Showing posts with label afghanistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label afghanistan. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Breadwinner is a daughter, a sister and a girl’s struggle with the Taliban

The story of Breadwinner takes place in the final days of Taliban regime around the family life of a girl called Parvana. Nurualla is Parvana's dad and a former teacher. The family struggles for food and water as Nurualla has one leg and female members of the family aren't allowed to work.

Idris who was a student of Nurulla has lost the way of righteousness. He is a bully and now has joined the Taliban. In a plot mastered by Idris Nurulla is sent to prison. The family’s situation becomes more dire. In Talibans' Perverted version of Islam women are not allowed to go out in public without an adult male escort so it’s up to Parvana, dressed as a boy, to become the family’s unlikely breadwinner.

Parvana’s mission is even more dangerous and arduous than that, because she’s determined to find out what has happened to her father and, if possible, to rescue him.

The film is an interesting strain of its genre, a downbeat drama with elements of inspirational fantasy. The drama aspect would have been stronger and more compelling if the story was filmed instead of animation. however the animation lends itself to integrating a parallel subplot steeped in myth and folklore in which a brave hero must undertake a perilous journey to confront and defeat fearful creatures. 

The Breadwinner is an alternative narrative to what people generally know of Afghan women. It's an inspiring story in a very plausible context that challenges Afghan women stereotype. The story rails against the dominant narrative created by the news media where the female is weak, victimised and subjugated. its a story of female empowerment, embodied in heroic Parvana. 

The film doesn't exaggerate the beneficial results of Parvana’s courage nor it ends in the best possible outcome for the family. It's not a glorified tale of splendour, victories and happy endings. It's about real struggles of ordinary women in a totalitarian society.

The film is delightful for adults and older children. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Reason a woman is brutally murdered by a mob in Kabul

An angry mob lynched a woman in Kabul on Thursday, beating her to death and then setting her body on fire.  The incident happened in the centre of Kabul and under the watch of Afghan police. At the time she was accused of burning the Quran but it is unclear whether she had actually burned it or not. A government statement from ministry of Haj and religious affairs dismissed the account and added she was an attendant at the shrine, according to Tolo News. It has also become apparent that the victim later identified as Farkhunda suffered mental illness, “Farkhunda had a mental malady, and we have been seeing many mullahs and doctors to seek a cure for her mental illness,” her mother told reporters.The last couple of days I have been thinking why such a barbaric and anti-Islamic travesty happens yet a large number, but not all, Afghans support it. The New york times in a story reflects on Afghans Reaction reporting approval. Reuters Report of support from cleric who in a sermon broadcast by loudspeaker told devotees that the crowd had a right to defend their Muslim beliefs at all costs.

Before we lose perspective and infer bile stereotypes of Afghans and slash any hope for this nation where a mob of angry men bludgeon to death an innocent woman, lets remind ourselves of murder and death in the state of nature. No other word depicts the human condition than the visionary masterwork of Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel, The Triumph of Death, it is not of course a work of realism, but Breugel certainly did not have to rely entirely on his imagination to depict a scene of stomach wrenching death and destruction. In a land ruled by an army of skeletons, a king lies dying, his treasure of no avail, while a dog gnaws on a nearby corpse. In the background two hanged men on gibbets, four men broken on wheels, a man about to be beheaded. Armies clash, houses burn, men and women young and old soldier and civilians are all driven pell-mell into a narrow tunnel. No one is spared. The artist himself died in his early forties. The portray.

Much of human history is some version of agony depicted by Bruegel in the state of nature. Islam as cultural framework lifts the state of nature by creating an individual value system conducive to peaceful coexistence and as subjects of a legitimate Islamic state that is tasked to be a vessel of collective decision-making and enforcement. The laws of Islamic State of Afghanistan is based on Islamic values and principles. The basis for a judgment in Islamic law is the jurist’s ability to carefully apply knowledge to theory and practice. In order to be qualified to interpret the sources of law, a jurist should master many branches of knowledge such as logic, Quran, Hadith, history and general knowledge as well as specialised areas like commerce or international relations. This approach adopted by Islamic law to reach judgement through Fiqh, Ijma, Qiyas, Urf and Istisahan is to ensure due processes and streamline justice. Mob justice undermines due process of Islamic justice and is a manifestation of Jaliyat, it undermines Islamic foundations of Afghan society. It also shows obsession and compulsion with icons and symbols of religion that is only valued for its physical material. From the onset Islam opposed Icons and Statues in Kaba that were worshiped by the pagans. Islam is world-affirming by construing the created world as fundamentally a good place and placing responsibility on individual action. For such a system of belief conduct and laws are fundamental than icons and symbols.

