Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection

May 30, 2007.

Have you ever been involved in a conversation or debate about the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan and not been able to add anything beyond agreeing that Pakistan is a continuing source for extremism? Do you wish you could throw around terms like Lashkar-i-Taiba and Lashkar-i-Jangvi? Have you ever wanted to tell someone the difference between Jami’at-i-Ulema-i-Islam and Jami’at-i-Ulema-i-Pakistan?

Probably not. But if you have any desire to do the above mentioned things then a book titled Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection is for you.

Olivier Roy

Written by Mariam Abou Zahab and Olivier Roy (Columbia University Press, 2004), the book comes in at 82 pages long in its English translation so it is straight and to the point. And although the book covers events only up until mid-2003, it is a great starting point for understanding the Islamist/Jihadi networks in Pakistan and their role in Afghanistan. There are other great books that go into more detail on Pakistan, but you will find that Pakistan is an entire specialty unto itself and you must commit a high level of effort to fully digest what those books offer.

From the back cover:

Mariam Abou Zahab and Olivier Roy argue that the Taliban in Afghanistan was part of a much wider radical Islamist network in the region, whose true center was Pakistan. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Pakistani Deobandis – all of these groups are based in Pakistan, which continues to serve as the regional hub for Islamist movements and their terrorist offshoots.

Well, everybody knows this by now. However, it is the detail and expertise that make this book a valuable resource. After reading this book you can be the cool guy in the political conversation who says something esoteric like “No, you don’t understand. Pakistan must reign in those aggressive elements in Muttahida Majlis-i Amal.”

You’ll become a pariah in no time at all.

PS: It should be noted that Tajikistan gets it’s own chapter and Kashmir gets numerous mentions. But I’m sure the publisher was not interested in having a book subtitled The Tajikistan - Afghan - Pakistan - Kashmir Connection. Also, I’m not in 100% agreement with everything written in this book. Though much of that comes with three years of hindsight.

What’s Behind the Shooting of Demonstrators in Northern Afghanistan?

May 29, 2007.

This is so simple yet so convoluted. It is so Afghanistan. Let’s get started…

Demonstrators angrily protest in the northern province of Jowzjan (Jauzjan) and at least a dozen are shot dead. Apparently, the demonstrators are loyal to Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek tough guy up north. And the object of their protest? A Karzai-appointed governor of course. According to the NY Times, the incident that sparked the demonstration was the arrest of six men for allegedly attempting to assassinate a legislator who had recently split with Dostum. Now the ANA, backed by NATO troops, has moved in to restore order.

First of all, I should note that this incident is important since Uzbeks, who are about 10% of Afghanistan’s population at the most, have been very cooperative in relation to some other groups in Afghanistan. This is the first time I have noticed the Afghan government antagonizing the Uzbeks, albeit somewhat unintentionally. Before this the antagonizing has always been directed at individuals in the Uzbek community, not the community as a whole.

This is not just a simple power struggle between two men or the simple issue of Dostum wanting to take out some legislator who had split with him. There is, as usual, a complicated background to this story. Most importantly, Governor Juma Khan Hamdard is an ethnic Pashtun in the most heavily Uzbek-dominated province in Afghanistan. So Karzai was not being very subtle with this appointment. And it should be noted that Hamdard, as a former commander for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i Islami, is not exactly qualified for the job.

The ethnic factor is especially important here. Juma Khan Hamdard is a northern Pashtun from Balkh. The northern Pashtuns are seen by many locals as invaders of a sort. In the almost 100 year-long policy known as Pashtunization the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and others in the north had their land confiscated and given (or sold at about $1 per acre) to Pashtun settlers, some of whom were being exiled from the east and south for resisting the Kabul government. Compounding the theft of land was the political domination of Pashtuns over local affairs. And compounding that even further was the fact that some of those minorities who lost their land then had to work that land for their new Pashtun landlords.

The Pashtuns lost much of these advantages in the north during the Soviet invasion, the civil war years and during the fall of the Taliban. Generally bad things happened to a lot of Pashtuns during this time.

Much rests on the relationship between Dostum and Hamdard. And unlike some other struggles between personalities, this one will affect many people throughout the region. It should be noted that Governor Hamdard has had a long relationship with Rashid Dostum. Hamdard joined with Dostum in 1992 once it was clear Dostum was going to dominate the north (and once the Hizb-i Islami funds started to dry up). He then joined the Taliban as they took Dostum’s areas in the north. Although this claim might be refuted by Hamdard, it is clear that many northern Pashtun leaders joined the Taliban so I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamdard was one of them (I just can’t find a source for this that is reliable).

When the Taliban fled the north the ethnic Pashtuns became the victims of vengeance attacks by locals. Northern Pashtun leaders then gladly took the protection offered by either Dostum or his Tajik rival Atta Mohammad. Hamdard quickly joined Dostum’s Junbesh faction and then served as the General of the 8th Army Corps under Dostum in Mazar (The 8th Corps was nominally controlled by Kabul but in reality was a tool of Dostum).

Dostum: Milli qahramon!

This arrangement of convenience lasted until Hamdard endorsed Karzai for President instead of Dostum (Dostum received 10% of the vote). This endorsement was quickly parlayed into the governorship of Baghlan province. He was later sent to Jowzjan as the chief of police for the province, a job that soon turned into the governorship. This matches up nicely with Karzai’s policy of trying to not appoint governors in their home provinces so that they can’t create an independent power base. But in my opinion, appointing a Pashtun in either Faryab or Jowzjan is a bad idea. Both of these regions are heavily dominated by Uzbeks.

So unhappy Uzbeks protest against the governor in the city of Shiberghan, Dostum’s stronghold. And not for the first time either. Allegedly demonstrators attempted to storm government offices and/or disarm the police and the result was over a dozen dead demonstrators/rioters. Accusations are flying about Dostum’s involvement and in the other direction there is most definitely anger over what locals will portray as an unnecessarily deadly response. To sum up, many Uzbeks in Jowzjan will likely be angry and blame Karzai, not just his governor. Hamdard, for his part, will be quite disappointed that this is interfering with his announcement two days ago that Jowzjan is poppy free.

Order has been restored and the army is on the streets, demonstrating to the demonstrators that you can’t just toss out Karzai’s boy with an angry riot. But Karzai will probably see the logic in, after some time has passed, rotating Hamdard to some other post.

As for Karzai, he should quit appointing Hizbi Pashtuns to run rural Uzbek provinces. He should do his best not to add any Uzbeks to the array of violently anti-Kabul forces. I realize he can’t just let some independent Uzbek strongman run a region outside of Kabul’s authority, but there must be a middle ground. And at some point in Afghanistan’s future the people must be allowed to elect their own governors. Just like in Russia America.

PS: This is the best I can come up with by going through my old notes. There may be an entire layer to this story that I am unaware of. But this is what you get if you want same-day analysis of events on the ground.

Note: Alternative spellings for Jowzjan are Jawzjan, Jauzjan, Juzjan, Jouzjan etc…

Malalai Joya Can Has Cheezburger?

May 28, 2007.

The Afghan-American (I think) blogger known as “Slanted Eyes” has crossed all boundaries of decency with post on Malalai Joya.

Now excuse me while I try to control my laughter.

PS: Confused or angry? All your questions will be answered if you check out the amazing hit phenomenon cat-caption blog I Can Has Cheezburger?

Slightly Biased Afghan Sports Report #1

May 28, 2007.

It appears that I have neglected to mention the goings-on in the world of Afghan sports. So without any more delay I’ll start the report with cricket before moving on to running, football and bowling.

First to the cricket stadium in Kabul for the Peace Cricket Tournament. In an exciting and dramatic victory the heroic cricketers from Kunar crushed the side from Paktia, despite, I’m sure, the presence of numerous Pakistani mercenary cricketeers on the Paktia side. But Paktia’s foreigners were clearly no equal to Kunar’s magnificent Sardar, who scored 54 runs.

The next day, in a match marred by biased refereeing and treacherous tactics, the cheating cheaters from Khost won a hollow victory against the fine lads from Kunar.

Not that I really care anymore, but Khost did get their comeuppance in the tournament’s final when they deservedly lost to Logar.

It is nice to note that no coaches were murdered, unlike what is seen in international cricket. On an unfortunate note, despite the presence of Minister for Counter-Narcotics Habibullah Qadiri, no players from either Khost or Logar were tested for performance enhancing drugs. Next year Kunar, next year.

