Afghanistan isn't a topic of many Americans' conversations these days -- perhaps because it's not the topic of much news coverage.
Only three U.S. news organizations -- Newsweek, The Associated Press and The Washington Post -- had full-time reporters left in Kabul as of January 2004, according to American Journalism Review.
And now it's a year later.
News of a Kam Air plane going down Thursday east of Kabul, reportedly with three American women among the 104 people on board, raised a short buzz on this side of the pond.
President Bush referred to Afghanistan's successful presidential elections during his State of the Union address Wednesday, and the country was the good-news half of a military operations briefing on Iraq and Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
But John Q. Schnutz, man on the street, generally thinks the heavy lifting is done in the country that was ground zero for this nation's first attack in the war on terrorism.
Not so. In the past two weeks:
- A mine exploded near a pickup carrying Afghan security officers from Spin Boldak to Kandahar near the Pakistan border, killing nine police officers and seriously wounding another in one of the bloodiest attacks since the presidential elections in October, according to the Agence France-Presse. A man who regularly claims to speak for the Taliban took credit for the blast on behalf of the extremists, the AP reported.
- Four people, including a local police chief, were killed by a remote-control roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. The provincial governor blamed remnants of the country's ousted Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime.
- Five civilians died and at least nine others were injured when their pickup hit a mine along a road outside of Kandahar. The explosive device apparently was left over from two decades of occupation and civil war.
Admittedly, I'm more interested than most Americans in the subject.
My husband has been working in Kandahar for the past year as an adviser to Afghan police officers -- precisely the individuals being targeted by the "remnants" of the Taliban regime in precisely the region most populated by Taliban sympathizers and anti-democratic insurgents.
News of land mines and bomb blasts has a way of focusing one's attention when you have a loved one in the danger zone.
Afghanistan remains the most mined country in the world -- just one of many reasons tourism won't be a growth industry for a while. Although Afghan and NATO forces have destroyed thousands of tons of munitions gathered from around the country, militants make deadly use of old mines and rockets in improvised bomb attacks against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.
For families of the 20,000 U.S. soldiers and countless American contractors and aid workers in the country, the good news is that Afghanistan is not Iraq.
Hey, you find comfort where you can.
The parliamentary elections that by Afghan electoral law were supposed to happen before May 21 are going to be delayed.
Maureen Quinn, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan, said without elaboration during Thursday's military ops hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that it will be "late spring or summer" before Afghans go back to the polls.
Hamid Karzai, the Bush administration's favored choice for Afghanistan's first freely elected president, and Afghan election authorities have yet to finalize the district lines needed before potential voters can cast ballots.
"Even if it is not on time because of technical preparations, which are needed, it will be around one or two months from the original time, during summertime," Foreign Minister Abdullah said to the AP while attending last month's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
As veteran international political observers will tell you, as important as the first free election is, it's the second one that really counts.
Yes, the symbolism of October's presidential vote in Afghanistan and the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq shouldn't be minimized -- although Bush critics are doing their darnedest to find ways to do just that in the latter case.
But true democratic change comes when the folks elected in the first round of balloting actively pursue the second round, even if it means they might get voted out of office.
International attention needs to remain on Afghanistan. If it's going to be held up as a model for the march to democracy, the world needs to continue to provide the cadence.