I believe for such barbarism is a failure of state policy and structures. The state should create a monopoly on the means of violence. In practice, this criterion has often been reduced; first to a simple monopoly on violence and then to little more than control of capital city. However, it is the legitimacy of the state’s monopoly on violence as perceived by the citizens of the state that is the key to using this monopoly as a criterion of statehood. If the polity rejects the legitimacy of the state’s monopoly on violence, then that monopoly is inherently unstable. Hence the state’s monopoly on the means of violence must be balanced by the presence or creation of credible institutions that provide checks and balances on the use of force; that the state itself must be constituted through, and accountable under, the rule of law. The rule of law is undermined by the very same leaders and clerics who are high-level functionaries of the state. The powerful men and the current patronage system of state power distribution are impediments to rule of law and the real reason for the troubles that ravage Afghanistan. The violence of gangs and mobs are unnerving but they are nothing more than symptoms of an ailing system.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

The Lesson From Afghanistan

Western military presence in Afghanistan was dominated by an ideological paradigm with the mission to establish democracy and spread freedom. The insurgency was labelled as terrorism and to be militarily defeated, until the very end of the military mission little effort was made to understand the nature and context of the war in Afghanistan. The development industry, media, the Afghan state and western political and military institutions broadly subscribed to some version of such mission, not necessarily following the same narrative but the same general framework. The failure of the west in stabilising Afghanistan is not an Afghan specific issue but points to a general shortcoming of Western conduct in international relations.

The shortcoming of the Western governments that has contributed to global instability and violence is the fragility of its international discourse, while Western institutions are robust for national governance the foreign policy is not conducted in accordance with the same scrutiny, accountability, oversight and rule based approach. Instead the media and elites have created a myth about the role of the Western democracy in the world that they have now fallen for it themselves. Western diplomacy is spearheaded strongly by a subjective moral approach at the cost of consistency in international law, which has contributed to problems from tension with Russia, spread of violent religious extremism and instability in the Middle East, Africa, south and east Europe. 

Many Westerners, particularly the elites, are convinced that Western democracy is moral and superior and should actively be spread around the world; all who oppose it are evil. A narrative reinforced by retrospective view after collapse of Soviet Block as well as massive economic developments of the last few decades. Western diplomacy is conducted from the position that the future belonged to them as a result those who resist are not (and were not) just rivals, but reactionary forces resisting progress and freedom, even evil. Working from this position of righteousness Western governments shape international relationship in whatever way they deem fit because by virtue of their nature it is only going to be moral and just. As a result we have seen a spate of military interventions in the last few decades that in most cases overruled national sovereignty and/or international law.  

There is a good reason for the international democracy mission that could be explained by understanding the current state of modern Western nations. Nation states are cultural and political entities that have successfully unified the population for progress, unconstrained by their class, race or religion. When governments are unable to exploit all human resources it will result in social fragmentation and reduced social solidarity the symptoms of which are the strengthening of regional identity and anti-political far right or far left movements. This is obvious in the debate around immigration where natives and the government respond to them are anxious about the allegiance of new comers. The crisis of the Nation State in the post-industrial information age is the diversification of culture, the total liberation of individual from traditional bonds, globalisation and market powers resulting in the erosion of the role of the nation state and its legitimacy. The leaders of nation states have been reduced to mere Managers of public life jiggling regulations and clauses that are laid out in the big rulebook, which is scientifically proven to work.

The only area of real decision-making is the international arena where western leaders are effectively members of a club. The short term and direct outcome of aggressive international military intervention is to demonstrate leadership toughness to the voters which incidental is very important. Secondly and more importantly it gives the nation a sense of purpose and solidarity by emphasising a cultural framework that is distinct and superior.

Lets take France for an example where polls show it’s becoming ever more socially fragmented, pessimistic, xenophobic and economically under pressure and experiencing a rise in far-right politics where Marine Le Pen has emerged as a key figure for the 2017 presidential election race. In 2013 France launched Operation Serval in Northern Mali to uproot Islamists threatening the region. President Hollande’s approval ratings doubled, which had plummeted for several reasons since he was elected to office in May 2012. A poll in January 2013 showed that 75 percent of people questioned in France supported the intervention in Mali, there is not a single other issue that can command that kind of public support hence legitimacy.

Western leadership is nurturing a religiously belief in the gods of liberty and democracy, worshipped in flag rituals, national days and a godly mission to save the less fortunate by bombing them to civilisation. The soldiers of the nation are for the sacred duty, but unlike the religious duty of dying for God they are to kill for the nation, what Benedict Anderson called the “imagined community”, inadvertently nevertheless very well depicted in the Hollywood movie American Sniper. The problem with such an ideological approach to international problem in the modern day is that it exacerbates the situation for which it purports to be the cure.  A qualified argument can be made that western military action in Afghanistan intensified extremism, the same is true for Iraq, Libya and Syria.

The ideology of international democracy mission produces a perverse solidary that gives the nation its purpose at the cost of capacity to reason and apply rational solutions to international relations. The NATO military mission had little respect for Afghan life or decision-making, most key decisions were made by Westerners; some of this can be attributed to lack of sound Afghan leadership. The argument still holds by studying the dysfunctional relation of NATO members who were preoccupied by pity squabbles and showed little appetite for collaboration and coordination.

