Afghanistan News and Views

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AFGHANISTAN: Time to Put the Squeeze on Pakistan

nytimes.com, by The Editorial Board, May 12, 2016, 2 min read, original
Afghan security forces in the Daykundi province on Wednesday.

Nearly 15 years after 9/11, the war in Afghanistan is raging and Pakistan deserves much of the blame. It remains a duplicitous and dangerous partner for the United States and Afghanistan, despite $33 billion in American aid and repeated attempts to reset relations on a more constructive course.

In coming weeks, Gen. John Nicholson Jr., the new American commander in Afghanistan, will present his assessment of the war. It’s likely to be bleak and may question the wisdom of President Obama’s goal of cutting the American force of 10,000 troops to 5,500 by the end of the year. The truth is, regardless of troop levels, the only hope for long-term peace is negotiations with some factions of the Taliban. The key to that is Pakistan.

Pakistan’s powerful army and intelligence services have for years given support to the Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist network and relied on them to protect Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and prevent India from increasing its influence there. Under American pressure, the Pakistan Army recently waged a military campaign against the Taliban in the ungoverned border region. But the Haqqanis still operate in relative safety in Pakistan. Some experts say the army has helped engineer the integration of the Haqqanis into the Taliban leadership.

Pakistan’s double game has long frustrated American officials, and it has grown worse. There are now efforts in Washington to exert more pressure on the Pakistan Army. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has wisely barred the use of American aid to underwrite Pakistan’s purchase of eight F-16 jet fighters. Pakistan will still be allowed to purchase the planes, but at a cost of $700 million instead of about $380 million.

Mr. Corker told The Times he would lift the hold on the aid if Pakistan cracks down on the Haqqani network, which he called the “No. 1 threat” to Afghanistan and American troops there.

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan is also getting tougher with Pakistan’s leaders. He courted Pakistan for more than a year in the hopes that the army would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. But the surge in violence forced him to effectively end negotiations. Last month, he threatened to lodge a complaint with the United Nations Security Council if Pakistan refuses to take military action against Taliban leaders on its soil.

While such pressure makes sense, severing ties as the United States did in the 1990s after Pakistan developed a nuclear weapon is unwise. The two countries still share intelligence, and Pakistan allows American drones to target militant leaders in the border region. Given that Pakistan has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, America needs to be able to maintain a dialogue and help Pakistan keep the weapons out of the hands of extremists.

Last year, more Afghan civilians and troops were killed than in any other year since the Taliban was toppled in 2001. Since taking office in 2014, Mr. Ghani has been a more reliable leader than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. But his unity government is crippled by political infighting, endemic corruption, a budget crunch and an unsustainable troop casualty rate.

That grim reality presents difficult choices for Mr. Obama, who must decide whether to keep the current troop strength and possibly to change the military’s role to fight the Taliban more directly.

President Obama declared, with undue optimism, more than 16 months ago that “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.” It will be left to his successor to figure out how and whether the Taliban can be lured into political negotiations. That will only happen if the American government finds a way to convince Pakistan to stop fueling the war.

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AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: Threatened with death for working on TV

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AFGHANISTAN: As Afghan war escalates, schools forced to close

Afghanistan School Security

FILE — In this Jan. 13, 2016 file photo, an Afghan teacher, in brown, helps school children run from the site of clashes near the Pakistan consulate in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. One of Afghanistan’s proudest achievements has been getting millions of children, especially girls, back into school since the toppling of the Taliban, but that gain is crumbling across the south and in other war-torn parts of the country. Hundreds of schools have been forced to shut down because of fighting or Taliban intimidation. (AP Photos/Mohammad Anwar Danishyar, File)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — One of Afghanistan’s proudest achievements has been getting millions of children, especially girls, back into school since the toppling of the Taliban. But that success is crumbling across the south and in other battleground areas of the country, where hundreds of schools have been forced to shut down.

Sometimes the cause is fighting, sometimes it’s intimidation from the Taliban.

Sometimes it’s both, as in the case of the Loy Manda high school in southern Helmand province, part of the Taliban heartland. When the Taliban waged an offensive last winter, the school in the Nad Ali district was caught in the fighting between the militants and Afghan government forces.

“We had six rooms, books, chairs, but now everything is destroyed,” said Hekmatallah, the headmaster, who like some Afghans goes by one name.

He’s working toward reopening, but he had to get permission from the Taliban or else face their retaliation. They said they would allow it, if only boys attend — no girls — and if they are only taught a curriculum meeting the Taliban’s hard-line version of Islam. Taliban mines from the time of the fighting still surround the school, and government forces are stationed just 40 yards (meters) from the school — a potential target for extremist attack.

Between the damage and the danger, none of the school’s 650 students can attend.

That’s the fate for an increasing number of children in the battlezone regions of Afghanistan. In 2015, 615 schools in the country’s 11 most volatile provinces had to close because of violence, according to the Education Ministry. That was on top of the around 600 schools that remained shut down from the year before in those areas.

Almost half the 2015’s school closures were in the final months of the year as the Taliban did not take their customary winter break. Violence escalated across the warmer southern provinces, which were the hardest hit by closures, ministry’s spokesman Mujib Mehrdad said. Last year, 105 of Helmand’s 545 schools shut down, and in neighboring Kandahar, the figure was 150 of 545 schools The heaviest closures were in nearby Zabul, where more half the province’s schools — 140 out of 242 schools — shut their doors.

The United Nations counted 25 students, teachers and other school staff killed in Taliban attacks or crossfire in 2015. In eastern Nangarhar province, the Islamic State group seized control of several districts near the border with Pakistan and terrorized women and girls, banning them from school and work, and in some case forcing them into marriage, according to residents who fled the area.

But extremists’ ideological hatred of the schools and girls’ education is not the only cause of school shutdowns. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based monitoring group, says the Afghan military continues to deploy weaponry in or around schools in battleground areas and uses them as fixed firing positions, even after President Ashraf Ghani banned the use of schools as military bases last year.

That puts children at “grave risk of attack by insurgents who then see schools as military targets,” HRW’s Afghanistan researcher Ahmad Shuja said.

During their time ruling Afghanistan in the 1990s until their overthrow in the 2011 U.S.-led invasion, the Taliban banned girls from school and mandated that boys learn the Quran by rote. Once they fell from power, schools and universities welcomed women back as teachers and students. With funding from the international community the number of children in school grew from 900,000 in 2001 to 8.3 million in 2011, according to figures from the U.N. assistance mission to Afghanistan. UNAMA says girls account for 39 percent of the total — up from near zero under the Taliban.

But in districts where the Taliban have regained control or have enough power to intimidate residents, they have returned to barring girls from the classroom and dictating curriculum for the boys.

In Helmand, where the Taliban control smuggling routes for drugs and other contraband, heavy fighting in recent months has put a number of schools like Loy Manda on the front line of the war, said the head of the provincial education department, Abdul Matin Jafar. In Gereshk district, he said, the education department building was attacked by insurgents, “was completely destroyed and now we have no office there to operate from.”

Mohammad Mosa took his children out of their school in Nad Ali soon after the fighting started, and sent them to the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, not just for their safety but to ensure a well-rounded education. The Taliban had told parents in the district that they could re-open the school on condition they hire one of the militants to ensure that only Islamic subjects were taught, he said.

“Our kids were terrified of going to school as both sides are firing rockets, destroying our neighborhood,” Mosa said.

Even temporary school closures result in lower attendances, particularly by girls, once classes resume. In the northern city of Kunduz, which was besieged by the Taliban in October, at least three schools were commandeered by the armed forces for use as bases. False reports were carried by the local Tolo television station that Taliban had entered a Kunduz University women’s dormitory and raped residents during their assault on the city in September. As a result, fewer women returned to their studies once the city was cleared of insurgents, the school’s dean Abdul Qudus Zarifi said.

The HRW report said that girls “often bear the brunt of these disruptions because parents are wary of sending daughters to schools occupied by armed men.”

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AFGHANISTAN: Interview- Don’t let Afghanistan become forgotten crisis – Red Cross official

By: Emma Batha           22 Apr 2016          Reuters 

Afghan men clear the rubble of their damaged house after yesterday's suicide car bomb attack on a government security building in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Afghan men clear the rubble of their damaged house after yesterday’s suicide car bomb attack on a government security building in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

LONDON, April 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The world must not let Afghanistan become a forgotten crisis, a senior Red Cross official said on Friday as he warned of spiralling violence, donor fatigue and a worrying “brain drain” of educated professionals.

“The international community must keep their attention on Afghanistan. It’s far from being over. It’s not the time to switch off,” said Jean-Nicolas Marti, outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan.

He warned that violence – which is at levels not seen since 2001 – would likely escalate in the coming year.

“The security situation has really deteriorated … and my prediction is a further deterioration,” Marti said. “Potentially the 18 months ahead of us will be much tougher.”

Marti is meeting government officials in European capitals and Washington to press for greater political, financial and humanitarian support.

“The message is (we need) to make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a forgotten or ignored conflict,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London.

Marti was speaking just days after a suicide attack in Kabul killed 64 people and injured hundreds more in the deadliest single incident of its kind in the capital since 2011.

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility, is believed to be stronger than at any point since it was ousted by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. Fighters loyal to Islamic State have also emerged in pockets of the country.

Marti said the ICRC had evacuated 600 war-wounded in the first three months of the year – a high number given that fighting usually tails off in winter when mountain passes are snowed in.

“It … demonstrates that the fighting season is going to be tough this year and the humanitarian response needs to be up to it,” he said.

The Taliban, which wants to drive Afghanistan’s Western-backed government from power, announced the start of their spring offensive on April 12.

BRAIN DRAIN

The ICRC said it was particularly alarmed by the rising number of civilian casualties which hit a record high for the seventh successive year in 2015, with over 11,000 non-combatants killed or injured.

