Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'I Told You So'? Yes You Did Indeed.

'I told you so' is an unbecoming political posture, but NDP leader Jack Layton could certainly be forgiven such thoughts when the subject turns to negotiating with the Taliban.

That pretty well sums up the hubris of the troops-out and peace-talks lobby: Claim credit for what only the most casual or reactionary observers would think wise, but when the grisly consequences of such counsel become horribly apparent, try not to get noticed, or find someone else to blame. Do you expect all those sanctimonious know-it-alls to step up to admit their folly now that the knives are coming out?

'I told you so' is indeed an unbecoming posture, but Fawzia Koofi, Abdullah Abdullah, Berhanuddin Rabbani, Amrullah Saleh and a constellation of Afgan reformists, human rights activists, parliamentarians and women's rights leaders would be perfectly justified in saying exactly that to all the appeasement-fetishists who have so successfully insinuated their idiocy into establishment thinking in the NATO capitals.

It's not like we weren't warned. Here's Rabbani, 16 months ago: "Bringing back the Taliban by some kind of reconciliation is not to bring about security. This is to play a card against others. . . It is not playing a national card. It is bringing an ethnic card into play in Afghanistan. The result of that would be to threaten to deprive other ethnic communities of their political rights, their social rights and the other rights they have in the country.”

Even before that, representatives from more than 200 Afghan women's rights and civil society organizations gathered at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and hammered out an eight-point consensus statement. It begins: "Based on the persistent violation of the rights of women and men by the Taliban, whether when in power or after, objections were clearly and strongly expressed by all parties participating in this meeting regarding any negotiation with the Taliban."

Today, the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul was still on fire from last night's Taliban suicide-bomb attack. That is the "peace" that will result from all this. Today, Maria Abi-Habib reports on a pan-ethnic alliance of democrats, reformers and hard boys that has been re-arming and re-assembling, although almost entirely unnoticed by the West's "war-weary" mainstream press: "We want to inform the international community and Karzai that we don't agree with the direction the country is moving in," said Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq. "Political leaders from all ethnicities are being left out of government. Look at how he is trying to end parliament because it's not allied to him."

Our own Grant Kippen, former chair of Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission, points out what all the smart set in the appeasement camp would rather you not notice: The Karzai administration is trampling on the Afghan constitution and lynching Afghan democracy, while the NATO countries simply sit back and watch. To bring this to the attention of Canadians, the indispensible Maclean's blogger Andrew Potter had to put it up as a blog post after it appeared originally in the Afghan newspaper Hast-e Sobh, in Dari. The main thing: "Building credible, legitimate and inclusive democratic institutions and processes is the only way forward for Afghanistan as a young, emerging and vibrant democracy."

Did you get that? It's the only way forward.

Last week, more than 100 Afghan legislators announced the formation of “The Coalition for Support of the Rule of Law” and vowed to prevent “powerful individuals from usurping the rights of others.” The Afghan Parliament has appealed to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene. Karzai has warned the international community to stay away. As of this writing, it would appear that the "international community" is doing just that, and falling all over itself to offer the Taliban a surrender, negotiated or otherwise, in the bargain.

Last year, I asked Abdullah Abdullah, who leads what is still the broadest democratic alliance in Afghanistan, about the implications of the peace-talks sellout and the abandonment of Afghan democracy. Here's what he said about Afghan democracy: "We cannot survive without it. If we don’t have the least political assurances, the safeguards, then what is the choice for me, for example, as a person? Forget about elections candidates and so on. How can I fight for my rights? Which way? The Taliban way? Violence is the only option left if you don’t have other options.”

Where is this headed? Amrullah Saleh, the brilliant and fervently anti-Taliban intelligence chief who Karzai ousted from his post as director of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security last year - and who has yet to be proved wrong in any of his prognoses about what ails Afghanistan - put it this way: "First, a massacre campaign will start. The human cost in this country will easily be up to two million people killed, at least. It will not be big news for Afghanistan. We are used to tragedies, throughout our history. But the cost for you will be bigger."

