T Nation

Good News From Afghanistan

(CBS) CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan has been traveling with U.S. Special Operations soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Below is her eyewitness account of the death of a top Taliban commander.

Roze Khan. His name means nothing to most Americans who have never heard it mentioned. But thousands of miles away from the United States, in the dry south of Afghanistan, it is a name that resonated across dirty brown mountains and remote, dusty villages, sometimes in fear, sometimes in awe.

And when he was killed by U.S. Special Operations forces last week, it was news that spread like wildfire, across the mountains and arid plains and over the Afghan border into Pakistan where it was surely greeted with dismay among the communities of Taliban members and supporters who continue to base themselves in that country?s semi-autonomous tribal areas.

?He was like ‘Billy the Kid’ in these parts,? one American soldier told me, ?We?ve been after him for more than two years and he?s escaped twice before so this feels really good.?

And it should. Roze Khan was the top Taliban commander based in southern Afghanistan, and the American forces here believe he recruited and organized both Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, financing them from Pakistan. In fact, almost $10,000 in U.S. currency and a huge wad of Pakistani rupees was found on his body to support that belief.

They also believe Khan was responsible for laying of mines, kidnapping aid workers and road workers, as well as attacks on American, Afghan and coalition soldiers. There is certainly no doubt about Roze Khan?s intentions on the day he was shot dead. As Coalition Special Operations Forces approached the village where he was on a hot, dry Friday morning, Khan picked up an AK-47 rifle, six magazines, six grenades, a pistol and all that money and began to saunter casually up the mountainside behind the village.

But the soldiers had already anticipated his possible movements and it took no time for two assault teams to corner him on the mountain. Khan opened fire first, emptying his magazine before he was shot multiple times and fell bleeding onto the rocky, unforgiving ground. His body was immediately checked for known identifying marks and it was apparent from the very outset that this was the high-value target the soldiers were after, although they would wait for absolute confirmation before announcing his death to the world.

There was no further resistance from the village, and curiously, in this tiny place that could have housed no more than about a hundred people, not a single man asked to identify the body admitted knowing Roze Khan or ever having seen him before.

The coalition soldiers came in with overwhelming force, but they used it sparingly. Because there were shots fired, they handcuffed some 22 men in the village of fighting age and above. Then they were searched and questioned. But contrary to popular perceptions, soldiers here operate with very strict rules, and unless they find weapons or other evidence on someone, they cannot be detained, which is similar to how the police operate in the U.S. So after several hours, only two men were detained while the rest had their plastic cuffs cut free and were left to ponder the American soldiers actions, that seemed to have taken them completely by surprise.

Even without detainees, operations like this are never a wasted exercise because fingerprints are taken from all the men and entered into a massive database that is designed to prevent people making their way into the U.S. to carry out terror attacks the way the Sept.11 hijackers did.

For the men who found Roze Khan, this was a huge morale boost. A textbook operation, executed almost to perfection. This particular team has captured or killed five Taliban commanders, more than any other single team since this war began over two years ago. They don?t want any credit for it, they tell me, because that?s not why there are here, doing this very difficult and dangerous job.

But it is gratifying to know that back home in the U.S., thousands of miles and several world away, people remember an important war is still being fought.

Even the NYT can see some good happenings over in Afghanistan – contrary to most of their pundits, who think we have largely abandoned the country due to Bush’s “obsession” with Iraq:

Washington -

Based on what Americans have been seeing in the news media about Afghanistan lately, there may not be many who believed President Bush on Tuesday when he told the United Nations that the “Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom.” But then again, not many Americans know what Afghanistan was like before the American-led invasion. Let me offer some perspective.

This summer I visited Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since the winter of 1999. Five years ago, the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies were at the height of their power. They had turned Afghanistan into a terrorist state, with more than a dozen training camps churning out thousands of jihadist graduates every year.

The scene was very different this time around. The Kandahar airport, where I had once seen Taliban soldiers showing off their antiaircraft missiles, is now a vast American base with thousands of soldiers, as well as a 24-hour coffee shop, a North Face clothing store, a day spa and a PX the size of a Wal-Mart. Next door, what was once a base for Osama bin Laden is now an American shooting range. In downtown Kandahar, the gaudy compound of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, now houses United States Special Forces units.

As I toured other parts of the country, the image that I was prepared for - that of a nation wracked by competing warlords and in danger of degenerating into a Colombia-style narcostate - never materialized. Undeniably, the drug trade is a serious concern (it now compromises about a third of the country’s gross domestic product) and the slow pace of disarming the warlords is worrisome.

Over the last three years, however, most of the important militia leaders, like Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Uzbek community in the country’s north, have shed their battle fatigues for the business attire of the politicians they hope to become. It’s also promising that some three million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Kabul, the capital, is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, with spectacular traffic jams and booming construction sites. And urban centers around the country are experiencing similar growth.

