08 October 2010

Kabul ahead and in the rear-view mirror

“And then there was the saddest lesson, to be learned again and again . . . that war is corrupting, that it corrodes the soul and tarnishes the spirit, that even the excellent and the superior can be defiled, and that no heart would remain unstained.” —Rick Atkinson cited in Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward
KABUL, Afghanistan—Summer may yield the most memories, but fall is the most pleasant season. The balm of warm days and cool evenings evoke easy rumination, I think, walking the concrete apron around my guesthouse garden. The flowers and herbs, including purple Basil from India, are expiring slowly because we haven’t had a hard freeze. Compared to last year, this has been especially mild and sunny autumn, and under the branches of a fruitless olive tree there is a lone bloom of white lilac, which I have never seen this late.

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks and is almost impossible to imagine how peace might be possible for this country anytime in the near future. If Bob Woodward is to be believed, defeating the Taliban was scrapped by consensus by the war policymakers in the Obama administration a year ago. That was deemed impossible and verbs like “deny” and “degrade” began replacing “defeat” in the debates. In Kabul, I sense hope but precious little optimism about the future, despite scraps information that suggest previously implacable adversaries might be willing to talk, a prospect that excites no one I know, despite its utter necessity.

I have been unable to reach a friend in one of the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia for more than a week and yesterday found out that she has been interrogated twice by her nation’s intelligence service to explain numerous telephone calls from me in Afghanistan. The Central Asian states, despite their large Muslim populations, fear militant Islamic fundamentalism because it provides a mechanism to galvanize opposition, and maybe I am an American talib, a sympathizer or even U.S. intelligence operative. I don’t know which possibility is more amusing.

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