The Israelis Are Coming!...To Afghanistan?

April 30, 2007.

Apparently the Spanish military bought a few UAVs (pilotless drones) from the Israelis. OK, so what? Well, the Spaniards intend to use them for their NATO operations in Afghanistan. Hmm….getting interesting. Furthermore, the Spanish will need some technicians from the Israeli army to operate them in Afghanistan. Even more interesting, but not earth-shaking.

Shalom Afghanistan!
Israeli drone

The Afghan newspaper Cheragh took the whole thing in stride and said that Afghans have other more pressing concerns and probably wouldn’t be that bothered. Just kidding. The journalists at Cheragh flipped out. Apparently the whole region will go up in flames. Afghans, the fragile bunch that they are, will be unable to function at all as long as this outrage is being perpetrated against them. Blah, blah, blah…. outrage, conflict, war, unbearable suffering, etc…

I understand that some in Afghanistan will be a little preturbed that some Israeli hardware and a few Jewish technicians may be on their way, but the reaction by the Afghan newspaper was just a little overboard.

The article has much useful analysis, such as this passage: “The present situation will reveal that the holy territories of Islamic countries are faced with the dangers of an Israel-backed conspiracy.”

This is also fun: “The current conflicts in the country will spread out to the whole country and neighbouring countries will also be provoked to take serious measures for the defence of their security, territorial integrity and their regional interests.”

And my favourite: “[The Afghan government] should not let the Israelis take any dirty steps on our holy land.”

No individual journalist is named, but he sure sounds a lot like one of my European relatives. Or like a number of bright individuals from my hometown. Or like some of the grad students I know. Yeah, I’m just pointing out that crazy Jew-conspiracy phobia is universal.

To read the article you’ll have to register at afghanwire.com, the Afghan press monitoring and translation service (it’s well worth the trouble).

And you can read the original article, with less hyperbole than at Cheragh, at El Pais (en Espanol).

Pashtuns as Victims

April 29, 2007.

The history of the modern Afghan state has in part been defined by the dominance of the Pashtuns and by their demographic and political expansion into non-Pashtun areas within Afghanistan. In this process, known as Pashtunization, ethnic Pashtuns displaced Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmen and others. During Pashtunization non-Pashtun land was confiscated, local leaders were “removed,” Pashtun settlers were moved in (forcibly or with incentives), excessive taxes were levied, minorities were denied a voice in government (as were many Ghilzai Pashtuns), Pashto was imposed on Dari and Uzbek speakers, some local communities were attacked and destroyed, etc…

Photo: Abdur Rahman Khan, the architect of Pashtunization.

Abdur Rahman

I’ll save the full story for another day and include all the sources. I’ll just say for now that the only voice of scholarly dissent is Hasan Kawun Kakar. Although he is pretty lonely in making his claim that Pashtuns were the original inhabitants of all of Afghanistan and that Hazaras, Tajiks, Turkmen and Uzbeks are all relatively recent intruders. Literally every other scholar who has written on Afghanistan is lined up on the other side. But again, I’ll save that story for later.

Pashtunization came to an end in the 1970s. However, the issue never really died and was a source of resentment on the part of non-Pashtuns. In late 2001 and early 2002, when almost all authority collapsed in Northern Afghanistan, it was the Pashtuns who now became the victims. Revenge attacks, as well as purely opportunistic crimes, were perpetrated upon the Pashtuns by young Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik militiamen, as well as by ordinary villagers.

Human Rights Watch did a decent job of documenting the attacks in a report titled “Paying for the Taliban’s Crimes: Abuses Against Ethnic Pashtuns in Northern Afghanistan.” Numerous incidents of rape, looting, physical violence and murder are documented. While some of the Pashtuns had collaborated with the Taliban and used their presence to victimize their non-Pashtun neighbours, the vast majority seem to be innocent victims. As a result many Pashtuns fled to the south and abandoned their homes and land.

The Uzbek Junbesh leader Rashid Dostum and the Tajik Shura-yi Nazar affiliated commander “Ustad” Atta Mohammad eventually put a stop to the attacks against ethnic Pashtuns. For a variety of reasons, some obvious and some not, they both made an effort to end the anti-Pashtun pogrom (I’ll save this argument for another day as well).

