April 13, 2010

What does extremist recruiting look like?

So, Western forces rock up in your town, kick out the local humourless, dour puritanical loons that were screwing up your future and tell you things will be getting better. A few months go by, prices go up, drug dealers are building huge houses and you're more likely to be killed for the few Afghanis in your pocket. Pretty crappy, right?

Well, not for everyone:.."on most nights, Kabul's expatriates go out and partake in the manic craziness of the city's bar and restaurant scene in houses reminiscent of America's Prohibition-era speakeasies, behind 20-ft.-tall blast walls and an outer perimeter of armed Afghan security guards.

"The expatriates are a boisterous crowd of young and usually single diplomats, aid workers, journalists, spies and mercenaries — or, as they like to call themselves, "contractors." Most of them earn $100,000 salaries and have money to burn.

"Kabul offers Thai cuisine as well as Turkish, Balkan, Italian, French and Persian, plus several steakhouses, a martini bar with a DJ and a Mexican cantina with high-stakes poker games. The city boasts dozens of Chinese restaurants, but a few were shut down several years ago when authorities realized that the owners were offering the services of hookers along with the Kung Pao chicken. Tiger prawns, pork loins and French wines are flown in from Dubai. The T-bone steaks come frozen from Australia."
Probably looks pretty interesting as you push your cart full of discarded plastic rubbish down the street. "The trouble with most of these places is that, because they serve liquor, which is illegal, the armed Afghan guards at the gate won't allow the patrons' Afghan compatriots to come inside."
This TIME story could be true of Darfur, Baghdad or Islamabad. As well, I'm sure, of places I do not have any experience of. But in the places i do have experience of, I have seen these sorts of scenes used to make political points by extremists. And I have heard local people point to them as proof of the insincerity of their foreign guests.
In the great Huffington Post article that Ex has linked to on his twitter feed Josh Geltzer says: "...as terrorism scholars have long noted, terrorists seek to provoke reactions with strategic effects far greater than those that the terrorists can cause directly."
Joshua is talking about the methodology of war fighting. I would add to that the methodology of delivering logistics, commentary and aid. Facilitating the creation of a "special breed" of foreigners (and token locals, with the right language skills and connections) who are overpaid, hidden away and afforded special treatment is one of the "strategic effects" that indirectly cause all sorts of damage to the central aim of the whole exercise. And it's one that extremists probably didn't even plan.... Think of it as a  bonus prize.
The great untold secret of warzones, is that they are actually quite fun. But the depressing reality is that if you find yourself having a good time and getting paid lots, the other side is probably winning.
UPDATE: A journalist friend who has spent considerable amounts of time working in Baghdad, Kabul and other troubled places has this to say:
"In 2005, I said that white people in Kabul were doing more for al-Qa'eda than anyone since George W Bush and everyone called me a prude who'd spent too much time in Iraq. Well, i don't hate to tell them I told them so. It's sad they screwed the whole thing up, but screwed they did. The Afghan anger over the amount of arrogance and waste was bad enough by 2006 that I doubted it could be fixed. Today, it's far too late.
"Aid is hopeless busted in many of these places. The amounts spent on security and white SUVs in Kabul for dopes who couldn't get real jobs at home is even worse than the nightlife, in terms of waste and fury by the locals."