Afghanistan News and Views

0

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.

0

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.”

0

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)

0

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.

0

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.

0

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

0

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.

0

AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: Pressure Like Nowhere Else in the World: Journalism in Afghanistan

By: Bismellah Alizada   p

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan in more than a decade, and first ever trained in digital media, produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation, a leading non-governmental organization active in Asia since 1954. The hour-long documentary captures the stories of women in Afghanistan, describing both their lives under the Taliban and their hopes for the future. www.asiafoundation.org. (PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation)

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation. Photo by PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation, Creative Commons

With the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan almost 15 years ago, a democratic government with a relatively liberal constitution emerged that made allowances — in theory — for freedom of the press and expression. But ensuring the basic security of media workers in the country has been somewhat harder. Media outlets grew exponentially after the anti-press Taliban was toppled, thanks in part to generous funding coming from NGOs, international organisations and foreign countries.

But as foreign troops withdrew, funding for these operations began to wane and only a handful remained commercially viable as many others closed down.

Threats affecting journalists are numerous. Media workers are targets because they highlight the brutality of the insurrection led by the Taliban and other militant groups, while pinpointing the shortcomings of the government and the misdeeds of warlords and parliamentarians alike.

According to a report published by Deutsche Welle in January 2015, there were 125 incidents of violence against journalists reported in 2014, marking the year the “most violent year on record for journalists in the country” as thousands of troops from the US-led coalition withdrew from the country.

Things have not improved since. In August 2015, Pajhwok News Agency’s Azizullah Hamdard was shot and injured in Kabul by unidentified assailants after she reported an incident of electoral fraud.

But it was in autumn last year that things truly took a turn for the worse for the country’s media, as the Taliban dramatically seized the strategic northern city of Kunduz, one of their biggest coups in recent years.

As noted in a recent report by International Media Support (IMS), a non-profit that advocates for media rights and safety across the world:

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilising social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Among the outlets to feel the Taliban’s wrath is TOLO News, a dynamic organisation owned by the MOBY media group that has gained the trust of large parts of the Afghan public by providing 24-hour coverage that includes some of the most dangerous and inaccessible areas of the country.

On January 21, TOLO News staff were targeted by a suicide bomber in Kabul, who killed seven of their workers.

The Taliban had been particularly angry with TOLO News for what it described as a vilification effort after the outlet described incidences of violence and rape towards Kunduz’s civilian population during the month of October.

The subsequent attack on the channel sparked public outrage.

In response to the Taliban’s attack, some journalists suggested a boycott of coverage of future attacks, depriving the group of a vital source of publicity.

Accordingly, the February 1 bombing in Kabul that claimed 20 lives was not covered by TOLO TV and TOLO news.

However, the initiative received mixed responses.

Government officials meanwhile try to force corruption, embezzlement, land usurpation, and human rights abuses off the media’s agenda.

On his first day in office, President Ghani allowed New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg, who had been expelled by Afghan government on allegations of undermining Afghanistan’s national interests, to return to the country, showcasing his administration’s commitment to free press and freedom of expression.

He also signed into law the Access to Information Law earlier passed by the parliament which states that government-held information should be available to the public, “except in cases that would threaten national security, compromise privacy, or interfere with a criminal investigation”.

Ghani’s administration, however, has failed to deliver on those promises.

The government’s controversial Media Violation Investigation Commission (MVIC), which has been in effect since 2005, has summoned leading daily newspapers on many occasions.

Hasht-e Subh Daily, Daily Open Society, and Etilaat-e Roz Daily are amongst those whose editors-in-chiefs called in by officials as a result of critical reporting.

Moreover, when the anonymously-run satirical Facebook page Kabul Taxi poked fun at Ghani’s powerful security chief Hanif Atmar, Atmar began an unsuccessful witch hunt to try and find out if any prominent media workers were behind the page. It was eventually shut down.

Although television is attracting a significant audience throughout the country, radio still remains the primary source of news for the bulk of the population.

Print media readership is low, but social media usage is on the rise and Internet connections are becoming faster and more accessible.

Accompanying these trends are citizen journalism and blogging, which are increasingly appreciated by a young educated readership.

The phenomenal growth of an independent media in post-Taliban Afghanistan is one of the few major achievements that a government still stricken by graft and incapable of providing many public services can point to.

Despite all manner of pressures, the media is fulfilling its duty and defending the public interest. Although the sacrifices it has been forced to make in order to achieve that goal have been far too many.

0

AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan war: Just what was the point?

By Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Updated 5:43 AM ET, Thu February 25, 2016, original

Afghan troops pull out of Helmand districts

Afghan troops pull out of Helmand districts

Nick Paton Walsh is a CNN Senior International Correspondent who has reported from Afghanistan frequently over the last 10 years.

(CNN)It is worse in Afghanistan now than I ever could have imagined. And I was a pessimist.

Fatigue was always going to be the decider. Western fatigue with the horrors their troops saw, and with the violence inflicted daily on Afghans themselves. The fatigue of the financial cost, where a power station that was barely ever switched on cost Uncle Sam a third of a billion dollars.

And the other fatigue — the one felt by the Taliban — mostly distinguished by its absence; they felt only the tirelessness of their cause.

Meet Afghanistan's Romeo and Juliet

Meet Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet

Sometimes the occasional jolt reminds the world that the war is still ongoing. The conflict, begun initially to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., has cost the lives of more than 3,500 Coalition service members and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians.

This week, Afghan troops, after months of fury at poor supplies and low morale, fell back from two vital positionsin the volatile Helmand province. It leaves Lashkar Gah and Sangin as the major strongholds the government still holds, and a sense of foreboding that the opium-rich southern region will eventually entirely belong to the Taliban.

The war also moved back into focus three weeks ago with the death of Wasil Ahmad. Wasil learned firearms and commanded a unit of anti-Taliban fighters briefly, before Taliban gunmen on a motorbike mowed him down as he bought food for his mother and siblings. Wasil was just 11 years old.

Before the Coalition came

Known as the “graveyard of empires,” Afghanistan has a reputation for humiliating would-be conquerors. Both the Soviets, in the 1980s, and the British, during the 19th century, were forced to beat bloody retreats from Afghanistan, deprived of what looked, on paper, to be easy victories.

Time has changed the definition of what people nowadays call an “empire,” but not this perception. The U.S. military liked to feel wise as they repeated the maxim that they had the “fancy watch, but the Taliban had the time.” In truth, the American watch ran out of batteries, leaving the Taliban owning both the aphorism and the clock.

READ: Young Messi fan wearing plastic bag jersey found in Afghanistan

The rise of the Taliban before 9/11 owed much to the country’s ethnic divides. In the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, Pashtun forces swept in from the south, towards the capital Kabul, and pushed the Tajiks back to the north.

Time passed. The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. The Taliban found its feet again. The U.S. began to get mired in Iraq. The insurgency picked up. The Afghan government started losing ground. By 2008, it was a full-on emergency and the U.S. realized — even from the liberal anti-war perch of President Barack Obama — that this was the “just war” that it must fight.

And then, the war ramped up

For about three years, there was intense focus. First came the surge. Up to 100,000 U.S. troops (as part of a NATO force) at one point, pressing into the darkest Taliban valleys. Holding ground — spending millions every month to maintain a presence in tiny dusty villages in faraway places like Kandahar to show the insurgency the U.S. had the resolve.

READ: Top U.S. general in Afghanistan: 2016 ‘possibly worse than 2015’

But it was never going to last. In fact, that was always an advertised part of the plan: the U.S. and NATO would hold the land for a few years — until they thought the Afghan troops were ready — and then they would pull out. The Taliban had to hope the Afghans wouldn’t be ready, and just wait. It seems they did.

Secondly, came the budgets: $110 billion spent in the largest reconstruction effort in U.S. history. Some new roads that made life in some towns viable again, but also buildings that always stood empty, and an injection of cash into Kabul so unrealistic, unprecedented and absurd that the cost of living became almost reckless.

At one point the World Bank suggested more than 90% of Afghanistan’s total budget was aid-dependent. (I got a very quick call from the U.S. Embassy telling me this wasn’t true — no alternative figure was offered). Housing for Afghans became more expensive — some rents have now dropped by almost half. From behind the concrete blast walls where foreigners mainly lived, a (small) can of black market Heineken at one point cost $10. America had no shortage of cash, just a shortage of viable ways to spend it, resulting in some daft projects and a brief pocket of total imbalance in the Afghan economy.

