Guest Post: How to Write About Afghanistan

by Joshua Foust on 4/25/2010 · 50 comments

Kabul Expat is back! Inspired in part by Christian Bleuer’s 29 Tips for Bad Writing on Afghanistan, and most especially by Binyavanga Wainaina’s brilliantly sarcastic “How to Write about Africa,” Registan.net’s most favoritest anonymous expatriate has created a mad-lib anti-guide for how to write an article about Afghanistan. We all wonder: who’s up for How to Write About Kyrgyzstan (or Central Asia?) –eds.

How to Write About Afghanistan

Always use the word ‘war-torn’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘tribal,’ ‘Taliban,’ ‘corrupt,’ and ‘Sharia.’ Also useful are words such as ‘shuras,’ ‘fighters,’ ‘refugees’ and ‘insurgency.’ Do not distinguish between different ethnic groups with different languages, religions and histories, or regions with different landscapes and livelihoods. If people in Kandahar tell you something, assume people in Kabul feel the same way, and vice versa. Whenever possible, mention Pashtunwali. (Note: you do not need to understand what Pashtunwali is. You get points for mentioning it anyway.)

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted Afghan accompanying your article. (Make an exception for Afghans you want to be president.) A stoned cop, a woman in a burka begging, a scowling man holding a Kalashnikov: use these. If you must include an Afghan who is not miserable or threatening, make sure you get an elderly farmer with very few teeth, or a little girl holding a baby goat.

In your text, treat Afghanistan as if it were one indistinct mass. It is hot and dry all year, and full of angry, heavily-armed religious fanatics who spend all their time torching girls’ schools and kidnapping Western journalists. Or if it’s winter it’s cold and remote, with everyone dying of starvation or in childbirth, as, your bleak description should imply, they always have and always will.

Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Afghanistan is big: thirty-four provinces, 30-somehting million people who are too busy embezzling and warring and plotting your death to read your article. The country is full of booming cities, small market towns, lush farmlands, fishing villages and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions stark and sinister and imprecise. Never, under any circumstances, mention peaceful areas like Bamiyan, except on those rare occasions you need a line or two about Buddha statues.

Make sure you show how Afghans have violence and xenophobia deep in their souls, and reject absolutely anything introduced from the outside. Do not mention Afghanistan’s long periods of peace or experiments with democratization; constant war is the Afghan way, along with tribalism, misogyny, and illiteracy. Make sure you show that you are able to withstand such harshness and live amongst such difficult people —because you care.

Taboo subjects: middle class Afghans, secular Afghans, happy marriages between Afghans (unless a death is involved), references to Afghan intellectuals, honest politicians or entrepreneurs (unless you want them to be president), or successful advocacy campaigns by Afghan feminists.

Your Afghan characters may include bearded Talibs, tribal elders, comical cab drivers, and former warlords living in opulent palaces. Or corrupt politicians, inept fixers, and heroin addicts.

The Modern Afghan is a man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Afghanistan. He wears a shiny suit and pointy shoes, and owns five mobile phones with Bollywood ringtones. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs to report on how awful Afghanistan is. Or he is an ex-Taliban ambassador who now owns an iPhone. Mention the iPhone several times. (Note: the Modern Afghan is never, ever a woman.)

Bad Western characters may include aid workers who drink, sleep around or do drugs, USAID contractors, Italians, and employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the military –but do not specify which one. If you can’t make Afghans’ innate backwardness work in your narrative, just blame the greedy West for Afghanistan’s situation. But do not be too specific.

You’ll need to mention a nightclub called Martini, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Afghans, spies and aid workers listen to horrible music and do illegal things. (Note: leave out the evil nouveau riche Afghans if you mentioned earlier in your text that foreigners and Afghans never mix.)

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the Afghan characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Afghanistan. Afghan characters should be hardened, stubborn, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Always end your book with an obscure Soviet or British general saying something about how Afghanistan is a land of ferocious, fanatical, crafty people capable of fighting forever.

Remember: you’re an expert.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

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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{ 50 comments }

Joshua Foust April 25, 2010 at 9:58 am

The only thing I’d add to this is: white people always have their age and hometown mentioned after their name. Afghans, if they’re lucky, get an explanation that they, like many other Afghans, only have one name, with no other context or detail.

Oh and maybe that everything opens windows to raising troubling questions about the counterinsurgency doctrine to build a new government in a box.

M Shannon April 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

Ensure you mention that kandak is “Afghan” for battalion and that almost all Afghans you talk to “only use one name”.

If you talk about the US military don’t forget to mention McChrystal only eats one meal a day and Petreaus is a soldier scholar who can do 50 push ups.

You get extra points if you mention that NATO is now doing “classic counter-insurgency”.

Guy April 25, 2010 at 11:26 am

Make sure that you mention Alexander the Great, the Raj or the Soviets. Never mention what Alexander was actually doing, things the Political Officers got wrong or Soviets who did the right thing.

Bonus points for mentioning romantic Britishers who dress like the locals, especially if you can link them to a modern individuals like Michael Semple or Rory Stewart.

Quote liberally from sources that are grotesquely out of date. The further back and the more close-minded, the better. Never, ever put the source in context. Using sources about one province, character or event to refer to the entirety of Afghanistan is not just allowed but encouraged.

History happens to Afghanistan. Afghanistan never creates history of its own.

All land is either lush or harsh. There is no inbetween.

The Taliban are always like ghosts. They appear places but they never live anywhere. Unless its in Pakistan or somewhere similarly foreign.

DE Teodoru April 25, 2010 at 11:39 am

Gee, you’d never know we’re pissing away a billion dollars and a couple of lives a day as this little district’s web site fades to brown. Putin must be laughing as he practices for the next Rap prize!

TJM April 25, 2010 at 11:57 am

I don’t get the the points about mentioning shuras or Sharia. I just read a piece by Tom Barfield that discussed both.

Side note – I’m writing a paper on customary law in A’stan. I ran a search on Westlaw (a legal research site) for “pashtunwali” and got one hit. Usually if you search for one word you get tens of thousands. That was only a search of law journals and similar pubs, but nonetheless surprising to see such an absense of writing on the topic this late in the game.

Michael Hancock April 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Pashtunwali in law journals… not what I’d expect. It’s a “tribal” set of laws, meaning we can’t be bothered to study it. That’s pretty standard for colonization theory – there’s the local set of laws, and then the kind we actually write down and enforce, i.e. our laws.

AJK April 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm

ehhh, also the fact that Pashtunwali simply isn’t relevant to American domestic law, which is what the vast majority of law journals research. It’s like if you went to the music school and searched for Pashtunwali, there just isn’t much in the venn diagram.

re TJM: Law Journals are simply the wrong place to look. There’s a lot more fun stuff to be found in legal anthropology. Just have fun trying to convince people you’re not researching Sharia and that things change over time.

TJM April 27, 2010 at 12:24 am

There are plenty of law journals on international and comparative law. And some law journals will opt to dedicate an entire issue to one non-domestic topic (for example, check out the “symposium” on law and development in Afghanistan in the Maine Law Review last year; I don’t think that’s a journal dedicated to Internat’l or comparative law). FWIW, I’ve since managed to find several mentions of pashtunwali – not sure why they didn’t show up in the search. But still, pretty thin. Much of it is from the 2001 to 2005 timeframe, which makes me wonder if it was hastily written before we developed a better understanding in recent years. Agree regarding the anthro resources, though most of the citations in the legal articles are to anthro sources. Helpful in a time crunch.

anan April 25, 2010 at 1:56 pm

“The Modern Afghan is a man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Afghanistan. He wears a shiny suit and pointy shoes, and owns five mobile phones with Bollywood ringtones. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs to report on how awful Afghanistan is. Or he is an ex-Taliban ambassador who now owns an iPhone. Mention the iPhone several times. (Note: the Modern Afghan is never, ever a woman.)”

:LOL: All time classic. ;-)

Laurence Jarvik April 25, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Wow!

Akbar Khan II April 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Always use the umbrella term “Taliban” to describe all who those stand against occupation of their land.

Always use “bringing” democracy instead of “enforcing” democracy.

Grant April 25, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Alright, then if you’re angry write something more accurate.

In any case I have noticed some trends on Kyrgyzstan.

1. The anti-Akaev groups were either rioting mobs of looters or pro-democracy advocates. I’ve only seen two reports (neither of which was a newspaper) that mentioned economic problems though a few have mentioned the increase in corruption.

2. Link every mention the new ruling elite make to Russia with the Manas base. Interestingly enough, there isn’t as much focus on Russia’s decision to vastly increase the price of energy exports as I would expect, possibly because the reporters can’t find any useful clues.

