Many Afghans worry that American policy will once again give up on their country.
KABUL, Afghanistan--Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai limped into the room on a cane and sat down with a smile. We inquired about his health. "I am under repair," he said. "It will never be the way it used to be." Stanekzai, the Cambridge University-educated head of the Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Program, was in this same room last September, in the sprawling home of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, when a Taliban pretending to be interested in peace talks arrived. The Taliban had a bomb concealed in his turban and promptly blew himself up. Rabbani, the head of the government's peace talk efforts, was killed. Stanekzai was badly wounded.
On Thursday, in a meeting with visiting reporters, Stanekzai sat across from Rabbani's eldest son, Salahuddin, an earnest, English-speaking young man like so many of the elite young men here--more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's population is under 25--whom President Hamid Karzai appointed last month to succeed his father as chairman of the 70-member High Peace Council. The appointment was a message to everyone, but especially to the Taliban: We're not stopping. You can't kill us before we kill the worst of you and reconcile the rest to coming home. We will outlast you.
Afghanistan, like Masoom Stanekzai, may never be fully repaired. But if you were inclined to bet money on the fate of nations, the sounder gamble would probably be on men like Stanekzai and young Rabbani, who is 41 and holds a master's degree from Columbia University. True, Afghanistan is going to be a bloody mess for a long time, maybe decades. But what cynics fail to understand is that it is usually only when backward countries are completely abandoned by the international community that the bad guys win. And it is now clear beyond any reasonable doubt that whoever is elected U.S. president in November, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, the U.S. and international community are going to remain here in a fairly robust way, if not with a large-scale troop presence.