WIE UMFRAGEN UND STUDIEN VERSUCHEN, AFGHANISTAN FASSBAR ZU MACHEN
Heute ist der 18. Dezember. Die Asia Foundation, laut website eine Organisation mit Sitz in den USA, die sich der Stärkung von Zivilgesellschaften in 18 asiatischen Ländern verschrieben hat, veröffentlicht zum zehnten Mal ihren jährlichen Survey of the Afghan People. Das ist viel, in einem Land, das bislang über wenig gesicherte Statistiken verfügt. Nicht einmal die genaue Zahl der Einwohner von Afghanistan ist bekannt. Auch ein Melderegister für die Menschen im Land gibt es bislang nicht, weshalb bei jeder Wahl bisher maßgebliche Manipulationen und Fälschungenn möglich waren, auch der massive Handel mit Wählerausweisen.
Zugleich – und als Folge internationaler Gelder, deren Bürokratien und Institutionen bemüht sind, ihre Investitionen nach Afghanistan mit positiven Schlagzeilen zu belegen – boomt das Geschäft mit Studien und Umfragen in diesem Jahr des Abzugs des internationalen Militärs. Das scheint kein Zufall zu sein. Ein wenig ensteht der Eindruck, mittels dieser Studien könne über Big Data der Eindruck wettgemacht werden, Afghanistan lasse sich nicht beherrschen, schon gar nicht wissenschaftlich.
Viele der oft über 100 Seiten starken Untersuchungen kommen mit grossen, bunten Diagrammen und ästhetisierenden Grafiken daher. Sie wirken oft wie eine gute einfache Antwort auf komplexere Wirklichkeiten. Afghanistan lässt sich also doch domestizieren – und somit für uns Auswärtige verstehen – lautet die Botschaft.
In diesen Trend der Umfragen passt auch eine neue Studie "People's Expectations and Priorities from the President" der Kabuler Tageszeitung Hasht-e Subh (zu Deutsch '8 Uhr am Morgen'). Die Zeitung ist bei den wenigen regelmäßigen Lesern in Kabul beliebt, aber durch statistische Untersuchungen bisher noch nicht aufgefallen. Nun wird auf 107 Seiten dargestellt, was die afghanische Bevölkerung von der neuen Ghani-Regierung erwartet. Finanziert wird die Studie von Tawanmandi, „einem Konsortium zur Stärkung der afghanischen Zivigesellschaft“, so die website, das von den Regierungen Dänemarks, Norwegens, Schwedens, der Schweiz und Großbritanniens finanziert wird.
Um es vorwegzunehmen. Die Ergebnisse der beiden hier erwähnten Studien bleiben – gerade im Verhältnis der investierten Mittel - sehr allgemein. Man könnte auch sagen unpräzise. Bei näherem Hinsehen stellen sich zugleich eine Reihe von Fragen an Exaktheit und Glaubwürdigkeit der Ergebnisse.
54,7 Prozent der Afghanen, so der Survey der Asia Foundation, finden, dass Afghanistan sich „in die richtige Richtung bewege“. Zugleich – so die Umfrage von „Hasht-e Subh“ - erwarten mehr als 90 Prozent der Afghanen von der neuen Ghani-Regierung, dass sie Korruption zunächst und vor allem auf Ebene der Regierung bekämpfen solle, getreut dem Motto 'Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her'.
Wer in Afghanistan von Berufs wegen Interviews vorbereitet und geführt hat weiß, dass es Zeit braucht, damit sich die Menschen dem Fremden für sein fragendes Unterfangen öffnen – gleich ob dieser Fremde ein Ausländer ist oder ein Einheimischer aus einer der afghanischen Metropolen. Durchschnittlich 38 Minuten pro befragter Person (Asia Foundation) erscheinen damit als recht wenig Zeit pro Befragung, zumal acht von zehn Befragten auf dem Land befragt worden seien, so die Studie. Hinzugefügt werden muss: auf dem Land sind Fragekonzepte mit multiple choice-Verfahren insgesamt fremd, selbst wenn es Menschen betrifft, die sich vielleicht schon zum zweiten Mal an der Umfrage beteiligen.
Natürlich liegt die Idee, vor allem Landbevölkerung für solche Studien zu befragen auf der Hand: denn von ihr erfährt man in unseren Medien wenig. Zugleich schlägt hier der Puls des Landes. Allerdings ist Vorsicht bei der Rezeption der Daten noch aus einem anderern Grund angebracht: Erfahrungen der letzten Jahre zeigen, dass oft schon Besuche bei Familien im Speckgürtel bzw. in den unmittelbaren Einzugsgebieten der grösseren afghanischen Städte als rural population in die Statistik einfliessen. Oft genug bleiben die tief in Tälern und auf Bergmassiven lebenden Afghanen nicht erreichbar – zum einen weil es zeitlich wie finanziell aufwendig ist. Zum anderen aus den bekannten Gründen der Sicherheit.
