October 18, 2004


Putting Together the Pieces of a Shattered Afghanistan (John Daniszewski, October 18, 2004, LA Times)

The Shomali Plain north of the Afghan capital, a 40-mile-wide plateau crisscrossed by ancient irrigation channels carrying water from glaciered peaks above, is a land fabled for lush vineyards and opulent orchards.

But during the Taliban years, the region was systematically destroyed — its villages burned, its orchards chopped down, the irrigation systems dynamited — in a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in which the mainly Pushtun religious extremists of the Taliban regime targeted the half-million Tajik and Hazara inhabitants of the plain.

When the Taliban was driven away in December 2001, only ghost villages were left. The road to Kabul was a tableau of destroyed tanks, broken bridges and ruined houses, the plain a uniform dusty brown littered with the stumps of trees.

What a contrast, then, to visit the Shomali Plain today. The villages have sprung back to life. Refugees who fled the Taliban have returned from Pakistan and Iran to rebuild homes, wells and reservoir tanks are being dug, the markets are full of sheep and goats and piles of fruit, and children are going to school.

Afghanistan still faces severe problems, and in some respects — notably drug production and the reemergence of anti-U.S. forces along the southern border belt — the country is getting worse. But in three years of relative stability, reconstruction and development have acquired some momentum, as exemplified by the renewal and improvement of life in places such as the Shomali Plain.

Very often these days, perceptions of Afghanistan can be mixed up with the dire news coming out of Iraq, the other country invaded by the United States in the administration's declared war on terrorism. But they are not the same.

Yes, Afghanistan got a head start because we did them first and turned over sovereignty far faster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2004 11:46 AM

Off topic:

Pavel Kohout, one of the leaders of the Prague Spring and a figure with a checkered past in Czech political life, had an article published on TechCentral Station, entitled "Why al-Qaeda Will Dominate the European Union".

The title is hyperbole and it's not especially well written... but worth a glance.

Posted by: Eugene S. at October 18, 2004 2:08 PM