Good News from Afghanistan

Thursday's Editorial   —   Posted on June 9, 2005

The following is excerpted from Mr. Chrenkoff’s June 6, 2005 article on OpinionJournal.com:

(BY ARTHUR CHRENKOFF, OpinionJournal.com) – Over the last few weeks, Afghanistan has been in the news again–unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. The media pack has made a brief reappearance in Afghanistan to report on carefully staged “spontaneous” riots, which briefly erupted around the country, ostensibly in protest over a report in Newsweek (later retracted) about desecration of Koran by the American military personnel at Guantanamo Bay.

Sadly, in the rush of commentary about Afghanistan’s slide into anarchy and America’s deteriorating position in Kabul, most of the international media again missed or downplayed many other stories, some of them arguably far more consequential than an antigovernment rampage whipped up by opponents of President Hamid Karzai.

Below, then, the past five weeks’ worth of stories that were yet again completely overshadowed by terrorism and violence:

A new youth movement aims to put aside past conflict and build a better future for the country:

Hundreds of young men, fed up with the ethnic animosities that have long divided Afghanistan, are traveling the country preaching peace and brotherhood.  “Just yesterday our youngsters were trying to kill one another, but today they’re thinking about national unity and they want to live as brothers,” said Haji Sarajuddin, a teacher from Kandahar province.

Sarajuddin recently accompanied about 200 senior high school students from the traditional Pashtun stronghold in the south to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, in an area where ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks are in the majority.

The two regions came to symbolise the deep divisions that marked the years of strife of the Nineties.

But in April, nearly 300 students in Mazar-e-Sharif warmly embraced their fellow countrymen from Kandahar when they met at a local hotel.

The students, all in their teens or early twenties, were too young to have participated in the years of civil war.

“We know that due to the conflicts, a lot of distance has come between the peoples of Afghanistan,” Mohammad Nazar, 23, told IWPR. “You can’t bring about national unity by just talking, so about 30 of us at schools in Kandahar got together and decided to do something practical.”

From the core group of 30, the unity movement boomed, said Nazar.

The young men say they have no political agenda other than reconciliation. They have taken their message not only to Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, but also to other northern regions such as Parwan, Baghlan, Takhar and Kunduz, to Paktia and Zabul in the south, and to the capital Kabul and the nearby Wardak province.

While a woman’s lot in Afghanistan is still a difficult and often dangerous one, many previously unheard-of opportunities are opening up for the long forgotten majority of the population. An Afghan province, for example, is slowly adjusting itself to the first female governor:

High in the snow-capped Hindu Kush, visitors stream to see the new governor. A huddle of turbaned men carrying plastic sunflowers in a gold vase nod respectfully. The British ambassador flies in from Kabul. By morning’s end, the office is filled with 25 bouquets of fake flowers, and a calf is tethered outside.
Nothing unusual, then, in a culture that prizes deference to authority, except for one thing: The new boss is a woman.

Habiba Sarobi is Afghanistan’s first female governor, a major advance in a society where only four years ago, under the Taliban, women were denied everything from school lessons to lipstick.

Afghanistan’s independent media are thriving in a climate freer than anything the country has experienced in its recent history. Afghan TV has just undergone modernization:

The Afghan National Television . . . switched over to a new digital system. The conversion from analogue to a digital system took two years and was finalised with financial assistance of $7.44 million from the government of Japan.

In the unfinished business department:
Afghan health workers battling polio will set off into remote mountains next week hoping to reach about two million children who missed an immunization drive because they were cut off by heavy snow. Afghanistan is on the verge of eradicating polio with only one case reported so far this year compared with 27 in 2000.

An antismallpox vaccination drive is also under development.

The communications network keeps expanding throughout the country, bringing Afghanistan into the 21st century:

Before the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, 27 million Afghan citizens had to make do with approximately 20,000 working telephone lines. Domestic connections were spotty, while only a handful of expensive satellite phones could dial internationally.

Today, through the extraordinary efforts of the Afghan Wireless Communication Company and its parent company, Telephone Systems International (TSI), more than 300,000 citizens subscribe to the Afghan wireless network, with coverage in twenty cities and an additional twenty cities slated for service by the end of the summer.

There are also plenty of small-scale projects to electrify Afghanistan. For example, thanks to the Aga Khan Foundation, villagers in Khenjan district, 30 miles south of the northern Baghlan province, are now getting electricity from two hydroelectric and diesel-electric generators.

