Archive for April, 2006

Afghanistan’s New Media Craze

"They used the gas from my motorbike to power the generator," complained Shah Hussain, father of three, describibng his family's craze for the Indian TV Serial, "Tulsi". Shah lives in Kabul; his family, like many families in the Afghan cpaital, is obsessed with the Dari version of the serial run on one of the local TV stations.

The serial portrays the lives of three-or-so generations of mothers-and daughters-in-law, living together in a large family. Tulsi, the protagonist of the play, has achieved such a wiodespread fame among the Afghans that the serial is now known after her name; few people recognize the serial by its original name, Because Mother-in-law Has Also Once Been a Daughter-in-law

Despite the severe power shortages, people stay glued to their TV screens every night at half past eight. Such is the frustration of a power failure in the middle of the show that curse words are uttered without any fear of consequences even in the "strictest" and "noblest" of families.

Many families–even some of the poorest ones–have gone as far as purchasing generators in order not to miss an episode. Because of the "reality" and "closeness" of its theme to the peoples' lives, they think its worth the purchase and the subsequent fuel cost.

Girls mimic the lines at schools, men both young and old watch it and women are big fans. "Tulsi" is the subject of conversations even at some government offices. Women spend hours commenting on the outcomes of events.

Posters and postcards of Tulsi and some other characters of the play are now being produced. Despite the higher prices, Tulsi aficionados don't mind buying them.

After Delhi and Islamabad, "Tulsi" has taken Kabul by fire. Considering the length of the serial, it can be foretold that this new media craze is likely to continue for many more years to come.

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Kabul to Get Non-stop Power

Kabul, Afghanistan–The minister for water and power, Ismail Khan, has announced that Kabul will soon get a non-stop supply of electricity. The Afghan capital has a serious lack of power and currently supplies electricity for a few hours only to some parts.

This statement comes at a time when the Afghan parliament is hotly debating the acceptance or otherwise of some ministers. It is intended to bolster Ismail Khan’s bid to gain the vote of confidence after having failed to achieve the required simple majority at the first try. Khan, who held the same office in the previous cabinet, was nominated again by President Karzai to maintain the crucial ethnic balance in his cabinet.

Khan is a Jihadi warlord from the Tajik ethnic group. He fought against the Soviets and was backed by Ahmad Shah Massoud, another warlord, who was assasinated during the demise of the Taliban in 2001. Khan was previously the governor of the key province of Herat. Herat, where he enjoys a sizeable popular support, is considered to be his stronghold.

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Not Back Yet

I am not back home yet. I had initially decided to stay away only for a few days, but things didn't quite work out the way they were planned. I have now ended up in Kabul, Afghanistan.

I am due to stay here for a few more days. While here, I will keep you updated with posts about the latest news and daily lives of Afghans. The internet situation here is not satisfactory, but I will try.

Stay good.

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Going Out of Town

Hi, folks! This is going to be an unusually brief and off-topic entry. Since I am going to travel out of town for a couple of days, I may not be able to post entries to MyScribbles. However, as soon as I am back, I will start cracking at a fresh entry–guaranteed. [If you’re a new visitor, why not feast your thoughts and eyes on previous posts and pics?]

Till then, stay good and live happy. Ciao!

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A Friend of Mine Wins the Pulitzer Prize

According to a recent announcement, Marcus Stern, a friend and mentor of mine, has won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Best National Reporting. Marc has been awarded this prize for his "notable contributions" in the "disclosure of bribe-taking that sent former Rep. Randy Cunningham to prison in disgrace."

Marc is a news editor at the Copley News Service's Washington Bureau. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, he has received numerous other awards and distinctions including National Headliners, Raymond Clapper, a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Journalism and George Polk Award for political reporting. Since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, he has made several trips to Central Asia and the Middle East. His foreign assignments have included Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, India and Turkey. He has made three wartime trips to Iraq totaling almost five months in country. (Read Marc's biography on Pulitzer.org)

In December last year, I had the honor of interning with Marc on his trip to Afghanistan. In addition to "fixing" and interpreting, I co-authored a number of stories with him. The stories are:

Here is a link to his winning work, the "Cunningham Stories".

Congratulations, Marc, for this wonderful achievement! It's been great having you as a friend!

