Monthly Archives: August 2009

Another Bloodstained Round for Karzai?

Very recently the US President praised the Afghan elections, citing the fact that they pulled it off in the face of the Taliban threats. This despite the fact that a figurative half of the voters never really made it to the polling booths – women are a special target for violence when ‘they forget their place’ in Afghanistan.

An assessment from BBC’s report on women in Afghanistan indicates that Hamid Karzai’s gov’t has really done nothing for the sorely oppressed women of this country but flim flam and perhaps make things worse by letting things slide: “His government is weak and corrupt”.

And now he is trying to claim victory. If that happens things might even get worse. Meanwhile his wife, a highly educated woman never appears at his side at public functions, not even overseas. In that BBC documentary, one of the extremely few women in the Afghan parliament, in a thinly veiled comment regarding some Afghan women with prominent social standing who do little personally to take up the fight for their rights: “…some women seem to just want democracy for their neighbours only…”

Karzai has been the western alliance’s darling. A smooth talker and dresser, at first he played well to the cameras. Not only have things not really improved during his term; of late he has been tainted with some rather off-putting compromises made, it seems, to curry votes from the medieval conservatives that are the bastion of Afghanistan’s current oppressive political and social climate.

In the New York Times’ story on the election (afghan elections) one reads about men voting for the women in their family by proxy vote, and women in government being special targets of assasination.

Meanwhile everyone is busy praising this election (don’t get me wrong, I am not outright condemning it despite my reservations) yet the reality is that while on the one side the Taliban has been unsurprisingly terrorizing everyone involved, the other side has been accused of fraud, corruption, and very compromising politics. I really am not sure which one is worse: the predictably destructive Taliban or the totally ineffective, self-serving government which survived mainly due to Nato’s patronage. This government has, by virtue of it’s weakness and corruption, given the hardliners some kind of claim of moral high ground – however spurious that claim may be.

Karzai’s closest contender is his ex-foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. Another dapper dresser, he does come with some excellent credentials. He has a long association with resistance to the Soviets and to the Taliban (Karzai at one time was a Taliban supporter, believe it or not). His contribution to the formation of democracy in Afghanistan was crucial. And he is suposedly bent on moving away from traditional powerbases such as the warlords towards a more unified nation.

Though Abdullah has criticised Karzai’s divisive style of government (playing one party against the other from a barricaded capital, President Karzai was known as the “Mayor of Kabul”) if he did get into office he would still face major opposition from the Pashtun south, Karzai’s powerbase. And that’s a big ‘if’.

If Karzai does win a second round, and the western alliance continues to support his style of governance, there seems little prospect of change. The women, and the men, of this once beautiful country have little but more misery to look forward to.

There are three things which link me to this in a personal way. In the early ’70s I spent a couple of months roaming this country, the impressions it left on me of a proud independent people, of breath taking beauty and harshness, of a history of an indomitable spirit and an incredible melange of silk route culture, stay with me to this day.

The second, much more relevant to the current mess dates, back some 8 years now to a few days before the US led invasion. I was chosen. almost randomly, for a live BBC radio interview of different people from across Asia regarding their views on an invasion of Afganistan. In that interview I stated flatly that there was no way that the US led forces could win a war there. When the incredulous BBC journalist sputtered on about hugely superior firepower, I cited history – how many countries have tried to subjugate this country? I conceded there would be battles won, but the war no. The interviewee directly following me, and Indian gentleman living in Australia, put it even more succinctly: “How do you bomb an idea?”.

The third thing is even more immediate. I know for a fact, that despite all odds, at least some of the women of Afghanistan are determined to fight on. A friend of mine, a French woman working there with the UN, told me she had tears in her eyes watching the women who did dare to come and vote personally despite the Taliban threats. (I might add that the other day this same friend of mine decided to have lunch instead of join a UN convoy – the same one that got blown up, killing 10 people and injuring many more. The twists and turns of fate).

It’s a very sad mess, and there are no certain solutions in sight. If Karzai wins a second term, will he reform? Will he stop dividing the country along whatever seems expedient lines? If Abdullah wins, will he hold to his promise to unite the country? Will he be able to win over the south? Will the western alliance support him? Will that support undermine him in the long run? Will there be an effective Afghan security force?

And much more crucially, will the women (and the men) of Afghanistan at least get their basic human rights? The war is not for military victory, the real war is for the hearts of the Afghan people.


Wired magazine, the issue with Brad Pitt glowing a blue tooth out his ear, tells me it’s ok if I text when I am at lunch. Which I do sometimes (but I have double standards, part of me still speculates it’s antisocial). I read on and realize they are talking about teens. Oops. And apparently teens don’t have my middle-aged double standards, because for them it’s being inclusive: letting their friends who aren’t there in on what’s going down. It is in fact is hyper-social for them.

Recently the Archbishop of Westminster complained publicly to the BBC about social media being bad for ‘social interaction’, and one of his supporters seconded this with the opinion that social media made young people less sensitive to body language etc, and less likely to actually interact.

Yep, you guessed, both those two people were middle aged plus. And you probably are yawning: “oh comes another generation gap story”. You might be right, you also could be wrong, frankly I don’t know. But I have noticed a couple of things.

I find it curious that the Catholic Archbishop and Muslim hardliners (in Indonesia included) both are upset about Facebook etc, albeit for different reasons. What is so interesting is that their reasons, though superficially perhaps valid to their respective congregations, are at odds in their analysis.

The archbishop is worried about youths becoming alienated from the ‘real world’. The Muslim hardliners insist that it is exposing the youth to too much contact with the outside world, sex (talk about body language!) etc. Go figure.

Meanwhile there are plenty of young people using the internet in very responsive and responsible ways, be they Catholics, Muslims, or just plain secular. That much is obvious, now that so many world leaders are quietly exploring Obama’s example of using twitter. Not to mention the US State Department flying in the leading lights of social media into Iraq on a mission to explore, not for investment opportunites, but how they could help rebuild Iraq.

And as to the argument that people miss out on physical communication, it has been pointed out that In fact social media can be more revealing about someone’s personality – particularly as there is an ongoing track record of posts and updates which can be reviewed at any time. You don’t have to be a genius to spot a schmuck online.

The generation gap argument doesn’t really hold water – there are plenty of middle-aged people who use Facebook and so on. As one of them I even follow a 104 year old woman in England who is on twitter. She loves it!

Is it possible that Archbishop and the hardliners are socially out of touch? Or fearful that if people don’t goose-step to their drumbeat it might be the end of the world as we know it?

Irrespective of all of our qualms, it is a different world now. It’s not that body language ceases to be important – that we learn from when we are babies. It’s that when we start learning to network in this day and age, it’s potentially tapping into something far more collective than one person’s interest group or the village square.

You make what you want of it.