On occasion of a few other articles I have also mentioned that this is not only academic writing, but that my own processing of personal trauma is entangled with this process. It is a source of personal experience, a source of strong personal motivation, but also a source of profoundly subjective views. Objective viewpoints, entirely separating the observer from the observed, they are impossible, not only in quantum mechanics. From quantum physics we know that in literally no aspect of examining and explaining the world the observer can be separated from the observed. In human sciences we know this, of course, too. The knowledge about this fact is forcing me to always step back and critically examine my own attempts to come up with the best shot at how I try to make sense of this world.
One morning end of January 2022 I woke up after a good nights sleep. I managed to keep my busy thoughts silent during the first minutes, enjoying my morning routine of making the first coffee, feeding my cat, and beginning my day with a little mindfulness exercise. It worked pretty well, I began my day in calmness.
After which I went into my morning routine of reading the news, over my second coffee. This story showed up on my screen: “DR Congo court sentences 51 in trial over 2017 murder of UN experts“, from the French news agency France24. A few minutes later, my balanced approach towards the day, a Sunday morning, was over. I had to sit down and to understand why I was feeling complex emotions, and a strong nausea in my stomach. Over the years I have learned to better understand these signs of a traumatic reaction. In such a situation I try to sit still and to embrace this reaction in a gentle way, instead of mentally running away from it.
There are reasons why I reacted so strongly. I am connected to this story. I was involved in attempts from United Nations Headquarters’ in New York to deal with this horrific murder. I had privileged sight on videos taken by some of the perpetrators, documenting the last minutes and seconds before and when these U.N. experts were killed. I was involved in efforts investigating this situation, and such involvement happened on so many other awful occasions before in my line of work: My more than two decades of international work include a huge amount of personal trauma I have happily piled up. I do know that this leads to a mechanism called re-enactment. I am re-enacting my own previous trauma. My work on this since many years has given me tools with which I can mitigate the effects.
I remember those days in 2017 with all diplomatic efforts on highest levels conveying the message that we, the international community of humanitarians, peacekeepers, diplomats, expected justice being served. I remember my boss of that time, a United Nations Undersecretary General, reporting to us after he returned from a field visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had left the message with Congolese politicians that “this will not go away easily”, that it requires a sustained effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.
I also remember that I assessed the chances for justice being served under extraordinary circumstances as being slim. I contributed to our efforts assisting investigative authorities, sending own forensic experts working in my Division, helping Congolese investigators and prosecutors. Over time, hopes of seeing this crime being solved and perpetrators being sentenced, it faded. Until I saw this story, end of January 2022, give or take five years after the brutal murder act.
02 May 2022, I am working on a set of texts which I will partially or entirely publish here, depending on whether the statements in these texts have a connection to my general theme of this blog (see above). In this context, I am working on explaining why, in my experience, there is literally no memory of any situation I have been in which does not have links to the emotions I felt at the time of the event. One hypothesis I am following in this context is that these emotions can de-link from the events which caused them. As “emotional memories” with no connection to an event causing them, they “linger around”, come up when triggered, influencing my emotional and cognitive setup. This, I suspect, is especially true in situations when I am exposed to what we call “trauma”.
Which would explain the feeling of grave nausea when I read the article about Congolese authorities sentencing 51 individuals connected to that murder which I, like many other events in my professional career, can not forget.
My next blog article will include thoughts on the inseparability of emotions and perceptions, communication, and memory. It will be pretty methodical, I hope I can make that one an interesting read.
In this view, this draft article which I found unfinished when opening my WordPress editor, it is a teaser on more general observations to come.
But I’m ending here by stating that justice can be served, and like here, it may contribute to my healing. As a matter of fact, it does. I must continue to believe in this, and whilst I have no sight on how professional the investigation and application of the legal process by Congolese authorities has been, or whether there was negligence, faultiness, or willful instrumentalisation of legal due process, I must believe that justice is possible as a concept, and as a part of reality, and that hopefully the real perpetrators have been sentenced.
There are new atrocities happening in 2022. As happened all those years in between, whether in Myanmar, Afghanistan, now the Ukraine, in so many places in the Middle East and Africa, and elsewhere. I must continue to believe in the possibility of individual and collective justice, otherwise there are only new wounds, but no healing, and no scars.
The English version of the online edition of the German newspaper DER SPIEGEL today issued a comprehensive article on an investigation of the European Union’s anti-corruption agency OLAF, related to decisions and behavior of four senior managers of the EU’s Border agency FRONTEX. It appears that strong evidence -partly revealed in the article including through disturbing pictures- exists about inaction of FRONTEX, even alleged efforts to cover up illegal push-back activities of national border/coast guards of a Member State of the EU, violating international and EU law, forcing migrants and asylum seekers back into a non EU country, depriving them from their right to claim asylum and to subject themselves to due and legal scrutiny whether it can be granted, or not.
The article is a very good read, in terms of quality, and it is a very disturbing article, within a longer row of similar reporting in international media since long. But now, with the Head of OLAF presenting the findings to lawmakers in Brussels, the findings appear to be complete, and action on the findings need to be considered. This, of course, is a thorough technical process, whilst being profoundly political at the same time.
I do believe this matter needs to be taken forward not only with all due diligence, as thorough and unbiased as possible, and as fast as possible. Most importantly, I believe this process requires utmost transparency and dedication to holding individuals and agencies, whether national or international, publicly accountable.
Why? Not only because this should be good practice in democracies and nations adhering to the rule of law anyway. But also because otherwise we may add to a bad taste: The push-backs are alleged to have happened at the EU’s southern/southeastern border to the mediterranian sea. Persons attempting to reach the EU from there come from many countries and conflict zones, whether in Africa or in Asia, including Afghanistan.
At the same time of this reporting, the EU and her Member States undertake a terrific effort, to be praised and applauded in the highest terms possible, to welcome, host, cater for, and assist refugees from the Ukraine. Public opinion across the board is overwhelmingly supporting these refugees from the Ukraine, who have gone through nightmares, in the middle of Europe.
I have, looking into the many comments on social media, also noticed that sometimes there is an expression of fear that we all too easily forget those uncounted individuals who seek help in so many conflict zones a bit farther away, such as in Afghanistan, or in African countries.
