Saturday, October 23, 2004

Kerry's Coalition of the Unwilling 

John Kerry's "real allies" in action:
"Europe would line up behind a Kerry administration's fresh approach to 'winning the peace' in Iraq with diplomatic support, but not troops, say officials and policy analysts."
Which is a huge relief, because as we all know, the simmering insurgency and the slow pace of reconstruction can be blamed in large part for the shortage of diplomats on the ground in Iraq.

Jokes aside, "officials and policy analysts" offer some interesting perspectives on the current presidential race and the prospect of a Kerry Administration:
" 'Do not expect miracles from a Kerry victory,' said Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute for International Relations. 'It's not as if you elect Kerry and suddenly France decides it will rush troops to Iraq. Countries which supported the war are leaving; countries which opposed it will not get in,' he said. But Moisi, who has been a sharp critic of French policies, said Kerry's internationalist approach would go a long way toward restoring a cooperative relationship between Washington and its European allies. 'Words do matter. Style does matter," Moisi said. "Bush's style has unnecessarily antagonized France and the rest of the world. Kerry's style would be much more acceptable'."
All this talk about style comes down to this: we still won't do anything, but at least you won't be shouting at us.
"Francois Heisbourg, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris think tank, agreed a Kerry victory would be warmly received in European capitals but warned 'countries don't put their soldiers' lives at risk in far-off wars just because their leaders have a more pleasant relationship'. 'The notion that France and Germany are going to send forces to Iraq when America is not willing to send enough of its own soldiers there because it doesn't want to reestablish the draft - this is fantasy,' he said. Heisbourg said the allies might be willing to participate in peacekeeping operations in Iraq under a U.N. flag, but it was unlikely they would become involved in fighting an insurgency that has brought chaos to Iraq. 'We've already been to Abu Ghraib. It was called the Battle of Algiers,' he said, referring to the brutalities that took place during France's war in Algeria."
Which once again underlines the point that with John Kerry in the White House, the Europeans are willing to pay any price and bear any burden because they won't have to.
"While a Kerry victory would meet with public approval across Europe, it would not necessarily make life easier for European leaders, according to Olivier Roy, an expert on political Islam who lives in France. 'If Bush is re-elected, OK, we know he's not going to ask us for anything,' Roy said. 'But if Kerry wins, he will ask, and we will have to deliver - not in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, in Iran. A Kerry victory will be more costly for France'."
This is an interesting perspective, and it suggests that the European leaders must secretly love the Bush Presidency, as it allows them to do nothing (which is the usual European tactic) and at the same time feel very righteous about it. God knows, should Kerry become president, it might be like the 1990s all over again, and the Europeans might be coerced and bossed around again into stopping genocide and a major war on their own continent (should there be another re-run of the decade-long Balkan crisis), much less somewhere else around the world.
"Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Center on the United States, is concerned a Kerry win will raise unrealistically high expectations on both sides of the Atlantic. Americans, he said, will want Europe to pick up a larger share of the burden in Iraq while Europeans, who have listened approvingly to Kerry's pledges of a non-bullying approach to allies, are hoping things 'will get back to normal after such a bad period.' Both sides are likely to be disappointed, he said, adding fundamental differences on how best to wage a global war on terrorism will continue to strain the alliance."
The Europeans are like teenage children of a divorce, who prefer to spend time with their Democrat mother rather than a strict Republican dad, not because they like the mother more (dude, parents they like, suck, or what?) but because she won't force them to take out the trash and clean the dishes. No wonder the father is increasingly thinking that his 59 year old teenager should finally move out of home and start supporting himself.


Marshall don't Mather 

More often than not, whenever musicians open their mouths on non-music related topics my respect for them tends to consequently drop, although I don't go to Stalinist extremes of purging my CD collection of the offenders' work. This latest political incursion by the previously relatively apolitical Eminem is no exception. Slim Shady's new album "Encore", to be released in mid-November, will contain an anti-Bush rap diatribe titled "Mush", which in part goes something like this:
"Rebel with a rebel yell, raise hell... We gonna let him know/Stomp, push, shove, mush, fuck Bush!/Until they bring our troops home... Let the president answer on higher anarchy/Strap him with an AK-47, let him go fight his own war/Let him impress daddy that way . . . No more blood for oil."
In a soon-to-be-published interview with the "Rolling Stone", Eminem evaluates on his "rappin' for Fallujah" philosophy:
"[Bush] has been painted to be this hero, and he's got our troops over there dying for no reason... I think he started a mess... He jumped the gun, and he fucked up so bad he doesn't know what to do right now... We got young people over there dyin', kids in their teens, early twenties that should have futures ahead of them. And for what? It seems like a Vietnam 2. Bin Laden attacked us, and we attacked Saddam. Explain why that is. Give us some answers."
"I would like to see Bush out of office... I don't wanna see my little brother get drafted -- he just turned eighteen. People think their votes don't count, but people need to get out and vote. Every motherfuckin' vote counts," says Eminem who has recently enrolled to vote. Personally, I would love the Dems run a TV ad based on that slogan. It won't happen, of course, but at least I know now what John Kerry and Michael Moore would sound like if they performed a duet. Every anti-war cliche, every Democratic Party talking point , every conspiracy theory so intricately woven together that you have admire the skill.

Ironically for Eminem and his ilk, of course, the "young people over there" are actually considerably more supportive of Bush than they are of Kerry, going both by the anecdotal evidence and polling results.

Patrick Swayze, meanwhile, has taken to lecturing on sensitivity and cultural relativism:
"I know a great deal about the Middle East because I've been raising Arabian horses for over 20 years, I've researched the culture for most of my life. You don't go into someone else's world and try and require them or force them to operate by your rules, you understand their rules and their needs. That's one thing I don't think we've done."
This comes perilously close to the old chestnut of an argument that democracy, human rights and freedoms are just a "Western thing" that can't be imposed on other cultures, because they're just "different" and they "don't operate like that." Which is nice for somebody who's been raising Arabian horses for 20 years in the West; less nice for somebody else who wasn't able to raise Shetland ponies for the past 20 years in Iraq, because they've been gassed, imprisoned for no reason, tortured or impoverished and denied any hope by the mad socialist economy.

Swayze ends with this self-pitying confession:
"I've been trying to get to Iraq for a while just to support the guys, no publicity no nothing, just go and hang out with them, but the hard part is probably now if I go I'll die."
After spouting bullshit like that, that's probably true.

Update: Drudge also reports on Cher's much under-attended anti-Bush disco rally in Florida, where the aging diva took upon herself to sow panic among gay Americans:
"All the gay guys, all my friends, all my gay friends, you guys you have got to vote, alright? Because it would only be a matter of time before you guys would be so screwed, I cannot tell you. Because, you know, the people, like, in the very right wing of this party, of these Republicans, the very very right wing, the Jerry Falwell element, if they get any more power, you guys are going to be living in some state by yourselves. So, I hate scare tactics, but I really believe that that's true."
So Cher really believes that the re-elected Bush will quarantine millions of gays and lesbians in, perhaps, North Dakota or Alaska? Mind boggles. Now why would the theocratic war-mongering neo-fascist Republican Administration want to see a gay Governor, two gay Senators and, judging by the numbers, a fair few gay Congressmen?

And reader Doug reminds us of an oldie but a goodie - compare and contrast the "dumb Republicans" and those "smart entertainers."

Update II: The living legend Wayne Newton obviously is less fearful of dying than Swayze:
"Las Vegas mainstay Wayne Newton, belting out his trademark version of 'Danke Schoen,' entertained troops during a recent trip to a U.S. base in Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

"Newton, along with special guests that included actor Rob Schneider and country singer Neal McCoy, spent nearly three hours at a 1st Cavalry division camp in the capital on Tuesday."
I believe that in the context of the recent German foreign policy, Newton's trademark hit translates to "No thanks."

And this is one more reason to like Rob Schneider - on top of the fact that the guy is much funnier than Adam Sandler.


Friday, October 22, 2004

Ex-hostage clarifies his comments 

Two days ago I wrote about Australian freelance journalist John Martinkus who was taken hostage in Iraq by neo-Baathist insurgents and released 24 hours later when his political tendencies became apparent to his kidnappers. Martinkus was quoted as saying this about the insurgents:

"These guys ... (are) not stupid... They're fighting a war but they're not savages... They're not actually just killing people willy-nilly... They talk to you, they think about things... There was a reason to kill (British hostage Ken) Bigley, there was a reason to kill the Americans; there was not a reason to kill me (and) luckily I managed to convince them of that."
Now, Martinkus has been forced to clarify his statements:

"They're trying to end the occupation, they're trying to get the Americans to leave and that's why they're doing this... Of course like any sane human being I deplore some of their methods and I wasn't in any way implying that Ken Bigley or the American hostages taken with him deserve their fate." [emphasis added]
So presumably Martinkus "deplores" beheading of hostages, but not some other "methods". I think we need a further clarification - just exactly which of the following are the non-deplorable methods of "ending the occupation"?

a) suicide bombings - against the Coalition personnel, Iraqi security forces, or whoever's unlucky to be in a vicinity of a blast;

b) mortar and RPG attacks - as above;

c) assassinations of Iraqi government officials, army and police personnel, doctors, academics and intellectuals - like shooting up a bus with female employees of Iraqi Airways;

d) kidnappings - as above, plus foreign workers and contractors;

e) sabotage of oil facilities - which so far costed Iraq $7 billion in losses - that's $7 billion less for schools, hospitals, power generation and other such trifles;

f) sabotage of vital infrastructure - electricity lines, water supply;

g) bombing Christian churches.
I've got a feeling that I know the answer, even if Martinkus might never come out and admit it in the open: women and children and accidental passers-by should be off-limits; everyone else is a fair game - after all they are either occupiers or collaborators, and it's all about ending the occupation, isn't it?. Never mind that the occupation-free Iraq that the insurgents are fighting for is either a re-run of the Baathist nightmare or a Taliban-style theocracy. But that's alright - as long as the Americans are out it doesn't matter.


Kerry's voodoo politics 

This is simply ludicrous:

"Sen. John Kerry, bracing for a potential fight over election results, will not hesitate to declare victory Nov. 2 and defend it, advisers say. He also will be prepared to name a national security team before knowing whether he's secured the presidency.

"In short, the Democratic presidential candidate has a simple strategy for Nov. 3 and beyond: Do not repeat Al Gore's mistakes.

"The Democratic vice president prematurely conceded the 2000 race to George W. Bush in a telephone call, then had to retract his concession after aides said Florida wasn't lost. He never declared victory, an omission Kerry's advisers - many of whom worked for Gore - now believe created a sense of inevitability in voters' minds about Bush's presidency."
Gore's mistake, of course, was that he did not win the election. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he didn't claim victory and thus created some sense of inevitability in public mind about the Bush presidency. It had everything to do with the fact that the Supreme Court decided recount was in order, and Gore lost that recount. To argue in effect that both the Supreme Court decision and the recount result would have somehow been different if Gore just kept banging his fist on the table insisting that he is the real president is not just dishonest, it's delusional. It's voodoo politics. It shows that the Democrats still live in a universe where the Republicans can't possibly win the elections so they have to steal them, where the only legitimate result of the election is a Democrat victory - because people couldn't possibly have voted for the Republican, could they? - and where the will of the people is not really expressed through the ballot on the day, but reflected in the rage both before and after the poll. In Kerryverse, he who screams the loudest, wins.

This, by the way, is the Kerry plan to fight any close election result:

"Six so-called 'SWAT teams' of lawyers and political operatives will be situated around the country with fueled-up jets awaiting Kerry's orders to speed to a battleground state. The teams have been told to be ready to fly on the evening of the election to begin mounting legal and political fights. Every battleground state will have a SWAT team within an hour of its borders.

"The Kerry campaign has recount office space in every battleground state, with plans so detailed they include the number of staplers and coffee machines needed to mount legal challenges.

" 'Right now, we have 10,000 lawyers out in the battleground states on Election Day, and that number is growing by the day,' said Michael Whouley, a Kerry confidant who is running election operations at the Democratic National Committee.

"While the lawyers litigate, political operatives will try to shape public perception. Their goal would be to persuade voters that Kerry has the best claim to the presidency and that Republicans are trying to steal it."
If only John Kerry had this comprehensive plan to fight the war on terror, I would rest easier at the possibility of his election victory. Instead, one gets the impression that the Dems believe the real war is the one against the Bush presidency, the Republicans are a greater threat to American democracy than al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden is dangerous to the extent that he might actually get captured just before November 2.

How sad for the party of FDR and JFK.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

322,500,000 stories from Iraq you missed out on recently 

In my last "Good news from Iraq" feature I have written perhaps more extensively than previously about media's "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality and the in-built bias for reporting the negative. It is, of course, hardly surprising that anything commonly considered to be out of the ordinary state of affairs (violence, terror, controversy, corruption) tends to attract media's attention. After all, as the argument would go, we need to be informed about the one murder in Smallville, Kentucky, not about the other 999 residents who haven't been killed that day. Yet, however correct this argument might be, it is also quite clear that a continuing emphasis on the negative gives us a skewed, pessimistic overall view of events around us.

A few days ago, 18 soldiers with the 343rd Quartermaster Company in Iraq refused to carry out orders and proceed with their convoy. It was the first mutiny of this kind during the current conflict.

As of the last count, Google News lists
1,900 news stories relating to this incident.

Since March 2003, there have been
175,000 similar such convoy missions conducted in Iraq without troops involved refusing their orders.

Based on this ratio, over the last year and a half we didn't see 322,500,000 news stories about the convoys successfully conducted.

Any wonder it is so difficult for outside observers to maintain a proper perspective on events in Iraq?


John Kerry and terrorist money? 

I reserve my judgment on this one - the Dems are, after all, notoriously sloppy about accepting money from questionable sources - but you owe it to yourself to check out this story from an Australian blogger, the House of Wheels, who investigates donations accepted by the Kerry campaign from individuals associated with the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The KLA's links to al Qaeda - albeit generally rather tenuous - were always going to get the United States in an awkward position, as both have otherwise shared a common enemy in Slobodan Milosevic and both had fought to stop Serbia's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Still, the KLA has traditionally been in a spotlight more as a quasi-organised crime syndicate (involved in
drug trade and prostitution) than a jihadi organisation.

It might bear reminding that one of the two Australian citizens currently held at Guantanamo Bay,
David Hicks, has started off his private jihad while fighting with the KLA against the Serbs, before graduating into the Taliban ranks, and eventually into captivity.


Guest blogger: Mesopotamia Redeemed 

Second in my occasional series of appearances by guest bloggers (for the first one, see Pavel Bratinka from the Czech Republic who writes about learning from the totalitarian experience), please welcome Daniel Foty, who argues that democracy and the rule of law are nothing new in Iraq - the Coalition is merely trying to reintroduce the lost legacy of ancient Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamia Redeemed – Part I

If the present Coalition mission in Iraq could be distilled to one sentence, perhaps it would be this: To establish an open, pluralistic, "rule-of-law" society, one from which no threats to the peace and stability of the larger world will emanate.

In a larger sense, though, there is a supreme irony in this mission. The historical irony is that these concepts originated in Mesopotamia some 5,000 years ago, and were developed to a very high degree there. "Civilization" itself originated in Mesopotamia, and all of these origins are (not surprisingly) intertwined; a well-organized rule-of-law society is a pre-requisite for the growth of civilization itself. The foundations of "western civilization" can be traced directly to the early societies of Mesopotamia; while these ideas flourished elsewhere, they were lost to Mesopotamia for several thousand years, and are only now being recovered.

This remarkable story begins in Mesopotamia with a long-forgotten people who were only "rediscovered" during the late 19th century – the Sumerians. The Sumerians came into Mesopotamia from the north sometime around 4,000 B.C., entering a sparsely-settled Tigris-Euphrates valley and taking up residence. The Sumerians stand out because of their language; unlike the inflected languages in the Semitic and Indo-European groups, the Sumerians spoke an agglutinative language from the same group which now includes modern Finnish, Hungarian, and Turkish.

The specific origin of the Sumerians remains a mystery, but their achievements as a society are now well-known. Then as today, the main problem facing any inhabitants of Mesopotamia has always been that it is a land of extremes. Mesopotamia is virtually devoid of any natural resources which were of value in the ancient world (metals, timber, and stone – petroleum not having yet emerged in importance). However, the soil of Mesopotamia is extremely fertile and can be very productive –if a proper system of irrigation can be developed and maintained. A society which could exploit this potential was capable of producing vast quantities of grain and other agriculture products, which could be used as trade goods.

Any society which is based on irrigation-intensive agriculture faces a number of difficult problems. Such as society requires a very well-ordered social system, in which there are clear divisions of responsibility and authority and a high degree of predictability in human affairs.

Remarkably, the Sumerians rose to this challenge, and were able to create a high civilization which prospered in an otherwise harsh environment. Through their ingenuity (in both tangible and intangible senses), the Sumerians turned a desert into a garden; the use of the term "Fertile Crescent" to describe the Tigris-Euphrates valley is a tribute to this accomplishment.

As noted earlier, the Sumerians were "forgotten" by history until the late 19th century. It was only with the discovery and decipherment of clay tablets from Mesopotamia that their existence was "re-discovered." This has allowed for the piecing-together of a great deal of information about their history, society and culture – and the re-construction of that story is still not complete.

As a distinct society, Sumerian civilization flourished from about 4,000 B.C. until about 1,700 B.C.; at that point, Sumerian society was absorbed into other societies which had emerged in Mesopotamia, mostly centering on Babylon.

It is only in retrospect that the achievements of Sumerian society can be properly appreciated. One of the most striking aspects of that society is the "modernity" of their culture and their very thoughts. While the long-term impact of Sumerian civilization is nearly impossible to trace, it is not unreasonable to postulate that fundamental underpinnings of modern civilization began with the Sumerians and were transmitted (directly and indirectly) into other cultures.

The reconstructions show that Sumerian society was remarkably accomplished. The Sumerians invented writing, as a method of storing information outside the human body for safe-keeping and for later use. The method which was developed was to press a reed into a slab of wet clay to form characters – the clay tablet was then baked to render it firm; this method was robust and nonbiodegradable, and has been the key to the "rediscovery" of the Sumerians and the reconstruction of knowledge about their society. In addition to the obvious practical utility of writing, the Sumerians produced a sizeable body of purely literary material – including the famous "Epic of Gilgamesh," the translation of which caused a stir in the late 19th century due to the many parallels with the Old Testament. The Sumerian archives also document extensive and detailed agriculture expertise – which is not a surprise, given the total dependence of their society on an intricate system of irrigated agriculture. But the archives also indicate a large body of other knowledge, such as extensive medical knowledge. The Sumerians were also accomplished mathematicians, developing a mathematics based on 6 and 10; this mathematics is still with us today, in the 60 seconds and 60 minutes of time-keeping and latitude/longitude coordinates, and in the 360 degrees of the circle.

Perhaps even more remarkably, the historical records clearly indicate that the Sumerian citystates, while being governed by kings, also had legislative assemblies (often bi-cameral) which wielded real power and could even overrule the king on the most fundamental matters of state, such as the choice between war or peace.

It is these aspects of Sumerian society – the highly-developed forms of governance – which are perhaps the most remarkable. In contrast to what we might naively expect, Sumerian societies were not governed by all-powerful despotic kings whose word was law. Sumerian civilization was remarkably advanced in that private property was respected, power was divided among different people and assemblies, and individual rights were clearly a fundamental aspect of society.

It was in that context that the Sumerians produced perhaps their most remarkable innovation – the first legal codes. These codes were created and publicly promulgated for a very obvious reason – the Sumerians realized that the protection of their rights and their favored situation as a garden in the desert rested on having a clear and independent statement of the rules under which their society would operate. In other words, the Sumerians realized some 4,500 years ago that they must by governed by the rule of law rather than the rule of men. This could only be accomplished by using their new technology of writing to set these rules down in print, and by ensuring that those rules reflected the general values of Sumerian society along with the specific statute items for specific situations.

Several Sumerian legal codes have been recovered, at least in part. These documents are remarkable for their modernity and their enlightened approaches to law and order. They will be discussed in Part II.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

An endorsement for Dubya 

No surprises there - Australia's Prime Minister John Howard endorses George Bush for re-election:

"The re-election of US President George W Bush would help in the war on terror, Prime Minister John Howard said last night. Mr Howard, fresh from talks with Indonesian president-elect Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said he was hopeful Mr Bush would win his race against Democrat challenger John Kerry.

" 'I wish him well and I hope he gets re-elected,' he told reporters. 'I certainly think George Bush has given great leadership to the world fight against terrorism. I think he's been a very strong leader in that fight. I hope he wins'."
As Polipundit comments:

"We already know that the leaders of Japan, Russia and Israel want President Bush to be re-elected... Meanwhile, Jean-Francoise Kerry can count on such luminaries as Yasser Arafat, the anti-semitic Mahathir Mohammed, and the Communist Chinese."
One can also add the tacit support of German, French and Canadian leaders, who however remain unwilling to put their troops when their thoughts are, even if their man gets into the White House. Either way, way to go for John Kerry.

Speaking of John Howard, the Prime Minister is currently engaged in a
charm offensive in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim democracy, which happens to be on Australia's doorstep (or vice versa, depending on your point of view):

"John Howard will sit in Indonesia's imposing house of parliament today and applaud as the nation's first directly elected president is finally inaugurated. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a Suharto-era general, could provide a golden chance for Australia to smooth relations with its enormous neighbour to the north...

"The US-educated military man will have to tread a fine line between placating the West and catering to a resentful underclass of Indonesians, mired in poverty, distrustful of international wealth and angry about the perceived hammering of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yudhoyono is favoured by the US and Australia, but that's kept very quiet in Indonesia, where it would probably count against him in the teeming villages and urban slums. Nevertheless, he has won a handsome mandate, a five-year term, and hopes are high."
Says Dino Pati Djalal, a senior Indonesian Foreign Ministry official: "John Howard's visit for the ceremony has no precedent, it has never happened before, and I think that's a very good early step in bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia."

As a side issue, the myth of Australia as "the US's deputy sheriff" in the Asian region lives on, both in the words of the story's author Sian Powell ("Australia's assertion that it had become the US's deputy sheriff in the region was a bone of contention") and those of Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Science ("Howard sometimes acts like a rooster, talking about pre-emptive strikes and referring to Australia as the deputy sheriff of the US"). Howard, of course, never did refer to himself or Australia as the deputy sheriff -
media did. And the rest, sadly, is history.


They're not savages, they only kill Americans 

There is a happy ending for Australian freelance journalist John Martinkus, kidnapped and soon released by Iraqi insurgents.

Martinkus, of course, might go down in history as
the first man saved by an internet search engine:

"Iraqi insurgents who took Australian journalist John Martinkus hostage carried out a Google search on the internet to determine whether they should kill him. And when he turned out to be neither American nor CIA, but the author of a book about how the US is facing an uphill battle to beat the insurgents in Iraq, it almost certainly saved his life."
Well, the insurgents are a clever bunch; why would they execute a leftie journo who works for Australia's public multicultural TV station SBS, whose consistent choice of anti-Bush, anti-war documentaries would make Al Jazeera weep with envy? Martinkus' views, after all, are priceless:

"Mr Martinkus said his captors had threatened to kill him, but treated him with respect once they established he was independent.

" 'These guys ... (are) not stupid,' he told reporters. 'They're fighting a war but they're not savages... They're not actually just killing people willy-nilly... They talk to you, they think about things... (From their perspective) there was a reason to kill (British hostage Ken) Bigley, there was a reason to kill the Americans; there was not a reason to kill me (and) luckily I managed to convince them of that.

"Asked if he thought Iraq was on the road to recovery, Mr Martinkus said, "No, it's on the road to shit'."
No wonder they let him go: Martinkus as a talking head is so much more useful than a severed head.

Martinkus is also demanding a personal apology from Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for suggesting that Martinkus is to blame for putting himself in danger by having wondered off, against official advice, into a dangerous part of Baghdad. In reality, Martinkus was kidnapped not too far from the Australian embassy (more
here). No word yet if Martinkus will be demanding apology from his kidnappers, too.


Better than Iraq 

The Sudanese Foreign Minister is making some big calls:

"Sudan's government has said it has handled the Darfur crisis better than the United States has dealt with Iraq."
Just in case you're too stunned to instantly react, this is what Osman Ismael means:

"Mr Ismael said although the US has deployed more troops and advanced military hardware to Iraq, it has still not been able to disarm dissident forces there."
Two qualifiers spring to mind: firstly, there is no question of any possible ideological affinity, much less collaboration between the Americans and Iraqi jihadis. Secondly, the neo-Baathist, Shia and al Qaeda insurgents in Iraq have not yet managed to kill some 70,000 people and displace another 1.5 million. Other than those two minor points, the analogy is quite useful.

"Mr Ismael said the international community should leave the complex ethnic politics of Darfur alone. 'This is an African problem - it needs an African solution,' he said."
No offence to African solutions, but last time they (together with the more broad "international community" solutions) were tried - remember Rwanda? remember the war and strife in the Central African region? - millions were left to die and chaos reigned for years.

Unless, the African/UN solution is actually more akin to the "final solution"; a shorthand for: "everyone's dead, move on, nothing to see here."


Another good cause 

The Truth About Iraq, as the name suggests, is committed to presenting the other side of the story about Iraq; kind of like my "Good news from Iraq" series, except a lot more ambitious.

Now, with election only weeks away and the swing states being bombarded daily with the quagmire rhetoric from the Democrats and the fellow travelers in the media, the Truth About Iraq has an antidote, but it needs your help to spread the message:
"You may not know:

"80,000 Iraqi children are alive today because the Coalition Forces took Saddam Hussein from power.

"Polls show 75% of Iraqis want a democracy.

"51% of Iraqis say their country is going in the right direction.

"This is the truth about Iraq - the truth that people should know before they vote. We are airing commercials right now to get the truth out - see the commercial.

"We need your help: television time is expensive and we are going up against big guns. Fahrenheit 9/11 has sold something on the order of 13 million tickets. About 7.5 million people watched Dan Rather on CBS news last night, according to Nielsen.

"$80 airs this TV commercial once in Clarksburg, West Virginia. $125 airs this spot once in Columbus and $195 airs this spot once in Albuquerque. Most advertising experts say that the average person must see a commercial six times before it becomes persuasive. $192,000 ensures that every person in the Cincinnati media market sees it eight times. Please donate to get out the truth about Iraq!"
Go check them out and see if you can help.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Chrenk's Speechwriting 101 

Yesterday I quoted Mark Steyn and the deputy leader of the Liberal Party Peter Costello on differences between political styles and political rhetoric between the United States and Australia. Costello was of the opinion that American style doesn't work Down Under; Steyn said that it didn't really matter, as he prefers the Australian one, anyway. I promised (well, not quite, but in any case I feel obliged) to write a bit more about these differences. What's below is literally only "a bit more" but I thought it might still be a worthwhile if brief contribution to the topic. I wrote it before my blogging days (God, was there really something before blogging?) and although I'm not generally environmentally-minded, I like recycling. As you will be able to see, I'm an American speechwriter trapped in an Australian body.

Can there be any greater contrast between speech-writing style of George W Bush and John Howard? What’s the last speech of any Australian politician that's remembered for good reasons, and not because it came back to haunt the speaker? ("...by 1990 no child in Australia will live in poverty...", "...the things that batter..." [Labor's Bob Hawke's and Liberal's Alexander Downer's respectively; the former because it was a silly promise that couldn't be delivered, the latter because it was
a poor attempt at humor]) Why is that the rest of the world cringes every time an American president invokes a higher power, or speaks in the language of moral absolutes?

The chances are that you've never given any thought such questions. The chances are this is because anytime a politician opens his or her or - if you follow the overwhelming public sentiment – its mouth, your eyes glaze over, your mind tunes out, and your fingers reach for the remote control. Not many people listen to the pollies speaking (unless they are forced to), even fewer people stop and analyse not just what they are being told, but also the way they are being told.

Let us take a quick look at the speech-writing prowesses of Howard and Bush respectively. Where Howard is down to earth, Bush is exuberant; where Howard is understated, Bush is memorable; Howard’s speeches are largely rhetoric-free zones, those of Bush are spiced with flourish. These generalisations hold even truer when applied to speech-making styles of Australian and American politicians as a whole.

The explanations for this divergence are many, but the most valuable line of inquiry concerns national history and national character. The United States was founded and nourished by religious and political dissidents. These were the people who reached deep into the well of Biblical language and imagery to express their visions of the present and the future. While some were inspired by Jerusalem, others preferred to reach back and embrace the classical heritage of Athens and Rome. The end result was a nation of preachers and orators who took their politics and civic life very seriously indeed. From the first days of Puritan settlements, the Americans (before they even knew they were Americans) perceived themselves as special in the greater scheme of things, a divinely-inspired experiment, "a shining city on the hill." As the United States grew more powerful, and eventually attained the status of a superpower and "the leader of the Free World," American politicians came to realise that they are speaking not just to domestic audiences, but indeed to the whole world.

Now take a look at Australia – a large landmass but a small nation, a continent suffering from
"the tyranny of distance" to abroad and harsh, inhospitable environment at home. First a penal settlement, then a colonial outpost, our nation was built by rebels and politician-haters who nevertheless ironically always looked to the government for protection and support. They made the Australia of today into a country that spends its time on the beach and not inside a church, idolises sportspeople and damns politicians, celebrates heroic defeats and views success with disdain and suspicion.

No wonder the United States gave us Lincoln’s "mystic chords of memory", Kennedy’s "ask not...", Reagan’s "ash heap of history", Bush Sr’s "thousand points of light" and his son’s "axis of evil." No surprise, also, that in Australia, the only poignancy, feeling, and even (God forbid) flashes of rhetoric pop up when our leaders speak of
Anzacs – be it Keating in 1993 at the funeral of the unknown soldier, or Howard in 2000 at Lone Pine.

But it’s time for a reality check now. All this talk about great oratory, or lack thereof, on both sided of the Pacific merely obscures the fact that 99.9% of all political speeches are boring. For every "I have a dream" there are 10,000 explanations why the government considers it to be in the public interest to regulate sale of milk. The main purpose of political speeches is to sell the government policy to people who don’t want to buy anything, or to savage the opposition’s policies to people who couldn’t care less who the opposition is. Politicians tend to speak to small group of the converted, or large groups of the indifferent, and sometimes even to nobody at all (if you don’t believe me, check out Australian Parliament or American Congress on an average day). Very often our leaders speak off-the-cuff, rehashing half a dozen talking points they memorised before; almost as frequently they read out word for word tedious speeches prepared for them by their departments. Here there is no need – and no room – for any "tricks", the delivery hardly matters, and no one notices when the speaker strays from the script.

That’s the stark reality. But what if we do want to write something memorable, even historical, for our politician? What tricks can we use to ensure our product ends up into the next edition of William Safire’s "Lend Me Your Ears"? (no, it’s not a biography of
"Chopper" Read, but a veritable bible for speech-writers and speech-lovers, an anthology to get you inspired, and more often, make you jealous.)

Why are some speeches so much better than others? A rather obvious, if also rather circular answer is that they are written by good speechwriters. On that account alone the economies of scale will suggest that US Presidents will have the best luck. Roosevelt had Robert Sherwood, who also happened to be a successful playwright, Nixon had Safire (he of the above-mentioned anthology) and Buchanan (who might be an unsavoury throwback to economic, racial and foreign policies of the 1930s but he still is a damn good wordsmith). Ronald Reagan had Peggy Noonan, and George W relied initially on the talents of David Frum, one of the best right-wing journalists in North America today (Frum is Canadian).

But even if you’re not in that major league (God knows I’m not, but would love to be), don’t despair, for not all is lost. I can’t offer too many good suggestions, but here are a few to get you started:

Choose a good topic that is conducive of taking strong stances. It is difficult (but probably not impossible) to sweep the nation with you as you discuss salinity or trade practices reform. On the other hand, talk about the war in Iraq, Australia’s place in Asia, multiculturalism, or the future of our constitutional system, and you’re off to a good start. Oh, and once you’ve got a good topic don’t forget to actually say something on it! You don’t have to be inflammatory or controversial, but you can’t be pissweak either.

Write for the topic, as well as for the audience. If you’re speaking to a friendly group which will cheer and clap at appropriate moments, you can build the speech in such a way as to pre-arrange those interactive crescendos. If the audience is not going to oblige, such verbal climaxes will only make you look stupid and out of touch.

Open with something interesting to capture the audiences’ attention right from the start. Some people start with a one-liner or a joke, I personally like short stories that in a simple way say something about the speaker, or the topic, or sometimes both at the same time.

Try to come up with a clever phrase or a term that will stay in people’s memory – something like the "evil empire" or an "axis of evil", or our very own
"light on the hill". Just as good is a catchy sentence, like "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!", "We have nothing to fear but the fear itself", or far more pedestrian but still effective "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come".

I love repetition for good effect – of words, or parts of sentences; usually three times, sometimes even more if you can get away with it. My favourite comes from JFK in June 1963, speaking not far away from the freshly erected Berlin Wall: "There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that Communism is the way of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say that in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that Communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lasst sie nacht Berlin kommen! Let them come to Berlin!" Or one from the recent debates in the run up to the Iraqi war – not as elaborate, but fast and punchy: "It’s peace for Mr Crean, peace for Ms Macklin, peace for Senators Faulkner, Bartlett and Brown, but it’s hell for Iraqi people" [all Labor or minor party anti-war politicians].

Use short sentences! Long ones are difficult to read and even more difficult to say out loud or listen to. Speakers need to catch their breath, too. Plus short sentences have more punch and more impact. It’s a steady artillery fire, instead of a drone of a bomber flying somewhere overhead.

After you write a speech, read it out aloud – not mumble under your nose, but speak up, as it will be delivered by your politician. Some things look good on paper but sound absolutely dreadful when said aloud. Some words seem easy when on the page, but bastards to say out loud and pronounce properly. This rule is an offshoot of the previous one – just as you use short sentences, use short, simple, words. The audiences will understand, and your boss will thank you.

Delivery, Part I – speak, don’t read, or at least don’t look down at your papers too often. Pollies who participate in the second reading debate on the Corporate Law (Amendments of Amendments) Bill 2003 don’t really give a stuff – because neither does anyone else. But if you want to make an impact you need to engage the audience: it’s about eye contact, which leads to control, which leads to impact. To be able to deliver a speech fluently you need to practice. Good memory helps, but even average one will do with enough experience.

Delivery, Part II – slow down for effect. It will make your message seem more serious and profound, and you, the speaker, seem more in control as well as more empathetic with the message. Use for "serious", sad, important topics.

Delivery, Part III – don’t underestimate the force of a pause and a moment of silence. Ostensibly to let the listeners reflect on what you’ve just said – in reality there’s not enough time for reflection, so the real reason is to make greater impact. Sometimes slow drops are more powerful than a torrent. Use it when you’re having a go at somebody/something. Imagine an American Indian chief speaking up against his white nemesis: "They said they come in peace. (pause) They lied. (pause). Then they killed. (pause). And raped. (pause) And pillaged. (pause)" and so on.

And finally – finish with a punch.


1984 and 2004 

Drawing parallels to the wars on terror and in Iraq has become something of a cottage industry among historians and pundits, with Vietnam being the opponents' preferred analogy, while the more hawkish commentators would rather make comparisons with the Cold War.

In a similar vein, Dr Judith Apter Klinghoffer, senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, speculates in her recent article
"What If America Had Elected Walter Mondale in 1984?" Dr Klinghoffer's conclusion is clear:

"By reelecting Reagan, the American people proved that they were willing to pay the price needed to achieve victory and in so doing they enhanced immensely President Reagan's bargaining power. Consequently, when Reagan refused to negotiate away the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet leadership, elite and people confounded the experts and decided not to make the sacrifices needed to keep up with the Americans in yet another costly arms race.

"Similarly, a Bush victory coming as it will in the wake of the Howard victory in Australia is bound to send a powerful message not only to the Islamists but also to our real and nominal Muslim allies that they better join the anti-Islamist fight and take the American demand for reform seriously. A Bush defeat is bound to send the opposite signal. Even if Kerry would like to prosecute the war on terror in Iraq and elsewhere, he would have to overcome the worldwide perception that the electorate has repudiated not only Bush but his forceful policy. In other words, much of the hard work and sacrifices made by the American people in the past three years would be wasted. This may not be fair, but it is nonetheless true and I suspect the American people know it."
Indeed, it might not be fair, but life often isn't, as we on the right side of politics never tire of reminding everyone. This really the crux of the matter: those who have been around for a while know that in politics perceptions matter more than reality. The reality might be that John Kerry is indeed genuinely committed to tough anti-terror foreign policy, the sort of "Bush's commitment without Bush's mistakes" approach. Personally, nothing that Kerry has said or done regarding his attitude and plans convinces me that this is how it will work out in practice should he be successful on November 2 - but me personal views are irrelevant here.

What counts is that the great majority of those Americans who are backing Kerry are doing so not because they want him to do a better job than Bush at what Bush is now doing; they are backing him because they want him to do a different job to what Bush is now doing. More importantly, from the international point of view, the overwhelming majority (if the recent opinion polls are anything to go by) of people and the elites overseas also want Kerry in the White House not because they think there will be little difference between him and Bush, but precisely because they think that the Kerry Administration will pursue a radically different foreign policy than its predecessor.

It might not be fair, but that doesn't make it any less true.


Monday, October 18, 2004

Good news from Afghanistan, Part 5 

Note: Also published at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Big thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their continuing support for spreading the good news, and to everyone else for their assistance with links and publicity for the project.

On Saturday, 9 October, for the fifth time in my life I went into a polling station and cast a vote in Australian federal election. The same day, but several hours later and on the other side of the globe, millions of people were exercising their democratic right to vote for the first time in their lives.

In my earliest political memory my father and I are hunching over a radio set, listening with the sound turned down to Radio Free Europe and the news of armed resistance against the Soviet invaders springing up around Afghanistan. The year is 1979, I am 7 years old, and this is the first time I'm hearing about the mysterious and romantic mudjahedin and their struggle against the Red Army - the topic not surprisingly absent from Poland's communist media. Over the next few years we would continue to follow the events in Afghanistan with somewhat mixed feelings; the unspoken support and sympathy for the brave Afghans fighting against communist occupation, but at the same time sadness for the fate of the Red Army troops, most of them unwilling conscripts forced to fight somebody else's war in a faraway country. There but for the grace of God goes I, thought my friends' older brothers of the draft age.

Recalling this story as I came out of my Australian polling station made me realize that for most of my life, and certainly all the time I have been conscious of world events, Afghanistan has been what many would colloquially - and unkindly - call a basketcase; a harsh and impoverished land, forever doomed to be riven by war and suffocate under foreign or domestic oppression.

Yet finally, after a quarter of a century, Afghanistan is getting better.
Peter Bergin, a veteran journalist and certainly not a George Bush cheerleader writes:

"Based on what Americans have been seeing in the news media about Afghanistan lately, there may not be many who believed President George W. Bush... when he told the United Nations that the 'Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom.' But then again, not many Americans know what Afghanistan was like before the American-led invasion."
Bergin recently visited the country after a few years' absence. His surprised verdict: "What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it's better than so-so."

For Afghanistan, "better than so-so" is better than I can recall it ever being in my lifetime. That it's "better than so-so" only three years after the end of the dismal Taliban rule is a reason enough to celebrate. Here are some causes for optimism about the country's future.

SOCIETY: For once, over the last few weeks it was hard to avoid the coverage of Afghanistan. The presidential election had enough of the novelty value - for the Afghans as well as for the international media - to keep the story in high rotation through several news cycles. And to their credit, despite grumbling about precarious security situation across the country and procedural problems with the poll, most media observers agreed that the very fact the election was taking place was a good news in itself. Perhaps after the 2000 saga of hanging chads it was too much to expect that the Afghan election would be perfect. As the
"Straits Times" wrote: "It's not who wins that's vital, but the fact that the country is holding its first ever direct election after decades of turmoil." Or as the United Arab Emirates' "Khaleej Times" put it: "People win the first round in Afghanistan."

It fell to New Jersey's
"Express Times" to put the event in perspective: "Despite some technical glitches, Afghanistan's first democratic election in the country's 5,000-year history went off peacefully." This report from Reports painted the typical picture of the election day:

"Opposition claims of electoral fraud failed to dim international enthusiasm for Afghanistan's historic presidential elections yesterday, with world leaders welcoming the largely peaceful poll and massive voter turnout.

"Local and international election monitors dismissed opposition calls for a new poll after it was found that the ink used to stain voters' fingers to ensure they cast only one ballot was easily washed off... [T]he Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said demands for new polls were 'unjustified'. The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan said a 'fairly democratic environment has generally been observed in the overall majority of the polling centres'.

"The FFEF also noted that the threats of violence by remnants of the Taliban regime largely did not eventuate. The only incident of note occurred when a convoy carrying ballot papers was attacked in Uruzgan province and three policemen were killed. 'Security on the whole has been much better than pessimists had expected,' the FFEF said. That led some observers to suggest the terrorist-harbouring Taliban, ousted by a US-led invasion in late 2001, was a spent force."
As another report noted: "After months of what proved to be empty threats, military commanders and ordinary Afghans said yesterday the vote was a serious setback for the holdouts of the hardline Islamic regime that was driven from power by U.S. bombs almost three years ago for harbouring Osama bin Laden. 'Yesterday was a big defeat for the Taliban and a huge defeat for al-Qaida,' said Lt.-Gen. David Barno, the top American commander in Afghanistan. 'It shows that the political process is overwhelming any influence they may have.'

"Voters also said the Taliban had been exposed as weak. Bismillah Jan, a driver for an aid group in this southern city, where the Taliban began, said his fear of attacks Saturday quickly disappeared when he saw the heavy security on the way to the polling station where the atmosphere 'was like a festival.' 'This government has the support of the world and the help of God,' said the 20-year-old, who recently returned home after a spell as a refugee in Pakistan. 'The Taliban are weak and they are fading day by day'."
The turn-out has been described as "massive" by the UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva. Fittingly, "[a] 19-year-old Afghan woman, living as a refugee in neighboring Pakistan, was the first citizen to vote in her home country's landmark presidential election."

Not surprisingly, the election evoked
powerful emotions among the Afghan people:

" 'Finally the day has arrived. I am so happy, it's like a dream. I feel that we are finally human,' said Zahooba, a toothless old woman of 65 who walked half an hour on shaky legs to the polling station to cast her vote for President Hamid Karzai... Rahgul, a 45-year-old matriarch came with 11 women from her family to cast her vote for Hamid Karzai. 'Our father said we should come early and vote. We are so happy. I can't believe today is the election,' she said adding that the men in her family were also voting for Karzai. She was not worried about attacks or explosions. 'The Taliban warned us but we are not scared. We are Afghans,' she added...

"[V]oters were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, calling polling day the happiest day of their lives and saying that they hoped it would usher in big changes. 'Today we can vote. We change the future of our country and our lives. After decades of war I know that now things will change,' said 25-year-old Abdul Haq."
Women were among the most enthusiastic voters:

"In the courtyard of the Haino School for Girls close to Kandahar's main mosque, scores of women lined up Saturday morning, chatting excitedly and pressing around the doors of the small classrooms used as makeshift polling booths...

"After squinting at the pictures on the long green ballot - most of the women were illiterate - almost all chose Karzai, a fellow Pashtun. An ethnic Hazara challenger appeared to be running a distant second. None was considering the lone female candidate from distant Kabul...

"At a polling station in Kabul, Gul Sum, a 60-year-old ethnic Hazara housewife wearing a black veil, showed off a thumb stained with the ink from special pens shipped in from India... Sum said the vote would help glue the country back together after more than two decades of violence and poisonous ethnic division. She prayed that militants would not make good on their threat to attack the process. 'In the line waiting with me, there were women from all the different groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara,' Sum said. 'For the first time, women are having a say in the future of Afghanistan. We are fed up with war'."
On the other side of the world, the Afghan-American residents of "Little Kabul" in Fremont, California, were also happy about the election in their home country, as this photo shows.

In the end, the day's importance was best summed up by Jeff Raleigh at the US embassy in Kabul who told me:

"Three years and two days ago, American troops came to Afghanistan to free a people who had been subjugated by a cruel and vicious oppressor. Today, I witnessed what their sacrifices and efforts, and those of other coalition troops, the international community and my colleagues at the US Embassy had helped to win.

"I visited three polling places in Kabul today and saw Afghan men and women lining up to exercise, for the first time in this nation's tortured history, the freedom to select their leader.

"I watched as men and women, who been warned by the violent remnants of a defeated oppressor that exercising their freedom to vote would result in death, defiantly come to polling places to cast their votes.

"I saw women, who had been not allowed out of their own homes under the old regime, walk freely into the voting booths and cast their ballot for their choice for President.

I saw today what freedom looks like."
Getting to that point and making the October 9 possible was, of course, a story in itself. Organizing the election presented a monumental logistical challenge in this rugged and impoverished country:

"Along roads and rivers and even across mountain peaks, heavily-laden donkeys joined the procession of jeeps and trucks, motorcycles and boats that carried all the equipment necessary for the October 9 election to voting centres across the country.

"It took a massive logistical effort to supply all of the nation's 4,800 polling stations. The deliveries included 30,000 ballot boxes and polling kits and the indelible ink to be use to mark voters' fingers to prevent fraud. The operation has cost 120 million US dollars, excluding registration.

"William Hogan, chief of logistics for the Joint Election Management Body, JEMB, said that planning for the elections started in April, 'A huge amount of equipment was moved in a very short period of time.' Voting equipment was delivered to eight major regional centres across the country. More than 2,000 trucks, four Mi8 helicopters, 135 donkeys, and even boats in Bamyan and Jalalabad carried the election material."
Just as important as striving to overcome logistical challenges was the less tangible effort to affect old attitudes and ways of thinking - to install some local democratic software, so to speak, on the electoral hardware provided by the Afghan authorities and the Coalition. The role of women was one of the changing facets of Afghan society, evident not just in the queues of Afghan women lining up to vote, but also in the presence of Afghanistan's first female candidate:

"Dr Massaouda Jalal is not a winner yet, but she has won at least something just by contesting the presidential elections in Afghanistan as the only woman candidate. Dr Jalal, 41, just about qualified to contest past the minimum age of 40. This makes her also a younger candidate than the 13 males in the contest, including President Hamid Karzai."
Said Dr Jalal about her candidacy: "A lot of women are clearly very happy that I am contesting... In meetings, and on local radio and in the newspapers many are raising their voices to support me... Women do not support the Taliban. Democrats, technocrats, the youth do not support the Taliban. But I have lived through those bad days. After the international community came in I decided to put myself forward even though I have never been a part of any political organisation. If anybody at all, I represent civil society."

Dr Jalal did not win the election, but she took one of many first steps on behalf of all Afghan women on their road to full political participation. And while she provided the example, countless others ensured that women were given all the opportunity to vote. In
Kandahar, for example, teams of female election educators worked very hard, despite threats and dangers, to make sure that women in that southern Afghan city were not intimidated away from the polls. " 'We have great concerns about our security,' says one woman. 'We have small children, we are scared for them.' 'We are happy with Karzai. Since he came to power women can work, go to school, but we are concerned about security and suicide attacks,' explains another. 'If you are scared about security, we have security. It is just propaganda. Don't be afraid. Please, for God's sake, this is a golden chance. It is not a Taliban government where you could not go out even if you were sick,' [one of electoral workers] Shukria says." Read the whole story and see also this photo of staff of the International Organization for Migration showing a poster about reconstruction of Afghanistan as part of campaign to motivate women refugees to take part in the election. And this photo of "[a]n Afghan girl dressed in a burqa [who] smiles after attending a class where she learned to help run polling stations at the women's association in President Hamid Karzai's home town of Kandahar." Kandahar, of course, used to be the stronghold of the Taliban.

women's role did not just finish with casting the ballot: "Until three years ago Afghan women could not work, study or step outside without being shrouded in a burqa. Now they are part of the wheels of democracy, collecting ballots and preparing to count them. At a counting center on an Afghan Army base on the outskirts of Kabul Wednesday, scores of women worked at checking, consolidating and sorting ballots before the counting begins.

