Michael Ubaldi, September 21, 2004.
Heeding that "call from beyond the stars":
A city in Idaho will have the largest number of U.S. workers supervising the upcoming elections in Afghanistan. More than 10 million Afghans are already registered to vote. Nearly half of those are women. But with Taliban guerillas vowing to disrupt the voting process two local election experts will head into a dangerous path to make sure the people have a fair vote.
Nancy Lee Hendricks brushes up on her Dari with Fatah, a student from Afghanistan. In a little over a week she and a colleague will head to Afghanistan to ensure fair and accurate elections.
Hendricks says “We cannot, once we went in and started this ball rolling, we cannot just walk away.”
Abdul Fatah Jabarkhail, an Afghan student, says, “The people of Afghanistan are very happy for these elections. In my country history, this is the first election.”
I remember a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal written by an anthropologist or non-governmental organization activist — or some other self-proclaimed do-gooder — shortly after September 11th and the indictment of Osama bin Laden. Attacking the Taliban, he argued, would accomplish nothing, and only give "the cycle of violence" another turn. Afghans' misery under theocrat tyrants, one can only presume, was perfectly acceptable to this man. Watching Afghanistan depart from rule of the strong, that letter and its blind orthodoxy seem so far away.
Michael Ubaldi, August 25, 2004.
The liberation of Iraq has its story of the Marsh Arabs. Afghanistan's newfound freedom brings the Hazara back to their lands and way of life:
The pair of majestic Buddha cliff-carvings are still disfigured, vandalized three years ago by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers. But little by little, what remains of the ancient treasures is being restored, with iron rods shoring up their niches and concrete being pumped into cracks across the crumbling stone.
Below, in the lush but impoverished valley that stretches along the cliffs, a political, economic and cultural revival is unfolding among the ethnic Hazara populace that was overrun and driven into the frozen mountains by Taliban forces during the late 1990s.
"This was a ruined place, but now everything is being rebuilt," said Azizullah, 31, a policeman who fled the fighting in 1999. He returned two years ago and has constructed a solid mud house by a stream that rushes past the Buddhas, irrigates acres of golden wheat and quenches flocks of goats festooned with bright ribbons.
"The militias have put down their guns and gone home to their fields," he said. "We have the best security in Afghanistan, and we welcome everyone who wants to visit and help. Our people want only unity and peace, and they ask only for their rightful share in national life."
Read it for yourself. The war on terror is a war for freedom: a defense of hope. President Bush is preparing to declare it anew in New York City. We're wise to take his words to heart.
Michael Ubaldi, August 12, 2004.
Cheryl Benard, writing in today's Wall Street Journal about NGO Doctors Without Borders' abrupt departure from Afghanistan:
Leaving Afghanistan is no solution. It postpones [Doctors Without Borders]'s dilemma but does not resolve it.
The new generation of terrorists does not spare unarmed humanitarians. They do not leave clinics, school and other benign civilian projects untouched: They destroy them especially, because they want civilians to suffer and reconstruction to fail. Fear and backwardness are a kingdom they can rule; healthy, secure and posperous populations have no use for them. This means that humanitarian aid workers are not neutral in the eyes of terrorists; rather, because they work to make things better, they represent a threat.
Terrorists reach far beneath humanity in killing whatever slights them but Benard draws too thick a line if she thinks despots are really much different. How can a paradigm be made when the modern non-governmental organization is less than a century old? If the relationship of master and slave is disrupted, outsiders, however benign, are in peril; that's a paradigm. As technology pushes totalitarians to greater lengths in keeping societies closed, external influence can only become less and less welcome.
I've always doubted the wisdom of missionaries or humanitarians entering dictatorships to help an impoverished people while respecting the standing political order, instead of ending suffering permanently and definitively by lobbying for democratic military action to eliminate a totalitarian regime, the authors of repression. Too often, these groups oppose such efforts for a host of reasons — none of them very logically sound or morally attractive — and react in utter shock when their ward of neutrality is murderously violated. NGOs aren't the only ones skirting death. An ominous prediction, one that no one wants to see come true, is that Islamists will aim to kill journalists and cameramen as readily as they would our soldiers if global news coverage ceases to flatter their vanity.