I believe we have a chance here to rise to the opportunity and value the fundamental rights of refugees notwithstanding their origin, avoiding adding fuel to a claimed impression, whether true or not, that we care more about some than about others. Putting the alleged FRONTEX actions under public scrutiny, not sparing any effort to demonstrate this in all openness, will in my view be beneficial to make a public stand demonstrating how high we hold the universality of affected fundamental human rights of refugees, and persons who try to relocate or migrate for other reasons than fear from suppression, harm, and death.
Pushing them back, whether it is about cases like this one, or cases of alleged push-backs including brutalisation of migrants attempting to cross land borders into the EU, this is something we shall have zero-tolerance for.
Anocracy or semi-democracy is, according to Wikipedia, a “form of government that is loosely defined as part democracy and part dictatorship, or as a “regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features.” Another definition classifies anocracy as “a regime that permits some means of participation through opposition group behavior but that has incomplete development of mechanisms to redress grievances.” The term “semi-democratic” is reserved for stable regimes that combine democratic and authoritarian elements. Scholars have also distinguished anocracies from autocracies and democracies in their capability to maintain authority, political dynamics, and policy agendas. Similarly, the regimes have democratic institutions that allow for nominal amounts of competition.Such regimes are particularly susceptible to outbreaks of armed conflict and unexpected or adverse changes in leadership.”
In my blog post “Under The Hood” I wrote that I had pre-ordered “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). After its publication date it got delivered (in my case as an Apple iBook). I am reading it now, and it is as good as it was assessed in that New York Times book recension. As it was said in that recension, Barbara F. Walter spends much of the first half of the book on a profound history of nearly every civil war haunting mankind in the past many decades before beginning to apply the results of academic research of political scientists on civil wars to the situation of the United States of America.
I am through the first half of the book, and inasmuch as I am now keenly reading her account of the more recent developments in the U.S., I am not intending to write on that subject matter. I have an opinion there, and I share the author’s risk assessment, but this public discourse is already ongoing in the U.S.: Look here and here.
I wanted to reflect on a few general observations that stem from the book’s solid comparative approach of recent situations which led to wide-spread violence, and the solid and vast description of the state of affairs of a number of contemporary nation states. After all, no country is exempted from the danger of plunging into wide-spread violence, just pretending “It can’t happen to us” is nothing less than dangerous denial and wishful thinking of the ostrich burying her head in the sand. In this, Barbara F. Walter’s book establishes itself in the same rational and academic realm as the books “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” by Anne Applebaum and “Fascism: A Warning” by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
My line of work has frequently put me into situations where we have wondered how one can measure the risk of a country or constituency descending into violent forms of conflict, including civil war. On several occasions I have been part of the international community’s peacekeeping efforts following the outbreak and the aftermath of civil war. Operationally and strategically I was part of such efforts in Kosovo under the United Nations’ mandate through Security Council Resolution 1244. Strategically I was part of such efforts in situations such as in Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic, Somalia, and several more.
Then there is peacebuilding: How to make sure that a successful peacekeeping engagement finds its continuation through peacebuilding, and leads to a stable peaceful environment that will not relapse into conflict? That’s one of the elements of my current line of work, or why I was operationally working in Bosnia&Hercegovina, or strategically in headquarters of UN and EU on a large number of similar situations in greater Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Carribean.
Finally, there is conflict prevention: I often sat in meetings with like-minded peacekeepers and peacebuilders where we dealt with conflict prevention. Meaning to extinguish the fire when it was starting small, or even better: To help keeping things stable long before they reach critical mass of instability, and to find ways helping a country, or a constituency, in efforts to resolve disputes peacefully, and to succeed in that. Here I will not give examples. There were a number of cases in which I participated and where we could help in de-confliction of interests, and peaceful resolving of grievances. Those cases did not lead to bad-news-stories, in the general public they went almost entirely unrecognized, and good-news-stories sometimes can not be told in order to keep the good news continuing.
Those stories also don’t sell. Even in the “normal” world of crime, crime prevention does not attract the same interest by readers as the gruesome murder story does. Prevention is the silent humble sister of the guys and gals in military and police fatigues. Repression, threat, coercion, and the use of force, all too often these stories outrun any peaceful piece of news. This is the achilles-heel of prevention, and exponentially more so since the advent of social-media, whose algorithms prefer stories, fake or true, that create viral attention: Stories that create anger will always knock out the stories of crime that never happened. Even cute-cats-stories outrun every story about a conflict which never happened because we all did the right things.
In all those discussions on how to prevent conflict better, we asked ourselves how to asses and to measure the risk of conflict with hard numbered indicators. I remember reading the book “The Responsibility To Protect” by Gareth Evans. Evans, one of the chief architects of a concept called R2P, which tragically failed, at one point mentions the many efforts of academia to come up with a measurable set of indicators. He stated that for many years there was inconclusive academic research on that. In his book he mentioned that only one hard statistical fact could be boiled down: That conflict is much more likely in a country where there was one -more recently- before.
For years, I accepted that. Barbara F. Walter’s book has profoundly changed this view. May be I did personally not notice, or may be it is more of a late-breaking recognition, but according to Walter political science has made tremendous progress and has developed a sophisticated set of predictors, or risk indicators, based on sound bodies of empirical data in at least three very large and internationally recognized data-sets. In order to keep this a relatively easy read, I won’t go into details. The book is very captivating and it is very comprehensible. I truly enjoy the way how hard science is transformed into popular language by Barbara F. Walter. There is no need to undergo a 101 course in political sciences, so instead of summarizing a detailed book, I recommend reading it yourself.
Walter’s book has drawn my attention to three factors that increase the potential for, and are the reasons for, civil wars. Academic research appears to have managed to put these three factors into a rock-hard framework of statistical measurability: (1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance; (2) Factionalisation in societies; (3) The drastic effects of social media.
(1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance
For me, one important contribution of Barbara F. Walter’s book sits with drawing attention to process, rather than a snapshot of a state of affairs in time. Any form of governance can be categorized, and put on a scale. A true representation of all common criteria for a democracy can put a State into a category of “best in class”. Another State can be a full representation of what we call an autocracy. That State would be on the opposite side of that scale. From the viewpoint of a true defender of democratic values, that would bring this State into the zone of “worst in class”. Of course, “the other side of the aisle” would disagree with that judgement, and there we are in a polarized discussion.
