Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Action Returns

Today everything came back in full swing. I didn't notice much of a post holiday lull, the kind so common after New Year's in the states. The laundry guy was at least quite busy...having one weeks of laundry from me (though I did skip his mid-week visit) and a lot from the other expats, I assumme.

So in escaping from work, and in trying to find some music more aggressive than Rogue Wave, I went digging through my hard-drive...internal and then external. Couldn't find much and I knew what I wanted to listen to...some good college-days hardcore punk. So I went to the web, looking for some Pee Tanks (btw, that myspace link will take you to a brilliant cover they did of "With or Without You")...and look what I found: The Action Patrol. If any of you readers were around Richmond or Roanoke in the early and mid 90s, you may remember them. Best yet, it appears their whole discograpy (well at least enough to make any returning fan happy) is online, all free MP3s to download. If you're reluctant to believe me regarding their unquestionable brilliance. Start here with "Tube"...unquestionable.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Updates and Changes...

As you may have noticed, there had been less and less of the "on the ground" perspective of what going on in Afghanistan. I think it was partly subconcious, as I was preparing to disengage from this place and move on. I was looking at returning in December. Yeah...that preceding sentence was written in the past tense.

Our contract got extended again, till March '07, and there are a lot of things that may continue on past then. Even as this current extension was developing I was still planning on coming home in December and getting ready to give the bar exam another shot in February, get a normal job, move on with life, a year here was enough, etc... Just yesterday I told my boss I'll stay on...kinda indefinately, and more accurately that I've dropped the solid plans on coming home in December.

So maybe I'll become reengaged with this place again, and rather than just passively take it all in, start thinking and writing about it more. In the least, I'll be updating the blog roll on the right hand side. There are a few new Kabul/Afghanistan related blogs, some have dropped off, and some are posting again (well one Hamesha...hopefully he'll start posting about Afghanistan again).

The Long Promised

Here it is. The post about regional issues, focused through Balochistan, rather than Kabul.

Though originally I was going to write a long post, in the end (due to laziness, distance, or even myself paying less attention to the regional news), I think this will be a quick post. At least I’ll try. Besides, you all come here to read about my musical discoveries, not my political theories and armchair observations.

(On that note, it’s been Rogue Wave out of the Bay area. Heard “Eyes” (listen here on their Myspace page) while watching NBC’s Heroes, tracked them down quickly. Four free MP3s on the left on their Subpop page.

So over the past year, as you all know, I often end up talking to the Afghan nationals in Urdu. They ask me where in Pakistan I’m from and I ask them where they lived and if they still have family still in Pakistan. Many times I’ll ask them directly if they were in Peshawer, the primarily Pathan/Pashtun city and area in Pakistan. What has surprised me is how many have answered that they were in fact in Quetta.

Quetta is south of Peshawer, and though apparently different now, was (in my mind at least) a Balochi town, it being in the Balochistan province. I’m not sure about the linguistic roots of the language Baloch, but as I understand the ethnic roots, they are a long standing Persian rooted ethnicity. How distinct they are from other Persian ethnicities and the Pathans, I don’t know, but there has been a continuous independence movement post-colonialism, and marked autonomy before then. Either way, there are a large group of Balochi people both in southeast Iran, and traversing the border, in southwest Pakistan and a small amount in Afghanistan.

Over the past several years, the central gov’t of Pakistan has been trying to develop the resources in Balochistan and exploit the geographics of the area. There are gas and other natural resources in the area, and the coastline has a key deep-sea port, Gwadar, that is being heavily invested in. The area is also key to the Iran-Pak-India pipeline. Supposedly, as I’ve recently learned, China has heavy interests in Gwadar, both as an export route for NW China and an import route for energy resources.

Iran is in a particularly rough spot, balancing fighting the US/NATO alliance in Afghanistan via the Balochis and Taliban residing in and around Quetta, ensuring their energy/resource export routes to India and China and making sure their Balochis don’t get too many nationalist aspirations (also, it seems like the deep sea port in Gwadar contends w/ Persian Gulf ports of the Iranians and the Gulf Arabs). India, of course, is in constant power checks with Pakistan while desperately trying to make sure they get their energy they need and keep their export routes and battling China for economic dominance.

