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Saturday, January 15, 2005

In memory 

My wife's grandmother has passed away yesterday in Indonesia, not a victim of tsunami but of illnesses that invariably seem to accompany one's older age. I never got a chance to meet her, but from all the stories she seemed like a wonderful person. Her life was far from easy; she survived crushing poverty, privation of the Japanese occupation, and, as an ethnic Chinese, discrimination and persecution by the native Indonesians. Yet she had managed to cheerfully bring up her many children and see them get decent education and succeed in life.

Like my wife, I never had a chance to say goodbye to my grandmother, who died soon after I settled in Australia. When I last saw her, in mid-July 1987, the farewell was perfunctory and inconsequential. As far as she was concerned, my parents and I were only going on a two-week camping holiday to the then Yugoslavia and just across the border, the port of Trieste in Italy. We did not tell our family that we were not planning to return, not because we didn't trust them to inform on us to the authorities, but because such things can accidentaly slip, and sometimes the burden of certain kind of knowledge is better carried alone.

Enjoy the people you love while they're around, but when they move on to a better world, rather than mourn them, rejoice in having known them, remember them fondly, and learn the best from their lives. This is the best form of remembrance.

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Friday, January 14, 2005

No going back 

"After more than an hour of dissecting and analyzing the grim conflicts through the Arab world, foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman confessed to his audience.

" 'I'm an optimist,' he told a packed Chrysler Hall Tuesday night. He noted his Mid western roots. 'It's a Minnesota thing.'

"Despite the setbacks and difficulties encountered in the Middle East, Friedman maintained that the Iraq war could help change the context of the Arab world and allow Muslims to modernize their societies."
Coincidently, this something I have been thinking about quite a lot recently. I do believe that over time the situation in Iraq will continue to improve, but regardless of the short and medium term outcomes, it seems to me that the whole region has been shaken and stirred hard enough over the past three years - not just as a result of the intervention in Iraq, but also generally through the war on terror and America's increased political and military involvement - that the Middle East will never be the same again. To use the old local metaphor, the genie's out of the bottle now and the forces of reaction simply might not be able to put it back in and hammer in the cork. This is not to say that it's impossible for the proponents of the status quo and the guardians of various vested interests throughout the region to halt and turn back the push for reform, democracy, women's rights, freedom and peace - but that in this case a sort of a mental critical mass has been reached and the counter-revolution, despite momentary tactical successes, might prove to be too difficult to sustain.

Glenn Yago and Don McCarthy argue in the "Opinion Journal" that
the Middle East is undergoing an economic boom following the liberation of Iraq. This is not only good news for all the Arab people that might directly or indirectly benefit from the economic growth, but also a portent of a politically auspicious time - after all, the pressure for more political freedom has always historically been at its strongest not at the time of economic crisis but precisely when life is getting better (among other things, this is one of the great myths surrounding the French Revolution).

Will the January 30 election prove to be a panacea for all Iraq's ills? No, and neither of itself will greater freedom, political stability or economic reform. The problems of Iraq, and indeed of the whole region, are too serious and too ingrained for anyone to hope for quick solutions. But more democracy, more openness, more opportunities, and bigger growth would all be a good start.

Look at the experience of the Central and Eastern Europe, fifteen years after the fall of communism, and yet still mired in complex political, economic and social problems. Democracy and freedom, not living up to their reputation as magic wands, have been disappointing to some. For many, democratic politicians don't seem all that much different to former communist rulers; all of them self-centered demagogues more interested their own petty squabbles and in lining their own pockets than in advancing the public good. Yet for all the continuing problems there is no doubt that for most part the nations of the former Soviet empire are on the right track, better off, and getting more so every year. As the old Chinese proverb says, a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. It has been so for the post-Soviet states, and it has to be so for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

Now the left is trying to create the straw man of the Iraqi elections as the breakthrough point. They, of course, know full well that life is more complex than that and neither the insurgency nor economic and social problems will magically disappear on the morning of January 31. Coincidentally, so do all those who are pushing for the poll to take place as schedule, but they do so without illusions and in the belief that, to paraphrase Churchill, the election will not be the end, not even the beginning of the end, but, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

By the way, two recent opinion pieces, one by
Amir Taheri about Algeria's experience over the last decade or so, and by John Lyons about El Salvador's experience in the 1990s, suggest that democratic election, however imperfect, can have a positive longer term effect on ending terror. In Iraq, it is one thing fighting against the "American occupier" or the "American puppets", but it's much more difficult to portray oneself as a freedom fighter when one is bombing the government elected by a majority of your compatriots.

Not surprisingly, over the next few weeks we're going to hear a lot of talk from various quarters that the Iraqi elections will not be quite legitimate if some areas of the country have problems participating. This makes for an interesting exercise - what sort of a turnout makes for a legitimate exercise of democratic rights: 80%? 50%? Less?

We don't know what the Iraqi turnout will be, but I would venture a guess that it will be over 50%, which will put it on par with most recent US presidential elections, and significantly more than mid-term congressional elections which generally
hover around 35%.

Ah, but the critics will say, it's not a simple matter of numbers; it's the fact that some areas of Iraq are so insecure that people will be actually physically prevented from voting. This is only partly true. A large proportion of those who won't cast their ballots on January 30 will do so because they don't believe in democracy, which will put them in a similar position to all those in America and elsewhere throughout the Western world who don't vote because they couldn't be bothered and because they think that their vote doesn't make any meaningful difference.

As for the problem of those who would want to vote but will not for the fear of terrorist violence, there are three answers: firstly, political purists aside, an election where 80% of the country votes is better than no election at all. As they say, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Secondly, as many have pointed out before, there are many historical precedents, including the elections following the American civil war. Thirdly, to say that election will not be valid because some people in some of the troublesome provinces will not be able to vote is tantamount to saying that one small section of the country can hold the rest of the country hostage; it's as if an insurgency in Iowa could indefinitely put on hold the presidential election.

The gates have been opened throughout the Arab world - and while I can't peer inside the minds of others, I have a distinct feeling that everyone, from the region's current rulers to fanatical jihadis knows that. The difference is that the former, the survivors and realists, are trying to ride the wave, while the latter think that only a giant conflagration might save the day for their dark vision.


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Guest blogger: France - the occupation and its legacy 

Wherever you turn these days, there's no escaping occupation. Iraq, after all, is currently "occupied", and rivers of ink (or at least digital "zeros and ones") are flowing in a fruitless exercise to find the most accurate occupation analogy from history - Algeria in the 1950s? Vietnam in the 1960s? Then, from an entirely different perspective, some rubble-rouser like Jean-Marie Le Pen will come up with an inflammatory statement and single-handedly revive the discussion about the nature of Nazi occupation in the Second World War.

Sophie Masson, an author and essayist, joins the fray as a guest blogger.

The Occupation and its effects on France

There are quite a few nations who could be said to have "got away" with their complicity in Nazi crimes. Germany couldn't, of course; but Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and France, all to varying extents, have managed to sidestep the issue. But wishing something away isn't exactly the same as making it go away, and in France at least, the country I know best, airbrushing the reality of the Occupation has meant both the absolving of the French nation from the crimes, whilst making it a most useful political issue on which just about anybody will agree.

It's in this context that Jean-Marie le Pen's most recent, and characteristically abrasively outrageous comments (designed to be splashed in the media), that the German Occupation of France wasn't all that bad (highlighted in
a post on this site) have to be seen. You see, the generally-agreed face-saving piety in France regarding the Occupation was that of course everyone was living in a state of utter fear; that the Nazi monster preyed on everybody equally, and that explains why, in a nation of 40 million or so, there were just a few thousand active resistants. It's a version of the "pos-totalitarian stress syndrome" that Arthur explained so eloquently on this site--but in France's case, I think it's nonsense. The Nazis did not target every French person; in their racist league tables, the French were not exactly in quite the same category as the fine Germanic master-race, which included Scandinavians and British, incidentally, but they were nowhere near the sub-human category awarded to Slavs and blacks people, let alone the alien, inhuman division created for the Jews and the Gypsies. Like the Italians, the French were seen as a sort of sub-category of the master-race; or if you like, a race of overseers, of deputies, frivolous and slightly risible Southern Europeans yet with a dash of steely northern spirit (after all, weren't the French named after a good Germanic race, the Franks?)

So in fact the general experience of Occupation, in France, was not of being dragged into a cattle-truck, or of being tortured or persecuted--it was of having to put up with the daily humiliation of seeing that someone else was in control of your country; of checkpoints and sudden requisitions (my mother, who lived on the Basque coast, a part of France that was directly occupied by the Germans from the start, tells for example of one incident when all her father's trucks--he owned a building company--were taken, without warning, by German soldiers).

Yes, in the German-occupied areas, the military was ever-present, and so resistance was mostly sullen and passive, with many people, like my grandfather, informing their families, between four walls, that when the Germans came, they'd give them what for (but as Maman told us wryly, when the moment actually came, he meekly handed over all the keys to his trucks without saying a word.) For those in the areas controlled by Vichy--like Toulouse, where my father, a child at the time, lived with his family--it was rather different. There were controls and propaganda, but you didn't see any German soldiers till 1942, when Hitler, losing patience with the mealy-mouthed stalling of Petain and his crew, ordered the invasion of the rest of France and direct Nazi control to be instituted, including the arrest and deportation of French Jews, who until that time, had been spared the ordeals of the foreign-born, refugee Jews who had thought that France was their haven, and who, in the Nazi-occupied areas of France, were the very first to be targeted.

Foreign-born Jews were not safe in Vichy France, either, but French citizenship protected Jews, at least for a while, in Vichy--not because that Government cared about the fate of the French Jews as people, but purely on spuriously nationalistic grounds. Even that was abandoned once the Germans took direct control in the areas controlled by Vichy, though they left Petain as a figurehead and had a French "Prime Minister", Pierre Laval. It's at that moment that began the great "rafles", or raids, which have left such a stain on French national life (though one must wonder why the fate of the refugees isn't just as great a stain). French Jews, many of whom had lived in France for generations if not centuries, were rounded up and deported to their deaths in their tens of thousands, along with Gypsies and other "undesirables." The Nazi grip on France tightened more and more, and now the Gestapo--which had its French members, of course--made its presence much more felt. But still the general population suffered more from food shortages (often caused by the confiscation of crops and other food products by the German Army) and those daily humiliations of seeing soldiers in their grey-green uniforms everywhere, than of generalised, personalised terror.

The fate of the Jews was scarcely thought about--at the time, as Le Pen indelicately reminded his countrymen, decades later, if it was thought about at all, it was felt to be "a detail" in the general national drama. What mattered much more to the ordinary people was simply keeping your head down and getting on with life; what mattered to the politically-minded was their fight against a hated ideology. The Resistance was made up of all kinds of people; from Communists, belatedly pulled into the struggle after the failure of the Stalin-Hitler pact; the social democrats; Gaullists; some traditional aristocratic monarchists, who despised Hitler and his ilk as jumped-up radicals; apolitical nationalists; German-haters; mafia types, and ordinary people with no particular axe to grind, but a hatred of those who were lording it over their towns and villages. They didn't, in general, think about the fate of the Jews either, though there were a few French Jews in the Resistance too. Of course, people didn't know about what happened in the death camps, but there was ample evidence, both in Mein Kampf and from testimonies struggling out from the East, to suggest that the Nazis were preparing something quite special for their chosen "enemies of humanity." The truth of the matter is, in general, people in the Resistance, any more than people elsewhere, did not think about it, because it must have seemed to them only a side-issue.

When liberation came, there was a general, and hideous, settling of scores, with tens of thousands of people--some of them innocent victims of unrelated, personal feuds--summarily executed, and a general state of anarchy and fierce pitched battles occurring as the Communists attempted to use the general turmoil to seize control of the country. The non-Communist Resistance was kept busy trying to keep control of the Communists, and so at this time not only was the fate of the Jews felt to be of little importance (despite the fact the death camps had, of course, been discovered)but many war criminals, and compromised collaborators, used the opportunity to belatedly join the Resistance and "disappear"; the evidence of their complicity.

When the dust settled, with the Gaullists in control, it was felt that France's national healing and peace would best be served by allocating the Communists a guaranteed place in parliament (a quota they still have to this day, despite their very low voter rating) and by drawing a veil over the complex realities of Occupied France, with what happened to the Jews a low priority indeed. You'd have been forgiven for thinking then that practically all French people were Resistance fighters!

