Afghanistan News and Views

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AFGHANISTAN: Time for Pakistan to walk the talk on Afghanistan

Opinion: Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, former Pakistan ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

…Given the perversity of our [Pakistan’s] political and decision-making processes, we have consistently opted for the mug’s game. As a result, we frittered away the enormous Afghan goodwill that Pakistan had accumulated during the Soviet occupation. After the Soviet defeat and withdrawal, we (wittingly or unwittingly) unleashed a ruinous civil war and imposed a barbaric and medieval Taliban upon the hapless Afghan people.

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AFGHANISTAN: Thanks to this Afghan woman, 6,000 imams have taken gender-sensitivity training – CSMonitor.com

Jamila Afghani, who has battled discrimination since childhood, uses Islam to empower women in Afghanistan. She is committed to continuing the work despite threats and other obstacles.

Today, according to Afghani, about 20 percent of Kabul’s mosques have special prayer areas for women, whereas only 15 years ago there were none. The sermons delivered by imams about the importance of education have also helped many women persuade their families to let them study. In fact, some 6,000 imams in Afghanistan have participated in Afghani’s training program.

This is all because of a woman named Jamila Afghani and the gender-sensitivity training program she has created.

Source: Thanks to this Afghan woman, 6,000 imams have taken gender-sensitivity training – CSMonitor.com

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AFGHANISTAN: A ‘continual emergency’, as war drives record numbers from their homes

The so-called Islamic State has created a new conflict and 2016 saw unprecedented amounts of people fleeing to displacement camps

Bibi Mariam was milking her cow when it suddenly let out a wild howl and collapsed in a pool of blood.

The so-called Islamic State and the Taliban were fighting near her village in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. The stray bullet that killed her cow finally convinced Mariam to flee – joining a record number of Afghans displaced by conflict.  Read more

Source: IRIN Afghanistan now a ‘continual emergency’, as war drives record numbers from their homes

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AFGHANISTAN: In Afghanistan, Women’s Rights Still Struggle to Take Root · Global Voices

Girls in Afghanistan

Girls in Afghanistan. (DFID UK Flickr)

By Nilofer Tahiri, globalvoices.orgNovember 12th, 2016

‏معاون شورای علمای کابل: زنان ناقص العقل اند.
#نكته: پس تو بد بخت كه از يك #ناقص العقل به دنيا آمدي هيچ #عقل نداري.

Being delivered into this world by someone brain-defected, the deputy to the Kabul clerical council must himself be without a brain.

Posted by Nilofer Tahiri on Saturday, November 12, 2016

In a 2011 survey by Thomas Reuters Foundation, Afghanistan was identified as the most dangerous place for women to live due to high mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a lack of economic rights.

Women in Afghanistan trail men in part due the absence of intellectual and institutional support for a women’s rights movement, even as over a quarter of MPs and the governors of two provinces (Dykundi and Bamiyan) are women.

Some female politicians have gained a reputation for speaking out against social injustice:

سیلی غفاری زن شجاع و دلیر افغان که همیش در جنایت کاران را در برنامه های سیاسی تلویزیون های با حرف هایش مانند مشت اهنین پولادی کوبیده است.

Posted by Sayed Paise Kunari on Saturday, April 25, 2015

(MP )Selay Ghaffari is a courageous Afghan women who always criticizes the criminals with her words in the TV debates.

Posted by Sayed Paise Kunari on Saturday, April 25, 2015

While such political positions should not be easily dismissed on the back of the five-year reign of the staunchly conservative Taliban government wherein women played no role in public life, they still feel somehow symbolic in a country where many still view male superiority as inherent.

Restrictions on women are most pronounced at the semi-urban level. In rural Afghanistan women are equally active in working outside of the house as men are, often toiling unveiled in the field as opposed to their counterparts in provincial towns where the religious establishment and patriarchy are more powerful.

In urbanized regions of the country due to higher rates of education and social security, women enjoy broader opportunities, even as sexual harassment has stayed a persistent problem.

How to change the environment for women’s rights in the country?

As education becomes more and more prized in Afghan institutions, it is critical that universities and think tanks as well as progressive elements in government explicitly identify with and support feminism.

Currently there are few publicly visible institutions fighting for women’s rights, while notable exceptions such as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which partially carries out the role of a court in dealing with domestic violence and other abuses of women, remains isolated in the overall institutional framework.

One way in which women have been able to earn dignity and respect In Afghanistan is by quoting Islamic religious texts, citing passages from the Koran or the work of Muslim scholars, in order to prove that abuses against women are un-Islamic.

But a dialogue on women’s rights based on religion alone can only uphold the rights of women so far. There will always be some like the deputy of the Kabul clerical council, who are ready to turn scripture against women again.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan May Have to Accommodate 1.5 Million Refugees in 2016

Strain of new arrivals adds to government’s challenges

Source: Afghanistan May Have to Accommodate 1.5 Million Refugees in 2016

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ON MIGRATION, AFGHANISTAN: Dying to Get to Europe | Inter Press Service

They are not just data or numbers for statistical calculations. They are desperate human beings fleeing wars, violence, abuse, slavery and death. They hear and believe the bombastic speeches about democracy and human rights and watch the many images of welfare and good life in Europe. They are so desperate that trusting the promises of human traffickers comes almost naturally to them. After all these human traffickers are the very people who lure them to

Source: Dying to Get to Europe | Inter Press Service

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AFGHANISTAN: To be born a women to burn in hell

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where the rate of female suicide is higher than that of men, and in the province of Herat almost 100 women a year burn themselves alive. 

 

Same Old Story for Woman 1Yanet Medina Navarro

 

The olive eyes of Shaista peep between the bandages covering her burnt body, for she, like so many other Afghan women from the city of Herat, decided to escape her life by way of fire.

Shaista arrived at the hospital burning between wisps of hair and fabric, and her 19-year-old body is now a landscape of lava.

Tears seep between the gauze and the passageways of her blistered skin. Compassion is the closest thing to love that she will experience, and the hands of the man who changed her bandages are amongst the few that didn’t strike her.

She set herself on fire for a crime she didn’t commit, one that doesn’t exist, or one that everyone else appears to see except her. Her crime was being born a woman.

mujer velo islam musulman pixabayAccording to the British organisation Oxfam, 8 out of every 10 Afghan women suffer either physical, sexual or psychological violence.

In 2015, the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights registered 5,132 gender crimes and between April and June 2016 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 600, but many go unreported.

The women who go to the police are at risk of being raped before being returned to their families. Those who escape for more than 48 hours face accusations of adultery, the punishment for which is either facial mutilation or death. Passed between relatives, offered to others to pay debts or settle disputes, raped and subjected to acid attacks in the streets; these women lose their mental stability and take their own lives in the most brutal way.

They usually come from lower social groups and as they don’t have access to guns or money to buy barbiturates, they drink rat poison, hang themselves, jump into rivers or set themselves on fire.

religion mujer vejez anciana viej pixabayAlthough the families declare a ‘domestic accident’, it is easy to identify a suicide, as the majority are aged between 14-21 years old and are soaked in kerosene, when in fact most people use firewood or gas to do the cooking at home.

85% of Afghan women are unable to read or write and thus out of ignorance believe that they will die quickly. But instead they suffer for days before dying. Many pour boiling oil over themselves or drizzle it over their abdomen in order to raise attention to their plight, but sometimes the flames envelop them.

80% of those who arrive in hospital perish because of a lack of means to treat them, and if they do survive, they suffer lifelong consequences, for it is difficult to follow a course of treatment whilst carrying water and looking after numerous children.

Almost 40 years of war brought with it misery, poor health and lack of governance, under which the patriarchal system flourished; a system which made Afghanistan an open-air prison for women, causing them irreparable psychological damage.

Mujeres afganas y violencia1The country’s laws tolerate tribal codes and 60% of girls under the age of 15 are forced to marry men double their age, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.

Studies from the UN Fund for the Development of Women reveal that the majority of widows sell their bodies or turn to begging in order to survive, and 65% of them see suicide as the only solution to their misery.

Herat, once known as the Pearl of Khorasan, is today a ghost town, with a horizon dotted with adobe houses, obsolete war munitions and faces hidden from the world behind the grille of a burka.

