Hope the Americans enjoyed their Labor Day as much as I did–with family, friends, and a barbecue in the backyard. Posting has been spotty as I’ve been working on some projects behind the curtain, but I hope to bear the fruits of those labors soon.
Stories of interest:
Afghan soldiers and police will take the lead securing provincial elections later this month with international forces backing them up, according to the International Security Assistance Force.
“These elections are Afghan-led, Afghan-run and the Afghan National Security Forces have the lead in providing election security throughout the nation,” Air Force Capt. Will Powell, an ISAF public affairs officer, said in an e-mail this week.
Afghan National Police will be responsible for protecting voters at polling centers while the Afghan National Army secures nearby neighborhoods and roads, he said.
“It’s a critical step in the development of both the Afghan Security Forces, but also the country as a whole, for the people to see and develop trust and confidence in their own security agencies,” he said.
This is good news and good press, especially in light of the failed ANSF mission last month. Putting an Afghan face on Afghan security operations is exactly what ISAF has been working towards, and what ANSF are beginning to claim. Speaking of, this parliamentary election has the greatest number of women running for an elected position in the short history of Afghanistan’s democracy. To my utter lack of surprise, however, those female candidates and those that support them are finding their experience to be a very dangerous one. Women running for Afghanistan parliament now have tougher time:
But not since the five-year reign of the Taliban, which ended in 2001, have female candidates faced such intense political intimidation, the women say. Less than two weeks before the balloting, many are deeply frustrated by their inability to get out and connect with voters, particularly in rural areas.
Even in Kabul, the capital, where campaign posters showing women’s faces are tolerated, the electoral placards are sometimes defaced with marks and slashes. But in villages where the Taliban is active, campaign workers are often too frightened to put them up.
Female candidates and their supporters receive a stream of threatening phone calls. Large campaign rallies are almost unheard of, because voters and office-seekers alike fear suicide bombings. Terrified family members sometimes plead with would-be lawmakers to drop out of the race, and some have heeded the call.
The respect I have for those candidates–both male and female–who are pursuing this election at risk to themselves, their families, and their colleagues is unparalleled. Not to be too starry-eyed, but this is pioneerism in action. I hope election day comes quickly and with fewer casualties.
Also on the election, Scott Worden’s piece on Afghan election fraud provides some good context:
The main question, then, is not whether the parliamentary election will be clean, but what the consequences of another highly flawed election will be.
To assess the potential damage that significant irregularities in the parliamentary elections could cause, it is useful to consider the fraud that occurred in the provincial council vote in 2009. While the dispute over the presidential race dominated international headlines and absorbed most of the diplomatic energy devoted to rescuing the legitimacy of the process, the provincial council elections involved the same constituencies as this year’s elections and were equally if not more flawed. Both ballot stuffing and counterfeit tally sheets skewed the results in many of the provinces. But because the provincial councils, like the parliament, involve dozens of candidates running for multiple seats in the same constituency, the patterns of fraud are more difficult for outsiders to detect.
Voters and candidates within a province know, however, when a vote has been stolen when the list of winners is announced. Does one family or tribe dominate the list? Are certain ethnic groups left out? Did the winning margin for a controversial candidate come from only one polling center where there was violence on election day and no-one showed up to vote? This puts a premium on having a fair and transparent dispute resolution process that has both domestic and international support.
This election has the potential to right some wrongs (and should a strong parliament emerge, also act as a needed check on Karzai’s rather unilateral power–shall we take bets on parliament strength? No? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too) and do some image scrubbing internationally for the Afghan political process; but it also has the very real potential to go horribly, heinously wrong.
Finally, Sharifullah Sahak’s piece in the NYT At War blog, A Pashtun Writes, provides some heady insight into the Afghan electorate going into this month’s elections. He’s writing on the execution of the pregnant window by the Taliban early last month.
I felt anger that the authorities weren’t able to protect her. The Taliban have no right to judge her. The government should protect her, but cannot in such areas.
And I felt confused, as all Afghans do, at how many different laws our people have to live under – the laws of their tribe, or of the Taliban, or of the government. The laws should protect her, but we have so many different laws.
