Sunday, February 15, 2009

"No one is sure about anything in Afghanistan these days."

In contrast to Friday's piece by Max Boot, it was refreshing to read the above sentence in this article in the Post's "Outlook" section. While Boot's article was almost a caricature of swaggering ignorance, Edward Joseph, from Johns Hopkins University, seemed not just tentative, but hardly able to grapple with the complexities on the ground in Afghanistan.
The breadth of disagreement is startling: Some say that nation-building is a mistake; others believe that it is the only way to defeat the Taliban-led insurgency. One U.S. official told me that we should stop trying to push democratic institutions on a country with such a strong tribal culture, while an equally savvy Afghan American insisted just the opposite. Women's rights activists begged for our support, saying that they feared for their lives, but tribal leaders demanded that they be left alone to deal with their women as they see fit. "We are tribal people, and we don't need your women's programs," one declared. Unlike Iraqis and Bosnians, Afghans can't even agree on whether ethnic divisions still exist in their country or whether they are the invention of ferangi -- meddlesome foreigners.

All this confusion over such fundamental questions vastly complicates Washington's efforts at developing an effective policy toward Afghanistan.

Wherever we went, from chilly government offices to mud-walled village homes, I would bluntly ask Afghans what we foreigners are doing wrong. Some said that we were killing too many civilians. Others said that we were destroying too many villages and should really be guarding the border with Pakistan. Still others insisted that we'd "picked" the wrong people to run the country.

The last sentence is a nice counter to Boot's insistence that, regardless of the feelings of the people, we make sure we leave Hamid Karzai in power in Afghanistan.

Joseph describes discussions with Afghans, as he pointed out the infrastructure the Americans are building (in contrast to the Republican insistence that we shouldn't do anything of the sort here, by the way . . .), and one pointed out to him that the Russians did the same thing, and the Afghans still chased them out.

Joseph's article ends as it began - in a mixture of confusion and ignorance, which has been the way most have felt after dealing with the Afghan people, since Alexander the Great was stopped by them before he could cross the Hindu Kush in to the Indus River Valley.

I suppose that fact is usually forgotten. The Afghans don't like foreigners. Period. Even if they are ruled badly, or even malignantly, they much prefer the malignancy of their own people to the benevolence of outsiders.

It is nice to read an American admit ignorance. Maybe we should act out of ignorance, as well.

Virtual Tin Cup

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