Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 12, 2008

Reporting on Afghanistan from Inside the Bubble

Gideon Rachman is the Financial Times foreign columnist. He recently was in Afghanistan with Rice and Miliband and at his blog reported from inside the bubble:

The security is so tight that it must be virtually impossible for visiting western dignitaries to form any spontaneous impression of Afghanistan. Rice and Miliband arrived early this morning on an unadvertised flight from London. They were immediately put on a military plane to Kandahar - but did not leave the military base there. Then it was back to Kabul, and a short drive to see President Karzai on a road that had been cleared of all traffic. Then it was time to visit some more troops in a gym at Nato HQ. And that's it.
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I was told that British official advice is strongly against staying in a hotel in Kabul, so the embassy are putting me up. The diplomats are holed up in their official compounds and told not to visit markets or to eat in town.
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It's difficult to know what to make of it all. Anyway, I'm saving that up for my newspaper column next Tuesday.

The promised column was published today and it certainly shows how effective the bubble has worked on Mr. Rachman himself. He hasn't seen anything of the real Afghanistan, but writes that it is Too soon to give up in Afghanistan. The column is highly manipulative:

The west clearly was far too complacent about Afghanistan. In 2003 Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, proclaimed that the war was over. But by then an anti-Nato insurgency was beginning in the Afghan countryside.

So "the west", whatever that may be, was "far too complacent". NATO invoked Article 5 on September 12, 2001, but the U.S. didn't want any help from NATO. Rumsfeld - certainly not a representative witness for "the west" by the way - declared major combat over in Afghanistan in May 2003. 

Rachman says "by then an anti-Nato insurgency was beginning". But in May 2003 there was no NATO in Afghanistan. In July there were about 50 NATO troops in Kabul. UN resolution 1510 was passed by the UNSC on 13 October 2003. Only after that were NATO troops allowed to operate outside the capital. They established small compounds in eight cities, not in the countryside. Only in 2005 NATO took over operations in the south. There certainly was no "anti-NATO insurgency" in Afghanistan in 2003. Rachman is obviously fudging history.

A recognition that Afghanistan is likely to be a wild, poor and tribalised country for many years to come should not obscure the fact that life has improved for ordinary Afghans since the fall of the Taliban. Millions of refugees have returned to the country. Schools and roads have been built. Kabul, which was a shell-scarred wreck and home to just 300,000 people in 2001, now has a population of close to 3m.

According to the United Nations Population Division Kabul in 2000 had 1.9 million inhabitants, not 300,000. 

Rachman has seen Kabul through the rosy tainted windows of an armored SUV traveling with Rice on a road cleared of any traffic. He has not been to a market or eaten out. But Kabul is great.

Some seem to differ: Kabul gets 3 hours of electricity a day

The electricity shortage underscores the slow progress in rebuilding the war-torn country. It also feeds other problems. Old factories sit idle and new ones are not built. Produce withers without refrigeration. Dark, cold homes foster resentment against the government.

In Kabul, power dwindles after the region's hydroelectric dams dry up by midsummer. This past fall, residents averaged three hours of municipal electricity a day, typically from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to USAID, the American government aid agency. Some neighborhoods got none.

It is of course likely that Rachman did not experience any electricity outage in the UK embassy.

Municipal workers - under direction from the Ministry of Water and Energy - funnel what power there is to politicians, warlords, and foreign embassies.

In his travel blog report Rachman was miffed about comparison with the Russians:

But I'm slightly disturbed by occasional echoes of the Russians' unhappy period here. When there was some discussion about whether our plane would be able to land on a snowy Kabul airport, an Afghan remarked - "The Russians always landed in the snow." And when there was talk of sending girls to school in Afghanistan, I was told that the Russians had been keen on that too.

There is reason to be disturbed. While the Russians lost against an insurgency fueled by "the west", i.e. Stinger missiles given to the Taliban by the U.S., they at least had some capabilities "the west" seems not to have:

"Life takes power," said Jan Agha, a 60-year-old handyman from west Kabul who recalled how the city had plentiful power during the 1980s Soviet occupation. "If you have electricity life is good, but if there's no electricity you go around like a blind man."

A quote from a recent book by long time French-German war correspondent Peter Scholl-Latour (my translation):

After the Soviet Army let, the regime of the communist dictator Nadjibullah stayed in control for another three years. If the Americans would leave, today's president Karzai would not survive for three days.

The typical window-dressing propaganda has to stop. The only reconstruction I observed in Kabul was a huge mosque, a large Islamic university which will inevitably become the hotbed of religious zealots and the extremely luxury, tasteless and heavily guarded super-homes of drug-barons and war-profiteers. Beyond these are miserable shacks of at least 2 to 3 million inhabitants. Public authorities and occupiers have lost control over these shanty-towns a long time ago.

But unlike Scholl-Latour, who walks the grounds to report, Rachman travels in the bubble. Drunk on embassy cool-aid, he urges to continue the occupation of a country he knows nothing about.

Posted by b on February 12, 2008 at 18:13 UTC | Permalink

Comments

b

really, between these important posts - do you have time for other work

& these are not incidental interventions you are making - o only use here now as the filter for all other news

you possess in equal measure discernement & proportion & i mean that in the sense - that you miss the melodrama (of which the media makes its money) & get to the point or source your work with a lot of room for others to do the work & make the necessary conclusions

i don't know if i am being sensitive to this but it would seem over the time you started moon - your position has become more firmly anti imperialist & an anti imperialism grounded in the unrelenting evidence you & others provide

just my coarse way of saying thanks

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 12 2008 19:29 utc | 1

Thanks r'gip - I've been anti-imperialist all my life ... but the work on MoA has changed my mind in other ways ...
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Back to Afghanistan - hold your breath - this is pure madness:

Market Survey for the Kabul Security Camera and Surveillance System for the Country of Afghanistan

Contracting Office Address

US Army C-E LCMC Acquisition Center - DAAB07, ATTN: AMSEL-AC, Building 1208, Fort Monmouth, NJ 07703-5008

Description

The ultimate purpose of the proposed project is to provide the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior (MOI) surveillance and over watch capability of all major thoroughfares in Kabul City and the surrounding areas. The network will cover the entire City o f Kabul and connect the National Police Command Center (NPCC) and Kabul City Police with a route surveillance and security system, to include all US and multinational camps. Phase 1 of the installation will coverall major roads and traffic circles with sp ecial emphasis covering all Ministry compounds and Military Installations. Phase 1b will include local residential locations in order to ensure that all major roads within the city are covered.
...
All cameras will have a continuous non-stop microwave transmission with backup power in order to ensure continual coverage when city power is not available. The Stateme nt of Work will cover the expansion of the NPCC/KDP headquarters in order to ensure the data collection capability of the system remains intact and operational, and all maintenance and upkeep of the security and surveillance network.

You can send your offer to EMAIL-ADDRESS: bruce.wayne.ballance@conus.army.mil

That poor guy can't do anything about this, so don't be rude ...

Posted by: b | Feb 12 2008 19:52 utc | 2

They bottled it in Canada.

Canada's minority government and the main opposition party signaled on Tuesday their desire to find a compromise position on the country's military mission in Afghanistan and avoid an election over what to do with the 2,500 troops.

The ruling Conservatives have said that if Parliament does not extend the mission in the southern city of Kandahar, currently due to end in February 2009, the government would fall and Canada would head into an election.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Feb 12 2008 21:54 utc | 3

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