In the 60's, a few dissident voices started to be raised, including those of French Jews--for example, Raymond Aron's magisterial History of the Collaboration, and Marcel Ophuls' extraordinary documentary, The Sorrow and the Pity--but these were not told specifically from a Jewish point of view, but as a general overview of French behaviour during the Occupation. But they were complex, riveting portrayals of the horrible ambiguities of a period many people wished to forget. Yet they also encouraged other people to recount their stories, from Joseph Joffe's memoir of being a Jewish child fleeing from the Nazis, in "Un sac de billes" to ex French Waffen SS member, Christian de la Maziere (who had been interviewed by Ophuls in his film) publishing his extraordinary honest and remorseful memoirs, "Le reveur casque". It seemed the French were ready for the full truth--but things were starting to narrow down again, too much truth was too painful, better not to confront things but let them die away naturally. In the 70's filmmaker Louis Malle's disturbing, intelligent and confronting film about a young peasant boy who joins the French Gestapo, Lacombe Lucien--was at the centre of a storm of controversy that caused Malle in the end to leave France and go to live in the USA. (He returned to the subject of the Occupation many years later with another heart-rending film,, this time about Jewish children hiding out in a Catholic school). The subject closed once again--but then came the accession of the socialist Francois Mitterand--who'd been in the Vichy government as a minor official, before recanting, and who every year still placed flowers on Petain's grave. It was during his reign that began serious agitations for France to admit to its role in the murder of the Jews; and the trial of Klaus Barbie, who'd been Gestapo chief in Lyons, added fire and substance to those representations.

Today, France is still divided over the question of the Occupation. But it has not, as a nation, beyond the usual pieties and hypocritical hand-wringing over the Holocaust, really come to terms with what the Holocaust actually was, and meant, let alone what the French allowed Hitler and his crew to do to the Jews. The trouble with what Le Pen says is not just that he is utterly without sensitivity or understanding of the human realities of this horrific crime, but that he also, by ignoring what so many public figures in France at least pay lip-service to, blows away a lot of the myths and face-saving surrounding the Occupation. A nationalist brawler, but no Nazi, he still regards the fate of the Jews as "a detail"; but the ugly truth is that many politicians and public figures in France also think that, underneath all the polite hypocrisies. The same people who'd hand-wring over the Holocaust in France are often the same who would blithely talk of the Israelis as following in the footsteps of the Nazis; the same French people who rush to condemn Le Pen for saying, in his rough yet calculated opportunistic way, that the German occupation wasn't really that onerous in France, are often the same to rush to pour scorn and opprobrium on the Americans for ridding the Iraqis of a murderous tyrant. They have not absorbed any of the reality of the Holocaust, not in human terms; all they can think about is abstractions, and political advantage. Le Pen is the irritant, the fly in the ointment, the piece of grit in the smoothly functioning machine of French political face-saving. As such, he might well, despite himself, fulfill a truly useful function.


Sophie's website is
here. I heartily recommend her books.

I usually don't comment on guest posts, but I want to just add what I said to Sophie before: the people whose countries were never occupied (primarily Great Britain, the United States and, yes, Australia) find it very easy to pontificate on this topic, including beating the French breast on her behalf, when works like
"The Model Occupation" about the German occupation of Britain's Channel Islands would, if anything suggest, some humility and self-reflection are in order.

The phenomenon of self-righteousness is even more evident in the attitude towards Eastern Europe, including (but not restricted to) questions such as "Why didn't you save more Jews?" followed by an implicit answer that it was because you Eastern European are all anti-Semites and crypto-fascists. Well, some undoubtedly were, but those in the West eager to cast the first stone seem to be unaware (or if aware, dismissive) of the fact that the standard penalty for harboring or in any way assisting a Jew was execution for you and your whole family. Despite of that, Isreal's Vad Yashem memorial lists thousands of names of Polish "righteous" who risked (and in many cases lost) their lives helping their Jewish neighbors or Jewish strangers.

We would all like to think that the Brits or the Americans would behave and more honorably better under the occupation than their European cousins did. And maybe they would* - fortunately we'll never know - but more circumspection wouldn't go astray. Those of conservative inclination among us will know that human nature being the way it is, we cannot hope for a nation full of heroes.

But the controversy over the question of occupation, collaboration and resistance is but one aspect of the inability of many (though by no means all) in "safe" democratic societies to comprehend the nature of totalitarianism and the reality of everyday life under a totalitarian system of government. Hence the abundance of ignorant and offensive "Bush=Hitler" comparisons, devaluation of the term Holocaust, and continuing fascination with communist symbolism (about which I
just blogged).

* seeing that unlike in the continental Europe, Anglo-Saxon countries did not have strong native extremist movements which would be the first to collaborate. But that still leaves unanswered the question of how an average person on the street would behave under such extraordinary circumstances.


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Prince Harry and the double standard 



Harry Himmler holding a Goblet of Fire

Britain's prince Harry is in trouble and have been forced to apologize for appearing at a fancy dress party sporting a
swastika armband. And rightly so; as the Board of Deputies of British Jews said, the costume was in "bad taste."

Quite why prince Harry would choose to come to a "colonial and native"-themed party dressed as a Nazi is beyond me (not to mention the fact that obviously no one had bother to inform the prince that Wehrmacht's Afrika Korp troops, which the light color of his dress suggests he was trying to emulate, did not wear swastika armbands; that was more of a SS/Gestapo thing). Nevertheless, by wearing a Nazi costume Harry has managed to cleverly distract everyone away draw the fact that he was attending a "colonial and native" party - the fact that in different circumstances might have warranted another bout of righteous outrage at this show of typical British upper class insensitivity to - nay, better still, racism against - the oppressed people of the developing world/the South/the periphery.

The reason why I mention this story at all is that it is yet another perfect example of the double standard so prevalent out there in the kommentariat and the wider world - which happens to be one of my pet hates. Imagine if prince Harry came dressed up in a fur coat with a hammer and sickle armband. No one would bat an eyelid, a few people might chuckle and comment how cute he looks, and the only reason why the story would make it into the media would be if PETA protested the prince wearing fur. Imagine for that matter if Harry wore a Che Guevara or a Mao t-shirt. As John Lennon said, it's easy if you try.

In our twisted moral universe, wearing the insignia of one mass-murdering political system is (rightly) considered a taboo, while wearing the insignia of another mass-murdering political system is considered quite cool (a point made most recently by
Louis Nowra *- hat tip: Sophie Masson - isn't it amazing how in our modern, interconnected world an opinion piece published four days ago can suddenly become even were topical?).

Why this totalitarian dichotomy? Because our popular culture and public discourse is shaped to such a large extent by people who were wrong on (or at best, indifferent to) the most important political and moral question of the twentieth century and it would kill them to admit they were wrong. Plus, if you admit that Soviet (or Chinese) communism was evil, what does it say about your own loathing of the West, capitalism and your own society?

Hence we live in the world where we all know that Nazism was evil, but we also "know" that communism (or better still, Stalinism, because we wouldn't want to admit that the system was murderous both before and after Uncle Joe was in power) was merely misguided, an essentially good and decent idea whose implementation was marred by inevitable errors and excesses. Hence the intellectual climate where everyone knows Auschwitz** but not Kolyma, Himmler and Eichmann, but not Beria and Yagoda; where for every "Schindler's List" or "The Pianist" there is big gaping nothing. How then can we blame average 20-something Joe and Joane on the street who wear their fur caps with red stars or Mao t-shirts? The left has created a truly sick world.

* And, incidentally, also Anne Applebaum in the introduction to her Pulitzer winning "Gulag" which I'm currently reading.

** I am aware of the
recent BBC poll which showed that half of Britons don't know what Auschwitz was; the point is that 99% don't know what Kolyma was.

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Thursday night reading suggestions 

James Robbins provides a brief useful overview of the forces which want the Iraqi elections to be delayed. He also takes to task the CIA man who think bin Laden is safer at large than either killed or captured.

Powerline has an excellent first-hand account from an American Navy Commander involved in the aid effort in Indonesia.

Pundit Guy has more on vlogging - that's video blogging for uninitiated, the internet's next frontier.

Charles Simmins continues to count American donations to the tsunami relief: here's the latest list (in PDF); here is a chart of corporate donations; and here's Charles's discussion of the donations and the Hollywood left.

Considerettes notes the silence of the lambs, as left-wing blogs keep mum about the Rathergate report.

Ukraine's opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko writes an open letter to the Russian people: "Kremlin Bureaucrats Lost Ukraine, But Russia Won" (hat tip: Dan).

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross argues now is the window of opportunity for both Bush and Allawi to address their nations.

And Crossroads Arabia notes a rare devolution of responsibility from the Saudi state to the individual.

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The truths of the Second World War 

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the man everyone likes to hate (he makes it so easy), is in trouble again, following comments he made in a recent magazine interview:

"In France, at least, the German occupation was not particularly inhumane, although there were some blunders, inevitable in a country of 550,000 sq km."
Not particularly inhumane unless you were a French Jew, that is, over 70,000 of whom were put on trains by the French police and sent to German gas chambers. But for a man who once called the Holocaust a "detail" of World War Two history, the French aspect of the Final Solution probably does classify as a mere "blunder" - or maybe not even that, seeing Le Pen has also told the interviewer that "it's not only the European Union and globalisation we have to free our country of. It's also the lies about its history, lies that are protected by exceptional measures" - a clear reference to the French law which criminalises Holocaust denial. I have general freedom of speech problems with all "anti-racism" and "anti-vilification" legislation, but that aside, it doesn't make Le Pen any less of an idiot and a disgrace.

Still, he's is broadly accurate in describing the German occupation of France as "not particularly inhumane" - but only comparatively speaking. The occupation of France, Denmark, Holland and Norway, however painful an experience, was nothing like the occupation of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus or Russia. The main reason lies in the fact that the Nazis felt a sense of Aryan kinship with their Western European neighbors and had plans to incorporate the Nordics, the Anglo-Saxons, and yes, even the French, into their Thousand Year Reich. The Slavs, by contrast, were sub-humans who were to be slowly worked to death. The Jews, of course, faced total elimination on a much quicker time scale.

Which is why,
the human cost of occupation in France was somewhere around 350,000 (including 70,000 French Jews) out of the population of around 40 million, whereas in Poland, death toll stood at between 5.5 and 6 million (including 3 million Polish Jews) out of the pre-war population of 36 million.

Which just goes to show that you can make a historically accurate statement and still be an offensive bastard with an ugly political agenda.


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Postcard from Afghanistan 

From a reader, CSM Tim Green at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan:

"I have been in the Army over 27 years and have been here 15 months. My tour was a year and I extended it because I knew my first week here one year wouldn't be enough for all the work that needed to be done. Though many people here would rather be home, I have never met a troop of any service or any coalition partner who doesn't feel they are contributing something positive to the cause. I love the attitude of the troops over here.

"[We have] the pack of regular kids... that hang out at the front gate everyday. They sell their trinkets, junk, cigarettes, DVDs (bootleg), etc, to our guards and the Pakistani truck drivers bivouacking outside awaiting entrance onto the base... Last November I gave base ID cards to seven boys. The group is up to 18 boys ranging from six to about 14, and two girls, both about 12 maybe, one city slick and the other not too shy herself. It's a program to teach kids all the boy and girl scout virtues, allow them on the base to hang out and learn from Americans, pick up trash at the Friday bazaar in return for a share of the money we collect from the vendors to clean up afterwards, and recover something of a fun childhood the last few generations never knew...

"The luckiest boys in Afghanistan took tae kwon do with the Koreans and got their own uniforms, they have the biggest wardrobes of any 10 kids in Afghanistan. We pay for them to go to winter school (they take winters off since they can't heat the classrooms. We pay for three teachers and bought space heaters for three classrooms), they get to go to the dining facility every Friday before cleanup, and went on Thanksgiving and Christmas. [These kids also] act as translators for the guards, MP, and truck drivers as their English is coming alone fantastically...



Tae Kwno Do graduation Posted by Hello

"We have a mission to help the country and many of us with the time and desire get personally involved. My goal was to take a few kids and develop them into clean, healthy, educated kids that have a great hope to be influential adults in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. I take them to the doctor when they're sick; I teach them proper nutrition when we go to the dining facility, and the danger of all the damn candy people give them; they have appropriate seasonal clothing, we teach them personal hygiene... One boy in particular shows great maturity for his age and I tell him my goal for him is to become the president of Afghanistan in 30 years.


Mobarez - the future president Posted by Hello

"For the girls I bought their mothers all new kitchen ware. I set them up with a female soldier who had girls day with them every Tuesday until she left herself. Now they have two new American girl friend. They go to the recreation facility and play games or watch movies, go eat lunch, come hang out with me for a while, go shopping at the PX. And they aren't dumb, either. I took them to the PX and let them select some things they wanted or needed: new scarves, hair brush, shampoo, hair bands, t-shirt, Vaseline. My bill came to $62.00!!!!!"

As Sergeant Major Green writes, these kids - like most of their peers throughout the country - haven't had a great childhood. While it's not part of their mission, don't you wish there were enough servicemen and women over there to extend friendship to every Afghan child?

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Cultural differences 

Not so much a clash of civilizations but a clash of cultures:
"A former inmate at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison forced by U.S. guards to masturbate in public and piled onto a pyramid of naked men said on Tuesday even Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did not do such things."
No, Saddam only killed people, usually after torturing them. The following practices were routine when Abu Ghraib was under the old management: "Medical experimentation, beatings, crucifixion, hammering nails into the fingers and hands, amputating sex organs or breasts with an electric carving knife, spraying insecticides into a victim's eyes, branding with a hot iron, committing rape while the victim's spouse is forced to watch, pouring boiling water into the victim's rectum, nailing the tongue to a wooden board, extracting teeth with pliers, using bees and scorpions to sting naked children in front of their parents."