A lot of people probably read about that story and thought, No wonder, they’re just Afghans, or They’re just Pashtuns, what do you expect of such savages?
Well I’m an Afghan, and I am also a Pashtun, and I think what they did, whether it was in the name of religion or tribal custom or whatever, was wrong and horrible.
And I am neither the only Afghan who feels that way, nor the only Pashtun who finds the Taliban’s actions to be extreme. There are many savages in our country, it’s true, because war makes life safe for savages and unsafe for educated people.
It is very easy for those of us in the west to discuss and analyze the political implications of the upcoming elections–myself included–but I have found time and time again that the most pertinent voices are from Afghans themselves who have access to a public voice.
A little bit of late night blogging; somehow Friday just slipped away from me. Posting has been light as all my blog-related brain cells have been dumped at Attackerman; normal service should resume soon as the vestiges of moving office suites fall away.
Bits and bobs:
- Ink Spots on Stephen Biddle’s recent interview on Afghanistan.
- Adam Serwer, Sharia vs. the New Deal and One Final Point About Sharia-Compliant Finance.
- Ambassador Hill is bugging out of Iraq while the paint’s still drying. That’s going to go over real well.
- BBC Audio Slideshow covering midwife Sadiqa Husseini, a midwife in Bamyan, Afg. Several interesting stories out of the BBC Afghan desk recently; worth poking around there.
- Kenneth Payne, of Kings of War renown, writing at Current Intelligence on the British Army post-Afghanistan. Incisive.
- Steve Metz’s SSI op-ed, America’s Flawed Afghanistan Strategy (PDF), h/t SWJ.
- Erica Gaston, The problem of “population protection”, at the Af-Pak Channel.
I shall attempt substance soon. Promise.
The At War blog this week covered modern art in Afghanistan–not a topic you see that often. Of even more particular interest to me, all the artists are women. This summer saw a show at Kabul University featuring 18 female artists enrolled in the fine arts program there.
For one week in June two spacious auditoriums at Kabul University hosted a large exhibition on the themes of pollution and the environment.
The exhibition had two remarkable qualities: All 18 participating artists were women, and the genre was modern art, a rarity in Afghanistan. Even today Kabul and Herat are the only Afghan provinces — out of 34 — to have a faculty of fine arts in their universities.
“The curriculum at most of our arts institutions has not changed for years,” said Rahraw Omarzad, the director of the Center for Contemporary Arts — Afghanistan. “Such copying and copying only kills the creativity of our artists,” Mr. Omarzad said. “It gives them no opportunity, no room to develop a style of their own.”
The public, too, has always been skeptical of a formal arts education. “Families saw art only as vulgar song and dance and nothing more,” said Prof. Alam Farhad, the director of fine arts at Kabul University. “A fine arts degree did not lead to a job, or a prosperous life.”
I wish there were more images of the artwork–there’s just enough to tantalize, but not enough to really give an understanding of the themes and emotions of the work there.
This dichotomy–the work of these artists and the cover of Time last week–is hard to wrestle with. What art would be lost if the Taliban were in power? And what would happen to the women who created such art?
On another note, last week Gulliver asked What’s the magnitude of human tragedy required to justify a financially and strategically bankrupting enterprise? It’s a great–and massively challenging–question, one I’ve wrestled with for a long time. And continue to wrestle with–there’s no easy answer. But this NYT article makes some of my points for me, I guess. Afghan Women Fear Loss of Modest Gains:
As Afghan and Western governments explore reconciliation with the Taliban, women fear that the peace they long for may come at the price of rights that have improved since the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001.
“Women do not want war, but none of them want the Taliban of 1996 again; no one wants to be imprisoned in the yards of their houses,” said Rahima Zarifi, the Women’s Ministry representative from the northern Baghlan Province.
Interviews around the country with at least two dozen female members of Parliament, government officials, activists, teachers and young girls suggest a nuanced reality — fighting constricts women’s freedoms nearly as much as a Taliban government, and conservative traditions already limit women’s rights in many places.