3. Mention ONLY the name Roza Otunbayeva. Do NOT mention parties or other leading figures. This may be deliberate on the part of the new Kyrgyz government, after all a female head of state is easier to be enthusiastic for than another middle aged man.

4. Mention ‘ethnic divisions’ without ever actually mentioning who these ethnic groups are supposed to be. Ditto for clans and patronage systems.

5. Constantly focus on the Manas base. Let’s be honest here: the public does not care about an impoverished nation in Central Asia without Islamist militants, so write about the only thing that they will care about.

Michael Hancock April 27, 2010 at 4:53 pm

You left out psychotronic weapons.

Tajik April 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Bravo!!!
I truly enjoyed reading every paragraph of “advice” on how to write about Afghanistan.

Ashley Barr April 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

Readers might be interested in this December 2009 web post http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/29-tips-for-bad-writing-on-afghanistan/

Nobody April 26, 2010 at 10:40 am

Is anybody on this message board actually IN Afg?

Has anybody actually lived in Afg, by that I mean OUTSIDE a military base? For an extended period of time (i/e not just a week or two?)

I guess my question is, why anybody who feels strongly enough about this stuff would waste his or her time criticizing rather than doing – i/e if you feel so strongly that the writing and reporting is inadequate, why aren’t you out there writing and reporting? Since you’re the experts, and know how to do this stuff better than everybody else?

reader April 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

Not an expert, but a rational person who can recognize a boondoggle when I see one. I think people are entitled to criticize because they pay taxes. I find it very troubling that the US government folks, not you nobody but others, get snarky when uppity tax-payers start complaining about how their cash is used here or abroad. They just don’t know enough, little serfs, keep quiet. It isn’t a right or left thing, it’s an authoritarian thing, almost medieval, it’s like we’re back to the old mass with the priest turning his back on the congregation and mumbling some hocus phocus. Considering the origins of the US, it is a darkly humorous situation. And before anyone says that we are told what government does overseas, I’ve yet to see many paid employees, not yet retired (Matthew Hoh being a brave, “unhelpful” exception), say “guys, we are just f’ing around here, we really got no idea what to do, for reasons we don’t even understand, we keep trotting out the Holbrooke dinosaur, oh well it’s your cash, hahaha”

sayke April 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

was there for 2.5 years, not with the military, mostly in kabul, but really all over the place. i’ll get back there once i finish off this damn MA. wish me luck. cheers -

reader April 26, 2010 at 11:12 am

Good essay. Now my question for Kabul expat. Consider that the West is going through economic woes the like haven’t been seen in decades, and Polly-Anna-esque statements by the government aside, the economic for most of the population situation won’t improve. Do you think that the Western public is entitled to complain at all about the Afghan war? Do you think that they have a right to complain about highly paid contractors (yes they risk death and all that, blah, blah) or about Afghan infrastructure projects which have limited success rates at a time when Western infrastructures are crumbling and domestic spending is going down? Do you think they have a right to complain about rich Afghans who are under-taxed, to say the least?
Finally, and be honest, do you think this war is worth it? And if the West isn’t successful, what do you think will happen to the West? Not Afghanistan, but the West? Mayhem, a new Dark Ages? Death and destruction for all? Black sun and two-headed calves?

DePetris April 26, 2010 at 12:53 pm

One more bullet…be certain that you mention America’s covert involvement with the Afghan Mujahadeen against the Soviets, only to suddenly withdraw that support when the Soviets withdrew in 1988. Also make sure that you briefly discuss Washington’s “who cares” attitude when the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, only to suddenly put Afghanistan on its list of priorities after 3,000 Americans were killed.

Nobody April 26, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Like I’ve said before on other posts, in my view the far greater problem is lack of depth or understanding in the stuff out of Afg. That’s where the cliches and rubbish writing comes from – you want to write well, first you have to think well.

There’s another issue, too – money. The rates media now pay for independent pieces are too low for anybody except the politically motivated or unqualified to bother. Those that are raking in the bucks tend to be either raging egomaniacs (TV) or desperately dysfunctional (who the hell would volunteer for a 2 year assignment in Afg?)

