It’s been long. 16 years and counting and nobody knows where we’re headed, or when the trip is going to end.
It must have felt exactly this way for the men aboard the three ships commanded (allegedly) by Christopher Columbus on the way to what he (they?) thought would be the Indies, and were instead the Americas.
Which, ironically, should have been called Cristophoras, or Columnbias, instead even the naming honor went to another man, one that actually had cognition of where he was going to and what he wanted to do. The man was Amerigo Vespucci. Another Italian that contributed to humankind’s knowledge and understanding.
You are welcome.
But we’re digressing. The men aboard the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria must have really felt euphoric initially, about embarking in a trip so grandiose, yet never attempted before.
Then boredom must have settled in, and before they knew it, they found themselves in a very confined space, threatened by the elements, with inter-personal relations that tended to go awry (because of the said proximity to each other), armed to the teeth and on a trip that seemingly had no end, on a course that they did not know, with an aim that one can only call “vague”, for lack of a less qualifying term.
Being in the coalition and in the HQ that is nowadays Resolute Support means being in a place with more than 2000 people living, eating, doing their business, cursing, walking, running and generally being miserable in a little over 2000 acres of land. That’s 8 Square Kilometers. That’s about 4 square meters per person.
Like being on the Santa Maria.
Or the Nina.
Or the Pinta, for what matters.
Just, you don’t really have a Pint in camp RS. Or a can. Or a Bottle. Alcohol (which is one of the things that could make living in your four square meters for a year bearable) is non-existent. At least Columbus’ men had rum to comfort them.
There you have it. Living in HQ RS must be the same, less the scurvy.
So, it’s been 16 years since Operation Infinite Justice (swiftly renamed to Enduring Freedom for whatever reason – we’re guessing because it was not to be infinite, and the justice part can also be argued) kicked off the chain of events that has generated the situation today in Afghanistan (and Iraq), and has put those 2000+ men and women (and some imps) on the RS HQ boat (and we’re not counting all the others, on other decks scattered around Afghanistan, sailing a course unbeknownst to them).
Have they accomplished their Mission? Somebody thought they did. Somebody thinks they will (eventually).
Mission Accomplished? I beg to differ…
So, Infinite Justice/Enduring Freedom ended, and became the NATO-led ISAF (International Security Assistance Force).
Then ISAF ended, and we’re now at Resolute Support, a non-combat, Train/Advise/Assist mission that should help Afghanistan stand on its own two feet.
(And yeah, the mission accomplished thingy was about Iraq, but you get our drift…)
But… what is the mission?
Sixty-or-so million feet, if we had to believe the official statistics and the fact that most humans have two feet, apparently. (Unless, you know, mines. Which are not THAT uncommon in Afghanistan. Thanks mother Russia!).
Yes but, what was the mission?
So, we were saying, 30 million people, with a GDP that oscillates between 8-10 and 100 Billions of US dollars (depending on which statistics you look at) but can be realistically estimated at about 18-20 Bn USD considering there are 7-8 Million active workers generating a monthly per-capita income of 200 USD.
Psssst, hey… what is the mission?
It is reported that 80% of this GDP comes from outside agencies and donors INCLUDING the international community military effort which pumps rivers of money into the Afghan system to buy food, services, labor, parts.
Ah, there you go, the mission is… re-buying the country for them?
The international community pays the wages of virtually all state employees.
We equip their forces, police and military.
We build their infrastructure. Schools. Hospitals. We give, give, give in the illusion that one day the Afghans will rise and become Americans, British, Spaniards, Italians, Germans etc.
So basically we are pumping Afghanistan full of money. But also full of fuel and equipment. Stuff they want, but can’t handle.
In fact, the fuel goes to (Afghan) managers (state employees) who don’t know how to deal with it. For example, they don’t have the storage to store all the fuel we splash on them, so they ask a favor to their network of friends, one of which maybe owns a fuel pump, or a tank somewhere, to hold onto that fuel for them.
Then the idea strikes: why not selling a little fuel, as it is just sitting there… It won’t hurt. Also, why not casually fill my personal car, then my brother-in-law’s, then my best friend’s, then my other best friend’s, then my uncle’s, their uncle… etc. Before you know it the fuel is gone and the Afghan police (or army) will ask for more otherwise they cannot perform their duty.
What happens? The RS loveboat slaps them a bit on the back of their hands, then opens their tanks and splashes some more fuel around. Too much to handle. So there we go again… store it, casually sell it, casually use it for personal purposes etc.
We can see western taxpayers being so effing happy with this.
But, is it wrong in their minds? Like, are we taking their perspective into account?
Chances are… mmkay, maybe no…
Then we want to instill this idea of promotions and advancement in the government based on merit. Promotions based on merit. That’s a good joke coming from countries where sons/daughters of presidents (democratically elected, of course) sit at international negotiation tables based on their merit of being, well, sons/daughters of said presidents.
So they should be looking up at us to get inspired to apply merit based advancement in all fields of the state administration. They should become fair, balanced and disregard all family/clan related ties when dealing with placing people in places of power.
So we go in, have a look at the guys in management and leadership positions, decide that they’re no good for whatever reason (maybe we don’t like how they look at us, maybe we have proof that they’ve been selling fuel – which is a bad action, FOR US) and go to the other senior guy saying something like “Hey, yeah… you know that guy Jamal, the one sitting in procurement as head of office. He’s no good. Why? Because I say so. Put Ahmad up instead. Why? Because I said so.”.
And we have just done what we’re telling them not to do, which is put people in office “because I said so”. But then they can’t do it. What does this communicate?
At best, that we’re schizophrenic. At worst, that we are possibly more morally corrupt than they are, and that while we verbally condemn such behavior, we have no problem practicing it, thence it must be OK.
The same principle applies to corruption. Different mechanism, same story. We hope that corruption, that is so deeply rooted in the country, will one day disappear. Then that sexual discrimination will be eradicated. Then that sectarian fractures and tribal divisions will be overcome.
Like… overnight, dude.
We hope and believe we can make Afghans steer away from their “wicked” ways.
But. Can we? How do you convince an entire population, whose social proof is based on how much wealth they can accumulate and how many people they know and can influence to steer away from that?
How do you tell somebody whose wage has been split between all the hands that touched it before it reached him that he himself cannot do the same now that he is in a position to “skim the milk”?
You can force them to behave while you watch. But as soon as you look away they will take the rice from the inmates they are supposed to feed.
And not out of necessity. But because they can. And not all of it, they will make sure the inmates still have food. But still, they’ll take some. Because they love to show they can (and when we say “they” we intend humans, humans who happen to be in Afghanistan).
It’s as simple as that. There’s no possibility to “westernize” a culture so fragmented, so diverse yet so rooted in personal power and gain by pumping them full of money and goods.
That flooding will just have the effect to drug the economy enough that when the gates will close and the river will become a trickle (maybe) they will start eating each other as the symptoms of withdrawal will start to arise.
We’ve seen this pattern in Italy, in Iraq, in Vietnam. And there’s no reason to think that it won’t happen in Afghanistan.
Maybe, just maybe, we could shut the F up and learn a bit. Learn to listen. Learn to understand. Let them develop their own solutions to the problems and then, only then, intervene to steer a bit and refine. Accepting that maybe our “merit” based systems are not based on merits as much as we’d like to admit. And that maybe our corporate economy, after all, disrespects human rights in the name of making money. And that maybe our way of life has brought us as far as working YEARS away from our families which are, in the end, maybe the only group of people that will ever care about us. All because we think we have a right to educate other people to “be” like us.
Or, we could continue to Train, Advise and Assist shelling out money and telling them to do things “because we said so”.