And some infrastructure initiatives are the result of local private charity: “An Afghan businessman has donated more than 19 million afghanis (about $400,000) for a water supply project in a village of Guzra district in the western Herat province.”

Coalition troops.
Throughout Afghanistan, coalition forces continue not only to provide security but also assist with the reconstruction of the country and provision of humanitarian aid.

In southern Afghanistan, the troops are building the first road linking Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces:
Creating the first road to directly connect the remote city of Tarin Kowt with the southern city of Kandahar is a monumental task no matter how you look at it.
No one knows that better than the Soldiers of Task Force Sword, the engineers of Combined Joint Task Force-76.

“Everything has to be trucked or flown in,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Scott Walden, Task Sword’s operations sergeant major. “The areas through which this road is being constructed are so remote that many of the items our soldiers need have to be flown in.”

The project is expected to be finished before September.

Near Kabul, the troops from the Indiana National Guard are trying to help the locals rebuild their lives:
Children are one of the Guard’s key focuses. The troops tell News 8 that one in four Afghan children will not live to the age of 10. The need can be overwhelming. . . . One orphanage News 8 visited is home to nearly 700 children. Even more take classes there. One teenager, Kalimullah, said the kids were happy to see American soldiers. “All of children want you here because they bring security, they bring peace, all of the children like [you],” he said.
Members of the Indiana National Guard also bring jobs to the locals. When News 8 was at the orphanage, people were being hired to lay blacktop. The commander emergency relief program provides the money to pay for projects that rebuild Afghanistan. LtCol Paul Grube of New Albany, Indiana is in charge. “The reality is if they can’t feed their families then Taliban will pay someone $20 to fire a rocket. And so we’ve got to put the economy back together and once the economy is together then the quality of life is better and they’re not so willing to go to war,” he said.

The United States is spending $87,000 to fund a new kitchen going up at a teaching hospital. At the moment, all they have is a makeshift stove.

The troops are also winning local support through some less than usual projects:
The American Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the eastern city of Jalalabad . . . completed rebuilding a main mosque costing $29,000.

The spacious Spin Jumaat (White Mosque) in the city center can house thousands of worshippers, said Nangarhar Governor Haji Din Mohammad, who lauded the American PRT’s gesture.

Although foreigners themselves did not offer prayers, he observed, “their rebuilding of the mosque is a good lesson for terrorists, whose propaganda campaign against American presence here knows no end.”

Air Ambulance personnel are regularly flying medical evacuation missions for Afghan civilians. And sometimes, medical help can have important security side effects:
An Afghan boy whose father received treatment from a visiting U.S. military medical team last week turned a cache of ammunition and drugs over to coalition forces April 21.
The boy led Afghan National Army and coalition forces to a house in a village 10 kilometers away from Ghazni. The ANA approached the house’s owner, who claimed he had no weapons inside. Afghan and coalition forces searched the dwelling and discovered a cache of 13 rocket-propelled grenades, a Russian-manufactured machine gun, a mortar round, several improvised-explosive-device components, plastic explosives, numerous rounds of ammunition and two bags of opium.

The war on drugs is progressing across the country:
Last year at this time, the southeastern Afghan province of Nangrahar was covered with pink and white poppies, producing a quarter of the nation’s opium crop. This year, after President Hamid Karzai announced a jihad or holy war against drugs, Nangrahar is almost 80 percent free of poppies.
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Mr. Chrenkoff is an Australian blogger. He writes at chrenkoff.blogspot.com.

For the complete report of good news from Afghanistan, click here.

Questions

1.  Which item most inspired you?  Why?

2.  What makes each of the following items newsworthy?
— the new governor of Hindu Kush
— the youth movement from Kandahar to Maxar-e-Sharif
— the war on drugs

3.  What responsibility does the mainstream media have to inform the public about good news from Afghanistan? 

4.  Is the omission of good news reports on the part of the mainstream media intentional?  Explain your answer.

5.  Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper or TV news show from which you get your news.  Ask them to report on Good News from Afghanistan as well as bad.  Explain why you think it is their responsibility to do so.  (You can refer them to Arthur Chrenkoff’s column on OpinionJournal.com if they don’t know how to find good news to report on.)  If your news source already provides coverage of good news, thank them for their committment to balance. 
cc a copy of your letter to editor@studentnewsdaily.com for possible posting on our site.