Attacks against medical facilities and staff have also risen 50 percent in the last year, making it more difficult for civilians to access healthcare.

Marti said the ICRC was launching a flying surgical team which will tour hospitals in provincial capitals around Afghanistan, training medical staff to respond to emergencies.

An estimated one million people are displaced within Afghanistan and others have fled abroad. Afghans are the second largest group of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe behind Syrians.

Marti warned of a “brain drain” as middle class professionals pack their bags in an exodus which could have serious implications for the country.

“What makes me pretty worried about the future of this country is that I know Afghans … who were here 10 years ago hoping to create a future for Afghanistan and who are now picking up their belongings and fleeing to Europe or to Canada.

“(This) illustrates for me that they are losing hope for the future of this country.”

Afghanistan is suffering from donor fatigue, partly because international attention was focused on Syria and Iraq, he said.

“We’ve seen a decrease in general interest for Afghanistan, but the situation is actually getting worse. It’s dangerous.”

(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan teenager braves threats, family pressure to lead women’s orchestra

 Mon, 18 Apr 2016  By: Mirwais Harooni  Reuters

Mina Salarzai, a member of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, practises at Afghanistan's National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan April 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Mina Salarzai, a member of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, practises at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan April 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

KABUL, April 18 (Reuters) – Like many teenagers, 19-year-old Negin Khpalwak from Kunar in eastern Afghanistan loves music, but few people of her age have battled as fiercely to pursue their passion in the face of family hostility and threats.

Playing instruments was banned outright during the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and even today, many conservative Muslims frown on most forms of music.

Negin took her first steps learning music in secret, before eventually revealing her activity to her father. He encouraged her, but the reaction from the rest of her conservative Pashtun family was hostile.

“Apart from my father, everybody in the family is against it,” she said. “They say, ‘How can a Pashtun girl play music?’ Especially in our tribe, where even a man doesn’t have the right to do it.”

Now living in an orphanage in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Negin leads the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women at the Afghanistan National Institute for Music that plays both Western and Afghan musical instruments.

When she went home on a recent visit, her uncles and brothers threatened to beat her for a performing appearance on television, and she had to return to Kabul the next day.

“Compared to women outside Afghanistan, we feel we are in a cage,” she said.

In a country notorious internationally for harsh restrictions on women in most areas of life, Negin’s story highlights a double challenge.

“The formation of the orchestra is an achievement in itself,” said Ahmad Naser Sarmast, a musicologist who returned home from Australia after the fall of the Taliban to help found the National Institute for Music in 2010.

“I WILL NEVER ACCEPT DEFEAT”

While children at the school have the support of their parents, they often face pressure from their wider family as well as from religious authorities, he said.

“The bravery of the girls sitting in the orchestra and the leadership of a young female conductor is an achievement for Afghanistan,” he said.

Some of the women say their relatives are proud of their achievements, but they face suspicion from others, as well as intimidation.

“When I have my musical instruments with me, people talk a lot behind my back,” said Mina, a trumpeter in the orchestra, whose mother is a policewoman in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

“There are a lot of security problems, and if we go from one place to another with our instruments, then we have to go by car,” she added.

The dangers awaiting performers in Afghanistan were brutally highlighted in 2014, when Sarmast was nearly killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up during a show at a French-run school in Kabul.

He has not been discouraged, however. The formation of the girls’ orchestra was the best response to extremists, he said, adding that the school was trying to help Negin continue her education, despite the family problems.

Negin remains fiercely determined to continue on a path that has given her a new sense of identity.

“I am not that Negin anymore,” she said. “I have been leading this orchestra for six months now, and leadership takes a lot of effort.”

She is ready to leave her family behind for the sake of her music, she said, although, in Afghanistan, family is crucial to most people’s sense of their position in the world.

“I will never accept defeat,” she said. “I will continue to play music. I do not feel safe, but when people see me and say, ‘That is Negin Khpalwak’, that gives me energy.”

(Additional reporting by; Sayed Hassib; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: A FLICKERING TRUTH

Dir: Pietra Brettkelly
New Zealand / Afghanistan / 2015 / 91mins

We’re delighted to announce a Q&A with director Pietra Brettkelly, via skype, on Saturday 30 April following the screening at 18:30. Click here to book.

As Afghanistan teeters on the edge of an unpredictable future, A Flickering Truth unwraps the world of three dreamers, the dust of 100 years of war and the restoration of 8000 hours of film archive.

Afghanistan’s rich film history might well have been lost forever, if not for the brave custodians revealed in this doc, who risked their lives to conceal films from the Taliban regime. The journey through thousands of hours of dusty film reels yields new surprises every day. Watching rediscovered material sparks youthful recollections among the archive staff – of the films they saw or made, and of the society they have lost. As the caretakers thread old projectors with film from unmarked reels, the country’s history comes alive with images of former leaders, beloved actresses, and landmarks that have since been destroyed.

A Flickering Truth is a testament to the urgency and necessity of film preservation.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan schools, hospitals under threat, U.N. says in grim report

Mon, 18 Apr 2016    By: Josh Smith    Reuters

Teacher Mahajera Armani and her class of girls pose for a picture at their study open area, founded by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), outside Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 19, 2015.

Teacher Mahajera Armani and her class of girls pose for a picture at their study open area, founded by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), outside Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 19, 2015.

KABUL, April 18 (Reuters) – Schools and health facilities have come under increasing threat as violence spreads in Afghanistan, making it harder for children especially to get access to education and medical care, the United Nations reported on Monday.

Western-backed Afghan government forces are locked in a protracted battle with Taliban insurgents who are at their strongest since they were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

International donors have poured billions of dollars into reconstruction in Afghanistan, including education and health programmes, but the conflict threatens to undermine services provided to millions of Afghans, the new U.N. report said.

Although direct attacks on schools and health facilities dropped slightly from previous years, U.N. monitors recorded 257 conflict-related incidents in 2015, up from 130 in 2014.

“It is simply unacceptable for teachers, doctors and nurses to be subjected to violence or threats, and for schools and medical facilities to be misused or attacked,” Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.

“All parties must take measures to protect education and health services in Afghanistan,” he said.

Sixty-three medical personnel were killed or wounded in 2015, most of them in a single, mistaken attack by a U.S. warplane on a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in the northern city of Kunduz in October.

In 2014, 25 health workers were killed or wounded.

A further 66 medical personnel were abducted in 2015, compared with 31 the year before.

Deaths and injuries among teachers and other education workers were down, to 26 in 2015 from 37 the year before, but abductions spiked to 49 from 14 in the same period.

Reports of threats and intimidation against medical and education workers also increased dramatically.

Violence forced more than 369 schools to close last year, affecting more than 139,000 students and 600 teachers, according to the U.N. report.

Among the hardest hit areas was eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, where militants linked to the Islamic State militant group forced the closure of at least 11 clinics and 68 schools.

Insurgent groups were blamed for the majority of incidents, but pro-government forces were also reported to have harassed medical workers and used schools as fighting positions.

At least 600 civilians have been killed in fighting so far this year, with another 1,343 wounded, U.N. human rights investigators said on Sunday, with urban warfare causing a spike in casualties among women and children.

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AFGHANISTAN: Disabled young Afghan artist dreams to become professional teacher

By KHAAMA PRESS – Thu Apr 14 2016, 10:26 pm   KHAAMA 

The story of a young disabled Afghan girl has gone viral in Afghanistan with reports and stories surfacing the media regarding her extraordinary drawing skills.

The young Rubaba is disabled from her legs and hands but she dreams to become a professional teacher in the future despite her family is suffering from poverty and she is not able to walk and perform like other children.

Her heartbreaking story has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people after she appeared she in various Television reports, causing the social media users to overwhelmingly share her stories in the internet.

The 16-year-old Rubaba says she wants to become a professional artist and teacher in the future as she is practicing the art at home using her teeth to grab the pencil.

The young girl says she is also interested to learn English language and attend classes in school similar as other children.

She was born disabled but Rubaba says she has learnt a lot by studying at home and looking at her brothers and sisters.

Rubaba is now able to write and is hopeful to have more achievements in the future as she believes disability is not a barrier to stop someone from reading, writing and participating in social affairs.

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AFGHANISTAN: All Hail, the Brother of the Lion of Panjshir!

PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan — On a recent Monday afternoon in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province, in front of a whooping crowd of bearded ex-rebel commanders, a stocky, one-legged veteran grabbed the microphone to make himself heard: “The mujahideen will seek martyrdom against the Taliban,” he shouted. On stage, presidential envoy Ahmad Zia Massoud, as a consummate Afghan politician would, posed for selfies while a group of elderly men ceremoniously wrapped a blue and green chapan cloak over his shoulders. The message Massoud had come to deliver played well with the northerners. It also probably surprised, and infuriated, his boss, the president.

Massoud carries one of the most revered names in Afghanistan. His older brother was Ahmad Shah Massoud, the celebrated leader of the northern resistance against the Soviets, and later the Taliban, who was killed by al Qaeda in 2001 and has since been declared a national hero. So when the younger Massoud went on a weeklong tour of five northern provinces in February, and invited me along for part of it, he drew large crowds.

Playing to a growing feeling of angst in a populace that has spent the last year watching the Taliban gobble territory at a steady pace, Massoud attempted to portray himself as a steadfast hand of resistance in a government much criticized for its failure to defeat the insurgency. He attacked the army leadership for incompetence. He ridiculed the president’s most sensitive political gamble: attempts to reboot peace talks with the Taliban through improving relations with Pakistan. And most controversially, he called on the commanders to rally their men and arms for the spring fighting season.

While Massoud didn’t use the contentious word “militia,” for all intents and purposes, that is what he was trying to mobilize.

While Massoud didn’t use the contentious word “militia,” for all intents and purposes, that is what he was trying to mobilize.  And militias were supposed to be a thing of the past. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has told local, private militias — which were once espoused by U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, though the Defense Department often just called them “local police forces” — to stand down. Their litany of human rights abuses often did more to instigate unrest than fight it.

Massoud’s tour of the north exposed just how dysfunctional Afghanistan’s so-called national unity government has been ever since it was conceived (with help from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) after the disputed 2014 election. Ghani, the official winner, became president, and Abdullah Abdullah, who also claimed victory, his chief executive. Since then, the national leadership has been mired in conflict but generally tries to keep differences behind closed doors. Massoud, however, took his complaints on the road. He actively undermined the president’s agenda, and that for a man named the president’s special representative for reform and good governance.

Political gridlock has stalled reforms — most notably on the economy and the electoral system — andsapped many Afghans of any hope they had left of being able to create a prosperous, safe future inside the country. Afghanistan’s international partners, eager for signs that it won’t collapse if left to its own devices, are also impatient with the unity government they helped create. And to make matters worse, some prominent officials, fueled by opportunism and ego, threaten to implode the government from within.

Recently, a scuffle between supporters of two northern strongmen, Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum and Balkh province Gov. Mohammad Ata Noor, over whose face should be allowed to adorn posters in the streets ended in armed clashes. At least one person was killed. Several prominent politicians, some of them former Ghani supporters, have created councils whose official purpose is to keep the government on the right track without explicitly opposing it. In practice, the councils seem to have served more as platforms for disgruntled mujahideen and sidelined officials to claim a place in the limelight. All the while, ex-President Hamid Karzai is believed to be waiting in the wings for an opening to return to the national stage.

That opening is moving closer. According to the agreement underpinning the unity government, a vote must be held this fall, before the government’s second year runs out, to turn Abdullah’s post as chief executive into a prime ministerial position. Nobody believes that is going to happen. In March, the embattled commission chief who oversaw the 2014 elections resigned, paving way for much needed electoral reforms, but even if the commission began now, it would not have sufficient time to prepare for the vote.

While the government will likely be able to extend its election mandate, as long as its international partners maintain their support for it, in response, political opponents of all colors will likely claim that the government is illegitimate. Meanwhile, Ghani and Abdullah have also failed to agree on key positions, including a defense minister. They also continue to argue over a new intelligence chief, and it wasn’t until this weekend that they managed to get an attorney general approved, a year-and-a-half after he was supposed to have begun his charge against corruption, a possibly bigger evil than armed insurgents. The frailty of the unity government has become so obvious that Kerry, during a visit to Kabul on Saturday, felt the need to make it “very, very clear” to opponents that the government was to last the entirety of its five-year term.

Ahmad Zia Massoud traveled with his entourage in army helicopters and on the government’s dime, but his message to northerners directly contravened his boss, the president.

Two demands are emerging, said Haroon Mir, a political analyst in Kabul. Some demand early presidential elections; others are pushing for a Loya Jirga, a grand assembly, which would attract strongmen, opposition politicians, and elites from all over the country. While a so-called traditional Loya Jirga has no binding legal authority, it could easily have more public credibility than the current government and could be used to whip up frenzy and mount a serious challenge to the government.

“A traditional Loya Jirga will not be controllable,” Mir said.

So Massoud has hit a sore spot at the right time, politically speaking. Afghans feel increasingly alienated from their leaders, and his was the first government face many in the north had seen in a long time. His crowds often numbered more than a thousand people. On a Sunday in February, outside a rally at a wedding hall, I found myself squished in the middle of a dozen thickset, brawling men, clawing and shoving their way through an entrance door barricaded by three soldiers. Inside, bathed in fluorescent lights, Massoud was showered with applause. Finally, it seemed, someone from the government was giving the north the respect it deserved.

“Our province was central for the jihad, but we have been forgotten,” one snazzily dressed elder from Samangan with a long white turban proclaimed when it was his turn at the microphone.

To many northerners, Massoud’s tirades sound honest. To sensitive ears in the palace, though, he could sound like a mutineer.

This lament resonates. To many northerners, Massoud’s tirades sound honest. To sensitive ears in the palace, though, he could sound like a mutineer. A mutineer, that is, with a rank akin to vice president, whose entourage travels in national army helicopters, all on the government’s dime.

Ali Mohammad Ali, a Kabul-based security analyst, put it this way when asked about Massoud’s political moves: “Using government resources and turning them against the government is wrong.”

Some among Afghanistan’s foreign allies, whose patience with the government is already wearing thin, feel that Massoud’s maneuvers are only making matters worse, undermining a government that is already struggling to assert its legitimacy and is taking a beating on the battlefield.

“It is irresponsible for a government official to attack the security forces in a situation where the country is at war,” said Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s special representative and ambassador in Kabul, about Massoud’s tour. “Everyone in the government doesn’t have to agree. But the discussions shouldn’t take place in public. It is disrespectful towards the security forces who are out there dying every day.”

Nearly two months after his return to Kabul, Massoud’s mutiny has yet to materialize. Nevertheless, his protest is a sign of a recent willingness among some officials to capitalize on the weakness of the government, even if they are a part of it. It also puts into question the president’s broader public support. Massoud was a key member of Ghani’s election team and is the only representative among the president’s top allies who is Tajik, the country’s second-largest ethnicity. (Ghani is Pashtun.)

“Ghani can’t claim that he is a national leader if he doesn’t have support from [such a fundamental] sector of the Afghan population,” said Mir. Vice President Dostum, an Uzbek, has also made a habit of going to his home base in the north when he seems to feel sidelined. If such officials continue to play regional powerbrokers, Mir said, “the name of the national unity government loses its meaning.”

Ahmad Zia Massoud is celebrated on stage in Samangan, one of the five provinces in his northern roadshow.

It was predictable that the Taliban would exploit the vacuum left by the international military withdrawal. The government’s inability to prevent the Taliban from gaining ground is rooted, many think, in the brittle relationships inside the leadership. Though far from the traditional Taliban heartlands, the north has recently been hit by fierce Taliban offensives. Last September, Kunduz became the first provincial capital since 2001 to fall, temporarily, to the Taliban. Even now insurgents are within a couple of miles of several more capitals. In January, militants destroyed three power pylons in Baghlan, disrupting electricity southward to Kabul.

When Massoud’s entourage arrived in Baghlan a month later, I heard security officials swear to his advisors that they had cleared the area around the electricity towers. But as we flew over the area only hours later, we saw insurgents fighting on the barren ground below. Some of them took potshots at our helicopter.

Incidents like this foster claims that the security forces don’t take the worsening situation seriously. As politicians appear inept at securing the provinces, some Afghans start looking around for others to lead them. That is one reason the Taliban can still gain significant support. It is also a reason some are nostalgic for Karzai, and why others long for old strongmen. And so the public anxiety Massoud is trying to exploit is real.

When I probed him about the need to arm and reinforce old commanders the government had chosen not to include in its security forces, Massoud was unequivocal. “The mujahideen are very keen to support our army, and they have a lot of experience,” he told me on a cold soccer pitch ringed by mountains, yelling to be heard above the rotor of the helicopter, as it prepared to fly us onward. “The mujahideen are a very big social group in Afghanistan. Now that we are in an emergency situation, we need the mujahideen to support our troops.”

When I put to him that Afghanistan’s international partners are worried about the resurgence of irregular forces outside the auspices of the government, Massoud insisted that he is not out to create militias. He wants to form local “councils of resistance,” centered in Takhar province, where his brother was headquartered, and he wants the government to enroll the mujahideen in the national forces. However, if that doesn’t happen — and it is unlikely to — “then our mujahideen will do something on their own to fight against terrorists,” he said.

Crowds of old mujahideen commanders flocked to meet Ahmad Zia Massoud, partly out of respect for his late, celebrated brother, Ahmad Shah Massoud, whom they used to fight for.

Ahmad Zia Massoud doesn’t immediately fit the prototype of a guerrilla commander. For one, he doesn’t have his brother’s charisma. On billboards, Ahmad Shah, known as the “Lion of Panjshir,” looks radiant, like a splicing between Bob Marley and Che Guevara. In contrast, Ahmad Zia, stern-faced and calm, looks more like a serious dad. When speaking in public, he folds his hands across his abdomen, as if trying to appear as unimposing as possible. His hands are soft, like a politician’s, not a fighter’s.

But the Massoud name goes a long way with the mujahideen. One of them is Baghlan’s provincial council chief, Mohammad Safdar Mohseni, who said he went to Massoud’s rally out of loyalty to the family legacy.

“If the government continues to waste time, people will take up weapons and fight the Taliban. They will ask the government to leave them alone so they can fight on their own,” he said. Another commander, Jalan Bajgar, said the mujahideen had long deterred the Taliban from attacking police posts just by being well-armed, but the insurgents had grown bolder. “We need bigger weapons and commanders to go to the front lines,” he said.

The idea of private armies scattered across the north makes foreign diplomats uneasy. “It might solve a local security problem, but it doesn’t strengthen the state,” Mellbin said. “We have invested enormous sums in moving Afghanistan out of fragility towards stability. So undermining the authority and legitimacy of the state is not a solution for those of us who would like to see a stable Afghanistan.”

In March, Ghani got a rare win in his attempts to restart the peace process when a delegation from the insurgent group Hizb-e-Islami visited Kabul to pledge their readiness to talk. Last week, the group dropped a previous demand that all international forces must leave Afghanistan before they want to talk peace. Though not as militarily important as they once were, the government hopes Hizb-e-Islami’s concession will help convince the Taliban to join the peace process as well.

That is a formula for a paralyzing tug of war.