I know which I would rather experience, but I'm just a Westerner and therefore to most of us, saying that American guards were worse than Saddam's torturers sounds obscene. But at least for some Iraqis this is no heated anti-American hyperbole but merely stating the obvious, namely that in the Arab shame and honor culture even hideous torture that destroys manhood is more acceptable than abuse that only questions it.

The world is full of cultural differences. Some people don't understand how we in the West can allow alcohol to be sold in shops, in turn we don't understand how others can genitally mutilate their pre-pubescent girls. Cultural relativists argue that all cultures are equal and thus equally valid, which usually is just a convenient excuse to engage in denigration of their own culture. I don't subscribe to this school of thought, so like most of you I won't agree that Saddam was a better host at Abu Ghraib - but it still helps to understand why others do.

Update: Makes you think, if forcing men to masturbate and building nude pyramids are such horrible and humiliating forms of torture, why hasn't Saddam practiced them in his days? Similiarly, if they're so horrible and humiliating, why haven't the Americans got better intelligence out of their use? Having said all that, it's good to see the wheels of justice turning on this matter. Whether what happened at Abu Ghraib under the Americans constitutes torture or not, it's a behavior that clearly should not have been allowed to happen.

And kind of on the topic, Tom Heard has an innovative alternative to Guantanamo.

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Postcards from the culture war 

When two wings of the Republican Coalition of the Willing collide in the culture war:

"Right-wing Christian groups are furious rap-rocker Kid Rock is set to perform at a youth concert to celebrate President George W Bush's inauguration.

"The die-hard Republican 'American Bad A*s' hitmaker is set to join clean-cut teen stars Hilary Duff and JoJo at the America Rocks Today: A Call To Service concert in Washington DC, organised by Bush's twin daughters Barbara and Jenna.

"Christian groups are furious Bush would allow Kid Rock to be associated with him, due to his profanity-laden lyrics, and his infamous line in 2001 song 'You never met a motherf**ker quite like me', sang, 'I met the President when I was half-stoned'."
Reminds of the famous Oval Office meeting (and a photograph) of Richard Nixon and Elvis, who also under the influence.

"Right-wing Christian groups" are, well, Christian and conservative; Kid Rock is vulgar, trashy and libertine, but nevertheless
a staunch patriot and a strong supporter of the war on terror and war in Iraq ("Who would you trust to make your decisions, Donald Rumsfeld or the Dixie Chicks?"). Yet another reminder of the creative tension between groups and ideologies that make up the "Right" in the United States, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

Meanwhile, on another front of culture wars, singer
Seal disses rappers for their sexist attitudes: "It's sad when you see the rappers on TV and in the videos making these derogatory videos towards women ... kind of like sexual objects." The money quote:
"It's so sad because we're damaging our own. Like, in different cultures, you would never see that. Take for example the Jewish culture. They've been persecuted just like the black people, right? But you never see them eating their own. They don't. But we will. I really feel that there is a responsibility and what goes around comes around."

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Tsunami round-up, 12 January 

Too little, too much? The UN is keen to see the money: "Aid pledges worth billions of dollars must be delivered swiftly to help victims of the Asian tsunami, the UN is to tell delegates from donor nations. The UN is hosting a donor conference in Geneva to discuss a practical timetable for delivering aid to the region. The world body wants guarantees that relief pledges worth up to $6bn will reach millions of victims."

Andrew Gilligan disagrees with this rush to help: "The people who moan about the aid not being spent quickly enough are completely missing the point. The danger, in fact, for Sri Lanka, if not Indonesia, is that the aid will be spent too quickly." As Gilligan notes, the immediate humanitarian aid has already been provided; what the area needs is a long term assistance to rebuild destroyed livelihoods, be they in fishing, farming or tourism. Which is exactly what three German cities, Hamburg, Bremen and Luebeck, have committed themselves to assist with. Right sentiment, too, from the British Conservatives: "Ending Western tariffs would be the most fitting memorial to those killed in the Asian tsunami disaster, Tory leader Michael Howard has said." One would hope, however, that a developing country does not have to wait to be devastated by a tsunami or an earthquake to be able to benefit from free trade.

The Diplomad, meanwhile, thinks that some in the international community have not pulled their weight - and it's not just the UN:

"In Western countries, we see not only governments pledging sizable sums of money, but private individuals, as well. I can't count, for example, the number of letters, emails, and calls we have received from private Americans wanting to help in anyway they can to save lives. All across America, Australia, and Europe private citizens have raised enormous sums for tsunami relief. Local branches of American companies have raised large amounts of money and donated expensive machinery and other supplies to the effort. At the Embassy, we have seen American staff voluntarily cancel leave plans (often at considerable financial cost); cut short vacations; and volunteer for duties such as manning phones in our 24 hr. opcenter; helping load and unload trucks and C-130s; or spending days working and sleeping under exceptionally grim conditions in the areas most affected. And, of course, Australian and American military personnel, at great monetary cost and personal risk, have led the way in the massive relief effort underway.

"I see, however, no outpouring of support in most of the world's countries. The oil-rich Arabs? Where are they? But most frustrating and even angering is the lack of concern exhibited by average and elite members of the societies most directly affected. This was driven home in the course of an interminable meeting a few days ago discussing some silly resolution or another calling on the UN to appoint a 'Special Representative for Tsunami Relief.' A relatively senior Sri Lankan official leaned over and said to me, 'Why do we want to bother with this? We all know you Americans will do everything.' A nice compliment, I suppose, but on reflection a sad commentary not only about the rest of the world but presumably about Sri Lanka, itself. One would expect the affected countries to take the lead in relief efforts. None of the most seriously affected countries (Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives) is a dirt poor country; all have well-established governments and national identities.

"In Jakarta, aside from flags at half-staff, we have seen no signs of mourning for the victims: while employees and dependents of the American embassy spent their holiday loading trucks and putting together medicine kits, the city's inhabitants went ahead with New Year's parties; nightclubs and shopping centers are full; and regular television programming continues. At least 120,000 of their fellow countrymen are dead, and Indonesians hardly talk about it, much less engage in massive charitable efforts. The exceptionally wealthy businessmen of the capital -- and the country boasts several billionaires -- haven't made large donations to the cause of Sumatran relief; a few scattered NGOs have done a bit, but there are no well-organized drives to raise funds and supplies. We have seen nothing akin to what happened in the USA following the 9/11 atrocity, or the hurricanes in Florida of this past year."
A tad unfair on oil rich Arabs, perhaps; as noted in previous round-ups, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have started pulling their weight recently. One shouldn't, however, overestimate Muslim solidarity - the traditionalist Gulf regimes aren't exactly enamored with the more relaxed South-East Asian Islamic states. Ironically, though, the Aceh province is the most conservative part of the region, governed as it is by Sharia law. For an interesting overview of the "whys and why nots" of the Arab aid effort see this article ("The Indonesian government has refrained from public comment, but the slow response of their fellow Muslims in the Arab world has been noted. 'Generally speaking, people [here] are quite disappointed' about the Arab reaction, says Azyumardi Azra, rector of Indonesia's State Islamic University.")

Still,
the Arab press continues to be unimpressed with the US response. The Diplomad (yes, him again) has more on the American aid effort so far.

In news possibly related to the recent Oil for Food scandal, the UN has now accepted an offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers to
audit the aid effort.

On the non-government front, Chuck Simmins is continually updating his
"Stingy List" of private American donations, now standing at over $0.5 billion. As for Hollywood generosity, he emails: "One addition to the Hollywood tsunami donation list, Hillary Duff. So I know have four names, out of all of Hollywood, who have made donations to tsunami relief. But I am assured by Gabriel, and the folks at Crooked Timber, that there are loads of private donations being made. I know, those Hollywood folks are sure shy about publicity."

And from a different perspective, Kenya's Charles Onyango-Obbo writes that
"Tsunami Showed What World Thinks of Africa":

"The tsunami disaster is scary, but one wonders what a Rwandan genocide survivor thinks of it. Nearly one million people were killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, six times the number killed by the Asian tsunami.

"The world paid a little attention, but took no action. Why the difference?

"This cannot be explained by racism against black people. In fact, if it were racism, it would be good news, because then we could hope that the world would one day change its ways, or even be embarrassed into responding with equal care and generosity to Africa's tragedies.

"Rather, this difference reminds us that Africa has been institutionalised in the global mindset as a failure. The result is that the international aid it receives (most of it official development assistance) has become inelastic; it's unlikely to increase no matter the scale of the crisis."
The politics and agendas: Brett D. Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation not surprisingly maintains that "'Unilateralism' Saved Lives In Asia":

"Over the next few weeks and months, the news coverage will be full of praise for the U.N. relief effort in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and other countries hard hit by the tsunami. Some of the praise will be deserved -- no doubt many people will be aided by the U.N. effort. But let’s not forget that without the rapid response by a few motivated and capable nations, including the 'unilateral' United States, thousands of people who might otherwise be dead are alive today.

"The Secretary General was right to say disaster relief is a race against time. Fortunately, nations capable of running at the crack of the starting gun are providing the U.N. the time necessary to find its shoes."
(hat tip: Dan) John O'Sullivan, meanwhile, notes what's really at stake in the current international skirmish: "For the U.N. and its claque, helping the stricken takes second place to getting the credit. They have to obscure the realities revealed by the tsunami crisis. Otherwise, American generosity will re-fashion the global image of the U.S. as a callous superpower and American efficiency will shame a U.N. still struggling to catch up with American aid efforts. And if the U.N. cannot perform its basic task of disaster relief as well as independent nation states like the U.S., Australia, and India, then its claim to be the center of a future system of 'global governance' will wither and die."

You can also read this back slap at the UN from India's
Kanchan Gupta.

Problems in Aceh - and elsewhere:
Australia warned: "A hardline Indonesian Islamic group has attacked the presence of Australian aid workers in tsunami-devastated Aceh... Habib Rizieq Shihab, head of the Islamic Defender's Front (FPI), said Australian assistance in Aceh could herald the start of an East Timor-style intervention designed to secure independence for the troubled northern province."

No specific threats have been made against the 500 Australian troops in the region. The troops, by the way, will remain unarmed.

The next day, however, brought an
angry response from various Islamic Defenders Front personalities:

"Leader of the Islamic Defenders Front in Jakarta, Habid Rizieq Shihab vehemently denied earlier reports that his group opposed the presence of foreign aid workers...

"Radical Muslims today have vowed to protect foreign aid workers. 'If you have come to help people in this disaster, we welcome you and will defend you,' said Hilmy Bakar Almascaty*, the leader in Aceh of the Islamic Defenders Front.

"Dr. Almascaty went on to say that foreigners coming to the aid of the Acehenese were 'angels' while foreigners in Iraq were 'devils'."
While the FPI might be having problems finding a common approach to Australian and Americans, the spiritual godfather of Indonesian radicals, Abu Bakar Bashir, is far less sanguine:

"The spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiah says he is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Aceh's tsunami survivors because of the humanitarian assistance from Australian and US military forces.

"A spokesman for Abu Bakar Bashir said the Indonesian cleric, who is on trial for terrorism, regarded the relief operations by Australian and US military personnel as a dangerous development, overshadowing the role of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).

" 'We are suspicious of the presence of foreign soldiers and their show of force and the minimum publicity given to assistance from Arab states,' said Fauzan Al Anshari, a spokesman for Bashir's militant Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia group.

" 'It's dangerous, this idea by Acehnese that US and Australian forces are their guardian angels -- more popular than the TNI'."
On a non-government level, Christian aid groups working in the province have been warned against trying to use the disaster to make converts.

* You might remember Hilmy Bakar from
my round-up of tsunami quotes, with his statement that "It's OK that aid from the United States is here... If they open bars, sell alcohol or open prostitution centers, then we will fight them." I guess he wouldn't approve of this humanitarian assistance:

"A German brothel owner has been so moved by the plight of survivors from Asia's tsunami disaster that she is donating part of her takings from clients.

" 'It's not every day you can make a charitable gesture by going to a brothel,' said Mercedes Mueller, who is giving 5 euros ($NZ9.57) of the 39-euro entrance charge clients pay...

"Mueller said clients, prostitutes and the public had all responded with great enthusiasm to her gesture, and that about 1300 euros had been raised so far."
Meanwhile, in India the aid is not reaching everyone: "The dalits or 'broken people' of southern Tamil Nadu state are doubly damned. They were battered by the tidal waves, and those who survived are being denied food, water, toilet facilities and space to recover in overcrowded relief camps, aid workers said."

Also from India, more evidence that aid might be reaching
more than just the victims:

"The State Beggar Relief Committee is mighty pleased these days. It owes it to tsunami. A majority of the city's beggar community has left Bangalore's streets for greener pastures. Over the fortnight, temples, mosques and churches, bus stands and railway stations, Shivajinagar and city market areas witnessed fewer beggars.

