Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Azerbaijani/Saudi Relationship: From a Muslim Forum to the Marriage Permission Process


Recently, on John Burgess' blog Crossroads Arabia, an Azerbaijani man commented requesting advice about the marriage permission process for him to marry his Saudi love. He graciously agreed to repeat his questions here, and added a couple of others, in order to share his experience with readers, and get further more specific advice, beyond what I gave him there, and what is written here in the posts in the category Marriage Permission/ Visa/ Iqama and in the Personal Stories.

His own brief story raised 3 main issues when I read it, and which I think are important considerations, both for him, and for others who may find themselves in a similar position. They are briefly addressed below for further discussion. However, let me immediately share his story in his own words, lightly edited.


My name is Javidan. I am a citizen of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and a resident of the capital city, Baki. I am a 26-year-old Muslim. 6 months ago I met a girl who is 23 years old on one of the Muslim forums. She is a citizen of Saudi Arabia, and lives in Riyadh. We had a chat, then she sent me her photo (in which she was wearing an abaya), and I really fell in love with her. She also fell in love with me; and, after some time, we agreed to marry. But the girl (I do not want to announce her name) informed me that, according to the laws of Saudi Arabia, it is forbidden for a Saudi woman to marry a non-Saudi man. I want to bring her to Azerbaijan where the national laws allow us to marry foreign citizens. We do not want to live in Saudi Arabia.

Some further background:

She is a tribal Saudi, whose family is originally from the Al-Qassim area. She moved to Riyadh with her parents when she was 10 years old. She is a 2nd year university student studying Management. She hasn't told her parents that she loves exactly me, nor given information about me. She just told her mother and father that she wants to marry a non-Saudi.

Her father objected and said that he would never agree her to marrying a non-Saudi. Her father laughed at the idea, and said that it was forbidden by the laws of Saudi Arabia to marry a foreigner. However, her father probably meant a marriage in Saudi not in another country. After this she replied that would never marry anyone and stay single until her death. Then her father laughed again and said InshaALLAH. Very odd I know, but I think that they perceived her words as not serious.

Only her mother and sister know that she loves me. They imagine me as a guy from other country, but have no more information. They only know that I am Muslim, and were happy for this. However, both recommended she forget about me because her father would never agree.

My friends and family members are entirely supportive and happy about my decision. They are ready to help me within their power. I am working in my country at the moment. I have a salary sufficient to support my family, even if she stays as a housewife. I am planning to live on my own with my wife rather than with family. I have a new luxury flat and a good car. She knows and likes it.

She has never traveled outside Saudi Arabia. She told me that does not possess either a passport or ID. We use English as a common language generally. But I am learning Arabic as well. Furthermore, it will not be difficult for her to live in Azerbaijan as far as language because 40 percent of the Azerbaijani language consists of Arabic words.

Of course, she can have a social life in Azerbaijan and we can find a job for her here,because there is a huge demand for those who know both Arabic and English. But she told me that she doesn't want to work. She prefers to stay at home and bring up children, as her mother did. I told her that I was ready to agree with her what ever she chooses, and to encourage her. She can decide herself to work or not. But if she decides to work, we can find a good job for her here, taking into consideration her Islamic views and origin.

So taking into consideration these premises, my questions for readers are the following:

1-Is it TRUE that Saudi Arabia's laws restrict or forbid its women citizens to marry non-Saudi men? (It is possible that girl was deceived by her parents)

2-Is it permitted, according to Saudi legislation, for Saudi women citizens to marry foreigners outside Saudi, for example, in Azerbaijan? (Because every action in the territory of Azerbaijan is assessed by local legislation under the territorial jurisdiction of the Azerbaijan Republic)

3-Can she apply to the Saudi government for permission to leave the country for marriage with a foreigner? What actions might the government of Saudi Arabia take with respect to her application? What consequences could there be for her.

4-Normally, what must she do to come to Azerbaijan and marry me here? (I love my country and Azerbaijan is a rich oil country, therefore I do not need to live in Saudi Arabia, nor does my love want to live there)

5-May she come to Azerbaijan without her parents’ permission? What documents would she need to prepare in order to come to Azerbaijan?

6-Must she, as a citizen of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, apply within the Kingdom for government permission to marry outside Saudi Arabia with a citizen of Azerbaijan Republic?

Please help me with these questions sending me what the requirements of Saudi legislation would be. Thank you very much. I will be waiting for your advice about this, and recommendations.

Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu

Javidan


On reading Javidan's story 3 broader issues came to mind: meeting and agreeing to marry on a forum; marriage permission laws for Saudi women; the challenge of moving to a new country to be with a new husband.

Meeting and agreeing to marry on a forum
This has worked well for some couples-- including Abu and Umm Abdullah whose story is here in 3 parts, Part I (with an important update in the comments), Part II, Part III --but has certain risks. As has been pointed out, security assessments are important before engaging in a personal relationship. While these issues don't apply to Javidan and his love, they are important to bear in mind. Ideally the couple would meet in a safe setting before agreeing to something like marriage. Skype is an important second best, perhaps more necessary because of Saudi laws about women traveling.

Marriage permission laws for Saudi women
These are more restrictive it seems than for Saudi men, although there is debate about that. Recent news suggests there is a movement to make it even harder for Saudi women to marry a non-Saudi. Women physicians over 25 have greater latitude as it is deemed that their marriage prospects to Saudis are dim; women over 40 are similarly favoured in the marriage permission process, as their prospects for marrying a Saudi are deemed to be particularly dim.

Moving to a new country to be with a new husband
This can be challenging for anyone, and indeed for a husband joining a wife. In addition to the usual first year of marriage adaptations there is much to adapt to in a new country, and culture, and far from friends and family. However, this is an exciting time and an opportunity as well, and couples do well when they tackle the challenges together.

About that new country


Azerbaijan is a central Asian country on the Caspian Sea whose capital is Baku, where Javidan and his Saudi bride would live. 90% of the population is Azeri (Turkic), and over 90% are Muslim. It is an oil producing country with Baku the oil capital of the country as well. A majority Muslim state, it is none the less a secular democratic republic. A country and a people with a long history, through most of the 20th century Azerbaijan was a republic of the Soviet Union, following on the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It has been independent from the Soviet Union since the latter's collapse in 1991. A cease fire in 1994 applies to Ajerbaijan and its neighbour Armenia, in their ongoing dispute over territory and borders on the western side of the country.

Petroglyphs in Gobustan dating back to 10,000 BC indicating a thriving culture;
a UNESCO World Heritage Site--considered to be of "outstanding universal value"

The Maiden Tower (800-1200), Old Baku City

The ornamented gate of Shirvanshah Mausoleum in the Palace of the Shirvanshahs

Bridge of Separation - Ayrılıq Körpüsü in Azerbaijani, on the Azerbaijan-Iran border; 
the two treaties of Gulistan and Turkemenchay divided the Azerbaijani people

Bibi Heybat Mosque in Baku, Azerbaijan, after restoration in 2008 
(damaged by the Bolsheviks in 1936)

Inside the Dome of Bibi-Eybat mosque

Tombs inside the Bibi-Eybat mosque

Baku, at night

The capital city, Baku, on the Caspian Sea

Another view of Old Baku City

Nizami Museum of Azerbaijan Literature in Baku

Azerbaijani carpet based on the Layla and Majnun novel by Nizami Ganjavi in 12th century


Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall

Famous Russian cellist, Rostropovich, born and raised Baku, Azerbaijan


Academician Prof. Lev Davidovich Landau (Nobel Prize in Physics)
Other famous Azerbaijanis, here

Please share your knowledge, and experience to answer Javidan's questions:

1-Is it TRUE that Saudi Arabia's laws restrict or forbid its women citizens to marry non-Saudi men? (It is possible that girl was deceived by her parents)

2-Is it permitted, according to Saudi legislation, for Saudi women citizens to marry foreigners outside Saudi, for example, in Azerbaijan? (Because every action in the territory of Azerbaijan is assessed by local legislation under the territorial jurisdiction of the Azerbaijan Republic)

3-Can she apply to the Saudi government for permission to leave the country for marriage with a foreigner? What actions might the government of Saudi Arabia take with respect to her application? What consequences could there be for her.

