“Except when Spanta forced me to say thank you”

Some subtle passive aggression in this New York Times article about Karzai announcing that the United States is talking to the Taliban and then going on a long rant wherein he blamed foreigners for Afghanistan’s environmental problems:

Much of Mr. Karzai’s speech, an address to the Afghanistan Youth International Conference, was devoted to broad criticisms of coalition forces in Afghanistan, saying their motives were suspect and their weapons were polluting his country.

“You remember a few years ago I was saying thank you to the foreigners for their help; every minute we were thanking them,” he said. “Now I have stopped saying that, except when Spanta forced me to say thank you,” referring to his national security adviser, Rangin Spanta, who was present.

[...] “There are 140 countries here in our country,” he said. “They’re using different explosive materials, chemical materials and all these things. We will talk to them and ask them about all these things, because this has a negative impact on our environment, our animals, our people, so we will ask them about this. They should not think we are uneducated and do not know anything.”

There are actually 48 NATO and allied countries with forces in Afghanistan.

 

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar runs the worst high school in the world

Newsweek just published an incredible story about teenage Afghan refugees in Pakistan being recruited to join seemingly immortal terrorist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s fighters across the border. According to the article, goading poor adolescents to run off to Afghanistan for weapons training is just another part of the curriculum at the almost comically over-the-top boy’s high school/militant recruiting center in the Shamshatoo refugee camp.

Asking to be called Wahid Khan, the boy fondly recalls the early-morning assemblies where teachers praised the glories of jihad and recounted Afghanistan’s long history of resistance to foreign occupiers. And he remembers the messages scrawled on the blackboards of the upper-grade classrooms: “To Join the Jihad, the Order of Almighty Allah, Call This Number” and “Those Who Want to Repay Their Debt to God, Take This Number.”

Wahid, who ran away to an insurgent training camp “deep in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan” the summer after he completed 10th grade, is pissed that his dad withdrew him from the Shamshatoo school and placed him in a school where his classmates don’t daydream about bombings.

The young Afghan hates his new school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. “My classmates only talk about girls and movies,” he complains.

Unfortunately, it’s probably safe to say Shamshatoo made a lasting impression on Wahid.

As soon as this school year ends, he’s planning to head back to Afghanistan to complete his training for the war against the Americans. “My parents only live to survive,” the boy says. “My aim is to live honorably in the eyes of God—and that means jihad.”

The notorious refugee camp itself is a kind of Hezb-i-Islami ministate, complete with anti-everything-fun laws and its own secret police.

Over the past three decades the camp has become a small city of more than 64,000 inhabitants, with mosques, madrassas, high schools, a university, a hospital, and even two local newspapers—both trumpeting Hekmatyar’s Islamist line. Unlike many of his Taliban partners in jihad, he supports education for girls. But he nevertheless requires women in the camp to wear burqas, and they’re forbidden to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. Playing music in public—even the ringtone on a mobile phone—is banned, as are satellite dishes. And no one is safe from the camp’s informers and enforcers. “You can’t say anything against Hekmatyar or this destructive game in Afghanistan,” says one former resident. “His men are everywhere.” The man moved his family to Peshawar two years ago, fearing that if they stayed in Shamshatoo his two sons would be recruited. “I was worried they’d be brainwashed and disappear,” he says.

When Shamshatoo boys do disappear, they come back spoiling for a fight, preferably with foreigners, but they’ll settle for relatives and household appliances if that doesn’t work out.

An Afghan engineer with a USAID project in Kabul recently had to save his 15-year-old nephew from Shamshatoo. The boy had enrolled at a madrassa in the camp, and his behavior had changed radically. He ranted to his parents about Afghan women being molested by infidels. He trashed the family’s television set, saying it was haram—forbidden—and castigated his mother and sisters for having the nerve to laugh while people in Afghanistan were suffering. “He was completely brainwashed,” the engineer says. “The mullahs were looking for the opportunity to take him to Afghanistan to fight.”

In desperation the family finally sent him to live with his uncle in Kabul. The boy still refuses to talk about his time in the madrassa, the engineer says, but lately he has become a new kid, learning quickly, watching Afghan television (mainly soap operas), and even laughing aloud at times. “He’s very young, so it’s easier for him to change,” the engineer says. “I think he’s happier here than in Shamshatoo.”