But the consensus is that there will be no peace without serious reforms. On one side, Ghani has proved the president many feared he would be: a professorial micromanager wary of delegating responsibility. At the same time, Abdullah is facing pressure from his northern supporters, who still believe he was robbed of the presidency, to claim his fair share of influence in the unity government.  That is a formula for a paralyzing tug of war.

“The government has become very fragile,” Mir said. “It wasn’t built on a vision for the country; it was based on pure power sharing. It hasn’t come together on a specific agenda. People in government want to preserve their own interests.”

Before Massoud left Baghlan, the provincial police chief delivered some good news. Over a breakfast of bread, tea, and deep-fried fish, he reported that security forces had pushed the Taliban back, so engineers could finally repair the destroyed electricity towers. Massoud’s convoy drove to a snow-speckled mountaintop, which constituted the front line, to look at the pylons from afar. It was impossible to make them out, but the army commander said engineers were working away. While he and Massoud pored over a map, canon gunners blasted three shells from a 122 mm howitzer in the supposed direction of the Taliban. A week later, after Massoud had safely returned to Kabul, electricity had still not returned. The Taliban fired back and hit the governor’s compound with a rocket, killing one employee. Government forces later retook the district but not without U.S. planes raining bombs on the insurgents. It confirmed the often painful view of many Afghans that, politically and militarily, their government is still beholden to the United States.

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AFGHANISTAN: What became of 25 young Afghan deportees?

By Kristy Siegfried   6 April 2016 IRIN

Zakir was just 14 when he fled pressure from Taliban fighters to join their ranks and embarked on the long and dangerous journey from Afghanistan to Britain.

In the UK, he found not only safety but also the opportunity to pursue the education he could never have in Afghanistan. But his legal status was temporary and shortly before turning 18, he received a letter from the Home Office saying his status would soon expire and he faced the prospect of being returned to Afghanistan.

Now aged 23 and still waiting for a decision on his final appeal to remain in the UK, Zakir’s life has been on hold for the past five years, but he remains determined to avoid deportation to his home country.

“There is no way I can go home,” he said in a pre-recorded speech played at an event in London on Tuesday night to launch a study into what happens to former child asylum seekers forcibly returned to Afghanistan. “People are still looking for me [there],” Zakir said. “My culture has changed. I feel British.”

The research, which followed 25 returnees over 18 months, shows that Zakir’s fears are well founded. It discovered that the young people experience numerous severe difficulties after their return to Afghanistan. These range from insecurity to a lack of social networks, work or education opportunities, and mental health problems. More than half the returnees said they planned to leave Afghanistan again. By the end of the research period, six had done so, while the whereabouts of 11 others was unknown.

Young Afghans make up the second largest group of unaccompanied children who apply for asylum in the UK – 656 out of 3,043 asylum applications from unaccompanied children made in 2015 were Afghan. The majority are given only temporary leave to remain and are placed with foster families or in the care of local authorities. Reaching 18 means not only leaving the care system but also losing the right to remain in the UK. Applications to extend status or appeal the original decision on their asylum applications are rarely successful.

“Most adult Afghans get some kind of protection status on appeal, but it’s much more common for young people to be refused because of inconsistencies in their stories,” explained Emily Bowerman, a programme manager with the Refugees Support Network (RSN), which provides educational and legal support to young unaccompanied refugee children in London and produced ‘After Return’, the report released on Tuesday.

“Imagine a 15- or 16-year-old who’s probably spent a year travelling. When they have their initial interview after they arrive in the UK… often they struggle to articulate their claim for asylum,” Bowerman told IRIN.

According to Home Office data, 2,018 young people have been forcibly returned to Afghanistan from the UK since 2007. A lack of post-return monitoring means very little is known about their whereabouts or wellbeing, but there is mounting evidence that security conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated over the past year, since the withdrawal of international forces. Last year saw the highest number of civilian casualties since 2009.

An August 2015 court injunction that had halted deportations to Afghanistan from the UK due to the worsening security situation was successfully overturned by the Home Office last month.

The ‘After Return’ study found that 12 of the returnees interviewed had experienced security incidents including bomb blasts and targeted attacks. One was beaten unconscious by unknown assailants in Kabul and another witnessed the killing of another young returnee.

“Being a returnee does increase their risk,” said Bowerman. “It makes them stand out and subjects them to particular targeting by Taliban groups.”

She added that it also affected their ability to form new friendships or reconnect with family. “Other people in society fear they’ll put them at risk,” she said.

Many young people in the study hid their status as returnees from new friends while less than half were living with their families. In some cases families were still paying off debts incurred from funding their migration to the UK and couldn’t afford to support them. Some even resented their return.

Only a fifth of the returnees had found stable employment in Afghanistan, where jobs are already scarce and their lack of personal connections and status as returnees worked against them.

Feelings of isolation, stigmatisation and hopelessness about their futures meant that 22 of the 25 returnees were struggling emotionally and 15 had mental health issues including severe anxiety and depression.

“I have seen my worst days after the return to Afghanistan,” said one. Another talked about being constantly mocked by people: “They say I have wasted my life and now have returned with empty hands. It feels so depressing from inside.”

RSN is hopeful the findings will be used as evidence that could result in fewer young Afghans having their asylum applications refused or spending long periods in limbo before ultimately being returned.

Zakir has been offered a place at university and even a bursary, but he can’t accept either until his immigration status is resolved. In the meantime, he has to sign in with the Home Office every two weeks and lives in constant fear of being detained and deported.

“I have made friends and a future for myself here in London, but I am facing having all of that taken away from me.”

 

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AFGHANISTAN: Amina Azimi — Raising the Voices of the Disabled in Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN: Desperate Afghans flee amid Taliban surge, economic woes, rampant corruption

 April 6, 2016 Washington Times

Young Afghan refugees are left in limbo on the Greek-Macedonia border, where a makeshift refugee camp is struggling to handle the estimated 14,000 people stranded after Macedonia announced it would close its border with Greece. (Valerie Plesch/Special to the Washington Times)

Photo by: Valerie Plesch Young Afghan refugees are left in limbo on the Greek-Macedonia border, where a makeshift refugee camp is struggling to handle the estimated 14,000 people stranded after Macedonia announced it would close its border with Greece. (Valerie Plesch/Special to the Washington Times)

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the hundreds of Afghans who lined up before sunrise here at Kabul’s only passport office one recent morning, their slow steps were the first of a long, desperate journey out of their war-stricken nation.

One applicant, 30-year-old house painter Hashmatullah Naimi from the neighboring province of Parwan, hoped to join the tens of thousands of Afghans who have already left their homeland in the last year in search of better jobs and a better life in Western Europe, a peril-filled trek that usually takes them through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece.


“I feel so scared of dying of poverty — there are no more jobs in Afghanistan. I am a house painter, but nowadays no one is asking me to paint their home,” he said while waiting in line with around 350 other applicants. “The economy of the country is breaking down, and people do not want to risk spending their money.”

The lagging economy and rampant corruption, along with a worsening security situation, are threatening Afghanistan’s fledging democracy despite the best efforts and huge investment of the U.S. and its allies, say analysts.

“Insecurity has increased in large parts of the country,” said Arne Strand, an Afghanistan expert in Norway and research director at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, an independent research center on international affairs. “The Taliban has gained strongholds not only in the south but also in the north, which has led them both to higher insecurity but also more migration,”

October 2016 will mark the 15th anniversary of the U.S.-led military invasion in Afghanistan that removed the fundamentalist Taliban from power but created a central government that has proven barely able to hold onto power in Kabul. Since then, two U.S. presidents have overseen the deployment of more than 130,000 American and U.S.-led coalition troops to the battlefields for a war that has cost American taxpayers more than $1 trillion.

Despite those efforts, Afghans don’t want to stay.

Stuck near the finish line

More than 3,000 miles away from Kabul’s passport office, the Afghans who made it out congregate among the thousands stranded in the makeshift camps in the northern Greek village of Idomeni. They’re stuck because the Macedonian government recently closed its doors to all refugees, creating the bottleneck.

Here they are among the estimated 14,000 refugees stranded in Idomeni who fled conflicts in Syria and elsewhere this year along the so-called “Balkan Route” that runs through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and other nations before it ends in Central Europe.

Last year more than 1 million refugees attempted to enter Europe. Around 178,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe last year, according to Eurostat. Many won’t be allowed to stay. The European Union has reportedly drafted a plan that would send 80,000 Afghans back to Afghanistan. The Afghan government says it is unable to accommodate and ensure the safety of those returning.

This year Afghans represent 26 percent, or roughly 37,000, of the total Mediterranean Sea arrivals to Europe, making them the second-highest group after Syrians, according to the U.N.

One Afghan at the Greek camp, Zalmai Rahimi, 32, speaks with an American accent owing to his 11 years working with the U.S. Army. He abandoned a thriving carpet and jewelry business when he left for the West. After spending close to $11,000 to escape Afghanistan with the help of smugglers, he now shares a tent with his wife and three sons on a muddy Greek field.

“I had a good home — everything was good for me, the only problem I had was working for the Americans,” he said about his life in the western city of Herat.

Taliban militants often threatened him and his family, said Mr. Rahimi. A few years ago he applied for a special visa issued by the U.S. government to Afghans who worked with the American military. In his pocket he still kept an apparently legitimate recommendation letter from the American military. But he claimed the American Embassy in Kabul never responded to his application.

“Before it was just the Taliban in Afghanistan, now Daesh is there,” he said, using the alternate name for the Syria-based jihadi Islamic State movement that has recently moved into Afghanistan. “It’s a big problem for the Afghan people.”

Rising civilian casualties

Last year saw the highest recorded number of Afghan civilian casualties since the beginning of the war in 2001 — a total of more than 11,000 deaths and injuries, according to a recent U.N. survey. Areas of the country that were once deemed safe are now wracked by violence as the Taliban test the weak, faction-ridden government in Kabul.

