I don’t recall the last time I saw a positive article or news report about Afghanistan. The country has taken a beating over the years from the many conflicts involving Afghans, the Taliban, the former Soviet Union, and the U.S., to name a few. Signs of war persist in Kabul, where public buildings are heavily fortified and guards armed with automatic weapons seem to be everywhere.
Despite the obvious problems, new construction is taking place throughout Kabul just as spring is renewing the landscape. I had the chance to visit public gardens last Friday, and it was encouraging to see families enjoying picnics, young people walking together through the park, and all the colors of flowering trees and shrubs. The backdrop for Kabul is snowcapped mountains that surround the town and are usually clearly visible.
Traveling to Jalalabad a couple of weeks ago required driving through an incredibly scenic river gorge before arriving at the beautiful Nangarhar Valley. You sometimes have to look past sandbagged military outposts to notice waterfalls, beautiful rock formations, and lush river bottomland. Spring wildflowers were also blooming, turning hillsides red, yellow, and purple. Some of the countryside reminded me of Eastern Oregon, and the Mahipar Gorge looked something like Hells Canyon in places.
The scenic beauty of this country, although often spectacular, is less important to me than the hospitality and courtesy I’ve been shown by the many Afghan people I’ve met. Reading U.S. news reports, it would be easy to believe that everyone here wants to kill Americans or at least each other. I believe most Afghans want to live in peace and look forward to a day when the razor wire and blast walls will disappear. I drive by Kabul University nearly every day on my way to our office at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; and it’s good to see students on their way to classes that may help open the way to a better future.
I do not want to give the impression that everything is beautiful and fine in Afghanistan. I’ve noticed that some people who read my columns latch on to an observation or a phrase out of context in an attempt to promote their own point of view. Afghanistan has overwhelming challenges; however, it also has great human and natural resources that are already serving as the foundation of a recovery. I am grateful for the chance to play a small role in that process and look forward to the day when most of the articles about this country will be positive.