Showing posts with label Afghanistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Afghanistan. Show all posts

Jan 29, 2016

Afghanistan's Economic Prospect: From Troubling to Bleak

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has just released its quarterly report on Afghanistan to congress. The special project's report contains a list of reports that are highly concerning about Afghanistan's future. Among the many of concerns on the country is its economic prospect.

Despite more than a decade of reconstruction and development efforts, the Afghan economy remains in fragile and worsening condition. Intractable insurgents, cutbacks in foreign military personnel, persistent emigration of people and capital, and a slowing global economy are shifting Afghanistan’s economic prospects from troubling to bleak. Source: SIGAR Quarterly Report

Giving the fact that the country has been in turmoil for decades, long enough that the infrastructure eventually extirpated, it is considerably hard to measure Afghanistan’s economy growth on a global economic index, but there are some reports that give a good estimate of how has Afghanistan’s economy been doing in post-Taliban era. Since 2002, the slowest growth that Afghanistan economy has experienced was in 2014.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the highest GDP growth was recorded 14% in 2012. Then, in 2013, it surprisingly experienced a drastic decline which was recorded 3.9%. In 2014, it dropped lower to 1.3%, and in 2015, it even went steeper to 1%, which is lowest than it has ever exited. But now there is a report that came out just yesterday indicating Afghanistan’s GDP growth may drop even lower.

Considering all these facts about Afghanistan's economy, it is safe to say that Afghanistan's economy in 2016 may not change if there is not any improvement in its current political instability and violence that is overwhelmingly increasing throughout the country. Based on SIGAR report, Afghanistan has become more dangerous today than the years before. It reports that the Taliban now have control more territory than at any time since 2001. It estimates that roughly 71.7% of the country's districts are under Afghan government control, or influence.

In the end, the negative yield curve in Afghanistan economy could only change if there would be any outside help not only to fragile economy, but as well as to its security. 

Jan 4, 2016

A Brief Review: The Last Thousand: One School's Promise in a Nation atWar

I posted this on my Facebook page, then I realized that I must have first published it here to make it an official piece, but then I thought an official piece means that I have to do a thorough review of the book. Well, I might come back and do that soon, before my classes start, but for now, it is not a bad idea to share a glimpse of the book which contains inspirational stories of young Hazara girls at Marefat High School. Contrary to other books that so far have published on Afghanistan and have tried to give a grim outlook of the future, The Last Thousand is the opposite, it gives an optimistic picture of Afghanistan's future, while noticing the lack of insecurity and warning about the fall of the country into the hands of the Taliban. 

I just finished reading The Last Thousand: One School's Promise in a Nation at War by a renowned journalist Jeffrey E. Stern. The original version of the book will come out on January 26. I started it three days ago, and thought that my incremental reading would last for a week. I was wrong. When I started reading, it was hard for me to even take a break. It is so elegantly written, so masterly told that it feels more like leafing through the diary of a dear friend that one tries to discover the secrets, than an excursion through the current historical experience of Afghanistan that centers around the young Afghan girls who are thirsty for education.

The Last Thousand is all about hope, and happiness that Afghanistan needs for its futuer, like Najiba, a mother of four children who starts school at an old age because she wants her kids to be raised by smart parents; like Tamana who despite her loss and ordeal becomes a symbol of hope and strength in the school; like Yunos Bakhshi who brings his telescope to school to teach Marefat students about the universe, the other planets and our solar system; and like the Teacher Aziz Royesh, the main character who revolutionizes the minds of young girls, turning them into powerful contributors to social change and education.

These girls are the powerful determinants of their lives in Afghanistan’s future. The epicenter of all these changes is Marefat, and finally it tells the reader that the crust of the Afghan society must adjust itself to the nature of ever-increasing magnitude of change that is brought by young girls.

A deep and hearfelt thank you to Jeffery Stern for writing such a painstakingly beautiful book - of hope - which is full of inspirational stories!

Sep 18, 2015

Karzai! No One Cares What You Think

Who cares what Karzai thinks, today? No one, really. In a recent interview with the BBC, Hamid Karzai said, Americans have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars without any useful or beneficial purposes. Well, Karzai might be right on this partially, but it was his family members who benefited the most from American money than anyone else. Among members of his family, the one who directly received American money was Hamid Karzai's controversial half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai. (Wali was assassinated in 2011, and later, it was speculated that he was shot by one of his family members.) Ahmad Wali used American money for various purposes, one of which made him well-known and rich was illegal land grabbing, in Kandahar. While Wali was engaged in illegal land acquisition by using Karzai's influence, who also tried to cultivate power and buy support of Polpalzai tribesmen; others were engaged with Americans as private security contractors and they also owned several construction companies.

According to news sources, Major projects in Afghanistan had been first contracted to companies owned by Karzai's brothers, and then were subcontracted to other companies, but again, it was Karzai's family who collected major profits out American money which was supposed to be spent on construction.

When it comes to refugee crisis, Karzai appears utterly oblivious to the fact that it is his legacy and due his support of the Taliban insurgency throughout his term that has turned the country a dangerous place for all Afghans and particularly for the Hazaras who are being mercilessly targeted by the Taliban on daily basis. The majority of Afghan refugees who are now crossing the borders alongside Syrian refugees are the Hazara people. Karzai knows it, but he is afraid to pronounce it.

Charging and blaming Americans for wrongdoing is Karzai's favorite way for not only trying to dodge public disapproval and loathing, but also trying to win hearts and minds among the Taliban members whom he calls them his brothers. Like his successor, Ashraf Ghani - whose government is about to fall apart - Karzai is not a reliable person, at all. He says, he is not a coup maker, but he now is actively attempting to undermine the current government.

It is astonishing how Karzai relentlessly appears to be the number one enemy of the United States. He calls al-Qaede a myth and rejects that 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan. His schizophrenic behavior is not new, in fact, his erratic temperament began in 2009, when Obama took office. At any rate, whatever Karzai believes or says today is not really important. He does not have anything new to offer for improvement of the current situation of Afghanistan, and its government, which is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Apr 4, 2015

Afghan President Plays Prank on April Fool's Day

April Fool’s Day is a great day for people who deliberately play jokes on one another, but in some countries like Afghanistan April Fool's Day does not exist. What instead these countries have are their leaders who play pranks on them and the world.

The latest prank from Afghanistan came on April 1, 2015 when President Ashraf Ghani announced that his government is ready with ALL its POWER (yes, that is correct, with all its power) to support Saudi Arabia in its fight against the Huthi rebels in Yemen.

"The Afghan government stands with all power by the brotherly government and people of Saudi Arabia in defending the sacred territory should there be any threat." Read the entire statement here.
It is quite amusing to hear the Afghan president announces his country's support for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a country that is largely responsible for exporting the extreme interpretation of Islam to other Muslim countries. Afghanistan is one of those countries. The Afghan people know all too well what Wahhabism has done to them. They have paid a heavy price to fight against it.

Despite this, Afghanistan now has a new president who seems to be ignorant of all these sacrifices. On the top of that he does not recognize the regional sectarian sensitivity of this issue. I believe he has made a major mistake in his foreign policy, because it appears he has not made a careful assessment of what the repercussions could be. Ashraf Ghani, should be anxious for he has to expect some resentment and anger from Iran. Iran hosts more than two million Afghan refugees, shares a boarder, and has strong historical, religious and linguistic ties with Afghanistan. On the other hand Saudi Arabia shares relatively little except for religion.

So, what compels Ashraf Ghani to stand by Saudi Arabia in its fight against the Huthi rebels with all its powers when Afghanistan's capital and other major cities are being rocked by suicide attacks on a daily basis and its security forces are not able to protect its citizens?

Since taking office in September of last year, Ashraf Ghani has frequently traveled to Riyadh to explore avenues for seeking the Saudi's cooperation with the peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The outcome of his efforts and travels to Saudi Arabia have had little affect on Afghanistan. Perhaps those travels will not be significant because the Saudi's have never played a positive role in Afghanistan's peace nor are the Saudi's really interested in the wellbeing of the Afghan people.

What entices the Afghan president to seek the Saudi's support in the peace negotiations with the Taliban is not the Saudi King's initiatives, but rather the sanctity of the oil rich country that hosts Mecca. Mecca has a sacred mosque that attracts hundreds of thousands of Afghans every year.

It is highly unlikely the Saudi will be a successful role player in the peace negotiations between the Afghanistan government and the Afghan Taliban. So, many Afghans look at Ashraf Ghani's statement of support for Saudi Arabia's attacks on the Huthi rebels in Yemen as amusing. It is being looked at like an April Fool's Day hoax/joke. Ashraf Ghani is famous for his stupid and ludicrous remarks among many Afghans. There are some similarities that could be drawn between he and his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

Feb 12, 2014

US Drone Crashed in Jalalabad not in Herat

This is a correction note on my earlier post "America's drone war stoned by Afghans" on January 29. In that post, I made a reference to a news on Iranian government's propaganda channel, Press TV. It said that the American drone had crashed in Herat, without naming a source. Later, I investigated and found out that the drone was crashed in Jalalabad city, in eastern Afghanistan which is populated by Pashtun tribe. The drone was crashed after technical problems and before the Taliban notice the drone was taken away from the area by U.S. forces.

Those who follow the news on the Middle East and Afghanistan know that Iran has a hostile foreign policy towards the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and in the Gulf. Being under a direct control of the government, Iranian media use any opportunity to galvanize Afghans against the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Why does Iran want to sabotage the U.S. presence in Afghanistan? The answer is simple: Iran thinks the United States may use Afghanistan as a platform to attack Iran. In December 2011, an RQ-170, a C.I.A. stealth drone crashed in Iran. Later, Iran complained to Afghanistan about the U.S. drone and claimed that the drone had flown from Afghanistan into Iran's airspace. So, an ultimate goal for Iran is to kick out the U.S. troops from Afghanistan and its media does not shy away from lying and distorting any news against the United States.

Jan 29, 2014

America's Drone War Stoned by Afghans

Apparently this drone has crashed three weeks ago. According to PressTV, the unmanned drone has crashed in western province of Herat. From people's words in the video, it appears that the incident has happened in a Pashtun area. Nothing has yet said or published online by American officials in Afghanistan to disclose any details about the incident.

The militants has claimed they have shot it down and then they have taken away the wreckage of aerial vehicle. Since the incident happened in Herat province, which is coterminous with Iran, it might be possible that the Taliban have sold it to Iran. If the Taliban have not sold it to Iran, then, one would wonder, what use the wreckage of drone may have to the Taliban? Apparently nothing and they may destroy it by throwing stones at it, as they do in this video.

A friend of friend who had shared this video on his facebook page sarcastically titled "the stranded pilgrim." According to some, this beast has done a great job, so far, on going after the Al Qaeda members and the Taliban militants. Most of the operations have been taking place in Southern Afghanistan, alongside the borders with Pakistan. The area is predominately populated by Pashtun tribe, a major ethnic group in Afghanistan.

In particular and related to this incident, a plausible guess would cast on American drone operation on Iranian soil, otherwise Herat has not been a hotbed of Taliban activities. Previously, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has often been accused of supplying weapons and funds to the Taliban. It is also possible that the drone had cruised alongside the border of Afghanistan adjacent to Iran to observe the Taliban's movement on the border.

Jan 10, 2014

Karzai Gives Away his Bloody Swords

Afghan President Hamid Karzai donated dozens of his bloody swords to the National Museum of Afghanistan. The ceremony which was held under a tight security measure at the Afghan presidential palace hosted chieftains, clan elders with dyed and hoary beards from all over Afghanistan. According to the news, the ceremony started three hours late due to Karzai’s health condition, which was caused by his emotional attachment to his swords that were prepared to be given away.

Among the participants, a long-bearded man in black turban who lost his temper stood up and frantically said: “I’ve never waited for three minutes for my wife let alone three hours for a puppet.” Elders who were personally invited by Karzai gradually began to lose their patience. Another elder who claimed to have three of his failed suicide-mission sons pardoned by Hamid Karzai cried: “This pig-headed doesn’t realize that in three hours I can water my three acre poppy field.”

The hall which was in a complete mayhem, suddenly, sank into full silence as soon as President Karzai entered.  Pausing, and looking around, Karzai, who was overwhelmed by a feeling of pensive sadness, approached the podium.

With a sullen gesture and after repeating “brethrens, you’re welcome” Karzai addressed the participants: “I’m giving away these swords, the honors of our nation and history, the swords that were confiscated from the first infidels who intruded into our fatherland and were contemptuously defeated by us lions, by proud Afghans.” By mentioning “the intrusion of first infidels” Karzai was reminding the elders of the first Anglo-Afghan War in 1839-1842 that left a heavy death toll on the British.

After rubbing his eyes that became red, tears instantly started trickling down his face; Karzai lost his control, first mumbling, but then, hysterically saying: “These are the swords that chopped off the infidels’ heads from their bodies, not far away from here,” Karzai continued while pointing his finger to the southern corner of the hall “Their bones can still be found at Bala Hissar.”

While struggling to overcome his emotion, Karzai, with his right hand pulled out a scimitar with dried blood. He then addressed the elders: “This is the sword that our four fathers used to kill the invaders, the dried blood you see on it is the blood of British soldiers.” Elders immediately cried out: “God is great, down with the infidels, we will kill the infidels.” One of the elders whose blood was boiling as a result of Karzai’s oration against foreigners, immediately started bleeding. Blood gushed out of his ears, nose, and mouth.

Finally, President Karzai erratically took out a sabre - dripping blood - from his sheath, and addressed the elders: “I will not surrender myself to these American infidels; I will not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States.” He then left the hall without further delay.

The participants all began bleeding, and finally, all sunk into a pool of their own blood, except a short man from Bamiyan with a rounded face, and flat nose who survived. A journalist asked him why he didn’t bleed. In his response, the flat-nosed man while pale and confounded said: “I don’t have blood. I have been bleeding throughout the history.”

Note: The scimitar and sabre were used by the Afghans against the British soldiers in the first Anglo-Afghan War. Some of those swords can still be found in some Afghans' households. Some other parts are allusions to Afghanistan's history, and particularly a reflection on the current political situation.

Jan 3, 2014

Why Modernism didn't Take Place in Afghanistan?

In his introduction in The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, Vartan Gregorian, mentions a quote from Mohammed Ali’s book, A New Guide to Afghanistan, as follows:

“No country comparable to Afghanistan in size and no people approaching the Afghans in historical interest and importance have received so little consideration at the hands of modern writers as have Afghanistan and the Afghans.”
For its importance and its relevance, Gregorian, puts this quote, contextually, in the 19th century of Afghanistan in which he argues that Afghanistan, for the most part, was culturally isolated, and protected as a parochial region in the Muslim world. That is one of the reasons that Afghanistan remained an unknown region to the rest of the world. He then draws a bigger picture by putting Afghanistan in the colonial frame; Gregorian says that causality of this “isolationism” and “parochialism,” relates to the fact that Afghanistan never undergone of a period of direct, and intensive European colonial rule.

This kind of argument has always made, and for the most part, it is true that Afghanistan in the 19th century had been thrown into the ditch of negligence. In part, colonialism could be blamed for this negligence, on another part, imperialism, however, by in large, it was the Afghans who had been the most neglectful, and ignorantly resentful to spread of any modern, or, European thought in their country. The effect of the harbouring resentment, of course, as Gregorian mentions in his book, was almost a total isolation that its effect has been destructively but invisibly palpable throughout the 19th and 20th century.

There was a chance, at the time, for Afghanistan to layout the ground and expect the waves of modernism, or, European thoughts, which could help Afghanistan not to be completely ignored. Unfortunately, however, it was the tribal Afghan Kings – who were mostly Pashtuns – were unable to understand the necessity of basic human needs, let alone modern thought, and developmental tools; they rather dragged Afghanistan into their Pashtun tribal domination, Pashtun parochialism, and Pashtunwali (a non-written tribal code of conduct of the Pashtuns). 

Tribal groups among Pashtuns began fighting over power – that who should rule Afghanistan – and as a result of blood feuds, they not only wrecked their own bases of tribal unison, but they wreaked havoc on potentiality of human development of other tribes in Afghanistan, namely the Tajiks, the Hazaras, and the Uzbeks. Therefore, Vartan Gregorian’s argument is legitimate, and understandable that if, today, one wonders why modern writers neglected Afghanistan, the clue is to dig into the history of modern Afghanistan, specifically, the period of 18th and 19th century.

Feb 15, 2013

Decline of Iran's Soft Power in Afghanistan

Stanford: CREEES seminar: "Iran and the Hazaras of Afghanistan: The Decline of Tehran's Soft Power"

Short synopsis of my talk’s proposed content:

Iran’s influence in Afghanistan is unique in that it has not historically derived from support for militant groups, but instead from “soft power” especially through Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras people.  The Hazaras share language, religion and culture with Iran, and constitute approximately 10-15 percent of the Afghan population. Over the last four years, Iran has accelerated its soft power efforts through Hazaras by investing in construction projects, increasing trade and promoting its ideology. Iran has also engaged in cultural exchange programs and provided humanitarian aid and scholarships.  Books, DVDs and pamphlets promoting anti-Zionist and anti-American sentiments have been distributed to Hazara communities.

Despite investing significant resources in these efforts, Iran has not achieved the influence in Afghanistan it hoped for. The Hazara minority group, which has faced long-term persecution in Afghanistan, has proven more concerned with the fear that the Taliban regime will return than it is with Iranian interests. Hazaras therefore tend to support the U.S. troop presence rather than Iran. Other factors like the rise of Hazara nationalism and bitterness about the treatment of Hazara refugees in Iran have also served to mitigate Iran’s traditional soft power efforts.  

Given the waning influence of Iranian soft power in the Hazara ethnic minority, we are now beginning to see evidence of an Iranian trend towards the “hard power.”  “Hard power” activities range from arming, financing and training the Taliban to allowing the Taliban to open an office in Iran.  Iran has also been instrumental in training individuals for roadside bombing attacks, and giving money to Afghan politicians to exert its anti-U.S. influence in Afghanistan. 

Friday, February 15, 2013. 12:00 PM.
Approximate duration of 1.50 hour(s).
CISAC Conference Room, Encina Hall Central (2nd floor)
CREEES Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies at Stanford

Jan 21, 2013

War for Words: Freedom of Speech After America Leaves Afghanistan

Afghan writers and reporters face a worsening situation. Some fear that the gains made for freedom of speech will disappear with the drawdown of foreign forces.

Prominent Afghan writer Taqi Bakhtiari has been condemned to death over his latest book Gumnani (Anonymity) by fundamentalist Afghan Shiite clerics. The clerics, who are tied to the Qom School in Iran, refer to Bakhtiari as “the little Salman Rushdie.” The news was first published on Deutsche Welle Farsi website and went viral on social networking websites, especially Facebook. Later BBC Persian also published a report detailing the issue.

Gumnani is about Mirjan, a young Afghan Shiite from the Hazara minority, who travels to Iran to study in a Madrasa. After being accepted into a religious Madrasa in Isfahan, Mirjan is raped by his Iranian teacher, an Ayatollah.

Facing abuse and mistreatment from his Iranian Ayatollah, the young Afghan boy’s dream for religious studies is shattered and he ends his studies. Mirjan starts reading unreligious books and later returns back to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the young boy experience constant upheavals disillusioned and depressed. Though Mirjan grew up as a religious boy with tribal traditions guiding him, the rape by his Ayatollah changes Mirjan and he becomes an atheist, criticizing religious beliefs.

Bakhtiari, the writer of the story has said to the BBC that the story is based on true events. Criticism of religious figures, especially Ayatollahs who are high authorities in Islamic Shiite jurisprudence, is unusual among the Afghan Shiite minority. Continue reading on openDemocracy...

Dec 17, 2012

The Root Cause of Green on Blue Attacks

Note: I published this article first on openDemocracy

‘Green on blue attacks' is the name given to a growing series of incidents where seemingly rogue Afghan security forces turn their guns on their NATO counterparts. These insider attacks have led to the deaths of more than 50 NATO troops since the beginning of 2012. Subsequently, NATO responded in September by halting joint operations with Afghan security forces to prevent further attacks, following the deaths of 6 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops over one weekend.
With the increased frequency of green on blue attacks, the topic has become an important subject for western media. It is usually portrayed as a religious and cultural problem in which Afghan troops react to perceived insults by American troops’ behavior. Others cite Taliban infiltration into Afghan security forces. But after talking to various Afghan journalists and writers who have been covering this issue for the past decade, I realized that the reasons behind these attacks go much deeper than cultural and religious incompatibilities or suspected Taliban infiltration. Rather, the motivation behind the green on blue attacks has developed over the past half decade of NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Towards a basic understanding

The basic cultural characteristics of Afghans are based on a hierarchy of respect and care for family, clan and tribe. Considering this simple fact, it is very easy to understand why Afghan police soldiers would become rogue and turn their guns against NATO troops. Most of those rogue soldiers became lethal enemies after losing a member of their families through NATO airstrikes. If someone is killed as a result of an accidental NATO bombing, it is likely that he or she has family left behind. The family’s pride is wounded and someone in the family must bring the pride back.

Over the past years, most who joined the Taliban were those brothers and fathers with wounded pride. In 2008, I went to Helmand province for two weeks to teach blogging and online journalism to young writers and poets. On the second day I was teaching, two missiles hit the governor’s house, just a block away. One of them landed in our backyard and shattered the windowpanes.

Four days later, on Friday night, some of those participants of the workshop gathered in a small party a few blocks away from the governor’s house. I was worried about the missile attacks from such close proximity but one of the participants told me “Don’t be afraid, the Taliban will not launch their missiles tonight.” He had asked his uncle, who was one of the commanders of the Taliban, not to shell the city. His uncle had lost two members of his family in a NATO bombing and now he joined the Taliban to take revenge and restore his family’s pride.

In 2009, Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, with the help of NATO, launched an ambitious program to double the size of its army. There were not enough volunteers in Kabul, so the Afghan Army recruiters recklessly directed their efforts toward young, desperate and jobless Afghans, who were gathering in roundabouts (Afghans call it “Chawk”) in search of work in different towns. These young people were promised generous compensation. These places became the main targets for recruitment of Taliban infiltrators; many of those with wounded pride went there looking for an opportunity to become martyrs by killing infidels in their land.

Another reason motivating some members of the Afghan police forces to turn against NATO troops is the continuation of night raids. During these operations, NATO troops go door to door looking for insurgents and explosive devices. However, despite some benefits, such as reducing insurgent attacks, these night raids have caused more harm than good.

In September 2011, the Christian Science Monitor reported that by one estimation, the number of night raids rose to 40 daily throughout Afghanistan, meaning approximately 14,600 night raids took place that year. In other words, 14,600 families have been displaced, harassed, had their windows and doors broken, and their belongings thrown out. If we consider that each of those 14,600 affected families has at least 7 members, then the total number harmed comes to 102,200 individual Afghan civilians per year.

According to ISAF Data, night raids have killed over 1,500 Afghan civilians in less than 10 months in 2010 and early 2011. These night raids have been one of NATO’s most controversial tactics; from President Karzai’s perspective it has been disrespectful to Afghan culture and has undermined the legitimacy of his government.

It will only get worse

Night raids by reckless NATO troops and the resulting civilian casualties have contributed to the problems that gradually motivate green on blue attackers. These attackers are not necessarily linked to the Taliban; most of time, they act independently, inspired by their need to bring pride back to their families. The green on blue attacks are likely to increase, given continuing civilian deaths and injuries, such as the airstrike in September that killed 8 women and injured others, including children.

Moreover, with the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. and international troops in 2014, earlier than anticipated, desperation and hopelessness are mounting among Afghans. To them, foreign troops have not helped their country as much as promised, adding to the tendency of rogue Afghan soldiers to look at their foreign comrades as enemies. For now, halting the joint operations of NATO forces with Afghan forces is the only option to avoid the green on blue attacks.

Oct 12, 2012

How does NATO determine who is insurgent and who is not?

On September 16th, 2012, AFP reported that NATO troops killed eight Afghan women in an airstrike. These women were on a mountainside collecting firewood for fuel in a small village in the Alingar district of the Laghman province.

According to the report, ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Hagen Messer said that the shooting happened at around 1:00 am (2030 GMT Saturday).

Considering Afghan society and especially Pashtun traditions, it is almost impossible to believe that they would let their women go out in middle of the night, in complete darkness to collect wood. Traditionally, it is immoral and against Pashtun culture to let their women go out, especially in the dark, for work.

Moreover, it makes the story murkier when it says the women were in the woods at 2:00AM because they cannot see in the dark. Usually, Afghans collect firewood and pile them next to their houses and huts and it is the men’s job not women’s job.

The AFP and New York Times (NYT claims the airstrike happened at 2:00AM midnight) reports which claim that these 8 women were collecting wood in the mountains in the middle of the night have prompted speculation that the house which was used by insurgents was attacked by a NATO airstrike. These women probably ran out from the house to hide in a safe place that was targeted by a NATO airstrike. Among 8 dead there were two children as well.

Yet, the question is if NATO troops cannot make the distinction between men and women, and children, how can they determine who is an insurgent and who is an innocent civilian?

Sep 19, 2012

A de facto partition for Afghanistan

Afghanistan, Pashtunistan
map's source
A de facto partition is not the best idea in Afghanistan but it will finally be the only option for Afghans to live peacefully. During the 20th century many new states were created and still happens and will continue to happen. Afghanistan in U.S. post-withdrawal does not seem to be peaceful, it is very likely for the country to enter into a catastrophic civil war that ethnic-cleansing would likely to be happened. As a result, a de facto partition is very probable to happen and the country would split into Pashtunistan and non-Pashtuns.

Sep 14, 2012

Will Anti-Film Protest Happen in Afghanistan?

As anti-film protests are spreading around the Middle East and North Africa, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has postponed his trip to Norway fearing unrest in the country. At the same time, the Afghan government has ordered an indefinite ban on Youtube to prevent access to an obscure American made film mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Karzai has already condemned the anti-Islam film as “inhuman and insulting” that’s made by extremist Americans. But the question is why Afghans are not yet protesting against the film because in the past they used to be at the forefront of such events?

There could be many reasons for why there is not yet a anti-film protest in Afghanistan. But first, not many Afghans have access to the internet or Youtube either.  This case is not that sensitive to the accidental burning of the Koran at the Bagram air base in northern Kabul for example. The burning of the Koran happened inside the country, Afghans have been very sensitive to cases like this that were and still are considered disrespectful to Islam.

Second, for the past years, any violent protest that took place was instigated by imams and clerics. In February, this year, some parts of the burned Koran was taken by Afghan forces working at Bagram and reported to mullahs in mosques.  The burning pages of the Koran enraged imams called for mass protests and in a span of two days a series of violent protests hit several cities throughout the country. As a result 30 protestors were killed, more than 200 were wounded and two U.S. officers were shot in a heavily guarded Afghan government ministry.

So, where are these Imams now and why have Imams and clerics not yet instigated a mass protest?

In the aftermath of Koran burning protests, the Afghan government has decided to stop clerics and imams from inciting violence or preaching anti-government slogans in mosques. The government warned mullahs to stop inciting violence otherwise they may face dismissal and possibly jail. Since then, mullahs have closely been watched by the government and it is that reason that Afghanistan is still quiet. According to some Afghan local news, mullahs have been condemning the film in their daily sermons but have not been asking people to take the streets and protest.

Mar 28, 2012

Civic Education and Democratic Change in Afghanistan

Here is a successful story of civic education in Afghanistan that has rarely heard in the U.S. because of overwhelming news focus on war on terrorism . Aziz Royesh's work is beyond explanation, what he has been doing is life changing in the country. Royesh is a Reagan-Fascell Democracy fellow at National Endowment for Democracy in D.C. He was also a fellow a Yale University last year. This video tells a lot about his achievement and more importantly about his student's achievements.

Oct 19, 2011

10 Years Changes in Afghanistan

Note: This piece first appeared on NATO Review.

First, I fled Taliban brutality. Then I spent time in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan. Finally, I found myself working in Dubai.

It was while I was in Dubai that I heard one evening BBC Radio announcing the assassination of the Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud by two Arabs.

Two days later, I was watching CNN when I saw a plane crash into the World Trade Center. I thought it was a movie. But then I switched over to Al Jazeera and the BBC. I realised it was real.

Some of my Afghan friends were happy when they heard that the United States planned to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda. Six months after 9/11, I had my ticket booked to return to my country after spending years in refugee camps.

In the plane, I saw people singing and dancing and celebrating; going home after ten or 15 years away from their families was beyond imagination.

We landed back home. Kabul was dusty. All around the city buildings were destroyed, schools and houses were riddled with bullets, and the wreckage of tanks and munitions leftover from the civil war were everywhere.

As soon as I entered the city, I heard music playing in shops. I saw children playing in fields. The Kabul sky was filled with kites flown by children. Life was back.

I completely forgot all the miseries and destroyed sites which had reminded me of the civil war in unsparing detail. I saw the US and ISAF convoys patrolling in the city, children waving to them as the soldiers distributed pencils and notebooks.

In 2002, I went to my village in central Afghanistan to see my parents. Nothing had changed since I was born.

We still had the oil lantern in our house, there weren’t any proper roads, and people still rode donkeys and horses for transportation. There was only one elementary school, an hour’s walk from my village, and a high school which was three hours' walk. There was only one health centre in the entire district. Communication was through couriers, and news from the next valley could not pass through unless someone travelled to that valley. Continue reading on NATO Review...

Afghanistan's Story in Pictures

My second photostory is about 10 years changes in Afghanistan. This month, Afghanistan marks the 10th anniversary of the start of U.S. and NATO operations to oust the Taliban. The NATO Review asked me to make a photostory to illustrate the biggest changes since 2001.

Please find the photostory on this link "Afghanistan's Story in Pictures."

Sep 18, 2011

Sino-Afghan relations

It is said that the Afghan-Chinese relationship goes back to the seventh century when Chinese monks traveled through Silk Road to visit the Buddha statues in Bamyian, blown up by Taliban in 2001. The Silk Road was not only used for a pilgrimage purpose, but also an extensive interconnected route for trade which stretched across Afghanistan and connected the Asia. It was not only for religious and business reasons that monks and merchants throughout the history traveled to Afghanistan; in 1957, Premier Zhou Enlai and Vice Premier He Long visited Afghanistan which marked the beginning of the first diplomatic relationship in the history of Afghanistan and China. Since then, Afghanistan and China ties were bound in formal visiting and nothing remarkable happened until 1963, when a boundary treaty was signed between the two countries.

Afghanistan shares a 76km border to its north with China which is known as Wakhan Corridor. However, relations between the two countries were quite gloomy when Afghanistan delivered statements which condemned China for invading Vietnam and also when, in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; Chinese government condemned the Soviet Union invasion into Afghanistan. Nevertheless, following the September 11 attack which shocked the Western world, the U.S and NATO members dispatched tens of thousands troops to Afghanistan to destroy and dismantle the Al-Qaeda and terrorist safe havens. While the U.S and NATO troops were fighting against terrorists and in the meantime spending billions of dollars, China started piggybacking on the U.S stabilization and democratization efforts by establishing its economic relation with Afghan. Within a few years, not only had Chinese products overwhelmingly occupied the Afghan markets throughout the country, but China started investing on Afghanistan’s mine fields as well.

Today, if you walk anywhere in Afghanistan, from street vendors to markets, offices and houses, you would find Chinese products, the stuffs which are made by cheap materials and also sold cheaply. In spite of low quality, the majority of Afghans who have low incomes are buying Chinese products. Afghanistan is also a good market for products from Pakistan, Iran, Russia and Tajikistan, but scarcity of goods and less interest in vesting into Afghanistan opened a gap for China’s products. When Chinese products flooded the Afghan markets, the price for all goods which were imported from neighboring countries faced a dull market.

Afghan merchants have often been faced with problems getting visas to travel to Pakistan, Iran and Russia; they have been profiled, delayed or rejected. Even now, it is not easy to get a visa for those countries, but every day hundreds of Afghan citizens acquire Chinese visas at a low fee and in a short time. Of course, it is not only Afghans who travel to China for business reasons; there are many Chinese citizens living and working in Afghanistan. Since 2001, there have been several Chinese construction companies engaged in road construction, building schools and hospitals and several irrigation projects.

All of these contracts are either directly made with Western contractees or with the Afghan government, but the monies in which they are paid are all Western donation to Afghanistan. Likewise, there are many Western organizations that have hired Chinese firms for their reconstruction projects. Currently, there are two Chinese companies, ZTE and Huawei, partnered with the Afghan Ministry of Communications to implement digital telephone switches, providing subscriber lines. In addition, China is a major internet service provider of satellite and broadband to Afghanistan.

What is more strikingly shocking to the West is that, while U.S and ISAF forces are trying to stabilize the country, China is piggybacking on their efforts and investing in Afghanistan’s mineral resources, in addition to which the NYT recently reported that the U.S has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan. In 2007, the state-owned Metallurgical Group Corp. won a bid to develop the Aynak copper mine, which is in Logar province. It is one of the world’s largest copper deposits. In dropping $3.5 billion to develop the Aynak copper mine, Afghanistan has received the biggest foreign investment ever.

Moreover, China has also offered to build a power plant and a railroad from China to Afghanistan, which could triple the investment. China does not have military presence in Afghanistan, but China’s contribution to Afghanistan’s construction process has been quite significant. According to BBC, in recent years, China’s ex-gratia payments to Afghanistan reached up to $350 million yearly. In March 2010, Karzai visited China and the two countries signed a number of cultural and economical agreements. From now on, Afghan students are to receive more scholarships than before and Afghan merchants will have fewer problems in customs and importing goods from China.

Finally, some eyebrows may raise and wonder about the Aynak copper mine project and how China is taking advantage of Western presence in Afghanistan, but needless to say, according to Afghan officials China is willing to invest more than what it had already invested on the Aynak copper mine. As Afghanistan has enormous energy and mineral resources, especially copper, it seems that China is likely to be one of the main players in Afghanistan’s future and is also likely to be the largest investor in Afghanistan. One of the positive points about the Afghan and Chinese relation is that China does not have any political or ideological interests in Afghanistan, making it more safer for them to surpass their competitors and allowing them to take advantage of those countries which are apparently struggling to stabilize and democratize Afghanistan.

Aug 30, 2011

Gladden My Spirit, It's Sad

Eid al Fitr is one the most important holidays among Muslims, especially among Afghans. I've been out of the country for nearly three years and now God knows how much I miss Eid, how much I miss my village, my family and relatives. Until last year, I was resisting not to even about it. I now admit that this year, on the threshold of Eid I began to feel more and more homesick. I now remember those days, hennaining our hands, waking up early and taking bath, washing our teeth and breaking our fast with family. What a joyful days.

While thinking about Eid and feeling homesick, I found a clip of an old Afghan song from 1960s - sang by Mohammad Hussain Sarahang who was a master in Afghan classical music.

Here is the clip and by the way it's sang in Dari/farsi, underneath of this clip you will find the translation in English.

Gladden my spirit, it is sad.
Be kind to my heart, it is impoverished.
The very first day I laid eyes on you, I said:
"The one that will darken my days is this one"
From time to time remember me with a curse.
Even that bitter talk shall be sweet (to me)!
Without your face, my faith is all profanity.
With your face, my profanity becomes all faith.

Here is a Piano version of the same song.

Apr 18, 2011

"Three Cups of Tea" Spilled Over Dirt

I just opened up my twitter account and tweeted Greg Mortenson, the author of the well-known book “Three Cups of Tea”: “What's up Greg? It seems your Three Cups of Tea spilled over dirt. I never heard of your schools in Afghanistan. Why is that?”

Last night, the 60 minutes report, raised questions on the accuracy of the Three Cups of Tea. According to CBS, the show "also checked on schools that Central Asia Institute claims to have built in Pakistan and Afghanistan and found that some of them were empty, built by somebody else, or simply didn't exist at all. The principals of a number of schools said they had not received any money from Central Asia Institute in years."

CBS also said that the dramatic stories in the best-selling "Three Cups of Tea" have become the source of speeches Mortenson is paid to make and the partial basis of nearly $60 million in donations to the charity he founded.

In 2009, while I was at Duke University on a media fellowship program, I was invited to talk on the situation of Afghan children to Carolina Friend School students in Durham. In the end, one of the teachers gave the “Three Cups of Tea” as a gift. I heard about the book before but never read it. I later on read the book, although the book encompasses fascinating stories and sometimes inspiring on humanitarian efforts, I found something different compare to what I had been hearing from others. I thought the book a fiction not based on personal experience of the writer.
It was hard for me to believe that he made schools for girls in a very dangerous and volatile zone like Kunar province. When last night I watched 60 minutes report, it made sense to me to understand the book that the story is really fabricated.

Here the 60 minutes report on the fraud book called Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson.