Sep 29, 2008

A message from Michael Moore


Let me cut to the chase. The biggest robbery in the history of this country is taking place as you read this. Though no guns are being used, 300 million hostages are being taken. Make no mistake about it: After stealing a half trillion dollars to line the pockets of their war-profiteering backers for the past five years, after lining the pockets of their fellow oilmen to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars in just the last two years, Bush and his cronies -- who must soon vacate the White House -- are looting the U.S. Treasury of every dollar they can grab. They are swiping as much of the silverware as they can on their way out the door.

No matter what they say, no matter how many scare words they use, they are up to their old tricks of creating fear and confusion in order to make and keep themselves and the upper one percent filthy rich. Just read the first four paragraphs of the lead story in last Monday's New York Times and you can see what the real deal is:"Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it.


"Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages.


"At the same time, investment firms were jockeying to oversee all the assets that Treasury plans to take off the books of financial institutions, a role that could earn them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees.


"Nobody wants to be left out of Treasury's proposal to buy up bad assets of financial institutions."


Unbelievable. Wall Street and its backers created this mess and now they are going to clean up like bandits. Even Rudy Giuliani is lobbying for his firm to be hired (and paid) to "consult" in the bailout.

The problem is, nobody truly knows what this "collapse" is all about. Even Treasury Secretary Paulson admitted he doesn't know the exact amount that is needed (he just picked the $700 billion number out of his head!). The head of the congressional budget office said he can't figure it out nor can he explain it to anyone.

And yet, they are screeching about how the end is near! Panic! Recession! The Great Depression! Y2K! Bird flu! Killer bees! We must pass the bailout bill today!! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Falling for whom? NOTHING in this "bailout" package will lower the price of the gas you have to put in your car to get to work. NOTHING in this bill will protect you from losing your home. NOTHING in this bill will give you health insurance.

Health insurance? Mike, why are you bringing this up? What's this got to do with the Wall Street collapse?

It has everything to do with it. This so-called "collapse" was triggered by the massive defaulting and foreclosures going on with people's home mortgages. Do you know why so many Americans are losing their homes? To hear the Republicans describe it, it's because too many working class idiots were given mortgages that they really couldn't afford. Here's the truth: The number one cause of people declaring bankruptcy is because of medical bills. Let me state this simply: If we had had universal health coverage, this mortgage "crisis" may never have happened.

This bailout's mission is to protect the obscene amount of wealth that has been accumulated in the last eight years. It's to protect the top shareholders who own and control corporate America. It's to make sure their yachts and mansions and "way of life" go uninterrupted while the rest of America suffers and struggles to pay the bills. Let the rich suffer for once. Let them pay for the bailout. We are spending 400 million dollars a day on the war in Iraq. Let them end the war immediately and save us all another half-trillion dollars!

I have to stop writing this and you have to stop reading it. They are staging a financial coup this morning in our country. They are hoping Congress will act fast before they stop to think, before we have a chance to stop them ourselves. So stop reading this and do something -- NOW! Here's what you can do immediately:

1. Call or e-mail Senator Obama. Tell him he does not need to be sitting there trying to help prop up Bush and Cheney and the mess they've made. Tell him we know he has the smarts to slow this thing down and figure out what's the best route to take. Tell him the rich have to pay for whatever help is offered. Use the leverage we have now to insist on a moratorium on home foreclosures, to insist on a move to universal health coverage, and tell him that we the people need to be in charge of the economic decisions that affect our lives, not the barons of Wall Street.

2. Take to the streets. Participate in one of the hundreds of quickly-called demonstrations that are taking place all over the country (especially those near Wall Street and DC).

3. Call your Representative in Congress and your Senators. (click here to find their phone numbers). Tell them what you told Senator Obama.

When you screw up in life, there is hell to pay. Each and every one of you reading this knows that basic lesson and has paid the consequences of your actions at some point. In this great democracy, we cannot let there be one set of rules for the vast majority of hard-working citizens, and another set of rules for the elite, who, when they screw up, are handed one more gift on a silver platter. No more! Not again!

Michael Moore


Sep 17, 2008




By M. Ashraf Haidari

As Americans reflect on the tragic events of seven years ago, they should also recall that the September 11 terrorist attacks caused the international spotlight to refocus on Afghanistan. The US-led invasion in late 2001 succeeded in driving the Taliban from power, and paved the way for a humanitarian success story. Of late, however, the international commitment to Afghanistan seems to have lost traction. One way that Americans can honor the September 11 victims is by keeping Afghan reconstruction efforts on course, and doing their part to ensure that millions of Afghan refugees feel secure enough to return home.

Over the course of the past three decades, Afghan refugees have never hesitated to return home as soon as promising conditions have given them hope for restoration of peace and justice in their homeland. In 1992 and 1993, for example, following the fall of the Afghan communist regime, more than 2 million Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriated from Pakistan and Iran. But their return ground to a halt, shortly after the breakout of the civil war that plunged Afghanistan into anarchy and chaos.

Buoyed by international re-engagement in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, more than 5 million Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan and Iran during the early 2000s, making the largest voluntary repatriation in the history of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

But there still are over 3 million Afghan in Pakistan, and over 1 million in Iran, and these remaining refugees are now reluctant to return home. Deteriorating security, widespread poverty and unemployment, and a severe lack of social facilities such as access to education and healthcare constitute major obstacles to voluntary repatriation of most Afghan refugees. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In many areas, especially in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban has once again emerged as a force to be reckoned with. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

When a UN reporter in June asked one Afghan refugee, Hazrat Shah, if he planned to repatriate, the carpet weaver now living in Pakistan replied; "There is no place in the world like home. But where would you go if your house were ablaze?" He added gloomily, "Today two new graves have been dug for two brothers who were killed in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan." The two youngsters--not related to Hazrat Shah--had returned home to Gereshk in Helmand province the week before to find jobs and gradually to pave the way for the repatriation of their entire family from Pakistan.

The government and people of Afghanistan appreciate the humanitarian assistance Pakistan and Iran have provided to Afghan refugees over the past three decades. But pull factors such as improved security, enhanced protection and reintegration assistance, and increased employment opportunities in Afghanistan should determine push factors in host states.

Pakistan and Iran must honor the principle of non-refoulement, rooted both in international and Islamic law, to refrain from forcible deportation of Afghan refugees. The Afghan government maintains separate trilateral agreements with Pakistan, Iran, and UNHCR--a key provision of which is to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from the two countries only if the conditions inside Afghanistan allow. Although host states have an interest in encouraging refugees to go back home, UNHCR is mandated to prevent and protect refugees from repatriating prematurely if the prevailing conditions at home are not ready for their return. Except for spontaneous returns during 2002-2003, Afghan refugees must have been warned about increasing instability and a severe lack of reintegration assistance in Afghanistan in the following years.

Contrarily, however, Afghan refugees have been encouraged to return home, as repatriation--voluntary or otherwise--has been viewed as a positive sign of stabilization and reconstruction progress in Afghanistan. Consequently, the fact that most returnees have ended up becoming internally displaced due to conflicts and an expanding drought should be cause for serious concern to UNHCR and the international community. It should also be a signal to halt further premature repatriation of Afghan refugees until the conditions in Afghanistan have improved enough for their safe return home.

At the same time, the international community must honor the principle of burden sharing and provide relief assistance to states hosting large numbers of refugees. Assistance to Pakistan and Iran should aim at empowering Afghan refugees so that they will gain skills necessary both to contribute to their host societies and later to use those skills to earn an income upon return home.

Additionally, developed countries must expand their resettlement programs, taking in more Afghan refugees from Iran and Pakistan on an annual basis. Resettlement of Afghan refugees in the developed countries will go a long way in helping rebuild and develop Afghanistan. Resilience and high achievement motivation that characterize most refugees will quickly enable resettled Afghan families to adapt into their new societies, taking advantage of social and economic opportunities there to establish themselves and to continue supporting their relatives at home, as well as in Pakistan and Iran.

In the long run, most resettled Afghans will have gained wealth and higher education which they would certainly use to invest in Afghanistan, as we know from the return of many wealthy Afghans and technocrats who have made significant contributions to Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002.

In pondering resettlement programs, one myth must be confronted head-on: Contrary to frequent allegations that Afghan refugees are a burden on their host countries’ economies, the opposite is most often true. The millions of refugees in Pakistan and Iran are assets to those countries’ economies. Many Afghans in both states fill a glaring need in the labor sector, working casual jobs at wages much lower than that paid to locals who may not even be willing to accept such jobs because of social taboos associated with casual labor. Other Afghan refugees use their special skills--such as carpet weaving--to produce quality Afghan rugs, which local firms purchase below market price, brand them made in the host country, and then sell them in developed countries with manifold profit. Most importantly, a significant number of Afghan refugees have found success as entrepreneurs and have risen to operate midsize and even corporate-level businesses in Pakistan, Iran, and the Gulf states, making notable contributions to those countries’ economic growth.

Other allegations that terrorists recruit from Afghan refugee camps are utterly baseless and a political excuse on Pakistan’s part not to cooperate sincerely in the war against terrorism. Afghan refugees are actually victims of violence and terrorism, but abusing their status as a scapegoat is clearly a violation of their rights under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Countries that are party to the Geneva Convention and other international human rights regimes are obligated to respect refugee rights as human rights and safeguard them by providing refugees with protection from violence, persecution, and human insecurity that collectively make it impossible for most refugees to return home voluntarily.

Almost 2,500 years ago, Euripides wrote that "there is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land." Indeed, for most Afghan refugees, like Hazrat Shah, no foreign land can ever replace their homeland where they will return as soon as they feel secure to do so. It is obvious that the real durable solution to the Afghan refugees’ problem is voluntary repatriation, which can only be guaranteed by security in Afghanistan. Hence, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan’s other neighbors can and must cooperate with the international community to stabilize Afghanistan first.

Durable stability and prosperity in the country would automatically attract Afghan refugees to voluntarily return home. At the same time, the international community must honor the commitments they recently made at the Paris Support Conference to provide the Afghan government with long-term resources to implement the objectives of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy--a key priority of which is to help reintegrate returning refugees and internally displaced persons into their communities.

Editor's Note: A former refugee, internally displaced person, and UNHCR field officer, M. Ashraf Haidari is the political counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. His e-mail is

Posted September 11, 2008 © Eurasianet

The Central Eurasia Project aims, through its website, meetings, papers, and grants, to foster a more informed debate about the social, political and economic developments of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a program of the Open Society Institute-New York. The Open Society Institute-New York is a private operating and grantmaking foundation that promotes the development of open societies around the world by supporting educational, social, and legal reform, and by encouraging alternative approaches to complex and controversial issues.

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the position of the Open Society Institute and are the sole responsibility of the author or authors.

Sep 7, 2008

Towards a Successful 2009 Afghan Presidential Election

Towards a Successful 2009 Afghan Presidential Election

Remarks by M. Ashraf Haidari, Political Counselor, Embassy of Afghanistan
The Near East South Asia Center (NESA) for Strategic Studies

Washington, DC
July 28-29, 2008

Many thanks for that kind introduction, Mr. Sharp.

First of all, I would like to thank General David Barno, Mr. Robert Sharp, and Mr. Peter Maher for organizing this very timely conference on next year's elections.

Over the past few weeks, there has been much debate about the situation in Afghanistan at various think tanks in DC, but almost none has specifically focused on what is actually on everyone's mind. The views and comments raised here since yesterday have been quite informative and enlightening on the upcoming Afghan elections.

Other panel speakers and those in the audience have identified the key challenges ahead of us, as well as the opportunities that need to be ceased to build upon the progress we have made in the social, economic, and security sectors to encourage voters' participation in the upcoming elections.

I would like to share with you my thoughts on a few issues that I think are important to keep in mind, as we plan and prepare for the upcoming elections in Afghanistan.

At the outset, I would like to stress, as Ambassador Jawad did yesterday, that holding presidential election next year is of deep symbolic importance to the Afghan people, both inside and outside our country.

Afghans view next year's elections not only as another step forward in our new democracy but also as an opportunity to make their voices heard on the many challenges facing our population of what I call vulnerable groups (e.g. returning refugees, IDPs, the disabled, former combatants, jobless youth, women and children, and the elderly).

I am optimistic that we will have a high voter turnout in the upcoming elections if security allows. I think that regardless of weak governance over the past four years that may be a cause for low voter turnout, the demographic landscape of Afghanistan has generationally changed in favor of a multi-candidate and competitive presidential election next year.

The voting age is 18, and if you recall from 2004 presidential elections, there were 10.5 million eligible voters, 80% of whom turned out to cast their votes. By the following year for the parliamentary elections, the number of eligible voters at 18 years of age rose to 12.5 million.

So, if we add two million eligible voters to the electorate each year since 2005, we will have at least another five million young voters. This means that the majority of the electorate in 2009 and 2010 will be between 18 and 40 years of age.

Compared to the previous electorate, this age group is far more literate, educated, and aware of the domestic, regional, and international issues that affect the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan. To give you an example: in 2004 and 2005, young Afghans were just getting cell phones and beginning to take intermediate English courses across urban Afghanistan.

Today, they know how to text-message better than most of us here; they have multiple e-mail accounts; and they daily write blogs, discussing Afghan issues in the regional and global contexts. This age group dominates both urban and rural populations; they constitute the largest jobless segment of our population and yet they are the bread winners of their families; they are active in the formal and informal marketplace; and they are high school and university students, looking forward to a better future.

So, I think the caveat to keep in mind is that it is important to engage this young electorate both from a civic education and participation perspectives from the beginning. Failure to do so will be easily taken advantage of by peace spoilers; we know that jobless and frustrated young professionals can be very destabilizing in any society, particularly in Afghanistan's complicated political environment.

