Unreconstructed

May 7, 2007

Bamiyan continues to languish in its Stone Age state more than five years after the fall of the Taliban and the early promises of paving the roads leading to this keystone province, NPR reports.

Why?

Here is a hint: it ain’t got nothing to do with insecurity, lack of funds, lack of cooperation from the locals, or the capabilities of its pioneer woman governor Habiba Sarabi.

An Insurgency Premium?

Last summer when I was still an euphoric recent graduate and not yet the cynic that I am now, fully disenchanted by this town -Washington’s- ways and means, I used to attend talks and hearings with ritualistic regularity. In one such gathering I posed a question about the continuous neglect of some central and northern provinces, despite their relative security, the locals’ cooperation, and the ease of implementing reconstruction projects therein. By the way of illustration I singled out Bamiyan and Badakhshan, because I had witnessed for myself the awful road conditions and rampant joblessness in the former a year earlier, and had read about the horrific maternal mortality rates in the latter. Just as I had feared, my question produced only knowing glances that said “of course, another parochial Afghan making the expected partisan case for his ethnic group,” and no satisfactory answers.

After the meeting, a DoD official approached me and related a sardonic anecdote from when he had traveled to meet with elders in one of the central provinces. He said that at one of the meetings one of those present made a comment that raised wary laughter from the other participants. After asking the translator what the joke had been, the official told me, he found out that the man had said: “Maybe we should also blow up a few buildings and vehicles around here in order to get some attention.” He went on to say that the uneven distribution of reconstruction funds, reflected in the uneven development seen around the country, gave the people the wrong idea about an insurgency premium of sorts, while a more sensible policy would be to reward cooperation and security.

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Kudos to NPR’s reporter Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson for taking the road literally less traveled by other reporters (who mostly follow in the footsteps of the military and the aid community.)

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(Thanks to readers who have commented and suggested writing about the Iranian government’s harsh rabid mistreatment and deportation of Afghan refugees. This is not a good time for me or I would have done this sooner, and also kept my earlier promise to writing about the Ankara summit. I hope to get around to these soon.)

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May 2, 2007

I should apologize for the unannounced hiatus in posting. I hope to be back soon with an update -perhaps a piece about what should have happened at the Ankara meeting, instead of what actually did happen- which is, pity little of significance.
Till then.