Professional Development Options (Online & Free)

For those interested to gain more skills that are relevant to development and humanitarian activities, this post will list free, online resources. Each includes a brief description. If you have other suggestions of free training options, send me an email and I will add them. I have recommended that you try to make this a habit - completing 2 to 3 courses every year. This will keep expanding your knowledge and skills and convey to potential employers that you are actively upgrading your knowledge and skills as a life-long learner.


​One of the largest collections of online short courses that I know. The courses largely revolve around health, but also include courses on monitoring and evaluation, communications and knowledge management. This project is funded by USAID. Certificates are issued after course completion, by MEASURE Evaluation and USAID. All are available on-demand (not run on specific dates / periods of time).

This course is ​only run periodically. There are two courses, each cover aspects of the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation approach. This course is longer and more engaged that a typical short course. Highly recommended.

A large listing of online courses. Certificates are not issued for these courses (with a few exceptions), but you could say that you completed these courses on your CV. There is a large listing of topics, many of which are highly relevant to working in the development and humanitarian field. This topics are very broad, from the SDG indicators to food safety and humanitarian coordination.

UNICEF offers a large set of online short-courses. The platform is not as user friendly as the Global Health Learning Center, but has a similarly large offering of short courses. ​

A number of evaluation-related courses are available ​via this platform. The courses are on-demand, you can take them any time. 

A single course on monitoring and evaluation in the context of rural development.​

A limited set of time-specific courses (set start and end dates). Excellent resources for those interested in understanding or using non-violent advocacy, social movements, citizen power. ​

These are courses that are often required before UN deployments. These courses technically are fee based. However, recently these courses were made available to members of CANADEM (https://canadem.ca/). Assuming that is still the case, you can register and then access these courses freely.

Courses relate to peace, peace making and conflict resolution. Not all are available online, and not all are free. However, there are some excellent free, online courses that can be taken here.

Sphere offers online short courses related to humanitarian standards. Note: Not all listings on this page are courses, some are stand-alone videos. 

A selection of courses related to leadership and health.

Is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Topics range widely and expand on an on-going basis. Courses are offered by universities, and certificates (in the "verified" stream" can be offered - at a cost), otherwise you can complete the courses freely without one. Courses include sustainable development, leadership, theory of change, management et cetera.

This is similar to Edx, a platform of MOOCs. A larger offering than Edx. Similar model of being able to complete courses freely, or have them recognized through a relatively small fee. 


Agricultural Transformation in Ethiopia

​"Agricultural Transformation in Ethiopia: State Policy and Smallholder Farming" (2018) edited by Atakilte Beyene is an excellent book on diverse components of the agricultural sector. Given the importance of agriculture in Ethiopia, this is an important addition as there are few books that cover the sector comprehensively (several are available that cover specific components). The introduction by Atakilte is an excellent overview, and is well worth reading as a stand-alone chapter.

Many of the chapters were authored by faculty at Bahir Dar University, are well written and well researched. Some edited volumes are a collection of only lightly unrelated chapters, but this is a cohesive volume and highly recommended as a resource for readers interested in the topic. The chapters cover: input supply and marketing systems (Ch. 1), investment in agricultural sector (Ch. 2), large scale irrigation (Ch. 3), climate resilient practices (Ch. 4), sociocultural perspective (Ch. 5), a history of malaria (Ch. 6), gender and rights (Ch. 7) and rural transformation through land rights (Ch. 8). Many chapters rely upon CSA data, and could have been more critical of that.

Why Civil Resistance Works

Over the last year I have posted about a number of books related to civil resistance. In reading that literature, one of the works that gets frequently referred to is "Why Civil Resistance Works – The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict" by Chenoweth and Stephan (2011). Given that the field of study is a relatively niche one, the book is quite widely referenced (approaching 1,000 citations at the time of this posting). I had encountered presentations by Chenoweth as well as summaries of, and references to, this book elsewhere before reading it. The book is worth reading, as it provides a much more nuanced description of the methods and findings than what is presented elsewhere (even, I feel, by the authors). The simplified take away message has been: nonviolence is more successful than violence.

