Sunday, July 23, 2006

one week in kabul

One week in Kabul, a lot of mixed feelings. I haven’t had this feeling at least for a couple of years; I wanted to write so I could record this feeling and come to it when I wanted to make drastic decisions in the future or work-cross-culturally.

i am frustrated and upset when I am lost and I am lost when I go through a cultural, job and intellectual change. Once I adapt to a society, I have an opinion and social stand which goes against the majority and I could go extreme on this. In afghan society I can’t stay in the mainstream, I had to go to the margins in opposition with what all wanted. In a European society, I am socially pragmatist and political left – realist. Standing for values such as no war, human rights, homosexual rights, etc, etc.
here in Afghanistan I have been struggling between my previous values and the ground realities.
At this very moment I feel like I can’t have my European values system. I can’t be a political activist; I have a very liberal view of things. I hated liberals two weeks ago; I thought their decadents sucks. Unlike artists they can’t be appealing. but now I see myself as a liberal someone who is not involved with the deep socio-political issues. Someone who just want to do something to help and bring good. two weeks ago I wrote an open letter to expatriates in Kabul to provide an alternative view on them, but I wouldn’t do that now.

The hard part is if you choose to do something in another culture, but you might not like it in the beginning. The key is not too think to much and see how it goes.
And the hardest is when you are in love. Something you don’t want to fuck with.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

follow up on expatriate responses

I got almost a dozen varied responses on my letter to expatriates.

Some responders saw part or more element of truth in it. Never the less, they raised some circumstantial concerns; most important of all is security. This means in the face of deteriorating security there is going to be less and less understanding and interaction.

I think trust and respect shall be brought to bear on security in a practical as well as principle fashion. Having that said the level of risk needs to be analysed and dealt with according the UN policy working group on the UN and Terrorism recommendation. The report published in 2002 says: ‘the protection and promotion of human rights under the rule of law is essential in the prevention of terrorism.’ This is not only because such an approach is right and any other method destroys the democratic credentials of the expatriates, but also because terrorists ‘exploits human rights violations to gain support for their cause’ which explains why Taliban elements are getting stronger in the south of Afghanistan where the coalition (and afghan forces) has killed, tortured and illegally detained and searched villagers.

As the secretary general Kofi Annan said in a speech to the security council in the beginning of 2002 “while we certainly need vigilance to prevent acts of terrorism, and firmness in condemning and punishing them, it will be self-defeating if we sacrifice other key priorities in the process” exactly, in the process of providing security Mr. Annan’s very own organisation has forgotten about the priorities. We need to find a common ground which reaches behind the particulars of our identity and culture, the overreaction to security challenges the ethical basis behind such a project, or at very least undermines it’s utility.

How can the expatriates build the trust and respect? I would say through showing a strong commitment to Afghanistan and human rights, and the full set of values that underpin the human rights ideal will have every chance of emerging from the current violence not weakened but rather strengthened, forged in the heat of battle into something tougher and therefore more durable. But this outcome is not preordained; I am sorry to say that I got responses which were not convinced about Afghanistan and human rights (I don’t want to make a direct quote). In the bigger picture back in your home there are very powerful elements (as well as in the rest of the world) that are not convinced that each of us deserves equality of esteem. ‘Conflict of Civilisations’ a famous essay by Huntington is a good proof of my point here.

With all due respect; what upsets me the most is the hypocrisy surrounding the whole security fuss. Expatriate’s exclusive outlooks have increased since last year while the security has got worst. Incidents happen, there is a lock down for a few days then everyone carries on as before. There is no learned lesson or change of tactic and life style.

The second kind of feedback said “no distinguish was made between expatriates. It was a sweeping generalisation which could be no where close to accuracy; as a matter of fact this kind of stereotyping is used when one fail to identify the right person”.

I have been stereotyped too, and I tried to prove differently. Attached please see some of my friends who believed it was unfair to stereotype me.

In my case stereotyping is not only about some guy sending an email; I abused by individual and institution.

I have been discriminated and was treated badly because I was from Afghanistan and I looked different. My very basic human rights were violated; I was subject to different treatment, which are politics and government laws. However the most crude and stinging form of abuse was individuals’ stereotypical conduct.

I felt it was unfair and I wanted to help them realise that. I delivered the letters from my friends, it didn’t help.

I appealed to justice and the court said that if I am stereotyped by an individual it’s not something claimable or if I am denied because of regulation then what I am saying is not enough to review government politics.

I am hoping that you could find a better way to deal with it.

I have a suggestion, maybe we write such letters for each other. But this is when we trust each other.

Another number of responders thought it was a pessimistic Afghan approach; it was a flawed criticism without offering a better approach. Let me quote something for you, “If the Afghan people do not want to engage themselves, to make the best use out of Help/Foreigners/Money: just tell us and it will be no problem, to spent it elsewhere.”

This is exactly what I was fearful of, the word foreigner, help and money has been used interchangeably as synonyms. From a rational point of view an individual or NGO has close to NO say where the money is spent. It’s a political decision. It’s very unlikely that you could convince your government who spend billions on military budgets to aid starving people in Liberia. or to cut down US military research which is 73% of all research projects and use that money to cure AIDS or cancer.

As a matter of fact Israel is the largest US aid recipient both in term of per capita and in blunk numbers in the world. Pointless to comment how Israel spend aid money and weapons.

Talking about aid weapons, quite a lot of that came to Afghanistan in the 80s and then some how the aid community forgot to send the aid medicine for the victims in the 90s, sugar coated and coloured with democracy, so they died.

Starting from the end of Second World War, throughout the cold war and until today western politicians’ weapon of choice hasn’t been WMD but aid money. International law has always been disregard under the pretext of providing or not providing aid.

Further more, why is the word “help” so often mentioned; it’s not only in my friend’s statement above but every aid website has a lot of it. This in itself is politicizing the aid mission; it makes the aid community a target of political opposition. “Help” becomes a hypocritical and double standard concept just like everything else in power politics game.

It will be more welcomed by Afghans if you say “I am here because I want to be and I enjoy it”

it sounds cooler too.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

brand new kabul

“Healthy children have brighter future….. Children born from parents under eighteen will be ill. There is a fourth percent more chance of death for ill kids before the age of five…… to have healthy kids marry above the age of 18”
This was a PSA on the radio. As I was listening to this the driver took over a bus narrowly passing by a truck approaching from the opposite direction.
“watch it blind mother fucker” the truck driver shouted.
Our driver said “its better to be early”
“Where is Rajab? Today” asked Massood “he plays videogame. He goes so fast….
he was interrupted with a sudden break, an old man was crossing the street, covering his mouth with his scarf to protect from the dust.
He didn’t pay much heed to the cars. The pedestrian in Afghanistan is even getting prouder, that is a change for sure.

my next daring adventure would be to take a walk in town.
i just want to be ready for this; it's going to be a lot to take in.
All I’ve done so far is to go to work and visit a few friends. Last night I went to see a bunch of friends and as I arrived I was surprisingly welcomed by Trumpet and fire crackers. Ten minutes later the security guards from the neighbourhood entered with rigours steps and marched to us with straight chest. “you are not to be too noisy, you should be vigilant, more than ten security sources know about you by now. You have disturbed the area”
When leaving my friends place I noticed a little paper “…. the enemies are active and plotting against us. If you come across a terror act, do not panic and remain calm. Please contact us at the following numbers….”

Thursday, July 06, 2006

an open letter to expatriates in afghanistan

Dear expatriates,

The existence of foreign workers in Afghanistan was perceived by most Afghans as a neutral, impartial and unbiased development force, exactly what Afghanistan needed when they couldn’t trust each other. In the traditional Afghan civil and social system the inferior–superior relationship is personal. Expatriates on the other hand, didn’t represent an authority as they are not to establish one but are there to do their job; the job was legitimized by a belief in the fair and correctness of the process. Expatriates were not loyal to a tribe or ethnicity or individual; they rather function in an impersonal order, toward an aim which served for the better of Afghans, not to the specific country or interest.

When one shifts the focus of attention from foreign assistance to the role of individual expatriate worker, substantial positive differences were noticed in comparison to the traditional Afghan system. An expatriate is not selected for his job on the basis of such considerations as ethnicity, family position or political loyalties. His recruitment is based on formal qualifications that testify the applicant has the necessary knowledge to accomplish his duties effectively and bear Afghanistan.

This was briefly the belief after the fall of Taliban; however, there were a few factors which were not calculated then or only materialized as consequences. There was no strategy to measure the size of foreign organisations and expatriates and then to alarm in the face of overwhelming proportions.
The number of foreign agencies has been increasing ever since and there is no exit strategy, not much of foreign operation has been Afghanised. Expatriates, paid well from tax free Afghan aid money, have heavily intervened in the economic sphere. The sky high rental costs, inflation and formidable increase in living cost for ordinary Afghans are now starting to affect his attitude and perception. Yet there is no sign that foreign organisations are going to change their strategy and tactics. The organisations are trying to expand and pursue the old tactics. Lack of Afghan and international trust in the civil authorities played in favour of expatriates. Expatriates in their foreign organisations created another layer of national administration which has substantial economic as well as political influence and has deprived the traditional class of control means on international assistance, human capital and production. The effective control of Afghan economy and of political power is now in the hands of expatriates. The invisible hand has cleverly neutralised administrators of the state bureaucracy. Though I should admit that the historical irony of this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me. Both post and pre Taliban eras are marked by oligarchic order: warlordism rooted out whatever was left of state infrastructure and committed all sorts of atrocities. The post Taliban period is marked by Expatlordism - a new type of oligarchy.
The internal politics of foreign organisations has resulted in control of few expatriates; this domination of the expatriates might run against the ideals and intentions of both the ruler and ruled.
Let’s see how organisational politics results in expatriate control: There is an increasing concentration of the means of communication at the top, this is due to communication culture, instruments, language and tendencies in foreign organisation, this results in an ensuing apathy in both the expatriate and Afghan staff.
The power position of the expatriate has become unquestionable. Not only can the expatriate manipulate information and use the communication network but also, by the exercise of his functions, the expatriate acquires specialized knowledge and political skills that make him almost irreplaceable to the organization. In this way both the structural position of the expatriate and the ruled lead to a political system perpetuates the dominance of expatriate class.
This situation is established today, but still the control of the expatriate goes unrealised, because this might not be the intention which exactly results in further dominance as the expatriates, unaware of their dominance, develop more and more formal and informal networks. For instance the UN has compulsory weekly drinking parties for expatriates to promote team spirit or they have exclusive guest houses as they are scared of rumours in the village of Afghans mingling with them. As you see this is not any more limited to organisation, organizational oligarchy has brought about societal oligarchy.
Just like everything else a society can absorb certain dose of foreigners over a certain period of time. Afghanistan can take a very small dosage of foreigners as they are allergic to them. Every page of history witnesses the low *absorption capacity* – if I may borrow the term from EU. My ideas embodied in the term are different than the one EU have. I am making a reference to the history of a proud and individualistic man who defends his way of life. In response westerners say this is no way to live anymore. And I do agree with you there, but let me ask you why the ancient home of your civilisation is using the term?
In my case it might be a ‘wrong’ concept but in yours it’s a dishonest one. It’s remarkably dishonest because it contradicts two of EU's greatest achievement to date; first is to anchor newly democratised economies in a larger framework of rules and to provide them with incentives against reverts. And second is to keep the old and new enemies (old being France and Germany, capitalism and socialism; the new being Muslims and Christians) in a framework of cooperation to reduce enmity, but these functions would be seriously at risk if EU apply the absorption concept. Europeans say that the concept suggests that it’s empirically and "objectively" impossible to accommodate Turkey. The Europeans has cleverly used the phrase to deflect attention from political arguments that Muslims do not belong to Europe.
My point is for one reason or another we are all protective. Except the difference is in your network everyone should play by your rules, which is fine. But you play by your rules in my network too. You don’t have the faintest idea of my network and you even don’t try to acquire some. You never think of shifting our stand, and redesigning your aims and your way of work.

Yours truly,

sanjar qiam
media and cultural studies
warsaw university
0048 511 185342