In the course of Afghan war we came to witness Westerners committing torture, illegal detentions, killing civilians and in some cases targeting civilians, large scale corruption, propping up warlords and drug lords and general abuse of power. This does not reconcile with the high moral stance the West take and only comes to show not only that the assessment and solution applied to Afghanistan was ill-suited but also the moral principles that the west pride to is conditional and only applies to some people. This is while the conflict was of low intensity in comparison to other wars fought in the last three decades that means the destruction and distress caused by the war should have been manageable especially given the tremendous military and economic capacity of the west. Afghanistan and any other country have its own context and challenges that are unique to it.  The structural injustice of agrarian state and the impediments to intellectual and political liberty created by poverty will not allow the creation of an environment in Afghanistan that is free and democratic but as experience showed it can neither be created by the military and economic power of the west unless structural issues are addressed. This includes promoting international law, funding for education, promoting regional collaboration and facilitation of free trade.   

Friday, February 27, 2015

Who is editing Wikipedia?

I am working recently on Wikipedia Afghanistan country portal to dust of some edges and smoothen some rough patches. It’s important to me because Wikipedia is one of the main sources where people look for general information and topics of interest. It has several fold more readership than CIA factbook and BBC country profile combined and fortunately anyone can edit it.

Unfortunately my edits are quickly returned to a version that is more inline with the general media discourse and the views westerners hold about Afghanistan.  The version maintained is also in accordance with the current US policy in Afghanistan, portraying some people in favourable light and emphasizing some groups as evil. The stubbornness of the editor to maintain the current version, points to the possibility of a dedicated editor(s), which raise some curious questions.

Lets have a look at what’s out there, for instance the current summary on 1992-1996 phase of Afghan civil war has the following summary:

The 1992 to 1996 phase of the conflict in Afghanistan (1978–present) began after the resignation of the communist PresidentMohammad Najibullah. The post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan was established by the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power-sharing agreement under which all the Afghan parties were united in April 1992, except for the Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar started a bombardment campaign against the capital city Kabul which marked the beginning of this new phase in the war. In direct contrast to the Soviet era, the countryside witnessed relative calm during that period while major cities such as Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar witnessed violent fighting.

I don’t think that is accurate so I changed to the following:

The 1992 to 1996 phase of the conflict in Afghanistan (1978–present) began after the resignation of last president of Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah. The Islamic State of Afghanistan that succeeded the Republic of Afghanistan was established by the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power-sharing agreement under which most Mujahedeen Parties attempted to unite. While Negotiations under the auspices of Pakistan was still underway Hekmatyar's troops from the south, Massood from the North, Hezb-e-Wahdat from the West and Junbish Millie of General Dostum through International Airport infiltrated Kabul, followed by looting of Afghan Army equipment and government infrastructure.[1] The war broke out immediately for control of buildings and districts in major cities while negotiations were still underway in Peshawar.[2] Throughout the period the fictions formed kaleidoscopic variety of coalition to gain full control of Kabul city. [3]
The best way to writing an accurate summary of historical event is by doing sufficient research, fact checking and vetting the credentials and sniffing out conflicts of interest that might colour sources. Editors must avoid fuzzy statements, contradictions, or sweeping conclusions beyond what’s supported by evidence. Multiple and diverse sources should be provided for summary statements, quality of the statement depends on the quality of sources.

The summary statement should be related to the wider historical context. Most importantly, and I cannot overemphasize this, it should be accurate from an Afghan political and social perspective. The historical narrative available on Wikipedia that seems not to be revisable is a good representation of what the Americans think about Afghanistan.

What is the historical context from Afghan perspective that can lend meaning to the summary?

Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan deteriorated into a brutal civil war between rival mujahideen groups, many of which had spent much of their energy fighting each other even during the height of the anti-Soviet jihad. This civil war claimed thousands of lives and decimated the country’s infrastructure. The civil war intensified after a mujahideen group took Kabul in April 1992. Shortly afterwards, Beirut-style street fighting erupted in the city, fictions along ethnic and sectarian lines. This civil war, fought with the vast surplus ordnance of the covert anti-Soviet military aid program and huge stockpiles of abandoned Soviet weapons, eventually wreaked as much if not more damage and destruction on the country than the Soviet invasion and occupation. Kabul, which was left virtually untouched under Soviet occupation, was savagely bombarded with rockets, mortars, and artillery. In Kandahar, fighting between Islamists and traditionalist mujahideen parties resulted in the destruction of much of the traditional power structures. In the rural areas, warlords, drug lords, and bandits ran amok in a state of anarchy created by the unraveling of the traditional tribal leadership system.
There is no good or evil here but rather a very important lesson that sectarian and fictional politics will give rise to militancy and violent religious extremism. This is not the creation of one evil man or group but brought about as a result of uncertainty and chaos of war.


[1] Conflict in Afghanistan: A Historical Encyclopedia By Frank Clements page 122

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mother Language

I want to say schiffahrtselektrizit which is German for seclusion because of language and depressed as a result is Rechtsschutzve, or it should be. I find it ironic that English is a more effective language of communication with my barber who is from Iran (structurally the same mother language). lack of literacy and connections have resulted in fragmentation of Farsi to the extent  that dialects have become so distinct that even regions within the same national border has features that are unique. The Dari I speak is only a practical spoken language with a small group of population, written language too is hermetic and insular. I just did a research and found out that the total number of internet pages and the total number of commercial content (hardcopies of instruction, guide, manual …) in Persian, *a* language of 120 million people, is fewer than Estonian, *the* language of less than 2 million people. It’s reclusive and lonely if your language is Dari and Pashto; when you think about it like that you come to realise the value of mother language and its importance for nurturing confidence and purpose

Friday, September 27, 2013

BBC is sleep walking into Political Bias

 An article published on 13 of September 2013 defines the upcoming Afghan election in regard to the politics and candidates relation to Ahmad Shah Masood, the slain commander of Mujahidin group under Northern Alliance umbrella. The article concludes that any delay to the election by some is seen as catastrophic.  “Masood was a proponent of fair election” the author adds “but some would argue he was not given the opportunity to organise an election”

In this article a key political process is defined through Masood’s perspective which is appropriate for Masood Heritage Foundation but not BBC. Although Masood’s legacy overshadows Afghan politics; influence of military leaders or of political leader for that matter remains a subject of perspective, even more so when we are talking about legacies. Some might see one of other hundred figures as influential, some might only view those alive as influential. BBC should not be using this major political event to provide a platform for coverage of Masood’s legacy. The article goes further by arguing that Masood was a proponent of election. This is inaccurate, Masood did not organise an election when he was practically running what resembled the national government neither his military wing established a national government with functioning institutions that can lay down a roadmap to election. It is not helpful to talk about a major military leader in terms of what he aspired to do instead of what he actually did; it would be unjust to those who suffered in the turmoil of Mujahidin military ambitions, to which Masood was a big part. It is indecent to dismiss civilian suffering by implying that it was delusions on their part and what actually happened was high class political discourse. I agree that BBC might want to create content about Masood’s legacy but it has to be balanced and accurate. It is inaccurate and unfair to set Masood’s legacy as the standard for election and interlink the two in an article.  

A bias article reinstates the concern of a particular group consistently and throughout without a counter opinion; little attention is paid to attribution of controversial facts. Using that definition this article is bias because it puts forth consistently and throughout the arguments currently made by the successor of Northern Alliance. Given that the author of the article is a staff member of the BBC one would expect that the article is as balanced as possible given the time allotted to story preparation and the space available, and to seek reliable sources. Common sense also commands to presume that such articles are being independently fact-checked by another employee of BBC. This only points out to the widespread domination of BBC Persian editorial by a political fiction, spreading opinions and interests of a particular political and social stream.  I have based this argument primarily on the content of the mentioned article, two other evidence I offer in support of the claim is the consistency and spread of such articles across the board. The method for proofing the former is a look at chronological run of bias articles and the later by evaluating authoring for each articles.

A second article that was published only a month before under the title of ‘lessons of Arab “autumn” for Afghanistan’, also outlines the views of the political calculus of what used to be Northern Alliance that identify themselves as former Mujhidin. The article argues that the murders committed by the military rulers of Egypt should be seen as atrocities of secular, while the Muslim Brotherhood is the victim. The author draws a clear parallel line between Mujahidin and their current political structure with that of Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood. Hence, the argument that political Islam has been incapable of sound governance and has committed atrocities while in power or seeking power does not hold ground. This is while Mujahidin fictions are responsible for most of the atrocities of the 90s as well as some that took place in the 80s which eventually resulted in the rise of Taliban. This article uses false logic by creating parallels between events that have different political roots, causes and results. The author attempts to deprecate the atrocities that various fiction of what he calls Mujahidin has committed by belittling their role in the crimes. The author attempts to downplay the responsibility Mujahidin should be taking for the crimes they had committed by overplaying the resemblance between Egypt and Afghanistan creating an imaginary group secular by its nature and somehow responsible for the crimes in Afghanistan.

Another variable I use to determine institutional bias in BBC is by identifying the authors of these articles. The premise is that institutional bias can be established if such articles are throughout and doctored by different authors. Link three below is another article I consider unduly favourable to Masood, which is by another author who is again a member of BBC Persian team. 

For plurality to be implemented an entity, in this case a nation, that represents diversity should exist. It might be the case that sectarian and ethnic divisions in Afghanistan runs so deep that the creation of balanced information based on Afghanistan wide perspective is unrealistic and unappealing. As a result any broadcaster catering to a linguistic group inclines towards the prevailing politics of that lingo-ethnic group. This certainly holds true if you look at BBC Pashto which some claim is similarly bias toward a Pan-Pashton politics. Many media outlets are ideologically motivated and inclined to support groups and parties that are politically or otherwise aligned with them. BBC Persian is intended to cater to Afghanistan wide audience and pursuing partisan politics is contrary to the policy and a violation of its mission. Should BBC decide to move toward catering to ethnic groups and semi-political fictions then that should be a conscious choice, not sleeping walking into it.

Here is the URL for this article

another article published under the title of lessons of Arab “autumn” for Afghanistan is at

link number three

Monday, March 04, 2013

Planning is difficult enough, planning for Afghanistan is a nightmare

My admiration for Western technology predates my first encounter; nevertheless the first encounter remains to be very impressive. When I was 19 I witnessed a grand banger display of western military might. The US military started bombing Taliban positions in Kabul in October 2011.  The first round of the bombing campaign targeted command and control centres, communication centres and long range surface to air batteries. one fine afternoon I was cycling in Karti Parwan area of Kabul when a Taliban command centre was hit by an incendiary bomb. The target was housed in a prominent private building which was seized by Taliban. It was one of the things about the Taliban, they were quite keen on claiming others property. The smoke was visible from any part of the city. As I was cycling by this huge house on fire, I had to wade my way through rubbles, body parts, pieces of Taliban light weaponry all scattered meters away on the main street by the power of the blast. This building was well known to everyone in Kabul for housing senior Arab and Pakistani Taliban commanders. In this phase long range bombers such as B52 and Cruise missiles were used to destroy the targets. The second tier of bombing targeted military installation, logistic and supply centres and mobile short range anti-aircraft guns. Then came the last round of bombing that targeted infantry unites. It was around 4pm that I saw for the first time an A10 Thunderbolt flying very low and slow. The aircraft slowed down and fired a round from its heavy rotary cannon while banking sharp left. The shell hit a car with half a dozen women and children on board. This was the first unfortunate incident I learned to know about. But it started to occur more often and more frequently; a week later a stray rocket from a gunship hit house of a friend of mine. One day I was chatting with my friends toward the end of Taliban days and one said; “the early days of bombing by B52s was very accurate but ever since these slow and low aircrafts has entered, the Americans are starting to miss targets”. I realised that something was going wrong. A10 Thunderbolt and Apache Gunship are exactly designed to penetrate into enemy controlled territory to seek, accurately identify and destroy enemy targets. So what was going wrong? Was this a tactical error, sort of an operational level bug occurring in the beta version and bound to be fixed once Westerners gain firm and more ground. Or was it a shortcoming that western technology was suffering?

Allied forces had superb and real-time information gathered by forward air control, high flying surveillance aircrafts and stratospheric satellites. This information dominance enabled allies to destroy enemy units with minimal collateral damage and loss of friendlies, their gain was compounded by the ignorance of Taliban. They could have never imagined that the Allies knew about their commanders and command centres. Oblivious to their predicament they had gathered in a command centre to sip on some green tea.  Not only that, but the information would be offered to a supercomputer (not the internet, I mean literally) which would make it available to other computers that are run by middle management. The middle management then distil the data into usable form while perceiving local situation. The computer would also tell the man on the top about the second and third order knock on effect. This is called Effect Based Operation in military it is shortened for EBO. EBO is offering the leadership a precise outcome of a tactical decision, therefore enabling them to guide troops on the ground. The rise of hierarchical organisation owes much to the invention of this concept. In the business world this concept is known as ‘the big picture’, the leader at the top of the organisation has an intrinsic claim on information in order to build the big picture. Resources, tools and a level of staff time are dedicated to supplying information for the leader. The leader then studies the market and competition before embarking on the most suitable course of action.

There are a few reasons that could possibly explain why the US led bombing campaign had become more inaccurate. The arrival of close air support and ground attack aircrafts to combat theatre did not contribute to inaccurate targeting. The reason was that the bombing campaign had become more extensive and from few targets a day had expanded to hundreds a day. This was bound to contain tragic loss of civilian life, contributed by the magnification of marginal error. Moreover, operations that grow in scope and scale within a short period of time tend to contain errors.  At this stage, the ‘big picture’ strategy advocates introduction of standard operating procedures (SOPs). it is feasible to eliminate operator level errors; by gathering accurate information the organisation can reduce the number of accidents and mitigate its impact. This sounds like conventional wisdom but why is it not working?

