Asadabad, the sylvan capital of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan, has a population of more than 30,000 but the feel of a village. Little happens there without being noticed. Were you out surveying the bazaar on September 7, 2013, you might have seen eight men, three women, and four young children climb into a red Toyota pickup. Most were members of an extended family, returning home after running errands. The pickup was just large enough to accommodate the women and children, with the men piled into the back alongside the sacks of flour they had purchased. Their village, Gambir, was a 2 1/2-hour drive northwest on a rough and undulating road. The village had no electricity or running water, and whatever food that couldn’t be grown had to be brought in from town. To get a phone signal, you climbed a hill. To feel warm to the bone, you waited for spring.
Tag Archives: Afghanistan
A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a U.S. Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared.
They were hardly the first Taliban attacks in the capital. Still, there was something particularly alarming in their scale and implication about the pair of episodes, just a week apart, that rocked Afghanistan: a hotel siege that killed 22, then a car bomb, loaded into an ambulance, that killed 103.
But the question of why — why target bystanders, and in such numbers — is perhaps best answered not by peering into the minds of the attackers but by examining the structure of a war that increasingly pulls its participants toward the senseless.
Whether the week’s events will translate into a long-term gain for the Taliban or serve only as a terrible but temporary show of force, the attacks embody the trends toward violence and disintegration that appear to be only worsening in Afghanistan.
Of all of Afghanistan’s lawless provinces, Nimruz is perhaps the rawest and most untamed. The desert in southwestern Afghanistan, cornering up against Iran and Pakistan, looks like something out of Mad Max: a post-apocalyptic wasteland where only camel herders and smugglers seem to thrive. Sandstorms kick up without warning, swallowing the horizon in a thick beige mist. Out of the haze, a group of motorcyclists suddenly rides past, their hair stiff with grit and their eyes hidden by goggles.
This is wild country.
About eight or nine years ago, I had an Afghan friend who previously worked for a large US aid agency funding projects in the Afghan provinces. He had been hired to monitor their progress once work had got underway, but he did not hold the job very long for reasons that he explained to me.
The problem for the Americans at the local agency headquarters in Kabul was that the risk of ambush by the Taliban was deemed too high for them personally to visit the projects that they were funding. Instead, they followed the construction at one remove, by insisting that whatever Afghan company was involved should transmit back to Kabul at set intervals detailed pictures of its activities to show that they were fulfilling their contract to the letter.
There are more parallels between an unfinished 1950s war in Northeast Asia and an ongoing 16-year-old war in the crossroads between Central and South Asia than meet the eye. Let’s start with North Korea.Once again the US/South Korea Hunger Games plow on. It didn’t have to be this way.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained how: “Russia together with China developed a plan which proposes ‘double freezing’: Kim Jong-un should freeze nuclear tests and stop launching any types of ballistic missiles, while US and South Korea should freeze large-scale drills which are used as a pretext for the North’s tests.”Call it sound diplomacy. There’s no conclusive evidence the Russia-China strategic partnership floated this plan directly to the administration of US President Donald Trump. Even if they did, the proposal was shot down. The proverbial “military experts” lobbied hard against it, insisting on a lopsided advantage to Pyongyang. Worse, National Security Adviser H R McMaster consistently lobbies for preventative war – as if this is any sort of serious conflict “resolution”.
The test of any professed opposition to Donald Trump is what response is forthcoming when he starts dropping bombs or sending soldiers to die. There were those who spoke in grave tones about Trump’s threat to world peace – even implying he was an American Hitler – but got teary-eyed as soon as he sent missiles hurtling towards a Syrian airfield. Now he has unveiled plans to send more American soldiers to the graveyard of Afghanistan – and he wants Britain to follow suit. His latest military escapade must be resisted.
Will the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) ever manage to cross the Hindu Kush?Temerity is the name of the game. Even though strategically located astride the Ancient Silk Road, and virtually contiguous to the US$50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a key BRI node – Afghanistan is still mired in war.It’s easy to forget that way back in 2011 – even before President Xi Jinping announced BRI, in Kazakhstan and Indonesia, in 2013 – the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted her own Silk Road, in Chennai. No wonder the State Dept.’s vision bit Hindu Kush dust – because it assumed war-torn Afghanistan as the plan’s lynchpin.
A suicide bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan killed at least 90 people and injured over 450. Hidden in a tanker truck, the bomb is likely one of the largest ever set off in Kabul. It left a crater 13 feet deep, and broke windows over a mile away. Among those killed were two media workers, Aziz Navin of the 24-hour Afghan cable news channel TOLOnews, and Mohammed Nazir, a driver for the BBC. The death toll continues to climb as additional bodies are found, and some who were injured succumb to their wounds. Details of those killed are sparse. While the Manchester bombing nine days earlier garnered wall-to-wall coverage on the corporate news networks, with in-depth biographies of the victims, Kabul, with a death toll over four times as high, with hundreds injured, gets mentioned only in brief reports, the dead and injured listed as numbers rather than names.
There are no “I heart KBL” signs. No #jesuisbaghdad hashtags. No one is paying tribute to the rich cultural heritage and resilience of the targets. It is unlikely that we will come to recognise the names and faces of most victims. But the bombs that struck Kabul on Wednesday morningstruck Kabul yesterday morning and Baghdad late on Monday were as devastating to their residents as the attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester a week earlier. That should not need saying, of course; yet the insecurity that Afghans and Iraqis face can blur the impact of atrocities into a general impression of perpetual chaos and pain for outsiders. That terror strikes so often – and particularly in the month of Ramadan – does not dull its effect on those who experience it. Repeated suffering compounds trauma.
The explosion of a giant bomb in a sewage tanker close to the diplomatic quarter in Kabul is receiving much publicity because of the heavy loss of life and because so many foreign embassies were damaged. A BBC driver was killed and four BBC journalists were wounded by the blast.But, aside from spectacular incidents where foreigners are involved, the Afghan war has largely dropped off media and diplomatic agendas since direct foreign combat involvement ended. This has happened even though, over the past two years, the conflict has been escalating with the Taliban gradually gaining ground and the Afghan affiliate of Isis, also known as Khorasan Province and which holds far less territory, losing several of its strongholds in recent months. The number of civilian casualties last year was 11,000 of whom 3,500 were killed according to the UN, the highest number since 2009. The severity of the fighting also forced half a million Afghans to flee their homes.