Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rationality and Taliban and how can we rationally handle them

Here is a daunting question; are Taliban rational? i say terrorism is the only rational thing Taliban are capable to do. Taliban as individuals are not rational. they lack control over basic human instincts such as anger, joy, jealousy… etc. that is why they decided to be Taliban as a result of foreign occupation, corruption or anything that is happening in Afghanistan which made them angry. Taliban movement is the only framework that helps the lunatics behave rationally and have a sense of fulfillment.

Mullah Rockety, Waheed Mozhda and Abdul Salam for instance were all Taliban but they are not any more. They are in the government or have something going that is engaging and provides that rationality which they once enjoyed from being a Talib. No longer these men have nothing to lose.

There has been many theories to reconstruct a rational theory of terrorism an one of the best is Eli Berman's. Reverse the story of mullah rockety or abdul salam and you get a sense of Berman's argument: effective terrorist groups are effective only because their members are cut off from the outside world and have little to gain from quitting the group. This could be caused by many things such as poor education and etc but the core reason for the majority of a nation is bad governance and in Afghanistan failed state for decades.

Of course, the world is not short of terrorists, but there are many grievances, many disaffected young men and hundreds of thousands of murders or deaths on the battlefield. Given what an impact terrorist violence can have, and how low-tech it can be, Berman is probably right to suggest that the rarity of effective terrorists, however welcome, is a puzzle.

Lets pursue rational terrorism and the answer is in former Taliban. A single defector can jeopardise a terrorist network, and defections do happen. Sudanese militant Jamal al-Fadl quit al-Qaeda in the mid 1990s and jumped ship to the US, reportedly for huge sums of money. Abu Musab alZarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, died when his safe house was bombed in June 2006 – it has been reported that an associate betrayed him for the $25m bounty on his head.

The higher the stakes, the more tempting it will be for a half-hearted terrorist to defect. Berman argues that radical religious groups are well-equipped to ensure that there is no such thing as a half-hearted terrorist. It is not the theology of such groups – martyrdom, for instance – that makes the difference, but their ability to cut off outside options and create very strong ties between group members. there was not a single thing that we didn't fear not to do without fearing Taliban reprisal, from flying kite to the colour of cloths and even genital hair. Everything was Taliban business. The aim is to reinforce a group identity and make everyone part of the circle.

At the core of Taliban is a set of rules that makes it unattractive for adherents to leave, and attractive for them to stay. If they stay, they enjoy the membership of a group that provides substantial social services to members. If they leave – having been cut off from education, work and isolated from real life – their options will be limited, even if they do run off with a truck full of smuggled goods or a pay-off from the Americans.

Berman's theory is puzzling in some ways. He devotes very little attention to the fact that the violent religious groups he studies – the Taliban, Hamas, Hizbollah and the Mahdi Army – are all Islamic. But the focus on the way some radical religious groups are able to control defection does seem very fruitful. It points to clear solutions, too: give potential terrorists attractive outside options, offer effective social services and try to cut off their sources of funding. Not at all easy, and not altogether new. but, what is?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SMS in Afghan media

SMS text messages are a natural part of local radio stations; SMS messages are inexpensive and easy-to-use and in recent years the mobile phones that are needed for sending and receiving them have become ubiquitous. In most stations SMS use is informal. Only tolo tv and a few other high profile stations make complex use of SMS. These are good examples of experiences of complex uses of SMS by afghan media but this cannot be duplicated in local media without external funding and technical support, even though the financial and technical resources required are minimal.

A local radio station, catering to a district of 50000 people receives on average 150 letters a day. these letters are general in origin and most of them are not being used by the radio station. The point here is, a culture of participation in local radio station already exist. Now the next step is to use technology in order to transfer letters into SMS. Once this takes place there are many other creative ways to build programmes with participatory themes. Technologies such as frontline SMS can be used to segregate incoming text and create programmes with real time polling and etc. As mobile phones become increasingly common, SMS messages are being used by community media in a variety of ways. At its simplest, announcers and journalists announce their phone numbers over the air and invite listeners to send messages with comments on the news, questions, greetings, song requests… Some of these are then used on-air.

Desktop software and web-based services allow stations to do more. However, local radio stations in Afghanistan don't know much about them, even though they offer a low-cost and relatively simple way of stimulating participation and interaction. There are various software and service packages available. Among them is FrontlineSMS, a programme that runs on a computer connected by a cable to an ordinary mobile phone. Unlike most other programs and services, FrontlineSMS does not require a connection to the internet – messages are composed, stored and processed on the computer and sent and received on the mobile. There are a variety of tools available with different capabilities and pricing. Basic services useful for community media include:

  1. Broadcast messages to dozens or even thousands of mobiles advising them of a special programme or an important community activity
  2. Keyword response – when a listener sends the letter "A" the station replies with a text message listing activities while "B" is answered with current headlines and "C" is answered with the weather forcast.
  3. Encourage the public to take part in content production for instance send news, views and reports.

We have just entered into an agreement with three of the largest telcos where they provide us a premium number with toll free feature; this means that stations can generate feedback via mobiles without the listeners having to pay even the cost of SMS message. The cost of the SMS can be a barrier to some; by removing it we can have a larger poll of participation in the radio station.

I am trying to incorporate SMS polling into local radio programming. This feature is particularly useful for getting the public talk about large political issues. The upcoming parliamentary elections represent us with a good opportunity to use SMS feature in local media. We are planning to use SMS to poll listeners on a number of questions. We can do a program around question; the same question will be put to a panel of guests in the studio and to audience to respond via SMS. The questions are designed to provoke debate about democracy rather than to measure public opinion. Examples included: "Have politicians done enough to fight corruption and mismanagement of public resources?", "Do you think special seats should be created for women in parliament?", "Does party politics foster national unity?" and "Do you feel your vote has the power to make a difference?". I think they did the same thing in Kenya; and they had a website where they posted the results. We can do a similar website too;

FSMS can also be used to create a network of citizen journalists for a website or radio station. This is particularly useful to do in a place like Kabul where you have a sway of folks interested for instance journalists students; they can get some training which is useful and some hands on journalistic experiences. They can send their news and views via SMS messages. A selection of the messages will be published /aired while others will be redistributed via SMS to community members. It is quite difficult to fit the news into the 160 characters that an SMS message can have, but there are ways to overcome the problem.

Similarly a radio station can use SMS to encourage audiences and the general public to send breaking news. it can also be used for specific campaigns for instance people report police corruption.


Friday, April 02, 2010

Karzai: a psycho or an April fool joker

I thought karzai is pulling a Prank yesterday, it was funnier than his usual notes - after all it can be an April fool joke. Then I realized that he was dead serious. This government is a joke if he was not kidding yesterday. I had a bad day yesterday, I had to look for a place for half an hour to park my car and then the guards outside some house called after I parked and left; saying we will crush your windows and tear down your doors. Literally all streets are impounded by someone and blocked. This whole city feels like a psycho house and Karzai just complete the organogram as the head of nutters.

Karzai accused all foreigner of blackmail, fraud, bribery, threat and vast misconduct during presidentially election he singled out Peter Galbraith and the EU mission head Gen Phillippe Morillon of being involved in a plot to put a puppet government in power. He mentioned foreign embassy, MPs and congressmen trying to bribe Mr. Najafi and Lodin to swing votes.

Karzai talked about an organised plot by foreigners to rule Afghanistan. in this conspiracy he added, their military, industry, finance and media play central roles. he added "foreigners tried to bribe IEC staff with money, used threats and their New York times printed hostile article at their order, so they can change the fate of Afghans".

He said 'a foreign embassy called Mr. Najafi with directions… they also said if he fail to follow he will make his way toward his grave.' Then Najafi presented his resignation which karzai refused. The question is: Why are you the president of a country whose highest electoral officials are being threaten, harassed and forced by some embassy. Why did you keep it quiet for four and a half months? As a leader I think you have to do something about it and what are you going to do about it. Leadership comes with the responsibility to be constructive and refrain from cultural urge for whinging. Karzai needs to evaluate presidential election and ensure integrity of parliamentary elections. This is not even close to how this clown thinks. He made absurd claims to sensationalize public opinions and this is a power game. Mr Karzai is currently locked in a power struggle with parliament over his attempt to appoint all the monitors in Afghanistan's election process. Karzai's comments come a day after the Afghan parliament rejected his attempt to have an all-Afghan body monitoring elections.

Karzai's suggestion that foreigners would organise electoral fraud was "absurd"; especially after what he did; mass fraud which is well proven by many sources. It is even more absurd to see karzai stamp on next election being funded by the same foreigners. It was a few weeks ago he asked the UN to provide technical assistance in general area of organization. His regime is incapable of funding, planning and undertaking the election. Why is the international community playing along with this baby? He once again shows how reliable he could be as a ally.