This is the third in a series of dispatches from Camp Marmal in Afghanistan.
In my last entry I mentioned an outsider’s perspective on the situation in Afghanistan (that of a German soldier) after I arrived at Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif. So it was also interesting to get an insider’s view.
I shared a tent with an Afghan journalist reporting for one of the Turkish news agencies. A member of the Turkmeni tribe in Jawazjan Province, 31-year-old Amruddin Gurban told me that although he was enjoying the hospitality of Camp Marmal, he couldn’t help but feel there was something wrong with having a relatively luxurious camp like this amidst the prevailing poverty and backwardness of the surrounding areas.
On his insistence, I agreed to leave the camp to get a feel for the area. The moment you step out of the camp you encounter sheep grazers, and there are ponies carrying huge loads across the vast stretches of open land.
The local market doesn’t look different from any big market in Kabul, although the only highly visible industry is naan factories—people here don’t bake traditional Afghani naan at home. Not far from the camp I met three Indian engineers helping to build a salt factory in the desert. They were working under the protection of few security personnel and were quite surprised to see an Indian wandering in the Mazar desert! They told me they’d been there for the past three months and plan to finish the project sometime in the next three months.
Once you are back in Camp Marmal, the world looks different and more organized again. But Amruddin sees the camp, and the attempts to bring ‘order’ to Afghanistan, as an insult to the region. For him, ISAF and the US troops are building roads and infrastructure for their own purposes only.
‘When you want peace you have to bring about some socioeconomic development, solve the basic problems of the people, rather than creating military bases all around,’ he told me, adding that it pains him to see foreign troops inside his village.
I’ve heard these kind of opinions a lot, but they all leave me asking the same question: What’s the best way out of Afghanistan?