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Published on March 8th, 2010 | by Ali Gharib


Afghan “Gov’t-in-a-box” Has a Rap Sheet

Two weeks ago I blogged some meandering thoughts on “government-in-a-box,” a neologism for the “hold, build” part of international forces’ counterinsurgency strategy of “clear, hold, build” in the Afghan town of Marja.  I concluded that perhaps the contents of the box, at the time shrouded in mystery, were irrelevant and that the strategy was wrong headed from the get-go.

It seems the U.S. and its local viceroys — the regional, provincial and local government officials appointed by the occupation-supported government in Kabul — also lost their interest in the particulars. If not, perhaps they would have better vetted their appointee in their “showcase city,” as the New York Times put it (never mind that it’s a “city” of less than 50,000). The Times says today that:

News reports in the Western media say that Hajji Abdul Zahir, the newly appointed district chief of Marja, served jail time in Germany on charges of stabbing his stepson. Mr. Zahir… denied the reports to other media.

…A NATO spokesman in Kabul, speaking on behalf of Mark Sedwill, the senior NATO civilian official in Kabul… quoted Mr. Sedwill as saying, “This country is not going to be run by choir boys.”

The article says that local Afghans don’t care about his “family problems” either, as a former Taliban turned district chief of a nearby area characterized Zahir’s apparent filicidal attempt. The locals just want good governance. I’m curious to see how this “government-in-a-box” — complete with paper trail — works out. But if I was disgruntled Afghan, hoping for order, services, and justice, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

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One Response to Afghan “Gov’t-in-a-box” Has a Rap Sheet

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  1. avatar bgflanagan says:

    Government in a box… hmmm isn’t that the same as government on the fly? Government ready to roll? Government ready to shape consensus? I posit that government in a box = government on the run, and correctly identified by Mr Gharib here. Wouldn’t Professor Chomsky be proud of how we box it and sell it to market?
    See, anyone who has spent any time in central Asia knows the whole thing is pokazukha, for show. If you spend years there as I have you know how funny it is (to the locals) to watch the charade of soldiers propping weapons into the hands of just-interested locals, and telling them “There, aim there, and shoot!” – and the target is of course invariably a cousin or a fellow Hajji.
    People! Soldiers are trained to break things and to kill people, not to place weapons in others’ hands and train them to shoot their extended families!
    Just as we “trained” (unsuccessfully) locals in S Vietnam to hopefully shoot NVA – everyone there knew it would not work.
    Well done article, Mr. Gharib.

About the Author


Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.

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