Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Shadow of Bin Laden continues to haunt

The life and times of Osama Bin Laden post 9/11 remains shrouded in mystery. During my recent visit to Pakistan, I spent time with Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani Army Brigadier, who personally investigated the story behind Bin Laden’s killing last year.

This lead story in the Guardian by Jason Bourke adds more details to the picture (though frankly, after more than a decade of Western-led war in AfPak, and our empowering of brutal warlords in the process, the role of Al Qaeda and the Taliban seem almost secondary):

Documents found in the house where Osama bin Laden was killed a year ago show a close working relationship between top al-Qaida leaders and Mullah Omar, the overall commander of the Taliban, including frequent discussions of joint operations against Nato forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and targets in Pakistan.

The communications show a three-way conversation between Bin Laden, his then deputy Ayman Zawahiri and Omar, who is believed to have been in Pakistan since fleeing Afghanistan after the collapse of his regime in 2001.

They indicate a “very considerable degree of ideological convergence”, a Washington-based source familiar with the documents told the Guardian.

The news will undermine hopes of a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, where the key debate among analysts and policymakers is whether the Taliban – seen by many as following an Afghan nationalist agenda – might once again offer a safe haven to al-Qaida or like-minded militants, or whether they can be persuaded to renounce terrorism.

One possibility, experts say, is that although Omar built a strong relationship with Bin Laden and Zawahiri, other senior Taliban commanders see close alliance or co-operation with al-Qaida as deeply problematic.

A reliable account of Bin Laden’s life on the run can now be established, pieced together from the testimony, viewed by the Guardian, of one of Bin Laden’s wives, the recollections of the ISI officers who interviewed her compiled by retired Pakistani army brigadier Shaukat Qadir, statements of militants detained by the US published by WikiLeaks and interviews with former US officials.

Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in November 2001, Bin Laden’s wives and children fled Afghanistan , travelling first to Karachi, the vast Pakistani port city, where they spent several months. Bin Laden himself headed north into the remote Afghan province of Kunar after the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001. According to ISI officials quoted by Qadir, a senior militant detained by the ISI in 2006 told interrogators that Bin Laden had met Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan insurgent leader, in Kunar at this time. ISI officials also maintain that Khaled Sheikh Mohamed told them that the al-Qaida chief was there.

Former American officials this weekend told the Guardian that there was considerable intelligence indicating that Bin Laden was in eastern Afghanistan and making occasional journeys across the border into Pakistan at this time.

By the summer of 2004, Bin Laden appears to have moved into Pakistan permanently. According to the testimony of his youngest, Yemeni-born wife, she and her two children were reunited with her husband in a house in a remote district of the rugged Swat valley, in northwest Pakistan, in March 2004, before moving to another safe house in a small town called Haripur, 20 miles from Abbottabad, that autumn. In early summer 2005 the family then moved into the newly constructed compound where they would spend the next six years. They were joined there by Bin Laden’s second wife and her three children.

According to ISI officers interviewed by Qadir, the location had been scouted a year previously by senior militant Abu Farraj al-Libbi who then travelled to Swat to get Bin Laden’s approval for the move. The al-Qaida chief insisted that the land for the house be bought, not rented, and sketched out a design for the construction – currently in the possession of the ISI.

The al-Qaida leader himself evaded detection while on the move by pretending to be an ailing Pashtun former militant, still on Pakistan’s wanted list, who hoped to return home to die, Qadir has written.

Western security officials believe Bin Laden’s oldest wife joined him in Abbottabad after being released in deal between Iranian authorities and a Pakistani militant group holding an Iranian diplomat.

By November 2010, the crucial courier had been identified and located. He then led the hunters to the Abbottabad house.

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Long past time to retire Zionism

Gideon Levy in Haaretz writes a provocative essay that proves how Zionism has become a word and ideology that largely represents occupation and exclusion:

Zionism is already 115 years old; it should have retired long ago. If on Independence Day we’re concerned about the future of a state approaching retirement age (presuming it’s a man, not a woman, who would have retired two years ago ), then we should call for the replacement of Zionism with something younger, more energetic and more relevant. Zionism should have become a rank-and-file pensioner shortly after the state was established or, at most, when the movement turned 62 or 67.

