It Starts…

IMG_0161It’s been a very exciting week for me: the fifth issue of The Diplomat Magazine came out and I started working full-time for The Diplomat, adding to my current management of the Magazine some regular writing and editing for the website.

The only thing I ever wanted to do what write. As a kid I wasn’t terribly specific as to the particulars of what I wanted to be writing, but I knew I wanted to live with a pen, proverbially, in my hand.

Rather than consistently spam my friends and family via Facebook with all the things I write, I’ll round them up weekly here. Consequently, I’ll write less in this space on Central Asia, Afghanistan, China, etc. because I now have an outlet to do that. For those topics, give all your clicks to The Diplomat (the power of Putz compels you!) No, seriously, click all my links. #DontMakeMeBringOutTheClickBait

I’ll keep posting music and culture things here, and US domestic and national security policy commentary which doesn’t apply to Asia writ-large.

With the intro out of the way, here’s what I did this week:

In Magazine Issue Five (said to the tune of Mambo Number Five) I’ve got two pieces and the interview. One piece stands as a reminder of the 5- and 10-year anniversaries of Kyrgyzstan’s last two revolutions. Despite two popular revolutions and changes of government, the country is no closer to realizing its democratic potential, which has frequently been celebrated in the last two decades as the most viable in all of Central Asia.

My second piece is a brief review of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s time in Washington at the end of March. He’s doing a great job of confirming with everyone that he is, in fact, not actually Hamid Karzai in disguise. Whether this translates to positive progress in Afghanistan is yet to be seen, but everyone certainly feels better about it.

Lastly (for the Magazine this month) I’ve got an interview with Farzana Marie. Farzana first traveled to Afghanistan as a civilian volunteer teacher, she returned as a member of the US Air Force. Now, a PhD student in Arizona she is focused on Persian literature and trying to amplify the voices of Afghan women poets. I interviewed her about a new collection of poetry by contemporary Afghan women poets from Herat that Farzana compiled and translated. Herat has long been Afghanistan’s cultural capital. I’m carefully working my way through Load Poems Like Guns this weekend in full and should have more on that next week. Preview: WOW.

April 1 I started (not, in fact, a joke) as a full-time editor with The Diplomat. Thankfully, I’ve been working with the other editors since September–heckling them to give me pieces–so it was a simple transition. I wrote four pieces this week and helped edit & publish a bunch more.

Not surpriseFirst, press freedom in Kyrgyzstan is under pressure. An American journalist was detained for a few days at the end of March after poking around (here’s what he published after being released), a human rights organization (and its lawyers) were subject to legally questionable searches by the Kyrgyz successor version of the local KGB. It’s all very Soviet.

Then I looked at how much CENTCOM cares about Central Asia. TLDR: Not much, but a little because it has to. Also, curious how “regional integration” is the buzzword but everyone is only interested in bilateral relationships with Uncle Sam. My colleague Casey looked at statements made by State officials this week to gauge overall US policy toward Central Asia: “Crudely, it appears Washington wants to keep the Chinese in, the Russians down, and the Islamists out. If that’s the policy, it’ll have do.”

Tajikistan, the poorest corner of the region, is seeing a rise in fashion peace and decline in legal opposition. The only Islamist party in the region, IRPT, lost what little it had by way of parliamentary representation in a March 1 “election.” Now, there are calls for it to be disbanded and/or labeled a terrorist organization. ISIS fever has struck the region hard, and no one but a few researchers from Exeter seem to understand that there is a difference between political Islam, Islamists, and radical Islam–a distinction that matters especially in politically secular but nonetheless piously Muslim Central Asia. I was also feeling cheeky and titled the piece “What Not to Wear in Tajikistan.”

Lastly, I spent about half an hour Googling flights from Paris to Astana. Research, damnit. Until at least July 15, 2015 (and probably beyond that) Americans and most western Europeans can fly into Kazakhstan without a visa for up to 15 days. Now there’s a direct flight from Paris (added to pre-existing flights from London, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt). A little more expensive, but shorter than other routes–and sans a layover in Moscow. Kazakhstan us pressing this tourism thing hard–Expo 2017 and hopes of Winter Olympics 2022–but who knows if its enough to overcome oil doldrums and the trouble of being Russia’s partner.

That’s all from me this week!

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