Thirdly came the leadership. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired the military commander of the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan ISAF, David McKiernan, in 2009 and replaced him with Stanley McChrystal, a special forces veteran.

McChrystal’s bleak assessment of the war was damning enough to suggest the Green Beret knew the scope of the challenge. He had a plan — and it was leaked quickly enough to back the White House into a corner that involved a large commitment of resources. It involved talking to Afghans, and winning them over. Troops would get out and meet people. For a moment, it seemed to work.

Then the bizarre happened. Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano in Iceland erupted in 2010, scattering ash into the atmosphere and grounding aircraft. McChrystal and his team were among those delayed, along with a Rolling Stone reporter. They spoke their minds, found themselves in print, and McChrystal was fired. From that point, the war felt like it changed. Forever.

READ: Opinion – Sanity prevails on U.S. troops in Afghanistan

David Petraeus swept in that year as McChrystal’s successor — a career general, mindful that the clock was ticking on the surge. The campaign focused on the message and that clock. Petraeus was succeeded by another Iraq veteran, John Allen, whose role was about cleaning up. The surge had almost worked, but been interrupted, caught short, and now America was leaving.

Between January and May 2012, every day seemed to bring a new calamity to the U.S. military presence. From Qurans burned apparently in error; to the corpses of Taliban fighters urinated on by Marines who filmed themselves as they did it; to a massacre by an American soldier in a Kandahar village. Even the most footsure NATO spokesman seemed to lose faith.

So what was achieved?

Well, at one point, al Qaeda was said to be in its mere hundreds in Afghanistan — hiding away in the eastern hills. Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. A few thousand Afghans became absurdly rich on the U.S. presence. Far many more thousands (there is no real, reliable figure) died or were injured.

Women saw a brief moment when Western aid programs and ideals let them think about lives outside of the home, where they could flourish. (They still can think about that, but now risk more than ever brutal reprisals from conservatives). The West flooded the country with money and weapons to the point that it is now a land of warlords on steroids.

READ: Opinion – How Afghanistan can succeed

The Afghan army, briefly, swelled. But it could never hold the ground NATO did. NATO advisors would swear blind that you were wrong, that the ramshackle units you saw could defeat a hungry and angry local insurgency. But it became clear they were misinformed. That an inner malaise — corruption — would undo the Afghan National Security Forces, whose upkeep has cost the U.S. taxpayer well over $60 billion, and whose brave losses continue now at an unprecedented speed.

In Afghanistan, portrait of a tragic failure of humanity

In Afghanistan, portrait of a tragic failure of humanity

 Two stories stick out of Afghans who are not where the West told them they would be. The first is Gulnaz, the woman who was raped, then jailed for adultery because her attacker was married, then told she would have to marry him. International pressure led to her release into a shelter for women, but three years later I found her living with her attacker, and married to him — the only way Afghanistan’s at times backwards world could find to reconcile the crime against her.

Second is Wahid. He commanded an Afghan army unit, fighting fiercely in Kunduz against the Taliban. They had little support, he alleged, even ammunition, and the dead bodies of their fallen comrades were left to rot in their besieged base. So he fled — dodging bullets in Iran, taking the boat to Greece, and enduring tear gas near Hungary. He is exactly the sort of Afghan the West promised a future to and needed to stay where he was — defending his country. We found him eating a muffin in a café in Munich, Germany.

Where are we now?

The dissent in the ranks of the Taliban has led to ISIS becoming a radical, brutal and attractive alternative to the country’s disenfranchised youth, for whom the old insurgency isn’t moving fast enough.

Haunting pictures of Kunduz MSF hospital

Haunting pictures of Kunduz MSF hospital

 According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR — the U.S. government’s money watchdog there), the Taliban hold more territory now than at any time since 2001. There are about 10,000 U.S. troops left, who can hunt extremists, but not hold territory. And it seems neither can the Afghan army at times. It is losing fast in Helmand. It lost Kunduz temporarily in October. If you suggested either of these losses were remotely possible two years ago, most NATO advisors would accuse you of mild insanity.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people. Without that the result is thousands of refugees in Europe, and ISIS gets a new safe haven. What is left is a country where the West is discredited as unwilling to stay the course; where most fighters are meaner, better armed, and more chaotic than they were in 2001; and whose name causes opinion-formers in the West to try and change the subject.

