Friday, October 10, 2014

closure of local radio in Baghlan

its unfortunate to hear reports of police crack down on local Khoshi radio in Baghlan. the closure of the radio and the arrest of radio staff can not be justified. The ministry of information and interior should investigate the threats made by the local council of Ulema to burn down the station. the Ulema council should be directed to complaint channels and legal redressing should they have concern about radio content, such measure are clearly laid out in Afghan media law. Threat to resort to violence over disagreement is against the law and goes against the spirit of Islamic conduct and decency.
this is also an abuse of power to arrest and cease by the police, its not there to be used at will of the police chief but to enforce the law. 

this is worrying as the international presence comes to a drawdown the future of media freedoms in Afghanistan remain uncertain and there is a chance in reversal of achievement gained in the last ten years with support from international community and journalist support organisations. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

a letter to Rory Stewart on light touch in Afghanistan

Dear Rory Stewart,

you are one of the luckiest public figures to see in your life time your theory being put through thorough tests by the turn of events to confirm or refute it decisively. its most astonishing for its time frame, a year after your argument against western presence in Afghanistan and how grotesquely Islamist threat has been exaggerated by the west in a TED talk, the Islamic State in Sham (historical Syria and Iraq) is rampaging through cities and towns destabilising the region and causing a human tragedy, its also posing a serious threat to western interests and security and will continue to if left unchecked. 

Rory Stewart here is an exerpt from your speech  “… its extremely unlikely that Alqaida would enhance its ability to harm the United States or harm Europe this isn’t the 1990s anymore, if an Alqaida base was to be established near Ghazni we would hit them hard and it would be difficult for Taliban to protect them… its a great picture of David Beckham on the submachine gun … ”   
first and foremost its not a submachine gun, its a a 50Cal heavy machine gun with Linkless feed system. 

Rory the analysis of Islamism you presented is flawed, it fundamentally misinforms the forces at play, the people, politics, the history, the regional and global interplay and the role of various institutions. this TED talk is a representation of what exactly is wrong with the west. your solution for everything is Air strike, you got a cough!? air strike! this is not how you promote global stability.  in an alternative universe would Britain be stable if the Afghan Air Force conducted a raid on UKIP HQ due to a remark by Nigel Farage or pay and train the French to burn down all the schools in Farage’s constituency? don't bother its rhetorical. 

Its not only the recent evidence but also the shortcomings of the argument, the approach you present is contradictory. while its argued against western support and mentoring of the young Afghan government you have been keen to argue for a Hawkish stand against Russia and establishment of new bases to “confront Russia”. its beweldering to me why you would argue for and against the primacy of military emphasise at the same time.  

The argument is based on wrong lesson from Afghanistan, its not that doing little or nothing is western interest in Afghanistan or across the world but the west needs to fundamentally rethink its relationship with the rest of the world. the most important lesson that needs to be learned from the failed mission in Afghanistan is how difficult it is to stabilise and establish minimal institutions after a period of instability which is caused by factionalism and proxy wars. air strikes is not going to solve security problems or bring prosperity.  The west needs to develop and practice a doctrine of military restraint to stop it from unleashing its might against fragile state and learn to trade and partner with fragile states. I laugh as i say this, its not going to happen because it goes against human nature but its a valid point for debunking your argument. 

I also disagree with scenarios proposed in TED talk. it foresees events in a linear dimension "Taliban are not going to return … Alqaida is not going to return … Islamism is not a threat to the west…  Afghans are like X or Y …. if Taliban return we will do X or Y and that will sort it”. This is not how complex event pans out. complexity is created out of numerous causes and millions of potential causes, the outcome of it can neither be predicted nor managed because there are so many things that can happen. our brain is programmed to identify X and Y as important events and provide a range of reasons. this is intellectual fraud, there are a millions of substitutes for X and Y and all are as valid. when is the next big forest fire going to be? where is it going to be? is the fire in the Southdown National Park going to be a bone fire or a large fire? We have limited ability to predict the course of events or manage them. What is the next big political event going to be? is it going to be Taliban or Insurgency in India? bang no its ISIL. bang! its Ukraine. nobody foresaw this. yet all politician would find reasons to explain it. this is what i call intellectual fraud. how many ISIL or humiliation in Afghanistan or financial crisis need to happen before politician learn this simple premises. It is misleading to create scenarios based on observed facts. Contrary to conventional wisdom, our ability to foresee events does not increase from a series of confirmatory observation or past scenarios. 

