Archive for the 'Afghanistan' Category

A Common-Man Security Yardstick

Okay, so I got an offer of full tuition, room, board and laptop scholarship from Berea College. I accepted it, enrolled and got approved of a student visa after passing an interview at the American Embassy in Islamabad. But some of you might know that last year I traveled to Bamian for research for an upcoming book I am co-authoring. Also, that on my way to Bamian, I nearly got killed.

Well, it had been in the pipeline for months that I go there once again for more research. But due to the security situation, I find myself unable to make the trip. That’s because in the past two weeks, there have been two separate incidents involving civilian passengers who were slaughtered by Taliban. In one of the incidents, seven Hazara passengers in a public van were hand picked, abducted and slaughtered in cold blood. In another one, four Hazara travelers were killed the same way after their car was stopped by the Taliban. Both incidents occurred on the highway between the restive southern province of Bamian and the capital Kabul.

The Hazaras are one of the four main ethnic groups of Afghanistan. They have a long history of oppression, ethnocides, genocides and subjugation, mainly fueled by ethnic and religious prejudice in the hands of different governments. And I, being an ethnic Hazara, find it extremely risky to make a trip to my home country for the purpose of writing a book that portrays the culture, history and current situation of my people.

Considering that after the fall of the Taliban till the recent past, security on the highways was generally good. But events have taken a turn to the worse in the past few months. Now, not only the cities and streets are unsafe, but so are the roads and highways too. I don’t care what the news reports say or don’t; I don’t pay much heed to how government or international memos describe the situation in my country–because they are biased more often than not. But if I, as a common man, am unable to travel for fear of my life, it is a cause for alarm–and a real indicator of the degree of trust that I and people like me have on our government, its  security institutions and the international forces.

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An Adventure With Death: How I Survived NATO Firing

I and my father, along with two other passengers, are driving through the streets of Kandahar, a “troubled” province in the South, on our way to Kabul. Suddenly, in its usual and unpredictable manner, pops a convoy of NATO armored personnel carriers (APCs).

A guy sitting on top of the first APC is signaling all cars to move right and clear the way. The two cars in front of us follow his orders. Now it’s our car which the person is signaling to move right. Our driver, who has had a quarrel with another driver some 20 minutes ago, is too deep in thoughts to notice his signals. I see every gesticulation from the NATO soldier and am expecting the driver to turn at any moment.

We get closer and closer to the convoy and the driver doesn’t show any sign of clearing the road. The NATO soldier grows increasingly desperate. His desperation reaches to a point where he fires four “warning” shots in an attempt to get the attention of our driver. I am watching all this; and at this point, everything seems like a Hollywood movie or perhaps a CNN video from a troubled zone. I feel no urgency to act and inform the driver to change course; perhaps because I can’t believe this is happening to me.

Bullets race overhead—shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot—that’s four of them whooshing in quick succession. And now, even after the warning shots, we have still not cleared the road for the APC. The NATO soldier at the top of the APC can’t take it anymore. He thinks that we are perhaps a gang of Al-Qaeda or Taliban suicide car bombers about to strike his vehicle. Instincts take over him and he lowers his gun barrel in a bid to take offense and exterminate the perceived threat. Maybe, in the meantime, he was thinking of the honor to have shot and foiled a terrorist plot in preemption.

So, as he brings his gun barrel down to shoot the driver first, our driver notices it and takes a desperate swerve to the right. The NATO soldier shoots his first bullet. Thanks to the turn we take, the bullet hits the side screen window and somehow misses all of us. Glass scatters everywhere. We’re all sitting there aghast, looking at the unfolding drama in disbelief. A second bullet comes in quick succession to the first one. Again, miraculously, it rips through the thin strip of plastic that holds the rearview mirror onto the car.

Because we have taken a turn and cleared the way, the NATO soldier realizes that we are no suicide car bombers and stops firing. At this point, we all start checking our limbs and bodies to make sure everything is intact. All seems okay. We have been able to escape death in the hands of NATO soldiers.

Moments later, I begin to think: Escaping Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other threats lurking around, we come under threat by the very force which claims to be “protecting” us. Although I acknowledge there’s an idiocy factor involved from our driver, I can’t help but wonder how many people have lost their lives in such incidents that have been labeled “encounters with terrorists.”

From my observations it appears as if such incidents are quite common. In the three trips that I have made to Afghanistan in the last two years, I have had two encounters of this nature with international troops, the first one being a lot less dramatic. It now seems to me that the international peacekeeping forces are quite at ease in opening fire at almost anyone.

Greetings from Bamian!

pa310028.JPGThis post comes to you from the heart of
Asia, roof of the world, and, sadly, a used-to-be treasure trove of Buddhist relics, Bamian. Yes, I’m writing to you from an internet café located under the majesty of the remains of the giant Buddha statues destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban.

 

I am here to work on a book which is about the culture and history of the Hazara people of Afghanistan. It will contain stories for children about the struggles of daily life in this cold but historic province. The book aims at introducing these people to the children of the
United States whose country is spreading “freedom” and “democracy” in that region. The Hazaras are one of the three largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan and are of Turco-Mongolic ancestry (I am a Hazara myself, if you’re curious).

 

I will be staying here for a few more days. During my stay, I’m going to take lots of pictures and do many interviews of the people to get to know more about their troubles and travails.

 

I will also visit the picturesque Band-e-Amir, a group of lakes situated outside the Bamian city. I will hear from the locals the many folk stories associated with this lake.

 

From my first impressions of Bamian, I am humbled by the magnificence of what remains of the two Buddha statues, and saddened by the barbarity that went into destroying them. I am also enchanted by the beauty of this valley and the warmth of its people.

 

Bamian is the safest of all provinces in Afghanistan. And if all goes well, I will  hopefully be back home in after a week. Then, I will blog and post some of the pictures I take. The internet situation here is shaky due to which I am not be able to post from Bamian.

 

See you all on the other side of the border. Till then, stay safe and good wherever you are.

14 Pregnant Women Die as US Soldiers Seige Their Town

JALALABAD, Sep 24 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Thousands of residents of the Korengal Valley in the eastern Kunar province are facing acute shortages of food and medicines due to US forces’ alleged blockade of roads leading to the valley.

Speaking at a news conference here on Sunday, elders from the area complained around 60,000 residents were facing shortages of food and medicines due to the blockade for the past one month.

The five elders said the blockage had created an awful situation in the valley as people are finding it hard to get medicines and food. They said 14 women had so far been died during delivery due to non-availability of proper medicines in the health clinics. More

The American way of winning hearts and minds?

Long after 9/11, Afghanistan struggles to find way

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I’ve been thinking of writing an article about how far Afghanistan has come since the ousting of the Taliban. While doing research on the internet, I came across this Reuters article which quite adequately sums up the entire situation. My own previous writings related to this topic are linked at the end of this post.

BAMIYAN: Life is grim when you can’t pay the rent on a scorpion-infested cave, there is no job in sight and desperate people are waiting to take your spot.

As Afghanistan struggles to rebuild five years after September 11 and the fall of the Taliban, hundreds of families are trapped in a sprawling web of caves in the lush Bamiyan valley, surrounded by stark, desert mountains and famous for two giant Buddhas blown up in 2001.

“We have no work. Our lives are getting worse. We can’t get enough food,” says Mahtab, a 35-year-old mother of six perched on a narrow path carved into a cliff, nursing her year-old daughter Fatema, her hair stiff with sand.

Five years on, Bamiyan is at once a symbol of the progress that has been made and of the lack of it in Afghanistan.

Bamiyan has Afghanistan’s first and only woman governor and is trying to rebuild its tourist trade. But it remains desperately poor, dragged down by the failure of President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers to kick-start the economy while eliminating opium production.

With the Taliban at its strongest since 2001 and opium production at record levels, violence is blocking efforts at economic development.

The lack of jobs means more people are willing to grow opium poppies, bolsters warlords and forces impoverished villagers into the arms of the Taliban as paid fighters.

“We have the young generation and all of them, they are jobless, the majority of them they are jobless,” says Bamiyan’s thoughtful, soft-spoken Governor Habiba Sarabi, a doctor.

“Of course, the enemy of Afghanistan can use this very sensitive and emotional young generation. They can give money for these young people and use it as a terrorist thing.”

During their five-year rule, the Taliban barred women from going outside without a male escort and from most work. Girls were denied education. The Taliban held public executions, banned music and cinema and destroyed the ancient statues of Buddha in Bamiyan because they were deemed un-Islamic.

The Taliban have made a strong comeback this year and fighting is the worst it has been since US-led troops toppled the hard-line Islamists for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks.

More than 2000 people have been killed this year alone, mainly in the Taliban’s southern heartland.

Nato forces launched their biggest land offensive last weekend, Operation Medusa, to crush the Taliban in the south. Nato has about 16,500 troops in the country.

The Taliban’s No 2, Mullah Obaidullah, says support is growing among Afghans disillusioned with violence, corruption, the lack of reconstruction and the drugs trade.

“The Taliban had established a true peace in the country with law and order,” he said from an undisclosed location. “But now, the country has become a centre of instability, killings, plundering, obscenity and drugs.

“There is no protection for the life or property of any individual. Everybody has seen the true face of the US and its allies. Therefore, the Afghan people are supporting the Taliban.”

Amidala Tarzi, a leading academic, writer and former cabinet minister, says reconstruction so far was far from adequate.

