The situation in Afghanistan – a personal perspective

This article expresses the views of Paramount Chief and senior member of the NCF, Ajmal Khan. The Next Century Foundation’s Summer Conference includes a session on Afghanistan. Should you wish to attend click here for full details and the chance to register. The Taliban say that “with the exception of the Presidency or high ranking positions in the judiciary, there will be no restrictions on a woman’s career prospects” in the new Afghanistan.  But when asked to differentiate between themselves and ISIS, the Taliban say that the main difference is that they are Afghan and ISIS are not. Can this really be the way to go? To surrender control of Afghanistan to one of the most feared and dangerous groups on the planet? After years of losses in blood and treasure is there no better outcome for much mauled over Afghanistan? To listen to the personal views of the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General on the subject click here. The views of Paramount Chief Ajmal Zazai Khan are as follows in his words. Neither his words nor those of the NCF Secretary General represent the views of the trustees of the Next Century Foundation:

ISIS

The so-called ISIS of Afghanistan has no connection with the one in Iraq or Syria. The Afghan ISIS, which declare itself as the ISIS wing of Khorasan, has two parts. One part is based mainly in the eastern parts of Afghanistan, consists of the Pashtun tribes of Waziristan and Khyber agency, and is fully run by the Pakistani ISI. Only recently did the US carry out thorough operations against them, which wiped out much of the group. The other part of ISIS is based in the north and north-eastern parts of Afghanistan, and mainly consists of Chechens, Daghistanis and Chinese Muslims. This part of the Khorasan ISIS was created by the FSB and, according to some reliable sources, anywhere between 25,000 to 35,000 fighters are based inside Afghanistan. They are living among the villagers in the most remote parts of the country. This deadly group was created to take the insurgency to a second phase, which would be far deadlier than what we witness right now.

Al-Qaeda

After spending nine years in Iran, Hamza Bin Laden (the son of Al-Qaeda’s late leader, Osama Bin Ladin) returned to Afghanistan, and this shaped Al-Qaeda strategically. The US claimed that they had killed Hamza bin Ladin in a drone strike in Waziristan some four years ago, but it is confirmed that the US missed.
Hamza Bin Laden is now the leader of most elite terrorist organization that stretches across many countries. Hamza bin Laden is working closely with Sarajuddin Haqani in the southern and south-eastern parts of Afghanistan. All fighters of Al-Qaeda are North African Arabs, from Libya, Mali, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

The insurgency against the US & NATO

The forces are divided into three groups:

  1. The Pakistani ISI is running the Taliban & Haqani Network.
  2.  The Russian FSB is running ISIS.
  3.  Irani Al Quds is running Hamza bin Ladin Al Qaida.

The US Intel are aware that a peace deal with the Taliban will not guarantee total peace or an end to the war in Afghanistan. The US military believe that they would have to maintain their presence in Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Hezb-i- Wallayat (Taliban), but the regional powers believe these are just excuses made by the US in order to prolong its military presence in Afghanistan.
Regional powers believe the US’ prolonged military presence in Afghanistan has something to do with regional powers (Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan & Turkey) and not with ISIS or Al-Qaeda, as claimed by the US & NATO.

The concerns of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan

Russia: Kremlin believes that the US is driven to curb the vast influence of Russia on Central Asia by bringing western-style democracies to the region, and empowering westernized leaders to free them of Moscow.

China: Beijing treats Afghanistan as it’s backyard and they are certain that the US’ prolonged presence in Afghanistan seeks to stop China’s huge economical “One Belt, One Road” project, which connects 118 countries and costs $3 trillion. China believes that from their positions in Afghanistan, the US and U.K. have tried to create an uprising inside China using the Chinese Muslims to create a civil war which could eventually weaken China from within.

Iran: The Iranian regime openly accuses the US and U.K. for interfering in their country by creating unrest within Iran. The Iranian regime fears that the US might send Iranian armed militants through the Afghan border in order to topple its regime in Tehran.

Pakistan: Although Pakistan was considered a friend and an ally by the US for a long time, it has been over 25 years since Pakistan tightened its ties with China and no longer trusts the US. Pakistan is a nuclear state and they feel threatened by deepened US-India relations and, of course, by Kashmir. The Taliban and other Islamic militant groups (Jaish Mohammad, Lashkar Tayba) are the core of ISI. Maybe at a later stage these groups will fight Pakistan’s holy war in Kashmir. The US’ prolonged military presence in Afghanistan might have some severe consequences for Pakistan as well, as Pakistan think that the US and NATO might begin supporting the separatists of Pashtunistan and Baluchistan. The separation won’t stop there, however, as Sindh also wants freedom and this could mean the end of Pakistan’s existence.

The above-mentioned countries, plus Turkey, are also part of the inner circle of the Shanghai summit. They make up one block and are all tied into a strategical alliance, doing anything in their power to turn Afghanistan into a second Vietnam for the US forces.

Qatar’s Peace Deal

The main objective of Qatar’s Peace Deal was to minimize insurgency by shutting down the Taliban, but this has not worked because the Taliban insist on the complete withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership is well aware that the US is not going to fully withdraw its forces, as they are making excuses of Al-Qaeda and ISIS being active in Afghanistan. The Taliban have categorically assured the US that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are their problem and that they will deal with them, but the US will not listen and instead blames the Taliban for having ties with Al-Qaeda. The UN Security Council’s report that the Taliban has deep ties with Al-Qaeda and other militant groups made  the US’ claim even stronger.

Ever since this peace deal was signed in Qatar back in February, the insurgence has escalated by more than 300% throughout Afghanistan, and Afghans continue to be killed. It does not appear that the Taliban will adopt a ceasefire in the near future.

About a month ago, Sarjuddin Haqani (the military commander of  the Haqani Networka, deputy of Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Hibatullah, and the son of late Mullah Mohammad Omar) openly expressed their determination for carrying JIHAD against the US invaders in a propaganda video. They conveyed a message to their fighters to carry on fighting and discredited the Qatar peace deal.

Right after the Qatar peace deal was signed between the US and Taliban, a large number of Taliban formed another group called Hezb-i- Wallayat, and it is believed that many who oppose the Qatar peace deal will join this new Taliban resistance.

Conclusion of the Qatar deal

It seems that Trump’s administration will somehow bring the (approximate) 500 Taliban leaders to Kabul to make them part of the current Kabul regime, or perhaps form a new interim government where these Taliban leaders will be part of it. Then Trump will show to the American public that he has ended America’s longest war in Afghanistan and brought soldiers home. According to some reliable information from within the US government, the US will always maintain around 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, regardless of any treaty they have signed with Taliban. That is why regional powers are skeptical of the US and have planned for a prolonged war with the US on Afghan soil.

Afghan partners

Although the US is juggling the insurgency in Afghanistan and larger regional issues, the US and NATO are currently backing the most corrupt regime in Kabul. Ashraf Ghani has lost control of Afghanistan’s government. He is incompetent and weak, and he is driven by individuals within his regime who carry other agendas (those of the FSB, Al Quds, ISI & RAW). Sadly, the US and NATO are fully aware of his incompetence but continue supporting his disastrous regime, which Afghans dislike at large.

At least if the US and NATO could bring about cleaner Afghan government that works for the welfare of the Afghans, more Afghans may resist from joining the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or ISIS.

 

Possible Futures: Afghanistan

Joe Waters looks into the political climate, as well as potential forces for change, in Afghanistan – a country which has been in a state of tumultuous conflict for most of the last three decades. As large parts of the nation again find themselves under Taliban rule and the U.S. begin their departure, the power vacuum created is one that could be filled in any number of ways: a depressing number of which involve bloodshed. Will the country become a proxy for geopolitical conflict? Will it descend into factional chaos? Or will the Taliban bring an uneasy peace?

By July 15th of this year, there will only be 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and, if all goes to plan then, by the end of 2021, there will be none. It is fair to say that success of America’s forays into the region is moot. However, many from both sides of the U.S. political spectrum currently support ending “the forever war.” The question now is less to do with what has been achieved and more with simply getting out quickly. The sense that leaving a nation to fend for itself is preferable to any kind of intervention might have more ground if it were not for the other large nations attempting to advance their own interests in Afghanistan. In 2018, the Washington Post reported that “Russian officials believed the [Taliban] no longer posed a threat to Russian interests […and] like Russia, opposed a long-term U.S. military presence and hoped to extinguish the Islamic State.” Hence, Russia has made attempts to enter into a relationship with the Taliban, to leverage power in the region to their advantage. Similarly, Afghanistan is in the sights of China, who wish to incorporate it into their “Belt and Road Initiative,” in order to increase their dominance in international trade.

But what of America’s supposed aims in the region? The democracy they laid the foundations for is floundering. Only one million, out of the nine million eligible to vote (in a country of nearly 40 million) turned up to the polling booth at the last election. Many believe the low voter turnout is due to disillusionment with the corruption of successive governments. A 2012 UNODC report found that over 40% of adult Afghans were potentially involved in the payment of bribes. Many hoped that this would change after President Hamid Karzai left office, but a 2015 poll found that only 27.5.% were satisfied with current president Ashraf Ghani’s leadership. Public opinion was not bolstered by the 2019 allegations of government posts being granted in exchange for sexual favours. All in all, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current government. To many, they seem both ideologically uninspiring and weak. With more dying in terrorist attacks than of Covid-19 (even as Kabul’s lack of medical provision does lead to terrible loss of life), the current vision of stability and the rule of law is flimsy at best.