4-Normally, what must she do to come to Azerbaijan and marry me here? (I love my country and Azerbaijan is a rich oil country, therefore I do not need to live in Saudi Arabia, nor does my love want to live there)

5-May she come to Azerbaijan without her parents’ permission? What documents would she need to prepare in order to come to Azerbaijan?

6-Must she, as a citizen of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, apply within the Kingdom for government permission to marry outside Saudi Arabia with a citizen of Azerbaijan Republic?

What are your thoughts on the 3 broader themes?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Halal French Cuisine: Gastronomic Integration by French Muslims

Chef Ali Bouaoune of Les Enfants Terribles restaurant has experimented to find halal alternatives to ingredients in traditional French cuisine. Julien Hekimian/Getty Images for The Globe and Mail

When I read this article, it seemed to say a lot that was relevant to part of the debate about "burqa ban" in France, and also about constructing a positive bi-cultural identity. While the article seems to emphasize that 3rd generation French of Maghrebi origin are "cultural Muslims" and want to eat halal as a mark of cultural identity, I suspect for some there is more religion to it as well. Certainly the idea that all are welcome to come and enjoy fine traditional French cuisine (la carte ie the menu) that is also halal for those who prefer it that way seems to me to be an exemplar of bi-cultural and interfaith co-habitation that functions well for individuals, collectives, and societies. The name, Les Enfants Terribles, strikes just the right tone of shared humour (linguistic and cultural)--sharing humour being highly salutary! Their home page seems to agree, Les Enfants Terribles.


Halal restaurants spark a new kind of French revolution
--For French Muslims, much of French cuisine was forbidden in their culture. But new efforts towards halal offerings in restaurants are changing that

Anita Elash

Paris — From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 3:13AM EDT Last updated on Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 3:38AM EDT

Growing up Muslim in the immigrant suburbs of Paris had it challenges for Kamel Saidi. One of those was watching his friends eat traditional French dishes that he could never taste because they were forbidden by Muslim precepts.

“Ever since I was little I saw this. We'd go out to a restaurant and my friends would eat foie gras and magret de canard. But [those dishes] weren't halal, so we were always obliged to eat fish,” he says. “I grew up in France, I went to school in France, I consider myself more French than Algerian, and I was always disappointed I couldn't eat French food.”

Mr. Saidi, 32, finally had his first taste of both those dishes three years ago, when he and his brother Sofiane, 28, put their money where their taste buds were and opened the first halal restaurant in France to serve traditional French cuisine.


“I thought it was delicious,” he says of his first taste of certified halal duck breast, prepared with a crystallized mango sauce.

So do hundreds of hungry French Muslims. Dozens of restaurants have followed in their footsteps. The website paris-hallal.com, dedicated to promoting halal restaurants, lists 250 sit-down places serving only halal meat and no alcohol. As well as traditional Middle Eastern and North African cuisine, they include 26 French restaurants and dozens that serve Thai, Chinese, Italian and other international cuisines.

The rapid growth in halal restaurants in the Paris region is part of a trend that has swept France in the last few years, says Abbas Bendali, president of the market research firm Solis, which studies developments among minority populations. The typical customers are the grandchildren of Muslim immigrants who arrived in France in the 1950s to help rebuild the country after the Second World War. They tend to be cultural rather than religious Muslims and have embraced halal food as their “sign of identity.”

“You could see this as a sign that French Muslims are segregating themselves, but it actually shows that they are becoming more integrated,” he says. “Their country is France, they want to eat like the rest of France. But at the same time they want to hold on to part of their heritage.”


Les Enfants Terribles, is in one of Paris's Muslim neighbourhoods and is full most nights. It has done so well that the brothers opened a second location this spring, in a part of the city with a more mixed population.

Like most non-traditional halal establishments, Les Enfants Terribles does not put its halal designation on its signs or menu. Mr. Saidi says this is because he doesn't want to be seen as part of an exclusive community. He says he always tells non-Muslim customers when they arrive that he does not serve alcohol. Some have left in anger or because they preferred to have wine with their meal. Others “say it's no problem, but make us understand they are not comfortable here,” he says.


An even bigger challenge is in replicating traditional French dishes when many of the usual ingredients are forbidden.

“Our goal is to present a dish that is halal but which no French person could tell apart from the dish that he is used to,” Mr. Saidi says. “It's not always easy.”

He says Les Enfants Terribles will never serve some dishes, such as coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon, because there is no way to replicate the taste without using wine. On the drinks menu, the Saidis have opted for high-quality red, white and sparkling grape juice instead of non-alcoholic wine without any taste.

On the menu, smoked turkey easily stands in for bacon bits in the popular salade de l'ouest. The foie gras, which is usually prepared with cognac or armagnac, and blanquette de veau, which normally has a white-wine-based sauce, were a bit more challenging.


Mr. Saidi says chef Ali Bouaoune tried at least a dozen variations before finding the right combination of spices to replace the alcohol.

“We knew we'd found it when we asked a French friend to try it and he couldn't tell the difference,” he says, adding that he is most satisfied when he sees non-Muslim customers leave his restaurant satisfied.

“I feel like I've played a role,” he says.

“I give them good food in a nice place and I think I've helped to promote tolerance.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Les Enfants Terribles in Paris has a halal menu, including magret de canard with mango sauce.
Julian Hekimian/Getty Images for The Globe and Mail

I would love to visit, right after I spend a day (or 2) at the exhibit of Saudi archeological finds, Routes d'Arabie: Archéologie et histoire du royaume d'Arabie saoudite au Musée du Louvre du 14-07-2010 au 27-09-2010 / Roads of Arabia - Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the Louvre from 07-14-2010 to 09-27-2010. Oh to be in Paris...anytime!

What do you think about the ideas on acculturation expressed in the article?
Knowing how important wines are to the French, do you imagine many non-Muslims will visit?
How far along the culture-religion dyad is this restaurant in your opinion?
Would you dine there? Why or why not?
How do you explain the success of the restaurant?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

*Except where indicated, pictures were added by me from the website of Les Enfants Terribles

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Afghanistan: 9 Years and Counting--Part II Is it worth it? The Doha Debates Chez Chiara


As indicated by this poster, this Doha Debate took place in mid-January 2010, after Obama had confirmed a troop surge. This was after a great deal of consultation and reflection, suggesting the challenges of developing a successful policy in Afghanistan during an economic crisis at home, and in the face of dubious elections of a seemingly reluctant or incompetent ally. Increasingly Americans and others wonder whether this war can be won, and whether it, and this Afghanistan government are worth fighting for. Allied countries feel they have long been doing their part and more, while the US was pre-occupied with Iraq. However, Obama has made the Afghanistan War his own, campaigning on a shift in focus away from the Bush War in Iraq to the original Osama bin Laden stronghold, Afghanistan, and the border region with Pakistan.

As described in Afghanistan: The Kabul Conference--July 20, 2010, and in Afghanistan: 9 years and Counting--Part I Good Morning Vietnam! Good Afternoon Cambodia! Restrepo!, recent events make this debate current. The offensive launched in February 2010 has been less successful than hoped for; some experts believe the surge was an error, others that the higher numbers of troops need to stay in Afghanistan longer. Most recently, after a disastrous expose of his views, General McChrystal has been replaced by General David Petraeus, the hero of Iraq--yet Iraq isn't holding as well as desired either. GOP Chairman Michael Steele has been reprimanded for speaking the unspeakable, while Newsweek is saying it in the headlines: We’re Not Winning. It’s Not Worth It. Here’s how to draw down in Afghanistan. The debate below will hopefully serve as a place for readers to share their views, insights, and concerns on the topic.

