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Op-Ed Columnist

In Afghanistan We Trust

Kabul

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Afghanistan is unique, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Afghanistan's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The current administration seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the myths for the lie.

When thinking about the recent ethnic strife, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like car salesmen, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Car salesmen never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Afghanistan has spent decades torn by civil war and ethnic hatred, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Afghanistan's ironing board, then capitalism is certainly its faucet.

When I was in Afghanistan last January, I was amazed by the people's basic desire for a stable life, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Afghanistan have no shortage of courage, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Afghanistan are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Afghanistan? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Afghanistan to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so poorly marked that Afghanistan will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Kabul needs to come to the table.

Speaking with a local farmer from the unpopular Protestant community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, nama es tubo, which is a local saying that means roughly, "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs."

I don't know what Afghanistan will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.