an open letter to expatriates in afghanistan

Dear expatriates,

The existence of foreign workers in Afghanistan was perceived by most Afghans as a neutral, impartial and unbiased development force, exactly what Afghanistan needed when they couldn’t trust each other. In the traditional Afghan civil and social system the inferior–superior relationship is personal. Expatriates on the other hand, didn’t represent an authority as they are not to establish one but are there to do their job; the job was legitimized by a belief in the fair and correctness of the process. Expatriates were not loyal to a tribe or ethnicity or individual; they rather function in an impersonal order, toward an aim which served for the better of Afghans, not to the specific country or interest.

When one shifts the focus of attention from foreign assistance to the role of individual expatriate worker, substantial positive differences were noticed in comparison to the traditional Afghan system. An expatriate is not selected for his job on the basis of such considerations as ethnicity, family position or political loyalties. His recruitment is based on formal qualifications that testify the applicant has the necessary knowledge to accomplish his duties effectively and bear Afghanistan.

This was briefly the belief after the fall of Taliban; however, there were a few factors which were not calculated then or only materialized as consequences. There was no strategy to measure the size of foreign organisations and expatriates and then to alarm in the face of overwhelming proportions.
The number of foreign agencies has been increasing ever since and there is no exit strategy, not much of foreign operation has been Afghanised. Expatriates, paid well from tax free Afghan aid money, have heavily intervened in the economic sphere. The sky high rental costs, inflation and formidable increase in living cost for ordinary Afghans are now starting to affect his attitude and perception. Yet there is no sign that foreign organisations are going to change their strategy and tactics. The organisations are trying to expand and pursue the old tactics. Lack of Afghan and international trust in the civil authorities played in favour of expatriates. Expatriates in their foreign organisations created another layer of national administration which has substantial economic as well as political influence and has deprived the traditional class of control means on international assistance, human capital and production. The effective control of Afghan economy and of political power is now in the hands of expatriates. The invisible hand has cleverly neutralised administrators of the state bureaucracy. Though I should admit that the historical irony of this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me. Both post and pre Taliban eras are marked by oligarchic order: warlordism rooted out whatever was left of state infrastructure and committed all sorts of atrocities. The post Taliban period is marked by Expatlordism – a new type of oligarchy.
The internal politics of foreign organisations has resulted in control of few expatriates; this domination of the expatriates might run against the ideals and intentions of both the ruler and ruled.
Let’s see how organisational politics results in expatriate control: There is an increasing concentration of the means of communication at the top, this is due to communication culture, instruments, language and tendencies in foreign organisation, this results in an ensuing apathy in both the expatriate and Afghan staff.
The power position of the expatriate has become unquestionable. Not only can the expatriate manipulate information and use the communication network but also, by the exercise of his functions, the expatriate acquires specialized knowledge and political skills that make him almost irreplaceable to the organization. In this way both the structural position of the expatriate and the ruled lead to a political system perpetuates the dominance of expatriate class.
This situation is established today, but still the control of the expatriate goes unrealised, because this might not be the intention which exactly results in further dominance as the expatriates, unaware of their dominance, develop more and more formal and informal networks. For instance the UN has compulsory weekly drinking parties for expatriates to promote team spirit or they have exclusive guest houses as they are scared of rumours in the village of Afghans mingling with them. As you see this is not any more limited to organisation, organizational oligarchy has brought about societal oligarchy.
Just like everything else a society can absorb certain dose of foreigners over a certain period of time. Afghanistan can take a very small dosage of foreigners as they are allergic to them. Every page of history witnesses the low *absorption capacity* – if I may borrow the term from EU. My ideas embodied in the term are different than the one EU have. I am making a reference to the history of a proud and individualistic man who defends his way of life. In response westerners say this is no way to live anymore. And I do agree with you there, but let me ask you why the ancient home of your civilisation is using the term?
In my case it might be a ‘wrong’ concept but in yours it’s a dishonest one. It’s remarkably dishonest because it contradicts two of EU’s greatest achievement to date; first is to anchor newly democratised economies in a larger framework of rules and to provide them with incentives against reverts. And second is to keep the old and new enemies (old being France and Germany, capitalism and socialism; the new being Muslims and Christians) in a framework of cooperation to reduce enmity, but these functions would be seriously at risk if EU apply the absorption concept. Europeans say that the concept suggests that it’s empirically and “objectively” impossible to accommodate Turkey. The Europeans has cleverly used the phrase to deflect attention from political arguments that Muslims do not belong to Europe.
My point is for one reason or another we are all protective. Except the difference is in your network everyone should play by your rules, which is fine. But you play by your rules in my network too. You don’t have the faintest idea of my network and you even don’t try to acquire some. You never think of shifting our stand, and redesigning your aims and your way of work.

Yours truly,

sanjar qiam
media and cultural studies
warsaw university
0048 511 185342

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