The Election Is Over, Come Together – But How?

So Election Day passed in the usual flood of contradictory assessments. What else do you expect in a country as complicated and dangerous as Afghanistan?


But I’m not about to discuss whether the elections were a success or failure here. We’ll leave that for another time.


I do however want to talk about a bout of post-election blues. Serious post-election blues.


In the course of covering Afghanistan for many, many years, I’ve made some extremely dear friends – so dear, I consider them my extended Afghan “family”.


So when I get an alarming message from an Afghan “family” member – and from one as imperturbable as Manizha Naderi – it’s disturbing to say the least.


In the interest of full disclosure: Manizha is an old friend from New York days, before she moved to Kabul as executive director of WAW (Women for Afghan Women), an organization that runs women’s shelters in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kunduz – among a host of other things.

Making an Easy Million: The Razzmatazz of Afghanistan’s Islamic Banking

When I interviewed him last week for a piece on the Kabul Bank crisis, Javed Babak, an Afghan freelance journalist, told me he planned to go to the bank after the Friday weekly holiday to withdraw his money. (Click here for France 24’s piece on Kabul Bank: Where business and political ties bind)

For the record, Babak has still not managed to withdraw his money from his Kabul Bank account, but not from lack of trying.


On Saturday, he went to four Kabul Bank branches on his way to work. “There were huge crowds. It was chaos. They were collecting bank cards and calling out the names of people when their turn came,” said Babak. “It was hard for me to give up my card and wait for so long.”


Money and Mangoes: Clinton Buys ‘The Love’ in Pakistan

She came, she made the appropriate noises about partnerships, she even praised the local mangoes, which was well received by the local press. The independent Geo TV happily reported that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had “bought and savored” Pakistani mangoes during her recent visit and proclaimed them “delicious”.

What does it take for a US Secretary of State to be favorably covered by the alarmingly anti-American Pakistani media? It’s money, not mangoes. And Clinton came in offering billions of it.

Under the Kerry Lugar Bill, named after US Senators John Kerry (Democrat) and Richard Lugar (Republican), which was passed by Congress last year, Washington has committed to $7.5 billion economic and development aid to Pakistan over the next five years.

Runaway Lips: The Other Side of McChrystal’s Big ‘Oh Boy’

When the big Gen. Stanley McChrystal gaffe news just broke, experts across the globe were desperately scrolling past near-naked pics of Lady Gaga on the Rolling Stone Web site, seeking the offending piece.

But now it’s online and the very first sentence of the Michael Hastings’ piece makes me squirm.

‘How'd I get screwed into going to this dinner?" McChrystal asks at the start of the piece.

How did he get screwed granting Hastings such access?

Yes, yes, America’s top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s latest gaffe is a big “oh boy” even by McChrystal’s standards.

In the Rolling Stone article, “The Runaway General,” which portrays him as a lone wolf in typically testosterone-driven, pop-culture magazine prose, McChrystal takes on a slew of Washington bigwigs.


He will pay for his folly of course: the top US commander in Afghanistan has been summoned to the White House for a sound drubbing, no doubt.


Time to Go: Why Did 2 Top Afghan Security Bosses Quit?

Nobody really accepted the official version of the story. So now that the theories are starting to roll out, they’re worth considering.

On Sunday, the Afghan presidential palace announced the resignations of the country’s interior minister, Hanif Atmar, and intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh.

The breaking news alert was presented as a fait accompli and caught everyone by surprise. Usually this sort of news starts with unconfirmed reports, followed by official confirmations, which in turn are followed by official announcements. This time, the old steps were skipped.


Instead, we got a statement from the presidential palace, no less, informing us that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had already accepted the resignations. The stated reason was the officials’ failure to prevent the attacks on the peace jirga. (See blog, “Let the jirga games begin – with a bang")

Yesterday’s leaders have a plan for tomorrow’s peace

In the end, the 1,600-odd jirga delegates hammered out a proposal – that’s the good news.

But that’s also hardly surprising. The delegates were, after all, handpicked by the Karzai administration.

Where was Rashid Dostum, the warlord from the North and powerful Junbish boss? Count the Uzbeks out.

No sign of Mohammad Mohaqiq either. Should we count the Hazaras out as well?

And then, there were the old familiars: Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan prime minister, the man who could not control Afghanistan’s descent into civil war following the Soviet withdrawal.

Rabbani of all people was made jirga chair in a last-minute pre-jirga negotiation.

If we’re looking to Rabbani for the future stability of Afghanistan, I’m investing in a new wardrobe of body armor for the future.

Let the jirga games begin – with a bang

After many delays, several faux pas, and much discourse over conflicting goals and a lack of direction, the much-awaited peace jirga kicked off this morning – with a bang.


The usual bang – or bangs – it must be said, although this time, the rockets came pretty close.


The first one came just as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was delivering the inaugural address inside the giant white tent erected on the grounds of the Kabul Polytechnic University.


It did however provide an opportunity for some quintessentially Karzai stabs at humor. “Perhaps someone’s trying to fire a rocket,” he quipped in deadpan mode. “Even a three-year-old would not be afraid. Let’s continue.” And continue he did, to his credit.


But then, as the sounds of rockets and gunfire inched closer, Karzai wrapped up his speech and promptly left.


An uncivil Thursday

Oh dear, bad day, sad day.


First the news of French military officials acknowledging the killing of four Afghan civilians in a joint French-Afghan operation north of Kabul.


At least the French military seem to have learned from the mistakes of the Germans during last year’s deadly Kunduz incident, and admitted – and apologized – quickly. (See video below).


It’s here, the much-awaited Pentagon Afghanistan progress report

Just printed my weekend reading: the much-awaited Pentagon report to Congress titled, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan”. That’s 152 pages of mostly not-so-good, but not-all-that-bad either progress report on Afghanistan from Oct. 1, 2009 through March 2010.

For those interested in ploughing through the report, just click here.

For those interested in a summary, here goes: Overall, there were real signs of progress on stability, thanks to the military surge.

Bad news for Afghan President Hamid Karzai though as he prepares for his Washington visit next month: the Afghan population supports Karzai’s government only 29 of the 121 strategically important provinces.

The reason for this? Corruption and inefficiency. This is not going make the current resident at the Arg (the Afghan Presidential Palace) very happy - just as Washington and Kabul were trying to mend those fences…

The vanity contest – again

I can’t believe it. They did it again. When will the Americans ever learn?

Senior Afghan officials have announced that the much-awaited peace jirga scheduled for May 2 has been postponed until after Afghan President Hamid Karzai returns from his Washington trip next month.

All very well. Except that once again, a senior US official had announced this important piece of information BEFORE the Afghan government.

At a briefing in Washington on Monday, April 22, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke rolled out the following dates at a press briefing. “President Karzai will be here [in Washington] May 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and leave on the 14th,” Holbrooke told reporters before adding that the peace jirga is “now scheduled for May 20th”.

The US had jumped the gun again, irking Afghan officials who said they had not taken any decisions a peace jirga postponement nor did they set a new date until Wednesday.

The message is clear: guess who calls the shots in Kabul.