After Ten Years
September 15, 2011
After September 11, a rough consensus developed in America about what had happened to us. The day itself was horrific: A great national melancholy filled the voids in lower Manhattan. Before there were geopolitical implications and debates about how to respond, there was grief and the simple fact of human death on a massive scale: people jumping from the Twin Towers and then the buildings falling, crushing thousands of people inside. The suffering was not a matter of ideology. It was sickening in the most basic human terms. In its wake, Americans were heartbroken and angry and terrified.
Nearly two thousand years ago, in the stark terrain where modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, a sculptural tradition emerged that joins opulent forms and contemplative feelings and is unlike anything else in the history of world art. Although we know next to nothing about the sculptors who in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries CE developed what amounts to the first great act in the history of Buddhist art, a visitor to “The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara,” the exhibition now at Asia Society in New York, cannot fail to respond to the emotional texture of the work.
The classic western High Noon culminates with a scene in which the hero, a retired sheriff played by Gary Cooper, finally confronts the dangerous gang that’s descended upon the unsuspecting town of Hadleyville. The townspeople remain in the background throughout the climactic fight, passive and frightened. Whether Hadleyville will be saved is solely in the hands of the outsider: his wisdom, his courage, his determination. Most of the policy debates in recent years on international intervention seem to have been framed around that famous plotline.
My 18 Year Odyssey on the Trail of Osama bin Laden
August 24, 2011
I have covered the story of violent jihadism for the past 18 years, and, more than anything else, it has been a slow process of discovery. Looking back, it seems clear to me that, at any given moment in the story, there was always so much we didn’t know. Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 in Pakistan, although it wasn’t until 2002—when the minutes of the group’s first meetings were discovered by chance in the offices of an Islamist organization in Sarajevo—that the facts surrounding its origins were well-understood.
Afghanistan Dispatch: Why Water, Not the Taliban, Might Be Afghans’ Greatest Concern
August 22, 2011
Karaghuzhlah, Afghanistan—The problem, Abdul Majid will tell you as he leans his stooped, wasted frame against the trunk of a dying apricot tree in his brother’s yard, is not the Taliban. It’s true, the Taliban have been advancing for months through the ancient cob villages of Balkh province.
The Secret Alliance
August 19, 2011
I remember the first time an Afghan told me that the United States and the Taliban were working together. It was February 2010, and I was in Zormat, an old trading town in the lap of snow-covered mountains, between Kabul and the Pakistani border.
Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan—It’s all so familiar. The chafing of seven pounds of steel and wood of a Kalashnikov against Khoda Qul’s bony right hip. The blanched desert that unfurls through the gunsight. And the enemy: Taliban forces advancing across a country so parched its desiccated alluvium has sun-baked into pottery. Fourteen years ago, Khoda Qul picked up a gun and joined a band of sandaled irregulars that, eventually, in 2001, helped drive the Taliban out of Shahraq, his village of oblique mud-slapped homes in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province.
Kampirak, Afghanistan—Hot wind swishes through the colorful flags that the women of Kampirak raised to mark the spots where anti-Taliban raiders murdered their men ten years ago. Dust eddies in the canals that irrigated the dead men’s orchards and wheat fields before running dry this spring. In the middle of the village, the oldest women of Kampirak chew their lips parched by the long, thirsty hours of Ramadan and evoke the name of god. They also evoke the Taliban. “Under the Taliban life was good.
Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan: Forget Troop Numbers—The Biggest Shift Is Towards Political Talks
June 23, 2011
Despite the media focus on President Obama’s announcement of troop withdrawals this year and next, Obama’s speech says far less about the administration’s Afghanistan strategy than three other notable (and largely overlooked) recent developments. First, over the weekend, Secretary Gates acknowledged that the U.S. is in preliminary talks with members of the Taliban in an attempt to effect political reconciliation. On the same day, Ambassador Eikenberry leveled perhaps the most forceful U.S.
As the date for a long-promised drawdown in Afghanistan nears, debate is swirling. Many Democrats are urging a significant withdrawal, while most Republicans and U.S. military leaders warn that doing so will endanger recent gains. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has cautioned that the United States “shouldn’t let up on the gas too much.” “We’ve made a lot of headway,” he said during a recent visit to Afghanistan, “but we have a ways to go.” But this debate misses the point.