While two out of three Afghans cited security as their most pressing concern in a poll taken this summer by the International Republican Institute, four out of five respondents also said things are better than they were two years ago. Despite dire predictions from many Westerners, the presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, now looks promising. Ten million Afghans have registered to vote, far more than were anticipated, and almost half of those who have signed up are women. Indeed, one of the 18 candidates for president is a woman. Even in Kandahar, more then 60 percent of the population has registered to vote, while 45 percent have registered in Uruzgan Province, the birthplace of Mullah Omar. With these kinds of numbers registering, it seems possible that turnout will be higher than the one-third of eligible voters who have participated in recent American presidential elections.

According to a poll taken in July by the Asia Foundation, President Hamid Karzai is drawing substantial support around the country. He has emerged not only as a popular leader, but also as a shrewd player of the kind of hardball politics that would have warmed the heart of Lyndon Johnson. This summer he dropped his running mate, Mohammad Fahim, a power-hungry general who had pompously awarded himself the title of field marshal after the fall of the Taliban. And this month Mr. Karzai forced Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, to resign. These moves not only neutralized two powerful rivals, men who could field their own private armies, but also increased the stability of the central government.

What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it’s better than so-so. Disputes that would once have been settled with the barrel of a gun are now increasingly being dealt with politically. The remnants of the Taliban are doing what they can to disrupt the coming election, but their attacks, aimed at election officials, American forces and international aid workers, are sporadic and strategically ineffective.

If the elections are a success, it will send a powerful signal to neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, none of which can claim to be representative democracies. If so, the democratic domino effect, which was one of the Bush administration’s arguments for the Iraq war, may be more realistic in Central Asia than it has proved to be in the Middle East.

Peter Bergen is a fellow at the New America Foundation and an adjunct professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Sigh, these are all stories… whether things are good are bad are all up to the story teller and their view of the situation.

There are good things happening and bad things happening. Print only good stories and things are great. Print only bad stories and things are bad.

What is the measure to be?

Great article BB!

I think our US troops have done an amazing job in Afghanistan! The people of that country are quite grateful. One example would be the young women of Aghanistan. As they grow up and can actually attend school and have real lives of their own they will love the United States for many years to come!

Very inspirational!

ASADABAD, AFGHANISTAN - Fears of possible terrorist attacks have led organizers of the Sept. 27-30 al-Qaeda International Convention to take unprecedented security measures, sources reported Monday.

“There are concerns about a possible attack, and we are responding by heightening security,” al-Qaeda chairman and convention organizer Khalil al-Hamada said. “This year’s convention will see longer lines and more comprehensive searches, and prospective martyrs will have difficulty gaining a private audience with Ayman al-Zawahiri. But, as freedom-haters who have always stood for the disruption and overthrow of the West, we will not allow terror to blunt our resolve or dictate our message.”

With Afghanistan’s first nationwide elections slated for Oct. 9 and the U.S. general election three weeks later, the convention falls during a crucial time for al-Qaeda.

“More than 3,000 people are slated to slip across the border to attend,” al-Hamada said. “While delegates were selected from within the ranks of known violent extremists, there is no such thing as 100 percent security, unfortunately. In this day and age, organizers of any high-profile event cannot be too careful.”

The party plans to move weapons stockpiles to undisclosed locations, and to post armed security guards at known tunnel entrances. Only those carts operated by officials with permits will be admitted below ground, and the cavities of any animals brought to the convention will be searched. Additionally, attendees will be required to provide papers confirming their identities, and their names will be checked against a list of known al-Qaeda operatives.

“We will do everything we can to cut down on the amount of time spent in lines, but some waiting is to be expected,” al-Hamada said. “I urge all attendees to be patient with the delays. Please, I beg you, control your rage. Please.”

Metal detectors will be set up in major entryways throughout the convention, and any firearms will be confiscated, inspected by security officers, and returned to their owners, who will be forced to swear that they will only fire their guns in celebration. Larger explosive devices will be confiscated and returned before the convention’s closing ceremonies. To this end, Afghanistan’s sole surviving bomb-sniffing dog will be called back into service.

Al-Qaeda members said they first recognized the threat of terrorist attacks in June, while discussing the possibility of bombing the Fleet Center in Boston. The organization’s requests for support at its own convention were denied by both the Afghan military and local police, however, forcing al-Qaeda to develop its own security plan.

“We’ll be employing some of the best and newest technology available,” al-Hamada said. "This includes hundreds of top-of-the-line closed-circuit cameras, Lifeguard handheld metal detectors, and armored plates to line VIP sections of the caves. We’ve also kidnapped some of the top minds in security and counter-terrorism, and our clerics are currently grilling them for tips.