Meanwhile, some (depending on who you ask, up to 95% of the population) are coming around to the idea that Taliban rule might actually be more conducive to peace than the current system. Depressingly, this could be true even if just because attacks by the Taliban might stop (“might” rather than “will” because there is more than one faction of Taliban). However, those looking for a resolution push the view that the militants have become easier to deal with in recent years. It has even been claimed, by some close to the former royal family, that they are becoming more liberal with regard to women’s rights and would not prevent women’s education even if they barred women from holding the highest-ranking positions (those Taliban present in the Doha talks draw the line at allowing women to be judges or take the presidency). All of these claims are debatable but it’s still true to say that peace under the Taliban could prove preferable to the alternative. The peoples and factions of Afghanistan are not exactly united. The Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and other minorities all have their own conflicting interests. A prevailing view is that, in the absence of a U.S. presence, civil war will break out much like in the early 90s. It is hard not to see the truth in this prediction.

What, then, is the way out for Afghanistan? Is returning to Taliban rule really the only way? It has been argued that perhaps civil war is not quite inevitable. There is one thing that could prevent it: desire for an end to conflict. While the many disparate peoples of Afghanistan may not identify with each other or their government, what they do identify with is a desire for peace. The tumultuous years of fighting that this nation has lived through would make anyone sane cry “enough!” The mood in discussions of the country’s fate is one of weariness and depression. Many of the parties involved feel crushed by the constant barrage of death and failure their nation has been presented with. Maybe, just maybe, these negative sentiments can be harnessed and used as fuel to take the most radical step possible in the next age of Afghanistan: to do nothing. No more militant, ideological deaths. A collective standing still, a lack of encroachment could just about inaugurate the first step to some kind of valuable peace process. It’s a long shot but it is at least envisionable. And envisioning is the first step in achieving any kind of reality.

Image – U.S. Department of State: “Secretary Pompeo Participates in a Signing Ceremony in Doha”

And do we really want peace with the Taliban?

Well it seems we have fallen into the pit as far as our failed Afghanistan project is concerned. It failed from the start really when we, the Western powers, put a gun to the head of the Afghan King that fateful evening to force him to step aside in favour of our pet Hamid Karzai. Then President Karzai empowered the ex-warlords and Afghanistan never got the liberation it deserved from years of brutal Taliban rule. And now, after the sacrifice of all that blood and treasure we are to let the Taliban rule again.

The following is the text of the peace agreement just reached in Qatar between the Afghan government and an assorted bunch of Talibanista who claim to represent the Taliban fighting on the ground. Whether they do is another issue. This document would be desperately depressing were it not for the fact that it is brought to our attention by one of the more senior Afghan members of the Next Century Foundation, HRH Prince Nadir Naim. If Prince Nadir thinks this document is a way forward then we trust him and will support it wholeheartedly. Sometimes, in the darkest hours, we have a duty to hope against hope. At this moment in Afghanistan’s history that is our duty. So we hope that this will work.

HRH Prince Nadir writes, “My dear friends, We are heading back to Kabul after 2 days of intense dialogue Intra-Afghan with the Taliban regarding the Afghan peace process. The participants in this dialogue consisted of 18 Taliban members and just over forty Afghans including some government officials. All the participants attended in their own personal capacity and were not representative of any political groups or organizations.

“This is the joint statement that all the participants agreed upon. We hope that this is a positive step in the right direction to a permanent and dignified peace in our beloved Afghanistan:

Resolution of Intra Afghan Peace Conference
Doha, Qatar
We, the participants of the Conference hereby appreciate, thank and value the
efforts of Qatar and German Government for organizing Intra Afghan Peace
Conference held on 7 and 8 July 2019 in Doha Qatar and express our deepest
gratitude accordingly.
We express our greatest gratitude from the United Nations, Regional Countries,
particularly, countries who have facilitated the negotiations for USA and intra
afghan peace conference and have taken necessary steps towards the conflict
resolution. We are hoping that these parties will continue their support in a way
that will benefit our country and the nation and result into a real and desirable
peace.
From our point of view, dialogue and agreement assists us to reach an
understanding concerning our present and future, be able to tackle the barriers
and obstacles as well as understand each other. Therefore, all participants insist
and emphasis on the continuation of the dialogue.
We the participants of the Doha conference hereby agree on the following points
to reach a sustainable peace.
1. All participants have full consensus that achieving sustainable, throughout
and a dignified peace which is the demand of the afghan people, is only
possible via afghan Inclusive negotiations
2. Afghanistan is a united, Islamic Country and home for all different
ethnicities. Islamic Sovereignty, social and political justice, national unity,
territorial sovereignty, which all Afghans are committed upon.
3. Throughout the history, particularly during the last 40 years, the Afghan
people have defended their religions, country, and culture and sacrificed
immensely for their independent. Afghanistan shall not be the witness of
another war in the country and intra Afghan agreement between different
levels of the society is vital and crucial. All International Community,
regional and internal elements shall respect out values accordingly.
4. Since our nation is suffering daily due to on going prolonged war and its
therefore, necessary that the following steps are needed to be taken so
that we can have an effective Intra Afghan negotiation.
a. The conflict parties shall avoid threats, revenges and conflicting
words, shall use soft terminologies and words during their official
gatherings, and shall not fuel the conflict and revenge.
b. The Doha peace conference participants strongly supports the
current peace talks in doha and believes that an effective and
positive outcome from the negotiations will be fruitful for
Afghanistan.
5. The following steps shall be taken to create trustable environment for
peace and in order to have our nation safe from the war and its
consequences, violence and devastation shall be decreased: the conflict
parties shall consider these measures.
a. unconditional release of elders, disables and sick inmates.
b. Ensuring the security of public institutions, such as schools,
Religious Madrassas, hospitals, markets, water dams and other
working locations.
c. In particular, respect educational institutions, like schools,
universities, and other educational institutions as well residential
areas.
d. Committed to respect and protect the dignity of people, their life
and property and to minimize the civilian casualties to Zero.
6. Assuring women rights in political, social, economic, educational, cultural
affairs as per within the Islamic framework of Islamic Values.
7. Assuring the rights of religious minorities.
8. The participants of Doha conference agrees on a roadmap for peace based
on the following conditions:
a. institutionalizing Islamic system in the country for the
implementation of comprehensive peace,
b. Start of the peace process simultaneously with the accomplishment
of all terms and conditions set forth.
c. monitoring and observation of the peace agreement,
d. Reform in the preservation of fundamental institutions, defensive
and other national entities which belongs to all Afghans,
e. repatriation of immigrants and return of IDPs,
f. support and assistance from donor countries post peace agreement
based on the new cooperation and relations,
g. Insist during international conferences regarding the assurance of
Afghanistan peace agreement.
h. Assurance on zero interference from the neighboring and regional
countries in Afghanistan.
9. We acknowledge and approve the recent resolution of intra Afghan
conference held on 5 and 6 Feb 2019 in Moscow and we urge the Islamic
Conference, UN, Security council, EU and our neighboring countries to
support the peace conferences held in Moscow and Doha.
MAY ALLAH GRANT US SUCCESS IN OUR FUTURE ENDEVOURS

