What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Five sentences from an Economist article

The Economist article I'm linking to right here offers a few real gems for the patient reader - unfortunately not all of those are gems in the sense of being manifestations of excellent journalism.
Here they are, one by one. (Not wasting time with the battle described in the first two paragraphs which reminded me of vintage WWII Soviet reporting on the Great War to Defend the Motherland, even while there may be the real bravery of real people behind the quasi-propagandistic narrative.)
1. "Perhaps the most striking evidence of the pacification of Jalalabad is the sight of American Humvees waiting patiently at traffic lights."
- If you don't hit every cyclist out of force protection considerations, that's certainly good of course.
2. "Few dispute that the American-controlled east of the country is faring better than the south, where other NATO allies are in charge."
- Well, me, I do. I don't think it's really going better. For those following the MSM interpretation of events, here's a consensus-breaker from an unlikely source, the Chicago Tribune: "Eastern Afghanistan now a hotter zone for U.S. troops." Their correspondent quotes ISAF officials saying they are worried that the currently increasing number of security incidents may partly be down to the effect of developments in Pakistan (peace deal in Waziristan and Swat etc.). I, for my part, said it already in January, when I first heard of the "RC-East is improving" slogan, that seasonal variance in fighting and the closeness of Pakistan cannot be ignored. Some nevertheless did ignore those factors, thinking that striking deals with local elders can be a guarantee in one of the most infiltrated corners of Afghanistan, even after spring comes.
- The metric cited by the Economist, that "Although America accounts for more than half the foreign forces in Afghanistan (divided roughly evenly between ISAF and its own counter-terrorist mission, Operation Enduring Freedom), it has suffered fewer deaths than its allies this year," is relevant, but its interpretation has to be a more careful one.
3. "The differences between the east and the south are most apparent from the military helicopters that skim the treetops at breakneck speed."
- Sorry, but my only comment in this case is a question... WTF? (I've taken this out of its context, which you should be aware of, but it's still a notable instance of helicopter-based investigative journalism.)
4. "Since Europeans cannot or will not commit more troops against the Taliban, the war effort in the south shows signs of being re-Americanised."
- Now, that, unfortunately, does hit a nail. This "Americanisation," if one wants to call it that way, will not be healthy for the long run, neither for NATO, nor for Afghanistan, even if militarily it may make operations more efficient in the south. Which is a point I made here as well.
5. " “Where the road ends the insurgents begin,” says one American officer."
- I can't help but think that this is just stupid. I guess an insurgent sending an RPG down in the direction of the road still fits that picture, after all he remains beyond the road. A more important point is this one: "The recent opening of a new road linking the Pech valley to the provincial capital, Asadabad, resulted in a quadrupling of live births in the town's hospital as villagers were able to get medical help."
The point made by Harry Rud the other day, that an asphalt-covered road is best for high-speed driving and not for leading your donkey to a nearby market, in other words not optimal specifically for the typical rural Afghan family, is important. Who would say the following picture doesn't look funny?
Photo by Dawit Rezene, of a camel on a road near Asmara, the Eritrean capital (source)
Yet that man on the camel still travels the paved road for some reason, the road which in other ways can offer all sorts of real advantages. That's why Habiba Sorabi, Bamiyan's governor is demanding them all the time. Rud himself says, speaking from Chagcharan in Ghor province:
"If the road (singular: let’s not get over optimistic) were better, it would cost truck drivers less money to transport stuff here, in theory bringing down the price of food and basic items. If the road were better, it would cost people less money to travel to the rest of the country as migrant labourers. (Not that you could put that in your finding proposal for a road. Migrant labour from here means working in Iran or in the poppy fields to the south. Remittances are one of the key sources of cash income. But we don’t like to talk about that.) If a lot of roads were better, and there was transport available along them, it would help improve access to health and educational services in district centres."
The point is just not to forget that RC-E's roads are meanwhile built primarily to improve ISAF and Afghan forces' power projection capacity and speed. For now, at least.


Joshua Foust said...

Not to nitpick an otherwise excellent post (hooray Roads and the Economist!), but I do believe that camel rider is a lady-woman.

Péter MARTON said...

Could be, indeed!
Wow, if that's the case I've just missed some propaganda value of immense proportions! ;)

Joshua Foust said...

Hahahah! You also forgot the ridiculousness of the Economist treating Afghanistan like one of the small cat-and-mouse games the British played with Tsarist Russia in the 19th century. It is nothing of the sort.