Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Boss paralysed by the climate of fear 

Bruce Springsteen shares his thoughts on the state of the American media:
"The press has let the country down. It's taken a very amoral stand, in that essential issues are often portrayed as simply one side says this and the other side says that. I think that Fox News and the Republican right have intimidated the press into an incredible self-consciousness about appearing objective and backed them into a corner of sorts where they have ceded some of their responsibility and righteous power."
You've heard it here first: the evil vast right-wing conspiracy has intimidated the media into being... gasp... objective. Where will it stop? Even more objectivity and surely the terrorists would have won. We never thought we'd live to see America gripped by the climate of fear that makes the media report both sides of the story.

Speaking of the climate of fear, the Boss has this to say:
"People are always trying to shut up the people they don't agree with -- through any means necessary, usually. There certainly was an attempt to intimidate the Dixie Chicks. What happened to them was a result of war fever - simple as that, war fever. They've handled it incredibly. They are very smart, tough women, and they did not back down. But it's one of those sad paradoxes that in theory we're fighting for freedom, and the first thing people are willing to throw out is freedom of speech at home and castigate anybody who is coming from a different point of view."
Which is called disagreement. On a serious note, trying to make somebody lose their livelihood because you disagree with their political views is truly despicable. Which is why Bruce Springsteen will not be participating in the Vote for Change tour which aims to mobilise young voters to kick George Bush out of office for the war in Iraq... What? He is participating? Oh, but I hear you say that you can't compare Dixie Chicks to George Bush. Well, I'm afraid that once Dixie Chicks choose to make political statements, they become part of the political scene, with all the consequences that entails. Just as if the President chose to release a CD, he wouldn't expect any special treatment from critics and the buying public on the account that he's not really a muso but a politician.

And speaking of Dixie Chicks, I can only repeat the memorable words of Kid Rock: "Who would you trust to make your decisions, Donald Rumsfeld or the Dixie Chicks?"


Towards Muslim reformation 

In our times of international strife, it's always good to once in a while be able to report on somebody somewhere in the world taking a step in the right direction. Many of you no doubt will be aware of the existence of this group, which has been brought to my attention yesterday by Dr Judith Klinghoffer. It's the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism, an organisation which proclaims in its mission statement:
"The Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism is a nonprofit organization made up of American Muslims and Arabs of all backgrounds who feel that religious violence and terrorism have not been fully rejected by the Muslim community in the post 9-11 era.

"The Coalition was created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts.

"The Coalition promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs. The Coalition’s efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously."
The Coalition has put forward on its home page these statements of belief:
"We believe in the re-interpretation of Islam for the 21st century where terrorism is not justified under any circumstances.

"We believe in the separation of religion and state.

"We believe that democracy is the best form of government.

"We believe in the promotion of secularism in all forms of political activity.

"We believe that equality for women is an inalienable right.

"We believe that religion is a personal relationship between the individual and his or her God and is not to be forced on anyone."
In what looks like a great event, the Coalition is organising a national convention on October 1 in Washington DC (details on the left-hand bar on the home page): "A number of Muslim and Middle Eastern American Organizations are teaming up to put together the largest Muslim and Middle Eastern American event ever organized in the USA. This convention is organized by groups who want to take the lead in the war on terrorism, fanaticism and who love freedom and democracy."

On the other side of the world, there are signs of increasing debate within the Arab world about terrorism committed in the name of Islam. As debates go, this one will take time, but open discussion of these issues is a first step towards dealing with them.

In the end, infidels like you and me will not be able to contribute much. Just as Christianity had to modernise and de-politicise itself in order to finally close the dark chapter of religious wars, witchhunts and persecutions, so does the change within Islam have to come from within. Ultimately, it is in the interest of hundreds of millions of peaceful and decent Muslims world-wide to prevent the violent and vocal minority from hijacking the religious rhetoric and religious passion for political ends. Islamism is as much a threat to moderate Muslim states as to the rest of the world; the fact that the "silent Islamic majority" is slowly starting to wake up to.


The challenges of Iraq 

Earlier in the week I wrote a longish (for me) post about what I called the Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder; the tragic psychological legacy of life under a dictatorship and its implications for rebuilding countries like Iraq. The post generated quite a deal of interest, as you can see in the comments section. Iraq the Model guys thought my diagnosis accurately reflected the state of Iraqi national psyche at the moment. Andrew Sullivan introduced the link "Cheery Chrenkoff notes the extraordinary devastation that the Saddam mafia wrought on that poor country." Which is a pretty accurate reflection of the post's contents, although I'm still mystified about the adjective "cheery." If anything, the post itself was an antithesis of cheery, dealing as it did with the pervasive spiritual damage totalitarianism does to its victims in places such as Iraq. The reason for the "cheery" description probably relates to my "Good news from Iraq" (and Afghanistan) series (see the top of the side bar for links), particularly since the full text of Andrew's post ran like this:
"Here are two striking but different takes on Iraq's current situation. Cheery Chrenkoff notes the extraordinary devastation that the Saddam mafia wrought on that poor country. Juan Cole asks what America would be like if it had the same level of violence and instability as Iraq now has."
I find it amusing in an in-jokeish sort of way (pleas forgive me) since it's not the first time that I have been juxtaposed with Juan Cole. A few weeks ago, Greg Djerejian of the Belgravia Dispatch wrote about his take on the situation in Iraq: "[B]etween Coleian doom and gloom and unmitigated Panglossian sunshine (Chrenkoffian, I might say in the blogosphere!) there is still some room for cautious and limited optimism." As I explained elsewhere, my intention was never to be cheerful, merely to provide a bit of balance to the media coverage of Iraq, but I guess if there's one thing you learn in this business is that you can never quite control your image. Oh well, "Cheery" Chrenkoff is not a bad reputation to have, particularly seeing that by nature I'm not a born optimist.

Some readers, although kind to the post itself, have misunderstood its intention. Wrote one: "Arthur, this is a great critique of Bush's ongoing delusions on Iraq. The hawks really seem to have believed that if we just toppled the statue in Baghdad, Iraqis would immediately line up at polls, no shoving, and launch a full-blown civil society. As delusions go, we might as well have elected Joni Mitchell on a promise to turn our bombers into butterflies; it's about that realistic. PTSD is one good reason why. As some of us said at the time, why would we expect Iraq to deal with PTSD better than Yugoslavia did? Bush/Howard could never have sold this invasion if they'd been honest about it's entirely predictable outcome."

My post was not meant to be a critique of anyone's approach to Iraq, except those perhaps who wallow in doom and gloom and blame the Bush Administration for the fact that Iraq is not a peaceful, functioning democracy by now. My message was: be patient; it takes time, not just because rebuilding a country ruined over three decades of war, oppression and isolation is never quick or easy, but also because the attitudes and ways of thinking acquired by people under dictatorship tend to linger and don't make transformation any easier.

I don't think it's a fair criticism of the neo-conservatives or the Administration generally that they expected instantaneous results. From the "cakewalk" onwards, this seems to be one of left's straw man arguments. Bush et al were always at pains to underline the point that both the war on terror and Iraq will take time and we should be prepared to be in for a long haul.

If there are political implications of my post it is not that the situation is hopeless and we should have never tried, but that the challenges are huge and we have to try even harder. I know that every case is different, but over the years countries and regions as diverse as most of the South America, Germany, Japan, Eastern Europe, Turkey, India, South Korea and Taiwan, among others, were given by various critics little chance of succeeding as working democracies and reasonably normal and decent (by comparison) states.

We cannot give up on the Middle East and the Arab world. Let's be aware of the realities and challenges, by all means (hence my original post about the Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder), but let us not use it as an excuse to wash our hands and walk away. Often what seems like an easy and reasonable option in short-term comes back to haunt us later on.


Friday, September 24, 2004

Alienating the allies 

Charles Krauthammer writes about one of America's allies:

"Of all our allies in the world, which is the only one to have joined the United States in the foxhole in every war in the last 100 years? Not Britain, not Canada, certainly not France. The answer is Australia.

"Australia not only shares a community of values with the United States. It understands that its safety rests ultimately on a stable international structure that, in turn, rests not on parchment treaties but on the power and credibility of the United States. Which is why Australia is with us today in both Afghanistan and Iraq."
Krauthammer spends most of his piece recounting the recent intervention in Australian politics by John Kerry's sister, Diana. In the end, he has this to say:

"She is, of course, merely echoing her brother, who, at a time when American allies have shown great political courage in facing down both terrorists and domestic opposition for their assistance to the United States in Iraq, calls these allies the 'coalition of the coerced and the bribed.'

"This snide and reckless put-down not only undermines our best friends abroad. It demonstrates the cynicism of Kerry's promise to broaden our coalition in Iraq. If this is how Kerry repays America's closest allies -- ridiculing the likes of Tony Blair and John Howard -- who does he think is going to step up tomorrow to be America's friend?...

