Sunday, 30 May 2010

Purple fingers 3: on Afghanistan

Above: building a railway in Afghanistan: the new line from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif. Photo by the American Embassy, Kabul, via Railways in Afghanistan. Read more here. ISAF Media has more photos.

This is another follow up to Purple Fingers. See also Purple Fingers 2: on Iran. Below are some links from the last few weeks. If it’s faster service you want, try the SWJ.

Kabul goes to Washington
From earlier this month,  Hamid Karzai and Hillary Clinton in conversation at the United States Institute of Peace, and Abdullah Abdullah talking to journalist Steve Coll at the New America Foundation.

After the big reception given to Karzai, the US Government didn’t have so much time for his rival Abdullah, who came warning of the dangers of fraud in upcoming parliamentary elections, and the dangers of premature withdrawal. Via Terry Glavin.

Karzai brought a large portion of his cabinet with him on his visit, which proved useful at that USIP event. An excerpt:
PRESIDENT KARZAI: If we keep going at the current speed of revenue collection, this year – and correct me, Minister of Finance, are you around – of which this year, we had 22 percent increase in our revenue collection.

PARTICIPANT: Fifty-eight percent.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Fifty-eight percent? Yesterday, you said 22 percent. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yesterday was a good day. (Laughter.)

PARTICIPANT: That was GDP growth.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: GDP growth, sorry, sorry, sorry. Okay. So that was GDP growth. 22 percent GDP growth and 50-something percent the revenues this year. Now, if we move at this speed, within three years, Afghanistan will be able to pay for the existing numbers of our security forces. Within three years, Afghanistan will be paying its civil services, its military, and police forces from its own pocket. Now, that will be a tremendous achievement and it is a benchmark that I hope our ministers will keep very, very strongly in mind so we can come back three years later to the United States and tell the U.S. Congress and Senate, look, we’ve done it. Now we will not be asking you for salaries, but we will be asking you for investment and F-16s. (Laughter.)


PRESIDENT KARZAI: On economic matters, we had extensive engagement on the issue of agriculture and the importance of agriculture and the viability of the Afghan agriculture sector, its ability to produce the best quality of foods and to export on mineral resources, the abilities of Afghanistan, the richness of the country and the mineral resources that can easily run of the knowledge that we have today of the Afghan mineral resources to over a billion dollars. Our ministers yesterday said that it can be between $1 to $3 billion --

PARTICIPANT: He said $3 billion.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: To $3 billion.

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Yeah, 3 billion.

PARTICIPANT: No, no, 3 trillion.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Trillion, yeah, $3 trillion. Trillion, sorry. That’s what I meant. Trillion, trillion, yeah. $1 to $3 trillion.
Full text here.

Caricaturist Steve Brodner had a go at Karzai in a short film for PBS. (Some earlier to and fro with Brodner over Afghanistan in the comments here.)

Talking to the Taliban
Lauren Feeney of PBS talked to Michael Semple about the visit, about US commitment, and about issues around talking to the Taliban.

Talking to the Taliban was also the theme of Steve Coll’s article in the New Yorker the week before last (see also photos), while on the blog he has been writing on the Afghanistan policy of the UK’s new government, and hears a statement of support from William Hague on the principle of humanitarian intervention.

In one of those posts, Steve Coll mentions the famed British pedestrian in Afghanistan, Rory Stewart, now a Conservative MP, and speculates that Stewart’s skepticism about US military strategy might indicate future policy. I linked to Rory Stewart’s arguments against the surge last October and made some criticisms of them.

How we fight: US, UK, DK.
In the New York Times today, more on Female Engagement Teams in the military: In Camouflage or Afghan Veil, a Fragile Bond, by Elisabeth Bushmiller.

From a week ago on the UK Forces Media Ops’ Helmand Blog: First British Female Soldiers Complete the United States Marine Corps Female Engagement Team Course.

The Helmand Blog is obviously aimed mainly at a UK readership, but an item from yesterday describes some of the UK military’s work communicating with Afghanistan’s media.

On BBC News earlier last week: Top army bomb squad officer Col Bob Seddon resigns.

Armadillo, a documentary on Danish forces in Afghanistan, has led to a military investigation following accusations that it describes the liquidation* of Taliban fighters. The film shows Danish soldiers stationed at Forward Operating Base Armadillo  in the first half of 2009. The controversy concerns the killing of five Taliban in a skirmish. Reportedly the Taliban were sheltered in a ditch, Danish soldiers threw a grenade into the ditch and then followed up by extensive firing into the ditch. The central legal question is whether the Taliban fighters could still pose a threat at the time they were shot.

Author Carsten Jensen, who has for some time argued that Denmark should withdraw from Afghanistan, described the film as “an earthquake in the nation’s self-understanding”.

The General Secretary of the Danish Red Cross, Anders Ladekarl, sees no evidence of a war crime in the film, though he describes it as “an anti-war film that shows war is shit”. He says “I see a group of Danish soldiers who are professional and do it as well as they possibly can. I notice first and foremost that they really try to live by the rules of war.”  Mr Ladekarl points to another scene where the Danish soldiers have the opportunity to throw a hand grenade into a closed area where there are armed Taliban fighters. The soldiers know there are also civilians in the area. “It would be completely legal to use a hand grenade in that situation, but all the same they don’t and risk their lives by instead making a search of the compound.”

The film premiered at Cannes and is now showing in Danish cinemas. Here’s the trailer.

*The word liquidation heard in the film was used during the Nazi occupation of Denmark to describe the killing of informers by the Resistance without legal process. The debate around these killings is described in this earlier post.

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