Sunday, October 14, 2007

An Afghan Tale

Khaled Hosseini An Afghan Tale
Wall street Journal; October 13, 2007; Page A11

In Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel "The Kite Runner," a Hindi kid boasts that in his hometown the popular regional pastime of kite fighting has strict rules and regulations. This is not a wise thing to say to two Afghan boys in Kabul.

"Hassan and I looked at each other. Cracked up. The Hindi kid would soon learn what the British learned earlier in the century, and what the Russians would eventually learn by the late 1980s: that Afghans are an independent people. Afghans cherish customs but abhor rules. And so it was with kite fighting. The rules were simple: No rules. Fly your kite. Cut the opponents. Good luck."

I read these words aloud to Mr. Hosseini. "This is what the Afghans are known for, their very independent spirit. They are known for embracing custom but not necessarily laws," he says. This may shed some light on some of the current challenges of rebuilding the country. "Part of what's going on in Afghanistan is that," he says. "We are trying to build a country in Afghanistan with a central government, with a constitution, with a -- at least on paper -- a well-defined set of laws. And we're taking that and we're trying to implement that in a country that lives largely by custom. And I think it's a challenge to modernize a country that in many ways lives in a very, very traditional way."

Mr. Hosseini, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, is quick to add that this challenge is not foolhardy, or misguided. Since the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, which led to an interim power-sharing arrangement, Mr. Hosseini says that there have been "limited, but tangible improvements."

"It's not insignificant that we have held elections," he says. "It's not insignificant that we have a constitution, whether it's implemented correctly or not. But the mere presence of it -- and the things that it says -- is not insignificant. There have been some improvements in the areas of health and education. Just going back to Kabul, it's a dramatically different city! Neighborhoods that were destroyed during the civil war are back, roads have been paved. There should be electricity, uninterrupted, in Kabul by next year."

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