The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

PTSD in Afghanistan

This story from the AFP deserves comment - it states that some 60% of the population of Afghanistan suffers from some kind of mental health problem.

The WHO notes that there is a particularly high number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. In her book Punishment of Virtue, Sarah Chayes stated that the whole of Afghan society suffers from PTSD, a legacy of the Soviet occupation and the terror this brought above all to rural areas of Afghanistan.

Chayes identified some of the symptoms of PTSD as being commonplace in her dealings with the people of Kandahar during her time there. These include an inability to bond emotionally, an inability to plan for the future, an inability to think beyond one's own needs for the collective good and excessive guile.

This subject would be worthy of some in-depth research by real experts in this field. That being said, it seems impossible to think that the thirty years of conflict in Afghanistan would not have had profound psychological effects on the people involved.

The question today is how much is this a factor in their behaviour towards ISAF, the broader international community and their own government (and looking at the symptoms Chayes highlights one might be inclined to say it is a real factor). More importantly, has any one stopped for a moment to consider this and factor it into our strategy for building governance and development in Afghanistan today?

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