A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another Setback

Because this assassination is too significant to ignore, even if I have no information or insight that can't be gleaned from news accounts...

Turban bomb kills key Afghan political leader

The headline (for once) understates the weight of what happened in Kabul two days ago.  Burhanuddin Rabbani was tabbed last year by President Karzai to chair the Afghan peace council, the vehicle by which the powers that be hope the government can persuade at least most of the insurgency to negotiate a peace.  He was seen as the only logical choice, a past national leader (Afghanistan's president from 1992 to '96) who carried weight with both the Northern Alliance factions and the Pashtuns.  Although he presided over the most tragic of modern Afghan eras -- the brutal civil war which destroyed Kabul and paved the way for the Taliban's takeover -- he had emerged from the war against the Soviet Union as a Mujahiddin leader from the north and a skilled power broker.

Kabul, 1993 - Filmmaker Richard Mackenzie with Pres. Rabbani.
Richard, a good friend, kindly shared this from his archives.

Rabbani was killed in much the same way that his one-time chief Ahmad Shah Massoud was, ten years ago this politely receiving guests.  In Massoud's case it was phony journalists, and in Rabbani's it was phony peace envoys, but in each instance the bombers deceived hosts about their intentions and waited for days to get close to their respective targets.  The attackers exploited ancient customs of hospitality to ambush great men who posed a threat to their unpopular but brutal organizations of terror.  In Massoud's time it was a camera casing the bomb, in Rabbani's it was a turban -- a symbol of piety.  But as we have seen time and time again, there is no pious respect from those who kill in the name of a twisted version of faith to which they wish to subject their country.

Incidentally, yesterday was the UN's designated International Day of Peace...a day I found so hopeful last year when I had the chance to commemorate it with hundreds of Afghan schoolchildren.  I hope that this most recent setback to peace in that land doesn't turn out to be as significant as it now seems.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Ten Years

Yesterday's date stood out to me.  Not as obvious as the unforgettable 9/11/01, it was still a memorable night in that bygone era preceding the terror.

I lived in Hoboken, NJ, at the time, and went with my cousin and a friend to see a great blues-rock band at the old Wetlands Theater in NYC.  We stopped by my sister Meg's bachelorette party first, to say hello to three of my sisters and her friends (which rewarded me with the hilarious sight of two of them in glittered cowboy hats, incidentally).  I'll absolutely never forget looking at the World Trade Center's twin towers when we left that show much later, sometime after midnight -- they always served as my directional marker downtown, and would tell me which way the PATH station was.  But that night, I swear I took a longer was a clear night and the lights of the sky-high buildings looked strangely beautiful.  It turned out to be the last time I saw them from lower Manhattan.

That sight, frozen in time, was vividly on my mind when I realized it was Sept. 8th...and I'm just glad to this day that none of my family or friends were there for any reason on the 11th.  I feel for everyone who did lose loved ones in the attacks that day -- not only in New York, but in DC and in Pennsylvania -- and for all who've suffered losses to terrorism and war since then.

The attacks on 9/11 would initially lead to my quest to join the Fire Department of New York, which I pursued for a couple of years while working other jobs, and eventually my return to a Marine uniform and two deployments to Afghanistan.  In so many ways did those audacious strikes affect my reality -- and that of countless millions around the world -- but it's often hard for me to draw a direct connection between that marred morning and my subsequent experiences.

What could have been, for me...

As a result, many of us who served there read countless analyses of what's gone right, what's gone wrong, and what can still be 'fixed.'  Linked below is an insightful article on Afghanistan's last decade, with perspectives from a variety of Afghans on what it has meant.  In particular, I was struck by the comments by Dr. Mahyuddin Mehdi, an MP from the north, on why the Karzai government has failed...

I think the wrong system was put in place here. I have always had issue with this centralised system because it gives the authority to one person, which then translates to the authority of one tribe. Karzai, for example, did not emerge based on his merits, but rather through the recommendation of one tribe.  Centralised power is problematic. Authority needs to be distributed, shared. There needs to be a prime minister that is accountable to the parliament.

He continues with a prediction that should give serious pause to those who believe we could exit now without a total collapse on our hands...

But if the international forces leave today, I think all this will falter within a week. Nothing has been institutionalised. People lack trust in these structures, because governments actions have made them question everything from elections to the parliament.  Our security forces are not strong enough to cope with the enemy at a time when the threat remains the same threat of ten years ago.  The situation is not much different from when the Soviets were about to withdraw. A similar vacuum would be left.

A crafty politician & tribal chief, not a savior.

Each story contained is worth reading, again -- for awareness, if nothing else.  Sahera Sharif, an MP from Khost, points out the crumbling security in that region between the major elections, something that certainly rings true based on every indicator.  The others present contrasting views on whether life in Afghanistan is better or worse compared to a decade ago, and where things are headed...

The 9/11 decade: Afghanistan's new beginning?

My friend and counterpart from Kabul -- who also showed me the ropes when I arrived, along with John -- forwarded that.  Joe also made a salient point about the outlook ahead.  We spoke often within the team about Afghanistan's prospects for becoming like South Korea if a steady U.S. and international presence remained in place, due to how similar a fractured, impoverished and war-weary Korea appeared in the 1950's and 60's, and he just returned from an exercise there...

It struck me as capturing most of the reactions and attitudes I've seen or heard over the past years about Afghanistan and US involvement there. It could be useful as a primer for communicators heading to or in Afghanistan as well. I do believe that, if we had the resources and will to stay in Afghanistan for the next 60 years (which we do not), Kabul would be closer to what Seoul is today than Karachi. But, that reminds me that in reality the experts instead state that in 30 years Afghanistan may at best be like Pakistan today (e.g., a JFK school scholar wrote back in 2009, I believe). Anyway, Afghanistan brought many excellent experiences amidst the tragedy that brought us all there in the first place this time around, 9/11.

Joe & I...because you all miss the 'stache dearly!

What we heartily agree on is what an honor and a privilege it was to work with each other and each member of our Public Affairs Development Team, as it was to work with countless service members and colleagues, both Coalition and Afghan.  It was likewise an honor to serve with most of the soldiers and Marines I got to know in eastern Afghanistan in 2006...many of whom have also returned on additional tours, and/or served in Iraq since then.

Here's hoping that the next decade brings a measure of peace, with continued vigilance...and in fact a great stride toward both goals would be vastly increased global familiarity and awareness.  Perhaps that should be my next area of focus?