The following is a transcript, translated into English, of an actual chat that occurred over Yahoo on the date indicated. The original language is Pashto, and the chatters were in Afghanistan. No names have been altered, and I am told that this is the first time this conversation has been released to the public. It is, sadly, all too typical of what happens there on a daily basis. Continue reading
If our aid efforts in Afghanistan have largely gotten us nowhere, we would do well to consider that most of them are implemented in a way that amounts to Marxism: the central authority distributes goods according to people’s needs, with the expectation that those people will produce according to their abilities. Humanity spent the twentieth century proving that such a model does not work, so it is incongruous that we would attempt it in Afghanistan. At one point during the last three years, I was given control of an aid program operating in rural Dand District, south of Kandahar City, and I was free to employ my own market-based implementation strategy. I may report that we not only sparked booming economic growth in all our target villages, but we also wrested two villages from Taliban control and formally aligned them with the Afghan government. Think about that: an aid program seized ground from the enemy without a shot fired or a life lost. If we want to win in Afghanistan, I offer this program as a blueprint.
Counterinsurgency is primarily a political operation, not a military one. The only reason the military even gets involved is because, as Mao Tse-Tung wrote, Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. The reason insurgencies happen is because people are violently dissatisfied with their legitimate government. It is then up to the legitimate government to change in a way that redresses people’s grievances. Aid and development organizations end up playing a major role in this process. Unfortunately, the members of such organizations do not think of themselves as counterinsurgents, and they tend not to behave like people waging a war. As a result the military has extensive literature on the topic of counterinsurgency, the aid community has virtually none. This is backward. Continue reading
“(T)he kingdom of Kabul, without Kandahar, was like a head without a nose, or a fort without any gate.” –Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan, 1900 Continue reading
There are things in life we do not get to choose. We can choose our response to a given situation, but fate has a major hand in deciding what situations we will encounter in the first place. I say this because I have recently rearranged my thinking on an old idea.
(Note: this is not a cheerful post. It’s not for children, either.)
The first thing I have noticed is the light. In the late afternoon the sun is low in the sky. Its light streams in through the window, and from where I sit the sun will traverse the gap between the top of the window frames and the top of the outer wall outside. The window frames, an elegant bit of fancy woodwork, hold dozens of panes of glass, and throw convenient shadows for my eyes to hide behind.
It is summer in Afghanistan, and the sunlight comes right through the window, directly onto me. I should cook, and yet through some architectural magic, the light is soft, cool, and diffuse. There is a notebook in my hands, and if I hold it one way, it is bathed in light. Tilt it slightly, and it plunges into shadow. Balance it just in between, and the texture of the paper pops up into high relief. Every fiber stands out, and the graphite letters all but glow. Continue reading