Regardless, there are a couple of superb journalists in Afghanistan. One of my faves is Anand Gopal. He’s been doing some stuff for the The Nation as well as WSJ. Check out “Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan” on http://www.anandgopal.com

Nobody April 26, 2010 at 2:37 pm

reader, if the west isn’t successful in Afg, here’s what happens: A pakistani sponsored govt takes over kabul, prompting a reaction from other players in the region. The question is: What will that reaction be? In all likelihood, it will be negative, but how will that negativity be expressed? More importantly, in the absence of Mr. American Self-Appointed Global Policeman, how will these regional rivals negotiate their separate and combined interests.

One word: Unstable. Will this provide an opportunity for China to flex its muscles even more aggressively than it has so far? Or will an impending Chinese economic implosion mitigate against that? How will Iran respond?

I reckon two things can be taken for granted: Iran gets aggressive, and India gets pissed off. The only positive in all of this is that ALL the regional players want to see greater stability, and they ALL blame the United States for the current instability. In the US absence and given this common goal, things could actually improve quite substantially.

Nobody April 26, 2010 at 2:39 pm

But given entrenched regional rivalries and a plethora of independent militias, a positive outcome is highly unlikely. The only question is whether the end result will be better or worse than the US occupation. My guess is it’ll be worse initially (civil war) but thereafter much better (assuming India and Pakistan don’t blow each other up in the meantime).

Nobody April 26, 2010 at 2:45 pm

And reader, sorry to blather on here – I don’t think that Afghan success or failure is in any way relevant to what happens next in the West. The West is beset by issues that are far more urgent and important. All Afghanistan is, is a cost centre. Its removal as a distraction will be welcome. The military and the military contractors that depend upon this war for income will be annoyed, but everyone else will breathe a sigh of relief and start to focus, hopefully, on far more important things, such as the corporate coup d’etat, the destruction of the ecnomy, treasury, and education systems, and this appalling problem of unemployment.

Consequences? Yes, there will be some. But by then, Iran will be dominating discussion, and any strike against Iran will have direct and devastating consequences for the West – far more than Afg.

Please, tell me I’m wrong…

Grant April 26, 2010 at 5:36 pm

This debate might be better served by being discussed at a more relevant topic.

reader April 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

Actually Grant, Nobody’s response is just as well -thought out as the original article. Ok, point taken, most Westerners know jack diddly about Afghanistan and Afghan history. Mention Sado Khan, the Durrani empire, or Amir Rahman’s 19th-century policy of Pashtun resettlement and you get blank stares (that ignorance isn’t limited to the general public, btw). So what, it isn’t their job to know these things, they are actually busy at work producing the tax revenue for folks like expat to then turn around and sneer back at them with. Ok, someone knows about the country, they get an Afghan trivia gold star. But, while focusing on diversity, and each valley is distinct, shall we ignore regional commonalities? Correct me if I am wrong, but it is safe to say your average Afghan is very likely to be Sunni, to live in a rural community characterized by extended kinship, to have limited experience dealing with women he isn’t related to, and whose community is characterized by a local power structure based on patriarchy, paternalism, and gerontocracy. Admittedly a lot has changed because of 30 years of externally generated warfare. But this old system is what the US is reinforcing and trying to recreate with its most recent “tribe-centered” approach and tacit support of warlords.

My point is this, if all these people in the US government know so much about the country and presumably know so much better than the Western unwashed masses and the hack journalists writing for them, then why is this “effort” such a failure at this point? Why is it that they are having to basically relearn lessons that anybody who so much as even knows Fredrik Barth’s name or the term segmentary lineage society could tell them. Explain that to me, and you get a platinum star.
What Kabul expat has done is implicitly offer the reverse Afghan discourse: a city full of struggling, Westernized middle class folks on the way up who just want to live in a secular society and educate their kids. My question is, what percentage of the population do they represent? We also have the implicit argument that US contractors and government officials live boring, martyr-esque existences in dry, dusty Kabul wandering back and forth from mundane restaurant to work as they labor ceaselessly to create a new state out of whole cloth. If this is the case, then they have little to show for their efforts. And his dismissal of outside interference in Afghan history is “problematic” to say the least, but if we ignore it we can still feel good about ourselves.

