Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inside Kabul/Update: "Will you please tell Canada, thank you..."

Excerpts from a piece by Terry Glavin in the National Post:
From the headlines leaping off the front pages of newspapers around the world these days, you'd think this city was Phnom Penh in the days before the Khmer Rouge rolled in, or Saigon in the hours before the fall. Given the London Telegraph's declaration that Kabul is "as dangerous as Baghdad at its worst," you'd expect to find Taliban armies already at the city gates, and nothing left to do but cut a deal and get out.

This is exactly what the Taliban's canny propagandists want the world to think about Kabul, and for variously sinister and conflicting reasons, this is the same picture of the city that diplomats from London to Riyadh have been painting lately. What all this drama obscures, however, is the reality of a city that is boisterous and booming and yet burdened by a wholly different sort of dread.

Among Kabul's human rights activists, student leaders and women's rights groups, the big fear isn't the spectre of Taliban militias rolling back into Kabul. The much greater threat comes from places like Washington, Tehran and Islamabad. It's the clamour for a backroom deal with the Taliban (with President Hamid Karzai's signature on it for the sake of appearances). The stink of a looming betrayal is everywhere, and Kabulis, betrayed so many times before, can smell it a mile away.

Even Karzai's closest supporters are starting to get sick of it. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Spanta recently uttered a blistering rebuke to "so-called peacemakers" after the Saudis quietly brought together some Taliban-connected characters in Mecca and the President's businessman brother, Qayyum Karzai. Spanta says he's had quite enough of schemes to "surrender this land to the enemy."..

In the heavily guarded districts that cosset the city's foreign diplomats, UN technocrats, senior aid-agency officials and celebrity journalists, you'd think Kabul was the Paris Commune just before the Versailles Army moved in and massacred everybody. At night on the balconies, when the power has failed again and the only light comes from a dusty moon peering over the peaks of the Hindu Kush, the talk is all about the day's assassinations and kidnap-pings. At daybreak, with helicopter gunships thudding across the city skyline, it's hard to get the opening bars of The Doors' The End out of your head.

But there is also the new, real-world Kabul, out in the streets, where the bazaars are bursting with life and commerce, and raucous laughter erupts from back alleys where men sit around TV sets watching Afghan talk shows. This is the Kabul the Taliban hates so bitterly. Every morning, the streets are filled with schoolchildren. Even in the dingiest parts of this bomb-blasted metropolis, among the rickety vendors' stalls that sell cow heads and sheep guts, you can't turn a corner without coming upon another newly opened computer school, or a long line of unveiled women waiting for their literacy classes to open for the day.

There is cruel and savage poverty here, but also much happiness, and Kabulis aren't for turning back. But the corrosive defeatism that is now so fashionable in polite society is forcing a fatal feedback loop into play all over the city, and in this way the "Spiral of Doom" headlines mutate into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The spiral entraps even the bravest Kabulis, because if it's all coming to an end, there's no point in sticking one's neck out in this country's long war for a transparent, accountable democracy. It pulls into itself even the "corruption" that has come to characterize the Karzai regime: If this isn't going to last, the thinking goes, then you might as well get what you can while the getting's good...
Real Kabulis:

Update: Plus an article by Mr Glavin in the Vancouver Sun today, advocating keeping Afghanistan's democratic efforts going:
Young Afghan democracy facing its first major test
Country nervously prepares for '09 elections

He adds this to the piece in a post at his website:
One thing I didn't have room for in the story was this message the journalist Jafar Rasouli - the international-affairs adviser to Karzai quoted in the story - wanted me to pass along: "Will you please tell Canada, thank you. Thank you to all the brave young sons and daughters, the soldiers, who are here with us. Thank you. Thank you." [emphasis added]


Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Just look at those beautiful people...

Some people watch an info-mercial on a Sunday morning about a poor kid in Africa who needs just pennies a day to get clean drinking water or a new school, and they're inspired and moved to give. Good for them: anything that inspires our more generous side should be applauded and encouraged.

But with Afghans, I see much the same thing, but with one crucial difference. Like poor but proud people the world around, they work crushingly hard and appreciate even the littlest hand up. But unlike some places in the world, Canada in Afghanistan is engaged not only in treating the symptoms of a deeper systemic problem, but in treating the underlying societal disease itself.

We should see that effort through.

10:01 a.m., November 13, 2008  

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