Women, however, express a range of fears about a Taliban return, from political to domestic — that they will be shut out of negotiations about any deals with the insurgents and that the Taliban’s return would drive up bride prices, making it more profitable for a family to force girls into marriage earlier.
It’s not that I think that NATO/ISAF is responsible for insuring these freedoms and rights; at least no more than any human has an obligation to see that the rights of other humans are secure. But we’re already there. There’s already an obligation to Afghanistan for destroying the power structure of their country (though everyone would agree, except the Taliban, that such destruction was for the good), to at least insure that another power structure is built and is self-supporting. If we’re already there, and we have to stay for awhile anyway, why not strive to push the new power structure to acknowledge and support the rights of women?
I’m aware that this is by necessity an abstract thought–there’s a great deal of context that has to be overlaid over this whole thought exercise. Does this human tragedy lever NATO/ISAF into staying beyond a point when it should reasonably stop? No, I don’t think so. But we haven’t reached that point yet. And there’s still much to be done.
Without a doubt, the most entertaining thing on the internet right now is the #wookieeleaks (or #wookieleaks) hashtag on twitter. Marc Ambinder has collected some of the best here, but my favorites are the ones about the Death Star. There’s some seriously clever humour in there for those who, like me, dovetail as Star Wars nerds and national security geeks. Of which there are more than I ever thought existed.
Naheed Mustafa has another dispatch up at Registan that I’ve finally had a change to read, and like the rest of her series it balances being both moving and informative.
Everyone needs a myth; it’s the only way to sleep at night. But behind the myths in Afghanistan, the warriors from then and from now are just broken men, continuously looking for opportunities to perpetuate their own hype and stay relevant because without the fight, what are they? Behind the myth, ordinary people are profoundly weary and untrusting. They relive their worst moments nightly each time they close their eyes.
Mosharraf Zaidi’s piece last week on Hilary Clinton, Pakistan, and foreign aid that I found compelling. The comments section of his site is a little wily, but his work is always worth your time to read.
Perhaps now Pakistanis can better understand the frustration of the John Kerrys, the Hillary Clintons and the Richard Holbrookes of the earth. Top US policymakers have fought for over two years to win the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Since then, two things have kept that money from flowing into Pakistan. The first is Mr Holbrooke’s decision to dispense with the Clintonian (Bill, not Hill) model of US aid disbursement through large contracting firms that Americans often refer to as Beltway Bandits. That decision, while long overdue, was rushed and was made in the wrong country, at the wrong time. American development assistance, which is not routed solely through USAID, but often through half a dozen different US departments (or ministries), has been in desperate need of an overhaul for years. But to attempt to reform the instrument of aid delivery in Pakistan, at the climax of Obama’s war in Afghanistan, has been a disastrous decision. The American international aid community is so removed and so distant from the mainstream of western assistance thinking (spearheaded by the OECD and captured in the Paris Declaration) that it doesn’t quite know how to deal with large sums of money without the Beltway Bandits. This has meant that the Kerry-Lugar money has been parked in Washington DC, with a clear destination, but no vehicle to take it there.
Top pick of the week, though, goes to David Wood writing on women in Afghanistan (a recurring topic of mine and one of immense interest).
In Afghanistan, where women have traditionally been treated as shut-ins and worse, 29 Afghan women are taking a daring step: They are the first volunteers to undergo training to serve in the all-male Afghan national army.
Two American women, Rebekah Martinez and Jennifer Marcos, are among a cadre of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants spending six months away from their families to train the Afghan women here.
Meanwhile, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, reportedly has issued new orders for his Taliban fighters to begin again targeting women cooperating with Americans or helping their own government. Assassinations, suicide bombing and IED attacks may follow, on the women — and on their families.
One of the basic premises of my understanding of “reasons to stay in Afghanistan” ten years into this thing unequivocally has to do with women. Well, people in general, but women specifically. The quality of life for women in Afghanistan–not exactly of stellar height right now–plummeted under the Taliban and would do so, without a doubt, once again should ISAF retreat. Of the many obligations I believe the United States to possess towards Afghanistan, the quality of life of women there carries great weight for me.
