What's the Plan, Afghanistan?
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Chances are that when you think of Afghanistan, you think of the war, or the Taliban, or the drugs. Watching the news it sometimes seems that all that people do there is blow themselves up or get blown up by others. VICE correspondent Henry Langston agrees that probably “nine tenths of media coverage is to do with the war or our troops. We wanted to do something different”. This is exactly what makes VICE's Cables from Kabul sointeresting. In a country that for many is defined by conflict, it is easy to forget that there are real people living there too. But they are what this documentary is about: ordinary civilians, their reactions to the war and the ways in which they still live their lives around it – from illegal drinking to going to the zoo to boxing. Henry and co returned from filming in July and have just about recovered – “it’s a tough place for weak Western bodies”. Cue some chat about the toll on their digestive systems, which sounded pretty tough - but surely the emotional aspect was the toughest? Cables from Kabul covers some fairly shocking stuff, from paedophiles in the park casually discussing the orphans they could abuse, to kids on the street poking at bits of suicide bomber, to teenagers getting high at home then getting out their shotguns. Henry describes how quickly you become– or have to become – ‘desensitised’. It’s something the population has done as a whole: most Afghans have become “desensitised to violence. It’s part of their culture now.” Similarly, there is widespread tolerance of drugs, which are widely available at stupidly low prices. Henry tells us how “smoking hash is not technically illegal”, to the extent that it’s no biggie to see policemen on duty smoking the stuff. Which brings us to one of the biggest problems facing Afghanistan’s redevelopment - corruption. Afghanistan is the “second most corrupt country in the world, after Somalia.” Corruption is endemic; there is a culture of ‘baksheesh’, which translates roughly as ‘gift-giving’ - in the sense that you give your doctor a ‘gift’ if you want him to perform an operation on you, or your friends if you don’t want them to report you to the police. Nice. And there’s no guilt in any of this, Henry explains – ‘it’s just the culture.’ As for corruption on a larger scale, there are rumours of links between the authorities and the Taliban, and the profitability for both parties of perpetuating the war. Henry suggests that a large amount of the aid offered by charitable NGOs to Afghanistan is diverted or misused. Corruption is a huge problem that Western powers have failed to address during years of ‘intervention’ and is a huge obstacle to a more democratic Afghanistan. “I can’t see it changing much in the next ten years”, says Henry.
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