Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Real Situation In Kabul

On my other blog I frequently comment on the real situation in Kabul, Afghanistan. My comments are typically at odds with what the media is reporting. I’m a professional soldier. Though I’m retired from active duty, I continue to train soldiers, ours and our allies. I’ve been in the war zone in Iraq and here for a good part of the last six years. I’m not the kind who gets nervous in this environment. Those who know that much about me may be inclined to take some of my war zone reporting with a grain block of salt as a result.

The real threats in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan are corruption and good old-fashioned crime, albeit at a high level in both categories. It is crime and corruption (rampant in the police) that are hurting reconstruction efforts. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not a threat; they are despised and have no popular support. What support they may generate is through fear and intimidation in those areas where security is lacking. Given a choice and guarantee of security, the people reject the Taliban.

The article below was written by a woman who has been living here in Kabul for the last three years with her family. Like me, her take is that the media are reporting from a Kabul in a parallel universe. I post her comments here in their entirety.

The real situation in Kabul
United Press International
12/16/2008
By Marilyn Angelucci, Kabul

Kabul — I have been living in Kabul for the past three years, and the news reports still never cease to amaze me. This week, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) reported that the Taliban have control of almost 75% of Afghanistan and that they will soon walk through the door of Kabul.

According to my experience living here with my family, I can’t believe that the country they are describing is the same country that I live in. According to reports by NATO, the Afghan government and a great number of our Afghan friends, I hear a different story.

The Taliban are losing any support they may have had in the past. A few months ago, they attacked a bus of Afghans headed for Iran to seek work. The travelers were from Laghman, and the attack happened in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban beheaded most of the travelers, sparing a few of the younger ones. They claimed that those executed were Afghan military.

The local people of Laghman were so angered by the attack that they united against the Taliban. According to the words of one of the survivors, local leaders have declared a “war” against any Taliban in their area. They have stated that if there are any Taliban or Taliban supporters found in their area, they will execute them and burn their homes. This was declared by the leaders of 15 districts in the province of Laghman, an ethnically Pashtun area.

The local people are fed up with the Taliban's tactics. Even those that may have supported the Taliban in the past have become disgusted by the killing and torturing of innocent civilians. They have lost hope that the Taliban can bring about anything better than what the Karzai government can.

It’s true that security is worse than last year, while the Taliban claim that they are responsible for the attacks. But this is not the case. Most of the kidnappings and criminal activities are done by local gangsters that are taking advantage of the corruption of the police and the Ministry of the Interior.

Take the case of Gail Williams, a British national killed last month on the streets of western Kabul. According to news reports, the Taliban were responsible and claimed that her NGO was converting Muslims to Christianity, and that the killing was therefore a warning. The NGO denies this claim.

One local who witnessed the attack said men on a motorcycle first tried to steal Williams' pocketbook and, when she fought off the attack, they shot her first in the legs, then in the head and left her to die. This is not a tactic of the Taliban. This is the work of local criminals taking advantage of the poor policing seen all over Kabul. Some even claim that these criminal acts are the work of the local police themselves, but this has not been proven at this point.

So, corruption is high. Not only are the Taliban losing support, but so is Karzai. People are ready for a new government and are looking for someone who can get a grip on Afghanistan’s security and development issues.

So much has been done toward development by the international community, and this can be seen everywhere. But the leadership is still weak, and this leads to many other concerns. We are all hoping, with the additional troops coming in January and in the summer, that security can improve and the presidential elections can take place as planned.

7 comments:

Simplicity said...

I don't even have words to express my reaction to this post. I will be the first to admit that I don't understand politics. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the different tiers/groups/associations. But I have the uttmost respect for people who do understand and give it to us straight in layman's terms! I hope you're safe and well!

My word verification: redgemin - interesting considering your blog topics!

J. L. Krueger said...

Simplicity,

You aren't alone being confused by the intricacies. Many highly educated, highly paid "professionals" don't get it either.

The problem is that the media likes sound bites and simple analysis. That's what most people get. A steady diet of dumbed down, simplistic analysis and conclusions that don't come close to the real picture, which is highly complicated.

Add to that the West's penchant for wanting quick solutions to complex problems and you have a recipe for losing heart. This is going to be a LONG struggle...even if everything goes right...and it won't.

We got ourselves into this when we ignored the region after the Soviets pulled out. We are paying a price for being short-sighted.

Pienovski said...

This topic always makes me wonder. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to all these suicide attacks, bombings. If something like this happens muslims are the ones to blame. That is the very first thought in the minds of the people where I come from (Scandinavia). Bad things, pretty much anywhere in the world, are associated with Taliban, al Qaeda. Now media is to blame for that for a large extent. As you said in your previous post not many people are eager enough to dig out the "Truth". It is much easier just shrug one's shoulders, "Taliban again". But we shouldn't. As the woman from Kabul said: "According to my experience living here with my family, I can’t believe that the country they are describing is the same country that I live in."

Previous post: "The vast majority of Muslims throughout the world are good, civilized human beings with whom we share many, if not most, values. This is, I believe, a fact. Yes, there are differences between Western societies and Islamic societies, but for the most part these differences are no bigger than a line drawn in the sand."

True. In my opionion, we are very much alike. Sure, culture comes to play and there are differences in the way we live and think, or view things sometimes, BUT when it comes to bombings, killing someone, hurting someone, we all, humans, think the same. Majority of people all around the world will relate. No matter where we come from, no matter what language we speak. You see a child lying on the street with her head blown off, it will trigger the same reaction in most of us. I don't think we should point our finger at religion or culture when it comes down to another humanbeing hurting another one. And yes, it may seem that on this side, Middle East, of the world more things happen more (people immeaditely think of muslims) but isn't also so that the population in India and these parts of the world is much higher than say in Scandinavia. Odds are that where they are more people, there will more people to do bad things. Plus of course the way things are run will definately aggreviate this kind of behaviour. But when things are not the way they are meant to be, people react, whether they are muslims or not. Just look at what happened in Greece. And that is not Middle East, that is Europe. My friend was there when things started happen. People were robbing stores, breaking windows, throwing fireballs, litting cars on fire, violence everywhere you'd look. The hotel she stayed at was closed and she was instructed to jump from the hotel roof to another if something would happen. Then suddenly she couldn't breath properly. She was choking, her throat was hurting. She ran outside and it got worst. Her face was burning, she could not breath, she thought she was going to die. It turned out to be tear gas, but you can imagine how terrifying this was.

Things happen everywhere. Only the scale is different. Just recently we had that teenager in Finland who shot himself and his classmates. Now he wasn't a muslim was he. No. There was also a bombing in a local mall a year back or so. First thought: a muslim terrorist attack. Appears it was just a teenager who learnt to build a bomb through internet.

I think it is very dangerous to let us be mislead by the media. They tell us their version (the version that sells the best, the words that sell the best) not necessarily the Truth. And therefore we blame the entire muslim population for being cold and inhumane. So far as I've seen, all the muslims I know have been as heartbroken of the Mumbai bombings and such incidents as we (Europeans Christians or whoever we are) are if not even more.

I really find your blogs thought provoking! There are many things I learnt from your posts I hadn't heard/realised before. Oh, and thank you for visiting my blog! Lovely to have you!

Doug said...

According to an AP source, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office estimates that anti-government militants operate in more than 35 percent of the country.

And, contrary to your claim that the Taliban are despised throughout the country, the AP source quotes a tribal elder named Mohammad Aslam from the Helmand region who says that "90 percent of people in Helmand side with the Taliban" because the Afghan government is so corrupt.

Of course this is one quote from one man, and it's documented by a mainstream source that may have motives for shaping the message. Although I don't question your motives, you're also posting one person's opinion.

Could you tell us what you've seen and experienced outside of Kabul relative to the Taliban?

J. L. Krueger said...

Doug,

According to an AP source, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office estimates that anti-government militants operate in more than 35 percent of the country.

This becomes a tricky statement because different agencies define “anti-government” in different ways. That affects the numbers. If you count drug lords, war lords, other criminal gangs, Taliban and Al-Qaeda the percentage is about right. However, if you are thinking at all in terms of “classic insurgent groups” only Al-Qaeda and Taliban fall into that category.

Then there is the definition of “operate.” You can have a single cell of five people in a province and technically they are “operating,” but that isn’t necessarily a measure of effectiveness or threat.

And, contrary to your claim that the Taliban are despised throughout the country, the AP source quotes a tribal elder named Mohammad Aslam from the Helmand region who says that "90 percent of people in Helmand side with the Taliban" because the Afghan government is so corrupt.

Of course this is one quote from one man, and it's documented by a mainstream source that may have motives for shaping the message. Although I don't question your motives, you're also posting one person's opinion.


You cite one individual in one province out of 34 provinces in a country larger slightly than Texas and that is an effective contradiction? Reread what I said and what Marilyn Angelucci said about corruption. We both pointed out the corruption and its impact.

Nor does the statement on its face contradict what I said at all. I said, “Given a choice and guarantee of security, the people reject the Taliban.” Guarantee of security implies a government authority that can be trusted. If he can’t count on the provincial or district authorities to protect him from the drug lords, war lords and criminal gangs because the officials collaborate with the drug lords, war lords and criminals, where else will he turn?

Keep in mind that Helmand is the largest opium producing province in Afghanistan. It is widely believed that President Karzai’s brother is heavily involved in the drug trade in Helmand. Therefore, the most accurate part Aslam’s entire statement is the extent of government corruption. Helmand is a mess, but it has more to do with drugs and corruption than insurgency. However, the insurgency benefits more from the ensuing chaos than the government.

If Aslam is a Ghilzai Pashtun, the minority tribe in Helmand, then his statement becomes much more suspect. The Durrani are the Taliban’s main Pashtun rivals and Karzai is a Durrani. Helmand is dominated by the Durrani, who are in direct opposition to the tribe from which the Taliban gets 90% of its recruits, the Ghilzai. So without knowing Aslam’s background, you have to be very careful about accepting what he or any other “tribal elder” is quoted at face value. Tribal politics and rivalries are the most significant factors in what is going on here.

Regardless, what sort of survey do you think Mohammad Aslam did to come up with 90%? Start thinking context when evaluating what gets put forth as “evidence.” People who live in the countryside (Helmand province for example) rarely leave their home districts (a district is a further subdivision of a province). Districts are more closely tied to the tribal distribution than provinces. I rather doubt he canvassed the entire province.

Could you tell us what you've seen and experienced outside of Kabul relative to the Taliban?

As my duties keep me primarily in Kabul city, my first-hand experience to date is limited to Parwan, Kabul and Herat provinces. I haven’t been shot at or blown up yet, so I have no first-hand experience with the Taliban. However, even when I leave the city proper I am unarmed, in an unarmored vehicle and without armed escort. I do have second-hand info from other guys whose duties take them further afield and many of the Afghans I work with who come from all over the country.

Briana said...

I am soooo glad that I found this blog. I know that I cannot trust that the information provided from the media is accurate. I know that you are one person in one place, and I appreciate that you do not try to make generalizations. Your experience is your experience. I just feel very lucky that I can read the perception of someone who is actually there (and not owned by a huge media conglomerate). Thank you.

J. L. Krueger said...

Briana,

Thanks for stopping by. Do also visit the other blog Writer's Musings, it has lots of Afghanistan pictures and presents the more "normal" side of things that the media rarely present.