Added al-Hamada: “In addition, we will not allow women at the convention, as they are deceivers who cannot be trusted.”

Pakistani delegate Amir Jassem said he was “disappointed and embarrassed” by the security measures.

“It’s a sad day when an overzealous madman with a bomb strapped to himself can threaten our divinely inspired wave of destruction,” Jassem said, idly polishing a rifle. “How in the world did we get to this point?”

Expected attendee Hassan Malouri, 23, echoed Jassem’s disappointment.

“It’s a shame,” said Malouri, who purchased a new AK-47 and bandolier of grenades for what he hopes will be his last convention. “I only wish to offer up my life to the death of Bush and the destruction of America for the greater glory of Allah. But now, with the world as it is, I’m afraid that other bloodthirsty religious fanatics may take that away from me.”

At least one al-Qaeda member applauded the increased security measures.

“The last thing our organization needs is to be subject to the whims of a crazy man with a gun,” said Alak al-Alousi, a delegate from Britain. “Besides the loss of life, such an attack would spread doubt among our members and make us look vulnerable. The long-term cost is incalculable.”

Despite fears, al-Hamada said that the convention “will and must go on.”

“Fear of the unknown is the terrorist’s best weapon,” al-Hamada said. “If al-Qaeda does not stand firm in our resolve, then the terrorists will have already won.”

The al-Qaeda International Convention will open Friday with a keynote speech from Zell Miller, the Democratic senator from Georgia who raised hackles by throwing his support behind al-Qaeda during this year’s election.

http://www.theonion.com/news/index.php?issue=4038

Another report from someone on the ground in Afghanistan (not a soldier - I think he’s either a relief worker or someone working with the elections):

http://oxblog.blogspot.com/2004_09_19_oxblog_archive.html#109601319970239588

THE ALL-IMPORTANT ELECTIONS: In Afghanistan, not the United States. Our swashbuckling Afghan correspondent delves into admirable detail:

A quick update on the imminent elections ? the October ones, not the November ones. The last few months have been a thrilling and astonishing time for Afghanistan. A Karzai victory remains the most likely outcome on October 9, but the implications of that victory look rather different now than they did at the beginning of the year.

First: the clear losers of this election are the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and rebels against the Kabul government. With just over two weeks remaining before the Afghan presidential elections, the malcontents have already lost. For months, they have threatened to create a generalized atmosphere of fear in which no one would dare go to the polls. It is safe to say that they have failed. They failed to prevent mass voter registration; the murders of many brave election workers did not deter millions of Afghans from registering for the vote (some more than once, but that?s another story). The handful of explosions and attacks that the Afghan insurgents have managed in the last few weeks are pitiful in comparison to (say) the daily uproar in Iraq. And they have run out of time. Whatever atrocities they manage to commit in the coming days, it is hard to imagine anything dramatic enough to deter more than a handful of likely voters. Another bomb or two before October 9 is not going to do the trick. The insurgents simply cannot affect enough of the country to manage widespread voter intimidation.

By contrast, President Hamid Karzai has been breathtakingly aggressive and effective over the last two months. On July 7, I wrote that the most powerful man in the Kabul government was widely perceived to be Defense Minister Fahim, the chief Panjshiri Tajik warlord. I argued that the central government was stronger than it was given credit for ? that it had in fact been expanding its power in the face of various regional warlords ? but that its achievements strengthened Marshal Fahim and the Panjshiris, not Karzai and his technocrats.

How much can change in a few weeks. On July 26, at the last minute before declaring his candidacy, Karzai dramatically broke with Fahim and dropped him from his Vice Presidential slot. He replaced Fahim with Ahmad Zia Massoud, ambassador to Russia and brother of the late Panjshiri hero Ahmad Shah Massoud ? probably the only Tajik who for sheer symbolic value comes close to matching Fahim as an electoral asset. (It also helps that Massoud is reportedly backed by former President Rabbani, who retains a considerable political base among northeastern Tajiks). Kabul braced for a confrontation, as troops supportive of Fahim gathered in the streets of the capital. But NATO, forewarned by Karzai, also had tanks in the streets to deter the Defense Minister?s loyalists from any rash action. Fahim merely stated that he was disappointed and would support his Northern Alliance comrade, Education Minister Yunus Qanuni, in his hastily-declared candidacy for President.

The message of the demotion was clear: Karzai intends to run a government that is not beholden to any of the major warlords. (Or rather, a government beholden to Zalmay Khalilzad, American ambassador and arguably the country?s foremost warlord). Karzai then proceeded to directly challenge the most recalcitrant and independent regional governor, Ismael Khan of the western province of Herat. Here again, he replaced a hero of the jihad with a civilian former ambassador (Khairkawa, former envoy to Iran and Ukraine). And so far, this move also appears to be successful.