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The Problem of Apostasy in Islam

Apostasy, or the rejection of religion, is a highly controversial issue in Islam. And after the case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man charged with apostasy (View related MyScribbles article here), discussions about apostasy and the manner in which an apostate should be dealth with have sprung up throughout the Muslim world with a renewed impetus.
There are three main ideological divisions among Muslim scholars about apostasy:

  • Those who believe it is punishble (by death) after the apostate converts to another religion and then back to Islam several times with the objective of "making fun" of the religion. Holders of this view also maintain that if an individual becomes an apostate after careful research and a thorough understanding of the other religion, he is not punishable.
  • Those who believe an apostate must be punished by death the first time he turns away from Islam. The holders of this view also maintain that execution can be carried out only after a three-day ultimatum given to the apostate to reconsider his decision and to subsequently reconvert.
  • Those who believe there is no earthly punishment for apostasy and that Allah will punish the apostate in the hereafter.

This mess of ideas is further compounded by the fact that all of them are underpinned by religious citations from the Hadith (sayings of Prophet Mohammed) and the Qur'an (Koran). Here are some of the citations used to justify that apostasy is not punishable and that Allah despises it:

  • "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. " (Sura 2:256)
  • "Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way." (Sura 4:137)
  • "O ye who believe! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him,- lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleaseth. And Allah encompasseth all, and He knoweth all things." (Sura 5:54)
  • "Intellect is the foundation of my religion and knowledge my weapon." (Hadith)

According to this Wikipedia article, nowhere in the Qur'an is it explicitly mentioned that there is an earthly punishment for apostasy. Afghan scholar, Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, was imprisoned for expressing the same views about apostasy last year. He narrowly escaped death punishment.

Those who believe apostasy must be punished by death base their arguments mainly on the following two Hadith texts:

  • "Whoever changes his religion shall be killed." (Abu Dawood)
  • "It is not lawful to kill a man who is a Muslim except for one of the three reasons: Kufr (disbelief) after accepting Islam…" (Abu Dawood)

Some scholars do not consider these two texts enough evidence on the basis of which to execute an apostate, because the texts have simply been quoted by individuals and attributed to Mohammed and because there is no endorsement to the quotations from a reliable source. Furthermore, neither Mohammed, nor any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for apostasy.

It is interesting to note that when a female becomes an apostate, she is only punishible by a life sentence not death. Also, mentally retarded individuals are exempt from any form of punishment.

However, heated debates still continue among Muslim scholars on this issue. Until they come to a definite conclusion, many Muslim countries, whose constitutions are based on this ambiguous Sharia law, will be going against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by punishing apostates by death.

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A Rush to the Taliban’s Call

By Syed Saleem Shahzad from Asia Times Online

KARACHI – The Taliban’s spring offensive is in full swing, with almost daily attacks, including suicide bombings, in Afghanistan. More than 200 people, including 14 American soldiers, have lost their lives in the Taliban-led insurgency this year.

This toll – and the damage caused – is small in relation to the insurgency in Iraq, though the techniques applied have been modeled on those used by the Iraqi resistance. What the Afghan resistance lacks in expertise and sophistication, though, it is making up in numbers – to a scale not seen since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001.

Thousands of new volunteers are pouring into the mountainous regions on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to combat Pakistani troops on the one side and US-led allied forces on the other side. The volunteers include local Waziristanis from the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, Afghans and a small number Central Asian fighters. The vast majority, though, come from North West Frontier Province, Punjab and Karachi.

And in a significant development, many of these fighters would normally have joined in the struggle against Indian-administered Kashmir.

Thousands of jihadis who had fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan before the US-led invasion of the country in 2001 subsequently joined with the the banned Jaish-i-Mohammed and Harkatul Mujahideen to fight in Kashmir. However, with India fencing the borders in Kashmir and the United States applying considerable pressure on Islamabad to stop the infiltration into Indian-administered Kashmir, the flow of jihadis has dried to a trickle, leaving them sitting idle.

The Taliban’s recruitment drive for this summer’s offensive, which started last year, targeted these jihadis, and many were persuaded to join the Taliban in North and South Waziristan. Apart from those belonging to the Jaish-i-Mohammed and Harkatul Mujahideen, fighters associated with the Lashkar-i-Toiba have also joined the Taliban in their thousands.

The Taliban have also targeted underground militias that sprang up in Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, with a total of about 50,000 fighters, many of whom received training in Afghanistan under the Taliban. These groups range from 20-2,000 people in each.

The battle from The Base (al-Qaeda)
Whether the Taliban inflict major losses on coalition forces this year or not, the International Islamic Front of Osama bin Laden has unleashed a battle from its new base – the "Islamic state of Waziristan" in North Waziristan.

The strategy is to expand this base further, to the provinces of Paktia, Khost, Helmand and Zabul in Afghanistan. In many villages of these provinces, as in North Waziristan, the Taliban have paralyzed the writ of the Afghan state and have formed their own administrations, which include a Taliban judiciary, police and system of taxes.

Although the Taliban have reached the Pakistani districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, and shut down music centers, a decision to take over full control of these districts in North West Frontier Province has not yet been made.

In Taliban-controlled areas, neither tribal chiefs nor clerics have any say. Similarly, the six-party religious-political alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, has lost its influence. This much has been admitted by the Pakistani minister of interior.

On-the-ground contacts from North Waziristan tell Asia Times Online that as many as 27,000 fighters have grouped in the area. A new command has been formed, with all prominent faces being sent into the background. The new field commander is little-known, an Afghan named Maulana Sagheen Khan Zadran, 41. Of the fighters, about 3,500 are from Pakistani Punjab and Karachi and more than 10,000 from various districts of North West Frontier Province, while the rest are either local tribals or Afghan refugees.

The field commander of the Taliban in South Waziristan is Baitullah Mehsud. Though the exact figures for fighters in South Waziristan are not known, they are believed to run in the many thousands.

"This is the tip of the iceberg as thousands of mujahideen are waiting for the call. They are located in all seven tribal agencies and the rest of Pakistan. In addition to that, thousands of Taliban are still in Afghanistan, and once the Taliban movement gets momentum, they will be regrouped in their respective districts, like the Taliban are organized in North and South Waziristan, in the districts of Paktia, Khost, Helmand and Zabul," a contact said.

Asia Times Online has contacted top Pakistani officials, ranging from those in the Ministry of Information to the Ministry of Interior, the armed forces and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, informing them of this article and requesting interviews. None chose to respond.

A twist in the ‘war on terror’
Since the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, the US-led "war on terror" has been through many phases. The indications are that another major change is happening.

A key policy the Americans devised was to shut down war theaters, be they in the Middle East, South Asia or Africa, as they were perceived as breeding grounds for terror. Thus, after invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the US put considerable diplomatic muscle into twisting Pakistan’s arm to ban all private militias, initiate dialogue with India and clamp down on militancy emanating from the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir, as well as abandon Islamist leaders in Kashmir.

The results of this, however, have not been what the Americans wanted, for while a lot of the heat might have been taken out of the Kashmir struggle, the focus has shifted to Waziristan and Afghanistan.

Khalid Khawaja is a retired squadron leader in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and belonged to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the 1980s. He wrote a critical letter to the late general Zia ul-Haq, calling him a hypocrite. Zia ordered his dismissal from the ISI and forced his retirement from the PAF. Khalid went straight to Afghanistan in 1987 and fought alongside the mujahideen against the Soviets.

While in Afghanistan he developed close and friendly ties with bin Laden. Khawaja’s name resurfaced after the abduction and murder of US reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Asia Times Online asked Khawaja why people were giving up fighting in Kashmir and instead going to Waziristan.

"The feelings of disgruntlement among mujahideen emerged soon after September 11. Even a person like Maulana Fazl Rehman Khalil [chief of the Harkatul Mujahideen] once asked me in a private meeting why the mujahideen should [continue to] fight for the Kashmiri cause.

"The way the situation evolved in Pakistan after September 11, there was just no rationale for people to fight in Kashmir, simply because whatever Indian forces were doing in Kashmir against the Muslim population, Pakistani forces did even worse against Muslims in Pakistan," Khawaja said.

"Jihad is fought not for the sake of land. Jihad is fought when there is a question of faith and the enemy are attacking the faith. After September 11, the Americans attacked our faith. We fought against Soviet Russia for the same reason. Now the Americans have replaced Soviet Russia.

"Now when faith is under attack there is no difference of caste and creed. The collaborators are equally punishable, be it Pakistan or any other country. This is a global rule of mujahideen which is substantiated by clear religious decrees, be it Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. After all, when [US President George W] Bush can say that you are with us or against us, what harm if the mujahideen make the same claims?" Khawaja said.

Saleem Hashmi, a spokesman for the largest indigenous Kashmiri liberation movement, the Hizbul Mujahideen, told Asia Times Online that with regard to the HM’s strategic manpower, it is targeted at Indian-administered Kashmir.

Nevertheless, the situation on the ground tells a different story, and it is clear that that the Taliban have acquired a new and reliable supply of volunteers to feed the movement for many more spring offensives.

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Welcome!

I no longer update this weblog due to academic and other preoccupations. However, feel free to browse through its older entries. Thanks.
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This is a weblog where a journalism enthusiast Afghan student writes about hot contemporary issues from an Afghan perspective. Enjoy your visit! Contact: mail . myscribbles @ gmail . com

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