Saturday, July 02, 2011

Hotel Attack

Here is a link to the Guardian's report on the Hotel attack the other night.

I am late in writing anything about it because of the trouble I have been having getting an internet connection.

I was up all night anyway with some kind of food poisoning. You just have to lose at least one day to a new microbe when you are in a country like this. (The next day my friend Mr. Cheng giz almost tried to carry me to the German Clinic.) But I doubt I would have been able to sleep anyway. I was 2 km away--a little over a mile. If I had not been so sick I suppose I would have been able to see quite a show from my roof. As it was I heard a lot of helicopters going over head and the explosions which I later learned were rocket propelled grenades.

I have been to the Hotel Intercontinental before. It has a really nice buffet, but it is the kind of place that could be anywhere. But for the layers of security and road obstacles outside you wouldn't really know you were in Afghanistan so what is the point of going there? And it is expensive. Still, I have been taken there a few times by Afghans who think that is what I, as a foreigner, would like.

It was odd lying there in the basement hearing all this mayhem. I really did start to think that an army was invading the city. But somehow I wasn't scared, or at least no scared enough to get up and see what was going on. I suppose the most important thing was that if I had been in immediate danger Mirwai--my research colleague and general minder--would have come and got me.

It is a good thing that I didn't decide to go to Mirwais' room and see what he thought because I would have found his room empty. As it turns out Mirwais was concerned enough to go over toward the hotel to see what was going on. Now once he gets there the police try to arrest him. Of course he talked himself out of it--Mirwais could talk himself out of a sunburn--but it kept him there a good bit of the night.

In the morning I talked to some students and I kept getting confused by their account. They told me 17 had been killed but then when they gave their subtotals of the various types of people killed the number would come out in the 20s. When I asked they said, "But Sir, of course we don't count the terrorists among the people killed." A bit of sound moral accounting there.

I feel that the city of Kabul gets a bad rap. The various reports have said that security is only nominally under the control of the Afghan police and that the attack represents a major embarrassment for them. I disagree.

First, on security, I have seen nothing but Afghan police this time around. This is the first time I have not seen a single foreign military vehicle in town. All of the checkpoints are manned by Afghans. I have walked all around the city and have had the occasional pleasant chat with Afghan police and have found them invariably efficient and affable. I don't know what would happen if I needed them for something really important or if as a foreigner I am not subject to requests for bribes, but I certainly don't recognize the marauders that I read about in press reports in the police I meet.

The failure to stop five to nine men with small arms from entering a city of some 3 million is hardly a surprise. Could we keep out 10 men with small arms day in, day out from a city the size of Chicago? I rather doubt it. The Taliban speak the language, take hostages, kill you and your wife and children if you don't cooperate, and are suicidal. What police force could keep a city absolutely free of such a force. JKF said that the President can always be killed by a man willing to trade his own life for the president's. Any structure can be shot up pretty well by 10 men bent on exploding themselves.

What is being portrayed as a major failure of the Afghan police, it seems to me, tells us less about them and more about their (and our) enemy. If you are decided to die and don't care who you kill you will surely manage to kill someone. The fact that almost half the people they killed were unarmed, and that even with suicide vests they only managed to kill just under twice their own number, is really rather remarkable. And yet we talk about handing a portion of power in the government to the people that launched these suicidal mass murders? Who praised them as heros for gunning down people who were attending a wedding reception? My God, if we are willing to treat with these fanatics on the strength of such a showing, what country is safe? There are 35,000 Taliban with the support of under 10% of the population. Negotiating a power sharing agreement with them is admitting a monstrous principle--that for commanding a relative handful of fanatics and a depraved contempt for human life you can be rewarded with a share in power for a democracy. It is as if the Congress had decided to award seats to the Klu Klux Klan.

Anyway, as for my own personal safety, I had it figured on a spreadsheet once that I faced a higher chance of falling victim to homicide in Chicago than in Afghanistan. When a get a better connection I will try to update this post with those figures. But in any case, I am sure I am in greater danger here in Kabul from the street vendors than from the Taliban.

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