If you?d asked me back in July which warlord Karzai should take by the horns, I certainly wouldn?t have recommended Ismael Khan. Khan has kept the Kabul government at arm?s length since the fall of the Taliban, building an autonomous western fief with Iranian support. He only reluctantly yielded to Karzai a share of the customs income from Afghanistan?s border posts with Iran and Turkmenistan. He?s prickly, has a loyal following in Herat, and was one of the warlords least receptive to the disarmament process. Of all the regional commanders, I would have judged Ismael Khan one of the most likely to resist his demotion by all means, up to and including armed force.

However, he was genuinely weakened by a bout of fighting in Herat province in August. He was attacked by a rival warlord, Amanullah, who rallied the ethnic Pashtuns of southern Herat and marched on the provincial capital. In the past, Amanullah has demanded that a Pashtun-majority province be carved out of Herat; his assault on Ismael Khan reportedly had the support of at least one or two Pashtun ministers in Kabul, along with the governor of neighboring Ghor province. Karzai and the Americans condemned the attack, negotiated a truce, and flew in a couple of Afghan National Army battalions to keep the peace.

At this point, Karzai determined to remove both battling warlords from the picture. Amanullah was whisked off to Kabul and quietly placed under house arrest. And on September 11, Karzai ?promoted? Ismael Khan to lead the national Ministry of Mines and Industry ? a mild insult to a man who had previously been offered a Vice Presidency and the Interior Ministry. Ismael Khan accepted his replacement as governor of Herat, but declined the ministerial position, stating that he was not qualified and preferred to stay in his home city to serve the people.

As news of his dismissal spread, riots ensued and several NGO offices in Herat were burned down. I heard a harrowing story from an expat who worked at the UN office in Herat; he spent September 12 in hiding, moving from cellar to cellar one step ahead of the mob, and finally escaped with only his passport, digital camera, and the clothes on his back. Yet though the riots were terrifying at first hand, they did not amount to any sort of armed rebellion against the new governor. Peace was quickly restored, and has been holding up for the last couple weeks. Governor Khairkawa has stated that genuine disarmament of all militias in the province will be his top priority (for his own good, it had better be). Ismael Khan has suggested that after the election, he might accept a Kabul ministerial post if offered one for which he is qualified. It seems entirely possible that Karzai will succeed in moving one of the toughest warlords into retirement.

And so we come to the election. Some chaos and ballot-rigging can be expected from local commanders (both loyal to and opposed to Karzai), and there are probably more voter registration cards than voters floating around out there, but hopefully not enough to invalidate the overall result. First votes are always sloppy, especially in post-conflict areas, but the practice of democracy has to begin somewhere. As for the likely outcome, Charney Research carried out a remarkable Afghan national poll this spring which should be required reading for amateur Afghanistan psephologists. Methodologically, it?s as solid as one could hope for (their sample was actually gender-representative, 50-50). It suggests that Hamid Karzai is popular throughout the country, not just in Pashtun-majority areas. Outside the south and Herat, he?s extraordinarily well-liked. The jihadi leaders (warlords) are far less popular ? only in Panjshir, where they benefit from the aura of the martyred Massoud, are they at all well-regarded. Afghans plan to vote in great numbers, and expect the vote to make a difference. The majority of women expect to vote, and are even more favorably inclined toward Karzai than are the men. Nothing is certain, but a Karzai victory (always likely) is by far the most probable outcome next month.

What then? Though I can?t help cheering the extraordinary daring, speed, and skill with which Karzai has taken on the warlords over the last few months, I?m still concerned by the Kabul government?s drive to centralize power. Back in July I wrote that removing Fahim as Defense Minister and expanding the disarmament program ?are important steps no matter what; but I fear that if they are carried out without also giving more power to the regions, they will only convince every warlord that they have to control Kabul in order to survive.? Much will depend on what alternatives the victorious Karzai ends up offering warlords like Fahim and Ismael Khan. These men could still render their regions of the country ungovernable if they do not consider cooperation with Kabul worthwhile. And if more of the regional warlords began to resist the government, we would quickly feel the inadequacy of the troop numbers which America and its allies have thus far committed to Afghanistan.

But the political skill demonstrated by Karzai since July, and the popularity he clearly possesses, are reason for optimism. Afghans themselves are optimistic. The country has passed its major political challenges reasonably well since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 ? forming a transitional cabinet, drafting and approving a constitution, maintaining a steady civilian government in Kabul. The next milestone, Afghanistan?s first free presidential election in over a decade, also looks to be a qualified success. For now, that?s quite an achievement.