We know what Churchill said about appeasement: but feeding the alligator doesn't necessarily spare you from being eaten first anyway.
Michael Ubaldi, August 8, 2004.
Far from forgotten, Afghans have support from across the globe, including some very important persons:
Afghanistan's former king Mohammad Zahir Shah said Sunday that democratic reforms were taking the war-ravaged nation in the right direction despite escalating violence in the run-up to presidential elections.
The former king, now called "Father of the Nation" by President Hamid Karzai, knows not to take anything for granted in turbulent post-Taliban Afghanistan and two months ahead of the presidential polls.
"I am not a fortune-teller," Zahir Shah told Reuters. "But I am optimistic."
He's got reason to be — from before I began chronicling good and significant news reports 'till today, Afghanistan has persevered to flower in the most inhospitable land.
Michael Ubaldi, August 3, 2004.
There is no greater vindication for investing in a country's people than this:
Nine out of 10 eligible Afghans have signed up for landmark October elections, the United Nations said yesterday, a resounding endorsement of a democratic experiment intended to help Afghanistan turn its back on years of debilitating war.
..."The participation is amazing," UN spokesman David Singh said. "There was a lot of skepticism . . . at the beginning, but the targets have been fulfilled."
"We are overwhelmed with joy at the sheer enthusiasm," presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said. "It's essentially the first important step toward a successful and legitimate election process."
The country John Kerry could not muster a good word for in his acceptance speech has turned from being Osama bin Laden's playground to a liberalizing nation where voter participation eclipses that of modern Western countries. Why? Because no matter how horrible a former regime or society, the will of free men is never extinguished. Their doom, authoritarians fear this with good reason.
NO INSIGNIA, NO VISIBLE ARMS, NO SERVICE: The Taliban sink deeper into quagmire.
Michael Ubaldi, July 23, 2004.
Afghan President Hamed Karzai has inspired many with his characteristic blend of leadership, political savvy and chic dress and is favored by many, including Afghans, as the likely winner of Afghanistan's twenty-candidate presidential election in September. For those of us a bit uncomfortable with the idea of an uncontested executive contest, the situation has become more interesting: General Rashid Dostum, militia leader in the old Northern Alliance and commander in Afghanistan's new military, has decided to challenge Karzai in a race for Kabul. Some call him a "commander," others a "warlord": but we should take heart that Dostum resigned his military post, no slight bow to democratic society.
FrontPage Magazine reports that free marketeers have won a stunning victory in an Afghan International Chamber of Commerce vote, one that drew eight times more participants than expected. Said interim AICC President, Hamid Qaderi:
AICC seeks, and we have started to connect the business community to the very making of the policies, laws and regulations that determine the destiny of the private sector and a market economy in Afghanistan. ...We create this strong voice, not only to promote our own dreams of enterprise for ourselves and our families, but the well-being of the people of Afghanistan, their children and their grandchildren. By promoting with our words and deeds the 'market economy' that our constitution designates for our country, we bring the possibility of a new prosperity to Afghanistan.
Read the article yourself. The people of Afghanistan have withstood and overcome every hardship — and now they've been given the tools of liberty.
Michael Ubaldi, July 10, 2004.
The steady pace of normalization and reconstruction has been slow enough that Afghan officials have decided to postpone parliamentary elections until spring of 2005, although the country's presidential election will be held in October as planned. Interim President Hamed Karzai, popular in the East and West, is expected to win. Rumor has it Mullah Mohammed Omar, operating from a subterranean campaign headquarters, is polling rather poorly.
Afghanistan's highwaymen, who range from iconic bandits to terrorist lowlifes, are facing mass unemployment in the form of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the widest deployment of checkpoints the country has ever seen, post-Taliban:
For the [Combined Anti-Armor Team (CAAT)] Marines, they usually set up their VCPs with a two-Humvee section with one machine-gun vehicle providing cover for the crew of the second vehicle who conduct the actual traffic stop and search.
"We'll usually pull all the vehicle passengers out and search them one at a time," said Cpl. Dan Dimosa, of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., another CAAT Marine. "Then while they're being guarded, the other Marines will search the vehicle and any cargo."
Nothing on the vehicles is left unsearched; the driver's cab, under and behind seats, the cargo bed, undercarriage, engine compartment, and any boxes, bags or containers being carried. According to the Marines, the Afghans accept the VCPs as a necessary inconvenience if their country has any hope for future peace and stability.
"We've never had a problem during the searches," said Cpl. Steven Miller, of Wallace, W.V.
Good neighbor India will be sending engineering corps to Afghanistan and Kyrgyztan to build vital roadways.
35-year-old Afghan emigré Humaira Ghilzai is in the second year of managing the Afghan Friends Network, a sister-city relationship between Hayward, California and Ghazni, Afghanistan. Says Ghilzai about her dreamchild:
Likely no one wishes to run afoul of the United States Marines. But the message is clear to terrorists and Afghan warlords alike: old days are over.
I feel hopeful for the first time. I guess I had this "doom and gloom" outlook like other immigrants have. That any day, you could lose everything. . . . But this is my opportunity to do something. It's a way for me to roll up my sleeves without having to go there or join the Peace Corps.'
No better home for generosity like the United States; no better friend than an American. One of the dividends of Iraq's and Afghanistan's rebirth will be the recasting of those societies with the same philanthropy as our own: enemies to friends, to partners to brothers.
Michael Ubaldi, June 10, 2004.
Taliban and related terrorists have been dropping like flies in southern Afghanistan over the past several days; seventy reported dead, including two tactical leaders, following American-Afghan strikes. Still no word on whether Mullah Mohammed Omar, former Islamofascist ruler of Afghanistan, has come to terms with the mistakes of his administration and the resulting quagmire for terrorist forces. Or whether gloom-struck correpondents will stop referring to Taliban inability to do much more than harrass rural locals and cause random mayhem as a "deteriorating" situation. [That's funny, Afghanistan's situation is generally unchanged for a country "deteriorating" for two years. -ed.]
Worthless against Allied forces, the Taliban are nursing their frustration only as bloodythirsty cowards can: by attacking defenseless non-governmental organizations come to improve Afghan life. The terrorists' thoughtless attack can only add to the contempt in which Afghans hold them, exposing the emptiness of Islamist rhetoric about Muslims, greatness or anything else beyond pain and suffering.
The chance for freedom, brought to you by the United States military:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told US troops that they would be remembered in "golden letters" in his country’s history for their service in toppling the hard-line Taliban regime. ..."With your help, we have reclaimed our country from terror and oppression," Karzai said.
Skeptics are made to be knocked aside by achievement. In the face of condescension from the world's bitter misanthropes and violence from authoritarians, many Afghans are focused on elected governance, their exit from tumult:
Peace is made only with peaceable men. With the modern dictatorship, the need for the use of force goes almost without saying.
Haji Din Mohammed, the genial governor of Nangrahar, plays down security concerns voiced by the United Nations and nongovernment agencies in the run-up to Afghanistan elections. He dismisses the recent wave of violence as the dark before an Afghan dawn.
"Going after a few vehicles, an individual here and there, that cannot stop the progress," he says, adding that if international staff members are nervous about venturing into his province's hinterlands, then the local staff is more than willing.
Why, it's almost as if a concept and lifestyle once alien to Afghans has received enthusiastic reaction following its import! Is there a pattern here?
Michael Ubaldi, May 24, 2004.
Afghans have never been the kind to "turn that dial," particularly because their television choice has either been singular or absent altogether. But more than a year after the country's reactionary judiciary tried and failed to stifle cable networks, progressives have no intention to stop innovating:
Afghanistan’s first private television station went on air Sunday in Kabul, some two years after the fall of the Taliban regime which arrested and punished those caught watching TV. Afghan TV is funded by an Afghan businessman and will have 18 hours of programming a day.