"Kerry abuses America's closest friends while courting those, like Germany and France, that have deliberately undermined America before, during and after the war. What lessons are leaders abroad to draw from this when President Kerry asks them -- pretty please in his most mellifluous French -- to put themselves on the line for the United States?"
Amen to all that, but at the same time a memo to the Bush Administration: Poland has also been a staunch ally in this war, putting itself at great diplomatic risk vis-a-vis the Old Europe, and despite the fact that the war wasn't particularly popular domestically. I'm reading a lot of bitter commentary in the Polish media right now about how all that Poland got for her support is a few mentions in President's speeches. OK, I know that true allies are supposed to do it for love alone, but unfortunately in the real world it ain't work like that. The bottom line is that if Poland realises that having stuck its neck out for America it gets shat upon by France and Germany and ignored by the US as far as better economic and military ties are concerned, it might be reluctant to be so forthcoming the next time. Maybe all the money the US currently sends every year to, say, Egypt would pay much better political dividends in Central and Eastern Europe. Just a thought.


Never happy unless it's raining 

Wasn't John Kerry's response to Iyad Allawi's Congress speech just pathetic? Full of negativity, berating Allawi for trying to point out that there's also some progress happening in Iraq, which undermines Kerry's "the sky has already fallen" Iraq rhetoric. Kerry had an opportunity to appear presidential and statesmanlike; he could have easily prefaced all the criticisms of the current approach with some graceful, general sentiments about freedom, liberation, democracy, and the new future for Iraqi people. Instead he seems to have mistaken Allawi for Bush's Vice-President and launched into fisking of Allawi's "contradictions" as if Iraq was a swing state and Kerry was on the hustings somewhere in Baghdad.

This sort of a Small Political Man Syndrome and the inability to say anything nice about Iraq remind of
a sneering little post on the Daily Kos a few days ago. As you might be aware, the Iraqi national airline, which hasn't taken to the skies since 1990, has recently had its first flight from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad. This event gave the Kos contributor "sipples" a perfect opportunity to sneer about the quality of "progress" in Iraq. You see, the Iraqi Airways only has one plane at the moment, the flight might not have actually carried any passengers, it wasn't well publicised, the airline doesn't have a website, tickets are very expensive, and security concerns make both flying as well as commuting to and from the Baghdad airport somewhat dangerous. Have I missed anything? No that's pretty much all the complaints.

I hate that sort of nit-picking negativity about the smallest of events. This is not public service to give the people straight story on an important aspect of life in Iraq; it is merely an example of a pathological condition that prevents any - absolutely any - positive development in Iraq from going unchallenged. Because as all of us really intelligent people know, nothing good can ever come out of Iraq, especially on Bush's watch.

I really despise the condescension of spoiled, comfortable, middle class Western brats who have no idea of life and realities outside their comfy liberal cocoon. If blogs were around some fifteen years ago, somebody like "sipples" would have been writing the oh-so-hilarious commentary on the struggle of post-communist countries to build a better, normal life for themselves: "Have you read about this collective farm outside Grodno? The peasants decided to privatise it and divided all the land and property among themselves. The only problem is... there aren't any cows left. HA HA HA!"

Face it, you and your merry company are just a pimple on the ass of an asterisk in a footnote of the history of progress from tyranny to freedom.

Update: Powerline is, as always, devastating as it comments on John Kerry's statement "The United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq... There are no-go zones in Iraq today. You can't hold an election in a no-go zone":
"So the Democratic Party's candidate for President is on record as saying that January elections are impossible; or, if held, they will be illegitimate. The primary purpose of the terrorists' current terror campaign is to force the postponement or cancellation of the Iraqi elections. A secondary objective has been to secure the election of John Kerry. Through Kerry's own actions, those objectives have now become one. Kerry's message to the terrorists is: What you're doing is working. Keep it up. If I'm elected, you'll get your wish and there will be no elections in Iraq.

"In all of American history, is there any parallel to Kerry's disgraceful conduct?"


Thursday, September 23, 2004

This Kid Rocks 

I can't say I like his music, but Kid Rock is a champion:

"You see this thing now where like Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi - like I love all these guys as musicians - they're gonna raise money for John Kerry. God bless 'em... But, before you go and do that, why don't these motherf**kers go over there and play for our soldiers in Iraq? I'm not vocal about my views on the war. I'm just vocal about my views on the troops..."

"I do not believe that artists or actors and people should be out there like voicing their full-blown opinions on politics because, let's face it, at the end of the day, I'm not that smart of a guy. I play rock 'n' roll, that's what I do. Who would you trust to make your decisions, Donald Rumsfeld or the Dixie Chicks?"
Amen and hallelujah.


"Serving the South Coast of Tajikistan" 

Today's prize for Excellent Geographical Knowledge goes to the "World Link" newspaper ("Serving the South Coast of Oregon"), for its headline:

"U.S. soldier killed near Iraq-Pakistan border"
The Zionist/neo-con masterplan for reshaping the Middle East successful; Iran erased from the map.


Reforming the UN - one madness at a time 

China, I'm sure, has keen interest in seeing the United Nations reformed - but not if that would involve giving Japan a permanent seat on the Security Council:

"Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in Beijing on Tuesday that the U.N. Security Council was 'not a board of directors' and its composition should not be decided 'according to the financial contribution of its members'."
The Chinese, still being novices to capitalism, have a thing or two to learn about corporate structures; directors don't get appointed to company boards according to how much money they are willing to give to the company - unless we're talking about some pretty corrupt society. Beijing's catty remarks, by the way, refers to the fact that Japan provides nearly one fifth of the United Nation's budget. But the true reason China doesn't want Japan to get onto the Security Council has nothing to do with indignation about some nuovo riches trying to buy their way in. Says Kong:

"We understand Japan’s expectation to play a greater role in international affairs. But we also believe that if a country wishes to play a responsible role in international affairs, it must have a clear understanding of the historical questions concerning itself."
That is, Japan is still reluctant to admit that it had been a bad boy during World War Two, killing millions in China. China, of course, is still reluctant to admit it has been a bad boy after World War Two, killing tens of millions, also coincidentally in China.

Japan's attempt to gain international recognition is part of a bigger push by
Japan, India, Germany and Brazil, which all pledged to support each other's efforts to gain permanent seats on the Security Council.

As the
"Independent" notes, however, "[t]he five permanent members - Britain, China, the United States, France and Russia - have refused any dilution of their veto power, causing the issue of council reform to be delayed again and again." The United States is already effectively vetoed in its tracks by any combination of Russia, China and France. Three extra vetoes (I would hope that Japan would tend to rather abstain) seem like an overkill.

So, in the meantime, it's all one big happy international family - as
Reuters summarises the goings-on: "China has voiced doubts about Japan, Italy is lobbying against a German seat, Pakistan opposes India and several Latin American nations oppose Brazil." And if there is to be a fifth permanent seat, Japan, Germany, India and Brazil agree it should go to Africa. "There was no agreement, however, on which country might be chosen for the prestigious seat. Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria are considered the front-runners."

There is only one good way to make those sorts of decisions. A reality show. I can just see "Survivor: The United Nations."

China's wrong - maybe if the United Nations was run like a proper company it would finally get its shit together. I think it's time for shareholders' revolt.


The Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder 

Brendan Miniter has a very interesting piece on Iraqi reconstruction in yesterday's "Opinion Journal." Brendan writes:
"During Saddam Hussein's reign, not surprisingly, Baghdad and its No. 1 resident had priority when it came to basic services. Baghdad has no power generators to speak of, so generators in outlying cities had to feed the capital, often at the expense of their local residents.

"After Saddam fell, many power engineers and local politicians apparently decided they'd opt out of the national power grid. [Authorities think] that more than a few attacks on power lines have been deliberate attempts to isolate cities that generate their own power from the rest of the country; residents there no longer want to send power off to Baghdad while the lights in their own homes flicker and go out.

"Like the blackout that struck the American Northeast and Midwest last year, unplugging a city from the national grid results in systemwide power failures. It doesn't matter that the total amount of electric power in Iraq is now exceeding prewar levels, or that it is much more equitably distributed. Thus electricity is a metaphor for the larger problem of Iraqi reconstruction: If Iraqis don't come to believe that working together is in their own self interest, then the country may indeed plunge into chaos."
He then comments on the recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies titled "Progress or Peril? Measuring Iraq's Reconstruction":
"The study did not address the question of mutual cooperation directly, but an underlying theme is that Americans cannot simply 'rebuild' Iraq and instead must make it possible for Iraqis to come together to solve their own problems. Instead of thinking and defining success in terms of 'nation building,' the study recommends thinking in terms of 'nation jumpstarting'--getting Iraq to the point where enough people have the skills necessary to crank up functional economic, social and political institutions."
Cooperation is a crucial element in the Iraqi equation; one that doesn't receive sufficient attention from either the pro or the anti war crowd because as Brendan says, it "doesn't fit into a sound bite very well." And cooperation is just one aspect of the cultural dimension of the Iraq problem.

Nowadays, we hear about cultural issues and Iraq mainly in the context of debates as to whether liberal democracy can be created in an Arab country. Both the realists on the right and the cultural relativists on the left are sceptical about the prospects of the democratic project in Iraq, pointing to what they see as immutable aspects of the Middle Eastern cultural make up, such as tribalism, sectarianism, authoritarianism and obscurantism, which they see as incompatible with and inimical to the development of Western-style institutions. Neo-conservatives, idealists and universalists are more optimistic. Whatever the answer to the Arab democracy conundrum, there is little doubt that culture does matter. A society where the interests of your family, tribe, or coreligionists are generally put ahead of the "common interest" will have a tougher time building a successful, modern political and economic infrastructure. As Francis Fukuyama argues, trust matters - trust outside of your immediate circle, trust between strangers, trust between the governing and the governed. Trust is an invaluable mortar that binds a healthy society together.

But there is another aspect to the "culture matters" argument, one that does not get nearly enough attention. It has nothing to do with religion, ethnicity, or national character; it is the social and moral legacy of life under a dictatorship. Iraq, quite simply, like many other recently liberated societies around the world continues to suffer from a Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder.

For the Westerners, the PTSD is a difficult condition to understand. We take so many things for granted - from comedians being able to joke about the President, to the assumption that the next government employee we encounter will not be expecting a bribe from us - that we are quite ill equipped to fully comprehend what life under a totalitarian system must really be like, much less what mental and spiritual legacy its victims have to labor under long after the statues of the Leader are pulled down.

We all "know" about the secret police knocking on the door at night, adulatory TV programs exalting the president-for-life, the pervasive corruption, queues and shortages, or the silly propaganda. Nothing, however, in our generally safe and comfortable existence would helps us understand just how pervasively difficult, destructive and dispiriting the experience of life under a totalitarian regime is. For most of us, life in Saddam's Iraq would have been no more real than the Middle Earth of the colonial New England. And failing to understand the condition itself, by extension we find it equally difficult to understand how the mental attitudes and habits of the past cannot be shaken off overnight but instead linger on, making the reconstruction and transition to normalcy such a difficult and painful process.

I speak from some experience here. While the late communist Poland and the Baathist Iraq were in many ways very different societies, shaped and constrained by different set of geographic, historical and cultural factors, there is a common denominator between all totalitarian societies the world over. Here are some bad habits that people consciously or otherwise pick up to help them fit in better and survive under a dictatorship, but which prove quite troublesome and counter-productive once the shackles finally fall off:

Distrust of the state and the authorities - the state is the enemy and the oppressor; you collaborate to the extent it is necessary to survive, no more. You don't owe it any loyalty and are quite happy to try to sabotage it in every little way you can - by breaking minor laws, petty embezzlement, cheating, dishonesty, lies, passivity or indifference.

A prison mentality - you might hate the state, but you still have an expectation that the hand you cannot bite will provide for you; feed you, clothe you, give you shelter and a job. Since the state has crowded out most, if not all, of the private sphere, logically only the state is able to provide for one's needs - you're quite literally at the mercy of a monopoly.

Lack of initiative and abdication of personal responsibility - as the state is seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent and the area of your personal sovereignty heavily circumscribed, this state of affairs breeds resignation, fatalism and passivity. Why would you bother to try to do anything if you can't achieve much? How can you really take responsibility for your condition if you're just a powerless puppet at the mercy of the Leviathan? And so you wait for things happen to you, as they always do, instead of trying to make your own fate. The system simply doesn't provide any incentives to think and act otherwise - initiative is not rewarded and can even land you in trouble, working hard brings in no more benefits than working little; effort and imagination more often than not hit the wall of limited practical possibilities.

Distrust of others - it's not just the state; you don't trust your fellow citizens too - at worst they might be spying on you for the authorities, at best they are competing with you for scarce resources. Either way, they're out to screw you over. So you only look after your own.

Circumstances change; and when they do, they usually change much faster than our habits. Closed economy may become a free market, dictatorship a democracy, theocracy a liberal society, but our mental adjustment to new realities lags behind.

Recently we have witnessed this phenomenon in the post-communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Now we're seeing it in Iraq. Home Sovieticus - or Homo Baathicus - continues to roam the landscape long after a giant asteroid had wiped out their habitats.

This - the damage done to individual psyche - and not just to the physical infrastructure and institutions of the country, is what we have to always keep in mind when assessing the progress of reconstruction and democratisation in places like Iraq. If things aren't moving ahead as fast as expected, if cooperation is lacking and trust hard to find, and if the population seems apathetic and disengaged, it's just the fallen regime having its final chuckle from beyond the grave.

The task of reconstruction is not just about adding more megawatts to the power grid or renovating another school. Just as importantly - if not more so - it is about changing attitudes, habits and ways of thinking. In many ways liberating minds is a far more difficult task than rebuilding the physical infrastructure.

Is there a solution to this problem of cultural lag? How can we cure the Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder? As the old saying goes, time heals all wounds. In the longer term, the older generations - those most tainted by the old ways of thinking - move on and the young ones, brought up in the new environment, slowly take their place. In a shorter term, people still change; slowly and at paces that vary from individual to individual, but change they nevertheless do. In the meantime, people of Iraq need encouragement and good example. Every small step is to be applauded because it brings Iraq closer to a better future.

Some societies are luckier than others. Post-communist societies had time; Iraq might not possess as much of that luxury. Let's hope it has enough.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

From the battlefields of the war on terror 

Another scare in the sky:
"A plane bound for Washington from London was diverted to Maine today after passenger Yusuf Islam - formerly known as pop singer Cat Stevens - showed up on a US watch list, a federal official said."
He threatened the passengers with singing.

Also, another one for the "war in Iraq made Australia more of terrorist target" file, with the news that one of the highest ranking al Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, had applied for Australian tourist visa, and indeed was granted one. In August 2001. For the benefit of Diana Kerry and Mark Latham, that's few weeks before September 11. Around that time, the invasion of Iraq was just a glimmer in Paul Wolfowitz's eye. I'm sure, though, that Khalid was only intending to come to Down Under Infidel Land for holidays. Just like the al Qaeda cell in Singapore which was videotaping Australian embassy in 2000 - they just like the architecture.


Latham Logic 

I know, I know, I've written about it before, but the lack of logic irritates me to no end. The Labor opposition leader Mark Latham continues to spin the Diana Kerry line:
"Australia's involvement in the war in Iraq has made it a more dangerous place and a bigger target for a terrorist attack, Opposition Leader Mark Latham says...

" 'It was a mistake that's made Australia less safe in the war against terror,' Mr Latham told ABC Radio, referring to Australia's involvement in Iraq. 'Mr Howard talks about experience. Well, what sort of experience is it when you make the country a bigger target in the war against terror, divert resources away from our region, where we could have been doing so much more to combat JI (Jemaah Islamiah)?'"
Now, quite apart from the fact that Australia was a terrorist target before Iraq - even before S11 - think for a second just what Latham is arguing:

Prime Minister Howard sent Australia into Iraq - it was a bad decision because it made us a bigger terrorist target.

Mark Latham would not have sent Australia into Iraq, but would concentrate on fighting the terrorists in the region - which would what? - not make us a bigger terrorist target?

Because Jemmah Islamiah terrorists would think: "Iraq - that's unforgivable; we'll get you for that, you Aussie infidels. But the fact that you want to hunt us down and kill us around South East Asia, that's alright, no hard feelings. Just go for it - we understand. It won't make us any more madder at you. Honest."

Mark Latham thinks that our involvement in Iraq has made us less safe, but pursuing the war on terror will not. And he wants to be the Prime Minister.


The road to Damascus 

Apropos yesterday's brief mention of Lebanon as the example for Iraq to emulate, I just chanced on this news story:

"Syria will withdraw fully from Lebanon only after Israel ends its occupation of all Arab lands, Lebanese Defense Minister Mahmoud Hammoud declared yesterday."
The practice of hostage-taking seems to be spreading in the Middle East from individuals to the whole countries. And if Israel doesn't end its occupation in the next 24 hours, will Syria then behead Lebanon and post a video on an obscure website?

Not to be too harsh on Syria, though; they have been making some right noises over the last few days, like pulling
a limited number of troops from outside Beirut, and putting out feelers towards the US in regards to Iraq's border security. It's probably all smoke and mirrors, but let's wait and see.


Encircling China 

All that blood has after all been for oil - but according to Arab analysts, not to give America more, but to ensure that China has less. Mohammad Al-Sayed Salim, professor of political sciences at the faculty of economics and political sciences, Cairo University, had this to say at the recent symposium at the Cairo University's Center of Asian Studies:
"The US sees future challenges from China, that is way Washington is trying by all means to encircle the Asian giant from all directions. In achieving its goals, the US has invaded Afghanistan and had military presence in Pakistan as well as in South Korea and the Pacific islands... By launching the war on Iraq , Washington wanted to have a military foothold in the Arab Gulf region for encircling China and depriving China from the Iraqi oil reserves, on which China mainly depends. The goal was to throw a spanner in the Chinese high growth rates before it becomes a major challenger to the US."
And all that time we naively thought it has all been about ensuring the Zionist domination of the Middle East, enriching the Halliburton/oil buddies, and waging a crusade against Islam - whereas in reality it has been about the less T-shirts and cheap toys all along.

Expect the US invasion of Mongolia to complete the encirclement.