I did not like your series about Afghanistan on BBC2, you erroneously bundled all foreign interventions together for condemnation. I also found the documentary condescending and offensive in a typically British way. the program did not attempt to achieve a balanced understanding of Afghan psyche, it was skewed toward interviewing people who would confirm the programme premises. The programme bundled together various points of history without understanding the dynamics of the situations. it ignored the fact that, with the exception of few, Afghans support western presence in Afghanistan. I know personally hundreds of Afghans like myself who would oppose Soviet and British interventions of 20th and 19th centuries but would support current NATO mission in their country. 

It comes as a surprise to me to hear there is a Tory MP in Scotland, you must feel out of place. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Grand irony

Perhaps it's surprising that association of economic progress with disillusion is western peculiarity. As a major political and social stream the left and the youth have always been conspicuously ungrateful for the benefits conferred by capitalism not the least of which has been functioning educational system and state institutions that has been instrumental to a conducive environment where they roam, think and live free. I wonder if they notice the irony.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

narrative fallacy

did you see John Kerry's article on Afghan unity government? link below and my thought is:

Politicians have us convinced that their measure is useful by pointing out instances where it proved helpful, not those where it was a waste of time, or, worse, those numerous objectives that were not met inflicted a severe cost on society owing to the highly unempirical nature of their approach. we naturally tend to look for instances that confirm our story and our vision of the world (narrative fallacy). one of those visions deal with the duality of nature - evil and good. this makes it possible for the government to construct stories that would fit our vision of the world and have us get behind it. You take past instances that corroborate your theories and you treat them as evidence. they will brush aside the numbers instances they failed. any fool with the tool can prove what they are looking for, a series of corroborative facts is not necessarily evidence. The government has massive resources to hire researcher to prove whatever they needed to be proven.  the exploitation of our confirmatory bias is then mixed with attempts like this; they will deliberately confuse audience when it suits them, they will be happy to show us their "accomplishment” and frame it as social accomplishment while there is no societal benefit from them having their job done. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

knowledge is overrated

In the last decade and half that I was part of the Afghan media circle I have come to notice that journalists tended to focus not necessarily around the same opinions but frequently around the same framework of analyses. They assign the same importance to the same sets of circumstances and cut reality into the same categories, creating an environment where opinions and analysis are based on each other. The character of the Afghan state was reclaimed a democracy after three decades of roller coaster that took it from democracy to Islamic republic to Islamic emirate. While Afghanistan had traditionally been part of Central Asia with centuries of cultural and linguistic ties it was moved to south Asia overnight, the things the mind can do - heave off an entire country. but the natives did not become conditioned to any of this; as the years passed by this become a game of the elites and far removed from the people. this should already be surprising, people carry on with their lives no matter what others make of them or think of them.  A friend who happened to be a journalist too once asked me what is the news on the street and I gave him the usual run down he readily replied “no, no. not that, the word on the street, the small talks”. he travelled around in taxis and relished a chat with the cabdriver. I later realised that he was up to something. I noticed that very intelligent and informed persons were at no advantage over cabdrivers in their predictions, but there was a crucial difference. Cabdrivers did not believe that they understood as much as learned people—really, they were not the experts and they knew it. Nobody knew anything, but elite thinkers thought that they knew more than the rest because they were elite thinkers, and if you’re a member of the elite, you automatically know more than the non elite. you might think that I am being harsh of the educated but there is a whole lot of literature out there that reveals the relation between power and access on one hand and the monopoly over knowledge; I have first hand experience of western graduates and hillbillies running top organisations or setting agenda from an advisory position. The reason Afghans took the back seat role was because the westerners had access to information or at least sources that packaged information. It is not just knowledge but information that can be of dubious value. It came to my notice that almost everybody was acquainted with current events in their smallest details. hundreds of radio and television stations had been set up with assistance from westerners and sponsored by warlords. The overlap between news was so large that you would get less and less information the more you knew. Yet everyone was so eager to become familiar with every fact that they read every freshly printed document and listened to every radio station as if the great answer was going to be revealed to them in the next bulletin. as a member of the elites and one who worked parallel with the westerners I can confirm that the problem was even worst among the westerners. they spent most of their working day gathering news from mass media and most of the afternoon in networking, euphemism for an event dedicated to information exchange.

Another variation of the same event you can see in the banking and investment industry. after the financial crush of 2008 it should be obvious to us that nobody really knew what was going on but the bankers found away to wrap their information in mathematics. don’t get me wrong the maths were accurate so is much of the information in the media but then why are we fooled.  it is a problem of knowledge and science. My idea is that not only are some scientific results useless in real life, because they underestimate the impact of the highly improbable (or lead us to ignore it), but that many of them may be actually creating false expectations and distorted probabilities. worst of all the scientific method can convincingly explain unforeseen events after its occurrence, boosting our conviction to deal with the world as we did and by using science and information. 

