Saturday, January 24, 2009

Despotism over Liberty, even the choice of successful Afghans

I am bugged by the thought of why is it that ‘modern Afghans’ are not backing the government and international community whose values of government system has made it possible for them to tremendously improve their life in comparison to Their situation under the Taliban.

I have come to realise that bright Afghans who do not have a social mind set orbiting solely around religion, with an interest of individual nature and hobbies are against democratic values. They do not possess any prerequisites for radicalisation such as social isolation, political grievances affecting their daily life, marginalisation, oppression and the rest of it. They are quite happy and not religious. They have an open mind about alcohol and sex as part of routine lifestyle, they know places in Kabul where they can purchase and drink. This group of Afghans I call the modern Afghan. This group theoretically should make up the core of Karzai government supporters. This is exactly the key allies that the international community and Nato should have on their side. If they are not on their side, then who is? I am wondering, why they are not, while stuck in this traffic jam. This group has much in common with the ordinary man of the west: a shared lifestyle, putting family first, secular views of daily life, sought education and career dedicated. But they differ in what is known as morality and political views.  Ordinary man of the west, I consider those who are not partisan political such as members of religious, ultra right or left wing groups. The man who is family dedicated and seeks happiness for the loved ones. The ordinary man of the west, by and large, condemns violence against the innocents while the modern Afghan man condones terror and civilian targeting as a way of addressing the grievances of the group which, he considers, had been marginalised and betrayed. The ordinary man of the west sees terror as a serious threat to their safety, while the modern Afghan sees it as a part of life in what he can’t have a say.

Modern Afghan’s silence against ‘the evils’ has got to do with his inability to bond with the values of democracy, the current socio-political trend promoted by international community and Afghan government. The modern Afghan man is the closest Afghan replica, similar to the moralisation of democratic values by the ordinary western man. On the other hand and generally speaking, the modern Afghan man has political views and morality codes which do not go with his lifestyle. The modern Afghan condemned the Danish Cartoons and rallied to take action against Denmark. They launched a campaign which boycotted Danish products. The modern Afghan is anti-Semitic in what they see jews as human elements of Israeli state. Unaware of the fact that not all Israelis are Jews and there are Jews outside Israel too. An international colleague with last names as Sigal, Izaaks,  Hickman or Sichel;  are seen as another foreigner. The modern Afghan has not been disgusted by the action of Taliban rather they have become more sympathetic. Almost half of the modern Afghans I know have been involved in numerous incidents where they were close to be hurt. The target was some foreigners or government installation but the pedestrians took the toll; people going about their lives on the street. Witnessing this didn’t change their mind about Taliban tactics. The modern Afghan do not necessarily support Taliban but it is that they have a fluctuating ground in relation to what is happening around them on daily basis. They see that the dead pedestrians could be them and that Taliban puts their life in grieve danger but it is something behind their action.

Among the modern Afghan is Elias. A successful entrepreneur owning some several radio stations and other businesses. The radio station he owns is nothing less than a historical phenomena. The international intervention and the creation of a democratic space has made it possible for citizens to own media outlets; radio has always been a state monopoly. The radio stations are sustained by the market forces and development fundings available from international sources. Yet, Elias lacks any commitment to the current regime or the values of the system which has made it possible to own and profit from the radio stations. Elias has lived under the Taliban and he knows they wouldn’t even let him express his views about the dress he wears or his beard and hair let alone critic the social order.

Do you think Taliban would let you conduct your life, business and employment the way you do?

‘Current social is created under the influence of westerners. It is not the only and it is not the ideal. Things in Afghanistan changes fast, you won’t have a chance to reflect on what is happening and where I fit. To survive you need to punch forward. If there was no international aid, consequently my business, then I would be free to grow drug. Why do they whinge when I make money the way I do.’ said Elias.

Elias like many modern Afghans I know argue that democratic principles are riddled with double standards and contradiction. Modern Afghan grievances are based on what they see as democracies ineligibility to the moral authority. They say: what about Guantinimo, what about treatment of minorities in the ‘free world’, what about corruption in western politics. Muslims lack a sense of self criticism to enable them compare Islamic morality with democracy. Islamic morality is blazingly clear but its impairment is not questionable even by the modern Afghan. There is an urge for clarity. We should respond to the criticism of free world morality. I think there are three things here: the treatment of own citizens and the free world is doing very good. Secondly, respect to international law. Again the free world is doing good except the US under Bush administration and finally what the free world does to realise its own morality in places like Afghanistan and it is horrific. The free world is not only helping but has financed genocide. if we are talking politics that was then and now is now. The slightest believe in Islam does not distinct between personal and politics, making western support for previous wars a personal matter. We have been through enough crises to understand that decisions are not based on principles but political realities and human’s realistic ability as oppose to our wishful thinking. Elias seems to have been for most of his life at the betrayed end of hypocrisy culmination and he has experienced a larger share than ordinary man. Contradiction in the principles of democracy has made Elias highly suspicious of the values and principles of democracy. For instance, freedom of expression as a value and objectivity as a core principle of it, is viewed as a mirage. Elias is correct in saying that no outlet is objective and they have their own angle into the issues; but he doesn’t recognise how distorted their interpretation of the truth is. BBC has an angle but the angle Aljazeera or Taliban media or Iran state media has, lies some 180 degrees away from the truth. In the mid90s when Taliban were battling the northern alliance in the north of Kabul after capturing Kabul. Iranian Sada Wa Sima radio was reporting that Taliban has launched a massive attack on Kabul. This is why BBC has a reputation in Afghanistan for providing objective news and information. Truth doesn’t always matter; we as humans are fallible and for a believer in human fallibility truth doesn’t exist. The larger and the further the object of truth is from us, we’ll have more autonomy in selecting what truth is which basically means the angle we view it.  if battle is raging at the gates of Kabul; a Kabuli wants to know the progress; it is a truth. I could be heard and felt. But some Taliban pocket of resistance in Kandahar some 500KM away can’t be felt but realised through anecdotes. That is why Aljazeera make perfect sense for millions of Afghans and other Muslims as well as non muslims as long as ones world view is compatible with it. once a modern Afghan starts to take Aljazeera as an outlook to the truth it means changes to certain aspect of his world has happened.   

