The outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, Reto Stocker, delivered a sober warning about that war-torn nation’s future, in particular that civilians in Afghanistan—who’ve been suffering for three decades—face a bleak future.
Stocker’s important warning, which contrasts sharply with the Pollyannish views of Secretary of Defense Panetta and the head of the UN in Afghanistan, was issued as he left the country after seven years in Kabul:
I am filled with concern as I leave this country. Since I arrived here in 2005, local armed groups have proliferated, civilians have been caught between not just one but multiple front lines, and it has become increasingly difficult for ordinary Afghans to obtain health care. People are not just suffering the effects of the armed conflict. Hardship arising from the economic situation, or from severe weather or natural disaster, has become more widespread, and hope for the future has been steadily declining.
In a video interview, Stocker said that the war, once expected to be quick and decisive, has devolved into a protracted conflict, “and the end is not in sight.” Unlike the UN, which is often seen in Afghanistan as part of the occupation and not as a neutral force, the ICRC is truly nonpartisan. Unlike the foreign forces and others, who travel in heavily armored vehicles, the ICRC crisscrosses the county in what Stocker calls “flimsy,” vulnerable transport. Unlike the UN and the United States, the ICRC maintains credibility with all sides, including the Taliban. And, as Stocker says in the rare interview, he has frequently raised the issue of civilian casualties with the U.S. and NATO. He says:
For the civilian population, is not just Party A against Party B, but really just a whole conundrum of different forces out there, of which you often do not know, what do they want? What is the safest way for a civilian to interact with them in order not to have any problems?… Thirty years of conflict is more than anybody can bear.
Meanwhile, as Panetta spewed happy talk at a NATO meeting, the International Crisis Group issued a devastating report forecasting the possible collapse of Afghanistan in 2014, when US forces depart. From its executive summary (and you can read the whole thirty-four-page report, too):