So spiegeln die Ergebnisse dieser wie anderer Studien nur bedingt die Ansichten der 'Afghanistan profonde' und damit des Landes in seiner Tiefe wieder.
Die Asia Foundation hat ihre über 9.000 Interviewpartner vom vom 22.Juni bis 8. Juli dieses Jahres befragt, lesen wir. Also unmittelbar nach der umstritten Stichwahl um das Präsidentenamt und bevor das politische Hickhack um gefälschte Stimmauszählungen sich zuspitzte. Kein glücklicher Zeitpunkt. Tatsächlich zeichnete sich an der Stelle die Paralysie des öffentlichen Lebens und der Wirtschaft längst ab. Und natürlich blieben die Wähler davon nicht unberührt.
Insofern darf gemutmaßt werden, inwieweit sich die für die Studie Befragten überhaupt freimütig geäußert haben. Das bestätigt die Antwort einer maßgeblichen Person in dem Kontext, die anonym bleiben möchte: Solche „Studien sind breit angelegt und mit der Absicht, alles abzudecken. Von Sicherheit über Wirtschaft bis hin zu Frauenrechten. Das hat Vorteile. Es beinhaltet aber auch das Risiko, zuviel auf einmal zu wollen.“ Je tiefer die Fragen zielten, ergänzt dieser Experte, desto grösser die Wahrscheintlichkeit, dass die Befragten sich einer Antwort oder dem ganzen Interview verweigerten.
Im Kontext konflikt-sensibler Wissenschaft in Kriegs- und Krisengebieten erscheint dies nur logisch. Zugleich beschreibt es den schmalen Grad, auf dem Umfragen in Afghanistan seit Jahren stattfinden. Offen ausgesprochen wird dieses Dilemma von der Forschung nicht. Vielmehr spricht die Methologie mit der notwendigen Diplomatie von Standortnachteilen, denen man mit möglichst grosser Sachlichkeit und Genauigkeit zu begenen versuche.
Meinen eigenen Erfahrung in diversen Projekten in Afghanistan in den letzten Jahren besagen: es braucht in der Regel viel Vertrauen – und damit Zeit und Einfühlvermögen – damit der Fragende von der Interviewten Person eine möglichst offene, authentische und damit belastbare Antwort bekommt. Im umgekehrten Fall kann bei den Befragten – nicht ganz zu Unrecht – der Verdacht entstehen, dass mit den Umfragen Politik gemacht würde.
Tatäschlich interessant sind in den beiden genannten Studien Zahlen, für die man etwas länger stöbern muss. So haben 77 % der befragten Afghanen Angst, wenn sie auf ISAF-Truppen treffen. Dies ist in etwa das Gegenteil des Bildes, das die offizielle Politik vermittelt. Leider liefern die Umfragen keine Antwort auf das 'Warum'. Ähnlich ist es beim Blick auf den bewaffneten Widerstand. Immerhin 32 Prozent äußern hier „grosse“ oder „eine gewisse Sympathie“ für Taliban und Aufständische. Auch hier bleiben die Hintergründe unklar. Und dass zwei Drittel der Befragten die jüngsten Wahlen als "frei und fair" beschreiben, deckt sich kaum mit dem Bild in der öffentlichen Meinung in Afghanistan, wie sie sich gegen Ende des ersten der beiden Wahlgänge immer klarer herausschälte.
Womit ein weiteres Defizit angesprochen ist: die Untersuchungen erschöpfen sich allein im quantitativen Sammeln von Daten. Eine qualitative Analyse, die Beweggründe und den Wechselbezieungen von Ursache und Wirkung nachgeht, sucht man vergeblich. Noch einmal der oben genannte Fachmann dazu: „Ich wünschte, wir könnten den Dingen tiefer auf den Grund gehen. Mehr nach dem 'warum' fragen, denn nach dem 'was'. Das bedaure ich. Vieles von der Komplexität, die in den Antworten steckt, bleibt so unerschlossen.“
Damit aber steckt die Wissenschaft genau in jenem Dilemma, die sie einer anderen Zunft von Interviewenden, zum Beispiel den Journalisten, gerne vorwirft. Beide Seiten treten an dem Punkt auf der Stelle.
Klar wird auch: die qualitiative Analyse von Daten im afghanischen Kontext steht – entgegen dem, was die Studien gerne suggerieren – oft noch aus. Dafür müsste vor allem mehr interdisziplinär gearbeitet werden.
Generell gilt: Überwiegend werden vergleichbare Afghanistan-Studien noch immer von ausländischen Wissenschaftlern angeleitet, konzipiert und ausgewertet. Die Teams aus afghanischen Interviewern, die die Menschen vor allem auf dem Land befragen und dort als kulturelle Türöffner dienen, waren anfangs oft ein nützliches Werkzeug. In den vergangenen Jahren bemüht man sich nun nach und nach, sie stärker in die konzeptionelle Arbeit einzubinden. Mittlerweile gibt es unabhängige Beratungsunternehmen aus jungen, im Ausland studierten afghanischen Akademikern,
die vergleichbare Studien selbst anlegen und veröffentlichen. Auch sie bleiben allerdings häufig genug auf internationale Hilfsgelder angewiesen.