"Pitching tents en route tsunami-affected areas, particularly Nagapattinam and Cuddalore districts, they are in a bid to lap up relief materials meant for tsunami victims. It's complete relief: they have their begging bowls full with packaged food and water, clothes, blankets, buckets, cooking stoves etc."
The impact: BBC has a good overview of the economic impact of tsunami on each of the affected countries in the region.

The rumors: ...are running aplenty in the affected areas. In
Sri Lanka, "Consumers still decline to buy fish based on rumours that they have fed on human flesh. In poor villages, families mull over the prophecies of the assorted soothsayers who predict that another giant wave will descend on them."

A Muslim cleric, meanwhile, thinks that
Allah signed his name on the waves. See the image here (scroll down).

The future: Blogger and journalist Amit Varma, who for the past 10 days has been traveling through Tamil Nadu, India's most affected state, has put together
some useful lessons from the disaster.

Contrary to initial (media and NGO) panic, there have not been any outbreaks of
disease in the tsunami-affected areas.

One of the UN agencies, meanwhile, is pushing for a
global tsunami warning system: "Laura Kong, director of the International Tsunami Information Center, said in the press conference, UNESCO is going to provide a 'leadership role' in the system, because of its rich experience in tsunami warning and in coordinating international efforts." I think I've heard similar sentiments before.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Little Tuesday plugs 

Proving yet again that blogs are not just pretty faces, John Hawkins of Right Wing News interviews Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq, Fallujah, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, illegal immigration and many other topics. VDH always has interesting things to say, so don't miss it.

Meanwhile, Bill at Pundit Guy offers a CBS Memogate round-up.

Yours truly's next "Good news from Iraq" is, needless to say, coming out on Monday, but in the meantime don't miss "Good news from Afghanistan" or the second round-up of memorable tsunami quotes.

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Guest blogger: Mesopotamia Redeemed, Part 6 

In his ground tour of the ancient intellectual history of the "land between the rivers", guest blogger Daniel Foty today looks in depth at Hammurabi's code, arguably one of the most famous documents of antiquity. As the Coalition and pro-democracy Iraqis fight with neo-Baathists and Islamists for the soul and the future of modern Iraq, the forgotten legacy of ancient Mesopotamia bears constant reminding. As Dan argues, Sumer is as much a part of our Western heritage as Jerusalem, Athens or Rome. This, then, is the intellectual dimension of liberation - as we in the West are coming back to our roots, so at the same time we are helping Iraqis go back to their's.

Click here for
part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

Mesopotamia Redeemed - Part VI

In and of itself, Hammurabi's code is a remarkable achievement - and it has attained a historical place of note since it was long thought to be the oldest legal code, created out of whole cloth at Babylon. Now that we are more fully aware of the older Sumerian legal codes and how they (especially Lipit-Ishtar's code) were the direct predecessors of Hammurabi's code, we can see Hammurabi's code in a different light. While still a singular achievement, Hammurabi's code is essentially the collected culmination of what was almost entirely Sumerian legal wisdom.

Even the form of Hammurabi's code is identical to its Sumerian predecessors. It begins with a long and boastful prologue, contains a main body of individual laws, and concludes with a lengthy and flowery epilogue.

Like the Sumerian codes, it is clearly stated that the law code had a divine basis - that it responded to the divine justice of the gods and transcended the affairs of men. This is also evident on the stele upon which the code is engraved; at the top, above the text of the code, is a relief depicting Shamash, the Babylonian sun god, handing a scepter and a ring - the symbols of kingship - to Hammurabi. For both the Sumerians (Utu) and the Babylonians (Shamash), the sun god was the deity associated with justice - in his role as the "illuminator," under whose light it was impossible to hide falsehood.

Hammurabi's code also places a great deal of emphasis on precedent, both legal and social. By Hammurabi's time, in Mesopotamia there had accumulated literally centuries of archived legal decisions and property deeds. In Babylon, as in the Sumerian city-states, contracts were used extensively and were formulated with great systematic care; agreements were written down, sworn to by the parties involved, signed by the parties and also by witnesses, then officially notarized and archived. Once again, these procedures are essentially identical to what is done today in similar circumstances. In court, claims were expected to be backed up by either written documents or witness testimony which was given under oath - or by both. And as in the Sumerian legal system, court decisions were written down, signed by the judges, and filed in the archives. As in a modern legal system, there was strong emphasis on the ubiquity of written documents and records; these written records were central to any legal proceedings.

It is also somewhat unfair that two statutes (of 282 total) in Hammurabi's code have received undue attention and have caused a misunderstanding of the law codes of Mesopotamia:

196. If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.

200. If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.
It is these two items, commonly referred to as "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," which have had the unfortunate effect of implying that the basic tenor of justice in Hammurabi's time (and, by implication, in Sumer in prior days) was very primitive, unsophisticated, vindictive, and direct - and allowing of no extenuating circumstances or subtlety. However, this is obviously an incorrect judgment; examined in their entirety, both Hammurabi's code and its Sumerian predecessors are in fact very sophisticated, reflecting the high level of cultural and social development of the societies which created and maintained them.

The direct connections to the (only partially-recovered) Lipit-Ishtar code are quite evident. The first paragraph of the Hammurabi prologue is rather florid, and like its predecessors invokes divine favor for the promulgation of the code:

When Anu the Sublime, King of the Annunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called me by name, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.
Providing a strong indication of the direct lineage of Hammurabi's code, it is interesting to compare this opening paragraph with that of Lipit-Ishtar's code:

When the great An, the father of the gods, (and) Enlil, the king of all the lands, the lord who determines ordinances, had... to Ninisinna, the daughter of An, the... for her... (and) the rejoicing... for her bright forehead; when they had given her the kingship of Sumer (and) Akkad (and) a favorable reign in her (city) Isin, the... established by An; when An (and) Enlil had called Lipit-Ishtar... Lipit-Ishtar, the wise shepherd, whose name has been pronounced by Nunamnir... to the princeship of the land in order to establish justice in the land, to banish complaints, to turn back enmity (and) rebellion by force of arms, (and) to bring well-being to the Sumerians...
Certain passages of these two paragraphs are so similar that it seems likely that not only was Lipit-Ishtar's code known to Hammurabi and his advisors - the Lipit-Ishtar code was probably "on the table" during the authoring of Hammurabi's code. Likewise, both codes conclude with long and windy epilogues which recapitulate the intent of the codes. From Hammurabi's code,

Laws of justice which the Hammurabi, the wise king, established. A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land. Hammurabi, the protecting king am I.
The stated intent is similar to the opening of the epilogue of Lipit-Ishtar's code:

Verily, in accordance with the true word of Utu, I caused Sumer and Akkad to hold to true justice.
The words are slightly different, yet the embodied intentions are identical.

While (unfortunately) very few of the specific statutes in the Lipit-Ishtar code have been recovered, two rather specific items regarding property damage appear almost identically in both codes. For example, from Hammurabi's code,

59. If any man, without the knowledge of the owner of a garden, fell a tree in a garden he shall pay half a mina in money.
In Lipit-Ishtar's code,

If a man cut down a tree in the garden of another man, he shall pay one-half mina of silver.
Similarly, in Hammurabi's code,

248. If anyone hire an ox, and break off a horn, or cut off its tail, or hurt its muzzle, he shall pay one-fourth of its value in money.
This item is virtually identical to a similar provision in the Lipit-Ishtar code:

If a man rented an ox and broke its horn, he shall pay one-fourth of its price.
This is another indication that Hammurabi's code was derived substantially from Lipit-Ishtar's code, and was thus able to address the same sorts of concerns in a nearly-identical society. It is also a testament to the effectiveness of these law codes that they were re-used widely in this fashion; they obviously were regarded as a worthwhile foundation of the societies of Mesopotamia.

The difficult concept of "adverse possession" of private property appears in both codes in a nearly identical manner. From Hammurabi's code,

30. If a chieftain or a man leave his house, garden, and field and hires it out, and some one else takes possession of his house, garden, and field and uses it for three years: if the first owner return and claims his house, garden, and field, it shall not be given to him, but he who has taken possession of it and used it shall continue to use it.
The provision in the Lipit-Ishtar code is nearly identical:

If the master of an estate or the mistress of an estate has defaulted on the tax of the estate and a stranger has borne it, for three years the owner may not be evicted. Afterward, the man who bore the tax of the estate shall possess that estate, and the prior owner of the estate shall not raise any claim.
These provisions (and the situations they describe) are nearly identical, right down to the use of a "three year" stipulation of as-yet unknown origin.

A final striking similarity between the two codes is the provision in both for the very abstract legal concept of "tort" - the requirement for compensation when someone's incompetent actions cause harm or damage (usually to property), even though there is no criminal intent. In Hammurabi's code this involves irrigation water running amok and damaging the crops and fields of others:

53. If anyone be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the corn which he has caused to be ruined.
A provision in Lipit-Ishtar's code embodies the same idea, although it is applied to a different situation:

If adjacent to the house of a man the bare ground of another man has been neglected and the owner of the house has said to the owner of the bare ground, "Because your ground has been neglected someone may break into my house; strengthen your house," and this agreement has been confirmed by him, the owner of the bare ground shall restore to the owner of the house any of his property that is lost.
While these two provisions are not specifically identical, they both address the same abstract legal concept.

This leads back again to how we can view Hammurabi's code. It is indeed an achievement in its own right. However, it also serves as the best extant summary of the collected wisdom of numerous centuries of Mesopotamian (chiefly Sumerian) experience with the practical issues involved in the rule of law. Hammurabi's code presently provides the only method of illuminating the details of a number of very complex and surprisingly "modern" legal ideas which were well-known to the Sumerians; these concepts will be considered in Part VII.


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Time will tell 

"People often ask how history will remember our generation of leaders in comparison with the second world war leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Many comment that today's leaders look small compared with the giants of the past. This is, I believe, a misconception. In their day, both Churchill and Roosevelt were frequently criticized, often savagely, by their fellow countrymen, including legislators who had little knowledge of the behind-the-scenes reality of the war."
So writes a preeminent, and arguably the most prolific British historian of his generation, Sir Martin Gilbert. With a multi-volume biography of Churchill and giant narrative histories of World War One, World War Two, the Holocaust and the twentieth century (not to mention significant number of "smaller" works) to his credit, Gilbert still possesses that precious quality, which seems increasingly absent from our manic world and even more manic discourse: perspective. Perhaps it comes naturally to this chronicler of four thousand years of Jewish history; maybe it's the consequence of his ability to seamlessly move between great historical forces and stories of individual suffering or triumph. Whatever it is, Gilbert is pretty lonely in the modern world where Nazi is a catch-all term for anything you don't like, every misdemeanor becomes a Holocaust, and every temporary setback merely a prelude to sky falling.

The passage of time will not be a panacea for the current condition of historical shortsightedness and ignorance. After all, there is hardly a historic event that is still not subject to controversy and debate. But like a steady river, it will eventually remove all the daily garbage choking up the view. It's only five, ten or fifty years on that we will know whether the intervention in Iraq has been a success - certainly not now. The same can be said for the question of greatness or otherwise of our current leaders. In the meantime though, not having the benefit of hindsight on the present day events, I could only pray that more of our contemporaries living in their eternal present, with little awareness of context or precedent, could take a little sip or two from the fountain of history and realize that they're only splashing around on the edge of an ocean.

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Monday, January 10, 2005

Good news from Afghanistan, Part 8 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support for this project, and thanks to readers and bloggers who have done so much to publicize the series and make it better.

Stephen Hayes from "The Weekly Standard", who has traveled to Afghanistan to witness the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai, quotes from the speech by the country's first democratically elected leader:

"Whatever we have achieved in Afghanistan--the peace, the election, the reconstruction, the life that the Afghans are living today in peace, the children going to school, the businesses, the fact that Afghanistan is again a respected member of the international community--is from the help that the United States of America gave us. Without that help Afghanistan would be in the hands of terrorists--destroyed, poverty-stricken, and without its children going to school or getting an education. We are very, very grateful, to put it in the simple words that we know, to the people of the United States of America for bringing us this day."
Sounds familiar? It shouldn't. As Hayes writes, "Sadly, most Americans never heard these words. Gratitude, it seems, is not terribly newsworthy. Neither is democracy. The Washington Post played Karzai's inauguration on page A-13, a placement that suggested it was relatively less important than Eliot Spitzer's decision to run for governor of New York or the decision of the U.S. government to import flu vaccine from Germany." As columnist Charles Krauthammer commented on the mainstream media's reaction to the inauguration, "Miracle begets yawn."

Yet, ironically, one of the most comprehensive and most optimistic overviews of the tremendous progress achieved in Afghanistan over the past three years comes, of all places, from an official Chinese press agency
Xinhua (just consider the surreal picture of Chinese newsmen celebrating democratic election and defeat of "anti-US" Taliban). If you want to read the "good news from Afghanistan" in one short, sharp piece, go Xinhua; if you are after more detail about all the positive - and under-reported, yawn-inducing - developments in Afghanistan over the past month, read on.

