Getting at the Heart of the Problem

by Joshua Foust on 12/15/2008 · 1 comment

Dear Spencer,

I thought you got it. But today, you linked to a puff piece by Anand Gopal about the Afghanistan Social Outreach Programme and called it “great reporting.” This isn’t as bad as when you called Nir Rosen’s poorly organized propaganda “an instant classic of war reporting,” but it is damned lazy.

That’s why I left you this comment:

ASOP is just the latest in a long line of attempts to create community councils, or community development councils, or shuras, or jirgas, or any similarly-focused program that has been foisted on villages and then underfunded since 2002. It is the latest in a long line of programs meant to establish the district councils mandated by Article 140 of the Afghan Constitution but never implemented.

Gopal isn’t doing “great reporting” by talking about it in a vacuum, he is doing it a disservice, since it is structured almost the exact same as the National Solidarity Programme, only it happens to have funding right now.

The only difference between these programs is that they are created under different, parallel initiatives funded by different (mostly European) countries. They look almost all alike because they’re the same idea, just executed without coordination — a far bigger problem, as that gets at accountability, which brings us to Sarah Chayes.

As a longtime resident of Kandahar, Ms. Chayes experiences in person — she goes to great lengths, and has for years, to demonstrate this — the corruption that occupies most people’s attention EVEN MORE THAN THE TALIBAN. In fact, she explicitly makes the argument that official corruption drives people to support the insurgency — which is matched by other embedded reporting when journalists bother to get outside the FOB and report on regular, non-military Afghans. In fact, corruption is at the heart for why Hamid Karzai is the exact wrong person to deserve American support in the upcoming election — because if he wins, nothing will change, and democracy entrenching unpopular corruption is about the worst thing for Afghanistan right now.

So yes, she is talking about out-governing the Taliban. Removing the incentives for supporting the insurgency. Fixing the political reasons behind our failure. Whatever you want to call it, that is what she is talking about. It is far more fundamental than the little-t problem, because without fixing corruption there is nothing to draw the little-t Taliban to.

Which is why I get cranky at all this platitudinous flimflammery masquerading as analysis.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I don’t have much patience for the horde of analysts and journalists—some of whom Gopal quotes at length—now descending on Afghanistan like it suddenly started being a problem. Frankly, I have a hard time feeling warm and fuzzy about what amounts to ambulance chasing, even if the conflict might benefit from more brains looking at it. But seriously, at least do your readers the courtesy of noting that Ann Scott Tyson at the Washington Post was doing “great reporting” on ASOP in March, and three months ago the State Department was discussing how many millions it would pour into the program. This kind of context is not difficult—it takes a few minutes of googling, and I’m sure you can spare that.

Needless to say, I spend time harping on you, because you normally do good work, and I think you’re better than this shallow pap.

Love always,

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Azar Balkhi December 17, 2008 at 5:42 am

The idea of establishing Arbakai tribal militias is very dangerous for our people and it’s a trick that may take us back to warlordism. United Nations spent billions of dollars disarming those irresponsible militias but now Karzai’s ethno fascist team trying to mislead the entire world and arm the Pashtun people again . These tribes are all drown in tribal rivalry. They kill each other women and children everyday while having no weapons. They hint to one other as Taliban Insurgents and ask the NATO Forces for bombing. It’s an easy way for them to get rid of their rivals. What do you think will happen when they become armed?

The tribal militias have a bloody barbaric and savagery history in Afghanistan. Whenever the southern Pashtun become armed, they looted northern part of the country. They even stole innocent women and sold them to the Middle Eastern sex markets.

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