Michael Ubaldi, September 2, 2003.
Tacitus' reliably well-balanced news digest includes concern on the situation in Afghanistan, partially based on a particularly somber report (reprinted in numerous newspapers, Cleveland's being one of them) today.
A major concern is, of course, the continually muddy loyalties of Pakistan: part tribal wilderness, part military dictatorship, part Islamofascist-sympathizing intelligence cabal. Solving the problem is somewhat akin to Churchill and Roosevelt rationalizing (and maintaining) their alliance with Good Old Joe. Musharraf's embattled political position, while self-constructed by bloodless coup, is precarious; the dictator's voiced refusal to court Islamic terrorists is just about the extent of his contributions. What can the Bush administration do this moment - short of invasive sweeps in Pakistan, undermining Musharraf's reign indirectly or simply lumping the despotism like Afghanistan and Iraq? Logistically, tactically and strategically, none of these are wise or possible. Pakistan's redemption as pluralist democracy, if it comes in the near future, will be one of the last in the region. Until then, the Allies' hope is simply to keep it from collapsing into internal chaos or a religious war over Kashmir.
That said, I'm still puzzled as to why story after story of Taliban defeat is trumped by the now well-established fact that terrorists, operating freely in adjacent countries, are trying to reenter Afghanistan. To date, according to the black-and-blue articles, thirty-five American soldiers have died - since late 2001. Nearly twice that number of terrorists died within the past four days. The terrorists haven't made many strategic gains, either; they're simply active. What gives? This calls for an Onionesque headline: REGION-WIDE, CULTURALLY DRIVEN MILITIA NOT COMPLETELY DESTROYED IN TWO YEARS OF INDIRECT, OFTEN DEFENSIVE POSTURES: ALLIED DEFEAT APPEARS IMMINENT.
Worsening? Globally aware, direct, down-to-the-minute news provision has its Achilles Heel: the deprioritization of compulsive impatience. Imagine how the modern press would have melted down covering, say, Guadalcanal. Amazingly, the Times let one very, very telling opinion (American, no less) slip past the copy editor:
U.S. military officials agree that the Taliban are becoming more sophisticated in their tactics but are failing to regain power.
Michael Ubaldi, August 26, 2003.
From stories last week, a darkening picture of Afghanistan threatened the hopes of natives and foreigners alike. But how has the story evolved beyond what was established shortly after the Taliban's fall in late 2001 and early 2002? It hasn't, or not by much: Pakistan's borders aren't well-patrolled, elements in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan provide refuge for the Taliban, sporadic attacks against soldiers and civilians continue while Hamed Karzai's provisional government steams ahead towards a binding national constitution, those attacks have not caused any significant damage to the country's convalescence, and more Islamofascists die than Allied or Afghan troops in nearly every engagement. The latest strike against those who would throw Afghanistan back into brutal theocracy was another tactical success:
Afghan militia and U.S. forces began a cleanup operation Tuesday after the bombing of a suspected Taliban mountain hideout that killed at least 14 insurgents, an Afghan official said.
A quick roundup of achievements:
Michael Ubaldi, August 19, 2003.
Terrorist violence continues in Afghanistan. Following a bus bombing last week, Taliban forces have been launching attacks on Afghan positions in the south of the country. The latest killed seven or eight policemen for the radicals' fifteen lost, amounting to a tactical loss for the invaders, of course, but that's not their objective: ennervating the will of Afghanistan's nascent democracy is. What a wonderful plan, demonstrative of the terrorist mind: murder people trying to celebrate their own independence. How have they been able to escalate their offensive?
[I]t's not clear if the guerrillas are "getting stronger or just getting bolder," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad.
Michael Ubaldi, August 10, 2003.
Governmental and economic revitalization of Afghanistan moves forward, hand in hand with the continuing elimination of terrorist and Islamist footholds.
Weapons caches containing more than 75,000 pounds of miscellaneous Russian, Chinese and Pakistani ordnance found in two caves were destroyed during Operation Warrior Sweep.
“These caches aren’t the biggest one that have been found in theater, but they’re the biggest ones I’ve blown,” said [Sgt. 1st Class Charlie] Holloway, who added that the tunnels are believed to be part of a nearby former Taliban stronghold.
“We’re trying something new,” said [Sgt. 1st Class Brian] Kern. “We’re using explosives not as powerful, but we’re using shape charges to collapse the cave.
[I]n the first six months of this year, law-enforcement officers seized nearly 5.2 tonnes of narcotics in Tajikistan - double the amount for the same period in 2002. Experts estimate seizures are only about 10 per cent of actual traffic.
At the risk of qualifying predicaments: better in Afghanistan for the soccer fields to be used for sporting (not for executions) and schools to be open to all (as opposed to excluding women under threat of violence). Hard drug use, moreover, is a choice - morbid or not. Very few could claim self-determination to do much of anything under the Taliban. As for heroin, the freedom to act includes the license to do wrong. It's a problem that must be confronted, but it should not be a surprise during Afghanistan's vulnerable convalescence.
The German government said praise by President Bush for German peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan showed efforts to bridge a transatlantic rift over the war in Iraq were bearing fruit.
Michael Ubaldi, August 6, 2003.
Good news in Afghanistan. The Taliban roundup continues:
Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government said on Monday its security forces had captured a former deputy minister under the Taliban regime. State-run Kabul Television said one-time deputy minister of higher education, Zabihullah Zahed, had been arrested in the northern province of Baghlan. It did not specify when he was captured.
This past Sunday I noted "forgetfulness" on the part of Europeans' monetary efforts towards Afghanistan. The United States has redefined and reinvigorated its postwar reconstruction; what has Europe to show for its own promises? Something, hopefully, as Afghanistan is fast becoming the "show-me state":
"The increase in the commitment from the United States has been very good news for the people of Afghanistan," Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah told a news briefing.
Afghanistan’s first radio station to broadcast live 24 hours a day went on air in the capital, Kabul, this week. Radio Khilid Kabul (RKK) 88.5 FM is one of the first private-sector radio stations in the country to be granted a government broadcasting licence.
The new radio station, which was inspired by the success of a national magazine, Khilid, is currently playing music only, but will also be broadcasting cultural information and chat shows, as well as news bulletins on the hour, with effect from Afghanistan’s National Day on 18 August.
And the coordinators are always open to suggestions from their target audience:
The station has taken a community participation approach by inviting citizens to contribute to programming by sending in ideas.
Michael Ubaldi, August 3, 2003.
Afghanistan's reconstruction continues. In the spirit of Joe Katzman's regional updates and Tacitus' bullets, I'd like to experiment with altering Afghan Watch slightly. Today and hereafter, more headlines for the dollar.
National Public Radio reports that in addition to preparing $1 billion in new aid for Afghanistan, the Bush administration will discontinue its current policy of playing what it now (finally!) recognizes as the wrong culture game. Ann Marlowe wrote an excellent article in National Review back in March that noted a distinction few of us realized. Marlowe argues that the oft-cited "warlords" are not social leaders. Instead, because business is conducted in Afghanistan through a vast array of one's network of cousins, it is with "khans," or familial heads, that the strongest economic and political ties rest. They're the real movers and the shakers. Will the Bush administration move precisely in this direction? No report seems to tell, but a policy departure from early timidity is good news by itself.
Our brothers from the Land Down Under report that Afghan troops are continuing their sweep of Taliban forces. After another Taliban attempt at random mayhem, Afghan forces assembled and, backed by American men and material, killed four and captured twelve without casualties. Hamed Karzai is quoted making statements on both the resolve of the Afghan people and his own personal wish to work with Pakistan to defeat terror. Expect a memo to have been quietly sent to dictator Pervez Musharraf politely asking him to continue reformation of his country's Taliban-sympathetic intelligence service.