Interesting, long, and not available online – an article looking at 3 years of progress in Afghanistan:

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan . . .
How it’s going, three years after invasion/liberation

RADEK SIKORSKI

Nothing like hot dust in one’s face and the roar of a low-flying helicopter gunship to make a man feel alive. The last time I heard that sound in Afghanistan was in 1987: A patrol of Soviet Mi-24s were spitting gunfire at the house in which I was hiding with a mujahedeen convoy, in a village near Kandahar. This time, though, the sound of gunships ? these decorated with the American white star instead of a Soviet red on the side ? did not make me duck. On the contrary: The sound of helicopters in Kabul is now hopeful evidence of the foreign presence giving Afghanistan its best chance in 25 years.

True, the signs of the war with the Soviets and the civil war that followed are still everywhere: debris of old jets at the airport, carcasses of government buildings, posters instructing pedestrians how to recognize various types of mines. This is still a city under pressure, and security is tight.

Even so, it’s an improvement since my last visit, shortly after the fall of the Communist regime in 1992. Kabul was then still at war. Troops loyal to the defense minister, Ahmed Shah Masud, were fighting it out against those of the prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. They converged around the municipal zoo, where monkeys saluted, Soviet-style, if you pointed a Kalashnikov at them. The Intercontinental Hotel, a Kabul landmark, was a dark shell on a hill, riddled by RPG rounds.

This time, I collected my e-mail in the business center of the now-rebuilt Intercontinental. It’s a functioning establishment with giggly American girls in the bar, a cellphone shop, and a soon-to-be-completed swimming pool. From there I set off to pay my respects to the former king, Zahir Shah, whose presence back in his royal castle is seen by many Afghans as a symbol of a return to some kind of normality. In the slum that is Kabul today ? the city was first destroyed, then overpopulated with refugees ? the palace is a time capsule, with spacious courtyards and old plane trees evoking a grander past. The picture of a modest retiree, Zahir Shah did not fight to be restored to the throne and seems satisfied to play the role of godfather ? “Father of the Nation” ? to the new regime, which is, in a way, a pity. For such a particularly diverse culture as Afghanistan’s, a constitutional monarchy could have provided a focus of national unity instead of stirring the factional passions that are rising in anticipation of the presidential election, slated for October 9. Still, at 90 Zahir Shah is one of the few Afghan leaders in many a decade with a fighting chance to die of natural causes, which is saying something.

His presence is not the only evidence of a city returning to life. If you can call it progress, the BBC World Service is broadcast on local FM radio, there’s a “John Kerry for President” cell in Kabul, and you can buy Fahrenheit 9/11 on DVD before its release in the U.S. (My copy cost $3 and promptly malfunctioned.)

The returning refugees may stretch the infrastructure but they are the surest sign that people have regained hope at last. There are executions of foreign aid workers, armed clashes on the unruly border with Pakistan, and even car and suicide bombs of apparently increasing sophistication. But we will misjudge the dynamic if we fail to keep things in perspective. Tens of thousands of people died in this country every month in the 1980s during the war with the Soviet Union and it wasn’t news. Hundreds died every month in the 1990s from mines and the civil war and that wasn’t really news either. Today, casualties are in the dozens most months, and suddenly it is news, taken by some as evidence of imminent collapse. For the first time in a quarter century, more Afghans are now dying in car accidents than in politically motivated violence ? a miracle, even allowing for atrocious Afghan driving.

There is also anti-Americanism, to be sure. Interestingly, it seems to rise the higher one goes up the social ladder. “Americans are worse than Russians,” a middle-ranking Foreign Ministry official told me indignantly. “They charge around in their vehicles, making everyone move aside. When the Russians searched houses they used female officers to go into women’s quarters, but Americans barge in regardless, which we find very offensive.” He seemed particularly angry that European-style restaurants in Kabul barred Afghans. This, if true, would be something like the Nur f?r Deutsche rule in Nazi-occupied Poland. I checked, though, and the restaurants mostly just apply Afghan law, which bars the sale of alcohol to natives.

On the other hand, most ordinary Afghans I met recognized that their liberation from the Taliban would not have happened without U.S. assistance. They also appreciated that NATO troops provide a check against interference by neighboring states, which had fanned the embers of war.

