Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Veteran correspondent: Why we failed

By Christopher B. Daly

A recent piece by the redoubtable Carlotta Gall in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine points up one reason why the Times is so valuable to its readers. Gall was a correspondent for the Times in Afghanistan for more than a decade — arriving shortly after the 9/11 attacks prompted the United States’ ferocious counter-strikes in the Muslim world. Gall (who I met once when we gave her an award at Boston University) is one tough cookie — a veteran, smart, deeply informed observer of places and things that most Americans would never get to see first-hand. We have depended on her.

Now, in a kind of valedictory, she is stepping out of her duties as a day-to-day news reporter and taking on the role of an analyst. The Times ran a chunk of her forthcoming book in the Magazine, and here are the parts that really struck me.

First, she credentialed herself:

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, I went to live and report for The New York Times in Afghanistan. I would spend most of the next 12 years there, following the overthrow of the Taliban, feeling the excitement of the freedom and prosperity that was promised in its wake and then watching the gradual dissolution of that hope. A new Constitution and two rounds of elections did not improve the lives of ordinary Afghans; the Taliban regrouped and found increasing numbers of supporters for their guerrilla actions; by 2006, as they mounted an ambitious offensive to retake southern Afghanistan and unleashed more than a hundred suicide bombers, it was clear that a deadly and determined opponent was growing in strength, not losing it. As I toured the bomb sites and battlegrounds of the Taliban resurgence, Afghans kept telling me the same thing: The organizers of the insurgency were in Pakistan, specifically in the western district of Quetta. Police investigators were finding that many of the bombers, too, were coming from Pakistan.

Then, a bit later, she very helpfully boils down all those years of her hard-won education in the field:

“The madrasas are a cover, a camouflage,” a Pashtun legislator from the area told me. Behind the curtain, hidden in the shadows, lurked the ISI.

The Pakistani government, under President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan. The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned — a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation.

I’d say that all the pundits and politicians who sit back here at home, safe and warm, should listen to someone who has actually been there and really knows what she’s talking about. So, there you have it: During all those years of dying and spending in that part of the world, the United States was basically being played as a chump, and the moment we leave, all parties involved are going to go right back to what they were doing before we got there.



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Great photos from “the Roof of the World”

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to Matthieu Paley, a French photojournalist, we can sit in our warm homes and offices and see these amazing images from what is perhaps the most godforsaken corner of

Wakhan Corridor

Wakhan Corridor

Afghanistan. This is where, basically, if you felt the urge to walk from Afghanistan to China, you would have to go.

Thanks also to the NYTimes‘ valuable Lens blog, which is where the Times features a lot of its best visual journalism in photos, slides, and video.

Here’s the link.

[Two gripes: The Times should make it easier to find this stuff on its homepage.

The Times should stop blocking the copying of these images. (I realize that a lot of the contributors are not Times employees and that many of these projects are sponsored by someone else — such as, in this case, National Geographic. Still, in the long run, I think it’s more valuable to reach out than to keep out.)]

Oddly, the photos are readily available at the NatGeo site. So, thanks very much to NatGeo.

Here are two:






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Why are we in Afghanistan? (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Will someone please remind me what we are doing there?

It can’t be to bring the people American-style freedom . . . since they don’t seem interested. Which is fine. It’s their country. They are entitled to love it and govern it. And no one from there has attacked the mainland United States in more than a decade.

So, why are we there?

Bryan Denton for The New York TimesAt a Kabul market that sells cellphones and downloads for mobile devices, young Afghans said government censorship of YouTube was an acceptable way to block an anti-Islamic video.

Bryan Denton for The New York Times
At a Kabul market that sells cellphones and downloads for mobile devices, young Afghans said government censorship of YouTube was an acceptable way to block an anti-Islamic video.

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Powerful photo

By Chris Daly

From the New York Times comes this powerful photo by photographer Andrea Bruce. It is lit almost like a Caravaggio painting, with its dramatic chiaroscuro. The lighting that falls on the averted face at the lower right adds, if it is possible, to the poignancy of the scene. (The original caption read: “In Grip of Cold, Afghan Family Mourns Death of 8th Child: The mother of Khan Mohammad, a 3-month-0ld boy who died because of exposure, in a camp in Kabul, Afghanistan.)

At the same time that this photo captures a pitiful human tragedy, it also raises questions that go right to the heart of the big policy questions: What are we doing in Afghanistan anyway? After 10 years of involvement, why do babies freeze to death? If we are that ineffective, then leave. If it is just helpless no matter who intervenes, then leave. If al Qaeda is busted up and bin Laden is dead, then leave.

New York Times/ Andrea Bruce

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Don’t miss

If you are on the BU campus this Wednesday, we are lucky to be hosting a visit by Carlotta Gall, who has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the New York Times for more than a decade. Forget the analysts. Forget the politicians. Here comes someone who really knows what she’s talking about.

Place: CAS, 223. Time: 4 p.m.





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