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Global Chats

Sept. 22 Chat: the latest from Afghanistan

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - 12:00 - 12:30

As the Kandahar campaign rolls on and results come in from the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, GlobalPost's Kabul correspondent chatted live with members. Here is the unfiltered, unvarnished view of how America's long war looks from the ground.


Join us on September 22 at noon, Eastern time, for a live web chat with Jean MacKenzie in Kabul.

11:53 GP-ChatHost Hello everyone!
11:53 GlobalPost Excellent.
11:53 GlobalPost We'll begin in seven minutes...
11:56 GlobalPost Three more minutes...
11:59 GlobalPost Good Afternoon everyone
11:59 GlobalPost Welcome to GlobalPost's web chat with GlobalPost's
Kabul correspondent Jean MacKenzie. Jean has been living in Afghanistan
for six years now. She's traveled extensively through the country, and
is quite knowledgeable about what's going on there.
12:00 GlobalPost She's going to bring us up to date on the latest since the parliamentary elections last weekend. She joins us from Dubai.
12:00 GlobalPost I'm going to begin with a Q and A with Jean.
12:01 GlobalPost We welcome and encourage participation
12:01 GlobalPost If you have a question for Jean, please message the GP-coordinator by pasting the following into the message box:
12:01 GlobalPost Sorry, scratch that.
12:01 GlobalPost Our GP coordinator has changed her name
12:01 GlobalPost If you have a question for Jean, please message the GP-ChatHost by pasting the following into the message box:
12:02 GlobalPost "/msg GP-ChatHost FOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE."
12:02 GlobalPost Understood?
12:02 GlobalPost Great.
12:02 GlobalPost Okay, Let's begin
12:02 GlobalPost Jean, How significant were the parliamentary elections that just occurred on September 18?
12:03 Jean-MacKenzie Hello.
12:03 GlobalPost Hi Jean
12:03 Jean-MacKenzie The elections were a good marker of where things stand in Afghanistan today.
12:03 Jean-MacKenzie we can judge the level of trust in the government, the level of
corruption, and how the international community is viewing Afghanistan.
12:04 Jean-MacKenzie Ufortunately, the answers we got to all of these questions were a bit depressing.
12:04 Jean-MacKenzie Trust is low, corruption is high, and the international community is willing to sweep it all uder the rug.
12:04 GlobalPost You sound sceptical
12:04 Jean-MacKenzie yes, that's my role, I think.
12:05 Jean-MacKenzie but it is based on conversations with many, many people.
12:05 Jean-MacKenzie Afghans, international election monitors, etc.
12:05 Jean-MacKenzie so I guess I come by my skepticism honestly.
12:05 GlobalPost What is the state of democracy in Afghanistan, given all the latest developments, including the elections?
12:05 Jean-MacKenzie Well, it's complicated.
12:05 Jean-MacKenzie There is a natural democracy in Afghanistan.
12:06 Jean-MacKenzie People have opinions and want to voice them.
12:06 Jean-MacKenzie local sguras, or councils, are extremely "democratic" in the real sense of the word.
12:06 Jean-MacKenzie But the Western experiment in our type of democracy is not going so well.
12:06 Jean-MacKenzie that was "shuras"
12:07 GlobalPost So there's democracy despite the democratically elected government
12:07 Jean-MacKenzie yes, at the rassroots level.
12:07 GlobalPost I like that, the rassroots level!
12:07 GlobalPost What effect will the corruption scandals involving the president have on his
relations with the West, particularly the United States?
12:07 Jean-MacKenzie Of course there is also violence, corruption, and a whole lot of autocracy as well.
12:08 Jean-MacKenzie I do not think that the US government is willing to draw a line in the sand on this.
12:08 Jean-MacKenzie They have overlooked just about everything so far this year.
12:08 Jean-MacKenzie I think President Karzai has a free pass from Washington as long as he keeps us the narrative that all is going well.
12:09 GlobalPost Great.
12:09 GlobalPost Let me remind the audience, If you have a question for Jean, please message the GP-ChatHost by pasting the following into the message box:
12:09 GlobalPost "/msg GP-ChatHost FOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE."
12:09 GlobalPost So what's the general mood among Afghans these days?
