Saturday, July 02, 2011

My Dinner with Mr. Cheng giz

Mr. Cheng giz took me, Mirwais and the professors of the Jemea institute to dinner. Mr. Cheng giz's brother Hussein came too.

It might be helpful to know that "Cheng giz" is the Persian pronunciation of "Genghis Khan." Mr. Cheng giz's real name is Ali Reza but everyone affectionately calls him Mr. Cheng giz because of his command of the family business empire. He stands a little over 5'. He is about 30 though he is just now finishing his undergraduate degree. Not that it has held him back: he has built a string of English schools and other businesses.

They were in a very good mode. Later Mr. Ershod, former head of the political science department at Kateeb, came. He was now at Ibn senau, the school that had been formed the the first president run off by the head of Kateeb.

I have learned more about Kateeb in this conversation. It came out that the founder of Kateeb was a Mujahadin commander and that he had made his money as a warlord more than as a businessman. He was now in parliament. His name is Kazam. [I should get an interview with this guy]

He had fired the staff once before. They were able to form their own school, Ibn Senau, and they are doing fine. The current group that just got fired and which forms the core of the Jemea think tank under Mr. Salihi was pushed out at the end of the last semester.

The assembled Kateeb refugees are unanimous in their agreement that their former school is surviving on its reputation from the past (short though that past is) and is able to attract students. This is the second time of which I am aware that there has been a mass exodus from Kateeb. In general I feel that Afghans don't compromise very well and people always seem to be splitting off into factions. That this has not happened to any of Mr. Cheng giz's organizations (or at least that I know of) is part of what makes him unusual here.

Mr. Cheng giz talked about the time he was in the USAID office of capacity building. He was in charge of getting provincial officials to come to the workshops they had on democracy. He said that the only thing the directors cared about was getting numbers that would look good to their bosses. Running up the number of people that had gone through their workshops was the only thing that mattered to them, regardless of whether they got anything out of those workshops.

The people that attended the workshops, locally elected officials, would ask for their stipend immediately after the workshop was over without asking any questions or doing any sort of follow up. The only questions he ever got about the workshops was what kind of food they would get there. Often, they would lose people after the lunch had been served. Cheng giz said, "And these are the good people, the ones that believe in democracy. You can imagine how it is with the bad ones."

All of his suggestions to his superiors were dismissed. Cheng giz is convinced that they were only interested in proposals that would increase their numbers. Proposals that might increase effectiveness were at best irrelevant and, if they implied decreasing numbers, dangerous.

I asked Mr. Zeki (a first rate sociologist who had just returned from a USAID sponsored study tour of the US averring that America "is the paradise on the Earth) how this might play out with the workshops for moderate Mullahs for which he was presently writing a grant proposal. He nodded thoughtfully for a moment and said that it was always a possibility.

The conversation then turned to the current political situation in the country. Mr. Cheng giz does most of the talking but on this subject at least seems to have the full support of the group.

The Taliban are systematically killing off the heads of the other ethnic groups. When they killed General Davood they announced that they had a list and now two more of the people on the list have been killed.

(Earlier, the normally forgiving and moderate Mirwais had confided in me that he thought President Karzai had a plan to assassinate the leaders of the other ethnic groups.)

(my notes give the impression that Cheng giz does all the talking. That true to a certain extent, though the effect is exaggerated in English. When the conversation slips back to Farsi there is a lot more give and take. Also, along with his disquisitions on current affairs he intersperses eloquent praises of his teachers. At one point I rib him by asking "Who is the teacher and who is the student?" getting a laugh from him and his three largely silent professors. He retorts, "Well, you know, we have a saying that if you want to know how good a teacher is you should not to to him but to his students. So, I am doing my duty to my teachers by showing you all that I have learned from them.")

I bring up what he had told me on my last trip, that the money is all spent in the provinces where there is fighting and the people that are on our side are ignored.

He said that that is true. He once brought this up to a Japanese employee of the International NGO [nail down what organization this was], saying that in the areas where people support democracy they get no help. He replied, "But you are no threat to us!"

In [I can't remember which province, one of the central highlands? Daikondi?] there had been no violence and there was no PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team). In other words, no violence no reconstruction money.

Mr. Zeki said that he thought they (meaning, I assumed, the Americans) thought that poverty was the reason for the violence and that therefore they should send money to the places where people are violent.

Mr. Cheng giz then returns to one of his favorite themes, Pashtun domination of the government and of Afghanistan's contact with the outside world. "One of the problems is the Pashtun domination of the international community's contact with Afghanistan. At one point the government unilaterally decreased its estimate of the Hazara proportion of the population from 20% to under 10%. In the offices of USAID or the embassy all of the local employees that one sees are Pashtuns. I didn't see a single one that was not a Pashtun." [I remember the fellow that I met with Jeffrey Ellis in the information office was an Hazara--not much of a sample, of course. The one time I went to the Embassy was on a Friday and the local staff were off so I didn't get much of a sense. All the security staff I saw were Philippine contractors].

The discussion turns to AUA (American University of Afghanistan). The faculty is dominated by Pashtuns. I was treated to some discussion of the political rants that Pashtun professors had made in class (Cheng giz had been a student there before transferring to Kateeb and his brother Hussein was about a semester away from graduating). I brought up that I had met some progressive Pashtuns. "What about Dr. Faiez?" Murmurs went around the room (Faiez is the founder of the association of private colleges in Afghanistan and one of the founders of the AUA). It was universally consented that he was a good man, "a modern man." I also mentioned a professor at Kabul university in the law faculty [Wahdi?] and this also met with approval.

(this all dovetailed nicely with my earlier discussion of the AUA at Horazmi where the young economics professor mentioned that AUA gets the most politically influential students. Is that us getting the best students or the most politically influential students getting our resources?)


Mr. Cheng giz talks at length, though the rest of the party are obviously in full agreement:

"The us government came up with a wonderful idea [I don't know if it was the US government but it was supported by the US government] to pacify Afghanistan by getting people to turn in their guns. Of course, the Hazara are fully supporting [sic] the US government and democracy. One of our own leaders [Khalili?] was put in charge of it. I can still remember seeing him with his two American body guards standing next to him and him telling us how the government would now protect us. They went around the Hazara villages and got all the guns. People gave them up willingly.

Of course, there is one group that is exempted, exempted in the Constitution, the Kuchi (the nomads). They have a unique way of life that requires them to go around and move through different districts. They have to be able to keep their weapons.

So, now they have raided the Hazara villages [he gives the name of a village in Ghazni] and killed a lot of people including this great leader [when he mentions the name the people around the table actually seem to bow their heads]. The Kuchi had weapons that the government doesn't even have. And many members of the ANA fired at the people trying to defend their homes! Can't they make a distinction between the people trying to defend themselves and armed raiders on horseback?

[The law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor sleeping under bridges. The same thing could be going on here, where you have a rule against violence in general and you are ordering people to lay down their arms. If they don't you have to shoot them if you see them disobeying. You don't want to take sides, after all. That is the essence of the rule of law. Of course, at a minimum, the guy standing in front of his house trying to defend it will always be a better target than the guy riding by on horseback trying to burn it down.]

Of course they burned down the school and beheaded some people. This was the school that the Ghazni had built themselves so there will be no help from the international community in rebuilding it. They only build schools for the people that won't build them themselves and who only want to burn them down once they are built.

Of course because Ghazni is so peaceful there are no coalition forces around to protect anyone.

The Uzbeks and Tajiks never went along with this disarmament program and are relatively safe. Of course the Pashtuns are openly at war with us. Now of course the Tajiks and the Uzbeks never went along with it. They are fine, or at least they don't have to worry about raids from the Kuchi."

I interjected my own thoughts. Yesterday, when I first arrived Mr. Zeki had told me about his trip to America and how he had seen a small community college with a few Muslims and how the school had made a prayer room available for them. He put his hand on his heart and said, "I love American multiculturalism." I now said to him that the problem the Hazara face in Ghazni at the hands of the Kuchi is in a way a consequence of the same multiculturalism he so admired. The reason they don't disarm the Kuchi is that it would be denying the legitimacy of their culture. Multiculturalism is the idea that no one culture is better than another. Taken to its logical extreme it means that we can't go to the Kuchi and say that your way of life, your culture, of being nomadic raiders is not as good as that of the settled and law abiding villagers. We have to be neutral.

Mr. Zeki nodded thoughtfully. He often nods thoughtfully.

1 comment:

Donna M. said...

Interesting article, Michael. I really like the last paragraph when you told it like it is. I hope you are safe speaking the truth like that. Oh, BTW, please try to avoid those horsemen at all costs. We don't want you loosing your head. Donna Munro