Once again, Hillary gets proven wrong. You'd think she'd learn to be careful about opening her mouth.
AFGHANISTAN--Sen. Hillary Clinton has cynically charged that we are "losing the fight to al Qaeda and bin Laden" in Afghanistan. But on my eighth trip to Afghanistan (last month) I saw that the trend lines are up, not down.It's more than just cell phones, tho.
The first encouraging sign came in Dubai as I boarded my flight for Kabul. Afghanistan's main private air carrier, Kam Air, has recently added a second daily round trip between Kabul and Dubai.
Once in Kabul I bought a new SIM card for my mobile phone and found that what would have cost me $40 a few years ago and $9 in September last year now cost only $3. Not surprisingly, mobile phones have spread to a broad section of Afghanistan's 24 million people, with the two major providers, AWCC and Roshan, claiming a total of three million subscribers, up from two million in September last year. Amin Ramin, managing director of AWCC, estimates that his company alone will count two million subscribers by the end of 2007 and three million by the end of 2008.
I spotted similarly hopeful trends in three heavily Pashtun provinces--Nangarhar, Laghman and Khost--in eastern Afghanistan.
The U.S. is now planning to start a second provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Nangarhar Province, and it will be staffed by military reservists who are farmers and ranchers in civilian life. This second PRT will work with local farmers in Nangahar's lush river valley, while also building infrastructure to get crops to market--cold storage facilities and local roads. Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, the commander of the existing PRT, says that blacktop roads will link all district centers in the province to the main road to Kabul by the end of this year.
"Every day we open 15 to 20 new accounts," says Maseh Arifi, the 24-year-old manager of the Jalalabad branch of Azizi Bank, one of Afghanistan's two homegrown consumer banks. The branch opened at the end of last August and has 18,000 accounts. Next door, rival Kabul Bank has opened 9,400 accounts totaling $7 million in two years. The 27,000 bank accounts represent about 15% of 660,000 adults of Jalalabad--and doesn't count some of the most prosperous locals, who commute to Peshawar to do their banking. In Nangarhar, AWCC and Roshan together have about 206,000 mobile phone customers, 31% of the adults.
Further south is Khost, a province that received little help from the central government in recent decades. Now construction cranes hover over Khost City, with modern five- and six-story office buildings and shopping centers rising amid grimy two-story concrete bazaars. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently finished building a new university in the city. And this month the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, an investment-facilitating agency, is inviting 300 overseas Khostis to come discuss building an industrial park.
And there's still more good news. But ya gotta read the whole article.