By Scott Bohlinger (in Afghanistan)
On a hot day in London I had look back at the building from which I had just emerged to make sure it hadn't been the Iranian embassy, which is right around the corner. Why? A number of applicants and myself had just been treated with an astounding degree of unprofessionalism in the rejection of our visas by the Afghan embassy. This episode reminded me of why I agree with one element of NATO's Afghanistan strategy, the withdrawal timetable.
Despite the ongoing debate on the efficacy of aid in general, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) had a comically late reaction in the form of a scandal in which two organizations were accused of proselytizing. Ironically, I can verify from my own experience that such activity takes place in Afghanistan, but most certainly not from the two NGOs alleged. Hence, to varying degrees globally and across the board at the London Embassy, MoFA was rejecting visas for all NGO workers (In my case they could not comprehend the difference between a governmental organization and an NGO). The sad truth is that for years embassies have been giving out visas to people with little or no questions asked. Of all the things the Afghan government actually can control, it's relatively small number of diplomatic missions might factor amongst the highest priorities.
Beyond ideological considerations and whether a given institution, individual, or policy has the government's support, the government of Afghanistan actually needs to act like a government. Frankly many people in the Afghan government need to grow up, and I certainly know them to be capable of this, given the correct incentives. The reasons for inaction are sensible…people don't want to take risks for very good and obvious reasons.
Finally, I got the visa in Dubai after appropriate intervention in Kabul by my employer. My experience is not nearly as serious as that experienced daily by Afghans who often face a choice between draconian opposition groups and official corruption. While the Taliban have been able to gain the high level of popular support that would allow them to win without force of arms, the government, which NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy is meant to be supporting, still shows little interest in governing.
Scott Bohlinger is a politics and security analyst focusing on Afghanistan, Iran, and the wider Middle East.