Closes a Bridge, U.S. Acquiesces, and Refugees Die
December 8, 2001
When the northern Afghan city
of Mazar-i-Sharif fell to the Northern Alliance about a month ago, those
involved in efforts to feed starving Afghans were overjoyed, because they
assumed it would then become possible to distribute desperately needed
supplies to those in need.
In the weeks since then, I
had assumed that the aid was being delivered. Then lo and behold, the New
York Times reports
that the government of Uzbekistan has not been allowing relief convoys to
utilize the only bridge that spans the Amu Darya, which separates those in
need from millions of tons of food, medicine and other supplies.
As a result, refugees have
been dying from hunger and disease.
The article went on to say
that Secretary of State Colin Powell, in meetings with the president of
Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, would press him to open the bridge.
Two days later, according to
the latest reports,
after meeting with Powell, Karimov agreed to open the bridge.
This raises a whole host of
questions, all addressing the question, why wasn't this unacceptable
situation resolved four weeks ago?
First, one of the reasons
Karimov gave for not opening the bridge was because of inadequate security:
[Karimov] is disinclined to
open the border, fearing that even with the Taliban pushed to the south,
Islamic fundamentalism and refugees will seep across.
Uzbekistan has asked the
United States to survey the bridge to ensure it is sound and then to
provide American military guards to prevent bandits and refugees from
entering from Afghanistan.
Okay, provide some
guards. Well, that's apparently not in the job description of the U.S.
[A] senior State Department official
said that Secretary Powell would refuse to commit American troops to guard
"We don't guard
bridges... " the official said.
organizations are worried that neither the United States nor the United
Nations is pushing hard enough to provide adequate security.
What is this, like a maid
saying "I don't do windows"?!
Did the refusal of the U.S.
to provide a few guards result in the deaths of refugees in these past four
Second, why did this story
only get adequate publicity now? Did the New York Times know
about this horrific situation for the past four weeks, and only now -- after
so many deaths -- decide to report it on the front page? If it didn't
know, why didn't it?
Third, if the story hadn't
been on the front page of the New York Times the day before, would
Powell have put adequate pressure on Karimov to open the bridge? Or
conversely, did the New York Times hold the story until it knew the
situation was about to be resolved, and only then decide to publish
"before" and "after" pieces?
Fourth, Karimov is a bloody
for the torture and murder of opponents in his country, and for denying
basic human rights to the entire populace. Who is he to be causing
starvation deaths because he won't open a bridge?
I don't buy the argument that
these tin-horn dictators aren't responsive to strong U.S. pressure.
These tyrants are desperate for foreign aid and any kind of legitimacy they
It's an absolute obscenity
that the U.S. didn't force Karimov weeks ago to open that crucial pathway
for relief supplies.