Opium Production Through the Roof – Again

March 7, 2007

One wonders whether the recent changes in US drug policy towards Afghanistan were in anticipation of this: the fact that for the second year in a row, opium production levels have reached new heights.

In the months leading up to this announcement by the US Department of State, the said agency announced the appointment of William B. Wood, formerly ambassador to the drug-ridden Colombia, as its new ambassador in Kabul. Separately, US government pressure increased on the GoA to allow invasive eradication procedures, which formerly took a backseat to interdiction efforts. At least one other senior US government official spoke of Colombia’s success in the fight against drugs as a model for Afghanistan.

Whether those changes were anticipating the new revelations or not, the fact remains that the fight against drugs in Afghanistan has been a dismal failure ever since day one of post-Taliban Afghanistan. In fact, Taliban had greater success in curbing poppy cultivation (albeit for other motives.)

The new announcement, however, comes with a bit of a good news caveat from the UN:

The UN says although production of poppies, used to make heroin, has fallen in the north and centre, a sharp rise is likely in the lawless south. (more from BBC)

I do know of Badakhshan having become a drug-infested province lately, but did not know of any provinces in the center with notable poppy cultivation. If the UN means Uruzgan, for all but geographical reasons that province is a southern one.

***

Unrelated, ُSafrang is delighted by the newcomer on the block: Afghanistanica – an exploration of Afghanistan from a safe distance. Afghanistanica features some of the best written and best-backed-up blogging on Afghanistan you will see anywhere -and not only online backlinks. We only wish the blogger had activated commenting.

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Continuing the Discussion on Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations…

December 29, 2006

Please note: My article on Afghanistan-Pakistan relations (prev. post) is posted on the website of the leading South Asian e-zine Chowk and is receiving many responses.

While some comments stray off topic and many more have degenerated into name-calling, there are some substantial and thoughtful responses that deal with the politico-historical roots of the differences between the two countries, and especially with the state of Pakistan today.

All those who would like to continue the discussion on this subject and who are tired of my slow reponses, go over there and take on the hundreds of prolific readers and writers of that website. On this blog, we are done with that discussion and shall move on to the more interesting things.


December 22, 2006

Moral indignation is outraged only when presented with an affront to its most parochial sentiments.

Darfur has become an accepted fact of our history, and only occasionally anymore animates the conversations of our latte drinking liberals. Civilian death tolls from Iraq are not seen as collateral damage or civilian casualties anymore, but as routinuous and vaguely tragic byproducts of the inevitable march forward of history. We are all on some level or another guilty of regularly misconstruing, multiplying, misinterpreting, misquoting, misapporpriating, minimizing, or maiming facts in a manner and medium of our own choosing and convenience.

The atrocities that take place in the name of journalism are fitting reflections of our own laxities and sliding standards. Ditto the vagaries that take places in the entertainment industry’s portrayal of people and places. Most of the time, we just let them slide by.

Except, of course, when they engage our most primate and parochial concerns. Then we must protest not only the misrepresentation itself, but the appalling worldwide silence. The same silence, incidentally, that we would be guilty of had we ourselves not been the object, but the audience.

***

I have not seen the latest bollywood output, Kabul Express. I do not do bollywood anymore. And I am not shocked that it has gotten it all wrong when it comes to the portrayal of the Hazara of Afghanistan. I am, however, mildly surprised at the way so many people who have been emailing me this morning have been holding the Indian movie industry to apparently reverential standards of factuality and truth – affirming, through protesting this latest anomaly, that on all previous occasions it had our collective tacit approval.

***

This is but just one incident. More generally, and more seriously, I want to ask myself: What is one, who tries hard to be a person of conscience, to do? One feels like withdrawing. And reading Camus. And sulking. And keeping aloof and above all of it. But one has no choice: one is in this.

One feels bad for the gradual decay eating away at one’s moral soul. And before soon, one will stop noticing it altogether.

***

And so: Really, what the hell were Indian filmmakers thinking?! They should not be able to get away with this!!


The Business of Blogging

December 21, 2006

Lost in a medley of graduate school applications, the footwork of organizing a talk in DC by a visitig MP from Afghanistan, and playing out my fantasies of global domination through my new Civilizations-III PC game, I have missed a very exciting week of blogging on Afghanistan.

But then I also believe that all bloggers ought to occasionally wrest themselves away from the business of blogging, or they will risk quality and seriousness. Just as a casual attitude about blogging is often helpful in a world of real-time news and information, and helps to keep the ball rolling and the blog updated, too much of this attitude can also end up trivializing otherwise important issues.

At any rate, bloggers should remind themselves of the sanctity of the craft of writing at all times.

While, for instance, Karzai’s recent tirades against Pakistan definitely invited commentary, I frankly was not in a position to provide serious commentary, and I felt that commenting anyway would be disingenuous and somehow insulting to the imaginary audience of Safrang. Of course I could merely post a link to the news article itself, but then I respect myself more than to just relay information anyone can get anyways. So I had to let the whole thing incubate for a while, and yes, I had to play Civilizations-III for hours on end.