Afghanistan cricket

Now we go up north to Kunduz for the eight team football (that’s soccer y’all) tournament at Spin Zar Stadium where Shayan defeated Red Crescent 1-0. No word on whether “Red Crescent” is just a cool name for a team or whether the international humanitarian organization Red Crescent was handed a defeat. And no commentary from me, I’ll just go to the always quotable Abdul Latif, acting director of the provincial sports department:

“……the Shayan players performed well and achieved victory by scoring a goal against the opponents.”

Well, I can’t disagree with that cautious assessment.

Now down to Kandahar for the 10k/mini-marathon youth foot race. Out of 500 runners the 18 year-old Rahmatullah, who hails from “the second police district of Kandahar City,” crossed the finish line first. Commenting on the race, Provincial Governor Asadullah Khalid had this to say:

“Pakistanis are carrying out the suicide attacks.”

I do so love when sports and politics are mixed.

And a word to the wise. Please do not confuse Kandahar for Le Kandahar world cup downhill ski race in Chamonix. Big difference there. Vive La Différence!

Kandahar ski

Now overseas to Virginia, USA, where team Tora Bora defeated team Mush-Mush in a Washington-area Afghan expatriate bowling tournament.

Bowling Afghanistan

As you can see on the poster, there is a two girl per team minimum. I endorse that because [passage redacted by the CIA]. Regarding the team names, I’ve never heard of Tora Bora. I asked the Department of Defense about the name and they remarked (in my imagination):

“We don’t know what that is. Nothing ever happened there. Don’t ever mention that place again.”

As for Mush-Mush, my meager translation skills tell me that this means “mouse-mouse.” And yes, many people do rhyme “Mush” with “Bush.”

That’s all. Go Kunar!

New al-Qaeda Commander for Afghanistan, Plus A Comparative Beard Analysis

May 26, 2007.

So al Qaeda has a new head of operations in Afghanistan. Or rather for Afghanistan since he will likely not set foot west of the Durand line. According to the CIA and the Pentagon (and according to himself), he’s the replacement for the last guy, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who was nabbed by the Turks and sent to Guantanamo while on his way back to Iraq to join the struggle in his home country. So let’s look at this handsome fellow before doing any analysis.

Great. That’s out of the way. First the story: In his first video address via al Jazeera the veteran Egyptian Jihadi says nothing of any value. That is unless you get a kick out of listening to yet another AQ Jihadi drone on about the impending doom that waits the crusaders and their apostate puppets at the hands of the multitudes of suicide bombers that are about to be sent into Afghanistan for their “martyrdom missions.”

This all probably means very little unless Mustafa Abu Yazid has something new to offer in the way of tactics and resources. One area he could make a difference in is facilitating the transfer of knowledge from Iraq to Afghanistan. But he will probably be under the same set of limitations as the last AQ commander for operations in Afghanistan.

Plus he has to watch out for the Pakistanis due to his group’s pledge to take out Musharraf (his predecessor attempted to assassinate Musharraf). Also, Musharraf has an interest in handing over the occasional dead or captured AQ operative to appease the Americans. The ISI may protect Mullah Omar but the new guy won’t likely be on the list of bad guys who get a pass from the Pakistanis.

Well, that was all appropriately vague and noncommittal wasn’t it? However, I will say that I’m sure (or I hope) that Jalaluddin Haqqani is a higher priority target than Mustafa Abu Yazid. I base that assumption on comparative analyses of beard and turban size.

Pic: Haqqani compensating for something with a large beard and turban. The oversize tinted glasses are also nice touch.

The Current Status of Afghan Hospitality

May 25, 2007.

The old stereotype:


I read the story accompanying this photo. It was a typical description of the hospitality you expected in pre-1980s Afghanistan.

Then I read an old blog entry by an NGO worker venting about the treatment she received in Afghanistan. Here is a quick quote:

…most of the time I was there I worked hard to block it out. When there, I constantly echoed the Afghans’ own mantra: Afghanistan is an extremely hospitable country, Afghanistan is an extremely hospitable country…

I repeated this although I was invited to about 10 times fewer homes in my two years there than my time in Russia and Tajikistan.

Afghans insisting that they are hospitable does not make it so. True. I never bought into the whole “most hospitable country in the world” claim as it seems that people are hospitable to their guests everywhere in the world. Even when compared to the rest of the region; do Iranians and Pakistanis treat their guests like second-class citizens? I don’t think so. And I can speak from experience in regards to being assaulted by excessive hospitality in a Central Asian household.

I think what the blogger is getting at is the self-promotion aspect of the “hospitable” claim. It was fine in the 1970s when the action matched the rhetoric. But now the consensus is that the hospitality of Afghans is definitely down a notch. Why? One obvious factor (pointed out in a comment on the above-mentioned blog) is the inability to host guests due to scarcity of resources. Many people in Afghanistan are barely getting by and might feel ashamed or embarrassed if they have guests and all they can offer is tea sans sugar. Not everybody has a bag of rice, fresh vegetables and a big cut of lamb waiting in the kitchen.

Another factor is the fear of calling attention to the fact that you have foreign guests in your house. There may be a variety of reasons for this: 1) You are scared of Taliban (or other extremist types) wondering why you have foreigners in your home, 2) you are scared of the local rumour-mill that may start malicious lies about the immoral foreigners doing something dirty in your house with your family members, and 3) local criminals may think you have business with rich foreigners and therefore you have something worth stealing.

Additionally, the novelty of foreigners has really, really worn off. They are definitely no longer an “exotic specimen.”

And some people may not like foreigners at all. [I believe the survey data that shows the percentage of Afghans fitting into this category is small.] While in the 1970s there was a rather fuzzy concept of what exactly a European was, now you have TV, magazines, radio and perhaps an angry Mullah to tell you that westerners are immoral and kill Muslims. These people generally are the ones dispensing “the stare of death” to the assorted internationals.

Also, a lot of foreigners travel around in expensive vehicles accompanied by men with guns. So…“Hey let’s invite the inconceivably rich foreigners with bodyguards into our house for lunch! Or maybe not.”

But if none of the above applies, you will probably be shown a very comfortable level of hospitality by some very nice people all across Afghanistan. I’m sure many people are shown the level of hospitality that greeted the medical workers in the first picture.

By the end of the blog entry the blogger reached a compromise view:

…though I was invited into few houses, those people showed amazing kindness and generosity. And I was treated to the remnants of Asian hospitality at least once… when I complimented a colleague on her scarf, and she gave it to me, against all insistence and persuasion to make her keep it. It almost reminded me of Russia…

Pic: “Vegetarian again? Are we having NGO workers over for lunch?”
Roots of Peace

Humorous PS: While writing this blog entry I went to the cooler to fetch a bottle but they were all gone. Our guest drank all our drinks earlier today. I’m thirsty now and I regret being hospitable.

Muslim Americans and the War in Afghanistan

May 24, 2007.

On Monday the Pew Research Center released a survey and report titled “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream” (Download pdf). It’s full of signs that Muslims in America are more integrated and moderate than Muslims elsewhere and other confirmations of the obvious.

Now that you have read the entire report, including the methodology section, I will pull out a couple of Afghanistan related survey results:

Muslims Afghanistan

In my opinion, the higher level of dissent on the war in Afghanistan is a symptom of several factors:

1) Almost 90% of Muslims in America are Democrats. The dissent partially comes with being against Bush for reasons of political affiliation, not necessarily religious affiliation.

Muslim Bush Approval

2) Afghan-Americans are not even in the top 8 foreign origins for Muslim Americans. I’m assuming there is higher support for continued engagement in Afghanistan in the Afghan-American community.

3) Frustration with the slow progress in Afghanistan.

And now for the parts where Muslim Americans come off looking not so good:


So a percentage of the Muslim American community believes one of the hilariously imbecilic conspiracy theories? That’s great. What could be more American? Get on the “faked moon-landing Kennedy assassination illuminati control everything holocaust denial crazy people bus.” The proportion of all Americans who believe one of the various 9-11 conspiracy theories is about one-third. Like I said, just like regular crazy Americans.

The percentage of Muslim Americans who doubt that Arabs carried out the 9-11 attacks probably actually believe that Arabs were responsible. I believe it is a combination of denial, anger/frustration with Bush and the belief that acknowledging the reality somehow empowers the Bush administration. Note the high refusal to answer this question or provide alternative theories (Jew-Israel conspiracy only got 1%).

911 conspiracy

Another factor to consider is that a certain amount of African-American Muslims are throwing off the stats with more extreme views that come with being very angry all the time. The Nation of Islam, a black racist non-orthodox Muslim group, is particularly prominent in their extremism (albeit of an isolationist variety). Some of the stats were disaggregated so you could see how far apart African American Muslims are from the rest of the Muslims (i.e., they offer the most favourable view of Al Qaeda). I would have appreciated a full disaggregation.

The small percentage holding extreme views can be seen in these two results:

Suicide bomber

Al qaeda

Hmm. Better than the rest of the world but still not good until these views reach about zero %. On positive thing to note is the views of college educated Muslim Americans, as you can see above. Ignorance is definitely a factor.

Also, polls and surveys can be misleading and incorrect. Rhetoric, true beliefs and action don’t always match up nicely. In social science methodology there are all sorts of warnings about misleading survey data. The percentage of people who claim to vote, have sex regularly, give to charity, attend religious services or not be racist is far from the actual reality for example.

Answers in polls can also be a form of venting anger as well. Again, true beliefs are not always expressed. And the ever-increasing cult of victimhood is likely as prominent in the Muslim community as elsewhere in America (I think 137% of Americans believe they are the victims of some horrible injustice).

But inasmuch as Muslim Americans are concerned, the American mission in Afghanistan does not have much support. By which I mean 35% (hooray for quantification!).

Canadian Prime Minister Betrays The West In Afghanistan

May 23, 2007.

In a shocking act of rank treachery, the Canadian PM Stephen Harper betrayed the West while on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan. The proof of my claim is in the photo below where Harper presents Karzai with a set of baby pajamas (or a jumper or romper if you will) for his newborn son Mirwais.

Why is this a gross betrayal? look at the logo on the baby suit. It’s that of the Ottawa Senators, an ice hockey team from eastern Canada (spit on ground). The Prime Minister is from the western Canadian province of Alberta. He is a native prairie son. And furthermore, Alberta has two hockey teams: the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. This is where the betrayal of the west comes in to the picture. Why not bring a gift for Karzai’s baby that is branded with a logo of a western Canadian hockey team?

So yes, that is how he betrayed the “West.” I used to think he was an honourable man. But no longer do I believe that. He is clearly subservient to the eastern establishment and their bloated hockey squads that are manned by Scandinavian mercenaries.

But on a serious note, while visiting Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan (and speaking in a ball Hockey rink nonetheless) PM Harper stressed to the troops his government’s commitment to Afghanistan in contrast to the opposition Liberal Party’s proposed withdrawal by 2009:

Still you know that the work is not complete. You know that we can’t just put down our weapons and hope for peace. You know that we can’t set arbitrary deadlines and simply wish for the best….Thank you for proving to Canadians and to people around the world that when Canada makes a commitment, Canada follows through.

Nice sentiments. However, Harper’s Conservative Party is a minority government and an election is on the horizon. The future commitment of Canada is an unknown. The PM’s visit later in the day to the Canadian Forward Operating Base at Ma ‘Sum Ghar in the Panjwaii district could be the last time Afghanistan ever sees Harper or any other future Canadian leader. [The opposition Liberal and New Democrat parties of course mocked what they referred to as an “elaborate photo op.”]

The presence in Afghanistan of the Canadian donut shop to the Prime Minister’s left is a sign of Canada’s high level of commitment to the mission. Canadians can’t function properly without a daily Tim Horton’s double-double and a cruller.

Malalai Joya: Heroic or Reckless?

May 22, 2007.

The ferocious Malalai Joya has struck again! Unless you have been living under a rock that is located outside of Afghanistan then you know who she is. Joya is a women’s rights activist later elected to parliament who gained fame (or infamy) at the 2003 Loya Jirga by branding many people attending as criminals. Lately her name came up when people chanted “Death to Malalai Joya” at the amnesty rally.

Now she has made a not-too-far-from-reality assessment of Afghanistan’s parliament as:

…a stable or zoo. This is a word that fits — a cattle house is full of animals, like a cow giving milk, a donkey carrying something, a dog that’s loyal. The parliament is worse than a stable.

Oh, Malalai. What will you say next you naughty little kitten? But seriously. She has now apparently been suspended from parliament for violating article number something dash another number subsection whatever of some hastily introduced law that she believes was passed to target her specifically (you think?). The article forbids lawmakers to insult one another (but apparently it is OK to throw water bottles at Joya and threaten to have her raped ). The motion has passed the lower house and is now pending.

So now there will be an ongoing controversy and a legal challenge and Karzai will be embarrassed and the international community will grumble and the western press will mock the troglodytes in Afghanistan’s parliament, etc…

OK, it will be in the news in the morning. Read all about it there. I’ll try to say something original here: Malalai Joya is usually correct in her assessments of Afghan miscreants and I’m sure I would like her personally, but…. Joya has been under the pressure of expectations to be continually “controversial” and “combative.” She always has to up the ante in order to draw attention to what she passionately believes in. And importantly, much of the expectations are generated outside of Afghanistan by well-meaning Europeans and Americans.

However, some of her recommendations would be supremely disastrous for Afghanistan. She basically wants to chase out of power everybody who she brands a “criminal.” I would support that if there were 600,000 NATO troops to maintain security after you have left every commander, soldier, warlord, faction leader and their followers with no option but to fight the government after some hypothetical law passed to bring them to justice. US-NATO-et al is having a hard time just fighting the Taliban and some of their fellow travelers. You would like to add Fahim, Atta, Dostum, Abdul Malik, Khalili, Ismael Khan, Sayyaf, Mohaqeq, Shirzai, Hazrat Ali, etc… to the anti-NATO roster? Do you have any idea how many men with guns rely on their patronage?

Malalai has some great ideas for some utopia that will never exist in Afghanistan in our lives. She is typical of an intellectual with a dangerous idea who will run off to exile after their grand plan turns to all-out war and vicious men start doing bad things to the people who are left behind.

Instead, thankfully, these people she has branded as criminals have been marginalized as best as can be expected given the circumstances. Malalai would have started a fight with them back in 2003 when they had far more power and resources than they do now. That’s not pragmatic. That’s insane.

Her further antics included speaking at a political convention in Canada for a usually irrelevant political party that advocates immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan. She used the occasion to endorse their leader who is mocked by many Canadians as “Taliban Jack.” (Note that Canada has taken many casualties in Afghanistan trying to bring security to that country). So who is to secure the place after NATO takes off? She has also spoken against American involvement in Afghanistan and claimed as recently as last year that America is supporting “The Northern Alliance.” The NA does not exist. This accusation is so November 2001. America supports Karzai. Not Fahim and Qanuni.

So that’s my argument. Nice lady with horribly disastrous ideas who is encouraged by an international cheerleading squad to attack pretty much everybody. I support women’s rights but Joya won’t help them with her tactics. Her tactics would only increase the level of conflict and instability.

Every country has one politician who is an attention seeking lover of controversy who is always saying outrageous things. But these people should be free to attack other politicians and mock people as part of a free society. Afghanistan should get used to her. The international community just needs to ignore her list of demands, that’s all.

PS: Please don’t think I’m down on Muslim feminists. I am an admirer of Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example.

And please excuse the shoddy writing. I wrote this in about half an hour after seeing the story online. Speed kills some of the quality.

What Did Afghanistan Do To John Rambo?

May 21, 2007.

I wrote a little while ago about Rambo opting not to return to Afghanistan. It’s all quite sad. But the human rights abusers in Myanmar (AKA Burma) deserve a little bad press. And the fourth Rambo movie tentatively titled John Rambo should deliver that bad press. But I’m concerned about Rambo. He seems different somehow.

I’ll show you the difference. Watch this old 1988 trailer for Rambo III.

OK. That was fine. Good ol’ Commie killing fun for all ages.

But now watch the teaser trailer for the still in production Rambo movie. And a strong warning, the trailer will probably be disturbing to some people. It is obviously not meant to be shown in theaters as is. As the Yanks say: “R-rated.”

Afghanistan! What did you do to Rambo? He used to be suitable for the younger kids. Now look at him. Totally unacceptable. I know he had emotional problems before going to Afghanistan. But still, what did you do to him?

Khareji Gone Wild! Drunk Americans Louts and Frisky British Tomcats Paint Kabul Red

May 20, 2007.

So apparently foreigners are behaving badly and partying too much. And I’m not talking about the Saudis on the Riviera. Journalist Jean MacKenzie took in a “foreigner only party” and gives details on her entertaining and informative Afghan blog.

