A disrupted country

August 6th, 2012

From Pakistan to Kabul: Observations in Afghanistan – Published on Current Concerns, by Matin Baraki, July 23, 2012;

You generally reach the capital of Afghanistan only on detours. It is also advisable to not show that you have come  travelling from Europe. By the time you reach the country at the Hindu Kush, you already have a three-day beard, like many Afghans have in these days.

When I arrived in Peshawar from Frankfurt via Dubai, the airport to my surprise was no longer the “Peshawar International Airport,” but “Pacha Khan International Airport”. In the multi-ethnic nation of Pakistan, the Pashtuns are obviously becoming more confident.  

The party they dominate, the “Awami National Party” even reigned in the border province to Afghanistan for a time. For some time the Pashtuns have been leaving their mark there. The “North West Front Province” (NWFP) has been renamed “Pashtunkhwa Khaibar.” A clearer signal could hardly be conceivable. And the airport in Peshawar now bears the name of the legendary Pashtun leader and comrade of Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Ghafar Khan, known as “Pacha Khan”. He was expressly in favor of a united Indian subcontinent following independence from Great Britain. Whether the other peoples of Pakistan will act as the Pashtuns remains to be seen … //

… Rampant corruption:

  • In my encounters with old and new friends from Kabul, I have to admit that after a period of optimism they have now lost all hopes to ever have an Afghanistan worth living in. Babrak, an able businessman, had accumulated decades of experience in Pakistan and Dubai, while earning good money. When he learned that he could still do better business in Afghanistan, he went to Kabul. His used car business is going well, only his dealings with local authorities has left him desperate. “I’d rather be a Bangladeshi,” he says. When you hear something like that from the mouth of a proud Afghan, something must indeed have happened: “If I have to do some business with an authority, no matter what, the clerk doesn’t even look at me. Once I have presented my request, he answers “Yes, heard it” and switches on his mobile phone and plays music. That is to say: If you don’t want to pay any money, then at least charge my phone. If you’re not willing, you can expect to have to appear several times in his office,” angry Babrak says. Farid, a somewhat intellectual businessman, adds that corruption in Afghanistan has long since taken over the foreign private and government institutions. Even diplomats insist on favors.
  • Babrak is a conservative man. He has even persuaded his younger brother, Ahmad Shah, to withdraw his daughter Mine from school. I was very sad, because I wanted to enroll the very decent and hard-working Mine in my education project to promote Afghan refugee children. She is now doomed to get married soon and to lead a life as a housewife and mother. This will deprive her of any prospect of a better life as a woman. As I spoke to Babrak about his own daughter, he replied that he would not even let her attend school before puberty began.

Karzai’s masterstroke:

  • In the second week of February, Afghan President Hamid Karzai introduced seven ministers who have already been working for years, once again to the Wolesi Jirga, the people’s representation. Since these candidates had been rejected several times by the parliamentarians, they have little chance of getting their approval so easily. Therefore, tumultuous scenes could be observed in parliament in early March. Some parliamentarians reported that the prospective ministers organized proper parties in luxury hotels for a number of deputies in order to win them over. And this is indeed what happened!

Heroes of the resistance … //

… Land theft conducted by the state

  • Land used for agriculture in and around Kabul is being expropriated by those in power who want to build houses there. Even cemeteries have fallen victim to the pressure exerted by the building mafia who are allied with the Karsai administration. In my village the people have surrounded their cemetery with a wall to make sure it wouldn’t be claimed and flogged by some dubious building tycoon. Two years ago the villagers had to fight off an alleged construction entrepreneur who claimed huge chunks of land with forged papers. At some point this conflict was close to escalating into an armed conflict, two villagers tell me.
  • When driving from the neighboring provinces towards Kabul, newly erected buildings on both sides of the road catch one’s eye, building is still under way on many sites. They have also led to more and more land being covered with roads. The extent of agricultural ground turned into building areas is alarming. Should things go on like that unrestrictedly, it won’t take too long before there is actually no agricultural ground left in Afghanistan. Then there would be no way around importing even more food than it is the case today.

