Symptoms of failure are becoming harder to deny in Afghanistan. The Taliban is resurgent in the south, probably in part because of support from within Pakistan. Hundreds of civilians have died in fighting this year, including some killed in NATO bombing raids. President Hamid Karzai has told two governors to re-arm their private militias, which is a big step backward but indicative of the weakness of the Afghan police. Drought is once again afflicting the north, pushing farmers either to move or to concentrate on the one crop that doesn't need much irrigation - the opium poppy.
But how's this for bad news? Mr. Karzai has reportedly given his blessing to the reincarnation of a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice. When the Taliban was in charge, this was the agency (called a ministry back then) that sent teams of zealous puritans roaming the streets, whipping men whose beards were too short and women whose modesty was found lacking, silencing music-makers, and stoning adulterers. This version won't be so punitive, a proponent argues; its only function will be to help Afghans get closer to God - by, well, promoting virtue and, not to put too fine a point on it, suppressing vice.