Monday, April 11, 2016

Why We Fight: The Utterly Unsustainable Garden

Interested in sustainable gardening?  Check out The Sustainable-Enough Garden.

Interested in utterly unsustainable gardening?  Just ask the experts: the Afghan Army, which apparently has plenty of time for horticulture as its country is devoured by the Taliban.  According to the April 9, 2016 New York Times:
As the commander of the 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army, General Faqir is the top military man in Helmand Province, more than half of which has been overrun by Taliban in the past year. After a visit two weeks ago in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, he was at the airstrip, with full entourage in tow: aides de camp, bodyguards, camp followers — and gardeners with lots of flower pots.
Everyone piled onboard a Russian-made MI-17 helicopter, one of four that do dual duty as transports and air ambulances, its pilot also a general of Communist-era vintage. And then the ground crew loaded up the center aisle with the flower pots, earth and all, a score of them blooming with African daisies, begonias, morning glories, nasturtiums and something vaguely petunia-like and purple.
General Faqir explained: “Helmand is a desert. We need some color out here.”
Back at Camp Bastion, as he sat down for an interview in his headquarters, soldiers went right to work outside, shoveling sheep manure into flower beds arranged around the corps flagpole and soaking everything down with trucked-in water. 
General Faqir was appointed corps commander four months ago, with two of Helmand’s 14 administrative districts in Taliban hands. The insurgents were so close to the outskirts of Lashkar Gah that officials in the capital were evacuating members of their families, even while assuring the public there was nothing to fear.
Those Taliban advances coincided with a scandal over ghost soldiers — thousands of men listed among the 215th’s battalions for whom salaries were being paid, to someone at least, but who never actually made roll calls, if they had ever even drawn breath. General Faqir’s predecessor was fired as a result, and General Faqir came in to clean things up, which he says he did successfully.
Battlefield success, however, has been more elusive. Since General Faqir came, the Taliban have taken over three more districts, including Now Zad and Musa Qala. Both are important agricultural zones and major sources of opium poppy, and Musa Qala is a center of opium refining and heroin production. . . .
One of his own officers, however, was openly critical of that. “The fighting has died down because the corps commander stopped fighting the Taliban,” said Col. Mohammad Ahmadzai, one of the helicopter pilots. “He’s lost three districts since he’s been here.”
General Faqir scoffed at that, saying districts change hands all the time in Helmand and could easily change again tomorrow. . . .
The Afghan garrison commander, Col. Nasimullah Alishangai, has been here 10 years now. The rose garden in his personal compound shows it.
Huge bushes with half a dozen varieties — some already blooming — surround a roofed pavilion with two Life Fitness treadmills, left behind after the American withdrawal in 2014 and apparently not used since then. At the other end of the garden is a handsome grove of tall, spindly white birches, arranged in a horseshoe around a seating area. . . .
“You see that row of trees?” Colonel Zazai asked, pointing to a long procession of willows alongside the road to the training ground. He planted them in 2004, and his American mentor asked why. “I said: ‘Just wait. One day A.N.A. soldiers will be sitting in the shade of those trees, saving on air conditioning in the barracks.’ ”
The colonel paused in the shade of the willow trees, grown tall and thickly foliated. “It’s a long war,” he said. “See what I mean?”
General Faqir?  Unlike the Afghan Army, you can't make this stuff up.  His gardening project will continue for exactly as long as the cream of American youth is deployed in harm's way to prop up a failed state whose own population will not fight to protect it.  Whether that's sustainable is open to question after 14 years of war, although no American politician has dared to suggest that enough is enough.     

It's not all bleak on the Afghan gardening front, though.  This time of year the poppies are lovely:
Soon they'll be harvested into products beloved by American consumers from Bangor to Modesto.
And when it comes to the endless Afghan War, there's no shortage of fertilizer.

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