It was dubbed the Just War, then the Forever War. Now many want it to be the Forgotten War.

But it is still a war, and the West owns a lot of it.

0

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan teacher among top 10 finalists for $1 million Global Teacher Prize

By KHAAMA PRESS – Sat Feb 20 2016

A female Afghan teacher has been nominated for the Global Teacher Prize by Varkey Foundation and is among the top 10 finalists to receive the $1 million prize.

According to a statement by the organization, the top 10 finalists were announced on Wednesday, representing 5 continents, and 9 countries.

The winner of the prize is expected to be announced on 13th March in Dubai and each of the top 10 finalists will be featured by the organization.

Aqeela was forced to leave Afghanistan in 1992 due to the civil war and shifted to Pakistan along with millions of other Afghans.

Shocked with the deeply conservative Afghans refugees in the camps who were regarding education with suspicion preferring to put their children to work, Aqeela started her first school in a borrowed tent, spending as much time educating parents on the benefits of education as their children.

“There was no money and no equipment: her first pupils spelt out their work in the dust of the tent floor. Careful to be sensitive to religious and tribal sensibilities, word spread amongst both the Afghan refugees and the local Pakistani families who started to send their daughters to Aqeela’s school. She gained the trust of the community and was rewarded increased attendances,” according to a feature published about Aqeela on The Global teacheer Prize organization.

Today, over 1500 pupils are enrolled in her schools of whom 900 are girls. Her graduates are carrying the message back home – two of her former pupils have opened schools for girls in Afghanistan and other have started businesses, become doctors or government employees .
“I am particularly proud of those who have made their decision to return to Afghanistan and become active agents of change at a time when their country needs them most”, she says.

Aqeela’s school has produced over 1,000 graduates (mainly Afghan refugee girls, but also local Pakistani children). Some have become doctors, engineers, government officials and teachers in Afghanistan.

She was also presented with the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award in 2015.

http://www.khaama.com/afghan-teacher-among-top-10-finalists-for-1-million-global-teacher-prize-0121

0

ON THE MEDIA; AFGHANISTAN: What next for media in Afghanistan?

By Helle Wahlberg, International Media Support, 18 Feb. 2016

An Afghan journalist at work. Photo: Lars Schmidt

As private and independent media in Afghanistan struggle to come to terms with the loss of seven colleagues from Tolo TV in January following a Taliban-led bomb attack, the international community must now consider how best to move forward in their support for media workers in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of equally media-hostile ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan pose serious challenges to the impressive gains in the field of independent media and freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years.

The vulnerability of private, independent media in the country was brutally exposed when a bomb attack on 20 January targeted a minibus carrying workers from the country’s largest private broadcaster, Tolo TV, killing seven staff members and injuring dozens.

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilizing social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Despite being taken somewhat by surprise by this turn of events in Kunduz, the AJSC, a locally led network of journalist union -, media and civil society representatives working to protect and improve the safety of Afghan journalists, was able to help over seventy journalists out of Kunduz in time. The emergency assistance involved providing accommodation, transportation by air and cash handouts to cover emergency expenses for the displaced journalists. Female journalists fled under the cover of their Burqas.

Following the Kunduz incident, Tolo TV News and 1TV, the two largest private broadcasters in the country, were singled out and named as military targets by the Taliban allegedly for having broadcast false reports about the conduct of Taliban fighters during their brief takeover of Kunduz. According to the AJSC, this was the first time that the Taliban had publically issued threats against specific media outlets directly from the Taliban Military Council. In a strong show of solidarity, some Afghan media and media support organisations issued a joint statement promising to boycott any Taliban media and news sources if such an attack was carried out. Tolo TV was attacked on 20 January.

The threat of another imminent attack is now one that staff at 1TV are living with every day.

“The attack on Tolo TV was shocking. I expected it, but not so soon,” says Abdullah Azada Khenjani, editor-in-chief and Head of News and Current Affairs at 1TV.

“1TV covered the attack and issued a statement saying that we considered this to be an attack on all media. The night of the attack, we focused on supporting our colleagues at Tolo TV. The next morning, BBC Persia reported that a spokesperson for the Taliban had said that 1TV was next in line.”

The attack on Tolo TV has taken its immediate toll on the daily lives of staff at 1TV. Many staff members are opting not to come to work out of fear of another attack and while the management group at 1TV has taken the threats against the station very seriously, ensuring the protection of over 100 staff members remains not only logistically difficult, but also very costly.

“Not only are journalists living in fear. Their families are affected as well. My mother is not sleeping and I need to report to my wife every hour for her peace of mind,” Abdullah Azada Khenjani explains.

He continues:

“The aim of the Taliban is to demolish the beginnings of a democratic system in Afghan society in which media is a main pillar. My fear is that they will succeed. We need the Afghan government to help mitigate these attacks on media and we need more support from the international community. I think the coming year could well become the deadliest yet for journalists in Afghanistan.”

The international community including governments, the UN, international media and journalists’ rights organisations and civil society have responded to the latest attacks on media in Afghanistan with statements of solidarity. While the working relationship between media support organisations and the Afghan government has improved, most recently manifested in the establishment of an Oversight Commission on Access to Information that will monitor the government’s implementation of the Access to Information Act, more is needed from the international community. According to Abdullah Azada Khenjani, the international community must increase its pressure on the Afghan government to take the threats against the hard-won achievements of the Afghan media sector seriously.

“In the last 15 years, the international community has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan, but more of this should have been invested in securing freedom of expression values. We need to help Taliban supporters understand that media has an important role to play as a watchdog of government and power holders and that for this reason, media should not be a target. In addition to this, there is a need for more technical support to educate local media in the provinces on how to better protect themselves.

For now, the IMS-supported, locally anchored Afghan Journalist Safety Committee remains the only country-wide safety and protection mechanism for Afghan journalists that operates in 32 out of 34 provinces. The Safety Committee has assisted some 600 journalists in distress since it was set up in Afghanistan with support from IMS in 2009. Regional safety coordinators and volunteers manage an alert system, where they liaise with journalists under threat and provide updates on violations and changing circumstances for media to the AJSC headquarters. Basic services include various types of safety training for both male and female journalists, legal advice, a hotline, safe houses and safety funds coupled with efforts to influence media law reform through advocacy efforts.

One of the AJSC’s key initiatives has been its approach to community-based safety where cooperation with local police authorities has resulted in agreements on provincial safety procedures for police to follow to help ensure a safer working environment for journalists. But also the AJSC setup remains fragile in a volatile environment where rising insecurity and decreasing funding for their essential work to ensure the safety of journalists are a reality.

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of ISIS and their aggressive and coercive position towards media in Afghanistan both pose serious challenges to the impressive gains made by media and in the field of freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years. Today, media plays a highly important role in public life. The media is the only watchdog apparatus monitoring the performance of the government and power holders. Safeguarding a strong, professional and independent media sector and its workers should thus be viewed as a long-term investment in Afghanistan’s democratic and peaceful development.

Read more about important developments in Afghan media between July – December 2015 in AJSC’s Six Month Report July-December 2015.

0

ON AFGHANISTAN: Profiting off of chaos: How the U.S. privatized its war in Afghanistan

salon.com, by Ben Norton, Feb. 16, 2016, 6 min read, original

Journalist Antony Loewenstein tells Salon how corporations exploit violent conflicts in Afghanistan and beyond

U.S. Army soldiers fire a howitzer artillery piece, Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“The corporation is now fundamentally more powerful than the nation-state,” writes journalist Antony Loewenstein in his new book “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe.”

“Many ongoing crises seem to have been sustained by businesses to fuel industries in which they have a financial stake,” he explains. “Companies that entrench a crisis and then sell themselves as the only ones who can resolve it.”

Loewenstein, a columnist for the Guardian, traveled the world in order to understand just how multinational corporations profit off of such chaos. The Australian-born yet decidedly cosmopolitan journalist devotes the meticulous and daring tome to reporting on the foreign exploitation he witnessed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and the destructive mining boom in Papua New Guinea, along with seemingly dystopian prison privatization in the U.S., predatory for-profit detention centers for refugees in Australia and ruthless austerity in Greece.

