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Afghanistan behind the headlines: what Canada’s media isn’t telling us

October 20, 2009
Hamid Karzai -

Hamid Karzai - the usual predicted speeches are here, but what's really going on behind the scenes? Photo by Remy Steinegger, NowPublic.

As predicted earlier, Afghan President Karzai must now face a run-off vote in two weeks. Our Prime Minister follows a nobel peace prize winner in mouthing the accepted speaking points. And you can read one view about Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s position on the torture of Afghan prisoners here, along with issues of the day.

Today’s statement of the obvious: the mess in A/Stan will deepen and our role will get stickier. Forewarned is forearmed – clichés to keep us warm and alongside them,  a reading list to keep handy in the next month.

President Karzai’s chief rival – Abdullah Abdullah – an ophthalmologist, former advisor to  various mujahedeen ( remember them? What the US funded when  “we” were against the Commies; oops. Then they “became” The Taliban) and a spokesperson for the Northern Alliance. Always useful to read Malalai Joya on that configuration.

Deconstructing the Taliban – who are they? The New York Times this week runs a series by David Rohde – held captive for 7 months. His account is picked up by many “Af/Pak” news sources.  My thoughts so far on Rhode’s account: nerve-wracking to read, thought-provoking to contemplate, and needful of the wisdom of this seminal piece by one of the world’s best journalists – Ryszard Kapuscinksi’s The Other. Irritated by too much “politically correct neo- colonial deconstruction”? (ahem). This guy’s got the real stuff and still comes down on the side of less Kipling, more thinking.

If you get your foreign affairs news from the CBC, the Globe and the Asper clan, also recommended:

A refresher on our Canadian Military mission – Parliament’s library staff provide us with this 2007 report. I welcome update links.

The War Report – a historic trove of Afghan archived essays and reports, including the  must read, Ahmed Rashid for the New York Review of Books.

Kathy Gannon’s book I is for Infidel – note how rarely Canada’s mainstream press pick up her by-line: she’s Timmins born  and once wrote at the Kelowna Courier before becoming an AP reporter based in Pakistan and Afghanistan for 18 years.

And yes, there’s more:

Important and new: Jo Comerford’s statistical analysis (National Priorities Project) of what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the US commonweal. Where is our Canadian equivalent? Sample Item: every gallon of gas used by US forces in A/Stan costs $400. The Marines reportedly consume 800,000 gallons of  gas each day.  Comerford maintains that next month US war making in Iraq and A/Stan will hit the $1 trillion mark. What are Canada’s total  A/stan mission/war expenditures to date?

Sidebar: New America Media reports that the divorce rate triples for U.S. Female Soldiers – linked, of course to increased tours of duty. What are the figures for Canadian personnel?

Important and not as new: Rory Stewart in the London Review of Books – if you read only one thing about our war in A/Stan read this. Sample: ” …a bewildering range of different logical connections and identities can be concealed in a specialized language derived from development theory and overlaid with management consultancy.”

Is Afghanistan Vietnam or Iraq? This will continue to come up:  Sunday,   the NYT ran an op/ed  by retired Army lieutenant  Lewis Sorley, which among others things suggested a favorable assessment of Vietnam’s  Nguyen Van Thieu’ regime aka Hamid Karzai. But check out Thieu’s obit in the Independent. Which brings us back to my starting point: Hamid Karzai – hand maiden and puppet of the U.S.   See  Gwynne Dyer, The Mess They Made – the middle east after Iraq.

There’s also, as always, Glenn Greenwald’s continuing blog rebuttal of almost everything published in the New York Times ( which does seem to be ramping up pro-surge pieces reminiscent of Judy Miller’s WMD fantasies); Greenwald takes on  Slate, (Kaplan), and The New Republic (take your pick; although a good piece worth reading is A.J. Rossmiller, “Stalemate”: yes, A/stan is like Iraq, in the bad days and that means, a/the insurgency can’t defeat US/NATO forces and b/ US/NATO forces can’t defeat the insurgency.)

If you missed PBS’s new documentary, Obama’s War, head to the site and watch and read. In addition to a download there’s analysis. Is there a CBC equivalent? Harper’s War. Let me know if I’ve missed something.

And last but not least, tucked away in the Globe and Mail’s drumbeat for “supporting our mission/our troops/our way of life/” – this chilling little number by  a military expert from Calgary. I agree with his prediction: if either the Liberals or the Tories in this country win a majority, we citizens will see our mission in Afghanistan extended and our troop deployment increased.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2009 4:21 pm

    Update email Nov.18, today’s must read on A/Stan and “corruption/development” in context of CDN reports re torture of Afghan detainees (

    snippet from
    Pratap Chatterjee, Afghanistan as a Patronage Machine –
    Paying Off the Warlords
    Anatomy of an Afghan Culture of Corruption

    (also,See the Channel 4 news report, Nick Paton Walsh on the US/Afghan power plant)

    “A number of popular accounts of that invasion, such as Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War, suggest that the Central Intelligence Agency directly gave Northern Alliance warlords like Fahim millions of dollars in cold, hard cash to help fight the Taliban in the run-up to the U.S. invasion. “I can take Kabul, I can take Kunduz if you break the [Taliban front] line for me. My guys are ready,” Woodward quotes Fahim telling a CIA agent named Gary after pocketing a million dollars in $100 bills.

    Once the Taliban was defeated, Fahim was invited to become vice president in the transitional government led by Hamid Karzai, a position he held for two years. It was at this juncture that Fahim’s brothers, notably Abdul Hasin, started to build a business empire — and not long after, good fortune began to rain down on the family in the form of lucrative “reconstruction” contracts.

    In January 2002, while Fahim took whirlwind tours of Washington and London, meeting General Tommy Franks, who had commanded U.S. forces during the invasion, and taking the salute from the Coldstream Guards, his younger brother was putting together a business plan. Soon thereafter, Zahid Walid, a company named after Abdul Hasin’s older sons, not so surprisingly won a series of lucrative contracts to pour concrete for a NATO base as well as portions of the U.S. embassy being rebuilt in Kabul and that city’s airport, which was in a state of disrepair. “

  2. November 17, 2009 1:58 pm

    With bags of gold (courtesy of the AfPak Channel)

    On the heels of yesterday’s announcement that Afghanistan is forming a new crime unit to address the pervasive corruption in the country after insistent calls from international leaders that President Hamid Karzai improve governance, a watchdog group has ranked Afghanistan the world’s second-most corrupt country, surpassed only by Somalia (AP, Al Jazeera, AP, BBC, Reuters). The full results of the 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption by drawing on surveys of businesses and experts, are available from Transparency International (TI).

    A new British Army field manual reportedly instructs soldiers to buy off potential militant recruits with “bags of gold,” though cautions that distributing cash must be done wisely to prevent the distortion of local economies, and also encourages “short-term, labor-intensive” projects in Afghanistan as the “best way” to disrupt extremist recruitment (Times of London, Telegraph). The manual, which will be taught to new officers, says that Army commanders should talk to Taliban militants “with blood on their hands” in order to speed up the end of the conflict.

  3. October 23, 2009 6:31 pm

    Thanks to everyone for the considered comments – given the level of distraction and the reading demands we all face, i appreciate folks checking-in.

    The issue of tribes is one i’ll have to pursue and look forward to Cor’s piece.

    The NYT has a piece by Scott Shane today on the differences btwn P/Stan and A/stan Taliban. I think it’s very important to begin understanding who the Taliban is and if they will be in fact “the same” as al-Qaeda etc and I’ve a hunch the discussion moves us toward having to understand about all the tribal/ethnic/linguistic factions “over there.” Kinda, you know, the same as “over here.” No one culture is uniform, not even Japan’s! (of which i know very little)

  4. Cary O'Malley permalink
    October 22, 2009 7:33 pm

    Great job in bringing lots of good sources together. I don’t want Obama to go deeper into Afghanistan and yet can’t see another answer, maybe because I don’t know what other answers are out there, hence the importance of this blog. Agree with the comment about the lack of knowledge of the tribes. Agree there’s not nearly enough discussion of this in the media or in the government and yes, I’m afraid we’ll be in there longer as well. I used to support this war, but the longer it’s going on the less I feel like it’s achieving its “goals”, it seems like a quagmire at the moment. Also wonder if the Pakistani army is going to have any effect in Waritzistan.

  5. October 22, 2009 4:12 pm

    From today’s The Nation
    billed as a special bill of links re “best of” coverage
    also on the site, one of my “must reads” the Dreyfuss Report
    which features a forum, “How To Get Out of A/Stan” – worth checking out.
    Especially with Sec/Gen of NATO ( on CBC( claiming that NATO leaving A/Stan would equal returning it to al-Qaeda – which almost every reputable commentator I’ve read , disputes.(see above column)

  6. corsullivan permalink*
    October 21, 2009 1:34 pm

    Great post, and I’m awestruck as usual by your ability to pull together a lot of articles and sources of information that I’d never have discovered on my own. So far I’ve only had time to look over a couple of the items you linked to – the pieces by David Rohde and Rory Stewart. I was especially impressed with Stewart’s dissection of Western motivations for involvement in Afghanistan, and his discussion of the role of language in arguments about how to proceed.

    One thing, though – I don’t believe either Rohde or Stewart mentioned the name of a single Pashtun tribe. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the tribal aspects of the Afghan conflict are being grossly underreported. It’s not much more than a hunch, and I could very well be wrong, but it does bother me. We’re always hearing about how Pashtun society is organised along tribal lines, but the media rarely sees fit to tell us what any of the actual tribes are thinking or doing. Canadians have fewer excuses than most others – you’d think a country with a defence minister named MacKay would understand the importance of keeping track of what the clans in the hills are up to.

  7. Sandra Chamberlain-Snider permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:57 am

    I agree with the post, our position within Afghanistan will deepen whether minority or majority government in Canada. And whether its the Liberals or Conservatives, this is modern warfare (peacefare ?) – a complicated program of dwindling resources and emergent technologies, overlaid with some entrenched philosophy of nationhood. Follow the money, because there is always lots of it involved in arms, legitimate or otherwise. Politically, public support for our presence in Afghanistan competes with healthcare and safe roads, but if enlistment increases, and it has to in order to keep “boots” overseas, the potential for military support may go up as well. Its a simple argument that may have merit, simply because of the ever-increasing cost of post-secondary education. It makes sense financially to enlist, there is practical and academic training provided, its a job and a degree at the same time. So it is not a great leap to understand that if our government wants to continue a presence over there, funding post-secondary education through enlistment makes sense. It would be safe to assume that the majority of our young Canadian adults would buy into “keeping the nukes” out of Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iran, etc. as a reason, no matter the complicated definitions of nation for Canadians and Afghanis.

  8. October 21, 2009 4:21 am

    Wow, great synopsis, Renee. I have a lot of links to investigate this afternoon.

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