Should that happen - and if the unfolding of Afghan history is allowed to proceed on its current course, it most assuredly will - can we expect the peace-talks lobbyists to step up and accept the blame for the very approach for which they have been telling us we owe them credit? Somehow I doubt it, and telling them all 'I told you so' would be a bitter vindication indeed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Americans: "Congenitally Unreliable" Allies?

The significance of Obama's surrender speech is starting to sink in. Brett Stephens notices: It emboldens the Taliban. It increases the risk to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It strengthens already potent anti-American forces in Pakistan and weakens the hand of moderates. It strengthens the hand of Iran. It further weakens NATO. It gives Hamid Karzai opportunity and motive to reinvent himself as an anti-American leader. It accelerates Afghanistan's barely suppressed, and invariably violent, centrifugal forces. "Finally, it signals that the United States, like Britain before it, is a waning power."

Let them eat sand: The U.N. World Food Program announced Monday it will cut food assistance to more than 3 million Afghans in about half the country's 34 provinces because of a shortage of money from donor nations.

Peter Feaver: "The 'war of necessity, war of choice' storyline is dead, but it will be revived again and again because the framework, while a poor guide to strategy, is a useful rhetorical device. It neatly simplifies tough national security decisions into bumper-sticker labels. It allows a politician (or pundit) to praise wars he supports and criticize wars he does not support and make it sound like he is doing so for strategic reasons that go beyond 'this is a war I support and that is a war I do not support.' In the meantime, however, the Obama team is not likely to talk about Afghanistan as a war of necessity. If the last three years are any guide, they might not talk much about Afghanistan at all."

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Obama Doctrine: Retreat, Surrender, Pretend, Lose, Run Away, Hide.

The Obama White House has happily adopted the Tea Party's foreign policy, and there is no internationalist or progressive element remaining in the Democratic Party to stop it from happening. By the time Obama was elected, there was no American Left worthy of the name. It was all Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, and Noam Chomsky. In the Republican Party, it was all Ron Paul, Donald Rumsfeld and Michelle Bachmann.

America the wizened, the shrivelled, the broke, the debtor, the once-important power that is now a country that lies somewhere north of Brazil. . .when the USSR collapsed, nobody in the western foreign policy establishment saw it coming. America's collapse is even now barely being noticed, but by friend and enemy alike. Global politics, like all kinds of politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

Niall Ferguson notices the American Freudian slip of the week. It came from Republican fontrunner Mitt Romney: “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they’re able to defend themselves. Excuse me, the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban.”

Dexter Filkins: "But what of the thirty million other Afghans? The premise that anchored counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan—and in Iraq—was never explicitly humanitarian. The idea was that America could succeed only by helping these countries find a way to stand on their own. Otherwise, the places would collapse, and we’d have to go back. In Iraq, after many years of bloodshed, the Americans seem to have found a formula for maintaining rudimentary stability. In Afghanistan, after years of mismanagement and neglect, we manifestly have not. The country remains riddled with violence, and negotiations with the Taliban—a last-resort option—have led nowhere. It is not hard to imagine a repeat of the Afghan civil war, which engulfed the country after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, and which ultimately gave rise to the Taliban. Bloodied but unbroken, the Taliban hardly seem like an army preparing to beg for peace."

In the crudest analysis, the American people are being played for suckers in a contest between the United States and the most sinister elements within Pakistan's military-industrial complex - those soft-palmed, duplicitous, rosy-cheeked Punjabi colonels who have grown rich and fat on American subsidies. In that contest, the Pakistanis are trouncing the Yanks and kicking sand in their faces and laughing about it. Just ask Zalmay Khalilzad: "Our inability to deal effectively with Pakistan is one of the key factors in the crisis of confidence between the United States and the Karzai government. Karzai wants either more pressure—including attacks on Taliban, Haqqani network and other extremist targets across the border into Pakistan—or a negotiated settlement with Islamabad. He does not want to continue the fight against Pakistani proxy forces in Afghanistan and has grown disillusioned with the U.S. approach. As the Obama administration has been considering a drawdown in recent weeks, Pakistan has been actively encouraging Karzai to turn against the United States."

