Thursday, November 22, 2007


I got back yesterday from a few (one more than expected) days in Bamiyan. Although there were only dustings of snow in the surrounding mountains it was bitterly cold in the Roof of Bamiyan Hotel and the main topic of conversation was warmth, and how we would have enjoyed some.

I had dinner one night in the mess hall of the New Zealand 'Provincial Reconstruction Team' which was an eye-opener. A lot of people are critical of PRTs in Afghanistan and I must say that in this case one of their most obvious outputs is complete sets of paper and plastic plates, cups and cutlery thrown out after every person-meal. I would have thought that diswashing would create useful local employment.

Our work ended on Tuesday (our project will involve Monday and Tuesday training and panel discussions for 22 more weeks over the next year) and we expected to fly back to Kabul on Wednesday. We checked in at Bamiyan airport 'terminal' (which is in a shipping container) and then learned that the flight had been canceled due to a security issue in Kabul. Back to the Roof of Bamiyan.

I find our work rewarding but the best part is taking photographs. My colleague Saboor took us to nearby Dragon Valley which had wonderful scenery and fascinating bubbling geology. I also always like walking around, photographing people going about their lives. I've posted some photos here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Website down

My website - - is currently unavailable due to server problems where it is hosted. The company says it won't take much longer to fix. I'll update this blog entry when the site is visible again.

Housing in Kabul

I have been in transitory housing since August 18 and it has been tiresome but the end is in sight. On Thursday I will move into the communal guest house I expect to live in until the end of November 2008. Unfortunately I'll have to switch rooms a final time in a couple more weeks but stability is getting closer. The first thing I want to do when I really settle down is to stick up some nice photos I've been carrying around.

I can not say that I have not been in comfortable surroundings some of the time since August. When I arrived this time in Kabul (on September 2) I moved into a nice commercial guest house for a while. Now I am house sitting a colleague's house which is very comfortable.

Colleague's house. I walk back and forth across the garden and down the driveway for exercise.

Wonderful housekeeper Ibrahim.

Ibrahim's adorable children. His beautiful wives declined - cheerfully but predictably - to be photographed.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Yesterday I watched a Buzkashi game in the suburbs of Kabul. Buzkashi is said to combine elements of polo and rugby but I would add that it also simulates Kabul traffic protocols - of which there are none. I had understood it to be a team game but at least yesterday it was everyone with a horse for himself, with the consequence that the object of the game - a headless goat carcass, spent most of the time being trampled under a scrum of horses instead of being pulled around a flag and dropped in a target circle. Amidst this pack of rearing horses the bravest players reach to the ground for one of the goat's legs. The game is tamer than it used to be - knives are now banned - but it is still pretty wild. An added feature yesterday was a bunch of daredevil photographers who tended to get close to the thick of things - I have one picture of one of them running for his life once a competitor finally got free of the gridlock with the carcass. I've grouped my photos here.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Back to school

I have been accepted into the M.Sc. in Sustainable Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in their distance learning programme. The University of London was the first university to offer distance learning.

This interesting snippet is from the Wikipedia article on that program which was the first in the world: "Because the Geneva Convention (1929) stipulated that every prisoner of war, in addition to being entitled to adequate food and medical care, had the right to exchange correspondence and receive parcels, many British POWs took advantage of this opportunity and enrolled in the University of London External Programme. The soldiers were sent study materials via the mails, and at specified intervals sat for proctored exams in the prisoner camps. Almost 11,000 exams were taken at 88 camps between 1940 and 1945. Although the exam failure rate was high, a significant number of soldiers passed their exams while imprisoned."

My part-time course begins in February and I intend to finish in four years. I'll sit next year's exams at the British Council here in Kabul.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Jean Charles de Menezes killing case in London

It seems like ages since I blogged. I've been SO busy and stressed by work but although I still have a lot of pending tasks, I can breath easier at the moment. For just a moment, anyway. I've got a lot of saved-up things to write about but tonight I'm most tempted by news that the Metropolitan Police (in London) have been found guilty in the Jean Charles de Menezes killing case.

Background: On 22 July 2005 armed police shot Mr de Menezes dead at Stockwell Tube station. It was a case of absolute mistaken identity and probable racial profiling. (A friend of mine was traumatized by the shots.) As I write this the BBC are rapidly updating coverage of their story, which includes this disturbing (but technically impressive) forensic presentation. [It's fascinating to watch the story updates - I've refreshed several times while writing this and read new quotes and facts each time.]

The Met is protesting the verdict. While I am confused by the specific charge ("failing to protect the public from the risks posed by a suspected suicide bomber on the loose" - I think the case is about failing to protect an innocent man) I am glad they have been found guilty.

Whereas I would not hold a police force criminally guilty for failing to 'get their man' (this is a cliché associated with the RCMP) I do find the organization (perhaps if not the shooting officers) highly guilty of this killing.

I don't blame the shooters. I think that if the officers were positive that Jean Charles de Menezes was about to explode a bomb there can be justification for shooting - probably even for shooting to kill. (Those who know me will not be surprised that I support no other justification for anyone or any institution - any at all - ever killing an unwilling person.) I do not doubt that the shooters felt this way and assuming they grieve for the mistake they have my sympathy. I think the responsibility lies with the Met for the set of circumstances and mistakes that allowed Jean Charles de Menezes to become the victim of a prolonged and lethal case of mistaken identity.

True, the killing was the day after a potentially devastating suicide attack failed, and another non-white person had been traced to Jean Charles de Menezes fault. But I believe that this is no excuse for error - I believe that at any crisis one of the main and most urgent concerns of police should be to prevent a mistake.

I understand the stress facing the police and I am never one to forget that the police have a difficult, dangerous and normally thankless job. But I am riled by a remark by Sir Ian Blair, Met Police Commissioner, before the trial began "that a guilty verdict would have profound effects on policing. He said officers would be left in a difficult position of not being able to use their judgement in emergency situations, out of fear of breaking the law." I can not accept this. I believe that police officers should always fear breaking the law - not least in moments of stress.

I am only glad the case has received so much scrutiny. I think that the 'war on terror' has authorized far too much careless and casual vigilance. Shooting the wrong people (when some police knew de Menezes was not a suspect) is not going to stop the real perpetrators from terrorizing. It will only jeopardize the credibility of the institutions we hold above the terrorists. The police are literally responsible for being careless.