A state does not retire, but a national liberation movement must, like every elderly citizen – knowing when its time has passed. It must be consigned to history. These things are even more true if the movement has already fulfilled its mission, achieved its goals and now everyone is beating up on it, misusing it, decking themselves in its feathers and taking its name in vain.

Who is a Zionist? All the answers are wrong, even if they are more plentiful (and more ridiculous ) than the answers to the other existential question of who is a Jew.

The truth is that there is no answer. Not because Zionism was not a just cause – it was, even if it was tainted by unnecessary injustices, and not because it didn’t succeed. It was the greatest national success story of the 20th century. But that century is over and its greatest success story has been established. The national home arose, and now it is a regional power. Anyone who wanted to – about one-third of the Jewish people – has joined it, and the door remains open to the rest.

All the remaining, disturbing questions and all the challenges are matters for the state and the society that have arisen, as with every state and society. Their connection to the founding movement is no longer relevant. Yes, Zionism is no longer relevant, and its place is in the history books alone.

But the Jewish people lives, as they say, and therefore Israel has tried to invent a new Zionism for itself, far more totalitarian than its predecessor. Alongside the religion of security, Zionism has become the state’s second recognized religion, forcing itself recklessly on all its subjects. We have room only for “Zionists.”

Anyone who serves in the Israel Defense Forces is a “Zionist”; anyone who settles far from Tel Aviv is also a “Zionist”; anyone who volunteers to help the other, the poor, the weak, the blind, the sick and the lame – a “Zionist”; anyone who donates something to someone – a “Zionist”; anyone who sings the national anthem and hangs the national flag, and anyone who stands to attention when necessary (and when it’s not necessary ), anyone who settles and unsettles, anyone who justifies every state injustice, anyone who immigrates and even emigrates is a Zionist. Anyone who tyrannizes another people and anyone who looks away is a Zionist and a son of a Zionist. All of us are Zionists; well, nearly all of us.

All the positives also lead to negatives, and that negative is illegitimate, traitorous, hated and a hater of Israel. Anyone who doesn’t do any of the things mentioned above is post- or anti-Zionist. In Israel 2012, a pursuer of justice and human rights is by definition not Zionist. Even to talk about morality, law or international law is blatantly “not Zionist.”

We have given world Jewry grades in Zionism. Anyone who donates to settlements – Zionist; anyone who donates to human rights organizations – anti. Anyone who belongs to the nationalist, rapacious, right-wing Jewish establishment – Zionist. Anyone who seeks a fairer, more enlightened alternative – post. Anyone who blindly supports all of Israel’s misdeeds – Zionist; anyone who dares to criticize it – anti-Semites, even if they are Jewish. A former Israeli who lives in Vegas and gambles on his former country’s future, urging it to blow up, bomb, crush and destroy – Zionist. Anyone worried about its justice – post-Zionist.

The world, too, has invented some new Zionisms for itself. In the eyes of the Arab world, every Israeli is a Zionist; in the eyes of most of the Western world, any supporter of the Israeli occupation is a Zionist. Both of these see Zionism as negative epithet and a mark of shame. The new Zionism has only acquired a bad international reputation.

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“Gender trumps everything” in Middle East

I don’t agree with all the points made here by Mona Eltahawy about gender repression in the Muslim world but it’s an important discussion:

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Serco is determined to do one thing worldwide; turn a massive profit

If more evidence was needed of the global menace that is British multinational Serco (via Salon):

On April 4, Barbara Harms’ boss forced her to attend a meeting about why she shouldn’t join a union. The two-hour, on-the-clock meeting was run by Michael Penn, a professional anti-union consultant. Harms says Penn told workers that “you’re going to sign your life away if you sign a union card … the union would tell you to go out on strike … the place could close down.” The meeting left Harms and other pro-union workers frustrated and angry. Especially because their taxes made it possible.

