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Afghanistan has changed a great deal

Saad Mohseni, chairman of Afghanistan's largest media group, summed up in a column for The Wall Street Journal the conventional wisdom about Afghanistan. It goes, he said, something like this:

"The country is a lost cause. Almost nothing has changed. The people remain backward and thankless, and there is little benefit for the international community to stay engaged in the country's future."

He begs to differ, and the West Virginians who have served there, and the families who have backed them up, should hear what he had to say:

"With a population of 35.3 million . . . Afghanistan is a young nation. The median age is 17, and 60 percent of the people are under age 20. This generation is like no other in the country's history."

* In 2001, there were only 900,000 boys in schools, and almost no girls. Today there are more than 8 million Afghan children in schools, and 2.6 million of them are girls.

* The literacy rate, now 33 percent, is expected to grow to 60 percent by 2025.

* "Life expectancy, stuck at 40-odd years for decades, has jumped beyond 60, thanks to Afghan and international efforts to improve access to health care."

* In 2003, there were about 450 health facilities in Afghanistan. Today there are more than 1,800.

* In 2002, there were only about 32 miles of paved road. International donors have extended that to more than 7,450 miles of road that join Afghan cities.

* In 2001, Afghanistan had only 10,000 fixed telephone lines and no electronic media. Access to electricity has nearly tripled in a decade, and about 20 million people use mobile phones.

* "The country's greatest achievement is its democratic process," Mohseni wrote. "Many forget that Afghanistan is preparing for its third complete cycle of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2015 - thanks in part to the continued engagement of the international community."

* Polls repeatedly show that support for the Taliban is below 10 percent nationally - and less than 30 percent even in the Taliban's heartland.

Today's American politicians contend that it's time to cut and run on Afghanistan and focus on nation-building at home.

Attractive as that may be politically, Mohseni's plea for continued engagement is probably in Americans' long-term security interests.

To help birth self-government and then let it die?



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