For more information on The Doha Debates generally, which follow Oxford Union debating rules, see the website of  The Doha Debates, for more information on The Doha Debates and The Doha Debates Chez Chiara see the introductory post, and the blog Category Doha Debates (DohaDebates) on the sidebar. The following includes excerpts from the panelists' biographies, the debate transcript, and the final result. A summary statement precedes each of the dialogues with a particular audience member whose photo, where available, is included. Full information for this debate is here. The full transcript may be read here. The full debate may be viewed here, and the podcast link is available here.


The Motion
This House believes this Afghan government is not worth fighting for


TIM SEBASTIAN
Ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to the latest in our series of Doha Debates, coming to you from the Gulf State of Qatar and sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. Back in October 2001 it seemed to Britain and America like a perfect plan, bomb Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, end the drug trafficking and help to install and support a new democratic government. But it didn't work out that way. Nearly nine years later Western forces are bogged down in an increasingly bitter war with the Taliban. Democratic elections have been tainted by widespread fraud; the narcotics trade and corruption have proved endemic. Now many voices in the West are expressing the view contained in our motion tonight, ‘This House believes this Afghan government is not worth fighting for'. But what do you think? Our panel brings a high level of expertise from inside and outside Afghanistan.

Speaking for the motion


Peter Galbraith was appointed to his last post at the UN in June 2009. He was removed in September 2009 after accusing the head of the mission of concealing election fraud that favoured the campaign of Hamid Karzai. Mr. Galbraith said the UN played down the level of fraud in the elections.

Previously he was US Ambassador to Croatia and senior adviser to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

PETER GALBRAITH
Thank you. President Hamid Karzai has been in office in Afghanistan for eight years, and those eight years have been characterised by ineffectiveness, toleration of corruption, a deteriorating security situation. And this year he begins a new term in office, as a result of an election that was massively fraudulent. Of the three million votes that were cast for Hamid Karzai in the last election, EU monitors say that at least a million were phoney. Based on my experience with the United Nations of monitoring and supporting the election, we noted that in parts of the country, including Kandahar, the second largest province, fewer that ten percent of the people actually voted, while returns were reported in the range of thirty percent for Kandahar City, up to over one hundred percent in some of the outlying districts. Now a government that is corrupt, ineffective, that cannot manage the security situation, is one that does not merit support, one that is in office by fraud is one that does not merit support. But my argument does not depend on the rights or wrongs of the Karzai administration; rather it depends on the prospects for success. The United States and its allies are engaged in a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. For that counter-insurgency campaign to work, the United States and its allies need a credible local partner. When US and allied troops go into a district it can clear the district of the Taliban, but then it needs the Afghan army to provide security, Afghan police to provide law and order and most importantly an Afghan government that can provide honest administration, public services and that can win the support of the people. A government that is ineffective and in office by fraud cannot win the support of the population, therefore the counter-insurgency strategy cannot work.


Mirwais Yasini began his political career at Afghanistan's Ministry of Finance. In 2005 he was elected to the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament, and became the leader of its largest parliamentary party.
In March 2009 Mirwais Yasini announced his candidacy for Afghanistan's Presidential Elections in opposition to incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Yasini came fifth with 0.9 percent of the votes.

MIRWAIS YASINI
Besmi Allah Al Rahman Al Rahim (In the name of God, the most gracious) Thank you very much for having me on The Doha Debates. Well I would like to begin: political phrases cannot be abstractly translated or interpreted. I would like to make a differentiation between the process, the democracy, people of Afghanistan, and the government; the current government is ineffective, there is no doubt. That is a failed government, and we cannot do with this government as it is, since 2001. There is no security, there is corruption, there is no reconciliation, there are no services for the Afghan citizen, and particularly irritating: democracy remains just a slogan. We did not work on the democracy or for the democracy, but we in due course slaughtered the democracy by introducing the false and fraudulent election to the Afghans. So we are establishing a very dirty precedent from the point of democracy for the Afghan future. I would like to say that some part of the government is functioning. The international community should work for those parts which are functioning, but we have to keep a very close eye [on it], because the international community and the Afghan citizen are sailing the same boat... even... it does go beyond our borders to the neighbours, into the region, so it cannot be improved, we cannot afford failure and the failure is there with the current Afghan government.

Speaking against the motion


Shukria Barakzai is a member of the Afghan parliament and prominent women's rights campaigner. During the Taliban regime Ms. Barakzai ran underground schools for girls and has fought against the practices of polygamy and forced marriages.

She founded the first women's weekly magazine following the fall of the Taliban and was named World Press' International Editor of the Year 2004.

SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Thank you very much. Good evening. First of all, thanks to the Qatar Foundation and The Doha Debates for giving a chance to Afghans to raise their own voice, and particularly their own points of view. I want to start from the list. Thank God that the legitimacy of the Afghan government is not coming from the address of Mr. Peter Galbraith, a former deputy envoy for the United Nations for Afghanistan. It's coming from the Afghan vote, it's coming from the Afghan population, it's coming with the international identity, as they sent the congratulatory messages for the Afghan people and Afghan President. In the meantime, he is legitimate, not only once, but three times President Karzai got legitimacy. Number one, when it was during the eight years, as you mentioned, there was a temporary Loya Jirga, he got the vote. The second time: the first presidential election, which is Afghan's practising democracy. And the third time was the second presidential election, and now everybody is only talking about the fraud of that election. You will never understand how it's difficult for Afghans to pay with their own lives for having practising democracy, in the name of elections. There were lots of casualties among our police, among our civilians, and there are lots of people putting their own lives at risk to make these procedures succeed. And even today we don't have an answer for them whenever they were asking us: "Where is my vote?" For those, just because their finger was inked, it was the sign they had voted, they lost their fingers, their ears were cut, and their noses were cut. Show me another nation, which has been practising democracy with such a high price. In the meantime the government, when you say that they are filth, they're not successful and they're corrupt... but right now over three million refugees are in Afghanistan, they have come from Iran and Pakistan. Today we have seven million children going to school, from 2002 we had zero police, zero number of national police and national army, but today the number of our police is 160,000, with a uniform, with a responsibility. We are a young government, which needs to do lots of jobs at once: state-building, nation-building, counter-narcotics, counter-corruption and having, or making, a government.


Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at The Center for American Progress, a Washington based think tank, and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information.

Previously Dr. Korb served as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration for which he was awarded the Department of Defense's medal for Distinguished Public Service. Dr. Korb is a prolific author on the subject of national security.

LAWRENCE KORB
Thank you very much Tim, it's a great honour to be here, and it's a great honour to share the platform with these two distinguished legislators. It gives me great hope for the future of Afghanistan, and of course with Ambassador Galbraith who's done so much for our country and for the world, working for the United Nations. I think this government is worth fighting for because it's supported by the people. Tim mentioned the latest poll that was done, not just by BBC but also ABC, an American company, and a German company. And if you look at that poll, the vast majority of people in Afghanistan think the government's on the right track. They're satisfied with the results of the recent election and they trust President Karzai to improve security and economic conditions, and nearly 80 percent have a favourable view of an International Security Assistance Force. It's also better than the alternative; only seven percent of the people in Afghanistan support the Taliban, only four percent want them back. Fifty eight percent think that the Taliban is the great threat to the future of Afghanistan, and 70 percent are very glad that the international force got them out of power. Remember when we talk about government it's not just Karzai. You mentioned earlier that you have a parliament, and I think it's a great step forward that the parliament turned down 17 of the 24 cabinet appointees that President Karzai set up. You also have - as the beginning of a civil society - you've got a free press. Does it have a lot of problems? It does. But a lot of the problems are caused by - and I'll speak primarily for the United States - we went in without thinking about what the long-term goal was going to be. We partnered with the warlords and then of course we left them in power. President Karzai had to deal with them. I'm very confident that with the increased troops, not only from the United States, but with the International Security Assistance Force, we can get the security situation under control. I think then that you'll begin to see the government improve. Final comment: remember that not every government is perfect. If you look at the Freedom House index you will see that they rank democracies. One of the countries they rank high as a democracy is the Philippines; they also ranked them very high when it comes to corruption. Thank you.

Audience Input


Why not speak up against the drone attacks; Obama and Karzai still following the Bush policies
AUDIENCE (M)
Thank you, I'm from Bangladesh, and my question is to the two of you who are against the motion. Why doesn't the Afghan government speak against the drone attacks? You say the government is very popular with the people, but they do not really like the surge that you just talked about. President Obama just agreed to the surge, there's going to be more troops coming into Afghanistan. A few days ago there was a water tank that was blown up while people were taking drinking water from it. People are dying and they don't really like the American troops there. President Karzai was a good friend of Bush and he still acts like he's working on Bush's policies.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Shukria Barakzai, would you like to take that?
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Thank you. I think it is not the point what President Karzai is like or what President Bush thought about Afghanistan. This is about increasing troop numbers, which I believe, personally, and the majority in Afghanistan... it means we are supporting war, we are not going for peace. At the end of each war there is a time for peace and negotiation, and for sure we have to have a red line for our own constitution. None of the talks and peace negotiations should cross the Afghan constitution. In the meantime, right now, there's no need for us to think: what is Karzai thinking or what is Obama thinking - now's the time that both governments, both states should think [about] what's shared between their successes and their failures, both are shared.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, do you want to come back on that?
AUDIENCE (M)
Why aren't you, a member of parliament, why aren't you asking why there isn't more resistance against foreign troops? Why don't you speak up and say we don't want foreign troops coming up, we are against the surge? That voice is not coming out.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
For sure, Afghanistan never wanted to be host to foreign troops for long, any troops from any country, this is the history of Afghanistan, this is our nature. But right now, for the time being we are like a little baby, until we can stand on our own feet we need them unfortunately. Like it or not.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Lawrence Korb?
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Let me say another thing. We are against any other actions, starting with civilian casualties, searching houses and other things which are against our tradition, custom, constitution and all international conventions in Afghanistan, which is most of the time what the international troops are doing.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay. Lawrence Korb?
LAWRENCE KORB
I think it's important to keep in mind the United States does not intend to be an occupying colonial power, we want to get out of there. A lot of people did not believe we would ever leave Iraq: we withdrew from the cities on the 30th June. We're going to be out completely by the end of 2011 because the Iraqi government asked us to do that.


How to trust those in the panel who were part of the problem
AUDIENCE (M)
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm from Afghanistan and my question goes to the proposition side of the motion. My first question is to Mr. Galbraith.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You'll only get one question I'm afraid, there are a lot of people.
AUDIENCE (M)
Okay, sure, these are short questions. How can I trust what you say? You supported the process, you supported the government, you were standing, you I mean the organisation, were standing with Hamid Karzai supporting him throughout the process. But now, at the end, you're leaving him alone, you supported the government... and tell me what's the UN doing about the civilian causalities there? They're not even thinking of anything there.
PETER GALBRAITH
Thank you for that question. The United Nations engaged in its own severe dereliction of duty in Afghanistan. It was charged by the Security Council to support the Afghan electoral institutions and the holding of honest elections. And it simply gave - the head of the mission simply gave - a blank cheque to the Afghan electoral institutions. The independent Election Commission was the body that carried out the fraud. At every instance where fraud took place, its staff was in one way or another complicit. Now why should you trust me? Well I can tell you that I disagreed with the head of the mission, I said that the UN had a responsibility to promote honest elections, at various stages in this process I tried to take steps to have honest elections including to close polling centres where there were going to be no voters - the so called ‘ghost' polling centres - and to get the Election Commission to stay with its procedures. In the end there were protests against me from the Afghan government and I was removed and since I was removed I've been speaking out about the problem.
AUDIENCE (M)
From what I have heard you were not removed, you said yourself that you resigned. That you had some problems.
PETER GALBRAITH
That's not true. Let me put an end to that, I did not resign, I was fired for having raised the issue of fraud in UN-funded and UN-supported elections. I find that to be quite extraordinary.
TIM SEBASTIAN (to questioner)
Okay, let me ask you: where are you on the issue of the Afghan government? Is it worth fighting for from your point of view?
AUDIENCE (M)
[The] Afghan government could do better, but I cannot blame the Afghan government, I cannot blame Karzai. I mean Karzai came to a ruin, there was no country, there was no government. I think I appreciate his efforts in bringing the country together, and I have one comment to Mr. Yasini.
TIM SEBASTIAN
He's got one for you as well.
AUDIENCE (M)
Okay. Just one question: you were part of the government I believe in 2005 and 2004, you were one of the high-ranking members in the Ministry of Interior, you were dealing with drug trafficking and these kinds of issues. And I remember that drug trafficking was dramatically increased in those times. What have you done about corruption? What have you done about trafficking? And why are you leaving the government if you want to fight it?
TIM SEBASTIAN
I think that's enough questions, thank you.
MIRWAIS YASINI
Thank you very much. I will try to answer your first question first. First of all the international community is equally responsible in the fraudulent election from the fraud point of view. Only 120 European monitors are not enough for the whole of Afghanistan, number one. Number two: they knew, we had information, we told them that there will be massive fraud in the election, but nobody bothered then or afterwards when we, the Afghans, started complaining about election irregularity. It's very obvious: there were 7,000 complaints in the Election Complaints Commission. Of those 7,000, 2,500 were strong complaints. Of those, there was proof that we presented to the international community and myself too, the head of that complaint commission, that thousands of our votes were stolen. So that was an earlier response to your first question.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, do you want to come to the second question about what you did about drug trafficking?
MIRWAIS YASINI
The second question: first of all I was not an official of the Interior Ministry. I was in charge of the Controlled Narcotics Policy Division. And at that time, if you go back, you're very right with the dates, but you misunderstand a little bit: the opiates in that era were down... a 25 percent decrease was met when I was Director of Controlled Narcotics in Afghanistan.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So you're saying you did a good job?
AUDIENCE (M)
Why didn't you stay in the government if you were doing a good job, because we needed you in the country? Why didn't you stay in the government? You went to the parliament and you started an opposition against the government.
MIRWAIS YASINI
I did want to go to the parliament to be the true voice of the people, and I achieved it, I decided, and the people encouraged me, to go and leave the government in that shape which it was going, and I couldn't have that responsibility of how the government has been run since 2004, 2005 up to now.


What are the viable alternatives or solutions to the current government/policies in Afghanistan
AUDIENCE (M)
Good evening, I'm the ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan here in Doha. My question actually goes to Mr. Galbraith, who was recently removed, or as he indicated, fired, from the UN, and also Mr. Yasini, a presidential candidate that only won, let me say, won 0.9 percent of the votes in the last democratically elected election.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay can we have a question please?
AUDIENCE (M)
Now the alternative: what sort of alternatives would you provide us, instead of this current government? I have not heard a viable alternative, or solution.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Peter Galbraith.
PETER GALBRAITH
Mr. Ambassador I think that you've raised a very good point. Obviously if you have a government that's in office by fraud, that government is not going to have the support of at least the part of the population that did not vote for it, which was probably at least fifty percent, perhaps closer to sixty percent. So what do you do now? One possibility would of course be to rerun the elections, that would require a genuinely independent election commission, and it's hard to see how that might take place. But there is an alternative in Afghanistan of having a Loya Jirga, which might in the end be able to produce some power sharing arrangements. Part of the problem in Afghanistan is you have one of the world's most diverse countries, both ethnically and geographically, and yet one of the world's most centralised political systems. It doesn't work. So as an alternative, and this is proposed by Afghans, and it's a decision I'm going to emphasise, for Afghans, not foreigners to make. But one alternative would be to have power sharing, as exists in many countries, with a prime minister and cabinet chosen by the parliament, and with elected local government at the provincial level, with real powers, legislative and budgetary powers.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Would you like to reflect on that? He's telling you that your government isn't worth fighting, for Mr. Ambassador.
AUDIENCE (M)
Well we have to understand the conceptual, contextual constraints right now in Afghanistan. Holding a Loya Jirga, I think at this moment is null and void, realising that almost six million people went to the voting booths and voted. So this is your perspective and that's your opinion... and the stats you've given me... I can reject those stats.
PETER GALBRAITH
Six million people didn't vote. At least a million, probably more, of those votes were fraudulent.


What is the appropriate time needed to develop a true democracy
AUDIENCE (F)
I'm originally from Afghanistan, and like a lot of people I think the only hope for my country is democracy. Considering Western democracies which took centuries to establish themselves, shouldn't we give Afghanistan more than five years to establish its democracy?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Mirwais Yasini.
MIRWAIS YASINI
Well thank you very much for your question. First of all, age is not needed to establish democracy in Afghanistan, but your concern and my concern and the concern of the Afghans is that we are just establishing a good democracy, the foundation has to be solid, the foundation must not be fraudulent. And I completely agree that we have to give it time, but when we began and when we move in the beginning steps it has to be very transparent and clean. And I do agree with you, I would like just to respond to the Excellency, our Ambassador here in Qatar. First of all, if there was an alternative, and if we would have been elected and our team were elected, we would not have credited a mayor who was arrested and he was imprisoned by the court, and he would just undermine the court decision and the president is just saying: "Well this is negligence". Where is the judiciary? Where are the rules? In the due course of history we haven't noticed that the president moves against the judiciary.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Shukria Barakzai.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
I agree with you there, democracy is not a product, it's always a process and this process needs decades, generations and we are...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Why does it have to have decades and generations?
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
How long did it take democracy for your country to be established?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Well the world was in a very different state then, the world is much more connected now.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
It's the same, it's the same. How long [did it take the] United States to establish democracy, to have democracy, to have a state?
PETER GALBRAITH
I think you're selling the Afghan people short. The Afghan people are fully capable of democracy, the issue in this election was not about whether Afghans could have democracy, it was whether the votes could be counted honestly. And that's very simple.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
I'm really sorry, you're sticking with the election, but when I'm talking about democracy it means equal rights, freedom of expression or free press, it means rule of law, the implementation of human rights, equal access for justice, delivering social services for the people, having, let's say, freedom for political parties. These are all values we survived and power sharing, a checks and balance system, it's all democracy - not only the election that you can monitor for a few months in Afghanistan. I'm sorry for your job that you lost, but it's not the fault of Afghans, it is the fault of your institution.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay. Lawrence Korb.
LAWRENCE KORB
We tend to confuse too often elections with democracy. They are not. It's civil society that you have to build and that's the key thing. Even if you had a perfect election, unless you had built civil society, free press, independent judiciary, independent parliament, it's not going to work. And I think if you take a look, not only did they turn down several of the ministers that Karzai proposed, but he appointed seven really good ones. If you take a look at things like finance, education, agriculture - these are really good people. So I think you're moving in the right direction.
TIM SEBASTIAN
What, that they got turned down? You're applauding the fact they got turned down, good people got removed?
LAWRENCE KORB
Well again I think that's a step in the right direction, that it's not all, you know... these people that are supposedly cronies or whatever it might be.


Without the participation of the Taliban, how can the Afghan government be legal
AUDIENCE (M)
Hello, I'm Qatari. I would ask what makes the Afghan government a legal government? Since the Taliban didn't take a part in it and there was fraud in the election?
TIM SEBASTIAN
I'm sorry, could you repeat? What makes the Afghan government what?
AUDIENCE (M)
A legal government, since the Taliban didn't take a part in it and there was fraud in the election.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Mirwais Yasini.
MIRWAIS YASINI
Well the Taliban did not get a part in it, because they could not get a part in it, number one, I have to admit that. We were looking for ages, and still there is a slogan of reconciliation, nobody bothered about reconciliation with the Taliban, we don't have any institution, and that's what we are trying to say: that this government needs to be improved in order to get to reconciliation with the Taliban.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Shukria Barakzai, a legal government is it?
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
I do believe that the Taliban are also Afghan, they are part of the country and they have equal rights according to the constitution that I have. It also depends on them. I think one question is always in my mind, they are not accepting the old legitimate procedure, which started from 2001 to today - it doesn't mean that they didn't participate in the election. I will tell you, there is a guy who is a former Taliban governor, he was also standing for the presidential election and he also got a good number of the votes. And also we have in our system some Taliban who are there elected by the people, they are the reality and they are the truth. But it does not mean because legitimacy is not coming from their address they are as a civilian, they are as a people, they can join all democratic procedures, but not with the violence, not with the crime, not with the suicide attacks.
AUDIENCE (M)
What about the fraud in the election?
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Fraud? Do you have any examples of any good election? Let me tell you, I need maybe two minutes?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Two minutes is too long. A brief answer.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Do you know under what circumstances we went to the polling station? Exactly 72 hours before the election, the ISAF and NATO ordered the stopping of war. These were the circumstances under which we went to the polling station - the country and the city were under attack... you know when I'm saying attack, under bomb attack, under suicide attack.
TIM SEBASTIAN
And that somehow excuses fraud? Does it? Shukria Barakzai, that excuses fraud?
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
There's no excuse any time for any fraud, what I believe election is not a governmental procedure, it's always a national process which the nation should stand for... they should practice, they should...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, I want to bring the questioner back. Are you happy with what you heard?
AUDIENCE (M)
Yes.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Amazing.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Thank you.


