LET THEM DRINK RAPESEED OIL
by Ted Rall
In Tajikistan, U.S. Runs a Distant Fifth in the Race for Hearts and MindsGORDO-BADAKHSHAN AUTONOMOUS OBLAST, Tajikistan — Finally! I waited 43 years and traveled to one of the most remote places on earth to find it, but find it I have: American tax dollars being spent productively. “USA,” the label on the bag reads in Helvetica Bold. “US-AID Flour.” Just like the ’70s, when my little kid heart swelled at the sight of “Gift of USA” food bags being delivered to starving African villagers! Thank God, America still finds time to help poor Third Worlders in between all the bombing and torturing.
As I chewed a nan bread my Pamiri hosts had baked using US-AID flour, I got the warm fuzzies. The struggle for hearts and minds never tasted so good.
It ain’t just flour the Agency of International Development is using to woo the people of eastern Tajikistan (who, by the way, happen to be Ismaeli Muslims). Empty flour bags (“USA”!) patch broken windows. Empty cans of US-AID rapeseed and fortified vegetable oil litter backyards. But it isn’t hard to see that we could be doing more.
There’s poor, dirt poor and Gordo-Badakhshan. Misery comes in so many flavors here — economic, political, even topographic — that solving any single problem wouldn’t be enough.
Bordered by war-ravaged Afghanistan to the south, hostile Uzbekistan to the west, oppressed western China to the east and anarchic Kyrgyzstan to the north, Tajikistan was the poorest of the republics of the Soviet Union. And Gordo-Badakhshan was the poorest and most remote part of Tajikistan.