WHICH MODEL?
The most urgent question therefore seems to be not whether Afghanistan is on the mend, which it is, but which model of reconstruction does the most to encourage the forces of integration. There are at least two: Let us call them the Kabul model and the Herat model. In the capital, we have the classic internationalist project, as practiced all over Africa and more recently in the Balkans. Foreign-donor institutions are so central and so numerous ? 3,400 at the last count ? that guidebooks routinely include city plans with the locations of the major U.N. agencies and NGOs. It is through this network that major international spending programs are effected. Features of this model include diplomatic or semi-diplomatic status for personnel, SUVs with distinct license plates, heavily protected offices, expensive outside experts, and accountability (if that’s the word) to international bodies with incomprehensible acronyms. Critics have called this system’s administrators the “Lords of Poverty.” In fairness, it provides many indispensables: Returning refugees receive food, farmers get seed, and the civil authorities bask in the legitimacy conferred by the outside world. In places as broken as Afghanistan, international agencies’ monitoring of human rights and press freedom can be a useful check on local abuses.

The drawback is that it is costly to get anything done. Foreign contractors demand total security for their personnel, which is incredibly expensive. The Kabul-Kandahar road, for example, which was a crucial test of the Karzai administration’s ability to project stability outside Kabul, was budgeted to cost about $35 million but ended up costing $300 million. More subtly, the foreign institutions, by virtue of having pay scales devised in richer countries, tend to pay wages well above the local average. Talent flows to where it commands a higher price, thus denuding native institutions of capable people. Over time, a dependency culture sets in.

Until recently, they have done things differently in Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city. As the capital of the Timurid empire, Herat used to be the Florence of Central Asia, and local pride is still strong. It was here that the original rebellion against Communist rule took place in March 1979, and Herat was also the first city to be liberated in 1992. The leader of both events was Ismael Khan, a charismatic former officer of the Afghan army. I met him in 1987, the year of the most intense fighting between the Red Army and the Afghan resistance, at a commanders’ conference in the caves near Sargah in the central region of Ghor, which Ismael Khan organized with one eye to future politics. He was subsequently captured by the Taliban and escaped the Kandahar jail, soon to rally with the Americans and to return to Herat in triumph.

The Western press now routinely refers to former leaders of the resistance such as Ismael Khan as “warlords,” so I was a little apprehensive as to what I would find on my return to Herat. It was with growing astonishment that I noticed signs of prosperity. The “little Hiroshima” in the suburbs ? where years of Communist pounding had turned swaths of the city into dust ? is now a busy commercial area with street lights, a new bypass, and hundreds of workshops. The stretch of desert on the northern hills has been completely built over with a vast customs terminal, a war memorial, and a string of municipal parks. The remains of the mausoleum of Queen Gowar Shad ? once a gem of Islamic architecture ? have been enclosed with a new wall to prevent further damage. The university is functioning again. Not only are girls attending school, I have never seen so much commitment to undo the damage inflicted by the Taliban: Female teachers work in shifts in tents pitched around main school buildings. Uniquely in Afghanistan, Herat has a drug-rehabilitation clinic, a mental institution, and a steady electricity supply.

I spent several days with Ismael Khan. The man took an obvious pride in doing things the Afghan way, using Afghan companies, Afghan personnel, and Afghan resources. I accompanied him to the provincial town of Shindand, where the remains of a huge Soviet airbase are sinking into the desert. He has remodeled the oasis, with its warren of medieval mudhouses, on a grid pattern that will facilitate transportation and trade. The main street has been covered with asphalt, and Ismael Khan pushed the button on the municipal water supply. A Soviet transmitter atop an old fort has given Shindand live TV for the first time. “If I had asked an NGO, they would have taken six months and spent millions. We did it ourselves in two months,” he told me proudly.

Interestingly, the effort to improve amenities seems to be going hand in hand with a reformation of some of the more repressive values. I listened to Ismael Khan speaking in the only clump of trees for miles around, to a mixed crowd of men and women in burqas and shawls. “How can you drive your women to suicide by keeping them locked up at home! How can you deny education to your daughters, so that they cannot help your own grandchildren! What kind of men are you to arrange your marriages and pay for your wives!” I suspect the locals are more likely to accept such radical change from a moderate Islamic leader than from a professional U.N. do-gooder. Forced secularization had already been tried by the Communists and it was as much a disaster as the Taliban’s fundamentalism. Change, to be accepted, should spring from the philosophical and cultural roots of Afghan society, and should happen at a pace that its conservative people can bear. Islamic modernizers in the mold of Ismael Khan seem to act as the functional equivalents of Christian Democrats and can provide a vital bulwark against fanatics.

WARLORDS AND DOG-WASHERS
The Kabul elite finds it difficult to acknowledge the homegrown success of someone like Ismael Khan because, on top of all the other divisions within Afghan society, perhaps the most important one today is between the veterans of the wars against the Soviets and the Taliban, and the returning Afghan professionals who would like change to proceed much faster. The “warlords” return the compliment by calling the latter “dog-washers” ? alluding to the fact that the same men and women who held lowly positions in the West have become ministers in Kabul. To a sympathetic observer, it seems Afghanistan needs both groups: the veterans for their patriotic and religious credentials, the former exiles for their expertise in running a modern bureaucracy and economy.