I haven’t heard much about the situation of ethnic Pashtuns in the north of Afghanistan recently. I suppose most attention is focused on the south. Also, the current group of people who can claim to be victims in Afghanistan includes pretty much everybody. So get in line (the long one) with your grievances I guess.

Main source: Human Rights Watch. 2002. ‘Paying for the Taliban’s Crimes: Abuses Against Ethnic Pashtuns in Northern Afghanistan’, April 2002, Vol. 14, No. 2(C). Download in pdf here.

New Afghanistan Blogs (But Why No Pashtun Blogs?)

April 28, 2007.

I thought I should point out two interesting blogs on Afghanistan that I’ve stumbled upon. Safrang.wordpress.com and traversa.typepad.com were both very helpful in sending readers to my blog when I first started so it is only fair that I pass on the favour.

The first of the two blogs is Mohammad Fahim Khairy’s blog (the-rumi.blogspot.com). Mohammad, a student in Arizona, has some obvious political beliefs and he is quite out front in his blog entries about these beliefs. I think it is safe to assume that he is not Pashtun. Here’s a pic of the man behind the blog:

This is what Mohammad has to say about himself: “I started to work with World Food Program Afghanistan in 1993 I became severely sick. Initially my symptoms included severe headaches, fever, and overall weakness of my extremities. As these symptoms got worse, my entire neck and left arm became paralyzed. I gradually lost the ability to move my limbs. Upon completion of my “treatment”, I was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). With both of my legs paralyzed, I became a disabled person. Paralysis changed my life forever. I had to leave my homeland moved to the U.S.”

The second blog is Looking at the World Through Slanted Eyes (slantedeyes.wordpress.com). The author is Hazara and I’m assuming he is based in The United States. The blog is being updated regularly and includes some good analysis of the situation in Afghanistan.

This is great and all, but I do wish there were some regularly updated blogs from a Pashtun perspective in English. I believe the author of Sunleaf is Pashtun (I’m assuming that only Pashtuns name their kid Mirwais). But he hasn’t spoken about ethnic issues yet. Perhaps Pashtuns feel that their voice is being expressed sufficiently in the media in Afghanistan. Or maybe other ethnicities have taken full advantage of the internet after being marginalised for so long in the discourse about Afghanistan.

The Great Abandonment: Could America Have Done More for Afghanistan?

April 27, 2007.

It’s an often-stated sentiment, inside Afghanistan and in America, that The United States abandoned Afghanistan to a horrible fate after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and the fall of Najibullah. Many Afghans protest that they defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and that defeat caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in return the Americans abandoned them.

There is much truth to this. However, there is also much falsehood in it as well. I will deal with the misperceptions/falsehoods first:

#1 The belief that the Afghan Mujahideen caused the collapse of the Soviet Union is confined to the Ronald Reagan fan club. Sovietologists and historians reject this idea. They argue that economic stagnation and rising nationalism caused the USSR to collapse. But this belief is an obvious source of pride to many Afghans and will likely persist.

#2 Arguing that the problems of the post-Najibullah era (Civil War and the rise of the Taliban) could have been avoided if America had engaged with Afghanistan requires the United States to be viewed as an all-powerful entity that can wave its magic wand and bring warring parties together in a happy liberal democracy. The reality is that America can’t belatedly create democracy, let alone stability, when and where it wants. This has become increasingly obvious in the last 15 years.

And now for the truth of the above stated belief:

#1 To be fair, the Soviet-Afghan War likely didn’t strengthen the Soviet Union. The war has to be considered a contributing factor to the collapse of the Soviet Union, albeit a minor one.

#2 While The United States may not have been able to make the whole Rabbani – Hekmatyar - et al outfit function even if they had tried, they could at the very least have made an effort in the humanitarian arena. Very little effort was made by America (or any other country to be fair) to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people.

#3 The United States did not attempt to put strong diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, the country that by far has played the most negative role in destabilizing Afghanistan in the last 15 years.