Kabul loves just the Rich:

  • Some Afghan women used to manufacture handbags at home. Haram Gul from a suburb of the capital Kabul had been one of them, as her mother tells me. That way she could contribute to enhancing the family income. Since the Karsai administration have been pursuing their “open door” policy, these manufacturers can no longer compete with imported Chinese cheap products and are forced to give up. “Now she stands on one leg”, the Afghan woman says which means that now it is up to the husband to sustain the family of seven on his own.
  • Those street hawkers who used to swarm around at various crossroads and squares in Kabul’s old town have now been chased away by the law enforcement authorities. That way they lost their only source of income. Marketers in the suburb of Kabul called the “Arsanqimat”, which is a cheap building ground area,  have been affected by such measures, too. I am told that these people are totally desperate now since they don’t know how to make a living. There is – of course – no court they could appeal to.

Tokenistic Private University?

  • Between the 8 and 11 March I have several meetings with students of the private university “Khane Nur” (House of Light). Since many college graduates have no opportunity to study at a state-owned university they are forced to enter a private one. The ones owned by the state are in fact exclusively reserved to the children of the ruling class. The students have a lot to complain about “Khane Nur”. They pay monthly fees equivalent to 120 US-dollars and more. This is too much for Afghan conditions. Moreover, unlike the usual way in Afghanistan they don’t get one day off but two. When the university moved to another place there were no lectures but nevertheless the same fees were charged. When the students complained the dean of the university got an alleged ministry of education controller in who made the students pay the fees. The faculty staffusually give only introductory and superficial lectures. Any further knowledge they want to gain means they have to pay the lecturers again for additional private courses. All course materials have to be purchased from the university. For using the library some more fees are charged on an hourly basis. In summary the students characterized the university which partially belongs to the son of defense minister General Wardag as a mere money making machine.
  • On 8 March I meet Faisal. He takes evening IT classes at “Khane Nur”. Living outside of Kabul, he has to get home after the lectures end at 8 pm. In December last year a fake taxi driver picked him up in Kabul around 9 pm. At the next crossroads he pointed a gun at him and forced him to surrender his watch, his mobile phone and money. After this bitter and dangerous experience Faisal managed to escape in time on two similar occasions.

The drug chopper: … //

… Patriots not required:

  • On 14 March 2012 I talk with Abdullah. He is head of a department in the Communication Ministry of in Kabul. With his trimmed beard, he gives the impression of a faithful man. But his comments surprise me. Immediately the conversation turns to the Afghan policy under the left-wing government before 1992 and thereafter under the Mujahideen. “In the period of office of Dr Najibullah you could still rely on people. They have properly fulfilled their duties in the offices. Now seriously, orders given from the powers on top are not taken seriously even from the offices on lowest level. They are always able to find some excuses to delay the matter. Behind that is, of course, baksheesh.” “In today’s Afghanistan honesty is frowned upon”, says Abdullah. High positions were filled by people who are not even able to sign a letter at the right place. Above all patriots are terribly lacking in the country. “We need at least one generation to get Afghanistan out of the quagmire,” summarizes Abdullah pessimistically. The intellectuals were mourning after Najibullah’s government and the simple people after the Taliban era. “Everywhere one goes, there are positions established like cancer. These are checkpoints that are supposed to provide security. In fact, they host robbers, thieves, highwaymen. Their leaders have made considerable wealth”, notes Abdullah and says goodbye with sad, tearful eyes.
  • The reason why the Taliban as a “regional power of order” seem to be attractive for many people, is the enormous decline in moral standards and the omnipresent insecurity besides corruption. Corruption, drugs, alcoholism and prostitution, all of which were mercilessly punished under the Taliban, are nowadays spread widely. That  sickens  the people and pushes them into the lines of the Taliban.
  • The Afghan Attorney General, Alekuzai calls several high-ranking politicians to account, including one of Karzai’s appointed senators, because of corruption, kidnapping and receiving stolen goods, the media reports  on a regular basis since mid-March. But Alekuzai has a little problem. The accused have a direct line to the top. When I talk about it with a local, it comes like a shot: “it would never have happened under the Taliban. They would have made short work with such criminals, even if they were their own members.” he protection of criminals by the Karzai administration causes many Afghans to increasingly long for the Taliban. “Afghanistan needs to be a state under the rule of law,” emphasized the persons I talked to. “But we are light years away from this”, the young dentist Zaki says. He points out that in regions which are under Taliban control, no one turns to the state authorities. Because people know that they won´t do anything.
  • The “Tarjuman”, in this way NATO and other international organizations are called by translators, become very hated because in general they are also agents. “I therefore understand that the Taliban make short work with them”, says Hamid, my last conversation partner, before the departure from this disrupted country at the Hindu Kush.

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