If, as expat implies, Afghans aren’t all corrupt then why the horrible statistics for corruption? I’m not saying that they are, I’m sure there are individuals who are sickened by the system, but they are individuals. For example, even if Karzai isn’t corrupt, he looks the other way when his brother and others are. So you reply, rationally and understandably that he has no choice, because, because, because…wait for it, wait for it…. it’s Afghanistan. And we are back into the land of stereotypes. Ok, of a certainty metrics might be better now than they were in 2001. But it is all artificial and unsustainable unless you feel that it is morally correct that Westerners should personally fund Afghanistan for the next 20 years. If you base your argument on the fact that outside meddling has destroyed Afghanistan then you are already on expat’s list of Afghanistan cliches. I think the press is full of visits to Potemkin projects and heart-to-hearts with McChrystal now that the old leopard has changed his stripes. Kabul expat also left out the argument that many articles make about Afghanistan, namely that if the US leaves the Taliban will somehow annex Pakistan become a nuclear power and unleash hell on the US. So in that regard nobody’s point is worthwhile, because fear mongering is always part of the discourse. At this point it is hard to take anybody seriously in the discussion regarding project Afghanistan.

Nobody April 27, 2010 at 12:51 pm

reader the issue is that there’s no-one outside kabul, out in the countryside, talking directly to Afghans, living with them, walking in their shoes. That used to be what journalists did, but now the military has a lock on the rural areas, very hard to access without them, and the military is screwing up. They’ve got special forces in the villages killing people rather than helping people, from what I can tell. Educated afghans have left, so that those remaining are either the villagers, who are being radicalised by the Talibs, or so called middle class westernised afghans in kabul. Middle class westernised afghans have left; those that remain are part of The Narco State. Not A Narco State. The Narco State.

The situation is also twisted because the US/NATO endeavour is fundamentally corrupt. It’s a for profit enterprise, with war as the business plan.

But without on the ground information, we are all sunk, we all have no hope of understanding what’s going on there. Some little minnow, an MBE no less, just got whacked into Pol-e-Charki for paying $25000 to release a couple of 200,000 armoured ranged rovers. That’s a cost of business, but he’s been done for corruption. THAT is NOT the corruption that’s at fault here. You have great big gobs of cash, half mills and so forth, wafting across the Arabian Sea into Dubai bank accounts. And this guy gets hit?

Well, that’s another issue, I agree, but in the absence of access to anyone worth talking to, everyone resorts to what they must – talking to whoever they can find, and doing the best job they can in an impossible situation.

And by the way, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to expect anyone writing about Afghanistan to read a potted history, or to make sure they are aware of current regional commentary.

reader April 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm

“the issue is that there’s no-one outside kabul, out in the countryside, talking directly to Afghans, living with them, walking in their shoes.”

Exactly, and when foreigners do get to talk to Afghans who don’t have a monetary interest in the Kabul regime they invariably are surrounded with armed Americans. I suspect the presence of armed men might influence Afghan responses to questions posed by embedded journalists.
Educated Afghans have been leaving for 30 years, but who can blame them.
People who write about Afghanistan never talk about Afghan patience enough considering what they go through. We are just told Afghans are kind of upset about civilian deaths. I can’t imagine Americans response to being in a similar situation, or rather I can, the US went collectively crazy in 2001. People would’ve been nuked by now if half as many Americans had died in unfortunate accidents.

anan April 27, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Get your general point reader; but you slight exaggerate.

There is people to people interaction in the North and West; including in places like Bamiyan, Daikundi, Panjir, Kabul, Balkh; even portions of Parwan, Kapisa, and Nangarhar.

I don’t understand why more international and Afghan journalists don’t embed with the ANA and ANCOP; or their advisors. Do these embedded journalists get a better feel of the local atmospherics than journalists embedded with ISAF? Or are local Afghans afraid of the ANA and ANCOP?

reader, why don’t you discuss the Afghan media and blogosphere more often? Is it because you think they are too dominated by educated urban Afghans [from large cities like Mazar, Herat, Jalalabad, Kabul, Khost]; or because most of the Afghan media is Dari medium?

“Afghans who don’t have a monetary interest in the Kabul regime” is a bit of a non sequitur; since Afghans receive more than $16 billion in international grants per year; or more than Afghanistan’s national GDP of $12 billion. The vast majority of the Afghan economy relates to international grants.

“People who write about Afghanistan never talk about Afghan patience enough considering what they go through.” Well I don’t read enough of the mainstream media to comment; but the people I read seem to understand this.

