Thursday, June 28, 2007

IWPR reports from Afghanistan

Two items from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting give some insights to what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan.
From Kabul, Hafizullah Gardesh writes:

It has been a difficult few weeks for President Hamed Karzai. Not only has his attorney general publicly accused a former interior ministry official of attempting to kidnap him, his law officers have tried and failed to search the home of a former Kabul police chief, and a high-ranking military official is engaged in a violent dispute with a governor in the north.
The piece is worth reading in full, as the stories it relates are emblematic of what is occurring in Afghanistan. Take the one about Attorney General Sabat: Famous for ordering a violent raid on Tolo TV a couple months back (prompted by the station airing a sound-byte of the A-G taken, so he said, out of context), Sabat alleges that he was beaten by militia men operating under General Jurat, himself a former official of the interior ministry.

Now, warlords with private militias are pretty common in Afghanistan, especially in "lawless" rural areas; however, this incident occurred just 20 minutes outside Kabul. And this warlord isn't a run-of-the-mill warlord, but an entrepreneur: the general, having been fired from his post with the interior ministry, formed a private security company.

As it turned out, the Attorney General, having retured to Kabul, sent some military troops to arrest General Jurat, but Jurat's supporters succeeded in keeping the soldiers from entering Panjshir Valley to make the arrest. The A-G chose not to pursue the matter any longer.

General Jurat's penchant for business is a sign of the times just as much as his Panjshir Valley proto-state. The Afghan government has been on a privatization binge for the past year or so, and has lately been contemplating membership in the World Trade Organization. In fact, joining the WTO is planned out as a development benchmark in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, inked in Bonn in January 2006 with Canadian participation.

Oxfam has weighed in on the WTO bid, advising against it: "Liberalising the Afghan economy too soon could undermine vital efforts to reduce poverty and suffering," according to Matt Waldman, Oxfam's policy and advocacy adviser in the country. (See the report here, in pdf.)

So if the Canadian government is so intent on assisting development in Afghanistan, will we hear calls from Ottawa for a re-think on free trade being bestowed on the country? Doesn't seem very likely.

Also from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting is a very interesting blog entry by Jean MacKenzie, who is by now a veteran reporter on Afghanistan. Her account of a visit to Helmand (which is, not coincidentally, the hotspot of both the opium industry and the insurgency) is eye-opening.

The area is racked with violence, and MacKenzie is shocked by what she is told by her Afghan colleagues:
I, like most Westerners, assume the violence is associated with the resurgent Taleban. Daily reports of battles and bombings reinforce the fear, and when speaking with my journalist colleagues, I expect them to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the fundamentalists.

"Oh, no, it's not the Taleban," they tell me. "It's criminals."

... Out of two dozen reporters, not one was willing to blame the Taleban.

... On this trip, more than even before, I realise how intertwined the Taleban are with the local population. I wonder why we call them "insurgents" – suggesting that they have come in from the outside - when they are at least as likely to be next-door neighbours, relatives or colleagues.

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