The book sets out to analyze civil action, largely comparing non-violence and violent campaigns. The authors "ask why nonviolent resistance has succeeded in some cases where violent resistance had failed in the same states, like the violent and nonviolent pro-independence campaigns in East Timor and regime-change campaigns in the Philippines. We can further ask why nonviolent resistance in some states fails during one period (such as the 1950s Defiance Campaign by antiapartheid activists in South Africa) and then succeeds decades later (such as the antiapartheid struggle in the early 1990s)" (p. 5). However, in this opening description, we start to encounter some of the challenges with quantitative assessments of complex movements. The authors have classified anti-apartheid activism in the 1990s as nonviolent. Reality was far more complex, while there were nonviolent tactics there was also violence as well as parallel violent movements. Attributing 'success' to the nonviolent components seems disingenuous. The authors say that if there was a 'significant amount of violence' (p. 13) it was not considered non-violent. However, this blurs the lines between nonviolence (in principle) versus movements who actively threaten violence (and may strategically use it in minor, demonstrative ways), both of which might be classified as nonviolent as the violence was not significant. What has not made it in the take away messages was this: "Characterizing a campaign as violent or nonviolent simplifies a complex constellation of resistance methods" (p. 12). This is important – and one of the nuances found in the book, but lost elsewhere. On methods, the identification of cases to include was not systematic (i.e. country by country), meaning that many are excluded. The authors reviewed the literature to find the cases, but many movements have not entered the academic literature. Other assessments might be complicated by the timeframe they are viewed in. For example, in the mid-2000s the violent Taliban movement might have rightly been classified as a 'failure' but that is far less clear on a longer timeframe.

Challenges aside, this is an interesting book. Beyond correlations, the authors explore processes, which I found quite insightful. For example, they write "large-scale and diverse participation may afford a resistance campaign a strategic advantage, which, in turn, increases the pressure points and enhances the leverage that the resistance achieves vis-à-vis its state adversary. The ability of nonviolent campaigns to more easily exploit these advantages of broad-based mobilization, and the high costs of prolonged disobedience and noncooperation has been so much more effective than violent resistance" (p. 41). Later, they write that the "results suggest that when regimes crack down violently, reliance on a nonviolent strategy increases the probability of campaign success by about 22 percent. Among the campaigns we explore here, backfiring may be an important mechanism through which nonviolent campaigns achieve success" (p. 51).

On long-term pathways, the authors find: "Insurgents, deposed elites, and emerging elites may perceive that violence is an effective means of expressing political preferences and gaining political power. For the losers in the conflict, who see the conflict in zero-sum terms, violence is therefore likely to remain the tactical method of choice. In other words, the constant threat of violence from all sides of the previous conflict exacerbates uncertainty rather than reducing it, thereby undermining Bernhard and Karakoc's essential element of democracy. Under such conditions, reaching mutually agreeable power-sharing arrangements and building democratic institutions are highly problematic." (p. 212)

Can We Know Better? Reflections for Development

​Cochrane, L. (2019) Review: Can We Know Better? Reflections for Development. Progress in Development Studies 19: 84-86.

Starting in the 1980s, there have been regular publications of books that invite critical self-reflection in development study and practice: Rural Development: Putting the Last First (1983), Challenging the Professions (1993), Whose Reality Counts? (1997), Participatory Workshops (2002), Ideas for Development (2005), Revolutions in Development Inquiry (2008) and Provocations for Development (2012). Robert Chambers, critical champion of participatory development, yet again reminds and challenges donors, development practitioners and academics in Can We Know Better? Reflections for Development (2017). This book focuses upon knowledge – what, why and how we know, and how this impacts decision making and is a reflection of power.

