Thomas Niblock is a Public Affairs Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Last week, I was invited to distribute soccer kits to a dozen Afghan girl’s soccer teams. You should have seen those girls pounding it out on the field against a mish-mash (and out classed) team of women representing the various ISAF military contingents. As I consider these first six weeks in Afghanistan, that experience helps frame my impressions. Six years ago there were virtually no girls in school in Afghanistan, and certainly none out building confidence on the soccer field! Today, there are about a million and a half female students, not yet even half of those who are eligible for school, but the numbers are significant and growing.
Probably everything negative you may have heard about Afghanistan is true, at least in part. Most Afghans you speak with have a litany of complaints about high prices, the lack of reliable electricity, bad and sometimes corrupt officials, and concerns about security. The newspapers (which reach only a few), and the much more widely available radio and TV programs are filled with criticisms and complaints of all kinds. Yet, several surveys have shown that over 95 percent of all Afghans don’t want to go back to the dark days of the Taliban and that they overwhelmingly reject the Taliban culture of violence and repression. I have become fond of telling people that it is not so much a question of the glass being half empty or half full here, but of there being at least some water in all of the glasses, be that security, development, or education.
For our part, I have been incredibly impressed with the quality of the men and women who have volunteered to come to Afghanistan to try to be a part of that better way forward. Days ago, one of those exceptional individuals, Tom Stefani, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture assigned to our PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in Ghazni, was killed when the vehicle he was in was hit by an IED. I didn’t know Tom personally, but those who did speak of his deep belief in the work he was doing. There is a spirit here that is uplifting. That’s where I am after six weeks in country.