On a serious note, I'm sure that China continues to remain on the radar of American policy planners and strategists, but there's little benefit in subscribing to an all-encompassing conspiracy theory to explain all recent American diplomatic and military actions. The real world is a bit more complex than that.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Tuesday's briefs and shorts 

Retirement madness: Old "statesmen" don't die, and neither do they fade away, unfortunately; they just become more pathetic with age (Americans, please refer to Jimmy Carter; Australians, to Malcolm Fraser). Now the very-ex-General Secretary of the United Nations, Boutros "Boutros" Boutros-Ghali joins the fray with a call on the "American President George W. Bush to order his forces out of Iraq and to allow Arab countries mediate a peaceful settlement to the crisis gripping the war-scarred country." What's the compromise between people who want a liberal democracy and people who want an Islamofascist theocracy? Miniskirt from the waist down and burqa from the waist up?

Says Boutros-Ghali: "The Arabs have the clue about resolving the crisis in Iraq. The Iraqi crisis would not be solved by foreign parties. The task must be left for an Arab mediator approved by all Iraqi parties for helping draw up a better and democratic future for Iraq as was the case with the Lebanese civil war."

Lebanon, of course, remains under a de facto Syrian occupation fourteen years later.

Captain's Quarters blog, which is becoming increasingly interested in Australian politics, writes about the Labor opposition leader Mark Latham dissing the Prime Minister Howard's policy of regional pre-emption. Says Latham:

"Imagine if a country in our region said they were prepared to launch unilateral strikes on targets in Australia, our sovereign territory, without the cooperation and involvement of the Australian government. Imagine the outrage in this country. As Australians we would feel absolutely appalled."
Responds Captain's Quarters: "Imagine that Australia's government aided and abetted supremacist terror groups that it helped carry out bombings and atrocities against civilian populations." (hat tip: Dutch, again) "Aiding and abetting" is a tad harsh; no South East Asian governments provide assistance to terrorists. More accurately, imagine if Australia was used as a base by foreign terrorists to attack targets in, say, Indonesia or Malaysia.

All killings are equal but some killings are more equal than others:
Reuters opens its story about the latest goings on the Mid East: "An Israeli missile strike killed at least two Hamas gunmen in Gaza City Monday, a day after a top commander of the Islamic militant group was killed in a similar attack, Palestinian witnesses and security sources said."

Then right towards the end of the story: "Underlying the growing lawlessness in Palestinian areas, masked gunmen executed two Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. One was machine-gunned in a town square." (hat tip: Dr Judith Klinghoffer of
Deja Vu)

No Logo, No Clue: The poster girl of brainless anti-global left and the global village idiot,
Naomi Klein, discusses her latest article "Baghdad Year Zero: Pillaging Iraq in Pursuit of a Neocon Utopia." Among some of the pearlers:

"[T]he foreign contractors [are] being targeted [for kidnappings, partly because]... there is a massive unemployment crisis in Iraq."

"Paul Bremer, the former U.S. chief envoy or governor of Iraq, was to lay off 500,000 people. They called this 'deba'athification,' but in fact what it was, was a full-on attack on the state, which is the same thing that the International Monetary Fund does around the world, but not in such a dramatic fashion."
Spare a thought for the poor Islamofascist jihadis fighting for the cause of Iraq's unemployed. But if the resentment of foreigners taking local jobs was the true reason for the popularity of kidnappings, wouldn't Iraqi militants be taking hostage foreign Muslim militants who are after all unfairly competing with the locals in terrorism stakes? And while you're at it, spare some thought for those poor de-Baathified souls, too. I wonder if Naomi's grandmother would be writing an article on "De-Nazification: a neo-liberal attack on the German state."


"We won’t give up on our dream, and may God help us" 

Ali at Iraq the Model rips into Robert Novak's latest piece, in which Novak claims the Bush Administration (if re-elected) is intending to cut and run from Iraq after November. Ali takes a particular offence to Novak's conclusion that the idea of democratising Iraq was just a beautiful American dream, but a dream nevertheless:

"I look at such theory and then I watch TV and it seems convincing. Only I want freedom and democracy and so do most of my friends and relatives, and the vast majority of Iraqis I’ve known all my life. So do hundreds of thousands of IP, ING members, hundreds of political organizations and millions of Iraqis who are defending the American administration’s dream (you know, because we can’t have a dream!), and who wait anxiously for the upcoming elections. Are we not Arabs and Muslims? Or were we brainwashed by the American propaganda to believe that their dream was ours?

"NO Mr. Novak, you are WRONG and I’m being very nice here. This is not an adventure and this is not a neo-conservative dream. This is OUR dream. The dream of millions of oppressed Iraqis who saw what dictatorship can do and who were dying to witness a moment of freedom, to live a peaceful life, a life that carries hope and make dreams not that impossible, a life similar to yours, or is it too much to hope for? We had this dream before anyone heard about neo -conservatives.

"I don’t believe what you say about the American administration Mr. Novak, but even if you were right, you can give up on your dream. We won’t give up on ours, and may God help us."
Instapundit and Belgravia Dispatch have more analysis of Novak's piece.

Update: And while on this topic, Pacetown has an interesting letter from a Marine Major who tells it like he sees it from his perspective on the ground in Iraq.


Hello, Cincinnati 

Sorry for the late notice, but at 11pm local time (I think) I'll be on Scott Sloan's show on WLW station in Cincinnati, Ohio. Any readers there, feel free to tune in.

Update: It was great talking to Scott Sloan. The interview has been very much a last minute thing - I promise to give you all a bit more notice in the future just in case you want to - and can - tune in.


The Kerry Doctrine 

John Kerry has just delivered his "lengthy, detailed address" on Iraq. This is how the "USA Today" summarizes the Kerry Doctrine on Iraq:
"Kerry said the United States should:

- Get more help from other nations.

- Provide better training for Iraqi security forces.

- Provide benefits to the Iraqi people.

- Ensure that democratic elections can be held next year as promised."
All nice and worthy sentiments, but:

1) It's hard to get more help from other nations when
your own sister is telling allies like Australia that their participation in the war in Iraq has made them more of a terrorist target, with an unspoken conclusion being that the Australians should therefore get out. If the Kerry camp thinks that some other nations would make better helpers in Iraq than the current Coalition members, they should name them. In a somewhat related news, France has announced that it won't be sending troops to Iraq even if John Kerry is elected president. So much for John Kerry's Fraudulent Coalition of the Unwilling.

In the speech, Kerry also
"Last spring, after too many months of resistance and delay, the president finally went back to the UN which passed Resolution 1546... That resolution calls on UN members to help in Iraq by providing troops, trainers for Iraq's security forces, a special brigade to protect the UN mission, more financial assistance and real debt relief. Three months later, not a single country has answered that call... The president should convene a summit meeting of the world's major powers and Iraq's neighbours, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the UN General Assembly. He should insist that they make good on that UN resolution."
From sublime to utterly ridiculous. John Kerry admits there is an UN resolution in place, which is being ignored by everyone concerned, and he's calling on the President to force other countries to comply. This is exactly what the US was trying to do with another UN resolution in the run up to war and it didn't work then either. Talk about persistently pursuing a losing Iraq strategy. Kerry might call it multilateralism, others will call it a diplomatic quagmire.

2) The Coalition is already training considerable numbers of Iraqi police and security forces - see the last few editions of my "Good news from Iraq" (you can start with
number 10). See also this article from the Strategy Page (scroll down): despite terrorist attacks, the police recruitment and activity are up throughout Iraq.

3) No one disagrees that reconstruction should be progressing faster; alas Kerry offers little by way of specifics on how to achieve that, except for the call to cut the red tape; always an amusing proposition coming from the Party of Regulation.

4) Maybe the news escaped John Kerry, but both the Bush Administration and the interim Iraqi government are trying their darnest to make sure that the election proceeds as planned in January - may I note, against the chorus of John Kerry's own cheerleaders in the media and the international community who are already arguing that the election won't be legit and therefore shouldn't be held if the security situation throughout Iraq remains precarious. And Kerry's Axis of Absenteeism has now said there's
no chance they will be sending any troops to Iraq before the January election, which of course is precisely the time when they would be of most use.

In another highlight of his speech, John Kerry had this to say about George Bush:
"By one count, the president offered 23 different rationales for this war... If his purpose was to confuse and mislead the American people, he succeeded."
This is pretty rich coming from a guy who offered 23 different positions on the war. Meanwhile, according the latest CBS/New York Times poll:
"Sixty percent of respondents said they did not have confidence in Mr. Kerry to deal wisely with an international crisis; that is a jump from 52 percent in June. By contrast, 48 percent said they were uneasy with Mr. Bush's ability to manage a foreign crisis... The percentage of Americans who said Mr. Kerry had exhibited strong leadership qualities dropped eight points since summer to 50 percent; by contrast, 63 percent said Mr. Bush had exhibited strong qualities of leadership."
So who's confused and misled?

Update: The Republican National Committee has counted 14 flip-flops in John Kerry's Iraq speech. The only consistent thing about Kerry seems to be his inconsistency.


