Garcia reports on his travels with the military in Afghanistan @ Superstition Review.
We prepare to go out on a night patrol.
The captain however must pick up an Afghan policeman first. On paper, the American and European soldiers of the international security forces provide a “supportive role” only to the central Afghan government. Therefore, protocols require an Afghan police officer to lead patrols, the captain explains to me, an embedded reporter. He calls me by my last name as he does his soldiers, and tells me to ride with him.
We leave Camp Julien in south Kabul for the District Four police station in a convoy of four Humvees, six soldiers in each vehicle. The dawn light rinses the sky with an umbrella of pink light, and then the light fades almost instantly and the sky darkens to an impenetrable depth without stars. Kids wave to us from the shadows as they always do when we go out on a night patrol, but it seems to me they also have one hand behind their back, and sometimes I’m right because I’ll hear the rocks they throw ding against our doors.
“Last week on our way out, this kid was throwing rocks at me,” a soldier tells me. “In Iraq, parents’d beat the shit out of their kids for doing that. This kid didn’t look slow. It’s not like he’s a retard. If that’s how a kid thinks about us what about his dad?”
“It’s a game dude,” another soldier says. “How many rocks do they have to throw to make a gunner duck.”
“They need to start a baseball league here then. He was whizzing them.”
The dirt road we follow climbs a hill. A stone castle swarmed by birds circling its broken towers overlooks our progress.
Image: Lalage Snow
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Naheed Mustafa on what oral histories tell us about Afghanistan @ Maisonneuve. My grandmother often said that as the elders died, so would history. She came from an oral tradition and she was a master storyteller. The details would occasionally shift—the colour of her scarf, the number of guests at a wedding, how many goats were slaughtered at a feast—but the plotline never varied, and the villains and the heroes always fulfilled their roles.Starting from the time of her birth, my grandmother’s stories traced the historical arc of what was then British India. Her tales of change were wrapped up in accounts of daily village life, of a time when your destiny depended on your gender, who your father was and where in the village your house was built. My grandmother had no formal schooling. My grandfather taught her to read after they got married, but she never left the village, and had no idea of life outside the boundary wall. Women and girls lived with each other; the world out there was for men.But the outside world shaped the lives of the people in my grandmother’s village, even if they were oblivious to its force.
The world changed and people agitated and the effects rippled outward. Those shifts—sometimes mere blips, occasionally upheavals—made themselves known in my grandmother’s performances. Her stories didn’t float freely; they were anchored in historical context. There were no dates or years, simply broad references to “when the English were in charge” or “the year the floods came” or, simply, “Partition.”Taken together, my grandmother’s stories painted a picture of a time and place, reflecting the politics of colonialism and the emerging desire for nationhood. By knowing her world, it was possible to know a version of British India: the version that existed in the fields and in the villages, where the language you spoke said something about your religion, which, in turn, said something about your politics.
|John More @ National Georgraphic|
Jeff Sparrow on the legacy of humanitarian imperialism @ Overland.
In 1955, Aimé Césaire, the great anti-colonial poet and agitator, published his classic Discours sur le colonialisme.‘Colonisation,’ Césaire argued, ‘dehumanises even the most civilised man; … colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; … the coloniser, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transformhimself into an animal.’The C-word sounds crass in the context of Western involvement in Afghanistan: this is, we’re told, a temporary deployment, nothing more. Colonialism implies rapine and despoliation, whereas our intervention in Afghanistan was framed, right from the start, by ostentatious declarations of high-mindedness.Nonetheless, with the occupation now lasting twice as long as the Great War, it seems well past time to investigate the domestic consequences of what’s becoming a decidedly neocolonial conflict: to ask, like Césaire, not only what we have done to Afghanistan but what Afghanistan has done to us.read more
J. Malcolm Garcia reports on the women of Afghanistan who set themselves on fire @ Guernica.
In Bed 19, a woman suffers from high blood pressure and burns to her feet from boiling water spilled from a pot; Bed 21 burned herself lighting an oil lamp; Bed 20 fell against a hot water heater.
Then there is the girl in Bed 18. She looks no older than fifteen. Stray wisps of black hair lie limply against her cheeks. Rank smelling blankets cover her bandaged-wrapped body, and she stares mutely at the ceiling, flakes of charred skin peeling off burns to her chin and neck. Beside her sits her pregnant sister-in-law who looks about the same age. They live in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold far south of Herat. They have never left their home before; have never been to their village bazaar and the cities beyond it. The girls won’t look at us. This is the first time they have not covered their faces in the presence of men outside their families.
Dr. Naeema Nikzad, a psychologist who counsels burn victims at Herat Regional Hospital, considers both girls while adjusting a blue-patterned scarf around her head. When they came to the hospital, Dr. Nikzad told the sister-in-law to remove her burqa. She gave her a smock, flip-flops, and a surgical cap and told her to put them on.
Dr. Nikzad then took the burned girl into surgery and told her, now I have to strip you. You cannot wear a burqa. No one will touch you. No one from your village will see you.
The girl felt Dr. Nikzad raise the burqa above her head. “I am exposed,” she said. read more
Matthieu Aikins on the counterinsurgency gamble in the Afghan war @ The Walrus. It was the Fourth of July, and it was forty-five degrees outside. Under the blazing noonday sun, a few dozen soldiers stood around on bare gravel. They were mostly Americans from the 10th Mountain Division, in their distinctive black cavalry hats, mixed with a handful of Canadian soldiers and a few bearded civilians in jeans. Facing their semicircle was the short, stocky figure of Brigadier General Jonathan Vance, the Canadian commander of Task Force Kandahar.
We were at the Dand District Centre, a small compound in the heart of Deh-e Bagh, a village about five kilometres southwest of Kandahar City. Next to us stood the district police station and the headquarters of 1-71 Cavalry Squadron, an American armoured unit; behind us was the squat bulk of the district governor’s office. Dand District was one of the last areas in the southern province of Kandahar where Taliban insurgency — which a 2009 American intelligence report estimated to have grown fourfold in Afghanistan over the previous four years — had yet to take root. In Vance’s opinion, this success resulted from the military’s focused application of counterinsurgency principles: bringing security to the people, separating them from the insurgency, and building up their government by supporting development.
Vance wished the assembled soldiers a happy Fourth of July, then took them through the story of how they had come to be standing there sweltering in the highlands of South Asia. As he saw it, the war could be understood in three phases: The first, he explained, began with the aftermath of September 11, when the US and its allies toppled the Taliban government and established a minimal troop presence in the country, then, in the face of a growing insurgency, stuck to its development and counterterrorism missions.
The second phase, he said, started in late 2005 with the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) around the country. This phase was marked by the growing recognition that the conflict was a hot war against a resurgent guerrilla opponent. It featured pitched battles with Taliban fighters in the south, and then, after the Taliban scattered, a drawn-out struggle against a campaign of bombings, ambushes, and assassinations. The Canadian contingent of 2,500 soldiers had barely hung on in Kandahar. “We didn’t lose, but we didn’t win either,” Vance lectured. read more