Afghanistan: not that bad
February 25, 2012
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With all the coverage of the recent violence in Afghanistan arising from the Koran-burning incident, it’s easy to think that Afghanistan is hopeless. It’s embarrassing, as an American, to see so many taking this view – that we can’t win, that we are as bad as the Soviets, that we are unable to defeat the Nazi-like scourge that is the Taliban. I’d expect as much from a nation of Frenchmen, but not Americans.
But, everyone says, Afghanistan is hopeless, they are too violent, there has been no progress, etc., etc. Except that’s not really true. Here’s a few reasons to think that we’re reaching the light at the end of the tunnel in Afghanistan:
Believe it or not, this was taken in Kabul
Completely transformed Kabul: In 2001, Kabul was a smouldering ruin with Taliban religious police roaming the streets. Today, it’s a modern city, with shopping malls, five-star hotels, and is usually rather peaceful, being situated far from Afghanistan’s troublesome border with Pakistan. Of course, there is still a ton of poverty and other problems, but the progress is still quite amazing. Kabul can be an incubator for a modernized Afghan middle class that will fight the Taliban’s regressive beliefs on its own.
- Way better education: During the two decades of war and Taliban rule prior to the American intervention, there was virtually no education in Afghanistan of the kind that we would ordinarily think of as “education.” The Taliban would “indoctrinate” kids by making them memorize the Koran and hate everything but the Taliban, and that was all. But over the last decade, that has drastically changed. 7 million Afghan children attend school today, including 37% of Afghan girls (that was 0% under the Taliban), and there is even an Afghan version of Sesame Street being broadcast. The students growing up in post-Taliban Afghanistan will be entering their teenage years soon and will be having a massive impact on Afghan culture. As long as the have a sort-of-secure environment to do so, it may completely shift attitudes throughout the country. That’s not to say there aren’t still difficult challenges – but there is also a huge amount of progress.
- Political antipathy towards the Taliban: A common misperception in the US is that the Taliban is an Afghan resistance group – it is not. Even when it ruled Afghanistan it was considered a foreign occupier originating from Pakistan by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. That view remains prevalent in Afghanistan today, especially in the North. Therefore, many Afghans have responded to the likely end of the US occupation – or even the possibility of reconciliation with the Taliban – by re-arming their old militias and re-creating the united anti-Taliban resistance.
Of course, you don’t here about these signs of progress in the alarmist media, where fear rules the day. However, you also don’t hear about how much of a disaster failure would be – if the Taliban retakes Afghanistan with ISI backing, it resets all the progress we made to square one. The winners would be the extremists responsible for 9/11 and the losers would be everyone else. This is not an option for us as Americans, no matter how long it takes to set things right again. All we would need to do to support Afghanistan is keep American air power in support of the government. If we can muster up enough support to keep that up until the government is stable, I can’t imagine how a lasting victory will not happen.