Your point about civilian Afghan casualties is important. It is against all sides. This is an important reason 90% or more Afghans oppose the Taliban. It is also why so many Afghans hate Siraj Haqqani and the many TNSM/TTP/LeT/LeJ/AQ allies who fight under him. Mullah Omar centric QST seems to be less hated because of their efforts to limit civilian casualties.

Many Afghans are also upset about the many ANA and ANP the Taliban have killed; however they are volunteers who choose to risk their lives to fight the Taliban; and they kill many thousands of Taliban fighters in the process.

reader and nobody; could I ask you something? A plurality of pro GIRoA/ISAF forces caused civilian deaths are not caused by air strikes. However, a majority of air strike related civilian deaths is because of close air support [CAS] for ANSF and ISAF.

CAS to bail out the ANSF kills many Afghan civilians. Does this cause Afghan public rage at the ANA and ANP?

Farhad April 26, 2010 at 6:38 pm

It is a wonderful satirical piece, a must read for all!

I agree with it all and one point that annoyances the hell out of me a million times over is when foreigners, who have visited one or two places in Afghanistan, think all of Afghanistan is represented by these localities.

Here are two examples:

- Heading to Kabul from Dubai, I met a group of French filmmakers who had visited Panjsher during the late 1990s and insisted that the small valley of Panjsher represented all of Afghanistan in terms of language, culture and customs. I guess having the warlord Ahmad Shah Masoud speak a few lines of French wooed these Frenchmen to believe that.

- Old Americans who had spent time in Helmand province in the 1950s think all of Afghanistan is filled with Pashtuns and all live under the code of Pashtunwali.

Afghans have always complained that Afghanistan was never understood by the West, yet despite the disturbing sea of “Afghanistan experts” coming out of the woodwork, you can some time see the work of a hand full of writers that have actual done their home work and can give an alternative view to the blinded norm.

Toryalay Shirzay April 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Nobody, if the West fails to win this war in Afstan,then be prepared for worse terrorism than in the past 2 decades.And this war will be won not just by defeating the Taliban but by convincing Pakistan and Iran once and for all either by diplomacy or military means to never interfere in that country again.This is how the West can claim success and nothing short of it.A US/NATO failure and premature pullout will result in many decades of war albeit intermittently and rampant terrorism which a certainty you can bank on it.
You seem not to grasp the extreme consequences of nuclear proliferation which is why you are crying foul regarding possible military operation to stop Iran from nuclear weapons.Make no mistake:nuclear weapons proliferation is so fatal to peace and our planet that it must be nipped in the bud by all means!

Toryalay Shirzay April 26, 2010 at 10:49 pm

It is uncertain whether a satirical rendition of the tragedy in Afghanistan will enhance readers’ understanding of this tortured land.Because the depth of the Afghan tragedy is so mind boggling,it is best to delineate it through great details in a forthright and unambiguous manner emphasizing the extreme brutality and oppressive culture of Afghanistan.In this way ,a writer might be able to capture and relay the very painful suffering of Afghan women,widows,and children at the hands of the fascist callous islamic thugs.

anan April 26, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Bhaiya Toryalay, do you mind my asking you some questions? What did you think about Najibullah?

What Afghan leaders do you respect?

Do you like the staff generals who command the Afghan National Army?

Presumably you support secularism, perhaps light socialist communism.

Do you dislike all faiths; or only Islam?

Zarathustra April 27, 2010 at 5:55 pm

i mean the cover of nytimes today surely merits a Jfoust post- beyond the platitudes of the ‘wow a busy powerpoint’ pundits. i mean, breaking down the slide’s contents – what does it mean about the US’s strategic assumptions?

Laurence Jarvik April 28, 2010 at 7:44 pm

The Pentagon PowerPoint presentation mocked in the NY Times was produced by PA Consulting, a private British company. I’m trying to find out how much the US Government paid for this nonsense–maybe a Registan reader knows? Here’s a link to a blog post for more on the scandal:

http://laurencejarvikonline.blogspot.com/2010/04/pa-consulting-made-ny-times-joke.html

Zarathustra April 27, 2010 at 6:07 pm
Reader April 27, 2010 at 6:43 pm

“a supply base that is essential to the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) used to fuel U.S. forces in Afghanistan”

No, Manas/Ganci Airbase does not fuel US forces in Afghanistan. It fuels US planes en route and back from Afghanistan. NDN does not go past Bishkek. You are wrong Scott Horton.

