Washington Babylon — January 1, 2009, 9:11 pm

Our Man in Kabul

From the New York Times:

Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.

A raft of investigations has concluded that people at the highest levels of the Karzai administration, including President Karzai’s own brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, are cooperating in the country’s opium trade, now the world’s largest. In the streets and government offices, hardly a public transaction seems to unfold here that does not carry with it the requirement of a bribe, a gift, or, in case you are a beggar, “harchee” — whatever you have in your pocket.

I interviewed Patricia Gossman about the situation in Afghanistan early last year. Her comments were remarkably prescient:

In 2004, at the time of the presidential election, he [Karzai] was fairly popular. Hopes were high then that the situation would turn around, that even if reconstruction was slow, it was going in the right direction. That’s not to say anyone saw him as a savior–far from it. As one Afghan friend of mine put it: “It’s like you have a job interview and you discover every shirt in your closet is dirty. What do you do? You wear the least dirty one. That’s Karzai.” But since then, as Karzai has shown little interest in backing reform efforts he had originally claimed to support. He has embraced some of the worst officials, appointing well-known torturers to high police positions, relying on other abusive and corrupt leaders for support. It’s all about patronage, it’s all personal, and the international community shares the blame.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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