Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2001

Fundamental problems abound

Afghan friend shared insights into his country’s problems

November 8, 2001

I've only known one Afghan. I met him while working at a job that filled several months between the end of my second college stint and my first reporting job.

The Afghan was in the same situation. When not bent over a work station eight to 10 hours a day performing tedious, mind-numbing assembly work, he was sending out resumes to Southern California hoping to put his K-State engineering degree to work where his brother had settled.

He didn't have a car, so I got in the habit of giving him a ride back and forth to work. He had a sardonic sense of humor and made me laugh with his observations about our co-workers. We felt somewhat superior, I suppose, knowing the job was just a stop for us.

I asked the Afghan about his homeland, armed as I was with a South Asian certificate from K-State I earned at an earlier swing through college. I didn't know anything about Afghanistan. My Urdu professor joked that it was the home of backward and vengeful mountain tribesmen hillbillies in short. This is basically the same view we get from the news media today.

The Afghan told me his father was a vegetable merchant who sold produce purchased in Pakistan on the streets of Kabul. With the help of a rich uncle, his father got his two sons out of the country during the Russian occupation.

Years of conflict had ruined the Afghan economy, he told me. His father's business had been reduced to barter.

At the time I was working with him, Afghanistan was making headlines on the inside pages of newspapers. I believe it was the start of the prolonged civil war from which the Taliban would ultimately emerge victorious.

He blamed his country's problem on the intervention of its neighbors, not an unfounded view given the Russian invasion and occupation of the country. But, he went further, saying that all the country's neighbors need to stay out of its affairs. They were making too many weapons available to his countrymen , he said.

When he left his homeland, he flew from Kabul to Katmandu, Nepal, before making his way to Pakistan and the United States. Katmandu offended his Muslim sensibilities. They worshiped everything as gods there, he said, even monkeys, and they didn't eat meat. I remember I found it amusing that a native of Kabul could find any other city backward.

Other than that I never heard him bring up religion, but the subject was a frequent topic at the workplace because one of our co-workers relentlessly proselytized for her brand of fundamentalism. I found her annoying, but my Afghan friend went further. His opinion was, "She's stupid; she can't think things out." The first view was widely shared in the breakroom. The second view was unique to him and was certainly at odds with the Taliban's thinking that is causing his and our country so much grief.

We left the job within days of one another. He decided he'd have better luck finding a job in Los Angles if he moved there.

I never heard from him again. Recent events make me wonder what happened to him. It's hard to imagine him trooping around the Afghan hills with an AK-47 over his shoulder. He had a marketable degree as we headed into 10 years of boom times.

The last decade has given validity to his insight on his country's problems. Afghanistan would be better off if Pakistan, Iran, former Soviet Union republics and Saudi Arabian dissidents stayed out of its political affairs.

We're jumping into that fray now. Some suggest we should only be concerned with defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida. Others say we must rebuild Afghanistan. I wonder what my friend would say.

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