Politics Among Nations

One of the first lessons or indications I got during the course of my experiences in international affairs regarding the sheer complexity and sensitivity of the relationship between citizenship, identity, and one’s sense of belonging on one hand and “The Great Game” on the other hand was when I was a graduate student. When I was a graduate student, I had to complete an internship for credits in order to attain the full credits needed to get my master’s degree, and as a result, I interned in the Afghan Embassy in Washington because the Afghan General Consul was one of my father’s patients and he volunteered to return the favor for all the medical care he was getting free of charge and it was the only internship I could find. 

During one of the evening-time and after-work functions at the embassy while I was a student intern, I met a German diplomat who was a guest. I welcomed him at the door and after exchanging some pleasantries, he asked me where I was from. I told him that my parents were immigrants to the United States from Afghanistan in the 1980’s but that I was born and raised in the United States. He let out a sigh of bewilderment and then asked me how it was even possible that the Afghan Embassy would let me intern with them. 

I was sort of taken aback by his initial reaction, but when he explained himself, it made a lot of sense. He went on by explaining that the protocols and rules at the German Embassy were such that no one could work, volunteer, or even intern for the German Embassy unless they were full-blown German citizens who were born and raised in Germany. Coincidentally, and soon after the conversation I had with the German diplomat during that one particular evening, a couple of auditors and inspectors were sent over from Kabul in order to go through the motions per se.

During one particular afternoon, I could overhear the two auditors and inspectors from the room next to mine berating some of the local staff who were hired from the United States but were of Afghan origin. The auditors and inspectors apparently took issue with the fact that the Ambassador’s personal secretary was a White-American girl. At the time, she had come to Washington for work from Florida. But through her position as the Afghan Ambassador’s personal secretary and the recommendation she perhaps got from him, she went on to become a graduate student at Yale. The auditors and the inspectors told the local staff in Dari something along the lines of: “Do you people have any sense? These people are all spies! Why on earth are you people letting spies into the embassy?”

Perhaps the core issue we must address when we are dealing with issues such as the issue which I have just highlighted is the issue of whose interests we are advancing. Obviously, there is self-interest on one hand, and there is the collective interest on the other hand. Striking a balance between the collective interest and self-interest is an art and a refined skill. But determining which collective interest we ultimately belong to is easier said than done. Can we advance a collective interest that goes beyond just a national scope in an age of globalization and technology? This is perhaps the core question we are facing at the moment given the changes and evolutions in our overall geopolitical and social context, and it is one without any easy answers. 

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