So you have three countries with strong economic and/or geographic empire building interests, Iran, China and India battling it out over an area inhabited by a traditionally autonomous and apparently fiercely independent people. Then you have two sub-player/proxy countries (and their contending internal power players), Afghanistan and Pakistan, keeping their selves alive and their provincial interests and exploits continuing...all while figuring out how to play off and around all the long-term promises.

I imagine it’s like picking a skirt to hide under while there is a square dance going on. How do you hide when there are constant positional and partner changes? Maybe this has a lot to do for explaining the apparent intransigence of the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan in dealing with the tribal issues they share. Maybe just pick a place and wait till the skirt comes to you. It seems like the Balochis may face the fate of the Kurds. It may be unfortunate and a constantly forgotten issue that will just make everything more difficult.

As far as keeping up with the news on the area, Ahmed Rashid seems to mention the topic quite a bit when talking about the regional issues. I think I’ve linked to or mentioned his writing on the issue before. Here is a “Live Online” discussion from two weeks back where he answers some questions related to Balochistan.

Google news searches always work well, and just a few days ago some Balochi militants blew up the pipeline there. Besides Reuters, it seems like only regional newspapers picked up the story. Though I’m lacking Nexis, so I’m limited to Google’s news sources/search.

A really good resource on the issue can be found here, provided by the Hindustan Times. Titled “Battleground Balochistan”, with a distinctly US media feel to it, I find it’s presentation style comforting.

In the end, I think with all the long-term promises, always made in general terms, with the obvious and incredibly contending and complex regional and global self-interests, these promises may stay long promised.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eid Mubarak

We're upon the holiday season here and a week or so off. We're not sure yet how long the holidays are supposed to be, so preemptively we gave the national staff tomorrow off. Eid will either be Sunday or Monday, depending on the moon sighting here. I'm used to a calendar dictated Ramazan and Eid, so the "traditional" moon sighted style is kinda nice. Nice in that it got our national staff a day off, and though expats have to work tomorrow, when there is no national staff around, it makes for slow days. The best part is we have 6 days of slow days. Eid being a 3 day holiday starting either Sunday or Monday (for the Gov't, but we are doing a 4 day holiday) till Wednesday and with Friday being the weekend, the day between is a holiday. I think we're celebrating Columbus Day, so expats get that day off too. No jokes about colonialism part of that holiday and the irony of celebrating it in Afghanistan.

Though I'm guessing the majority of the readers don't celebrate it, and aren't in places that it's an official holiday, Eid Mubarak nonetheless.

Back to the pictures theme. Slate did another retrospective centering on women in Afghanistan. There was some big Afghan-American women's conference in Kabul last week. I heard nothing of it till I read Slate's note on it. Also, there is some "Woman's Day" as part of the Eid holiday. I think that is purely regional, as I'm not familiar with such being part of the larger muslim culture or holiday. Anyone know anything about that? Also, to celebrate "Woman's Day" there are supposedly aboout 15 or so women, who recently crossed the border from Pakistan, that plan on celebrating the day by blowing themselves up in Kabul and various other places. go take a look at those pictures of women covered in the birdie burkas.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Vote Is In

Less music, more photos. But I'll keep my promise nonetheless, and talk about music later....for now though:

Slate has a retrospective of Magnum's photos from Afghanistan in 2001, this week being the 5 year anniversary of the US's & GB's attack of Afghanistan.

They are found here. The photos are quite stark. The first one looks to me more like a charcoal than a photograph. The series focuses on Northern Alliance soldiers and the IDPs of the time.

In general, conditions here are getting worse, as most know. The headlines and coverage on that side of the globe, finally, seems plenty. The phrase "at least were not in Baghdad" is said much more often. Except now the humor in it is gone, replaced by a sad comparative sincerity.

Also, there has been more talk about how Iran is affecting what is going on here. I'll do a round-up of some of that coverage soon, and maybe discuss my crack-pot theories on that. Most of that coverage doesn't seem to be coming from US sources though. And of course Ahmed Rashid had mentioned that issue several months ago, tying it into the troubles in Balochistan (which I can't seem to find much news on these days, anyone find anything?).

Monday, October 02, 2006

At Your Behest

No no...don't worry this isn't a music post.

Chad Hunt, who some of you may have seen posting a few questions and comments before, just sent me a link to his collection of photos taken while embedded with some soldiers here in Afghanistan.

They can be found here.

Largely, they are of the parts of this country (outside of Kabul) and a part of a particular life here (the foreign soldier) that I will likely never see. And they are great photos too. Go look.