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October 15, 2010

Politics ensnare US-backed kite runners

Kiterunner20080324-1AW Who in their right mind would be against handing out kites to impoverished Afghan children?

This afternoon in Herat, USAID is sponsoring a "Rule of Law Kite Festival" where aid workers and Afghan leaders will hand out special kites to promote justice in Afghanistan.

As Rod Nordland recently noted in The New York Times when he covered a similar event in Kabul: "What could possibly go wrong?"

At the Kabul "Rule of Law Kite Festival" last month, Afghan police officers absconded with kites meant for the kids and pummeled boys trying to get kites for themselves.

"We are not taking them, we are flying them ourselves," the local police chief said, with no apparent trace of irony.

This week, when USAID put out word that it was bringing the event to Herat, one local journalist publicly blasted the idea and called for a boycott.

"It would seem that there are better ways to spend American tax payer money than on kites and comic books," Haroon Yahya wrote in a mass e-mail to journalists and others. "Afghans for the most part can not read. The children are happy to have the kites, but to market this as a rule of law event is one more elaborate way of wasting resources which could be used for Afghan children's education, health care or even direct food assistance."

Yahya is a volunteer at Radio Free Herat, an aspiring radio station in western Afghanistan.

Here's a slightly abridged version of the rest of his email:

"Our children are asked to fly kites when they go hungry all day. I'm sure (today) we will have more of the same: speeches by so called important officials, selected children of these important officials and their powerful connected families there for a day of fun and frivolity contributing nothing to Afghanistan nor the Afghan people.

"All of this will be taking place behind security lines, and in our stadium after nine years of war declaring rule of law when we can not even walk the streets our own beloved land without running into some security contractor ready to fire on us! What is wrong with this picture?

"This event might play well for the people back home in Europe or America when they see children flying kites, to perhaps give memories of the 'Kite Runner' so they can feel good about their money being spent here in Afghanistan, but the reality is quite different.

"We all know that. Afghanistan is not a movie. If it is, it is more like a horror movie than a romanticized 'Lawrence of Afghanistan' or 'Kite Runner' melodrama. As journalists I am wondering how American and European journalists feel about pushing stories on your audience which do not convey the full context of what is happening in Afghanistan?

"In less than ten years, the international community has done nothing but contribute to the pockets of a select few in Kabul and here in Herat, and have compounded our problems and now there is talk of withdrawal next year. This is always the gift Afghans receive: occupation, then abandonment.

"Despite all these media efforts by the American govt. I'm sure that someday the peoples of the world will realize that 'The Emperor' has no clothes!

"At the original kite event in Kabul the children sold some of the kites in the market for food money! But the stories that were reported by many journalists did not include this sad reality. The greatest danger facing Afghanistan is the lack of engagement by the peoples of the world."


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Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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