In the book, Loewenstein expertly shows how corporate control of not just the domestic, but also the global political system has led to a drastic “erosion of democracy.”

A quote he chooses as the overture sets the tone for the ensuing pages. “It is profitable to let the world go to hell,” warns scholar Jørgen Randers, a professor of climate strategy at Norwegian Business School, while railing against “the tyranny of the short term.” This quote succinctly summarizes exactly how disaster capitalism operates.

The concept of disaster capitalism is derived from a similar work, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” an influential 2007 book by journalist Naomi Klein. In some ways, “Disaster Capitalism” can be seen as a sequel to Klein’s book, yet Loewenstein’s formidable work stands out in its own right.

Salon sat down with the journalist to discuss one of the more explosive controversies he uncovers in his book: how the U.S. war in Afghanistan was privatized.

Loewenstein spent time in war-torn Afghanistan, as well as neighboring Pakistan, researching for “Disaster Capitalism.” His compelling recounting of his experiences paints a picture of a crisis-stricken world in which virtually everything has been privatized, in which private military companies, or PMCs — 21st-century warlords — exercise more control over countries than their own inhabitants.

A slew of Western multinational corporations quite familiar to Americans appear throughout the chapter, including Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, Halliburton and more.

The personal interactions Loewenstein has with military contractors on the ground are some of the most fascinating. A British PMC managing director the journalist met in Kabul, whom he refers to simply as Jack, bluntly admits his corporation “survives off chaos.”

Predicting future U.S. wars in Africa, Iran and Korea, the corporate military executive tells Loewenstein, “If we can make money, we’ll go there.”

“I’m my own government,” Jack boldly declares.

“Disaster Capitalism” bolsters Loewenstein’s growing body of important work. Among his other books are “Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism Is Swallowing the World,” a kind of 2013 prequel to “Disaster Capitalism”; “The Blogging Revolution,” a 2008 investigation of how bloggers around the world challenge their oppressive governments; and the best-selling “My Israel Question,” an exhaustive 2007 account of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, and a profound and intimate exploration of the author’s Jewish identity.

For his previous books, Loewenstein traveled widely, from Palestine to Iran, from Saudi Arabia to China, from Cuba to Egypt and beyond. For “Disaster Capitalism,” Loewenstein went even further. When Salon contacted him to schedule an interview, the intrepid journalist seemed every time to not only be in a different country, but even on a different continent.

This is the first in a two-part review of Loewenstein’s reporting in “Disaster Capitalism.” Another piece will be devoted to Loewenstein’s findings in Haiti, a small country that has been virtually taken over by Western NGOs. Loewenstein spoke with Salon about both little-discussed yet tremendously important issues.

Jack, the British PMC managing director you met in Kabul, said “we don’t call ourselves mercenaries.” Are they mercenaries? Should they be called that?

Not all private security interests in Afghanistan are mercenaries; many men are just security guards protecting embassies or Western interests. But mercenaries are a little-reported aspect of the war, either directly engaged in killing or capturing suspected insurgents (a key failing of the Western war in the country has been its insistence on designating any opponent of the conflict as “Taliban” and therefore “terrorist”) or training Afghan forces to do the same thing, often inflaming conflicts in local villages.

You call imperialism “the dirtiest word in modern English” and note, “There is not a country I visited for this book in which the legacy of imperialism does not scar the landscape and people.” You also point out that “there were often more contractors than soldiers in Afghanistan.” Jack said it is cheaper for countries to use PMCs than it is to put their own boots on the ground.

Do you see this as an outsourcing of imperialism and neo-colonialism, if you will? Is this how war will work in the future?

The U.S. government, along with its many allies, likes using private assets to further geo-political interests. The initial motivation when invading Afghanistan was revenge for 9/11, but this quickly morphed into a messy project to control the nation and partner with a corrupt central government and warlords across the country.

The reason I use the term “imperialism” to describe the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond — along with U.S.-backed autocratic partners in the Middle East, South America, Asia and Africa — is that there’s no other way to describe attempts to secure energy reserves and economic influence in the modern age.