SOCIETY: As surprising as the apparent enthusiasm of the official Chinese media is this upbeat assessment by
a spokesman for the UNICEF. Bearing in mind that the United Nations officials are not usually prone to hyperbole and optimism, the words make for interesting reading:

"Looking back over nearly three years here in Afghanistan, I have been thinking of some of the amazing changes I have witnessed for myself. As a spokesperson for UNICEF, I have the unrivalled luxury of dipping my nose into a whole range of activities, and reporting on them to the outside world.

"I have given briefings on reductions of polio and measles amongst children, a fall in landmine injuries, and massive increases in the number of children going to school. I still can't think of that day in 2002 - when my Afghan colleagues and I watched the first girls walk back into their schools - without my heart jumping.

"I have interviewed former child soldiers now learning to be carpenters; I have walked through the foothills of the Hindu Kush to monitor distribution of school supplies; I have visited projects where widows and other women have been able to earn an income in their own right for the first time in a decade; and I have drafted statements applauding Government commitments to key child rights legislation and international conventions, which in some cases set examples for other countries.

"So much progress, so many steps forward have been taken. As another year comes to an end, it seemed an appropriate moment to reflect on how rapidly life has changed for the better for so many Afghan children. Given the history of Afghanistan, a history steeped in conflict and chaos, those changes take on even greater significance."
As they say, read the whole piece.

Meanwhile, in the political sphere, after weeks of careful, post-election deliberation, president Hamid Karzai has announced the line-up of his
new cabinet; the first in a democratic Afghanistan - one which "pushes out warlords and installs technocrats capable of fighting drugs and driving reform":

"Karzai picked out highly educated ministers likely to curry favour with western donors anxious to see Afghanistan push forward with reform, and also cut the number of ministries to 27 from 30. 'Nine of the ministers have PhDs,' a governmental source told AFP, adding Karzai had chosen an ethically-balanced cabinet.

"Karzai retained former warlord Ismael Khan who was ousted as governor of Herat in September. He steps in as minister of energy in charge of rebuilding the country's fractured power sector. Karzai also kept Abdullah Abdullah as foreign minister but dropped Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as finance minister. Appointed in his place is Anwar Ul-Haq Ahady, who was praised by the west for his work in setting up Afghanistan's central bank.

"The only female candidate in Afghanistan's first democratic presidential election, Masooda Jalal, won a place at the head of the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

"Another appointment likely to win plaudits from the west is Abdul Rahim Wardak, as the new defence minister. The anti-Soviet fighter rose to prominence in the 1980s and later fled to the United States. Wardak has been seen as a key figure behind a United Nations-backed program which has so far disarmed almost 30,000 former militia fighters -- about half of those estimated to remain in the war-torn country.

"Karzai kept Ali Ahmed Jalali as interior minister in another apparent boost for reformists who are pushing for a stronger central government to restore law and order and curb the burgeoning opium industry. A US citizen, Jalali will need to renounce his dual nationality to remain as head of the Interior Ministry, where he was seen foreigners and Afghans alike as having a reputation for efficiency...

"He also picked out engineer and former deputy minister of refugees Habibullah Qaderi as key anti-narcotics minister. Qaderi, an ethnic Pashtun like Karzai, is tasked with cutting opium production in Afghanistan, which now produces 87 percent of the world's supply."
As the report notes, "the Afghan constitution written early this year says cabinet members must have higher education degrees -- ruling out many former mujahedin fighters -- and any with dual nationality should be vetted by a parliament that has still to be elected." The first cabinet meeting has been held in the last week on December: "[Karzai] told ministers to avoid party politics and commit themselves to helping the war-torn country rebuild. He said the Cabinet should direct its loyalty to the Afghan people, not to tribal and regional interests. Mr Karzai said the ministers must focus on the economy, education and security. He emphasised that the fight against drug-trafficking would be a measure of the success of his new government."

You can also see this
profile of the new cabinet, which as the report notes, "has been generally well received by most people in Afghanistan, as well as by international observers."

In addition to tackling economy, education and security, president Karzai is also serious about
fighting government corruption: "[Karzai] says he wants all his officials to disclose their financial holdings. He has also issued strict guidelines about accepting expensive gifts and expenses on overseas visits. Karzai is insisting that all officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government hand over full details of all their properties and business dealings, along with those of their wives and children, within two weeks. In addition, he has said that if ministers and their advisers on overseas trips received official gifts valued at more than 200 US dollars they should register them with the president's office. The decree also lays down the rules on ministerial visits overseas and even the gifts that should be presented to officials of host countries." Half of the cabinet has filled out all the relevant forms already, with the remainder expected shortly.

Meanwhile,
the First Lady of Afghanistan is also planning to stay busy in future:

"Dr Zeenat Karzai, the wife of President Hamid Karzai... [said] that she plans to come more into society, working for Afghan women. Dr Karzai, who has rarely been seen in public since her husband became president of the interim government in 2001, was speaking after a meeting for prominent Afghan women at her residence in the Presidential Palace in Kabul.

"When... [a] reporter suggested that all the people in society wanted to see her activity, she responded: 'In the near future, I want to come in the society. The work I want to start should be useful for Afghan women.' Asked about how she felt over bringing together the group of some 50 women, in such fields as politics, culture, health and media, she... [said] : 'I feel very happy. I want that all the women should be united and promoted'."
And still on the matters of state, Afghanistan finally has its new national anthem:

"The Afghan poet and writer, Habibullah Rafi's words which include a verse written for the national anthem from the former republican President Daud Khan's Era, has been selected as the new Afghan National Anthem.

"The competition which was announced late summer by the interior ministry in Kabul called for all Afghan poets and writers to submit their entries. Habibullah Rafi's, anthem which was chosen from one-hundred entries, includes the first verse of the national anthem sung during the Daud Khan's time between 1973 and 1979 when he ended the rule of the monarchy of the former King Mohammad Zahir."
As the report notes, "the anthem is also a required to include all the names of the 12 Afghan tribes and the words of Allah-o-Akbar or God is Great... Rasaul Zamarai, an official for the music production department at the ministry of culture and information said the composition of the new national anthem will be a culmination of western and eastern music."

In other areas of Afghan life,
education system continues to grow: "Across Afghanistan, schools are seeing record enrollments, with more than 4 million students in school, according to UNICEF statistics. At least one-third of those students are girls. [But] the government has estimated that roughly 2,000 schools must be built every year for the next five years if demand is to be met." To help meet that demands, groups such as Solace International (also profiled in the previous installment) are bringing in much needed assistance:

"Solace International... last year raised nearly $70,000 in Seattle. The money helped repair facilities and build six new community schools in the rural, isolated northern provinces, where a lengthy drought has increased poverty. Solace International organizers plan another auction in Seattle tonight to raise money to build six more schools and an Internet-equipped learning center.

"While it's too soon to see the impact the new schools have had on literacy rates, there are positive signs. For example, the six new schools have a total enrollment of about 1,200 students, two-thirds of whom are girls."
Solace is also planning some more ambitious projects "such as repairing the regional university in the northern city of Sheberghan... The university, the only one in the region, was virtually destroyed by the Taliban, who shot out windows, left the roof to rot and burned chairs and desks, which they deemed 'too Western'... University students now gather in an adjacent building, learning lessons from a small set of outdated primers... Repairing the facility will cost an estimated $20,000... but could more than pay for itself by turning out highly educated graduates, some of whom could be tapped to help teach in the new schools."

Meanwhile, Afghan
textbooks are being rewritten with considerable foreign assistance:

"A team from Teachers College of Columbia University is writing schoolbooks for Afghanistan as it emerges from years of turmoil and ideological repression. The project is an unexpected consequence of the Iranian hostage crisis that began in 1979.

"One of the hostages held in the American Embassy in Tehran was Barry Rosen, then a young Peace Corps worker, who used his forced detention to learn Persian. Years later, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rosen persuaded Teachers College in New York, where he headed the press office, to resume its work of the 1970s in Afghanistan compiling school textbooks for the Ministry of Education.

"One of the main languages of Afghanistan, Dari, is closely related to Persian, so Rosen, who often dresses like an Afghan here, blends in easily. 'I felt we should return and pick up the work,' he said during a recent conversation here in Kabul, the Afghan capital. 'Our motives are our history here, and that education is the way to change lives'."
As the report notes, "funded by the UN Children's Fund, the Teachers College group is rewriting the curriculum and all primary school textbooks, including language textbooks in four local languages, while introducing a style of teaching new to Afghan teachers and students that encourages student participation. The books will replace the outdated texts produced piecemeal in the turmoil of Afghanistan's last quarter century of conflict by international aid groups and rotating governments... 'This curriculum is free of ideology,' Abdul Nabi Wahidi, of the Ministry of Education, said of the new books. 'We just have two ideas, peace and stability, and human rights'."

And after years of isolation from the outside world, it's not just children who need to catch up on education; in Jalalabad, some
250 government workers have recently completed a basic computer literacy skills course.

In the area health, some innovative ways to provide better
medical care are being tested:
"In one of his last duties before leaving the administration, Health and Human Services Department Secretary Tommy Thompson announced the delivery of 2,000 interactive health education books for women in Afghanistan.

"The 'talking books,' designed by LeapFrog Enterprises, use the same LeapPad learning technology as the company's storybooks for children. Thompson announced the program in August. It is aimed primarily at the 80% of Afghani women who cannot read or write, and the books cover more than 19 subjects, including diet, childhood immunization, pregnancy, breastfeeding, sanitation and water boiling, treating injuries and burns, and preventing disease.

"The books are available in both of Afghanistan's major languages, Dari and Pashto. They are the first product that LeapFrog developed for adults, according to the company."
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's cash-strapped health sector is embarking on an experimental program to raise funds: "For the first time, patients are being asked to pay for treatment at public hospitals in Afghanistan. Although the constitution stipulates that all Afghans are entitled to free healthcare, a pilot programme being tested in the northern province of Balkh could change all that... The prices do not reflect the actual cost of the procedures but are simply a way for the hospital to raise badly needed money. Those too poor to pay can appeal to a local commission." Says Dr Mirwais Rabi, head of Balkh public hospital: "This is a very good programme for Afghanistan people... These contributions will go a long way to help us buy new equipment." "It is the best way of helping health centres stand on their own feet," agrees Dr Saeed, of the Afghan health ministry.

Dr Sima Samar, head of the
Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission notes the progress of human rights: there are still some "very serious violations" taking place and general security remains a problem, but "the human rights situation in Afghanistan is better than in previous years." She notes that "the main achievements is justification of the commission by the people. We have offices in Kabul and some of the provinces. At least the people of Afghanistan have seen AIHRC as somewhere to share their concerns and complaints. It is a significant development. In this country, three years ago no one could even mention the phrase 'human rights'. In the beginning, there was some propaganda against the commission among the public. Some elements who did not want public awareness on human rights spread allegations that the commission was against Afghan culture, and was spreading western culture and so on. But now we have proved that we are here to defend the rights of our suffering people and pursue the perpetrators of human rights violations."

Habibullah Qadiri, the chief adviser to the Afghan government on refugees and returnees, summarized the state of affairs on
in his area of responsibility:

"Almost three million people have returned to Afghanistan from Iran, Pakistan and neighbouring countries. The returnees always bring skills with them from the countries they lived in and that has contributed to the economic development and reconstruction of the country.

"We can see many examples like we had in the past, carpentry by hand which has now been mechanised by the skills the returnees brought. In most fields, the returnees have brought up-to-date arts and trades. In some cases these people bring money to Afghanistan for investment. Also, Afghans who were getting remittances from their families oversees used to spend money in exile but now they spend it in Afghanistan."
And as Afghan refugees continue pouring back to their homeland, the numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) also continue to fall: "Officials at [the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation] said that the number of IDPs in Afghanistan fell sharply from 724,000 in December 2002 to 184,000 a year later." The problem hasn't been completely solved; "in 2004, only 17,000 IDPs have been assisted to return, leaving 167,000 people displaced in camps," but the improvement over the past three years is still considerable.

In media news, a recent survey shows that
Radio Free Afghanistan is one of the most popular radio stations in Afghanistan:

"Nearly two thirds of Afghan radio listeners are tuning in to Radio Free Afghanistan, according to the results of a new survey conducted for RFE/RL by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

"The survey showed a nationwide weekly listening rate of 61.6 percent to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan broadcasts in Dari and Pashto, a rate that rises to 70 percent in the capital city of Kabul...

"RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and the Voice of America (VOA) broadcast on a 24-hour single stream in Afghanistan. RFA provides local news and VOA supplies news about events around the world. The U.S. Congress appropriated funding to create Radio Free Afghanistan in December 2001, as part of an effort to build a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan following the successful U.S.-lead strike against the Taliban.

"When asked about the reliability of the news and information broadcast, strong majorities in the survey considered RFA and VOA to be trustworthy. Asked about general issues, 54 percent said they are favorable inclined toward the USA, 64 percent say things in Afghanistan are headed in the right direction, and, when asked to name the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of the USA, 40 percent said U.S. support for reconstruction of Afghanistan."
As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Thomas A. Dine says, "we are proud of what Radio Free Afghanistan has achieved in the past three years. Our emphasis on helping the entire country rise from the chaos of a quarter century of war is clearly appreciated by our listeners."