The notional objectiveness does not exist but do you see some are more objective than others?

‘There are international treaties and conventions. The western world has always violated these documents when it comes across their interest. The west has created an unfair world where everybody fights for survival, the weak has no choice of winning but to create a different perspective. If you are on the weak side it is as more objective than the western aspect.’  Said Elias.

Elias believes that Hamas and Taliban actions or other militant groups are justified because they are denied justice and have been shoved to margins of opportunity. They have no choice but to resort to cruelty. This is while Elias’s business partner Zameer has arrived at the conclusion that reconstruction projects are a waste of money instead the international community should have supported businesses. This view is generally shared by other business pioneers too. The basic of economics is: fixed exchange rates which will keep the goods circulate in the free market by keeping the price down is good for the national growth. Such a business oriented approach to development is assuming that Afghans would shoulder a bigger portion of responsibility instead of foreigners building stuff for them.  Elias believes that those under tremendous stress can’t be judged by the same token as those living the good life often at their expense. I asked him if people are not to bear  responsibility for their action disregarding their situation then why does he run a radio station, the basic notion of which is empowering people and providing a voice for the marginalised so grievances could be addressed and alternatives to the vicious circle of poverty could be found? 

‘America has an obligation to Afghanistan. they can’t go around and destroy countries and leave them on their own. They can but they will taste the consequences as they did on 9/11. The west bombs, kills and destroys but when we demand justice we are told that is against human rights and when we take matters in our hands, we are called terrorists.’ Answered Elias.                         

Culture haunts Afghans, not poverty or lack of education

There is a lack of personal coherence among most Afghans. They can not establish principles as much as they like to. Ideas and loyalties are filtered by tribe and religion. The principle of demonstrating against the Israeli attack on Ghaza and supporting Palestinians is not because Afghans, which also goes for all Muslims, are anti war or condemn military invasion. They admire Hamas’s militancy and has glorified Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Afghans are deeply tribal and religious; only those sharing a tribal and religious association deserve absolute support while outsiders are enemies by default. Bzia an Afghan of Tajik origin condemns Stalin’s arbitrary borders sketching in central Asia, resulting in dispersal of Persian speakers between several countries, losing their ancient cities and cultural heritage. At the same time Bzia endorses Bush cowboy style smugness because he saved Tajiks from Pashtoon Taliban. Bzia does not even understand, let alone believe in national self determination or antimilitary occupation principles. His concerns appear to be based on western principles but it is not. It is tribal, he is upset about Tajik minority treatment in various central Asian countries and he finds it easy to blame something in the history; another Afghan peculiarity when addressing present day realities. The Afghan elite and intellectuals can not overtly establish a rational position in favour of their ethnically driven morality; though they very much like Hitler Nazism. Ethnically and religious driven fictions have committed atrocities that could never again be justified. However, Afghanistan continues to remain at the hands of ethicism and tribalism but obscured with western principles. Borrowed western principles are perverted to the possible limits to fit their purposes. The western principles such in politics and economics have been claimed as a value system but the practice is hypocritical.

Adult Afghans can not act as they resolve. I have come to know many enthusiastic Afghans who wish achievements through education and work but they can not do it. They lack the willpower to grab the moment for their intentions. General lack of determination at all levels of society has realised the need of an alternative force, dogma. Dogma is the underpinning every action. The power of dogma has compelled the population do things which don’t make sense. Behave and converse in certain ways all the time. Human nature does not approve dogma giving room for hypocrisy. Dogmatism obstructs religious morality to be internalised. Not everything could be determined by dogma unless we are talking about Taliban; any other Afghan is a hypocrite.