War has always worked this way, but the inclusion of globalized private entities removes one more level of accountability. Today in Afghanistan there are around 30,000 contractors working for the Pentagon alongside the U.S. military and Special Forces. And the Pentagon won’t acknowledge how many soldiers are truly fighting ISIS in Iraq.

Can you talk more about Afghanistan’s enormous natural resources, the TAPI pipeline, drugs, etc.? This is little discussed. Why do you think that is?

During both the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan, huge discoveries of natural resources occurred. There is an estimated U.S. $1-4 trillion of untapped minerals, oil and gas and yet most of it is unreachable due to security concerns and corruption.

I have been investigating these issues for my book, and also the documentary in progress, “Disaster Capitalism,” with New York filmmaker Thor Neureiter.

Natural resources will not sustain Afghanistan after most of the Western aid dries up, and neither the U.S. government nor Afghan authorities have any answers for long-term sustainability (the proposed TAPI pipeline crossing Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Turkmenistan isambitious but prone to problems).

Drug cultivation has soared during the U.S. occupation. Too many Western reporters have framed the Afghan war as simply between U.S. forces and the Taliban when in reality Afghanistan has a complex history that never tolerates long-term occupation.

You write about the “military-enforced bubble,” in which the foreign occupying army is completely out of touch with the locals. An Afghan translator told you the U.S. “only understood force.” Can you expand?

A constant refrain I heard in Afghanistan, during my visits there in 2012 and 2015, was the inability and unwillingness of U.S. and foreign forces to listen to the Afghan people. It’s one reason the U.S. relied on faulty intelligence to understand what Afghans were thinking about their presence.

As the security situation deteriorated after 2004-2005, and U.S. forces falsely framed any Afghan who opposed the occupation as Taliban, the U.S. used a failed counterinsurgency program (designed by David Petraeus and Australian David Kilcullen) that inflamed Afghans.

There has never been accountability for this plan, including by the countless Western journalists seduced by U.S. military talking points.

You talk about the relationships between the U.S. military, USAID and private companies, and say “military and humanitarian work were all too often fused in the post-9/11 world.” Can you comment?

A key component of USAID in the post 9/11 world is using the military to deliver its goals. This fundamentally misunderstands the importance of maintaining neutrality when delivering aid.

The U.S. government’s SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) regularly reports on the U.S. $110 billion spent in Afghanistan on so-called nation building since October 2001, and how USAID was regularly used as a mask for a corporate and military agenda across the country.

Where else is the private security industry growing?

The definition of private security is expanding to include the growth of private armies in often unregulated and chaotic places (from Iraq to Afghanistan and Libya to Syria). South African mercenaries wereworking in Nigeria against Boko Haram and Colombian forces operated in Yemen thanks to the United Arab Emirates.

You write “the Bush administration saw its ‘war on terror’ as a boon for the private sector.” Has the Obama administration has done the same?

Post 9/11, the Bush administration saw an opportunity to implement an extreme neoconservative agenda with the support of its friends in the private sector. They claimed it would save money and be more efficient but the reality was uncontrolled mercenaries and private security in countless war zones.

When Barack Obama was a candidate for President in 2007, he pledged to change this out-of-control contracting since 9/11. However, nothing has improved since he took office due to a number of factors including failing campaign finance laws and Congressional inertia to punish corporations breaking the law.

You conclude the chapter saying, “we created chaos.” What do you think the legacy is of the now 15-year U.S. occupation, especially now, with the rise of ISIS and the resurgence of the Taliban?

The Taliban now control more of Afghanistan than at any time since October 2001. President Obama has now pledged to maintain an indefinite occupation and the U.S. military claims U.S. forces will need to stay in the country for decades to support a failing Afghan state.

The presence of ISIS only complicates the picture, especially for Afghan civilians.

The longest war in U.S. history has not achieved any of its stated goals and the Afghan people, often forced to choose between the Taliban and a U.S.-backed warlord, often pick the former. That’s the legacy of the U.S. war.

0

ON AFGHANISTAN: What Can Be Done to Revive Afghanistan’s Economy?

