Herat, Afghanistan, 4 years after.

Nation building in failed states can be a little tricky, as not just a few political strategists are realising these days. With respect to Iraq, the deadly result of their misconceptions can be watched on the hour every hour. This, on the other hand, has, for better or worse, reduced the world’s attention devoted to Afghanistan, the other major construction site. Afghanistan is still a country worn and torn by decades of internal and external warfare, ethnic, religious strife, a country where traditional social structures and modernity clashed harshly, wether it was modernity disguised as Imperialism, Communism, or Islamism.

Even the Taliban were welcomed by the people who later suffered under them because their gruesome rule guaranteed at least a little of respect for some kind of law in an otherwise lawless society. Afghanistan probably was as close as a country could be to the state of nature Thomas Hobbes had in mind – life there was certainly nasty, brutish, and, at least by comparison, short.

Even after the Taliban were ousted quickly in 2001, and despite all undeniable institutional and social progress that is intelligible from a distance, the central government’s rule over the country is still severely limited, as not least yesterday’s decision on NATO’s part exemplifies. The organisation finally agreed to extend the ISAF forces far beyond the capital, Kabul, to the South of the country, where Pashtu clans still rule the land and apparently keep playing hide and seek with the American led special forces.

In these days between a violent past and a still very uncetain future in some ‘new great game’, my sister Dorothee, a freelance journalist from Hamburg who has written for publications like GEO and Brigitte, has decided to pay the country a visit, accompanying and reporting about a group of ethnically Afghan German journalists who are taking a leave of absence from their jobs in Germany to build a tv-station in Herat, western Afghanistan.

Herat, a city close to the Iranian border, in a region with important shiite influences, is, luckily, according to a BBC report I once read the only city in Afghanistan that ‘works’, at least to some extent. Its working is likely as much a consequence of its remoteness from the country’s center, its ethnic composition, Iran’s influence, and the work of the – not undisputed – recently ousted governor Ishmail Khan.

So, over the next couple of days my sister will blog her impressions about Herat from Herat – about the ‘new’ Afghanistan, and Western civil society’s efforts to help build an Afghani counterpart, and, of course, about what a modern girl’s gotta do in a rather unusual environment. As much as her decision to go there was bound to worry her family, I hope you will enjoy her reports. Of course, anyone interested additional information about her trip or interested in contacting her about publication is welcome to contact me by email.