Fortini Christia's letter from Kabul: "Many Afghans understandably fear for their lives. During a large international development agency’s recent meeting in Kabul, an Afghan employee asked 'What is the plan for evacuating local staff when the United States withdraws?' Amid charts illustrating dwindling aid deliveries, she foresaw Kabul becoming another Saigon. An Afghan colleague of mine, who has worked for years on development projects with foreigners comes to work every day in his shalwar kameez (the baggy pants and long shirt that many South Asians wear) and changes into Western attire at the office. He drives a beat-up car and routinely moves his family to different rental apartments in Kabul. 'If the Taliban comes back, and people know I worked for foreigners, I will be found hanging from a lamppost,' he said."

Robert Fisk, at a laughably-titled 'anti-terrorism' conference in Tehran, chats up Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who tells him: "In the trilateral talks between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, we discussed many things and issues that may come up after the Nato military force goes out of Afghanistan. I think there was a good convergence of views among the leaders of the three countries ... In a nutshell, I'm very optimistic about the future of the region – unlike what some others would like to preach. The nations of these three are going home determined to take in hand their governance and exercise their independence to do the best in economic, political and cultural cooperation."

Also at that conference, Jay Solomon reports: "Iranian, Cuban and Palestinian representatives—mixing with North Korean, Zimbabwean and Myanmar diplomats—branded Israel the world's largest terrorism threat."

Do you really mean to tell me you didn't see this coming?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Memo To Moneygall: He's The King Of Amerikay, He's Black, He's Irish. . . He's Old News.

Doyle McManus: "Moneygall is the village to which Obama aides managed to trace the president's Irish ancestry, and Ollie's is the pub the president visited a month ago to meet his eighth cousins and embrace his Celtic heritage. That connection has produced a modest flow of tourists seeking out the spot where Obama found his Hibernian roots. 'We've had people coming at all hours,' the barman told me last week. But they've been mostly Irish tourists, not Americans. 'You're used to him, perhaps,' he said. 'We're not.'

"Europe is still in love with Barack Obama. It's not only the Irish, who are always ready to be wooed by any American president with a connection to their island. Even the more reserved British seemed ecstatic when Obama visited London last month, swarming into the streets to watch his motorcade pass.

". . .The problem for Obama, of course, is that none of that matters where it counts: with the American electorate that will decide on his reelection next year. Americans don't much care that our president is more charismatic than the German chancellor, or that our economy is marginally less shaky than Europe's.

"In a sense, Obama is a victim of his own success as a path breaker. His biography still wows them in London, but we're no longer enthralled by it here. The story of the skinny young politician with a funny name, half-Kansan and half-Kenyan, is old news. . ."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Letter To The Vancouver Rioters From A Worker (A Cop).

"You owe Vancouver and the surrounding population more than mere words. Don’t you dare ask for our forgiveness without taking responsibility. You can’t fix life altering injuries with an 'I’m Sorry'. You can’t repay someone’s car loan with a YouTube video. You ask that people leave you and your family alone but you offer no way to replace priceless losses.

"You’ll sleep soundly in your bed tonight because men and women like me will always be there to deal with your poor choices. You have no idea how fortunate you are, even after we arrest and charge you. Even though you disgust me, if you call for me in the middle of the night I’ll respond. I’ll protect your life and property because it’s right and it’s what I do. . ."


You could fill a library with the punditry the Vancouver riot engendered. Nothing I have read comes close to the lucidity of that letter. Hope lies with the proles, and the next time gangs of spoiled-brat blackshirts show up in Vancouver to go all cathartic with their daddy issues and oppression-envy, I want that cop in charge.

