Americans may be surprised, in contrast to conventional wisdom, to learn of the comparative peacefulness of Afghan cities when compared to other big cities around the world.
The coverage on cable news of blood and guts resulting from an explosion or a shooting in Afghanistan is likely to be equivalent to that of network news or front pages across the country. Most often, commentators or pundits are responding to what others have reported. The same is true of government or academe. Violence in places like Afghanistan is magnified by a giant echo chamber.
Given all that is happening, Afghanistan is completely unsafe, right? No, wrong!
Not to sound like Pollyannas, but the American people need more perspective on all this, and the 24-7 TV-driven media is not helpful.
If we are getting a distorted view then what is the reality?
The World Bank recently published a survey where some 400 members of the business community in five major Afghan cities were asked what their greatest problems were. Electricity, access to land, access to capital, decent roads, lack of legal structures, corruption, taxes, capable labor force. "Security" did not appear on their list of concerns until No. 14 and even then it was combined with conventional crime! These people have employees and their employees have families. Surely if personal safety were threatened, these folks would feel it.
The business community fears arbitrary actions against their property by powerful ministries, stalling and corruption and government incompetence more than they do a bullet or a bomb from the Taliban or al-Qaida.
So where is the disconnect, the difference between the perception and the reality?
The answer is this. The men and women of the U.S. armed forces along with coalition troops and their fellow Afghans military and police are responsible for security. They routed the Taliban and al-Qaida after Sept. 11 and now, except in certain well known areas, the enemy is confined and on the run. Sure, they can be lethal and we are taking casualties from increased attacks but the vast majority of Afghans, let's guess 95 percent, are not exposed.
Afghans have long ago discounted such risks as being small in comparison with violence they experienced over the last 25 years.
Americans need to know that the Afghan people are concerned mainly with the same things that we are. They would like a decent job, to feed, clothe and house their families, to get ahead in this world. They fear sickness, hunger, lack of a decent education for their kids. It may come as a surprise but the Taliban and al-Qaida are low on their priority list.
Economic progress in their own lives, however, is not.