Cornelius May 4, 2010 at 10:33 am

@Reader: Sorry to have to correct you, but here you are wrong. Of course Manas only fuels planes that circle over Afghanistan, NDN is a bit more than Manas/Ganci. Besides the obvious fuel (note that the contractor Red Star and Minas Corp have exclusive fueling contracts both for Manas and for Bagram, the fuel for Bagram (apparently around 250k gallons each day) is actually trucked down from Uzbekistan via Mazar) all sorts of stuff like building materials etc are locally procured mostly in Uzbekistan and send down via Termez (and sometimes Tajikistan) to Afghanistan. If NDN ended in Bishkek it wouldn’t exist.

Toryalay Shirzay April 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

Anan,I know you mean well and you are to be commended for being brave enough to be involved with matters pertaining to Afstan.With all due respect,I must say that your questions are not relevant to current situation (now) in that country with the exception of secularism which is essential,nay,crucial for Afghanistan where absolute separation of state from religion must be enforced so that the country can be rescued from iron claws of the devil arab-islam.The danger of your approach to solving the problems of Afghanistan is this : wittingly or unwittingly,it will lead to perpetuation of the same status quo ,same brutal culture would continue,same islamic fascists would continue to bully the majority of powerless Afghans,same bad habits and bad behavior would continue ,same oppression of women and abuse and molestation of children would continue,and etc,etc.30 years of war,of death ,of destruction,of bloodshed,and still the same filth?Afghanistan is not just a sick society but a dead society which the US/NATO is trying to revive;but it requires strong medicine which the West is unwilling to administer and this is reflected in the results we have today.

Nobody April 28, 2010 at 3:13 am

Anan, Why are no journalists embedded with the ANP!! Are you joking?! Hahahahaha… Seriously…

And as for Balkh and Nangarhar and some of these areas being passable – I’m afraid I just disagree with you. Herat maybe. Jalalabad, hmmm. KHOST? Are you kidding?? Look, it’s great if you’re an ordinary looking Afghan, but a whitey with blue eyes? I don’t think so. Even the Salang tunnel is an issue now, won’t do that road to Mazar, can’t find a taxi driver to take you even if you wanted to, although Mazar is okay because of Atta. And as for Kunduz. No thanks.

You’re right about Afghan media though. It is simply astonishing to me that Afghan media is not followed. There is a massive stream of stuff coming out of Afghan media that is simply ignored – apart from anything else, a heartfelt and direct connection and representation to people who can speak authoritatively on behalf of Afghans.

And reader, your analogy with 9/11 is really useful. It makes my heart bleed to see how Afghan people suffer. It’s amazing they make it to 42 to be honest. It makes my heart break. I know I sound wet, but I don’t care. What about the refugees? Whiteys can’t go there any more, so this story is not being done, but we’re talking FOUR MILLION PEOPLE in kabul alone. C’,mon. This is horrendous, a refugee crisis – just like in NWFP! – of unprecedented scale, a catastrophe. Please, God, where is the accountability?

Why are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney NOT hanging from a tree somewhere?

anan April 28, 2010 at 3:36 am

Nobody, there are journalists embedded with the ANP. I have even interacted with them. It helps to speak Dari or Pashtu though. Why do you find this funny?

Why do you think embedding with the Khost, Kabul, Daikundi, Bamiyan, Panjir, Balkh ANP; let alone the elite ANCOP, would be impractical?

Balkh is not passable? Slight exaggeration? Much of Afghanistan is passable for Afghan Americans; and they seem to think it is safer than you do [or they don't understand how bad things are since they mostly hang out with relatives when they visit.]

Did I say Khost was safe to visit for people who don’t look Afghan? However Khost does probably have the best quality ANA and ANP in all of Afghanistan.

Glad you respect the Afghan media. Some claim it biased non-representative educated urbanites and too Dari. However, Dari is far more widely spoken in Afghanistan than Pashtun. Even many Northern and Eastern Pashtuns speak Dari.

I think one reason many ignore the Afghan media is that it isn’t friendly to the Taliban or AQ linked foreign fighters; and many international leftists are Taliban shippers. ;-)

Nobody, what do you think about the Afghan National Army? Are Afghans upset at the Taliban for murdering so many ANA?

anan April 28, 2010 at 3:41 am

Nobody, some 5.5 million Afghans have moved to Afghanistan since 2001. This demonstrates that the Afghan economy has improved.

