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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Friday, April 11, 2003


Afghanistan: Crossroads at a crossroads
Afghanistan's flagI find it ironic that the first nation to be profiled in this new series, in part designed to teach myself--and you, dear reader--about nations Americans know little about, is Afghanistan. In one sense, this makes it easier, because I already know a fair amount about the current situation. On the other hand, there's so much out there at the moment that it can be difficult to filter out what is important and what is not. But Afghanistan is a shining example of how an otherwise obscure nation can suddenly take the center of the world stage, and one of the reasons we should be aware of all of them, and so it is very appropriate to begin with it.

I'm going to be splitting these up into four sections, all of them rather limited--history, current events, analysis and links. If there's something else I should cover, or something I miss even within these sections, please let me know.

HISTORY: The BBC came out with a profile on Afghanistan last year, calling it a "cultural crossroads." The thing about crossroads is that, though people go through them, no one really wants to stay there--much like North Dakota. Afghanistan has historically been very similar. This is not a bad thing all the way around, however. This tends to mean that the people who go through (Darius the Persian, conquering, Alexander the Great on his own conquering binge, Buddhists going down the Silk Road, and conquering, the Muslims, conquering, the Mongols, obviously conquering, and the Persians again), they tend to leave lots of interesting things behind, and no one comes around to destroy them or replace them for a while. For example, the Kunduz Hoard, the Begram treasure, neat stuff left behindthe Bactrian gold, various minarets from the 11th and 12th centuries, the ancient Minar-e Chakri Bhuddist pillar, and the massive, impressive Bamiyan Buddhas. The latter two were destroyed during the Taliban's rule. While collecting these remarkable relics (most of which are destroyed or looted now, I'm afraid), Afghanistan has alternated between periods of independence (sometimes with some conquering of its own), and being conquered by whoever happened to be trying to get to the other side at the time.

The first Europeans to conquer Afghanistan after Alexander were the British in 1839--their preferred method of conquering being setting up a friendly face in the throne and leaving behind "advisors," as in Egypt. Most Afghans didn't take too kindly to this, and the rest of the century was marked by various insurrections and battles between the two. Eventually, Russia started making them both nervous, and so the 1907 Anglo-Russian agreement gave Afghanistan its independence, more or less. After WWI, which it did not take part in, Afghanistan invaded India, and in return gained its full independence. From then until the 1970's, things were fairly stable outside of the bloody years from 1929-1933 in which four different men ruled the nation.

Things started going badly in 1970's with a horrible drought, then a military coup in 1973. This was followed by a Marxist coup in 1978. The next year, a less-orthodox Marxist coup took place, and the Soviet Union responded to the instability by invading. Again, the Afghans did not take kindly to this, and so ensued the Afghanistan war from 1979-89, which pitted US-Saudi Arabia-Pakistan-And Others backed Islamic mujahadin fighters against the USSR and the USSR backed government. This ended in 1989 the same time that lots of other Soviet things were beginning to end, leading to a long period of dominance by various warlords. Eventually, backed by "foreign sponsors" the fundamentalist Taliban rose to the top of the warlord heap. By 2000 they controlled 85-90% of the country. Then, in 2001... well, we all know what happened in 2001.

President Harmid KarzaiAfter the Taliban were routed, Afhgan leaders signed the Bonn Agreement , setting up Hamid Karzai as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority, and making plans for the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) that selected him as the President of the Transitional Islamic Republic of Afghanistgan. In that same vote in June of 2002, they also mandated that there be a constitution by the end of 2003 and elections by 2004.

CURRENTLY: There is much going on in Afghanistan right now, and the country is at a crucial point. The warlords appear to, not unexpectedly, expect a return to the pre-Taliban days of warlordism--not something desired by most of the country, nor by the government. American military is still there, fighting the remnants of the Taliban--who executed a Red Cross worker recently--and their supporters, whom critics claim are restructuring. General Franks was there today, reminding the troops that they are not forgotten, and asserting that the mop up work there is just that--mop up work, and that the Taliban is not regrouping in any real sense, and that things are getting better, rather than worse. This is in response to many critics of the way things have gone in Afghanistan, some even claiming that it was a military failure. This has generally been the province of the far left and other reflexively anti-American voices, but criticism of the governments policies came yesterday from a less expected source. Jack Kemp, former congressman, vice-presidential candidate and now co-director of Empower America, Mahmood Karzai, businessman, brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and founder of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce, and Hamed Wardak, vice president of the chamber, in an article for the Washington post, criticized the administration's overly friendly manner with the warlords who are enjoying the early '90s feeling in the Afghan air, and urged that it "aggressively align itself with Karzai" as he works to disarm the warlords, and warning that continued appeasement will alienate Afghan citizens and lead to resentment of America there.

The rebuilding Afghan armyConnected to the warlords, Afghanistan is once again the world's main source for opium, an industry controlled by "domestic warlords and international crime syndicates," despite Karzai's ban on opium-poppy production. Also connected, but in a more positive way, is the rebuilding of the Afghan army is underway, and Karzai has made it a priority. Also good news is that, as part of the Afghan push to catch up with the rest of the world in technology, 11 men and 6 women have just graduated from Kabul University's Networking Academy, jointly launched by the United Nations Development Program and America's Cisco Systems.

ANALYSIS: Those who are talking loudly about the "failure" in Afghanistan are talking loudly about it in a manner that seems far too pleased with themselves, and the people doing it are the very people who would be expected to say that it was a failure, regardless of what happened. No, things aren't perfect in Afghanistan--it's only been just over a year since the liberation, which is, in the grand scheme of things, not a very long time at all. Things can hardly expect to be perfected overnight. In addition, those who are criticizing the US most strongly can't seem to decide whether they are doing too much or too little--just as they are doing regarding Iraq. It seems that no stick is too good to beat the US with. Whether or not the Taliban is regrouping or not is a small matter--they will certainly not be able to support large scale terrorist activities again, not for a long, long time, even if left completely alone. They are now just another group of mercenaries under a warlord. People also make a big deal out of the fact that we haven't found Bin Laden or Mullah Omar. To that I say, with all seriousness and professionalism, whoop-dee freaking doo. I happen to think they're dead. But if not, they no longer have their playground, and they can't step into the daylight. Even if they're alive, they will never, ever be able to operate at full capacity. Bin Laden may be able to cheerlead via audiotape, but that's about it.

But that has to do with America--for Afghanistan, the Taliban and all the other warlord factions are definite problems, and I can't help but agree with Karzai, Wardak and Kemp. The US needs to support democracy in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, and right now Karzai is working for it, and the warlords certainly aren't. Now, I think the Administration realizes that an early 1990's version of Afghanistan is the second worst version, because it leads to a late 1990's version. But they need to act more quickly, cut the bonds with the warlords, and "unambiguously" throw their weight behind Karzai. Something also needs to be done about the poppy problem--not only is it a major source of funds for destabilizing factors, it is also a living for many Afghans, and something needs to replace it. I'm not sure what that is, but I would personally suggest that a partnership between Afghanistan and biotech companies, similar to the one in Africa.

But I think things are going as well as they can be expected. There hasn't been real stability for 30 years--even Iraq has had stability. This is going to make everything very difficult. But good things are beginning to happen. The question is, will the Afghan people have the patience for it?

LINKS: Aside from the links above, more Afghanistan information can be found at Afghan Daily for news of interest in Afghanistan, and Eurasianet.org has a very good Afghanistan page with all sorts of links and features. The Afghan Government page, though it's impossible to tell if it's official or not, has good resources as well. And lastly, this personal page has a more throrough listing of links than I have found anywhere, or could possibly put together myself. Everything from the Kabul chess club to the Voice of Afghanistan radio station. It's really impressive. UPDATE: I forgot this Infoplease.com site, with a good overview of Afghan history. UPDATE 2: Afghans for Civil Society looks like an amazing organization seeking to build democracy in Afghanistan.

So, that's my mini-research paper on Afghanistan. One down, lots more to go--I have no idea how many. It's a long way to Zimbabwe, but I think I'll make it. Hopefully by the time I do, Mugabe will be gone... but that's a different post entirely.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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