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RE: [Global Alliance] Reports from Kabul, Afghanistan: Days 2-7

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  • Mike Abkin
    Thank you, Gerry, for this answer. Indeed, so much is going on on the ground that is under the radar of the press and most of the political leaders . Just
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 29, 2009
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      Thank you, Gerry, for this answer. Indeed, so much is going on on the ground that is under the radar of the press and most of the political “leaders”. Just knowing about it and spreading the word can raise consciousness and change the energy. And you are right – doing so while keeping the children in our hearts and minds.




      From: Communities of Peace [mailto:communitiesofpeace@...]
      Sent: Sunday, November 29, 2009 10:25 AM
      To: Mike Abkin
      Cc: Kucinich4President@yahoogroups.com; norcalpca@yahoogroups.com; Kucinich SV; San Mateo Peace Action; members@...
      Subject: Re: [Global Alliance] Reports from Kabul, Afghanistan: Days 2-7


      Dear Mike:

      This is in response to your second question -- What can we do that is more productive than petitions, rallies, etc????

      At the beginning of the Department of Peace consideration in the US in 1999,  I looked at this whole idea of what is really productive toward peace.  It seemed to me that each person, getting into action now, with their own unique positive contribution to others in community, is the answer, rather than rallies, petitions, agreements, etc.  This is essentially why the Communities of Peace format was born.  In this way, we can demonstrate NOW the reality of what works in creating a peaceful world.

      We're doing many things, but in regard to Afghanistan, we're partnering with the Women for Afghan Women organization.  One of our collaborators here is from Afghanistan, and she returns there about twice a year.  She and her organization are building schools, establishing cottage industries of many sorts, providing computer training, establishing medical clinics, etc. etc.  It's an extremely effective organization.  They work with the local leaders in Afghanistan, and establish women's shoras (training groups) wherever they go. 

      We've done exchange programs with children in some of the Afghan schools, are raising funds for the various projects, and are about to send a peace pole there, hopefully through the military.  The children have exchanged sections of the Children's Cloth of Many Colors, our peace quilt that was born at our peace event at the Pentagon in 2000, when we dedicated a peace pole for the chapel.  The original section of this now 1/3-mile long quilt hung in congressman Dennis Kucinich's office for a few years, and was presented to him by a child the day that the initial resolution for a Dept. of Peace was initiated in the US. 

      Perhaps the pure, innocent love of children, and their wishes for peace, can be an impetus that can make a difference where clumsier attempts, and military attempts, are failing.

      Our website is www.communitiesofpeace.org, if anyone would like to know more, or to participate with us.

      With love,
      Gerry Eitner

      On Sat, Nov 28, 2009 at 8:17 PM, Mike Abkin <mikeabkin@...> wrote:

      Michael, thank you so much for these daily journals of your Congressional Delegation visit to Afghanistan. Your love of the country shines through.


      Your reports are very hopeful – that there are positive, nonviolent, cost-effective courses of action. At the same time, they are extremely frustrating, even enraging – that that road seems always to be the one less traveled in Western (primarily U.S.) policy circles, no matter how often the more familiar road leads to repeated military and political failure and moral and financial bankruptcy. When will we ever learn??


      One question for you (well, maybe two):

      ·       What do you and Congressman Honda plan to do with this information?

      ·       Are there things we in the public can do beyond  marches, protests, petitions, and rallies (which haven’t seemed to be very effective) to help make the peace road more heavily traveled (even congested!) – both with regard to the particular case of Afghanistan as well as more generally in U.S. foreign (and domestic) policy?


      And thanks, too, for the link to Congressman Honda’s Washington Times op-ed. One wonders why the Times and not the Post? Why not every newspaper in the land? (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/12/a-different-kind-of-surge/)


      In peace and gratitude,



      Michael Abkin, Ph.D., Director of Organizational Development and Operations

      National Peace Academy




          * July 12-18, 2010: International Institute on Peace Education in Colombia
          * August 1-7, 2010: NPA Peacebuilding Peacelearning Intensive
      Details on both events coming soon:


      From: Shank, Michael (Honda) [mailto:Michael.Shank@...]
      Sent: Saturday, November 28, 2009 12:47 PM
      To: Shank, Michael (Honda)
      Subject: Shank's Last Days in Kabul, Afghanistan (Days 5-7)


      Hi Friends - Here's my last missive, from my final 3 days in Afghanistan. Within a mere week you get a good understanding of what's working and what's not. Below is a list of some of the good and the bad based on my mtgs on Day 5-7, w/ a concluding note about my trip to Istalif, near Bagram, to visit a development project. For those keen to review/read quickly, the more controversial stuff is in the 2nd half of this email.

      What is working?

      Organizations like the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), with whom I met on Day 5. No guns, no armoured vehicles ever accompany their development work (contrast this to the heavily armed USAID work costing $14,000 daily to arm and escort each worker).  By going unarmed, said AKF, and by prioritizing community trust, acceptance, and legitimacy - AKF is assured a secure and sustainable working environment.  If they ever take USAID or PRT money, they do it on the condition that USAID is never mentioned nor present at the project, for it would jepoardize AKF's relationship w/ the village. 

      On the US military and civilian presence? Said AKF, the military should not be in the business of development (1/4 of all US military is doing development) b/c they are not trained for it nor can they gain the trust of the community. In fact ISAF's recent interest in the National Solidarity Program (see my previous emails) may well contaminate the legitimacy of the NSP projects w/in the community.  On the civilian surge, it is apparently completely unfocused. AKF mentioned how many USAID-types, who were there for the recent surge, had no idea what they were doing.

      What else is working?

      Individuals like Al Geiser, a Mennonite from my hometown of Kidron, Ohio. I met up w/ Al on Day 5. He's been in Afghanistan for 10 years and speaks Dari fluently. He makes turbines for hydro power plants in villages throughout Afghanistan. Funded by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Al is building turbines capable of generating 500kw, enough to power an entire village or two. His shop is entirely staffed by Afghans and the co-owner of the shop is a longtime Afghan friend w/ whom Al stays (in a very humble apt for 7 family members, I went there for dinner). Al tells me that his 500kw turbines are the only turbines of that size produced by Afghans. Every other turbine of equal or greater size is produced entirely by foreigners. This gets back to the issue of legitimacy, acceptance and trust. Al is definitely trusted by the community and freely visits villages throughout Afghanistan to oversee the installment of the turbines (which the village must do all by hand in exchange for the equipment). Storytelling throughout dinner, one stuck out: Al said that Afghans will tell you that they know 1 good American for every 100 bad ones.

      What isn't working?

      1) The warlords. Everyone in Kabul cites how the US propped them up initially and that if we want a clean Karzai govt we must help bring to justice (ICC, The Hague) the very bloody hands we've supported since 2001.  The legal counsel to the Afghan Ministry of Urban Development, with whom I met on Day 7, stressed this point passionately. 

      2) The US troops. In our mtg with Presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani on Day 5, he cited that 60 percent of US troops were ineffective, taking particular aim at the Special Forces for driving villages closer to the Taliban b/c of the Special Forces' indiscriminate night raids, house seizures, killing of civilians, etc. I heard similar sentiment all week - that US forces are driving more and more Afghans toward the Taliban. Ghani also bemoaned the Congressional Budget Office's recent report that the cost for each US soldier is $1 million per year, exclaiming over how much more effectively that money could be spent for the betterment, and security, of Afghans.

      3) The Afghan Police and Army. On Day 7, we met again w/ Taliban leader Moulavi Arsalan Rahmani (former Taliban Govt Minister) and his big complaint w/ the Afghan Police and Army was their lack of representation. Before, he said, they were staffed and hired multi-ethnically. Now, only 1-2 tribes fill the posts. Make the Army and Police represent the country's diverse ethnic and tribal composition, said Rahmani, and you'll get much closer to keeping the peace.

      In the Afghan forces, according to Ghani, there is a 50 percent attrition rate after serving their 3 year term. Where do they go?  Either to the Taliban or to foreign private security contractors. Either way, the Govt loses.  

      4) The Development Industrial Complex. Ghani was making comparisons to the military industrial complex when he talked about the US State-Defense Dept PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams) and the profit-driven Development Industrial Complex that the US has created in Iraq and Afghanistan. He noted that 10 cents of every foreign aid dollar stays in Afghanistan, while 30 cents of every foreign military-oriented dollar stays - not very efficient numbers if we want to build the Afghan's ability to self-govern w/in a stable environment. 

      What could work?

      1) Training. Even the Taliban leader said that he's fine w/ the foreign troops provided they actually train the Afghan Army, Police and Intel Services - something, he said, that hasn't yet happened.  Having traveled most of Kabul and to villages outside Kabul, I should say that I witnessed Afghan Police on bicycles (I desperately wanted to take a picture b/c it baffled me so) and while I was at the airport I felt less safe in the hands of the Afghan forces than I did navigating bomb-ridden Kabul.  My understanding from other Congressional staff is that we continue to have, in the Dept of Defense, 2,000 unfilled slots for trainers of Afghan Army and Police.  If training is our aim, it appears we could do a much better job.

      2) The Afghan Taliban.  The Taliban leader Rahmani cited the increasing vulnerability of his Afghan Talib brothers, saying that Al Qaeda is keen to cast an umbrella over the various splintered Taliban groups throughout Central/South Asia and that the US military (particularly w/ their frequent killing of civilians) is pushing the Afghan Taliban closer to Al Qaeda.  Rahmani offered up his Afghan Taliban brethren for negotiations, suggesting that this was one way of undermining Al Qaeda, by preventing them from gathering all the various Talib under its wing. (See my previous emails for more on the Afghan Taliban.). His confidence-building measures seems feasible enough, even for an American audience.

      3) US-Afghan Agriculture Partnerships. Presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani brainstormed a creative solution to address his country's malnourished farming/Ag sector. Noting, like many others have, the inexcusable reliance on other countries for most imports (when Afghanistan is so rich in raw materials and natural resources), Ghani suggested a domestic US surge that would invest in America's land grant schools as they tutor and mentor Afghan farmers via video/satellite - a win-win, Ghani thought, for a recessed US economy and an impoverished Afghan country.

      4) Kabul. Some simple investment in Kabul, said the legal counsel for Ministry of Urban Development at the same time the power went out in his office, would go a long way in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans.  I can attest to the complete underdevelopment of the country's capital. It's appalling, frankly. Sewage in the streets. Dust everywhere. Traffice chaos. Mud roads. Having worked in cities like Manila, Jakarta, and Mumbai, let me say that Kabul is 10x poorer than all of them. If the US invested just a little in Kabul and other key cities, said Ghani (since 40 percent of Afghans live in the cities), then Afghans might see that the foreigners are actually concerned about bettering the lives of Afghans. Ghani called this idea the Urban Solidarity Programme, mirroring the effective National Solidarity Programmed I've mentioned before (which has more of a rural focus).

      On Day 6, I traveled a few hours north of Kabul to visit the town of Istalif near Bagram air base and Bagram prison. Having received an email from Gen McChrystal's advisor the day before, suggesting a conversation, I called ISAF headquarters to see if I could visit the base and prison (apparently it's possible on official staff delegations only). In the remote mountain village of Istalif, we checked out a hydro power plant built by the Koreans. Let me simply say that during the entirety of this trip to, and time in, Istalif, I felt completely safe and completely enthralled at the beauty of Afghanistan's geography and the resilience and generosity of the Afghan people.

      Few Americans, apparently, are navigating Afghanistan in soft-skinned vehicles - that's shorthand for unarmoured. Yet, I felt 10x safer doing so.

      One more anecdote before I sign off... Today, in Kabul, I happened to catch some of Tolo television, which is understood, correctly, by many Afghans to be foreign-funded and foreign-influenced. Tolo has been controversial for airing Western programming. Halfway through a viewing of Steve Spielberg's "Fievel Goes West", Gen McChrystal comes on Tolo TV w/ an advertisement. Behind him the logos of ISAF and NATO.  While I question McChrystal's use of the main Western channel (and the message this sends to viewers who already dislike Tolo), this misuse of media happens a lot in Afghanistan. I heard from Taliban leader Rahmani, who helped US forces secure the release of an abducted US soldier, that the US had distributed (air-dropped) leaflets throughout various villages threatening to bomb the village unless the US soldier was released. Rahmani wondered why they used such alienating and heavy-handed tactics when more strategic and civil means were available.  We must be careful and culturally considerate with our communication - it has the potential to do great harm.

      Okay, I think I've written enough for now. When I'm back in the States, I'd love to touch base w/ any of you about Afghanistan. Thanks everyone for the thoughts and prayers, both for my trip and for Afghanistan.


      ------Original Message------
      To: Michael Shank
      Subject: Afghanistan, Day 4: Taliban, Karzai and McChrystal
      Sent: Nov 26, 2009 1:14 AM

      Hi Friends - Day 4...As many of you prepare for Thanksgiving, so too is Kabul preparing for the Muslim holiday of Eid. Festive emails from you re: Turkey day parallel the festive rush here to buy sweets and find the fatted goat for sacrifice (Eid commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son).

      Today was intense given the diversity of conversations, from meetings w/ Afghan President Karzai's team and ISAF to a meeting with Taliban leader Maulavi Arsalan Rahmani, who under Taliban rule served as the Minister of Haj (pilgrimage) as well as the Minister of Higher Education and who now serves as a Senator in the Afghan parliament. I describe these mtgs below.

      The most hopeful meeting of the day? Undoubtedly the one with Afghan Minister Mohammed Zia from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, the very ministry that manages the National Solidarity Programme (see last email).

      Zia's "Community Development Councils (CDCs) are fast becoming the relied-upon model for doing anything in Afghanistan. To quote Matt Hoh, who recently resigned from a State Dept assignment in Afghanistan to protest US strategy, this country is where "valley-ism" rules, given that the country is comprised of sovereign-minded tribals. The CDCs, then, thrive within this valley-ism, working village by village. See this link for explanation of how the councils work: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/12/a-different-kind-of-surge/.

      So here's the interesting part, Gen. McChrystal and ISAF (international forces) have taken an interest in the CDCs, recognizing that the US-funded and primarily foreign-staffed PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams - a joint effort by US State and Defense Depts) are not as effective or cost-efficient as the CDCs.

      That McChrystal is keen to know more about the CDCs is a good thing, given how wasteful PRTs have become in Iraq and Afghanistan. When PRTs build a school for $150,000 when the Afghan govt or locals could build it for $30,000 and when PRTs are importing apples from New Zealand (via the US) and bottled water from the Gulf states, when local options are in ample supply, it not only builds bad blood within the community but it's an inefficient way of rebuilding the country and a poor use of American taxpayer dollars.

      The school example above came from Minister Zia but I've heard worse from orgs here re: private contractors. The most frequent type of story and perhaps the most egregious: A road project that is reimbursed by US taxpayer dollars for $5-7m, but only utilizes $1m of that sum to actually build the bridge. The rest? Numerous pockets have benefited, both foreign and local. Thankfully, some folks at State and Defense are beginning to recognize, albeit slowly, that this privatized model of rebuilding a country is not the best strategy available.

      Now the CDCs are being turned to for non-development tasks. The CDCs are helping communities resolve conflict, so Zia wants them to help with district elections and nominations for the national police force.  Good stuff happening here. I should say, however, that I was disappointed to hear here that USAID is claiming that Zia's National Solidarity Programme has a lobbyist in DC, which they don't.  The NSP could use a lobbyist, however, because it's the best game in town.

      Now to Karzai's team. Meeting w/ his spokesman Hamed, a gentle-spoken older man in his early 50s, I received a litany of frustrating anecdotes regarding foreign-funded capacity building. The most unflattering? A USAID-funded 25 year-old communications graduate, who'd never traveled outside the US, sent to build capacity w/in Karzai's communications team, while completely unfamiliar with traditional Afghan forms of communications.  While this happened several times w/ other foreign trainers, this wasn't Hamed's primary frustration. What pained him most was that he witnessed across all of Karzai's ministries a devastating trend: the Afghan govt would train young Afghans to take over leadership positions, only to have them leave for substantially higher paid positions w/ foreign contractors, international NGOs, etc. Hamed pleaded: If we want to build capacity in Afghanistan, we (the international community) must be mindful of the harm we do by incentivizing Afghans with excessively higher salaries so that Govt jobs remain unappealing.

      Now to the Taliban...Thanks to the Peace and Reconciliation Commission's efforts (see my 'Second Day' email sent 2 days ago) to disarm and reintegrate Taliban, we had an opportunity to meet w/ Maulavi Arsalan Rahmani (or Moulana Arsallah Rahmani), former Taliban Minister of Higher Education and Minister of Haj: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/asia/afghanistan/slideshow_taliban2/).

      Without passing judgment, let me just convey what Rahmani said. He noted that the Afghan Taliban is ready to disarm and ready to serve the govt in whatever way is constructive for the country. Rahmani insisted on differentiating Afghan Taliban from foreign Taliban or Al Qaeda, whether Uzbek, Tajik, Pakistani, Somali, Yemeni, etc. Rahmani supported a UN process whereby Turkey or a Gulf State would broker the conversation. Essentially, the Afghan Taliban is tired of fighting and want to return to their homes, families, and serve their country. I asked if they'd be keen to change the way Karzai does business. No, Rahmani said, unless there are obvious ways to govern more constructively - a process that the UN and US could facilitate to ensure gender equality.  Ironically, Rahmani sits between two female Senators in the Parliament presently, a dynamic he is quite comfortable with, highlighting a possible change of heart.

      Lastly, from my mtg w/ Nader Nadery who worked w/ the Elections Commission to monitor the recent Presidential elections, I want to mention 2 things Nader pointed out. First, Pres Bush and Karzai used to talk frequently, on a regularly scheduled basis, creating the foundation for a friendship that allowed Bush to influence Karzai. Obama's contact w/ Karzai, in contrast, has been very limited, making it difficult for Obama to help Karzai clean up the govt. Instead, many in Washington use the media to call out Karzai's govt corruption, which in turn puts Karzai in an embarrassing, cornered position where he's losing face among his own population. The result is not a more concerted effort by Karzai to clean house but a more defensive Karzai. If we want to work effectively w/ Karzai, said Nader, Obama needs to do a better job building the relationship.

      Nader also talked at length about his frustration w/ the international community's approach to, well, everything. The international community has not asked Afghans what they want or need, going so far as providing staff to orgs like Nader's without ever first asking what the org is need of.  He felt this needs to change ASAP. I told him I'd share this with folks back home in the hope that we can change this dynamic for the better.

      That's it for today's meetings. Tomorrow we meet w/ Ashraf Ghani, former presidential candidate, the Aga Khan Foundation (one of the most successful development orgs), Kabul University, and others.

      Thanks for reading and caring!

      Happy Thanksgiving and Eid Mubarak everyone.


      ------Original Message------
      To: Michael Shank
      Subject: Kabul, Day 3: Women, Troops and Private Contractors
      Sent: Nov 25, 2009 10:42 AM

      Hi Friends - From Day 3 in Kabul, an intense day w/ UN, Hekmat Karzai's Center for Conflict and Peace Studies and w/ the World Bank...again, I'm typing on my BB as we're traveling by car (on a very bumpy mud road), so please forgive mistakes...

      First, and most emotional, a meeting w/ UNIFEM's country director, an Afghan women who has been active on women's rights for the last 30 years. Truly inspirational. UNIFEM, for those who are wondering, is the UN's agency for dealing w/ the whole scope of women's capacity building. The tears shed in this meeting by Homa, the country director, were for a country nearly lost, without pride, without anything.

      Her plea? After 8 years, the international community has failed to prove that they're here for the good of Afghans b/c Afghans are still starving. Furthermore, Afghans, she noted, are making the comparison between a street beggar and Karzai, the beggar.  Afghanistan is so rich with raw and natural resources and yet most commodities are imported because there is no industry, no trade. After 8 years, she said, the international community did not put in place strategies/infrastructure for employment, security and basic Afghan industries.

      The dependency on the intl community is very demoralizing for Afghans, Homa said.  No more are they the proud nation. For how many years do they have to beg?

      In the same breath, Homa is supportive of a continued international presence provided that we help Karzai clean up his administration, put into power a strong leadership/management system, bring criminals (who serve in the govt or at the ministerial, governor or district level) to justice, ensure women are actively participating at all levels of society, and establish a trade and economic policy that works for Afghanistan. Homa is supportive of a US presence provided it comes with a very, very different strategy. Homa, by the way, is one of Karzai's key advisors on gender mainstreaming.

      My meeting w/ Hekmat Karzai, cousin of the president and director of the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, was interesting as always. I've met w/ Hekmat several times in DC and he always has keen insight. He too thinks that the international community should stay but if they do, they must completely refocus the mission to focus on governance, development and security (political, economic, social) - an Afghan-centric focus, by the way, which has not characterized the last 8 years of international intervention. 

      For Hekmat, and for Ashraf Haidari who was at our mtg (Ashraf is the number 2 post at the Afghan embassy in the US, w/ whom I've worked on numerous occassions), the international community has failed in helping Afghans build state capacity. There was no state when we put Karzai in power and we haven't helped him build much since then. If the international community wants to stay, says Karzai, we must build the state's capacity to provide basic governance.  Both Hekmat and Ashraf cited the complete brain drain of their country, that Afghan's brightest are going to work for foreign aid-funded private contractors b/c they can make 10-50 times what they'd make working in the govt. 

      Incidentally, I told Hekmat about Anand Gopal's idea (see my last email) near Herat Afghanistan and Hekmat supports this truce/treaty as well.

      Lastly, my mtg with the World Bank (WB) illuminated both hope and danger. There was a lot of praise for my boss's (Rep Honda's) efforts to promote the Afghan Govt's National Solidarity Programme.

      Honda's oped in the Wash Times (see link: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/12/a-different-kind-of-surge/) got a lot of play throughout Kabul and since the WB funds the NSP they were quite happy w/ Honda's voice on one of the country's most effective formulas in reconstructing and stabilizing the country.

      On the danger...my WB friend commented anecdotally on the $$ spent on private contractors. As an example, he talked about how much $$ it costs for his girlfriend, who works w/ USAID, to be shuttled around using private security forces. It costs a whopping $14,000 a day just for armoured vehicles and personnel. And for the WB employee, $5,000 a day. Compare this w/ the President's spokesperson (w/ whom I just met) at $50 a day.

      Today's a big day w/ mtgs w/ Afghan Minister Mohammed Zia from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, President Karzai's spokesman, Nader Nadery from the Elections Commissions (you may have seen Nader's name in International press as he monitored the elections), Taliban leaders from two rural districts who haved worked w/ the PRC to reintegrate, and, lastly, Oxfam.

      Thanks for your interest everyone and for caring about Afghanistan.


      ------Original Message------
      To: Michael Shank
      Subject: Shank's 2nd Day in Kabul
      Sent: Nov 24, 2009 11:38 PM

      Hi Friends - An update from Kabul...I'm typing on my BB quickly so please forgive any mistakes...

      Despite billions of dollars entering this country for eight years running the poverty here is pervasive. To give you a sense of how underdeveloped the country is, when I went again to the airport to retrieve my luggage, which I still don't have, we were ushered over to an outside bunker w/ shipping containers packed full of luggage.

      Surrounded in barbed wire fence and protected from the rain by basic tarp, an Afghan official rummaged through the bags but with no luck. This outside bunkered baggage claim, mind you, is about one-half mile away from the international airport.

      I say all this not b/c I'm bothered w/ not having luggage. In fact, I quite enjoy washing the one pair of clothes I have every night (though I did buy a salwar kameez much like the ones I used to wear in Pakistan). I say this b/c I find it appalling that the foreign aid has largely failed this country and it's evident from the moment you step off the plane. 
      Now, on to our mtgs...What's so disconcerting about my mtgs on Monday is that after an overview of one promising program (like the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, or the PRC, which disarms and reintegrates Taliban), a subsequent mtg will claim that this promising program is completely ineffectual.

      For example, the PRC folks talked about the 8,000 Taliban they've disarmed and reintegrated w/ another 7,000 ready and waiting.  The PRC readily admits that one major problem they face is that after disarming and reintegrating Taliban leaders, they often don't have jobs or security for the former Taliban and so the reformed Talib either gets killed or returns to his former profession given the lack of viable alternative livelihoods.  Wall Street Journal reporter Anand Gopal rightly noted the PRC's ineffectiveness but it strikes me as a capacity issue more than anything else.

      The PRC, which was commissioned by the Govt, works regularly w/ the 22,000 tribal elders throughout Afghanistan's 34 provinces and is suggesting to Karzai that these tribal elders play a more active role in building Afghanistan's representive democracy. For example, at the local level there are 400 districts wherein a political representative reports to the more regionally-based provincial governor. These 400 district reps have largely been chosen by the governors so you can see how nepotism and corruption might thrive in this environment. The PRC is recommending that the local communities elect the 400 district reps, rather than the 400 being chosen by the more powerful regional governors, and that the 400 district reps go to Kabul for one year of training and to establish strong communication between local and central govt. These are basic recommendations here but they are policies the intl community could do a better job of supporting.

      Another good idea came from Anand Gopal at the Wall Street Journal. He told me about a district in Herat, Afghanistan, that is ready to broker a treaty/truce w/ the Pashtun fighters that'd work in the following way. The district's Pashtun will lay down their arms, reintegrate nonviolently and constructively into society provided two things happen: the US military must leave the district and all foreign aid-funded development projects must be designed and managed by the locals, employing locals to do the work. Anand is so convinced by the potential here (the district elders approached Anand about this idea hoping he'd tell the world about it), he's telling everyone he meets with and will do everything he can to get this truce off the ground. It'd be a pilot project for 6 months and if it'd work in completely reducing violence, then the district would extend the truce another 6 months and begin a similar pilot in the neighboring district. What's significant about this particular district is that it's the intersection between 5 tribes so the scaleability potential is great.

      Lastly, in our mtg w/ the Human Rights Commissioner, who was asked by Karzai to serve in the Parliament, she noted that the criticism of Karzai by the West gives the warlords in the Govt an upper hand in bullying Karzai. That if the West would better support Karzai in ridding the govt of warlords, he'd be more emboldened to do so. But when Westerners attack Karzai personally (instead of, rightly, addressing those in his cabinet or parliament who are corrupt), they weaken Karzai's standing w/ those very warlords. I thought her perspective on this was interesting.

      Okay, off to mtgs w/ the UN, the Center for Peace and Security Studies (run by Hekmat Karzai, cousin of the President), and World Bank.

      Greetings from rainy and cold Kabul where the streets are mostly made of mud, potholed and deteriorated.

      Thanks friends for keeping me and this country in your thoughts and prayers.


      Michael Shank
      Communications Director
      U.S. Representative Michael Honda (CA-15)

      members mailing list


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