Last week in Northern Afghanistan, villagers were awakened by loud thumps on their roofs. Many ran out of their mud huts, thinking they were being bombed. But instead of bombs, food rained from the skies, compliments of the United States of America.
On Oct. 7, U.S. military cargo planes began dropping packets of food on famine-stricken Afghanistan. Each packet provides a daily ration of foods, such as rice, beans, peanut butter and bread. To date, the United States has dropped over 850,000 packets. And in Afghanistan, where thousands regularly go hungry, these packets of food are like manna from heaven.
But U.S. food drops on poor, hungry Afghanistan has more to do with public relations than humanity.
Each yellow packet is stamped with the American flag and the words: “This food is a gift from the United States of America.” This shameless self-promotion clearly wants to remind starving Afghans of the American hand that is feeding them.
With each “gift,” the United States wants to convince Afghans of its compassion and friendship.
There is also the possibility that these gifts will spark some type of obligatory loyalty to the U.S.-led war on terrorism and eventually a U.S.-backed alternative government in Afghanistan.
And then there is the hope that the people who protest U.S. support and burn effigies of President Bush and the American flag, will see our godliness in this “war against evil.” Maybe they will stop hating us.
Yet despite its good intentions, this humanitarian effort cannot mask the war effort that rains bombs on Afghanistan and its people. Since the U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan, which also began on Oct. 7, there have been growing reports of civilian casualties. Bombs have gone astray, making unintended targets of Afghan homes and villages, as well as a senior citizens’ center, a military hospital, and the warehouses of the international Red Cross.
Unlike the war effort, the humanitarian effort is severely limited, as food is only dropped in targeted areas. So while some refugees eat, many others, like those in Taliban-controlled areas, continue to starve.
In addition, the food drops are not significant, feeding less than 1 percent of the 6 million starving Afghans, according to a story in the Washington Post, dated Oct. 25.
As a result, this public relations campaign is an utter failure. It only muddies America’s image as a humanitarian: feeding one group of Afghans, while another group starves; carefully dropping food to sustain a few, while sloppily dropping bombs that injure and kill many.
This dichotomy undermines the U.S. campaign and jeopardizes its support. Also, these haphazard missteps unite the Taliban and its supporters, and fuel anti-American sentiment.
The United States needs to abandon its public relations campaign, and commit to a real humanitarian effort, one of more food and less bombs. This means that feeding Afghan refugees becomes a priority, and unintended casualties are no longer a constant reality. This means giving food freely and indiscriminately, not carefully and politically. Only then can the United States say it is helping and not hurting Afghan refugees. Only then will U.S. humanitarian efforts have any merit.
In the meantime, while the United States juggles its image of humanitarian and villain, the people of Afghanistan look to the sky and wait, not knowing what to expect — food or destruction.