Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In Search of Transparency in Afghanistan

P.J. O'Rourke explains Afghanistan. He's in Kabul. (Read it all, there's a kicker or two at the end):

The Pashtun tribal leader was joined by a Turkmen tribal leader who has a Ph.D. in sociology. I asked the Turkmen tribal leader about the socioeconomic, class, and status aspects of Afghan tribalism. [snip]

“Fifty years ago,” the Turkmen said, “things in Afghanistan were going in the same direction as the U.S. growth of patriotism. These systems were disturbed by the events of the last 30 years. Also, the geographical location of Afghanistan is not helpful to building national ideals. The focal points of the tribes are outside the country.”

But not far enough outside. The Turkmen have their heartland in Turkmenistan, the Uzbeks in Uzbekistan, the Tajiks in Tajikistan and Iran. Even the Pashtuns, who are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, comprising about 40 percent of the population, count Peshawar in the Northwest Territories of Pakistan as their cultural capital. And the language spoken by most educated Afghans, Dari, is a dialect of Persian.

It is as if, around the time Emma Lazarus was penning “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Dublin and Naples and Warsaw and Minsk had been moved—complete with every palace, slum, monument, gutter, priest, princeling, bum, thug, and man-at-arms—to Ellis Island, and all of America’s schools had started teaching their lessons in French.

Nonetheless Afghan patriotism obtains. Maybe because, as the Turkmen tribal leader pointed out, every “old country” to which an Afghan ethnic might turn manages—somewhat extraordinarily—to be a worse place than Afghanistan.

And there's some ambivalence about us, except for the alternative:

But the Taliban isn’t winning much love either—otherwise we and our NATO allies would have already gone the way of the Soviets. The civil society activist had a very Afghan insult for the Taliban: “The Taliban has the power to kill and people still don’t like them.”
Then there's this:
Afghans have failed to move their corruption from the Rod Blagojevich model, which we all deplore, to the Barack Obama model, which we all admire.
Perhaps we can learn from the Afghans. They're more transparent.

There must be something in Afghanistan that we’ve got right. There is. Radio Azadi, the Afghan bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is on the air 12 hours a day, seven days a week, half the time in Pashto, half the time in Dari. What Radio Azadi does is known as “surrogate broadcasting,” meaning the content is Afghan-produced as a way for Afghans to get news and views in a place where otherwise they have to be delivered mostly face-to-face. And there is no agenda except to be factual (although facts are an agenda item if you care about freedom, which is what Azadi means in Dari). [snip]

The MP to whom I’d talked about clashing civilizations and deteriorating neighborhoods was a bit surprised at America’s sponsoring Azadi, the more so, I think, because he’s an American. That is, he lived for a long time in America where he spent ten years as a commercial airline pilot.

“America,” he said, not without pride, “is spending money for you to express your opinions—not to twist your opinions but to express your opinions.”

Yes, we could learn from Afghanistan.

No comments: