Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gaining Traction

That perspective, that things are gaining traction, came up briefly in the dinner conversation tonight. Ironically, the conversation took place at a restaurant that may be losing traction after being here since 2002…had a chance to talk to the guy who runs the restaurant after dinner and he was bemoaning that, but noted that his restaurant on the ISAF base was doing well, quite well. And that, in itself, may be a good indicator of what one recent thrust has been, towards more militarization…”more”, of course, being relative to the past 2-3 years (absent the escalating previous year) of relative calm.

There are several news items that also point to desperation. And I remember that being a common feeling among the expats last may, but this current desperation seems different. Back then, it was rooted in exhaustion and/or exasperation. A lot of it was negative and reeked of some neo-colonial patronizing attitude towards the protesters. But this time around, it seems a bit more sincere. At least I hope it is. The desperation is more of the desperate ‘what can we do now?’ attitude. And that may lead to some more positive policy changes, if, and hopefully, the attitude reaches the inner sanctums of the high-up’s expat compounds.

In the conversation, while a friend talked about the Taliban’s gaining traction, and rightly so, I talked about the changes that seem to be happening in the Afghan Gov’t’s attitude. He has a lot better tap on to common Afghan sentiment, I would expect, given who he works for. My links to common Afghan sentiment come from a very particularized, if not filtered perspective, I believe, or the news articles everyone reads. In many ways, the conversation could be simply characterized as a ‘fight or flight’ conversation, work contracts notwithstanding. Both attitudes seemed to be valid with equal amounts of evidence or justifications.

So you have many trends and movements gaining traction right now, during the typical winter lull. Everyone expects an interesting (perhaps not the best word choice there…a bit callous) spring. And though geographically, these movements are largely in opposite directions, one trying to move out from Kabul, and the others making tracks to Kabul, they both are largely for the same ends, a more complete control of this country. And with that race, with one finish line, either one or the other wins, or they crash into each other before getting to the end. I hope that the increased talks and trends toward militarizing this place don’t make the crash more likely, but have the intended effects.

The other item that is gaining traction, apparently and hopefully, is the talks of a more rational approach to the opium crop in Afghanistan. There was this BBC article on doctors in Great Britain calling for Afghan opium to be used for morphine. Then there was this article about Canada trying to stop an Agent Orange type plan.

Also, there is this article, from last December, that I seemed to have missed. This article, originally in the St. Louis Dispatch, talks about one Congressman’s efforts to change US policy in Afghanistan, and calls to make it similar to the opium production in Turkey and India (so that may be why they (India) aren’t pushing for it in Afghanistan, India isn’t a trafficking route, and they don’t want to cut their own legalized oligopoly position). But the quote from the US State Dept. personnel seems to indicate that any traction this idea may be gaining will end up leading it to a brick wall. I would believe that countries as big as India and Turkey have illegal opium production, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem there.

So despite the warming trend, weather wise, all the snow melting, the ground softening and the roads turning to mud—things are gaining traction here. The question on the forefront though, is which roads give better traction.

**P.S. Safrang(i.e. Hamesha) has a post about the drug stuff and the new US Ambassador to Afghanistan, who happens to be coming from Colombia, yes, the nation of "Plan Columbia".

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Name of the Game

Inconsistency, it is. I’ve proven my fealty to that, blog wise at least (blah blah blah…apologize…blah blah blah…empty promise for the opposite…blah blah blah…blah blah blah).

I call it adapting, though.

Adaptability may be one of the most strident qualities of the Afghans, as is fairly obvious and well noted, and I still remain constantly astounded by stories I hear. Though, the consequences of adaptability lie on both sides of any normative analysis or coarse assessments of what’s the situation and prescription here. Lack of fealty is probably one of the most malleable consequences in terms of being cast both as a positive and negative.

Simply, it may break down to a chicken/egg thing, both the cause and consequence of nothing in this place seeming to have any permanency. It’s not so much that there is an absence, but transience everywhere (and there probably is a link to the fatalism ascribed to regional cultures and Islam with this). It’s not that everything flitters around here, it’s that the ground, literally is constantly on the move. It’s a bad thing to hold on to, and even hope for, something solid. Yet, I’m convinced (partly out of a need to rationalize my own perspective, attitude and actions) adaptability is stridently good. But the consequences do make for damn difficult circumstances and contexts to work in. And contexts are only useful with content, and content needs objectivity, transient or not…just not as long as it’s not transcendental.