If democracy has failed, what is the alternative?

Afghanistan is a corrupt, ethnically, divided country that lacks credible leadership.  Nearly half of the country is under Taliban control, and the majority of Afghans are politically silent, neither supporting the Taliban nor the government.

The democratic mission that began with the US’ intervention in the country has failed. Corruption is rife within the Afghan government which is still dependent on international, predominantly US, support in order to survive. President Ashraf Ghani is desperately trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table but does not have nearly enough sway to achieve this.

And the Taliban are in a comfortable position. Their leaders have taken refuge in Qatar. They have monetary support from Saudi Arabia. They have a neighboring ally in Pakistan and their enemy is overly reliant upon a foreign power, the US, whose reputation is ruined within the country. As things stand, the Taliban will become more and more powerful. With the US seemingly distracted with Syria and Iran, it is unlikely America will make the necessary interventions to prevent further Taliban successes. The Taliban have no reason to come to the negotiating table, and so they will not.

A centralised government has failed. Devolving power to tribal leaders may be a more effective means to gain stability within the country. Unfortunately, such an idea will not be countenanced by the West. We won’t change a system we created, especially if it means removing a democracy and replacing it with autocratic, tribal leaders. It would be an acknowledgement that the Taliban has defeated the West.

Any move to tribal leadership would in any case require a strong figurehead to hold the country together. No one currently empowered holds the respect and reputation needed to be able to keep tribal leaders in check. Using the traditional Pashtun ‘Loya Jirga’ process to elect a leader, would certainly have more credibility in the eyes of the Afghan people.

The current system is on life support and will not defeat the Taliban. A move to a more traditional, tribal leadership would be more effective.

Untangling Afghanistan: Proxy wars and geopolitical rivalries

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai recently spoke in an interview of Afghanistan’s need for Russian support. Decrying the US for ‘killing us for 17 years’, he claimed that Russian support was the only means with which peace could be achieved in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is desperately trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The belief of some in Kabul is that the Taliban’s strength is reliant upon Pakistan and, with enough international pressure, Pakistan will withdraw its support. The US was originally supposed to provide this pressure. However, Karzai’s desire for non-US international support, born out of the US’ ruined reputation in the region, is well documented. Russia was not the first country he turned to. In 2017, Karzai attempted to reach out to India for support, suggesting that they replace the US as the military force upholding the Afghan government. He suggested that such action would be in India’s national interest, as it would damage Pakistan. Pakistan’s apparent support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is a permanent stumbling block when it comes to bettering Afghan-Pakistan relations. However, India’s military strength pales in comparison to that of the US. India does not have the means to replace the USA, and many in Afghanistan would regard any Indian intervention as suspect, India being regarded as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Indeed the core of the Afghan problem is regarded by many as the Indo-Pakistan proxy war being fought out on the streets of Kabul.

The problem with Afghanistan now turning to Russia is Russia’s apparent desire to improve relations with Pakistan. Relations between Russia and India have become strained recently due to burgeoning tensions between India and China. India’s response to these tensions has been to improve relations with the US, who are hoping India will effectively curb China’s influence. Russia has recognised that improved relations with Pakistan will, therefore, put pressure on India, improve relations with China and further antagonise the USA.

