and that we can identify even as, here's a Talib, let's shoot him and, you know, the case is over. You might have a family, you remember Afghanistan, especially the south, is made of extended families. They're large families. I mean, if there's a mother and, you know, she has seven sons and out of the seven, two are Talib and five are not, if those two are killed the mother and the father and the family still suffer.
BLOCK: The complication then for U.S. troops it would seem to me would be, this is not just a matter of taking out terrorists. It's a matter of changing hearts and minds within families and communities.
Ms. HAMIDI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Now if you - we take a step back or several steps back to go back to 2001, when the Taliban were ousted and the international community came to help the Afghan government, almost everybody welcomed the international community, America and the new Afghan government to come and takeover. Unfortunately, you know, the past seven years' record of failure after failure after, you know, when the people, when ordinary people saw that their government failed in providing any kind of service or infrastructure on a very local day-to-day level, they did turn to the Taliban because at least they're hoping that the Taliban could bring that security that every human being wants and needs in order for their children to live in a peaceful society.
BLOCK: So, if U.S. forces want to change hearts and minds among the people who have, as you say, turned to the Taliban, what would they have to do?
Ms. HAMIDI: You know, I will state this very simply: They can - the U.S. troops cannot win hearts and minds with continuous bombardment and fighting. Once people see roads, once people see drinking water, once people see hospitals and clinics being built, once people see the changes that every human being desires in their life, positive changes to occur, then they will start believing and saying, well it's true. The Americans are here to help us. They are not here to destroy us. But if we continue fighting, if we continue fighting in that traditional way of going and bombarding blindfully, I'm not too certain about a hopeful future.
BLOCK: Rangina Hamidi is CEO of the non-profit group Kandahar Treasure. She spoke with us from Kandahar. Ms. Hamidi, thank you so much.
Ms. HAMIDI: Thank you very much for having me.
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