Oct 6, 2010

Tea as a Weapon: Does Democracy Have a Chance in Afghanistan?

As casualties mount and the political and military situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan spirals out of control, the question remains does democracy have a chance in Central Asia? Is it possible to ultimately defeat terrorism and extremism by countering it with extreme violence and corrupt warlords? Is it possible to promote democracy by putting billions of dollars into central governments who blatantly steal elections and have no base of popular support? A key Constitutional provision of American democracy is to rely on citizen volunteers to fight our wars. A cornerstone of America's democracy is that the Constitution calls for a citizen soldiery to fight its own battles. Yet, since 9/11 we have increasingly relied upon domestic and foreign mercenaries from some of the most undemocratic and impoverished countries in the world? Can anyone achieve a negotiated peace settlement with religious extremists who abuse their own countrymen and women because they believe that God is telling them to do so? Sadly these questions have been largely missing from ongoing policy decisions -- Al Santoli

For Female Marines, Tea Comes With Bullets

The Washington Post

October 2, 2010

By Elisabeth Bumiller

Photo by Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

They expected tea, not firefights. But the three female Marines and their patrol were shot at late on a recent day, when a burst of Kalashnikov rifle fire came from a nearby compound. The group hit the ground, crawled into a ditch and aimed its guns across the fields of cotton and corn.

Six months ago, Lance Corporal Robertson arrived in with 39 other female Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., as part of an unusual experiment of the American military: sending full-time “female engagement teams” out with all-male infantry patrols in Helmand Province to try to win over the rural Afghan women who are culturally off limits to outside men.

As new faces in an American counterinsurgency campaign, the female Marines, who volunteered for the job, were to meet with Pashtun women over tea in their homes, assess their need for aid, gather intelligence, and help open schools and clinics.

“It’s not the living conditions, it’s not the mission, it’s this,” she said, gesturing toward a memorial display of boots, rifles and dog tags belonging to the dead Marines. She was, she said quietly, “too much of a girl to deal with these guys getting killed.”

There have been many other strains as well, not least some male officers who question the female Marines’ purpose and young infantrymen who remain resentful of the attention from commanders and the news media that the women have received A number of the women have seen their marriages end or their boyfriends leave them.

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Afghan colonel vital to U.S. despite graft allegations

The Washington Post

October 4, 2010

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

IN SPIN BOLDAK, AFGHANISTAN When Abdul Razziq, a colonel in the Afghan Border Police, walks through the chockablock bazaar in this sand-swept trading hub on the frontier with Pakistan he is mobbed by a crowd that deferentially addresses him as General Razziq.

U.S. officials say Razziq, who is illiterate and just 32, presides over a vast corruption network that skims customs duties, facilitates drug trafficking and smuggles other contraband. But, he also has managed to achieve a degree of security here that has eluded U.S. troops elsewhere in the country: His force of 3,000 uniformed policemen and several thousand militiamen pursue the Taliban so relentlessly that Spin Boldak has become the safest and most prosperous district in southern Afghanistan.

Despite the allegations of graft, which he denies, Razziq represents the Obama administration's best hope for maintaining stability in this important part of Afghanistan.

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