This leaves Afghanistan at a disadvantage. Officials in Kabul were celebrating news of Trump’s removal of two billion dollars in security aid to Pakistan, believing this would weaken the Afghanistan Taliban. A minority within Pakistan have blamed the Pakistan military for this, claiming that their tacit support for extremist groups has brought about this decision. Inevitably, Trump’s actions have increased street-level anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. It is therefore unlikely that such action will cause a change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. There is a tremendous fear within Pakistan of a ‘pincer’ move by Afghanistan and India. As a consequence, Pakistan’s actions regarding Afghanistan will always be motivated by the desire to ensure Pakistan’s security. Unfortunately, an unstable Afghanistan is more beneficial to Pakistan than a stabilised administration that is allied with India.

China has moved to improve Afghan-Pakistan relations by including Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is part of the Belt and Road initiative, China’s attempt to recreate the Silk Road. However, CPEC is already controversial due to its being built through Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India and Pakistan have constantly fought over the sovereignty of Kashmir, and India does not recognise Pakistan’s control of the Northern half of the state. By extending the offer to Afghanistan, China has faced India with the prospect of losing a regional ally to its economic rival.

Untangling all of these geopolitical relationships is an almost impossible task. If Afghanistan is to have any hope of achieving peace with the Taliban, then their relationship with Pakistan has to improve.  The level of mistrust between the two countries is a major hindrance to the process. As long as it continues, the Taliban will always have a potential ally in Pakistan.  Unfortunately, the mistrust is founded on the conflict between Pakistan and India.  Afghanistan plays a vital geopolitical role for both of these countries. Both are experiencing significant political tensions, not only with each other but with China and the USA as well. Until these issues are resolved, international support for a stable Afghanistan will continue to be deprioritised due to security concerns.

Afghanistan and the Difficult Road to Peace

For more than 17 years Afghanistan has been a nation torn apart by conflict. However, the current President Ashraf Ghani is trying to push for definitive peace and reconciliation between his government and the Taliban. On February the 28th 2018, he made an offer to the Taliban that was seen by some as a ‘game changer’. Ghani would like the Taliban to engage in peace talks and recognise the legitimacy of his government. In exchange, Ghani has said that the Taliban will be recognised as a legitimate political party, may open offices in locations of their choosing, and have some of their prisoners released. The government will also support efforts to remove their leaders from international sanctions lists. At face value, this offer appears to be a turning point, with Ghani pioneering a new vision for Afghanistan’s future. However, is it realistic? Ghani’s offer to work cohesively on peace and reconciliation with the Taliban may be too little too late given the fragility of the current political situation.

Just this week Ghani met with senior diplomats in Uzbekistan to discuss the next steps required in Afghanistan peace talks. The Taliban were absent. They have remained notably silent in response to Ghani’s offer. This could be regarded as indicative of the possibility that the offer may have sparked some kind of conversation amongst Taliban officials and senior members. However, whilst this may be true, it does not mean that there will be a positive outcome. The Taliban are somewhat fractured in their views. Some accept that peace negotiations could happen in Washington however the majority have a deep dislike and distrust of US intervention. A response to Ghani’s offer may not be put on the table for some time. One Taliban southern military commander said that there needs to be a huge descaling and step back by foreign interveners before the Taliban can even participate in talks. This in itself is problematic as the USA has given its unwavering commitment to supporting Afghanistan whilst President Trump has made it very clear that he is unwilling to engage with the Taliban at all. The US is not the only other actor in Afghanistan right now. The Taliban continue to engage in a fatal back-and-forth with ISIS forces that has left many dead. The presence of various different agents in Afghanistan, whether positive or negative, contributes to the complexity of the situation, a complexity that Ghani’s offer does not reflect.

The political situation in Afghanistan is one that is not conducive to peace talks between a ‘legitimate government’ and the Taliban. The government wishes the Taliban to recognise the Afghan government’s legitimacy. However, this current government came into being after 2014 elections that were fraught with accusations of voter fraud on both sides. The US ultimately stepped in and brokered a deal between Ghani and his opposition. Whilst Ghani has a clear and positive vision for his nation, this stands on shaky grounds. Furthermore, the current extension of the parliamentary mandate has been criticised as illegal by some. Parliamentary elections were meant to take place in 2016 but were then pushed back to July 2018 with the predicted date now set for October 2018. Most in the international community do not even see 2018 as a possibility. This due to multiple problems surrounding organisation of elections and disagreements within the government. Consequently, a picture emerges of a less than strong government. This is compounded by the Taliban’s continued growth in control and influence over parts of Afghanistan. Their control has doubled since 2015. The government is therefore speaking to a sizeable group that operates outside of their authority. The government is  not as strong as their offer implies.

Once you frame the offer from Ghani within this context, suddenly nothing about peace talks in Afghanistan seems clear or straightforward. He presents the incumbent government as the future for Afghanistan but the reality is that the situation is incredibly complex and conflict continues. The only way forward is for Afghanistan’s government to work with the Taliban and whilst Ghani’s offer seems like a positive step, one has to question its viability at the present moment.

Don’t Forget Me

And, sir, it is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion”, (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus).

This is my last blog post for The Next Century Foundation. During my time at the NCF, I addressed several hot issues, speaking about different situations and topics, even very controversial ones, which have sometimes generated harsh reactions. I suppose it is inevitable if you are speaking about politics, human rights, dictators, victims or perpetrators. These social fabrications give us a social identity and lead us to often take on conflicting and controversial positions, dictated by interests, simple visions or specific goals. In such circumstances, the “political animal” inside each of us reveals itself trying to impose its own point of view.

However, in spite of the ideas and values that humans can have, every person is made up of feelings and emotions. Before being classified as political animals, humans are sentient beings, with emotions and feelings which define us and make us unique. The same sort of emotions and feelings that are gradually being extinguished with the frenetic and uncontrolled evolution of this world. And today, I want to talk about this. Today I want to talk about who we are. Today, I want to write about the emotions, hopes and feelings that define us and how this world is changing them. And I will do it by speaking through the lense of one of the generations that, more than any other, is experiencing this change in full; a generation that particularly expresses the contradictions of our society but also the dreams and the betrayed hopes: my generation, that of the Millennials.

We live in strange times. Times of great uncertainties, immense fears, incessant and fast changes. I am the son of a generation that has been living through the golden years of development, where entrepreneurs would invest in the job market and believed in the value of their employees. Years where politicians would constantly strive to find new ways to improve people’s lives. The high level of births, the prolific job market, the certainty of the future, the first and the second car, big savings, the summer holidays by the sea or in the mountains. And then the great investments, the incentives to progress, research and development, the high general morale, the man on the moon, the hope for a future of well-being for everyone.

But sometimes expectations about the future are bigger than what reality has to offer and, just like a bubble that swells excessively, sooner or later reality explodes right in your face. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system where the excessive well-being and the immeasurable potential of the third industrial revolution clashes with the individual economic interest. The big industries and multinationals come into play and alter the balance. Human greed grows stronger and stronger while the big multinationals knock on the doors of politics for some “boosts”. And there you go; the first agreements born to maximize profits by damaging workers’ rights; national factories shutting down to re-open in those countries where labor costs 1$ a day, or renegotiating workers’ union achievements with politicians in exchange for a few bribes or support during election campaigns; the high transnational finance getting hold of large company shares and becoming the main protagonist of a new global perverse game. The cost of labor for multinational companies drops dramatically while working hours increase. As a consequence, the price of produced goods decreases. Small and medium-sized businesses close or fail for they cannot compete with similar standards, whereas those able to make it through are the big names of industry or those entrepreneurs who, through criminal support, have managed to reach out to and influence politicians to get some extra procurement contracts or personal favors. The West becomes the center of unbridled capitalism, with no rules, with no ethics or respect. Everyone for themselves. It is against this backdrop that my generation, the Millennials, is born. The first true generation without any clue about its future.

The final blow comes with 2000 and all its technological capacity. It started with the first mobile phones and laptops on a large scale, up to smartphones and tablets. Technology moves; the great giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon develop; technological power becomes incredibly significant. And here’s Black Friday, the purchases with a click, the ads in every corner of the city, superfast transportation and trains in the underground every minute. The illusion of a world as a global, super-technological and limitless village is born. A sense that all this frantic lifestyle is necessary and inevitable emerges.

The savings of our parents are spent in this super-technological world while employment becomes more and more an urban legend. The new contemporary frontier of slavery 2.0 is born. Jobs poorly paid with meal vouchers; fixed-term contracts; easier layoffs; unbearable working hours. The prediction of Charlie Chaplin in his movie, Modern Times, comes true. Man becomes a productive factor with no rights, little money and a need to spend money without worrying too much about the future. It is the betrayal of the dream of a global Californication that we all expected: a happy world with more freedom and less problems to think about; a world where everyone can work and build a better and sustainable future.

But man’s greediness has shattered this dream. The betrayal from a global political class of spineless servants of high finance and powerful world lobbies has sanctioned the end of this dream. And while constitutions drown in an ocean of decay, my question is, what is left of all this?

On the one hand, there is an army of clueless kids, educated in the best prep schools which are financed by international magnates, who repeat as robots notions of economic and political theories aired on televisions and published in newspapers by those same people responsible for such a global delirium. Those same theories that legitimized the unbridled capitalism that is crushing us; theories such as those of the great industrialization or those that ultimately justified the plundering of the marvelous African countries or wars of interest such as those in Iraq or Libya.

On the other hand, there are people who live in the moment, who believe in what the World tells them to believe, only able to find their own identity in the television culture of the Big Brother, phony talk shows or in the trashy pop-porn culture spread throughout the day by MTV. George Orwell’s predictions have never been so true, huh?

And then, what remains is a people of perfect strangers.

I turn around every day, in the train, on the bus, down the street, and I see hundreds of people far away. People with a blank look on their face, lost in the void or on the screen of their smartphones. Lonely, sad, aloof people, with not much of humanity left; people walking quickly through the streets remorselessly hitting whomever is in their path because they are too intent on continuing their virtual conversation with someone miles away; people unable to express emotions or feelings; people too busy masking their loneliness behind the perfect image of their virtually perfect life on Instagram; depressed people no longer connected to reality; people who get together and break up through a telephone because they are incapable and afraid of meeting or knowing each other in a normal, real, natural way. And finally, people unable to associate, to connect, to unite and resist the power, or to oppose unjust decisions.

So what is left of feelings, of humanity, of us being people? For some reason, I’ve always been afraid to answer this question. Particularly, in the last period of my life.

During my time at The Next Century Foundation, I have been able to reflect a lot on politics, religion, people and the complicated relationships that bind us to each other and that bind us to society. I have not really ever considered anything I am writing right now. Not because I did not think about it but rather because this complex machine of intertwined relations, politics, economy, religion and power is difficult to fully understand and, above all, to make it work. And in this sense, in the end you end up accepting it because you understand that things are almost always impossible to change, peace will always be difficult to establish, power will always preserve itself and religion will always be used as a political tool to manipulate the masses. So, almost passively, you end up accepting the status quo of things. Almost like a condition of the universe, immovable and immanent. Everything has always been this way and it will always be this way.

At least until this World decides you are the next target and this status quo affects you in person, lashing out at you with all its strength. And then everything changes. You withdraw, let yourself down, look for explanations, seek yourself and your role in the world. You frantically turn around to find yourself, unsuccessfully. And you cannot help but compare your situation to that of the contemporary world, that of a world that perhaps will never change; and that of the Millennials, that of a simple person surrounded by lonely individuals, unable to sense or feel emotions in one of the largest cities in the world. You wonder if maybe it is just the natural order of things that you eventually have to accept, because perhaps that is how it works, because it has always been and will always be like this. In the last few months of my life, I have been looking for an answer to this question, without luck.

Until something happens; that deus ex machina you need to get you out of trouble. And here comes the answer to your questions. Something that helps you to understand; something like a trip to Holland, a beer with a trusted friend, an exhibition of an artist or walking in the rain in the streets of London without a destination. And it is at that precise moment that when you look into people’s eyes – those you’ve been so reluctant about or that you’ve lost hope in – you suddenly see something different, something you’ve never seen before, something that changes your perspective. And you can suddenly feel a vibe, a feeling, a sparkle that leads you through their eyes. And, like a flash in a pan, you are able to feel all the power and the emotions that each of them has locked within and that can be conveyed through their story or personality. Pure energy, pure emotions, pure humanity. The people’s smiling faces at the Tulip market in Amsterdam; the encouraging wink of a friend down at the pub that – around a pint and some good indie-rock in the background – shows you the right way of looking at things; the power of humanity in the symbolic life scenes of Banksy’s works that lead you to reflect on the true nature of people and humanity; the feeling of the rain falling on your skin in the gray of London’s streets that brings you back to life and connects you to reality again. Your prospects start to change and now you can see things differently. Suddenly you can find an answer to that question in that stream of people and things around you.

And, like a flashback, everything suddenly made sense.

During my time at the Next Century Foundation, I met ambassadors, Lords, religious leaders; I even spoke to the World for 2 minutes before the UN Human Rights Council. All exceptional experiences. However, I now understand that none of these experiences would have made sense without a particular detail that each of them has in common, the confrontation with people. Before the NCF I had not realized how even simply talking with people is essential; how much people can express through their words, their looks or their smiles. And, above all, I had not realized how effective it is to be able to talk with them to try to solve problems.

This is exactly what humanity is. Humanity is talking, confronting each other, solving problems together, uniting different and opposite perspectives. When you can achieve that; when you can take your eyes off your smartphone for a moment and you turn around; when you abandon the social and political fabrications for a moment and drop the mask they gave you, it is only then that you see potential and opportunities in those stranger’s faces rather than indifference and solitude. In that precise moment, you can hear the flow I was talking about earlier. And you understand that that potential is unimaginable and terrifies governments and institutions, and shakes the establishment. Just like the stories I tried to tell you about so far in my articles. And whether it is the Christmas truce or the international mass mobilization for the death of a young man in Egypt, you realise it is all about looking at the world from another perspective. If some people managed to refuse to fight, to kill and be killed, on European soil a little less than a century ago, destroying the socio-political fabrication of wars; if some people managed to get together to protest against a fierce dictator in Egypt without being afraid of the consequences; if one man could revolutionize his country after being imprisoned for 27 years, upsetting the entire institutional set-up based on violence, lies and terror; if other great men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or so many others have managed to mobilize millions of people around an idea of peace, justice or freedom, then we too can change this mad world.

It is all about being able to channel those vibes into positive, collective paths. And you can only do it through dialogue, confrontation and associationism. Talking and dealing with people, precisely. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the only way to resist power in a positive and constructive way is through the democratic instrument that starts from the bottom, by means of associationism from the municipal level, from small realities.

People are the solution to the world’s illnesses. And the positive dialogue that you can have with them. Social Capital. It is so simple. The greatest evils of our generation come from this absurd lifestyle that is offered to us in the form of well-being, technology and comfort. Loneliness, depression, indifference, hatred and division are all the fruit of a society that tends to divide us and speculate on our collective incapacity to react, associate and confront each other. It is that simple, and we are the cure.

It is possible. And you can find the proof around you. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone for a moment. Go down the street, talk to people, listen to what they have to say. Take a hike in the park, maybe in the pouring rain. Try to feel something. Go to the pub, read a newspaper and comment on the news with bystanders. Have a coffee or a beer with them. Ask them how they are and give them a smile. Everything will change, everything will be different.

And speaking of smiles.

Once, a bearded man told me that if you try to smile while walking down the street, this will positively influence your attitude towards others and, above all, your self-confidence. I will never forget those words. I recently tried to do it often and, I’ll tell you something, it worked. If you try to walk down the street smiling at the people you meet, most of them will reply with a smile. And you will feel different as well, more secure, more positive towards others and the world. It’s all about that. Those emotions and feelings I was talking about before. They can come out, if triggered.

We only have to reconsider our values, our priorities for a moment. What we want from life and what we are looking for. And above all, remember who we are and where we come from, always. Love every single rise and fall and take them as an opportunity to grow and improve yourself and the world around you. I think this is the solution, the cure for the ills of mankind. Creating a community of people based on diversity and dialogue. Only then can we overcome all this. And we, Millennials, have boundless potential to do so.

By the way, I have gone too far. And now it’s time to conclude this post.

My time at the NCF gave me a lot. I grew up a lot professionally but mostly as a person. I owe you a lot, William and Veronica, to your kindness and warm welcome. I was welcomed and treated like a son. You gave me a lot to think about and work on. You gave me a smile in tough times and support when needed. And for this, thank you.

Then there is you, Rory, William and Yousef. Some young minds full of passion and desire to change things. You are fantastic. Every day, I saw in your eyes that power and passion of which I spoke about right above, waiting just to be fully exploited. And I know you’ll find a way to do it, it’s just a matter of time.

You were my second family here, in this gigantic crazy world of sharks. I’ll never forget that. And I’d like to conclude this blog post with this thought, while sipping my double espresso in some coffee shop somewhere in London and listening to these fantastic notes of Redemption Song, one of Marley’s masterpieces. He succeeded! He succeeded in uniting people around words of peace and hope. Like Hendrix’s solo or Mercury’s unique voice or even the Boss playing a piano version of Thunder Road. This is the right time, the perfect moment.

Ciao NCF, a presto!

Luctor et Emergo ex Flammis Orior, Per Aspera ad Astra

#lastblogpost #peoplehavethepower #believe #change #ciaoncf

 

Poland’s authoritarian turn?

The recent decision by Poland’s government to pass a law that weakens the judiciary’s independence raises concerns on the overall soundness of the Polish democratic system. The law by which the government acquires de facto control of the Supreme Court represents a heavy blow dealt to one of the fundamental principles of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary.

Such a decision is a cause for great concern as it represents the pinnacle of a more general trend of recent reforms that are dismantling the democratic tissue of the Country. Since 2015, Law and Justice, also known as PiS – the ruling right-wing populist party in Poland – has been implementing policies and reforms aimed at limiting civil liberties, controlling media and dismantling some of the major checks and balances in place since the end of the Soviet era. While the European Union is closely looking into this delicate issue and threatening the activation of a sanctions mechanism, protests broke out all over the country in response to this illiberal conduct from the Polish government.

Such an immoral turn for Polish politics, however, was hardly unexpected. The PiS is an unorthodox populist party whose members are unpredictable mavericks with no sense of responsibility. Playing games with people’s rights is standard procedure for them. The most glaring example is the controversial immigration policy in force in the country since 2015. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq have been progressively denied asylum in Poland on a simple matter of religious belief. Poland indeed is one of those eastern European countries which has recently engaged in the contentious strategy of favouring Christian refugees as eligible for their resettlement scheme.

While a blade, a bullet or a bomb does not make any distinction between a Christian or a Muslim refugee making all men equal when faced with war or persecution, the enlightened leaders of Poland cynically reserve the right to decide on the fate of thousands of innocent lives on the grounds of their religious faith. Fairly odd for a country which suffered similar discrimination and illiberal laws not such a long time ago and whose social identity is proudly claimed to be based on Christian values. But as we all know, people have a bad memory and they learn very little from history. Do not be surprised if democratic countries such as Poland in 2017 still impose limits on civil liberties, still exert control over media or judiciary, still discriminate against people on grounds of religion. Sit down and make yourself comfortable, a new era of populism is about to start.

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.