The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Kabul’ tag

Book Review: War On Peace

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The UK paperback edition I purchased in Dubai after leaving Iraq.

Pai- I’ve recently finished reading Ronan Farrow’s death of American diplomacy narrative War On Peace. I picked up the UK paperback edition at Kunokiniya Books at the Dubai Mall–meaning it had finally passed the UAE’s thought censors to be able to be sold. This process can take many months I’ve been told. I needed something to read while traveling across Sri Lanka and this looked like a good companion.

It is sort of two books in one volume. The first an homage of sorts with necessary criticism of the late Richard Holbrooke. The second half is a series of vignettes of high risk foreign policy successes and blunders through the prism of the Department of State. Having once worked as an editor in Washington, I read reflexively with a critical eye perhaps more than is necessary. I was put off within minutes when on the first page Abdoun is described as a neighborhood of Jordan rather than its capital Amman. Countries don’t have neighbourhoods, cities do, in geographic semantics. I put that aside an delved in to what is overall a quite enjoyable read about what is in reality a depressing subject-the decline of American influence in the world and the militarisation of US foreign policy.

Part of why I found Farrow’s work entertaining was quite personal. I’d intersected with nearly every character in the book in some circumstantial way. The time I encountered Holbrooke, along with Madeline Albright, while working a temp job at the Council on Foreign Relations over a decade ago. The time Stan McChrystal’s Italian carbinieri bodyguards nearly knocked me of while trying to photograph him. The time I waited at Abdul Rashid Dostum’s house in Kabul when he returned from an exile episode. When I went to dinner with General Michael Hayden at a posh midtown Manhattan university club where tipping the staff was forbidden. When I drove through Jowjan province on the way to Turkmenistan exactly as the massacre of Taliban prisoners was taking place in Dasht-i-Leili. This book appealed to me in part because of all the memories it brought back. At the very end one of the last people mentioned in the acknowledgments, a former Obama era foreign policy wunderkind, is the sister of someone who follows me on Instagram. It’s a string of degrees of separation.

ISAF Commander General Stanley McChyrstal hurries past reporters to asses the damage and casualties in front of his office after this morning suicide attack believed to be carried out by the Afghan Taliban.©2009 Derek Henry Flood

Much of what is described in the book is a litany of lost or squandered opportunities where good ideas were put forth that were undercut by a lack of political will or foresight or in the case of Holbrooke, death. There’s one really glaring error where in page 61 he describes Moqtada al-Sadr as an al-Qaeda lader, which could not be more wrong. Al-Sadr was the leader of the eschatological Shia sectarian Jaish al-Mahdi, about as opposite ideologically as AQ as you can get. How that made it through fact checking I’ll never understand. There were some other minor editing issues but this was the only really egregious factual error that I can recall.

Overall, I found War On Peace thoroughly relatable and entertaining, a good travel read. I’ll be leaving it behind in the used book pile at my hotel here in Thailand hoping someone else will pick it up and enjoy it equally.

Written by derekhenryflood

May 2nd, 2019 at 4:28 am

Afghanistan: The Succession Crisis

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Ghani the technocrat. Posters of incumbent Hamid Karzai and opposition candidate Ashraf Ghani hang from a lamp post during the August 2009 election campaign. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

Ghani the World Banker technocrat. Posters of then incumbent Hamid Karzai (whose fraudulent reelection was all but assured) and opposition candidate Ashraf Ghani hung from a lamp post during the August 2009 election campaign. In 2009 Ghani garnered about 3% of the vote and Abdullah was Karzai’s only real threat. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Persistent crises in Ukraine and Iraq, and now of course the reoccurring terror in Gaza, have overshadowed the succession impasse in Kabul to a good degree in terms of media focus. Afghanistan is at yet another perilous crossroads that has threatened to fissure the country in a manner that hasn’t been seen since 2001 when Mullah Omar’s Islamic Emirate abutted Burhanuddin Rabbbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Islamic State of Afghanistan.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 7.09.53 PMIn the mindset of the two warring parties, they theoretically both occupied the same administrative space. Going to the Afghan consulate in Peshawar in 2000 and going then to the Afghan embassy in Ankara in 2001, both sets of representatives would tell the visitor that their faction were Afghanistan’s rightful rulers. Although functionally on the ground the two political entities respectively operated failing large and small rump states. Fears have been running high in Afghanistan in 2014 as it tries to make the very awkward transition beyond the years of rule by Hamid Karzai who has effectively been in power continuously since the Bonn Agreement in December 2001.

I have a new article out in IHS Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst (subscription required) entitled “Electoral turmoil-Afghanistan’s Troubled Democracy Faces uncertain future.” Just after its publication John Kerry brokered a deal between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah’s campaigns that was hailed as a potential lifesaver for Afghanistan’s still nascent democracy.

Importantly Kerry’s hoped for diplomatic initiative may nail down the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that Karzai has obstinately refused to sign. The unsigned BSA has left Washington and its remaining allies’ Afghan policy in limbo for some time now.

What is being referred to as a “national unity government” may perhaps end up as a power sharing agreement in which presidential power is lessened and the post of prime minister is created to satisfy the ambitions of both striving candidates. And where does all this leave Mr. Karzai himself?

For now he is still Afghanistan’s head of state where he is all too comfortable after so many years of relative isolation. The newly elected president was meant to be inaugurated  on August 2, a now wholly unrealistic time frame. With the staggering vote recount prescribed to heal the rift between Ghani and Abdullah–who both view themselves is the election’s true winner– again, Karzai remains politically relevant in the interim.

The Salang Pass situated  Hindu Kush range in Baghlan Province. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

The Salang Pass situated Hindu Kush range in Baghlan Province is a critical land route juncture heading toward Pul-e-Khumri situated between northern and southern Afghanistan. This mountain pass represents a human, geographic and political fault line that has not properly healed since the internecine mujahideen battles of the 1990s . ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

One question that has yet to be answered is what will become of the current president once this situation is ultimately resolved? Will Karzai immediately flee to Dubai or Doha upon leaving the Arg (Presidential Palace)? Karzai has said he will stay home but in doing so he will risk retribution by the Taliban or being trotted about in court on corruption charges by an emboldened new government seeking credibility following yet another grossly flawed balloting process.

Lastly what will the new government look like and how should it act? After an uninterrupted period of post-Taliban Karzai rule, Afghanistan clearly has a long way to go to become a genuinely working democratic state. With that said, Afghans have made more progress with democratic mechanisms than many of their neighbors to the north in despotic Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan excepted).

Personally I hope the crisis created but the April 5 and June 14 votes can be amicably mended. But I am not as hopeful as Mr. Kerry for the time being.

Written by derekhenryflood

July 14th, 2014 at 5:12 pm