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Afghanistan - Winning the War, Losing the Peace (2002)

 

Cliff Orloff returned to Afghanistan in June 2002, more than 30 years after his first visit in 1971. His wife, Olga Shalygin, a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, joined him.

 

In one of the largest and fastest voluntary migrations in history, Cliff and Olga document the early stages of an Afghan refugee disaster in the making.

 

They found a hungry and desperate people, unable to return home because of the armed bands belonging to warlords that control virtually all of Afghanistan outside of Kabul. Their interviews with two major warlords, unwilling to be first to disarm, are chilling.

 

Orloff and Shalygin bring attention to an under-reported story… that there is no peace in Afghanistan. There is only security in Kabul where the foreign press is based. The videography by Shalygin is hauntingly beautiful, but reflects a situation that is dire and disturbing.

 

REVIEW

 

Fearful and forgotten in Afghanistan - "Winning the War, Losing the Peace" shows a hungry, lawless, combustible nation

The San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 19, 2002 By Jonathan Curiel

 

The images are troubling and unforgettable. In northern Afghanistan, an old man with a badly infected eye lives in a tent with his family of 12, who have no food other than stale scraps of bread. A 50-year-old woman doesn't even have a tent -- just the rags she wears for clothing, which can't protect her from the searing sun.
"Please help us get a tent because we are dying from the heat," the woman says in "Afghanistan: Winning the War, Losing the Peace," which KQED-TV is airing Sunday. "We want God to help us. I swear, we have nothing."

 

Nothing is everywhere in Afghanistan. Before last year's U.S.-led military action that deposed the Taliban, Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries on Earth. It still is, despite millions of dollars that have poured into Kabul's coffers from the United States, the United Nations and elsewhere. Afghanistan is also still a lawless country, especially outside Kabul -- and it's there that Cliff Orloff and Olga Shalygin took their video camera last summer, interviewing Afghans who were afraid of warlords and afraid for their futures.

 

Orloff and Shalygin, a husband-and-wife filmmaking team from Berkeley, also talked to warlords' soldiers who say they don't plan to disarm or take orders from the U.S.-backed presidency of Hamid Karzai. The Afghanistan that Orloff and Shalygin encounter is like a primitive Wild West.

 

With world attention focused so much on Saddam Hussein, Af ghanistan now seems like a largely forgotten country, but the lessons it offers are even more relevant today. The biggest lesson -- hammered home by Orloff and Shalygin's narration and unequivocal title -- is that peace and democracy do not take root easily in a country where arms and ethnic rivalries are so prevalent.

 

"Afghanistan: Winning the War, Losing the Peace" could just as well be titled "Afghanistan 101," because it provides an overview of the country's history before examining post-Taliban conditions. Orloff and Shalygin put themselves in the film -- which features haunting, beautiful music -- and they come across as caring Americans who are shocked and disappointed by what they see.

 

Orloff, a former professor at Cornell, Princeton and UC Berkeley, first traveled to Afghanistan in 1971. He fell in love with the country and with a people who were welcoming and proud of their heritage. Shalygin is familiar with the region because of her work as a photographer with the Associated Press. (She was part of the AP's Moscow photography team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.)

 

They deserve credit for going to Afghanistan and trying to capture the pulse of a country that has been at war for much of its recent history. In a 42-minute documentary, they can't possibly explain every factor that's contributed to Afghanistan's tenuousness. One factor, they say, was the United States arming different Afghan fighters in the 1980s, which continued until the Taliban were deposed.

 

Is the United States partly responsible for the plight of Afghanistan's 1 million internal refugees? By highlighting the refugees' struggles Orloff and Shalygin are taking an activist approach to filmmaking. Their documentary isn't dispassionate, matter-of-fact reporting by a news service. It's a film done by two educated, empathetic people who want to change a country for the better.