Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Failing Memories

"If they can enforce the law like it was enforced during their reign, they are welcome. There was less crime. There was less corruption. Thee was less embezzlement."
Ahmad Jawad, 27, Kabul realtor

"The current situation is so bad, I don't care who rules the country. There is an ugly face to the Taliban, but there is an ugly face to everything."
Khalid Asif, 24, technician

"A majority of the youth does understand the new reality of their country, and the government tries its best to bring about the reforms the country needs so it can utilize its resources efficiently and effectively and create sustainable programs and jobs."
"By suggesting that they would like to see the Taliban to join a peaceful life, they do not necessarily want the Taliban's way of life but simply an end to the Taliban's senseless violence."
Zafar Hashemi, spokesman, President Ashraf Ghani

"[Afghanistan's young people] have a responsibility to move the country ahead] by reconciling with the Taliban."
"The only thing I will give up to the Taliban is the blood already spilled by my family. We will never give up freedom of expression, women's rights or the Internet."
Baryalai Ragheb, 20, ethnic Tajik
Young Afghans play cricket in Shar-e Naw Park in downtown Kabul. As misery builds in the capital, more Afghans their age appear open to the idea of making concessions to the Taliban in hopes of achieving peace, stability and prosperity. (Tim Craig/THE WASHINGTON POST)

For a population of young men whose living memory is dark with the shadow of Taliban Islamist rule when they were children, and redolent of the more recent experience of their country, host to 100,000 foreign soldiers, countless NGOs and representatives of foreign governments, both diplomats and bureaucrats who have consigned themselves to the humanitarian task of leading Afghanistan into the 20th Century where even so they will lag behind countries entering the next one, reality and memory both have failed them.

The Taliban reject the very notion of human rights. Freedom of expression, women's rights, the Internet are all rejected and profane manifestations of Western culture, all damned by the Taliban as they are by all fanatical Islamist groups from Boko Haram to Islamic State. That these young Afghan men pronounce themselves so fed up with the lack of opportunities and everpresent corruption that they would entertain the unlikelihood they might tolerate Taliban rule speaks to a delusion.

Urban Afghan youth were aghast at the brutality of the Taliban, sickened by the public executions and the lack of the most basic liberties, from women constrained to the house unless male-accompanied and even then in black burqas, and not permitted to work outside the home even if they were starving, to the crackdown on music and celebrations and imposition of beards on men. Now, they think back nostalgically to a time of difficulties, but restrained from corruption.

The corruption was there, but it was Taliban-style, geared to profit the Taliban and bypassing the ordinary Afghan citizen who had little option but to keep their heads down and obey Taliban Sharia law imposed on the populace. Even female surgeons in the operating room had to be burqa-clad. Human beings have frail memories, preferring to retain thoughts of what might have seemed positive against the overwhelming negativity of the Taliban-rule experience that cut off any notion of freedom.

This new youth generation, educated, embracing Western culture, given to technological advances cannot even begin to imagine how their lives would be impacted with the return of the Taliban. They are so fed up with the lack of momentum and economic security, the failure of the government to move society forward that they feverishly reach out to an impossible alternative. When billions of dollars of relief funding was flowing into the country an artificial economy reflected the unreality of flush employment.

Now that it's gone and Afghanistan is being left to its own devices in the wake of treasury and mentoring support from the international community having come to an end, endemic corruption has returned full blast and is immovable. The currency has dropped 21 percent, and the cost of imported goods has soared while the unemployment rate continues to rise, ranging from 25 to 40 percent. And security has plummeted. Leaving Western diplomats and contractors shuttling around in helicopters.

Kabul's electricity was cut off for three weeks after militants blew up transmission lines. The capital of three million people is ill served when its president and its chief executive officer cannot agree on filling thousands of empty government positions. They do acknowledge, however, that they face a serious problem and their dilatory responses haven't helped solve anything. The loss of well paying jobs with international contractors or NGOs has hit the employment market hard.

This is a country whose great store of natural mineral resources that have yet to be exploited would make it wealthy and productive if it but took the necessary steps to focus on that potential. But without security there will be no international investment to help the country realize that advantage. Which is one reason as good as any that the government is hoping that talks with the Taliban may result in a working arrangement that will exclude ongoing conflict.

"If the Taliban accept the constitution, women’s rights, education for both genders . . . I welcome them in joining the government."
"The problem is that the Taliban have not changed. . . . Women are being stoned to death in areas they control."
Fatima Hakimzada, 27-year-old activist

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