Another working Saturday for Gretchen and me, necessitated by roiling international finance markets precipitated by Ben Bernanke’s remarks on Wednesday that the Federal Reserve might just let up slightly on Quantitative Easing.  Considering all the highly negative things the heavy-hitting market mavens have said about QE, I must say the irony hung heavy about my office all morning as many of those same critics came to me for consultations, exuding thick clouds of anxiety and fear.  Apparently, it seems, the geniuses of Wall Street have concluded that the only thing worse than the central bank buying US Treasury bonds would be if it stopped doing so.  Then at two o’clock, I had an appointment with Khus Dihugami Dadamizo, Special International Policy Emissary of His Excellency President Hamid Karzai for the Embassy of Afghanistan to the United States of America.  He was in his usual condition, which is to say, nodded out on Afghan smack, somewhere over the rainbow about a mile past Cloud Nine, but at least he didn’t pass out and collapse in the reception area, as he had during his last visit. 
“Tom… my friend,” he murmured, sunk deep into the couch, “it is… good to see you again.  President Karzai’s government… is once again in need of your… inestimable advice.”
“My pleasure,” I dryly responded.  “How can I help the people of Afghanistan today?”
“The people… of… Afghanistan?” Dadamizo mused.  “Ah, yes… them.  How typically… Western… of you, Tom.  But the things President Karzai… has on his mind at the moment… are the Taliban… your military… and the government of Qatar.”
“You’re referring,” I presumed, “to the Taliban’s agreement to hold talks with the United States in Qatar, for which the Taliban set up a delegation in Doha, calling it the ‘Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,’ complete with a Taliban flag, as if they were an embassy representing a shadow government in exile?”
“Yes…” he labored between heavy exhalations, “you are… correct.”
“And furthermore,” I supposed, “to President Karzai going ballistic about the name and the flag and the attendant Taliban pretensions, as well as the fact that his Afghan government in Kabul had been completely frozen out of the talks?”
“This is true,” he confirmed, “our President did exactly that.”
“After which ensued,” I continued, “a comic opera worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan, with Secretary of State John Kerry on the telephone at extreme length with all parties, the flag coming down, the delegation being re-named the ‘Political Office of the Afghan Taliban,’ and President Karzai proclaiming satisfaction.”
“Temporarily,” he conceded, “but… only so.”
“Because,” I concluded, “the Taliban then raised their flag again, but this time on a shorter pole.”
“That…” he pointed out, “is the same flag… the Taliban flew… when they ruled Afghanistan.”
“A sore point, no doubt,” I ventured, “with President Karzai.”
“Not quite… as sore… however…” he fretted, “as the Kabul government… being left… completely out of the negotiations.”
“As one can readily imagine,” I vouched.
“So…” he labored along slowly, “President Karzai called… and said to me… go to the famous… Tom Collins… and have him tell you… what is wrong… and what… we can do about it.”
“You mean,” I speculated, “that, first of all, what you want to know is, how come the United States went off to have bilateral talks with the Taliban in Qatar when, in the view of the Karzai government, there should be trilateral talks held in Afghanistan?”
“If… “ he muttered, “you could… provide an explanation… President Karzai… would certainly…. appreciate it.”
“The United States is holding bilateral talks with the Taliban in Doha,” I told him, “because it considers the government of President Karzai in Kabul to be irrelevant.”
“Did… you…” he asked, clearly astounded, even in his narcotic stupor, “say… ‘irrelevant?’”
“That’s affirmative,” I assured him.
“But if…” he demanded, “there are to be talks… shouldn’t they be held… between Karzai… and the Taliban?”
“Oh come on,” I chuckled, “everybody knows the only thing you guys and the Taliban would talk about would be how to split up the opium trade between you.”
“I will have you know…” he insisted, “that happens… to be… a very important question… for the commerce of Afghanistan.”
“Unfortunately,” I observed, “you’re right.”
“Very well…” he remarked, “I suppose… you have some… other ideas… about how… to form… the basis… of a… viable Afghan economy?”
“The fact,” I advised, “that your country can’t come up any government other than a fanatically violent religious state or a thoroughly corrupt kleptocracy makes implementation of any realistic alternatives virtually impossible, I’m afraid.”
“Then… what changes…” Dadamizo implored, “would you… recommend?”
“That’s a mighty tall order,” I opined.  “You’re talking about transforming an arid, resource-poor geopolitical nonentity into an active participant in world trade; about educating a populace so ignorant they make Yemenis look like a society of scholars; about turning goat herders and peasant farmers into software engineers; in short, you’re talking about dragging Afghan society out of the seventh century and into the present.  Frankly, unless the fundamental character of Afghan civilization – if you can call it that – drastically changes, you’re talking about achieving nothing short of a miracle.  It’s just not likely to happen, that’s all.”
“Okay… ” he shrugged, “what can… we do… then?”
“For starters,” I proposed, “you can initiate prosecutions of the Afghan officers in command of Afghan soldiers who shoot American troops.” 
“Such incidents…” he protested, “are matters… of personal… honor.”
“No,” I insisted, “they are matters of military discipline.  You can also quit trying to collect Afghan income taxes on money the US spends building roads, dams, schools, hospitals, electric grids, air strips and factories in your country.”
“President… Karzai,” he objected, “his cabinet… the various… government ministries… and their… relatives… all need… money.  Where else… can they… get it?”
“Certainly not,” I admonished, “by stealing it from US military and foreign aid programs.  If you want our respect, the Karzai government has to quit picking our pockets.  And the same thing goes for non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan.  The Karzai government has to stop extorting bribes from them so they can operate their charity programs for your country’s poor.”
“I see…” he whispered.  “Is there… anything else… you would care… to suggest?”
“The Karzai government should quit using the money it steals from the United States to operate human trafficking, covert arms trading and international corporate kickback schemes,” I told him.
“That all… sounds… rather… difficult to… to accomplish,” he rejoindered.  “There are… numerous… complications and… impediments to… effectuating… such things.”
“In that case,” I chided, “do you suppose you could at least manage an honest election in 2014?”
“That also…” he complained, “would not… be so… easily done… either.”
“You know,” I reminded him, “what will happen if the Karzai government screws the pooch, and the United States pulls out of Afghanistan entirely, instead of leaving enough troops, weapons and resources to provide continued military training, logistics, air cover, and security perimeters for strategic locations, such as Kabul?”
“Then…” Dadamizo smirked, “I… will have to buy… a condominium… in DuPont Circle, and… President Karzai… will have to move… to Switzerland.”
“And, in that case,” I pressed, “what will happen to the people of Afghanistan?”
“Oh… God…” Dadamizo sighed, “not them again.  May I… use… the rest room?”
At that he went, taking his attaché case with him.  He returned about thirty minutes later, slumped down on the couch, took out his iPhone and called his limousine driver.  About five minutes later, the driver called him back.  “All right then…” Dadamizo declared as he rose, extending his hand cordially, “thanks… once more… for your… splendid advice.  And please… by all means… quit worrying about… the people… of Afghanistan.  If you knew them… as well as I do… you would realize… they simply… aren’t worth the trouble.”

   
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