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Posts Tagged ‘Ministry of Tourism’

Band-e-Amir National Park makes a nice tourist destination. *

It's free of landmines AND flesh-eating wasps! **

No matter how long or hard my day has been, I know it’s been better than Ghulam Nabi Farahi’s.  He has what is surely the toughest job in the world: Deputy Minister for Administration, Finance, and Tourism, working in the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture.

I’ve written about Afghan tourism slogans before (twice, actually).  But to help out the Deputy Minister — and with apologies to The Late Show — here are a few more ideas:

#10  Afghanistan:  Not bad, except for the giant flesh-eating wasps. In your bunker. Even though “giant flesh-eating wasps” sounds like something from a REALLY bad movie, they’re real.  In fact, watching them pull small chunks of chicken from your plate was just one of the many things that made Kabul dining an adventure.  But building a nest in the bunker closest to my office?  Well, that was just going too far…

#9  Afghanistan:  Cool, in a Mad Max sort of way. Anyone who’s ever driven Highway 1 knows exactly what I mean.

#8  Afghanistan:  The world’s toughest story problem. Inspired by this classic Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson.

#7  Afghanistan:  The crossroads of everywhere.  The graveyard of everyone. People have been trading and fighting in Afghanistan for over 50,000 years.  From the original Silk Road to the Modern Silk Road Strategy, and from Alexander the Great to tomorrow’s news, Afghanistan has a well-deserved reputation as a formidable trading partner.  And the graveyard of empires.

#6  Afghanistan: Where the kids are friendly. And have AK-47s. Eid Al Fitr is a three-day holiday at the end of Ramadan (‘Ramazan’, in Afghanistan).  Traditional gifts for children include dresses for girls and toy AK-47s for boys. Which means a bunch of boys standing at traffic circles shooting airsoft pellets at convoys…from REALLY realistic toy guns.  In general, they’re not being mean-spirited at all, that’s just what boys DO in Afghanistan.  All’s well…as long as the boys run out of pellets before a Coalition member in a gun turret gets spooked or an insurgent figures out how to exploit it.

#5  Afghanistan: Where the only law is the law of unintended consequences. Intervention in a complex system — and nowhere is more complex than Afghanistan — ALWAYS creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.  Like this.

#4  Afghanistan: In a horror movie when the music shifts to a minor key and you’re all, “Don’t open the door!!!”? Well that door leads here. Loosely based on the opening lines of this article by Eugene Robinson.

#3  Afghanistan: The major historical sites are expected to be landmine-free! A quote from the this article by Heidi Vogt about tourism in Afghanistan.  Really.

#2  Afghanistan: That’s not debris.  That’s just air. Overheard after a rocket attack.  Really.  It’s funny until you find out it’s too true to be funny.  During my time in Afghanistan, exactly zero NTM-A members died from rocket attacks.  Two died due to respiratory disease.  Not surprising, since Kabul has “the highest amount of fecal matter in the atmosphere in the world,” according to Pushpa Pathak.

and my number one recommendation for an Afghan Tourism slogan…

#1  Afghanistan:  At least we don’t have evil flying attack squids! Which makes it better than San Diego.  Really.

Bottom Line: All joking aside, Afghanistan has much to offer; with victory we’ll being able to enjoy it.  And as I’ve written, that’s worth fighting for.

* Photo by Paula Bronstein of Getty Images, from USA Today

** Photo by Stephon Sterns

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Kabul 02

Kabul in 2002: About as bad as it could get*

Kabul now

Kabul now: Not deteriorating**

Afghanistan: Not deteriorating!

This is another slogan the Afghan Ministry of Tourism probably doesn’t need.  But ‘not deteriorating’ is REALLY good news for a country that – less than a year ago – seemed to be in a death spiral.

Yesterday morning, the Stars and Stripes ran an article by Julian Barnes of the Chicago Tribune, quoting GEN McChrystal, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force:

I still will tell you the situation in Afghanistan is serious, I do not say now it is deteriorating.  We [made] significant progress in setting conditions in 2009 and we will make real progress in 2010.

Put another way, it increasingly seems the insurgency is loosing momentum.  And in a counter-insurgency fight, momentum is a Big Deal.

A friend of mine talks about the country as if it was a bowling ball, with the insurgents as a bunch of ants trying to move the ball backward and us – Afghans and Coalition members alike – as ants trying to move it forward.   For a while, the momentum was with the insurgents.  But the bowling ball is slowing, and soon we may even be able to turn it around.  Which is making many insurgents think VERY seriously about reconciliation.  The alternative (being crushed like an ant by a bowling ball) is looking less and less appealing to them by the day…

I’m not trying to overstate this, we – both Afghans and the International Community – still have a LONG way to go.  Or, as GEN McChrystal says,

I am not prepared to say we are winning, but I am confident we will see significant progress.

Bottom line:  Victory is far from inevitable.  And WAY too many ants will die in the process of stopping and then turning the bowling ball that is Afghanistan.  But the momentum is shifting…

* Photo by Ismail Eren, from DeviantArt

** Photo by Pietro Calogero, from his blog

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Money-changer

Money-changer in Kabul, with afghani, dollars, and other currency*

ANP checkpoint

ANP highway checkpoint...keeping people safe or shaking them down?**

Afghanistan: Less corrupt than Somalia!

That’s not exactly the kind of slogan the Afghan Ministry of Tourism wants, but unfortunately, that’s the best they can do.  According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is the second-most corrupt country on the planet.  Only Somalia is worse.  Haiti is a whopping eight spots higher on the list.   And that has a direct impact on the counter-insurgency fight here in Afghanistan.

The Afghan National Security Forces performed well during this week’s attacks in Kabul, but as Alissa J. Rubin of the NY Times found, Afghans like Noor ul-Haq Uloumi, a member of Parliament who sits on its Defense Committee, can’t help but wonder, “How come these terrorists are able to come all the way from the border to Kabul with all their ammunitions and stuff?”  The obvious answer:  Corruption.  “There are many reports of cases where guards have been bribed to enable criminals or insurgents to move through an area…if we cannot eliminate corruption in the government and cannot make a government based on the rule of law to serve the people of Afghanistan, this corruption can bring many of such attacks.”

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime recently released the results of a survey on Corruption in Afghanistan, and it’s sobering.

Poverty and violence are usually portrayed as the biggest challenges confronting Afghanistan.  But ask the Afghans themselves, and you get a different answer: corruption is their biggest worry.  An overwhelming 59 per cent of Afghans view public dishonesty as a bigger concern than insecurity (54 per cent) and unemployment (52 per cent).

Obviously, as part of the Coalition supporting the surge in Afghan National Security Forces, my focus has been almost entirely on security.  But it’s clear I need to take a broader view.  Part of that is simply keeping a more watchful eye on the senior Afghan communicators with whom I interact.  They have ample opportunities for corruption – selling permission to use radio frequencies, forcing contractors to pay bribes (commonly called “pen fees” if a signature is needed to complete a bureaucratic process or “walking fees” if it requires simple facilitation), and smoothing the transfer of communications equipment through Customs.  I haven’t seen much, if any, of this.  But I haven’t been looking closely.  Another part is providing support to efforts like the Ministry of the Interior’s Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and Anti-corruption Hot Line call center.  The biggest challenge, as a communicator, is that these efforts require a level of computer security not often seen in Afghanistan.  There are not many electronic records in Afghanistan worth killing for.  The electronic records of the MCTF and the telephone records of the call center may well be exceptions…

Bottom line:  Perhaps the Editorial Staff of StrategyPage say it best:

Behind the war is the real battle for Afghanistan, and the future of the country…poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and corruption.  That’s the real war.

* DPA/Corbis photo by Marcel Mettelsiefen, from Time

**USAF photo by TSgt Francisco V. Govea II, from Defense Imagery )

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