Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'They will kill us all'

'They will kill us all'

'They will kill us all'

THE lodge where I stay in Kabul was badly damaged October 8 when a suicide car bomb exploded 80 metres down the road near the Indian embassy. Seventeen innocent Afghans working in photocopy shops near the embassy were killed and another 60 wounded, while Indian diplomats went unharmed. No apologies were offered by the perpetrators for the killings.

Nobody was hurt at my lodge, but 75 windows were blown out. The next day, I was talking with the owner who, for the third time in three years, had to fork out US$3,000 to fix his windows. I asked him: What would happen if NATO pulled out of Afghanistan? He replied without hesitation, looking me straight in the eyes while obviously referring to the Taliban and their allies: “They will kill us all.”

His comment struck a still-raw nerve. Thirty-five years ago, in November 1974, I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia. As a young backpacker, I was foolhardy enough to spend six weeks poking around a country at war.

At the time, the US congress was debating whether to continue or cut off aid to the beleaguered and corrupt Lon Nol government. After more than four years of civil war and the disaster of America’s experience in neighbouring Vietnam, congress and the American people were fed up with everything to do with both countries.

In Siem Reap, I met a Cambodian man who spoke English. He graciously offered to show me around the few parts of the town still under government control. The Communist Khmer Rouge controlled the Angkor temples and the surrounding countryside. There were intense firefights at night. At one point, my host turned to me and said: “I hope America doesn’t abandon us. If they do, the communists will kill us all.”

As an erstwhile anti-Vietnam War protester in the US, I brushed off his comments, thinking how nothing could be worse than the corrupt, US-backed Lon Nol government. I was wrong. The US cut off aid and the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh five months later, imposing a reign of terror unparalleled in modern history.

After three-plus years in power, before being ousted by the Vietnamese, Pol Pot and his KR henchmen had left almost 2 million Cambodians dead, roughly a third of the entire population.

The struggle to recover from that horror continues to this day. I know. As a publisher in Cambodia, I documented this painful process in great detail for 17 years, like a meticulous storyteller of horrific tales about lost, shattered souls.

The Obama administration is presently engaged in one of the most intense debates it will face: whether or not to increase US troop levels in Afghanistan. Without access to military intelligence, I don’t know, but what is clear is that ISAF Commander General Stanley McChrystal’s 66-page report to President Obama, leaked to the Washington Post in August, is one of the most interesting and thoughtful analyses on the current situation in Afghanistan that I’ve read. In fact, it’s the only one. Sadly, nothing else significant has been made public from inside governmental or UN circles. What’s most striking is that McChrystal’s report is even more critical of NATO’s policy to date since 2002 than what one reads in the established press. The general seems to have scooped the media on that one.

If the concerned public wants to make an informed opinion on the troop level debate, they should read the report cover to cover. This may be a lot to expect, given the increasing Twitterisation of global culture. Can anyone read more than 140 characters these days? Lives, however, are at stake. This stuff matters to us all, and the situation on the ground here is terribly complicated. Troop levels are only half the debate.

In the 10 weeks I’ve been in Afghanistan, I have not met a single Afghan yet who likes the current government – or any government in living memory, for that matter. Afghanistan is listed as having the 176th-most corrupt government in the world by Transparency International, out of a total of 180. It’s no wonder people here don’t like it. Since the Taliban were overthrown in 2002, Afghans expected and deserved much better.

Whatever the result of the debate about troop levels, if the international community doesn’t drop the hammer, privately or publicly, on any new government formed after the runoff elections on November 7 to cut graft and improve services to the people, any decision on NATO force structure may not matter.

Barring discernible change on the good governance front in the next two years, it’s a sure bet Afghan cynicism will increase, the Taliban will get stronger, public support for any continued troop deployments here in the West will continue to wane, and we should all prepare to inure ourselves for the day when “they will kill us all”.
____________________________________________
Michael Hayes is senior editor of The Phnom Penh Post,
which he co-founded in 1992. His columns can be found at www.phnompenhpost.com.

MOST VIEWED

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does