#4 The American government can’t say that it tried and failed. It can only say that failure was a presumed outcome regardless of any level of effort so why bother to even try? Afghanistan was not a priority for the United States during the 1990s, for neither Clinton nor Bush 41.

To sum up my argument: There was nothing that could have been done to stop the sinking of the ship Afghanistan. But the USS America did not even bother attempting to save the doomed ship or, most importantly, its unfortunate passengers.

Totally out of context quote #8

April 26, 2007.

“I have written ten books over the last five years and over the last six months I have written a book on the bible which I hope will be printed soon. It will be called The Bible in the Light of the Qur’an.”

Context: Renowned biblical scholar (and part-time Jihadi) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar discusses his book publishing aspirations, among other things, with Cheragh journalist Mr. Safi. From the March 6th edition translated by afghanwire.com.

Here’s a pic of “Engineer” Hekmatyar from an ealier time when he still had no gray hair.

I’ll just be presumptuous and provide a bibliographical citation for the eagerly anticipated forthcoming book:

Hekmatyar, Gulbuddin. 2008a. The Bible in the Light of the Qur’an: A Comparative Analysis from Somewhere Near the Durand Line. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

The Persistent Myth of Pre-Taliban Anarchy

April 25, 2007.

I hear time and time again from the news media, and from those who parrot what they say, that before the Taliban rose to power Afghanistan was in a state of chaos and anarchy. In this Hobbesian “state of nature” (yes political philosophers, I acknowledge the popular misinterpretation of “Hobbesian”), brutality and misery abounded. But when the Taliban appeared out of “nowhere” the people rejoiced and basked in the security provided by the benevolent religious students. To sum up, with less sarcasm and hyperbole, many journalists and commentators believe that a war-weary population universally terrorized by warlords and militias throughout Afghanistan welcomed the Taliban and the security they provided.

However, the facts on the ground contradict this ridiculous lie. I call it a ridiculous lie because the “pre-Taliban chaos” myth is basically Pakistani ISI and Taliban propaganda. Furthermore, The US State Department actually helped promote this propaganda. William Maley notes “…the US State department had responded to the Taliban takeover of Kabul in a way which was frightening in its sheer naiveté” (Maley 2001: vi).

So what is my argument? It is the same argument that has a high level of consensus among those who have Afghanistan included in their claimed areas of expertise: that the vast majority of the country was not in a state of anarchy. I’m going make the argument and I’m going to do it with MLA style citations because I’m somewhat computer and wordpress illiterate.

So where was there anarchy? Actually just in Kandahar city and the surrounding area. According the Anthony Davis this was the only part of the south where chaos and anrchy were endemic (Davis 1998: 46, 51-2). Davis notes “the later tendency to portray the religious students as having swept the south on a wave of popular adulation with scarcely a shot being fired has strayed from the factual record” (Davis 1998: 55). Davis goes on to analyze the areas outside of the Kandahar region: “in most other areas the Taliban laid down ultimata and fought their way into regions that were at peace, and in many instances – Qari Baba’s Ghazni and Ismail Khan’s Herat – recognized as being relatively well administered. Ironically, administration, services and schooling in these regions were far in advance of anything delivered by the Taliban. Their energies were focused exclusively on war” (Davis 1998: 55).

What is indisputable is that Herat and western Afghanistan, Mazar-i Sharif, Kunduz, Taloqan and the entire north, Bamiyan and the Hazarajat, The Shomali Plains, the Panjshir, as well as many other cities and regions were not in need of “rescue” by the Taliban. And the Taliban rescue of many of these areas was quite strange indeed. In Mazar-i Sharif the Taliban raped and murdered thousands of civilians, with the Hazaras being specifically targeted, but with Tajiks and Uzbeks also being victimized (Department of State 1999). The Taliban commanders who took Mazar claimed that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had given them permission to take revenge and carry out massacre for two hours. They turned a couple of hours into several days (Goodson 2001: 86, 132). In general, during the northern campaigns Taliban soldiers targeted and killed Uzbeks and other civilians in what UN investigators say were ethnically motivated actions.