" 'There are heaps of women working here,' said David Avery, chief of logistics for the Election Commission, which is jointly staffed by US and Afghan officials. 'We also had very large numbers of women working as civic educators and trainers on the election'."
Despite concerns about holding elections in an uncertain security climate among people with no previous experience of democracy, the election was a success because ultimately the people of Afghanistan wanted it to be a success:

"Afghans display an infectious enthusiasm about the poll... The burly nomad with a henna beard and a fierce scowl grips the pen between his thick fingers. Turgul cannot read the election material around him, but is determined to practice the first vote of his life. The turbaned tribesman drags the pen across a scrap of paper. 'Just like that,' he says uncertainly, holding aloft the squiggle that will mark his choice...

Yesterday Kuchi nomads gathered outside their tents on a hillside near Kabul for a lesson in voting. Shah Faqir, a one-eyed sheep farmer, was unable to read but could point to the photograph of his chosen candidate, Hamid Karzai, the country's interim leader. 'He stopped the fighting and brought stability to this country,' he said. 'The others are bad guys. If they win, the gunmen will return and the country will be destroyed'."
Electioneering brought Afghanistan into first direct contact not just with the mechanics of the ballot paper and the ballot box, but also political marketing:

" 'If you are showing the new Afghanistan, you cannot do it with a photo of a cemetery!' explains an exasperated worker with the media production house guiding Afghan presidential candidates into the murky world of political marketing. On this occasion it is the aides of warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam who are getting a lesson in the harsh realities of the medium is the message.

"Dostam, a powerful former communist warlord who controls much of northern Afghanistan, has an image problem in Afghanistan where he is known for his role in the civil war of the 1990s in which tens of thousands of people died and which paved the way for the fundamentalist Taliban militia to take power.

"His team hadn't taken this into account and 'wanted to show Dostam in front of a cemetery for "martyrs" in the war against the Taliban,' says Christian Marie who works as an advisor at the Kabul production house Awaz.

"Awaz has received United Nations subsidies to create radio and video clips for the 18 candidates contesting the October 9 polls. It also provides posters and advice on political marketing to the presidential hopefuls.

"In Dostam's case, his representatives were finally persuaded to choose other photos -- one of the general in front of a building site and one in which he is wearing traditional Afghan costume. Only the slogan has been retained: 'Dostam, for a new Afghanistan'."
Electioneering also moved onto the streets: "If the frantic efforts of the men sticking posters up all over Kabul are anything to go by, Saturday's historic presidential elections should be closely fought. From street corners and shop windows and the walls of bombed-out buildings, candidates' faces stare imploringly everywhere, some several layers deep where rival campaigners have plastered over each other's work." Regardless of any practical shortfallings in the conduct of the election, Grant Kippen, electoral adviser attached to the Washington-based NGO National Democratic Institute, was optimistic:

"[E]xpecting overnight Western-style democracy where none has existed for two centuries is, he says, unrealistic. 'Community leaders and elders in such places may have behind-the-scenes talks with campaigners, asking them what they will promise, and may then advise people to vote accordingly. But that is the way things have traditionally been done here -- it is just a bit different from election campaigns in the West.'

"The important thing, he insists, is not to get it perfect first time but to at least make a start. 'At least, this is a relatively straightforward vote, which everyone can easily understand, whereas the parliamentary elections are bit more complex,' he said. 'It will be an important first run for future occasions'."
In other words, Rome wasn't built in a day. You can read more about the use of posters and visuals to campaign in a country with high illiteracy rates. There was also a more high-tech electioneering taking place, with Afghan cell phone users receiving a campaign text message from Hamid Karzai.

Not just the Afghans at home, but also Afghan
refugees in neighboring countries were keen to exercise their new-found democratic right:

"Abdul Wahid's desire to vote in next month's Afghan presidential election is driven by a simple logic. 'I will vote because I have become sick of war,' said the unemployed teacher from the northern province of Faryab, who has been living as a refugee in Pakistan for the past three years. 'When I was born, there was fighting in Afghanistan. Now I am 22 years old and am a father of a son, but the fighting is still going on.'

"Wahid said he did not want his children to live with the violence, as a dozen other jobless refugees, some with long flowing beards and turbans, looked on. Wahid was hopeful that the presidential election Oct. 9 would help end the violence in Afghanistan, ravaged by more than two decades of war and factional fighting that forced millions to take refuge in neighboring countries, including Pakistan."
An intensive effort went into making it possible to those still in neighboring countries to vote:

"An intensive training programme is under way to train over 1,000 election staff recruited to administer the out of country 9 October Afghan presidential poll in Pakistan, according to an official of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). 'We've completed step one - and almost step two as well - of our (IOM) training programme. In the first phase, seven international staff members of IOM were trained along with 15 Afghan nationals,' Darren Boisvert, Public Media Officer for IOM's Afghanistan Out of Country Registration and Voting (OCRV) programme told IRIN from the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday.

" 'This group of senior international staff and Afghans will then train another 64 people who will be responsible for training the over 10,000 election workers needed to register voters and supervise polling on 9 October,' Boisvert said, adding, 'At present, the IOM is conducting the training sessions in four main centres of Quetta, Peshawar, Islamabad and Abbotabad.'

"More than a million Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran are expected to vote on 9 October, after three days of registration starting from 1 October."
In fact, there was so much interest in voter registration among the Afghan refugees, that the operation had to be extended in Pakistan to accommodate the numbers. In the end, large numbers of refugees took up the opportunity to vote: "Some 850,000 Afghan refugees voted in their country's first direct presidential election with a turnout of 80 percent of those registered in Pakistan, the head of the electoral operation said on Sunday. Around 590,000 Afghans voted in Pakistan out of the 738,000 who registered, said Peter Erben, head of the International Organisation for Migration's (IOM) refugee voting operation in Pakistan and Iran."

In a
great gift for Asia's newest democracy, "[t]he government of India as part of its contribution in rebuilding post-war Afghanistan has decided to help build a parliament house for the post-Taliban central Asian state, Afghan presidential spokesman said Wednesday. 'This building with an estimation of 20 million US dollars will be built near the Darul Aman Palace in southwest Kabul,' Jawed Ludin told reporters here at a news briefing."

The election also provided the opportunity to give children their
first lesson in democracy:

"Sonam Hashemi was considered something of a rank outsider when she started campaigning to be elected president in Afghanistan. The only female candidate in a male dominated society, her campaign speeches of sexual equality and other lofty goals had not been a great success.

"So no one was more surprised than Sonam when the votes were tallied and she discovered she had been elected president. Her supporters cheered wildly. Her two male vice-presidents threw their arms in the air in triumph.

"And then the bell rang for the end of school.

"Sonam was a participant in a day long 'lessons in democracy' course organised by a Danish-Afghan non-governmental organisation called the Mobile Mini Circus for Children (http://www.afghanmmcc.org/). The group scouts for talented children among the legions of underprivileged youngsters in the country and trains them as a troupe to entertain and educate other Afghan children."
Read also this story about the important educational role of the Afghan media: "Radio Karabagh may be a microscopic study in how to build a wide, proprietary interest in one of the essential pillars of democracy, a vigorous media and a free press... [S]mall stations such as Radio Karabagh have borne much of the burden of educating the populace about the candidates, the process and importance of voting...

"Founded in February with help from Internews, an international nonprofit group, Radio Karabagh is a primary source of information in an area of the country where illiteracy averages, by one local estimate, about 70 percent. According to Abdul Hamid Mobarez, the dapper, French-speaking deputy minister of information and culture, stations such as Radio Karabagh are signs of a media boom in Afghanistan. In Kabul, he says, at least five daily newspapers are published, 70 private publishing houses have opened and several radio stations, including one for women, vie for attention. But Kabul is not Afghanistan, and even in Karabagh, little more than an hour's drive away, media of any sort are a rarity."
Yet they are slowly springing up around the country, providing invaluable service to the people. Not all radio programming is as civically important, but it is still breaking new ground in this deeply conservative country:

"A dozen men sat near a fruit stand, straining to hear the tinny radio play yet another Afghan love story, of a girl who fell hard for a boy.

"Over the hum of a nearby generator, the men listened to the radio announcer read the girl's 16-page love letter. Then the inevitable heartbreak came: The boy's parents forced him to marry someone else...

"This radio show, with the uncatchy name 'Young People and Their Problems,' has become one of the most popular programs on the most popular radio station in Kabul, Radio Arman. The show's host reads letters from young people, mostly tragic love stories of girls who loved boys who were married, of boys being forced to marry their cousins, of the cruelty of fickle hearts.

"But the letters also speak of social problems in Afghanistan: the ravages of opium, the oppression of women and the fears of becoming a man's second wife. Letter writers, basically anonymous, tell stories of infidelity, rape and depression."
Meanwhile, more is being done to educate the next generation of Afghan journalists (link in PDF): "USAID grantee Sayara launched its Novice Journalism Training Program at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif, which was modeled after the very successful program in Herat. The program will train print and radio journalism students to produce radio programming. As part of an intensive summer-school curriculum, the students produced the program Saday-e Jawan (Voice of Youth) focusing on issues of concern to young people in Mazar-e Sharif."

Education should be an eye-opening experience; it certainly was for these
three Afghan youngsters:

"They thought they knew about America. In the United States there are no Muslims, they were taught. America's goal is to destroy Islam, to kill Muslims.

"Khushal Rasoli, Abdulahad Barak and Abdulahad Fasil, teenagers in Afghanistan, cowered in fear when they learned that the war between the United States and the Taliban was over, and the nation they feared was now in charge of their homeland.

"Their fear lasted about a week. After it was clear that American soldiers were not indiscriminately killing the faithful, and that Muslims - Afghan Muslims - would be in charge of the new government, the America the three young men thought they knew became the America they wanted to know firsthand.

"Today, Barak, Fasil and Rasoli are attending South Florida high schools, discovering an America that both confirms and defies the propaganda they were taught in the boys-only schools of Kabul and Kandahar."
The three boys, who together with almost 60 other Afghan kids are the beneficiaries of a State Department program, now have the opportunity to catch up on their education and learn more about the world: "Before, we could not study the modern subjects... Physics, chemistry, biology, computers, English - these were things we were never taught," says Barak. "I have never studied in a coed school," adds Rasoli.

