November 22, 2003

The Afghan National Character Asserts Itself

The sliver of good news to be found in in the shooting of a French aid worker in Ghazni is the reaction of the citizenry:

he shooting death of a 29-year-old French woman working for the U.N. refugee agency has prompted aid groups to dramatically scale back their work in southeastern Afghanistan, which has been the focus of increasing attacks by resurgent Islamic guerrillas.

At the same time, Bettina Goislard's brazen slaying Sunday by two gunmen on a motorcycle, who opened fire on her U.N. vehicle in the busy center of the provincial capital of Ghazni, has unleashed an outpouring of anger from residents and has evoked calls for the eye-for-an-eye justice that characterized the country's lawless past....

Goislard, an outgoing and well-liked figure in Afghanistan for the past year, became so attached to the country that she asked to be buried here if she died. Her parents, sister and brother arrived here on Wednesday from France, and she will be buried privately Thursday at the British cemetery in Kabul. A public memorial service will be held here Sunday.

"We have lost our child, our sister, and we realize how many people are suffering also from her absence," the family said in a brief statement. "Bettina loved Afghanistan with a passion. She paid with her life for her commitment and her convictions. The pain we are going through today reminds us that, if we give in to indifference, human values will be lost."

Maki Shinohara, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees here, described Goislard as "extraordinarily active and open to the Afghans she knew and helped. People really liked her. We are all shocked by this, but the Afghans are very hurt."

Shinohara said Goislard, a graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris whose father is a French diplomat based in the Middle East, had worked for international relief organizations in Rwanda and Guinea before coming to Afghanistan in mid-2002.

Her slaying unleashed a wave of highly emotional and even violent reactions by people in Ghazni, according to Afghan and U.N. officials. Bystanders and shopkeepers leaped on her assailants and tried to beat them to death, officials said. Police intervened, but one attacker had to be hospitalized.

Over the next 48 hours, the officials said, angry residents tried to burn down the houses of the assailants, who were quickly identified, and a mob surrounded the jail where they were being held, demanding that they be summarily executed in public. Meanwhile, a caravan of 80 vehicles spontaneously followed officials carrying Goislard's body to Kabul....

Asadullah Khan, the governor of Ghazni province, said he had come to know Goislard well during her year there and that she had told him just 10 days ago she wanted to be buried in Afghanistan if anything should happen to her. Other friends said she told them recently she thought she was being followed.

Khan said the attackers were definitely from the Taliban movement, which has staged numerous attacks across southeastern Afghanistan since spring, including an attack Wednesday on a road checkpoint in the southern province of Helmand in which three guards were killed and two others were wounded.

Khan said Goislard's killers had expressed shame for their actions but claimed to have been acting under orders from Taliban officials in Kandahar, who gave them a pistol and motorcycle.

"The people beat them a lot. They wanted to burn their houses, and then they had a big demonstration and they wanted us to kill the prisoners right away," he said. "I agreed with them, because this was a very big crime and we have our tribal laws in Afghanistan. But the president called me many times and ordered that they have to go to trial. That's why they are still alive."

Hospitable, sentimental, vengeful, fundamentally decent but hopelessly, hopelessly disorganized: that sounds like the Afghans I know. [Via Arash's Afghan Voice].

Afghanistan and Central Asia

Posted at November 22, 2003 15:30 | permanent link

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