Second, security will continue to worry all of us until after the elections are over. I think there are two types of security threats to the upcoming elections: traditional and non-traditional. On the traditional threat, as Ambassador Jawad pointed out yesterday, a strategic commitment by the government of Pakistan is needed to cooperate with Afghanistan and our common allies to ensure the security of upcoming elections.

We sincerely hope that Pakistan will truly mobilize its deployed forces along the border to curb cross-border terrorist activities in Afghanistan. I also think effective intelligence sharing between Pakistan and our common allies will be key to neutralizing terrorist plots against strategic targets such as candidates, international observers, relief workers, polling staff and stations in key provinces, and civilians.

On the non-traditional security threat to the upcoming elections, we should be concerned about an abundance of narco-money and funds from foreign peace spoilers that could be used to destabilize the political and security situation in major urban areas with large numbers of voters. This means that we must have a two-pronged strategy, one that simultaneously addresses security threats in rural south and east, as well as in large populous cities, where security incidents are least or minimally expected to take place.

Third, on the issue of legitimacy of elections as far as the impartiality of the international community is concerned, we hope that our international partners, as Ambassador Jawad and General Barno pointed out yesterday, will have a hands-on approach. By default, the Afghan people expect UNAMA—as mandated by the UN Security Council Resolutions— to play an effective oversight role to ensure that no electoral institution will violate its independent status in favor of any contesting candidates.

In the Afghan context, a lack of effective oversight can easily lead to such violations, which could undermine the legitimacy of the whole process, as well as that of its implementers, Afghans and non-Afghans alike.

Fourth, we Afghans like bargaining too much, negotiating days and months, getting rough and tough. This is quite reflective of the culture and diversity of the Afghan people, but we are also a people sincere and serious in our words and actions—in spite of our differences. Afghans tend to reach consensus on the most difficult issues as quickly as we might sweat over small ones.

Needless to say, the upcoming elections will involve much bargaining and negotiating over anything and everything. This will require a listening ear first and foremost by the UNAMA leadership and its supporting UN family of agencies. Ambassador Kai Eide's most challenging and yet rewarding task would be to talk to Afghans endlessly, listen to what Afghans have to say, and work with them on a consensus in the greater interest of the Afghan nation.

Afghans do have a good record of coming together to do the impossible for their country, of course regardless of their ethno-sectarian background and political ideology. But each time they have gotten close to a national compromise, they have been divided by regional peace spoilers in the past. Ambassador Eide must be supported strongly by the international community to prevent this from happening before, during, and after the elections.

Fifth and most important of all, we all agree that holding elections one after another round without actually strengthening our state institutions to deliver on the promise of elections is meaningless. Afghans resort to elections as a means to achieve an end. If we continue to fall behind in making progress towards our end goal over the next five years, Afghans will increasingly be forced to choose between us and dangerous alternatives for survival. Therefore, we hope that the international community will deliver on the commitments they made in the recent Paris Support Conference to align their aid resources with the objectives the Afghanistan National Development Strategy—a key priority of which is to build institutional capacity in order to deliver basic services to people.

I think it is important to stress that Afghanistan cannot achieve self-reliance and self-sufficiency unless the international community enables it to do so. In light of our massive rebuilding needs, the international community must match ends with means. Committing long-term resources is absolutely necessary but ensuring that aid is effectively delivered through Afghan state institutions to achieve the objectives of our National Development Strategy is equally important.

To ensure strategic coordination across the donor community, the international community must provide the requisite resources—as recently requested by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon—to operationalize UNAMA in Afghanistan, and be willing to be coordinated by UNAMA.

Finally, a significant number of Afghan citizens reside in developed countries in Europe, Australia, and North America who wish to participate in the national elections. In 2004 and 2005, we received many calls from the Afghan Diaspora, complaining why they were not given a chance to vote.

The Afghan Diaspora is an important voting bloc that should be given an opportunity to vote, particularly in an effort to strengthen moderates in Afghanistan and to give resourceful Afghans abroad a stake in returning home to help rebuild Afghanistan.

Thank you for your attention to these issues. I look forward to your comments.

