Reporters on the Job

IT'S ABOUT MORE THAN MINISKIRTS: Contributor Dan Morrison says that one of the most striking people he met while reporting on Afghanistan's nascent democratic movement was Tariq Usman, an ethnic Pashtun from Logar Province (this page).

"Mr. Usman was a key figure in an initiative to organize Pashtun tribal elders and respected civilians in the southern provinces to fill the power vacuum left by the fleeing Taliban in late 2001," Dan says. "Northern Alliance leaders who wanted to set up their own administration in those regions resented this, and Usman, who lost most of his right hand fighting the Soviets, today cannot travel to Kabul because of threats to his life."

Usman shared some of his frustrations with Dan over tea in his mud-walled home. "He told me that if you ask people here about democracy, they think it means girls in short skirts. Usman says he is trying to show them that they can have democracy with a beard [a symbol of piety] - that they can have human rights and keep their culture, too."

PERSONAL INSIGHT: Arie Farnam says that whenever she used to go through European Union reports on the Czech Republic, she'd be puzzled by a line referring to major problems with contract law. No longer.

This spring, a group including Arie and her husband gave a down payment to a Czech contractor to build a road to where they wanted to build houses. As it turned out, that money went quickly to pay off the contractor's old debts.

"We decided not to take him to court because it was very likely we wouldn't get anything, and we would incur court costs," Arie says. "People often give up in these situations, so there's not a lot of incentive for the system to change."

But the story had something of a happy ending. The group went directly to the man - a city employee - who was going to dig the road for the contractor. "We hired him through the city works department, and so that part of the construction is almost done - we almost have a road."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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