Saturday, December 19, 2009

Superman in Waziristan

No foreign power has ever succeeded in Afghanistan: not the Russians, and not the English before them.  New York Times reporter David Rohde’s account of his heroic escape from imprisonment in Afghanistan and the Waziristan area of Pakistan had the quality of a thriller, but neither the reporter’s cell nor his minders were constructs from a novelist’s palette, though most novelists would be hard put to come up with the cast of characters Rohde paints.
The borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan are like a moonscape. When you look at images from photographers embedded with U.S. forces, there are the familiar trees and rocks and earth, but the similarities to our known universe end there. If NASA wanted a training ground that resembled an unexplored planet, they could do worse than to travel to Afghanistan, where life as we know it is unlikely to be found, even in the relative sanctuary of Kabul.

And who is the Afghan leader Mohammed Karzai? Does the educated lilt camouflage the next generation of errant nobility. He looks like he would be more at home on Nice’s Promenade Des Anglais than in his tightly guarded compound.
In Under Western Eyes, Joseph Conrad deals with another kind of radicalism. But the title is haunting when one thinks of Afghanistan, a country affixed by a distrustful Western gaze, defying rationality and every attempt to tame its tribal infrastructure with the lure of so-called democracy. The Taliban protects the farmers, who grow the poppies that are Kryponite for the next generation of superannuated Supermen, whether English, Russian, or American. 

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