Friday, October 09, 2009

Like eating pulao with chopsticks

You can probably use chopsticks to eat pulao, a gamely, unpredictable rice dish with a lethal, highly unstable array of peppers, cloves, almonds and plum pits lurking under the surface. It's better to be sure of yourself and use a spoon or, better yet, your hands, as I did in India. You don't want to be going about this business halfway. Pulao is, of course, the national dish of Afghanistan and like everything in Central Asia, is a word in about a dozen different languages, including Urdu or Pakistani, as an American I met once called it. It's unpredictable, unsavoury nature is fitting of Afghanistan, not to mention the conditions under which it's served, at least for me.

I don't eat pulao. I hate pulao. But, I don't choose to eat pulao, pulao is forced on me by circumstances, namely dreary dinners and drearier weddings that differ only marginally from funerals. Similarly, the West didn't want to be in Afghanistan, but it found itself there an astonishing eight years ago. After eight years, there is some talk of there being an outcome to this war thanks to Stanley McChrystal, who seems to be in charge of whatever it is that you call the presence of Western soldiers in Afghanistan. After seven years, it seemed to anyone who could see beyond the short-term there, that Western soldiers could easily be in Afghanistan for generations, presiding over a series of nonsensical elections and trying to cobble people that really don't like each other into a country.

McChrystal is in favour of a large increase in the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan, to the tune of 40,000. You should be sure of yourself, he argues, when eating pulao. Barack Obama is then put in the unenviable position of choosing between the two bad options of escalating a war where success has eluded us for eight years, and of abandoning Afghanistan. Whatever he does, there will be no shortage of people complaining, not to mention that it will have a bad outcome. It is highly improbable that there is any way in which military or foreign power can produce anything resembling a stable Afghanistan. At the same time, withdrawal or continued half measures would make things even worse. I'm very glad it's a decision I don't have to make, much like I'm glad pulao is something I don't have to eat.

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