Unintended Consequences

Ever since I learned around 2000 that “Taliban” means “Students” and that Taliban had studied in Islamic Madrasas during their stay as refugees in Pakistan I am wondering from time to time whether I may have something to do with this.  A few month ago, I read about Koran copies still in use in Afghanistan, which had been provided by the CIA.  This makes me wonder about the degree of naivety we act in our cooperation work.  

 In 1986 I was part of a study team which tried to track the substantial kerosene flow destined for the Afghan refugees and financed by Saudi Arabia. UNHCR officials had observed that the beneficiaries did not receive the quantities calculated  and shipped and paid for.  We found that one of the reasons was a very inequitable allocation in the refugee camps, by which the Mullahs got sufficient kerosene for a multitude of lamps in their bigger representative tents.  The Mullahs had recovered their sway over the camp population which had regrouped according to their regional origins.   

15 years later the thought crossed my mind, that the kerosene might have been used in the Madrasas led by the Mullahs, that we had not noticed this and the impact that it might have had on the education of the youngsters.  A sociologist had been on the team. However, she had been assigned to study different patterns of energy consumption distinguished by the various refugee ethnos and local origin. No one seems to have thought of the power enhancement effect, which the abundance of light might have. The UNHCR officers did not mention it, as far as I remember.

Our omission to see this possibility and to insist on curtailing the kerosene supply of the Mullah was obviously not the decisive failure which caused the strengthening of the Taliban. I am even not pretending that it contributed significantly.  In our development terminology:  It cannot be attributed since other factor contributed more strongly.  

The thought triggered conflicting sensations in my mind. My ego grew on the notice that I may have been part of an historic development with global proportions, whereas my “Ueber-Ich” made me feel bad. My conscience developed a feeling of guilt about our incompetence and inconsequence.

Now, in view that the strengthening of religion was a deliberate policy of the US intelligence against the Soviet support in the Afghan civil war, I feel even  worse, naïvely acting in a complex political setting.

All this thought and regret seems futile since these things have happened in the past, and nothing can be done about it. One is always more knowledgeable in hindsight. It is however important to remember. We may be able to draw lessens from it.

Myself, I will probably not have many more such occasions to influence the ”course of history”.  I want nonetheless pass these thoughts to younger people in their own country or working in other countries, e.g. in the cooperation business I was part of.   Take things seriously!  Take into account the setting, be as conscious as possible about the local situation, take into account the interests involved! Do not be narrow minded! Take into account the cultural and social differences!  Consider the consequences and do not  think that what you do or not do has no importance! The impacts may be of e vary different kind than the ones we are dealing with primarily. But they may   come!  I would even say that nothing is without consequences.

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