The book is structured in typical Chambers style, in chapters that could be read as thematic stand-alone contributions (with abstracts and a concluding 'agenda for reflection and action'). The book challenges, but also engages, offering avenues for new ways forward. The six chapters respectively cover: (1) error and myth, (2) biases and blind spots, (3) lenses and lock-ins, (4) rigour for complexity, (5) power, participation, and knowledge: knowing better together, and (6) knowing for a better future. The first half is the critical foundation. In it, Chambers makes the case for why we need to know better: preventing the damage being done and ending the misallocation of resources. The examples of poor, uninformed or failed policies, programmes and professional beliefs that Chambers provides in the opening chapters are largely from decades past, and one wishes that Chambers would have guided readers to see the errors in the present and challenge new us to move in new directions (hindsight is always clearer). The latter half of the book is the 'more positive and forward looking' that is 'infused with an optimism which negative academics may find naïve and those embedded in bureaucracies difficult to put into practice' (p. xiii). It is call both for learning and unlearning better.

For anyone engaged in development – from the community-based practitioner to the researcher and donor – the biases that Chambers points out (spatial, project, person, seasonal, diplomatic, professional, security, urban slum) help everyone reflect on the ways in which we need to know better, and the processes through which these biases can be confronted. This is particularly important for those based away from project areas, the 'uppers' often working in offices in capital cities. Chambers believes we have made progress on some blind spots (water, sanitation and hygiene, gender, harmful traditional practices, unpaid care, masculinities and men, sexuality, child sex abuse) but others remain 'backwaters' (corruption, entomophagy, neglected tropical diseases, cookstove air pollution, climate change and ocean ecology) (p. 31-36).

Much has been said about random control trials in recent years. Chambers makes his position very clear, and argues that the reality people experience has become distorted, limited, and narrow as mechanical and reductionist approaches of research have become the standard (e.g. randomized control trials and systematic reviews). These types of research, he argues, have been entrenched by funding requirements that require these methodologies when demanding evidence and best practices. The alternatives Chambers advocates for are participatory, contextual, qualitative, inclusive, and collaborative approaches. It might have served the book well had the case for technical, expert-driven processes also been explored. For example, the design of electrical and telecommunication systems, drinking water contamination standards and regulations, and currency and exchange policy, to name a few, require specific technical information and expert knowledge. These are also development challenges. The argument for radical transformation may have transcended the echo chamber had it been made with slightly more nuance on the contexts and questions for which inclusive and participatory approaches are necessary, and when alternatives may be considered.

While Chambers spoke about the disincentives in research and academic publishing, an additional blind spot not covered in detail in this work is human resources and the incentives within the development industry that can result in less than ideal environments for enabling the kind of transformation Chambers is calling for. In many countries, jobs within international agencies and NGOs are often amongst the most well paid, attracting highly skilled individuals from a range of private and public sectors. The salary incentive is not one that necessarily attracts the values, passion, love, courage, commitment, reflectivity, and openness for new ways of knowing that Chambers argues are so critical for knowing better (p. 161-162). Rather, it is for many the best paying job on the block. This is one reason for the continued disconnect between the proposal and the implementation (e.g. the on-going struggle for changed practice using 'do no harm' and 'gender transformative' approaches). The way forward is unclear, but this challenge cannot be underestimated when seeking to understand why the myths, biases, lock-ins, misconceptions and lenses continue.

Can We Know Better? Reflections for Development is not a final word, but a call for continuous renewal: 'there will forever be new constellations of being wrong and new ways of being right, of being in touch, up to date, and realistic. We will always need to go on learning how to know better, and through knowing better, doing better' (p. xiv). Chambers calls for humility, passion and self-reflection, and provokes readers to re-consider their own values as donors, practitioners and academics engaging with development. This is a book that should be widely read, and should be essential reading for all students in development studies as well as those planning to engage in the practice of development.

Human Rights and the Food Sovereignty Movement

Priscilla Claeys's "Human Rights and the Food Sovereignty Movement: Reclaiming Control" (2015) had some high level support and praise (Jun Borras, Olivier De Schutter, etc). The beginning of the abstract reads: "Our global food system is undergoing rapid change. Since the global food crisis of 2007-2008, a range of new issues have come to public attention, such as land grabbing, food prices volatility, agrofuels and climate change. Peasant social movements are trying to respond to these challenges by organizing from the local to the global to demand food sovereignty. As the transnational agrarian movement La Via Campesina celebrates its 20th anniversary, this book takes stock of the movement's achievements and reflects on challenges for the future. It provides an in-depth analysis of the movement's vision and strategies, and shows how it has contributed not only to the emergence of an alternative development paradigm but also of an alternative conception of human rights."

For those interested in La Via Campesina and the emergence of legal approaches (via human rights), this is a useful resource. With regard to international legal advocacy, Claey offers some interesting experiences (namely the role of: critical junctures, networks and allies, framing and re-problematizing):

  • "Very few 'new rights' that emerge from the grassroots find their way onto the international human rights agenda (Bob 2010b). How did peasant organizations succeed in getting support for a process of negotiation of a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants at the UN? Three success factors are worth highlighting here. First, the global food crisis of 207-8 put the spotlight on smallholder farmers and gave peasant activities unprecedented access to international arenas to advance their demands." (p. 60)
  • "Second, Via Campesina's demand for a new instrument was endorsed by a number of key actors who helped identify the 'legal opportunities' (Israel 2003) that could be seized at the HRC. The close ties, shared diagnosis and trust built between Via Campesina activists and human rights experts over the years played a central role in enabling them to move swiftly, and strategically. Without that endorsement, peasant activists would not have been able to advance their claims at the HRC." (p. 60)
  • "Third, Indonesian peasant activists succeeded in framing their claims as human rights abuses, and in bringing their claims to the attention of peasant organizations in other countries, first in South-East Asia, then the world over. Most importantly, they chose not to depict their grievances as abuses of well-accepted human rights." (p. 61)

On the latter point, the author elaborates later in the text, one quote from that:

  • ​"Diagnostic work is crucial because it enables 'system attributions' (McAdam et al. 1996, 9); it allows (potential) movement constituents to attribute everyday problems to global and structural mechanisms, and to overcome the 'fundamental attribution error', the tendency of people to explain their situation as a function of individual deficiencies rather than features of the system (Ross 1977). In the case of Via Campesina, diagnostic work has involved identifying injustices (appropriation of natural resources, forced rural migration, broken families and traditions, hunger, poverty and despair), victims (people of the land) and culprits (large financial institutions, neoliberal states, agribusiness and other transnational corporations)." (p. 82)

Education, Politics and Social Change in Ethiopia

In looking for research that explores the challenges of ethnic federalism and language in Ethiopia, I came across the book "Education, Politics and Social Change in Ethiopia" (2010), edited by Paulos Milkias (Concordia University) and Messay Kebede (University of Dayton). All of the contributing authors are based outside of Ethiopia, which is not necessarily negative, but I think it would have been a useful addition to have people more actively engaged in the Ethiopian education and political systems contribute. The book covers a range of topics: English as a medium of instruction, traditional and modern education, influences of western education, history of education, an Ethiopian theory of education, education and the Pentecostal movement, language politics, women and education, and power of educating.

I support the linguistic arguments made by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and found Tekeste Negash's work (Chapter 1) an interesting read. While Ethiopia does not have a colonial legacy, it has adopted a colonial language for its primary medium of instruction: "The problem with English as a medium of instruction is even more complex. English is not only a language but it is a value system. Attending all classes in English is tantamount to the whole sale adaptation of the culture that the English language represents at the price of one's native language and the values such language contains." (p. 19) Recently, Ethiopia opted for dual language instruction (Afan Oromo and Amharic) in federal jurisdictions (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), which Tekeste suggested when this book was published in 2010: "I believe it is imperative that Ethiopia makes the transition from English into Amharic and Afan-Oromo by about 2025. To some readers of this paper, twenty years may sound a very long time; but 20 to 25 years is just enough to discuss the issue of the benefits of connecting to ones world view and of initiating the process of translation and reinterpretation of school materials as well the development of both languages." (p. 23).

