Thursday, March 12, 2009

Making Progress, Not War

A practical approach to resolving conflict in Afghanistan...and Gaza and Iraq, etc., etc.:

Permit me first to dispel a common misconception. This city where I live and work is Kandahar, Afghanistan, which since September 2001 has come to symbolize (at least for Americans) the forces of evil and obscurantism—enemies of our “enlightened civilization.” Kandahar, after all, was the lair of Mullah Muhammad Omar, where he cosseted his infamous “guest,” Osama bin Laden. Kandahar has arguably replaced Moscow as the ideological antipode to everything we Americans think we believe in. And yet the issues at stake here are not in the least ideological. They are practical—and opportunistic.

Ask a Kandahari what he wants from his government and you’ll get a familiar answer: not vast ideas but practical solutions to everyday problems. Most Kandaharis would put basic law and order at the top of their list, then public utilities and infrastructure, education, timely performance of administrative functions (such as delivery of driver’s licenses and title deeds), freedom from arbitrary shakedowns by public officials, and some mechanism to afford them a voice in their collective destiny.

But in more than five years in Afghanistan, the American government, which considers its presence here a part of its broad effort to “bring democracy to the Middle East,” has achieved none of these things.

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