What's Up Afghanistan: first edition
The latest news, commentary and art from Afghanistan that centers Afghan voices.
Welcome to “What's Up Afghanistan?” by me, Arash Azizzada. What you will read below is a preview of what future newsletters will look like! I will try to make the news from Afghanistan digestible and understandable. I will try my best to center Afghans and Afghan voices. This introductory newsletter will be free but to keep this little venture going, I am asking folks to subscribe! For the cost of one oat milk latte per month, you will get multiple newsletters a month delivered right in your inbox.
What you need to know: the latest
We start our first newsletter with a bombshell of a revelation, as revealed in the Afghan press, over the weekend. The new U.S. administration is likely looking to keep the process of withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan ongoing as it seeks to, somehow, stop Afghanistan from plunging into a deep crisis. In the leaked letter by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, he writes to current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with four suggestions and a clear warning to the current administration in Kabul. DC is signaling that time is up and it’s of the essence to cooperate. “This letter sends a strong message to Ghani to play ball or get out of the way,” is how Adam Weinstein of Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft puts it. It’s hard to understate just how eager the U.S. looks to exit Afghanistan. It’s also difficult to not read this as a prescriptive set of orders from the American government to the Afghan one.
Meanwhile, it looks as if the Taliban are sitting pretty, with a withdrawal agreement signed by the previous Trump administration that has strengthened their position and legitimized them as a movement. Of note, is also that the Taliban controls significant territory while also is encircling major large provinces capitols in the country. At the moment, the Taliban is only fighting the Afghan government and going out of its way to not target Americans or to launch large-scale suicide attacks in large metropolitan Afghan cities, as it has done in the past. With all this mentioned above, the Taliban are also “unlikely to agree to such a proposal,” according to the New York Times.
So what to make of this? It seems clear that President Biden’s administration is looking to fulfill a promise to American voters that has eluded successive administrations of the past. The Biden administration seems to think the talks in Doha are unlikely to be of any future use and is looking to revitalize it using new ideas, including involvement of the United Nations and a “senior-level” meeting in Turkey in the near future. The capacity for the new administration to spend political capital and time on Afghanistan seems more diminished than ever, with eyes on more important things: the pandemic, ensuring a successful vaccine rollout as well as more focus on China and Russia. With a focus on domestic issues and a climate change crisis looming on the horizon, it is unlikely that President Biden will spend significant time on Afghanistan, like giving a primetime address explaining to Americans his decisions. Nor is it likely that Americans frankly care, with no American service members dying in combat in over a year and other worries preoccupying lawmakers and the general public.
Will the Biden’s administration new approach work? While the new approach is probably desired since the Doha talks were going nowhere quick, the downside is that 20 years of bad decision-making on the end of U.S. policymakers is pretty much baked in. A major conflict involving coalition troops and the Afghan government has been fought at the expense of Afghans for the past 20-plus years resulting in where we’re at today. A withdrawal agreement has already been signed. Furthermore, it’s becoming obvious the Ghani administration in Kabul does not much viable support among the Biden administration and is eroding credibility in Afghanistan due to corruption worries. Not to mention that members of civil society are murdered and assassinated almost on a daily basis. More importantly, President Ghani’s administration does not seem much inclined to follow the lead of the Americans as he attempts to impose sovereignty over the country and attempts to push back on U.S. demands. So where to next? Well, we have:
really bad options, including increased violence across the country
worse options, including a full out civil war
even worse options, which includes the above plus a humanitarian crisis and a large refugee exodus
That, unfortunately, is the current state of play in Afghanistan. While it might have been said countless times before, and perhaps not incorrectly, this might be one of the more crucial years in Afghanistan’s history.
What to read:
On International Women’s Day, meet the young Afghan women who are today’s social media influencers.
Mixing traditional and streetwear styles, they blast Travis Scott, Rihanna, Nina Simone, and Afghan musicians like Ahmad Zahir. They post selfies in front of Kabul's graffiti walls and carefully timed videos of the Turkish chef putting on an elaborate show in the city's new high-end steakhouse. They make Tik-Toks of Megan Thee Stallion' Savage challenge and redub Bollywood clips to poke fun at their own country.
Put simply, they're young, gifted and Afghan.
How to help:
My friend Fysal is selling prints with 100% of the proceeds going to the AFCECO orphanage in Afghanistan. I’m particularly excited about this because Fysal is a wonderful artist who I admire. I also was able to visit the orphanage in Kabul in the fall of 2019, after a recommendation by another friend, Aria Aber (she authored “Hard Damage,” which you must read if you have not already). I was blown away by the work that was being done there. The Kabul orphanage is a special place and sadly over the years, they’ve lost financial support in addition to having had to close certain locations due to worsening security conditions. The work they do there is radical and incredible. They deserve our support.
Thank you for reading! If you have comments, suggestions or any other feedback, you can reach me at: arash.azizzada at gmail dot com.