In other good news for
Afghan education (link in PDF), "[i]n 2004, USAID has printed 15,084,060 textbooks and distributed 10,046,202 for use in its accelerated learning activities and other Ministry of Education (MoE) classes. The program also trains teachers, implements accelerated learning programs and provides advisers to the Ministry of Education. Primary education programs are underway in Nangarhar, Faryab, Baghlan and Kunduz provinces. Since 2002, USAID has published and distributed over 40 million textbooks."

In health news, 40,000 workers will travel on foot, on horseback, and on motorcycles to even the remotest parts of the country to
vaccinate more than six million Afghan children under the age of five against the life-threatening polio virus. "Every province in Afghanistan will be covered, in a joint initiative between the Afghan Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

"Afghanistan remains one of just six countries in the world where polio is still endemic, although health experts believe that the National Immunization Days, led by the Government and its partners, have played a crucial role in reducing the number of new cases from 27 in 2000 to just three so far in 2004. The last reported case occurred in May 2004, making the past five months the longest 'polio free' period in recent Afghan history."
And to combat infant mortality, which continues to be a big health problem in Afghanistan, USAID has funded and launched in September a nation-wide Midwife Education Programs(link in PDF).

Meanwhile, the
US troops are testing an ingenuous high-tech way to ensure that proper medical care continues even after they're gone: "U.S. Army physicians in Afghanistan will test 'talking' prescription bottles to ensure children receive their proper medications after physicians and other humanitarian workers leave a village. The workers typically leave behind a supply of medications with a village elder, who may forget instructions given for specific medicines. The prescription bottles, from Rochester, N.Y.-based MedivoxRx Technologies, are designed for use by blind or illiterate patients. At the press of a button, an embedded computer chip programmed in the local language describes the name, dosage, frequency, warnings and refill instructions for the medication."

More refugees continue to return to Afghanistan.
30 thousand have made the trip back home from the Iranian city of Isfahan alone since March this year.

Women also continue their quest for rights and equality: " 'There is more space opening up within governance for women to be involved and there is a lot of advocacy for women's rights,' [says] Chandni Joshi, regional director for South Asia at the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)... The women are participating in trade fairs, even in India, to confirm their passion to be entrepreneurs, she added. 'There is a sense of relief among women that they are heading somewhere.' Yet Joshi cautions against a dramatic sea change overnight in South Asia, including Afghanistan, since 'the women have been hit so hard; we have to give them more time to change'."

cultural news, "President Hamid Karzai inaugurated Afghanistan's rebuilt national museum... Karzai cut a pink ribbon to mark the completion of the refit of the two-story museum, whose building was destroyed in civil war and whose collection was further decimated by the Taliban... Some $350,000 has been spent since 2003 to fix the building, which lies in the shadow of a gutted former royal palace in the war-ravaged west of the capital. Culture Minister Makhdom Raheen said 2,500 artifacts had been recovered from the collection, which was once one of the finest in Central Asia with 100,000 items dated back several millennia."

And finally in sports news, more stories of
spirit and determination: "Devastated by warfare and abject poverty, Afghanistan wants to show the world its spirit thrives. Leading the way is Mareena Karim, who along with Sharifa Amahdi will be the first Afghani female to ever compete in the Paralympic Games. The shy 14-year-old flew into Athens as the youngest member of a nine-person delegation, which includes three more athletes. On 21 September she will compete in the 100m in the T42 classification." Karim, who lost both her feet in a childhood accident, was encouraged to participate by Dr. Abdul Baseer, the Secretary-General of the seven-month-old Afghanistan Paralympic Committee, "after she entered a school literacy program he was promoting. She also enrolled in public school for the first time last term after girls were finally admitted to the institutions following years of discrimination by the former Taliban government."

RECONSTRUCTION: USAID, which since the fall of the Taliban has been a significant contributor to rebuilding of Afghanistan, lists the following brief but useful
summary of the milestones on the road to a better future:

"10 million Afghans registered to vote
Five million children vaccinated
School enrollment explodes
Reconstruction accelerates
3.7 million refugees return
Private construction booming
New Afghan currency introduced
Agriculture output nearly doubled
Afghan National Army and National Police created
Regional militias disarming"
You can obtain more details on each of these points by following the links on the USAID website.

After decades of stagnation,
Afghan economy continues the difficult task of catching up to the rest of the world:

"Afghanistan took its first steps towards a capital market with an auction... of capital notes which will allow the country's banks to determine a market-driven interest rate. 'This is an important step for us. It is the beginning of a capital market for us,' Central Bank governor Anwar Ul-Haq Ahady told reporters.

"The overnight rate of the Da Afghanistan Bank Capital notes was set at 3.5% and the one-month lending rate at 3.6%. The two winning banks were the local Millie Bank and Pashtany Bank. Previously the country's interest rates were set by bureaucratic and political decisions rather than market forces, Ahady said. The notes are the first short-term capital instrument in the embryonic banking system and will sharply increase liquidity."
Despite security and infrastructure challenges, Afghanistan's private sector is slowly reviving from the bottom up: "When the Taliban regime collapsed in November 2001, Habib Gulzar quickly returned to Afghanistan to revive the trading empire built by his father and grandfather and crippled by two decades of war. Commuting from Dubai, where he had settled in 1991 and set up Gulzar International, an import-export company, he opened nine trading offices around the country and invested $5m in a series of Toyota service shops. In September, Mr Gulzar began construction of a $25m Coca-Cola bottling plant, marking the biggest investment to date by a member of Afghanistan's diaspora - a population that Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan's finance minister, sees as key to reviving the collapsed manufacturing and commercial sectors.

"During the past three years, traders have poured into Afghanistan's busy bazaars. About a dozen banks have set up shop in Kabul during the past year and two wireless telecoms providers have invested more than $100m... The Afghan Investment Support Agency, a government organisation set up as a 'one-stop shop' for investors, has registered nearly $500m in new private-sector investment since November 2003. More than 99 per cent of the investments registered were less than $10m, and 85 per cent were less than $1m.

"Noorullah Delawari, head of AISA, ticks off a list of recently-registered projects that he says point to growing momentum in the private sector: a $40m cooking oil factory in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, an $8m sugar mill project, and a $15m tobacco processing plant.

"To smooth the way for investors, IASA has cut the wait for an investment licence from weeks or months to five to six days, says Mr Delawari. The agency arranges visas for foreign visitors and sorts out paperwork.

"Through its development arm, AID, the US government is helping build a series of industrial parks. Afghan officials broke ground in July at the Bagrami park, just outside Kabul, which will house Mr Gulzar's Coca-Cola plant."
There's a lot more of interest in this report, so read on.

As the Afghan economy expands, there is always more scope for foreign help. The
Asian Development Bank, for example, has recently promised some valuable assistance: "The Asian Development Bank... said that it would help Afghanistan to stimulate private sector activity and attract foreign direct investment by co-financing an investment guarantee facility. The ADB said in a statement that it had approved a loan of 5 million US dollars and a guarantee of 10 million dollars to provide political risk guarantees to eligible investors and financiers... Citing an analysis by the World Bank, the ADB said that there is an encouraging potential level of foreign direct investment in Afghanistan, with demand coming from sectors such as energy, telecommunications, Internet services, banking, hotels, housing, food and agribusiness, textile, steel, oil and gas, and mining."

European Commission, meanwhile, has adopted the proposal for the Sixth Reconstruction Programme, valued at 34 million euro [$42 million], as part of its 400 million euro [$494 million] package to Afghanistan for 2003-04. The main elements of the program are:

"7 million euro [$8.6 million] will be used to fund a consolidation phase of an ongoing rural recovery programme ensuring that achievements are sustained and investment losses avoided. 9.4 million euro [$11.6 million] will help to re-establish a functioning public animal health system to ensure healthier and more productive livestock. 10 million euro [$12.3 million] will further support the reform process in public administration in particular, extending reforms to the provinces. 6 million euro [$7.4 million] will go to support human rights and civil society, in particular to support the emergence of a professional journalistic community and to address the problem of domestic violence. 1.6 million euro [$2 million] will be used for audits, evaluation and information purposes."
Germany, too, is providing valuable training assistance to get the Afghan economy going. Sandra Holzherr tells me about her involvement:

"Since August 2002 I am coordinating several qualification programs in Afghanistan which ILTIS GmbH is carrying out by order of the German Foreign Office. And everytime I travel there I see progress and still an unbelievable motivation of the people to change everything to the better. Since 2002 we have trained 16 multipliers in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and founded together with them the Afghan Management Training Center. In the meantime those trainers have already multiplied their newly gained knowledge ín modern public administration in more than 25 own seminars. In the Ministry of Finance we have implemented a document management system and reorganized the central archive.

"And in the Ministry of Commerce 25 leader from state-owned companies have been trained in business administration. Ready now, to take over the business and start producing. Everywhere we find such an immense willingness to learn and strong efforts to make the necessary changes. Of course, my experience is limited to Kabul, but it is there where the seed of change must grow first."
You can visit this website to find out about all the initiatives in more detail.