12:10 Jean-MacKenzie very negative when it comes to the government, the foreign forces, and the future
12:10 Jean-MacKenzie other than that, they're happy.
12:10 GlobalPost They're happy, eh?
12:10 Jean-MacKenzie well, I'm being a bit flip.
12:10 GlobalPost Ah yes, I can hear it in your typing
12:10 Jean-MacKenzie I mean that people are living their lves, they are getting on with education, business, whatever.
12:10 GlobalPost Okay, we have a question from the audience
12:10 GlobalPost Here it is: Can you give us a sense of what life is like day-to-day in
Afghanistan? There's a war going on, but there must be some regularity
to life there...
12:11 Jean-MacKenzie but when you ask them about politics or the future, they turn a bit dark.
12:11 Jean-MacKenzie sure there is "real life" going on in Afghanistan, with the exception of those places where the war is on full blast.
12:11 Jean-MacKenzie I mean Kandahar, Marjah, maybe parts of Khost.
12:12 GlobalPost Why those parts of the country?
12:12 Jean-MacKenzie Other
than that, it is a poor but developing country. kabul is a bustling
city, with kids going to school, stores and buildings going up, etc.
12:12 Jean-MacKenzie If only we had 24-hour electricity!
12:12 GlobalPost Ha!
12:12 Jean-MacKenzie and fewer goats in the streets ...
12:12 Jean-MacKenzie Well, there are 20,000 troops in kandahar
12:12 GlobalPost That makes it more difficult to navigate the traffic, I imagine.
12:12 Jean-MacKenzie with the taliban fighting back for all they're worth.
12:13 Jean-MacKenzie people are staying indoors as much as possible, or leaving
12:13 Jean-MacKenzie same in marjah.
12:13 Jean-MacKenzie In khost there are battles, airstrikes, etc. almost every day.
12:13 Jean-MacKenzie That interrupts the normal flow.
12:13 Jean-MacKenzie the goats? yes indeed.
12:13 GlobalPost That makes it more difficult to navigate the traffic, I imagine.
12:14 GlobalPost We have another question from the audience...
12:14 GlobalPost A major bank in Afghanistan recently encountered some liquidity problems.
12:14 GlobalPost Here's the question:
12:14 GlobalPost Why should Americans care if the banking system in Afghanistan fails?
12:15 Jean-MacKenzie Financially, it makes no difference to us, really.
12:15 Jean-MacKenzie The bank is too small to set off any type of global crisis.
12:15 Jean-MacKenzie But again, it is a reminder that Afghanistan is a country with some very serious cedibility problems.
12:16 GlobalPost Yet another question from the audience...
12:17 GlobalPost "Can you ask if this administration has done enough to provide security?"
12:17 Jean-MacKenzie the banking crisis undermined any trust Afghans had in their country's financial system, and that makes our job harder
12:17 Jean-MacKenzie the job of the West, I mean -- cnvincing Afghans that they are better off with their government than the Taliban
12:17 GlobalPost I'm assuming this means, security for the local people.
12:17 Jean-MacKenzie security for whom?
12:17 Jean-MacKenzie ah.
12:18 Jean-MacKenzie Well,
the word security has a lot of meanings here. I am not sure whether
going into a city like Kandahar wth 20,000 troops, precipitating a major
battle, is really making people more secure.
12:18 GlobalPost If I remember correctly, President Obama defined the war in Afghanistan as a struggle against al Qaeda
12:18 GlobalPost But now all we hear about is offensives against the Taliban.
12:18 Jean-MacKenzie yes. disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda
12:18 GlobalPost What about that?
12:18 GlobalPost Mission creep?
12:18 Jean-MacKenzie that is the mission, according to our president
12:19 Jean-MacKenzie well, if that's the mission, we were done in November, 2001.
12:19 GlobalPost done in Nov. 2001?
12:19 Jean-MacKenzie Al Qaeda was effectivel disrupted -- in Afghanistan.
12:19 GlobalPost They've gone elsewhere - Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia
12:19 Jean-MacKenzie So
we have spent nine years trying to figure out what we are doing --
fighting the Taliban, protecting women, building democracy, etc.
12:20 Jean-MacKenzie Yes, by November, 2001, Al Qaeda had gone over the border to pakistan.
12:21 globalpost Phew.
12:21 globalpost We had a brief technical problem there.
12:21 globalpost But I think we're back.
12:22 Jean-MacKenzie so yes, it is mission creep. Look at the TIME magazine cover, which
suggests that we are in Afghanistan to further women's rights.
12:22 Jean-MacKenzie would that it were so ...
12:23 globalpost Seems that there may be more effective ways to further women's rights...
12:23 globalpost As a reminder, you can ask a question by addressing it to the GP-ChatHost...
12:23 globalpost Type this into the little window at the bottom...
12:23 globalpost "/msg GP-ChatHost FOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE."
12:23 Jean-MacKenzie well, if we are tere to change the culture, we'll have to gear ourselves for a very long haul.
12:23 globalpost Don't include the quotes.
12:23 Jean-MacKenzie it will not be done by July, 2011.
12:24   +++ globalpost has given voice to GP-ChatHost
12:24 globalpost Speaking of July 2011, the deadline for troop withdrawal...That deadline may
12:24 globalpost have seemed like a good idea for US domestic politics
12:25 globalpost by signaling an end to the war, or at least US participation in the war
12:25 Jean-MacKenzie well, it was geared for the domestic audience, quite clearly.
12:25 globalpost but didn't it signal to the Afghan people that they'd better find allies locally?
12:25 Jean-MacKenzie But it demoralized the Afghans who count on us, and encouraged the Taliban.
12:25 Jean-MacKenzie yes, indeed it did.
12:26 Jean-MacKenzie especially to One Afghan -- the president.
12:26 globalpost Okay, we have another question...
12:26 globalpost Go for it, GP-ChatHost
12:26 GP-ChatHost londoncalling:
Please assess the effectiveness of the "surge" so far: how many Taliban
have been captured or killed? And is this the right metric to be
looking at?
12:27 Jean-MacKenzie I have been told by the military that "this is a war of attrition"
12:27 Jean-MacKenzie I do not have a body count, but I think it is the wrong metric altogether.
12:27 Jean-MacKenzie Nine eyars ago we thought there were 3,000 taliban.
12:27 Jean-MacKenzie Nowwe are saying 25,000
12:27 Jean-MacKenzie so it seems the more we wkill, the more there are.
12:27 globalpost Wow, that doesn't sound like progress.
12:28 Jean-MacKenzie it is a bit early to assess the surge -- the last troops just got there
12:28 Jean-MacKenzie but right now it is looking grim.
12:28 GP-ChatHost Here is another great question from the audience: Guest52006: Hi Jean - what do you think is the best way to improve the lives of ordinary Afganis?
12:28 Jean-MacKenzie I am not sure it is up to us.
12:28 Jean-MacKenzie We can give training, investment, and encouragement.
12:29 Jean-MacKenzie But it is a bit hubristic to think that we can change or improve their lives.
12:29 Jean-MacKenzie It is up to them
12:29 Jean-MacKenzie They need education and investment, not handouts
12:29 Jean-MacKenzie I have heard one esterner say that we are "parenting" n Afghanistan. That is the wrong approach, I think.
12:30 globalpost Great.
12:30 globalpost We have one last audience question...
12:30 Jean-MacKenzie we need to treat Afghans as adults capable of shaping their own destiny
12:30 globalpost How does President Obama's announcement of withdrawal in July 2011 affect Karzai's thinking?
12:31 Jean-MacKenzie We see quite clearly that he is desperately looking for allies in the region.
12:31 Jean-MacKenzie getting closer to Pakistan and Iran.
12:31 Jean-MacKenzie That is not good news for us.
12:31 Jean-MacKenzie Karzai has been quite recalcitrant with the US lately, and it makes it difficult for us to get things done.
12:31 globalpost Okay, it looks like that's all we'll have time for today.
12:32 globalpost Thanks, everyone for joining us today.
12:32 globalpost Thanks to Jean as well. Keep up the good work in Afghanistan, and stay safe.
12:32 Jean-MacKenzie Thank you, all!
12:32 globalpost A fascinating perspective on the events.
12:32 globalpost Check back to the Membership site next week, when we'll have another chat.
12:32 globalpost And let us know if you have any comments. You can still send a message to
12:33 globalpost the chat host, even after we're off line...
12:33 globalpost Again, you do this by...
12:33 globalpost entering: "/msg GP-ChatHost FOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE."
12:33 globalpost Without the quotes.
12:33 globalpost We would also welcome ideas for next week's chat.
12:33 globalpost Who do you want to hear from?
12:33 globalpost On that note,
12:33 globalpost Thanks, and good bye!