So what the fuck is up with Iran?

The Iranian regime suffers from bi-polar disorder when it comes to Afghan refugees. A few years ago they sat about throwing the Afghan refugees out (reasons cited: they take jobs away, they do illegal stuff, they sell drugs–in other words the Afghan refugees were to the Iranians what the Mexicans are to the Republicans in the US), now there has been a bit of an about face. The Iranian government has announced that they will accept Afghans with open arms, they can stay, work and even send their children to school.

From what I hear, one can hardly find a vehicle in areas where the populace have tended more towards Iran (than Pakistan). A word to these Afghans: don’t accept the free house in Qom, or for that matter, any place were things may have a greenish glow!

But what the fuck is the regime seriously thinking? Depopulate certain areas to create more widespread instability? Have a bargaining chip against Americans? Patronize parents and indoctrinate children (i.e. repeat the 80’s? The hairstyles and fashions seem to be making a come back why not Shi’ite revolutionary adventurism?)? Your guess is good as mine…

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The Tale of Two Interpreters

At Virginia Quarterly a tale of two Afghan interpreters: We are not Just Refugees.

Considering how much Afghan-Americans get paid for doing the same job (the going rate these days is about $ 200,000) the treatment meted out to these interpreters seems positively shabby.

The state of the Afghan refugees

Blogging Heads has a session on the state of the Afghan refugees.

At what point does a refugee stop being a refugee? A whole generation of Afghans have lived their entire lives in Pakistan or Iran (neither of whome, if I understand correctly, grant citizenship to Afghans; nor have ever put a mechanism or what have you to enable Afghans to become citizens). They do however take every opportunity to make a political football out of them–especially the regime in Iran.

“The Giant Buddhas”

The Giant BuddhasThat the Buddhas in Bamiyan were many things to many people is portrayed very convincingly in this film. Nothing but praise in that regard, but the various threads diverge so wildly across time and space that the window for discussing the events surrounding their destruction and the larger political maneuvering of the Taliban are ignored. The film rather easily accepts the premise of Taliban irritation at the attention being paid to the “idols” rather than the poor and hungry people of Afghanistan. This narrative was offered by the Taliban themselves and widely propagated through Pakistani and Arab sources (one of whom is interviewed in this film).

One could as easily ask as to why the Taliban had imposed a strict economic blockade on the then opposition controlled Hazarajat when the area was suffering from the worst drought in several decades. As BBC reported in 1997:

Every year the mountainous Hazarajat area faces food shortages but reports emerging from the west of the region at the moment speak of possible famine this winter. The Hazarajat is controlled by the anti-Taleban alliance and the Taleban have imposed a tight blockade for nearly four months to prevent food coming in from their territory to the south. Meanwhile, the United Nations aid agency the World Food Programme has been unable to move wheat supplies into the Hazarajat from northern Afghanistan. [BBC*]

Despite repeated attempts by the United Nations and other NGOs, the Taliban resisted relaxing the blockade which continued well until the final collapse of all resistance in Hazarajat towards the end of 1998. According to the New York Times:

The United Nations World Food Program said last week that it had received unconfirmed reports that 100 people had starved to death in the mountainous region. [ The NY Times** ]

Professions of humanitarian concerns should at least be accepted with some skepticism.

Also, Human Rights Watch released its report on the massacres in Bamiyan and Yakawlang in February 2001. This came during a crucial time when the Taliban–with the diplomatic cover provided by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates–were fighting for recognition as the legitimate regime in Afghanistan. Charges of human rights violations and their attitude towards women did not endear them to the international community, and the emergence of these reports further undermined their claim. News outlets such as the BBC gave some coverage to the issue.

It was soon after the release of this report as well as documented images [available here and here–yes, they are graphic] of the mass graves that the Taliban began their insinuations at destroying the Buddhas. The eventual destruction of the Buddhas in March 2001 dominated the news cycle throughout the period with no attention paid to the earlier discovery of mass graves and public executions. In addition, it also provided the Taliban with the chance to claim the moral high ground on the international stage and also buttress their reputation as destroyers of idols (although this was a later development). Inevitably their grand standing found its echoes amongst critics and apologists of one stripe or the other.

And so it is a bit dismaying to find the same line being repeated somewhat uncritically in this film.

“Afghanistan: History, Issues, Bibliography”

Bearing all the hall-marks of a book hurriedly published in the wake of 9/11, this brave little book introduces Afghan people in the following terms:

Crack British troops were slaughtered by bands of Afghans who reportedly exhibited few, if any, inhibitions towards the extinguishing of human life. They have demonstrated time and time again their utter disdain for civilized life and have been known to torture victims using nonhuman methods with using long knives. This barbarian approach, perhaps inherited from Genghis Khan’s hordes, has been successful in repelling foreign invaders to the present time. All of this, it should be noted, is practiced in extreme mountainous terrain, often using caves for shelter and staging areas (3-4).

Nonetheless, it has a somewhat sizable and useful bibliography of books concerning Afghanistan. The annotated bibliography of articles is fairly dated and narrowly focused on the Taliban, the Al-Qaeda, and the opium trade with articles drawn predominantly from the Economist and the New York Times.

The brief summaries of Afghan history are also useful for the beginner and if nothing else provide a glimpse of the unease and confusion with which Afghanistan was greeted upon her intrusion into the insular world of American public discourse.

Gladstone, Cary. Afghanistan: History, Issues, Bibliography. New York, Novinka Books, 2001.