Before the arrival of the Taliban much of the north was run by Rashid Dostum (Rieck 1997: 125, 127). Before the Taliban invaded, the north was mostly unaffected by the civil war (Rasanayagam 2003: 154; Williams 2003). Dostum’s area of control in the northwest had commercial relations with Central Asia, functioning schools, as well as thriving local media (Shahrani 2002: 719). By 1997 Dostum was collecting taxes as well as operating a legal courts system (Maley 2002: 209). Dostum even printed bank notes between 1994 and 1996 (Rubin 2000 :1793) Dostum’s administration also operated health and educational systems, including the only functioning university in Afghanistan at the time (Rashid 2000a: 57). The administration was relatively effective because Dostum had left in place most of the administrative structures in its areas of control remaining from the Soviet era (Rieck 1997: 125, 127).

Conrad Schetter puts Dostum’s area of control in the same category as Ismail Khan’s. Dostum and Ismail Khan actually had administrative structures on a broad regional basis, albeit fragile. They were not just a city or valley stronghold (Schetter 2002: 113). Another stable area was Rabbani’s area of control in Badakhshan. But I won’t get into a discussion here since I am a little short on sources for the north-east.

So how about the Hazaras? I would argue that the Hazarajat was not in any state of anarchy. And according to Human Rights Watch, the Hazaras were most unappreciative of the benevolent Taliban rescuing them from anarchy. I guess that’s why the 2001 HRW report is titled “Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan.”

OK, so the Hazaras and Uzbeks had relative security before the Taliban and did not welcome the Taliban’s arrival. How about Tajiks? Well, stable and prosperous Herat has been dealt with. How about the Panjshiri Tajiks? They revere Massoud and hated/hate the Taliban. The only conflict in the Panjshir was when the Taliban would aerial bomb the place. And out in the Shomali plains the Taliban followed a “scorched earth policy.” Orchards and crops were destroyed, houses burned, irrigation bulldozed, people executed, etc… I’m not even going to bother to come up with a citation for this. It is a universally acknowledged fact that the Taliban destroyed the area.

But I will cite one story, the story of the Taliban’s sex-slave trade in girls, particularly Tajik girls from Shomali plains. It’s sickening (McGirk and Bloch 2002). According to the UN, The State Department, and other sources, Tajik girls from Taloqan and the Shomali plains as well as Hazara girls from Mazar were sold as sex-slaves to Pakistani and Arab brothels (Dubai in particular). There are also human trafficking NGOs who have “good” info on this.

Well, on to the more complicated issue of Kabul. Kabul was most definitely not in a state of anarchy as was Kandahar. But you will probably point out that there was factional fighting that claimed many lives in Kabul. This is true. However, it was less true by the time the Taliban arrived. The lines of control had mostly stabilized. We could argue over the meaning of “anarchy” until we are blue in the face. So I’ll move to the perception of the Taliban by Kabulis. Taliban fighters believed their own propaganda and were surprised and disappointed that Kabulis did not view them favourably as had Kandaharis. (Davis 1998: 56). The minorities strongly opposed the Pashtun Taliban (Goodson 2001: 124; Saikal 1998b: 119). The non-Pashtuns (and many Pashtun as well) viewed the Taliban’s idea of a state to be “extremely violent, intolerant and primitive” (Rais 1999: 6). So in a bid to win over Kabulis the Taliban rocketed Kabul’s civilian areas. “Long gone were the days of Taliban moral ascendancy when their leaders had vowed they would never rocket civilian populations” (Rais 1999: 64).

I’ll leave it to William Maley to sum up the Taliban’s campaign in a paraphrase of Tacitus: “While the Taliban attempted to legitimate their power by reference to their provision of ‘security’, with the passage of time it became clear that….they had made a wilderness and called it peace’ (Maley 2001: vi).

So why does this myth persist? I would guess it is a combination of several factors:

#1 Poor journalism.
#2 Deliberately deceptive journalism.
#3 Successful early Taliban and Pakistani ISI propaganda.
#4 Domestic political priorities in Europe, USA and Canada whereby people will use anything to attack their political opposition (i.e., “The Taliban delivered security but you can’t do that even after 6 years in the country).
#5 Islamists outside Afghanistan who champion the Taliban as a way of voicing protest against Western and Middle Eastern government’s policies.
#6 Intellectual laziness.