The reason children are not as good as their counterparts in the rest of the world in their studies is not because they don’t want to study but they lack the will and discipline to study. When children are made to study by adults and parents, they try to do. I have observed in the last month working with a group. Three weeks ago I asked each separately why they don’t study while they want and they are told to; the answer is ‘I will study tomorrow. Today is my last day off’. This is the answer everyday for the last month. It is the next day, it is the next step but it never happens. When I provide feedback to the children I work ‘look you haven’t been studying, I could help you study’. The child would agree with me and we decide today is studying day. I depend on his initiative to do the actual studying. I provide a quite room for him to go and sit quietly. But he can’t be bothered to study. Children are neglectful. When people are brought up under oppression they tend to be neglectful. They lack the will for action; they are usually driven by violence and use of force. They have lost their free will to take action. I have tried to renegotiate a situation and accommodate every demand; I had or the job was still neglected. It is hard to bother people to care. It is hard and stressful. People would swear to you to do a job or commitment and you’ll agree on the details but it will not happen. Values like trust is not part of daily life but in the romanticised surrealism of pop culture living parallel to realities. As much as an Afghan wants to be trusted, he will fail when an action requires the willpower. Sometimes an Afghan can be trusted, but that is when trust requires something within his routine realm of ability. Trust is not a principle. Principles like fairness and belief are sought to be seen as preserved because the society is dogmatic which requires this to base everything on principles. But at the end of the day, things are not determined by principle but at person’s ability to do or not to do. Words such as fairness and morality don’t exist in the full sense of the meaning. Fairness would require making changes to the current lifestyle and frankly the lifestyle in the choking dogmatism of Afghan culture can’t be bothered with change. For instance going back to working with children. I decided with the children that best time of the day to study is morning. Their mind is clear and ready to observe; once they go out and about and start playing it is not easy to return them to their studies. It didn’t quite work out for children, morning turn out to be slow, busy and sleepy. I made a schedule of chores for them instead. Chores are not usual for children to do. The women of the house do all the work, no need for children to bother. Women are also quite intimate with children, as men are not spending much time with them, women to be nice to children does work on their behalf. I told children I’ll pay them in exchange for the work they do. I thought it is a fair barter. They do work as I assign them in exchange they get paid. I thought this could be a way to teach children to be responsible for a job and in charge of their spending. Children were quite excited, and could hardly wait to get their first week payment. Children are not given allowances in Afghan families. They are bullied by their father or older brother to do work for them – not by women as often. Children need money and they usually earn it by stealing. When I talked with children who had stolen home supplies either from their or others houses were in dire need of money. Children then lie to their mothers if they find out about their extra cash. Fathers do not have much communication with their children and will never find out about their extra cash or new gadget they have purchased. Mother’s lack the will to talk with fathers; she is usually blamed and punished for shortcomings. Conversations between spouses are concerned with the gloomy and doomy side of things; the husband comes harsh on the wife by blaming her. Wives are scared to bring up anything about family life with their husbands. Communication has strengthened mother son relationship much more than mother – father relation. Because mothers can not give love to husbands they are usually close to their sons to the extent that they admire their sons. Probably a reason why boys grow into self-centred men in Afghanistan. The boys have to steal because they don’t have other choice. Then the option is between lying and being beaten up by the father. Lying really starts to work for children which later turn into a habit ravaging our society on daily basis.

Children who I assigned chores refused to do after less than a week. At their homes they were not able to do chores; it conflicted with so many other things. Children perceived chores as an unfair practice. ‘Why should I do work when my elder brothers and parents are not doing anything’ said a child. ‘I don’t want to put on my clothing and bring water from the well. I want to relax like everyone else.’ Said another child. I went to talk with the parents and elders and told them children felt they were not treated fairly. Parents accepted they will make changes, we agreed, so children could do their chores. After a week children reported no change in their parents. Adults had no where else to go so they could be comfortable in their privacy but they could also not adjust themselves so the younger family members could feel they are treated fairly. The cultural and economic life doesn’t allow principles such as privacy and fairness to flourish. Fairness requires the consistency of action and talk. In Afghan culture fairness has been redefined into something compatible with the authoritarian nature of the culture. Some people such as parent and clergy are fair if they talk fair, even if they act unfair. A common proverb is ‘don’t mind the action of the Mullah, follow his talks’. In talks everybody sounds fair but their action is unfair; fairness doesn’t work this way. Fairness is a behavioural code; not a conversational tool to be pedantic. Afghans are not as nice as they think they are; if Afghan bring a bit of realism and throw away a bit of ‘all is perfect’ cultural attitude then things would change for good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The kingdom of dogs

There is a new dog wanting to join the pack in Rahamatabad area. She lost her pack in Kotal area after they were dispersed in a terrible incident. She doesn’t have a name but usually goes by the name ‘Brown’. Brown found herself in a human cemetery surrounded by a pack of horny dogs on a September day.

Brown was never fond of her birth given place, something rather unusual for dogs. It is said among the pack ‘when eventuality meets the destiny, an equation which brings death; according the pivotal mythology of dogs; the dog heads the trail, abandoning the pack’. Kotal neighbourhood is not friendly for what is known as street dogs. The neighbourhood has too many children encouraged, even more than Brown species, in aggression as a way of survival. Food is scarce in Kotal, no market or Bazaar is in the area. And the worst; it is located on the highway connecting Kabul to the north. Many dogs and sometimes their pursuing children have collided with the racing traffic.

Chamtalla an old pasture between Kotal and Rahmatabad has now turned into a waste disposal location for Kabul municipality. Brown realising September is the time when dogs breed and food in Kotal would even become scarcer set out one day in search of food. After snuffling and searching for a couple of miles in Chamtalla and when her nose was weary and her feet powerless to search any further her eyes found Kabul waste disposal grounds. Vast mountains of litter reaching behind dog’s sight, filled with loads of potential edible. Brown spent a few days digging and eating; she found places to sleep but she didn’t feel quite right. She missed the pack, the barking, the running and the togetherness. She sets off in search of her pack; after a day of walking she reached the opposite side of Chamtalla, Rahmatabad.

Brown meets a pack of dogs on the top of a hill turned into a cemetery; there are three small hills in the middle of Rahmatabad, one abandoned after the military use and the other two are now cemetery. The pack is digging a grave or two and taking out dead peoples’ bones from the grave. This is not quite the time for it to happen, it takes place after a few snows and during the snow more than 60cm. it is not early in calendar calculation; by this time other years there are many snows already. Dogs seem to be confused about the season. Dogs only digs graves for food when heavy snow fall and people tend to hole up at homes and there is not much left over available on the streets from the people and there is not much to be found in the litter. Dead human bones are the last resort of dogs at the face of starvation. Some people who are relatively well off tend to build a cage around their family grave. The cage protects the grave from the bone-eaters. Digging grave is an instinct developed as a survival strife in some dogs, man’s best friend. It is unusual for dogs to dig like rats, as deep as up to 2 – 3 meters.

When the pack sees Brown, they start barking and running toward Brown; leaving other female dogs alone. She doesn’t seem to be scared but she starts running around the cemetery chased by the pack. She has to play the mating game which requires her not to give up until there is one last dog left. The dogs start to sniff her back. Brown starts to be scared, some of the dogs are more aggressive than usual. Then the fight over Brown starts; to choose the one dog which should be left at the end to make the puppies. The dogs now want to take the fight to the mountains nearby. As the fight gets very loud and crowded; neighbourhood children wants to join, not because they are interested in mating with the dog but loves any fight to be part of. Among the pack there are dogs of varied strength. Some dogs tend not to participate in this great but also brutal fun festival. A number of the male dogs had been a pet or rather animal toy for the neighbourhood boys. There are still ropes around their nicks which always comes handy when a new child wants to catch them. Some of the dogs have been injured; they can’t participate in the mating. They usually are limping behind the pack. Another type of dogs is called the needle-dog. The needle dogs had swallowed a needle when feeding on the litter. It is either a sewing needle but more often an injection needle from a pharmacy or hospital waste disposal. In Rahmatabad there is a pharmaceutical factory producing among other things synergies too. The factory has a huge waste dumping ground right behind their compound on the surface level in the open space. Dogs when hungry do go and eat industrial waste and sometimes swallow a needle. The needle dogs can’t keep it quite; they run around in circles but when the needle in their stomach doesn’t hurt they chill for a minute or two as though they are sculptures. The needle dogs punch the way to be part of the social dog life but the needle stabs rein them other way. The mating contest and Brown was taken to the mountains. Mamor which is not his real name but simply mean the officer. He got the name because he was working for the government for several years and everyone who works for the government is an officer for villagers. Mamor is watching the mating contest and realises that Brown is new in Rahmatabad. A couple of days later Brown returns to Rahmatabad to get some food when Mamor saw her at a glance while heading to the local school where he teaches. In the afternoon when Mamor returned home Brown was on the street sniffing about doors; dragged into this street by the strong smell of frying meat. Mamor give Brown some food in return to which Brown pointed her nose to the sky in what Mamor believes to be a prayer. Brown disappeared for a few months but was back at Mamors door before giving birth, pregnant and hungry. Mamor homed Brown in a large compound next to his house, empty with tall walls but a good place for Brown to give birth for her puppies. Brown was loud at first. She couldn’t stop barking; neighbourhood dogs joined the barking chat too. Mamor was not sure at first in the face of the noise. The neighbours have dogs for protection. They grow them cruel; cutting ears and tails of an aggressive breed, always leashed on chains. Dogs are used as a weapon to keep stranger or burglars out; only being released at night. I used to have such a dog, named Jangjaw – the warrior – but it went nasty; not even allowing the children to play in the garden. We had to set him free in a desert. Neighbours alarm-dogs quietened soon after they got used to Brown. Mamor one day found another dog in the compound. More and more dogs were coming to the street. Dogs in the drizzling days and chilly nights of the winter tend to look for lavatory holes or any other wall crack to enter into houses. Mamor blocked the hole from where the dog had entered the compound. Mamor knew Brown was pregnant and wanted to keep her safe and away from dogs. For Brown to go out playing with other dogs it was dangerous. There are friends and foes on the street. Among the foes are drivers. It is hard to find a driver in Kabul who hasn’t run over a few dogs. Some mornings when I walk to my favourite mountain spot to watch the sun rise I see a couple of dogs being squashed to the road. Drivers are the reckless enemy and often they don’t bother to break when a dog is on the road. Night-Watchers, as they are called for private guards protecting business areas and shops, are dogs’ friends. There are several times more night-watchers than police protecting private ownership and they are far nicer to everything and everyone including dogs. Night-watchers carry a big stick and make a huge fire on the street corners. Dogs are attracted to the warmth and light of the fire. The friendship of nightwatcher and dog is a mutual friendship. Dogs are kept warm by the fire in return they look after the shops in the nightwatcher territory. There are also other threats for a dog like Brown. There are three strains of dogs. The central dogs live in downtown Kabul and are quite domesticated and almost behave as pets. However, they don’t take kindly intruders. There are also mountain dogs and the third strain is wild dogs. Mountain dogs are very common in Rahamatabad; the area is immediately surrounded by rocky mountains. Mountain dogs, unlike centre dogs, have wild sources of food such as hunting and dead humans bones. Lone mountain dogs during the day do not pose a threat to anyone but when at packs they could be intimidating. One night after having some whisky with a couple of mates, I decided to take a hike just before midnight when we were chased by a large pack of something around 30 dogs, they were attacking and pulling my cloak. A lone person should be scared of the pack at night. Wild dogs, in contrast, do not come to the residential areas at all. They are dangerous and they attack villages several times every winter. They usually descend into residential areas when the snow falls. There are three or four heavy snows of well above 60cm every winter. When dog height snow falls, they come to the villages and often take some infants and children with them. Residence are inclined to stay home in heavy snows listen to the howling of the wild dogs gazing their streets. Centre dogs and domestic dogs are scared of the wild dogs.

Mamor is kind to animals. The morning after the first night of Brown in the compound he came and found Brown cold and hungry. Mamor brought Brown a blanket, and food from the street butcher, when Mamor was leaving Brown howl behind him and when he looked back Brown waggled her snout to the sky in what Mamor considered she prayed for him to God. This further attached Mamor to the bitch. Animals prayers are of great value in Islam. Mamor has a DVD on petting a dog produced in Britain, I believe, which is the only film he has and love to watch it and then tell stories of, what he dubs infidels, kindness to animals. Stories of Mamor’s fascination with dogs are famous. He urges the people of faith to compete in kindness toward animals.

Mamor has learned about the pharmaceutical waste dump. Many neighbourhood dogs go mad; getting shot by the soldiers of the nearby garrison. Mamor was afraid if set free Brown might become a mad dog with a doomed faith. There is a huge well just outside the garrison where mad dogs are damped after being shot by the soldiers, it is almost filled with crops of mad dogs, stinking from far away. A couple of people have been bitten in the neighbourhood by the mad dog that is why local residence have asked the local garrison to shoot them. Children from the neighbourhood have stories have about mad dog. ‘mad dogs are running fast. Do you know cheetah? They are almost as fast as cheetahs’ said seven years old Satar when his eyes were shining in excitement. a group of children took me to the well where mad dogs are ditched. ‘I hate mad dogs’ said Satar, throwing a rock down and starting to piss in the well.  'the mad dog vaccine costs $1000’ said Satar’s dad as giving Satar a whack at the back of the neck for being anywhere close to mad dogs. ‘How the hell do you think I can afford that’.

Mamor is feeding brown with his leftovers as well as bring bones from the butcher. A bucket is hanging from the wall on a rope from Mamor’s house into the compound. Mamor fills the bucket with water once a day for Brown to drink. Brown gives birth to six puppies on a Sunny Sunday. All the puppies are brown too. Mamor prepared a soft place made of hay with a roof to shelter them from snow and rain. The next day there was a surprise waiting for Mamor. Brown had given birth again, to another six puppies. They looked weaker and ill. The second six died the next day – rather the night- they were too weak and premature to survive the chilly night. The first six are several weeks old now. among them there is only one which is smaller than the rest and low on energy. Mamor has not yet set Brown free; he thinks the puppies need brown and he on his own can not take care of the puppies. Mamor recons the Puppies are too young to be on the street. This winter is tough. The municipality has also come hard after the dogs. Over six hundred centre dogs were killed by the municipality in Kabul. The surviving centre dogs have fled to the outskirts like Rahmatabad. There is a lot of chaos in the dogs’ kingdom. The city and wild strains of dogs have intruded in the dwelling of mountain dogs making it hard for Brown puppies to survive. Wild dogs are facing heavy snows and fewer preys; compelled to tumble down the cities.  Mamor believes that the puppies might fall a piece of rations for the large hungry packs. It was a few days ago that the garrison troopers had enough of wild dogs and set out on a shooting spree. After the shooting Mamor is even more reluctant to put puppies on the street, where they belong. Mamor is trying to find relatives and friends who would take the puppies; I am thinking of taking one too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stop Pitying Afghans

The image of Afghans is deteriorating in the ISAF outlook but here I am not to write about that rather vice versa which as well follows parallel trend. If the west wants a change in Afghanistan then they should make a change by taking the Pity out of the system.  

I had to squeeze further toward Hakimi to fit one or two more people in the room. It is a small room, with cushions carefully laid all around the room, about to witness stories of soviet war veterans. I am sitting in front of the door at the top of the room. No one else was prepared to take the place at the top reserving for each other as a sign of respect. Today is the engagement of a mate held in Microryan, a Soviet built apartment complex; perceived as one of the major constructions Afghanistan has ever undertaken. Ironically, the room is packed with people of Panjshir a tribe -now a province - which ferociously fought the soviets. During the ten years of soviet occupation; Red Army launched seven major offensives involving up to three regiments, mechanised, infantry and Airborne, backed by squadrons of gunships and jet bombers but they never pierced through the valley. Panjshiris are today a close ally of Americans in their fight against the Taliban, originating from the Pashton south.

Everyone except me and a couple of my mates are soviet war veterans of older age. It is snowing outside today and quite cold, my breath stands in front of me as white cloud, but that changed as the veterans warmed up the room with their passionate stories. Mullah Abdullah is 50 something years old and has spent a few years in soviet prison where he learned to speak Russian and got to know the soviets better. He was later appointed as an advisor to a prominent Massood commander for the knowledge of soviets he possessed. He spoke of tortures and atrocities in the prison but he also acknowledged the humanity of some officers; a general sense of respect for his old tough enemies. Panjshiris are famous for speaking a loud now that they were excited I could hear them echoing in the room. Listening to the stories I found a quality of respect for the soviet soldiers and officers. It is not unusual for soldiers to come to respect their fierce foes. Winston Churchill admired Sinn Fein Guerrillas and Boer commandos during his struggle with them in 1899-1900 and later but despised the pacifist Indian revolutionaries. Obviously, respect and appreciation of soviets could not be contributed to one factor. Afghans have a deep sense of Nostalgia. Their identities seem to be bolted in the past as the future remains too uncertain to be planned or even thought of. Whatever the underlying reasons for respecting soviets over western NATO would be; it for sure is a point for Nato to ponder about. ‘The other day Americans came to my village. While climbing my garden fence, a very short one, a soldier asked another chubby one to hold his hand. I went to tell him, soviets had a base on the top of the sheer cliff behind you and everyday they were climbing without holding hands. You better pray we all don’t turn against you or you’ll see hell on earth.’ Said Mullah Abdullah. A pleasant soldier who hands out a pack of biscuits, then takes a picture of it with a group of children to hang on his refrigerator only reinforces pitifullness. He, in the eyes of Mullah Abdullah, does not deserve respect.  

When I was telling a civilian member of NATO that Taliban has spent most of their life acquiring what they consider knowledge, was not believable for her. ‘Their views and treatment of women are atrocious. How could they have any knowledge?’ was her response. Taliban are seen as stupid oppressors in general at ISAF with extremely irrational views. It seems now that the biggest mistake ISAF mandated Nato has made is undermining Taliban. They were thought of as a barbarian gang incapable of any reorganisation. It was yesterday I read an article in a western newspaper about Mullah Omar, the leader of Taliban, and his close associates fleeing from cave to cave. Taliban might be irrational or inarticulate but that doesn’t make them stupid. If Taliban were stupid why can’t the Nato prevail; it doesn’t take much to play the stupid. Afghans, in general, are seen as backward and poor while Nato soldier in his fully isolated camp continue to live a life of home, some unaware which country they are serving in. The soldier is nice as his nature commands to be, to the people he pities. This attitude goes back all the way to Nato’s system, policy and any future strategy. The aid system they have devised is pitiful. Until the west abandons this mindset of inferioriting and pitying Afghans the insurgency seem to persist; taliban won’t be understood; an unknown enemy is hard to beat. Western soldiers patrolling urban streets or country orchards lack any sense of connection with ordinary Afghans; they don’t need to understand Afghans, as Estonians or any other eastern Europeans are not understood by British or Germans, they need to be respected and taken on equal terms.

I am finding it hard to connect with my old Kabul mates as they have gradually become pessimistic and anti-western. ‘why do they feed us with propaganda about human rights and equal values while they perceive Afghan women as chattels of pleasure for the criminal warlord’ said Rahmat after learning Americans had distributed Viagra sexual stimulus pill among some village elders as a bribe.  Rahmat’s frustration is rooted in the discrepancy he sees between NATO message and historical as well as current conduct of politics. The strategic need to intervene in Afghanistan has been deceitfully communicated to the policies implemented. The general perception of the intervening western armies is to assist Afghans as oppose to stabilise the government, root out the Taliban and terrorism … increasing Afghan pessimism and distrust has created contempt in the western circles. Contempt combined with pitying is not a good combination.  ‘We do you a favour by being here therefore you should stay obedient’ need to be kicked out of the current Afghan episode. 

Thursday, January 08, 2009

education means earning more money

Education and more education mean more earning power. In Afghanistan, those extra earnings are often just pocket change but a new drift is emerging which translates to more than pocket change.
Abraham started a new career. He sells phone top up cards in his new shop. He has some other products but finds it hard to compete with his neighbour shops. The only thing he can sell is phone top up card; even that doesn’t pay off well but the shop is better than his old job in Iran which had no pay. Abraham is back in the neighbourhood where he is known as Powderi. Don’t get it wrong; he is not an addict contrary to the impression one would get from his nickname. Nevertheless the word ‘powder’ is used around the shop rows to refer to Heroin, something sold next to him. in the shop which only opens for a few certain hours after customer agreed to meet at a certain time. Abraham is a fostered child; he was brought up on formula which is a form of powder. Abraham has six or seven of each Roshan, Itesalat, NTM and AWCC top up cards at various denominations keeping it in his pocket as he sunwarms outside his shop. ‘200 units of MTN’ said a boy while holding a 500 note in his hand. Abraham started to fumble through the collection to find the 200. ‘what are you doing? Do you have MTN ’ said the boy. Abraham give the boy a 500 unit but the boy told him it was more than what he needs. Then the boy pointed to the 200 unit and asked Abraham to give it to him. ‘hang on! It is not 200 units. Are you sure it is 200?’. Abraham can’t read, he relies on customer to choose one but also makes a quarrel to ensure the customer is not taking more. it took him about 10 minutes to choose the right denomination and count the correct amount of change.
The next day when I came to hang out with Abraham he was sad and had bad news he had lost 400 Afgs; after which had had given up on selling top up cards. A customer got a 500 worth credit for 100Afgs. Abraham was not sure; he had got to know the colours and design; ‘the pink one is 500 units, you need a green’. But there was no way he could be certain.
Education and basic literacy seem to pay off better than ever. Better education is the way for many Afghans seeking better life through greater income. not everybody can be a minister, religious politician, judge and police chief or a relative of these which are the shortcuts to being rich. It is interesting to note that this relationship between education and earnings potential has been realised in the last five years. Education for the older generation meant a modest life, quite often worst than illiterate entrepreneurs, but it ensured no hard labour. In fact the difference in income level with education has grown significantly after the educated managed to set up businesses or found lucrative jobs in the reconstruction efforts after international intervention.
We are four years to the end of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012) yet in Afghanistan the general literacy rate is only 29%. Today some of this 29% have the opportunity today to reap the benefits they grew with their pens. For many youths literacy is central to developing the many skills that they require to survive and make money. This is all truer when a country and its populace have been decimated. After decades of war, 43% of the Afghan population is under 15 years of age.
Many girls enjoy good income working for international organisation and businesses; yet there the common public is dubious of it being a social trend. It is rather seen as ephemeral; reaffirmed by the perception of the government reflected in their girls empowerment policy. despite 85% of women and girls being illiterate in Afghanistan, the state allocated budget fund in this regard constitute a few million dollar a fragment of President Karzai’s business profit.
In Afghanistan, the number of girls going to school is less than half the number of school boys, and even in some regions like Zabul, this ratio is 3% / 97%; though the number of male and female populations aging between 6-18 year old dont have a considerable difference.

I was relaxing on a stone in the corner of a street in a residential part of west Kabul. Young boys and girls carrying a bag or books attracted my attention as they walk about their business. My first instinct was they probably go to school; I shortly found out Abuzar Ghafari School was close by. I decided to go and check out the school. At first I had mistaken the place for a prison or military post until I noticed the children hustling by the entrance gate. They were not allowed in; I waded my way through the crowd to reach the gate. I found the school empty. There were not many teachers around, the few present were keeping warm in a sunny corner. I asked the teacher if they were going to teach today but apparently they are off and students are not supposed to be here. I did not get answer when I asked ‘then what are you doing here?’. Students shouting aloud were neither interested in studying. On the part of teachers, not everybody wants to work. Employees rather goof around until the pay day; it takes a bit of professionalism, feeling responsible and organisational procedures to get teacher into classes. Students general rather dodge studying, it is up to adults to get them interested and get them into the habit of studying. Students tend to escape school, fences and barbwire were set up to keep the children inside the compound. When students are not educated in the school but confined to the compound it inevitable culminates in dire consequences including school seen as a waste of time and abridged interest by parents to send children to school. Imprisoned students develop an attitude to commit vandalism, bullying and fatal accidents. Abuzar Ghafari school was recently built by Turks, the construction work is not yet finished while buildings, chairs, tables and windows have been damaged or destroyed. Students daily smash windows and doors in order to gain access to places where they are not supposed to go or steal books or other school property.
Bullying is very common on school compounds. Educators have a duty to ensure that students have a safe learning environment. But they are part of bullying; educators from headmaster to school watchman in turn beat students. Often teachers get a group of bullies to beat another student. Bullying can be a sign of other serious antisocial and/or violent behavior. Children who frequently bully their peers are more likely than others to:
• Get into frequent fights;
• Be injured in a fight;
• Vandalize or steal property;
• Drop out of school; and
Children as young as age of 9 have realised they need to learn to have a better income; many turn to private training centres for education. In a small residential suburb in west of Kabul there are around 10 private centres teaching English, Computer, Math and Science. I went to visit one which was pack with students aging from 30 to 8.
In Jowzjan province girls are unable to go to school because there is no school for girls. Private literacy and training centres are mushrooming including two in Gharghin district. Family poverty is the formidable factor for inability of children to go to schools. Average income per capita is less than $US 200 in Afghanistan. Meanwhile only 13.5% of families have access to sustainable income sources and economic vulnerability of families has direct impact on lack ofeducation.
Virtually all Afghan girls are children workers but they are not paid and regarded as working children. Girls as young as six years old are doing household work; this is full day work plus looking after children.
The economics of politics in Afghanistan will sustain current market oligopoly. The influence of political forces on the economy combines market and employment performance elements to exclude many from taking part and enjoying the benefits of participation. Some aspects which could result in exclusion are social and economic structures, gender relations, ethnic identities and spatial patterns of production. In the present condition this pattern of market performance is reinforced. The theory of dripping from rich to the poor has a wide application, even to the condition of Afghanistan.

