Archive for November, 2009
Abu Dhabi, UAE- Well it’s that time again. The end of the road. I’ve been going non stop for almost four months. The timeline goes something like this: Depart NYC July 30th-Arrive Abu Dhabi, Six nights at my friend Arif’s in climate controlled villa, bus to Dubai, fly Dubai to Kabul and arrive in Afghanistan on the 8th of August-Depart Kabul on the 2nd of September to Dubai, take a taxi from Dubai to Sharjah (neighboring emirate), stay one night at Sharjah youth hostel, next day fly one way to Athens, Greece, immediately take bus to Piraeus port upon landing, play brickbreaker on my Blackberry on steps of massive Greek cathedral to pass the time, then try to sleep hiding on chairs on deck of coffee shop until I get woken up by ouzo-smelling cleaning crew, take 7:15am ferry to Ios island, 10 days of whooping it up on Ios and finishing up writing from Kabul, then overnight ferry trip to Turkey via Paros and Samos (spot group of African and other assorted migrants being dragged out of the Aegean and marched to Samos’s detention center and get asked by Greek policeman not to pay attention to them),
Arrive in Kusadasi, Turkey the following morning of September, 15th, two nights there, then bus to Fethiye, 2 nights there, bus to Antalya, 4 nights there, bus to Adana, 1 night there, overnight bus to Cizre near Iraq border, cross Turkey-Iraq border on foot/taxi, Kurdish guy I’m ordered by Turkish soldier to get in taxi with gets in fisticuffs on zero line at border, take taxi from Zakho on Iraq side 3 hours to Erbil on September 25th, travel to Qandil mountains on Iraq-Iran border, cross back to Turkey on October 7th, take bus to Mardin, 2 nights there, take bus to Erzurum, 1 night there, over night bus to Turkey-Georgia border, arrive in Tbilisi following morning on October 11th, 17 days in Georgia, travel to Chechen border for book research, fly Tbilisi-Dubai, arrive Dubai on October 28th, one night at Dubai youth hostel, get another Afghan visa the next day, buy 3:30 am ticket to Kabul, arrive back in Afghanistan on October 30th, fly back to Dubai on November 9th, paid random Keralite guy at airport to drive me to Arif’s in Abu Dhabi, spent the last 2 weeks here doing the better part of nothing, flying to Dublin tomorrow, 2 nights there, then arriving back in NYC on November 24th. Phew! It’s been a long one.
Abu Dhabi, UAE- I have a new piece in today’s Asia Times about the overall decline of the security environment in Kabul and the collective West’s political will to do something about it.
Five more years of Karzai rule is a bitter pill to swallow for anyone who considers themselves to give a damn about Afghanistan.
Abu Dhabi, UAE- My friend Phil Stebbing, celebrated British filmmaker and luminary in the Kabul expat scene, has launched a project called The Lifeline. The Lifeline is a three team documentary project with a global scope where the separate crews will travel from New York to Buenos Airies, London to Capetown, and Sydney to Tokyo respectively, documenting local sustainability projects among a wide array of communities. These three classic overland/water trips are ones I have always wanted to do but have been to caught up in the here and now of the global war on terror to get involved in. The environment, more specifically the globalization of environmental catastrophe and the shared burden this phenomenon brings, is the most important issue that has ever confronted mankind. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine act as distractions while they entire earth burns in the biggest of all pictures. While for most people war is the near and the immediate, it is the decaying of our environment, which has always been portrayed as the far and distant, that is humanity’s gravest concern. The environment is here and now and it needs a lifeline.
Kabul, Afghanistan- Well you all heard what happened yesterday, the great Karzai has been ratified another 5-year mandate to run Afghanistan into the ground even further. To paraphrase former CIA dog of war Milt Beardon, “What are we gonna bomb there? Just blow up bigger rocks into smaller rocks?” Afghanistan is already in a perpetual state of shambles. Karzai has pissed away the goodwill that followed the Bonn process and 2002 seems like eons ago. The man who once seemed like a reasonable intellectual hope for this country now seems insular and childlike pacing about in his palace ensconced in Kabul’s Green Zone like a caged elephant. I have a piece about Azizullah Ludin and the feckless Zekria Barakzai’s antics at the IEC yesterday in today’s Asia TImes. Meanwhile Kabul is gripped by a bogus swine flu scare and almost every Kalashnikov-toting security guard and traffic cop are donning cheap, green surgical masks due to an epidemic that has yet to materialize here. There is a real epidemic of suicide terror attacks and many laborers, who can’t spare a few Afghanis to but masks from street orphans wading through traffic, are being tasks to install new speed bumps all over town. Dear Kabulis: If massive blast walls installed in front of the Indian Embassy after it was attacked last year didn’t deter the recent suicide bombing there, what on god’s earth makes you think a succession of speed bumps is going to stop a determined bomber driving a lorry full of TNT?
Kabul, Afghanistan- Dr. Abdullah announced his withdrawal from the presidential race here yesterday. I have a piece in today’s Asia Times if anyone wants to read a bit more on the announcement. This was rumored and it seemed that the mainstream media was pushing for it for the sake of a story. I am tempted to call third place candidate Ramazan Bashardost and see if he wants to jump back in. All hope for genuine democracy and any sense of a viable peace have been tossed out the window. Abdullah told us he was dropping out of the race for the good of the country and for the future of Afghan democracy. It’s all seemed to be a bit of an oxymoronic circus. The election is meant to be this Saturday but anyone who claims they are on the inside track is lying. No one can control the hydra here. After leaving the press conference at his now suicide blast wall protected house, while the Dexter Filkin’s and Carlotta Gall’s of the world hastily sped off with their attendant drivers and other coterie, I decided to take a walk (partly because I had only a $50 bill and didn’t want to try and negotiate a taxi hassle). I remembered, if only for a few minutes, the reason why I became obsessed with Afghanistan in the first place, pre-9/11. I thought of Afghanistan as a cut off land replete with horseman, Hellenic Buddhist relics and billowing brilliant blue burkhas plodding through Kabul’s ruins.
In my head, this imagined place, just across the Durand line from the Pakistan i was just coming to know, as a fabled city. A romantic and barbaric place kept out of globalization by a vile militia nurtured by successive Pakistani administrations concerned only with its persistently bruised ego vis-a-vis India and its weird notions of strategic depth in Afghanistan. Most journos here know Abdullah solely as a sharp suited, polished politician rather than a shalwar kameez wearing spokesman for the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (dumbed down for journos as the Northern Alliance).
Today’s Afghanistan, well Kabul anyway, is polluted with Westerners, and the thought of walking around in a filthy shalwar kameez is a thing of the past. Globalization in its most blunt sense, came to Kabul after the Bonn conference with the immediate influx of do gooders and return of Afghan refugees and expatriates and many young Afghans in the capital shed the local garb long ago. My dream of the fabled city lay in the ash heap of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. Thanks Mohammed Atta! Thanks a freaking lot!