PS: Don’t take this blog entry as an apology for pre-Taliban leaders. They were a mischevious and incompetent bunch. And note that I do acknowledge the present poor security environment for the people of Afghanistan.

Sources:

Davis, Anthony. 1998. ‘How the Taliban became a Military Force’, in William Maley (editor) Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban. New York: New York University Press.

Department of State. 1999. ‘Afghanistan: Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999’, US Department of State. Available online at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/1999/431.htm

Drumbl, Mark A. 2002. ‘The Taliban’s ‘other’ crimes’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 6, pp. 1121-1131.

Goodson, Larry. 2001. “Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban.” Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Human Rights Watch. November 1998. Vol. 10, No. 7 (C) ‘AFGHANISTAN: THE MASSACRE IN MAZAR-I SHARIF’, http://www.hrw.org/reports98/afghan/

Human Rights Watch. February 2001. ‘Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan’ online at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/afghanistan/

Maley, William. 2002. “The Afghan Wars.” New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Maley, William. 1998 1st edition, 2001 2nd. ‘Preface: Afghanistan and the Taliban 1998-2001 ’, in William Maley (editor) “Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban.” New York: New York University Press. 2nd edition, 2001

McGirk, Tim and Hannah Bloch. 2002. ‘Lifting the veil on Taliban sex slavery’, Time magazine, February 10, 2002.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101020218-201892,00.html

Rais, Rasul Bakhsh. 1999. ‘Conflict in Afghanistan: Ethnicity, Religion and Neighbours’, Ethnic Studies Report, Vol. 17, No. 1 (January 1999), pp. 1-12.

Rasanayagam, Angelo. 2003. “Afghanistan: A Modern History.” London: I. B. Tauris.

Rashid, Ahmed. 2000. “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.” New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Rieck, Andreas. 1997. ‘Afghanistan’s Taliban: An Islamic Revolution of the Pashtuns’ in Orient, Vol. 38, No. 1.

Rubin, Barnett R. 2000. ‘The Political Economy of War and Peace in Afghanistan’, World Development, Vol. 28, No. 10, pp. 1789-1803.

Saikal, Amin. 1998. ‘The Rabbani Government, 1992-1996’, in William Maley (editor) “Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban.” New York: New York University Press.

Schetter, Conrad. 2002. ‘The ‘Bazaar Economy’ of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Approach’, in Christine Noelle-Karimi, Conrad Schetter and Reinhard Schlagintweit (editors) “Afghanistan - A Country without a State?” Frankfurt am Main, Germany: IKO- Verlag fur Interkulturelle Kommunikation.

Shahrani, M. Nazif. 2002. ‘War, Factionalism, and the State in Afghanistan’, American
Anthropologist, Vol. 104, No. 3. September 2002, pp. 715-722.

Williams, Brian Glyn. 2003. ‘Rashid Dostum: America’s Secular Ally in the War on Terror’, Terrorism Monitor. Vol. 1, Issue 6 (November 20, 2003). Available online at:
http://jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?articleid=23396

Fun With CIA Redaction in Afghanistan

April 22, 2007.

My blog entry making fun of Gary Schroen’s book was quite popular. So I figured it would only be fair to read the book by the other Gary about the CIA operations in Afghanistan in the months after 9-11. I’m not done yet, and a review is forthcoming. The book is Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander: A Book With Many Subtitles by Gary Berntsen. For now I just wanted to show the amusing CIA redactions from the book. They are censoring already well-known facts and information. And many of the redactions actually got by the censors for Gary Schroen’s book. Here’s a sneak peak.

Gary Berntsen

If you guessed that the redacted text is about Rasul Sayyaf then you win absolutely nothing. There were a total of seven clues that give away his identity. Especially funny is the fact that this same story is in Gary Schroen’s earlier book completely uncensored. Hooray for CIA consistency!

“Expert” Can’t Spell ‘Afghanistan,’ Uzbeks as an Ethnic Minority in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Plus Blog Hiatus

April 13, 2007.

First of all, I’ll be travelling for a bit. So there will be a 10-day blog hiatus. Control your grief.

