Dr. Nadir Atash's autobiography Turbulence is a book crucial to understanding Afghanistan. Dr. Atash has two parts to his autobiography. The first part describes growing up in 1960s Kabul full of hope for his country, but his hope ended when he found himself a refugee in 1979.The second part describes returning in 2001 as a successful Afghan-American professional eager to help rebuild his country but seeing his hopes again destroyed by corrupt warlords and fleeing for his life in 2006 to his second exile. Both parts are needed to understand Afghanistan of 2009.
The 1960s Afghanistan that Dr. Atash describes is a constitutional monarchy as King Zahir Shah in 1964 "helped establish a constitution that effectively modernized the country and liberated Afghans with provisions that included women's suffrage, free elections, a functioning Parliament and a free press." Dr. Nadir's country in the 1960s has a standing army (Dr. Atash's father is a three-star general); an elite excellent high school Atash attended; a free university with an medical school; a state-run airlines full of new planes that the teenager Atash loved. Returning to Kabul with a BS in Chemistry, he got a job at the Science Center attached to the university in Kabul where he helped design new science curriculum to be used all over rural Afghanistan. With current description of 2009 Afghanistan as a "failed state," Dr. Atash's memories of 1970 are important reminder that his country was once fully functioning with highly educated young modernizing professionals like the young Dr. Atash eager to modernize the country in 1970.
Dr. Atash's hopes were destroyed when became a refugee in 1979 with the Communist coup and the Communists executing his father in 1979. For the next three decades while 30 years of wars destroyed most of Afghanistan's economy, Dr. Atash had a life in American exile raising his family and establishing himself as a successful Afghan-American statistician, businessman, and philanthropist.
The second two-thirds of the book describes how Dr. Atash eagerly and hopefully returned with many other Afghan-Americans in 2001 determined to help. He served as consultant to the Ministry of Education giving them a plan to improve teacher training for the whole country and modernize university entrance exams, but his careful advice was ignored. This pattern would be repeated again and again. He and other returning Afghan professionals served as counsultents to the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transportation, worked hard giving them modernization plans, but their plans were ignored. Dr. Atash found most of Karzai's cabinet either incompetent or corrupt.
His family came from Nooristan, a very poor province in the Hindu Kush mountains in northeast Afghanistan, so he went there on horseback and jeep to help build a road between two villages in the mountains. The descriptions of journeying up the spectacular mountains are lovely, but the road-building project, funded by his American foundation, didn't have the money to build the road over a river so the road was never finished.
If private philanthropy, no matter how well intentioned, often failed, the Afghan government also fails. Dr. Atash describes how Karzai appointed as Governor of Nooristan "a man lacking education and integrity." Atash describes that a delegation of leaders from the province of Nooristan went to Kabul and had an audience with President Karzai and detailed their grievances: "preservation of forests, building of roads, schools, and hospitals, and good governance." Karzai listened but did nothing. A second delegation returned to Kabul with proof that the Governor of Nooristan was involved with cutting and illegally smuggling timber out of the country but Karzai refused to meet with this delegation as he had strong ties with the Governor.
The author says "the hopes of the Afghan people had been crushed when they realized they had not benefitted by way of jobs or social improvements. The government was just another oppressor, and they began to question its legitimacy." Atash's book gives crucial testimony showing that much of rural Afghanistan did at first support the Karzai government; people in the provinces had excellent ideas how their situation needed to be improved but the Karzai government's increasing corruption destroyed most of this popular support.
In 2005 Dr. Atash was offered the position of head of CEO of Ariana Airlines, the state-run airlines, and accepted. His chapters describing how he quickly picked a staff based on merit, ordered plans drawn up to modernize the airline, installed new computerized ticketing, improved maintainence of the planes, and sent staff abroad for training . While he was doing all this, in Kabul people accused him of mismangement and corruption leading to two government investigations into his alleged corruption.Two investigations found nothing, and a judge's attempt to judge Atash for 12 years was thrown out by the Afghan Supreme Court. Dr. Atash resigned from head of the airlines. Still the attacks continued including death threats on the phone. He found out he was marked for assassination, so he let himself be smuggled out of the country. His return to Afghanistan led him from hope to cynicism about the government paralleling a huge shift in Afghani public opinion.
Dr. Atash analyzed that as head of the airlines his making merit-based job appointments angered many who favored nepotism and his refusal to take bribes antagonized others. In a government permeated by corruption Atash's attempts to end corruption at Ariana and make it a success were threatening. Within the government some wanted a weak airlines that could be sold off much like the pirate-like privatizations of the Soviet Union's ending. After he left someone came in and bought the Arianna Airlines for very little, claiming it was worthless. Dr. Atash escaped with his life into his second exile to write this excellent book.
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