Afghanistan has only ever had one state TV channel which broadcasts for a few hours in the evening, but under the Taliban there were no television stations and it was forbidden to listen to music or watch satellite broadcasts. The free-to-air private station run by Ahmed Shah Afghanzai is a major step towards developing a private TV sector and intends to go national within a year, an achievement which will make it the country’s first national channel.
"Afghan TV has started operations with capital of 200,000 US dollars and the eventual capital to cover all the country via satellite is estimated at three million dollars," Afghanzai said. During a one-month testing period the new station will broadcast Afghan, Indian and western music and films and hopes to broadcast 24 hours a day.
At the beginning of this month, the Asian Development Bank report showed confidence in Afghanistan's significant economic recovery. Those who might claim it's easy to produce above nothing should consider the other adage that dead economies can be self-fulfilling prophecies. Afghanistan's growth is real and, if supported, sustainable.
Staying in Kabul? Bored on a Saturday afternoon? Nine holes of golf just reopened near the Afghan capital, and a couple of brave souls want to reintroduce the sport. The area has been cleared of mines and military hardware, membership is cheap and company is eclectic. Just watch the rough, about the size of the entire course.
Upping the ante, Afghan TV reports that in some programs "women will not be wearing the traditional head scarf or may be wearing western clothes." Scandalous — if you pine for the 10th Century. Afghans, on the other hand, show every indication of attraction to modernity and will probably very much want their ATV.
Michael Ubaldi, May 16, 2004.
Craig Charney of Charney Research has been in Afghanistan to take the pulse of the country's people, from the relatively cosmopolitan urbanity of Kabul to the rural wild of Kandahar. As he describes it, pairs of interviewers — Afghans, one man and one woman — spent between thirty minutes and an hour with Afghanistan's greatest resource: its people. Opinions were eagerly elicited and, perhaps much to the surprise of skeptics, consistently optimistic:
It is easy for overseas commentators, but not for Afghans, to forget how horrific life in Afghanistan had become by the end of three decades of foreign invtrvention, war, and misrule. What the relentless foreign commentary on post-Taliban Afghanistan's problems misses is that, although things there are bad today, most Afghans think things are better than yesterday and have begun to feel hope about tomorrow.
Above all, the Afghans we interviewed look forward with excitement to the chance to choose their leaders for the first time ever. The edginess of Kabul-based expatriates contrasts with ordinary citizens' simple determination to vote.
A 55-year-old Tajik man in a village in Herat province in Western Afghanistan, a skilled worker with two children, said, "This election is a great fortune that the people of Afghanistan will enjoy. I will definitely vote!" In the troubled southeast, an illiterate 32-year-old Pashtun housewife and mother of four in a village in Nangarhar province declared, "I am an Afghan and I have the right to vote."
Emphasis mine. Afghanistan's condition is one of slow progress: slow because it still staggers from decades of scourges, progress because unencumbered people are naturally drawn to peaceful liberty. Since I began Afghan Watch, I have discovered how easy news from Afghanistan can be found. Anyone who calls the country "forgotten" admits to having not looked very hard. Besides this article, which I read in my Weekly Standard, my net for Afghan news consists of heading to Google News and entering simple search strings like "Afghanistan," "Afghan" or "Karzai." Results are quick to come and many articles offer far more than narrow reports on day-to-day action between the Allies and increasingly desperate terrorists.
Much of this miracle story is lost on the mainstream press — that's when they even bother to glance. The irony of the left's assessment of liberated Afghanistan (or Iraq, for that matter) — ranging from disinterest to skepticism, cynicism to paranoia — has never left me. What of self-determination, human rights, the high-minded principles from which many drew their professional livelihood? Whatever the (inherent) imperfections to wholesale liberalization, here it is: freedom for the Afghan people. Their passport out of Third World status; their chance to truly define Afghanistan and give to the world a wealth of goods, culture and knowledge. It's no longer rhetoric on a protester's sign: Afghanistan was freed. It's here.
There's a lesson to be found in gratification. Watch who embraces something they've known only through anticipation — they are the ones who wanted it in the first place.