Thursday, October 15, 2009

Golden Brown, texture like sun

For a song about heroin, The Stranglers did make a hit that was relevant to, well, gold as well. And since it is about heroin, it's a perfectly legitimate lede to this post about Afghanistan.

This week in esoterica unrelated to water or oil, we will look at the Bactrian Gold, which has enough of a backstory to make a decent Indiana Jones-knockoff film. Maybe McConaughey is free. I can't imagine that he has much else to do.

Long story short, there was a hoard of 20,000 golden objects from BC that some Soviets discovered in the 70s. Then the Afghanistan Invasion happened, and the gold wasn't rediscovered by white folks until 2003.

To get BldgBloggy, I think the implications and storylines here are moderately fascinating. Taliban art theives, keyholders lurking in the shadows, and an international nation branding effort through art. The Bactrian Gold isn't about Mujahedeen, Soviet aims, heroing, it's about ancient shiny stuff. If Afghanistan is going to become a real country again, it'll need an identity outside of the bad past 30 years.

Which leads me to nation branding. It's something that I've been pretty interested in since reading about it in The Monocle in a very un-Monocle situation (overnighting on some benches in Heathrow airport. The idea behind branding is that a state needs to obtain some popular perception before it can get foreign investment, get a middle class going, and all of that stuff. Monocle is big on good airlines, good food, and good hotels. Afghanistan has these. Well, maybe the airline. Or the hotel. But hey, the food rocks.

Afghanistan has a similar problem to Georgia in trying to become a Real Country. This is also why I'm curious to see how Armenia will be going forward, and if it will be able to be a model for Central Asia to follow. Afghanistan obviously has a lot more problems for it going forwards, but it's not hopeless. It will be a while before it can even think about opening up to tourism, business conferences, and all that sort of stuff. But it is central to one of my overarching themes to the blog. There is more about state-building than politics and military. Sense of place, sense of community, and reputation building all can play big parts in making a country a decent place to live.

I heard Robert Canfield talk a couple of days back, and he was very clear that most Afghans want to live in an Afghanistan united. I'm not 100% sure I agree on that, but considering he knows way more about Afghanistan than I do, I'll believe him. So for an Afghanistan united to exist, it will have to be based on some sort of nation that can be branded as a halfway-decent place. We're not asking for a Switzerland here. Phillippines would suffice. And building national stories like bringing tawadars together to rescue a millenia-old treasure from the Taliban would go a bit of a way towards that.

And also, the gold is absolutely stunning. Definitely worth checking out if you can spot the tour.

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