Monday, June 26, 2006

Surprise, surprise: In Afghanistan, Pres. Karzai is a GOOD GUY!

Things are sometimes not what they seem. Sometimes if you take a closer look you discover that what you thought was a frog is actually a prince.

Has Afghanistan’s President Karzai been kissed by a beautiful princess lately? Or is he still just a frog?

Yesterday I had the extreme good fortune to have tea with a member of the Afghan national parliament. This MP is one of the most quotable lawmakers I’ve ever heard. “Frankly,” she said, “I LIKE America. I don’t want America to leave us alone.” However, there are many things she doesn’t like about America such as their propensity to tamper with other countries’ cultures. For instance, when she was asked to visit America and the U.S. State Department was filling out her visa application, they asked her if she had ever committed a felony. For her, this was a big insult. And then they asked her to take off her headscarf for the visa photo and she refused. “If they want to invade my privacy that much, I will stay home. Wouldn’t you?” Actually, no. I’d sold out and filled out the form.

“America gives us millions of dollars,” said the MP, “but they also want to interfere with our personalities – who we basically are. America’s big mistake in this country is that they don’t have contact with the people here.” For instance, there are misunderstandings regarding Islam. “Afghanistan is a deeply Muslim country and many Afghans think that Americans endanger Islam.”

“Afghans hate Bush when he messes with their religion. They hate their religion messed with.” I guess Americans would feel that way too if someone came in and forced us to practice Christianity wrong. Oops. My bad. George Bush already does that.

Another problem facing Muslims in Afghanistan is that the Qur’an is written in Arabic and, according to the MP, “the Qur’an is misused because no one translates it.” That’s like what happened back in the European Middle Ages when the Bible was in Latin, only the priests knew what it said and they wouldn’t tell the people the truth – that Jesus was actually a liberal! “The people need to know what the Qur’an actually says,” so that it can’t be twisted and used to the advantage of false religionists.

At this point in our conversation, the electricity failed.

Almost every home in Kabul has little fluorescent light bulbs hooked up to their very own solar panels – but I digress.

“Many people don’t realize that we have a very strong parliament here,” said the MP. And the people have very strong Constitutional rights. “I have one cousin who likes Americans, one cousin who likes the Talib and one cousin who likes Karzai. This is good. Let’s get all these factions together and hold discussions. And stop the fighting.” Sounds good to me.

Then I asked the MP what she thought about President Karzai. “In America,” I told her, “many progressives don’t trust him. They think he’s just a Yes-man for the oil companies and George Bush. I trust your opinion. What do you think of him?” Her answer really surprised me.

“President Karzai is actually very popular in Afghanistan. I meet with him at least once a week. He is a good person. He’s kind and a good Muslim. He respects the elders. He’s accessible, hard-working and is actually doing a good job!” I didn’t know that.

“When Parliament recessed last week, Karzai asked all the MPs to go back to our towns and villages and ask the people why they are not happy with the government and the U.S.” Apparently, he really wants to know what his constituents are thinking.

“But,” I replied, “what about Stewart Nusbaumer’s recant article at that stated if America pulled out, Karzai would be deposed within 24 hours – and that he has no power outside of Kabul?”

The MP laughed. “24 hours? That long? He’d be gone in a minute! The fact that he is even still ALIVE is a major achievement, let alone still in power.” She said that the warlords here hate Karzai and because they are so powerful, he has to accommodate them. For instance, they hold posts in his cabinet. “Afghanistan has to increase the Parliament’s power in order to decrease the power of the warlords.”

[I guess the MP hadn’t yet heard that we’re not supposed to call them “warlords” any more. They have hired a PR firm and are working on their image. Repeat after me: “The warlords are NOT warlords.” Yeah right.]

Bottom line on Karzai? He’s really a good guy! I trust this MP’s opinion. If she says Karzai is a prince, I believe her. Okay. Karzai’s not a frog.

However, if Karzai is going to remain in power in Afghanistan, he needs to follow the warlords’ example in one respect. He needs to dump the frog suit and get better PR.

PS: Yesterday we went shopping on Chicken Street and I bought my very own burka. “Afghanistan’s Next Top Model” here I come!

PPS: Tang orange breakfast drink is very popular here.

PPS: One American ex-pat I talked with has an interesting theory about the whereabouts of Osama bin Ladin. “He’s not in Afghanistan any more. He’s gone off to the Sudan.” Why? “Because in order to train Al Qaeda recruits, they gotta have a chance to practice killing people.”

“But that would mean that Al Qaeda would be allied with the Janjaweed,” I protested, “and the Janjaweed are allied with George Bush.”

The ex-pat just smiled and nodded his head.