Friday, June 24, 2011

O'er and done wi'.

Martin Kettle: "The question facing Europeans is therefore this. Not to forge an ever closer union in which, for all the EU's successes, the word forge seems unhappily to be increasingly appropriate. But how to manage the now foreseeable breakup of the EU in a responsible and restrained way, preserving and strengthening such forms of co-operation as we can. The goal would be to minimise the dangers of war between states, ethnic conflict within them, and immiseration of the most defenceless: all more real dangers in the next generation than the last. But that, ironically, was why the EU was created in the first place."

Alan Johnson looks forward: It’s time for a bit more self-confidence. Far from being reactionary, a national-popular public philosophy could re-frame counter-radicalization efforts as the natural expression of long-standing ethical discourses of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In Britain, for example, we should talk much more about our shared commitments to “moderation” (and the Koranic notion of “middle community”), and to “the common good” (and the Koranic notion of “co-operating towards goodness”). And about our love of ordered liberty (and the Koranic notion of “Sakinah”).

Marc A. Thiessen looks at Afghanistan: "Drawing down these forces will have little political impact here at home – but it could have a devastating military impact on the ground in Afghanistan. It will make it harder to hold the territory we have taken at great cost from the Taliban. It will embolden our enemies by sending the signal that we care more about leaving than winning. It will dispirit the Afghan people and make them less likely to risk their lives helping us against the Taliban — because they see that we are leaving and the Taliban is staying. It will undermine our coalition, giving a green light for our NATO allies to pull their forces out prematurely as well."

Nader Nadery, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, on Karzai's dramatic shift to the Islamist far-right: "I think the reality of their complete withdrawal has struck home. Now he sees they may go and they don't want a (military) presence here, there were no bases that they requested and perhaps now he is thinking, `Who will protect me?' And he has turned to Hizb-i-Islami and conservative elements in the country like those on the Ulema Council, former warlords, as well as getting closer to Pakistan and to Iran."

Matthew Fisher: "Signs that the Afghan war has been won in Kandahar today are everywhere, from old Taliban haunts in the Horn of Panjwaii to the booming provincial capital. The only thing the insurgents have been able to do lately is launch a few unsuccessful attacks on relatively soft targets and assassinate or randomly blow up government workers or civilians. Most schools in Kandahar are now open. Most roads are free of improvised explosive devices. Precious water has been sluicing through a network of canals repaired by the Canadian International Development Agency. Even the number of women surviving childbirth is up.

The Living Dead: "The Afghan war is a bust."

A letter from Afghanistan that Obama should have read: "We greatly appreciate the significant contributions your nation has made in assisting Afghanistan during our times of need. . . We look forward to a responsible transition from NATO to Afghan security forces when security gains are sustainable, and with gratitude we continue to support the necessary presence of American forces to provide security and defend liberty."

Nobody even cares anymore: "Syrian security forces kill 15 protestors, activists say."

You don't hear a thing. Now history unfolds before you, You just shut your eyes, You just shut your eyes, It's not happening.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dear Mr. President: We've Heard You. Shall We Reciprocate?

From the text of Barack Obama's speech: "America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. Our position on these talks is clear: They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al-Qaida, abandon violence and abide by the Afghan Constitution."

Absolutely nothing has changed in the American position except that Donald Rumsffeld's dream has come true and President Obama has demonstrated once and for all that he has absolutely no interest in or commitment to the Afghan people or their struggle for democracy. The word democracy doesn't even appear in Obama's remarks about Afghanistan.