So bleibt ein sehr ambivalenter Eindruck zurück beim Lesen von Studien, die Exaktheit und eine neue Ära von Big Data für Afghanistan beanspruchen.
Laut Survey der Asia Foundation gehören neben den USA übrigens Japan, Indien und Deutschland zu den meistgenannten Ländern für Entwicklungshilfe in Afghanistan. Ob sie damit automatisch auch die anerkanntesten ('recognized') Ländern sind, wäre eine qualitative Nachfrage wert. 40 Prozent der Befragten geben jedenfalls an, gar nicht zu wissen, mit wessen Geld das jeweilige Hilfsprojekt vor ihrer Haustür finanziert worden ist.
// Zum Thema siehe auch hier hier. // Zur Fehlen statistischen Materials in Afghanistan bezogen auf die wiederkehrenden Schwierigkeiten, eine echte Volkszählung durchzuführen, inklusive der Problematik die Frage nach der ethnischen Herkunft zu thematisieren siehe Ali Karimis 'Afghanistan's Statistical Drought' u.a.
Due to technical problems this blog is back now only.
I published a series of observations in the aftermath
of the second round of the Presidential elections
From the first weeks of Ashraf Ghani's government
of national unity it becomes clear that he wants to distance
himself in many ways from his predecessor Karzai.
It needs to be seen though - and can only be answered in time -
which of the symbolical steps Ghani has taken over the first
couple of weeks can lead to substantially new governmental
structures he aims at.
That goes especially for the case of the Kabul Bank trial and the announced reform
of the judiciary as one of the biggest challenges in order to reform
some of the major Afghan institutions. A bit like with the election of pope Francis,
a number of new habits are there (see the way Ghani's Christian-Lebanese wife Rula is taking
part in the public debate on the issue of women's role in society), it remains unclear
if and how the political centers of power sourrounding the new head of state
will follow way.
As the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has released its long-awaited first partial results,
it is to say that the release of these results is a step towards transparency, responding to a very active civil society and Afghan media all along the past months trying to pave the ground for a more democratic follow up of the voting process.
Numerous were the Afghan media who on election day asked their readers and listeners to report signs of fraud or intimidation. www.afghansvote.af together with its parallel twitter and facebook accounts is so far one in a series of interesting social media forums that has established a regular communication with voters, also through call-ins, sensible videos or audios being posted. The task of the Afghan media to seperate truth from intentions of manipulation in this is of course a complex one. In the best case, the agencies network of correspondents in the provinces, try to quickly go after the true-or-false content of any serious allegation posted. Their presence is an asset and has helped independent observers and most likely also the ICE commission to follow up on what is going on in the country.
IEC's release of the partial results was preceeded a week ago by the first selective samples of some of the Afghan news agencies, after they had collected traceabe results from selected polling stations throughout most of the provinces. One of these early sample press releases came from Pajhwok Afghan news, an agency that has established itself in the past years, though still struggeling with independent funding and a business model for the years to come, becoming less dependent of international funding.
Pajhwok's news release that would finally be published with first sample results on the night from April 4th - election day - to April 5th - was put into form in an interesting process itself. As a collegue from the foreign media, I had the opportunity to follow the intense discussion within the agency's newsroom (see picture) on that day. Its editor in chief, Danish Karokhel and his reporters were working more than an hour to debate on which final wording the press release should take. On the one hand it had to be accurate and sovereign in itself while on the other side not unresponsably provoke public authorities, candidates and a public opinion that up until today is not so much accustomed to the publishing of such samples. Any premature release of figures might in fact be interpreted as taking favour ethnically for one candiate or another or a favor one part of the electorate over another.
It took the team of Pajhwok more than an hour to come to a conclusion for a version approved by all. A example of transparency in itself. Though some organisations contested the news release shortly after April 6th , it also became clear that the procedure and accuracy of the finding harvested less harsh reactions than could be expected. In fact, Pajhwoks with its sample findings comes out very close to what the IEC has published now as the first 10 % of votes officially counted. A sign of hope in a process that might so far have seen some new and slowly emerging signs of checks and balances.
If you add to this the surveys and polls (though some of them very biased and lacking transparency) in the pre-campaigning phase and during campaigning, it comes down to a list of examples that may lead to a growing role and of media and of the Afghan civil society in an ever more complex voting process.
„Afghanistan presidential election hit by unexpected problem – too many voters“, the British Guardian writes today, somehow suprised of the way a majority of Afghans defied security and other threats.
Some of my coverage on the Afghan election is here and here
Under the influence of the killing of German AP-photographer Anja Niedringhaus the day before, few foreign media were present at the voting centers throughout the day. The same goes for international observers: most organisations (NDI, ANFREL, OSCE) withdrew most of their staff or remained confined to their hotel rooms in Kabul or Dubai. I did meet two out of some fifteen EU observers though at a polling center, who were wearing bullet-proof body armour, very much to the contrary of the many thousand of Afghan observers. In fact international observers largely depend on the local networks of Afghan observers, this time even more than in previous elections.