“For the common people, I think so far very, very little has been done,” he says. “In fact, I think that the whole effort has been downgraded. It’s become more difficult for the common man.

“There is no production and there is nothing you can call investment,” he added.

Along with the lack of a real economy, he singles out the failure to provide public housing as a major problem. Many Afghans live in mud-brick huts with no running water or sewage system. Disease is rife and food is short.

By some estimates, 10 times more money has been spent on security and defence in five years than on development. Politicians and analysts say much aid money is stolen or wasted.

Although the people of Bamiyan have rallied in the streets over the lack of progress, Governor Sarabi says the news is not all bad.

Her priority is roads, to improve links with the rest of the country and bring the tourists back. Bamiyan city is a bruising 7-8 hour drive from Kabul, mostly along a dirt road still littered with sinister wrecks of tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

Sarabi faces other problems. Local warlords are fighting a political campaign to have her replaced by someone more sympathetic to them.

As the country’s first woman governor, expectations are high she will draw extra attention – and money.

“One of the biggest difficulties at the moment is people’s expectations are very high,” she says. “People think that I as the only (woman) governor will take a lot of attention from the international community but in practice it’s not like that.”

In the cliffs of Bamiyan, all the safe caves are full, with more than 20 people sometimes sleeping head-to-toe and side-by-side on threadbare carpet. Chunks of rock fall from the bare ceiling and walls and scorpions infest every crack.

It’s a dusty, filthy life with dung from donkeys, calves and goats littering the paths and lying outside the oven-like caves.

Still, there is a waiting list of people living in tents and local business people charge rent – 1000 Afghanis ($NZ31)) for Mahtab’s sleeping room and separate cooking cave.

“He told us if we don’t pay, we will have to leave here,” she says, frowning. “We don’t have anywhere else to live. We don’t have any money. We don’t know what we will do. God knows!”

Source.

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“Staggering” Increase in Afghan Drug Cultivation

 

A new UN report about the cultivation of drugs in Afghanistan finds a “staggering” increase of 60% compared to last year. The overall volume of production has risen from 4100 tons to 6100 tons, according to the report. The UN anti-drug chief rightly urged the Karzai government to crack down against the warlords and corrupt police and administrative officials warning that a continuity in the trend could threaten democracy in the country.

This increase in the cultivation is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. Since 2001–when the Taliban put a highly successful ban on cultivation–drug production has been steadily increasing. This increase is contrary to the efforts of President Karzai–who has declared a holy war against drugs–and his antinarcotics ministry.

Although the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime appears to be solely attributing the increase to corrupt officials and powerful warlords, there are other equally responsible factors at work as well. Currently, for example, almost half of the provinces in Afghanistan are in a critical condition due to a prevailing drought situation. Many overstretched farmers in the drought-stricken areas cannot earn a living because they cannot cultivate due to a lack of water for irrigation. And, according to a government report, a swarm of deadly insects has hit many of the southern and eastern parts of the country, depriving some farmers–who have managed somehow or the other to cultivate–of their due rewards.

This has resulted in more farmers becoming unemployed and has worsened the already pathetic unemployment rate–40%.

However, in this bleak situation, one thing comes to the rescue of the overstretched farmers: opium poppy. It is something that requires a comparatively lesser amount of water and fares very well in the weather conditions prevalent in the country. This causes many, many farmers to switch to this new and better alternative although their financial gains are not remarkably better. The current increase in the production of opium can primarily be attributed to these factors. Many more farmers may teem in if the condition is not improved.

Drug trade in Afghanistan currently accounts for 35% of the economy. It is the only source of income for thousands of farmers. And merely sending policemen with sticks in their hands to destroy opium fields won’t work in the least bit. In order to see a tangible difference, the government must design and efficiently execute projects which provide solid, practicable cultivation alternatives to opium poppy. A number of alternative cultivation projects have failed in past merely because of poor administration.

The alternative plantation choice can serve as an effective first step. It could be followed by a crackdown against the corrupt officials running the anti-narcotics ministry. And, through the DIAG–Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups–,the warlords patronizing the cultivation of opium poppy could be effectively tackled.

This entry was originally contributed to Publius Pundit.

Afghanistan Man Beaten to the Brink of Death

A KEBAB delivery man who came to Croydon from Afghanistan for a “safer life” has been to beaten to the brink of death in a motiveless attack.

Hegran Ortak was so savagely beaten up he has lost his sense of smell, part of his eye sight and several of his teeth.

He was bottled, kicked and punched for 30 minutes – and has only this week been allowed home after more than a month recovering in hospital.

The 22-year-old needed a lifesaving 12-hour operation – and says the senseless beating has ruined his life.

At his home in Portland Road, South Norwood, he talked about the attack for the first time. Read more here.

Had this incident taken place in Pakistan or Iraq, it would have been called an act of Islamic terrorism. What do you think?


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