About the Arab Spring, his claim that America will support the revolutions with fidelity to American ideals rings deafeningly hollow. That is to put it charitably. Obama referred to the power of American example and America's "unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity." All human beings except Arabs and Afghans? Here's Obama's America leading by example: The White House calls Syria's mass-murdering dictator a "reformer." Example: Obama's administration was dragged whining and mewling into the Libyan intervention. Example: In Bahrain, the Shia are mercilessly persecuted and democratic dissidents are thrown in jail while the U.S. Fifth Fleet is anchored peacefully in the harbour. And on and on.

To be even-handed, it is more than fair to say that Americans are deeply divided and "war-weary" about all this. As Obama mentioned, it's been ten long and difficult years. So how about: "Afghanistan will join initiatives that reconcile the American people, including al Qaida." I mean, really. September 11 was a decade ago. Isn't it time to just get over it, America? If al-Qaida agrees to break with the Taliban and promises to be good, then Americans should just let bygones be bygones, no? The talks should be led by the American government, of course.

As good as any way of understanding what's happening here: Barack Obama is the most reactionary president since Richard Nixon.

Friday, June 17, 2011

All You Really Need To Know About The Afghan Struggle.

“On this side we believe in human rights, women’s rights, freedom, justice, democracy. From that side, they are fundamentally against these values. They believe in an Islamic system, which doesn’t actually have anything to do with the teachings of Islam. If we reconcile, one side has to sacrifice its values, either this side or their side."

Once again, Michael Petrou of Macleans magazine absolutely nails it. Almost the entire mass media complex of the NATO countries, possessed of a monomaniacal preoccupation with exit strategies, has failed to grasp, let alone report, what is happening, politically, in Afghanistan. The big story has been this one, for at least two years now. Petrou chases it down and nails it. Read it. The rest is noise.

The quote is from Faheem Dashty, a friend, and one of the bravest journalists I've ever met. For all it's complexities, the objective conditions really are as straightforward as he says: One side believes in human rights, women’s rights, freedom, justice, democracy. The other side is "fundamentally against these values."

Sometimes, you just have to choose sides. Decide. Act accordingly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“It has to be brought down to small victories.”

The indispensable Michael Petrou, in Macleans magazine, on the Canadian Forces' legacy in Kandahar:

. . .Maj. Jean-Christian Marquis, who currently commands Crazy Company of the Van Doos’ battle group, says he didn’t have CIMIC at his disposal as an infantry commander during his last tour, in 2007. “It didn’t make sense. Everyone was hiding, and the only people we’d meet were insurgents.” Marquis now works out of Patrol Base Folad, near the Afghan village of Salavat. He says when he arrived in November, residents would throw rocks at his soldiers. The Taliban had murdered the village leader, or malik, three years earlier. Then his son, Musa Khalim, only 24 years old, returned to the village from Kandahar city and declared himself malik. He also said he would work with the Canadians.

“I promised myself I would make my village better,” Khalim says during an interview that takes place when a Canadian patrol stops to visit him at an Afghan police outpost near Salavat. “I talked to my family. I told them if I die on this job, one of my brothers should take over. The Canadians have a good attitude and they provide support projects for the people. I have been threatened so many times by the Taliban. I don’t care. I want to improve my village.” Khalim says about 10 per cent of the people in Salavat support the Taliban, some because they want to, and some because they are afraid to do otherwise.

In April, the Canadians opened a school in the village. It’s located in a compound that used to be a base for the Afghan National Army. The soldiers there agreed to leave after the Canadians built them an entire new camp elsewhere. The school’s principal is 22 years old. Instructors, teenagers themselves, come in from Kandahar city every morning to teach math, Pashtun culture, Islam, reading and writing. The Afghan Ministry of Education pays their salaries. The battle group’s CIMIC team funded jobs to repair the compound buildings. No students arrived the first day it opened. The next morning there were about 20. Now more than 200 regularly attend.

Today there are at least eight schools open in Panjwaii district. Last August, there was one. There are more than 30 schools open in neighbouring Dand district. Less than a year ago there were 15. . .

. . . that's proper journalism. Excellent work. Full points to Petrou for taking the time to actually discover and report facts, and then tell a good story, which is what proper journalism is all about.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Point Of The Peace-Talks & Troops Out Lobby: Make It All Pointless.

I. Afghan National Army commander Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Habibi: “It is a matter of fact that the Canadians sacrificed a lot here. I remember there were 400 or 500 Taliban in the area when the Canadians came to Kandahar in 2006. They are the ones who stood with us and fought not only in Panjwaii but across the province. The enemy is on its knees here now. The truth of it is that it is because of the hard work of the Canadians.”

II. Many Afghans are aware of war-weariness among the Western allies, and are acutely worried that a push to wind down the conflict will work to the Taliban's advantage. A U.S. military drawdown is to begin in July, the Canadians are wrapping up their combat mission, and other members of the coalition have expressed growing qualms about the Afghan mission, particularly in the wake of Bin Laden's death.

"If the foreign forces leave the country without bringing about a positive change in the security situation, two outcomes can be predicted," said Ahmad Shah Behzad, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat. "First civil war and regional instability, and secondly the rule of the Taliban."

III. The United States and NATO, which have been fighting Taliban insurgents for 10 years in an increasingly unpopular war, have repeatedly stressed that any peace talks must abide by Afghanistan’s constitution, which says the two sexes are equal. But President Hamid Karzai’s reticence on the matter, constant opposition by the Taliban, and setbacks even at the government level cast a shadow on the prospects of equality for the 15 million women who make up about half the population.

“I am not optimistic at all,” said Suraya Parlika, 66, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament. "We do not know the agenda of the talks and this worries all women in Afghanistan. Women are at risk of losing everything they have regained,” she told Reuters in her office at the All Afghan Women’s Union, the country’s most prominent women’s rights group that she set up 20 years ago.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Will The Opposition Make An Issue Of This?

Canadian aid to dry up as mission ends.

Canada’s mission in Kandahar will wrap up in July, to be replaced by a scaled-down training mission in Kabul. Much of the aid money for projects like Ehsan’s will join the Canadian exodus from Kandahar.

The Canadian government has announced that it will cut aid funding to $100 million per year through 2014, for a total of $300 million. Another $75 million will be handed out over five years as part of the G8 initiative on maternal, newborn and child health.

During the combat mission aid levels hovered between $200 million and $250 million each year, much of it with a strong focus on the Kandahar region where the Canadians were fighting.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Promises To Keep, Miles to Go Before We Sleep.

But still: Almost three million girls are back in school, women are back at work, 40 per cent of the media are women and 25 per cent of regional councillors are female. What’s more, the fundamentalist mentality is changing. Only a few women in urban centres still wear a burka. Religious doctrines are slightly less oppressive. The constitution demands that 25 per cent of seats in the parliament are reserved for women. Says Shinkai Karokhail, 49, a long-time women’s activist and member of parliament for Kabul: “It’s the presence of countries like Canada that have made that happen. It has given me the right to speak out and to claim my space. The international community is like a thousand eyes on the government."

Read Sally's essay and you will understand why the resort to shrill troops-out and peace-talks polemics that has dominated the default party line across the liberal-left in the rich countries of the world constitutes the most disgraceful and unforgivable abdication of the duty of solidarity since the "America-first" movement, which self-immolated 70 years ago.

Negotiate with a form of barbarism so savage that it dispatches its bombers in the form of ice-cream vendors to lure children to their deaths? Canada's allegedly "progressive" New Democrats actually want credit for the idea of negotiating a sell-out to the Taliban. They're not ashamed of it. They're actually proud of it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

One Day.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Sally Armstrong On Why Canadians Are In The Dark About Afghanistan

"Canadians don’t know the story because the government is silent. And it’s not just the Conservative government, the Liberals before them were silent. For some reason, I dare say it is because politicians are afraid they will lose a single vote, they have decided not to speak to the people.

"This country is at war. We have soldiers at war and when you are at war you are supposed to tell the people what is going on. The government has chosen silence. When that happens the protestors own the conversation. It’s the protestors who are spreading the information.

"The media has done a terrific job, but it focuses on the insurgency, as they must. There are very few like me writing about the women, so the protestors own the conversation and the protestors are saying the most outrageous things to Canadians. They are saying things like the Afghan people wish you would leave. They are saying things like Canada invaded Afghanistan. This outrageous collection of revisionist history is being visited upon the Canadian people and nobody is counteracting it. What the Canadians think about Afghanistan is not the true story."

Sally's the best.

Some of Yale University's Best Friends Are Jews.

Any dispassionate survey of the social sciences reveals that there is precious little "value-free" research going on anywhere. I only have to look at my own alma mater, the London School of Economics, which, inter alia, has accepted funding from the murderous Gadhafi regime, and gave the clownish Naomi Klein a fellowship. Or I could venture into upper Manhattan, where Joseph Massad's Columbia University classes on Middle East politics are their own "festival of propaganda." The point is, why pick on YIISA alone?

My buddy Ben Cohen, who is always worth reading, asks that question, and others, here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Listening To Afghans For A Change.

"In some ways, Letters to my Daughters is the mirror image of Steve Coll’s book Ghost Wars, which chronicles the involvement of the West in Afghanistan between 1979 and 2001. Koofi’s book tells us what it was like on the inside, to have your country serve as the site of a violent and repressive tug of war between competing ideologies, and – more accurately – competing thugocracies. One of the most compelling angles to the story is how completely alien the Taliban are to the non-Pashtun Afghans. They appear in the narrative like some weird, science-fiction menace, pushing relentlessly northward, scoring victory after victory, imposing their arabist customs and interpretation of Islam on a people who had always considered themselves the pre-eminent practitioners of the Muslim faith.

"This bears emphasizing, because it has become an article of faith in the West –first amongst the anti-war left, but now in the highest reaches of the Obama administration – that the Taliban ideology is an authentic and long-standing part of the Afghan political fabric, and that ending the war will require some sort of bargain under the rubric of 'reintegration and reconciliation.' Fawzia Koofi begs to differ. As she sees it, the R&R agenda is largely driven by the West’s desire to bring its troops home as quickly as possible: 'That is a mistake. It is another short-term quick fix that will do nothing to solve the world’s problems, only store them up and make them worse for another day' . . ."

That's from Andrew Potter, writing in Macleans, top drawer as always. That Talibanism is alien, foreign and repugnant to the overwhelming majority of Afghans - and that the "west," most noticeably its "anti-war" elite, has failed so pathetically to notice this most basic fact about Afghanistan - is a central focus of my upcoming book, Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan. Fawzia Koofi figures prominently in it, among several Afghan women's rights leaders.

Elsewhere, our friend Michael Weiss and his crew at the HJS have been listening to Syrian revolutionaries. Here's Mike's verdict: "The evidence suggests that this revolution is the most liberal and Western-friendly of any of the Arab Spring uprisings. That it's also the least supported by the West is a tragedy."

I guess we've all been too busy playing with the new superhero action figure Transgressive Page to notice.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Bring The War Home.

Pakistan is a decrepit and corrupt military-industrial complex. Its so-called government is Afghanistan's constant and merciless enemy, it is India's greatest enemy, and it is the most vicious enemy of its own people. It is the subsidy-eater and the function of a bankrupt and idiotic "American foreign policy." But to end Pakistan would be to make matters worse, they say. Really?

Christopher Hitchens: "This stale and superficial argument ignores the awful historical fact that, each time the Pakistani leadership did get worse, or behave worse, it was handsomely rewarded by the United States. We have been the enablers of every stage of that wretched state’s counter-evolution, to the point where it is a serious regional menace and an undisguised ally of our worst enemy, as well as the sworn enemy of some of our best allies. How could it be “worse” if we shifted our alliance and instead embraced India, our only rival in scale as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy, and a nation that contains nearly as many Muslims as Pakistan? How could it be “worse” if we listened to the brave Afghans, like their former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, who have been telling us for years that we are fighting the war in the wrong country?"

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Support The Democratic Resistance.

The Sound Of Tumbrels.

Tumbrel: A French two-wheeled dumpcart or wagon designed to be drawn by a single draft animal. Originally used to carry agricultural supplies, it was most often associated with the cartage of animal manure. The tumbrel owes its employment as a metaphor to the French revolutionary Jacobins, who are said to have used tumbrels to cart the bourgeoisie to the gallows and the guillotine.

Tumbrel remark: The Irish novelist Joyce Cary defines the expression as “an unguarded comment by an uncontrollably rich person, of such crass insensitivity that it makes the workers and peasants think of lampposts and guillotines."

The Canadian Senate Page Program: Each year, fifteen university students from across Canada are selected to participate in the program - one of the most sought-after privileges available to university students. "Under the direction of the Usher of the Black Rod, these leaders of tomorrow are given a remarkable opportunity to be leaders of today."

Brigette DePape: The 21-year-old graduate from the University of Ottawa made headlines for holding up a protest sign that read 'Stop Harper' at the start of the Throne Speech: "This country needs a Canadian version of an Arab Spring." DePape has since received several job offers and is considering taking a position with the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Hamza Ali al-Khateeb: A 13-year-old Syrian boy who tagged along at an antigovernment protest in the town of Saida a few weeks ago, was arrested, was burned, beaten, lacerated and given electroshocks. His jaw and kneecaps were shattered. He was shot in both arms. When his father saw the state of Hamza’s body, he passed out. Among the elementary-school students tortured by Bashar Assad’s brutal regime are children as young as 10, picked up by security agents for scrawling antigovernment graffiti on a school wall. Those returned to their parents had cigarette burns on their bodies, and the fingernails had been pulled from their hands. Word of the torture spread, fueling further protests, prompting crackdowns with appalling new levels of cruelty.

Tumbrel remarks by the caravan-load here, here and here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Green Is The Colour.

The BBC notices our comrades in the Afghan Baseej (Besij e Melli - the People's Mobilization) and our dear friend Omar Parwani, all in one go:

The internet may not be widely available across Afghanistan but it's increasingly popular among young urban Afghans in their 20s and 30s, who log on via their mobile phones. In the past few weeks these young users have set up a wave of new Facebook sites to support the National Movement.

Among them, is the Anti Taliban Movement, a Persian and English language site set up by Kabul university student Omar Ahmad Parwani. Omar says he is inspired by the uprisings sweepings across the Arab world and how they found focus and support with educated youth online.

The Anti-Taliban Movement already has 8,000 members and the number is growing every day. In postings on the site people share their fears about the fragile state of their country and say it is time for change to come through the internet rather than the power of the gun. "The government of Afghanistan wants to subject all of us to the Taliban again," says Omar. "We don't want our people to be drowned again. We want to save them."

Omar is a nephew of my friend and collaborator Abdulrahim Parwani, co-founder of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee. Here's a photo of Omar I snapped at a family gathering at the home farm near Charikar last summer:

Thursday, June 02, 2011

It's A Class-Culture Thing.

The indispensable Alan Johnson:

"In my experience, there is a dividing line marked by class and culture when it comes to war-talk. While liberal middle-class professionals such as Canon Fraser talk breezily about it being 'better to die than to kill,' some of my working-class students—often the sisters or girlfriends of the soldiers who actually do the dying—speak quietly, stoically, and with genuine expertise as sturdy Augustinian realists about the morality of the rigorous rules of engagement under which their loved ones fight (and die) in an anti-fascist war in Afghanistan."

The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security. - George Orwell, Pacifism and the War, Partisan Review, August-September, 1942.