On an ending note, as far as blogging is concerned, I recommend reading a recent Op-Ed in the WSJ, titled “The Blog Mob.” The tagline reads: “written by fools to be read by imbeciles,” attributed to Joseph Conrad who was speaking many years before about newspapers! Here is an excerpt:

The way we write affects both style and substance… In this aspect, journalism as practiced via blog appears to be a change for the worse. That is, the inferiority of the medium is rooted in its new, distinctive literary form. Its closest analogue might be the (poorly kept) diary or commonplace book, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope–though these things are not meant for public consumption. The reason for a blog’s being is: Here’s my opinion, right now.

The right now is partially a function of technology, which makes instantaneity possible, and also a function of a culture that valorizes the up-to-the-minute above all else. But there is no inherent virtue to instantaneity. Traditional daily reporting–the news–already rushes ahead at a pretty good clip, breakneck even, and suffers for it. On the Internet all this is accelerated.

The blogs must be timely if they are to influence politics. This element–here’s my opinion–is necessarily modified and partly determined by the right now. Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought–instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.


Case in Point – Self Delusion about the Taliban

December 9, 2006

This is what I mean when I say that people are in denial and self-delusion about the Taliban (read previous post):

“I am absolutely convinced that if we allowed Afghanistan to fall back into Taliban rule it would become a failed state again and a black hole for terrorism training,”(NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop) Scheffer told the Daily Telegraph last week.

Thank god we are “absolutely convinced” of that, because if not, it seems that Afghanistan’s reversion back to Taliban is an actual option weighed with some seriousness by NATO’s Secretary General. And the only thing that makes Taliban unattractive to him is that they do a bad job in keeping a functional state. Otherwise, well, they are not Jeffersonian republicans, or ardent feminists for that matter, but they are… all right… I guess.

Get real, people!

(Incidentally, this is the sort of thing that makes one nostalgic about the moral clarity and no-compromise attitude of the likes of Jeane Kirkpatrick in dealing with tyrants and totalitarians.) 


Weekly Alert – II

November 25, 2006

~ Recommended Readings, Viewings, and Events ~

(Note: I have decided to change the format of the Weekend Reading posts (started last week) to include not only recommended readings, but also viewing recommendations and event alerts.)

Here is the second Weekly Alert:

  • Article: “NATO’s Future” – The Economist reports on how NATO came to embody the Destiny’s Child hit “I’m a Survivor!”
  • Map: “Situation Map of Afghan Floods” – A map of the affected districts in Western Afghanistan and emergency responses, created by ReliefWeb.
  • Event: “Afghan Perspectives on Afghanistan’s Transition” – A panel discussion and presentation organized by the Conflict Resolution Forum at Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University -for those of you who live close enough in the area to make it (yours truly is one of the four panelists discussing Afghan perspectives of the recent developments.)

Fighting the Good Fight: Abdul Jabbar Sabit as Afghanistan’s Elliot Spitzer

November 25, 2006

Afghanistan’s new Attorney General Abdul Jabbart Sabit views his mission as a Jihad against corruption, and so far, he is making both progress and enemies aplenty.

Hearing pleas and grievances from the visiting public in his office (often in person,) he is becoming a one-man institution of transitional justice -the kind of justice that Afghanistan so badly needed post-Taliban, the kind of justice that Afghanistan did not get, because its new leaders were too willing to cut deals with warlords and criminals left and right.

The least that these cynical leaders -with little moral courage to stand up to corruption on their own- can do now, is to stand behind the man who has the moral fortitude to do it for them: Abdul Jabbar Sabit, Afghanistan’s Elliot Spitzer. (Mr. Spitzer is New York State’s Attorney General and a lightning rod against corporate corruption and white-collar crime.)

The good news is, so far Mr. Sabit has won many supporters: from the general populace who see in him a man with the moral rectitude and the courage to stand up to powerful people, and from a good number of MPs. (This, despite rumors and suggestions about his own shady political/Hezbi associations in the past.) But in a place like Afghanistan, where politics can often be a dirty and amoral affair -where it isn’t?-, he faces a particularly tough battle. The hard work lying ahead of this veritable Mujahid, and the need for people to stand behind him, is epitomized in this quote from Shukria Barakzai, an MP from Kabul:

“He is wonderful, and we all need to support his reforms, or he will be a lonely person facing many difficulties… People are really thirsty for justice, but Dr. Sabit is in such a hurry, and he has opened so many lines of battle, that he is taking many risks.” (Read Top Prosecutor Targets Afghanistan’s Once-Untouchable Bosses.)

While Mr. Sabit’s earlier ventures to Herat and Balkh faced resistance (from officials higher up, who saved the corrupt officials Mr. Sabit was bringing to justice) his recent trip to eastern regions has proved more successful. He has rellied popular support, and counting on the goodwill of the people towards his cause, he recently said that “People will not support corrupt officials… I am convinced that Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat like situation will not be created here.” So far, he has ordered the arrest of 11 allegedly corrupt officials, four of whome have reportedly fled to escape arrest.

With the danger that widespread corruption and impunity throughout all the levels of the current government poses to the future of Afghanistan, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Abdul Jabbar Sabit is fighting the most important of battles (at least as important as the military campaigns against the insurgents) for Afghanistan. He needs all of our support, now.

(Note: For a highly expository interview with Mr. Sabit (in Farsi), follow the link from Warlordish blog here.)