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Michael Ubaldi, March 20, 2003.

Can't chew Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time? Think again:

BAGRAM, Afghanistan The timing of a U.S. military raid in Afghanistan that started around the same time American troops lobbed an opening strike against Iraq was a coincidence, an Army spokesman told reporters.

"Operations in Afghanistan are conducted completely independent of any operations in other sectors," Col. Roger King said. An operation of similar size took place in neighboring Helmand province about a month ago. Several suspected militants were killed and about 30 were captured.

Operation Valiant Strike would focus on areas east of Kandahar, King said. The province is the former spiritual headquarters of the ousted Taliban regime, which is allied with the Al Qaeda network suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks.

About 1,000 troops from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were combing southeastern Afghanistan for members of Al Qaeda, military officials said.

Brought to you by the Arsenal of Democracy.

Michael Ubaldi, March 19, 2003.

A fascinating report on Afghanistan from Ann Marlowe, insofar as the Western world will succeed in the country by better understanding the culture in order to interweave it with values of liberty and democracy. Her thrust is to recognize the "khans," familial chiefs who show great potential as stable, trustworthy axes of power through their wide-ranging vocational associations, a little-discussed aspect of Afghani life:

There is little reason for an Afghan to "network," since everyone is born with the basic contacts an American goes about making. Your doctor and your contractor, your auto mechanic and grocer are all cousins, or the employees or bosses of cousins, depending on your social position. So is your go-to man in local government and your contact in the armed forces.

What separates the middle class from the upper class is not so much the trappings of wealth, which are pretty thin on the ground anyway, a matter of a Toyota Land cruiser, a satellite phone and a satellite TV, but the quality of cousinship. A middle-class man's hundred first cousins are teachers and businessmen and engineers and doctors and army officers. The upper-class man would claim government officials and major landowners and bigger businessman, provincial governors and mayors, generals, and, perhaps, a stray member of the royal family.

A puzzling cultural situation, but one that must be met in order to infuse the necessary components of a free society. And in doing so, move away from the newsworthy "warlords." Her summary is direct:

What are the implications of these facts for American policy? To actually achieve progress in reconstruction better termed, construction, since some of the improvements we are trying to make have never existed we must work with the khans as well as the warlords.

When a new project is planned, we must meet with these men and win their cooperation. Building alliances between the United Nations, NGOs, local commanders, and the traditional khan power structure is necessary for getting things done. It is also the only chance of getting men like Dostum and Atta whatever one may think of either or both of them to disband their militias and thus our best hope of an end to fighting in the provinces. It is true that the khans do not represent an elected government, but neither do the "warlords." The power of the cousinship is no more or less legitimate than that of the militias.

It is fashionable to wring one's hands over the difficulties of the task we have set ourselves in Afghanistan, but instead we should rejoice at a situation where with little relatively little money and effort we can make a huge cultural impact and win ourselves friends for generations. The key, however, lies in appreciating the diffuse and complex nature of power in Afghanistan, and the role of the khans, little studied when Afghanistan was not in the headlines, and lately overshadowed by the colorful "warlords."

A very refreshing outlook - certainly, tonic to those of us bored to tears by the cheap shots of naysaying hecklers. A difficult task we face in Afghanistan, but worth all effort.

Michael Ubaldi, March 10, 2003.

No, Afghanistan is neither a picnic nor stably modern; in all practicality, a pseudo-Islamic government may be the country's Taiwan Ticket* to liberalizing. In the meantime, both internet outlets and women's radio programming can speak out on the progress made and long journey ahead - and speak out to the world.

(* Taiwan Ticket: Allowing a capable, partly free nation to - under watchful protection - gradually evolve into a politically free and socially liberalized democracy, having been diagnosed as an unlikely candidate for direct social and governmental change. Precipitated by unusually difficult internal circumstances or danger of corruption from nearby, dictatorial third parties.)

Michael Ubaldi, March 10, 2003.

Hamed Karzai prepares to ask nicely for warlord's arms - and regional power claims.

Karzai said the disarmament process would be fair.

"It will be done in a manner that undue benefit is not taken by people who don't deserve," he said.

That is, the undue benefit to continue threatening a country now sovereign by consent of the people. Remedy? A few hundred canary yellow, explosive beachballs from the nearby Arsenal of Democracy's B-52s. Sprinkle liberally on recalcitrant warlord and cohort. Repeat as necessary.

Michael Ubaldi, March 10, 2003.

After years of banishment under the Taliban, the internet returns to Afghans.

If natives - perhaps with some Western advisement - effectively advertise their unique exports to buyers across the world, Afghanistan may find itself in a comfortable market niche. The more success, the more foreign investment; the more foreign investment, world standing before you can say "economic boom."

Michael Ubaldi, February 27, 2003.

Forgot about Afghanistan, did we? Not so.

Michael Ubaldi, February 26, 2003.

Hamed Karzai testifies.

No, we're far from the edge of the woods. But after one year, Afghanistan is quite a different place, is it not?

Michael Ubaldi, February 18, 2003.

Hamed Karzai oversees an opening in trade with Afghanistan's closest democratic neighbor, India.

Michael Ubaldi, February 15, 2003.

A point-by-point revelation of America's gifts to post-Taliban Afghanistan, via Andrew Sullivan.

Michael Ubaldi, February 10, 2003.

Not only is Hamed Karzai a unifying force against an ineffably chaotic societal impulse in Afghanistan, but he's humble enough to accept the idea of term limits - eager, in fact. A civilian Washington with teeth and threads, eh? My hope is that the State Department, fearful of the executive alternatives possible, do not dissuade the sense of duty of the point man for democracy in a troubled land.

The men vying for leadership roles aren't particularly appealing: Mohammed Zahir Shah, the former king, is physically frail; Sheik Hadi Shinwari of the supreme court is the fellow who pulled the plug on cable television and is just starry-eyed for Islamic law (read: theocracy); Burhanuddin Rabbani is sending out signals for running, although he bears the distinction of watching Afghanistan dissolve into civil war in the early 1990s.

And, of course, hierarchical oversights abound like the fact that Karzai has four vice-presidents; one of them is obviously more savvy than the other three and has assumed duties of a primary.

On one hand, I can shake my head and blame Afghanistan's present confusion and democratic frailty on the tepid resolve of Baby Boomers - conservative or otherwise - who are apparently embarrassed to even attempt a connection between a foreign culture and the most robust, universally inclined constitution ever conceived: ours. If we've gone through the trouble of implementing military will, why shy away from confident domestic guidance?

That's another topic for later. What matters in Afghanistan is that prospective voters will have a choice. If least two legitimate candidates will see an election to a ballot box, Afghanis are one step closer to a securely free nation.