26 August 2010

A Must-read on Afghanistan

The Weekly Standard is a conservative magazine, but regardless of your leanings it would be worthwhile to read this article from P.J. O'Rourke. It is a fascinating look at the complexities we face in our involvement in Afghanistan. There are some digs at the Dems (deserved in my opinion) but the piece is about much more than that.

We need to learn more about what is really going on there. The traditional media is not doing a good enough job. Here are some excerpts (some long) from O'Rourke's piece.

On the relative longevity of the Taliban:

The Taliban offers bad law—chopping off hands, stoning desperate housewives, the usual things. Perhaps you have to live in a place that has had no law for a long time—since the Soviets invaded 31 years ago—before you welcome bad law as an improvement.
An Afghan civil society activist, whose work has put him under threat from the Taliban, admitted, “People picked Taliban as the lesser of evils.” He explained that lesser of evils with one word, “stability.”
A woman member of the Afghan parliament said that it was simply a fact that the Taliban insurgency was strongest “where the government is not providing services.” Rule of law being the first service a government must provide.

On why Afghans sometimes choose to support the Taliban and not American (or NATO) outsiders:
The Pashtun tribal leader said, “I tell my own tribesmen to not support the Taliban, but they don’t listen. They see the Taliban as fighting invaders.”
The Radio Azadi journalist said, “When people felt they were dishonored, they needed revenge. The Taliban gave them revenge.”
To fully sympathize with the dishonor an Afghan might feel, foreign government, U.N. and NGO aid agencies must be considered. Myriad of them operate in Afghanistan, staffed by people from around the globe. So it’s not just that you’ve got Highland Scots marching in hairy-kneed formations up and down your cul-de-sac.
Many of the most ordinary functions of your society have been taken over by weird strangers. When you need a flu shot or a dog license or a permit to burn leaves, you have to go see Bulgarians and Bolivians and Nigerians and Fiji Islanders.

On bribery:
If Americans claim not to understand Afghan corruption, we’re lying. Bribery has been a dominant part of our foreign policy in Afghanistan, the way it’s been
a dominant part of everyone’s foreign policy in Afghanistan including al Qaeda’s. What we Americans don’t understand about Afghan corruption is why it’s so transparent, just a matter of openly taking money. Don’t the Afghans know that you should take bribes indirectly—by collecting publicity, popularity, public recognition, prestige, influence, and, most of all, power? Then big corporations put you on their boards of directors and that’s when you get the money. Meanwhile you’ve been riding in government cars, flying on government planes, eating out of the government pork barrel (lamb barrel in Afghanistan), so why worry about payoffs up front?
Afghans have failed to move their corruption from the Rod Blagojevich model, which we all deplore, to the Barack Obama model, which we all admire.

On something we are doing right:
There must be something in Afghanistan that we’ve got right. There is. Radio Azadi, the Afghan bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is on the air 12
hours a day, seven days a week, half the time in Pashto, half the time in Dari.
What Radio Azadi does is known as “surrogate broadcasting,” meaning the content is Afghan-produced as a way for Afghans to get news and views in a place where
otherwise they have to be delivered mostly face-to-face. And there is no agenda except to be factual (although facts are an agenda item if you care about freedom, which is what Azadi means in Dari).

An excellent story to end his article:

There was one other point that people in Kabul agreed on. Whatever it is that America does in Afghanistan, America should proceed with wisdom. The governor told a story about wisdom.
There was a student who had been studying for many years at a madrassa. He had memorized the Koran and learned all the lessons his teacher taught. One day he went to his teacher and said, “I am ready to leave and go be a mullah.”
His teacher said, “I think you should stay here for a few more years.”
“Why?” asked the student. “Is there some additional degree or higher certificate that I will get?”
“No,” said the teacher, “all you will get is wisdom.”
“But I’m ready to be a mullah now,” said the student. And he left the madrassa and wandered from village to village looking for a mosque where he could be the prayer-leader.
Finally the student came to a village where a corrupt old mullah was using the mosque as a stall for his cow. The student was outraged. He gathered the villagers together and told them, “I have studied at a madrassa. I have memorized the Koran. It is a great sacrilege for your mullah to use the mosque as a stall for his cow.”
The villagers beat him up.

The student limped back to the madrassa and told his teacher what had happened. The teacher said, “Follow me.” They went back to the village where the mullah was using the mosque as a stall.
The teacher gathered the villagers together and told them, “I see you have a beautiful cow being kept in your mosque. It must be a very blessed animal. And I hear the cow belongs to your mullah. He must be a very holy man. In fact, I think that this cow is so blessed and your mullah is so holy that if you were to take one hair from the cow’s hide and one hair from the mullah’s beard and rub them together, you would be assured of paradise.”
The villagers ran into the mosque and began plucking hairs from the cow’s hide. The cow started to buck and kick and it bolted from the mosque and disappeared. Then the villagers ran to the mullah’s house and began plucking hairs from the corrupt old mullah’s beard. And they tugged and they yanked so hard at the mullah’s beard that he had a heart attack and died.
“You see,” said the teacher to the student, “no cow in the mosque and a need for a new mullah—that is wisdom.”

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