Generalisation is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories. intellectual contagion was the culprit. If you selected one hundred independent-minded journalists capable of seeing factors in isolation from one another, you would get one hundred different opinions. But the process of having these people report in lockstep caused the dimensionality of the opinion set to shrink considerably—they converged on opinions and used the same items as causes. For instance, to depart from Afghanistan for a moment, reporters now refer to “2013 UK chart” assuming that there was something particularly distinct about music, bankers agreed on crazy indicators as explanatory factors of the quality of worthiness of individuals. If you want to see what I mean by the arbitrariness of categories, check the situation of polarized politics. The next time a Martian visits earth, try to explain to him why strong Scottish independence fever is in response to the rise of Euro Scepticism in England, Scotland would rather exit the Union with Celtic and anglo-saxon neighbours and enter one with a few dozen countries which are thousands of miles away;  or while Scottish politician are in favour of more political freedoms they oppose economic freedoms. try explaining that while Obama administration seeks to address factionalism in Iraq by supporting a central government its trying to achieve the same aim at the same time in Syria by fighting against the government. or try riddling the reason Obama administration is planning to remove Syrian president is because he is seen as evil while the administration is allied with Saudi King or Qatari government or Iraqi government which is as evil and corrupt. I noticed the absurdity of categorisation when I was quite young. The best way to prove the arbitrary character of these categories, and the contagion effect they produce, is to remember how frequently these generalisations reverse in history. Libertarians used to be left-wing. Saddam Hussain was american ally. Christian Intellectuals until mid 20 century were anti-Semite while Muslims were Jewish allies. Ukraine was Russian slav brothers. Poland has a two century experience of partition and occupation and now is at the forefront and payroll of American quasi imperial expeditionary wars. Afghan political elites were staunched anti foreign who fought the Soviets and Pakistan for  two decades and now under American thumbs. any student of history can not stop once they start the counts of these ironies. What is interesting to me is that some random event makes one group that initially supports an issue ally itself with another group that supports another issue, thus causing the two items to fuse and unify … until the surprise of separation. Categorising always produces reduction in true complexity. Any reduction of the world around us can have explosive consequences since it rules out some sources of uncertainty; it drives us to a misunderstanding of the fabric of the world. For instance, killing teachers, destroying schools, killing health professionals and destroying hospitals were legitimate targets and pursued  by American Administration in Afghanistan through Islamic radicals for a decade until the same people destroyed a few of your buildings.  

Since I have moved to the UK I have been astonished and bewlidered at how efficiently this country functions. there is no doubt that British people and those in charge of the country are knowedgable but according to my narrative knowledge is useless so what was the secret of the success. until it finally hit me, it was freedom. intelligent people and decision makers do not create prosperity; its efficient systems that create prosperity by nurturing an environment where contradictory opinions shape and struggle against each other and individual and group sets on various courses, some would fail while others would succeed. its this fertile ground for trial and error that is the reason for success. the opposite of intelligent society is not unintelligent society but efficient society. you need the opposite of intelligent society to achieve property. my idea of efficient society was reinforced when I took up for awhile trading futures, forex and other financial commodities. I realised that there is no way to derive profits from traded securities since these instruments have automatically incorporated all the available information. Public information can therefore be useless, particularly to a businessman, since prices can already “include” all such information, and news shared with millions gives you no real advantage. Odds are that one or more of the hundreds of millions of other readers of such information will already have bought the security, thus pushing up the price. I then give up watching Bloomberg and reading Financial Times. I also thought myself mathematics and run technical analysis on the market. this too was useless as i realised the strain of technical trading would wear me down and panic would easily set in when we face are efficient not because of scientific tools or perfect information but because of the participant interaction. 

I would like to use this arguement to drive a couple of lessons that we can apply to the current events. I think the election in Afghanistan is a farce, it has no impact on prosperity as a matter of fact it has negative impact on property by causing ethnic agitation and factional confrontation. the salvation of Afghanistan is to stop elections and create an efficient system of governance. the same argument applies to Scottish independence. the question scots should ask is whether the system is working or not and whether they feel nationalistic or not. having a Scottish government led by Scottish politician will have no impact on prosperity. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

What should the EU learn from the situation in Ukraine

Ukraine is another example of EU failure resulting from expansionist policies. As the situation in Kiev increasingly resembles a civil war the EU has failed to take an effective stance. Not only does Russia have a greater stake in Ukraine, it also has more potential for wielding influence. That's not just the 15 billion dollars that Putin has now promised. With its - failed - association agreement, the EU seems to have overlooked this. Russia's partnership with Ukraine is of decisive importance for its geopolitical position in Europe. Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine that can't be ignored. So it's high time to bury the completely anachronistic conflict between Brussels and Moscow about whose zone of influence Ukraine lies in. The EU must come to an understanding with Russia. By working together, they can perhaps bring their influence to bear in Kiev.