Here are some amusing excerpts:

I spent one unfortunate Thursday evening at l’Atmosphere, where I found a group of twenty-somethings betting, far more loudly than was healthy, on who would be the first to “break the barrier” – which meant, I was told, getting an Afghan into bed. I had to go home and take a shower after that one.

Once the restaurants start to close, the crowds move to the private parties that spring up like brush fires in various locales. The goal of party behaviour is simple: get as trashed as possible, as quickly as possible, and try to pair up for the weekend ahead. By three in the morning, it looks like Noah’s ark.

As it was, all you needed was a foreign passport. I was soon drawn into the fray and plied with a bewildering array of libations including vodka, cider, wine, and champagne. So I can hardly be blamed for what happened next. I was approached by a muscle-bound 30-year-old Lothario with a gun under his shirt. At least I think it was a gun – he didn’t seem that happy to see me. He offered to take me home with him, leering, “My mother told me to practice on older bicycles.”

“Sorry bro. Only mercenaries and NGO chicks get into this party.”

Foreigner only drinking parties in drug lord-style mansions? Why not just start putting up signs that say “No dogs, rag-heads or Afghans?” Is there perhaps a way to generate a higher level of resentment? I realize that many Afghan men are themselves not exactly saints. And I know not everybody is participating in this sort of behavior. But perceptions are everything.

I would like to take a break from my righteous indignation for a minute and draw historical parallels here. I’ll start with a passage from Martin Ewans’ book Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics:

During the winter of 1839-40, discontent began to spread in Kabul,… In the manner of many occupying armies, the members of this one also started to play fast and loose with the ladies of the city, both married and unmarried, and this caused great resentment. The troops also drank in public, and their attitude towards the locals was careless and overbearing, as was that of the “politicals.” [page 66]

Sounds like typical British fun. Now let’s go to Stephen Tanner’s book Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban:

…the British administration…allowed officers and sepoys to summon their families from India….The British rank-and-file, their families not within reach, had recourse to Indian prostitutes who had accompanied the army, and, on the sly, to the women of Kabul. In the cantonment, musical concerts and theatrical plays were staged, and the British women, much to the horror of many Afghans, joined their husbands in the evening over drinks. [page 145]

And there was also the problem of bachelor British officers who did not have wives to occupy their time. It was commonly believed that Afghan women were neglected by their men, a situation that many Englishmen were anxious to solve. [John William] Kaye wrote somberly: “the temptations which are most difficult to withstand were not withstood by our English officers. The attractions of the women of Kabul they did not know how to resist.” Afghan men, of course, seethed at their efforts. It was said that Alexander Burnes, the political resident in Kabul, who at this time described himself as “a highly paid idler,” was especially prominent among the [foreign] tomcats. [page 152]

Pic: Yes ladies, this is Alexander Burnes. Control your desires.
Alexander Burnes

So whatever happened to that tomcat Alexander Burnes? Well, a mob attacked the British Residence and killed everybody; men, women, children etc… and Burnes died from about 734 stab wounds (just a guesstimate). He was lucky, a certain British officer was quartered (de-limbed) and had what was left of his body paraded around the bazaar. I’m not saying this will happen to the numerous consultants, NGO workers and security contractors. I’m saying that someone is thinking about doing it and is just waiting for the opportunity (that may never come). So this leads into a discussion of mob violence in Afghanistan.

On a note of interest, notice how most of the “immoral” behavior has transferred from foreign soldiers in the first Anglo-Afghan War to foreign civilians in today’s Afghanistan? The privatization of war and reconstruction seems to also include the partial privatization of resentment as well.

So what can be done? Probably nothing. Nobody is in control of all the rascally khareji (foreigners). The only options are a re-introduction of the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue or….. subcontract everything to Mormons.

Counterinsurgency and the Training of the Afghan National Army

May 19, 2007.

I just finished reading a report on the formation and ongoing training of the Afghan National Army. The author, an Italian PhD at the London School of Economics’ Crisis States Research Centre named Antonio Giustozzi, provides an excellent analysis for the first five years of the Afghan National Army.

“Looking good boys, looking good. Now if only looks could kill.”

The ANA, if you don’t know already, was formed on the quick because 1) anti-Taliban/anti-AQ militias were useless and 2) the power of the Afghan government outside of Kabul needed to be increased without foreign troops stepping on local strongmen feet. But things haven’t gone exactly to plan and Giustozzi explores that fact.

Antonio Giustozzi may not be a dedicated military scholar or COIN specialist, but he does provide an informed historical perspective, with long years of research on Afghanistan. And his ongoing research is all centered on conflict in Afghanistan. [IMO, he’s one of the most prolific academic-quality writers on Afghanistan at the moment]. Furthermore, there is a stronger likelihood of Giustozzi being objective than others who can be accused of having an agenda because of their employers. I’ve read all of Giustozzi’s work and I believe he has no agenda other than producing quality scholarly work.

There are actually some bright spots amid much of the gloom. You’ll have to fish through the report to find them. But the overall sense I got from reading the report is that, in regards to the training of an Afghan National Army, US administration and Afghan government statements are too optimistic while critics in the media and elsewhere are too pessimistic. Imagine that.

This is the abstract:

Afghanistan’s fifth effort to form a central army started in 2002, following the fall of the Taleban regime. Mainly run by the US armed forces, the formation of the so-called ‘Afghan National Army’ run into several difficulties, ranging from initially slow recruitment, low educational level of troops and officers, high attrition rates. As the new army began to take shape, it lacked many of the characteristics which had been associated by the promoters with a ‘national’ army. It also showed a low level of commitment and a lax discipline. As of 2006, it looked more like an auxiliary force at the service of the US army and its allies than like a ‘national’ army.

Seems pretty basic. And nothing new. But it’s the details that are fascinating. Here are some select passages:

…the decision to have ethnically mixed units reproduced the same problems experienced by the pro-Soviet Afghan army in the early 1980s. If the political reliability of the army was enhanced and the creation of a sense of national identity favoured, on the other hand the motivation to fight might have been affected negatively. The experience shows that during the war against the mujahidin (1978 – 1992), ethnically or regionally homogeneous units had a more successful record. (page 62)

…a study, that was carried out under the aegis of the Coalition’s Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan (OMC-A), found out that low wages and problems accepting military regulations figured among the prominent reasons for deserting, a fact confirmed by anecdotal evidence. That desertions were not politically motivated is confirmed by the fact that until at least 2006 hardly any ANA soldier ever deserted to the Taleban. In the summer of 2006 it was reported that the Taleban had started offering ANA soldiers three times their pay to switch sides, but it is not clear whether this had any impact. To most soldiers it would of course have meant to abandon their family, an unlikely option. The offer, if true, was probably meant to demoralise ANA troops rather than attract any serious number of them. (page 52)

And now for a little “knowing chuckle” excerpt:

…AMF recruiters resorted to false promises of much higher salaries and conditions of service much better than the real ones, in order to meet the quotas assigned to each province. (page 50)

Well, that’s all I got. I don’t want to stray too far from my expertise here. I’ll just say it’s obvious that you need well trained and motivated local troops as part of your force in order to successfully wage counterinsurgency warfare. [Mr. Obvious strikes again!]

On a note of interest, a military blog entry by an American officer is cited by Giustozzi. This is the first time I’ve seen a blog entry cited in an peer-reviewed academic journal.


Giustozzi, Antonio. 2007. “Auxiliary Force or National Army? Afghanistan’s ‘ANA’ and the Counter-Insurgency Effort, 2002 – 2006”, Small Wars and Insurgencies, Vol. 18, No. 1, 45–67, March 2007.

Scholarly Afghanistan Blogs

May 17, 2007.

Expert analysis on Afghanistan? From a blog? The answer is “Yes.” There are a few blogs out there that offer a high quality of analysis on Afghanistan and also have some sort of graduate diploma on the wall. And accordingly their analysis reflects a high level of scholarship.

