Afghanistan: Corruption, Beauty, and Hope for the Future

Afghan blogger Mohammad Fahim Khairy asks, is President Hamid Karzai out of touch?

On the night of the [suicide] attack, Karzai showed up on national television and announced “The attacker is definitely a foreigner because Afghans do not kill any Muslims in the month of Ramadan.” How easily Karzai dismisses the crimes of the so-called Muslim Taliban that millions of people have witnessed with their own eyes.

Karzai is constantly trying to make excuses for and cover the crimes of Taliban. A few days ago, he said that he was ready to hold talks with the Taliban and offer them positions in the government. He added that the Taliban were Afghans and so they do not need to continue fighting with their own country. Ironically, however, when he claimed that Afghans doesn’t kill Muslim another news report showed the hanging of a 15-year old boy in the southern province of Helmand by the Taliban.

How can Karzai expect us to believe that a foreigner was responsible for that bus attack? Why would a foreigner want to do such a thing? I thought the foreigners were feeding us and rebuilding our country?

Mohammed Fahim Khairy is touching on a very sensitive subject in his blog: whether the government in Kabul is responding appropriately to the recent wave of Taliban attacks in the capital. The attack he refers to were on a bus, and targeted the police (at last count 27 people were killed, but the number may be higher).

Atash Parcha
relates what it was like just after:

I have lost count of the number of suicide bomb attacks in Kabul let alone the number of casualties. Yesterday, another suicide attack took place in Karte Parwan near Cinema Baharistan killing 27 police (numbers continue to rise). Reuters reported 10 killed, a flimsy portrayal of the tragic imposition of the bombing. Other sources immediately reported 27 dead. If the same situation occurred in a western country, the ‘estimation’ would have been doubled increasing social alarm. However, Afghanistan continues to be forlon and Afghan blood continues to spill unnoticed by the world.

I will say no more, let the photos speak. It saddens me to think about who have been killed. Men who have joined the army only to provide for their families, recipients of US$70 month wages. Fathers, uncles, brothers. all sole income earners for their families.

I have mentioned this before and i will entrench it again, men here play multiple roles in a family. Unfortunately, sadly but truly, women find it formidable to persevere in life without a male figure in the home. My heart goes out for these women. But i also admire the strength, courage and determination of those women who continue to struggle and strive for the future. Women who perpetuate the family name in a dignified and honourable manner. The mothers and wives of Afghanistan.

Indeed, the courage of Afghan women is truly remarkable. Nasim Fekrat posts one photo of a burqa'd woman selling bread, ironically perhaps, to feed her family. As stark as it may seem to Western eyes, it is nothing compared to what Afghan women used to face in the 90's, as the Taliban extended their brutal rule.

Still, the question remains: is Karzai out of touch? Khairy complains that while the U.S. military steps up its most wanted campaign, Hamid Karzai is holding reconciliation talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He calls them “child games,” all while the national army is infiltrated and corrupted.

Perhaps much of the turmoil could be addressed if Afghanistan had a cohesive civic identity. The recent attempts to turn Ahmed Shah Massoud into a hero or saint are a part of this, but there are more banal aspects to it as well: are the Taliban and other militants fighting for “Afghanistan” the idea, or simply for religious and political power? Can the two be meaningfully distinguished?

Ronin notes an example of this conflict:

In a recent shindig where the emphasis was “knowing about other countries/cultures” the events took a strange turn and it was decided that we ought to get to know each better through renditions of our respective national anthems…

I simply didn’t know it. I do know that such a thing exists but I neither have the time nor the inclination to memorize it. Bemused and puzzled looks followed, but I ignored them. After years of traveling with an Afghan passport and treated like a freaking mutant helps one develop a really thick skin…

As for me, I related, it is not a question of pride but rather of being tired of going through national anthem after national anthem after national anthem. If one sang the royalist national anthem the khalqis would be exceedingly pissed off, and if one carried as much as a tune or a few matching syllables from the khalqi national anthem the other fuckers would go postal on one’s ass. And by all accounts, the fat lady isn’t through singing in Afghanistan and I will be damned if I burn a few neurons or worse get my ass kicked for some piss-poor hollow meaningless poetry.

Normally, national anthems are one of those banal forms of enforcing a nationalist identity—used in all sorts of cultures, from democracies to dictatorships. This is the kind of issue that will have deep repercussions across all of Afghanistan, from singing a song in school to how the ANA can maintain unit cohesiveness.

Sanjar reports:

AAF has been accused of corruption and low discipline. The government, Nato and international community haven’t thoroughly looked at the decision making process and judgment of commanders, and it’s connection with the kind of training they acquire as well as it’s significance in AAF performance.

So there is a role the Western forces are playing as well? Sanjar continues:

I am sitting there and waiting for my turn to tell them about Afghan media. Before me Colonel O’Brian from US army is telling them about the importance of media in covering the success of army. But he could not outline a single story afghan or international media on afghan army and it’s potential influence on public perception.

All the examples he give was either about WW II or Vietnam or Balkans or Cold war. O’Brian also mentioned the name of broadcasters and agencies, it was either CBS, BBC, NPR or some other western agency. I do think O’Brian was sincere in telling them media is important and the army should help media cover the war but the way he was telling has proved to be counterproductive.

Colonel O’Brian continues his speech on media, the discussion comes to Aljazeera and the officers condemn the station for having links with Taliban and Alqaida. O’Brain says; Aljazeera is not the example of a good media, what kind of journalism is propagating the message of hatred. It’s bad media. They are showing footage of Taliban crimes. Medley a civilian media advisor to NATO adds; media professionals deny any link between media and violence, but there is, media has exacerbated a conflict to genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Taliban had a radio station, Radio Sharia, propagating their version of Islam.

Clearly, O’Brian and Medley, two senior Nato representative (one military and the other civilian) don’t understand that Aljazeera has a broader agenda which extends behind reporting. If Aljazeera gets exclusive footage from Alqaida and Taliban it shows they are doing a good job. Alqaida and Taliban are the hot topic and Aljazeera is a new channel which came up with format to get access to the hot topic and audience survey shows Aljazeera is growing. This is what media business is about.

This seems like a critical failing of American policy: being subsumed in Western sources, archetypes, and norms, while operating in an environment that is not based on them. Another example of this is the so-called “edifice complex,” in which the construction of grandiose projects is thought to be a meaningful substitute for traditional economic development (the case of the Kajaki dam is particularly difficult—it seems to have so many positives that its dire downstream consequences tend to get, if you'll pardon the phrase, washed away).

Still, all is not depression, explosions, and embarrassing culture gaffes in Afghanistan. The heartwarming attempt to create an “Afghanistan's Next Top Model” in Mazar-e-Sharif has real potential to show that women can have empowered and visible roles in society without turning into the unfortunate creatures that appear on Tyra Banks’ horrible TV show. It might be indicative of a brewing cultural fight over the proper role of traditional “Afghani dress,” but at least it holds out some hope for the future, in which Afghanistan is just another normal country in the International Community.


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