Monday, March 18, 2013

My peace plan for Afghanistan

Photo by Narid Popalzai/IRIN, via Afghanistan Online.
Ever wonder why it is that whenever you read anything about the economics of Afghanistan, there is always an emphasis on the country's famous fruits, the apricots and pistachios and other nuts, the cherries, figs, mulberries, and pomegranates, as well as melons and grapes, and yet whenever you see a picture taken outdoors you see a treeless waste? I certainly have. That forbidding terrain doesn't look even a little hospitable to trees.

Guess what! That's another gift from the war. NPR tells us this morning that before the struggle with the Soviets began, 50% of the land area was covered with forest; today it is 2%. It's not [jump]
the home fires used for cooking and heating, which are fed mostly by scrap, but the illegal timber industry, starting in the 1980s, when the war cut people off from their traditional livelihoods and distracted the authorities from enforcing the law.

What NPR doesn't manage to say is how much warlord rule since the Soviet departure in 1989 and the US pendulum swing from counterterror to counterinsurgency and back has had to do with the deforestation. The worst hit, the eastern province of Nangarhar, lost 90% of its forests since 1989; the Taliban government tried to monopolize the timber trade but was unable fully to control it. And after the fall of the Taliban in 2002, with greedy—and U.S.–supported—warlords taking over, it wasn't only opium planting that took off but deforestation as well became radically worse. Leading, of course, to urban air pollution, flash floods and landslides, and devastating loss of animal population (snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep, Asiatic black bear).

And did you ever notice, by the way, the difference between living in Brooklyn's Flatlands and Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope? It's trees.

So here's my plan. As the coalition forces leave between now and next year, replace them not with soldiers but with trees. Devote the American money, and the American advisors and trainers, to reforestation. Train the Afghan National Army to plant trees and defend them. Occupy the forest that's left and don't allow it to be cut any further except by judiciously regulated Canadian-style cutting. Provide massive easy credit to fruit growers. Create huge populated parks like the Adirondacks or the Serengeti, but under federal control, no warlords allowed. Make trees, not war! Change the conditions on the ground! New Jersey's strip mall country is next!
Photo by Saleem Nuristani, via Afghanistanica.

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