Boris Gromov was the commander of the 40th army, the core force of Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. Gromov served three tours of two years in Afghanistan. He undertook one of the most daunting duties in the history. He wanted to create institutions with apparatus that would be capable to connect with communities across Afghanistan and collect information that would enable him to curb the resistance and win over the support of the population. This was the first attempt in Afghanistan, individual only interacted with the tribe not with the state and no institution has ever had the power of collective enforcement. Gromov created branches for the government to engage with the tribes, the ministry was financed and tasked to liaise with the tribes. In November 1987 when a Mujahidin force of up to 20,000 strong laid siege to Khost, Gromov got the minister for tribes and ethnic affairs Suleiman Huskien to organise a Loya Jirga under the auspices of the president to encourage Zadran tribe to allow the supply convoy to pass through tribal controlled territory. The same concept of  tribal council was later used by the Coalition forces, the Allied forces arranged for a series of Loya Jirga to endorse what would normally be the task of constitutional tribunal and parliament, such as drafting constitution and appointing an interim president. Gromov modernised radio and television broadcasting and created sophisticated media campaigns that was tailored to address audience illiteracy and reach rural masses. These mobile multimedia propaganda units were sent out during Khost siege to villages around the road leading to Khost in order to tip loyalty in his favour.

Gromov had put together an army of thousands of bean counters and field agents to provide him the information for making calculated strike. The establishment of this sophisticated system of data management enabled Gromov to calculate the impact of his action and estimate likely movement and reaction of the enemy. He was able to make some strategic manoeuvres that would seem as unnecessary and risky by an onlooker at first glance, while his intention was to lure in the enemy into calculated situation. For Gromov to have an illustrative idea of what is happening where, he needed detailed maps. In 1985 he started a massive task to map Afghanistan and created a range of topographic, geological and agriculturl maps. It is the most detailed mapping of the country with 500 meter in 1 cm. The map has been an invaluable resource to NATO forces and was used to support USGS projects in Afghanistan.  Contours and English tags were generated in computerised terrain modelling processes which then added cartographic rendering for all branches of NATO forces. 

Big picture management strategy came about with the rise and increasing influence of institutions in our modern life.  Institution utilises the sum of knowledge to provide efficient mechanism and reduce costs. However, sustaining institution is very expensive and gathering the correct information is difficult. In order to obtain the desired information a large workforce is needed. Assembling such force and then enabling them to collect the relevant information is time consuming. Running any analysis on the information would also take weeks if not months, so by the time the data is produced, it will not be applicable to the situation. It makes it very easy to conclude that organisations would become much more efficient in gathering and analysing data only if they had superior computing power. Only if Gromov had satellite surveillance and advanced aerial imaging, only if the massive maps were available in digital format, only if his massive bank of data and ground resources were computerised; then he would have known that the resistance was not interested in negotiating. They had created a network of bunkers with the funding of CIA and expertise of Osama bin Laden and his associates. The enemy was provided by CIA supplied advanced stinger SAM (surface to air missile), multi launcher rocket batteries, self-propelled guns and artillery. The enemy was well dug in and the road approaching Khost that passed through Sotikandaw valley was mined for several miles. Most importantly the Mujahidin believed that they could not be dislodged from fortified mountain positions, and peace talk would only buy them more time. 

Fast forward twenty years and the same man, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who tormented the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan supported by USSR is giving Islamic Republic of Afghanistan supported by USA a very hard time. They are tagged “Haqqani Network” by NATO and has conducted some of the most daring attacks. This time USA is after compiling the most comprehensive military planning based on superfast processers that the soviets lacked. Fusion cell is US principle strategy to integrate and coordinate Afghan counter insurgency activities and capabilities across the US Army and joint services. The strategy has a small core “cell” that includes the Director, and has a large “in-house” staff accounts for building ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) capacity, stability operations and the integration of unconventional warfare and counterterrorism. They are also in charge of revising COIN doctrine; COIN (counter insurgency) is the tactic used by NATO to fight Taliban.   NATO has embedded hundreds of mentors in ANSF to Train Afghans in research, compilation, and analysis methods to map incident and crime trends and patterns. Billions was spent on equipment and resources to enable ANSF to conduct hourly mapping updates. The program is heavy on training ANSF in the use of computer software to prepare intelligence briefings and use the maps in PowerPoint slides as visual references.