Monday, January 05, 2009

زنده گی در کابل

اینجا برای ماندن من ادعا کم است
شهریست پر ملالت و در جاده ها بم است
اینجا باور بودن محال شد
یک سو سکوت، یک سو انتحار با بم است
در شاهراه عاطفه این عابر غریب
چهارراه زنده گی تندیس یک وهم است
در انتهای دهکده ما بنام عشق
خاطره فرار از این خطه تنها مجسم است
بر بال های خسته احساس این عقاب
آری، باور پرواز هنوز محکم است

از دوستم حکیمی با بعضی چوبکزدنها خودم

The problem of Palestinian is, they fail both in making peace and war

It is up to Palestinians to raise their voice against the tyranny of hamas. I have not heard a single voice from among Palestinians to condemn hamas rocket slinging. It has been over eight years that they continue to violet the cease fire treaty signed with Israel. What does hamas want war or peace? If peace then the world has facilitated for that to happen; war is an option too. Israel doesn’t seem to hesitate to bring it to them. I went to the friday protest in Kabul to see what they wanted; it bugged me to see muslims whinging and pitying Palestinians.

‘down with Israel’

‘Allah give us another Hitler to annihilate the rest of the jews’

‘we will fight to the last blood drop against the jews’

Were some of the slogans the crowd was chanting angrily.

In politics, one does not reject the offer of one's rival at once, in a fit of anger. One must thoroughly study the alternatives to the proposal rejected. Does the Palestinian side have viable alternatives that it has not revealed?... If the alternative is a bi-national state (as apparently proposed Sari Nusseibeh, who now seems to regret his previous moderateness), or the intifada of the Al-Qassam Brigades and Al-Aqsa Brigades, (an option which has been tried without success) – then it is nothing but the last piece of evidence that the Palestinian leaders... have not learned a thing from their past mistakes.

This must be done in order to avert a disastrous and final division of Palestine – with the West Bank given to Jordan and Gaza to Hamas or to Egypt – which will consign the name of Palestine to the annals of history. This disaster is not inconceivable, but is in fact rather likely. A solution to the Palestinian problem is crucial for the stability of the Middle East… just as the oil and the petrodollars are crucial for the recovery of world economy, which is in crisis. International diplomacy will not wait around until some of the Palestinian leaders recover from their rejectionism.

The first step in recovering from rejectionism is applying self-criticism: admitting that many Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are their own worst enemies, and that they are the ones who bring disasters upon themselves – not the Zionists, Imperialists, Free Masons, Communists, or else globalization or the New World Order – as claimed by the discourse that presents the Arabs as victims and drives them back to the stage of childish whining and pitiness. The inability of the Palestinian leaders so far to agree on a national dialogue plan for conciliation between Hamas and Fatah is the main reason why they have failed to implement their national goals. The history of the 20th century teaches us that no national liberation movement achieved victory while its people were fighting one another. The Zionist movement, for example, consisted of various political factions, but its armed forces were united, and there was one source of political authority, and this... is one of the most important secrets of its success.

The Egyptian initiative for Palestinian conciliation, which is supervised by one of Egypt's most prominent minds represent one of the last opportunities to find a solution for Fatah's inability to make peace and Hamas' inability to make war. For the intelligent among the Hamas members, this is undoubtedly a golden opportunity to get past the psychological barrier that has kept them from finally shifting from religion to politics, from adherence to the laws of the shari'a in handling political affairs to a policy of respecting international resolutions, such as the U.N. resolution on the establishment of Israel and the principle of negotiating with Israel towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. Muslims narrow minded and stubborn view of the world through the dogmas of Sharia preoccupies them with the question of justice as oppose to political realities.

Hamas Political Bureau Head Khaled Mash'al did recognize Israel as 'an existing reality,' but in international law, half-recognition is non-recognition. Hamas must recognize Israel legally – a step that requires an official statement recognizing all the official International resolutions that the PLO and PA have recognized. In Palestinian history, these words will be written in letters of gold in Palestinian history, for they will be the fuel that will move the engine of the becalmed Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Many Muslims politicians continue to suffer from a closed-minded blindness. Palestinian politicians maintain the pathological aspirations to liberate all of Mandatory Palestine, and the Iranians have a deranged desire for an atomic bomb. the Afghan politicians are a bunch of shitheads who has no rationality and intellectual integrity other than Islam should rule. These politicians do not see the real challenges. But the fact on the ground is that all of them will eventually have to be realistic and accept the need for Arab-Israeli-Turkish-Iranian cooperation that will steer them forwards instead of wasting time, money and blood on the murderous dialectic of war and resistance...