Sep 2, 2008

Hypocrisy: The cover for the failures of Islamic Politics

I was talking with a friend in Kabul over the phone earlier today as he was walking out of Indra Gandhi Paediatric Hospital in Kabul. My friend signed in her daughter who is seriously ill into Indra Gandhi hospital a few days ago but she has not received the appropriate treatment and the hospital condition is dire. He could not get his daughter to Charsad Bistar hospital which is slightly better condition because it does not admit children. He was on his way to ISAF hospital where a foreign friend offered to help him get his daughter signed into the hospital. ISAF hospital is not open to general public and the condition is very good as it is for treating foreigners. After I got off the phone I was thinking about the hospitals in Kabul and there is one thing strikingly similar about all Kabul hospitals: they are founded and funded by foreign countries. Indra Gandhi Hospital, obvious enough from the name, was established and mentored by Indians. Charsad Bistar was founded by Russians. It is modern and big and rival any US funded public building. ISAF hospital is run by NATO and the administration rotates between European nations. All these hospitals were built at the time when the Afghan government developed close ties with the country of sponsors. Kabul hospitals date back to fifty years and it shows how the country always relied on foreign support. Afghanistan has always relied on foreigners to sustain some sort of government. It was true fifty years ago and it is true today. Doud Khan leaned toward USSR in the 70s because he needed money to bridge 70% deficit in his government budget; huge chunk of Afghan governments came from abroad and the reliance has been increasing ever since while the politics of Afghanistan is pervasively becoming ‘Islamic’ which means militancy and violence has been encouraged though Jihadi ideology. Jihad in its essence is xenophobia, Jihad is nurturing an attitude of hatred toward foreigners and they do not have to be non believers. Jihad in Afghanistan has been mostly concerned with massacring the next village or the other tribe. Below I will try to analyse how Jihadi groups, which are strongest ever in Afghanistan today, are subdued to Americans and international community.

I argue that Jihadis and Islamic politics which means no state affair could be contrary to the principles of Islam, as stated in the Afghan constitution, is based on hypocrisy. Islamic politics are so vulnerable to interpretation that it lacks any principle. Afghan politicians interpret Islam in the way to suite their purpose; it could be argued that Islam as a state mechanism provides a cover for tyranny. Afghan Jihadi leaders have killed thousands fighting an opponent because they believe the opponent has links with a foreign state while they are also supported by a similar foreign government. Islamic politics is not the only source of evil in Afghan society; the society inherently is closed and rejects any change except when it is forced up on it.

Change is an important concept of any society. Change means to exclude everything that is predictable. This means that only events that could not be expected in accordance with the prevailing state of knowledge qualify as change.

Afghanistan is a tribal society and tribal morality gave rise to a closed society, which confers rights and obligations on members of the tribe and discriminates against outsiders. Tribal morality doesn’t recognise certain fundamental human rights. Rights differ based on tribal, ethnic or religious affiliations. Afghan society, being a tribal society, is built on the absence of change. In such a society, the mind has to deal with one set of conditions only: that which exists at the present time. What has gone before and what will come in the future are perceived as if they were identical to what exists now. There is no need to distinguish between thinking and reality. This traditional mode of thinking has only one task: to accept things as they are. Islamist can get away with their actions until they admit they are devoted muslims which appeals to the status quo. The public would not challenge them because that is a change. This supreme simplicity extracts a heavy price: it generates beliefs that may be completely divorced from reality. Abdul Rassool Sayyaf commander who is famous for beheading ethnic Hazaras and then pouring boiled oil on their scored necks to watch what he called ‘dead dance’ is driving in a smart car in Kabul today. Perhaps the reason Afghan society does not protest actively against such gruesome action is they are detached from reality. The traditional mode of thinking can prevail only if members of a society identify themselves as part of the society to which they belong and unquestioningly accept their place in it. a better term than traditional or tribal to explain Afghan society is to call it ‘organic society’, a society in which individuals are organs of a social body. This explains why a women is killed if the husband is taunted about her. Paighure is tribal code and it is to punish a woman if she is misperceived by some other person in the society. She is not an individual but rather an agent of the society/tribe. Afghan society being an organic society does not function along side a working government. Afghan society is vulnerable to forms of social organisation that had a better grasp of reality.

Change as it occurs in Afghan society causes uncertainty. There are two ways to deal with uncertainty: we can accept it or deny it. the former leads to a critical mode of thinking; the later to a dogmatic mode. Each approach has its merits and drawbacks. The state of affairs in Afghanistan constantly changes, people are confronted by an infinite range of possibilities. Understanding what is going on from the haze of possibilities requires critical thinking. Critical thinking has a major drawback that it does not satisfy the quest for certainty. In a rapid changing place like Afghanistan critical thinkers can rarely provide answers because of the amount of uncertainty. On the other hand Islam and Islamic politics offers certainty through dogmatic thinking. The dogmatic thinking gives people the illusion of certainty but it distorts reality. Islamic leader despite their atrocities continue to appeal to society as oppose to any other form of politics because they are dogmatic in their action and Islamic in their ideology.