“Blooms” Probably Doesn’t Mean What She Thinks It Does

by Joshua Foust on 8/27/2009 · 4 comments

Remember around this time last year? Ann Marlowe, my super BF Foreva-eva had declared Khost province a blazing success because a single Lieutenant-Colonel told her so. And blaze it did: since last August, the province has seen an unprecedented rise in complex, deadly assaults on the province (and violence in general is vastly worse than it was in 2007).

There was another angle to Marlowe’s coverage of Khost last year: she declared it an economic success as well. Her proof?

The biggest economic news is that a new commercial airport is being built–Khost’s former airport having been taken over by the U.S. military. With the 200,000 Khostis living just a couple of hours away by air in the Gulf States, an airport is a natural for attracting investment. An industrial park is in the works as well, though this, like the airport, depends on an electrical grid being put up. This is also on the development schedule for 2008, along with a water system for Khost City.

According to Jamal, 12,000 new jobs were created in 2007 as a result of improved roads and security. Some business infrastructure has already sprung up thanks to Afghans’ entrepreneurial instincts. The Kabul and Azizi banks opened Khost branches in the summer of 2006. Today the Azizi branch has $1.8 million in local deposits in 7,000 accounts, while Kabul has $4.2 million among 3,600 accounts. Local mullahs once condemned banking, even the sharia-compliant accounts both banks offer, but they have quieted down. “We bought clocks for the mosques,” Kabul’s manager Allah Nawaz Karwandgar explained, “and I am going to buy them some carpets.” The silver lining to the hidebound traditionalism of places like Khost is the way money trumps ideology.

It’s amazing we even had to be there, what with things being so awesome. Reality, though, had to poke its head in, and violence in Khost has spun out of control, severely affecting the economy in the process.

Of course, why should one’s record stand in the way of doing the exact same thing all over again? Here’s Marlowe, in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

Now he is building upscale housing in Mazar. The park and amenities are designed to persuade well-heeled Mazaris to fork out $20,000 or more for housing sites. So far 60 large houses have been built; they are privately financed but must conform to plans provided by the developers. Eventually, each of the six sections will have its own schools, clinic, park, market and mosque. House sites come with water and electricity (an on-again, off-again affair in Mazar), as well as an unheard-of amenity here, trash collection…

Mobile phones and banking are two of the main forces bringing Mazar and the rest of Afghanistan into the modern world. Roshan, the country’s largest mobile phone service by market share, adds 250,000 customers monthly. It now has 3.4 million subscribers and expects to reach five million by the end of 2010 before growth levels off. The nation’s third largest bank, Azizi Bank, opened its first Mazar branch in July 2006. A year later, the branch had 13,400 kismet, or chance accounts, and 522 interest-bearing accounts, served by eight employees.

Let’s just throw the obvious cold water on all this breathlessness. Roshan was founded in January of 2003. Obviously they haven’t grown their customer base at the same rate, but if they’re really adding 250,000 customers a month to their business, shouldn’t they have way more than 3.4 million? They would add 3.4 million new subscribers every 13 months at that rate. It would take them six months, not 16, to hit 5 million subscribers. Basic math, Ann. Your MacBook has a calculator built in.

But there’s a problem with this: Mazar-i Sharif is in the middle of an area that is now trending sharply toward the Taliban. Much like her boosterism in Khost, Marlowe’s advertisement for Balkh is coming right at the start of a major increase in violence, insurgency, and destabilization across the north. It’s something the Germans are ill-prepared to deal with, and given the U.S.’s obsession with Helmand and Kandahar (when’s the Marlowe touch going to be applied there?), who knows when it will get the attention it needs to nip things in the bud.

Given Ann Marlowe’s golden touch in declaring provinces a success, I guess we should assume the next area of destabilization will be Balkh.

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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 Registan.net. 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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M Shannon August 28, 2009 at 12:10 am

Khost has 202 insurgent initiated incidents (not including found IEDs) reported in 2007 (16.8 per month), 339 in 2008 (28.25 per month) and as of end July this year 282 (40.28 per month). In comparision Nangarhar had 260 (21.66 per month) incidents in 2008 and 148 (21.14 per month) for the same period of 2009.

Apart from the raw numbers, attacks in Khost, particularly IEDs, tend to be more effective. I suspect the Haqqani Group is a touch better trained or perhaps more ruthless than other insurgent groups in the east.

Joshua Foust August 28, 2009 at 6:49 am

I’d lean more towards #2 than #1, though a certain core of HQN probably has tighter group cohesion than franchised Taliban-affiliated groups.

Khost also has more insurgents, as a per capita number, and it’s a much smaller province so it’s easier to concentrate attacks.

David M August 28, 2009 at 9:09 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/28/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

anan August 28, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Don’t you think you are being a wee bit pessimistic on Kunduz? Kunduz is an economy of force operation by the ANP and ANA. {Capable ANP from Kunduz have been transferred south.} As soon as some quality ANP and ANA are sent there (they do exist, ANCOP and some provincial ANP are pretty good), I think Kunduz will settle down. Note the number of foreign fighters in Kunduz. Do you really think the locals like them?

Mazar is about the heat up? Maybe terrorism. But the locals hate the Taliban. You worry over much.

209th ANA Corps is probably the second best ANA Corps. It sent a battalion that formed this year to Kunduz. It has other good quality (ORA level 1) ANA battalions it could send from Mazar, if it chose.

Things are challenging enough without you going over pessimistic.

M Shannon, can I ask where I can look up some of the data you often cite? If it isn’t too forward, can I ask if you work for an Afghan NGO or a business contracting company (I consider all private sector activities to be “contracting” so for me “contractor” is a complement rather than a pejorative.)

Another question if I may: ANA 2-201 that operates near your area is one of the most problematic in the ANA. Any idea on why this is the case?

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