The Kos News 

May well the Daily Kos be concerned that Google News describes it as a (hat tip Tim Blair) "satire" site:
"Someone should look into this. It might send a wrong message to newcomers who stumble onto the site through G[oogle] N[ews]."
Or the right on, depending on where you get your kicks. It must be another attempt by the Bush/Halliburton/Zionist junta to silence dissent and create a climate of fear throughout the United States.

What's of course more interesting is that the Daily Kos is listed at all throughout Google News. As one of the DK's readers comments, Google has a policy against it, and indeed I can't recall ever coming across any other blog while doing a news search there. Mind you, aside from all the "mainstream" news sites, Google News also indexes several non-traditional news outlets, such as the American Daily (which is currently one of my BlogAds sponsors, so make sure you check them out from the sidebar) and Useless Knowledge on the right, and Axis of Logic and Bellaciao Collective on the left.

Well done to Kos, though, for having made it to Google News, even if they shouldn't be there. The Daily Kos - the unwitting streaker across the media's football field.


Monday, September 20, 2004

A syndrome, an ass, and Pangloss 

What a day - not only have I become a syndrome, and jollied Matthew Yglesias's ass, but a reader Stan reminds me that a few days ago Greg Djerejian of the Belgravia Dispatch has juxtaposed me thus in his post about the latest Iraq commentary: "[B]etween Coleian doom and gloom and unmitigated Panglossian sunshine (Chrenkoffian, I might say in the blogosphere!) there is still some room for cautious and limited optimism."

Again, not unlike Yglesias, Djerejian has got it half-right and half-wrong. Noting Wikipedia's definition that "Panglossianism is baseless optimism of the type possessed by the character Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's novel Candide. Pangloss believed that 'we live in the best of all possible worlds'. The real-world model for Dr. Pangloss was the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz," I think it might be a bit harsh to describe my attitude in compiling the "Good news" segments as "baseless optimism", seeing that I don't for a moment deny the existence of significant problems in Iraq but am merely trying to provide more information to enable readers to make an informed judgment about the situation in Mesopotamia.

Having said that, Djerejian has the right idea that in order to arrive at an accurate assessment of the situation one should look at both the good and the bad news. I'm happy to keep on providing the good news part of the equation, even if many keep on mistaking my attempts to plug a hole in the mainstream media coverage for an expression of an exuberantly irrational personal belief on my part that all's really well in Iraq.

By the way, I won't be renaming my blog "Pangloss", although it's got a nice ring to it - kind of like the right-wing version of Atrios.

Update: And how could I not mention this poetic indictment by Pandagon, who writes about the right's supposed lack of plan how to "get there" in Iraq:
"Personally, I blame Arthur Chrenkoff. You might remember him as the erstwhile author of Zagat's Guide To Iraq's Finest Secure Zones And Ice Creameries, the man who took 'spheres of separation' to an admirably schizophrenic level these past few months. He's been the ultimate cheerleader of the magical realist, the Franz Roh of the Iraq War."


Good news from Afghanistan, Part 4 

Note: Also available from the "Opinion Journal" and the Winds of Change. As always, thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for support and thank you to all the other blogs and readers for publicising the series.

The third anniversary of a significant event had passed recently without much notice or commentary, not unexpectedly overshadowed by another, more prominent third anniversary. On September 9, 2001, two al Qaeda suicide bombers impersonating foreign journalists assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Rightly so, this event came to be seen as a prelude to S11, the opening shot in al Qaeda's renewed offensive against the West as well as its enemies within Afghanistan.

Three years can make a huge difference. The presidential campaign in Afghanistan has officially commenced on September 7. Perhaps it would have been more symbolic had it started two days later, but the very fact that a country which for a quarter of a century has been successively ravaged by the Soviet occupation, a bloody civil war, and a theocratic dictatorship is now embarking on its very own democratic journey is an achievement in itself and a cause enough for celebration.

Getting to this point has not been easy, but Afghanistan slowly and steadily continues to achieve normalcy; mostly out of the media spotlight. Here are some stories of hope and promise that you might have missed over the last month while the mainstream media continued to focus on violence and mayhem, or not at all.

SOCIETY: Afghanistan is preparing to take the first step towards democracy with the presidential elections still scheduled to take place on October 9. The current president Hamid Karzai and 17 other candidates are now competing for the country's top job in a campaign that
officially commenced on September 7. As one report reminds us, "Afghanistan has never before experienced a one-man, one-vote democratic election. Past political systems mainly consisted of elected tribal assemblies and district councils, under a monarch."

Illustrative of the logistical challenges involved in sowing the seeds of democracy on this previously rocky ground is this story of the efforts by a
voter registration team to reach one of the most remote parts of Afghanistan and enroll to vote "people [who] had no TV, no telephones, no way to contact - or really know about - the outside world. The only modern conveniences, it seemed, were their weapons: The AK-47 was the accessory of choice for every turbaned man, and the Toyota Hilux the standard vehicle." While it hasn't been as difficult for all other voter registration teams, the overall effort has nevertheless been quite colossal: "Take all the roads out of France, remove the phone network, and the plumbing, add in 80 percent illiteracy, and you get a picture of what we are dealing with," says David Avery, chief of operations for joint Afghan-UN electoral commission. "Organising the first presidential election in Afghanistan, a country largely without power, roads or literacy, has required a leap of imagination that has encompassed everything from donkeys to satellite phones." This fascinating story shows how the experts got to plan everything from planning security to design and production of ballot papers. Meanwhile, the world's largest democracy, India, is helping with its expertise at conducting elections, as well as with more tangible aid in the form of indelible ink pens to prevent fraud.

With the voter registration now finished inside Afghanistan, the efforts continue to
register Afghan refugees still remaining in Pakistan: "The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) would start registration of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan from October 1, which would continue till October 3... [T]he IOM would increase the period by a day or two if needed. The registration will enable thousands of Afghan refugees living in camps to cast their vote in the first Afghan presidential elections... 'The Afghans living as refugees in Pakistan will be educated about the method of casting votes,' said [the IOM official]. The IOM has recruited more than 400 workers for the registration campaign.

"The source said around 800,000 Afghan voters would be registered for the presidential election in October and for the Olasee Jirga (National Assembly) elections in April... [R]egistration would be carried out at more than 1,000 places in refugee camps."
With the voter registration thus almost over and election campaign already underway, the efforts are being made to provide the Afghan voters and politicians with support and expertise to help them make the most of their new opportunities. One group currently involved in such work in Afghanistan is the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a non-profit organization based in Washington: "This group has opened six offices in Afghanistan to teach the public about political campaigns and fair elections. Another group, Internews, is working with local media and Internet providers to help guarantee freedom of expression."

Afghanistan's previously persecuted minority
Hazaras continue to prosper, hoping that one day the giant world-famous Buddha statutes destroyed by the iconoclastic Taliban will rise again from the rubble:

" 'This was a ruined place, but now everything is being rebuilt,' said Azizullah, 31, a policeman who fled the fighting in 1999. He returned two years ago and has constructed a solid mud house by a stream that rushes past the Buddhas, irrigates acres of golden wheat and quenches flocks of goats festooned with bright ribbons.

" 'The militias have put down their guns and gone home to their fields,' he said. 'We have the best security in Afghanistan, and we welcome everyone who wants to visit and help. Our people want only unity and peace, and they ask only for their rightful share in national life'."
The work to reconstruct the giant Buddhas is already commencing: "[L]ittle by little, what remains of the ancient treasures is being restored, with iron rods shoring up their niches and concrete being pumped into cracks across the crumbling stone." Meanwhile, the search for the world's largest Buddha statue, hidden and untouched by the Taliban, has begun around Bamian. At the forefront, archaeologist Zemaryalai Tarzi: "It's hard to believe that the sculpture ever went missing. According to the writings of a Chinese pilgrim who reported seeing the reclining Buddha in the year 629, it stretched 1,000 feet... Should Tarzi locate it, the discovery would mean more than uncovering the largest known statue of Buddha. It could be a psychic balm and a financial boon for Afghanistan, easing a collective guilt over the Taliban's destructive acts and reviving Bamian's fortunes as the tourism capital of the nation."

Hazara women, too, are sharing in the new opportunities: "Sabera Sakhi, who runs a small social welfare program in Bamian, the region's capital, is trying to promote several changes at once: the economic emancipation of Hazara women, the cultivation of crops no one has grown here before, and the benefits of vegetarian cuisine to a population that survives on starch." These new initiatives are not only improving the local nutrition and health, but are also bringing unprecedented economic independence to Hazara women: "Within months, the women in Fuladi went from being the neediest members of their community to being among the top income earners. They developed farming skills unknown to local men, learned how to prepare and cook vegetables for their children, and discovered their own stamina improving in the process."

Everywhere around the country, efforts continue to
deal with consequences of decades of conflict:

"The Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Afghanistan New Beginning Programme (ANBP) have joined forces to identify qualified military officers, who have entered the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration programme (DDR) to fill vacant teaching posts. The DDR process helps soldiers to fit back into society through training and employment.

