In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.
The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.
As Afghan schools reopen today, the United States is back in the business of providing schoolbooks. But now it is wrestling with the unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude tool that steeped a generation in violence.
See also: USAID press release: USAID Supplies Millions of Textbooks to Afghan Children
These textbooks represent a curriculum produced by Afghans under projects supported by USAID and other donors. The series is based on the Afghan national curriculum, used in the 1970s and recently updated in coordination with the Ministry of Education. Both the Afghan Interim Authority's Ministry of Education and USAID conducted separate reviews of the books. These review panels, made up of leading Afghan educators of both genders, removed outdated or inappropriate content. The resulting edited texts are now being printed and distributed across Afghanistan.
Amid the ongoing US-led campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, little has been said about Afghanistan's environment. That is a critical oversight, because the landlocked country of 25 million is facing a crippling environmental disaster, one greatly exacerbated by 23 years of war. At this point, another round of civil war could wipe out the country's forests as well as several endangered species.
"Losses of natural resources are beyond estimation," says Abdul Wajid Adil, of the Peshawar, Pakistan-based Society for Afghanistan's Viable Environment (SAVE). "Damage to the environment is second only to human loss."
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Argentine oil company Bridas, led by its ambitious chairman, Carlos Bulgheroni, became the first company to exploit the oil fields of Turkmenistan and propose a pipeline through neighboring Afghanistan. A powerful US-backed consortium intent on building its own pipeline through the same Afghan corridor would oppose Bridas' project.
Neither individual Afghans nor foreign governments have cause to mourn the collapse of the Taliban regime. But in one respect, it is already being missed abroad if not at home: it managed to eradicate most of Afghanistan’s cultivation of the opium poppy. Now the Taliban are defeated, the country may once again reclaim the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest producer, and the dominant force in the world heroin trade. Rival South-East Asian producers are now scrambling to beat them to market. Police and customs forces throughout Central Asia and Europe are bracing themselves for an influx of cheap heroin, and the United Nations (UN) International Narcotics Control Board, in its annual report, to be published on Tuesday February 26th, will appeal for action to prevent renewed Afghan production.
Spies, Lies and the Distortion of History: on the history of the KGB's involvement in Afghanistan, as told by a Vasili Mitrokhin. His paper, The KGB in Afghanistan, is being made available as part of the Cold War International History Project.
To a greater extent than any other armed conflict on the planet, Afghanistan's unfinished 24-year war has been shaped by rival foreign intelligence agencies: The Soviet Union's KGB, America's CIA, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Saudi Arabia's General Intelligence Department and Iran's multiple clandestine services. They primed various Afghan factions with cash and weapons, secretly trained guerrilla forces, financed propaganda and manipulated political conventions.
When spies help construct a civil war, one seed they sow is confusion. Afghans today have little basis to trust their own recent history; too much remains hidden. The country has become a cauldron of interlocking conspiracies, both real and imagined, a maze of fractured mirrors designed by warmakers who embraced deception as a winning weapon. Afghanistan's successful reconstruction as even a semi-normal country, then, must eventually include some reclamation by Afghans of the truth about their recent past.
Murders and a bit of mayhem were anticipated during the peace-building process. But nobody expected a lack of international unity to destabilize the interim government in Kabul so quickly.
Karzai's high-wire act on the international stage-where he has received accolades from everyone from United States and European leaders to American fashion designers-has faltered at home. This is not due to lack of trying, but because of a lack of international support where it is needed. In recent weeks Karzai has toured world capitals trying to galvanize support for extending the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, to Afghanistan's four other major cities: Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad. His appeals have so far fallen on deaf ears.
C.I.A. Warns That Afghan Factions May Bring Chaos: feuds between rival warlords are ramping up and could put Afghanistan back into civil war.
The C.I.A. report does not conclude that a civil war is imminent. But the slow pace of the efforts to set up a police and military force has been of particular concern because of Afghanistan's longstanding ethnic rivalries and the difficulties the interim Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, has had in trying to assert his control over the country, much of which remains in the hands of warlords.
