Michael Ubaldi, September 18, 2005.
God and man, divided only by man's free will.
Afghanistan elects its national parliament today.
Michael Ubaldi, September 13, 2005.
Quite an anniversary: in five days, Afghans will hold their second free election in history to build a parliament for President Hamed Karzai who was, last October, given the people's consent to rule.
A declaration of ideological fealty to liberalization has come from south Asia's most powerful democracy in the form of a simile. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke publicly of elections, pluralism, and dates of importance in constituent history, promising New Delhi's support for Afghan democracy to be as strong as a chinar tree. The prime minister must know that his deepening relationship is resplendent with symbolism: as his country is helping raise the Afghan Parliament House, so will it help Kabul fill the building with statesmen.
Some of those statesmen will be women. Although the misogynistic legacy of the Taliban lingers as an unpleasant tint to Afghanistan's traditionalism, five hundred women have vowed to bring modernism to the country slow but steady — in this election, and the next, and the next.
Michael Ubaldi, July 19, 2005.
The enemies of Afghan freedom added to their overflowing library of military and political defeat: a ranking Taliban thug and his henchmen were scooped up in a Peshawar raid by Pakistani authorities. Although General John Abizaid, speaking on a Fox News report by Pentagon correspondent Bret Baier, publicly believes Islamofascists to be planning acts of violence and intimidation against the country's first fair vote for a legislative body, he remains confident in Afghanistan's native and Allied defenders ability to protect the country from an enemy that could not deliver last fall or this spring — bringing another democratic triumph.
In Herat today, a terrorist properly detonated his explosive attire by killing no one but himself. The Associated Press reported the news under the headline "Suicide Bomber Kills Self," but Reuters, solipsism's templar, refused to judge the thermogenetic passage into alleged paradise by the accounts of mere eyewitnesses with a dozen pieces of ex-terrorist in their possession — and settled with the appropriately reserved "Suspected Suicide Bomber Dies in Afghan Blast."
How is the success of a nation measured by those beyond it? Investment and trade, the rise of both witnessed in Afghanistan.
Michael Ubaldi, June 23, 2005.
Irony met mischaracterization as Russian authoritarian Vladimir Putin spoke darkly of Afghanistan's defense the day after Allied and Afghan troops cut surrounded terrorists to ribbons:
Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces surrounded a rebel hide-out in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, and the number of insurgents killed from three days of fighting rose to 102, the defense ministry said.
Alonzo Fulgham, new head of the United States' Agency for International Development, inaugurated his tenure at the vanguard of superpower altruism with tribute:
The left generally enjoys inapt comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan when advantageous — one is like the other when events in the other are politically vulnerable. In this attempt, the AP reporter saw defeat in victory, invoking anonymous "anxiety" over a similarity to the battle against Near East fascists in Iraq, despite the enemy's steady unraveling in that theater, to say nothing of the belief that the trapped numbers of Taliban include what fragments are left of enemy leadership. It was once understood among free men that a war continued on account of the lawless; that running days of violence were the enemy's making. Until that sense returns, terror's apologists must be challenged in word and speech.
"The men and women who built this country and those who have made it prosper in good times and bad, have always been men and women whose faith in our country's future was unshakeable," said Fulgham. "If the U.S. Agency for International Development is 'America's best public diplomacy,' as the Secretary of State said recently, then our time is now."
Another favor from Americans to Afghans will be USAID's sponsorship of Afghan women at the Global Summit of Women, opening today in Mexico City:
USAID's work — such as a brief on Afghanistan's burgeoning agronomy — can be inspected here.
In a newsletter issued June 15 by the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad praised the success of Afghan women entrepreneurs, adding: "We are proud of them. Our delegation will not only share ... how much they have accomplished in a few years, but [will] also benefit from this opportunity to interact and expand their networks and horizon."
Afghan women have flourished in less serious — though perhaps more memorable — pursuits, the sum of native strength and foreign generosity, and the figure of a world no longer half-free.
TANGLING WITH THE BEST: Bill Roggio has more on a foundering Taliban.
Michael Ubaldi, June 13, 2005.
Two months ago we learned of the challenge and allure Afghanistan's mountain ranges hold for many climbers. A man whose life is spent on steep, elemental inclines has been to the silk road's rugged Wakhan Corridor and back, with one four-mile peak surmounted and one breathtaking story to tell.