Harms works at the National Benefits Center (NBC) office in Lee’s Summit, Mo. She’s not directly employed by the federal government but is, instead, a contractor. She is one of about 800 workers there employed by the British company Serco, or Serco’s subcontractors, to process immigration paperwork under Serco’s contract with the federal government ($190 million a year, as of 2009). Penn, meanwhile, is a partner at the anti-union firm Crossroads Group. According to the most recent contract he filed with the Department of Labor (for a different client), his services cost $350 an hour. Serco presumably paid for Penn’s time out of its own pocket. But taxpayers paid for the facilities — from office space to audiovisual equipment — he used to campaign against the union.

Like Harms, many Americans would resent the prospect of taxpayer dollars, or taxpayer-funded resources, being deployed to bust a union drive. President Obama once seemed to be against it, as well. In his first month in office, President Obama signed an executive order apparently aimed at similar situations. Obama’s order forbids government reimbursement for “the costs of any activities undertaken to persuade employees … to exercise or not to exercise … the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

But as Serco and its subcontractors fight to stay union free at the NBC, workers and union staffers say the order has meant less than they’d hoped. And despite Obama’s order, the government says that Serco can use government facilities to fight unionization without breaking the law. Now, some union activists are questioning whether Obama’s support for them is as firm as it once seemed. “We have an executive order that sounds good,” says Chris Townsend, the political action director for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). “But I am yet to be convinced that [it] amounts to anything.”

Serco isn’t the only company to aggressively combat unionization while reaping a taxpayer-funded windfall. A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the federal government had awarded over $6 billion in contracts in fiscal 2009 to contractors that had been cited for violating federal labor laws, from wage and hour rules to organizing rights. Earlier in 2010, the New York Times reported that the White House was planning to implement a “high road” contracting policy that would direct more government contracts to companies with better labor and environmental records. But by 2011, Obama OMB nominee Heather Higginbottom told senators in a confirmation hearing that there were no such plans afoot.

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What standing in solidarity with Palestine means on day to day basis

Step by step, BDS grows:

Palestine human rights campaigners today welcomed news that the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, The Co-operative Group, will “no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements”.

The Co-op’s decision, notified to campaigners in a statement, will immediately impact four suppliers, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin, Israel’s largest agricultural export company.  Mehadrin sources produce from illegal settlements, including Beqa’ot in the Occupied Jordan Valley.  During interviews with researchers, Palestinian workers in the settlement said they earn as little as €11 per day.  Grapes and dates packaged in the settlement were all labelled ‘Produce of Israel’.

Mehadrin’s role in providing water to settlement farms and its relationship with Israeli state water company Mekorot makes the company additionally complicit with Israel’s discriminatory water policies.  Other companies may be affected by the Co-op’s new policy if they are shown to be sourcing produce from Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Territories.

Hilary Smith, Co-op member and Boycott Israel Network (BIN) agricultural trade campaign co-ordinator, said “we welcome this important decision by the Co-op to take steps toward fully realising their policy of support for human rights and ethical trading.  The Co-op has taken the lead internationally in this historic decision to hold corporations to account for complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.  We strongly urge other retailers to follow suit and take similar action”.

The announcement by the Co-op came just before their Regional AGMs, due to take place over the next two weeks,  and where motions on this issue have been submitted for discussion.  For months Co-op members have been highlighting their concerns about trade with complicit companies through co-ordinated letter-writing and discussions with local offices.

A spokesperson from the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which works to improve the conditions of Palestinian agricultural communities, said:

“Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin profit from and are directly involved in the ongoing colonisation of occupied Palestinian land and theft of our water. Trade with such companies constitutes a major form of support for Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, so we warmly welcome this principled decision by the Co-Operative. Other European supermarkets must now take similar steps to end their complicity with Israeli violations of international law.  The movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law is proving to be a truly effective form of action in support of Palestinian rights”.

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Hello MSM, care to not breathlessly rehash White House press releases over OBL?

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Role of Taliban central in Afghanistan (whether the West likes it or not)

Intriguing interview in The Daily Beast that highlights the internal struggles within a movement that has beaten the US and its allies in Afghanistan:

Not so long ago, Agha Jan Motasim was one of the most important men in the Afghan Taliban. That was before he was sacked as head of the ruling Quetta Shura’s political committee—and before the day last August when someone pumped him full of bullets and left him for dead on a street in Karachi. No one has claimed responsibility for the broad-daylight assassination attempt, but it’s clear that hardliners in the group wanted him out of the way, and Motasim believes he knows why. He dared to suggest that the group should respect the civilian population’s humanitarian needs and should open peace talks.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast from his current home in Ankara, Motasim talked about what went wrong. “Due to a lack of understanding, some of my colleagues and friends did not agree with my concept that the Taliban should be a political movement as well,” he says. “My differences of opinion were not with the rest of the shura but with a few Taliban hardliners.” His conversation with The Daily Beast was the Western media’s first on-the-record interview with a senior Taliban minister and leader since the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Last year the Quetta Shura finally approved peace contacts with America and the West. The talks are currently suspended, but the insurgency still seems to be tearing itself apart in a fierce dispute over whether to engage in negotiations and with whom. Those who defy the Quetta Shura’s strict line are risking arrest by the council’s enforcers—or possibly even death. Only last month, the powerful southern commander Maulvi Ishmael, a former head of the shura’s Military Committee, was arrested and imprisoned by Taliban forces for allegedly sponsoring unauthorized contacts between local Taliban officers and representatives of the Kabul government’s High Peace Council.

Motasim’s Taliban credentials were no less impressive. Until the collapse of the regime, he served as Mullah Mohammad Omar’s minister of the treasury. After the movement was driven into exile, Motasim was one of the first leaders to begin organizing and raising funds for the Afghan insurgency inside Pakistan’s tribal area. As a member of the the Quetta Shura and head of the ruling council’s key political committee, he had access to the Taliban’s biggest donors in Pakistan and in the oil-rich Gulf states.

That ended in 2009, after he reportedly was tried and found guilty by a Taliban council on charges of embezzlement and opening unauthorized contacts with Western representatives. For years he had been suspected of absconding with millions of dollars from the state treasury when the regime fell, although he still insists he never stole a penny and denies that the council found him guilty of anything. He tells The Daily Beast he handed over everything to the appropriate people before fleeing Kabul.But embezzlement wasn’t his only alleged crime. In fact, his biggest sin seems to have been his penchant for independent action outside the Taliban’s decision-making hierarchy. He particularly made enemies in the movement by urging peace talks with the Americans and the West. “Motasim was the first to realize that besides military power the Taliban must have a political and peace program,” says a high-ranking Taliban official, requesting anonymity for security reasons. “He was the first to open back channels to the West, years ago.”

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Former Israeli intelligence head slams Netanyahu et al

This is a pretty remarkable set of comments by a former senior member of the Israeli elite. No commentary required:

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin expressed harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday in a meeting with residents of the city of Kfar Sava, saying the pair is not worthy of leading the country.

“My major problem is that I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war,” Diskin told the “Majdi Forum,” a group of local residents that meets to discuss political issues.

“I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defense minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” he added.  

Diskin deemed Barak and Netanyahu “two messianics – the one from Akirov or the Assuta project and the other from Gaza Street or Caesarea,” he said, referring to the two politicians’ places of residence.

“Believe me, I have observed them from up close… They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off. These are not people who I would want to have holding the wheel in such an event,” Diskin said.  

“They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race,” said the former security chief.  

In March, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan also spoke out publicly against a military option on Iran, telling CBS’ 60 Minutes that an Israeli attack would have “devastating” consequences for Israel, and would in any case be unlikely to put an end to the Iranian nuclear program.

Regarding relations between Israeli Jews and other groups, Diskin said, “Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. All of the studies point to this. This is racism toward Arabs and toward foreigners, and we are also become a more belligerent society.”

Diskin also said he believed another political assassination, like that of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a Jewish extremist, could occur in the future. “Today there are extremist Jews, not just in the territories but also inside the Green Line, dozens of them who, in a situation in which settlements are evacuated… would be willing to take up arms against their Jewish brothers.”

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“Israel appears enclosed in a bizarre egocentric bubble”

Doron Rosenblum writes in Haaretz:

In the eyes of foreign observers, or people with more critical vision, Israel already looks different: perhaps like an impatient and hysterical military man with a skullcap on his head from an army of occupation, who is threatening or threatened, it is not clear which, and is prepared to land a resounding thwack in the face of any gentile or leftist he happens upon, and see himself as the victim of a pogrom. It’s the work of the devil. This unflattering stereotype came out of nowhere recently and took on flesh and blood. The hysterical reactions to the affair of Lt. Col. Eisner – applause and support from broad sectors (which revealed their moral compass ) and from another direction the frantic efforts to dull the incident mainly for purposes of hasbara – “public diplomacy” – actually prove the extent to which this image really is representative. Indeed no hasbara effort can deny what is happening to Israel. It is becoming more and more of an ethnocentric, contrarian religious community with a shortening fuse and no tolerance or patience for any scrap of criticism or independent thought that doesn’t line up with the most extreme marker on the right.

Israel is perceived as a brutal state living in well-fanned hysteria and existential anxiety, which sees any political process as a conspiracy, any move on the ground as a justification for war and any criticism as an anti-Semitic campaign. In the 64th year of its independence, there is a strange contradiction in Israel: on the one hand, the apparent acceptance of the perpetuity of the conflict and of the view that it has no solution, and on the other hand the loss of the skills and sense of strength needed to withstand this conclusion.

Instead of steeling itself in the face of a conflict that will last for generations, it seems Israel is only becoming more fragile and more sensitive to every touch, even the slightest. The shadow of mountains looks like mountains; anything that in some way benefits the Palestinians is perceived as a threat to us. Any act of demonstrative protest is considered an “airlift” by the Luftwaffe or a terrifying “flotilla” in the style of the Spanish armada, and every foreign observer is perceived as an enemy requiring an “operation” and a “confrontation.” How does neurotic sensitivity like this accord with the apparent readiness for eternal war? Perhaps the psychiatrist of “The Big Brother” reality show has answers.

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Role of US churches in divesting from Israel

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Damn Abbas and get silenced in Palestine

So this is the US and Israeli-backed Palestinian government the occupied should be loving? Dictatorship Inc. Shameful. Good reporting by George Hale in Maan:

The Palestinian Authority has quietly instructed Internet providers to block access to news websites whose reporting is critical of President Mahmoud Abbas, according to senior government officials and data analyzed by network security experts.

As many as eight news outlets have been rendered unavailable to many Internet users in the West Bank, after technicians at the Palestinian Telecommunications Company, or PalTel, tweaked an open source software called Squid to return error pages, a detailed technical analysis indicates. Several small companies are using a similar setup. 

The decision this year to begin blocking websites marks a major expansion of the government’s online powers. Experts say it is the biggest shift toward routine Internet censorship in the Palestinian Authority’s history. Aside from one incident in 2008, Palestinians have generally been free to read whatever they wanted.

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What Afghanistan truly needs

My friend Benjamin Gilmour, film-maker and writer, is in Afghanistan. Here are some of his reflections (which match much of what I heard during my recent visit):

How can we bring development to Afghanistan if we don’t have security? It is still the question put to us by backers of our longest war, and we buy it. How indeed, can aid convoys get through if they are being fired upon? First battle the enemy, then build.

But the argument is flawed. Since 2006 Afghanistan has had 27 PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) and each of these are military led. They have a commander and between eighty to a hundred-and-fifty army personnel and only three or four civilian advisors. This is the development we are sending in. Soldiers. What does the Afghan see coming? Soldiers. What does the Afghan hate most? Soldiers.

As I walk around Afghanistan this past two weeks, unarmed, dressed like a local, the same comment keeps coming up. ‘If you want to help us, we will die for you. If you come with guns and shoot us, we will fight to the last man.’ While this Afghan war is undoubtedly complex, with various powerful players bearing their own agendas, for an ordinary Afghan it is also very simple. If you want to help, don’t destroy. If you want peace, then talk to the enemy. Instead we are making the Afghan people swallow the pill of progress at gunpoint, which they will not do. PRTs in southern Afghanistan are still too busy defending themsleves to actually build anything.

Staying in Herat, the safest place in Afghanistan, with only one security incident or so a month, I have come to ask myself what ‘aid’ has followed ‘security’ here.

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