Afghan Products For The Beautiful People

December 11, 2007.

As far as I know, everybody who reads Afghanistanica is beautiful. So this concerns you. If you are beautiful, which you are, and you want to become even more beautiful, there are some Afghan products that will help you reach those ends. I’m talking about the scents, oils, lotions, cosmetics and whatnot manufactured by Gulestan.

You can order Gulestan’s products through their website: http://gulestan.com/english/index-en.html.

This is what they say about themselves:

Our objective is to foster rural development in Afghanistan. We are looking for maximal value added by Afghan farmers.

Gulestan’s products are formulated from 100% natural products. We use no preservatives, no artificial color or fragrance. We only use vegetable oils, essential oils and floral waters, beeswax. Alcohol is used only in our perfumes.

We use ingredients available in large quantities in Afghanistan, endemic plants and local varieties. We choose to process plants that have a very labor-intensive harvest technique, in order to maximize job creation in rural areas. Our products are bottled and packaged by hand in Kabul in a family-owned workshop.

Wild plants are harvested in remote mountains and valleys, far away from any road or pollution. As far as cultivated plants are concerned, we are working with rural communities to encourage traditional (meaning organic) agriculture.

If you are in Kabul at the moment there will be two special sales going on. The next is at Afghan Villa on Thursday, Dec 13 (6-10pm) with Nomad carpets there as well. The second is at L’Atmosphere on Dec 14-16 (Friday to Sunday 11am-10pm) with Zarif Designs and Katchaloom silk-screened apparel, whose propaganda leaflets I have attached below:

If you are not into hanging out at L’Atmosphere you may buy their products at other Kabul locations where Gulestan beauty stuff is on sale all the time.

At War Again?

December 10, 2007.

Yes, again. The producers of the forthcoming Afghanistan war documentary At War have released a new trailer.

And no, I’m not their publicist. But I am looking forward to seeing this film in the new year.

Unconventional Counter-Insurgency in Afghanistan

December 9, 2007.

It’s nice to see that the American military publishes master’s degree thesis papers online. Share, share, share. I’ve read a few thesis papers by officers in military post-graduate schools and they are quite decent. This one is next on my reading list:

Major John R. Dyke and Major John R. Crisafulli. “Unconventional Counter-Insurgency in Afghanistan,” Master’s of Science in Defense Analysis Thesis Paper. Naval Postgraduate School - Monterey, California. June 2006.

So what have the Army Majors John R. come up with? Here’s the abstract:

Immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, a small number of U.S. Army Special Forces (USSF) invaded the Al Qaeda safe haven of Afghanistan. USSF A-teams, operating with almost total independence, conducted highly successful Unconventional Warfare “through, with, and by” the indigenous Afghan militias of the Northern Alliance. The USSF and their indigenous Afghan armies rapidly deposed the Taliban regime and denied the Al Qaeda terrorists their training and support areas within Afghanistan. The momentum of the initial success achieved by USSF during 2001-2002, however, has been dramatically overshadowed by the inability of follow-on U.S. forces to establish long-term stability in the post-Taliban Afghanistan. Since 2002, the conventional U.S./Coalition forces, which replaced Army USSF as the main U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) forces, have thus far failed to defeat the re-emerging Taliban/Al Qaeda threat. In fact, 2005 has been the most violent year-to-date for U.S./Coalition forces serving in Afghanistan with 239 U.S. casualties, and President Hamid Karzai’s central Afghan government exhibiting little control outside its major cities. This trend continues in 2006. In this thesis, the authors question the current U.S./Coalition campaign plan, which places emphasis on conventional military forces, not USSF, as the main effort COIN force in Operation Enduring Freedom. They propose an alternative Unconventional COIN model that focuses on population control instead of “clear and sweep operations,” Afghan constabulary-style forces instead of conventional Afghan National Army troops, the importance of “grassroots” intelligence collection at the village level, and the employment of USSF advisors instead of conventional U.S. infantry troops. Their plan is based on three case studies (Malayan Emergency, CIDG in Vietnam, and USSF in Orgun, Afghanistan); a COIN literature review; and most relevantly, interviews with returning veterans of the Afghan war.

Well, gosh. I’m just a simple civilian. But I will read the whole thing and add my two cents worth (with the added benefit of 18 extra months of hindsight), especially regarding that constabulary thing. Also, the views expressed in the abstract about the ANA seem to be at odds with state-building. And perhaps they will address the use of SF and air power in settling long-simmering local rivalries over disputed chicken ownership and whatnot (i.e.; “Dear SF soldier man, I’m pretty sure that guy stole my number one rooster seven years ago and he’s most definitely a hard core AQ-Taliban supporter. So could you call in some ordinance on his house ASAP? Thanks bro.”) Quite often grassroots intel is about the the “simple” locals manipulating “sophisticated” outsiders for their own ends.

Alright, that’s enough said without actually reading the document. But in my defense, you wouldn’t believe the number of important people making important decisions based on executive summaries, abstracts and totally awesome powerpoint presentations.

Totally out of context quotes #22 and #23

December 5, 2007.

“I am very happy with the result. If the government had been in charge, there would have been a lot of paperwork and who knows how it would have ended? But this is good. I was given a gun and I shot my brother’s killer. The government wouldn’t let us do that. The Taleban decide cases very quickly, without wasting time. And they give people the right to carry out the punishment.”

Context: IWPR article suggests that some people are looking to the Taliban’s parallel justice system in Helmand for help with their grievances. However, the Taliban court system doesn’t just wack people on your say-so. And that is a problem for this guy who can’t come up with any witnesses:

“I fell in love with my brother-in-law’s sister,” he explained. “One day I was at her house to see her, and her brothers caught me. They beat me severely, then they raped me.”

The speaker, a 26-year-old man, said that he brought his case to the Taleban.

“The Taleban said they needed eyewitnesses. Where was I supposed to get them?” he said. “In the end we went to the government. But still nothing has happened. We may never be able to resolve this case.”

What these two stories show is how shallow the Taliban’s promise of justice is. While the current justice system in Afghanistan is indeed wretched, the Taliban justice system apparently does not do so well when confronted with conflicting claims. It is one thing to say that you will provide instant and harsh justice, but it is quite another to deliver that justice without sufficient witnesses, evidence and judicial resources.

But the fact remains that some people in Helmand are looking to places other than the Afghan government for justice. I can’t blame them for that.

Rashid Dostum Documentary Now Online

December 2, 2007.

I knew that Brian Glyn Williams, a professor at U Mass and the owner of an excellent personal-academic website: brianglynwilliams.com, had produced a documentary on Rashid Dostum. I couldn’t find any info on the documentary so I had plans to ask Dr. Williams about how I could get my hands on a copy. But now I see that he has put the one hour documentary online, free for all to see.

What do I think of the documentary? I have no idea. I’m on a dial-up internet connection (yes, they do still exist in rural areas) so I can’t see these vids. Maybe I’ll post my opinions on the documentary when I get back to civilization.

The documentary, Dostum: A Story of Afghanistan, is chopped up into seven videos. I’ve embedded them here to save you the trouble of clicking on a link.

Afghanistanica Retraction #897

December 1, 2007.

OK, last month I claimed to have tracked down Afghanistan’s last pig. It was in Doshi in the late 1980s hanging out with some Russians. Case closed.

But what do I know? Apparently if I had used the internet googler I would have found this quote from an April 2007 travel article:

The Zoo must be the saddest places in Kabul, full of mud pathways, half-collapsed buildings and forlorn animals by the banks of the polluted Kabul River. The colony of monkeys looked sickly and morose, the lone pig is pelted with stones in a country that hates them…

Throwing rocks at a helpless pig? That’s so cruel. You are supposed to cut their throats (or fire a bolt into their head), remove their head, gut them, chop them up and eat them, not throw rocks at them.

But I don’t know about Muslims hating pigs. Last year when a Texas farmer staged protest pig races next to a mosque, the Mosque leader Kamel Fotouh had this to say:

He said the pig races no longer bother him or his members, and they’re going ahead with their plans to construct the mosque.

Muslims do not hate pigs, he added, they just don’t eat them.

Same as me, I don’t eat pigs either. Just bacon and ham.

Back to Afghanistan. A friend of mine insisted I check out the website of a photographer she knows, Rena Effendi. She’s an amazing photographer with an www.refendi.com/portfolio.html. What does this have to do with pigs?

Well, these folks aren’t throwing rocks and the pigs look healthy. All is well that ends well. Except for me being wrong about Afghanistan not having anymore pigs.

Go check out www.refendi.com, especially the Kabul and Azerbaijan photo galleries.