Meanwhile, efforts continue to build
independent and professional media in Afghanistan: "The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is supporting plans to hold a national conference aimed at promoting the protection of journalists and freedom of expression. The IFEX member led a meeting of the Committee to Establish the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA). The committee passed several resolutions at the meeting, including plans to hold a national conference in Kabul in April 2005 'with the aim of furthering the protection of journalists in Afghanistan and campaigning for freedom of expression'." And "for the first time... the Reuters Foundation recently conducted photojournalism workshops in Afghanistan... In Kabul, 15 students participated in the training from December 8 to 12. The group included seven participants who traveled to the capital from various parts of the country."

In Afghanistan's cultural life,
art stages a post-Taliban comeback:

"The newly repaired National Museum of Afghanistan has opened its first exhibition in 13 years, a display of life-size, pre-Islamic idols smashed by the Taliban three years ago and now painstakingly restored by museum and international experts.

"The wooden statues from Nuristan, one of Afghanistan's mountainous northeastern provinces, are an apt subject for an inaugural exhibition. Museum staff had worked hard to hide the collection from looters and Islamic fundamentalists intent on destroying all idols and artistic depictions of the human form. The figures, from what was formerly known as Kafiristan, or Land of the Heathens, are ancestor effigies and animistic and polytheistic gods, representing beliefs and traditions that were practiced there little more than 100 years ago.

" 'This is part of our culture and we should preserve it,' said Fauzia Hamraz, director of the ethnographic collection, who helped piece the statues back together. 'Our country is an Islamic country, but displaying these things will not destroy our religion'."
As Hamraz says, this sort of exhibition would have been unheard of just over three years ago. Meanwhile, "an international mission has successfully secured and catalogued what remains of the site of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, blown up in 2001 by the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan... Teams from Japan and Italy had made some progress over the last two years in collecting and cataloguing the fragments of the destroyed statues and frescoes, as well as controlling visitor and other access to the site, and in the training of Afghan personnel." While, as report notes, there is no official word yet about the possible reconstruction of the famous statues, "Swiss scientists in 2003 developed three-dimensional computer models they said could function as blueprints for the Buddhas' reconstruction."

Lastly, to demonstrate that you're never too poor or too troubled to show human spirit and compassion for others, Afghanistan is sending a planeload of medicines and equipment and a dozen "war-hardened" medics to help with the
tsunami relief in India and Sri Lanka.

RECONSTRUCTION: Having submitted a bid, strongly supported by the United States, to join the
World Trade Organisation, Afghanistan has now been given an approval to open the membership negotiations: "Afghanistan, which [is] struggling to emerge from conflict, now faces several years of negotiations with other trading nations to adapt [its] laws and trade flows to global trade rules before [it] can hope to join the WTO." Says Ambassador Assad Omer, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan: "The peaceful completion of our first direct presidential elections... has heralded a new era of political stability... We believe that participation in the international trading system will lead to more trade, investment, technology transfer, employment and income growth throughout the economy."

Back home, Afghanistan's booming economy is starting to
attract workers from neighboring Pakistan:

"Thousands of Pakistanis, mostly from the [North Western Border Province], are working in Afghanistan and many more are exploring opportunities to find work in the country. Estimates of Pakistanis working in Afghanistan vary from 30,000 to 50,000. The total could be even higher considering the fact that many Pakistanis have also found work in remote provinces such as Ghazni, Wardak, Helmand, etc where the Afghan government is apparently unable to keep a record of foreign workers.

"President Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying early this year that more than 30,000 Pakistanis are working in Afghanistan. Since then more Pakistanis have found work in Afghanistan, mostly in the construction sector. Skilled Pakistani workers are in big demand, considering the fact that there aren’t many Afghans, who have acquired the skills of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, masons, steel-fixers, etc. Another sector where Pakistanis are welcome to work is information technology."
On the streets of Kabul, scarred by decades of bloody conflict, another - previously unimaginable - war unfolds:

"In order to entice more customers to use their mobile phones, the Afghan wireless communication company (AWCC) is reported to be handing out free AWCC sim cards with credit in exchange for their main mobile competitor Roshan in the capital Kabul.

"Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, an employee at the AWCC offices in Kabul said AWCC sim cards with credit were being exchanged for Roshan cards. A man living in Kart-e-Sakhi, Sayed Ali Shah said he exchanged his Roshan for an AWCC. 'The Roshan mobile coverage was not good enough in the area where he lived.'

"A spokesman for AWCC, Mohammad Nayem Haqmal told Pajhwok that the network coverage was patchy in some areas: 'People have complained about the mobile coverage of Roshan and are keen to use Afghan Wireless instead, so we exchange the Roshan in return for an AWCC sim card.' The Roshan Telephone Company that has more network coverage in Afghanistan including some of the rural provinces like Bamyan says it's helpless to this latest ploy. 'We have no option, because it's a commercial competitor,' said the head of the company Khwaja Karim."
Beats skirmishes between warlords. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's once famous industry is starting to stage a comeback:

"Afghanistan, long famed for its dried fruits and nuts, is gearing up to enter the lucrative international market for dehydrated vegetables. The first Afghan factory to process vegetable dehydrates for export will begin operation in January 2005, with soup pots in Europe the initial target.

"The Parwan Dehydrates Factory, an hour's drive north from Kabul, has already contracted its 2005 production of dried vegetables, valued at $1.2 million, to buyers in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.

"The strong demand from Europe could lead to five to seven additional factories, according to Erica Oppegard of Development Works, Canada. She said when more factories are up and running, Afghanistan might be able to extend its exports to the United States and Canada.

"Development Works Canada is a subcontractor for a wide-ranging agricultural rehabilitation program in Afghanistan that is financed by the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by the U.S.-based Chemonics International. The budget for the project is $3.1 million with $2.3 million provided by USAID/Chemonics and $800,000 by Development Works Canada."
Some 1,400 farmers are sub-contracted to provide vegetables for the factory and additional 400 women farmers - all war widows - will be supplying sundried tomatoes. Eventually, between 6,000 and 7,000 farmers will be involved in the project.

German authorities in cooperation with the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization are planning, meanwhile, to rebuild Afghanistan's
only sugar factory. "Located in Baghlan Province 250 km north of Kabul and built by Germany in 1930s, [it] was badly damaged and ceased operation due to over a quarter century of war and civil strife. At present, Afghanistan imports 300,000 tons of sugar annually mostly from the neighboring countries, Pakistan in particular." So far, Germany has funded some $22.4 million worth of aid projects through the Food and Agriculture Organisation, "of which $17.1 million have been earmarked for 14 projects on agriculture, food security and nut ration in Afghanistan."

Locked out of the economy by the Taliban, Afghan women are now
leading the small business revival throughout the country - thanks to financial micro-assistance:

"At an awards ceremony last month honouring entrepreneurs who have successfully started up small businesses with the assistance of various microfinance programmes, 18 of the 23 recipients were women. Mustafa Kazemi, the minister of commerce, congratulated the female winners and noted that they are part of a long tradition of women being active in the business world. Noting that the wife of the Prophet Muhammad ran her own business, Kazemi said, 'We should have female businesses in our country, too.'

"The awards ceremony was part of a worldwide effort by the United Nations to call attention to microcredit and microfinance programmes. Such programmes provide small loans, sometimes amounting to only 100 US dollars, to individuals who would otherwise not be able to borrow the money necessary to start their own businesses...

"Five non-governmental organisations, NGOs, that operate microcredit programmes in the country - CARE International, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, BRAC, Parwaz, an Afghan NGO, the Paris-based Mission d'Aide au Développement des Economies Rurales en Afghanistan, Madera, and the Washington-based Foundation for International Community Assistance, FINCA, nominated businesspeople for the awards, with 300 dollar and 100 dollar prizes...

"Shaqila, the programme's chief loan supervisor in Herat, said her organisation has given loans to 250 women there since 2003. She said that most of the women have taken out loans out to start carpet-weaving or clothes-making businesses. Each is loaned 6,000 afghanis [$120] to start with and after three months, if they’ve paid it back, they can borrow up to 10,000 afghanis [$200] more. If they pay back that amount after four months, they then can borrow up to 15,000 afghanis [$300]. FINCA requires that borrowers put up collateral for the first loan.

"Katrin Fakiri, the Afghan-American director of Parwaz, said her organisation, has given loans to 600 women living in Kabul province since 2003 and has plans to expand to the central province of Wardak and southern province of Ghazni."
Read some of the inspirational stories, for example that of Mah Gul, a 40 year old tailor from Herat ("Three months ago I was given 6,000 afghanis [$120] by FINCA to start making curtains and clothes.... If there was nobody to lend the money to me, I would have to go to the houses of rich people to work there and wash their clothes."), or Faree Gul, a 48-year-old widow from Kabul, who was lent 5,000 afghanis ($100) three months ago ("I started a female-run bakery, and business is getting better day by day," says Gul. "She now employs all six members of her family and plans to apply for another loan so she can build an additional bakery."), or Zia Jan, an illiterate 36-year-old seamstress from Kabul ("I was given 5,000 afghanis [$100] by Parwaz and I bought three sewing machines. Now I earn 6,000 afghanis [$120] a month."). In Afghanistan, even little things can make a huge difference to the lives and livelihoods of people. On a smaller scale, one Western woman is trying to achieve similar results:

"An American Christian woman in Kabul is helping Afghan widows begin new lives. She does it by teaching them marketable skills and, by comforting them in their grief.

"Donna Islami is the founder of Helping Hands. She told us, 'When I arrived in Afghanistan, I really had a burden for the women, especially the widows. Many of them were so destitute. There are no jobs that women can take. Most of them are illiterate.'

"Deeply moved by the miserable plight of the Afghan widows, Donna Islami established Helping Hands to give these women a chance to a better future. This organization gives free education and domestic service training to Afghan widows, to prepare them for employment in the western community living in Afghanistan.

"Donna Islami added, 'We teach them how to cook western meals, how to clean a house and how to do laundry. And then we find jobs for the ladies and put them to work. We're just starting a bakery program and we're going to teach them to bake western style cakes, and help them through micro-financing to start a cooperative business.'

"Islami continued, 'The third program we have is the beauty academy. We will train women to become beauticians in both Western and Afghan styles. Beauty is a huge part of the Afghan woman culture. They wear the chuddar and the burkah but underneath they are very beautiful women. They are very concerned with fashion, style, make-up and hair.' On top of all the training, since the widows are mostly illiterate, they are taught how to read and write."
The Afghan authorities and United Nations are also trying to do more to generate employment for Afghan women: "Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) is seeking employment opportunities for tens of thousands of unqualified women in the country. The initiative is part of newly created UN backed employment services centres which are expected to operate in nine provinces of the country, according to MOWA. The centres will be established to tackle unemployment and provide training opportunities for unqualified job seekers, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO)."

Another major infrastructure project gets underway in
western Afghanistan (scroll down):

"Reconstruction work of the Salma dam, in eastern Herat was officially opened by the Indian Ambassador to Kabul, Week Katchoo on Thursday with the help of US$79 million aid from the Indian government. The Indian ambassador to Kabul, Week Katchoo, said two Indian engineers will be overseeing the project. It is estimated that the project will take four years to complete and the dam itself will be rebuilt first and then the irrigation systems and then its power-producing turbines and machines.

"The Salma dam was originally constructed in 1976 on the Hari Rud river Basin in Northwest Afghanistan. The reconstruction will provide the water requirements of Herat province and support a 42 MW of hydropower for the province when completed. It would also increase irrigation capacity of nearly 25,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a spokesman for the Herat governor spokesman, Mohammadullah Afzali. Ambassador Week said they will also use the money to rebuild the 170km-long road leading to the site in Chesht district."
Speaking of irrigation, the Asian Development Bank has approved a $10-million grant from the Bank's Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction to improve irrigation networks and water resource management in the Balkh river basin:

"Water management in the area covering thousands of hectares has traditionally been organized under mirabs, or locally elected leaders responsible for the irrigation system.

"A system for water allocation also existed, the [Bank] noted. 'However, 25 years of civil unrest has weakened these traditional institutions for water management,' the bank said, adding that most irrigation systems are also in poor condition and lack modern designs. The grant will go to rehabilitate and upgrade traditional irrigation systems, the [Bank] said."
The World Bank, meanwhile, will be faciliating the signing of a water treaty between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Read also this story of the cooperative effort between the Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) and the Herat University's School of Agriculture to help improve agriculture in the province. And in other infrastructure news, the Afghan government has signed an agreement with various NGOs for the construction of government buildings throughout the country.

In transport news,
Asian Development Bank is providing a concessional loan of $80 million for the construction of roads through some of the least developed areas of Afghanistan: "The project will reconstruct the last unpaved section of the national primary ring road, spanning 210 kilometers from Andkhoy to Qaisar.

"The road improvements will dramatically decrease travel times and vehicle operating costs, providing better access to health, education and other services, and improved agricultural prices, to at least 800,000 in the project area, half of whom live below the poverty line.

