Monday, September 01, 2003

For some time, I've been planning an overland trip from Prague to India over the silk-road-hippie-trail. The question, of course, is what to do about friggin' Afghanistan. I have a friend who's living in Kabul, working as the Central Asian correspondent for a world famous magazine. He's the eternal optimist. Before he left, and following a 2-3 week jaunt over there, he told me things weren't as bad there as the newspapers made them sound. I asked pointedly if, for instance, it was safe to travel across the country. He said yes, provided you travel during the day. That was earlier this year.

In late July I inquired again about the logistics, and whether it was reasonable to travel outside Kabul without risking death or kidnapping. The response: "You know I'm an optimistic and upbeat sort but my advice to your overland venture is don't do it! It simply isn't safe. That is, you could probably do it and have no problems, but there is a chance things could go pear shaped. I'm travelling a lot here and it sometimes frightens the hell out of me." This is a guy who's covered something like six wars. If he's scared, forget it.

Still, I was resolutely assured that the road from Mashad, Iran (one of the holiest cities of Shi'ite Islam, after Najaf -- yes that Najaf) to Herat, Afghanistan was "completely safe and doable." It was penetrating deeper into the country that was the problem. So I cooked up some dreams of a quick detour into Afghanistan and back, only as far as Herat. (Read more about Herat and the crazy guy who runs it, Ismail Khan, here.)

Not gonna happen. On Aug. 20 I got an email: "Um. I hate to say it but things are getting more violent here, significantly more violent. Herat is still safe but I just wonder if you wouldn't be better delaying your trip."

Says Slate's Today's Papers: "The NYT, after dilly-dallying for a while, finally fronts the upsurge in attacks" in Afghanistan. On Sunday, two American soldiers were killed in a 90-minute gun battle. But the Times' story is much bigger. Here's how it starts:

The Taliban, backed by new volunteers from Pakistan, are regrouping and steadily expanding their attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan, their former stronghold, according to Afghan officials, Western diplomats and captured fighters.
Here's the full article. The Taliban is the most putrid arm of Islamofascism on the face of the planet and fully deserving of complete annihilation. With the worsening chaos in Iraq, it's certainly worth questioning if the U.S. needs to be sending more troops to Afghanistan as well. I also wonder if the United States, with its overstretched military and its mind-boggling budget deficit, can afford such an extended dual deployment. I think it should. So I can go to Afghanistan? Sure, maybe that has something to do with it. But far more importantly so it doesn't go all bad again. Afghanistan bad seems really bad.


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