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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.

A Proof That Capitalism Doesn’t Work?

Capitalism, a system in which “capital is invested in the production, distribution and other trade of goods and services for profits,” has been criticized by some for its overemphasis on individual or group interests. It has been observed that corporations, in a bid to expand their profits and sustain growth, turn to illegal and anti-human means. This news story provides just an example and backs that statement.

(AP) A federal judge says the nation’s top cigarette makers conspired for decades to mislead the public about the health hazards and addictive nature of smoking…
The judge […] order[ed] the companies to stop labeling cigarettes as “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light” or “mild,” saying they have used those terms to mislead consumers.

“They distorted the truth about low tar and light cigarettes so as to discourage smokers from quitting,” Kessler [the judge] said.

“They suppressed research. They destroyed documents. They manipulated the use of nicotine so as to increase and perpetuate addiction,” Kessler wrote in the ruling, which often referenced internal industry memos. More…

Umm…

I live in Pakistan, a third world country in South Asia. We have frequent power shortages, internet service interruptions, etc. Often these shortages and interruptions get prolonged and cause huge problems for the public. Businesses can’t run, people can’t use electric appliances and bloggers like me can’t update their blogs. This has been the prime cause of the dormancy of MyScribbles.

However, lately, the situation has improved, although not completely. This will enable me to do my best to update MyScribbles regularly. My apologies in advance for any shortcomings.

Is the Destruction of Hezbollah the Answer?

Israel has termed its invasion of Lebanon a preemptive move to safeguard its integrity and security against radical Islamic organizations like the Hezbollah. It is portraying the unfolding events in a way that the destruction of Hezbollah would be the panacea to a large part of the Middle East crisis.

However, what has to be understood is the fact that organizations like the Hezbollah do not run on mere ideologies or quests for material gains; they run on religious fervor and emotions. This means even if the rocket-and-rifle Hezbollah is gone, the fervor-and-zest Hezbollah is still there. Religious feelings and emotions never accept defeat. They reemerge, resurge and reestablish with very little financial means of subsistence. They are highly susceptible to inspiration and manipulation. They are resilient and formidable. Worst of all, they can potentially enjoy monetary, financial and technical backup from different states.

This means, even if Israel is successful in obliterating Hezbollah, the prospects for another such organization to form and foster relations with countries like Iran and Syria are healthy.

This helps us to realize that Israel ’s military campaign against Hezbollah is not the panacea for such a problem. If Israeli strategists and policymakers do not realize this, they are mere duffers. If they do and still continue their quest to pound Lebanon ’s infrastructure and people with bombs, they have grim intentions which they are hiding in the guise of an attack over Hezbollah.

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Repercussions of the Evacuation of Foreigners from Beirut

The international community is evacuating its citizens from Beirut. Evacuation procedures are due to complete in a few hours after the publication of this post. While to many this move may appear as a precautionary measure to safeguard foreigners, there is much more behind it.

Undeterred by the fact that it will do no harm to foreigners, Israel will definitely intensify its aerial attacks over Beirut and other Lebanese cities to unprecedented degrees. In this process, Israeli fighter jets are bound to do more harm to civilians and the infrastructure than to the Hezbollah militants. Experience has proven it: Of the 350-or-so people killed in the attacks so far, one-third were children and many more were civilian men and women; very few were Hezbollah militants. And those who back Israeli military action over Lebanon must know that the new round of attacks means more homes will be destroyed, more civilians will be killed and more injured people will die in hospitals due to a lack of medical facilities.

And, because Israel has bombed all roads and bridges leading to Beirut, food and medical supplies will not be able to reach the city. Power transmission lines have suffered. Water supply is affected as a result. Hospitals will go without medicine and operation theaters will have to run without power. And when hospitals don’t run, food and water don’t reach the people, power stays off and bombs weighing tons are dropped from the sky, a humanitarian crisis is bound to occur. Not to mention that it may also herald the demise of the American-installed democracy in Lebanon.

America, displaying a condemnable backing for Israel, seems to be showing no regard to its much endeared ideal, democracy. Also, it closing its eyes in order not to notice Israel’s illegal aggression in a sovereign country and the collective punishment of its civilians.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah has had remarkable achievements by any standard: It has been able to kill as many as 18 Israeli soldiers and retain the two soldiers it had kidnapped earlier this month. In addition, it has kept Israeli ground troops at bay in the Northern front, showing excellent terrain-fighting skills. Hezbollah has also made the Israeli public pay for the aggression of Israeli military commanders killing 33 civilians so far.

However, the most important fact worth noticing is, that Muslims, especially Shiites, in Damascus and Tehran in particular, and the world over in general, are rejoicing over Hezbollah’s surprising display of resilience. Many of them may, if summoned by Hezbollah, join in the battle. This may turn Lebanon into another Afghanistan and shatter its fledgling democracy. Resultantly, a situation far bleaker and more disastrous than any other witnessed so far may arise in the region.

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But Where Was the Warning?

December 26, 2004 turned tragic when an earthquake of magnitude 9.3 hit the Indian Ocean. In the days that followed, 275,000 people died in eleven countries including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar and South Africa. Many lost their homes. Thousands lost their dear ones. Orphaned children were smuggled into lands far away. Thousands of families were ruined. Hundreds of thousands of lives, careers, hopes and aspirations were shattered.

In the months that followed, Indonesia, the worst hit country, in coordination with Germany, began installing a tsunami early warning system. The system, comprised of 15 modules, was scheduled to be completed by 2007. Its first two modules were installed in November 2005. After its completion, it was supposed to cover all of Indonesia’s coastal line and issue warnings in less than 15 minutes after an earthquake hit.

However, despite the early warning system, July 17, 2006 turned tragic too. An earthquake of magnitude 7.7 hit Indonesia again. Early estimates put the death toll near 400. Another 450 people are missing and some 52,700 have been displaced. The death toll, according to the Indonesian Vice Pesident, Jusuf Kalla, is expected to rise in the coming days.

Although aid efforts are underway, the critical question to be asked here is why, despite having much of the ‘early warning’ system in place, did the government not warn the public of the looming danger? The system by now is supposed to have enough integrity to detect tsunamis as big as this one. Besides, miles away, Japanese sensors sensed the coming dangers and issued warnings to parts of Indonesia and Australia. However, that was not enough; a government warning should have been issued. The lack of government warning not only caused people to stay unaware of the danger, but also to rush into the open sea to collect fish stranded as a result of the coming tsunami.

There can be two possible answers: Government inadequacy to issue warning, and scientific error. Tsunami warning systems cannot sense tsunami danger by themselves. They only relay data of ocean activity to the scientists stationed at warning centers. It is the scientists’ job to interpret the data and begin the string of warnings. Sometimes the data is misinterpreted and warnings are not issued.

If it is a government shortcoming, it is condemnable. If it is a scientific error, it is a reminder of the fact that despite the technological advancements, Mother Nature still has the upper hand.

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Update:

Jusuf Kalla, Indonesian Vice President, said the government didn’t have enough time to issue a warning as the tsunami hit too quickly.

Note: There are no warning sirens on Indonesian beaches. The warning system works by sending warnings to peoples’ landline and mobile phones and email boxes.


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