Agronomics will help bring Afghanistan out of its economic and environmental desolation; internationally supervised husbandry ventures range from a return of the beloved pistachio tree to common crops like carrots, wheat, lentils, apples and — from an enterprising professional in California — soybeans:
Steven Kwon believes soybeans can save the people of Afghanistan, and he's doing something about it. Kwon works by day as a senior nutrition scientist for Nestle USA. He also runs Nutrition Education International, a nonprofit organization he started in 2003 to help reduce mortality rates in Afghanistan. ...Last year, his group cultivated soybeans on five acres in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan's main northern city. The crop also was planted in a dozen other provinces in April. Kwon says that if the harvest is bountiful in October, Afghan leaders would test the plants in all 32 provinces.
Despite its place on a fifth-column website and its author's inability to distinguish between fact and leftist-Ba'athist propaganda thoroughly repudiated in the first weeks of 2003 post-Saddam Iraq, this article on Afghanistan's national collection of sumptuous Bactrian artifacts is a gratifying continuation of the story that has been developing since last November. A National Geographic fellow and University of Pennsylvania research associate recently spoke at UCLA of the first moments of discovery and appraisal as he stood alongside Afghan officials in a Kabul Central Bank vault:
In these days of rebirth, Afghanistan's greening is the most symbolic — and moving.
[Fredrik] Hiebert views these recovered antiquities as proof of a distinct Central Asian identity midway between the eastern and western outposts of the Silk Route.
"These objects from China, India, Egypt, Rome, Greece and ancient Afghan cultures represent a Silk Route melting pot," he enthused. "Having handled each of these pieces, I see a tremendous similarity, such as evidenced in hundreds and hundreds of appliqués made from one mold, that indicate a unique culture emerged in Afghanistan."
Hiebert hopes the rest of the world will have a chance to see these protected antiquities—and not only for their beauty. "A tour through the world’s most respected museums," he explained, "would help to raise revenues to build a state-of-the-art national museum to keep these objects safe in perpetuity."
After the Taliban were deposed, Afghanistan's contemporary artists rose immediately and set to work. Neither creativity nor devotion relented under tyranny, evident in continent-spanning success:
Such a tour would certainly go far in accomplishing an objective of Afghan President Hamed Karzai, who recently attended a Washington confluence of cultural and artistic interests. Unsightly and depictive as they have been, Afghanistan's last three decades spent under Russian, native and Islamist totalitarianism are dwarfed by the country's broader ancient and intermediate history — and eclipsed by Afghanistan's brightening future.
Two artists from Afghanistan were chosen by a panel of five Taiwan judges from among the contestants in the Venice Bienniale International Art Exhibition as winners of the first Taiwan Award over the weekend. Linda Abdul and Rahim Walizada were each awarded a trophy made out of a brick produced in Taiwan 200 years ago and a cash prize of US$20,000 by Tchen Yu-chiou, secretary-general of Taiwan's National Cultural Association. Abdul, who is an Afghan refugee, had to choke back tears when she accepted the prize from Tchen.
Tchen went on to extol the "globalization" of national artistry. Thanks to the internet and citizen media, worldwide expression is eminently possible.
Michael Ubaldi, May 7, 2005.
Who says modern rock and roll is only for pretty faces and the scantily clad? In 2002 Nargis, an imaginative young Afghan woman with a golden ear, attended a Western music workshop organized by Kabul's Ministry of Culture. Aided by participating German musicians, she found her way behind a drum kit and a microphone; fatefully, her performance went to tape. Two veiled compatriots joined Nargis to form Burka Band — a female trio with all the innocent enthusiasm, the musical and visual stylings of early-1980s European dada and American MTV — and the autobiographical dance tune "Burka Blue" emerged in Berlin's underground music scene. Duesseldorf independent label Ata Tak adopted the austere, fledgling artists and released a 7-inch vinyl single of "Burka Blue" and B-side "No Burka!" as well as a compact disc embedded with a pair of music videos. Then came good press: Der Spiegel, Die Ziet, Newsweek Polska and Asian News (whose article is by far the most informative).
The band's anthem can be heard here. Minimal; earnest. Catchy. No glitz, no polish, no piquant names: just a girl in a powder blue shroud against a peeling, key lime green wall. Flock of Seagulls might as well have been in the next room over filming "I Ran." And a sensation is born. (Hat tip, Rebecca MacKinnon.)
IRONICALLY ENOUGH: The band's namesake may not hold cultural significance for much longer, as Kabul, flooded with fashion influences from Indian movies, is rapidly liberalizing. (Via Arthur Chrenkoff.)
Michael Ubaldi, May 7, 2005.
The United Buddy Bears sculpture installation, noted yesterday for its Tokyo exposition, will not be successful in its stated objective as the only difference a democratic state and a tightly, ruthlessly controlled despot state have to reconcile is the latter's ambition to conquer and consume the former. Exhibitions and festivals only grant dictatorships propriety and authority; witness the 1936 Olympic Games. Of yesterday's four bear sculptures to which I linked, Lebanon, still under Syrian rule at the time of documentation, credited its submission to a faceless government bureau. The design, too, while well-executed and in any other situation perfectly acceptable in its celebration of national character, is in shocking contrast to the work of Afghan Nasima Sheerzoi.
Perusing the Bears this morning, I noticed Sheerzoi standing before what looked to be a painted figure in the early stages of blocking. In photographs of the completed work, the figure still appeared unrefined; a featureless, brown swath for a face. Then I remembered what it was — one of the two statues of Buddha carved out of solid rock vandalized by the Taliban in Afghanistan's last year of tyrannical rule. The partial destruction of two national wonders may have since receded to historical news trivia for the rest of the world but from Sheerzoi's own words, the memory of violation is both vivid and compelling:
The large Buddha statues of Bamian which were destroyed by bombs of the Taliban regime together with hundreds of other small statues in March 2001, are still the "Emblem of Afghanistan." And they are also World Cultural Heritage.
The global reaction to the destruction of the Buddha statues of Bamian was shock and helpless anger.
The Buddha statues had been set into the rocks. They were placed in a nice which protected it from erosion for approximately 1,500 years. The bear is similar to a stone relief. That's why I wanted the largest Buddha statue of Bamian (53 metres), the largest Buddha statue in the world, to be at the front. That proved to be impossible as the bear's belly curved too far outwardly. I therefore decided to paint the Buddha on the bear's back.
I've chosen the destroyed Buddha as the first (most important) motif to express my grief, my pain and rage over this loss as an, artist, as through its destruction more than an emblem of Afghanistan was lost.
Islam is assiduously practiced in Afghanistan, the faith of nearly every man, woman and child, and yet the country's representative chose to eulogize the foreign religious icons her former oppressors saw fit to demolish. Participation in the United Buddy Bears, like any expressive medium, is intended for the free. This artistic conjunction will do nothing for those in bondage but once those held captive in tyranny are liberated by the assertion of democratic states, their stories may finally be told.
Michael Ubaldi, April 27, 2005.
As if willed by nature, President Bush spoke to the Lebanese people through the favored American format of television; Bush bade Syria leave its old conquest and promised international funds to help Lebanon repair the land and credit abused by Damascus masters. He spoke of hope, liberty and peace. Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, made a very Soviet gesture in offering Syria, a brutal dictatorship, an anti-aircraft deterrent to punitive flyovers by aircraft from Israel, a liberal democracy. He spoke of the former country's military superiority and the apparently specious assurance that the missiles could not be kitbashed for terrorist use.
In the latter-20th Century few tyrants and thugs could find a better friend in the provision of war machinery than the Soviet Union. The Kalashnikov automatic rifle has become something of an unbounded symbol for rule by force, found in the goosestepping ranks of tinpot despot armies, equatorial street gangs and terrorist groups of all banner and size. Every major enemy the United States has faced in combat since the Second World War wielded Red Army hardware, including Afghanistan's Taliban and Iraq's Ba'athists. As a consequence, Washington's new allies in the Afghan National Army and the Iraqi Security Forces walk alongside their mutinational colleagues with the same weapons as both the old dictatorship and their terrorist enemies. Iraq has received small infusions of American technology. Afghanistan, too:
The Afghan National Army is getting a new look over the next few months. As a result of a recent equipment donation, they will appear a little less Soviet and a little more like their Coalition partners. The ANA recently took delivery of 10 M113A2 armored personnel carriers from the United States at Camp Pol-e-Charkhi, on the outskirts of Kabul. This was the first shipment of vehicles with more to follow.
Lt. Col. David Braxton, logistics operations chief at the Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan, said, "Based on the force structure designed for Afghanistan's internal threat, armored personnel carriers were identified as a requirement for the Afghanistan National Army. The U.S. M113A2s are an excess defense article, which allows them to be donated. Given the performance and popularity of the M113s around the world, it is an excellent match for the ANA's APC requirement."
