The 9/11 Decade: In Afghanistan, Dashed Hopes And Fears Of A New Civil War

Initially, the overthrow of the Taliban had given hope to many Afghans. But 10 years after the Al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. set off a bloody chain of events, the Afghan people seem to have accepted a fate where certain troubles are always bound to return.

In Kabul, children play as British military vehicles pass (isafmedia)
In Kabul, children play as British military vehicles pass (isafmedia)
Eric de Lavarene

KABUL – Waheed Mujda was working at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs - for the Taliban - when Western coalition forces entered Kabul. "I remember how people welcomed them," he recalls. "It was a mix of apprehension and of jubilation. But mostly of jubilation."

Though part of Mullah Omar's regime, Mujda says he was "aware that it was becoming necessary to have a new regime. The country was going down. It was almost dead."

Having found a new career in post-Taliban Afghanistan as a political analyst, Mujda says a decade later so much hope and good intentions by British and U.S. forces have been squandered. "I can tell you that almost 10 years after, not many people trust them. We are waiting for the foreign soldiers to withdraw."

Still, the future may be even more grim without the Western presence. "We are preparing ourselves to face a new civil war," Mujda concludes.

A diplomat working in Afghanistan is no more optimistic: "The peace process we've initiated with lots of fanfare has completely gone out of control, but to what extent is still unknown to us'.

Abdul Ali Seraj, the president of the National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan (NCDTA), says there are two fundamental problems: the rehabilitation of the warlords on one side and the tremendous cost of reconstruction on the other. "The money invested on military spending is 10 to 15 times higher than the money dedicated to development aid," he says from his house in Kabul.

Seraj still shows off a framed 2002 letter from George W. Bush in which the US president says he is going to follow Seraj's advice and focus on the crucial dynamics of the NCDTA. "They didn't pay attention to any of it, and now the country is in a sorry state," he says.

Childhood memories

On a recent day at the University of Kabul, some students are sitting on the grass and studying for their coming exams. They come from all over the country and have chosen the capital city's campus "because here you have the best teachers, financial means and working prospects', explains Zeeshan, an economy student.

He recalls Sep. 11 vividly: "When the twin towers collapsed, I was at home in my village in the Ghazni province. We didn't have television. We listened to the radio, but secretly because the Talibans tried to keep us from getting information," Zeeshan recalled. "But we all knew what had happened and knew right away that this attack was going to change something for our country. I remember my father and brothers whispering in the living room. They were sad for the Americans but they said that the international community might finally come back in Afghanistan and save us'.

Zeeshan is from the Hazara ethnic group, which was slaughtered step by step by the Taliban. "When the American soldiers arrived in our village, we all went outside. Kids were running behind their convoy, laughing. It was moving to see all those military people who were finally attending to our completely wrecked country. Well, now, I can tell you that their arrival didn't change much in my home village. The Taliban have now reorganized themselves and launch attacks almost every day. That's why my family moved to Kabul. For now, we can't go home".

Jamila , who comes from Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, agrees. "We lost our illusions very quickly," she recalled. "We understood that (the coalition forces) were not here to help us rebuild our country but to hunt down the Taliban".

Jamila wears a long purple veil, casually perched upon her hair. "The Taliban scare me of course. I was a teenager when they ruled the country, and I could barely go out. But what I fear most is to see the warlords coming back. All those criminals who were rehabilitated to work as auxiliaries to the US forces," says the student.

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, one of the top seven jihadi commanders from the 1980's who's often blamed for his violent past, expects more bloodshed. "If nothing changes in the next three years, we'll have a civil war for sure."

Now a Member of Parliament, Sayyaf is one of the warlords who carries the most sway with President Hamid Karzai. According to several Kabul-based diplomats, Sayyaf has the military means to step into the vacuum after 2014, the scheduled year of the withdrawal of the international military forces. "And," says Waheed Mujda, "he's not the only one."

Read the original article in French (subscription needed)

Photo - isafmedia

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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