Afghanistan

I met Taymor  Kamrany in 2003, just over a year after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan had ousted the Taliban. We were both in Kabul, working on a USAID program to improve the environment for business and help government institutions rebuild their capacity to support a market economy. It was not an easy task. I was working with the management and staff of the Export Department of the Ministry of Commerce. Apart from the Head, a man in his fifties who had worked in the ministry throughout all the upheavals of the previous 30 years, no one in the Department could speak any foreign language. Though Afghanistan had once a thriving export economy – until the civil war of the 1990s, it was the world’s largest exporter of raisins, which were the most delicious I have ever eaten – its productive capacity was largely destroyed, its fields strewn with landmines, its best and brightest long ago departed. I was there for just a month, but in spite of these daunting challenges facing the country,  I sensed a lot of optimism among both Afghans and foreigners.

Taymor, an Afghan-American, born in Afghanistan and relocated with his family to the U.S. when he was a small child, was bright, ambitious, idealistic, and very American in demeanor and outlook. Apart from speaking Dari, the main language of Kabul and the northern part of the country, and having some relatives he visited from time to time, he seemed to be little more at home there than I did. After we had each left Afghanistan, I learned that he had entered an MBA program at the University of Southern California, and still later that he was working for one of the Big 4 consulting firms. Then we more or less lost touch. But most people never prune their e-mail address books, so a while ago I received  a broadcast e-mail from Taymor, linking to an article he wrote, which is published on the web site of the Middle East Institute, entitled Afghanistan 2002-2012: A Decade of Progress and Hope. No question mark. [click to continue…]

Share

{ 0 comments }

It must come as some reassurance to Mitt Romney that he is not the only would-be President who says remarkably silly things he knows to be untrue. Last week Hillary Clinton, on a tour of sub-Saharan Africa, delivered a speech in Senegal in which she said that the United States would stand up for democracy and universal human rights “even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing.” In a barely veiled dig at China, she added, “Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will.” [click to continue…]

Share

{ 1 comment }

If existing parallels between the U.S. experience in Indochina and our current entanglement in Afghanistan weren’t already enough, the Afghanistan war (Operation Enduring Freedom) now has its own version of the My Lai massacre. The only surprise is that nothing like the Sunday murder of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant had previously occurred in 10 years of fighting.

For all his campaign promises to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and end our military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack Obama has pursued a course almost indistinguishable from that of George W. Bush. But of late, he has started to sound more like Richard Nixon. In a speech he gave yesterday in the Rose Garden, the President said, “So make no mistake, we have a strategy that will allow us to responsibly wind down this war.  We’re steadily transitioning to the Afghans who are moving into the lead, and that’s going to allow us to bring our troops home…And meanwhile, we will continue the work of devastating Al Qaeda’s leadership and denying them a safe haven…I am confident that we can continue the work of meeting our objectives, protecting our country and responsibly bringing this war to a close.” This sounds eerily like Nixon’s “peace with honor” and “Vietnamization of the war.”

It can’t be long before we are treated to images of American diplomats being helicoptered out of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as the Taliban move into the city. In 1972 we brought our troops home from Vietnam, under the pretext that the Vietnamese – and the Cambodians as well – could now shoulder the responsibility for their own defense. It took another three years before the Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnamese Army seized Phnom Penh and Saigon, respectively during which corrupt governments in both countries, rather than trying to defend their people, engaged in an unseemly scramble to amass as much loot as they could before the party ended.

The Karzai government is easily the equal of Lon Nol’s Cambodian regime when it comes to incompetence and corruption, while the Afghan Army is, if anything, less capable than its historic Southeast Asian counterparts, and also infested with Taliban sympathizers. Once NATO forces withdraw, I suspect it will take far less than three years for the Taliban to take over. Tragically, that might be the best possible outcome, the worst being a return to all-out civil war between north and south.

It is time for us to leave. Now.

Share

{ 0 comments }

I am glad Osama Bin Laden is dead. Not dancing in the streets delirious – we don’t do that sort of thing in the Boston suburbs where I live – but satisfied. A man directly responsible for the gruesome deaths of thousands of people has now gone to his just rewards, and the world is better off for that.

Even before confusion began to emerge about what exactly happened in that house in Abbottabad last Sunday, voices had been raised, mainly in Europe and at the United Nations Human Rights Commission, that the American operation was not “just.” The clamor has intensified now that it appears Osama was unarmed at the time of his death. The claim, however, is absurd. Those who make it seem to think that the Navy Seals who stormed Osama’s compound should have slapped handcuffs on him, read him his Miranda rights, and carted him off to Riker’s Island to await trial. Using that logic, no criminal proceeding that occurred before the introduction of trial by jury, right to counsel, rights against self-incrimination and the like could be considered just. Neither Hammurabi’s Code nor Solomon’s wisdom nor the trial of Socrates could pass that test, leading us to conclude that justice itself did not exist before 1966 or thereabouts. [click to continue…]

Share

{ 1 comment }

Following the mob attacks ten days ago on the United Nations compound in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e-Sharif in which seven people were killed, the U.N.’s chief representative in Afghanistan, Staffan de  Mistura, spoke at a press conference in which he blamed the entire incident on Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose burning of the Koran sparked the outrage that led to the killings.

According to Mr. de Mistura, the burning of the Koran was an “insane and totally deprecable gesture by one person.” On that, I think, we can all agree. Mr. de Mistura then went on to say, “I don’t think we should blaming any Afghan for the news, we should blaming the person who has produced the news, in other words the one who burnt the Koran…Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion, traditions.” [click to continue…]

Share

{ 0 comments }