Secondly, I must mock this person. View the title page, printed on 36 lbs watermarked 100% organic banana leaf fairtrade paper that costs way to much at Kinkos. You should probably check your hastily reformatted thesis title before handing in your MA thesis paper to your graduate school.

And if you are actually interested in minorities in Afghanistan (or Tajikistan), especially the Uzbeks, this thesis paper may serve as a decent bibliography at the very least. The title is Uzbeks Versus The Center: Mobilization As An Ethnic Minority In The Tajikistan and Afghanistan Civil Wars. You can download the paper here in pdf.

[Note added on May 4: The person I am mocking is well-known to me and I to him. I’m not being malicious. This post was the idea of the thesis author.]

Totally out of context quote #7

April 12, 2007.

“I hate this country and every single person in it. Including you.”

Context: Journalist Jean MacKenzie has a “foreigner meltdown” after a mullah at Radio Helmand suggests she is too old for marriage. She then storms out and vents her anger at her translator. Note to all mullahs: don’t suggest to a Western woman that she is old. That’s like picking a fight with a Marine Corps Force Recon team at a North Carolina jarhead bar.

Find the whole story at Jean MacKenzie’s Afghan blog.

Afghanistan’s Nightmare Scenario: Pakistani Civil War Refugees

April 11, 2007.

While Afghanistan may be making tentative (and problematic) progress in rebuilding society and governance, much still hinges on events in neighbouring Pakistan. This issue has been discussed ad nauseum by pretty much everybody. But imagine, if you will, the absolute worst for Pakistan: state disintegration, internecine warfare, Sunni-Shia fighting, Baluchi versus whoever tries to retain their territory, death squads, total chaos, etc…

Obviously, this would have extremely negative consequences for Afghanistan, both economically and politically (although it may deflect Pakistani-based Jihadis into a more inward direction towards domestic rivals than they are at the moment). But the most serious consequence would be the flow of refugees into Afghanistan. Think I’m joking? Do you think it is completely implausible that refugees would think of Afghanistan as any sort of safe haven? Well, believe it or not, there is a recent precedent: I present to you the Tajikistan Civil War.

Photo: Things going downhill in early 1990s Tajikistan. When you think you may be killed tomorrow with your family you will go anywhere tonight. Even Afghanistan.

Tajik Civil War

According to the UNHCR approximately 100,000 refugees fled into northern Afghanistan in an exodus that started in late 1992. As late as the end of 1995 nearly 20,000 refugees remained in three main camps across northern Afghanistan. Though it should be noted that the northern parts of Afghanistan were relatively stable until the Taliban showed up.

What would make the theoretical Pakistan civil war so much worse is the huge population difference. Tajikistan has about 7 million people. Pakistan has about 165 million. Furthermore, many refugees from Tajikistan were able to go to Russia and Uzbekistan. Where exactly would the Pakistani refugees go? Going to India has some obvious problems, though international pressure would likely compel India to let in a certain amount. But don’t expect many old Muhajir Pakistanis to be enthusiastic about that exit strategy. Of course, wealthy Pakistanis and those with British or European passports would be gone in quick order. And the Arab countries? How many Pakistani refugees would they take? The recent Syrian and Jordanian hospitality towards Iraqi Arabs would probably not be the model. How about Iran? I don’t think that they would be enthusiastic about Sunnis and Baluchis pouring across the border. And could Pakistan’s Shias (Shiites) even make it that far? Iran is already quite refugee-weary. It has recently expressed the wish for the Afghan refugees there to return within a year.

So that leaves Afghanistan as an option for a panicked flight from Pakistan, especially for those in the north. I would expect many in the 15% of the Pakistani population that are Pashtun would look towards Afghanistan. It’s safe to assume that many people in Afghanistan would have some serious reservations about hosting refugees from Pakistan. There are some obvious reasons for this and some not so obvious:

#1. A drain on already strained resources in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is barely coping at the moment. How can a “post-conflict” country of 30 million host refugees from a country of 165 million?

#2. International humanitarian fatigue. Is there really any willingness on the part of the donor countries to give any more? Any aid given would likely cut into what little the people of Afghanistan are getting at the moment.

#3. Changing of the ethnic balance. With Pashtuns being maybe 40% of the population, a candidate for president must also appeal to non-Pashtuns. With an influx of Pashtuns from Pakistan a candidate could be free to ignore non-Pashtuns (of course assuming the refugees stay).

#4. Refugee camp militancy. The refugees would likely bring some militant political/Jihadi party affiliations with them.

Look at this ethnic map and try to imagine who might go where.

ethnic map

Hopefully this scenario never occurs. But there should be a contingency plan for what could be one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since WWII. And as unlikely as this is, there is no harm in formulating a plan to deal with refugees from a Pakistani civil war. There were no contingency plans for the collapse of the Soviet Union nor for the Rwandan genocide nor for the collapse of the levies in New Orleans. It wouldn’t hurt for some money to be spent mapping out an international response plan to this scenario. International assistance would be needed. Afghanistan would not be able to effectively seal its border as Switzerland did in WWII.

Once again, hopefully this scenario will never occur. It’s just that Pakistan looks like it has such a bleak political future. Neither over-optimism nor ignoring the possibilities should rule the day.

Introspective Anglos and Soviets Versus Forward-Looking Mujahideen

April 9, 2007.

While browsing video tributes to soldiers who fought in Afghanistan I started to see a pattern. With a small number of exceptions, the most popular videos for different nationalities fell, although not always neatly, into certain style categories.

The first up are the Soviet soldiers. The video I chose as representative simply says “we were there” (before degenerating into fictionalized violence from the Russian movie 9th Company). The Soviet/Russian style in this video focuses on the group. The video doesn’t name people or focus long on individuals, and when it does they are anonymous. Perhaps it’s hard to focus on the individual when losses were over 15,000. Also of note, Afghans are totally absent from any humanizing role in the video.

The Canadian style is very somber and introspective. The focus is on the tragedy of human loss. Some of the videos even name all the fatalities. This video is representative of the other Canuck vids.

The British videos are very similar, again with a somber reflection on the loss of comrades.

The American video I chose is a great example, though maybe not completely representative of the rest, of American exceptionalism. The American video focuses on an individual and his interaction with locals. He is then tied back to American society as a whole with the video of his now fatherless infant son. The video has a feeling of hope for Afghanistan that the others lack.

The Taliban/Mujahideen videos are a stark contrast. There are some videos that are framed as a tribute to those who are struggling against NATO forces and the ANA. But the individual is seemingly ignored unless he is a Jihad all-star such as Mullah Dadullah. The families may mourn their sons lost to Jihad, but the public presentation is one of strength and confidence. Check out some of the Jihad tribute videos. There are no introspective retrospectives. Everything is violent, forward moving and alluding to an inevitable victory. There may be plenty of videos that do the same for NATO troops (i.e., “kick-ass vids” set to AC/DC music), but not when they are tributes to those who have fallen.

I’m just noting the contradictions. I didn’t carry out an empirical scientific study on the issue but I feel there is some accuracy in what I’ve seen. Feel free to disagree with or reinterpret what I’ve said about the videos.

The Best Book on Afghanistan

April 7, 2007.

If I was only allowed to own one book on Afghanistan, it would most definitely be Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to The Present by Gilles Dorronsoro (Columbia University Press, 2005).

Bad book cover, good book.

There are a number of scholars who could write a book of equal quality as Dorronsoro has. However, they have teaching and administrative responsibilities that prevent them from putting in the time and effort that Dorronsoro has. What makes this book so comprehensive is that it is based on Dorronsoro’s Ph.D. dissertation. This means that there is a minimum of 3 years work put into this book. Some disserations are far too esoteric to be useful to any but a few scholars hiding in the stacks. Revolution Unending, however, is broad enough to appeal to everybody who wants to better understand Afghanistan.

The book deals with conflict. And it does so in a decisive and pursuasive manner. The quality of the research is of the highest rank. And if you don’t believe me then you can go to the publisher’s listing and see the glowing praise from some first rate Afghanistan experts. The only people that may be unsatisfied would be non-political scientists would doubt the value of any work outside their field of methodolgy. Understanding Afghanistan requires a good reading of works within political science, anthropology, history, sociology, international relations, religious studies, etc… You can’t afford to be exclusive.