A handful of links:
- Paul McCleary has a good article on the Afghan NCOP and police forces: “And generally speaking,” [Ward] added, “when they’re partnered, we see the right kinds of behavior.” But the question is: what happens when they’re not partnered? Good question.
- The NYT At War blog reviews reports on Afghan opinion polls. According to the findings, corruption remains the third-biggest concern to Afghans, following security and unemployment. One in seven adults experienced direct bribery in the past two years. The total of bribes paid by Afghans in 2009 added to roughly $1 billion, almost double the amount in 2007. The average bribe paid was $156. There are some nice charts, as well. How on earth does an average Afghan have $156 to burn on a bribe?
- The Big Picture covers Afghanistan, June 2010. Quite frankly the best photojournalism column around. This gets my pick, though there are some truly awe-striking photos in this collection. There are at least three or four of Afghan girls and women, as well.
- MikeF (hi Mike!) started a robust discussion of David Kilcullen’s Counterinsurgency at Small Wars Council worth your time; he very kindly posted links to Starbuck’s review and my own. Now that I’m a bit removed from my initial reactions to the book, I do think it has merit, certainly as an introduction to counterinsurgency as a practical concept and as a handy portable version of the doctrine, such as it is. I’m doing a re-read of “The Accidental Guerilla” at the moment, and I do think it’s interesting to see how Kilcullen’s ideas have shifted over time, as he’s gained more insight and experience. Still, as a whole book I do think it has some structural flaws. Well worth the $15 (₤10).
- And also, h/t Starbuck for Bing West’s review of Counterinsurgency at the National Interest. I particularly liked this line: Stack plays Thomas Hobbes to Kilcullen’s John Locke. Very well put.
- If you were as baffled by this whole Dave Weigel-getting-fired business as I was, check out this Diavlog with the man in question. (H/t Ackerman.)
- CHUP on the burqa ban and fear. Such policies and practices, regardless if it means banning the burqa or banning criticism of it, are ultimately unproductive because it further polarizes the debate rather than resolving any of its underlying issues. Good discussion in the comments.
- As you all surely know, Mattis is for CENTCOM which is an excellent power shuffle around the board. One might think his pass over for Commandant was orchestrated to get him into CENTCOM, if one was a particularly twitchy conspiracy theorist. Which I am not. For more on Mattis, AFJ has excerpts from Tom Ricks’ “Fiasco” available for ungated reading.
- Paul Staniland recently did a guest post series at the Monkey Cage on how counterinsurgencies end. I wish they were all linked together, but if you have the time its worth poking around for them all.
- Embedistan, also on the At War blog.
I wanted to highlight two paragraphs from Rajiv Srinivasan’s blog that I found especially moving. Rajiv is a very talented writer, and manages to make sentiment both interesting and engaging on a regular basis–no small feat. There’s not a whole lot that will get me to wax poetical–the list pretty much starts with Star Trek, detours around Lucero, and ends somewhere around the perfect marinara sauce–but my dad is one of them. As Father’s Day in the US fast approaches, Rajiv’s connection between his own father and the Taliban he encounters resonates.
Fatherhood is something I think most men take for granted. Society tells us to be headstrong, unemotional leaders. But the best fathers, like my own, have security in their paternal instincts and indulge in the emotional pull of their children. Dad may not always say it, but he shows it: he loves me more than anything in the world, and it really does keep me in line. It makes me want to be a better man: for him, for our family, for our community. There was no way for any such juvenile gang to lure me into a world of violence and dishonor. I could never be a Talib.
In Arabic, the word “Taliban” literally translates as “students”. But it is further derived from the Arabic root “Ta-La-Ba” meaning “to search”. This interpretation is far more descriptive of what these adolescent warriors are. They truly are Lost Boys in search of a purpose for their static lives. They are lost on their life paths, and not necessarily of their own fault. Even as the recipient of the lethal fire induced by such disillusion, I can accept that, had I not a strong father to show me the way…I could have been a lot like Mohammed. Any of us could.
Well put. Read the whole post.
The main obstacle to solidly establishing women’s rights in Afghanistan, Ms. Jalal opined, is the old guard’s economic and political clout. For warlords, she said, “political power has become a business.”
