Archive for the 'Kabul' 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.

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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