Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Native son shares insight on Afghanis

The kid who by age 18 earned a master baker's designation by working in his dad's Maumee bakery is all grown up now and, in the words of the New York Times, tops “the media's most-wanted list” for his Afghani expertise.

Tom Gouttierre, 61, spent a decade in Kabul, returning intermittently.

In 1996, Dr. Gouttierre was senior political affairs officer for the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission there.

Now director of the Center for Afghan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, this native son's days are booked solid with media interviews.

He describes the current target of U.S. bombing as a nation of people “who love a great party, a great family gathering, or a wedding.

“It's a culture with a great capacity for humor,” he says. “They consider the poet-warrior to be the perfect heroic model, and there is much of the poet, although we've only seen the warrior. “

Afghani society before the Taliban regime was “dynamic politically, and more progressive than many of the Persian Gulf nations,“ while life now under the hard-line regime is “like a religious concentration camp. “

“When I was with the U.N., I had a lot of contact with the Taliban, and I was struck by their lack of education. I was struck by how rural and provincial they were, their lack of world view. But mostly, I was shocked by their lack of knowledge of Afghan history and traditions. “

For the most part, Dr. Gouttierre endorses the Bush administration's course in fighting terrorism.

“We've had a good degree of prior planning, to the point that I have been surprised, frankly. Every day that we waited, I was heartened, because each day represented [U.S. recognition] ... that 95 percent of this war is intelligence, and the other 5 percent is using that intelligence. “

Accordingly, says Dr. Gouttierre, “I hope we're striking out at military targets, which are numerous. I've helped to at least point out some of them, they're away from city centers. “

But he's concerned by reports that the ministry of defense in Kabul was hit, since “that's right in the city center ... I'm also distressed that the[United Nations] building I used to work in was hit. I know that building is not in a very strategic location, and it's in a high-density area. We made an unfortunate mistake there. “

Military strikes will fail, he says, “if we don't make humanitarian aid our priority. It's a place of such despair. The last time I was there, in '99, it looked like the New York financial district. Much of the whole country, and particularly Kabul, was reduced to rubble during 28 years of instability. Plus, they've had years of drought. “

Although President Bush pushes aside notions of “nation building,“ Dr. Gouttierre hopes that's just semantics.

“There's a lot of talk about convening a Grand National Assembly to determine the country's future. To me, that's a certain kind of nation-building ... I believe we have major obligations here. One thing I fear is that, at the end of this war, the U.S. will convene a large group of donors and say, 'OK, we've got to provide support for reconstruction.' Generally, when the U.S. does this, it means we're trying to back away from our financial commitment, but we've got to have our profile in this.”

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at or call 1-419-724-6086.

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