The biggest threats to the settlement that President Hamid Karzai has skillfully nurtured seem external. One is that the United States may get distracted, as it did in the 1990s, from finishing the job in Afghanistan by a crisis elsewhere. Another is a radical takeover in Pakistan. Afghanistan will not be truly consolidated, and Pakistan will not be secure either, until the latter establishes proper control over its own tribal territories. When Lord Curzon established the North-West Frontier Province at the height of the Raj, it was an expedient arrangement for managing ungovernable Pashtun tribes. But now that it has become a haven for terrorists and drug lords, the Punjabi core of the Pakistani army should be encouraged to sort it out.

The third and most likely threat to Afghanistan’s future is the drugs whose production has spread from the Afghan-Pakistani border and the traditional heartland around Kandahar to most provinces. According to some reports, drugs constitute up to half of the Afghan economy and they finance much of the private construction, particularly in the capital. The interweaving of Taliban and Qaeda politics with drug-related crime networks could create a deadly base for a continuing insurgency for years to come. As we’ve learned elsewhere, the only way to fight the drug trade is to eat into its profit margins ? by legalizing the stuff in the West, or in the producing country, and taxing it appropriately ? which is, of course, politically unacceptable. If swaths of Afghanistan become Colombia-style provinces of a post-Taliban narco-insurgency, we in the consumer countries will not be without blame.

For the moment, however, we still seem to be winning. We can do even better if we motivate our soldiers, diplomats, and aid workers to take a more robust posture in their reconstruction activities. Withdrawing personnel after every atrocity risks creating a vicious circle: The more precarious the situation in a province is, the fewer foreign diplomats or NGO workers venture there. Consequently, the locals become more hostile toward the foreign presence, as less reconstruction assistance is delivered. Afghanistan is a tough place, and foreign personnel should accept risk as part of their job description.

Afghanistan also suggests a practical way to revitalize NATO. There are 7,000 NATO troops in the country, doing much to relieve U.S. forces hunting al-Qaeda. There could be more, were it not for a technical reason that stems from NATO’s Cold War origins. Whereas NATO headquarters is supported by a central fund into which members pay according to a negotiated formula, military operations are financed by the members themselves. This was fine in the past, when a Soviet invasion was assumed to be such an existential threat to all of Western Europe that countries could be counted on to act irrespective of cost. In today’s out-of-area operations such as Afghanistan, however, it creates perverse incentives: The more a country wants to help, the more out of pocket it is. Meanwhile, free riders, well, ride free. The sooner we move to financing operations from the central fund as well, the more quickly we can send additional troops to Afghanistan and the more effective we can be in future emergencies.

Mr. Sikorski is the author of a book about the Russo-Afghan war, Dust of the Saints: A Journey to Herat in Time of War. He is the director of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute.

Vroom, why don’t you say that stuff when lumpy posts something? I consitantly hear you call any good story trivial while touting bad stories as evidence or proof, can’t you just leave little worthless statements like that out?

We all know you are a liberal and have a gloom and doom attitude. We also know that things aren’t going 100% perfect in Iraq or Afganistan. The freaking article even says this.

Hence the topic of this Thread is "good news from Afganistan. Why wouldn’t BB post good news under that heading? It doesn’t even make sense for you to come into a post like this and trivialize the reports by saying, … bla bla bla, it’s only one side of the story, bla bla bla.

So freaking start a thread titled “bad news from afganistan” if it makes you happy.

Vegita ~ Prince of all Sayajins

Vroom,

"Sigh, these are all stories… whether things are good are bad are all up to the story teller and their view of the situation.

There are good things happening and bad things happening. Print only good stories and things are great. Print only bad stories and things are bad.

What is the measure to be?"

Hmm. I’m not certain there is a measure - or should be.

It certainly shouldn’t be whether utopia busts out like crabgrass.

A report from the ground, and some good predictions for the elections:

http://www.techcentralstation.com/100804B.html

The Little Election That Could
By Scott Norvell

KABUL – The ballot is the size of a pair of placemats strung together. Some of the polling places are so remote they need donkeys to get the plastic boxes back to counting stations. There are 18 candidates on the ballot with zero experience and no party apparatus behind them.

Such is the wonderful world of Afghan democracy. And a wonderful world it truly is, despite the naysaying in certain circles.

Yes, the threat of violence is keeping candidates off the trail and foreign monitors on edge. Yes, the registration process has been messy. And yes, voters in some areas are being intimidated in some fashion or another.

But so far, it’s been the little election that could. And barring a catastrophic attack that somehow manages to shatter the stubborn faith of the average Afghan in this process, it should go down as a successful one regardless of whether it is considered “free and fair” by Jimmy Carter and the editorial board of the Boston Globe.