The Hindu reports China's efforts to establish trading posts in Afghanistan to engage a flow of cheap imports into the country. Easily acquired goods will be a boon for the consumers of a country with, er, currently unremarkable domestic industry. China, of course, straddles a fence between Communist and Fascist/Nationalist, and places labor rights well out of sight of top priorities; there's a reason why low-price products stream out of the country. This is good news for Afghans, who will be able to generate non-industrial economic activity in response to the Chinese influx. It's bad news, as always, for the Chinese sweatshop. As security increases in the country, the Chinese, hopefully, won't be the only ones willing to risk their peddlers.
Finally: When there's money, there's a match. One of this morning's Washington Post editorials mentions a phrase absent from most reports:
Administration officials are hoping they can persuade European and other international donors to partly match the new aid - or at least deliver on previous promises of investment in Afghanistan.
UPDATE: Mr. Rosenthal and I debate the strengths, weaknesses and overall impact of the Chinese economy. I've been maintaining that it's got a glass jaw and is simply providing other nations with dirt-cheap goods. Speak of the devil, Hugo Restall's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today agrees with me! (It's subscriber-exclusive today but should be generally available tomorrow.)
UPDATE II: Well, as a matter of fact, the question was on the condition of the Chinese worker - Rosenthal kindly returned us to the original point.
Michael Ubaldi, July 29, 2003.
Let there be no doubt, it's still quite a bit on the Bush administration's mind:
The Afghanistan-America Foundation (AAF) praised the Bush administration for its planned $1 billion increase in funding Afghanistan reconstruction. Foundation Chairman Dr. Mohd A. Aslami said "It is a recognition by the U.S. that the job hasn't been done while at the same time shows a renewed commitment by the United States to the Afghan people."
Michael Ubaldi, July 28, 2003.
Better to have fierce debate that polite fiat, no doubt. As I reported earlier, the mere fact that newspapers can draw a story from the political struggles over Afghanistan's new constitution is itself a major statement on the state of affairs.
A major concern in Iraq these days is to create a military commensurate with a democratic government: commanded by elected civilian leaders, independent from police forces and dedicated not to the extraction of obedience from the population but instead to guard the country's general welfare.
It will take time. Similar work in Afghanistan has been underway since almost immediately after the Taliban fell; only now are the first national corps defending Afghan sovereignty. But what results:
About 1,000 soldiers of Afghanistan's new national army launched their first major operation, sweeping for insurgents in the east of the country, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.
A B-52 bomber and two fighter jets pounded a suspected rebel position after attackers fired two rockets at a U.S. base in northeastern Afghanistan, a military spokesman said Thursday.
Michael Ubaldi, July 24, 2003.
Sparkey offers a healthy, logical forehead-slap on the topic of an e-mail from one of Glenn Reynold's Afghan forward observers that has made more acquaintances in the blogosphere than lunchmeat and Italian bread during a meal at my Grandma's house.
The e-mail only confirms the good, sound news I've provided as part of Afghan Watch:
The dusty inferno of this Kabul summer may hold some unpleasant surprises, especially on the cusp of another Loya Jirga, but there is optimism everywhere and this society gives the impression that it is committed to making it all work despite the future trials yet to be endured. Those who disparaged the American efforts in Afghanistan have seriously underestimated the constructive changes wrought in this city in such a brief period. Despite dozens of missteps, made mostly with good intentions, it has been the understated but forceful American influence, not the UN and the hundreds of NGOs, that has taken the major gambles here. The Americans have displayed admirable flexibility in altering tactics and strategy when necessary and achieved this dicey, delicate transition.
I want to remind everyone that Afghanistan was liberated, what, a year and a half ago? Granted, Dr. Kelley describes problems as well, but within the context of how far the Afghans have come to date. What is even clearer is this, those who decry the lack of progress in Afghanistan or Iraq have no earthly idea what it takes "to build a civil society." And that one of the primary ingredients is a commodity the critics are least likely to provide, the time to do the job.
Michael Ubaldi, July 22, 2003.
News we need to hear, especially when half of the headlines for stories on Afghanistan's security are gloomy phrases describing supposed Taliban reformation:
U.S. Special Forces attacked and killed about 22 suspected Taliban forces in eastern Afghanistan after the convoy they were in was ambushed while on patrol, Pentagon officials said Monday.