US Rep. Mark Souder: Have we made any progress in Afghanistan?

A column first published by the KPC Media Group in the News-Sun (Noble & LaGrange Counties), the Evening Star (DeKalb County), and the Herald-Republican (Steuben County), reprinted here with the permission of Rep. Mark Souder:

Have we made any progress in Afghanistan?
by Mark Souder – January 6, 2010

THIS IS THE SECOND of several columns by U.S. Rep. Mark Souder following his recent trip to Afghanistan.

After my first visit to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2006, I wrote in an article for the KPC newspapers that Kabul was the most depressed city I had ever visited. After this most recent visit, I can tell you it’s still no Detroit.

On the drive from the airfield to downtown, we passed one area after the next, all with the Afghan version of strip malls. Stalls selling everything — fruits, raw meat, wood, clothes. At first glance, one might think: Well, lots of cities don’t seem to have the most attractive route into their centers. But, after more time, it becomes clear that almost every major road is like this.

Seeing a donkey pulling a cart of goods is one thing in the rural mountains, but to see a cart going at one donkey power in the streets of the capital city of a nation is another.

It is winter in Afghanistan. The temperature is similar to northeast Indiana: ranging from cold to very cold. All over the city people are burning wood for heat. In a city of 2.5 to 3 million people, that’s a lot of smoke. The cloud cover was low the first night, and going outside was somewhere in between sitting close to a fire to try and drive the mosquitoes away to sitting in the smokiest bar in Fort Wayne in the old days.

Still, if you have been there before, you notice a few changes. For example, there are billboards. Full color billboards in a city of gray, black and brown.
We passed one solitary, modern glass building being constructed — a jarring sight amidst the 17th century chaos. If there is a sign of hope, it is a glass building in a city where not very long ago the standard buildings were all cement with slits for gun barrels.

And then there was an honest-to-goodness traffic jam. Recently, a CNN reporter commented that not only was traffic the biggest change she saw, but it was also eerie. Vehicles literally crawl along leaving passengers to feel like sitting ducks for any IED or sniper.

These superficial changes are signs of bigger more meaningful changes. Along one route, amidst the chaos, there was a lot of construction equipment. Kabul is gradually becoming modernized. Of course, that means one thing: There is more security. People don’t construct things if they get shot while building. They don’t build glass buildings if they expect daily bombs to go off. Freedom doesn’t really work without order.

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