It may seem anomalous to feel hungry while noting U.S. soldiers are committing enormous, unaccountable acts of violence and chaos in Afghanistan. But in rural Afghanistan, for decades, people have kept their bodies warm by gathering brazils, chewing seeds, and wasting away in massive meadows.
On a scorching summer day, as I walked among dozens of my neighbors, with their bones protruding with swollen gums and straining muscles, their teeth chattering in cold palms, I saw how big the scale of hunger is.
By the time winter comes, much of Afghanistan will be in a permanent state of malnutrition. Graft of rice, corn, wheat and millet from local farmers to the government — the basis of the paltry food supply — will mean the existence of millions of new malnourished refugees. For hundreds of millions of Afghans, the absence of crops could make the pre-slaughter ritual of daily human sacrifice obsolete. And just as hunger, along with war, brings hunger among its cadavers, it is hunger, too, that destroys the bones of our own bodies.
At least four children died in the puddles surrounding my family, and much of the rest are close to death. How many more young people will die because their bodies are too fragile to support growing communities? How many generations will fade away into malnutrition before peace and adequate agricultural development can return the land to sustainability?
Disasters in Afghanistan are happening more frequently. More than 5 million people, more than half the population, were forcibly displaced from their homes by war last year. The Taliban now claim that at least a quarter of the population has fled their homes since 2014. Families are moving to safer regions — away from schools and markets and neighborhoods where women are banned from work and sports. They are fleecing Kabul bank branches, trying to jump over a security barrier and march toward more secure houses, to feed their starving children.
And the United States is driving the desperation. We’re sending billions of dollars in aid and weapons to support the war, which is now in its 17th year. We’re killing more civilians than any other country in the world. This is an epic experiment in how artificial aid can exert desperate people into putting aside their hunger, their growing anger, their resistance to the Taliban, and they must stop growing or grow into a state of collective insanity.
The desperation of Afghan hunger is not our responsibility, but we were supposed to set it right. We were to fulfill pledges for Afghanistan’s reconstruction — pledges that only doubled from one to two years after 9/11. We were to support and safeguard the human rights of all Afghans — so they could live their lives without risking their lives. We were supposed to be there to save them, but in record time.
We were supposed to change. We haven’t changed. We’re still killing people.
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A previous version of this column referred to Afghanistan as a country. We should have called it a state.
The writer is a journalist for Mother Jones magazine, and previously wrote for the Austin American-Statesman and the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He is also a creative writing fellow at the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.