These blogs would be Péter Marton’s My State Failure Blog (, Bonnie Boyd’s Central Asia Blog (, Carl Robichaud’s, Peter from Downunder’s The Strategist (, and I’ve linked to their “Afghanistan” category where applicable., or MStFB, is described as a blog for scholars and students of International Relations and other social science disciplines. The author, Péter Marton, is a PhD student of International Relations at the Corvinus University of Budapest where his dissertation topic is state failure. Péter previously had led research at an influential Hungarian foreign policy think tank for a year on state failure. In particular, he has been following the Dutch ink blot strategy in Uruzgan., which is a Foreign Policy Association Great Decisions blog, is maintained by Bonnie Boyd who also edits and publishes a monthly e-newsletter, “The Pipeline,” on oil and political economy. She graduated from the Masters in Diplomacy Program at Norwich University with a concentration in Conflict Management. Her active interests include Former Soviet Union states, international energy markets, international security, and Persian Gulf states. She is a member of the American Political Science Association and the Development Executive Group. is Carl Robichaud’s long-standing blog. Carl Robichaud is a Program Officer at the Century Foundation, working primarily on national security issues and non-military approaches to fighting terrorism. He has worked on arms control and disarmament issues at the Global Security Institute. He is a 2004 graduate of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. is a very well-written blog by Peter, a former government official who also served as an infantry officer and worked as a geologist in Western Australia. He has a deep interest in the nexus between history, politics, conflict, energy and the environment. Peter has a master of arts degree in strategic studies from the Australian National University, a first class honours degree in history, and a bachelor of science degree in geology. He grew up in New Zealand and Malaysia. Business and private travel has taken him to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North and South America, Australia and the South Pacific. is quite vague about authorship. But it does measure up to some level of scholarly quality. and also offer scholarly-worthy analysis, but really, do they need any help in attracting readers?

Totally out of context quote #11

May 16, 2007.

“the gist of it is this: chai good, Afghanistan good, Pakistan bad, Osama in Pakistan, Osama in Islamabad, a hand-gestured demonstration that we should bomb Islamabad, and American snuff makes their heads spin.”

Context: Afghan National Army soldiers and an American Embedded Tactical Trainer (ETT) find themselves without a translator. Nevertheless the Afghans manage to convey their opinions on the important issues of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Al Qaeda and chewing tobacco.

This quote is from the Afghanistan milblog Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure, which is quite good and regularly updated. As a soldier embedded with Afghan troops the author of this blog has a much higher level of interaction with locals, which makes for rather interesting blog entries.

Also, the soldier is from Cincinnati. This may explain why he went out of his way to volunteer to go to Afghanistan. I unknowingly went to Cincinnati right after the riots. I think Afghanistan may actually be safer than the neighborhood I rode my bike through.

The Silent Campaign of Assassinations in Afghanistan

May 16, 2007.

So who is killing all the former Hizb-i Islami commanders? Over the last year and a half nearly twenty members of parliament or provincial councils have been assassinated. And in the last several months a number of high-profile assassinations have occurred. I call it a “Silent Campaign” because of the lack of concern that it is causing in the West, and in much of Afghan society as well.

The most recent high profile killing was that of Abdul Sabur Farid, an appointed senator and former Mujahideen era Prime Minister from the northern province of Kapisa. This was soon followed by the killing of a former commander who had operated on the Shomali plains north of Kabul. And only a little while earlier Bashir Baghlani, a former Taliban-appointed governor of Baghlan province, was a victim of a “mysterious death.” What these three all have in common is that they are all former Hizb-i Islami senior level commanders who operated in the north. [Note: often written up as “Hezb-e Islami”]

So who is doing the killings of former Hizbis? Is it the Taliban? Not according to their spokesman. And they usually will take credit for their own work. I actually believe them, especially since the killings are of northern personalities.

Another possible theory is that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former head of Hizb-i Islami and pre-Taliban favorite of Pakistan, is behind the killings.

Hekmatyar says: “Who, me?”

Hekmatyar has recently vowed his loyalty to al Qaeda and expressed his ill will towards US/NATO and the Afghan government. Is he bitter that his former commanders have mostly “reformed” themselves and peacefully joined the political process? Maybe. But I doubt he has the capabilities or the desire to carry out a campaign of assassinations. In fact, in a speech sent to Pajwok news agency, Hekmatyar expressed his condolences to Farid’s family while pointing his fingers at the prime suspects:

“Hekmatyar stated that the murderers of Ustad Farid were previously the servants of Russia and now that they are under the command of America against the Mujahideen and the Afghan people.”

By “servants of Russia” Hekmatyar means the faction formerly led by Ahmed Shah Massoud: Shura-yi Nazar. That’s where the northern aspects to these killings comes into play. Are the Tajiks of Shura-yi Nazar killing off the predominantly Pashtun former commanders of Hizb-i Islami in the north? While the killings could also be old vendettas or current petty rivalries, the possibility of Shura-yi Nazar elements ridding the north of political and ethnic Pashtun rivals remains a strong possibility.

Or this could all be rumors and speculation about a series of unrelated killings. It is Afghanistan after all.

What is not speculation is the lack of outrage on the part of the West and the Afghan public. That’s probably because, as former Hizb-i Islami commanders, the victims of these assassinations are remembered for incessantly rocketing Kabul, switching sides numerous times, and generally being the typical bad-guy warlord commander type. I’m sure the list of their victims is a rather long one.

Too Close to Bush for Comfort?

May 15, 2007.

Ok, so Condoleeza Rice is sitting next to Karzai and Yunis Qanuni is playing with his napkin. But look two spots to President Bush’s left: it’s the Emir of Herat - the Slayer of the Soviets - the Warlord of the West - the alleged puppet of Iran - the former Mujahideen, the esteemed Minister of Energy (or Darkness depending on who you ask) Ismael Khan!

Well, are you as psyched about this as I am? Why not? If you had got the two of them in a photo standing together it would hands down beat the “Elvis meets Nixon” photo.

If you believed everything that has been alleged about Ismael Khan then you would be expecting him to jump over his neighbor and stab Bush with one of the three forks they give you for these fancy meals. The headline would read “The Emir of Herat Assassinates Bush With Salad Fork.” But, alas for the dislikers of Bush, Ismael Khan has retired to a cabinet position. His fighting days are long gone. Though he did manage an action-movie escape from a Taliban jail after Abdul Malik (AKA “The Great Traitor”) handed him over.

Revisiting the Airlift of Evil: A Blunder Via Pragmatism

May 14, 2007.

There was very little controversy when numerous sources revealed, over a two-month period from November 2001 to January 2002, that the Pakistani government had rescued possibly thousands of Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani ISI and Army officers, Al Qaeda volunteers and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. Defeated Taliban and Al Qaeda had fled to the city after losing battles across the north and many were negotiating surrender.

But then something inexplicable happened. Over a three-day period Pakistani military planes made non-stop flights in and out of the Kunduz airport, which was controlled by the Taliban. So all the important commanders and Pakistanis escaped along a safe-flight corridor supposedly guaranteed by the Americans.

Photo: This guy missed his flight to Pakistan. But he got another one to Guantanamo.

Needless to say, many people were upset. Northern Alliance soldiers were livid, American soldiers were outraged and named it “Operation Airlift of Evil,” and the Indian government sent diplomatic notes of protest to the American and British government, as it believed all these Al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers were destined for Kashmir.

But the story generally went away since, hey, we won! Didn’t we? And the nail in the coffin was when the increasingly deranged journalist Seymour Hersh published an article on the event. Hersh attempts to regularly publish reports that live up to the importance of his work on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. And in the process he relies on “secret sources” and, increasingly, his imagination. But his credibility is rather low and nobody really wanted to follow up on a story given publicity by the crazy yelling old man. And also, who cares? We won! Woo-hoo!

Additionally, former super-desk jockey CIA officer Gary Schroen pretended the event never happened in his book; all the bad guys were retreating to Kunduz and then……nothing. He has proved his loyalty to the bureaucracy of the CIA and nothing else by his actions (not to mention his gross ignorance of Afghanistan which I catalogued. At least his second-in-command Gary Berntsen was patriotic and brave enough to sue the CIA and go ahead with publishing his book complete with a mention of the Kunduz airlift. (The difference is probably that Berntsen began his career in the military, where loyalty to country is stressed, while Schroen had served his entire career in the CIA, where loyalty to the bureaucracy is stressed).

The significance of the airlift became clear when many of the escapees began to return to Afghanistan to fight or, at the very least, to work to further their cause from inside Pakistan. And many actually later became a direct problem for the Pakistani government as demonstrated by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters who started to take shots at Pakistani soldiers and locals who got in their way. (Amazingly this was the IMU’s second great escape by plane. The Russian military had flown them out of Tajikistan and into Afghanistan in return for promising never to come back.)

So a man that was likely on those flights, Mullah Dadullah, has ceased to be. But many others, including Tahir Yuldashev and many lesser-known names continue to operate against the Afghan government, NATO troops, and even the Pakistani government.

“When the Russians flew me and my guys safely out of Tajikistan there was no in-flight meal. And again it happens. These Pakistanis say the flight will be less than two hours and there is no in-flight meal, not even peanuts. Qornim Ochdi!”

