Democracy Is Not a Postcard

By Schmidle, Nicholas | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Democracy Is Not a Postcard

Schmidle, Nicholas, The Virginia Quarterly Review



I TOOK THE ELEVATOR UP. Afghanistan doesn't have many elevators-after years of war with the Soviet Union followed by more than a decade of Taliban control, most of the country remains in shambles, leading one American pilot during the invasion to lament that Afghanistan was "not a target-rich environment"-but the Herat Trade Center is a flashy, modern structure with eight stories of blue, shimmering, mirrored glass. Qulam Qader Akbar, head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce, wore a pinstriped suit and had slicked-back hair. The window in his second-floor office frames Herat's skyline of palaces and minarets.

From here, it's obvious: Herat, Afghanistan's second-largest city, is booming. Pastel-colored mansions-narco-palaces courtesy of the poppy tradeshoot up on every block, featuring turrets and multi-tiered balconies in a decorating style somewhere between a lollypop and a wedding cake. Women in burqas browse through piles of bras and sacks of spices in the crowded streets and alleys of the bazaar. At a traffic circle, orderly cars inch around a tower honoring those who died fighting the Soviets during the 1980s. An inscription in Dari at the top reads, JIHAD: VICTORY, INDEPENDENCE, DEVELOPMENT. While many jihadis live in caves and dwell on victory and independence, the people of Herat are busy enjoying the benefits of development.

Akbar leaned back in his leather chair and explained why. "Location, location, location," he said. Herat shares a border with Iran, and more goods already pass through Islam Qala, the primary crossing point, than through any other border station in Afghanistan. In past centuries, traders flocked to swap camels; now they come to buy Land Cruisers. But it's not just proximity that has led to Herat's prosperity; the Iranian government is actively investing in the province's infrastructure. A recently completed road from Herat to Islam Qala was built by an Iranian construction company; there are also plans to extend the Iranian railway to Herat-a project that would ultimately link the city to markets in Europe. And while Kabul hums with the sound of generators day and night, electricity flows twenty-four hours a day in Herat thanks to its energy-rich neighbors, Iran and Turkmenistan. The Iranian power grid runs straight across the border and plugs directly into Herat's industrial park. Reliable energy and cheap transportation, combined with an educated citizenry and the fall of the Taliban, have fueled an economic boom. Akbar told me that there were just one or two companies based in Herat during the Taliban era. Today, there are more than 250.

Until recently, Washington and Tehran had struck something like a cordial, working relationship in Herat. The Iranians were grateful that the Taliban, with whom they almost went to war, had been defeated, and many of the antiTaliban warlords in the Northern Alliance supported by the Americans were already being bankrolled by the Iranian government. The first few years of the American venture in Afghanistan gave the impression that Iran and the United States might be able to play nice. Strange friendships develop in wartime.

But last spring, a series of events gave reason to reconsider. In April, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, told the Iranians that he knew they were shipping weapons to the Taliban in southern Afghanistanand to cut it out. This may have been dismissed as just another sound bite of anti-Iranian rhetoric from Washington, but a couple of months later, Colonel Rahmatullah Safi, the commander of the Afghan Border Police, lodged similar claims. "The weapons which the enemies use these days such as Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, hand grenades, explosivesthey are not coming from the sky, these definitely are coming from across the border," he told the BBC.

A few weeks later, primed to respond to American threats and provocations, Iran revealed an unconventional weapon in its arsenal: refugees.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Democracy Is Not a Postcard


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.