18 January 2010

Feelings mixed nearing return to bloodied Kabul

HEIDELBERG, Germany—Having spent almost a month in one of the most affluent cities in Germany, I experienced mixed feelings recently about my impending return to Kabul. Today’s audacious suicide bombings and gun battles involving at least seven Taliban fighters in the heart of the Afghan capital, which reportedly left five dead and 71 injured, didn't provide any clarity either.

On one hand, despite a lovely time here, I am ready to get back to work at the university where I teach many students I have grown to admire. On the other, security in Afghanistan in 2010 is already following the disintegrating trajectory established in 2009, which witnessed the highest level of international troop and Afghan civilian casualties since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that deposed the Taliban.

Here’s some more sad but ugly truth: The Taliban is gaining power and the government of Hamid Karzai is corrupt, ineffective, has virtually no popular support, and is showing no capability of improvement. The U.S.-led effort isn’t any better. Morale among U.S. and NATO-led ISAF forces is low and domestic support for continued involvement is weak across the board. Corruption among western contractors, which in many cases is a polite euphemism for war profiteers, is rampant. After more than eight years, U.S. and NATO military intelligence is little better than “fortune telling,” according a recent report.

As an American, I learned many years ago that meaningful job security is only wistful nostalgia, but a single rocket attack at my place of employment could send me packing and stop that four-year-old experiment in American-style education dead in its tracks. In recent months, several colleagues and friends have asked me whether I am looking for work elsewhere. My response has been that any ex-pat working in Afghanistan who is not seeking a few other job options is either a blind fool or too wealthy to have to worry about an income.

A few hours after I read the breaking news reports about the explosions and gun battles in Kabul, I received an electronic message from a student informing me of the news. He is a conscientious student, maybe a little naïve at times, but a hard worker committed to his struggling nation. I thanked him and then realized he is one reason I will board my flight Wednesday evening for Kabul.

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