I have always felt that the task the EU has set itself to is too complex to be handled by an organisation. The integration of nation states into a common legal and economic block with citizen rights as the aim of governance is not something anyone has got anything reasonable against. It’s the politics and organisational processes that I object against. The EU has turned into an expansionist institution very similar to imperial powers, as they always do, the EU too has lost discretion and effectiveness. let me highlight what I mean by expansionism, after the fall of communism the EU expanded to the east and south. the accession process was the single most important engine for change in those countries. But once the member state has joined the European Union, The EU has no instrument to see whether the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary still command respect. In some cases it does not; less than three months after joining the EU Croatia created laws to protect alleged war criminals who committed atrocities during the Balkan wars from extradition. And new member states across Central Europe continue to draw fire for segregation and violent attacks against minorities. Amnesty International reported more than 120 beatings, shootings and stabbings over the past four years. When the Croatian soccer player Josip Simunic celebrated his team's victory over Iceland in 2013 with a nationalist slogan from the country's World War II pro-Nazi puppet regime, thousands of fans roared in approval. Hungary hasn't made sufficient progress towards a sustainable correction of its excessive deficit and worsened the situation by making changes to central bank, data protection and judiciary. the new central bank law puts the bank's independence at risk by allowing the president to install a new deputy governor. In none of these circumstances the EU was able to enact sanctions against the member state and it seems to an onlooker that the EU is only effective until members join the club and the club is unable or unwilling to take action against the members while very keen to add new members.  

Friday, January 17, 2014

The most common trap that developmental outreach campaigns run afoul

It is "Professionalism"! let me explain.

Development Organisations, such as INGOs and UN branches as well as government aid agencies, focus the efforts of public relation on producing what they have termed success stories. This misses the simple notion that you ought to build bridges of truthfulness and sincerity. That dreaded term, the public relation, is quite often a way to allocate resources for efforts that responds to expectations while the real object of outreach is to build trustful relation with target audience based on honesty. I am not arguing that we should set out to achieving objective honesty. far from it I believe that is not achievable in development work without the accountability that can only be assumed by democratic national government. I am arguing for intentional honesty, the aim of which is to bridge the divide between beneficiary expectation and development effort. There is overwhelming evidence that shows people are more likely to engage in efforts in the community when the effort speaks to them and when it faces similar obstacles and problems as they do.

We have all heard so many times that we have to approach this issue formally and in a professional manner. This disguise conceals lack of information and understanding but portrays someone who sounds knowledgeable. The most important element of “Public Relation” in my view is for media professionals to understand the issue first before setting out on a media campaign. The notion to summon a professional self is misguided and undermines the most efficient mechanism they have at their disposal which is relating the issue to their own experience and life. We understand the world through personal experience and no pseudoscientific media campaign comes close enough to a good substitute. I often wonder if professionals approach all issues in this manner. Can you imagine these people going home and talking with their children “children tonight for dinner and entertainment we are having a workshop, where we intend to reinforce our family values, create an environment where our sisters feel safe. The way we are going to do is by drawing. Lets draw pictures of how we see our family. What’s that Ivan, do you want some milk, that is great, go ahead and draw some milk. As a matter of fact lets all draw a supper for us. Then we sit and think about how we would eat it. Did you all like your supper?”

Much of the work about media outreach in the development context is generated by expatriates who work and live in far and wild places for a year or two where they live in a bubble inside which they enjoy amenities not available to locals. This means they don’t get to have the authentic experience of life but yet they are considered experts by fiat of just in the geographical location. expatriate professional does not understand the underpinnings and their experience is mostly literal. Much like my experience the other day in the pub. I ordered a beer and the waitress said “do you want anything else, love” and I said “oh! we're doing that, you look exquisite and nice but I am married” she looked stunned and had no idea what I was talking about, you can't even order a beer if you take people literally. I later found out that love in British doesn’t mean what I thought it meant. It’s a way of insulting people who are not doing as good as they think they are. I learned this after I picked tennis for awhile, if its 30 love then it’s not good.

Development agencies are like corporations from the  80s they have not benefited at all from the astonishing headways in the field of psychology that explains human behaviour and creativity. A more effective way of engaging the populous through media effort is by understanding how local staff relate to the organisation and how the beneficiaries value development issues. With the invent of digital media and recent advances in social media and telephony this is easier than ever before.