" 'It is good to have these officers who have witnessed war in Afghanistan,' Denise Duclaux, ANBP's public information officer told IRIN in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Wednesday. 'These officers are able to teach a new generation not only basic skills necessary but also about Afghanistan’s past and how they can create a new future for themselves'."
Thanks to a grant provided by the Japan Social Development Fund, this valuable three year program "will provide immediate wage labor employment for 10,000 unskilled ex-combatants while providing around 100 to 300 ex-officers and ex-commanders with employment, training and equipment (under a lease-purchase arrangement) to start up small scale labor based contractor businesses. The program will also provide vocational training to 1,500 ex-combatants and will train 1,000 more in operating and maintaining road construction equipment. It expects to generate 3 million labor days of employment for ex-combatants, rural workers in poppy-growing areas, and others who are living in poverty."

The other legacy of war are, of course, the
refugees. So far this year, 200,000 Afghans have returned home from Pakistan, bringing the total for repatriations from that country to 2.2 million since 2002. "The numbers in August have been boosted by Afghans who asked to return from the 'new' camps established to shelter those fleeing the 2001 war in their country." Meanwhile, on the other refugee front, "[t]he United Nations refugee agency today marked a symbolic milestone with the return home of the one millionth Afghan from Iran since the start of voluntary repatriation to their war-ravaged country in April 2002, reducing by half the overall Afghan refugee population there." Says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers: "Behind this figure there are 1 million individual stories, 1 million people who made the choice to go back, and are now rebuilding not just their own lives, but also their homeland." And the agency's representative in Iran, Philippe Lavanchy comments that "[m]any Afghan refugees in Iran are very educated. They have professional skills that are essential to the future of Afghanistan... Every teacher who goes back will teach hundreds of Afghan children to read, every doctor will save lives, all will be an integral part of the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Yet another legacy of lawlessness is now
receiving attention: "Thousands of Afghan people whose only livelihood has been combat or the growing of illegal opium poppies will be given the opportunity to enter Afghanistan's new economy with help from a US$19.6 million grant to be provided by the Government of Japan and administered by the World Bank." And to further build up Afghanistan's criminal justice system, the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) is planning to conduct a capacity building program, which according to the UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva will "increase the capacity of the criminal justice institutions to deal with serious crimes in particular with drug-related crimes," and will involve "train[ing] judges, prosecutors and the counter-narcotics police of Afghanistan in the area of arresting criminals, investigation, detaining and imprisonment of serious criminal offenders."

In education news, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in conjunction with the Afghan Education Ministry, has commenced a community-based schools programme in remote areas of the country to provide
learning opportunities for Afghan girls who cannot attend formal schools. The report notes that "Afghanistan has seen a steady increase in the number of children attending school since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. More than four million children are now enrolled in schools - a third of them girls." A lot of challenges still remain: more than a million of school-age girls are not attending school at the moment; the UNICEF program is aiming to reach half of them. Overall, though, more children are coming back to school:

"As millions of school children across the world return to the classroom this week, an anticipated half a million boys and girls from the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan will also be going back to study, as the second annual phase of the country's Back to School campaign begins.

"Afghanistan has two academic years - one running from March until December in areas affected by cold winters, and the second beginning in September in areas where the summers are too hot to hold classes. Most of these 'warm weather' schools are in the south and east of Afghanistan.

"The Afghan Ministry of Education, supported by UNICEF, has been mobilizing supplies of learning and teaching materials for some 580,000 children and 5,500 teachers during the last two months in preparation for the September return."
The UNICEF is also starting a major push to increase the overall literacy rates in this country where only 49% of men and just over 19% of women can read and write. "The UNESCO official said the main activities of [the program in question] Land Afghan included the development of a curriculum in both Dari and Pashto for basic literacy and a post-literacy teachers' guide; providing literacy-related capacity building training to government agencies and NGOs; and establishing community learning centres where literacy and non-formal education courses were offered. Land Afghan was also aiming to develop resources for visually impaired and deaf Afghans."

In media news, Kabul's
Arman FM radio station is providing a valuable service to listeners:

"Sitting in the middle of the young men and women working together - a sight that would have given the Taliban apoplexy - is a balding, overweight, 42-year-old man in ill-fitting jeans and a checked shirt. He doesn’t look as if he has superstar status, but Humayoon Daneshyar's daily radio phone-in show has revolutionised Afghanistan's staid world of dismal talk-in shows about dry politics. The format has never been heard before, and has taken the battered city by storm. His show, The Youth And Their Problems, may be Western in style, but the problems are definitely Afghan. Daneshyar is called on daily to sort out matters of life and death.

"His army of fans consult him about arguments between brothers, which can be deadly when so many people are armed with Kalashnikovs. Desperate lovers driven to the brink of suicide come to him as their last resort; he has talked people out of taking their own lives. And despairing young people who survived war and the Taliban but can't cope in an Afghanistan striving for peace, seek his assistance in finding a job. Many have been bitterly disappointed by an economy that has failed to deliver the opportunities they had hoped for. All this sound advice and avuncular help has been delivered live on air, making Daneshyar a sort of good-natured Frasier Crane of Kabul."
In sports news, the Afghan athletes might not have won any medals at the Olympic Games but they have made an important statement by simply competing in the games:

"Her hair was blowing free behind her. Robina Muqimyar was falling way behind the pack Friday in the Olympic 100-meter sprint, but that didn't matter. She never really had a chance to win, and her gold medal was waiting for her at the starting line. There she was on the world's grandest stage, the Olympic Stadium, losing hopelessly in a race against superstars, including American Gail Devers."
For Muqimyar, the victory was symbolic: "I had no opportunities to do anything during the Taliban. I was living at home, not doing anything, just doing homework and chores. This was the biggest memorable moment for me in my life because I competed at the Olympics."

Afghan economy continues to power ahead:

"Afghanistan's economy will maintain its robust growth this year but security, better roads and lower oil prices are needed to keep a lid on inflation, the Governor of the Central Bank of Afghanistan said on Wednesday. Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady said refugees returning home to work the land and generous international largesse fuelled strong growth.

" 'This year, growth will be 16 percent, maybe a little more,' he told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of an annual Islamic Development Bank meeting in Tehran. He said this was a slight cooling from 18 percent growth in 2003 and 29 percent in 2002."
The economy is obviously starting from a very low base line; as Ahady notes, the current reliance on aid is unsustainable, and many problems, such as inflation and trade deficit loom ahead. But so do many opportunities.

"With another few years of foreign assistance he said the economy could settle into the mould of Yemen or Bangladesh. At that stage it would be running growth at three or four percent. The private sector is getting off the ground in areas such as bottling and food oils. Further advances would demand legal adjustments and better security.

"Ahady had no reliable unemployment data but said there was evidence jobs were being created at a healthy rate. Semi-skilled Pakistani labourers have been crossing the border for work. The key to any future investment was the high rate of return from Afghanistan's cheap labour, he added."
In the new Afghanistan, previously unheard of opportunities are opening up; including many for Afghan women:

"A few, determined Afghan women are making the most of whatever economic opportunities are open to them - mostly in home-related spheres such as craft making. Fahimeh, a 23-year-old former refugee who returned from Iran, is one such entrepreneur, who has overcome numerous obstacles to establish a successful small business. The photos in this essay document a day in the life of her beauty salon named Aroos'e Golha (Bride of Flowers)."
See the photo-essay accompanying the story. But it's not just women; take for example this story of a mullah who wants to become a mogul:

"He was 19 when he took up the gun, firing potshots at the Soviet soldiers who came to swim near his village. Now, after 23 years of fighting, the mujahedeen commander is perched again above the dusty brown shores of Lake Qargha and plotting strategy. His new mission: building an Alpine resort.

"Scores of his former comrades in arms toil at the waterside Moon Cafe, laying stone walkways and painting the dining room in cheery pastels. Others are refurbishing several nearby guesthouses.

"By year's end, four model chalets, prefabricated in Switzerland and priced from $183,000, should be built and ready for inspection by well-heeled Kabulis looking for their own slice of Lucerne just six miles northwest of the Afghan capital.

"And that's just the beginning, if the former commander, Ezatullah Rooz, has his way. His plans call for condos on the nearby - albeit war-ravaged - golf course, a shopping center, hotels and perhaps even a short ski run, kept white with snow machines."
As Afghanistan's newest convert to capitalism says, "This is the only way to bring peace to Afghanistan. We cannot bring it with guns, or even the United Nations. Only with jobs." Amen.

Speaking of tourism, a new training initiative aims to combine potential future
benefits for the industry with benefits for Afghan women:

"The Afghan Government is piloting a scheme to teach widowed women the kind of skills necessary to work in the country's tourist industry, which is re-emerging after more than two decades of dormancy due to war and Taliban hostility, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported today.

"More than 30 women are learning skills such as cooking, literacy and home-making, to take advantage of the growing interest from tourists in the site of the Bamiyan Buddha statues and the Band-i-Amir Lake in Afghanistan's central region.

"If the pilot phase works, the scheme will be expanded to help more widowed women left financially vulnerable by the loss of their family's breadwinner, UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said."
Doing their bit for the rebirth of Afghan tourism is this group of American tourists - average age 74 - who decided to be among the first Westerners to visit Afghanistan for pleasure. "The tourists have encountered only generosity from ordinary Afghans. 'We make quite a stir wherever we go,' said Dick Bogart, a retired computer salesman from San Francisco and grandfather of 10. 'It's been very touching'."

