“We do not see the least improvement”

Yep – Afghanistan again (remember Afghanistan, kids?). The quote is from Ramazan Bashardost, former planning minister in the post-Taleban regime. According to Reuters, he reckons that “Billions of dollars of aid that have poured into Afghanistan have done little to improve people’s lives”.

Three things to prove he’s talking arse:

1) No more state-organised public beheadings
2) Women are now allowed to be educated
3) Women are now allowed out in public without wearing tents

But – and it’s a big but – he does have a good point, merely one that is expressed horrendously badly. Apparently Bashardost resigned in protest over corruption in the 2000-odd NGOs that are supposed to be overseeing the country’s reconstruction (following the best part of three decades of invasions and civil wars), and is now trying to highlight the inefficiency in distribution of the vast sums of money which have supposedly been channeled over there since the US-led invasion – an inefficiency which can be linked to the highest levels of government, suggesting at best some kind of complicity in the corruption (in the best tradition of all those dodgy African regimes that pinch charity cash for guns).

All more than fair enough, and a valuable concern to raise. But when the hell are people going to learn that hyperbole is not the best approach in the current climate? I’ll freely admit to having little knowledge of (or interest in) domestic Afghan politics (I was up for kicking the Taleban out and quite enjoyed Rambo III, and that’s about as far as it goes), but such language makes the guy sound like an Afghan George Galloway – easily dismissed as a nutter by those who disagree with him. Galloway, too, often has good points to make; he, too, uses language that is seemingly calculated to offer the least possible conciliation from his opponents, even when stating the blindingly obvious.

A hypothetical example. Which of these claims do you think is more likely to prompt a rethink (remember, I said it was hypothetical…) in post-Saddam Iraq strategy from the coalition leaders?

a) “Iraq’s infrastructure has yet to reach an acceptable level of reliability, largely due to the increased number of attacks from militants, in part thanks to inefficiencies in the strategies of the companies that won the constracts to aid Iraq’s reconstruction post-Saddam.”


b) “Iraq’s worse now than it was under Saddam! Haliburton is corrupt and evil!”

Bashardost is capable of expressing his concerns in a calm and considered manner, so why hasn’t he done it this time? Simple – restraint is easier to ignore. He’s been banging on about this for ages, and no one has paid the least attention.

So, the options are as follows:

a) Express your concerns in a calm and rational manner, and hope that someone pays attention to your reasoned and logically-consistent arguments


b) Shout and rant about them so that they get heard – and be dismissed as a nutter.

Hell, in the UK you can even be dismissed as a nutter when you present yourself calmly and rationally – cf some of the responses to campaigning ex-Ambassador Craig Murray (“Look, look – he’s fixated on something! He must be barmy! Sod the fact that the thing he’s fixated on is actually pretty damn worrying and has fairly unpleasant implications! He’s a loon!”) or even the government’s various responses to the Law Lords whenever they have the temerity to suggest that taking away centuries-old liberties might be a bad move.

As near as I can tell, Afghanistan’s going to be screwed for years no matter what’s done there, and no matter how much shouting about corruption, political idiocy and the like goes on. The same’s probably the case in Iraq.

In the UK, however, since the death of Robin Cook there seems to have been a dearth of high-profile non-shouty people. As the news breaks that the 100th British soldier has been killed in Iraq (fingers crossed not my mate who was posted out there just after Christmas) – just as Blair begins his campaign to make everyone forget about foreign matters for a while with education, health and criminal justice reforms – those who still care about Britain’s role in this whole Iraq business (a group in which I can’t honestly say I count myself) really need to sort themselves out.

Who is the spokesman for the “Iraq’s a bit fucked up” movement now? Galloway? Do the anti-war lot want to be dismissed as nutters or merely ignored? Can anyone come up with a better strategy than the current one, which seems merely to be “Oh well, Bush and Blair should both be out of office by 2008 – maybe things will change then…”?

This whole shambolic and bloody affair has been going on for nearly three years now and – it has to be said – I really do not see the least improvement.

  1. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2088-2014614,00.html

    Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times on Afghanistan, key quote

    ‘The implication is that British troops will act only in self-defence. How that turns back the Taliban tide is a mystery. It is just offering target practice for mujaheddin.’

    Good point about ranting. I must try to be less vehement. But it is hard when faced with this level of delusional incompetence and cynicism from those in charge of these things.

  2. Chris said:

    Good post. Makes redundant Bolingbroke’s theory that reason would win over 10 men to you, but an emotional appeal could lead a nation by it’s nose. I honestly can’t see how you can get people to listen, and act on any real issue in the current atmosphere. Big Brother or the latest fad on telly is about the only thing that counts to most people.

  3. Alf said:

    I totally agree with what you say, and yes we do need more people to speak out; but, and herein lies the rub, what notice will inept, ikncompetent and morally bankrupt governments like ours take?

  4. dsquared said:

    Is there not a bit of a problem that it is not exactly as if the strategy of being polite and understated has not been given a fair go for the last four years in Afghanistan and nearly three in Iraq, with not a great deal of success?

    Also, with respect to Iraq, your b) option above omits the important information that mortality is, as a matter of fact, worse than it was under Saddam. “An acceptable level” would require further improvement from the improvement that we would need to merely get back to the prewar state.

  5. Phil Bailey said:

    Nosemonkey, you freely admit “to having little knowledge of (or interest in) domestic Afghan politics” but that doesn’t seem to prevent you “talking arse” about the country.

    Your three “proofs” are fine examples –

    1) Public beheadings have indeed ceased, for now, but stoning to death is still permitted. In the New Afghanistan you can be jailed for writing articles condemning this practice.

    2)In rural Afghanistan, where the majority live, most girls and women are not educated. Not before the Taliban, not during, nor since.

    3)Ditto – most rural women are still required to wear “tents”.

    Why not increase your knowledge of Afghan politics by reading up on some of the people recently elected to its new government? You’ll find that many of them are just as appalling as the Taliban, and some of them ARE Taliban.

    Rant over ….

  6. Nothing works. Afghanistan’s still screwed. Iraq’s still screwed. The general public (me included) have lost interest. And this allows those who kicked the invasions off to get away with everything.

    I dunno about anyone else, but I reached War of Terror overload well over a year ago (in fact, I think it probably came long before that – shortly before they finally got around to invading Iraq), and find it very hard to care any more. What’s going on inside Iraq and Afghanistan? I don’t really know and really have very little interest in finding out.

    And that was my major point. Iraq may be worse now than it was before; Afghanistan may be little better. But there’s no one trying to articulate that in the mainstream who’s worth listening to, so I (and quite a few others, I’d guess) have simply stopped bothering to pay attention.

    Hence the announcement that British troop numbers in Afghanistan are going to increase substantially (by about 4,000 or so, if I recall) meets with little protest, whereas a year or so ago when the news broke that a couple of hundred extra troops were going out to Iraq everyone went apeshit.

    Even the “100 British dead” story has broken in a rather more subdued manner than might have been expected a few months back, because there’s really not that much of a market for it any more. Callous, maybe – but true.

    In this climate, where even politically aware people who keep up to date with most current affairs have started to blank out all news about Iraq and the like, the need for a coherent antiwar unity figure to revitalise interest is desperate. The movement’s splintered, fractured, and has dwindled to irrelevancy just as it could really start to make an impact.