Daily Archives: April 2, 2011


At 16.00 Today I Was

On my way to the airport to check in for my overnight flight to Frankfurt, then Munich, then Izmir. Accra airport is dreadful in the evenings so I like to check in early and get rid of my bags, come back home to relax, and then saunter up just before boarding.

When I started this 16.00 thing it was 16.00 both in Ghana and the UK. Then the UK changed to BST while Ghana stayed on GMT. I kept with GMT. I have now to work out, do I use 16.00 local wherever I am, or 16,00 GMT always, or the time in the UK always (which last I didn’t do latterly in Ghana).

Travelling from now till 17.00 local tomorrow in Turkey, so forgive me if I don’t get a chance to post…

View with comments

Tragedy in Mazar

The fatalities in Mazar-i-Sharif are a terrible tragedy. I include in that the deaths of Europeans, Gurkhas and Afghans. They are all dresdfully tragic. Because I am immersed in studying Burnes, I hope you won’t think I am heartless if I say that I am struck by the very strong parallels between this event and the circumstances of Alexander Burnes’ own death.

The parallels between the hopeless venture of 1839-41 and the current occupation of Afghanistan remain compellling. The comparatively simple occupation, the imposition of a despised and corrupt puppet ruler, the troubled occupation, the eventual retreat and disaster, the puppet ruler not lasting very long after we left. It is increasingly apparent that. contrary to Obama’s and Cameron’s lies, the intention this time is to remain at least until the end of Karzai’s presidency, and probably far beyond, so he and his money can leave in safety.

There is another striking parallel with 1841. I want to travel to Kabul for research, and particularly I want to walk the route from the British cantonment to Burnes’ house. I am keen to explore the mystery of why Elphinstone and Sheldon did not send a relief column to relieve Burnes. The accepted answer, that they were just useless, is perhaps glib. I want to see the lie of the land.

I was worried that the sites of one or the other might be lost, but apparently they are well known. But the difficulty is that the cantonment of the doomed British army of 1840 is now the ISAF headquarters, which struck me as stunning. The British Embassy told me I am unlikely to be allowed in to study. I have made numerous attempts to contact the press office of ISAF to ask for permission, but nothing raises a reply.

Much more interestingly, the British Embassy in Kabul have advised me strongly not to attempt to walk from the cantonment to Burnes’ house, as it is far too dangerous. I would be at extreme risk of being shot or kidnapped. This is fascinating. While it is generally understood that Karzai’s writ does not run far outside Kabul, I do not think it is generally understood in the UK or USA, and it is certainly not put about by the media, that nine years of massive occupation have been a total failure, to the extent that it is not even possible to walk in the centre of the capital city.

I really found that quite a revelation. Now as you know, telling me that something is too dangerous is one definite way to make sure that I do it. I think the whole subject is fascinating – Burnes, the parallels between the First UK-Afghan War and now, the complete failure of a massive occupation to establish security. So I have an idea to encapsulate it all in a documentaryfilm called The Walk, in which we discuss all of this while walking between the cantonment and Burnes’ house – presumably starting with our attempts to get ISAF to let us in. There will be the added frlsson of waiting to see if a sniper’s bullet takes our brains out and interrupts the conversation. All I need now is a documentary maker crazy enough to do it with me.

Going back to Mazar, it seems to me very sad that Obama’s statement, quite rightly condemning the killings, did not also condemn the burning of the Koran. Book burning is always wrong. But it does not justify murder, and indeed it does not justify any punishment of those who had nothing to do with it, and are not even part of the occupying forces.

Euronews have footage right inside the mob, plainly taken by an extremely brave cameraman, just after the killings. It is interesting because the crowd is in a paroxysm of grief rather than anger. Bodies are being borne away, and one man is smashing up an automatic rifle against a rock, I presume taken from one of the Gurkha guards.

It is fascinating this has happended in Mazar. Mazar-i-Sharif is the largest and most important of the districts where it was announced last week that Afghan forces would take over security from the occupiers. It is the centre of power of the ruthless warlord and government enforcer General Dostum. The population, like Dostum, is mostly Uzbek. Dostum’s stance, like his ally Karimov, is that of the strong secularist hardman. That this outbreak of religious extremism could happen among Uzbekis in Mazar, so close to the Uzbek border, is going to come as a shock to Central Asian analysts, as frankly it does to me. Whether it is an extension of the Middle East social unrest, taking a different form in a fundamentally less educated population, is at the moment a conjecture.

View with comments

Quite A Mystery

The word “quite” in English is an extraordinary linguistic phenomenon because it has two meanings which are used in precisely the same way, as a qualifying adjective, yet mean precisely the opposite. To say something is “quite interesting” is to mean that it is a fair bit interesting, interesting to a reasonable and acceptable degree. But to say that something is “quite wonderful” is to mean that it is completely wonderful; utterly and without limit, stint or qualification. Quite can be the ultimate superlative or the deadest of qualifiers.

To try to analyse how we know which we mean is a very difficult task. All I can say is that, as a native English speaker, you get a feel for it. A couple of years ago I had a huge row with Nadira when I told her she looked “Quite lovely”. She thought I meant a little bit lovely, lovely up to a point. My efforts to convince her that I meant the word in an opposite meaning to the one she knew, ie perfectly lovely, were not an immediate success.

How did this strange linguistic quirk come about? Do the two meanings of quite come from the same origin, and do you get the same dichotomy in other languages?

View with comments