The book’s only weakness is in the final part, titled “The American Invasion and the Return to Fragmentation.” This section covers events and analysis that has been well tread by many. There is absolutely nothing new or original in this section. But the previous sections compensate many times over for the weakness of this section. My advice is to get your hands on this book.

The Other Side of the Soviet Invasion

April 3, 2007.

So the Soviets showed up and just started bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, right? All they did was kill, maim and torture, right? Well, at the risk of sounding like an apologist, I feel I must discuss the varied strategies that the Soviets employed. There were incentives as well as disincentives (The carrot versus stick argument). But is this propaganda poster merely……propaganda?

University

Rasul Bakhsh Rais noted that while the Soviet Army and the Afghan communist government followed, later in the conflict, a “policy of eviction, bombardment and destruction of infrastructure” in predominantly Pashtun areas, the strategy in the north on the part of the Soviet Union was to deliver aid and development projects as a reward for cooperation (or merely not violently resisting). Many in the north lived through the Soviet-Afghan war in relative peace and prosperity, as these objective fact-based informative representations of reality below prove.

Roll up your proletariat sleeves!

dekhon

Only the finest Parcham socialist mustaches!

Mustache

Thank you for this traktor that will break down soon!

Tractor

OK, all joking aside, I just wanted to point out that there was not universal resistance to the Soviets (I am not claiming that there there was no resistance to the Soviets in the north) and that the Soviets actually did give development an attempt. You can take the example of the Soviet attempt at “winning hearts and minds” and note either the striking similarity to or the stark difference with the present NATO/ISAF effort in Afghanistan. Though I’m sure a thorough qualitative and quantitative analysis will find that the Soviet stick was wielded much more indiscriminately than the Anglo-American one.

Footnote: The differing Soviet strategy analysis is from Rasul Bakhsh Rais (1999), ‘Conflict in Afghanistan’, Ethnic Studies Report, Vol. 17, No. 1.

Rory Stewart’s Damn Afghan Dam

April 1, 2007.

Rory Stewart is a fine chap. A good bloke. He’s good people. But that being said……what in God’s name is he writing about in the New York Times/International HT? As has Carl Robichaud. My problem with Stewart’s article has several aspects, which I won’t bore you with. But my jaw dropped when I saw an anecdote in Stewart’s article that Robichaud referred to as an ‘edifice complex.’

“Afghans are bored with foreign consultants and conferences and are saying, ‘Bring back the Russians: at least they built dams and roads.” To win them over we should focus on large, highly visible infrastructure to which Afghans will be able to point in 50 years — just as they point to the great dam built by the United States in the 1960s.”

Kajaki Dam

Wow! Look at that progress! Man conquering nature!

But was/is this dam beneficial to anyone?

NO. Absolutely not. I am not against dams that are well thought out and engineered. But The Helmand Valley Authority system of dams and irrigation was a monumental disaster in every aspect; socially, economically, environmentally, politically, and technically. I first saw this project ridiculed by Afghanistan super-expert Louis Dupree (deceased) in his book Afghanistan. Historian Nick Cullather and Omar Zakhilwal also heap on ridicule as you can see in the papers cited below. Even NASA called it a disaster.

I’m no environmentalist, I even think the Three Gorges Dam in China is going to be good for the Chinese people (not all, but most). But a good reading of Nick Cullather’s article shows that the Helmand Valley Authority was not just harmful to Afghanistan, but to American strategic interests as well.

I wonder what it looks like downstream from that pretty dam? This NASA photo is a 1976 to 2002 comparison.

NASA

So please, no rushing in to monumentally disastrous projects in a Cold War style “mine is bigger than yours” contest.

I still think Rory Stewart is a cool guy.

Further reading can be had below.

Cullather, Nick. 2002. ‘From New Deal to New Frontier in Afghanistan:Modernization in a Buffer State’, The Cold War as Global Conflict/ICAS New York University, Working Paper No. 6. Available online in pdf here.

Zakhilwal, Omar. “The Helmand Valley Project’, Institute of Afghan Studies.