After a week in hospital, Shaista’s mother-in-law escaped with her to hide her at home, as her son simply didn’t deserve the shame of a suicidal wife.

Salma a woman's journey 11Almost a month after the fire, she returned with wounds all over her body and without any feeling in her arms due to large necrotic areas. She did, however, survive – one of life’s cruel jokes.

Now with the same fears as before, scars from the fire on her skin and with only one arm to carry her daughter, Shaista is back in the place that she so wanted to flee.

Photos: Pixabay   –   (Translated by Eleanor Gooch)

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan: Ghani, Hekmatyar sign peace deal

NEWS AFGHANISTAN: 

Afghanistan: Ghani, Hekmatyar sign peace deal

President Ghani inks deal with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in first peace treaty since the war with the Taliban began in 2001.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has formalised a peace treaty with Hezb-i-Islami, an armed group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a deal the government hopes will lead to more agreements with other fighters.

Hekmatyar also signed the agreement on Thursday via a video link into Kabul’s presidential palace. The ceremony was broadcast live on television.

It is the first peace treaty the Afghan government has completed since the war with the Taliban began in 2001.

READ MORE: Hekmatyar’s never-ending Afghan war 

The accord with the largely dormant Hezb-i-Islami has been welcomed by the international community as a possible template for any future peace deal with the Taliban, who have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government for 15 years.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Thursday, praising the deal.

“Pakistan has consistently emphasised that there is no military solution of the conflict in Afghanistan. Politically negotiated settlement through an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process is the most viable option for bringing lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan,” the statement said.

It also said the deal was encouraging and wished achievement of durable peace to Afghanistan.

Years after Taliban, central Afghanistan remains neglected

The president of Afghanistan said earlier: “This is a chance for the Taliban and other militant groups to show what their decision is: to be with people and join the respected caravan of peace, like Hezb-i-Islami, or confront the people and continue the bloodshed.”

Ghani also pledged to lobby the US and the UN for the lifting of international sanctions on Hekmatyar, who was designated a “global terrorist” by the Washington for his suspected ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Once international sanctions are lifted, Hekmatyar is expected to return to Afghanistan after 20 years in exile. He is believed to be in Pakistan.

The head of his delegation in Kabul, Amin Karim, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he believes the sanctions could be lifted within weeks.

File: Gulbeddin Hekmatyar was designated by the US as a “global terrorist” in 2003 [Reuters]

Once branded the “butcher of Kabul”, Hekmatyar was a prominent anti-Soviet commander in the 1980s who stands accused of killing thousands of people when his fighters fired on civilian areas of the capital city during the 1992-1996 civil war.

Human Right Watch, the New York-based watchdog, last week branded Hekmatyar “one of Afghanistan’s most notorious war crimes suspects” and said his return would “compound a culture of impunity” that has denied justice to the many victims of warlords’ forces.

The 25-point peace agreement gives Hekmatyar and his followers immunity for past actions, and grants them full political rights.

READ MORE: Hezb-i-Islami armed group signs peace deal

In a speech greeted with chants of “Long Live Hekmatyar” from his supporters, who had gathered in the presidential palace, he called on the Afghan government to start peace talks with the Taliban.

“I call on all sides to support this peace deal and I call on the opposition parties of the government to join the peace process and pursue their goals through peaceful means,” Hekmatyar said in his message.

Afghan government signs peace deal with armed group

“We hope that the day comes when foreign interference has ended, foreign troops have departed fully from Afghanistan, and peace has been achieved.”

Alexey Yusupov, Afghanistan director at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation, a German think-tank, said the deal was highly symbolical but it was unlikely to result in a peace agreement with the Taliban,

“Although you could say Hezb-i-Islami is the second largest insurgent group, their importance for what is going on in the Afghan battlefield this year is fairly non-existent,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The peace deal, although … showing that there is something that the Afghan society and Afghan political actors can actually achieve without foreign mediation and intervention – and this is something very important – that doesn’t mean that we will see a decline in violence, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that a real peace process with the Taliban will happen any time soon.”

The Taliban did not immediately comment on the agreement.

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AFGHANISTAN: Condoms and conflict: imams defy Taliban to spread contraception

Maeva Bambuck and Sedika Mojadidi in Mazar-i-Sharif

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/04/afghanistan-imams-defy-taliban-spread-contraception-condoms

 

 

The imams, the Taliban and the condoms – video by Maeva Bambuck and Sedika Mojadidi

On a crisp autumn morning in northern Afghanistan, a group of imams in elegant turbans and with cultivated beards listen to a seminar about the merits of a lubricated condom.

An array of contraceptives around him, Dr Rahmatuddin Bashardost, a programme manager for Marie Stopes International (MSI), then moves on to talk about birth control injections.

Some imams take boxes of condoms for themselves, others take them to distribute to their congregations. “It would be very good if we could show people that there are four or five kinds of birth control methods,” says one imam. The others nod.

In culturally conservative Afghanistan, it is often left to local imams to deal with delicate social issues such as family planning. It is not, however, that simple. Those who advocate what are seen as modern ideas, including contraception, can fall foul of the Taliban. “Imams like myself disappear and no one asks about them,” says Mansour Mahsoom, one of the clerics involved in the programme.

Foreign aid to Afghanistan has dramatically increased access to healthcare and family planning, but despite reproductive health campaigns through public service announcements and healthcare providers, only 22% of Afghan families use contraception.

Cultural and economic barriers have kept both maternal and infant mortality rates the highest in Asia, with 67% of mothers giving birth at home, often because their husbands forbid them to go to hospital. The relentless pressure to bear many sons, a sign of high economic status, sometimes ends in tragedy.

One in 50 Afghan women dies of causes related to pregnancy. Five years ago, MSI and the UN Population Fund realised the most effective way to decrease mortality rates was to reach men through mosques. They set up partnerships with local imams and their wives to change reproductive practices in their communities.

The Qur’an supports the use of contraception to allow women breaks between pregnancies to nurse their children. It states: “The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years.” Another passage says: “Allah desires to lighten your burden, for man was created weak.”

Most Afghans, however, are not aware of this. Instead, the Taliban threaten imams for collaborating with a western occupying power. Some have received anonymous phonecalls and letters.

The Taliban are returning fast, so fast that the US announced last month that it would halt the pullout of its remaining troops. The insurgents’ brief takeover of Kunduz in early October was bad news for the imams. Afghan forces may have retaken the city, but growing sectarian violence has made any promotion of western medicine and practices too dangerous for now.

The 200-year-old mosque Imam Mahsoom presides over is the focal point of his community. Each day after prayer, scores of men and boys ask him for advice on health, money, jobs and family issues.

“These men are primarily farmers. They’ve known only war and guns and weapons,” the 36-year-old scholar says. “It takes time, but I’ve been able to encourage them to take their wives to the MSI clinic for treatment and medicine.”

At MSI’s clinics, women have access to prenatal and postnatal care and contraception at reasonable prices. Condoms cost two Afghanis (2p) the birth control pill 15 and Depo-Provera injections 30.

For women in the countryside, who are seldom allowed out of the house, the injection only requires them to make the journey to the clinic every three months.

MSI has reached out to 6,000 imams and their wives so far. With their help, it estimates that it averted 1,646 unintended pregnancies in 2014, up from 199 in 2008. Last year the charity even noticed the wives of local Taliban members coming to its clinics for consultations.

An atmosphere of fear, however, surrounds the programme. For a time, the imams were comfortable distributing condoms outside their mosques. Today threats from the re-emergent Taliban forces mean they all have given up the practice.

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AFGHANISTAN: Dirty Money in Afghanistan

At a money market in Kandahar Province, November 2012.

At a money market in Kandahar Province, November 2012.  AHMAD NADEEM / REUTERS

foreignaffairs.com, by Javid Ahmad, Sept. 7, 2016

In 2015, the profits generated by Afghanistan’s illicit economywere worth more than $1 billion. Drug trafficking, smuggling, unregulated trade, and fraud in procurement contracts are encumbering the country’s economic development and funding the terrorist groups that undermine its stability.

Money laundering plays a crucial role in supporting this criminality. Yet over the past decade, the government has not been able to do much to crack down on it: of the many clear cases of the practice that have appeared, only a few have been prosecuted. The problem is a product of several factors, including lax financial and customs controls, inadequate expertise in the Afghan government, high-level opposition to change, and weak enforcement mechanisms.

The hawala system is appealing to Afghans seeking to shield ill-gotten gains from the state.

Chief among the roadblocks, however, is the nature of Afghanistan’s capital flows. Most of the country’s economic activity is informal, and data provided by the Ministry of Finance suggest that only 35 percent of the financial flows within the country are legal. Unregulated cash transactions and remittances through the country’s traditional money transfer system, a network of brokers known as hawala, are the rule. According to the Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money-laundering body, more than half of all transactions in Afghanistan involve hawala brokers. Ordinary Afghans do not have many other options: although the country’s banking sector has grown significantly in recent years, most commercial banks are still concentrated in its cities. For many Afghans, hawalabrokers, whose services often leave no paper trail, provide services that are cheaper and more convenient than their counterparts in the official banking sector.

Largely because of its informality and opacity, the hawala system is also at the center of Afghanistan’s troubles with money laundering. Many brokers are unlicensed, operating without oversight in violation of domestic laws and foreign exchange regulations. Making matters worse, the line between the official banks and the hawala system is blurry. Hawala brokers often keep bank accounts and use bank transfers to pay other brokers abroad, and Afghan banks have used the system to send money to the country’s remote areas. This makes it nearly impossible for the government to determine which funds sent through the hawala system are above board and which are not. Together with the hawala system’s lack of formal limits on the size of transfers, such factors have made the system appealing to Afghans seeking to shield ill-gotten gains from the state.

Those who profit from Afghanistan’s massive narcotics sector are the biggest beneficiaries. In 2015, Afghanistan’s opium economy was worth some $1.5 billion, or around seven percent of the country’s GDP. A large part of this money ends up in the hands of the Taliban and other insurgent groups: according to the United Nations, in 2015, at least ten percent of the earnings from poppy cultivation in Afghanistan’s eastern and western provinces financed such organizations. In Afghanistan’s opium-rich provinces, according to the World Bank, more than 80 percent of the proceeds generated by the drugs trade run through the hawalasystem.

Cracking down on the laundering of drug money through the hawala system is especially difficult because in many cases, the transactions involve the exchange of goods as well as cash. In northern Afghanistan, for example, traffickers, abetted by Afghan officials who are willing to look the other way, load trucks bound for Central Asia with drugs, precious stones, and metals. The exporters of the illicit cargoes disguise the profits they reap from their sale by importing goods instead of transfering money in return, paying the government’s import tax at the border, and disguising their ownership of the imported goods by laundering the funds from their sale through shell companies and hawala brokers. The shell companies then invest the proceeds into normal commercial activities, such as real estate investments. These kinds of exchanges are extremely difficult to trace.

The ease with which drugs cross Afghanistan’s borders speaks to the broader difficulties that Kabul has had with customs control. In the past, traders managed to avoid border inspections by paying off customs officials. That problem has diminished recently, mostly thanks to changes President Ashraf Ghani has made to Afghanistan’s customs system. Yet powerful officials still flout a rule requiring that they declare cash worth more than $20,000 at the border; in recent years, they have carried millions of dollars out of the country.

GHANI GETS TOUGH?

Over the past decade, Afghanistan has successfully prosecuted only a handful of money-laundering or terrorism-financing cases. Between 2011 and 2014, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA), a financial intelligence unit, referred several cases to the country’s attorney general, but none were brought before the courts, and the authorities did not issue orders to freeze or seize assets in any of them. For its part, FinTRACA has never sanctioned a bank or hawala broker for regulatory breaches or for violating anti-money-laundering or terrorism-financing laws. And no hawala brokers have reported suspicious transactions to FinTRACA, even though all of Afghanistan’s financial entities are legally required to do so. What is more, money laundering is still treated as a minor offense in Afghanistan: it is punishable by an imprisonment of between two and five years or a fine of between $1,000 and $7,000.

Those who profit from Afghanistan’s massive narcotics sector are the biggest beneficiaries.

Afghanistan’s National Unity Government is taking on this problem with an approach that is tougher than its predecessor’s. In June, Ghani established an Anticorruption Justice Center to investigate and prosecute high-ranking officials, including former cabinet ministers and governors, suspected of graft—a move that, predictably, has angered many current and former officials. So far, the center has reviewed over 150 corruption cases, and it is preparing a number of prominent ones for prosecution. The government has also strengthened its ability to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. It has amended the laws that criminalize both practices, requiring the attorney general to order asset freezes against people involved in either offense as soon as the authorities have determined their involvement. Kabul is working to improve the ability of Afghanistan’s various government agencies to coordinate their efforts on money-laundering and terrorism-financing cases and is trying to improve compliance in the banking sector by increasing the government’s oversight of bank transactions. It has also computerized the government’s revenue and customs departments, both of which had been at the center of official corruption.

In recent months, Afghanistan has ramped up its inspections of hawala brokers and has strengthened its hawala licensing program so that it will punish brokers who do not regularly report suspicious transactions to the authorities by, for example, temporarily stripping them of their licenses. The program has also made it easier for the government to monitor and seize assets involved in money-laundering offenses. These efforts have been supported by a three-year, $45 million IMF grant aimed at bolstering Afghanistan’s banking laws and anticorruption regulations. More broadly, the government has overhauled the judicial sector, replacing more than 600 judges, removing 20 percent of the country’s prosecutors and 25 percent of customs officials from their posts, and prohibiting many others from leaving the country.

Harvesting opium in a poppy field in Farah Province, May 2009.

Harvesting opium in a poppy field in Farah Province, May 2009.

Ghani’s moves have raised the hopes of many, but some powerful Afghan—from former cabinet officials to local strongmen—have pushed back against his reforms to protect their own interests. Since the reform push still lacks deep domestic support, the backing of Afghanistan’s international partners, particularly the United States, will go a long way to making it a success.

The government should work with its international partners to better train Afghanistan’s judges, prosecutors, and regulators. It should also tighten its control of Afghanistan’s borders and continue to back FinTRACA’s efforts to fight money laundering and terrorism financing. Fixing Afghanistan’s problems will not only require cleaning up the drugs, real estate, procurement, and import-export sectors—it will demand dismantling the illicit financial flows that support law-breaking in all of them and threaten the country’s stability.

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Afghanistan, Between India and Pakistan

thediplomat_2016-08-18_20-48-30-386x258
thediplomat.com, August 19, 2016, Ajibullah Noorzai

Afghanistan, a landlocked country, is located in a strategic location, connecting Central Asia to South Asia and East Asia to West Asia. For centuries, it functioned as the economic corridor for the Silk Road and other ancient trade routes in the region. The political rifts and instability in Afghanistan are often attributed to its strategic location, since major powers have always tried to control Afghanistan in the interest of spreading their political, economic, and ideological hegemony in the region.

Despite being a member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, the confrontations between the two main power blocs had dragged Afghanistan into hostilities, turning it into a battlefield. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Afghanistan was left alone, drifting into civil war among different guerrilla Mujahideen groups, supported by the neighboring states. Eventually Pakistan managed to nurture and sponsor the Taliban that then controlled most of the country until they were overthrown by the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.

Since their independence, India and Pakistan have been engaged in a protracted mutual hostility, with each country seeking to enhance its security and self-protection. To this end, they have acquired nuclear weapons, purchased sophisticated military technologies, and partnered with powerful states. Moves by one of them would cause the other to feel suspicious and insecure. However, the main reason behind the escalation of a spiral of distrust and hostility is due to the misinterpretation of motives and intentions by the decision-makers in both countries. As a result, both New Delhi and Islamabad seem to be trapped in what international relations scholars would describe as a security dilemma. This has borne costs, such as direct military conflicts between the two countries or, more recently, smaller skirmishes.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.In the post-Taliban era, besides other donors in Afghanistan, India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan by providing development assistance worth $2 billion, focusing primarily on infrastructure development, institutional capacity building, agriculture and food security, health, education, and scholarship programs. In contrast, Pakistan, itself being dependent on the security and development assistance of the United States and China, had not been in the position to provide substantial contributions to Afghanistan. Pakistan has however been wary of India’s active role. In other words, Islamabad considers a stable, friendly, and cooperativeAfghanistan only beneficial when it is under its influence and with limited Indian ties. Pakistan perceives India’s development contributions in Afghanistan as part of New Delhi’s strategic encirclement policy, counteracting Islamabad’s strategic depth policy.

However, Afghanistan does not expect Pakistan to meet India’s development assistance, but to stop harboring and supporting the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other terrorist groups. Time and again, President Ashraf Ghani, in the strongest words possible, urged Islamabad to put an end to its undeclared war and crack down on the sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network on their soil. Ghani, in an interview withPakistan’s Geo News last month, reiterated that Afghanistan is not part of any one country’s strategic depth, nor is it going to be anyone’s dependency. Whoever has tried this in the past has failed, Ghani warned. He also assured that he will not permit his country to be used for the destabilization of other countries – particularly the neighborhood. However, he emphasized that as a sovereign state, Afghanistan is free to strike partnerships with any state without posing a threat to others, which is the essence of regional stability and prosperity.

In the past decade and a half, Afghanistan, with the partnership of neighboring states, inked a series of regional infrastructure projects — among them the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Pipeline and the Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission project. Both are not only pivotal for the future of Afghanistan, but also for other signatories in the region. As a landlocked state, it ultimately gained direct access to Chabahar port with the partnership of Iran and India. This port should by no means be seen as a competition to other efforts in the region—especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—but a necessity for regional trade and economic cooperation.

Pakistan’s strategic depth policy has not only failed but also brought Islamabad in a critical situation in which it will not be able to continue its duplicity – supporting and harboring the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups in its soil, while also expecting to receive U.S financial support.  Washington, has already showed its frustration by withholding $ 300 million in military assistance. If Islamabad does not change its policy,U.S Congressmen and former U.S diplomats suggested not only to cut off the overall financial support but also impose economic sanctions to push Pakistan into a North Korea-type of isolation. Islamabad must take action to win the support of its oldest military ally, who has provided military and development assistance for decades. Islamabad should also acknowledge that Kabul has the sovereign right to establish partnerships with other states; it should not be wary of, doubt, or exaggerate the presence and cooperation of the United States and India in Afghanistan.

New Delhi is equally part of the paradigm in Afghanistan because of its development contribution and security assistance. Islamabad often claims that the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies jointly support the Baloch separate movement. Thus, considering the sensitive security environment in Afghanistan and the region, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech during the Indian independence day, highlighted Pakistan’s atrocities and oppression in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, while refusing to acknowledge parallel atrocities and human right violations in India-administered Kashmir. This will further aggravate security challenges in Afghanistan as Islamabad will remain vigilant and suspicious of India’s active presence across the porous and insecure border.

Since taking office, President Ghani tried to establish good relations with Islamabad but his rapprochement efforts didn’t succeed. Being trapped between India and Pakistan, Kabul is also to some extent part of the problem, since President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have not been able to tackle the epidemic corruption in the security sector and have appointed incompetent officials from their political camps. In the past few months, moreover, Kabul witnessed a range of horrific and brutal attacks that have borne a high toll. Thus, Kabul should take responsibility for ensuring security and stability throughout the country rather than blaming neighbors for its incompetency. Ghani and Abdullah have been unable to work together on the agreed national reform agenda that the National Unity Government was formed on back in 2014. Abdullah recently criticized Ghani for not consulting with him on key decisions; their unity is at the brink of dismantling while only less than two months are left before the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan.

The murky relations between these three neighbors in South Asia will have direct implications on the peace, security, prosperity, and stability of the broader region. India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan must understand that basing policy on illusions and supported by unrealistic rhetoric will deepen mistrust. Instead, they must pursue rapprochement by addressing differences between them, strengthening state-to-state partnerships, and further confidence building measures.

Najibullah Noorzai is a researcher and development analyst. He worked for the European Union and the United Nations in the areas of rule of law, counter-narcotics, and anti-corruption in Afghanistan. He tweets @NajNoorzai.

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AFGHANISTAN: Kabul’s women seek refuge indoors after a series of acid attacks

featured-acid

NAFISA NOURI … “I CAN’T BREATHE WELL. I HAVE BURNS INSIDE MY THROAT. “

nytlive.nytimes.com, by Fariba Nawa, Aug. 10, 2016   —   In early July, the citizens of Kabul were faced with a confronting sight. Armed with a loudspeaker, novice rapper Elinaa Rezaie hit the streets, lifted the front of her burqa and displayed a bandaged face to passersby in the Pul-i-Surkh district of the city.

Rezaie stood before the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission building, protesting violence against women and the acid attacks she and others feared. That day, Nafisa Nouri, a wife and mother of two girls, was hospitalized after an attack. Nouri’s 7-year-old daughter Parinaz and another female relative of the family also suffered burns to their bodies and face from the acid.

Mobilzed by her anger, Rezaie rapped against the government’s weak response to violence against women. “I went to visit the acid victims in the hospital to tell them I feel their pain,” Rezaie told Women in the World. “Then I decided to demonstrate … because the rest of the world seems to have forgotten about us.”

The 22-year-old joined the chorus of women activists who have been warning of an abandoned international campaign to curb violence against women in her country after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. Afghan women say they can no longer depend on outsiders or the Afghan government to help them. They can leave the country — thousands have escaped — or find ways to defend and protect themselves. Some women say their goal is rarely about gaining rights but staying alive and healthy amid rapidly deteriorating security, that is allowing heinous methods of violence such as acid attacks — which the Mujahideen spearheaded — to re-emerge.

Hizb-e-Islami, a former Mujahideen faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who the Afghan government recently welcomed as foe-turned-partner, threw acid on women wearing Western dress four decades ago. In 2008 in Kandahar, and last year in Herat, men on motorcycles used squirt guns to spray acid on schoolgirls in protest of education for females. The crime is more common in Pakistan and India than Afghanistan.

Women’s rights advocates say assaults in public in urban centers have become bolder in the last two years. But many of the recent attacks in the capital seem to involve personal rather than political motives, said Gholam Dastagir of Kabul police. In Kabul, at least three separate acid attacks against women were reported just in July, according to local Afghan news reports. The aim of attackers may be to punish women who might refuse a suitor, or insist on going to school or want a divorce. Families may not report the attack fearful of gossip and isolation.

Nouri, the acid victim, told Women in the World from the hospital that she was walking home with her family after visiting her brother for Eid when a man threw a bottle of acid at them from behind. The chemical poured down her face, disfiguring her and endangering her eyesight and hearing. She said she didn’t know why anyone would attack her.

She cries from the pain and said she can still smell the acid on her face. “I can’t breathe well. I have burns inside my throat. I still have nightmares about what happened, and I’m tired of being blamed for what happened to me,” Nouri, 27, said on the phone.

This attack and other incidents of reported rising violence in Kabul in the last year have created an atmosphere of heightened fear, activists from Women for Afghan Women and Women for Women International say. Neighbors and relatives often blame women for inciting the attacks instead of demanding justice, victims say.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported a seven percent rise in violent assaults against women — from 1,394 to 2,579 — in the last two years in Afghanistan. But these statistics can mean that women are more empowered to report violence, not necessarily that the number of incidents are growing, said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan’s researcher for Amnesty International. “We know for sure that there’s more fear,” Mosadiq said. “But some of the systemic use of violence and attacks against women’s rights activists and women in public offices by Taliban have always been our concern.”

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for numerous assassinations of women across Afghanistan in their fight against the Western-backed Afghan government, although the hardline group has denied attacking women with acid.

That fear is disrupting women’s already limited freedoms in Kabul, said activist Frozan Marofi, who travels to dangerous parts of the country to meet with women and discuss economic and health empowerment. She receives frequent anonymous death threats on the phone and was rescued by male neighbors as two men threw punches at her on the street near her home a year ago.

Marofi said women in Kabul are changing their daily routine to protect themselves. Students and professionals who enjoyed a relatively urban lifestyle stay indoors more often, some have stopped wearing makeup, cover their faces and wear full body veils. They no longer take taxis in the dark or stroll in the evening, and some say they have a hard time even trusting co-workers and classmates.

“Girls are killed, then thrown in a creek, brothers burn sisters, infant girls are murdered,” Marofi said. “There’s no accountability, no follow-up of what happened from the police or media. This just creates fear and worry.”

Marofi said women’s rights are on the back burner for Afghanistan’s international supporters. While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his wife Rula stand firmly for gender equality, the lower ranks in law enforcement and the judiciary don’t consider violence against women a serious crime, she said. Even when culprits are arrested, they pay bribes and are either freed or receive light sentences.

Yet women in Kabul continue to work, go to school and some, like Rezaie, confront the violence. Two dozen demonstrators joined Rezaie holding signs that said “Where’s my face” and “My sin is not being a woman.”

But two weeks after the acid attacks, Nouri complained that no one had been arrested for the crime that has her screaming in agony still. She borrowed $10,000 from friends and relatives to receive treatment in India where she is now soon to undergo surgery.

Manizha Naderi Parand of Women for Afghan Women, a New-York based nonprofit with women’s shelters in Afghanistan, said one way to tackle the apathy is to protest like Rezaie. But Afghan women need more allies, including men.

“Demonstrations are great. But they have to be much larger and systematic than this,” Parand said. “The problem is people don’t feel safe enough … people are afraid of bombings.”

Rezaie said her protest with a symbolic bandaged face probably didn’t have much of an effect, but she had to do something to fight the violence.

“Last year, I had more peace. It’s getting worse every year. This year, I’m afraid every day,” she said.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan men have a responsibility to fight for women’s equality

Noorjahan-Akbar

Noorjahan Akbar: “Equality for women is not a threat to men. It is only a threat to sexism and good men must join the effort to making equality a reality.”

afghanistantimes.af, By M. Nadeem AlizaiJune 13, 2016  —  For years the Afghan policymakers have blamed insecurity for hampered development activities in the country. The picture they project is incomplete and full of flaws. As per statistics of Ministry of Public Health, suicides in Afghanistan exceed deaths by war and homicide combined annually. Instead of plugging the loopholes, Afghan lawmakers, leaders and high-ranking officials are distorting the facts.

In other words they have turned a blind eye to the reality that accelerating the development process requires full participation of women as they account for half of the country’s talent base. Unfortunately, some elements in the parliament, religious circles and the power corridors have created barriers to women’s empowerment. The development process of the country is stalled by gender discrimination. Women can play a more active role in development of the country if their rights were protected. There is no denying to the fact that empowering women demand joint efforts towards fighting discrimination in its various forms. Respecting women’s rights and their empowerment lay in the best interests of Afghanistan.

Talking on the super serious issue of gender equality, Noorjahan Akbar said that even before war, gender-based violence was rampant in the country.

Ms Noorjahan Akbar is women’s rights advocate and has been named one of Forbes’s “100 Most Powerful Women of the World”—an achievement for both Afghan women and men. The list of her achievements is lengthy. With a Masters in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, she is not only writing on women’s rights but also engaged in multiple campaigns to end gender-based discrimination. She is the founder of Free Women Writers.

In an exclusive interview with Kabulscape, she suggested that the legislators should approve the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) without change to serve the purpose.

The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Kabulscape: How can we protect Afghan women’s rights?

Noorjahan: First and foremost, we should talk about security. It is the number one concern for women around the country and it doesn’t just concern the Taliban and extremists, but also street harassment, and other forms of violence and threats women face in public. Without women’s active participation in all areas of public life, we cannot expect women’s situation, or the country’s situation for that matter, to improve. Without female doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, police officers, etc. it is hard for women to make progress and change cultural and social norms. This is why we need to focus on improving women’s security. Terrorists are a serious threat to our security, and so is public harassment of women. Terrorist attacks and sexual harassment in public spaces discourage women from participating in the society in meaningful ways. By fighting both, we can ensure not only women’s increased participation, but also a better life for all of us.

Kabulscape: How important is the role of religious scholars in protecting women’s rights?

Noorjahan: Religious leaders can help improve women’s situation by not promoting sexist and backwards interpretations of religious texts. They have a responsibility to speak out against gender-based violence (including forced and early marriage) and other forms of oppression of women that are not protected by religious laws, but rather by religious figures who have little awareness of religious text and promote hate and sexism.

Kabulscape: How can media play effective role in safeguarding women’s rights?

Noorjahan: By promoting positive female role models. Our girls have a right to see that they can succeed and that women can be powerful agents of change. While reports on gender-based violence can be effective in raising awareness about the problem, the most important way in which media can empower women is by promoting positive images of women’s participation in society and fighting the stigma associated with strong women working in public.

Kabulscape: Do you think that women’s rights violation is an old phenomena or result of the over three decades of war in Afghanistan?

Noorjahan: Both contribute. We cannot argue that before war Afghanistan was a safe haven for women. Even before war, we had gender-based violence, girls didn’t have access to schools, women were not allowed to work outside, and polygamy was rampant. However war has exasperated violent crime against women and it has increased child marriage and many other problems. The root of misogyny is the same regardless.

Kabulscape: It is said that many female lawmakers are not interested in protecting women’s rights. Do you agree?

Noorjahan: To some degree. I think it is important to realize that female lawmakers are attacked more than male ones. They are observed more closely so they are more careful about what they can and can’t do. They are held to a different standard from male lawmakers. However no one can deny the fact that many of these female lawmakers made it to the parliament because of women’s votes and they have a responsibility to protect women’s rights using their position, but the same goes for all law makers. Women made a high percentage of voters for all of them. They should all realize that women are also their constituents and they must take women’s needs and rights into account. For that to happen we also need to increase accountability and transparency and we need to put real pressure on our lawmakers to stand with us.

Kabulscape: How can female parliamentarians protect women’s rights?

Noorjahan: Voting for a female Supreme Court judge would be a good start. Passing EVAW without changing it is another important thing they can do.

Kabulscape: What will be a good strategy to empower women?

Noorjahan: Investing in women’s education and economic empowerment. These two are of the most important factors for gender equality. When women make their own money or are acknowledged for their unpaid financial contributions at home, they are more likely to be decision makers and more likely to decide the course of their own lives. When women are educated, they are more likely not only to get jobs, but also to stand up for their rights and the rights of other women.

Kabulscape: Do you think that increase in female literacy rate will help to overcome the issue of violence against women?

Noorjahan: Yes. Increase in literacy can make it possible for women to learn about their rights according to the law and demand those rights. It also opens doors for employment, economic empowerment, creating networks of support with other women, and advocating for equality. Illiteracy is the number one obstacle to creating a real grassroots movement of women in Afghanistan.

Kabulscape: In your opinion, what is the best approach to educate women and girls to fight for their rights on social, political and economical front?

Noorjahan: By investing in their education and giving them hope. So much of our news and public discourse focuses on the negative consequences of women’s empowerment (they idea is that if women are empowered, there will be a backlash that will hurt), but it is important to realize and promote the idea that if women are empowered, our entire communities are empowered.

Kabulscape: The tradition of ‘Baad’ or giving away of girls to settle a dispute is a serious hurdle for women to overcome. What would be the best way to fight this obsolete tradition?

Noorjahan: Religious leaders must speak up on this. Baad is not in Islam. It is a tradition that commodifies women’s bodies, opens them up to increased possibility of gender-based violence, and treats women’s bodies as men’s property. To end it religious leaders who have been promoting Baad need to correct themselves and end the mis-education. By the same degree a more fundamental way of ending this and other harmful traditions is by creating a culture of respect for women as full human beings- not sisters, daughters, wives, mothers, things for men- but full human beings. If we respect women as people we are less likely to sell them off or use their bodies to settle disputes.

Kabulscape: Many organizations claim that they are working for women’s rights protection but there is no visible effect of their work on lives of women, especially those living in remote areas. Many women see these organizations as business enterprises to get donations. How Afghan women can convey their grievances to the government in presence of such organizations?

Noorjahan: There are some organizations that are not honest in every sector, but because of the negative propaganda and sexism and attacks on women’s organizations, we only focus on women’s organizations when it comes to corruption. It is true there are some corrupt organizations that claim to work for women, but there are many great organizations as well and their work is unacknowledged, ignored and threatened. Media has been largely responsible for negative perceptions of women’s organizations, but women’s organizations also have to make a bigger effort to create real connections and networks with women in the grassroots level and prove themselves worthy of women’s trust.

Kabulscape: What shall be the approach of Afghan women to pressurize the parliament to approve the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women?

Noorjahan: It is important for the parliament to approve this law. I have campaigned for it. Many people have worked for it tirelessly, but at this point given the increased number of extremists in the Parliament, I think we need to focus our efforts somewhere else. I am afraid that if we bring it to the Parliament again, it will be changed into an anti-woman law with no substance. The signature by the president is enough for its implementation and this president will be here for a couple more years so I don’t think the law is facing threats. We need to focus our effort on implementing it and raising awareness about it to compact negative perceptions created by religious leaders who are anti-woman.

Not all men are rapist, violent or harassers- but nearly all men are silent when they see these atrocities and almost all rapists and harassers are men. This is a harsh reality, but to change it Afghan men have a responsibility to fight for equality and respect for women. A more equal society will serve not only women but all of us as it will allow us to live as full human beings and beyond restrictive gender roles. It will be better for our country as we will all be able to contribute to rebuilding it and it will be better for our children as they will be able to see respectful role models upon which to base their lives. Equality for women is not a threat to men. It is only a threat to sexism and good men must join the effort to making equality a reality.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan political crisis: Entitlement vs democracy

The domestic dimension of the Afghan conflict is the absence of agreement among the elites on the framework and principles of political power, writes Moradian [Reuters]

Only legitimate, effective and sustainable politics can untangle the country from its multitude of challenges.

aljazeera.com, 8/14/16, Opinion, by  — If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then the four-decade-old Afghan war has become one of the world’s most entrenched political puzzles, involving many actors and dimensions.

The growing political crisis within the Afghan National Unity Government is compounding the ongoing security and economic crises in the country.

According to the agreement that was brokered by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry, the National Unity Government would have to implement a number of electoral and political reforms by September 2016, including organising parliamentary elections and conveying the constitutional Loya Jirga, the grand assembly.

No meaningful step has been taken to honour those promises. Many are anxiously watching how Washington and the Afghan government will handle the looming September deadline.

Former President Hamid Karzai has begun expressing his desireto challenge Washington for the US’ perceived role in delaying the required reforms.

Moreover, Washington is consumed by its own electoral fever and its reliance over its leverage.

Unfortunately, the underlying causes and possible corrective measures are being overshadowed by Washington and Karzai’s macho duel, Ashraf Ghani’s clever strategy of delay and deception, and Abdullah Abdullah’s haplessness.

US’ doublethink approach

The US military intervention in late 2001 heralded a prompt victory over the Taliban and initiating a promising and inclusive political process. It also enjoyed an unprecedented local and international consensus and legitimacy.

However, soon Iraq proved more attractive to Washington and hence its diversion from the Hindu Kush mountains to the Tigris-Euphrates river.

The domestic dimension of the Afghan conflict is the absence of agreement among the elites on the framework and principles of political power.

That distraction was further worsened by US’ doublethink approach to Afghanistan. This Orwellian concept denotes the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinctsocial contexts.

This was and continues to be manifested at three mutually reinforcing levels: the US’ internal decision making, its regional policy and Washington’s approach to the Afghan political scene.

From early 2002 to date, Washington remains undecided as why, how, and for how long it should remain committed to Afghanistan.

There has been an unfinished struggle between the US policy community’s strategic approach to Afghanistan and the White House’s calendar-based impulse.

OPINION: Ethnic polarisation – Afghanistan’s emerging threat

Regionally, the US remains confused about its regional partners and adversaries. Pakistan was designated as US’ major non-NATO ally, while the most lethal Afghan terrorist group, the Haqqani network, was described by the US’ most senior military officer in 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, as veritable arm of Pakistan’s military.

Washington’s handling of Afghan political milieu also suffered from a doublethink approach: promising to build a functioning democratic order while working mainly with corrupt actors and empowering ethno-nationalists.

Karzai’s multiple personalities

Karzai has become a globally-recognised politician and statesman. He sees himself as indispensable to Afghanistan’s stability and survival, while firmly believing in the political mastery of his fellow Pashtuns.

He neither advocates a suppressive theocratic order nor supports liberal secular dispensation. Such often-contradictory orientations have made him highly skilful and manipulative – a tribal, patriotic and cosmopolitan politician.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai [Getty]

Washington’s choices were a key determinant in the rise of Karzai. One can see two versions of him: Karzai I was when he was seen by Washington as malleable, charming and helpful between 2001 and the 2007-2008 period, when Washington not only sidelined his rivals but, more importantly, gave him “a winner-takes-all” strong presidential system with itsinstitutionalised ethnic hierarchy.

During this period, Karzai was the good guy and the Mujahideen leaders were seen as the bad guys.

Karzai II (2007-2008 and present) was mainly a product of Barack Obama’s Afghan policy, which was essentially premised on disengagement from the region. Karzai II became the bad guy, and peace with the Taliban was elevated as US’ salvation.

OPINION: The end of Pakistan’s double-games in Afghanistan

Karzai’s strategy has been essentially a combination of manipulation of rivalling power-brokers, charm-offensive of unthreatening constituencies and brinkmanship with Washington.

His reluctance to confront the Taliban and his role in engineering the 2014 presidential election in favour of Ghani are among his bitter legacies, while he is praised for his inclusive temperament.

Ghani’s double- pronged strategy

A former World Bank consultant and anthropologist, Ashraf Ghani shares a number of characteristics with his predecessor, while pursuing different strategies.

He sees himself as a saviour destined and determined to restore the Ghilzai Pashtuns’ lost political mastery against the Durrani Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.

Washington must resist the temptation for personalisation of its challenges and strategies. The country does not need a saviour or an indispensable fatherly figure.

His strategy has been sidelining his electoral rival Abdullah Abdullah, favouring Ghilzai Pashtuns in political life by usingthe means of patronage and charm-offensive of the West.

In other words, there are two Ghanis: Ghani I, an authoritarian, tribal and divisive figure for the Afghan constituencies; and Ghani II, a reformist, modernising and visionary leader for Western and donor interlocutors.

For the latter, he projects himself as the good guy, while portraying Abdullah and Karzai as the bad guys.

OPINION: Afghan forces should learn from NATO’s mistakes

However, he continued to be haunted by the disputed 2014 presidential election. Apart from himself and his core supporters, there is hardly any constituency that considers him a clean winner of the 2014 presidential election.

Even the broker of the recent political agreement, Kerry has been quoted as saying, “If fraudulent votes were discounted, the gap closed significantly in Abdullah’s favour.”

It’s the politics, stupid

The domestic dimension of the Afghan conflict is the absence of agreement among the elites on the framework and principles of political power.

There are four broad approaches: Taliban’s terror campaign, former Mujahideen’s jihad dividends; ethnic entitlement and democratic politics. The ongoing and growing political crisis in Kabul is mainly waged by the two latter approaches.

Fortunately, there are important assets and opportunities that can help the country weather its turbulent transition from a constant struggle to reasonable stability and peace.

The massive participation of the ordinary people from all ethnic groups in recent elections has shown that the Afghans are striving for democratic governance, unlike their anti-democratic elites.

The Afghan constitution and the political agreement that gave birth to the Afghan National Unity Government provide a clear roadmap for the way forward.

Washington must resist the temptation for personalisation of its challenges and strategies. The country does not need a saviour or an indispensable fatherly figure.

Only legitimate, effective and sustainable politics can untangle the country from its multitude of challenges.

Davood Moradian is the director-general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, former chief of programmes in President Hamid Karzai’s office and chief policy adviser to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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AFGHANISTAN: Young people don’t see a future in Afghanistan, so they’re leaving

2016-05-25_11.24.031470857710

This mural on a blast wall in Kabul shows a picture of the perilous journey that hundreds of thousands of Afghans make to Europe each year in search of a better life. It was drawn by ArtLords activists during Art Activation Day, an event to bring awareness to the country’s brain drain problem and to encourage people stay in Afghanistan and invest in their society. (Omaid Sharifi/Omaid Sharifi)

washingtonpost.com, by Melissa Etehad, Aug. 12, 2016 — The well-educated, 20-year-old woman did not want to leave Afghanistan, but she said she had no choice.

After receiving death threats because of her work on women’s rights, she feared for her life and left in 2013 — feeling guilty, but intending to return after a few months when the security situation at home improved.Three years later, the young woman, now 24, lives in the United States and does not know when she will go back to Afghanistan. She told her story on the condition that her name not be used because of concern that her family in Afghanistan could be in danger.“I left because I didn’t feel safe anywhere,” she said. “Afghanistan doesn’t need another dead body or another dead woman.”She is one of a growing number of educated young people who, frustrated by their country’s growing insecurity and lack of job opportunities, have been leaving Afghanistan in record numbers.The woman, who earned her master’s degree in the United States, said that growing violence against women contributed to her decision to leave Afghanistan. Her parents agreed and told her not to return. In recent years, many of her friends have also left Afghanistan — partly because of the violence and the country’s depressed economy. “I know a lot of people who are leaving because they don’t have jobs and they are scared they can’t feed their children,” she said.

As a result of unemployment and the insecurity that has followed a resurgence of the Taliban after the withdrawal of U.S. and international forces at the end of 2014, Afghanistan’s economy showed minimal growth in 2015 — about 1.5 percent, according to the World Bank. Combined with increased fighting between government troops and insurgents, that instability is causing some of Afghanistan’s brightest young minds to flee the country.

“Everybody anticipated that this was going to be a problem because of the drop-off in the economic opportunity after the bulk of international forces were transiting out,” said James Cunningham, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014. “Unfortunately, the government effort to reorganize itself to deal with the economy didn’t materialize as they had hoped.”

Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that a large part of Afghanistan’s economy in recent years was built around the war, so brain drain was inevitable because a lot of jobs disappeared after the foreign troops left.

Although there are no reliable figures for the number of Afghans who leave each year, there was a mass exodus in 2015. Afghans accounted for 20 percent of the more than 1 million refugees who reached Europe’s shores in 2015, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and nearly half of them were young adults.

As more educated young people pack up and leave Afghanistan, government officials, who are depending on the younger generation to rebuild the country, are becoming increasingly concerned.

Cunningham said it is important to find ways to encourage Afghans to remain in their country. “There are many people who are staying and continue to tough it out, and what they can do is quite noteworthy, actually,” Cunningham said. “My last year and a half in Afghanistan, I kept telling Afghan leaders that this was a really unique opportunity . . . and that they should take advantage of it,” he said of the country’s talented youth.

Shaharzad Akbar returned to Afghanistan after finishing her studies at the University of Oxford in 2010 and works in the project-management sector in Kabul. The 28-year-old says that even though she studied abroad and has relatives who left the country, she always planned to return to Afghanistan.

“We feel a sense of responsibility as people who are privileged with an education,” she said. “If we give up, who can we expect to stay behind?”

But she also understands the fears and frustrations of many of her peers. “Every morning when I leave the house, I don’t know if I’ll come back,” she said. “Every time I’m stuck in a traffic jam, I’m nervous about what could happen.”

Feroz Masjidi, an assistant professor of economics at Kabul University, also decided to return to Afghanistan after studying abroad. After finishing his studies in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, Masjidi returned to Afghanistan in 2011. The 31-year-old said that he encourages his students to stay but that the government also needs to come up with more long-term solutions and help build confidence in the country so that Afghans will invest in it.

President Ashraf Ghani has made stemming the brain drain a priority. Last year, Afghanistan’s National Unity Government started a program called Jobs for Peace to stimulate more employment and restore faith in the economy. However, a lack of funding may limit the impact of this initiative, according to the World Bank.

The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations started a social-media campaign to discourage people from making the trip to Europe, warning of the potential life-threatening dangers involved on the journey there.

Even if the government promises to create jobs for young people, it cannot change the fact that the economic outlook in Afghanistan is not promising in the near future, Felbab-Brown says. The World Bank estimates that gross domestic product growth will be 1.9 percent in 2016, which would mark the third year in a row it would be below 2 percent.

About 55 percent of the population is under age 20, according to the World Bank, and unemployment is hovering around 22 percent.

Bolstering the private sector and encouraging entrepreneurship are important steps toward lessening the brain drain, says Laurence Hart, the International Organization for Migration’s head of mission and special envoy for Afghanistan.

Young Afghans also have been involved in creating initiatives to motivate people to invest in the country. Omaid Sharifi, co-founder of ArtLords — a group that paints murals on blast walls around prominent buildings in Afghanistan — said that he wants to restore hope through the arts. Some of the group’s most popular murals feature giant eyes with the slogan “I See You” written near them, designed to fight government corruption and encourage transparency. Sharifi’s most recent project is aimed at tackling the brain drain problem.

“Thousands of young Afghans are leaving the country,” he said. “So I want to do an art activation day, where we paint nine to 10 murals in one day, have street art and also show a movie about immigration.”

Even for those like the young woman who left in 2013, Afghanistan is still home.

“I want to help out, and I want to participate in rebuilding [my country],” she said. “But I want to make sure if I die, it won’t be in vain. And right now, I’m not sure it won’t be in vain.”

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AFGHANISTAN, ON THE MEDIA: Badakhshan’s journalists discuss media’s role in women empowerment

Badakhshan’s journalists discuss media’s role in women empowerment

wadsam.com, July 29, 2016 – Three experts on women empowerment and more than 60 journalists gathered at Feyzabad’s women’s centre to discuss the media’s role in women empowerment. The event was hosted by the Social Association of Journalists in North Afghanistan (SAJNA) and the Afghan-German Cooperation.

The result of the event was that media has a crucial responsibility in promoting women’s participation in society. It has the power to spread messages and raise awareness for the challenges women face. Most importantly, media has given women a voice which has allowed them to actively engage with the Afghan government, interest groups and society at large.

The meeting was attended by three Afghan experts Zofnun Hesam Natiq, Director of the Department of Women Affairs (DoWA) in Badakhshan, Najia Sorush, women’s rights activist and Nasima Sahar, representative of the Afghan-German Cooperation.

Natiq underlined the Afghan society’s need for women’s participation: “A country cannot develop in a sustainable way if half the society is excluded from the process.” She added: “Today, I would like to invite all Afghan media to help women in assuming their role in society. Let us show how capable, skilled and strong Afghan women are.”

Najia Sorush highlighted the crucial role media has played in the past in strengthening Afghan women: “Media not only changed the minds of women, but more importantly, it changed the minds of men as well. Men increasingly provide support for the women around them.”

Nasima laid out the Afghan-German Cooperation’s wide range of activities for women: “In Badakhshan, the German government provided funding for the construction of a dormitory for female students, a women’s garden and an education centre. Furthermore, in conducting internship and training programs for women in areas such as IT, English, tailoring, food processing and disaster prevention, the German government supports women empowerment as well.

During the second part of the media meeting, the Q&A session, the experts answered questions from more than 60 national and local TV, radio and newspaper outlets. When asked about her expectation in the media landscape, Zonfnun replied: “I wish to see more investigative and in-depth reports on gender-related topics, because it makes stakeholders realise that they are accountable for what they do”.

“Media Meetings 2016 – Afghan media for Social Responsibility” are a series of regular events held by the Afghan-German cooperation and SAJNA. The meetings bring together experts from the public sector, civil society, development organizations and the media to discuss important development issues.

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AFGHANISTAN: Finally Standing Up to Pakistan

An Afghan National Army soldier holds tightly to a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Flickr/Georgia National Guard

An Afghan National Army soldier holds tightly to a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Flickr/Georgia National Guard

nationalinterest.org, Adam Gallagher, August 4, 2016

In recent months, Pakistan’s pernicious Afghan policy has come under heavy criticism in Washington. In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad noted that while most states have a gap between their declared and actual policy, “In the case of Pakistan, the gap is huge.” Indeed, “Pakistan’s current policy and conduct would better merit its inclusion on the State Department’s list of state-sponsors of terrorism,” the former envoy argued. With the Taliban now on the offensive, Khalilzad argued that “the Taliban’s resilience can be attributed above all to the strategic decision of the Pakistani military and intelligence services to provide sanctuary and support to these groups.”

With many on the Hill advocating for a cessation of U.S. assistance to Pakistan, Khalilzad also told lawmakers that the drone strike against Mansour has “created a golden hour to confront Pakistan” and force it to choose between its support for the Taliban and the Haqqani network, or its relationship with the United States, and the attendant economic and international support that it provides to Islamabad. Aziz’s surprising confession and the circumstances surrounding Mansour’s killing—let alone the host of other incriminating evidence—provide the perfect opportunity for the United State to increase pressure on Pakistan, ignore Islamabad’s dissembling and push for an end to support for the Taliban. After all, as Khalilzad notes, “Pakistani policy is the principal cause of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.”

The war in Afghanistan is now America’s longest, and it has spent more in inflation-adjusted dollars than on the Marshall Plan. Following a recent decision, President Obama will leave office with 8,400 U.S. troops in country, passing the baton on to the next president. Over the last fifteen years, the war effort has been consistently undermined by Islamabad’s duplicitous Afghan policy. There has been considerable hand-wringing within the Obama administration regarding troop levels, and much less public discussion of Islamabad’s role in Afghanistan. With an increasingly dangerous Islamic State wing, which recently just conducted the biggest attack in Kabul in years; Al Qaeda’s continued presence; and an unbowed Taliban, Washington is doing itself no favors by ignoring Pakistan’s support for extremist groups.

Long before Islamabad was even admitting that the Afghan Taliban were residing in Pakistan, Karzai cogently analyzed the Afghan war and a critical reason for its intractability, albeit without conventional diplomatic tact. If the next president hopes to bring the Afghan war to a close and leave the country on a viable path for prosperity and security, she or he will have to pressure Pakistan to change course. Just ask Hamid Karzai; he’s been saying so for years.

Adam Gallagher is a writer and editor based in Washington, DC. He is a senior writer for Tropics of Meta and his work has appeared in the Huffington Post, the National Interest, theDiplomat, and for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, among other outlets. He can be followed on Twitter@aegallagher10.

Image: An Afghan National Army soldier holds tightly to a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Flickr/Georgia National Guard

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan civilian casualties soar to record high, UN says

An Afghan man prays in front of the graves of victims of a suicide attack in Kabul,  July 25 2016 - Rahmat Gul/AP Photos

An Afghan man prays in front of the graves of victims of a suicide attack in Kabul, July 25 2016 – Rahmat Gul/AP Photos

thenational.ae Kabul — Civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared to a record high in the first half of 2016, the UN said on Monday.

Children in particular are paying a heavy price for growing insecurity as the conflict escalates, said the UN report which comes days after the deadliest attack in Kabul since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.

Between January and June, 1,601 civilians were killed and 3,565 were wounded. It was a four per cent increase in casualties compared to the same period last year, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) said.

The casualties have reached their highest level since the UN began issuing its authoritative reports in 2009.

“Every single casualty documented in this report – people killed while praying, working, studying, fetching water, recovering in hospitals – every civilian casualty represents a failure of commitment and should be a call to action for parties to the conflict to take meaningful steps to reduce suffering,” Unama chief Tadamichi Yamamoto said.

The casualties include 1,509 children – or about one-third of the total, a figure the UN described as “alarming and shameful”. It was the highest toll ever recorded by the UN over a six-month period.

The statistics are a grim indicator of growing insecurity in Afghanistan as the Taliban step up their nationwide insurgency and the ISIL group seeks to expand their foothold in the east of the country.

The UN report said insurgent groups including the Taliban were responsible for the majority – 60 per cent – of civilian casualties.

But it also reported a 47 per cent increase in the number of casualties caused by pro-government forces, compared to the same period last year.

“The testimony of victims and their families brings into agonising focus the tragedy of … this protracted conflict since 2009,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The family that lost a breadwinner, forcing the children to leave school and struggle to make ends meet; the driver who lost his limbs, depriving him of his livelihood; the man who went to the bazaar to shop for his children only to return home to find them dead.”

The report comes after the deadliest attack for 15 years in Kabul on Saturday killed 80 people and left hundreds maimed, an assault claimed by ISIL.

The twin bombings tore through crowds of minority Shiite Hazaras as they gathered to demand that a multi-million-dollar power line pass through their electricity-starved province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan. Those figures were excluded in the UN report.

But the assault illustrates the report’s finding that suicide bombings and complex attacks are now hurting more civilians than roadside bombs.

“Parties to the conflict must cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of heavy weaponry in civilian-populated areas,” Mr Al Hussein said.

“There must be an end to the prevailing impunity enjoyed by those responsible for civilian casualties – no matter who they are.”

The report said that growing air strikes by Afghan forces also contributed to the rise in civilian casualties as new aircraft were deployed.

It also voiced concern over the human rights violations of pro-government militia groups, which act outside the law in some Afghan provinces.

* Agence France-Presse

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AFGHANISTAN: A Rock Between Hard Places

Harpviken-Tadjbakhsh-Cover-webhurstpublishers.com
New Book: “A Rock Between Hard Places-Afghanistan as an Arena of Regional Insecurity”
by Kristian Berg Harpviken And Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh

What has driven neighboring states to intervene in the Afghan conflict? This book challenges mainstream analyses which place Afghanistan at the center — the so-called ‘heart’ — of a large pan-Asian region whose fate is predicated on Afghan stability. Instead Harpviken and Tadjbakhsh situate Afghanistan on the margins of three regional security complexes — those of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf — each characterized by deep security rivalries, which, in turn, informs their engagement in Afghanistan. Within Central Asia, security cooperation is hampered by competition for regional supremacy and great power support, a dynamic reflected in these states’ half-hearted role in Afghanistan. In the Persian Gulf, Iran and Saudi Arabia fight for economic and political influence, mirrored in their Afghan engagements; while long-standing Indo-Pakistani rivalries are perennially played out in Afghanistan.

Based on a careful reading of the recent political and economic history of the region, and of Great Power rivalry beyond it, the authors explain why efforts to build a comprehensive Afghanistan-centric regional security order have failed, and suggest what might be done to reset inter-state relations.

Kristian Berg Harpviken is Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh teaches at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), Paris, and is Associate Researcher at PRIO.

‘There are few more insightful analysts of Afghanistan’s region than Kristian Berg Harpiven and Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh. Their new book challenges us to rethink our received understandings of how Afghanistan might relate to, and be affected by, its neighbours, and should be required reading for all scholars, diplomats and international officials interested in the stability of Southwest Asia.’ — William Maley, Professor of Diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University; author of Reconstructing Afghanistan: Civil-Military Experiences in Comparative Perspective

‘A very useful review of regional politics at a time when Afghanistan’s neighbours are more important to its fate than ever before.’ — Antonio Giustozzi, author of The Army of Afghanistan: A Political History of a Fragile Institution

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AFGHANISTAN: Pakistan plans talks with Afghanistan, UN agency over refugees’ return

PKrefugees

Afghan refugees arrive to be repatriated to Afghanistan, at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office on the outskirts of Quetta, Pakistan, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Reuters, Thursday, 30 June 2016

The number of Afghans voluntarily returning from Pakistan has plummeted this year

* Pakistan has world’s second largest refugee population

* Just 6,000 Afghans returned home this year, vs 58,211 in 2015

* Afghanistan says working with Pakistan to tackle refugee woes (Adds Afghanistan minister’s comment)

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik

ISLAMABAD, June 30 (Reuters) – Pakistan plans talks with Afghanistan and the United Nations refugee agency to move longtime Afghan refugees to camps at home, the foreign office said on Thursday, after the numbers of those returning plunged this year.

Pakistan has the world’s second largest refugee population, with more than 1.5 million registered, and about a million unregistered, refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, most of whom fled the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s.

The U.N. says the number of Afghans voluntarily returning from Pakistan has fallen to about 6,000, well below last year’s 58,211, as violence worsens in Afghanistan, where the government and its U.S. allies are battling a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it would immediately approach Afghanistan on the political and diplomatic fronts, while the ministry for frontier regions would engage with the U.N. refugee agency and Afghanistan’s ministry of refugees.

The talks would seek ways to ease “early returns as well as the possibility of shifting Afghan refugees gradually from Pakistan to safer and peaceful areas of Afghanistan, where the Afghan government should establish settlements,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Hussain Alemi Balkhi, the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation, said, “We know that the refugees face harassment and hardship, and we are working with Pakistani authorities to address these problems.”

He confirmed plans for a three-way meeting on July 19 with Pakistan and the U.N. refugee agency.

On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the 1.5 million registered refugees to stay on for six more months.

The registration deadline extension came soon after officials told Reuters at least 500 Afghan refugees had been arrested in the northwestern border province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and deported as a security risk.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper said more than 2,000 refugees were arrested in the last month, and 400 deported to Afghanistan. (Additional Reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik)

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