Another industry is also returning to Afghanistan after years of absence: "War in Afghanistan drove the carpet weavers into exile in Pakistan, peace has drawn these refugees home. The result is an industry straddling the border, providing jobs for both countries and reinforcing their economic inter-dependence...

"Inside Afghanistan, some returnees have established factories; [one of them,] Allahbirdi employs about 90 people, themselves former refugees, in his Kabul Magu Village Carpets. But most production, as before in Pakistan and earlier in a peaceful Afghanistan, is done in homes. The skill rests with the Turkoman, Uzbek, Hazara and Tajik populations - not the Pashtuns who constitute the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan...

"The industry has also become more sophisticated since the days when the carpet business was centred in Kabul and there was little production in Pakistan. Both countries are more conscious they are part of a worldwide market."
While the work continues in every workshop and factory, elsewhere, bigger plans are being hatched too. Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah has recently unveiled his vision for Afghanistan as part of the greater Central Asian region:

"The future of our country depends on the level of relations with our neighbors. We are striving to revive the Great Silk Road in its new modern concept... Afghanistan wants to become a transit country between the countries of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, and is interested in putting various economic projects into practice."
One cannot imagine any more romantic and exotic an economic plan than a "new Silk Road." It's not a pipe dream - to achieve it, considerable planning and work are already taking place:

"Afghanistan and Uzbekistan agreed on Sunday to push ahead with a mammoth road-building project intended to make their countries a lucrative trade link between Asia and the Persian Gulf. 'A unique opportunity has appeared for Afghanistan to serve as a transit country between South-East Asia and the Persian Gulf,' Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told journalists.

"Meeting in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Abdullah and his Uzbek counterpart, Sadyk Safayev outlined plans for Uzbek contractors to build a road across northern Afghanistan between the towns of Andhoi and Herat. The eventual aim - agreed last summer at a summit of Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan's presidents - is to extend the road from Uzbekistan southwards through Afghanistan to Iran's Gulf Coast, possibly supplemented by a railway.

"Uzbekistan has simultaneously been pushing for construction of a rail link eastward through Kyrgyzstan and deep into China in order to create a complete oil transit route between China and the Persian Gulf."
In other transport infrastructure news, other projects to link Afghanistan with its neighbors are currently in planning stages:

"The Asian Development Bank has offered Pakistan $2 billion to help create 'regional connectivity' into Afghanistan and India with a road and railway network... The objective is to help create a transportation network that's connected with Afghanistan through Chaman on the western border of Pakistan, and India through its eastern parts."
A high level Asian Development Bank team is expected in Pakistan in September for talks with the government.

Afghanistan's neighbors are already assisting with development of
communication links: "Iran has allocated a grant of 60 billion rials [$7 million] to Sangan-Herat railway project which is currently under construction in Afghanistan. A report released by the Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Roads and Transportation on Saturday said that the project was launched in late March and is expected to be finalized by 2007." Dogharoun-Herat and Milak-Zarang links are already under construction as part of Iran's "non-return financial aid" to Afghanistan. Overall, 36 road projects are currently underway in Iran and six others in Afghanistan to complete the transit corridor that will give Afghanistan and Tadjikistan access to warm waters of the Persian Gulf.

Speaking of Iran, the two governments have recently signed
a mutual economic cooperation agreement: "Under the agreement, Afghan technicians would undergo training courses in Iran or Afghanistan, Afghan ministries would have access to Iranian state-run Persian language softwares and public libraries and those located at universities would be provided with their needed books. Iran would contribute to building Sangan-Harat and Harat-Meymaneh roads. The Afghan party would provide Iran with necessary information of its reconstruction projects and Iran would have necessary cooperation with Afghanistan in implementing the related projects."

Pakistan, too, is helping with the transport infrastructure to link Afghanistan with the rest of the region. Says Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri: "We are pursuing development of transport and communications network linking Pakistan to Central Asia. The laying of railway tracks from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan is an important part of it. Our Ministry of Railways has completed feasibility study of Chaman-Kandahar rail project. Its report will be discussed in the next meeting of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission which will be held in Islamabad shortly." Meanwhile, Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz has welcomed some of the infrastructure initiatives proposed by the Afghan government: "[Aziz] said that Pakistan will be too happy to consider the request of building airports at Khost and the Ghulam Kha-Spin Boldak road. On the rail link [between Chaman and Kandhar via Spin Boldak] he said pre-feasibility report was ready a firmed up detailed feasibility study would be undertaken. He said that Pakistan would be keen to participate in the regional power grid station [linking Central Asian states through Afghanistan] so that additional power can be made available in Pakistan. He welcomed the ring road between Mazar Sharif and Heart as it would facilitate the quicker link between Pakistan and Central Asian States."

The foreign assistance is of course not limited just to transport. The
Asian Development Bank has recently announced a $600 million assistance package to Afghanistan, to be provided over three years, "to support economic growth, poverty reduction, and reconstruction and development." According to the Bank, [t]he 12 projects and programs planned during the period span five sectors, including natural resources, transport, energy, the financial sector and public sector. The ADB is following a three-pronged approach to supporting Afghanistan's post-conflict reconstruction: building capacity, establishing an appropriate policy and institutional framework, and rehabilitating essential infrastructure."

India is also providing aid: the government in New Dehli will provide $400 million "to improve Afghanistan's infrastructure, health facilities, transportation networks, power transmission and educational institutions." As part of the aid measures, India has agreed to train Afghan diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute of India.

In energy news, the electricity line which will carry
power from Iran to Herat is ready for launch. Mohsen Darmani, the Afghan official in charge of the project, "added that the first phase of the project has come to an end and Iran was waiting for Afghan minister to officially inaugurate the line. He added that the project has cost about 80.792 billion Rls. [$9.2 million] while 29.5 billion Rls. [$3.3 million] have been spent on building electricity posts... Iran-Afghanistan power line comprises two phases. The first phase includes a 20kv line from Taibad in Iran to Herat in Afghanistan while the second phase includes a 132kv line and a 132/20kv electricity station."

And read this story of
three young Swiss architects who had won a competition against 48 other entrants to build a tower block which will house student meeting rooms and accommodation at Bamiyan University in Afghanistan:

"It is similar in style to traditional buildings found in Afghanistan’s second-biggest city of Kandahar, which lies in a region prone to earthquakes... The building is technically complex but uses material from the area and relies on local craftsmen...

"The architects intend to leave the building management to local experts, hoping to contribute to the transfer of Western architectural know-how to Afghanistan. 'It is important to involve locals in our project. At the moment all the effort in reconstructing Afghanistan goes into engineering work,' said [one of the architects] Graf."
HUMANITARIAN AID: Well represented on the ground, the Coalition forces continue to provide aid to people of Afghanistan. The US forces, for instance, engage in a charm offensive:

"The villagers were on edge. Two hours earlier the Americans' had arrived in terrifying style... What happened next left the villagers bemused. What did they want the most, Colonel McBride demanded - a new school, a well to be dug, a doctor for the derelict clinic? 'Just tell us what you want and how we can help you,' he urged while the villagers furiously stroked their long Taliban-style beards and stared as if unable to believe their luck.

" 'Have you come to build or come to destroy?' one of them had nervously asked before the meeting. They remember Soviet soldiers whose policy was to carpet-bomb villages, not build schools for them."
According to US military, the strategy is working: "Villagers sick of war and Taliban banditry are increasingly tipping them off about hideouts, ambush plans and arms caches - usually of weapons supplied to anti-Soviet guerillas by the CIA's 1980s covert operation and now turned against American boys in scrappy firefights."

Then there is North Carolina's
Donna Horosko:

"At Southern Guilford High School, Donna Horosko liked basketball and biology, had a long list of friends and entered every dance contest that came along. Twenty-five years later, she's an Army lieutenant colonel, stationed in Afghanistan and helping to rebuild that war-torn country...

"Horosko, as part of the 364th Civil Affairs Brigade out of Portland, Ore., is working with the country's new Ministry of Women's Affairs to offer educational and cultural opportunities to a long-neglected segment of the Afghan population... Since her unit arrived in Afghanistan nine months ago, Horosko has helped in strategic planning, but especially in efforts to bolster the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Army officials have given away thousands of crank-powered radios to families in rural areas, where no electricity is available. Much of the programming targets female audiences, telling women it's OK to register to vote and that they have equal rights."
And Wally Hopkins, the director of Amarillo's Department of Veteran's Affairs Medical Center of Amarillo, Texas, who has assisted in bringing the Afghan hospitals out of the Middle Ages:

"Hopkins and Rose Bolza, a midwife from an Arizona Indian reservation who was also volunteering in Afghanistan, worked together to set up a new, clean labor triage room in the main facility.

"Hopkins oversaw installation of emergency lighting in the operating room where doctors had improvised with cell phone light. The new system replaced a risky backup system. 'They were using kerosene lamps,' he said. 'In a room where they used 100 percent oxygen, you can imagine what a catastrophic situation that might cause.'

"He also enlisted the help of the Army Corps of Engineers to repair a pathological incinerator that had not worked for weeks. Uteri, placentas and other body parts sat waiting to be disposed of, Hopkins said."
The challenges are truly daunting, but fortunately there are many people of good will and experience willing to help.

Often, the humanitarian aid is part of the official military mission; but sometimes the efforts result from individual initiative, like the case of Oregon's
Army Spc Moises Salgado, who motivated his family and friends to provide Afghan children with school supplies such as pens, pencils, notebooks and backpacks - "To date almost 2,000 pounds of much needed items have been sent, with more on its way." Says Salgado:

"Basically, when I first met the Afghanis Nationalist people I wasn't sure what to expect, because of how the media had pictured them... Since working with them I have found they are very friendly people. When they come to work on the base it is my responsibility to make sure none of them wonder off where they were not supposed to be.

"The news media had led me to believe these people could not be trusted. But the more I was around them the more learned of their truthfulness and honesty. As time went by I became increasingly aware of their living situation. When the Taliban was in rule these people were not even allowed to write. This simple task that Americans do without fear would bring severe punishment if caught doing it. Now that the Taliban is no longer in rule, things are changing. It's amazing the little things these people are grateful for. Even a simple ball-point pen. When I passed them out to some women they would make a mark on their hand and sniff it. They were so excited about having a pen."
More on Moises Salgado's action, as well as details of how you can help can be found here.

There are also people like Jenni Birker of Garrison, Iowa, who has started the
Shoes for Kids drive to collect shoes for Afghan orphans. Jenni "started the campaign after her father, who is stationed near an orphanage in Afghanistan, asked her in an e-mail to send more than 300 pairs of shoes for the orphans. Now Birker has put collection boxes in Vinton area businesses and is accepting monetary donations to help with shipping costs." More on Jenni here, including the details of how you can contribute.

Then there are
Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, both September 11 widows, who decided to reach out to Afghan women. "Retik and Quigley were struck by how women, especially widows, were marginalized by the former Taliban regime and by Afghan society in general: They had no life insurance and often no money or property to help them carry on after their husbands' deaths. 'I thought - look at all the support we're getting,' said Retik... 'What must it be like for widows in Afghanistan?'"

"Earlier this year, [Retik and Quigley] created Beyond the 11th, a nonprofit foundation to aid widows in areas touched by conflict, and they plan to mark the third anniversary of the attacks by riding their bikes from New York, where their husbands' lives ended, to Boston, where their final flights began...

"The two women plan to ride the first 220 miles of the route together, making their way through back roads of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and into Massachusetts, where they hope to be met by another 200 riders for the final 30 miles to Boston. Each rider will represent one of the 202 New Englanders killed in the attacks...

"The ride will begin Sept. 9 at the former site of the World Trade Center and end on Sept. 11 at a new memorial in the Boston Public Garden. They are hoping to raise $100,000 for food, clothing, education and job training for Afghan widows and their children.

"With less than three weeks to go before the ride, about 75 riders have signed up to do the final leg with Retik and Quigley. The riders have pledged a total of $30,000 so far to help Afghan widows."
You can find more about the ride on this website.

Hawa Meskinyar, formerly of Atlanta, Georgia, has set up another charity organization: "[She] hopes to change that through the work of JAHAN (Join and Help Afghanistan Now), a nonprofit humanitarian organization she formed in 2001. The Washington-based organization, run by volunteers in the United States and Kabul, helps needy women and children become self-sufficient...

"JAHAN's initial goal was a program that would pair a sponsor with an Afghan child. So far, more than 80 sponsors have signed on. Meskinyar distributes the funds - $30 to $50 a month. She asks only that the family receiving the money make every effort to send the child to school. 'Education is the key,' she said.

"She scours Kabul's ethnically diverse neighborhoods, its tent cities and low-income housing, to make sure the money reaches as many children as possible. Soon, she plans to start a sewing and literacy center to help Afghan women become self-sufficient. She worries that the country will become too dependent on handouts.

"She hopes to market the products in the United States and other countries through retail outlets or the Internet. The women will earn a salary and their children will also be placed in the sponsorship program."
Read also this story of Brian Murtagh, Australian farmer who celebrated his 70th birthday in Afghanistan last year. Murtagh worked for six months in logistics coordination for the Oxfam charity. This meant "procuring and transporting goods ranging from communications equipment, including large satellite dishes to 14km of poly pipe for irrigation and cooking utensils." The work gave Murtagh a valuable new perspective on life: "I am constantly amazed at the things we complain about in Australia which on a scale of one to 10 are about minus 475 in importance."

You might remember the story from one of the
previous updates, about Djamshid Djan Popal, a nine year old Afghan boy receiving, thanks to generosity of private benefactors, life-saving treatment in Canada. The latest news is that Djamshid is now slowly recovering after a successful surgery.

It's not just the West, though; other Muslim countries are also helping. The
Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates is sending another two planeloads of aid for needy Afghan families as part of their long-standing humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.

new Afghan army is proving to be increasingly effective as a force for stability in the country:

"Rivals in western Afghanistan agreed to a cease-fire last week after the arrival of the Afghan National Army (ANA). With 13,700 soldiers, the fledgling ANA has become a force that President Hamid Karzai has used to douse flareups between warlords who still rule a majority of the country.

"The recent fighting in Afghanistan's western province of Herat is seen by many as an effort to mar the country's first democratic presidential elections, but for Karzai it has also provided the opportunity to flex his muscle and show how far his government has come in the last three years."
The Afghan government's new get-tough policy on warlords has already resulted in unseating from power one of the most famous and influential of the lot: Isamail Khan who previously controlled the city of Herat. "For the first time in Afghanistan the American military has made it clear that they are backing moves to push out a warlord, and Mr Khan's support is unlikely to prove strong enough to resist determined action by the US-backed Afghan National Army."

Kabul, meanwhile, has been declared
free of heavy weapons - the first time in a quarter of a century - and a positive step along the road to elections. " 'Bulldozers should replace tanks and cannons,' Deputy Defense Minister Rahim Wardak told the ceremony in a dusty compound north of Kabul containing dozens of tanks and artillery pieces. 'AK-47's and pistols should make way for saws and axes'... Wardak said 2,300 heavy weapons had been rounded up around Kabul, the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and the southeastern city of Gardez."

Among other recent successes on the Afghan front of the war on terror:
three suspected Taliban fighters including "a senior commander" are killed during an action in Ghazni province; in Uruzgan province, the US-trained Afghan National Army arrest 16 Taliban fugitives in the latest sweep; in Khost and Zabul provinces, 22 more suspected Taliban fighters are detained; and the US forces kill 22 insurgents, among them several Arab fighters, in a firefight in the Zabul province.

In another incident, the US special forces have cornered and killed one of top Taliban commanders,
Roze Khan, who was leading the Islamist guerrillas in southern Afghanistan. A CBS reporter who accompanied the troops on this operation writes:

"The coalition soldiers came in with overwhelming force, but they used it sparingly. Because there were shots fired, they handcuffed some 22 men in the village of fighting age and above. Then they were searched and questioned. But contrary to popular perceptions, soldiers here operate with very strict rules, and unless they find weapons or other evidence on someone, they cannot be detained, which is similar to how the police operate in the U.S. So after several hours, only two men were detained while the rest had their plastic cuffs cut free and were left to ponder the American soldiers actions, that seemed to have taken them completely by surprise."
In the continuing effort to provide assistance to the new Afghan armed forces, teams of American officers are currently working with their Afghan counterparts to establish the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, modeled on the West Point. "The purpose of the NMAA is to provide the Afghan National Army with professional officers who support and defend the Constitution of Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, Holland has sent
additional fighter planes to reinforce the NATO security force for the October election. Great Britain, too, is sending in more jets. On the ground, a Georgian Mountain-Rifle battalion is on its way to perform peacekeeping duties, going via Germany, where the Georgian troops will receive two week of additional training.

To strengthen border security and to combat smuggling, Pakistan is setting up
more checkpoints along the border. Pakistan is also currently providing training for Afghan customs officials. The Pakistani armed forces have also bombarded a terrorist training camp near the Afghan border, killing 50.

And in a development which might have some positive
long term indirect flow-on effects, the Pakistani government "with US help, has embarked on several initiatives to combat zealotry by broadening educational offerings. A little over 300 madrassahs have introduced elementary subjects like English, math, science, and computers, and US funds have revitalized some government schools." It's a slow start to tackle a huge problem - in the past, Pakistani madrassahs have proven to be a fertile breeding ground for Islamic radicalism, for which Afghanistan in particular had paid a high price. Any attempts to "drain the swamp" are only to be encouraged.

The venerable
"Economist" has summed up its commentary about the coming presidential elections in Afghanistan in one sentence: "A triumph for nation-building, if it succeeds." Somebody else might say, a triumph for Afghanistan that it already got so far. An even greater triumph, as the "Economist" says, if it succeeds. For their sake of the long suffering people of Afghanistan, let's hope that will be the case.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?