Women have “knowledge, experience and political consciousness … but they cannot compete within this power circle because they don’t have enormous economic power in their hands.”
They have barely any economic power. But even small steps, like microloans from organizations like Kiva won’t make a difference if Afghan women aren’t made aware of them, or other opportunities.
You know I dig the Female Engangement Teams. I think it’s a long overdue program that connects with half a population otherwise hidden away. Elisabeth Bumiller, who has covered FETs before, profiles two Marines emplacing the program currently in Afghanistan:
Two young female Marines trudged along with an infantry patrol in the 102-degree heat, soaked through their camouflage uniforms under 60 pounds of gear. But only when they reached this speck of a village in the Taliban heartland on a recent afternoon did their hard work begin.
For two hours inside a mud-walled compound, the Marines, Cpl. Diana Amaya, 23, and Cpl. Lisa Gardner, 28, set aside their rifles and body armor and tried to connect with four nervous Afghan women wearing veils. Over multiple cups of tea, the Americans made small talk through a military interpreter or in their own beginner’s Pashtu. Then they encouraged the Afghans, who by now had shyly uncovered their faces, to sew handicrafts that could be sold at a local bazaar.
“We just need a couple of strong women,” Corporal Amaya said, in hopes of enlisting them to bring a measure of local commerce to the perilous world outside their door.
The first link describes the goal of FETs as one to “build a rapport,” and it sounds like that’s exactly what Amaya and Gardner are doing. From further on:
Since then, Sergeant Latimer said, Afghans have been more receptive when his patrols included the female Marines, who hand out stuffed animals to village children. When male Marines try that, he said, “It’s just a bunch of guys with rockets and machine guns trying to hand out a bear to a kid, and he starts to cry.”
But what do all the visits and talk add up to? Master Sgt. Julia Watson, who helped create an earlier version of the female engagement teams in Iraq and has been working in Helmand, said that the women had to move beyond handing out teddy bears and medicine and use what they learn from Afghan women to develop plans for income-generating projects, schools and clinics. “You have to have an end state,” she said.
And that end-state must be one of economics. Women in third-world nation-states are the untapped resource.
Research has shown that women are more likely to reinvest profits back into human capital than are men. When women have economic power – defined as control of income and capital (land, livestock, etc.)-they gain more equality and control over their own lives, while contributing directly to their children’s development (nutrition, health and education) and thereby indirectly to their nation’s income growth.
Pulled from here. By blocking access to economic systems, to retain power or to continue cultural traditions or to adhere to religious doctrine, a nation effectively retards its own economic growth.
In a fit of disheartening irony, Bumiller reports as well on the (male) marine’s reluctance to take FETs out into the field.
The women, who carry the same weapons and receive the same combat training as the men, cannot leave the bases unless the men escort them. Lt. Natalie Kronschnabel, one of the team leaders, said she had to push a Marine captain to let her team go on a five-hour patrol.
“It wasn’t that hard, it was only four or five clicks,” said Lieutenant Kronschnabel, 26, using slang for kilometers. “And they kept asking, ‘Are you doing O.K.? Are you breathing hard?’ ”
Like the other women, Lieutenant Kronschnabel, a high school athlete in soccer, softball and gymnastics, had to meet rigorous physical requirements in the Marines. When she got back that day, she said the captain told her, “ ‘O.K., we’ll start getting your girls scheduled for more patrols.’ ”
Despite those hurdles, soldiers are still going through the FET program–including soldiers from NATO allies. Via Helmand Blog:
Two British female soldiers in Helmand have completed the United States Marine Corps’ Female Engagement Team Course in Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.
Army administrator, Lance Corporal Jennifer Garraway (22), from Peasedown St John in Somerset and Army medic, Lance Corporal Nicola Murray (27), from Stretford, Manchester, both serving with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland in Helmand Province, have become the first British soldiers to have attended the 9-day Female Engagement Team (FET) Course which was held at the United States Marine Corps (USMC) base, Camp Leatherneck near Camp Bastion.