The critics might want to stop and consider the context before they pass judgment.

This is a country that existed in a semi-feudal state through the 20th century and in many respects still does. Two-thirds of the people can’t read or write, and subsistence is most people’s main concern. For two and a half decades they’ve been terrorized by foreign troops, ruthless local militias or religious zealots. Voting was never high on the list of priorities. Survival was.

Afghans have never been asked who they wanted to lead the country. Decisions were always made by weathered old men sitting over tea and nan, or by the guys with the biggest guns. The last time they even saw a ballot was in 1969, in a parliamentary vote in which fewer than seven percent understood enough about it all to participate.

The whole Democracy thing is a totally novel experience here, and they aren’t taking it anywhere near as lightly as foreign human rights groups and former secretaries of state who are convinced that it’s all a cynical plot by George W. Bush to put a good face on his war on terror before the U.S. election. Afghans know better.

What’s making it a success – violence or no violence and regardless of who wins – is that the Afghans are being handed a fishing rod instead of being given a basketful of fish.

Up and down the country, 120,000 locals are being trained to run the 5,000 polling centers. At a training session for them in Kabul Thursday, these observers – men and women – crowded around guys handing out instruction books and pored over them in the shade. Under a tent, a group of shoeless older men sat on bright red carpets listening to a man explain the concept of secret ballots and the sanctity of ballot-box sealants. None of them was rolling his eyes or yawning.

They seem genuinely excited. Almost everyone does. In the markets, people are actually talking about the vote. Some are driving around with pictures of candidates in their car windows. Posters of every hue cover the walls of central Kabul. Even one of the much-maligned warlords – men more inclined to saber-rattling than campaign rallies – jumped into the fray.

A Canadian political operative with years of grassroots experience was far more realistic about this whole exercise than the people complaining about it from afar. He’s been here six months teaching democratic concepts to a citizenry that barely knows what the word means, and knows that applying western standards of acceptability in a place like Afghanistan is an exercise in lunacy.

Will this vote be perfect? Of course not, he said. Will there be problems? Of course there will be. But it’s a damn sight better than anything they’ve ever had, and baby steps are better than no steps at all.

Scott Norvell is London Bureau Chief of Fox News. He is in Afghanistan covering the elections.

Seems the election was very successful, all things considered.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3731746.stm

Observers approve Afghan election

International observers have endorsed Afghanistan’s first presidential election, rejecting opposition calls for a new poll amid reports of fraud.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said demands by 15 of the 18 presidential candidates to annul the poll were “unjustified”.

The local Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) said the poll was “fairly democratic”.

Saturday’s poll was marred by claims of alleged flaws in the voting procedures.

The OSCE - which contributed to the 230 foreign monitors - acknowledged that there were some irregularities during the poll that should be investigated.

However, OSCE Ambassador Robert Barry said “the candidates’ demand to nullify the election is unjustified and would not do service to the people of Afghanistan who came out yesterday, at great personal risk, to vote”.

Meanwhile, FEFA - the single largest observer group - said that “a fairly democratic environment has generally been observed in the overall majority of the polling centres”.

The UN, which helped organise the poll, has praised the “massive” turnout in the election.

More than 10 million people were registered to vote, many of them refugees living in Pakistan and Iran.

The ousted Taleban regime has dismissed the election as foreign-sponsored and has said it will continue its armed struggle.

However, fears that militants linked to the Taleban would carry out their threat to sabotage the vote appear to have been largely unfounded.

Ink stains

The vote was marred by reports that an ink used to stain voters’ fingers to prevent them from casting their ballot more than once could be washed away.

This prompted all the candidates opposing interim President Hamid Karzai - the favourite to win the race poll - to call for the election result to be annulled.

However, several candidates on Sunday appeared set to drop calls for a vote boycott.

Their representatives told the BBC they would instead accept the findings of an independent inquiry into alleged irregularities.

Mohammed Mohaqeq, one of Mr Karzai’s main rivals, was the first to announce he was withdrawing his backing for the boycott.

Mr Mohaqeq said he wanted a UN commission to investigate the election and he would accept its ruling on its legitimacy.

Other candidates are also withdrawing calls for a boycott in favour of a more conciliatory approach, according to the BBC’s Andrew North in Kabul.

President Karzai criticised the move as an affront to the hopes of the millions of Afghans who braved bad weather and the threat of terrorism to turn out to vote.

He told the BBC’s Breakfast with Frost programme on Sunday that a commission would inquire into the alleged voting malpractices.

Counting centres have begun tallying the ballots but their task is unlikely to be completed soon - votes cast in far-flung reaches of the mountainous country will take days to arrive, some of them by donkey.