Don't Panic

Your war questions Answered

Is the situation in Afghanistan improving at all?

That depends on whom you ask.

Ask President Hamid Karzai and he might say no (or the Pashtun equivalent). Sure, he's relentlessly positive (translation: kinda phony) whenever he speaks publicly about his country's future, but he's gotta know that things suck for him right now.

For example, that petri dish of evil affectionately known as the Taliban seems to be making a comeback. According to Afghan officials, Taliban forces have regrouped in neighboring Pakistan and are responsible for recent cross border attacks that have left dozens of Afghan soldiers dead. On Aug. 19, the 84th anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from the British, celebrations were spoiled a bit by news of Taliban attacks the day before that left nine Afghan policemen dead. Attacks all over Afghanistan that day wounded some foreign aid workers and Afghan soldiers.

During his independence day speech, President Karzai called for a reverse jihad. Instead of making a list of stuff he wanted blown up, he called for an Afghan holy war to rebuild the country. Also wounded that day, Afghan pride. Why? Because to hear Karzai's speech in person Afghans had to first be searched by Karzai's American security team. Independence, my ass.

The sad fact is that Karzai doesn't have much authority beyond the capital city, Kabul. He only has authority in Kabul because foreign troops are there to give it to him. NATO has just changed the "A" in its name to Afghanistan and is now in charge of the 5,000-person peacekeeping force in Kabul.

When there's no foreign troop presence around to muscle on his behalf, Karzai's government is ultra weak. The central government is unable to accomplish that most basic of government tasks, collecting taxes. Buoyed by the tax money that should be heading to Kabul, provincial leaders (a.k.a. warlords) wield massive power. A country with several local armies whose only loyalty is to its local commanders isn't much of a country.

Afghanistan's fractured political state isn't exactly our fault, but we've kind of encouraged it. We fought and deposed the Taliban in 2001 by funding and arming their regional opposition. Since the Taliban's collapse, the foreign aid being sent to Afghanistan is less than that being sent to Bosnia, a country a quarter of Afghanistan's size. Afghans, foreign aid operators in Afghanistan, and even Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, whose countrymen make a sport of interfering in Afghanistan's politics, have repeatedly asked for a much larger foreign (translation: American and European) troop presence in Afghanistan. Our response thus far has been to hem, haw, change the subject, lie and invade Iraq.

Afghanistan isn't all bad news though. For example, if you're a maker, dealer or user of illegal opiates, you can nod off knowing that Afghanistan is the largest producer and exporter of opium poppies in the world. It's certainly better than Afghanistan's prior leading export, al-Qaeda, but not by much.

If you're a restless young Afghan eager to see exotic locales like Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar or Herat, you'll be pleased to know that Afghanistan's army just opened its first army recruiting center in Jalalabad. They're aiming for a 70,000-man force. Right now there are only 5,000. The good news is that those who join up now are guaranteed parking spaces really close to the door.

Finally, if you're an Afghan man with a little cash on your hands, but you're having trouble meeting quality people, you're in luck. According to reports, it's getting easier to just go out and buy yourself a bride. An Irish relief organization has found villages selling brides as young as 8. If you're into the older broads, they also report women as old as 12 are also for sale.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush stated that, now that the Taliban was deposed, Afghan "women are free." The statement is false. According to reports, women are at least $300.

Doesn't this guy check any of his facts before putting them in his State of the Union speeches?

Andisheh Nouraee can be reached at [email protected].