…Both soldiers will now form a FET within a newly formed infantry rifle company from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, in a ground holding role in Combined Force Nad-e Ali in Helmand over the next four months.
Here’s to another month of growth for the program, and continued outreach to women in Afghanistan.
That’s what I’m calling my life right now. I seriously do not understand where all the time goes, except being vaguely aware that it is going really, really fast.
In light of that, posting has and may continue to be less frequent; I’m not real keen on that, but such is things.
Over the weekend, I watched a couple programs worth mentioning here. The first, which I brought up on my twitter account on Saturday, was BBC2’s “The Legacy of Lawrence of Arabia.” I’d gotten it mostly to refresh my memory about T.E. Lawrence alongside a reading of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and was surprised–but only for a moment–to realize that it was hosted by Rory Stewart.
The two-part special is framed as a walk through Lawrence’s life (with fair attention paid to details of historical accuracy over common misconceptions from the 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, drawing parallels of his post-WWI through to post-WWII actions in Arabian lands to entrance of the US and Britain into Iraq (and Afghanistan, which didn’t really do him any favors in his comparison). The thesis of Stewart’s program is essentially that Lawrence himself became disillusioned with Western involvement in the Middle East after the revelation of Sykes–Picot. Lawrence had effectively promised Faisal bin al-Hussein (or Faisal I) an independent pan-Arab state, which Lawrence’s leaders did not deliver. Stewart suggests throughout that the long memory of the people of the Middle East has contributed to the mistrust, unrest, and insurgency in Iraq and other parts of the Arab world of Western nations, which doesn’t seem wrong, exactly, but certainly seems to be a broad claim.
Futhermore, Stewart takes the position that, as Lawrence came to protest European colonization and continued administration of lands in the Middle East, so too should we see parallels in Iraq (and Afghanistan). It’s well understood that Stewart thinks we should scale back our presence and influence in Afghanistan and by extension Iraq (though given the pull-out dates for troops in Iraq it may be less contentious now), and Lawrence is used by Stewart as a vehicle to enhance that argument. “If Lawrence of Arabia did not believe this could be done,” he seems to ask, “what hubris makes us think we can?”
I note above the broad claim, and having finished two hours of this program I concluded that his thought was not merely broad but sweeping. Set against a meandering sort of walk across some truly staggering landscapes–with which Stewart is quite familiar–we, the viewer, are invited to consider the implacability of the peoples by whom we are viewed only as occupiers. Since 1916 Europe (and now the United States) has been viewed as a betrayer of promises, and such are the people we must pacify.
Even acknowledging the troubling impetus for invading Iraq, Stewart’s thesis in this piece takes a deeply narrow gaze and interprets Lawrence’s words as if they are allegorical to the contemporary wars. I do not believe there is any part of the wars of the United States and Britain over the last ten years that is narrow, and they are hardly allegorical.
In Stewart’s piece last year criticizing Obama’s then-sketchy plans for what to Do About Afghanistan, he writes in the London Review of Books of another Lawrence, Sir John the viceroy of India, saying of the British Empire and Russia during the Great Game:
But he undermines the fantasy of an Afghan threat as much through the rhythm of his prose as through his arguments. His synecdoche, ‘the Oxus and the Indus’, emphasizes to a domestic policymaker the unknown and alien nature of the landscape; the archaism ‘wend’ illustrates the circuitous routes; his repetitions enact the repetitive and tiresome journey. He highlights the political and religious energies of the resistance (placing them ‘every mile’) and suggests internal divisions without asserting them (by describing Afghanistan not as a single state but as ‘countries’). His concessive subjunctive ‘let them’ reflects his attitude of uncertainty about the future. It is not an assessment of the likelihood of a Russian march but an enactment of its potential and it reduces the army by the end of the sentence to a decrepit band on the edge of the Indus, which it would be difficult to perceive as a threat.
But there is no “let them” here. There is only “we have,” and if we cannot rewrite the past we also cannot abandon that which we have started–particularly as Afghanistan (if not, exactly, Iraq and its copious oil) is not an exercise in colonialism but one in addressing a long-neglected mess.
Tomorrow, “The Fog of War,” or the curious history of Robert McNamara.