There is nothing inherently wrong with PowerPoint or GPS mapping but they do impact the way we conduct ourselves. In a centrally planned institution our critical faculties disengage. Bigger and faster computer are introduced, complicated and burdensome processes are created to ensure the flow of information to the “big picture” and await instructions. All to contribute to an elusion of control. As Sydney Haris put it half a century ago “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.” The trainer embedded with ANSF is primarily tasked to “transfer knowledge” through daily mentoring, workshops and seminars. If I hazard a guess on other activities of the mentor, I am pretty sure after the end of the day he or she takes a ride in an Armoured Vehicle that is leased to NATO at US$8,000 a month from a company owned by a cousin of some senior Afghan minister. The trainer then arrives in a heavily fortified compound where he has access to a good stash of cold beer and latest episode of Homeland after some threadmail in shorts. The trainer does not speak Farsi or Pashto, integrate with Afghans, understands about Afghan culture and way of life, and does not maintain a healthy curiosity about Afghan condition and aspiration. Then comes the insider attacks, ANSF members turning their guns against their mentors in anger and frustration. The principle NATO strategy, train and equip ANSF to take over the mission, is in disarray. Training programs have been suspended and the isolation gap is spiralling.
There are many dedicated and smart service men and women who have come to realise the need for change at many level. When Petraeus took over NATO command he issued a 24-point under COIN strategy. It reads as a list of pieces of advice, including: live among the people; walk, don’t ride, on patrols; take off your sunglasses when talking with locals. And drink lots of tea. But before drinking tea NATO has to revise the chain of command and the people running the show as part of institutional transformation. 
The National Health Service (NHS) provides free healthcare for all UK residents. The service is undergoing a major revamp since budget cuts. Hospitals and branches are shutting down around the country and the institution is putting to experience any idea that seem half decent. One of the key strategies of NHS for the future of healthcare is community based health care. The recent analysis of National Audit Office (NAO) of the NHS's quest to make £20bn of efficiency savings by 2015 said: "There is broad consensus that changing how health services are provided is key to a financially sustainable NHS. Such changes will include integrating care and expanding community-based care." NAO is working with Healthcare leaders and has suggested “service transformation”. Experts believe that we will see a transformation of Healthcare in the UK and developed countries in general toward community based if the service is to cope with the double burden of ageing and long-term conditions. For this brave new dawn lobby groups such as Kings Trust is pushing NHS to reduce investment on Hospitals and state of the art machinery and focus on health awareness as well as preventative and rehabilitative treatment. Central London Community Healthcare Trust is already in Swing and has no fancy building, PowerPoint presentation or cutting edge machinery. Instead it is run by community-based healthcare staff such as district nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. It works in four London boroughs – Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Barnet. Last year they responded to some quarter of a million patients, most of whom were visited in their homes and the Trust only has 3200 staff.
We live in a world where knowledge is localised and not obvious to the outsiders. Sustainable institutions are not only dealing with the problems of the present but addressing the future. Sustainable institutions focus on locally integrated service delivery and investment in the community. The intelligence gathering and central planning efforts boosted by NATO is not useless; it is just incapable of capturing tacit knowledge. NATO just like NHS has the plan and the state of the art hardware but it is weakness is community integration to harness the implicit knowledge. 

The silver lining is that NHS has been fairly successful in adapting and providing reasonable service quality. It is very tempting to conclude that institutionalised planning will allocate the resources necessary to undertake creative projects. The proponents of planning would argue that institutions are the best entities for nurturing creativity and rightly point out that most of the key and sustainable initiatives have come out of institutional investment.

We are now in the twelfth year of NATO military presence in Afghanistan. It is fairly safe to conclude that changes in planning the conduct of war and building the Afghan state had occurred and those changes are generally in the positive direction. However, This does not explain why a US operated CH-47 Chinook was brought down in a meticulously planned operation by Taliban using inaccurate and simple weapons. The Taliban lured US forces into the trap by transmitting false intelligence. The US military is hacking Taliban phones to gather information and location data. A Taliban commander, Qari Tahir, aware of the US hacking capability fed the hackers with false information that a Taliban meeting was taking place in the area. The incident happened in August 2011 in Tangi Valley of Wardak province. Afghan and US forces attacked a compound which turned out to be an ambush. This is a populated village and NATO could not issue advance warning for civilians to evacuate as that would tip of the Taliban. The scope of air strike was limited so NATO called for reinforcement. This is exactly what the Taliban planned to happen. The only way the reinforcement could respond quickly was with helicopter insertion. The Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take. It is the only route, so they took position on the either side of the valley on mountains and as the helicopter approached, they attacked it with small arms and RPG. It was brought down by multiple shots. All 38 on board Chinook were killed, 30 of the dead were elite US commandos.
There is no doubt that experience is crucial to purify the information. Therefore, long-term engagement in a well planned institution is bound to meet success. This also suggests the process of data gathering is as important as the final outcome. In order to obtain the information that closely correspond to reality the actor need to revise the data, filter the sources, close loopholes and address inconsistencies. In reality big picture planner will face a number of challenges to prevent them from refining the data. The most important of the challenges is corruption. It hinders the ability of institution to implement the process. NATO has been planning to tackle the wide spread corruption in the entire apparatus of Afghan government. This has been unsuccessful as the planner fundamentally misunderstands the nature of it.

Idiosyncratic jazz pianist Thelonious Monk said “don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by … what you don’t play can be more important than what you do.” Planners always face the dilemma of choose. Their priorities are always the subject of contention but I would like to point to the importance of information deemed trivial. The action priority hierarchy created by information classification should be implementable, this require highlighting the key while omitting the trivial. But trivial could turn into trend and go unnoticed. After the fall of Taliban government in 2001 it was generally believed that Taliban were gone for good. On May 1, 2003, Hamid Karzai told BBC's David Frost during an interview on June 8, 2003: “I don't see a resurgence of the Taliban." He continued by saying: "As far as the defeat of the Taliban is concerned, they are defeated, they are gone-as a movement, as a government, as a structure, a political structure, a religious structure-they are not there." Donald Rumsfield and George W. Bush had voiced the same opinion on a number of occasions, they were so confident that the administration felt comfortable to pick another war.