China, too, is continuing with her assistance to Afghan authorities: "The Chinese government donated a large number of office equipment and recreation materials to the Afghan transitional government... in a fresh bid to further promote the traditional friendly ties between the two countries... The new shipment includes 400 desktop computers, 300 printers, a number of TV sets, digital cameras, as well as footballs, volleyballs and athletic garments with a combined worth of 1 million US dollars." Previously, China donated 20,000 pairs of police uniforms and boots as well as 8,000 police overcoats and communications equipment and vehicles worth $1.4 million. And Pakistan has handed over to Afghanistan the last 30 of 200 trucks in the last installment of a $100 million reconstruction package.

transport infrastructure news, "[t]he [Indian] Border Road Organisation would soon start work on a 'rare project' connecting Afghanistan with Iran which will make most South Asian Republics directly accessible through India by road. Talking to reporters after inaugurating a steel truss bridge over Tumin Khola river along the Singtam-Dikchu road today Director General of BRO, Lt.Gen. R Singh said the Rs 400-crore road project was gifted by the government of India to Afghanistan last year after the fall of the Taliban regime in that country. 'The 220-km road will connect Zaranj in Afghanistan with Iran and once it is completed Indians won't have to travel to South Asian republics via Pakistan as is the case at present,' he said."

HUMANITARIAN AID: More aid comes in for Afghanistan's
most vulnerable: "US Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded a $4.6 million grant to the NGO Consortium for the Psychosocial Care and Protection of Children, consisting of Christian Children's Fund (CCF), International Rescue Committee (IRC,) and Save the Children Federation (SC)... USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund has committed $4.6 million to assist particularly vulnerable Afghan children and youth including orphans, disabled children, working children, and former child soldiers."

A team of
Italian doctors has recently developed a new treatment for leishmaniasis, a skin disease contracted through insect bites. The new treatment considerably speeds up the recovery for this common complaint in Afghanistan. "The doctors of the Italian contingent have healed about 1200 people in 2 and a half years, according to the NGO 'Hope World Wide', which runs the clinic bearing the same name on the Jalalabad road, and Italian ISAF soldiers have saved about 8000 afghans from the disease's consequences."

Humanitarian assistance and help for the people of Afghanistan also continues on grassroots level. Kindergarten teacher from Albany,
Elsie De Laere, for example, has spent her summer holidays in Kabul teaching children at two local schools, one for street kids, the other for older girls. "The young children in the war-torn city loved to paint and were always ready to learn, she said. 'The street children would be on time (to class) despite ... having to work all morning or begging in the streets, they were there,' she said. Her friend held a training conference and 120 teachers attended, she said... She is looking for money or grants so she and her friend can return to Kabul in March or April."

Two ex-servicemen
are also helping: "Troy White of the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department and Ben Jost, Prince William Fire and Rescue, are stationed together in Afghanistan where they're helping to rebuild schools, said Sarah Graham-Miller, Dale City Volunteer Fire Department spokeswoman. They've seen 'a lot of children who have nothing,' Miller said.

"The two firefighters, members of the 129th Infantry Division of the Virginia National Guard, decided to 'reach out' and get their brethren back home to help out, Miller said. 'The most important things that they are looking for are children's coats, shoes and gloves and also paper and pens for the schools,' Miller said.

"The Dale City Volunteer Fire Department, along with Prince William Fire and Rescue will collect the donations and figure out a way to send them to Afghanistan, Miller said. 'With a little luck we can have it there in time for an early Christmas for all these kids,' Miller said."
Check out the story for details if you can help. And it's not just the adults who are trying to give a hand:

"He's only nine-years-old, but RJ McDowell is quite the organizer. A growing stack of school supplies collected by RJ and his classmates at Rice Creek Elementary proves it. They plan to ship them to the other side of the world in a few days to RJ's dad, National Guard Lt. Col. Ray McDowell, 'My father is in Afghanistan.'

"RJ and his friends might not know it, but they're part of a well-established international effort to aid students in the war-torn country. President Bush called on American kids to help their Afghan counterparts after the fall of the Taliban more than two-years-ago.

"US schools and the Red Cross have since sent money and thousands of boxes of school supplies and RJ says it's for good reason, 'Because the people in Afghanistan don't have that much school supplies over there'."
Lastly, the little Afghan boy, Djamshid Popal, whom you might remember from the previous editions of this segment, has been discharged from the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children after undergoing a life-saving heart surgery.

SECURITY: Twenty five years of constant conflict have made Afghanistan one of the most heavily armed societies in the world. Now, much needed
disarmament continues to gather pace:

"[T]he United Nations Mission there (UNAMA)... announced that nearly half of all operable and reparable heavy weapons in the country have been turned in. So far, 1,916 heavy weapons have been cantoned in Jalalabad, Gardez, Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat, while the process is scheduled to begin... in the Panjshir Valley, according to UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva...

"Meanwhile, the number of officers and soldiers who have started their return to civilian life 'is rapidly approaching the 17,000 mark,' the spokesman reported. Those men are beginning the process of reintegration into civil society. So far most have chosen to go into agriculture, while others are seeking training in areas like carpentry, tailoring and metal work. A small percentage has opted to join the national army and the national police."
The former fighters are now employed to make the country safer from the scourge of landmines:

"Jamaladeem, the team leader of the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team of Handicap International Belgium, works his knife up through the rock-hard desert ground. The 43-year-old former mujahideen fighter uncovers eight 12.5mm cartridges, buried 15 years ago by surrendering Soviet troops. The fuses are still intact.

"Two bearded mujahideen warriors, armed to the teeth, stand alert, ready to defend the demolition team in case of a raid by scattered Taliban or bandits. In the background a colleague creeps past the open hatch of an old Russian T-52 tank. A warning cry sounds and Jamaladeem stops work immediately. Inside the vehicle lie 30 rocket-propelled grenades, each easily capable of blasting its way through the steel armor of a tank.

"Afghan's mountainous border with Iran is pocked with numerous caves and hideouts, making security a constant challenge. But work continues, with the retrieved ammunition stowed aboard a flat bed pickup. Another few square meters of Afghan soil cleared of danger: millions more lie in wait."
The ex-mudjahedin are also dismantling more conventional weapons that litter the Afghan countryside:

"On a flinty hill overlooking Kabul, Ahmed Naseer leads a team of the mine-clearing charity Halo Trust, dismantling the wreckage of 78 huge Soviet anti-aircraft missiles that once formed Afghanistan's 99th Rocket Brigade.

"The rockets were probably already old when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in 1979, but nobody ever got around to dismantling them until U.S. B-52 jets blasted the hillside when coalition forces invaded in 2001.

"Today the missiles lie twisted in storage tubes next to the rusty shrapnel piles of their launching trucks. Many of them are loaded with toxic and explosive rocket fuel, and some are still armed with live warheads."
Meanwhile, the new Afghan army is expanding to meet new challenges:

"On September 26, a new Afghan National Army unit, the Northern Eagle Army Corps or Corps 209, based in Mazar and comprised of 3,000 soldiers, was officially formed. This followed the formation last week of the Hero Army Corps in Kandahar, the Lightning Army Corps in Paktia and the Central Army Corps in Kabul. The Victory Army Corps was to be officially inaugurated in Herat on September 28.

"Defense Minister Marshal Fahim made the announcement at a ceremony in the presence of defense ministry officials and the heads of the Coalition and International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, troops. General Atta Mohammad, now governor of Balkh province, was also present.

"Fahim added that by next June there would be another army corps formed in Kunduz and one in Nangarhar province, bringing the total number of soldiers in the new Afghan National Army to 70,000. By then, it is anticipated that all militias in the country would have been disarmed and dissolved."
The reach of the new Afghan army also keeps growing: "The Afghan National Army stood up its first regional command headquarters outside the Kabul area in Kandahar Sept. 19. Establishing regional commands of the Afghan National Army is a milestone step for the general security of Afghanistan and for the strengthening of the Afghan government, officials said. This regional command and the ones to be stood up in Gardez, Mazar-e Sharif and Herat mark the permanent Afghan National Army presence in the four regions of Afghanistan." Says the governor of the Kandahar province, Yousef Pashtoon: "Today is not an ordinary day. After 25 years of war, we have been able to set up our military units and corps to safeguard the identity of our nation and to defend our people." The second regional command headquarters has now opened at Gardez.

recruitment efforts also continue to expand: "Recruiting for the Afghan National Army extended to the country's northeastern province that touches China with the opening of the newest National Army Volunteer Center Sept. 7."

In addition, the US authorities are also planning to build
five new bases for the Afghan army at the cost of around $1 billion. The bases will be constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers at Kabul and four regional commands planned in Gardez, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Among some of the recent successes of the Afghan and the Coalition security forces: killing of Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar,
the Taliban commander of the Uruzgan province; the Afghan police seizing ton of explosives in Kabul; the arrest of 25 suspects linked with Taliban and al Qaeda, also in Kabul; killing in an air raid 25 suspected militants in the province of Uruzgan; and the seizure of a 40-feet oil tanker loaded with explosive materials in southern province of Kandahar.

In a
non-terrorism related success, "Afghan special police have seized 17 tons of drugs and 16 tons of chemicals in a series of raids in eastern Afghanistan. The British Foreign Office in London said in a press release that agents of the Afghan Special Narcotics Force also destroyed 47 opium presses."

In the late 1980s, my Polish compatriot, journalist and photoreporter Radek Sikorski had clandestinely traveled with mudjahedin through Afghanistan, the experiences he described in his book "The Dust of the Saints". Now working at the American Enterprise Institute, Sikorski recently
had a chance to go back to Afghanistan:

"Nothing like hot dust in one's face and the roar of a low-flying helicopter gunship to make a man feel alive. The last time I heard that sound in Afghanistan was in 1987: A patrol of Soviet Mi-24s were spitting gunfire at the house in which I was hiding with a mujahedeen convoy, in a village near Kandahar. This time, though, the sound of gunships--these decorated with the American white star instead of a Soviet red on the side--did not make me duck. On the contrary: The sound of helicopters in Kabul is now hopeful evidence of the foreign presence giving Afghanistan its best chance in 25 years."
Much has changed in Kabul, Sikorski adds: "If you can call it progress, the BBC World Service is broadcast on local FM radio, there's a "John Kerry for President" cell in Kabul, and you can buy Fahrenheit 9/11 on DVD before its release in the U.S. (My copy cost $3 and promptly malfunctioned.)"

Well, no one said it would be perfect.


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