Are Afghan negotiations hopeless? In the wake of last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the country’s High Peace Council, the mood in both Afghanistan and the United States is pessimistic, to say the least. But negotiations are still possible, and understanding why that’s the case, as well as the difficulties of succeeding, requires understanding the history of similar negotiations, quieting Afghan suspicions, and abandoning myths that cloud public discussion. Saying negotiations are possible is a long way from saying that they will necessarily succeed.
Outjo, Namibia—Growing up in Namibia in the 1980s, Willem Bezuidenhout was alone with his cowboy dream. He wallpapered his father’s house in the capital of Windhoek with posters of Hopalong Cassidy and shunned play dates to watch The War Wagon again and again in his darkened bedroom, pausing the tape to trace John Wayne’s image onto pieces of translucent paper that he pressed up to the screen. His playmates—the sons of Namibia’s white farmers, doctors, or lawyers, like his father—made fun of him. But that was before the white communities of southern Africa went crazy for country.
Famine: A Short History By Cormac Ó Gráda (Princeton University Press, 327 pp., $27.95) The earliest recorded famines, according to Cormac Ó Gráda in his brief but masterful book, are mentioned on Egyptian stelae from the third millennium B.C.E. In that time--and to an extent, even today, above the Aswan dam in Sudan--farmers along the Nile were dependent on the river flooding to irrigate their fields. But one flood out of five, Ó Gráda tells us, was either too high or too low. The result was often starvation.
Celia Dugger has a good piece in this morning's Times about the diamond trade in Zimbabwe. The story is, predictably, depressing. The viability of an effort endorsed by the United Nations to halt the trading of the so-called blood diamonds that have fueled conflicts across Africa is on the line this week, and the test case is Zimbabwe.
The next battlefield over the so-called Regan Doctrine is the decade-old consensus that America should stay out of the civil war in Angola. Based on the belief that the United States should assist anti-Communist freedom fighters everywhere, elements within the Reagan administration and in Congress are urging that the U.S. supply as much as $200 million in aid to Jonas Savimbi's anti-Marxist guerrilla group, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).