I was asked by the BBC about the difficulties that Western governments face in understanding Afghanistan--the resulting piece can be seen here. Rory Stewart, Thomas Ruttig and Claire Lockhart were also asked and the general view was pessimistic. Security rules, and swift turnover of staff are obvious issues; and as Thomas points out, few Western governments or academic institutions were that interested in Afghanistan before 2001. Still today the number of Dari/Pashto speakers outside Afghanistan is shockingly small.
With one exception, that is - the former Soviet Union, some of whose diplomats retain a thorough understanding of the place. I remember hearing many times the somewhat sardonic eloquence of the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan as he would detail the problems we were facing in the fight against the Taliban.
Even though, as I said in my last posting, I am ready to see the benefits of a trade-oriented policy I believe strongly that the international community ought at some level to be just that: a community. One thing that a community generally does is to make sure that between all its members it has the skills necessary to address any problem that the community might face. Could Afghanistan be the spur that gets the UN and its most powerful member states to make sure that it does have, somewhere or other, people with the requisite language skills, and knowledge of countries, that would be needed for any crisis that happens anywhere in the world? Among the tens or hundreds of thousands of diplomats there are in the world, this must surely be possible.