Why more shedding of Afghan blood in the name of democracy; wage peace; Taliban an ethnic Pashtun movement only
AUDIENCE (M)
I'm from Afghanistan. You talked about values and I would like to talk about values. First of all democracy is not a natural order of life, so what about dying for honesty, how about that value? How about dying for legitimacy? What about dying for legitimacy? To win peace you must wage peace, it's a plagiarism, it's not my quote, I forgot who said it. But you seem to have a schizophrenic political stance: from one point you are saying that the country is in such a mess we need more troops.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Who are you addressing that to?
AUDIENCE (M)
The camp that is for more bloodshed. You are saying the country is in such a mess we need more blood because you've done a good job. I am surprised.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Lawrence Korb, do you want to take that?
AUDIENCE (M)
And when the going gets tough I'm sure that those with double passports will flee Afghanistan like past prime ministers and past ministers... they left Afghanistan. Where is the former Minister of Finance?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, you've had your question. Lawrence Korb.
LAWRENCE KORB
I think a lot of American and coalition forces are dying, 520 died last year, 15 have already died in 2010, and they're dying to give the Afghans the opportunity to choose their own destiny. We have no interesting in running Afghanistan, being like the Soviets or like the British when they came. We're interested in helping the Afghan people make their own choices and they have a limited amount of time and they're going to have to basically... their future is in their hands, after a couple of years we will have done all that we can. Now we also have a national security interest in it, we do not want to see, and it's not just the United States, remember there are 45 other countries there that are concerned that if the Taliban should come back or should there be chaos there, it could spread all throughout the region. We haven't mentioned it but the whole question of what happens in Pakistan if Afghanistan collapses.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So Lawrence Korb, you're in there for your own security interests - you're not there for the Afghan people, are you? That's the reason you went in, that's the reason you stayed in.
LAWRENCE KORB
There's no doubt about it, the fact is that no country puts its military in harm's way without its national interest being involved. But there's no reason why our national interest cannot be congruent with the Afghan national interest, because in the long term what will be good...
TIM SEBASTIAN
But as an after thought, long after your own security concerns have been looked after.
LAWRENCE KORB
No doubt about it.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So you're in there for yourselves?
LAWRENCE KORB
We are in there, but the two can work together, because we are not basically going to stay until the outcome becomes one that we decide, it's going to be up to the Afghan people. Just like it was in Iraq, the Iraqis kicked us out, and we're leaving. A lot of people thought that would never happen.
PETER GALBRAITH
The Taliban is not going to come back, let's be clear. The Taliban is an entirely Pashtun movement - Afghanistan is only 45 percent Pashtun. It has no support among the other communities: the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks, and so as long as there's some support for the non-Taliban elements, which also include many Pashtuns, they are not going to come back. The Taliban in Pakistan is also basically a Pashtun movement, the Pashtuns are at most 15 percent of Pakistan, they're not going to take over Pakistan. Which incidentally is a much more stable country, with institutions, than a lot of people are giving it credit for. So let's have some realistic perspective on what's at stake here. To address the issue of the fraud, this was not a matter of elections being held in circumstances of violence, that isn't what caused the fraud, the fraud was caused by election officials conspiring with local officials to never open polling places and simply to report results from fictitious locations and to do it on a massive scale. And by so doing that they disenfranchised every Afghan who cast an honest voice.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Mirwais Yasini.
MIRWAIS YASINI
Well I would like to have first of all a point with my co-speaker and then a point with Lawrence.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Can we make them brief, we have a lot of questions.
MIRWAIS YASINI
Okay I'll do my best. First of all [about the]Taliban coming... I mean do not rule out this chance, don't jump out of the plane without a parachute. If the foreign forces are not there, if the Americans are not there, the Taliban will make it very easy to come back ... or to attack Kabul. So don't underestimate the enemy, number one.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So the government is worth fighting for then?
MIRWAIS YASINI
Well the process is worth fighting for, the government itself is a problem to fight for.
TIM SEBASTIAN
The process is embodied in the government isn't it?
MIRWAIS YASINI
Well whatever it is, the ball goes back to the courtyard of the United States and our Western allies there, because my second point was, they don't support the drug lords, they don't support the corruption, they don't support the bad governors, please do support the democracy and justice in Afghanistan.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Lawrence Korb, do you want to answer that point?
LAWRENCE KORB
Well I think we are because President Obama has made it very clear to President Karzai, if he continues to do the things that you're talking about the international community is not going to continue to help him. Don't forget that a lot of the problems that you're talking about were caused by the fact that we went in there, created a vacuum and then walked away. And that's part of the problem that you have - in my view it was criminal for what the United States did by going in and then ignoring the place. President Bush promised the Marshall Plan to the people in Afghanistan and then never followed up. Ambassador Galbraith was right, the Taliban might be 15 percent of the population but the people will go with them if they're afraid like they did back in the nineties.
MIRWAIS YASINI
We are just waiting [for] the result on the ground.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Shukria Barakzai.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
I was one of the optimistic Afghans when the United States came after the Taliban because I suffered. I'm 38 and out of 38 years of my life thirty years, three decades, I couldn't even imagine there was life after nine o'clock or sometimes ten o'clock or sometimes four o'clock in the evening in the city. Because there was a different government, different rules, and lots of catastrophe and lots of tragic stories. But when they came they said they will provide and they will support democracy and there will be Marshall Plan. What was the Marshall Plan? They jumped to Iraq, they left Afghanistan because they believed the chapter was closed, this is final... but today, again they come back, and again they are paying triple. Why? Because they didn't...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Just finish please.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
They didn't invest in the infrastructure in Afghanistan, they didn't listen to the silent majority in Afghanistan, they support again the wrong people for the wrong process.


Wouldn't removing the troops lead to peace rather than ongoing losses
AUDIENCE (M)
I am from Syria. You support troops in Afghanistan, but unfortunately we are losing soldiers - shouldn't we stop the firing by taking out the troops and live in peace?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Lawrence Korb I'm going to ask you to do that, but in a sense we've already covered the subject.
LAWRENCE KORB
I think we would all like that, but right now, what happens is, when the Taliban takes over an area they brutalise the people, and we do not have enough troops to go in there and provide that security, I think, when we do that. Plus in addition to sending more troops we're trying to increase the training for the Afghan security forces so they can provide that security.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Only one second. I will never support foreign troops to come in Afghanistan. I want our own troops, national army, national police to be on the front line.


How can corruption be eliminated, even in new elections
AUDIENCE (F)
I'm from Sudan and my question is for the proposition. The alternatives that you proposed were re-running elections and power sharing, both of which need voting and which need also people to vote. So if the presidential elections, as you said, were unfair and were filled with corruption, what makes you think that these alternatives will be any better?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Peter Galbraith, this was your idea.
PETER GALBRAITH
Look, you're clearly going to have to have reform of the electoral system. You need to have an independent election commission that's not going to be the service...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Who should reform it?
PETER GALBRAITH
Well in the end this is going to be the Afghan parliament and legislative process that has to reform it, but if it's not reformed then the international community shouldn't pay for the elections. These elections were three...
AUDIENCE (F)
Isn't that what happened with the United Nations supporting the past elections?
PETER GALBRAITH
Well the United Nations raised 300 million dollars from Western taxpayers to pay for this election, and those people thought they were paying for an honest election, not a fraudulent one. There's going to be an election in May for parliament with the same commission in charge. The election cannot be held unless the international community pays and I think it would be absurd to pay unless you thought it was going to be an honest election. There's another point about these elections though that's so critical: this fraud has made the military mission much more difficult for the foreign troops. Since they don't have a credible local partner they cannot accomplish their goals, as a result of the election more money is being spent than would otherwise be spent, and people actually are dying because of it. So this is not just an Afghan problem, it is a problem that affects the international community and so it does have a right to demand, as a condition of its continued presence, reform.
TIM SEBASTIAN (to questioner)
Did you want to come back on that?
AUDIENCE (F)
I just want to ask, do you not think that anything can be done to improve the current government instead of trying to disregard it, because we know that it's so difficult to ensure fair and just elections?
PETER GALBRAITH
Look, President Karzai's been in office for eight years, it is truly hope over all reasonable experience to expect that in the next five years it's somehow going to be better than it's been in the last eight years, especially when the security situation is worse, and again where he's now in office and so many people see him as illegitimate.
LAWRENCE KORB
The people may be like you, but the Afghan people don't see him as illegitimate.
PETER GALBRAITH
But the Afghan people didn't vote for him.
LAWRENCE KORB
In polls they say...
PETER GALBRAITH
I'm sorry but an election is a poll, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE KORB
But an election is more than a poll. If you were afraid to vote because the Taliban might kill you, that makes it very difficult to vote and if you take a look at...
PETER GALBRAITH
That wasn't the problem. The problem was the people manufacturing votes.
LAWRENCE KORB
That was part of the problem because in the areas that they control, which normally would have supported Karzai, the people couldn't get to the polls and they were afraid to go there.
PETER GALBRAITH
They weren't allowed, the corrupt officials didn't even permit the polling places to exist, they just manufactured the votes.
LAWRENCE KORB
In certain areas they did, but not in all of them.
PETER GALBRAITH
Massively... millions of them.
LAWRENCE KORB
No they didn't.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Let me remind Mr. Galbraith, as I mentioned at the beginning that this is not the first time that Karzai has been elected, this is the third time - not once - this is the third time. Before, during the transitional term; the second; first presidential election; and the third was that time.
PETER GALBRAITH
The first election was a UN-run election, and was reasonably fair. This election was run by the pro-Karzai election commission and was massively fraudulent, and there was every reason to expect that the Afghan people had become disillusioned with Karzai. We estimate based on what the election complaints commission staff tell me, that Karzai's real vote was about 41 percent... I'm told about 35 percent.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Talking about the election commission, I agree with you, I don't like them too. But when I'm talking about the people that went to the polling station...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Shukria, what's the point in having another election when they're in charge, if they're already discredited, why have another election when they're in charge?
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
People are going to the polling station - this is the people of Afghanistan. The election commission, if they were pro-Karzai why did they announce the second round election? Because you dropped millions of votes, 30 percent of Karzai votes you say, it's about the fraud, and 20 percent Dr. Abdullah, you say it's a fraudulent vote. Even you add Ramazan Bashardost, there's also 20 percent, the vote is just fraud, but there's a question, it's not legitimate to say, from your address, specifically because if Afghans say it's illegitimate - it's acceptable for me, but for one person who is retired, who is not Afghan, how you can talk? You should be responsible from your own work time and your office after you raised the issue why you didn't make a mechanism to be a fair election because you were responsible, not us.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Shukria Barakzai let him answer that, ok, let him answer.
PETER GALBRAITH
Let me be clear, it was my responsibility to be...
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
As an institution...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Can you let him speak please?
PETER GALBRAITH
It was the UN's responsibility, and my responsibility, to support honest elections, and since it was obvious that these elections were not going to be honest, the UN should have done more. I tried within the system as a good diplomat - I didn't go public, it was internal - there were profound disagreements, ultimately because of this I was sacked. But so arguably, perhaps I should have resigned, perhaps I should have gone public before the elections, perhaps I didn't do enough. And so maybe you're right to blame me. But there was, absolutely, a systematic failure on the part of the United Nations, but in the end the fraud that was committed wasn't committed by the United Nations, it was committed by the Afghan electoral institutions. And while you support President Karzai, there are many Afghans who did not support President Karzai, who do not see him as legitimate. Those people were disenfranchised by the result and those people today are not supporting the government because they don't feel it represents them because they didn't feel there was a fair election.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Which group are you talking about? Can you identify them for me? Because we have one group which are not accepting the legitimacy of the Afghan government, if you are presenting Taliban, most welcome because they are the only...
PETER GALBRAITH
In fact I'm talking about some of the anti-Taliban groups.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
Like what? Like Dr Abdullah?
PETER GALBRAITH
Like many of the Tajik community - 25 percent of the country.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please don't divide us with the name of ethnic [groups], we are one nation.


The Result

The vote is 51% for the motion, 49% against.
The motion has been very narrowly carried.


Is the current Afghani government legitimate, in your opinion?
Should the Taliban be included in talks?
Has Obama significantly changed Bush' policies?
How long does it take to establish a true democracy?
Are all countries suited to a democratic form of government?
How unified or unifiable is Afghanistan?
How committed are Afghanis to their own country?
What questions would you have had?
How would you have voted?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Afghanistan: 9 Years and Counting--Part I Good Morning Vietnam! Good Afternoon Cambodia! Restrepo!

Archetypes of the Vietnam War, jungle green and helicopters

As noted in the post, Ann Coulter, Islamophobia, American Freedom of Speech, Canada's Right to Exist and Cancellation at the University of Ottawa--Relevance to Saudi?, Canada sent no troops to Vietnam, although we had sent them to Korea. We have been in Afghanistan since the very beginning, but not Iraq. The difference in the latter case is the UN. Canada, as a leader in creating the UN Peace Keeping Forces, tends to go along with the UN, even when the Prime Minister is a Liberal and French Canadian, the least likely it seems to follow the US into battle.

When the Afghanistan War--this one, rather than all the other unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan, from Alexander the Great. through Genghis Khan (who did have a modest albeit ruthless success)  forward through the Brits, and the Soviets--began, my sister was discussing it with a friend, who seemingly began to cry. My sister asked, "Are you crying?. "...sobbing...". "Are you worried about your son?". "...SOBBING..." As the friend's son was 9 at the time, this seemed just rather touchingly over anxious. Except that was in late 2001, so now he is 18, and will be 20 by the time Canada officially pulls out their combat troops, except maybe we won't pull them all out, because we are leaving troops in a training capacity, and the US, the UK, and others really want us to stay in... In retrospect, this mother's worry was better placed than it seemed at the time. Luckily for her, there is no draft, and her son is very small physically, a computer nerd, and a loner, so less likely to volunteer.

I was discussing the Afghanistan War recently with a Russian friend. She was cautious at first until I mentioned how so many other highly respected armies had gone down to defeat there, whereupon she made a wry smile, and spoke about how the US tends to dismiss the Soviet experience instead of learning from it. I agreed, and remarked that the Soviet Army was undoubtedly highly trained and well equipped. Then she said, "Of course!" and elaborated. She also had talked to returned Soviet soldiers, who seemed to be shaking their heads and grumbling about the folly to the extent that one could. She is married now to a far right wing American. I suspect they don't discuss the Afghanistan War.

General McChrystal and General Petraeus at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, October 20, 2009.
Photograph by Staff Sgt. Bradley A. Lail, U.S. Air Force/DoD

Afghanistan has been back in the forefront of the news a few weeks ago, as a result of an article in Rolling Stone, The Runaway General Stanley McChrystal, Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House. If the subtitle didn't say it all, the article does. Its veracity is proven by McChrystal apologizing rather than denying; and, by Obama firing rather than placating. These two actions, apologizing and firing, are not always proofs of "truth", both are too political in any situation, but in this case other factors support this interpretation. Those factors include prior aggressive defensiveness by McChrystal, placating by Obama, and the actual war trajectory since Obama appointed McChrystal. The article is well worth reading in full, for what it says from a variety of perspectives and sources, about the flaws in the current Afghanistan war strategy, and indeed in any war strategy in that country (contemporary sensibilities don't allow for the Genghis Khan "decimate, and have everyone, who can, flee" strategy, at least not overtly).

The article makes clear that the Afghan escalation was part of Obama's focus pre-presidency, and yet he is both backing a surge and setting a short time span before a drawn down of troops. He is also careful never to speak of victory. I would add a reminder that escalating the conflict in Pakistan was also part of Obama's pre-nomination campaign, one he toned down considerably after an extremely negative reaction to it, in an early debate. Still, there is an undeclared war going on now in Pakistan under his command, and he even made a joke at the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner about "predator drones"--not so funny to the civilians killed by these robot bombers in the sky.

The article ends convincingly on a lose/lose proposition in Afghanistan--calling it the new Vietnam. I would add that Pakistan is the new Cambodia--the unofficial war, to cut off insurgent movements and supplies, so unofficial Cambodia was still being denied by the neo-Nixons in the 2004 presidential campaign.

As the New York Times article, With Shift in Afghanistan, Talk Turns to Exit By Peter Baker, makes clear, the shift to Petraeus is also a shift in overt strategy to an exit plan. The current Kabul Conference reinforces that, and also sees President Karzai asking for more control over both the Western troop presences and Western funded aid. That possibility will be the subject of the next post, "Afghanistan: 9 Years and Counting--Part II Is it worth it? The Doha Debates Chez Chiara".


What galls me most about any reference to the Afghanistan War--including by the many Afghani-Canadians of all ages and immigration vintages with whom I have spoken and who are delighted to have the US oust the Taliban and the opium growers--is that it seems so totally unnecessary, more than most wars, and more than even the "just wars". After the Bush administration threatened to bomb Afghanistan back to the stone age, the Afghani government did agree to hand over Osama bin Laden (the initial impetus for the war), on the condition that he be tried by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Bush administration preferred to declare war. It is hard to know how much the general US denigration of international consultation and collaboration with institutions like the UN, and the ICC played a part (it was also a winning point for Bush over Kerry in 2004 that he wouldn't be such a pansy as to consult other countries). It is particularly hard as Afghanistan, which seems to be little more than a country unfortunately sitting at a geo-strategic crossroads, hence the history of invasions, also seems to be sitting on a major oil pipeline route, making it attractive to the US, the Chinese, and the Russians.

Although that seemingly cavalier refusal of what strikes me as a highly legitimate offer to avoid war galls me the most, close behind is the Bush administration's inattention to the war once it was started, with a small coalition, including Canada. Lest anyone forget, the Bush administration rapidly turned its full attention to how to make a war in Iraq, including hypothesizing a Gulf of Tonkin scenario, and in any case managed to justify a war by claiming Iraq was responsible for 9/11 (supposedly the 9/11 perpetrators were Iraqis who crossed the loose Canadian border--not). The propaganda was so convincing that it was only after the 2004 election that Americans seemed to clue in--except for Obama appointee Janet Napolitano who still spouted this nonsense in 2008 in her confusion about the fact that the US has a northern border very different from its southern one. Canada's contribution seems to be routinely forgotten, including in the Rolling Stone article, when not actively denigrated, by Bill Gates, the Secretary of Defense, no less, who subsequently softened his hard line that Canadian troops were taking casualties because they didn't know how to fight, and recognized that they were deployed in the worst area, Kandahar Province, and for the longest.

Directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington in the Korangal Valley during the filming of Restrepo

While preparing this post, I began to wonder what Robert Fisk had to say recently about Afghanistan; and, trusting that he would have an opinion and share it vehemently, I went to his column in the Independent to find the lead article was Robert Fisk: The US film that confronts the truth about Afghanistan Caught on camera. Fisk didn't disappoint. He recounts viewing this documentary at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and its impact on him. He too sees Vietnam--Khe San to be precise:
...[I] was fascinated by Restrepo, a long documentary for which two brave journalists, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, spent 13 months with the US Second Platoon of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Korangal Valley, perhaps the deadliest piece of real estate in Afghanistan.
The platoon set up a post called OP Restrepo – named after a much-loved but very dead comrade – and endured a miniature version of Khe San amid the towering snow-fastness of Talibanland. During the movie, another soldier dies – he is shot on patrol and you briefly see his corpse – as bullets zip around the camera. After calling up an air strike on a village "terrorist" target, the platoon moves into the hamlet in which it finds horribly wounded children and civilian corpses.
He, too, is more concerned about Obama than McChrystal, and worried about the non-declared war in Pakistan:
All this was given added piquancy when General Stanley McChrystal fell on his own sword in front of Barack Obama this week. I don't like generals, but I had a smidgen of sympathy for this arrogant man. McChrystal's contempt for the inept Richard Holbrooke – the "Afpak" envoy (what a yuk title) who hourly awaits his own dismissal – at least bears the merit of truth.
What was more instructive, however, was Obama's behaviour. Every month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heaps humiliation and insult upon the impotent and frightened Obama, who responds by clucking his tongue and then swearing further lifelong fidelity to Israel. But the moment his top man in Afghanistan tells a few home truths about his boss, Obama throws a hissy fit and fires him. McChrystal would obviously have done much better in the Israeli army.
Ironically, one of McChrystal's last acts was to pull his men out of the Korangal Valley and close down OP Restrepo. Indeed, al-Jazeera's reporter managed to enter the abandoned outpost a few days ago with a bunch of leering Taliban – who joyfully discovered that the Americans had left them plenty of spare ammo. So much for the sacrifice of the Second Platoon and the far greater suffering of the Afghan villagers whom they blasted away in the interests of the "war on terror".
Restrepo trailer, in HD

Always eager to condemn the brutality of war, and defend its victims, Fisk spares no one, and has long experience as a foreign correspondent (>30 years), particularly in the Middle East, but in many of the conflicts of the last decades from which to draw valid historical comparisons:
Yet Restrepo the film was impressive. Not just because of the fear of the soldiers – and the spectacular real-life battle scenes – but because of the graphic, terrible moments in the bombed village. One little, pain-filled girl stares with such incomprehension at her tormentors that you know that we have lost the war in Afghanistan.
Yet, old enough as I am to have covered the Soviet occupation of this same country 30 years ago, I have to say that no Russian camera crew ever filmed the innocent victims of Brezhnev's mad adventure in Afghanistan. If we as an audience are invited to sympathise with American soldiers, the film doesn't attempt to spare us the truth. No Russian cinemagoer ever saw their own country's Afghan victims, the children maimed by Russian landmines, the families murdered at Russian checkpoints, the villagers cut down in air strikes by the MIGs I used to watch lazily taking off from Jalalabad airport.
Sundance Festival, Meet the Artists interview with filmmakers and war reporters Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, on making the documentary Restrepo

Since then I have had the chance to read the original Vanity Fair article that resulted from the National Geographic sponsored assignment, the Boston.com  and the New York Times articles on the film, the latter of which includes an excellent slideshow; to view another excellent slideshow at Newsweek, some pictures of which are featured in this post; and finally, to see the film myself.


Like Fisk, I saw hints of Vietnam, and a commendable openness on the part of the US to allow this film to be produced and distributed.


 I also saw a lot of Acute Traumatic Stress Disorder (ATSD), and much more Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Both are features of all wars, though described differently according to time and place. They have been given most prominence in the psychiatric literature as a result of the American experience in and post Vietnam.

From the documentary film Restrepo

Now, as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan, both ATSD and PTSD are getting much more attention from the US Forces, and those of other countries, including Canada. Major efforts are being made to sensitize officers to prevention and response among troops, and to appropriate referral and treatment. PTSD, IED injuries to limbs, and IED injuries resulting in brain damage are the hallmark casualties of both Iraq and Afghanistan.


As one of the soldiers interviewed after the 15 month tour of duty stated, "They don't really know what to do with us guys, no one has seen this much fighting since WWII, and Vietnam". I would add that because there is no longer a draft, there is a "back door draft" whereby tours of duty are longer than normal, and soldiers aren't released when their normal time would be up.

 
70% of all the ordinance used in Afghanistan to the date of the film was used in the Korangal Valley; 4-5 firefights with the Taliban per day were routine, as were ambushes; and, because of the mountainous terrain, there was a particular difficulty to establish adequate cover, and prevent being shot at from 360 degrees.

From the documentary film Restrepo

The other aspect of the film that particularly struck me was the cultural disconnect, even with cultural sensitization of troops, and Afghani interpreters and cultural consultants as part of the platoon. The weekly Shura Council meetings between the soldiers and the Afghani elders are a study in 2 conflicting agendas: the officer heading the council (disconnect!) wants to enlist co-operation by reinforcing US democracy, schools, hospitals, and economic aid that it will bring to the Korangal. The Afghani elders want to talk about the civilian lives lost, the captured youth who have "disappeared", and the cow that got stuck in the American fencing, was cut free, and eaten by the American troops (disconnect!).


 If watching the officer lose his temper in the first meeting wasn't enough to highlight the cross-purposes and cultural divide, watching the break in negotiations, between elders who arrive at the camp and a different officer, over reparations for the cow is. During the break in the discussion, the Afghani elders pray on the mountainside (for once in a visual, shown standing and bowing rather than prostrate), while the officer talks to his superiors about what is being asked for ($400 US), and what can be offered--ultimately the equivalent in beans and rice of the cow's weight. Needless to say the elders go away unhappy.


As of June 2010, the US war in Afghanistan is officially the longest war in US history--surpassing in length the "unsatisfactory" Vietnam War. As of July 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still trying to get Pakistan more onside. So, yes, good morning Vietnam, and good afternoon Cambodia!


Good Morning Vietnam, Parts 2-3/17, the whole film is available on Youtube, beginning here.
Why Parts 2-3? For the "Gooooood Moooooorning, Vietnaaaaaam!" (Part 2), the music (Part 3), the jokes (both), and the setup (Part 2). This is just before the Vietnam "police action" was officially escalated to a War


As of the Kabul Conference on July 20, 2010, the UN has given Karzai until 2014 to ensure Afghanis can provide their own security. This extension has other implications. For one, the long established Canadian withdrawal date of  December 2011 now looks premature. Maybe my sister's friend was even more rightfully sobbing. As of July 2014 my nephew will be 15--old enough to join up; not old enough for combat. A lot closer, though, than my sister anticipated in late 2001.


What are your impressions of the current policy on the Afghanistan War?
Is your country involved in combat operations?
Do you know anyone who has served in Afghanistan? What are their impressions?
Do you know anyone who has suffered from PTSD in any war? Were they adequately treated?
Do they have ongoing sequellae?
Have you seen the documentary film Restrepo?
What are your impressions of the documentary film?
How well, or not, do the analogies to Vietnam and Cambodia hold?
One thing not addressed here are charges of abuse of detainees, or knowingly handing detainees over for torture, on the part of both the Canadian and British forces. This may explain further the concerns of the Afghani elders in Restrepo about "disappeared" youth from the villages. Your thoughts?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Coming next...Afghanistan: 9 Years and Counting--Part II Is it worth it? The Doha Debates Chez Chiara

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails