When western political elites appear in Afghanistan - President Lech Kaczynski was the latest to turn up today - it reminds me of the old hippy trail, when disaffected, angst-ridden sons and daughters of ruling elites and the middle classes travelled from Istanbul to Kabul in ‘search of themselves’ and a meaning of life back home seemed unable to provide.
But what did they hope to find among the poverty, backwardness and poppy fields?
President ‘Kaftan’ Kaczynski was in Afghanistan to meet the 1600 Polish troops stationed there and later went on - after his plane was late - to Kabul for meetings with President Karzai. The Afghan leader was probably beside himself with gratitude for plucky Poland’s help in trying to stabalise a country that was never stable in the first place. Kaczynski promised more troops - 400 are leaving soon from Poland to be stationed in the Gahzni province - but he almost certainly parroted concern in Washington and London that Karzai was “not doing enough” to deal with the corruption, the war lords and the resurgent Taliban.
The West is tiring of their (democratically elected) cheerleader, and would prefer someone else to take charge.
Note the outrage - from Western leaders - at the move to make formally legal a practice that has been, up to now, put in place by local custom, that the ten percent Shia Muslim population should abide by the medieval dictates of Sharia law, where women’s status is second class, at best. This really was screwing things up for President Obama etc - Afghanistan is his Big Foreign Policy Mission. With Afghani legislators acting like they didn’t particularly want western NGO-sponsored women’s drop in centres littering up the place, and acting a bit…well, backward…is no help at all. How would Washington justify the American troops dying for such a great and noble cause?
Luckily, Karzai backed down and revoked the offending legislation. Few! But still, thinks Washington, London, Warsaw…“Wouldn’t it be better if we got someone else to run the place?”
Afghan is where some of the Western political elites are getting their kicks - this was meant to be the theatre of the ‘war on terror’; this was where the bad guys have to be whipped; this was where the poor people of Afghanistan could gratefully receive “humanitarian intervention”.
With the Soviet Union gone, where else would those guys get their reason to be; their sense of purpose? Like the hippies of old, places like Afghanistan have become a place to find oneself, when finding a sense of purpose at home is increasingly difficult for them.
In Poland, being the good boy of NATO is the number one foreign policy goal. Afghanistan is the perfect opportunity to show willing. When the US asked for more troops to go and fight the Taliban, many of the European governments started staring at their shoes, or noticing bits of fluff that had to removed from their suits. Not Warsaw! You want more troops? Even at a time when we are slashing our defence budget? Nie ma problemu!
Poland wants to be the NATO guard dog of its eastern borders, too. This is a consensus that crosses political divides in Warsaw. This is what Poland’s leaders need to feel useful, give them purpose.
Who is the bigger hippy?
It gets all the more complicated when President Kaczynski and Prime Minister Tusk are currently involved in a bloody battle over who is the more important as far as foreign policy is concerned, the underhand ruthlessness of which would make a Taliban leader look like a wuss.
The latest shenanigans at the NATO summit in Prague last weekend illustrates the point, nicely.
President and government had agreed to not back the eventual winner, Rasmussen, straight away, but try to wheedle a few concessions out of the other NATO leaders - like Turkey eventually did. Last week, the Foreign Ministry sent a note to President Kaczynski with the title: How to play the diplomatic game. Kaczynski obviously took a brief skim-read of the contents and, riled by the patronising title of the memo, chucked it into the bin.
So at the dinner last Friday night, before the summit proper, Kaczynski - suffering under his usual political-turrets-syndrome - blurted out that “Poland will support the Great Dane.”
Oops! Game over.
Foreign Minister Sikorski, who was basically rejected as a candidate for secretary-general because the Russians wouldn’t like him, must have been spitting blood. Kaczynski had done it again! Who was ruling Polish foreign policy, anyway?
And so the farce continues…
The political elite in Poland has had a hard time in Poland since 1989 convincing Poles that they are worth taking any notice of. And then something like Afghanistan, the EU, NATO come along, and suddenly they can feel important in high places. Afghanistan has become like opium for our leaders. They can’t get enough of it.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Posted by beatroot at 4/08/2009