"The project is part of a coordinated international assistance to improve the road connecting Herat to Andkhoy, which will become a major north-south link across the central mountains, and significantly improve the stability and reliability of Afghanistan's transport system.

"The road will also form a major road transport corridor from Central Asia to the warm water ports in the south, contributing to economic growth and poverty reduction in the subregion.

"Beside bringing the project road to asphalt-paved standard, to allow the smooth passage of heavy vehicles, the project will finance installation of road toll facilities, including toll plazas, computer and communications equipment for national primary roads supported by international assistance."
In other transport network developments, "the Kabul-Kandahar road is open and the final surfacing expected to be completed [soon]... On Kandahar-Herat road, the Japanese government is tasked with construction of the first 71 miles... Saudi Arabia is funding the next 71 miles, with the United States completing the final 200 miles. The United States has built camps for workers, established construction control systems, and begun work on concrete and asphalt plants while preparing the existing concrete road for new surfacing. Construction has also begun on six of the ten secondary roads projects."

India and Pakistan, meanwhile, are discussing the possibility of opening
a transport route from Afghanistan to India through Pakistan, taking advantage in the improving Indian-Pakistani relations. The economic boost to landlocked Afghanistan would of course be considerable. Also, a new railway link will connect Afghanistan and Pakistan: "The first phase... that would take more than a year[,] would link Chaman [in Pakistan] with Spin Boldak in Afghanistan. Later, the link would be further expanded to Kandhar and later on Khushka, the border point of Turkmenistan which would take nearly five years involving international funding."

And on another transport axis, governments of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan have signed an agreement to build
trans-Afghan land corridor, a 2,400-km road linking both landlocked countries with the Pakistani coast of the Indian Ocean.

In banking news,
Iran's Aryan Bank has officially opened its first branch in Kabul, with two more, in Herat and Kandahar, expected to open as soon as security situation allows. There are now 11 foreign banks operating in Afghanistan. Speaking of Iran, "based on a 5-year commitment, Iran is due to donate 50 million dollars annually to the war-torn country... The total donation will reach 250 million dollars by 2006... [Iran is] implementing 16 development projects in Afghanistan including the construction of Herat-Dogharoun road, implementation of a project to provide Herat's water and electricity and construction of a technical and vocational center in Herat."

HUMANITARIAN AID: The Afghan government is
streamlining and cleaning up the humanitarian aid effort throughout the country:

"International aid agencies in Afghanistan have welcomed a government audit of the humanitarian aid sector aimed at weeding out corruption and the misuse of international aid money.

"Afghanistan's government launched a probe last week of humanitarian organisations working in the country in a move long sought by the frustrated aid community.

"With new four-wheel-drive vehicles and comfortable offices and residences, the humanitarian community is seen as living in incomprehensible luxury by ordinary Afghans who believe reconstruction is proceeding too slowly.

"The investigation was announced the day after the resignation of planning minister Ramazan Bachardoust, who was heavily criticised over his proposal to dissolve more than 2,000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

"President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin told a news conference on Tuesday that 'hundreds, probably thousands' of aid groups were misusing aid money due to the absence of a legal framework to oversee their activities. 'The money granted to NGOs is sacred and is for the pursuance of the well-being of the Afghan people. This money has to be spent transparently and where it is supposed to be spent,' he said."
On the ground, one Western organisation is killing two birds with one stone: improving security and helping local livelihoods: "Turning mines to vines has been the mission of Roots of Peace (RoP) founder and director Heidi Kuhn since she began her efforts to rid the world of landmines in September of 1997, after the death of Princess Diana... The rich agricultural area of the Shomali Plains, about 30 miles north of Kabul... has a 7,000-year tradition of growing grapes, and at one time boasted 70 different varieties... Through a myriad of donors, the San Rafael-based organization raised the largest private demining donation in the history of Afghanistan... Last summer, 300 Afghan deminers removed more than 100,000 landmines from this region, which this month will yield 80 tons of grapes to be exported to India. 'It gives me great pride and great hope to know there will be a harvest of hope in the next week,' Kuhn enthused." You can find out more about the organization's work here.

A
teacher from Virginia, meanwhile, is trying to make a difference for the school kids of Afghanistan:

"Doug Dillon, Loudoun's Teacher of the Year, is busy building schools in Afghanistan. One is up and running, two are nearing completion... Dillon appealed to some of his old teaching colleagues back in Loudoun for help rounding up school supplies. Just the basics. The pencils and crayons and rulers and tablets that most American children take for granted on the first day of school. The response has been overwhelming."
So far, 160 pounds of supplies have been donated from Cedar Lane Elementary School, 30 cartons from Harper Park Middle School, and more from Fairfax Elementary School. Meanwhile, Massachusetts students are contributing, too: "Students at Mount Greylock Regional Middle School have a goal of raising $500 for the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation to build a school in Afghanistan. The students have begun their efforts, according to Ginny Abuisi, a special education teacher at the school, by selling house-shaped cutouts from construction paper. During their lunch hour, students pay $1 for each cutout. 'They represent the idea of building a school in Afghanistan,' said Abuisi, who is coordinator of the Student Activities Organization, the group that organized the fund-raiser."

Even
preschoolers are helping:

"In her light-blue plush pajamas, Ruthie Learned didn't exactly look ready for a day of commerce. But the 5-year-old was all business as she walked through the halls of Seattle's Coe Elementary with her mother on a recent Friday, delivering bags of homemade cookies. At least, she was until 9 a.m., when it was time to join her fellow kindergartners on Pajama Day, also the last day of classes before the winter break.

"The cookies brought in a decent haul: about $2,500, including donations. It might be difficult for a kindergartner to understand the value of a few thousand dollars, but Ruthie has an idea what it might pay for. She's seen the photos of the girls' school in Afghanistan that every class at Coe helped raised money for, and last year, she saw Oprah Winfrey on television helping poor children in South Africa."
And a doctor from Massachusetts will also be trying to make a difference:

"Many might think that at 65 it's time for Dr. Elliott Larson -- a longtime MetroWest internist and infectious disease specialist -- to hang up his stethoscope, invest in some golf clubs and relax.

"Larson's some 2,000 plus patients throughout Massachusetts are adjusting to the fact that he is closing his practice for good at the end of this month. But, by no means is this father of five and grandfather of 10 retiring.

"Instead, Larson, who has practiced at Marlborough Hospital since 1991, and his wife Martha, are moving to Afghanistan. There, he will serve as a clinician specializing in infectious disease and teach post-graduate medical students. For the Larsons, married for 37 years, this is their second excursion to Afghanistan.

" 'It's logical to go back to Afghanistan because there's a need there,' Larson said. 'The political situation is favorable now to people going there to try to help. Now, the second time around, it's a little easier to say that it's a good place to go because we know a little bit of the language from our time before and we have friends there and we continue to have contacts within the country'."
Sometimes the help from overseas takes the form of food for the mind and soul rather than the body:

"In early January, when most Americans will be resting from the holidays, Teressa Rerras will leave her Granby Park home and board a plane to Afghanistan. Rerras will begin her ninth journey to that war-wasted land. She'll be heading back to see her students, young women she came to adore last spring as she taught them photography."
THE COALITION TROOPS: The reconstruction reach of the Coalition keeps expanding: "The provisional reconstruction team in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan -- the 19th in the country -- held a grand-opening ceremony... 'This PRT has been operational for some time, but it still represents a significant commitment to enabling, enhancing and improving the capacity of the Afghan nation and extending the outreach of the government of Afghanistan,' a spokesman for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan said... The support provided by the PRT in Tarin Kowt, and the other 18 coalition and International Security and Assistance Force PRTs, enables the government to bring a tangible benefit to the people throughout all provinces."

The official reconstruction effort undertaken by the US Army is conducted through
civil affairs teams. This is their story: "After building countless schools, roads and wells here, coalition forces are routinely met with a thumbs up and a 'How are you?' nearly everywhere around here and the surrounding province of Paktia. The positive response wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the civil affairs teams working throughout the country to bring much-needed utilities and supplies to the war-ravaged area. The road to reconstruction hasn't always been easy, but dedicated members of the Army Civil Affairs branch, working on Civil Affairs Teams Alpha -- called CAT-A teams, have brought everything they can to help the people and the government of Afghanistan."

Soldiers from the
South Dakota National Guard's 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment and the National Guard's 109th Engineer Group stationed in and around Bagram are involved in a whole range of local projects, such as rebuilding the airport with local sub-contractors, building a road between Kandahar to Tarin Kowt in the north ("The road marks the start of a major north-to-south road system through the middle of the country"), and planning for construction of three schools.

Other soldiers just help to
spread the news:

"Two soldiers go to the Ghazni radio and television studio each week to produce a broadcast address to the local community as part of an effort to reach out and inform area Afghans. 'Once a week we come to the station and talk to the people via television and radio,' said Lt. Col. Gerald Timoney, Ghazni [Provincial Reconstruction Team] commander. 'It's a chance for us to let the community know what the coalition is doing in the area.'

"The address is taped and broadcast throughout the week. 'We talk about a lot of different things during the show,' said Lt. Col. Blake Ortner, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment. 'We talk about the messages we have for the community.' Reconstruction and security are two of the major components of the weekly message.

" 'We are always asking for the community's help,' Ortner said. 'We ask them to turn in any weapons they have and report any suspicious people to the police.' And the Afghan people are heeding the call. 'The response to the weapons turn-in program has been overwhelming,' Ortner said. 'We've had so many weapons and munitions turned in that we had to set up a turn-in point off the base to accommodate all of it'."
In addition to official security and reconstruction duties, the troops also find time and inspiration to help the Afghan people of their own initiative. For example, this Iowan soldier's Operation "Shoes for Kids" has proved to be a huge success:

"When Army Staff Sgt. Mark Matteson rode through an Afghan village for the first time, he saw barefoot children everywhere -- not because they didn't want to wear shoes, but because they had none. 'You see the children -- it hits you right in the heart. Or at least that's how it is for me,' said Matteson of the shoeless children who can be seen in nearly every city, town and village throughout Afghanistan...

" 'I saw the kids with no shoes, and I wrote back home to tell them what's going on here,' he said about how he started his 'Shoes for Kids' program. Volunteers stateside gather shoes and mail them to him in Afghanistan to donate to the children. To date, Matteson estimates he's received more than 7,000 pairs of shoes from those in his native Iowa. 'It kicked off so big, there will still be shoes coming in after I leave next June,' he said."
A similar action from Missouri has had part-military, part-divine inspiration:

"When the U.S. Army asked for a chaplain to serve alongside soldiers in battle zones in Afghanistan, they got much more than a spiritual leader. The 325th Army Field Hospital and the people of Afghanistan got Capt. Richard Krenning and the support of two central Missouri towns.

"When Krenning arrived in Bagran, Afghanistan, he saw the need to make life better not only for the soldiers, but also for local residents. Since last August, Krenning and Rolla native Sgt. Kevin Schallion have spearheaded a drive with the people and businesses of Rolla and St. James to supply shoes and school supplies to children and women in Afghanistan. The collection process will end this month."
Master Sgt. Jerry Eisenbraun, a member of the 109th Engineering Group in Rapid City, South Dakota, is collecting toys and schools supplies for 400 Afghan children as part of Adopt a School program. And a group of Utah aviators have brought the spirit of Christmas to Central Asia through "Angels for Afghanistan" program:

"Forget the sleigh, this year Santa and his helpers arrived in the village of Jegdalek, Afghanistan in Schnuck helicopters. A village, where people live in mud huts. For two Utah pilots, it was one of the most memorable Christmas's they've had. With the help of their wives and community back in Utah, about 70 pallettes full of blankets, combs, shoes, candy and other necessities were shipped overseas.

"Layne Pace: 'We went through the packages and made 300 individual gift packages for the kids, some marked boys, some marked girls.'

"But before Santa handed out gifts, elders in the village wanted to share their culture. 'They danced and played drums for us, for about 25-30 minutes.'

"Then the pilots shared a part of theirs. 'We sang them Christmas carols, and Christmas songs.' 'We had one of our pilots play Santa Claus.' Each child received a package from Santa, filled with toys, blankets and hygiene kits. 'I believe this is the first time a lot of them have had something of their own, especially the girls'."
Here's more from New York state:

"Afghan children crowded around Marine Corps Major Rush Filson with their requests - not candy, not toys, not money. 'They wanted notebooks and pencils, crayons, books,' Filson told a roomful of Pine Cobble School students Monday.

"Filson has just returned from a tour of duty as an advisor in Afghanistan, where his visit to a rural school sparked a fund-raising drive that has raised more than $45,000 and drawn in church congregations, schools, including Pine Cobble and in Adams, St. Stanislaus Kostka, as well as organizations such as the Dalton WeBeLows and a 4-H horse group in Stephentown, N.Y."
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, "Marines from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, manning a base along the Pakistan border recently began a campaign to distribute much-needed school supplies to the children of Nagalam, near one of the battalion's forward operating bases."

And
U.S. Army Sgt. Caleb Wines is bringing a gift of better sight to Afghanistan's young and old:

"For the past seven months, [Wines] the League City optician has been stationed in Afghanistan where he is responsible for the eye care of American soldiers, coalition soldiers and American civilians with the 312th Medical Logistics Detachment.

