One of the most interesting and sobering articles I've read in a long time appeared this past Thursday in The Washington Times. Written by Michael Yon, it dealt with the sobering realities of trying to accomplish anything politically and socially realistic in Afghanistan in the short term...short term meaning, oh, 50-100 years or so. The article was titled "Girl with No Future," and if you don't read anything else about Afghanistan this month (or ever), you should read this one.
I've long believed that the Afghan people would be best served if all the non-Afghans (and the concept of Afghan-ness is itself secondary to ethnic and tribal affiliation) would just get the hell out and let the Afghans sort things out themselves. Get rid of the Arabs, the Pakistanis, the Indians, the Russians, the Americans, the Brits, and everyone else who has been fighting over some of the world's crummiest real estate for centuries. Don't try to build a central government with all the trappings of Western-style democracy...they don't have a tradition of that, anyhow. And in any case, there's no infrastructure outside the major cities to support a modern society. Here is how Mr Yon describes his observations of the Afghan province of Ghor:
"A person can tool around in towns like Kabul, Jalalabad or Mazar-i-Sharif and build up hopes, but to extrapolate beyond the tangible is folly. Iraq is 1,000 years more advanced than Afghanistan. Nepal is far more connected to and cognizant of the outside world. ... After nearly eight years of war and billions spent, there is not a single Afghan soldier in this entire province. There is not a meter of paved road. There is a single television station that operates for maybe four hours a night when it has fuel."
And it gets worse...
"Today," Mr Yon writes, "I was in the village of Karbasha Qalat, situated in a remote area at 8,800 feet. The 20 families had no electricity and not even a battery-operated radio. During the winter, the horses, cows, donkeys and other animals live with them inside their mud homes. Only the village elder was literate, and his language was Dari. He said that only two trucks had come to Karbasha Qalat in the 14 years since the village was founded; the visitors were searching for information on land mines. None of the children had been to school, and none are likely to go. The mothers are illiterate ... the hand that rocks the cradle. Nearly all mothers in Afghanistan are illiterate."
Mr Yon's ultimate point is that we are fighting for the wrong goals in Afghanistan, at least in the "short term." A modern, or even a nascent democratic society needs an educated and informed population that can understand and debate issues on a national scale. We may luck out in spite of ourselves and someday establish a quasi-democratic government in Afghanistan, but I doubt that it's writ will extend much beyond the city limits of Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar (maybe), and other "big" cities. Out in the remote provinces, at the very end of the dirt road where everyone is illiterate, electricity is non-existent, young girls are considered useful only to keep house and have children, and the tribe is more important than the nation, nobody is worried about what a national government has to say.
I think the best thing we could do in Afghanistan is flood the place with people who can make a difference. People to build a modern infrastructure to bring electricity, clean water, medical and dental care (hey, we could use that here in America!), improved farming techniques, and schools that can teach things beyond rote memorization of the Koran. Work within the cultural system that the Afghans know and understand, while trying to bring the most backward parts of it into the 20th century. The 21st may take a little longer.
Take a few minutes to read Mr Yon's article and think about what we can realistically accomplish in Afghanistan.
Then wait for the next Cartoon Saturday to cheer you up.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.