The Best Kept Secret: Civil Progress In Afghanistan

“This was supposed to be the good war,” goes the current liberal meme on Afghanistan. The implication being that Iraq was catastrophic from the get go, but now American hubris has turned the righteous battle in Afghanistan sour as well. … Read More

By / November 7, 2007

“This was supposed to be the good war,” goes the current liberal meme on Afghanistan. The implication being that Iraq was catastrophic from the get go, but now American hubris has turned the righteous battle in Afghanistan sour as well. The thing is, if you check the old liberal memes you’ll have a doozy of a time figuring out when they considered Afghanistan the good war. In October of 2001 I found myself in Greenwich Village having to maneuver through a thousand-strong herd of marchers with fake gashes and grim reaper outfits. The season, the costumes, and the neighborhood suggested New York’s annual Halloween parade. The placards about secret oil pipelines, Israel, and impeachment tipped me off that this was something genuinely spooky. I was in the middle of the first wave of liberal response to the good war. Here’s a sort of "human interest" piece from The New York Times on the Afghan campaign 24 hours after it began:

Many people expressed a passionate worry that American soldiers were about to become bogged down in an endless pursuit, even though they supported that effort. And others grieved openly for the inevitable deaths of innocent men, women and children beneath the bombers, as if their losses would only compound the thousands of American deaths.

[ . . .]

Some even took to the streets to parade their concerns, joining previously scheduled peace marches in several cities. At a march in Philadelphia sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, Bal Pinguel, the group's coordinator of peace building, said the bombing would only add to the number of innocent people killed in the entire event. But, Mr. Pinguel added, ''I believe that bin Laden should be brought to justice.'

Hundreds of protesters also joined a candlelight march in Chicago against the bombings, saying war was not the proper response to terrorism.

Well, okay. They’re just reporting what they see. But this is from a New York Times opinion piece the same day:

Never before has the United States launched a military campaign against such an elusive and hydra-headed foe, with so little clarity about precisely how it will prevail.

[. . .]

The word ''war'' has been widely used in the last three weeks, by ordinary folk as well as politicians. War, whether conventional or unconventional, is an enterprise in which one side kills members of the other, and the other side does likewise, until one cannot continue, but it is by no means clear that the country has thought this through in its first reaction to Sept. 11.

Osama bin Laden, the suspected terrorist leader, made it clear once again, on videotape, that he would not back off. The tape, date uncertain, was broadcast on Arabic satellite television. He challenged the allied efforts to picture him as a renegade who has corrupted the teaching of his faith, describing the American war against him as a war against Afghanistan and Islam. As long as it continues, he promised, Americans ''will never taste security.

And then, what I assume counts as support: “Still, the coalition is remarkable, and in certain ways it seems to have the makings of the New World Order about which George Bush the elder used to speak.” Remarkable indeed. We know where the coverage and commentary has gone since. Every spring we’re told the Taliban is “bigger than ever,” and then, when the rag-tag group of mountain fighters is taken out by the end of each summer we don’t hear a word about it. We were told that Hamid Karzai is merely the mayor of Kabul, but when Afghans elected they’re first female governor silence reigned. You’d have no idea that there are many reasons to be encouraged about the continuing struggle for freedom in Afghanistan. There is much good news about the good war, and much of it has nothing to do with war itself. Here are some choice examples: Criminal Justice When an Afghan Christian convert faces death for apostasy it’s front page news. Here’s something that’s not. Since 2003, the New York based International Legal Foundation has established six offices throughout Afghanistan. The ILF has made slow if steady headway mentoring Afghan lawyers, and progressing toward the establishment of a viable judicial system in the country. Technology Hate your cellular service? Try Afghan Wireless. Just a few days ago the company announced ”the completion of a 2,500km STM1 microwave ring, which passes through 18 provinces. The new backbone connects cities including Mazar, Takhar, Badakshan, Kunduz, Kabul, Kandahar and Spinboldak.” This gets rid of the formidably high cost of satellite time. Widespread cheap cellular service is a massive step toward modernity. Natural Resources One enormous hurdle facing Afghanistan is that its main natural resource, poppy seeds, has been outlawed. Well, what if the country had another? It does. Nature News reports that a copper deposit, called Aynak has resources worth an estimated $30 billion dollars. “What happens at Aynak could eventually serve as a model for developing Afghanistan's other natural resources, ranging from mineral wealth to reserves of coal and petroleum.” The World Bank is now involved in the potential bidding process. A sober, but hopeful, must-read by Ann Marlowe in The Wall Street Journal details several other signs of progress.

Jalalabad, the largest city of eastern Afghanistan, with 400,000 people, is now just a three-hour drive to Kabul on a good road recently built by the European Union. Another hour's drive brings you to Mehtar Lam, capital of Afghanistan's Laghman province, on another good road funded by USAID.

Free and easy passage between cities undercuts warlords’ abilities to control great swaths of secluded land. Many more blacktop roads are in the works.

For those who speak of Kabul as an illusory exception to larger Afghan barbarism, Marlowe has interesting news to report:

Further south is Khost, a province that received little help from the central government in recent decades. Now construction cranes hover over Khost City, with modern five- and six-story office buildings and shopping centers rising amid grimy two-story concrete bazaars. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently finished building a new university in the city. And this month the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, an investment-facilitating agency, is inviting 300 overseas Khostis to come discuss building an industrial park.

Both Kabul Bank and Azizi Bank opened their Khost branches in the summer of 2006, and each have about 3,000 accounts. Both branch managers expect their numbers to double this year. The numbers are low because some local residents view even non-interest bearing accounts as un-Islamic. (Competing fatwas have been issued by various mullahs on the topic.) About 65,000 people have mobile phones in the province.

Technological advancement, investment, and construction are well underway in Afghanistan. Such enterprises have a momentum of their own and transform societies in exciting ways. But perhaps the biggest development in Afghanistan is the freeing-up and influx of human capital. Since 2002 nearly 5 million Afghans have returned from neighboring countries. This reverse exodus is not without its problems. Available resources, chief among them. But the bottom line is we’re talking about millions of people who’ve come home with some sense of things being better and a suspicion that the future consists of more than coffee breaks between occupiers and fanatics. Combined with continued international support, an organically enthusiastic population like that could deliver Afghanistan into unprecedented territory. I’ll put those 5 million up against the Greenwich Village thousand any day.

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