So why did the American government agree to this? One explanation given is that they desperately needed Musharraf’s cooperation and his demand was that he gets his boys back. But his boys had stayed to fight and kill American and British troops knowing full well for over two months what Al Qaeda had perpetrated and yet they stayed. As Warlordish said “they call this pragmatism I guess.” I recognize the pragmatic aspect and I also recognize that for a government that wanted no more than a few thousand soldiers in Afghanistan temporarily, this may have made sense at the time. But I also believe this was cowardly and extremely negligent. The escapees have returned to kill NATO troops, Afghan soldiers and civilians, NGO workers and the occasional journalist. And all this to appease Musharraf, a man who, if not being a brazen liar, at a minimum has no ability to live up to his promises.

Photo: “Hey Hamid! That plane I just landed in flew Dadullah out of Kunduz back in 2001! It still smells like wet goat! Pretty funny, huh?”

I’ll quote the surprisingly competent and intelligent NBC journalist Michael Moran from 2001 to state what is obvious today:

“What kind of deal was struck between the United States and Pakistan to allow this? What safeguards did the United States demand to ensure the evacuated Pakistanis did not include men who will come back to haunt us? What was done with the civilian volunteers once they arrived home in Pakistan? Where they arrested? Debriefed? Taken to safe houses? Or a state banquet? [….] Are we allowing an army of anti-American zealots to live and fight another day for the sake of our convenient marriage with Pakistan’s current dictator?”

The prescience of Michael Moran was obviously not shared by the folks at the State Department, DoD, CIA, The White House or wherever it was that Musharraf’s demands were agreed to.

Further reading:
Also look for articles in the New York Times, The Times of London, and Barnett Rubin’s Foreign Affairs article.

Mullah Dadullah’s Death Is One Week Too Early

May 13, 2007.

So Mullah Dadullah is dead. NATO/USA/ANA/Afghan Police killed him. Apparently everybody gets credit for this one. But what really aggrieves me is the timing of his death in Helmand. It is one week too early. I’ll explain why below.

My problem is that I had prepared a blog entry that I was going to post this week about Mullah Dadullah. Basically, it said that unlike Mullah Omar and others in the top leadership echelon of what’s left of the Taliban, Dadullah is a true field commander. He prefers to be in the action, not staying back at Taliban HQ, which is usually some guy’s guest room. And as such, I expected him to die violently in Afghanistan, if not in battle, at least near the field of operations.

Cartoon by Matt Weems

You believe me, don’t you? I guess I’ve been punished for procrastination. I could have been that guy who predicted, quite accurately, the demise of the Taliban’s #1 field commander. Instead I’m the lying blogger who claims that he saw it coming.

Who’s the bigger loser in this? Me? Or Dadullah below?

Well, I’m still alive so I guess Dadullah is the bigger loser.

[Added later in the day:] OK, time to be serious. In my opinion Mullah Dadullah is not easily replaceable. The process by which Taliban commanders rose to the top goes back to campaigns by Jihadi groups like Haraqat and Hizb-i Islami (Khalis faction, not Hekmatyar) from which many Taliban commanders came from. Add to the Jihad years of the 1980s the years of Taliban campaigns to this experience and you have some very seasoned veterans who have proven themselves again and again in commander roles.

But for the last 5 and a half years the Taliban have been undergoing a process of organizational degradation and defections of their brighter fighters back to normal life. This is not a process by which you create effective leaders/field commanders. And below the remaining commanders are not exactly the type of men who can be relied upon to do much in the way of waging effective insurgency. I highly doubt there are many good leadership candidates ready to assume a role on par with Dadullah.

Faulty Intelligence and Civilian Casualties

May 12, 2007.

One reporter noted that one of the recent bouts of civilian casualties in Afghanistan might have been the result of deliberate misinformation by “tribal rivals.” Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I would hope that NATO/US troops are no longer falling for this BS. I’ve heard that they have become quite skeptical about local information and are especially wary of walk-in informers. I imagine that they just don’t have the time and resources to follow up on every report.

I would also hope the situation is not as bad as late 2001/early 2002 when on the say-so of some random guy the Americans wiped out a convoy of tribal leaders on the way to a (the?) Jirga. Turns out they were not Al-Qaeda. And once a Shura-yi Nazar commander tried to get the Americans to call in an air strike on…..Americans, plus a few of his regional rivals who were accompanying them. Apparently he insisted they were all Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

So allow me to translate the information provided by locals:

#1. “The village over there by the canal-diversion controls is all Taliban. I have seen them, they are all armed and ready to attack. I know this.”

Translation: “My village is not getting what we believe to be our irrigation quota so could you murder that entire village for us so we can have more water? Thanks.”

#2. “This man, Abdul Khan, he is a bomb-maker for Mullah Dadullah. This is a fact. His house is full of bomb-making equipment. Careful! He is dangerous.”

Translation: “About ten years ago Abdul Khan sold me a rooster and five hens. The rooster was not a real man and could not breed with the hens. And then he wouldn’t give me the money back. Not even a different rooster in place of the unmanly rooster. He knew the rooster was not a good stud and he sold it to me anyways. Could you raid his house, humiliate him, throw him in jail for a while, and maybe kill him? Thanks, that would be great.”

#3. “Ismael Khan is an Islamic fundamentalist who is loyal to the Iranian Ayatollahs. Be suspicious.”

Translation: “I have been a rival of Ismael Khan for a long time. But I know how paranoid you guys are of Iran so I hope you will marginalize Ismael Khan for me.”

#4. “One of the guards at the entrance to the base, Mirwais, he is an Al-Qaeda operative. He is collecting information on your military base.”

Translation: “I want Mirwais’ job. Can I have it now?”

#5. “There is a guy I work with named Rahman. He has been planting IEDs to kill NATO troops. Here is his address.”

Translation: “I was arranged to marry this girl, right? For like the last five years. And then her parents say that I smoke dope and I never have a steady job. And her parents then marry her off to Rahman. I can’t tell you how angry I am. Well, actually, I can. I am so angry that I would come in here and lie to you in the hopes that he will end up riddled with NATO bullet holes.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all Afghans have vendettas that they want settled by an American air strike. But some do. Could you imagine any country in the world under similar circumstances? If you could make a false accusation against someone you have hated for a long time, and that person would violently disappear, would you do it?

Russians falsely informed on allegedly counter-revolutionary neighbors who were then sent the gulags. At the end of WWII Europeans accused innocent people of being Nazi collaborators when they were actually just a political or business rival. And at the end of the American Civil War southerners manipulated the Union Army into settling local rivalries and vendettas. Why should Afghans be any different?

And why should the critical step between an informer and an air strike be the write-up of a 22 year-old American 96b or 97e? Maybe NATO troops could learn Pashto, study the cultural and social conditions of the local area and maybe receive the correct amount of resources and troop numbers so that they could conduct surveillance on the village that is allegedly full of Taliban before they bomb it.

Debbie Does Kabul

May 10, 2007.

You know the same old story: female American ex-prison guard/hair dresser escapes abusive traveling protestant minister husband by going to Afghanistan, opening a beauty academy and marrying a “warlord” affiliated to Rashid Dostum. There was a documentary made about the beauty academy and now the woman in question, Deborah Rodriguez, has written a book about her experience.

The book is apparently full of amusing or tragic anecdotes: Debbie punches out an Afghan man who gropes her in the bazaar (if you knew about Michigan girls you would not attempt to grope them), the Ministry of Women’s Affairs tries to close the school due to excessive laughter, Debbie’s husband sees her off to Afghanistan by expressing his wish that she die there, a Women’s Ministry representative flees in terror from her first encounter with a blow-dryer and her Afghan husband at one point tells her she can’t come into the living room because “there are warlords in here.”

Ms. Rodriguez-Abdul Khan

Having been twice married and abused by her last husband Debbie decides to marry a man identified as a former Mujahideen (sic) who serves as Dostum’s foreign relations adviser (though realistically he may not have been a Mujahid. I don’t know. And the position of adviser may be hollow). They marry 20 days after meeting each other despite not being able to converse. He is identified variably as “Sam,” “Sher,” “Samir Khan,” and “Samer Mohammad Abdul Khan.” Debbie says “he’s not a warlord, he just works for one.” And disappointingly, Sam has a wife and eight kids in Saudi Arabia. I know Muslims are permitted up to four wives, but you must be able to provide for all of them and treat them equally, and one of them can’t be a kafir from Michigan (Michiganistani?). Just ask Sam’s uncle. He is the current Minister of Religious Affairs and Hajj.

Pic: “My nephew did what!?”

So Debbie smokes, swears, wears a tight t-shirt, marries a “warlord” who is twelve years younger than she and punches Afghan men in the face (and is a home-wrecker). Can this be made into a movie? Yes it can. Columbia Pictures has bought the rights. Good, that means I don’t have to read the book.

PS: If you got the late 1970s American cultural reference in the title of this blog entry then shame on you. Shame on you. If not, and you are the adventurous type, then wikipedia “Debbie Does Dallas.”

Christina Lamb. “Reader, she married an Afghan warlord.” The Sunday Times (UK) January 28, 2007.

File Under: Afghanistan, Pegasus, France, Massoud, Nordic Angels, WTF?

May 8, 2007.

For your viewing bemusement via France, official home of the Ahmed Shah Massoud fan club:

I found this while searching for Massoud images to accompany the earlier blog entry about Massoud and iconography. I don’t know what I should think about this illustration, which is apparently from a book you can find for sale below. St. Ahmed, patron saint of French journalists indeed.

Copyright : Monique Decamps, SACD,
Ilustration Rudy Van Giffen.
Found at:

Afghanistan and the Qawm: An Important Yet Unknown Concept

May 7, 2007.

You must know this word: qawm (also transliterated as qaum or qowm). Apparently anthropologists are hoarding this word and not wanting to share it with others. But I’ll set it loose on the interweb so that the google may find it. But first…

If you believe what you read in the media and what you see and hear on television then the fault lines and loyalties in Afghanistan are obviously apparent: ethnic groups and Islamic sects. Maybe if the media is feeling smart they will discuss Pashtun tribal loyalties as well. However, I’ll deal here primarily with attacking the idea of ethnic loyalties being a strong determining factor for mobilization and social organization on the ground in Afghanistan.

Olivier Roy argues against assuming that all members of an ethnic group defined by its spoken language actually share a coherent identity with a “will to express themselves politically.” Many others agree that loyalties are strongest within local communities, not at a national or ethnic level. Roy concedes that ethnic identities are important but argues that “primordial” local identities take precedence (Roy 2002: 4). These local identities are usually called qawm:

A qawm is the term used to describe any segment of society bound by solidarity ties, whether it be an extended family, clan, occupational group or village. Qawm is based on kinship and patron-client relationships; before being an ethnic of tribal group, it is a solidarity group, which protects its members from the encroachments of the state and other qawm, but it is also the scene of internal competition between contenders for local supremacy (Pierre Centlivres, Olivier Roy, and Whitney Azoy quoted in Roy 1989: 71).

Nazif Shahrani describes the importance of qawm in the mobilization process:

Ethnicity and kinship, which are expressed linguistically through the same terms, qawm (people, tribe, group), wulus (nation, tribe, relatives), and tyfah (clan, tribe, group), represent the same or similar ideological frameworks in Afghanistan. Together with Islam, they provide the most fundamental bases for individuals and collective identities and loyalties, and they are the most persistent and pervasive potential bases for the organization of social formations, for the mobilization of social action, and for the regulation of social interaction among individuals and between social groups […]” (Shahrani 2002: p. 717).

Shahrani notes that local loyalties and responsibilities between leader and follower are not static but rather change according to such circumstances as “shifting boundaries” and factional struggles (Shahrani 1998: pp. 219-20. See also Dorronsoro 2005: p. 111).

Richard Tapper also cites the flexibility of the qawm:

According to context and situation, qawm may involve a varying number of individuals, close kinsmen, a village, an ethnic group, a religious sect or a linguistic group. It is therefore a highly ambiguous and flexible concept allowing for strategic manipulations of identity (Tapper 1988: p. 27).

Changes in economic conditions can also cause realignments in qawm structure. The change in Afghanistan towards a modern market economy has lessened the importance of genealogical relations and increased the significance of patron-client economic relations, encouraging new qawms to appear based on patronage networks (Rasuly-Paleczek: 2001: p. 152; Roy 1995: p. 108). Roy, Shahrani and Tapper all give definitions for qawm that demonstrate not only the importance of the qawm, but also its flexible nature. This clearly has significance when considering the possibility of strategic manipulation of identity, as well as the shifting of individual and group loyalties from one identity to another.

During the Soviet-Afghan conflict qawm affiliations became more relevant than in the preceding decades. For example, it became common for a qawm leader to make a deal with a government militia and bring all his followers (Sinno 2002: p. 169). This happened more among Uzbeks since the “centralized” and “undemocratic” nature of the Uzbek qawms ensured that members would willingly join and not dissent from their leader’s decision (Sinno: p. 187; Giustozzi 2002: p. 128). Similar recruitment tactics among Tajiks and Pashtuns failed since they would not follow their leaders into the government forces as readily as Uzbeks (Sinno 2002: p. 190). Although at the beginning of the war local commanders used their local qawm to mobilize, at a later point their power bases expanded geographically and gave political significance to larger identities (Dorronsoro 2005: pp. 20, 211. Dorronsoro gives the example of the Tajik Panjshiris). This process of consolidation encouraged many qawms to identify themselves as part of a larger macro-ethnic identity in order to associate with a stronger group and thus acquire political representation in national politics (Roy 1990: p. 224).

Afghans usually will identify themselves by their qawm. Roy states that when they identify themselves by the language they speak they do so “without any ethnic connotation” (Roy 1995: p. 24; Roy 2002: p. 4). Gilles Dorronsoro argues that macro-ethnic identity (Uzbek, Pashtun, etc.) is too encompassing to be used as a mobilizing framework, meaning that appeals by ethnic entrepreneurs to mobilize to protect one’s own ethnic group are likely to be ineffective (Dorronsoro 2005: pp. 108-9, 258). Robert Canfield claims that people are aware of their broader macro-ethnic identity but it is the kin networks and patron-client networks that are more important to the people and that form cleavages within and across the ethnic group identities (Canfield 1986: p. 76). Yet despite the limitations to ethno-political mobilization in Afghanistan, an Uzbek-dominated faction emerged as a result of the mobilization process as qawms and individuals attached themselves to larger, more powerful units. Roy and Dorronsoro concede this point 15 years apart (Roy 1990: p. 224; Dorronsoro 2005: pp. 20, 211. The emergence of a broad Uzbek identity is discussed by Gabriel Rasuly-Paleczek. Rasuly-Paleczek 2001: 151-2, 161, 174, 176). But that was during civil war and now what of the Uzbeks? They seem to be not operating as a coherent group with a single strategy. Same as the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, etc…

Conclusion: Afghanistan is not the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda in terms of ethnicity. The phrase “all politics are local” can be applied to Afghanistan with much accuracy. While the importance and awareness of ethnicity increased during the 1980s and 1990s, ethnicity never became the sole driving focus of people’s loyalties and social organization. These Afghanistanis are just so pragmatic.

PS: Yes. I occasionally try to pawn-off parts of my academic research in the form of blog entries.


Canfield, Robert L. (1986) ‘Ethnic, Regional, and Sectarian Alignments in Afghanistan’ in The State, Religion, and Ethnic Politics: Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Banuazizi and Weiner (Eds.) Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Dorronsoro, Gilles. (2005) Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present. New York: Columbia University Press.

Giustozzi, Antonio. (2002) ‘Afghanistan: The Problems of Creating a New Afghan army- and the critical dangers of failure!’, International Industrial Information (April 2002).

Rasuly-Paleczek, Gabriele. (2001) ‘The Struggle for the Afghan State: Centralization, Nationalism and their Discontents’, in Schendel and Zurcher (editors) Identity Politics in Central Asia and the Muslim World. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers.

——- (1998) ‘Ethnic Identity versus Nationalism: The Uzbeks of North-Eastern Afghanistan and the Afghan State’, in Atabaki and O’Kane (editors), Post-Soviet Central Asia. London: Tauris Academic Studies.

Roy, Olivier. (2002) ‘Afghanistan: Internal Politics and Socio-Economic Dynamics and Groupings’, WRITENET Paper, No. 14.

—— (1995) Afghanistan: From Holy War to Civil War. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press.

—— (1990) Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

—— (1989) ‘Afghanistan: Back to Tribalism or on to Lebanon?’ Third World Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 4. October 1989, pp. 70-82.

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

——- (1998) ‘The Future of the State and the Structure of Community Governance in Afghanistan’, in Maley (editor) Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban. New York: New York University Press.

Sinno, Abdulkader H. (2002) Organizing to Win in Afghanistan and Beyond: How Organizational Structure Affects the Outcome of Strategic Interaction in Politicized Group Conflicts. Ph.D. Dissertation in Political Science, September 2002, UCLA.

Tapper, Richard. (1988) ‘Ethnicity, Order, and Meaning in the Anthropology of Iran and Afghanistan’, in J.-P. Digard (Ed) Le Fait Ethnique en Iran et en Afghanistan. Paris: Editions du CNRS.

Note: If you read this far, from top to bottom, then you have won a free cookie. Congratulations. Redeemable wherever free cookies are being distributed by someone else.

Totally out of context quotes #9 and #10

May 6, 2007.

“What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

Context: Former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski speaking in the mid-1990s about American funding for the anti-Soviet Jihad and the rise of the Taliban. The quote is available all over the place with its date and context removed to make it seem as if Brzezinski is being quoted post 9-11. The earliest I can trace it back is to 1995 in Olivier Roy’s book Afghanistan: From Holy War to Civil War (Princeton University Press).

But this quote is post- 9-11:

“Had our leaders known that the cost of bringing down the Soviets would be over 3,000 dead Americans, the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, an attack on the Pentagon, simultaneous embassy bombings in Africa, the disabling of the USS Cole and radical cells sprinkled across the globe operating against the United States, it is almost certain that they still would have deemed the costs acceptable.”

Context: Council on Foreign Relations scholar Rachel Bronson testifying before The September 11 Commission in 2003..

Related to Brzezinski is this fascinating one minute video clip stolen from some documentary that I have seen several times.Some BitsNPieces for posting about this clip.

Rambo Will Not Be Returning To Afghanistan

May 5, 2007.

If you recall the 1980s at all you will remember the movie Rambo III. In the movie Rambo goes to Afghanistan and thrashes the Soviets. It’s really quite simple. Of course, the movie was a huge hit in The USA, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So when I saw about 5 years ago that Rambo was considering a return to Afghanistan to fight terrorists I was sort of excited. But then the producers decided that the war was over and there was no need to send in Rambo.

And now I see that Rambo has decided to harness the marketing power of Jesus. In the current Rambo movie, scheduled for release on May 2008, Rambo will be rescuing Christian human rights workers and their sympathetic ethnic Karen Christian friends from the evil Burmese (Myanmar) government.

Oh well, at least Afghanistan has an indigenous Rambo. His real named (almost never used) is Jamaludin. He is an unarmed security guard who gained fame for beating down a would-be car-bomber at the entrance to a NATO base.

Note the new American uniform and his official name tag.

The Five Iconographic Moods of Ahmed Shah Massoud

May 4, 2007.

Whitney Azoy, the anthropologist who wrote Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan, wrote a fascinating article on Ahmed Shah Massoud, iconography and ethnicity. The article, titled “Masood’s Parade”, discusses the omnipresent (in Kabul) visual representations of Massoud. Azoy identified five different categories of emotional imagery for Massoud. I’ve done my best to find images that I think match up with Azoy’s descriptions.

#1. “… grinning, easygoing…”

#2. “…calm, almost majestic…”

#3. “…at prayer…reverent and unguarded before God.”

#4. “…beyond normal consciousness, lost in thought, bearing a sorrow too great for other men.”

#5. “…expressionless, disciplined, relaxed, completely in command.”

Unfortunately, Azoy noted that the Rambo-esque Massoud action posters of the 1980s are sadly no longer available. But, inshallah, I will track one down on ebay or in the bazaar.

In a sidebar in his article Azoy disusses iconography and imagery in Islam, which leads to the interesting observation that Osama bin Laden is on posters across the Muslim world while Mullah Omar disdains photography. It seems that the Deobandi-offshoot Talib has out Wahhabi’d the Wahhabi in this regard.

Azoy’s other work:

Azoy, Whitney. 1982. Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press.

Retractions and Apologies

May 3, 2007.

I haven’t blogged about myself before and I promise not to do it again after this. But it appears I have caused some consternation for a certain number of graduate students at Indiana University’s renowned Department of Central Eurasian Studies. Also, the story is sort of funny in an inside joke sort of way (take this as a warning that you may want to skip this blog entry).

In this earlier blog entry I mocked a grad student at Indiana University who spelled “Afghanistan” wrong on his Master’s thesis paper title page. What an idiot! Anyways, some students at Indiana saw that blog entry and decided to indirectly attempt to remedy the situation. This is one of the emails that was forwarded to me by someone who thought it was all so funny. The redactions are mine, not the CIA’s.

So there is this blog online that covers issues on Afghanistan. Usually, it is pretty good. However, last week he posted a blog about how stupid IU studants are in CEUS [Indiana University’s Department of Central Eurasian Studies] and put up an example title page of an MA thesis that spelled Afghanistan as Aghananistan. It is [belonging to student X]. I can’t figure out how I can let him know without him finding out how I discovered it. You know how he asks questions. I am worried that it won’t get fixed before he sends it out to PhD programs. Is there any way you can mention this to him without him feeling humiliated?”

I took up the issue with the author of the thesis paper in question and the following observations were made:

#1. The spelling mistake that was mocked was fixed in the pdf download version.
#2. The download version is hosted by The Afghanistanica blogger contributes to that website. Maybe they know each other?
#3. The Afghanistanica blog hiatus that was announced coincided with the author of the thesis paper leaving Indiana University on an extended road trip.
#4. On the “about me” section of Afghanistanica there is a picture of the blogger which looks suspiciously like the author of the thesis.
#5. The Afghanistanica blogger self-identifies as “C,” the same first initial as the thesis author.
#6. Both the blogger and the thesis author are known to be from small mountain towns.
#7. Both the blogger and the thesis author offer copious amounts of unsolicited analyses on Afghanistan-related issues.

And finally….

#8. It is not possible to humiliate the author of the thesis paper.

Without further ado, and with no qualifications, I hereby unreservedly apologize to myself and I deeply regret any suffering I may have inflicted on said person.

Oh, and “students” was spelled wrong in the email. But we’ve come to expect that kind of illiteracy from the students at the Department of Central Eurasian Studies.

While I’m at it I would also like to issue blanket apologies to the following people: Mullah Dadullah, Senator Clinton, Zia ul-Haq, Mullah Rabbani, Ustad Rabbani, Muhammad Qasim Fahim, Abdul Malik Pahlavan, Rory Stewart, Ahmed Zia Massoud, Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, Gary Schroen, the day laborers at Kandahar Airfield, Minister of Energy Ismael Khan (I referred to you as the “Minister of Darkness” in a light-hearted manner. No malice was intended), and finally to Canada’s well-regarded Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Brigade. I thought at the time that calling you “Princess Penelope’s Light Lingerie Brigade” was funny. Obviously it was not. I apologise.

Female Soldiers of the Afghan National Army

May 2, 2007.

First a picture from the bloggers over at

Camo hijab

Her face is censored for her protection. Apparently she changes into her camo-hijab after arriving at the military base. I’ll bet $1000 she is a [name of ethnic group removed].

The only thing missing is a good pair of combat boots.

Stewart of Afghanistan versus Lawrence of Arabia

May 1, 2007.

Time magazine has published a nice tidy little article on Rory Stewart, who I wrote about in my second most popular blog entry ever. I was annoyed that he had claimed Afghans want the return of the Russians. I was further annoyed by his endorsement of disastrous development mega-projects that destroy local cultures and treat people like minor annoyances to be brushed aside for the sake of “progress.”

Thankfully, Rory Stewart has not been put in charge of any macro-development projects. Instead he founded the very worthy Turquoise Mountain NGO that focuses on training traditional artisans and craftsmen. In a reversal of the language he used in his questionable NY Times editorial, Rory Stewart had this to say about his NGO:

“This is a development project that says ‘we respect your traditional culture, and we are going to put our resources and our technology and our knowledge toward supporting it,’ as opposed to a development project which says ‘we don’t like your traditional culture and we want to change it.’ That’s not the way you are going to win Afghans over.”

What annoys me is not so much Rory Stewart, but the news media that has made Stewart their darling. If you want a good analysis of Afghanistan you should call Barnett Rubin, Carl Robichaud, Antonio Giustozzi, etc… But they don’t have a back-story as interesting as Stewart’s. And as this picture shows, what journalist wouldn’t recognize that he makes for an alluring story.

Photo: Rory Stewart is cuter than Barnett Rubin.
Rory Stewart

And yes, the Time magazine article did call him “Stewart of Afghanistan.”

PS: I still think Rory Stewart is a cool guy.