Over at Registan, Josh Foust writes:

No, what bugs the hell out of me here is that training camp, which is either really near the busiest border crossing in the region or close enough to where a Peshawari can go, train for a month, and come back in a reasonably short period of time. That really narrows down where it could be (seriously), and I’m a bit confused as to why it’s allowed to either continue operating, or, if so, why there seems to be so little movement against it.

Any of you have other thoughts?

One of the most disturbing aspects of this story is contrast between the extremism of the teenage boys and the relative moderation of their parents and extended families. Much is made of how controlling Afghan families can be, but the Shamshatoo crisis (and yeah, I’d call hundreds of minors running off to war a crisis) underscores how far the conflict has eroded traditional social norms in all the wrong ways.

Return of dreams

As far back as I can remember, dreams came easily to me. Every night, beginning in early childhood, I would land in a vivid scenario with a well-developed  plot and few if any fantastic elements. As a lonely child, I dreamed of having different parents and living in a house with a white-tiled bathroom, a happy mother and a VCR. I also dreamed of burned farmland and fishermen drowning in beer-colored waves.

In my teens and early twenties, dreaming became a hazard of my field of study, and then of my profession. My mind began constructing my dreams of whatever I read, watched or agonized over during the day. When I was studying the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for my international law class, I was shot at point-blank range by paramilitaries and bled to death on my grandmother’s favorite rug. When I was working in Bosnia, I stood trial for war crimes and squirmed under the judgmental gaze of tribunal interns. During the nights of my time resettling refugees in Upstate New York, I was recruited into an Afghan civil war militia and froze to death alone in a bombed-out building during the winter of 1994.

Happy dreams were few and far between then, but compensated for their infrequency by brilliantly outshining anything I had experienced in my waking life. They fulfilled not only personal-life wishes for romantic love and belonging, but also desires for large-scale, history-turning progress. In one shimmering dream, I attended the ceremony marking Bosnia’s integration into the European Union.

My dreams stopped for the first time early this year, when I moved to Afghanistan to work. Sleep became a pool of black quicksand I fell into at night and during long car rides. It became an off switch. Instead of feeling relieved, I was disturbed. Reality had finally overtaken my imagination. My hands and feet touched the places I had visited so many times in my mind. I picked up old shells from the floor of the building I succumbed to hypothermia in as a teenage militiaman.

About a month ago, the dreams returned at full volume with the strong antibiotics I began ingesting to reclaim my body from two raging bacterial infections. Now, I dream mostly about the forking paths before me, and along them the alternate futures that share a single commonality: they all remind me that life is short and impatient, and this will be another winter of hard choices.

Inspiration for this post courtesy of Natalia Antonova, who just wrote a lovely little post about sleeping and dreaming during turbulent times.

“Meh. Let the kids fight,” says Obama

What the sweet fuck is going on at the White House?

This is a real memo:

Presidential Memorandum–Child Soldiers Prevention Act
Presidential Determination
No.       2011-4

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE

SUBJECT:    Presidential Determination with Respect to Section 404(c) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, pursuant to section 404(c) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA), title IV of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Public Law 110 457), I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA.

You are authorized and directed to submit this determination to the Congress, along with the accompanying memorandum of justification, and to publish it in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

For those of you in locales where drinking is legal, please start now. I will catch up with you later.

Amrullah Saleh’s fortress of solitude

Jerome Starkey’s prose makes me laugh at horrible situations:

In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman in his mountain bolt hole, Amrullah Saleh compared the Taleban to Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and accused the government of being “ultra soft” on the brutal, mediaeval insurgents.

“Mountain bolt hole.” Oh dear.

Lithuanian counterinsurgency

Holy crap, guys. This reads like something from the Onion.

KABUL, Afghanistan (Nov. 30) – ISAF service members serving in the Lithuanian-led provincial reconstruction team in western Afghanistan distributed thousands of handmade hats to schoolchildren in Ghowr province Nov. 25.

Almost 2,000 hats were given to Afghan children in Chaghcharan by members of the PRT during the final phase of the project, “Warm Hats for Afghan Children.”

And wait, it gets better! Continue reading

Will anti-ACORN legislation defund corrupt defense contractors?

I’ll go out on a limb and guess no, but only because I’m cynical.

Still, this is a curious development.

The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to “any organization” that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

What hath outrage over tax advice for pimps wrought?