"If it takes six months or more than a year to create a single army, what do we do in the meantime to deter war among the warlords?" a senior official said.
Afghanistan looks at itself: a photo essay on the return of theatre, television, and photography to Afghanistan. Note: the slideshow goes full screen, but provides a close button.
In the wake of the Taliban's departure, Afghanistan has begun once more to look at itself, through lenses of its antiquated TV cameras, through tentative stabs at restarting and rebuilding theatre, through cinema and through photographers wielding homemade portrait cameras on the streets of Kabul.
When the Taliban caught Haji Shirullah, a Kabul businessman, playing chess in his office with his brother they burnt the chessboard and the pieces. "They put us in jail for two days," he recalled with a rueful smile. "The Taliban believed chess was a form of gambling and distracted people from saying their prayers."
Afghan officials haven't dropped by Haji Khudi Noor's dim nook in Kandahar's bustling opium market to order a halt to his business. Foreign aid workers haven't come to tell him how to feed his 35-member family if he did.
Until one -- or both -- happens, Khudi Noor says, opening his brown shawl to reveal a lap piled high with patties of raw opium, Afghanistan's new opium ban will have little force against its new opium boom.
Dollar may replace afghani: on a proposal by the Asian Development Bank to discontinue the Afghan currency and replace it with a convertible currency such as the dollar. May I suggest they think twice and then talk to the Argentine president if they still want to do this? [via Unknown News]
As donor countries met in Tokyo to pledge money to support rebuilding of Afghanistan, the World Bank presented their plan for rebuilding the country from the village up, starting with locally provided solar power, irrigation and roads.
Northern Alliance factions are reported to have been fighting amongst themselves for the last two days.
It seems Unocal is gaining from friends in Afghanistan: both the interim Afghan leader and the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan are reported to have worked for Unocal.
President Bush has appointed a former aide to the American oil company Unocal, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, as special envoy to Afghanistan. The nomination was announced December 31, nine days after the US-backed interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul.
Since then, Karzai's ties with the Americans have not been interrupted. At the same time, he established ties with the British and other European and international sides, especially after he became deputy foreign minister in 1992 in the wake of the Afghan mojahedin's assumption of power and the overthrow of the pro-Moscow Najibollah regime. Karzai found no contradiction between his ties with the Americans and his support for the Taleban movement as of 1994, when the Americans had - secretly and through the Pakistanis - supported the Taleban's assumption of power to put an end to the civil war and the actual partition of Afghanistan due to the failure of Borhanoddin Rabbani's experience in ruling the country. At the time, Karzai worked as a consultant for the huge US oil group Unocal, which had supported the Taleban movement and sought to construct a pipeline to transport oil and gas from the Islamic republics of Central Asia to Pakistan via Afghanistan. However, Karzai's relationship with the Taleban did not last long, since he moved away from the movement immediately after it assumed power in 1996 and turned down the movement's offer to appoint him as its ambassador to the United Nations.
Warlords Steal Food Shipments: on the trouble getting food fairly distributed in Jalalabad, where warlords from the Eastern Shura have stolen two-thirds of the incoming food. According to the article, Eastern Shura is the group that was helping the U.S. in its cave-by-cave search of the Tora Bora area.
Former Taliban officials have revived Khudamul Furqan Jamiat, or Society of Servants of the Holy Koran, in an attempt to get back into the Afghanistan political scene.
Interim government promising, but presents challenges: a report on a talk by Ahmed Rashid on the new Afghanistan government.
Afghan Drought Inflicts Its Own Misery: on the other Afghan crisis - a drought in southwest Asia that has last three years.
The Bonn talks have resulted in an agreement, signed by four factions, with six milestones on the way to democracy in Afghanistan. They start with the appointment of a 30-member interim government led by Hamid Karzai. One faction is already saying they won't support the government.
A witness describes the underground cave complex near Tora Bora where bin Ladin is suspected to be hiding.