KABUL, Afghanistan — It has come as something of a relief to think that, after tomorrow, I may no longer have to worry about the future of Afghanistan, the stalled reintegration process, the collapse of Kabul Bank, my anemic retirement account, or, indeed, much of anything else.
This, at least, is the message being broadcast by Harold Camping’s Family Radio Worldwide, a Christian ministry that states without a doubt that the world will end on May 21. Believers will be taken up to heaven in what they call the Rapture, while the rest of us will have to endure several months of torment before the final reckoning.
This, of course, is news I could have used a bit earlier. I’ve been enduring years of torment in this land of endless war, where the situation seems to be constantly deteriorating on the one hand while progress is frequently reported on the other.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced in his Mideast speech last night that the Taliban momentum has been broken in Afghanistan. On the same day, an insurgent attack killed at least 35 construction workers in eastern Afghanistan, wounding 17 more. Some 20 more are reported missing and presumed to have been kidnapped.
In Helmand, in the south, a complex series of attacks is threatening to take some of the wind out of the Transition’s sails: Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, is slated to be one of the first sites to be handed over to full Afghan security responsibility in July.
The Taliban are tweeting to beat the band, releasing a multi-media extravaganza that is almost certainly overblown. Some videos purporting to portray the warriors readying themselves for battle could be footage from any time or place.
Of course nothing at all might be going on; Helmand’s provincial government is saying that the Taliban have lobbed a rocket at the capital and launched an abortive attack on a few police checkpoints, but other than wounding three civilians have caused no real damage.
Caught between Taliban braggadocio and Afghan government bravado, it is hard to find the truth. But somehow, “broken momentum” is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the insurgency in Afghanistan these days.
In Kabul, the U.S. Embassy has released a Warden’s Message warning of a heightened threat of kidnapping. Americans are supposed to avoid places where “Westerners congregate.” Some people I know are actually making plans to leave, while others remain locked down, unable to go out to restaurants or even private homes.
There goes my social life.
I’ve spent weeks cataloging civilian casualties, violent demonstrations, corruption scandals, possibly fake prison breaks, and well-meaning but self-defeating aid projects. Meanwhile the Afghan government continues to implode, U.S. policy toward the war is foggier than ever, and a heat wave in Kabul is sapping my energy and fraying my nerves.
If only I’d known, say, six months ago that May 21 was the End of Days, I could have quit my job, run up my credit card bills, and had a whale of time in Kathmandu, Antarctica, or Beirut, all places I have never been and long to visit.
Instead, I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone and worked through what little time we might all have left.
Of course, Kabul could be an ideal place to greet the end of the world. For one thing, the massive earthquake that is supposed to presage Doomsday will at least not cause a tsunami here. All the water in the city could not fill a good-sized swimming pool.
And I’ll have plenty of company in my misery. Afghanistan, of course, is overwhelmingly Muslim, so few of my friends and neighbors are likely to be assumed into heaven, or whatever is supposed to happen. I think you have to be a card-carrying member of Camping’s Christian ministry to qualify.
Instead, we are supposed to live for months in some sort of earthly hell, subjected to indescribable pain and suffering.
Chances are, most Kabul residents would not even notice the difference.
Well, we’ll soon know. Either we are all headed for disaster, or Camping and his followers are going to be a mite embarrassed come Sunday morning.
Have a good weekend.