Right about this time thousands of Taliban fighters were regrouping without being noticed by recon planes or security forces. Hundreds of Taliban fighters infiltrate to Dai Chopan district of Zabul province. Setting up camps launching attacks on government buildings and military installation killing aid workers, government employees, US and Afghan forces.  Offering rewards for Dai Chopan residents who fight against the US and issuing death warrants for US soldiers, aid workers, Afghan police, and all journalists. They had realised that it is not only the overhead technology that assists the allies but people like aid workers and journalists who gather ground information that could be used by the coalition. on June 8, 2004 the 22nd Expeditionary Unit of US marines were ambushed by hundreds of Taliban fighters. Calling in AV-8 Harriers, A-10 Thunderbolts and Apache helicopters to suppress the insurgents. This wasn’t a tactical challenge that a large force of Taliban could regroup without advance detection it was a fundamental failure of the planned system. In late 2003 a group of local elders from Zabul province met with President Karzai and warned him about Taliban activities in Shajoy and Dai Chopan districts, but he paid no heed as far as the president was concerned the major trend was that Taliban were gone for good.
The best theoretical frame to use for understanding the resurgence of Taliban is the Circular cumulative causation theory of non-equilibrium systems developed by Swedish Nobel prize winning economist Gunnar Myrandal.  He studied underdeveloped societies and noted that events are multi-causal and a change in one part of the society will lead to successive changes in other institutions. These changes are circular, cyclical, perpetual and cumulative in that they persist in each round. Changes are coming about in small portion, change doesn’t occur all at once because that would lead to chaos. Taliban were never going to have a massive come back but by nature of grassroots change it would be slow and as explained by Myrandal in stages. This resurgence would have impact on the building of Afghan State. These impacts and the slow crawl of Taliban were not detected by the planners. 

Knowledge is spread locally, this seem very intuitive but you have to imagine that organisations are not set up to reach wide locally, especially when they run a foreign country where the gap of living standards create two races of local and foreigners, segregated and often hostile toward one another. The allied forces aware of their predicament earmarked billions of dollars to contract US firms to deliver projects that would interact with Afghans at district and community level, SIKA, AMDEP, ASI, ASOP, Harakat and ASMED are projects that are designed to implement small scale projects that addresses issues particular to a community. The underpinning principle is that lack of improvement in community livelihood is fuelling disillusionment, resulting in sympathy toward Taliban and communities would support the government if they see the government is capable of delivering public services to them.
I am a self-proclaimed expert in this area and was contracted together with my wife over two dozens of these small projects to be implemented across Afghanistan at a total value of US$ 1Mil. These projects only delivered limited success and the fundamental problem is that they serve the big picture strategy. The US government branch funding the program plans all the stages of the project. The community is not in charge of success or failure and does not deal with the consequences of failure while not taking the ownership of success. The system only succeeds in bringing issues that the local manager wants to bring to the attention of funder. They can conceal anything that they don’t want them to know. The selection is not limited to good news vs bad news by local manager but far worst. The manager receives financial support as an incentive for collaborating with the project. He would like to see the revenue to continue and only provides distorted information that he believes would prolong the flow of cash, rendering central planner incapable of building an accurate picture of what is happening on the ground. The system suffers the phenomena economist pretentiously call Market Failure. The exact type of Market Failure is a misplacement of incentive. Incentive in economics is very important and the market economy system is the best way of regulating incentives (with a few exceptions). The local manager has no incentive of providing the desired information until the market principle of competition, customer service and financial accountability is introduced.

I have executed over half a dozen project to make local entities financially sustainable. It often starts with collecting financial information, without any exception such information is contradictory and paradoxical and I seek to verify them. I then create a verification tool which is time consuming to implement and develop. The verification assessment often comes back negative which means the community manager deliberately provides us with the wrong information. However, the funder will insist that a workable solution should be found without demanding antagonising the local manager. The project will receive millions more to deal with the problem seeking alternative and creative problem solving while avoiding to address incentives. The money will be earmarked under the disguise of capacity building.  

The nature of knowledge is to be localised and fleeting. The local agent will use the information he possesses for his own benefit. The computerised math “modelling” that explains local forces and illuminates causation is not what is truly significant (given that it was achievable). It is entrepreneurial learning in the context of changing local conditions. The theory of entrepreneurial learning offered by Fredrick Hayed and Ludwig Mises illuminates the significance of non-permanent knowledge and localised learning by entrepreneurs that form the bedrock of western capitalism.

Success depends on having sensible people on the ground that can make sound judgements on the spot and a little bit of luck helps too.  Central planning has been a failure for managing complex system, especially when we have little data about the system.