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Thursday, August 13

Sometimes Foreign Policy magazine makes me want to puke

Hundreds of citizens are lining up to get passports, most of whom hope to flee the country due to unemployment, insecurity and poverty. (Photo: TOLOnews)

Afghanistan Calling

Progress in Afghanistan can be measured by the successes of its telecom industry. In this booming sector, phone use is ubiquitous, the internet is used to perform surgery, employment is up, and corruption is down.

By KARIM KHOJA
August 12, 2015
Foreign Policy
At the end of 2002, 99 percent of the population did not have access to a phone. People had to walk to other cities, and even other countries just to make a call. From a communications perspective, Afghanistan was land-locked in every sense.
Fast-forward thirteen years later to today where almost 90 percent of the Afghan population has access to a phone.
The telecommunications sector has invested approximately $2.5 billion into Afghanistan — with the largest company, Roshan of which I am CEO, investing over $600 million alone since 2003 — and is the largest taxpayer in the country.
It has connected Afghans from the towering mountains of Pamir in the north to the sand deserts of Kandahar in the south. It has enabled the youth of Afghanistan, who form the majority of the population, to embrace social media, blogging, Twitter, and Facebook. Even the Taliban can now use social media; they might not like music or flying kites, but they know how to tweet.
[...] 
The Taliban don't just use cell phones to tweet, you twerp. In fact, we can trace the rise of the Taliban's murderous renassiance to the rise in your stupid cell phone towers.  And while I know this may be hard to believe, over the course of millenniums entire human populations have managed to get back on their feet without the use of cell phones -- or even landlines.

What Afghans need are the basics, and there was absolutely no reason why the billions of dollars blown by NATO-ISAF in Afghanistan couldn't have provided them. From an August 12, 2015 op-ed for the Washington Times:
While there is no shortage of construction of new mosques, Kabul is one of the only world capitals with no public sewage system. 
Garbage pickup is rare, and trash in most neighborhoods is piled on street corners or dumped on local riverbanks to await pickup. Twice as many Afghans die as a result of Kabul’s polluted air (which is worse than Beijing’s) than die from war-related incidents.
I think the author is quoting from a 2011 report from AFP when he claims that more Kabul residents die from pollution than war violence and given the high death toll in just the first six months in Afghanistan in 2015 from war violence (5,000 people), the statistic seems outdated. But the gist of the AFP report is still correct: a lot of Afghans, who herded into Kabul in the attempt to escape the worst violence in the country, have died from the pollution in a city that wasn't built to house such numbers.
    
This doesn't mean that cell phone communications have no importance in Afghanistan. It means the priorities were terribly skewed and still are.

We Built a $335 Million Power Plant in Afghanistan that Can Barely Turn on a Lightbulb
By Millie Dent
August 13, 2015
The Fiscal Times
USAID is denying that a $335 million “vital component” of their mission to aid the massive energy deficit in Kabul, Afghanistan is an utter failure, but a new report contradicts that claim.
A power plant built by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is extremely underused and in danger of being wasted, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

USAID attempted to defend itself by saying the plant was only built to provide occasional backup and insurance for Kabul’s electrical grid, not for electrical power on a continuous basis. SIGAR’s report provides evidence that the plant was built for regular usage.
[...]
That's just the tip of the iceberg, which is uncounted billions of U.S. dollars and currency equivalents that the US government and its NATO/ISAF coalition buddies blew in Afghanistan on unnecessary or badly conceived and executed projects.  And they had the nerve to accuse Karzai's administration of corruption. That would be the pot calling the kettle black.

But there were so many countries involved in the damn coalition that identifying all the crooks and tracking down all the graft would be like trying to learn with accuracy how many billions were stolen by participants in the U.N. Oil for Food program.

In fact, you could make out a case that once that fiendish program was shut down -- and it took the U.S. invasion of Iraq to shut it down -- the crooks looked around and asked where next they could operate freely. Why, Afghanistan, of course.

Afghans Queue For Passports to Flee Country
by Sayed Tariq Majidi
August 11, 2015
TOLOnews [Afghanistan]
The passport applicants, most of them between the ages of 18 and 30, told TOLOnews on Tuesday that they had no other choice but to leave the country despite knowing the problems and even the possibility of losing their lives en route to Europe.
Nearly 5,000 citizens from different provinces apply for passports on a daily basis. A huge number of applicants reportedly spend the whole night in the line to wait their turn in the morning.
"There are no jobs in the country," an applicant named Elyas told TOLOnews. "We see the security situation deteriorating each day and people's problems are getting worse."
"I came at 3 am and am still waiting for my turn," Muzafar said, after standing in line for more than 11 hours.
Officials at the Passport Office, meanwhile, said that in the past, the office issued 1,000 passports per day but now the figure has risen to 7,000.
This is not however helping with the refugee problem as until recently an estimated five million Afghans still live outside the country. This new wave of citizens fleeing the country is adding to that toll.
"The Ministry of Refugees announced that 40 percent of citizens are unemployed, so hearing this, how can an Afghan refugee return to homeland?" said Islamuddin Jurat, spokesman of the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation.

[...]
So while I'm glad to learn from the CEO of Roshan telecommunications company that -- 
In 2003, almost all of the technical employees at Roshan were non-Afghans; now Afghans make up 96 percent of its staff. A 2013 study of the Afghan Telecom Industry by the Afghan Investment Support Agency found that the sector has created 100,000 jobs.
I'm afraid I'm going to have to question the statistics provided by the Afghan Investment Support Agency.  And in any case it's really hard to put in a good day's work when you're worried about being blown up at any moment or kidnapped for ransom.

But the tall tales about Afghanistan's success are the model of objective language next to the whoppers told by those who've rationalized NATO-ISAF failures in Afghanistan.  A most annoying example popped up in Foreign Policy magazine August 10, when Thomas Ricks couldn't resist featuring the same opinion piece a second time in one year. To introduce it Ricks wrote, Why did we fail in the Afghan war? Because we didn’t understand the place

The mini-lecture is penned by one Major Andrew Rohrer, U.S. Army, who did one tour of duty in Afghanistan. After riffing on the Clausewitzian theme that war is politics by other means, he works his way to his point:
What began as a punitive expedition became instead an enterprise to remodel Afghanistan into something safe to us, but entirely foreign to Afghans. The weakness in our plan was a failure to accept, or inability to see, that our goal was at odds with Afghanistan itself.
Three key factors doomed us from the start: a history of tolerated totalitarian government with little reach beyond the capital, pervasive xenophobia making brutal neighbors more appealing than relatively benevolent foreigners, and a widely held and deeply conservative social value set that we felt compelled to change. Moreover, while we pursued the ambitious goal to remake Afghanistan, we believed successful transformation of Afghanistan into a country modeled on our liberalist ideals would resolve the grievances festering from decades of violence.

In a milieu where violence was the vernacular of power and politics, the conversion of the political system required violence to defeat violence, and bolster discourse. The error of our way was twofold: we failed to grasp that to truly transform Afghanistan we had to be a willing and complete partner to the violence, and that the goals were reflections of our cultural history. To achieve our ends, we would have had to defeat the Taliban in such a way that they could not rejoin the discourse, and our transformation had to be compatible with Afghan cultural history, not ours. We failed because we did not understand Afghanistan.
Actually, Major Andrews, Mr Ricks, we failed because the American and British governments tried to give Afghanistan to Pakistan's generals as a present.

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