President Obama went to Afghanistan this week end to spend Memorial Day 2014 with US troops stationed there. He called the men and women who have placed their lives on the line to fight there an inspiration. When you consider the complexity and contradictions inherent in Afghanistan, their service is truly inspirational. They have provided a very real umbrella of security that has allowed many Afghans to begin to think that they can have a stable country in which to live.
Practically nothing is simple in Afghanistan, though. For every step forward, there are usually two backward. Take for example, the suicide bomber on a motorcycled who crashed into a bus carrying Ministry of defense staff on their way home, or the current scenario in the northern Afghan province of Badahkshan, which borders Tajikistan and China. The people of remote Badahkshan villages have already suffered huge loss of life because of annual spring floods which bring instant death in the form of massive landslides. The Taliban have been very active in that province as well. This is particularly troubling to the locals there, since Badahkshan was the only province in all of Afghanistan that the Taliban regime did not control prior to 9/11. It was also the last bastion in the fight against them, the place where the beleaguered Mohammad Shah Massoud made his headquarters. It now consistently experiences Taliban incursions. The most recent happened in Yemgan District, just twenty five miles from the capital, Faizabad. The Taliban are not the only problem, though. Local commanders, war lords, as we would call them, still wield control over a large percentage of the population and the central government is weak and ineffective.
All of these factors make progress difficult. Add to them the conservative nature of most people, their reluctance to embrace any kind of change and an innate fatalism borne of decades of conflict, and it become clear why things are like they are in Afghanistan.
Yet, despite all of the negative aspects of the equation, there are small glimmers of hope. The Afghans themselves are not the same people they were prior to the intervention into their country by the United States and its allies after 9/11. They have seen that there are different ways to look at the world. Thanks to the efforts of the international community, they have seen such improvements as new roads that have cut travel times, connecting businesses and farmers with new markets. They have now experienced, even if not consistently, the wonder of electricity supplies that make it possible to connect with the outside world via television and Internet. Most of their children now go to school. Many Afghans are now bold enough to think that things can change even more than they already have.
The glimmers of hope continue. This week, the last week of May, 2014, 52 young men and women from all over the country will travel to Kabul to vie for 34 spots in a USAID funded program designed to provide an opportunity to create individualized programs to assist in the development of civil society throughout the country. The program is modest compared to the other, more grandiose, US funded projects, less tangible than the building of a road or an electricity system, but when considered with all the other situations that now prevail in Afghanistan, perhaps it is just crazy enough to make a positive difference.
And that is what the men and women of the US military went there for in the first place.