Kofi Annan – Interventions

Kofi Annan (1938-2018) was the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, a turbulent time to say the least. He penned "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace" (2012) with Nader Mousavizadeh to provide some of the high, lows, challenges and successes of his time leading the UN. The book is a recounting of events, for those versed in the time period, not a lot that is new, barring a few interesting reflections. A few include:

  • "The world abandoned Somalia, allowing it to create for the world whole new forms of civil chaos and human suffering. Somalia would from then on [after 1993] be ignored by Western countries – until years later, when international terrorists emerged there in force, and when scores of well-organized pirates took to the high seas to threaten one of the lifelines of international commerce." (p. 45-46)
  • "We were not along in our optimism. The international development community had been engaged for years in Rwanda, and right up to March 1994, reports were still being written by leading development organizations that praised Rwanda as an unusual success story. But the international community had a thin appreciation of Rwanda's society and history and the force at play there." (p. 51)
  • "The core problem at the top of the UN's power structure is the composition of the Security Council. Today we have five permanent members with veto powers – the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and China – based essentially on the geopolitical reality that existed at the end of World War II. The other ten nonpermanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, on the basis of geographical representation. This situation is intolerable to some; unjustifiable to most. Japan and Germany pay the second- and third-largest contributions to the UN but do not have a fixed seat at its most important table. India has over a sixth of the world's population but no seat. There is no permanent member from Africa or Latin America." (p. 141-142)
  • "It is true that Africa's short and intense experience of colonialism was destructive and divisive. It is also true that many African countries are landlocked and so denied the vital economic asset of direct access to seaborne trade – which many economists emphasize as an essential part of the explanation for Africa's previous poor economic performance as a whole. However, it is inaccurate and, worst of all, irresponsible for Africans to blame colonialism alone. Similarly, if you consider some of the great failures of African development, such economic impediments are not the heart of the problem." (p. 176)
  • "The responsibility lies with Africans, their systems of rule, and their leaders. Africa has had the experience it has, most of all, because of the decisions made by individuals and the systems of rule deliberately enacted by leaders and their supporters. Africa, the poverty of Africa, the violence of Africa, is not the inexorable product of its environment but rather the consequence of choices and decisions made by its leaders." (p. 177)

Who Really Feeds the World

​Vandava Shiva was one of the earliest challengers to corporate control of food and the food system. In her most recent book, "Who Really Feeds the World: The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology" (2016), Shiva continues the activism. While I am generally in agreement with the positions advocated in the book, it is a frustrating read from an academic perspective. Many stats and claims are mentioned without references (I found well over 50 without references), some sources that are listed are decades old and no longer reflect the current situation, some arguments are value-driven and emotionally-based as opposed to supported by evidence, there is an undertone of a doomsday narrative with a binary with-me or against-the-world positioning, and there is a strong romanticism for the past that most historians would suggest does not reflect reality. While believers in the message may not find these to be critical problems, this book will likely not reach beyond its echo chamber because of these problems.

A few notes from my reading:

  • "We are facing a deep and growing crisis rooted in how we produce, process, and distribute food. The planet's well-being, people's health, and societies' stability are severely threatened by an industrial globalized agriculture driven by greed and profits. An inefficient, wasteful, and nonsustainable model of food production is pushing the planet, its ecosystems, and its diverse species to the brink of destruction." (ix)
  • "The food question becomes an ethical question about our relationship with the Earth and other species; about whether we have the right to push species to extinction or deny large numbers of the human family safe, heathy, and nutritious food." (p. xx)
  • "Productivity and sustainability are much higher in mixed systems of farming and forestry that produce diverse outputs. The productivity of monocultures is low in the context of diverse outputs and needs." (p. 50)
  • "we conducted field experiments in organic farms in which farmers grew twelve crops (baranaaja), nine crops (navdanya), and seven crops (saptarshi). In an acre of farmland, organic baranaaja produced 73.5 percent more protein, 3,200 percent more vitamins, 67 percent more minerals, and 186 percent more iron than conventional monoculture cropping did. Organic navdanya produced 355 percent more protein, 5,174 percent more vitamins, 57 percent more minerals, and 160 percent more iron than conventional monoculture cropping did, per acre of farmland. And finally, organic saptarshi produced 66 percent more protein, 54 percent more minerals, and 153 percent more iron than conventional monoculture cropping. When agricultural output is measured in terms of "health per acre" and "nutrition per acre" instead of "yield per acre," biodiverse, ecological systems clearly have a much higher output." (p. 53)
  • "Small farms produce more food than large industrial farms because small-scale farmers give more care to the soil, plants, and animals, and they intensify biodiversity, not external chemical inputs. As farms increase in size, they replace labor with fossil fuels for farm machinery, the caring work of farmers with toxic chemicals, and the intelligence of nature and farmers with careless technologies." (p. 60)
  • "Corporations say that GMOs are substantially equivalent to non-GMO crops and food [for approval], but the same corporations also simultaneously claim that GMOs are new and different, that they are invention [for patents]. Under this logic, the same GMO is natural when is comes to avoiding responsibility for safety, but it is different from the nature - or unnatural - when it comes to owning it." (p. 69)

Shiva sets forth directions for the way forward, in summary:

  • "We need to move from the fiction of corporate personhood to the reality of real people who grow, process, cook, and eat real food." (p. 127)
  • "from mechanistic, reductionist science to an agroecological science based on relationships and interconnectedness" (p. 127)
  • "from seed as the 'intellectual property' of corporations to seed as living, diverse, and evolving: toward seed as the commons that is the source of food and the source of life" (p. 128)
  • "from chemical intensification to biodiversity intensification and ecological intensifications, and from monocultures to diversity" (p. 128)
  • "to decommodify and liberate land and labor, and focus on the living intelligence of nature, with her diversity and potential for creating abundance" (p. 129)
  • "from food that destroys our health to food that nourishes our bodies and minds" (p. 129)
  • "from the obsession with 'big' to a nurturing of 'small', from global to the local" (p. 130)
  • "from the false idea of competition to the reality of cooperation" (p. 132)

The History of Famine and Epidemics in Ethiopia

​Richard Pankhurst made significant contributions to the study of history in Ethiopia (see a listing of some of his works here). In this book, "The History of Famine and Epidemics in Ethiopia Prior to the Twentieth Century" (1985), published by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, Richard Pankhurst brings together a series of others works:

  1. The Great Ethiopian Famine of 1889-92 (1961) University College Review
  2. The Great Ethiopian Famine of 1888-92: A New Assessment (1966) Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
  3. The History of Famine and Pestilence in Ethiopia Prior to the Founding of Gondar (1972) Ethiopian Medical Journal
  4. The Earliest History of Famine and Pestilence in Ethiopia (1973) Ethiopian Medical Journal
  5. Introduction to the Economic History of Ethiopia (1961)
  6. Economic History of Ethiopia 1800-1935 (1968)

What I liked from the book is the clear outline of the complex interaction of factors that result in famine and epidemic. Rarely is it ever a single factor. This approach may have been more common in historical works than in development studies in decades past. Pankhurst outlines how in the 1888-92 famine, the first factor was animal disease, which contributed to agricultural failure as fields could not be plowed. The failure of rains also contributed to poor agricultural yields and a hot and dry season resulted in more locust, which compounded the losses. As famine struck, prices for all food commodities rose, deepening the food insecurity situation. As people began to die, poor sanitation resulted in the spread of human disease, and further loss of human life. ​

America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes

​Anand Gopal was a Pulitzer finalist and won the Ridenhour Prize for "No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes" (2014). For those interested in Afghanistan, I've covered books by Ahmed Rashid, William Dalrymple and Stephen Saideman elsewhere. Gopal's book is an excellent read and presents the counter-narrative to Saideman - rather than the foreign experience, this is Afghan experience. This is not an academic text, as Dalrymple's is, but offers a wealth of insight. The New York Times Book Review described Gopal's book as "essential reading for anyone concerned about how American got Afghanistan so wrong". I could not agree more. Some notes:

  • Given the recent shift to talk with the Taliban, history shows how other paths were available. Before the war, the "Taliban agreed to place bin Laden on trial, but Washington, not trusting the impartiality of Afghan courts, demanded his extradition to US soil. The Taliban, for their part, doubted the objectivity of the American legal system. They agreed to hand him over only to a neutral Islamic country for trial, which Washington rejected." (p. 12)​
  • The shallow vision of the socio-political context resulted in tremendous errors: "Karzai understood what his American friends did not yet grasp: not only individuals but entire tribal communities were winners and losers in the invasion. Time would reveal this in a most painful way." (p. 44)​
  • Finger pointing often means four fingers pointing at oneself, and one at the other: "Looking to keep the war fueled, Washington - where the prevailing ethos was to bleed the Russians until the last Afghan - financed textbooks for schoolchildren in refugee camps that were festooned with illustrations of Kalashnikovs, swords, and overturned tanks." (p. 56)​
  • The (short-term) consequentialist thinking driving decision making, disregarding the lives lost in the means taken: "when Zbigniew Brzezinski, who as national security advisor to President Carter helped to initiate Washington's anti-Soviet mujahedeen policies, was asked in the late 1990s whether he had any regrets, he replied: "What is more important in the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" (p. 67)​
  • The cold reality: "Save for a few lone wolf attacks, US forces in Kandahar in 2002 faced no resistance at all. The terrorists had all decamped or abandoned the cause, yet US special forces were on Afghan soil with a clear political mandate: defeat terrorism. How do you fight a war without an adversary? Enter Gul Agha Sherzai - and men like him around the country. Eager to survive and prosper, he and his commanders followed the logic of the American presence to its obvious conclusion. They would create enemies where there were none, exploiting the perverse incentive mechanism that the Americans - without them realizing it - had put in place. Sherzai's enemies became American enemies, his battles its battles. His personal feuds and jealousies were repackaged as "counterterrorism," his business interests as Washington's. And where rivalries did not do the trick, the prospect of further profits did." (p. 109)​
  • Creating enemies: "They were forced to kneel there for hours, their hands bound behind them. Some passed out from the pain. Some lost sensation in their hands and feet. Then they were marched into a room and made to strip and stand in front of American soldiers for inspection, inspiring a humiliation that, in the Pashtun ethos, was difficult to even imagine. "When they made us walk naked in front of all those Americans," captive Abdul Wahid later told a reporter, "I was praying to God to let me die. If someone could have sold me a poisoned tablet for $100,000, I would have bought it." In a final act of emasculation, soldiers appeared with clippers. One by one the captives beards were shorn off, and many of them broke down in tears. Some, for resisting, had their eyebrows removed as well... After five days they were brought to Kandahar's soccer stadium and released [finding them to have supported the US]. A crowd of thousands, who had made the trip from Maiwand, was there to greet them. A few months earlier many of these farmers had packed the stadium seats waving the new Afghan flag and chanting in favor of the coming loya jirga. Now, for the first time, anti-American slogans filled the air." (p. 110-111)​
  • "Reading the official list of charges against the rest gives a sense of the farce the system had become. One inmate was accused, among other crimes, of supporting the political organization of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the pro-Western Northern Alliance leader murdered by al-Qaeda. Another was alleged to have been a member of Herakat-i-Inquilabi—an anti-Soviet mujahedeen group, backed by the United States, that had been defunct since the mid-1990s. Inmate Muhammad Nasim arrived at Guantanamo accused of working as a deputy to Rashid Dostum, the pro-US warloard and former Gelam Jam militia leader who, prison authorities mistakenly believed, had "defected to the Taliban in 1998"—or so Nasim's classified filed stated. In fact, Dostum had been a member of the Northern Alliance and a staunch anti-Taliban fighter, even winding up on the CIA payroll during the 2001 invasion. Nasim was also accused of being the former Taliban deputy minister of education, even though records indicate there was no person by that name in that position. Abdullah Khan found himself in Guantanamo charged with being Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban minister of the interior, which might have been more plausible—if Khairkhwa had not also been in Guantanamo at the time." (p. 144-145)​
  • "Of the $557 billion that Washington spent in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011, only 5.4 percent went to development or governance. The rest was mostly military expenditure, a significant chunk of which ended up in the coffers of regional strongmen like Jan Muhammad. In other words, while the United States paid nominal amounts to build the Afghan state, it fostered a stronger and more influential network of power outside the state." (p. 273)
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