But the true focus of Barbara F. Walter is not on the snapshot where a State finds herself on such a scale. It is about the movement from one end to the other, in both directions, and it is about the speed of that process. A State can find herself on the path towards more autocratic forms of government, or on the path from autocratic governance towards democratic governance. Political science has established evidence for that the “middle zone” between one form of governance and another form of governance is the most dangerous and volatile area, and the faster the transitional process from democracy towards autocracy, or from autocracy to democracy, the more risk for wide-spread violence exists on a statistical level.
And this makes perfect sense. Here is my attempt to visualize it:
It means that the “door swings in both directions”: The risk of violence does not only exist in a situation where a country is slipping towards semi-autocratic or fully-autocratic forms of governance. The same risk exists in a situation where interested parties, supported by the international community for example, engage in promoting and establishing regime change towards democracy. Barbara F. Walter makes it clear that the risk for violence is highest when this process into either direction has placed the constituency in question into the middle zone, when transformational change is most unfinished, with the old being ripped down and the new not yet formed and rooted.
Secondly, science tells us that, again, the risk is quantifiably higher if the process of transformation is either too slow or too fast, for which there can be many reasons. From how I look at things from my own experience, it is scientific evidence for what happens when the international community pushes too fast, is compartmentalised in such efforts, displays not enough comprehensive depth in supporting transformational change, nor patience for a long-term coherent support approach based on vision and strategy. Which I often saw when international mandates and policy discussions were held unter terms such as “democratization”, or “state building”.
(2) Factionalisation in societies
The second aspect in Barbara F. Walter’s book is a comprehensive analysis of previous civil wars and the relation between constituencies moving into the “danger zone” of being an anocracy, and the existence of factions in these societies. Also here, the book is very comprehensive in giving a detailed account for a vast array of previous civil wars. In my reading this book, one aspect stood out: Any change of one system through which a state applies governance to citizens towards another set of governance rules inevitably leads to the demise of old elites and the struggle which is happening when new elites try to form, and old elites fight to participate in societal control, for their benefits. This is the second factor which makes the “danger zone” so volatile, and the book provides detailed analytical results to the question when, how, and why this leads to violence. I want to highlight one sentence:
“Remember, it’s not the desperately poor who start civil wars, but those who once had privilege and feel they are losing status they feel is rightfully theirs”.
Likewise I quote her account on a declassified CIA report from 2012: “Most insurgencies, the report notes, “pass through similar stages of development during their life cycle.” In the pre-insurgency phase, a group begins to identify a set of common grievances and build a collective identity around a gripping narrative—the story or myth that helps them rally supporters and justify their actions. They begin to recruit members, some of whom even travel abroad for training. They begin to stockpile arms and supplies.”
I note that it is the last sentence which connects my current line of work with the larger picture.
Then Barbara F. Walter goes on to analyze the role of social media in contemporary conflicts:
(3) The drastic effects of social media
Social media acts like the proverbial gasoline poured on a fire. By now, many of us have begun to appreciate this very dark side of a technology which also has contributed so much to bringing us close together in a global world. The author’s account on how social media has been, and continues to be, systematically exploited by those who seek control, including by inciting violence, is nothing short of scathing criticism. Again, the book is unbiased by taking a very comprehensive view on situations of recent violence, and contemporary situations in countries all around the globe, within something which appears to be a rising global pattern of instability, emerging and brooding conflict. She refers to solid data that would allow to conclude that there is a clear connection between the exponential rise of volatile situations and war on one hand, and the the abuse of social media for that purpose on the other hand. It is here where the role of social media and its systematic and professional exploitation by reckless individuals and groups is pervasive. Whereas encouraging factionalism on religious, ethnic, racial, or any grounds has been the key defining modus operandi of individuals manipulating populations into fear and hate of the other, and the acceptance that “Dear Leader” may be the lesser evil, contemporary situations are characterised by a systematic manipulation of many, through some, using social media. The book demonstrates this in Myanmar, in countries in Europe including Eastern and Central Europe, and elsewhere, before even beginning to analyse what happened in the U.S. in recent years.
Our societies struggle with the question of how to apply accountability and regulative frameworks to this new phenomenon. Because, new it is: The effects of how social media can be used for manipulation, inciting hatred, and fueling violence, they may be just ten years old. But they are extremely transformative. And again, we see different approaches in relation to how to control social media in China or Russia, say compared to how open societies handle this challenge. But what we also see: Aspiring autocrats virtuously use social media to gain control. After that, these individuals will undertake everything to control the instrument they have used.
Because, they know better than anyone else how it can be used to their advantage, and against them.
This got long again. I leave it without conclusions, simply because there are so many. This is true for a paradigm change on how we consider engaging in conflict prevention in a world filled with old instruments of international order which require overhaul, or may be outdated if we don’t succeed in transforming them into effective tools. This is also true for how we accept our being affected by what we call “social media”. Personally, I feel this question may belong to the most important ones in our lifetime, in all aspects of our lives.
This morning I need to work on something very boring in my line of work: The analysis of data that we call “Key Performance Indicators”. These KPI measure the progress being made in controlling Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), within a regional strategy of the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans to adress all related illicit aspects of such weapons and their ammunition, their intent to reduce the threat coming from such weapons and their stockpiles, their efforts to curb crime, including transnational organized crime, their efforts to protect victims and preventing future victims, their efforts to establish a gender-balanced policy.
But in order to motivate myself to boring number-crunching, I needed to get something else off my chest first:
My commenting on today’s selection of “real world real news” (the opposite of “real world fake news”) begins with a tennis story.
Until I read a piece in the New York Times from January 11, 2022, titled “Novak Djokovic’s Fight to Play Tennis Could Be Just Starting“. Looking at Djokovic’s victory in fighting his quarantine-detention in Australia, I glimpsed something far beyond the complicated legal battle in Australia which this player, who is an outspoken adversary to Covid-19-vaccinations, has won for the moment.
Because this issue may now affect each and every reporting about future tennis tournaments. It may fuel any heated argument, whether it is about the same rules applying for all, whether it is about victimisation on a personal level and then fueling nationalism and pride, or whether it is about the anti-vaxxer-movement using the story for further radicalisation through distorted reporting and commenting within social media – based circles. The powerful lens for such possible manipulation will include the celebrity involved, and the news factor related to tennis as a sport.
There is more to come on this one. By the way, the NYT reports Djokovic as “having earned about $154 million in career prize money and hundreds of millions more off court”. Taking my distance from the celebrity side of media reporting again, I finally refer to the assessment of the NYT “while Djokovic won in court on Monday, he has undoubtedly lost support in some chambers of the court of public opinion, though he has become a martyr for the anti-vaccine movement and among his countrymen.” I would say: This has just begun, more is to be revealed, and it may not going to be a good story.
From the celebrity circus and the glamour moving into a stark contrast between rich and poor:
In another piece of today’s news, it is the New York Times again which I quote with a report titled “Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Virus Tests Per Month“. Of course, this move of the Biden administration is good. It forces private insurance companies to pay for up to eight at-home-tests for those in the United States who do enjoy private health insurance. Again, good for them.
But I can’t help also connecting this piece of news on what wealthy nations can do for their, increasingly discontent, citizens with a story about citizens in some of the poorest countries of this world. The United Nations assesses that 97% of all Afghan families might soon be under what would be considered a threshold of being “poor”. The UN assesses that more than half of the Afghan population may face severe hunger soon. There is more to this story in the German “Tagesschau”, but that is going to be part of the third section of this blog entry. For the moment, I just wanted to reflect on an extremely stark contrast between “rich” and whatever that means, and “poor”, whatever that means. Citizens in one country may benefit from provision of eight Covid-tests per month for free, while this report demonstrates that families in Afghanistan may live on a daily budget of 50 (Euro)Cent, if at all. The Afghan population faces a winter with poverty and cold weather, and much of this also has to do with the international community having frozen all forms of previous financial support and assistance to the country, in order to avoid any support to an illegitimitate Taleban-Government.
Sanctions always hit those the hardest which we seek to protect from suppression, injustice, violence, violation of human rights. We know about this conundrum, but that doesn’t mean that we shall just get used to such horror. The fact that previously, according to the report, up to 75 % of the domestic budget of Afghanistan came from international financial support makes it even more difficult to stomach these news. How do we deal with a situation which, for whatever reason, also directly relates to decisions of engagement over two decades leading to extreme corruption and dependency, and which, for whatever reason, led to the chaotic disengagement of the summer of 2021? Those who suffered from corruption, insecurity, and war, for 20 years, they are the same who suffer now. They won’t forget, and generations to come may also not be ready to forgive.
The same Tagesschau-report on Afghanistan informing us about a daily income of 50 (Euro)Cent or less, or about that those families hope to survive the winter on small coal stockpiles which they bought on credit, not knowing how to repay debts, it also reports on a growing number of families selling their daughters in order to gain income.
Selling their daughters. Into marriage. Under-aged daughters. Selling them. 300 Dollar per sale.Increasingly because of poverty and hunger not keeping these daughters “safe” until they reach an age of fifteen years, but also to give them to the future husband directly after the sale. Children. Young children. Selling them because of financial needs to survive the winter. Turning them over to a man in another family, who considers this child to be his future wife. Who considers owning this child.
Forced marriages are part of a number of cultures, we fight them through all our concerted efforts promoting the rights of women, girls, underaged children in general, and minorities. I have often written about it. Beyond a general expression of horror it is extremely challenging to judge the impact of such a decision on the development of an under-aged girl. Everything we judge about it is including a value-system which may be foreign in those societies.
But here is at least one thing I can say for sure: Consider that this report includes that even the societal protection to such a girl by keeping her with the family of origin until she reaches the age of fifteen is being given up. That a child at an age of ten, or well below, faces a transfer to another man as her future husband. And please, all those men who then treat such a future wife with respect and care, as is appropriate in your society, I mean no disrespect, though my stomach revolts.
Yet, there is no doubt on my mind that many of those under-age girls will end up in abuse, including sexual abuse. I just know, because this criminal behavior transcends any cultural border. Sexual abuse, including most severe forms, is universal, rather than limited to some societies.
I may fail to understand in detail the trauma impact on a girl in a society alien to me. I am only certain that the trauma is massive. How massive? How to relate to the plight of the abused if any understanding of her suffering fails? Which leads me to my encouraging any Western reader to consider my book recommendation:
If you look up the term “Kinderwhore“, some of the returned results will refer to a clothing style worn by some sub-cultures.
Then there is a book with that title by Deanna M. Lehman, and it is a biography about a sexually abused girl in the United States. And then there is a book with the same title by Maria Kjos Fonn and Gabriele Haefs (who translated the book into German).
I quote from that site: “Charlotte’s mother is always at home, yet hardly ever there. Most of the time she is asleep, heavily medicated in order to remain so. When she is not asleep, she brings home new dads for Charlotte. One of them shows her a glimpse of something else, something better. But too soon, he is replaced by yet another dad. When Charlotte is 12 something happens, something she cannot possibly take in or process. She starts making use of her mother’s pills, happy to learn that there are ways of shutting off your feelings. She establishes a divide between her body and mind, allowing her to take on different sexual roles, like the sedated, passive Doll or the proactive Machine.”
This “something” happening to Charlotte, it is the sexual molestation, the continued sexual abuse, the most painful ordeal of continued rape of a child, by her mother’s boyfriend. And the book is about Charlotte’s survival.
I really have no appropriate words for this book, I feel that any comment on the suffering of the main character would be helpless, incomplete, utterly disrespectful. I have though, the deepest respect for the person behind the fictional character of Charlotte to put her experiences into words. Nothing else would be possible for me than to say “I am deeply sorry for what you had to go through”, and even this feels clumsy, as it includes the past tense.
So, in order to focus my thoughts, I should try to conclude by saying: I have friends with similar experiences. Quite some. I do know about the authenticity described in this book from own experience in my circle of friends. That is why I relate to the fate of those Afghan girls sold into marriage and being given to their future husbands at the age of children.
I encourage you to read the book, or the English sample text.
With that, the World may revert to the plight of Novak. Sorry, Novak, I am sure your legal contestation is justified. That’s all okay, I am using your case as an example putting things into proportion, and for a call for compassion. Please, let us not forget the plight of those who really suffer. And put action to where our mouths are.
20 August 2021, Christoph Heusgen, former permanent representative of Germany to the United Nations, and former longtime foreign and security policy advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, found clear words. In an article on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations headlined “Germany and Afghanistan: Time to ditch bad governments, not good governance“, he draws a comparison of the engagement in Afghanistan with the situation in Mali, West Africa. He begins with stating “After Afghanistan, countries such as Germany should reconsider their presence in Mali, unless the ruling class commits to good governance and democratic principles.”
In the above article he talks about “good governance”, not only about “democratic principles”. He carefully lists both terms connected with an “and”. They stand separate from each other. And he talks about “the ruling class”. I will come back to “good governance”, conditionality, but also moral responsibilities, towards the end.
At the time of this writing the new Emperor is dressing into governmental clothes: The Taleban are in a process of forming and announcing a new government. When the insurgency had reached Kabul’s outer perimeter, the former Afghan government imploded, literally, after the former President fled the country. In an earlier article on Afghanistan developments I wrote that the difference with this implosion of governance is that we were observing it being on the inside, not on the outside. And in my last piece as of September 02, 2021 I wrote about a country being “armed to the teeth”. This because, amongst many other, the implosion has extraordinary consequences for the amount and type of military and police equipment, weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
Roughly, my questions related to future threats are:
Is this gear now subject to new governmental control, and to which extent, and how?
What will this gear be used for in Afghanistan by those who claim legitimacy for their governing the country, or just do rule it without any process resembling legitimacy?
Will the new Emperor (so to speak) undertake a comprehensive effort to secure large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition before even more will disappear into dubious, criminal, and terrorist channels as for sure is the case already right now? And how will this be done, concretely looking at possible new faultlines of terror and organised crime, by creating new generations of people being subjected to cruelties?
Which consequences come from the implosion preceeding the victory? Where are soldiers, police officers, commanding officers of any rank, organisational structures? We hear stories of individuals hiding, of entire units fleeing into neighboring countries together with the equipment they were carrying. We don’t know who will partner up with warlords. We don’t know who will end up on the side of terrorist organisations. And by the way, we do hear about the hostility between IS and the Taleban. We do hear about disappointed Taleban joining the ranks of ISIS-K, who are historically hostile to the Taleban, and who are extremely radical in their religious beliefs. What does this mean for weapons being readily available? Which threats come from extremism and terror in the region, for other parts of the world, including, but not only, Europe?
I am not even pretending this list is complete. Neither I would make a comparison in detail about what happened in other country situations where governance imploded, such as in Libya. Except for the numbers of weapons out of control after Libya’s implosion which were ending up fueling the conflict cycles which haunt us in addition to Libya, thereafter. I talk about Mali and what I witnessed there throughout my travels 2013 and the following years. Today, nine years after the initial crisis in Mail, the fire which we try to extinguish is burning in neighbouring countries, and beyond.
What I say is that we have serious reasons for working on a profound threat assessment. In my conversations, I hear all sorts of opinions. Some would be on the cautious side. Others would say “There won’t be much happening”, or they would say “There is not much that will be a threat for Europe, Afghanistan is too far away”, or, “I am not interested”. The last one being something I heard very often when I listened to people on the streets.
If the catastrophic failure of all collective assessments of intelligence, diplomacy and politics led to the circumstances which we witnessed in July and August, with many voices likening it with an embarrassing “defeat of the West”, what more do we need as a wake-up call that we need to wrap our minds around everything which could be a potential threat for humanity, peace, and security? For the citizens in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan’s neighborhood, in countries closer to the European Union, and the EU itself?
There is no time for complacency any longer.
Just a recap: Until recently, we fought a war against the Taleban, considering them insurgents at least, but we would put them close to terrorism, or we would consider them committing acts of terror. We have, until now, all indications for Taleban forces being responsible for atrocities, for countless crimes against humanity. We have not only withdrawn from a war against the Taleban, with international forces fighting against the Taleban. Rather, the Afghan military and the Afghan Police apparatus has been built, trained, staffed, and equipped. With huge amounts of military and police gear.
This has not been an isolated U.S. endeavor. The U.S. was involved on their own, and being part of NATO. NATO, and NATO member States were in this, together with the United States. The European Union was in it, amongst many other topical areas the EU, and EU Member States, provided large financial contributions to what is known as LOTFA, the Law and Order Trust Fund. Throughout two decades, Afghanistan’s military and policing capacities and capabilities were defined through often mainly international decisions, and when the capacities were stood up, they were dependent on everything, including salaries, equipment, and training. We are talking about an entire Army, and an entire Police setup. From everything I know from public sources, there wasn’t much sustainable development at all if the entire security apparatus depends on salaries being paid through international trust funds, capabilities being generated as donations, with huge dependencies on foreign contractors working on maintenance and supply chains, and constant ongoing training.
Even in a “best case” scenario, I have difficulties imagining anything like a smooth transition of what we call a “chain of command” from one government to the next. It feels almost cynical to name it like that. Rather, I anticipate that sheer power of coercion by the Taleban, may be combined with tribal play which we hardly understand, will compete with resistance, dissolution, and the panic of individuals who fear for their life, and that of their families. There are news about the Taleban not living up to what they publicly claim, that they hunt and execute former police and military officials. What does this mean for weapons control, and for the fate of armed people who are desperate, and need a living at the same time?
Within days in August, the Talban took control. A short while later, the last U.S. airplane being part of the international evacuation and rescue effort, now hailed by the U.S. Secretary of State as the biggest air bridge ever, left Kabul 30 August, 23:59 hours. With that, the U.S. declared the war in Afghanistan being over. Already before, we froze all international aid, by far not only the humanitarian side of it. Who is paying salaries for soldiers and police, right now?
International attention, and attention of the general public, often has a short breath. I can already feel that some may say “Alright, we have lost that war, let us move on.” For twenty years, we were with the Afghan people. Like everyone else in Afghanistan, our military and police colleagues grew friends with us. Fought with us, risked their life for their people, and trusting our promise that we would not leave them alone. Afghan police and military were the ones who took unimaginable casualties (the police even more than the military), and won’t forget the civilian casualties from two decades of war, either. After all, the victims were family, or friends.
Thus, further instability may not only depend on how the Taleban act when delivering on what they claim: That they are different now. It also depends on whether we are able to create new trust amongst those who feel they have lost everything. This means that we can not only think about threats from Afghanistan we may have to contain in the closer and larger neighborhood. We have to seek ways how we can establish a dialogue inside Afghanistan as well. Here, conditionality will be critical.
Apart from any moral assessment of this, which has its legitimacy in its own right: From a pure threat assessment perspective we need to think about a situation where former friends may feel that we have handed them over to former enemies. Where does this lead us to? Our own actions decide about whether this points to future enemies, or scenarios of cooperation. I stop there, the humanist in me wants to, of course, think of even more.
It means that, concretely for the topic at hand – large amounts of weapons, ammunition and explosives – we need to look into long term strategies, waiting for opportunities and avenues allowing the support to containment, control, and demolition inside Afghanistan, and immediate strategies allowing to help in establishing conditions for networks addressing SALW control in Afghanistan’s neighborhood.
In my previous blog article I wrote about the core of my current line of work: Advising the German Federal Foreign Office on aspects of assistance related to systematic control of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). The categorization “Small Arms and Light Weapons” can be somewhat misleading, because of the attributes “small” and “light”. Like, light weapons being weapons requiring not more than three people carrying them. We don’t talk about toy weapons. We talk about everything including pistols, rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, and sorts of equipment capable of destroying tanks, or gunning aircrafts down, as long as this stuff can be moved around easily.
We talk about some of the most lethal gear which can be used in asymmetric warfare, organized crime, insurgency, violent extremism, and terrorism. If you want to binge, go to Youtube and look up those gun nerds who run channels where they use this type of weaponry on firing ranges for smashing just about everything, because it creates huge numbers of people watching it. Some of those people don’t only smash things, but also explain the weapons and ammunition in a very detailed, very professional way. Veterans of various wars, having found a retirement business model.
Just to set the record straight about the type of stuff I am looking at in the following paragraphs.
Since every assessment in my line of work starts with a threat assessment, I began to wonder about what we know about the amount of SALW which we can expect to be in Afghanistan after the takeover by the Taleban, and also, where this gear is from. I have no intention to go into a comprehensive research, but I would like to use some publicly available figures as an example, and some simple logical conclusions, in order to at least point into the direction of a staggering dimension of weapons we are talking about.
Let me begin, therefore, with a few things which we know, and a few things which we do not know much about, at least publicly.
We do know that the Taleban themselves have lots of weaponry. Perhaps we do not really know, or only have confidential knowledge about the numbers, and the type of weaponry. For making my argument this is less relevant. We do know that they have enough weapons, ammunition, and explosives which allowed them to fight an entire army and a set of police organisations in a warfare where the Afghan military and police were only able to hold their ground, still loosing control over significant swaths of Afghan territory as long as the international military campaign provided superior capacities and capabilities, meaning for example air support, reconnaissance, drone firepower, specialised ground forces, and a whole international supply chain enabling the Afghan defense against this insurgency. Yet, the Taleban had enough military capability to conduct their insurgency, carrying out horrible atrocities along the way. They had and have an own supply chain, and they had and have an own financial and logistical structure for this supply chain. BBC’s report “Afghanistan: How do the Taliban make money?” gives you a sense.
How many weapons do we talk about which never were under Afghan governmental control and not under control of the Taleban, meaning, weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens, criminals, and terrorists such as ISIS-K? For future analysis, also this question will be relevant. From every experience in other zones of conflict and war it is self-evident that weapons circulate for all kinds of self-defense purposes, criminal purposes, and as instruments of terror. The situation of Afghanistan being a core area of the world’s poppy cultivation, opium production and trade, and heroin production and trade adds. There is simply no way to discard the amount of weapons which never were under any form of organisational control, be it the previous government, or the insurgency. In itself, this amounts to significant amounts of weapons which should be under control, because they are a threat.
How many weapons were left behind by hastily leaving international forces? We simply do not know. We do know that the international military had huge amounts, of course, and hopefully took as much of this gear out as possible. There is, however, indication that not everything was taken out. Here is an example for large weapons stockpiles which were simply burned to the ground, in order to make them unusable: Taleban video footage which was gained by the New York Times, indicating how the CIA burned down own facilities in Kabul before leaving. Those weapons in that video footage seem to be destroyed, however, we also know, at least in relation to some type of military gear, that the advancing Taleban took control of it. There is a lot of coverage about Taleban posing in military gear obtained from former military bases of the international coalition.
How many weapons, how much ammunition, how many explosives were in the possession of the Afghan military and security apparatus before the Taleban took over? Here we may, at least, come up with some figures about what the international community donated to the security apparatus. Whether we do have oversight about the Afghan security forces own procurement processes, I don’t know. I’m a pessimist, I doubt we know much. And the knowledge about what type of gear came from international aid, it may be kept as sensitive information, may be also because of some shame we may feel. But here are two links to professional investigative research on this topic, and here they only serve as examples, proper work requires much more: (1) “Staggering costs – staggering numbers”, a Forbes magazine attempt to look into military equipment and weapons left behind in Afghanistan because the equipment was donated to Afghan military and security; (2)“Afghanistan: Black Hawks and Humvees – military kit now with the Taliban”, BBC reporting also attempts to identify how much heavy military equipment now is under Taleban control. For starters, they list 43 MD-530 helicopters, 33 C208/AC208 planes, 33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 23 A-29 light attack air planes, 32 MI-17 helicopters, and 3 C-130 Hercules military cargo planes known as useable in-country as of 30 June 2021. They go on with staggering numbers of vehicles, including 3012 Humvees, and 31 Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. They also list at least 3598 M4 carbines. Like everyone else, BBC scrambles all qualified guesswork attempting to estimate how much of this equipment is in country, and unter Taleban control. Taken together, it is really not difficult to assume that the amount of Small Arms and Light Weapons which were part of the internationally donated equipment over twenty years will be in the milions.
These questions and examples are enough to make my point. We are talking about a country armed to the teeth.
Importantly, the next question relates to how much control there is over these weapons, and by whom. This leads to an attempted threat assessment, and I put that out in my next article.
I began my day by reading a guest essay in the New York Times by Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. In “Afghanistan Was a Wake-Up Call. Europe Needs to Step Up.” the Union’s Foreign Policy Chief dives into security issues on a strategic level. Because, the situation in Afghanistan and its wider context is confronting us with a gargantuan collection of challenges which we only begin to understand. Of course, security implications require the same attention as the humanitarian suffering already does.
I want to focus on one specific aspect: Weapons, ammunition, explosives.
On Afghanistan I will do that in my next article, but before doing that I want to spend a few sentences on how we support a comprehensive initiative in the field of weapons, ammunition, and explosives, in the Western Balkans. We do this since several years together with France, increasingly with the European Union, and many others. Good news stories often go unnoticed when facing the onslaught of catastrophic news. So, before looking at something strongly appearing to be a big mess, here a positive story first.
My current work revolves around advising the German Federal Foreign Office on German assistance to systematic efforts of governments and societies controlling all aspects of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), their ammunition, and explosives. It is a very holistic approach, and here is a good entry point on global aspects of SALW.
What does our support mean? Here some examples:
It means to help partners in improving meeting international and European standards on how to regulate trade and export according to international treaties;
It is about how to ensure safe use, storage, and transport of such items both in the military and the civilian realm;
It is about prevention of diversion of legally owned weapons, ammunition and explosives into criminal channels;
It is about fighting the use of weapons for criminal purposes, about detecting and deterring organised criminals and terrorists trafficking in weapons or using weapons;
It is about prevention of crime, about addressing domestic violence, and violence against women, children, and vulnerable groups;
It is about strengthening the role of women in policymaking related to how societies and States want to control all legal aspects on SALW, and to fight all illegal aspects.
That’s already a long list, and more often than not the topic only catches the attention of the general public when there is a horrific terror attack, such as the Paris attacks of 2015. Since two weeks, the situation in Afghanistan is drawing increasingly attention to it.
The key principle is assistance to efforts coming from States and societies themselves. In the case of the Western Balkans it concretely means the joint efforts of six jurisdictions (I will refer to Kosovo with reference to UN Security Council Resolution 1244) Albania, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North-Macedonia and Serbia. With assistance, they have developed a systematic regional roadmap. These jurisdictions have given this roadmap to themselves, their legislators adopted it.
It began as an exercise where the Western Balkans appreciated help, and it developed into an endeavor that now brings partners in the Western Balkans and in the European Union ever closer together. Germany invests a lot of political support, expertise, and a significant financial contribution, into a coordinated support of donors and international implementing organisations who work together under a specific umbrella of coordination. Assistance is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme UNDP, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation NATO.
In a very comprehensive and coordinated way this goes beyond, but critically includes, the work of law enforcement and criminal justice within the six juridictions of the Western Balkans, and their cooperation with Interpol, Europol, Frontex, and others. Moreover, we now see partners acting in a joint interest, less and less as neighbors, more and more as being part of something joint. If you are interested in details, you will find an entry point into this whole universe of comprehensive assistance here, any quick web research will give you tons of more resources. And watch out for more news. There is a high-level conference coming up early September, taking stock half-way through the intitiative. I will post public statements here in my blog once I am authorised to do that.
The way how this roadmap has been developed by the governments in the Western Balkans themselves, and the way how donors and partners assist them in it, has found international recognition, including inside the European Union itself, and the United Nations. Recently, the UN explicitly praised the Western Balkans roadmap inititiative as a role model that could be adapted to other situations. And Germany already supports the interest which has been raised in the Carribean, or in West Africa. Both regions make good progress in developing their own tailormade approach.
Making it clear from where I look at select aspects of what can be seen as challenges within the Afghanistan context is meant to indicate two experiences which I support:
The relevance of weapons, ammunition and explosives in a global threat environment at times goes underrated, until a catastrophe is hitting the news again. The threat is constant, and in my experience it is growing;
There are successful models on assisting countries in conflict; countries emerging from conflict; countries being confronted with conflict in their immediate neighborhood; and countries that are well advanced on their long path into building lasting peace. We have alternatives to the failed models of the past. Initiatives like the one I have described above are important examples for something that can be used in many other topical and geographical areas.
They are relevant because of the key principles of assistance, partnership, and coherence of support efforts which I have touched upon above.
At the time of this writing (August 24, 2021), its been 11 days ago that I published my first thoughts on the catastrophic events unfolding in Afghanistan, and the shockwaves within the International Community beginning to grasp the extent of our collective failure. At that time, the Taleban stood at the gates of Kabul. Two days later, then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul and his country, reportedly with a lot of money, according to this report, 169 million USD in cash. Following the implosion of the government, Taleban fighters and Taleban political representatives were in Kabul in no time. Afghanistan fell, may be except a little pocket, the Panjshir Valley, which appears to be under Taleban siege for now. No need to recollect the events that followed that implosion and collective failure of the International Community, and the Afghan Government. They will haunt us for years to come. Today, the G7 are convening a virtual meeting, called in by the current G7 chair, the United Kingdom. Much, if not all, will be about pressing the U.S. President into extending the deadline for the presence of U.S. troops at Kabul International Airport. Germany participates in a frantic multinational evacuation mission for own citizens and Afghan individuals being at imminent threat for life and limb. Two days ago, Al Jazeera estimated the total number of evacuated people being roughly 28.000, “tens of thousands more [are] still waiting“.
The breadth of discussions on all channels in relation to what went wrong is overwhelming in the West. The depth of these discussions varies. Like many of my friends, I am glued to these news. I belong to those who do not appreciate too much those discussions and statements that are varying mixtures of a broad bunch of mostly backward looking reflections, struggling to find simple answers, palatable for the digestion by the wider and less informed general public, addressing an intractable complexity which festered into twenty years of incoherence of international efforts. Strategic incoherence, because of political incoherence. There is no way to implement coherence if there is a lack of it at the top. Politicians trying to giving meaning in hindsight, overlooking the rubbles of an endeavor which lost its inner compass for a million of reasons. Of course many of these statements come with the unfailing appreciation for the services and sacrifices of soldiers, and humanitarian workers. Sometimes I notice that the police officers who were in this seem to be mentioned as well. But the rear-mirror-view needs to be put aside. Because of this sheer complexity, finding meaningful answers may need so much time that their use for the immediate and mid-term future is very limited.
I have begun to filter my input by looking for honesty in statements, hoping for more humility, wanting to see more apologies, and less self-reflection on national reasons why we were all in this. Because, we all are in this. For many reasons, I like this interview by my “boss”, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, because I am desperate for any sense of humility combined with visionary forward-looking statements, messages that give us a sense of hope that we will find a way forward, beyond rescuing as many as we can, shivering in relation to how those feel who will, almost inevitably, be left behind.
I began to write this article to get my personal context connecting me to the cause of the Afghan people out of the way. I wanted to explain briefly that I am not just a “concerned citizen”, but that, and how, I have been involved in everything since 2001, since the very beginning. Writing the above, I realised that my reflex simply was to add even more noise to the Rear-Mirror-View. So I’m not doing this.
In my line of actual work I have begun to analyse those implications coming from the catastrophic events which I can see, or anticipate, right now. The discussions which I had about it since a few days, they relate to the consequences of, again, an implosion of security, law and order, an implosion of governance, and all our experiences we have made with how crime, transnational organized crime, violent extremism and international terrorism thrive under conditions like these. We, or I, have seen this so often. At the same time, these discussions made clear that even this segment (crime&security) is only a small element of all possible implications of something which seems to be a catastrophic event, but by no means is a local event. The situation has uncounted interdependencies to other factors in our globalised world which contribute to further instability, and further failure.
That’s why I argue that we need to find vision, energy, compassion, strength, and humility for an urgent brainstorming which would advise us on what we can do, beyond rescue operations, inside Afghanistan, inside the Region, and in all kinds of regional neigborhoods, including Europe, and the European Union.
Fast, please. And together, please. Let us stop talking about “us” and “them”. This is not about the West. This is about us. All of us.
Like so many in my community, I feel an overwhelming helplessness in light of what is happening in Afghanistan during the recent months, weeks, and days. I am witnessing long and painful discussions about what one can do, in light of the sheer force with which the Taleban are overrunning cities, provinces, and are closing in on Kabul. The speed with which this is happening is scary.
Often these discussions are based on a solid layer of angry rambling about the rapidity of military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has had immediate consequences for other, civilian, assistance which the international community has engaged in for almost twenty years now. Like, when the German military announced its withdrawal, being left with no other option in light of the U.S. decision and the subsequent trickling down into NATO deployments, it was a matter of weeks until end of April 2021 that the German bilateral assistance to capacity building for the Afghan policing services ended, after almost twenty years. Nothing was left behind.
Of course, and rightly so, there were pledges for continuing assistance to Afghan partners on the civilian, including policing, side. But then the conquering of more and more territory and cities by the Taleban happened at a speed which, according to media sources, took even military and intelligence planners by surprise. Now we are, within days, in a scenario where we read and hear about contingency plans on the side of diplomatic representations, reducing their staff to the minimum necessary core. We hear about U.S. negotiations with some Taleban representatives calling for sparing the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from retribution. We hear about calls by governments like the U.S., the UK, Germany, and many others, on their respective national citizens to leave Afghanistan as early as possible.
So we are redrawing the map of possible international assistance during a time which appears not to allow any meaningful forward planning. Everything is based on contingencies. And those calls on the Taleban that the international community will not support a caliphate, threatening the withdrawal of any financial assistance, as much as these statements are rightly put out, they give a futile impression. Diplomacy being the only means for the moment in order to influence the rapidly deteriorating situation, it struggles with credibility in itself. How much of a threat comes from statements like these when Taleban may look for alliances with other forces, and States? States and forces that do not stand for values which we promote, and have promoted in Afghanistan for almost two decades? Values like human rights, the inalienable right of self-determination for women, children, vulnerable groups and minorities? Values like individuals and communities represented through democratic forms of governance? And the values inherent to a rule of law based on international standards, individual and human rights, what about those?
Within the onslaught of written and video reporting about this, I saw news where Afghan women told reporters that they feel being abandoned by international partners. I can only sympathize. Whatever we may tell them, whatever explanation we come up with in relation to why there needed to be an end to an otherwise seemingly endless military intervention campaign, it does not take away this argument. Yes, vulnerable groups, communities, individuals, they rightly express their feeling that they have been left alone. Because this is true, no matter which rationale we use. We have left. And we have left them at the mercy of a movement which has imposed a brutal regime more than two decades ago. Shall we believe those spokespersons of the Taleban that this is not true these days? On my part, I won’t. In my view, this would be foolish. It would be the desperate attempt to close one’s eyes from an undesirable and shameful reality. I prefer not to. Trust comes from credible action. I have not seen any action on the Taleban side that would convince me that this is different, now.
So, aside of all arguments about why the military campaigns failed, or all arguments with which some attempt to say it wasn’t a failure, that we defeted Al Qaeda, and so on and so forth, aside of all dogma discussions on the failure of state building, I stick to the core of what I can see: The current situation likely deteriorates into further violations of human and individual rights for vulnerable individuals, groups, and women and children in the Afghan society. And these violations may occur on a massive scale. Why? Because we have seen that in the past, it’s as simple as that. We have seen it in Afghanistan, we have seen it in northern Mali, we have seen it in many places in the Middle East and Africa, we have seen it in a caliphate which was set up by IS. Do we really need to remind ourselves of the atrocities which have been coming along with radical fundamentalism? Do we need to open the archives of how a strictly imposed law of the Sharia looks like? Do we close our eyes on taking away the right of self-determination from women in Afghanistan? Do we blind ourselves about the fact that already now female children in Taleban-occupied territory can’t go to school any longer?
Whereever we live, people like me believe in promoting the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the values of democracy and a rule of law as a system of governance. We see the international system of peace & security becoming more and more eroding, less able to act on a global consent, if at all, when confronted with a country moving away from these principles, or a movement attempting to subjugate an entire population under their cruel interpretation of reality. Whatever it is in addition, the Taleban movement is a fundamentalist movement of men entirely disrespecting values of female members of society, on grounds of an intepretation of Islam which is so far away from the wonderful and peaceful texts which also form a part of Islamic culture, and belief.
It is one thing to witness it from the outside. In Afghanistan, we were inside. We assumed responsibility of assistance, and we became accountable ourselves. So, it is very different to see such deterioration happening in Afghanistan because we took the decision to leave.
Time will tell whether we find a collaborative way forward. But what, if we fail in this, too? Which lesson will this present to those who are opposed to values which we, for a long time, considered to be universal? What does it mean to those values themselves?
In Buddhism, we talk about the temporary nature of all composite things. Do we see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its impermanence?
I have no wisdom to offer. But it looks like pointing towards the picture which is at the core of this blog: At some point, I think in 2015, staff members of the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York donned white clothes and gathered outside of the headquarters building. They formed a circle which then was photographed from the air.
The circle reads: “What r u doing for peace?”
Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī is commonly known as “Rumi”. He lived in Balkh, now part of Afghanistan, in the 13th Century. One of be greatest Islamic mystic poets, I admire his work so much.
Here is my long-time favorite, also a part of how I set up my blog from the beginning on:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” ― Rumi