But some experts argue that other problems besides security are holding back Afghanistan.

“It’s not really a military issue,” said Mr. Strand. “It’s just as much a lack of governance. It’s a lack of trust in the government in Kabul.”

In 2014, after highly contested elections, the Obama administration and other governments brokered a power-sharing agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and the government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. But Mr. Abdullah’s allies in parliament have blocked Mr. Ghani’s nominations for key government positions, including defense minister, a position that has been vacant since the agreement was signed.

In addition to a weak government, Kabul relies on international donors to fund services for its 32.5 million people. The country received around $16 billion in international aid for 2014 through 2017. Those funds could dry up soon, however, giving more Afghans a reason to leave.

“There is a fear that by 2017 the international donors will not necessarily continue the funding at the same level as today,” Mr. Strand said.




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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan’s ArtLords try to reclaim Kabul

4 April 2016   BBC

A group of Afghan activists and artists are attempting to reclaim Kabul after years of war – by arming themselves with paintbrushes. Because of the poor security situation, many defensive walls have sprung up around high-profile buildings in the city, and these provide the ArtLords with their canvases.

Anti-corruption painting on the wall of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security

Image copyrightArtLords

The group has produced a series of paintings of eyes on the walls, which are mostly accompanied by the slogan “I See You” and are designed as a warning to corrupt officials. This set of eyes, on the wall of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), mysteriously disappeared only a few days after it was painted in December.

After a huge public outcry, the NDS asked the ArtLords to draw the painting again, but on a different wall, which the ArtLords refused to do. “Now we have the same eyes and slogans on the same wall,” ArtLords founder Omaid Sharifi says.

Omaid Sharifi working on a painting

Image copyrightArtLords

Omaid Sharifi says he wants the paintings to penetrate the politicians’ defences.

“They use these walls for protection and we want to take all that down.”

Baryalai Fetrat, sociology lecturer at Kabul University, says these paintings are “a powerful tool” for bringing about social change, cutting as they do across the educational divide.

Portrait of Afghan policewoman Fariba Hamid

Image copyrightArtLords

Policewoman Fariba Hamid was painted on the security wall of Kabul’s ninth police district, where she serves. The portrait was put up to celebrate International Women’s Day in March.

“We face lots of struggles,” the policewoman said of her role.

This painting appeared near the area in Kabul where an Afghan woman, Farkhunda, was fatally lynched by a group of men just over a year ago. She was falsely accused of burning the Koran.

The slogan beneath the picture says: “A brave man supports women.”

Painting of camel and heart in Kabul

Image copyrightArtLords

Not all the paintings are political – this one suggests a caravan of love from a country at war.

And the ArtLords have shown their work outside Afghanistan too.

This installation, which was showcased in Berlin in December, was “a mixed work between us and German artists”, Omaid Sharifi says. It was based on an image taken in 2014 at a camp for internally displaced people in Afghanistan.

Photographer Rada Akbar was documenting underage marriage when she captured a young mother, Naghma, and her baby daughter on film. Naghma, who was then 19, had been married for two years and had lived in the camp for 15 years.

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AFGHANISTAN: Obama’s Afghan Dilemma: To Bomb or Not to Bomb

BY: DAN DE LUCE, PAUL MCLEAR  

As Kabul’s fragile army struggles to hold the line, will Washington’s warplanes come to the rescue?

Obama’s Afghan Dilemma: To Bomb or Not to Bomb

The Taliban released a propaganda video in August that showed more than 100 fighters, clutching AK-47 rifles and sitting astride motorcycles, gathered in broad daylight outside the Afghan city of Kunduz to pledge allegiance to the group’s new leader. The scene would have been impossible two years ago, when any crowd of Taliban fighters would have been decimated from the air by U.S. warplanes.

Times have changed. The United States withdrew most of its troops in 2014 and dramatically reduced the number of airstrikes against Taliban targets throughout the country. The footage from Kunduz illustrated how the Taliban has been taking advantage of their new freedom: by conquering the city. The insurgents held Kunduz for two weeks before being pushed out by Afghan and U.S. personnel in October. Still, many officials believe it’s only a matter of time before the Taliban targets the city again.

The Taliban’s growing military might is posing a thorny strategic question for President Barack Obama, who took office promising to end what is now America’s longest war. The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars training Afghan security personnel, who have suffered enormous casualties while trying — and failing — to repel the Taliban’s advances in the country’s south, east, and north. That leaves the White House with an unpalatable choice: Keep the stringent rules limiting the numbers of strikes in place and risk seeing the militants continue to gain ground, or allow American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets at the risk of deepening Washington’s combat role in Afghanistan.

One Saudi’s Protest, Through The Viewfinder
A photography exhibit in Washington by a Saudi doctor-turned-artist casts a critical eye on Riyadh’s relationship with big oil and Mecca.
The rules of engagement were sharply curtailed with the formal end of NATO’s combat mission in January 2015. U.S. commanders can call in airstrikes only to protect NATO troops, target al Qaeda militants, or come to the aid of Afghan forces in danger of being overrun by the Taliban or suffering a clear defeat on the ground.

In practice, that meant the U.S. was rarely directly targeting the militants from the air. After U.S. Green Berets and their Afghan allies were ambushed near the town of Marja in Helmand province in January, the Americans called in 12 airstrikes to ward off Taliban attackers to buy time for a rescue force to arrive. And last October, U.S. commandos directed an AC-130 gunship to pound Taliban positions in Kunduz city during intense house-to-house fighting. The crew targeted the wrong building, killing 42 patients and staff at a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

With the Taliban on the march and the Islamic State expanding its presence in Afghanistan, senior Pentagon officials believe it’s time for those rules to change. They’re pushing for revising the rules of engagement so they would be free to fire on Taliban forces massing to seize territory and directly target their leadership.

That could mean a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. strikes against the Taliban, a group Washington has spent years trying to coax to the negotiating table.

It would also represent a sharp reversal of recent battleground dynamics in Afghanistan. Since the new airstrike rules were adopted in 2015, the U.S. air war has been drastically curtailed, according to U.S. Central Command. In 2014, while the NATO combat mission was still going, American warplanes dropped 2,365 bombs. In 2015, by contrast, U.S. aircraft dropped just 947.

The upshot is that while the political debate in Washington has long been focused on how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan, the future of the war in Afghanistan could hinge not on the number of boots on the ground but on the role of American air power there.

Gen. John Campbell, until recently the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, spent nearly a year asking the White House to permit the U.S. military to bomb Islamic State targets. The administration didn’t sign off on the change until January. Defense officials have refused to detail airstrikes on ISIS targets.

The expanded air raids have helped roll back ISIS in the past two months, current and former Pentagon officials said.

Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council on Tuesday that U.S. bombing raids have helped confine ISIS to a small corner of the country along its border with Pakistan.

But while Islamic State militants are under pressure from the air, the Taliban has been able to move fighters and equipment across the Pakistan border with impunity while launching conventional operations on a frequency and scale not seen since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

In the southern province of Helmand, where U.S. and NATO allies suffered serious casualties over the past decade, the ferocity with which the Taliban has surged into the area has knocked Afghan forces on their heels, forcing the army to pull out of key districts like Musa Qala and Now Zad. Overall, the Taliban controls five of the province’s 14 districts and is fighting to gain the upper hand in most of the remaining ones.

The Afghan government has lobbied Washington to delay a planned drawdown of the current 9,800-strong U.S. force and to keep up its assistance with air power and logistical support. About 3,000 of those troops are special operations forces, some of whom accompany Afghan commandos on missions, while the rest are trainers and advisors clustered mainly in Kabul.

James Cunningham, the former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, said Washington should allow the military to bomb a wider array of targets. “The administration should expand our commanders’ authorities to enable more flexible use of our military, especially air power, in support of both the Afghan security forces and the counterterrorism mission,” Cunningham told Foreign Policy.

The White House has been getting a similar message from Campbell. Throughout his tenure, he warned of the resiliency of the Taliban, making the case for slowing troop drawdown plans and expanding the role of U.S. advisers on the ground.

At congressional hearings last month, Campbell told lawmakers: “One of the things [Afghan forces] ask for every day is close air support.”

He said he viewed the Taliban as an enemy of the United States, because it had “killed many of my soldiers,” and that the scaling back of U.S. forces and air power had given the insurgency a boost.

The four-star general suggested Obama’s plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops to about 5,500 later this year might have to be discarded if local forces continue to struggle. “If the Afghans cannot improve, we’re going to have to make some adjustments. And that means that number will most likely go up.”

The blunt talk has landed Campbell in hot water at the Pentagon, where unnamed officials accused him of submitting his request for expanded airstrikes against the Taliban directly to the White House, bypassing Defense Secretary Ash Carter,according to The Washington Post.

At a news conference Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook declined to discuss the content of conversations between the general and Carter, though he stopped short of rebutting the report that Campbell had gone around the defense secretary. U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat Ryder said Campbell went through the proper chain of command. In an email to The Washington Post, meanwhile, Campbell adamantly denied he had in any way tried to circumvent Carter’s authority.

The Pentagon said no decision has been made to broaden the air campaign in Afghanistan and that Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, who recently succeeded Campbell as commander, is carrying out a review of the mission. The review will examine air power as well as the Obama administration’s tentative plan to reduce U.S. forces from 9,800 to 5,500 troops this year.

Obama and U.S. military leaders in Kabul have long grappled over the best use of America’s formidable air power in the war in Afghanistan. U.S. air raids helped topple the Taliban regime quickly in 2001. But former Afghan President Hamid Karzai frequently denounced Washington over airstrikes that killed and injured civilians. The U.S. approach has varied with different commanders. Gen. Stanley McChrystal scaled back the bombing to avoid alienating the Afghan population, while his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, ramped up the air raids in a bid to push the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The call for more air raids underscores the chronic weakness of Afghanistan’s security forces, despite $64 billion in American arms and training since 2002. Several provinces are now under threat of falling to the Taliban, and the Afghan forces remain plagued by desertion and shoddy leadership. When insurgents seizedKunduz city in September, Afghan police failed to put up much resistance and fled en masse. The Afghan army, meanwhile, initially refused to deploy beyond its base at the local airport, former Pentagon officials told FP.

Although the disorganized Afghan forces have struggled against the Taliban, NATO military officers have praised rank-and-file army troops for their willingness to enter into combat. Since the bulk of the NATO force departed, casualties have spiked among the Afghan army and police. About 16,000 Afghan troops were killed or wounded in 2015, up 28 percent from the previous year.

The Afghans are slowly building their own air force but it won’t be fully ready to fight until about 2020, according to Pentagon officials. The Afghan military already flies over a dozen Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter gunships, one Mi-35 attack helicopter, and 10 light-attack helicopters. Kabul’s punch from the air received a boost in January when the first four A-29 Super Tucano fighter aircraft arrived, along with eight pilots who were trained in the United States.

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ON THE MEDIA/AFGHANISTAN: Afghan Women’s Radio Returns After Taliban Attack

Afghanistan Womens Radio

In this Friday, March 4, 2016 photo, broadcasters of Radio Shaesta prepare themselves to go on-air, in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Six months after fleeing a Taliban assault on her city, the owner of an Afghan radio station devoted to women’s rights is back home and returning to the airwaves.

Zarghona Hassan is a lifelong activist and the founder of a radio station in Kunduz that until last year reached hundreds of thousands of listeners across northern Afghanistan, where the vast majority of women are illiterate and largely confined to their homes.

Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence.

A program called “Unwanted Traditions” took a critical look at centuries-old Afghan customs, like the forced marriage of young girls in order to resolve disputes. “Introducing Elites” featured interviews with women who have succeeded in politics and activism, and those who have helped other women in their communities.

“We have had an enormous impact on the lives of women, raising their awareness of their rights, of what they can achieve, encouraging women to take part in politics, to vote and to put themselves forward for provincial council seats,” Hassan said.

Programming also encouraged women to take an active role in ending the country’s 15-year war by exhorting their brothers and sons to lay down arms, she said.

Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where the literacy rate is less than 40 percent and much of the population lives in remote communities. Wind-up radios requiring no batteries are popular and widely accessible in communities where electricity is erratic or non-existent.

In northern Afghanistan, where just 15 percent of women can read and write, radio is a rare portal to the outside world. The U.N. Development Program says Shaesta reached up to 800,000 people.

“I’ve met illiterate women weaving carpets with the radio on because they can listen and it doesn’t interrupt their work,” Hassan said. “I once met a farmer out in his field who had a radio hooked over the horn of one of his cows.”

Hassan often invited Islamic scholars onto her programs to give their seal of approval. But the Taliban, who espouse a harsh version of Shariah law, view her and other women’s rights activists as purveyors of Western influence who threaten the country’s moral fabric.

She has received more death threats than she can count, one of which even specified an exact date. So when the insurgents stormed into Kunduz on Sept. 28, she knew she had to run.

“The Taliban had a list of all the women who were working in the government, civil society, media, women’s organizations,” she said. “I knew they were going to come for me.” She hid in a relative’s basement for two days before donning an all-covering burqa and fleeing the city.

The Taliban held Kunduz for three days, during which they looted businesses and hunted down activists and journalists. Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes pushed them out more than two weeks later, but by then the militants had looted Shaesta and burned it to the ground, along with another radio outlet run by Hassan that was oriented toward youth.

Now, six months later, she has returned to Kunduz, and Shaesta has come back on air in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. She was able to rebuild the station with a $9,000 grant from the UNDP, which said it hopes to encourage a “courageous voice for change.”

“Women’s rights are a key lever toward improving the lives of the entire community,” said UNDP country director Douglas Keh. “When women and girls have the same opportunities (as men and boys) in education, and the same economic opportunities, society as a whole benefits.”

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AFGHANISTAN/DEVELOPMENT: Afghanistan’s surprisingly predictable economic crash

By Jared Ferrie  Asia Editor  14 March 2016 IRIN

People lined up at the passport office in Kabul

Afghanistan’s economic collapse was sudden, surprising, and entirely predictable.

When the United States withdrew around 60,000 soldiers just over a year ago, much of the money propping up the crippled economy left with them. Their departure was part of the end of a NATO mission that at its peak included 100,000 US troops and 30,000 from other nations.

The mass withdrawal was scheduled years ago. But nobody – neither the previous Afghan government nor international donors – came up with a comprehensive plan to ease the blow of the economic shock that would surely follow.

“I have not seen anything that would indicate that we developed any programmes anticipating this tremendous negative impact on the economy,” John Sopko, the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction who reports to Congress on how US aid money has been spent, told IRIN.

“Shame on us,” he added.

Likewise, Afghan officials in former president Hamid Karzai’s administration seemed oblivious of the economic catastrophe that was bearing down on them.

“Not enough people grasped the meaning of it and looked at the macro and micro economic impact that it might have on Afghanistan,” said Omar Samad, a senior advisor to the current government and former ambassador to Canada and France.

“People assumed that it would be business as usual.”

It wasn’t though. Instead, a lot of business left with the Americans.

In comments included in a January report by Sopko’s office, SIGAR, President Ashraf Ghani said at least 100,000 jobs were lost in the transport sector alone, which had contributed about 22 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. The construction sector and services connected to it had been driven by US military contracts and accounted for 40 percent of GDP.

The loss of the money flowing into the economy from jobs and contracts connected to the US military had an immediate effect. Economic growth plunged to 1.3 percent in 2014, down from an average of 6.9 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the World Bank. The average yearly income per person fell from $730 in 2013 to $680 the following year.

Afghanistan economic growth rates

World Bank Afghanistan economic growth rates

Who’s in charge?

IRIN requested comment from the US Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Department of Defense about the current economic crisis, the lack of preparation for it, and failures that SIGAR has uncovered with American aid projects. Only USAID responded.

“In advance of the drawdown of international troops and the 2014 election, USAID developed a transition plan to guide our support for agriculture-led economic growth, with a particular focus on supporting the Afghan government’s ability to generate the revenue needed to support the Afghan private sector,” said Larry Sampler, who works with the agency on Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs.

As an example, Sampler cited USAID’s development of an electronic payment system for customs duties on imports. Previously, payments would be collected in cash, which would then be driven to the bank in an armoured car. The electronic payments are quicker, safer and allow the government to more efficiently collect customs duties, a key source of revenue.

Sopko said many US-funded programmes were successful, but overall reconstruction has been characterised by mismanagement and waste. Such a scattershot approach has led directly to the current economic crisis. While USAID and other agencies may have had their own strategies to ease Afghanistan through the transition period, there seems to have been little coordination and no overarching plan.

Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry also declined to comment.

What went wrong?

The US alone has pumped at least $113 billion in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan since helping to overthrow the Taliban at the end of 2001, according to SIGAR. That does not include having the US military on the ground fighting, which would bring the cost to almost a trillion dollars, but it’s more than America spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

Despite that staggering investment, Afghanistan in 2016 looks nothing like West Germany 14 years after the end of the Second World War. So what went wrong?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

SIGAR has published a series of reports exposing waste, corruption and mismanagement of programmes led by USAID, the Department of Defense, and the State Department.

They include an investigation into the DoD spending $486 million on cargo planes for the Afghan Air Force, which found that “those aircraft could not even meet operation requirements in the Afghan setting”. Eventually, 16 of them were sold for scrap metal at six cents a pound, fetching $32,000.

Another investigation showed that the DoD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent almost $150 million on housing for staff members who oversaw “unfinished, poorly planned, and ill-conceived projects”. They included a $6 million plan to import nine Italian goats to stimulate a cashmere industry. The Task Force has been disbanded and the fate of the goats remains unknown.

Not all projects were failures, of course, and there’s no doubt that Afghanistan’s economy is better off now than it was under the Taliban. But the overall approach to rebuilding Afghanistan was haphazard, say insiders.

“There were problems with aid being asked to be spent too quickly, and too much of it, and not directed at the longer term,” said Bill Byrd, who was country manager and economic advisor at the World Bank in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006 and is now with the United States Institute for Peace.

Byrd and others, including Samad, said donors neglected the key sector of agriculture, as well as other important areas like water management and infrastructure development. Samad said the main focus had been on security, while development planning was “erratic”.

“Every year, or every other year, everybody got together and changed course, changed priorities,” he said. “We were not very consistent with follow-up and implementation.”

That lack of focus meant that some sectors of the economy and some people benefited greatly, while others were left behind. A World Bankreport shows that the poverty rate stayed at 36 percent between 2007 and 2012 even as there was strong economic growth, including an astonishing 21 percent in 2009. Instead of raising living standards for the majority of Afghans, inequality increased.

A shoeshine boy in Kabul

Jim Huylebroek/IRIN Many poor families send their children to work like this boy shining shoes in Kabul

What now?

It’s not all bad news. The World Bank predicts economic growth to rise steadily for the next few years. There have been major successes in health and education, as well as training and equipping the Afghan military, which is now facing a rising insurgency from not only the Taliban, but from other groups including the so-called Islamic State.

Worsening security is feeding the economic crisis, and fractures in the government are not helping, said Byrd.

Afghanistan’s National Unity Government was created as a way out of a political crisis, after the disputed results of 2014 elections threaten to tip the country into another armed conflict. The UN oversaw an extensive audit, but the results were never made public. Instead, Ghani was appointed president, while the new position of Chief Executive Officer was created for his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

“It seemed almost like the NUG agreement was a recipe for inaction, and that is a problem,” said Byrd. “The National Unity Government needs to act more like a unified government that’s responding to what by consensus is a national emergency.”

There are indications that the NUG can be decisive. Byrd pointed to the government’s success in getting tax hikes approved by parliament and improving tax collection, which increased government revenue by more than 20 percent last year.

“I think it’s an example that its not impossible for the government to function and it achieved a credible and significant success,” he said. “The situation would have been worse if the hemorrhage of revenue had continued in 2015.”

Samad said it’s impossible to disentangle poor security and governance from the economic crisis, and improvements in those fields are key. He downplayed divisions in the NUG and pointed to Ghani’s widely heralded commitments to fighting corruption, as well as efforts by the government to create political space for peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Even if the government’s anti-corruption strategies and peace negotiations are successful, it won’t be any time soon.

“Nobody’s holding their breath for peace tomorrow,” said Samad.

Voting with their feet

Many Afghans have grown tired of waiting for things to get better. Instead, they are leaving the country in higher numbers than at any time since the Taliban. Afghans comprise the second largest number of arrivals in Europe after Syria, making up almost a quarter of asylum claims, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

The Tahiri family, for instance, is packing up shop and heading to Europe – anywhere in Europe – despite the considerable costs and dangers.

Standing outside the central passport office in the capital, Kabul, Ahmad Tahiri (not his real name) explained that sales at his fabric shop have been so slow over the past year that he can barely support his wife and three children.

“Now we have come to a conclusion that if we stay things will even get worse,” said his younger brother, Abdullah. “That’s why we will spend everything we have to reach a better place – if not for us at least for our next generation.”

(Nisar Ahmad contributed reporting from Kabul. Cover photo: Afghans line up at the central passport office in Kabul in August 2015)

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AFGHANISTAN/DEVELOPMENT: Afghanistan’s Path to Women’s Rights Is Paved With Risk, but Built on Hope

Women in the Afghan National Army. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Laura R. McFarlane/Released. Creative commons.

For Afghan women, the systematic repression and violence of the Taliban era was replaced by opportunities, but also fear and insecurity in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of their country.

Today gender politics in Afghanistan are more complicated than ever, with victories in some areas qualified by setbacks in others.

Since the beginning of this year the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize, while Sumaya Ghulami won gold in taekwondo at the South Asian games held in Guwahati and Shillong, India, an achievement unthinkable during the Taliban era.

But women have been among the greatest victims of the intensifying Taliban insurgency and a rise in criminal violence that neither the frail government in Kabul nor the shrinking American military contingent on the ground have been able to contain.

Read and weep

The age of social media has shone a spotlight on some of the most egregious examples of violence against women in recent times.

Last November, in a Taliban-controlled village in Ghor province, central Afghanistan, a 19-year-old woman, Rokhshana was stoned to death for adultery.

The adultery charge was technical in nature — an escape from a marriage that had been forced on her — and the viral video of the stoning seemingly filmed on a cell phone inspired widespread disgust across Afghanistan’s growing online networks.

Ghor province’s  former governor Seema Joyenda, only the second woman governor to be appointed in Afghanistan, became one of the main champions for justice for Rokhshana.

But Joyenda herself was eventually pushed out of office after conservatives led a successful — if not uncontested — campaign to remove her from office.

Rokhshana’s stoning came just months after another horrific incident that attracted the attention of the world, when a mentally ill woman, Farkhunda, was beaten to death and burned for allegedly setting a Koran on fire.

One of the most horrible incidents of gender-based violence in the post-2001 period took place at the very end of last year.

Pajhwok Afghan news reported that eleven men, including four policemen, gang-raped a girl of nine in the country’s northwest, where the government and the Taliban are vying for control.

Afghan women in the spring

But the news is not all bad.

This month Sumaya Ghulami returned to Afghanistan to a hero’s welcome after her taekwondo gold in 2016 South Asian Games. She was publicly congratulated by President Ghani and widely lauded in the press.

Ghani’s wife, Rula Ghani, recently announced plans to build the country’s first women-only university with funding from the government of Turkey, a move seen as key to guaranteeing women’s access to higher education.

Meanwhile, over a hundred Italian MPs suggested the Afghan women’s cycling team for the Noble peace prize earlier this month. The nomination thrilled the Afghanistan section of Twitter.

Such events are symbolic of a growing visibility for women in public life. In the parliament, women make up 28% of the seats — a bigger proportion of women than in the US Congress.

However, no woman has headed the parliament, indicating that a female presence in domestic politics can expand without necessarily translating into real power.

A clear example of this was Ghani’s attempt to include a woman judge into the national high court council, which was swiftly blocked by a parliament where conservatives are gaining ground.

Long road to respect

The Afghan woman’s position in society is thus subject to flux, varying from community to community.

Hazara women have seen a particularly fast-paced change in their lives, influenced possibly by higher rates of female education relative to other ethnic groups in the post-Taliban era.

Among Afghanistan’s most influential women are Sima Samar Head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission and Afghanistan’s first female governor Habiba Sarabi of Bamiyan province, both ethnic Hazara.

Laila Haidari, another Hazara, is a woman social volunteer who has found the Mother Camp which treats drug addicted men.

But women across groups in the country remain prejudiced by Afghan civil law, which reserves the right of divorce exclusively for men, while family matters remain under the control of the head of the family in most cases.

And critically, the Taliban is gaining ground across the country, even as the movement itself splinters, while hardline clerics have continually decried women’s rights as a Western imposition.

In such a fluid environment, women are locked in a contradiction: they enjoy more space for participation than they did 15 years ago, but are also most likely to be a lightening rod for the inevitable conservative backlash.

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AFGHANISTAN: Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan

Original

March 5, 2016 – January 29, 2017
International Gallery

From its critical position on the ancient Silk Road that stretches from Europe to China, Afghanistan absorbed traditions from India, Persia, and Central Asia and blended them into a distinct artistic culture. Decades of civil unrest that began in the 1970s nearly destroyed this vital heritage.  Many of Afghanistan’s artisans were forced to leave their country or give up their craft. The old city of Kabul, once a bustling center of craft and commerce, fell into ruin.

The British non-governmental organization Turquoise Mountain, founded in 2006 at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales and the President of Afghanistan, has transformed the Murad Khani district of Old Kabul from slum conditions into a vibrant cultural and economic center. The organization has renovated historic buildings, opened a primary school and a medical clinic, and rebuilt necessary infrastructure. It has founded Afghanistan’s premier institution for vocational training in the arts. Dedicated to teaching a new generation of Afghan artisans in woodwork, calligraphy, ceramics, jewelry design, and other crafts, Turquoise Mountain is reviving the nation’s proud cultural legacy.

To tell this transformative story of culture and heritage in Murad Khani, Afghan woodworkers have created magnificent wood arcades, screens, and a pavilion, all carved by hand from Himalayan cedar. Wander among these arcades and explore spectacular contemporary carpets, jewelry, and calligraphy, all complemented by videos and large-scale photographs of the Afghan artisans who made them. Artisans from Murad Khani are bringing the exhibition to life by demonstrating their art, sharing their experiences, and allowing visitors to encounter Afghanistan’s art and culture firsthand.

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ON THE MEDIA/AFGHANISTAN: Bringing FRAME BY FRAME Back to Kabul

Everyone crowded in for a group shot with the US Ambassador Michael McKinley

When I sat down for the 14 hour flight to from New York to Dubai in mid-January, I felt a bit nervous that the only screening that we had planned for FRAME BY FRAME in Kabul was the U.S. Embassy premiere. I booked my trip to be in Kabul for two weeks because I knew more could happen once I was on the ground. I took on this strategy partly because trying to plan more screenings in a timezone that was the exact opposite of my own is not fun for anyone. Also, I knew meeting in person with copious amounts of green tea is far more productive and polite than a patchy Skype call. Ultimately, I was hoping in two weeks I could find a way to screen with the president of Afghanistan. Well, it happened — as did so much more.

The FRAME BY FRAME team with Ambassador McKinley and his wife Fatima at the U.S. Embassy premiere

Screening FRAME BY FRAME in Afghanistan was always going to be very limited. My co-director Mo and I promised the photojournalists featured in the film we would honor their safety concerns and never screen the film publicly in Afghanistan. Yes, we want every Afghan journalist to have the chance to see this film, but this was a condition agreed upon from the start for the film to be made. Thankfully, so much can come from holding private screenings with the people who hold so much influence on the future of journalism and a free press in Afghanistan.

Screening with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah — Afghanistan’s CEO. Dr. Abdullah hand selected ministry members that he thought would get the most of out the seeing film.

The night of the premiere of FRAME BY FRAME in Afghanistan ended in tragedy. Right after the screening ended, news started to spread that a suicide bomber had hit a commuter bus full of TOLO employees on their way home from work. The attack claimed the lives of 7 people and injured 25 others. Seeing the shell of a bus, it was hard to imagine that anyone survived. The Taliban took responsibility — the first direct attack against journalists of its kind.

This amount of pain is hard to convey in headlines. That night my head swam with what had just happened leading up to the tragic incident. Dear friends and co-workers of the journalism community had gathered at the US Embassy for the premiere. It was a night of celebration. One embassy representative said this screening was the first time something like this had ever happened at the U.S. Embassy.

During the screening, I listened as the community of people, who’s fight for a free press parallels that of Wakil, Massoud, Farzana and Najibullah, laughed at all of Massoud’s jokes, sighed at the beauty of this country, and tsked at the actions of those standing in the way of press freedom. As Sardar Ahmad’sdedication came up on the screen, an indescribable feeling of mourning filled the room — these are the people who knew him well. It was powerful, and I have never felt more humbled and honored to be a witness of this community and their strength.

Additional screenings set in motion quickly after the premiere. The Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah, held a screening with hand selected ministry members and influencers. He spoke after the film and it was clear that the story had touched him.

Dominic Medley, the Spokesperson and Head of Media Relations for United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), set up two screenings for the UN. During one of the screenings I looked around the room and found my eyes landing on several foreign correspondents and freelance journalists that have been covering Afghanistan over the years.

Massoud did not miss a chance for a selfie with Nicholas “Fink” Haysom — the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA along with Tadamichi Yamamoto the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.

French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud introduces the film

From left to right: Ambassador of Sweden: Anders Sjöberg, Ambassador of the Netherlands: Henk Jan Bakker, Ambassador of Germany: Markus Potzel

As I sat down in the dark screening room of the U.S. Embassy screening, I had a little shock when I realized I was sitting next to the French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud. The ambassador loved the film and hosted his own screening in a beautiful room at the French Embassy the next week. The ambassador has been long-time friends with Farzana and Massoud and he took special care in inviting people to the event. There were ministry members, ambassadors of many nations, filmmakers and journalists within the crowd. It felt as though the film was embraced by the people in the room and the conversation that followed was both heartfelt and powerful on the state of journalism in Afghanistan.

French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud greets Farzana and Wakil after the Q&A

FRAME BY FRAME also screened at compound of the NATO-led mission Resolute Support (formally headquarters of ISAF). After the screening, the public affairs office of RS told me the biggest feedback they received was “I learned more from this documentary than from any other pre-deployment training I received” — This sparked an exciting conversation about using this film as a tool for training for RS.

 

Theater filling up at Resolute Support — Wakil was there for the Q&A to a packed house

And on my last day in Kabul it finally happened… A screening of FRAME BY FRAME with President Ashraf Ghani and the first lady Rula Ghani.

After watching the film, the president gave a statement about his commitment to the arts and congratulated the photojournalists on their daily bravery. The the president’s advisors were also in attendance along with Canadian ambassador Deborah Lyons. It was an honor to have two of the film’s advisors in attendance: reporter for the New York Times, Mujib Mashal and the director of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, Najib Sharifi. Our line-producer Najibullah was also there, without whom this film would have not been possible.

As I sat in the palace watching FRAME BY FRAME with such an influential group of people, it began to sink in how far this film has come. It started as a glimmer of an idea in 2012 with a two week trip to Kabul, funded by selling my car and emptying my bank account and was ignited by the trust of these four brave photojournalists to tell their story. It was lifted up by a community of people who wanted this story to be told, and championed by an amazing team of people who believed in the power of this film.

Frame By Frame came from such humble beginnings to screening in front of the President of Afghanistan and so many influencers of the future of a free press. For 85 minutes — they reflected on the great achievements of the media in the last fifteen years, the risks they face on a daily basis, and how much is still at stake.

I held my breath as the last title came on the screen…

It’s hard to know what effect a film will have — but it was encouraging to see that this happened two days after the screening.

Here is Human Right’s Watch response to the decree:

Ghani’s decree constitutes a symbolic challenge to such killings. But if he’s serious about protecting media freedom, he needs to muster the political will to stop threats and attacks on Afghan journalists by pro-government forces.

FRAME BY FRAME continues to screen in countries around the world

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AFGHANISTAN: Young Afghan activist Hasina Jalal wins Global Women Leadership award

By KHAAMA PRESS – Tue Mar 01 2016, 3:02 pm  original

Hasina Jalali

Celebrated Hasina Jalal won the Global Women Leadership award on 17th Feb. 2016 for her hard work on scientific researches about women and economy.

Hasina Jalal is a young Afghan woman scholar who competes internationally and has achieved many successes so far. Hasina Jalal once more created honor to Afghan women and once again brought extra ordinary success to Afghanistan. Hasina recognized talent and activism proved Afghanistan young generation of women knowledgeable and competitive in the world.

Hasina Jalal is a remarkable Afghan young woman leader who has accomplished so much as a youth leader. A young, creative and energized soul! Hasina Jalal has jump-started a wide ranging number of initiatives for empowerment of Afghan women and youth.  From educational training projects to writing articles in weekly newspapers, to a vocal representative at community meetings, Hasina speaks up for women’s and youth rights one way or another.

Self-reliant and pro-active, Hasina has a passionate voice and an uncompromising belief in the promotion of women’s rights and democratic principles. These beliefs have enabled her to remain resilient in the face of the cultural barriers and security threats aimed at her.  Despite these challenges Hasina continues to push the agenda of women’s rights forward by fostering partnerships and collaboration between women’s groups, undertaking advocacy and building the capacity of a number of non-profit organizations. A founding member of the National Association of Afghanistan Civil Society, Hasina works with other like-minded activists in bringing together voices that have been marginalized by violence. Hasina has learnt that by constructing a strong and empowered collective, greater political power can be yielded to build a growing resistance within Afghanistan to ignorance, discrimination, oppression.

Hasina’s work for a more inclusive society also extends to the written word, in which she exposes abuses against women, promotes inclusion, and celebrates freedom of expression. She co-founded and is a board member of the Afghani weekly Freedom Message Newspaper, an activist tabloid that exposes abuses of women’s rights and promotes freedom of expression, tolerance and understanding of democratic principles and laws on human rights. Her advocacy for women’s rights, particularly in rural areas, extends beyond writing.  Her work as a speaker on youth issues over the past three years has not gone unnoticed, with greater advocacy to address issues of violence against women and demand greater equality for women. In 2012, Hasina’s contribution to spreading awareness and fighting for equality and justice in Afghanistan led her to being included in the Asian Rural Women Coalitions Honoring 100 Women campaign.

Hasina has worked with various organizations in Afghanistan for promotion of democracy and enhancement of young women participation in the processes and in making the voice of Afghan youth recognized.

Hasina has participated in international conferences on behalf of the people of Afghanistan especially the youth and led various campaigns such as One Billion Rising Global campaign in Afghanistan. She has gained exceptional achievements and results for the youth of the country as well as the women and elderly, also achieving impeccable results in regards in youth leadership. With exceptional skills, attributes and determination Hasina is the voice of Afghani youths today.

Hasina demonstrated through her struggle as front line runner that young women in Afghanistan are capable of contributing to peace and development despite the many social, economic and political obstacles and the enormous threats to their security.  Recent events in Afghanistan witnessed women activists and defenders of human rights being assassinated by enemies of the people. In the culture of Afghanistan, a young woman like Hasina is not expected to play active roles in public life, much less become an activist and a leader.

Hasina focuses in helping raise the voices of young women through her leadership in education and training of youth, promoting partnerships and collaboration among women’s groups, advocacy, and capacity building of non-profit organizations.  She works to bring together the voices of people who are being marginalized by violence, poverty, and isolation. She believes that collective power of the dis-empowered is key to equality, democracy and a peaceful and more progressive life for all.

As a writer and publisher in Afghanistan local press, Hasina encourages women in communities to write their news and opinions about their lives.  Through speeches and direct engagement with the people, Hasina amplifies the clamor for attention to the lives of people who have less in life.  She is a real inspiration to the next generation of women leaders in the country.

Hasina’s efforts and achievements for Afghanistan youth has been recognized and received by Asian Rural Women Coalition, rural women advocate international award in 2012 for continuously fighting for survival, justice and freedom in Afghanistan. ARWC recognized the leadership, strength, creativity, and commitment in pushing for gender equality through awarding the mentioned award which is certified in the below link:

http://www.asianruralwomen.net/html/events-honouring100women-hasina-faizullah.htm

Hasina speaks fluently in Dari, Pashto, English, Turkish, Urdo, Hindi and moderately in Arabic.

Hasina did much to build peace and make people aware of what women can offer when participating in society. She assisted community members in having their disputes resolved, consulted with male and female traditional and tribal justice actors, organized and facilitated various workshops and discussion sessions for male and female traditional justice actors, tribal elders, religious leaders, and has been a consistent and vocal supporter of strengthening women’s role in community justice processes.

Hasina Jalal received N-Peace Award from UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre by Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Special Adviser of the Secretary General on the University for Peace” as recognition of her work for peace through promoting peace culture as Afghanistan 2014 N-Peace Award winner is reflected in below links:

  1. http://n-peace.net/candidate/candidate-264
  2. https://twitter.com/NPeaceNetwork/status/527707433334865920/photo/1
  3. https://www.facebook.com/NPeaceNetwork/photos/a.978108232203244.1073741837.266724613341613/978108892203178/?type=1&theater
  4. https://www.facebook.com/UNDPinAfghanistan
  5. http://www.khaama.com/young-Afghan-activist-hasina-jalal-wins-2014-n-peace-award-9030
  6. https://saadiahaq.wordpress.com/tag/hasina-jalal/
  7. http://sadf.eu/home/2014/11/06/hasina-jalal-wins-2014-n-peace-award/

As well as being committed to peace-building, Hasina is dedicated to women’s rights and trying to educate the young generation to work together to achieve a prosperous future. She has supported the foundation of many women’s organization and supports female victims of violence to access justice, and in supporting women seeking divorce from abusive husbands.

Hasina spent a lot of time organizing conferences and campaigns to raise awareness amongst both women and men about the importance of education for both boys and girls, and how both men and women need to be included in securing peace in the community. She has visited the leaders of many provinces in Afghanistan to talk with them about the benefits of educating women and girls need, for not only peace, but also for the social and economic well-being of Afghanistan. She also established educational centers where women can learn and take trainings in safe spaces.

Hasina has been always committed to advancing the agenda of women, peace and security. “Women have different opinions for peace and security matters in Afghanistan. Without the advancement of the roles of women in Afghanistan, the country cannot move forward,” she has stated.

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