Dec 17, 2012

The Root Cause of Green on Blue Attacks

Note: I published this article first on openDemocracy

‘Green on blue attacks' is the name given to a growing series of incidents where seemingly rogue Afghan security forces turn their guns on their NATO counterparts. These insider attacks have led to the deaths of more than 50 NATO troops since the beginning of 2012. Subsequently, NATO responded in September by halting joint operations with Afghan security forces to prevent further attacks, following the deaths of 6 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops over one weekend.
With the increased frequency of green on blue attacks, the topic has become an important subject for western media. It is usually portrayed as a religious and cultural problem in which Afghan troops react to perceived insults by American troops’ behavior. Others cite Taliban infiltration into Afghan security forces. But after talking to various Afghan journalists and writers who have been covering this issue for the past decade, I realized that the reasons behind these attacks go much deeper than cultural and religious incompatibilities or suspected Taliban infiltration. Rather, the motivation behind the green on blue attacks has developed over the past half decade of NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Towards a basic understanding

The basic cultural characteristics of Afghans are based on a hierarchy of respect and care for family, clan and tribe. Considering this simple fact, it is very easy to understand why Afghan police soldiers would become rogue and turn their guns against NATO troops. Most of those rogue soldiers became lethal enemies after losing a member of their families through NATO airstrikes. If someone is killed as a result of an accidental NATO bombing, it is likely that he or she has family left behind. The family’s pride is wounded and someone in the family must bring the pride back.

Over the past years, most who joined the Taliban were those brothers and fathers with wounded pride. In 2008, I went to Helmand province for two weeks to teach blogging and online journalism to young writers and poets. On the second day I was teaching, two missiles hit the governor’s house, just a block away. One of them landed in our backyard and shattered the windowpanes.

Four days later, on Friday night, some of those participants of the workshop gathered in a small party a few blocks away from the governor’s house. I was worried about the missile attacks from such close proximity but one of the participants told me “Don’t be afraid, the Taliban will not launch their missiles tonight.” He had asked his uncle, who was one of the commanders of the Taliban, not to shell the city. His uncle had lost two members of his family in a NATO bombing and now he joined the Taliban to take revenge and restore his family’s pride.

In 2009, Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, with the help of NATO, launched an ambitious program to double the size of its army. There were not enough volunteers in Kabul, so the Afghan Army recruiters recklessly directed their efforts toward young, desperate and jobless Afghans, who were gathering in roundabouts (Afghans call it “Chawk”) in search of work in different towns. These young people were promised generous compensation. These places became the main targets for recruitment of Taliban infiltrators; many of those with wounded pride went there looking for an opportunity to become martyrs by killing infidels in their land.

Another reason motivating some members of the Afghan police forces to turn against NATO troops is the continuation of night raids. During these operations, NATO troops go door to door looking for insurgents and explosive devices. However, despite some benefits, such as reducing insurgent attacks, these night raids have caused more harm than good.

In September 2011, the Christian Science Monitor reported that by one estimation, the number of night raids rose to 40 daily throughout Afghanistan, meaning approximately 14,600 night raids took place that year. In other words, 14,600 families have been displaced, harassed, had their windows and doors broken, and their belongings thrown out. If we consider that each of those 14,600 affected families has at least 7 members, then the total number harmed comes to 102,200 individual Afghan civilians per year.

According to ISAF Data, night raids have killed over 1,500 Afghan civilians in less than 10 months in 2010 and early 2011. These night raids have been one of NATO’s most controversial tactics; from President Karzai’s perspective it has been disrespectful to Afghan culture and has undermined the legitimacy of his government.

It will only get worse

Night raids by reckless NATO troops and the resulting civilian casualties have contributed to the problems that gradually motivate green on blue attackers. These attackers are not necessarily linked to the Taliban; most of time, they act independently, inspired by their need to bring pride back to their families. The green on blue attacks are likely to increase, given continuing civilian deaths and injuries, such as the airstrike in September that killed 8 women and injured others, including children.

Moreover, with the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. and international troops in 2014, earlier than anticipated, desperation and hopelessness are mounting among Afghans. To them, foreign troops have not helped their country as much as promised, adding to the tendency of rogue Afghan soldiers to look at their foreign comrades as enemies. For now, halting the joint operations of NATO forces with Afghan forces is the only option to avoid the green on blue attacks.

Oct 28, 2012

Individuals Matter

Individual leadership matters, and leaders make a difference in international relations. There is some empirical evidence that individuals have played an important role in international relations. In IR the form of government is not as important as the leadership. Sometimes, the public domain and internal politics personify in leadership. In Farsi, there is a proverb that goes "what leaks out of the ewer is what is inside it"[از کوزه همان تراود که دراوست],or in English as goes "tree is known by its fruit." Lets consider Ahmadinejad of Iran's leadership, for example. During his two term presidency, he had been one of the most controversial figures in international sphere.

If Ahmadinejad had not called Israel a “tumor” and had not reiterated the words of former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, by saying that Israel should be wiped off the map, today, Iran might have a different status in international relations. Furthermore, if Ahmadinejad had not used inflammatory rhetoric against Israel, and he has not continued to do so, probably Israel and the United State might not pay so much attention to Iran’s uranium enrichment.

Iran began developing its nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure in 1990. During Muhammad Khatami’s presidency Iran made some progress in its enrichment program. Khatami who was known for his openness to dialogue proposed discussion between civilizations. He was the only president after Rafsanjani who openly called for dialogue between the US and Iran.

The impact of individuals in international relations especially in Middle Eastern politics has always been felt through their leadership and management. Had Saddam and Khomeini not been born, the Middle East today could be different? I guess the answer is not a simple "no," it is rather complicated. Nevertheless, if some of these leaders were not born, the world would be much different than as of today.

To conclude, individuals matter, a good and skillful leader can play an important role for his/her country in international relations. The Middle Eastern countries in international relations are always in the spotlight because they are in a different circumstance. Almost 66% of global oil reserves are in the hands of Middle Eastern regimes: Saudi Arabia (25%), Iraq (11%), Iran (8%), UAE (9%), Kuwait (9%), and Libya (2%). Any instability in the Middle East could impact the world economy. 

Oct 12, 2012

How does NATO determine who is insurgent and who is not?

On September 16th, 2012, AFP reported that NATO troops killed eight Afghan women in an airstrike. These women were on a mountainside collecting firewood for fuel in a small village in the Alingar district of the Laghman province.

According to the report, ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Hagen Messer said that the shooting happened at around 1:00 am (2030 GMT Saturday).

Considering Afghan society and especially Pashtun traditions, it is almost impossible to believe that they would let their women go out in middle of the night, in complete darkness to collect wood. Traditionally, it is immoral and against Pashtun culture to let their women go out, especially in the dark, for work.

Moreover, it makes the story murkier when it says the women were in the woods at 2:00AM because they cannot see in the dark. Usually, Afghans collect firewood and pile them next to their houses and huts and it is the men’s job not women’s job.

The AFP and New York Times (NYT claims the airstrike happened at 2:00AM midnight) reports which claim that these 8 women were collecting wood in the mountains in the middle of the night have prompted speculation that the house which was used by insurgents was attacked by a NATO airstrike. These women probably ran out from the house to hide in a safe place that was targeted by a NATO airstrike. Among 8 dead there were two children as well.

Yet, the question is if NATO troops cannot make the distinction between men and women, and children, how can they determine who is an insurgent and who is an innocent civilian?

Oct 6, 2012

Water, Use It Wisely

At home, in my small village, in central part of Afghanistan, I used to carrying water in buckets on my shoulders from a stream which was 100 meters away from our house. Being born in a mountainous area with water scarcity I understand the value and importance of fresh water.

Considering my lifestyle in Carlisle and my lifestyle back home there is much difference. I can not make a comparison between here and there but I choose to make a comparison of my water footprint in Carlisle and Turkey.

To find out my water usage I went to water footprint calculator on National Geographic, then on this link to use the extended water footprint calculator to assess my own unique water footprint and finally here to find out the water footprint of my country of interest.

According to the following chart, my average water use falls 687 gallons below the U.S. national average. The chart shows that I purchase less stuff, electronics, clothes and other stuff than the average American.

Based on this chart, my daily water usage is 16 gallons above the global average. Comparing to Turkey, I use 241 gallons a day less the average Turk.

Sep 26, 2012

All Politics Is Not Local In The Middle East

"All politics is local" is a common phrase in U.S. politics and it only makes sense in the context of the United States and some European countries. When it comes to the Middle Eastern politics, this phrase withers away and becomes meaningless.

Probably, nowhere is more diverse and tourist-centered with restaurants and foods from around the world than New York City, specifically Times Square. People from different part of the world like Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and Europe have their businesses and street markets. They keep the city clean, civilized, and always do their best to please their customers.

Now, imagine New York City in terms of culture, religion and races, but when it comes to voting, and paying taxes, these differences do not matter. What is important to the citizens of New York City is raising taxes, the job market, education, Wall Street, health care, and many other minor issues on an individual level. At this point, candidates knock on the doors of new-yorkers, and where local politics matter more than anything else. At this level, democracy rings true, candidates or leaders begin to know their people, understand their problems, and listen to them, and people also start knowing their leaders. This is how a democratic society should work and it works in the United States very well. There is only one reason that makes people care about politics: their taxes. The politics of U.S. taxes influence local taxes first, then national politics and then international politics.

Now, why are all politics not local in the Middle East and North Africa?
First, most countries in the Middle East are not democratic; leaders do not have a strong connection with their people. Six countries in the Middle East are under absolute monarchy. Those are: the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In North Africa, Morocco is the only monarchy. The rest of the countries like Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Iran have despotic rulers which if are not worse than monarchy are not better either. In monarchy and despotic systems, people’s voices are not heard and their votes do not matter.

Second, in several countries in the Middle East people do not pay taxes. If citizens of a country do not pay taxes, they feel less responsibility towards their governments. They restrict the freedom of their citizens; they forbid women from driving or appearing in the public without male companions, like in Saudi Arabia. The government instead of collecting taxes gives money to its citizens. This makes the citizens more willing to let their governments do whatever they want to do.

Therefore, all politics is not local in the Middle East because of these disparities among governments and their citizens. Citizens in the Middle East unfortunately live with the absence of democracy and freedom. They are oppressed and suppressed by tyrannical regimes. In conclusion, the Middle East contrast that all politics is not local, yet it matters in the United States.

Sep 23, 2012

Discussing the "Green on Blue" attacks with BBC World News

Here I discussed the impact of the "green on blue" attacks by members of the Afghan police and army against coalition forces in Afghanistan and NATO airstrike which killed 8 women who were out gathering firewood before dawn.

Sep 19, 2012

A de facto partition for Afghanistan

Afghanistan, Pashtunistan
map's source
A de facto partition is not the best idea in Afghanistan but it will finally be the only option for Afghans to live peacefully. During the 20th century many new states were created and still happens and will continue to happen. Afghanistan in U.S. post-withdrawal does not seem to be peaceful, it is very likely for the country to enter into a catastrophic civil war that ethnic-cleansing would likely to be happened. As a result, a de facto partition is very probable to happen and the country would split into Pashtunistan and non-Pashtuns.

Sep 14, 2012

Will Anti-Film Protest Happen in Afghanistan?

As anti-film protests are spreading around the Middle East and North Africa, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has postponed his trip to Norway fearing unrest in the country. At the same time, the Afghan government has ordered an indefinite ban on Youtube to prevent access to an obscure American made film mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Karzai has already condemned the anti-Islam film as “inhuman and insulting” that’s made by extremist Americans. But the question is why Afghans are not yet protesting against the film because in the past they used to be at the forefront of such events?

There could be many reasons for why there is not yet a anti-film protest in Afghanistan. But first, not many Afghans have access to the internet or Youtube either.  This case is not that sensitive to the accidental burning of the Koran at the Bagram air base in northern Kabul for example. The burning of the Koran happened inside the country, Afghans have been very sensitive to cases like this that were and still are considered disrespectful to Islam.

Second, for the past years, any violent protest that took place was instigated by imams and clerics. In February, this year, some parts of the burned Koran was taken by Afghan forces working at Bagram and reported to mullahs in mosques.  The burning pages of the Koran enraged imams called for mass protests and in a span of two days a series of violent protests hit several cities throughout the country. As a result 30 protestors were killed, more than 200 were wounded and two U.S. officers were shot in a heavily guarded Afghan government ministry.

So, where are these Imams now and why have Imams and clerics not yet instigated a mass protest?

In the aftermath of Koran burning protests, the Afghan government has decided to stop clerics and imams from inciting violence or preaching anti-government slogans in mosques. The government warned mullahs to stop inciting violence otherwise they may face dismissal and possibly jail. Since then, mullahs have closely been watched by the government and it is that reason that Afghanistan is still quiet. According to some Afghan local news, mullahs have been condemning the film in their daily sermons but have not been asking people to take the streets and protest.

Sep 9, 2012

Ta’arof as a Denial in Iranian Social Life

Christopher de Bellaigue who is the author of the new book Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup has published an article on the Atlantic, explaining the complexity of ta’arof in Iran. Ta’arof is a borrowed word from Arabic which is simply used for introductions and meeting people.

In Farsi ta’arof is a form of polite behavior shown among Farsi speakers in Iran. It is a delightful and respectful interaction but at the same time it is a form denial and dishonesty. As Bellaigue explains ta’arof is
“symptomatic of a broader Iranian tendency to clothe every­thing in ambiguity—and to spend an inordinate amount of time doing so.”
Bellaigue, whose wife is Iranian, applied for Iranian citizenship eight years ago. Each time he went to the Department of Alien Affairs, he was welcomed warmly and offered tea and then asked to visit again. He says since ta’arof has an open ending, 8 years later, he is still waiting for his citizenship.

Ta’arof as much as it has a positive meaning in social interaction it has also some negative meanings. Basically, ta’arof can be used in a variety of ways, between a wife and a husband, father and son, brother with sisters and so on. It is so rooted in Iranian social life that it is hard to be removed. We Afghans always joke about Iranian ta’arof that how they waste time, instead of displaying their friendship and kindness they exaggerate to a point that ultimately is annoying.

Last week, after I read the Bellaigue’s piece on Iranian ta’arof I forwarded it to one of my friends at school. Since last year, she has tirelessly been working on her Farsi to travel to Iran with her Iranian friend but just recently her Iranian friends uninvited her. She wrote me back and said:

This article is a perfect explanation of how my friends first invited me to go to Iran next summer and then uninvited me. I thought my friends had been in this country enough decades to avoid this kind of thing but I was wrong. I just experienced ta’rof big time.
As Bellaigue says in his article that ta’arof is tricky and confusing. I am not in a position to judge whether Iranian should do their ta’arof outside Iran or not but it is certainly annoying and obnoxious to non-Iranians. Of course, most of Iranians are proud of ta’arof in their social interactions while there are many Iranians who abhor ta’arof. But ta’arof is still part of Iranian culture and identity. That’s how Iranian culture is distinct from cultures of other Farsi spoken countries like Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In these two countries where historically Farsi has deeper roots than Iran, ta’arof has no place in their cultures.

The purpose of writing this short piece is not to criticize Iranians because of their confusing traditional social behavior but to raise this question: to what extent do we know others and how can we avoid being ta’arofed by Iranian friends? Also should we expect them to be aware of our cultures and assimilate into an alien culture or should we learn their cultures accept them as they are?
The answers to these questions depend on individuals, time and location.

Aug 30, 2012

Smothered in smog that's created by the CIA

In 2005, I made a short visit to Tehran to visit a few friends. Tehran is the smoggiest of all capitals and when its severe air pollution that’s caused by petrol produced locally hits the city, it becomes unbearable. Schools were closed, the government expressed its concern and only a small number of cars were permitted to move in the city.

I spent 10 days in Tehran, in a city that was shrouded in darkness and poisonous air - it was really suffocating. One day I was in a taxi with other three other passengers going from downtown to uptown or “Tajrish.” On our way, everyone was complaining about the air pollution and why the government does not do anything.
A former University teacher who is retired and now driving a taxi blamed the United States and especially the CIA that has control over Tehran’s air. He said, the U.S. has this ability to put some tools in the sky to divert the direction of wind to somewhere else and stop letting people suffocate from a poisonous air in Tehran.

I heard this from many people in Tehran and surprisingly people did not blame the government or the flow of cheap oil to the capital.

Considering this as an example that how people in Iran, Afghanistan, and many Middle Eastern countries look to the U.S., it complicates the situation to understand others’ impressions of the U.S. and how they look at the U.S. Unfortunately they are full of rumors sometimes. I had a few Iranian classmates who believed that the UFO is a CIA agent that travels at the speed of light.

Before coming to the U.S., I realized that there is a huge gap of misunderstanding between people in the Middle East and the West in general. The reasons could be the lack of information, cultural clash and most importantly the public’s perception of U.S. influence in the Middle East that make people have hostile and negative attitudes.

Seven years ago, the internet was not that popular and many people did not have access to the internet; only a few hundred thousands had access. Today, Iran has 36,500,000 internet users, the highest number in the entire Middle East. Iran has been ranked the third country in the world for the blogsphere. In a country where media is strictly controlled by the government, these blogs are the potential sources of the news, not only for the people to understand the outside world but also educate others about their politics, culture and society.

Today, when I look at Iran and Afghanistan, I have a better understanding of these two countries. When you are inside the country the information flows and there is no one to critically look at the events but it’s obviously easy to judge something when you are not involved and from a little distance you can clearly understand what is happening.

Mar 28, 2012

Civic Education and Democratic Change in Afghanistan

Here is a successful story of civic education in Afghanistan that has rarely heard in the U.S. because of overwhelming news focus on war on terrorism . Aziz Royesh's work is beyond explanation, what he has been doing is life changing in the country. Royesh is a Reagan-Fascell Democracy fellow at National Endowment for Democracy in D.C. He was also a fellow a Yale University last year. This video tells a lot about his achievement and more importantly about his student's achievements.