We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Eight of nine lives used…

… this guy needs to buy a cat and take some well deserved ‘chill time’ for, oh, the rest of his life maybe?

“So I got down with my back to the grenade and used my body as a shield. It was a case of either having four of us as fatalities or badly wounded – or one. I brought my legs up to my chest in the brace position and waited for the explosion.”

The short version: he set off a booby-trap (the old tripwire/grenade shtick) in the middle of his patrol, jumped on the grenade and his body armour and the stuff in his backpack took the brunt of the explosion. Other than getting blown through the air, this Royal Marine walked away pretty much in one piece. Fortitude and insane luck are a very cool combination.

Let me offer the Lance Corporal a career suggestion: head back to civilian life and get a job doing endorsements for a certain backpack manufacturer.

It is fascinating what you can find on YouTube

Just came across some footage of a Dutch Apache helicopter gunship facilitating some interesting ‘inter-civilisation dialogue’ with a couple Talibs in Afghanistan.

I find myself watching YouTube more than TV these days.

Not Matt Drudge’s finest hour

The Ministry of Defence is to be commended (not often I write that) for the way they have handled Prince Harry going to Afghanistan. Aware that knowledge of his presence would greatly increase the risk to him and those serving with him (killing a Royal Prince would be a propaganda coup for the Taliban), they hid the fact for ten weeks, which is no small feat in this day and age. Their tactic was to both appeal to reason and to in effect ‘buy off’ the highly competitive UK media by promising juicy photos of Harry if they kept their collective cakeholes shut whilst he was deployed… quite clever really and it is a credit to the wiser heads amongst the UK press that they could see there was no broader ‘public interest’ at stake here (quite the opposite in fact).

I am all for the media and new media reporting the news and in particular news that the powers-that-be might be discomforted by. However reporting a wartime operation detail likely to increase the chance particular group of serving soldiers will attacked by the enemy (namely revealing the presence of a political ‘high value target’ in the war zone) fall way outside acceptable behaviour. Even if you oppose the war, such behaviour suggest you are not so much against the war as actually on the other side. It is at the very least socially despicable and quite frankly giving aid to an enemy in wartime. Unsurprisingly that is something far beyond the ken of a dim bulb like that self-important idiotarian ass Jon Snow.

Matt Drudge and the German Newspapers were not the first to mention where Prince Harry had been deployed, that dubious ‘honour’ goes to the Australian publication New Idea, who have at least expressed regret that they blew Prince Harry’s cover, suggesting they may be guilt of a lack of thought rather than callous disregard for someone’s safety in a war zone. The MoD kept quiet when New Idea first broke the story, suggesting they rather sensibly assumed an Australian woman’s magazine was probably not high on the reading list of many Muslim fundamentalists and indeed it took over a month for it to get picked up elsewhere. But the person who really moved this into wider circulation and got the story picked up globally was Matt Drudge. Although the Berliner Kurier and Bild also reported this, Drudge was at some point claiming this as an ‘exclusive’ and claiming the ‘credit’ for himself, so I will take him at his word and call him an honourless shit in that case.

Government “infrastructure”

A wonderful snippet from a BBC radio reporter (Ed Stourton) in Afghanistan for the Today programme: A new bus-stop has been built in Lashikar Gah as part of the ‘reconstruction’ effort.

The report does not say whether it is a replacement for a pre-war bus-stop. Somehow I doubt it. It is very well-equipped, having its own mosque and a pharmacy, as waiting times “can be rather long”.

An odd approach. In most of the world a bus-stop is a place where buses happen to stop. Of course bus-stops, like ports and railway stations all round the world provide opportunities for traders, places of worship, bars and cafes and so forth, but they seldom have them built in. Bus companies and their passengers are primarily interested in selling and buying travel. The pause at the roadside to move from foot to wheel, wheel to foot, refuel, refresh, is just procedural necessity.

Even in the first world, where there are some fabulous bus stations and garages, mostly this is an utilitarian afterthought, contingently well-designed. Everywhere (I thought) the buses are the transport network, not the stops. You have a shed for the buses at the end of the route, and signs to show where the buses are supposed to stop. Many places they do without the shed, not least because the buses are always on the move maximising their passenger-, luggage- and livestock- miles.

But a government bus-stop is built to different, higher, standards. A throwaway line at the end of the report reveals just how long those waiting times are: “There are no buses yet.”

Not exactly a picnic in Southern Afghanistan

An article about the exploits of the Royal Anglian Regiment reminds us that the fighting in Afghanistan has been very sharp indeed: over six months the Royal Anglians suffered one hundred and forty four casualties (nine killed and one hundred and thirty five wounded), in return for one thousand Taliban killed (which according to the traditional 5:1 ratio which would probably be more accurate for the technologically unsophisticated Taliban, implies at least a further five thousand wounded).

Yet I cannot escape the feeling that the quality of the politics has gone a long way to undermining the quality of the military efforts. Why oh why are we trying to stop people in that poor country from growing the cash crop they have grown since time immemorial and thereby making enemies of people who just want to make money? And as paying people to not plant opium is a demonstrable waste of time, if the governments of the west are so keen to stop opium ending up on the streets of western cities, why not take the vast ocean of money wasted on odious subsidies to affluent western farmers in Europe and the USA, and instead just buy whatever opium the Afghan farmers can grow? At a stroke the Afghan economy is improved in the short term, distorting subsidies removed from western economies and Afghan farmers and warlords alike given a very good reason to maintain good relations with their western patrons (i.e. addict them to subsidies).

Korean military ‘assistance’? No thanks

By caving into the demands by the Taliban to get their troops out of Afghanistan in return for the return of South Korean hostages, the Korean government simply entourages more of the same tactic. Clearly the US seriously erred accepting military ‘assistance’ from Korea given that the South Korean government are not just utterly craven, they seem to have no concept of cause and effect. The only way to demotivate hostage taking is to respond in the opposite manner to what is being demanded.

If I was the US government I would be making a simultaneous complete withdrawal of US forces from South Korea, timed to coincide with the departure of Koreans forces from Afghanistan. Quite why a wealthy nation like South Korea requires US forces to keep its psychopathic neighbour at bay is unclear anyway. Perhaps this incident will shake loose any residual attachment to the value of subsidising South Korea’s defences in the minds of US taxpayers and politicians. There are parts of the world that it may well suit the US to defend but surely South Korea is more that wealthy enough to look after itself given how primitive North Korea is.

Samizdata quote of the day

I would like to emphasise that we by no means strive to seize full power and to dominate the Afghan policy. Our aim is not to have the upper hand in Afghanistan. No at all! What we struggle for is something else: there should be Afghanistan where every Afghan finds himself or herself – irrespective of sex – happy. I am deeply convinced that this can only be ensured by democracy and a democratically elected government, based on consensus. It is only then that we can indeed solve a number of problems that have been besetting Afghan people. The true solution lies only in such a political and social situation and only with such a type of administration when all the tribes, all the ethnic groups and all people will see themselves fairly represented.

Ahmed Shah Masoud, the ‘Lion of the Panjshir’, one of the greatest guerilla leaders and in my view the most admirable one since the American Revolution, from an interview shortly before his assassination by Islamofascists.

The wrong war in the wrong place

There seems no end to the absurdity of US planners as to the conduct of the war in Afghanistan… surely the way to victory in all military conflicts is the unswerving pursuit of a single core objective (in this case the destruction of the Taliban and its power base) with ruthlessness and focus.

Yet what do we see? A demented conflation of the entirely justified war against the sponsors of the 9/11 attack on New York and Arlington, with the preposterous ‘war on drugs’. At a stroke, attacking the income of Afghan farmers and warlords alike thereby more or less guaranteeing that these people will make common cause with the Taliban on the basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

“It’s Tommy this an’ Tommy that…”

There is an excellent bit of reportage in The Guardian by James Meek, covering the experiences of British troops in Southern Afghanistan that gives a good troop’s eye view of things.

Taliban on the run again?

UK military authorities are claiming the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan has been ‘tactically defeated’, which can mean quite a variety of different things. Certainly the accounts of what has been going on there indicate bloody hard fighting down to bayonet range on occasion and given the lack of resources at their disposal, any significant victory against the casualty insensitive Taliban reflects rather well on the British Army.

Now if only the UK government would get rid of some of the many utterly pointless government departments, say for starters the Department of Trade and Industry and the truly preposterous Department of Culture, Media and Sport), we could spend more on the military and still reduce the level of taxation. Well, one can wish…

Please, just stick to ‘tyranny wrecking’ rather than ‘nation building’

Last year I suggesting it was time to think about pulling out of Afghanistan as one has to balance the positive effects of Western forces on the security situation with the negative effects on Afghan opinion of having foreign troops there for so long that they start looking like occupiers rather than allies.

However the Taliban has shown that it is not quite ready to lay down and die, as the various reports over the last few days have demonstrated the fighting is far from over. Nevertheless there is no real prospect for a Taliban return to power and in most of the country the security situation seems tolerable.

And yet… I worry what the actual objectives are in Washington and London. If the main strategic goal is to produce a stable Afghanistan (by local standards) in which the Taliban has no significant chance of being more than a minor insurgent irritant, then that is almost certainly an objective well within reach. That will leave the bulk of the country divided up between sundry (narco-)warlords and the ‘government’ of Hamid Karzai (or the ‘Mayor of Kabul’ as many call him), which in Afghanistan seems to be the natural order of things and, most importantly from a western view point, is hostile to the Taliban.

But if the objective really is a unitary nation-state run from Kabul, with a strong central government capable and willing to eradicate Afghanistan’s large drug cash-crop economy, then the planners in the Pentagon and Whitehall are, to put it bluntly, out of their collective geo-strategic minds. To recap the obvious, unlike Iraq which was invaded by large US/UK forces without any local allied elements, Afghanistan was largely ‘liberated’ by an alliance of Afghan warlords with massive US air support and an important but numerically small force of US/UK/Canadian/Australian spec ops and light infantry units… in other words the great majority of the manpower to overthrow the Taliban was provided by the same warlords who now run most of the country in loose feudal vassalage to Kabul.

Whilst Afghanistan is hardly a human rights paradise (the Abdul Rahman apostasy case comes to mind), it is still a great deal better off than it was under the Taliban. Provided the western objectives are not really ‘nation building’ but simple ‘tyranny wrecking’, I see no reason why this cannot all end up going down in history as a highly successful episode just so long as the dementing influence of the unwinnable ‘war against drugs’ is not allowed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

A surprising result

I must concede that I was pessimistic regarding the outcome of the Abdul Rahman apostasy case. The row over the Muslim-turned-Christian saw international pressure brought down upon the head of Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan. A difficult job; he is wedged between the expectations of Afghanistan’s overseas backers and the desires of a relatively conservative Muslim society – the same fractured society who the oft-described “mayor of Kabul” needs to establish authority over if the Afghani nation-building project is to be successful.

I rather suspected that the latter imperative would win out and Abdul Rahman would face a barbaric and outrageous death at the hands of Islamic zealots. This fate may well befall him if he is allowed to leave the relative security of a solitary confinement cell. However, for the time being it now appears likely that he will be freed. If this is the case, it is indeed wonderful news. It means that someone, somewhere has almost certainly had their arm twisted, and the most likely culprit hails from the executive office of Afghanistan. This could represent a weakening of Sharia’s weighty influence on the legal system in Afghanistan. Government meddling in the courts is rightfully deplored by friends of inalienable human rights, rule of law, due process and the separation of powers. It is a reflection of just how bad things are in Afghanistan when covert government intervention in the legal system represents a step forward. Regardless, this is an event to inspire a glimmer of optimism.