Now that I’ve once again shaken off everyone, let me get to some useful content. As has been noted and blogged about on other blogs linked here (see Hamesha’s and the newly linked Roland’s blog), the big news items are the recent attempted attack in Kabul, and the Afghans that thwarted it’s effectiveness, the Anne Applebaum article on the opium issue here, and the recent talks about more US troops here.

The attack, and the Afghans involved in the stopping of it, I hope will affect the discussion of more troops here, in that, at least in Kabul, it indicates that the US/foreign presence here isn’t largely, or rather wholly, unwelcome. That it occurred when the US Sec. of Defense Gates was here, I, cynically, take as a good thing (though this article, on a military-centric website, makes no mention of the Afghans that apparently did the brunt of the work in thwarting the attack).

On the Applebaum article, I’m glad to see that the idea has gotten some press. It’s an old topic here, especially the talk about Turkey’s privileged status and why the western gov’ts (and I think as much fault goes to the EU as the US here) won’t seem to even discuss the idea of Afghanistan being granted similar status (I would love to hear that I am wrong on this though). My first guess would be the self-interest both the US and EU have in not taking such a program away from Turkey, though I am guessing they really don’t need it that much more…unless the regions that produce opium there are Kurdish…then the complexity and reluctance on both seem understandable, though not necessarily justifiable.

Also, Senlis, a French NGO has been pushing the idea for a while, and even has a full report on mainstreaming and legalizing opium production here. I haven’t read the report in full yet. Also, I would think that both Pakistan and India would come behind such an effort, as especially India has a well-established pharmaceutical industry. It seems like such a program would be workable and a win-win for several of the actors in this region.

Though, at least on the US policy/rhetoric front, all that would require some adaptability…

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Resolution 1:

Done. Despite this whole Hong Kong internet thing crimpin my downloading style.

Get the new Talib & Madlib collaboration...for free...from here.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Too Much To Be Resolved

First and foremost: Eid Mubarak, Happy New Year and a belated Merry Xmas.

Second, the words of Creeley:

New Year’s Resolution

What one might say
wanting to do it,
hoping to solve it,
make resolution—

You break it to bits,
swallow the pieces,
finally quit quitting,
accept it, forget it.

But what world is this
has such parts,
or makes even thinkable
paradoxic new starts—

Turn of the year
weighs in the cold
all that’s proposed
simply to change it.

Still, try again
to be common, human,
learn from all
how to be one included.

So the above sentiments may not be the most positive to begin the year on, but they likely are the most pragmatic (and hold on to that little sentiment at the end). I’ll get a jump start on the quitting quitting and won’t even think about my smoking habit. Though, I’ll come away with one resolution: to finish all the books I started to read this past year, especially Negri’s “Multitude” and “Empire” (though I blame my failing there on the lot that wouldn’t join me in a reading/discussion group for those books).

As expected, the past week has been blissfully, yet excruciatingly slow. It’s been a good and cold Eid. For New Year’s Eve, we got out of the house for dinner, enjoyed our pizza and all (likely) fell asleep before the witching hour. At least I was asleep at midnight, and to be frank, in many ways it’s nice to have an altered significance for these holidays.

New Year’s Day was spent quite pleasantly at Kabul Coffee House. I got to read a document with some pleasant aspirations regarding Afghanistan’s internationalization efforts, followed by a good dose of Negri. Both elicited equal amounts of cynicism towards the texts.

KCH has got its espresso machine working again, and it was good espresso, so sentiments aside, I had a good time.

There is a really interesting article on a journalist's travels on Afghanistan's Ring Road (again from the LATimes which seems to have been providing the best coverage on Afghanistan of late). Perhaps if things calm down, I’ll be able to take the road to a few of the places that my job deals with, but as of now, I’ll still have to experience much of this country vicariously too.

Most of the other coverage on Afghanistan I’ve come across recently has just been a regurgitation of what’s been said for the past 6 months. The foreboding headlines seem less prescient now, but as has been the case for too long, the spring season will be the best judge of the state of this country.

As of now, due to the winter holidays, Eid and general seasonal slow down, things seem to be moving at a snail’s pace here. There is a weird absence of both optimism and pessimism. Maybe it’s a good normalization, maybe feelings are too hard when your toes are numb all day long. Though my coworkers and I read the headlines and remain thankful that the predictions that this place was heading the way of Iraq have turned out to be far from coming true. And we optimistically don’t see this place heading to that same end. No time soon at least.

And finally, go check Safrang/Hamesha’s blog, he’s put up a good post about the cross border relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Wishing everyone a good year, paradoxes and all.