Sunday, August 27, 2006

Tomgram: Ann Jones on the Road to Taliban Land

[Note for readers: The next Tomdispatch post will be on September 5th.]

For the last year or more, the news trickling in from Afghanistan, the first country "liberated" by the Bush administration, has been ever more dismal -- a Taliban insurgency expanding and becoming more sophisticated in its tactics; poppy-growing and drug production on a steep upward climb; the government in Kabul faltering; and, for the U.S., the usual crop of Afghan civilians killed in operations guaranteed to stoke the flames of opposition.

Ann Jones, an award-winning journalist and women's rights activist, begins her remarkable new book, Kabul in Winter, Life Without Peace in Afghanistan, this way: "I went to Afghanistan after the bombing stopped. Somehow I felt obliged to help pick up the pieces. I was a New Yorker who had always lived downtown, and for a long time after the towers fell I experienced moments when I couldn't get my bearings... Four thousand collateral civilian deaths in Kabul brought no consolation for the death of thousands from around the world in the fallen towers of the city that had so long been my home. I thought America had lost its bearing too. So I left."

As it turned out, though, the bombing of that already fractured land never really stopped. In fact, in recent months, as fighting in Afghanistan only spread and intensified, while British, French, and Canadian soldiers of the NATO force just emplaced in the southern part of the country as well as American soldiers began to die in greater numbers, U.S. bombing missions have been on the rise and those old Vietnam heavy bombers, the B-52s, have even been called in. Jones herself spent the better part of four years working with small, humanitarian NGOs in Kabul, investigating the conditions of women in Afghan prisons (abysmal), teaching English to Afghan schoolteachers ("Once, after I explained what blind date meant, a woman said, ‘Like my wedding.'"), and discovering much about the American way of "reconstruction."

She left Afghanistan in March 2006. Only months later, there may be yet more jumbled pieces, far less well picked up than might have seemed humanly possible back in 2002 when the Bush administration was touting Afghanistan as its first great success in remaking the known world. Jones came home to write a vivid, moving, and saddening book about just what happened to those "pieces" she witnessed (with plenty of historical background for those who know little about modern Afghanistan, that strange crucible of Great Power dreams and conflicts) -- especially about the state of Afghan women. I recommend her book most strongly.

Below she considers the nature of American "reconstruction" in Afghanistan. On this day, with tropical storm Ernesto threatening to turn into a category 1 hurricane in the Caribbean and potentially menacing a wide stretch of the U.S. Gulf Coast, including Katrina-ravaged, still largely unreconstructed New Orleans, and with the Army Corps of Engineers just informing that city's residents that their partially rebuilt levees may not, in fact, be able to withstand a strong storm, her analysis of Bush administration-style reconstruction seems germane for more than just Afghanistan. Tom

Why It's Not Working in Afghanistan

By Ann Jones

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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