The mountains sag and bend into a fold ripe with mulberry, ink grape, and pastel tone apricot. Children laugh in the fields as the women prepare lftar under a sun melting into a backdrop of rhinestone. On the edge of the Panjshir Valley, near the mausoleum of Massoud, sits a single conex with the Afghan constitution in a plastic sleeve taped to the door. Most locals shrug when you ask what it is, some mutter something about a teacher. The expats you ask back in Kabul claim it’s the central hub of a six-figure plus annual governance education contract meant to purport democracy in the valley. So is it a joke? Testimony for the lack of progress? An exploitative scheme? Or all of the above.
Fourteen years ago in this same valley, a humble Tajik man who’d spent the last two decades staving off Soviet and extremist aggression, is told by an American diplomat to surrender to the Taliban. As long as I control land the size of my hat, he replies, I will continue to defend it from the Taliban. It’s not what the American diplomat wants to hear, or her counterparts in Unocal seeking to solidify a pipeline deal, or Musharraf’s Pakistan waiting to reap the political-economic benefits. So they pump weapons and financial assistance through political wrangling into backing a group that skins dissenters and beats women for laughing in order to garner profit, all the while criminalizing the Afghan who won the Cold War and could have spared the US and the rest of the world leagues of grief.
Two days before three airliners smash into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, that same man, Ahmad Shah Massoud, is murdered by Al-Qaeda operatives along with the future of Afghanistan. Eight years into the conflict, the American diplomat who once supported the Taliban and compromised genuine diplomacy for a thick check from her lobbying group, is awarded with the post of overseeing a 1.5 billion dollar non-military aid package to Pakistan.
In 1998, a DIA analyst denied an official visit to northern Afghanistan under Massoud’s domain takes her leave time in the Panshjir Valley to see the full scope of the crisis. There she excavates the truth – that the Taliban is currying aid from the ISI and other foreign entities, that Osama bin Laden is importing radical fighters and chalking a terrorist nexus under Taliban sanctuary, and that the American perspective of Afghanistan is far off key. Her reward for these findings is immediate reprimand and eventual dismissal; the cause- according to the General in charge of the DIA at the time- making contact with the foreign enemy, Massoud, the Afghan who fought against arranged marriages. The Afghan who sought to establish a transitional democratic government in Kabul. The Afghan who safeguarded the north from the Taliban.
Five years later that same General and DIA Director is plucked to serve as a senior official for Homeland Security before retiring to become the Corporate Vice President of L3 , a company that makes billions off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Hunter Thompson once remarked- ‘The operative ethic is Dumb.’
Anent, the cyanide in the kettle isn’t Afghani or Pakistani corruption, but American corruption. Individuals, like Robin Raphael and General Patrick Hughes, largely responsible for brewing the haboob in Afghanistan in the first place, have not only been rewarded, but continue to play an active role in theater! How can anyone screech ‘change’ and ‘progress’ when the same configuration of personnel under Bush now twaddle their thumbs under Obama with the same mess and only different titles. There’s an old Afghan proverb most appropriate for this case- ‘It’s the same donkey, only with a new saddle.’
Couple political and public sector failure with corporate greed and private industrial leeching and it’s no wonder Afghanistan hasn’t improved since coalition forces were first deployed. With corporations like L3, which was suspended temporarily for compromising federal government networks and linked to the Abu Ghraib incident, continuing to win contracts and swallow tax payer money, anything but progress should be expected.
In 2006, CorpWatch released an investigative report haranguing multiple corporations for landing open-ended contracts running into the millions without actually producing any constructive results. Having recently just spent time in a compound in Kabul, much hasn’t changed since then. Most expats sit inside the compound, clocking out just before a buffet-style dinner complete with salmon and parfait cups is served in the dining facility, later to spend the evening smoking imported Cohibas under tiki huts while sipping on cocktails and highballs. Meanwhile, several hundred yards outside the compound, children are still malnourished, infrastructure is non-existent, medical facilities are of poor quality, jobs are scarce, and developmental progress after a decade of occupation is laughable. Investment advice: Join the 150 plus congressmen who have invested over 160 million dollars in stocks related to the ‘re-construction effort’ in the Middle East and start getting a tax refund.