Afghan public opion, that is media and social media, have found this election to reach a new level of public awareness, with unprecedented claims of accountability towards the candidates and the political class. The expectation for an 'end to the culture of corruption and impunity' is huge.
Some media have dared to publish preliminary results already (see here) being able to gather semi-approved results from singular specific voting centers around the country. If these figures are accurate, the former Karzai minister of finance Ashraf Ganzi will face the former Karzai foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah in round two.
Yesteday all through the day and also today, the enthusiasm and satisfaction of many an Afghan is real about an election many feared could creat more security and other disorders. Having said this, it reamins to be seen if the positive echoes mainly from urban centers are confirmed also from the provinces. The remote areas with little media, observers and security presence have been, especially in the last 2009 election, the site of most ballot stuffing and fraud. The vote in itself is interpreted by most as a severe defeat of the Taliban, unable with a few exceptions it seems, to seriously disrupt voting.
Four pictures that show the enthusiasm of the Afghan voter registration and election campaign in Kandahar, a former Taliban fiefdom. Mind you though: these pictures are from 2004, when Hamid Karzai was elected first time after the Petersberg interim. Back then, the Afghan people were not less enthusiastic than today. Today though the Afghan public opinion is more weary of fraud and corruption though than ten years ago. Do they believe in the slogans of the presidential and provincial candidates nevertheless? Not more or less than in any other country probably. The political game, at any time, obviously serves to incarnate or embody the hopes of people. Others may seem disillusioned. I just came across a university professor this morning in Kabul who very strictly said he is not going to vote.
- - - - - - - -
Having said this, Afghan media take an active role in trying to make the election process transparent. Pajhwok for instance, Afghanistans major news agency, has put up a website under the name of Afghans vote. Voters are invited to send in their stories and critical observations via the social media, sms, facebook, twitter or small formated videos. The hope is that their contributions from the 34 provinces all over would add to help prevent the wide range of fraud and vote rigging that occured in the 2009 election. As in 2004 and 2009 there is this time an equally flourishing business of voter cards. Some media have reported of some 12.5 million voters for an assumed number of beteen 18 to 20 million voter cards. On the other hand independent control and complaint bodies are rather slightly better equipped than in the 2009 elections. Some Afghan media indeed suggest that with the wide range of publicized media attention on the campaign, a number of polls and surveys and a promise not to repeat what has so drastically darkened the socio-political landscape five years ago, serve as indicators that history will this time have a different outcome.
Together with today's international Women's day, NGOs and governments have highlighted the lack of access to education in many countries, Afghanistan included. My paper in ther Berlin Die Tageszeitung this week looks at the pace at which private universities in Afghanistan are mushrooming. While public universities in Kabul and in the provinces face serious allegations of corruption, the private academic sphere is subject to a competition in which politics partly mix with swift economical interests or gains rather than with a long time investment for the new generation.
Niamatullah Ibrahimi, researcher, founder and co-director of AfghanistanWatch, has had a look at the private Afghan universities recently in the national context. I interviewed him on the subject:
- In how far is the universitarian system in crisis ?
There is a pressure on the higher education sector. For the first time in Afghan history we see a massive extension of primary and secondary education. Which means pupils are graduating and are applying for university seats. Directly after the fall of the Taliban in 2002, we had about 7.000 students in six universities across the whole country. Now, in 2014, we have about 250.000 students both in public and private universities. And the state system can only absorb a part of it.
We have 76 private institutes of higher education by now. All of them with about 50.000 students, and with 4.000 teachers employed in this rapidly expanding sector. And because the public sector cannot meet this expansion, the private sector is both needed and also encouraged by the state to shoulder some of the responsabilities that the public system cannot accomplish.
// - Are lecturers teaching at the universities of a B.A or a M.A. Level in general?
The Afghan regulation for the sector of private education, is in principle setting very high standards. For example, lecturers at the higher private universities should at least have a master degrees. But the question is, whether these criteria can be enforced. The sudden mushrooming of private universities in Kabul and other cities needs monitoring. But the department for private education with the ministry of higher education, which is responsible for the oversight and registration of the private sector, has only a 17 persons staff for all the 76 private universities, 50.000 students and 4.000 teachers. This staff alone is assigned to do the registration of new universities, follow the migration of students from one university to the other and issue a lot of certification and documents – an incredible huge task for a small department with this number of people.
// - Everything is political in Afghanistan. What interest groups do we see?
One important risk for the future of the higher education sector is that the private institutes might become an extension of religiuos and political patronage networks. Politically and religiously influential figures see it as a very easy way of extending their support for the educated class to benefit them. You open a university and you attract people. And you try to promote your particular form or lines of political or religious ideology and thinking. This is of course not very healthy for the future of the country. Because the students are exposed to one line of thinking at one institute rather than being exposed to critical or alternative thinking within and outside of the university.
This can perpetuate the old religious and ideological divides among the emerging educated class. And it can lead to new fragmentation among them.
// - Some of the private universities are said to be under the influence of new businessmen?
Yes. They are people who have invested in higher education for political reasons. Others have invested in universities out of commercial interests. Businessmen or commercial landlords. Modern businessmen invest in higher education to make money. Some of the investors don't follow a long time horizon or strategy. They invest as if they open a shop. They look for benefits within six months or a bit more. Get a benefit after each semester, or you have lost. This expectation may mean to undermine the ability of a long term planing and of an insitute being able to grow over a period of many years.
// -What land- or warlords and Taliban figures are engaged in the private higher education ?
There is an interesting group of people who have opened institutes of higher learning. Former Taliban also, inluding Mullah Wakil Muttawakil, the former foreign minister, and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. They have opened the Salam private institute of higher education in Kabul.
// - How does the curriculum look in such an institute?
The new thing about it is that they have admitted a significant number of female students. This is happening on their own conditions. Women are behind the burka, there is no interaction between male and female students. I have my concerns on this. I am – in general – concerned about the radicalization of the youth.
// - Why is there a demand from females for an institute of former Taliban?
Certain conserative families of course would like to get their daughters to get educated. And they cannot or do not want to send them to institutes where boys and girls would sit in the same class.
Which is not new on the other hand. We have had co-education in an open form in the sixties.
It has been happening then, and is happening now again. But there was an interval of course. The Taliban tried to separate classes based on gender. But now, after 2001 and the international community, we are able to have it again.
// - Other figures suggest a brain drain of the scholarshipers abroad though?
Yes, there is a significant brain drain happening, unfortunately. I am talking of Afghan professionals. But the same is happening with educated persons and students who are leaving. Be it because they have current problems or are afraid of the situation to come after 2014. There is people who simply pay smugglers to get out of Afghanistan. At the same time, in comparison to 2001/2002, Afghanistan has a much larger educated class, and an expanding one. Despite the fact that we are loosing some very capable brains at a very crucial time for Afghanistan, I think that we are witnessing the rise of a much larger new educated class. We have about 5.000 young people studying in India at the moment. Another 15.000 study in other countries, starting with Pakistan and Iran, but also Europe and the Western countries. Returning or not after a scholarship is a big issue. But even if some stay away, they are being replaced by people who are graduating now in the Afghan universities in a growing number.
// - How serious is the risk of a middle class of educated people leaving with 2014?
The risk is there, but not because of what ou mean. I am concerned about the problems of the middle class for other reasons. The kind of progressive middle class that has emerged is directly or directly linked with the military or civilian international aid. At the same time, it has not sufficient links with the economy of Afghanistan. A am speaking of a middle class that earns its own living through the national economy. This is I think the bigger threat to the Afghan the educated class than some people leaving the country.
// - What ist the western role in this ?
I think western countries have ignored the reconstruction of the Afghan economy. The western countries have spend a lot of money on state building and infrastructure projects. But the revival of the Afghan economy, in particular the agricultural and industrial sectors, have been largely forgotten. What you have now are economic bubbles that have emerged around the military or civilian foreign presence, both of them having no links with the traditional Afghan economy.
How will they earn their money? If the international military or civil institutions leave the country, they will loose their source of income. So here we have a crisis.
// - Does this make the bed of extremists?
I am afraid that an economical shock is likely to happen. It can significantly contribute to a detrioration of the security situation. If there would be a sudden collapse of the Afgan economy, for instance with a lot of people loosing their jobs, the Afghan government not capable of paying its expenses, prices going up and the Afghan government unable to maintain the stability of its currency – all of this can have a very destabilizing effect. Or look in the provinces: The PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams) were such an important economic pilar in many provinces. Now you see them suddenly closing, together with their funds for reconstructoin of stabilization for the regions. This means a sudden rise in unemployment. Many of the political groups that have taken a profit with it suddenly have nothing to do.
Hamid Karzai – western media speculate - does not want to be remembered as a kind of modern Shah Shuja in the records of history books. Being compared to the king who owed his throne to the dramatically failed intervention of the British Empire 170 years ago would be tantamount to treason in the eyes of his own people.
The first Anglo-Afghan war, historians agree, has left behind a good range of documents in British, Indian, Pakistani and Afghan Archives. Some of them are incorporated in the dari-speaking literature. But rarely so far have western authors attempted to systematically evaluate Afghan sources of the time, following to William Dalrymple. In his voluminous tome of 500 pages the author, whose ancestors fought in the Anglo-Afghan war, tells the story of the return of Shah Shuja on the Afghan throne and the battle of the British crown and the East India Company for Afghanistan.
Dalrymple draws differences and parallels with today's war and conflict, naming the intervention of 2001 as it developed itself an "occupation of the 21st Century”. Than as now in fact, political geography accompanied by short-lived military strategies have been put in place and failed strikingly. The same goes for the ignorance and absence of knowledge about Afghanistan's tribes, their reasons and motivations to take up arms.
// “The parallels”, Dalrymple writes, “are not just anecdotal, they aer substantive. The same battles were continuing to be fought out in the same place 170 years later under the guis of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities were garrisoned by foreign troops speaking the same languages, and were being attacked from the same rings of hills and the same high passes.”
The book turns around the relationship of Shah Shuja and William Macnahghten, the commander of the British troops and representative of the East India Company. Analogies between Hamid Karzai and the military leadership of ISAF do not seem accidental. At some point in the military campaign, Shuja is provided an own royal force, containing a lot of British officers:
“I am not personally acquainted with many of the officers in the force. Nor do I know the duties they perform. They do not even seem to know that they are my soldiers.”
The British finally march into Afghan land over the sidepathes of the Hindu Kush and from the South: thousands of officers with their servants, followed by 4,500 Indian sepoys and a 15,500-men staff. Each of the British officers with a dozen or more camels at their service, equipped with boxes full of tobacco, wine, brandy and other luxury goods. Similarities to today's way of western living in Kabul here again immediately come up.
// After entering the captial in early 1840 and Shah Shuja being re-inthroned as the new and old king,
the honeymoon quickly turns into blank refusal. One reason is due to the sheer size of the army and its followers, quickly turning their presence into a nightmare for the local population:
“Kabul already had a discreet red light district in teh quarter occupied by Indian musicians and dancers close to the walls of the Bala Hisar. But there were not nearly enough Indian rundis around to cope with the demand created by the garrisson of 4.500 sepoys and 15.500 camp followers, and a growing number of Afghan women seem to have made themselves available for a short but profitable ride into the cantonment. Indeed this became so common that the British began to compose rhymes about the easy availabiltiy of Afghan women: “A Kabul wife under burkha cover. Was never known without a lover.”
// Dalrmyple, according to his own words, has discovered a good deal of primary sources while walking through the markets of the Old City in Kabul for his research. He found several tomes of what turned out to be precious accounts on the Anglo-Afghan war at at small shops in the bazaar, he writes, accounts that Afghan migrating families of bourgeois or noble origin would leave behind in the 1970s and 80s. Based on these worksm the first Anglo-Afghan war should perceived somewhat different, the author claims:
'The Afghan side with clearly contoured leading figures, all human beings with feelings, individual viewpoints and their own proper motivations. Quite in contrast to British sources that represent the leaders of the Afghan insurgency as undifferentiated and as traitors, bigoted or fanatical.'
Far from depicting the Afghans as bloodthirsty savages, his book is precious for it portrays both sides with the look of the others. Something crucially missing today when it comes to analyze the history of the years after 2001 and how Afghan analysts and historians see it.
// Dalrymple lives in Delhi today, with a critical eye on the current conflict, a Great Game bis, after the big game of the Imperial powers in the 19th Century, with Afghanistan as a buffer zone between England and Russia.
And today?"Only when all are dead, the Great Game will be over. Not before", says Kim, the hero in Rudyard Kipling's novel. This can be long ahead. Towards the end of the book, Dalrymple recalls a meeting with a tribal elder of the Ghilzai Pashtuns who looks int 2014 any beyond: " These are the last days of the Americans. Next it will be China."
While there is a dispute in the English speaking media after the condemnable attack on the Libanese restaurant La Taverna on the legacy of its owner Kamel Hammade (see here and here), Jeffrey Stern in his piece goes beyond his personal experiences with the restaurant to ask himself about the relationship and behavioural tendencies of westerners and Afghans in the context of Kabul.
I found his text interesting since I am partly under the impression that the issue is hardly commented more recently, the reason lying in the all that goes togehter with the partly withdrawal of foreign forces and the impulse of western media to try and portray a picture not to grim if not successful of the past years of intervention.
All of us who have been working in Afghanistan over the past years or decades have witnessed the sacred sense of hospitality Stern speaks about. Also quite rightly, there is more than one argument to continue and support the Afghans with view to the promises Western governments have made and the risk of seeing lots of programs and endeavours avorted before they can actually reach to a tangible result.
A number of us have had to report in past assigments on foreign military causing grief to the local population, with incidents that have sparked negative results and headlines and contributed to a change on how foreigners, particularly western military but also civilians more generally are perceived by the average Afghan.
Kabul is special in the sense that public encounters carry all kind of deeper effects. Relatively early in the conflict, Barnett Rubin wrote in his blog after an attack on the Serena Hotel: „Collectively we have generated an infrastructure serving only our needs that dwarfs the infrastructure provided for Afghans. The infrastructure is the most visible part of the aid system to Afghans. Projects may mature in a few or many years, but right now Afghans see the guest houses, bars, restaurants, armored cars, checkpoints, hotels, hostile unaccountable gunmen, brothels, videos, CDs, cable television, Internet cafes with access to pornography, ethnic Russian waitresses from Kyrgyzstan in Italian restaurants owned by members of the former royal family and patronized by U.S. private security guards with their Chinese girlfriends and Aghan TV moguls and traffic jams caused by the proliferation of vehicles and exacerbated by 'security measures' every time a foreign or Afghan official leaves the office.“
Western partying attitudes that tend to disregard the local context still exist as of now but have become less frequent for obvious reasons of past experiences. At the same time, parallel worlds where Afghans meet here and foreigners seperately from each other there, have increased. Afghans also are less fond now to celebrate under the eyes of others.
Journalists and writers very often have kept the cultural impacts of such encounters some kind a taboo. First, because it makes us ashamed. Secondly, because it may not have a classical selling point. Thirdly because it could cause unrest. But my point touches neither of these, but more on a cultural reflexion upon ourselves.
William Dalrymple in his full and well documented account on the 'Return of a King' and the first Anglo-Afghan war confronts us with the question of why researchers in all the 170 that have gone by since than leave out the look at Afghan sources and with it the chance 'to see ourselves as others see us'.
Why is it, I ask myself, that Afghan scholarshipers, some of them westernized to some degree, who have studied in the United states and in Great Britain at some of the best universities, say there are not sure if secularisation by itself can solve the state and problems of Afghanistan. It is true also that only a certain and small percentage of the Afghan population is in a day to day contact with foreigners, able to see and judge who 'we' are and what 'we' do as opposed to 'them' and who are able to reflect about themselves.
This is not in any direct relation with La Taverna of course, but we all would probably agree to say that it makes a difference wheather a restaurant of the kind is situated in the fortified parameters of the Wazir Akbar Khan colony or out in Dashte Barchi or even further on the outskirts of town.
There consequently is a socio-historical context to every glas of vine emptied in the circumstances of the highly symbolic year 2014. And though I would subscribe to the tolerance of urban Afghans Jeffrey describes, their remarks that „it doesn't bother“ them how we eat, celebrate or party in Kabul can under certain circumstances mean a refusal tainted by a strong sense of diplomacy we find in most Asian and Asian islamic countries.
History doesn't repeat itself. But confronting ourselves with today's views of Afghans can equally help us understand the present context and our position in it. One can easily find good reasons to criticize Hamid Karzai for instance for the missing logic in his policy, for his double minded games and lack of rationale. But if Shah Shuja has up until recently been seriously misinterpreted by western authors and critics, the same might possibly go for Karzai, who more than once in the past from his standpoint has had reasons to act the way he acted and if all facts were on the table. For as long as we are unable to take in account how we are perceived by the others, we will solely witness us the way we like to see ourselves.
The trial that I am witnessing this morning is located in Mahmud Raqi, the capital of Kapisa province. The geography limiting the dispersed small city of approximately 40,000 inhabitants is surrounded by karst mountains, a good one and a half hours drive from Kabul. Though a reasonable distance from the capital it may sound, we are deep in the countryside, far away from any tared asphalted road. The car hops along dusty gravel roads. As we drive into the province, Afghan radio
stations report on an suicide attack in Kapisa's district of Nijrab. We don't have to go that far for the court trial, but the incident that comes to us as fresh news this very morning shows the fragile state of an area from which ISAF troops have retreated months ago already. French troops in fact were stationed in the area previously on behalf of the security assistance force. They withdrew months ago on order of president Nicolas Sarkozy, then president.
The culprit to appear today is a French heritage in a way. Passing in the hands of ISAF and ANA troops as these moved into a zone previously held by insurgents, the security forces emptied the jails and took the man into state custody. Now, he stands in the middle of a justice chamber, accused of murder by a local court that deals with civil and criminal matters.
The accused is a bearded man in handcuffs and perhan tambon, the customary local dress.
The court deliberations takes place in the office of the judge, not in the court room surprisingly. A narrow place. The judge sits in a corner behind his desk, elevated. The rest in the room sink into plush sofas at the three sides of the room. The prosecutor holds to a stack of files in his hands. The culprit sits in the middle of the room, guarded by a policeman, who tiredly looks to the ground. He has freed the culprit of his handcuffs earlier on. They now dangle from his hip.
Tea is served. "We normally don't do this in court," says the judge with an ambiguous smile. What is normal at court in Afghanistan? The judge looks neat. He wears a black vest, is hair accurately combed. Is seems in a mild mood for the day. Just because a foreigner assists the deliberations?
A fan rotates from the ceiling. The judge eyes all parties present at regular intervals. The prosecutor is asked to read out loud the charges against the culprit. He is not proficient in reading. His finger follows each of his words on the paper. The indictment is written by hand, with purple thumb prints, taken from alleged witnesses. The accused is said to have killed a relative over a dispute involving personal and professional honor. Money was at stake also, my neighbor whispers.
The culprit dares to interrupt with a low voice. He can't follow the deliberations in Dari and asks for an oral translation in Pashto. It is granted to him. Then he gives his version of the facts. The judge shakes his head. The victim was shot in the throat, he corrects the culprit, surely not able to put down a testimony as the accused claims, he says in a firm voice.
The prosecuter asks for the man to hang him. From the ohter side of the room an older man interferes, sitting on a brown plush sofa next to me. What were the exact circumstances of the murder, he wants to know? Two of his companions write down with care what is being spoken in the room. The three men call themselves monitors and are working on behalf of IWA (Integrity Watch Afghanistan), an organization that campaigns for transparency at different levels of society. The monitors are independent observers for all courts in the Kapisa districts, they say. Heads of local shuras , headmasters, doctors. "Our presence makes the judge to act with more care" says one of the monitors, not without pride. "Until recently, many people in the district did not dare to go to court." Often the real witnesses would not be heard, claims one of them, or there was no trust in fair procedures. „People here now take their donkey to travel miles to court or with their motorcycle to present their case whereas before they used to be reluctant“, says Ali Mashalafroz, who coordinates the IWA office in Kapisa. "Before the wars“, adds a collegue at his side, „there wouldn't be compulsory defendents either". It is, they murmur, about putting pieces together again.
The monitors all have in their hand a questionnaire with 21 categories. It contains questions such as: Has the local police documented the case? Has there been a medical or forensic report?
Truth is not to come from one day to the other, the monitors are aware. Their presence, they hope, would render the hearings at courts more transparent. In the absence of independent media or civil society activists, the monitors fill in to observe the course of justice that suffers the caractersitic deficiencies of an Afghan state.
Eventually, weeks later, the filled-out questionnaires of the monitors will go to Kabul, where they are evaluated. In funding the monitoring, international donors such as the World Bank, the United Nations Misson, French and international organization hope to push ahead the course of transitional justice and bring some kind of order deep into the Afghan province. As always, this is above all a hope.
After the first two hours of delibarations, the trial is postponed. I may get an interview with the judge, I am told. Finally, the answer is negative. Permission has not been granted by the supreme court in Kabul, I am informed. The supreme court in Kabul officially supports the trial monitoring for the Kapisa and Bamiyan provinces. But off the record the institution does not like the justice system to be exposed as a corrupt limb of the Afghan state institutions.
We wait over lunchtime for the trial to reach to a sentence. But time is getting late without a decision. We are scheduled to return to Kabul before dark. Back in the capital, a call from Ali Mashalafroz, the Kapisa coordinator, reaches me. The accused has inherited of 18 years behind bars. He has escaped the death penalty. A judgment owed to the transparency of the observers? The 'Communal Trial Monitoring Project', in the years ahead, wants to change the course of justice in more than just two of 36 Afghan provinces, IWA's Yama Torabi, the head of the organization, says. He hopes for more funds in the years to come. But first of all, Afghanistan needs to go through the uncertainties of 2014 – described by many as its most crucial year.
In the year 2000 my father died of cancer. He was born in 1937 (or 1315 corresponding to the Afghan-islamic calender). When my father died, he left behind a notebook with photographs
of his father, my grandfather.
My grandfather was born in 1893 (or 1271). He fought in the World Ward I 1914-1918. With or against his will - the documents don't make mention of it. He was 21 years old then, in the trenches of the Western Front (battle of France, Belgium/Ypern) and a little later on the Eastern Front (Bukowina).
In the photographs my grandfather left behind (he was authorized to take photos on the front, a document states) is this photo of a bullet that had penetrated his leg. The bullet was later removed. It is with me now.
The French call Wolrd War I „la grande guerre“, the big war. It was the first time men and amunition came together to reach unprecedented levels of kinetic power and destruction.
70 Million soldiers fought in WWI. Nearly ten million died. Mostly young, unmarried soldiers. Among them thousands of soldiers with Islamic identities from the African and middle Eastern colonies of the European imperial posessions. Every eigth soldier did not make it home. The years of WWI and later in WWII were, as an Afghan sociologist remarked, more stable in Afghanistan than in Germany in various respects.
In 2014, Afghanistan goes into a year of new uncertainties, the international forces withdrawing,
and a hundred years after I discovered the bullet of my grandfather.
This is an independent blog on Afghanistan. I have been working regularly in Afghanistan as a freelance reporter and correspondent mostly with national German media in the past ten years. I've also been a trainer for a new generation of Afghan journalists and with organisations of the Afghan civil society, last not least an guest author with AAN Afghanistan Analysts network. All photos on this page are from the author, unless signaled differently. Reproduction in any illegal form is prohibited. This blog comes in English and in German language.
Dieser Blog versteht sich als ein unabhängiges Informations-Angebot zum Thema Afghanistan. Als freier Autor und Korrespondent arbeite seit Anfang 2004 regelmäßig am Hindukusch für deutsche Medien und ARD-Hörfunk, daneben vor allem auch in der Ausbildung afghanischer Journalisten/
-innen und der afghanischen Zivilgesellschaft. Der Blog versucht u.a. Stimmen von Afghanen stärker in die Debatte einfliessen zu lassen. Fotos in diesem Blog stammen sämtlich vom Autor soweit nicht anders gekennzeichnet. Das Reproduzieren oder die Verwendung in anderen Formen bedarf der ausdrücklichen Zustimmung.