Another demonstration is the fact that there are 4.5 million boys and 2.5 million girls in school now versus very few girls and 0.9 million boys in school in 2001. Another demonstration is that there are 40 K freshman in college now versus 1 K freshman in college in 2001.

Nobody, Afghanistan was a massive disaster during Taliban rule . . . comparable to Bangladesh in 1973 (when hundreds of thousands starved to death.) Now Afghanistan is economically similar to Bangladesh in the 1980s. Of course the prosperity is fake since it depends almost completely on foreign grants.

Turgai Sangar April 28, 2010 at 10:06 am

And drug production/traffic, which is of course not included on the official GDP but probably equals foreign aid in value. But of course, it only exists because of the demand from decadent hedonistic cultures.

anan April 28, 2010 at 11:58 am

“But of course, it only exists because of the demand from decadent hedonistic cultures.” True. Much of global culture is decadent and hedonistic.

Turgai, I would estimate the value of the drug trade at $3 billion per year. International grants are more than $16 billion this year [much of this is transfers of aircraft and heavy equipment to the ANSF, so it doesn't affect Afghan GDP directly.]

Non drug GDP might be $10 billion a year. Total GDP might be $13 billion a year.

I am looking for better estimates of GDP. Anyone here have thoughts? Note that the IMF/World Bank dudes aren’t smarter than any of us; they would estimate Afghan GDP much as we would.

Turgai Sangar April 29, 2010 at 3:40 am

Aha OK. You’re rigth that the GDP estimates and breakdown are tricky. Also, the aid amounts starkly fluctuate with the difference between what is committed and what is actually disbursed in a specific year.

What I have, from various sources, for the year 2008 is this:

*official GDP: 10.1 billion $
*of which foreign aid: 4.3 billion $

Parallel to this and not included in the official GDP comes:

*narco-business: 4 billion $
*remittances from labour migrants and diaspora in the Gulf, Iran and OECD countries: 1.25 billion$

Nobody April 28, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Where u get those figures anan?

anan April 28, 2010 at 7:57 pm

These are my best estimates. Keep in mind that all estimates from all sources are suspect. They all indirectly impute GDP from inaccurate data. My estimate of $13 billion is comparable to many other estimates.

Afghanistan is likely to experience more than 10% real GDP growth this year thank to the international economic boom, surging foreign aid, and ISAF direct purchases from the Afghan economy. [Global GDP growth this year is likely to be one of the highest if not the highest ever recorded since records have been kept.]

GIRoA revenue this year might be $800 million [what are everyone else's estimates?] If that is 8% of the white economy; white economy GDP is $10 billion or 470 billion Afghanis. That is $300 per Afghan [33 million Afghans.]

$3 billion or 140 billion Afghanis is my best estimate for the narco economy. What is your estimate Nobody? Do you think it is really $4 billion or 190 billion Afghanis?

The foreign aid estimates come from $11.6 billion in US aid to the ANSF this year + billions more in economic aid from the US this year + $1 billion in aid from Japan + $2 billion in aid from Europe + $300 million from India + $100 million from Iran + $100 million from China + $80 million from Korea + $100 million from Canada + $80 million from Australia + $80 million Russia + $200 million from other allied countries.

Nobody, do these issues interest you? Have you seen this WB report (not that it is very good)?
http://siteresources.worldbank.org/AFGHANISTANEXTN/Resources/305984-1237085035526/AfghanistanEconomicUpdateOct2009.pdf

saba April 28, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Nice piece by Kabul Expat. Definitely agree and I’d one more to his tips: never show pictures of Afghan children clean, tidy and smiling. It would just be boring unless they’re looking miserable amid dirt.

As far as reader’s concern about US taxpayers funding corrupt Afghans for the next 20 years. Funny you should feel bad for US contractors living a miserable life in Kabul, because they enjoy five times the salary here with their fraud expertise than they ever would in their homelands. It doesn’t even take thorough accounting,just a closer involvement, to realize international community is as corrupt as the Afg. government , just more systematized.

everybody lies April 29, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Today’s article in a US policy journal. Guess who the AUTHOR is!
http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=23302

ardyanovich May 2, 2010 at 7:17 pm

This reminds me of the post written by william easterly:

http://aidwatchers.com/2009/12/how-to-write-about-poor-people/

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