"In addition to his routine duties, Wines, who is an optical laboratory specialist, has been taking part in military-sponsored humanitarian missions to help the elderly Afghan population get proper eye care and eyewear. As part of that work, Wines and others have also met with young patients in need of glasses.

"Yet Wines, 23, had few options for those youngsters - the only frames available to him to distribute were large, military-issued frames."
Now, thanks to the help of his friends and colleagues back home, Wines is bringing back with him to Afghanistan some 150 children's frames. "[Wines's] plans for the next several months include performing eye exams on Afghan children and then custom-cutting the lenses to the donated frames based on individual prescriptions."

SECURITY: There are increasing signs that the Taliban are
becoming less of a security problem and that the proposed amnesty might further weaken the movement:

"Abdul Rahman Akhund has been battling US and Afghan government troops for three long, hard years. He misses raising his kids among the quiet pomegranate orchards he used to tend at home. With another frigid winter setting in, and a new US offensive being launched this week, this weary Taliban fighter says he's ready to come in from the cold.

" 'If the government will let us peacefully return to our villages and our children, we will come,' he says. 'We are tired living on the run in these snowy mountains.'

"His fellow tribesman, Sarwar Akhund, goes one step further: Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and terror kingpin Osama bin Laden, he charges, tricked followers like him into believing they were fighting a holy war against infidels, 'when really they just wanted to consolidate their own seats of power.' If allowed back into society, he pledges to 'do whatever I can' to help kill or capture the fugitive leaders.

"The two soldiers expressed views that intelligence circles across southern Afghanistan have been hearing for months. Many officials, military strategists, and diplomats here are increasingly optimistic that the Taliban are largely a spent force, made up in great parts by disillusioned, worn out foot soldiers like the Akhund tribesmen."
The demobilization program, too, is progressing well. Around Mazar-i-Sharif a landmark in the program has been reached, as "all of the militia fighters in an Afghan region have been disarmed as fighters loyal to two northern commanders gave up their guns." Some 3,000 fighters loyal to ethnic Uzbek commander General Rashid Dostum were disarmed as was a similar number loyal to his rival Mohammad Atta. Child soldiers are also finding their way back into the civilian life, with their demobilization program hitting the half-way mark:

"Nearly 4,000 child soldiers have been demobilised in 15 provinces of Afghanistan under a UN-backed programme... The Child Soldiers Demoblisation and Reintegration Programme is designed to target an estimated 8,000 such children in the country mostly forcibly conscripted to fighting forces in the last years of more than two decades of armed conflict and civil war...

"Each of the demobilised children then receives a package of support, starting with their registration in the programme's database, receipt of photo identity cards, medical and psychosocial assessments and briefing sessions on mine risk education and reintegration options. UNICEF said all demobilised children had also been offered voluntary testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). After demobilisation, each demobilised child has the opportunity to participate in a number of reintegration options, including returning to education or enrolling in vocational training programmes to learn a practical skill."
Overall, the struggle to reduce the power and influence of Afghanistan's warlords is making slow but steady progress. Demobilization and disarmament are, of course, the major tactics; but so is defunding: recently, for example, Iran has frozen the assets of the fundamentalist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e-Islami group, widely suspected of sympathies and cooperation with Taliban and al Qaeda. "Now that many commanders have been at least partially disarmed, their former victims are demonstrating their new-found power," according to the Afghan Recovery Report:

"Local Afghan commanders who have surrendered some of their power under a United Nations-sponsored disarmament programme are now finding themselves under attack from long-suffering civilians demanding retribution for years of abuse.

"The most recent incident occurred in late November when more than 1,000 residents of Sang Charak district in northern Afghanistan's Sar-e-Pul province demonstrated against a local militia leader who they said had illegally confiscated their property over the past 20 years."
The warlord's violent reaction - or self-defence, as he claims - is now creating even more open protests. According to Qazi Sayed Ahmad Sameh, the national Independent Human Rights Commission's director in northern Afghanistan, "when [warlord] commanders realise their days in power may be numbered, they tend to step up their violent criminal activities. But in many cases, people are now taking matters into their own hands and standing up to violence, extortion and intimidation." The power is definitely shifting in favor of Afghanistan's long-suffering citizens.

Afghanistan's newly appointed Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, reports that plans to build the new national army are
progressing on schedule: "The target to have a 70,000-strong army will be achieved by December 2006," says the Minister. "Under the historic Bonn agreement signed in late 2001 among various Afghan groups, the post-war Afghanistan would have a 70,000 brand new strong army and of these, according to officials, 25,000 have already been recruited... The United States and its allies have been providing training to the personnel of the fledgling Afghanistan National Army (ANA). However, the Afghan Air Force would be set up until 2009, the minister noted."

The Afghan army is being
trained by hundreds of dedicated soldiers like this Texas Army National Guardsman: "Each morning at the Kabul Military Training Center, in a small compound called the 'Alamo,' Staff Sgt. Kevin Hinds and his training cadre wake up to greet 800 basic trainees and put them through the day's paces." Read the whole story.

The construction of military infrastructure also continues across the country.
Four new bases for the Afghan army are being built in Herat, Kandahar, Gardez, and Mazar-i-Sharif. They are expected to accommodate 4,000 soldiers.

It's not just the Americans;
NATO, too, has committed to increasing its presence in Afghanistan in the run-up to the April parliamentary elections. "The Alliance is preparing to expand the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The so-called 'phase 2' expansion will see NATO deploying Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) to the West of the country. 'Contributing to peace, stability and democracy in Afghanistan, through the UN-mandated, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, remains the Alliance's key priority,' said a joint communique issued after the meeting." Italy, for example, is expected to contribute security and Provincial Reconstruction Teams to the province of Herat.

With the fight against terrorism succeeding across the country, the fight against another enemy - the opium poppy cultivation - is now increasingly getting into gear. As
President Karzai has told an anti-drug conference in Kabul, "the nation of Afghanistan, for its survival from this disgrace, this dishonour, has to fight against poppy ... like it fought against the Soviets... If we do not, our homeland, our independence, our soil will face danger again." The US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, has announced that the Congress is planning to provide $780 million in the next few months to assist Afghanistan in its fight against drugs, chiefly to provide for alternative employment opportunities for some 125,000 people in three of the country's provinces. The money will also help the Afghan government in the areas of "public outreach, judicial reform, interdiction, alternative livelihoods, and eradication." The Drug Enforcement Agency is also playing an increased role on the ground in Afghanistan. And William Hogan, one of Chicago's best known prosecutors is heading to Afghanistan to focus on combating the drug trafficking.

At a recent meeting, the
European Union foreign ministers, too, have made the fighting of cultivation, production and trafficking of drugs in Afghanistan the "central priority" of the EU aid effort. And the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States have set up a joint committee tasked with coordinating the effort to fight the opium cultivation.

On the
domestic scene, "a team of Afghan judges, prosecutors and investigators began training... as part of a drive to accelerate a crackdown on Afghanistan's booming drug trade... Some 85 individuals, including 15 judges, have been chosen as members of a task force to be trained by the Italian Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences in order to prepare them for speeding narcotics cases through Afghan courts. 'One fault in our system was that we didn't have a system. Now we have a system,' Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammad Daud." There is also talk of establishing a government ministry to deal specifically with anti-drugs policy. In the meantime, the government authorities are brainstorming on the best ways to tackle the problem in a way that also offers hope for the country's farmers: "With the objective of developing rural credit and addressing the problem of opium debt, the Government of Afghanistan convened a two-day workshop to discuss experience and put forward recommendations for increasing the quality and outreach of the rural financial sector. The workshop, organized by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) with support from the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development, particularly focused on the challenges the opium economy presents to rural financial markets." USAID, too, is contributing to that effort:

"Over the past six weeks, an Alternative Livelihoods Program has been designed and launched for three high-priority provinces: Helmand, Badakhshan, and Nangarhar. Activities will include immediate cash-for-work programs aimed at rebuilding rural infrastructure, and will provide a social safety net in communities hard-hit by the counter-narcotics program. In addition to this immediate response, in early 2005 contracts will be signed for a three-year, accelerated rural development program will be launched. This integrated effort will focus on providing farmers and communities with viable commercial alternatives to poppy."
And a wheat seed distribution program for farmers in Nangarhar Province will commence shortly to allow 19,000 farmers to plant 4,000 hectares of wheat instead of poppy.

There are already
some successes on the anti-drug front, as the "Guardian" reports: "Significant numbers of farmers in Nangarhar have spurned opium for wheat in some districts, said the deputy governor, Muhammad Asif Qazi Zada. Diplomats in Kabul have received reports of a similar drop in Hilmand, another top drugs province.

"The claims can only be fully verified during April's harvest. But in three areas visited by the Guardian, there was real evidence of change. In Pachir wa Agam, a few miles from the Pakistani border, Shah Wazir stood on a plot that was carpeted with poppies last year. Now there is wheat. 'When we voted for Karzai we promised to stop the poppy in return for irrigation and good roads,' he said. 'We are keeping our side of the bargain. Now he must keep his.'

"Civic spirit is not the only factor in the change of heart in this remote district. Crop disease last year turned some farmers from opium. Others have been scared by a concerted anti-opium drive by the governor and provincial police chief. The area's Pashtuns are also hoping international promises of help will finally come good."
Meanwhile, on the ground, the law enforcement war against opium goes on: "A special anti-narcotics task force has raided drug laboratories in eastern Afghanistan, seizing more than 15 tons of opium... That amount of opium, one of the largest confiscations in recent years, could have been refined into about 1 tons of heroin... The raids took place... in Nangarhar province's Achin district... Afghan Special Narcotics Force agents also destroyed 24 opium presses that are used to refine the drug. They also seized three tons of chemicals used to process opium into heroin and five AK-47 assault rifles."

In other recent security successes: the Canadian troops in cooperation with the Afghan army
preventing an imminent attack on their base by unearthing a big weapons cache; securing another huge weapons cache, again by the Canadians (Lt.-Cmdr. Ken MacKillop, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force: "We are seeing this type of thing occurring more frequently where Afghans are disclosing the location of these weapons... This is an indication that the Afghan people are feeling safer now and that they believe that they no longer need to rely on the use of these weapons and ammunition in order to survive."); the arrest in south-central Afghanistan of two senior Taliban commanders and six militants; the arrest of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar's former security chief Mullah Naqibullah Toor; and the seizure of five arms caches in late December ("The first, near Tarin Kowt, contained two 107 rockets, an 82 mm mortar, a mine, a rocket-propelled grenade round, three cans of mortar fuses, one can of mine fuses and two 107 mm rocket fuses. Local teenagers near Salerno directed soldiers to the second cache, which contained three RPGs. The third cache, near Waza Khwa, contained 13 boxes of machine gun ammunition, and various pieces of electronic and radio equipment. The fourth weapons cache, near Ghazni, contained 6,600 boxes of 14.5 mm rounds and 5,700 boxes of 12.7 mm rounds. The fifth weapons cache near Orgun-e contained 11 107 mm rockets, an RPG launcher and a recoilless rifle").

And in recent security successes across the border in Pakistan, the authorities in the southern port city of Karachi
arrested Syed Akbar Agha, the head of the Army of Muslims, who is suspected of involvement in the recent kidnapping of three UN workers in Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities remain in favor of building a regional security partnership involving Pakistan and the United States. "Fighting terrorism, drug abuse and smuggling weapons requires a collective war among the neighboring nations," says the Defence Ministry spokesman.

Radek Sikorski, one of the few Westerners to travel through Afghanistan with mudjahedin during the war against the Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, has recently made a return visit to a city he knew well from the time of trouble:

"Herat [today] does not look like a warlord's den. The airport road, which I crossed in 1987, terrified of the Soviet tanks whose tracks had turned it into a series of potholes, is now covered in asphalt, and illuminated by working street lights. It is lined with freshly planted pines, and has a central reservation with a lawn. The western suburbs, where I spent several weeks in 1987 dodging Soviet bombs and rockets, used to be called 'little Hiroshima'. Today, it's a busy commercial area, with a new ring road along the ancient city walls.

"Until a year ago Ismael Khan channelled money from Herat's customs terminal--trucks from Iran and Turkmenistan have to pass through the city--into public parks, a monument to the Soviet war, and new roads. It's quite something, in this dry country, to see women in burkas riding pedal boats in Herat's municipal water-park, as well as a lunatic asylum and a drug rehabilitation clinic in a country not known for its social infrastructure. Land in Herat has been set aside and houses built for the widows of fallen partisans. I visited several girls' schools."
Sikorski concludes: "One evening I stood on the terrace of a restaurant that overlooks the city from the cooler, northern hills, in the company of a group of Afghan university rectors who had gathered there for a conference. We watched the sodium street lights light up all over the city. 'This is not like Afghanistan!' exclaimed one of the Afghans. This was the highest compliment he could think of." Today, thanks to the efforts of countless Afghans and members of the Coalition, this is becoming Afghanistan.

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