Most American weapons are fired in the name of liberty — the fit is perfect.
Michael Ubaldi, April 14, 2005.
Foreign aid may at times become a tricky balance between necessity and sovereignty but the Asian Development Bank can share credit with Kabul for the successful initiation of two major construction projects in Afghanistan. The first is a $50 million-dollar effort to increase the country's fledgling electrical grid to nearly 150% before 2008. The second is a trans-geographic pipeline; working to Afghanistan's diplomatic prestige and by virtue of its engagement demonstrates the impotence of Islamic fascists.
The Taliban's quagmire will continue indefinitely if American troops — who still stand beside Afghans in defense of the democratic state — are permanently stationed in the country as a forward operating base against regional tyranny. What's striking is that, as it's being reported, the arrangement is a request from Kabul:
Catching U.S. officials slightly off guard, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking a long-term security partnership that could keep U.S. troops there indefinitely and make permanent the military relationship that began when American forces invaded in 2001.
...Karzai said he had consulted many of his country's citizens about "a strategic security relationship" with the United States. "The conclusion we have drawn is that the Afghan people want a long-term relationship with the United States," Karzai said.
As has been witnessed for nearly four years, the perspective of Third Worlders — many of whom depend on the United States for support, reconstruction and protection; many more who seek it — is critically unlike the dogmatic contempt from the anti-Western left. Empiricism does not define reality alone but experience can correct poor theory. Afghans have witnessed firsthand the benevolence of the free world. They know best.
I work for an airport engineering and design firm, and hold with my coworkers an enduring respect for the often tiny, always dedicated staffs of municipal, county and private airports across the country — so this story from the Baghram Airfield is as powerful to me as it is personal:
Sakhidad Ghaznawy's picture of Afghanistan's past is "grounded" in Herat's flightline. For 31 years Mr. Ghaznawy has maintained the title of Herat's civilian airport manager, carrying on throughout decades of political unrest and national conflict. Rulers have changed hands from Prime Minister Prince Mohammad Daoud, to the Mujahideen, the Soviet Union, the Taliban and now, the democratically-elected president, Hamid Karzai.
"And I've been here through it all," he said. "The Russians came in about 25, 26 years ago; invading our country and bombing this airport. When the Taliban ruled, they killed women, children — everyone. Now the Americans are here," Mr. Ghaznawy said. "They are very close to us, very dear to us; they are our guests."
When like heart and character cross the rift of country and disposition, fast friends are made.
One stubborn fact opponents of liberation prefer to ignore or resist is that the Taliban and other Islamofascist regimes promise a devoted misogyny, singling women out in the violation of those unlucky enough to fall under their rule. Refused dignity and humanity during the five-year Taliban and al Qaeda nightmare, women could hardly expect to receive the doctor's care and attention they required. In the new Afghanistan, that barbarian neglect is being rectified:
As many as 138 gynecological nurses have graduated from the National Health Institute of Afghanistan. The students, from 20 different provinces of the country are expected to help counter the acute shortage of trained nurses in the provincial hospitals and health centres. ...Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Ali Mawji the resident representative of the Aga Khan Development Network in Kabul said 90 other nurses would graduate from Balkh and Herat provinces next month.
Elsewhere, state embezzlers were exposed, prosecuted and punished. Liberty is not intended to change human nature but instead to encourage its finest qualities.
Finally, another sign of Afghanistan's embrace of peaceful normalcy: in increasing numbers, foreign mountaineering troupes are accepting the challenge of the country's formidable ranges, making the people's acquaintance as they go.
Michael Ubaldi, April 6, 2005.
We knew the Taliban were long-since irrelevant to the rise of democratic Afghanistan, but petitioning the spiritual leader of "infidels" for a sort of doctrinal asylum sounds like the preamble to surrender:
Leaders of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan sent a message from their hiding place on Sunday, calling on Pope John Paul's successor to use his influence to stop what the Taliban called the persecution of Muslims. A Taliban spokesman told Reuters news agency the insurgency felt neither grief nor joy over the pope's death, but believed some the pontiff's message of peace and harmony was worth considering.
You wouldn't hit a man with glasses on, now would you? A clever Vatican would demand contrition and penance on the order of about 750,000 Hail Marys and Our Fathers each, keeping the turbaned ex-tyrants' hands pushed together for the next three years or so. (Hat tip, Omar, who's now weighed in on Iraq's president.)
MORE: "Going out of Style" re-posted separately.