Reviving the Afghan economy during a time of intensifying violent conflict, declining external financial aid, and ongoing political uncertainty and dysfunction will be extremely challenging. But the country cannot wait for these entrenched problems to be addressed. While keeping expectations modest, this report proposes some targeted, near-term measures to increase confidence and stimulate the economy. Rather than engaging in politics as usual and following conventional policy prescriptions that will not work in the short run, the Afghan government and international community need to focus limited available resources on efforts that will have the highest visibility and impact on the current situation.

Full Report: http://www.usip.org/publications/2016/02/09/what-can-be-done-revive-afghanistan-s-economy

Summary

  • Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) needs to operate more like the unified government of a country facing a national crisis.
  • Tens of billions of dollars in Afghan private capital is being held outside the country, but the money is unlikely to be repatriated and invested effectively in Afghanistan unless confidence in the future increases, the NUG becomes more effective, and prospects for reconciliation and reduced violence improve.
  • Near-term measures to increase confidence and stimulate the economy include (1) increasing overall demand (for example, by starting some sizable infrastructure projects, regularizing informal urban settlements, and implementing selected urban income-generation and job programs); (2) shifting demand away from imports toward domestic production (through targeting spending programs disproportionately at the urban poor, increasing local procurement, and imposing moderate import tariffs on agricultural cash crops); (3) promoting export value chain development for high-value cash crops; and (4) creating fiscal space (including limited government borrowing).
  • Corruption needs to be combated strategically and selectively; too broad an approach, let alone comprehensive, would divert attention from the most important corruption problems and squander limited political capital.
  • Economic reforms and development programs that are too broad could also divert attention and resources away from a priority agenda and be counterproductive in the short run; examples include quick privatization of numerous public enterprises; efforts to quickly reduce opium poppy cultivation; expensive, long-gestation, financially unviable railway investments; excessive tax concessions to promote private investment; and the thin spreading of limited resources across numerous, small rural projects.
  • If the Afghan government takes urgent actions to revive the economy—including through greater political effectiveness—the international community must respond proactively and flexibly by funding high-level expertise to support economic management and innovative programs, front loading aid to support priority initiatives, and restructuring project portfolios to shift funding toward activities that achieve faster results.

About the Report

Despite significant progress in raising government revenue, the Afghan economy in 2014–15 suffered from its lowest economic growth since 2001, and prospects for improvement in the short run appear weak. This report puts forward some innovative, near-term measures that, combined with greater government effectiveness and potential reductions in violent conflict, could help stimulate the economy. It also highlights what should not be done, such as spreading limited resources too thin in pursuit of an excessively broad policy or development agenda.

About the Author

William Byrd is a development economist and has been following the Afghan economy closely since 2001. He is currently a senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has published numerous reports, articles, and papers on Afghanistan’s economy, public finances, governance, corruption, political economy dimensions, drug industry, extractives sector, and development challenges.

0

AFGHANISTAN; DEVELOPMENT: UN reduces Afghanistan appeal but urges other donors to do more

As hunger and malnutrition threaten millions of Afghans, UN in Kabul says US aid to the country is ‘small change’ compared with its military spending

theguardian.com, by Sune Engel Rasmussen, Jan. 27, 2016, original

A Lazeez food truck in Kabul, which caters to the wealthier residents of the city.

A Lazeez food truck in Kabul, which caters to the wealthier residents of the city. For millions of other Afghans, food security and poor nutrition is the reality. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

The UN has implored member states to keep humanitarian aid flowing to Afghanistan as the organisation seeks to limit its focus to life-saving assistance.

Although an estimated 8.1 million Afghans will need help this year – about one-third of the population, and 700,000 more than last year – the UN said on Wednesday it was lowering its request for funding inits humanitarian appeal from $405m (£283m) in 2015 to $393m this year.

The cut will primarily affect efforts to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition. Three million Afghans are malnourished. One million are in acute need of treatment. But the UN’s humanitarian aid will now only target malnutrition caused by displacement, not by poverty and general food shortages.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Kabul, Mark Bowden, said the reason for the narrower focus is because malnutrition is mostly a development issue, not a humanitarian one.

“The problems of food insecurity have increased because poverty has increased,” Bowden said. “It’s not being dealt with as a development problem, and the humanitarian resources are not sufficient to deal with it.”

However, development agencies and the Afghan government are unlikely to be able to pick up the slack.

“I’ve been frustrated by the lack of response from both the international donor community and government on this. We’ve been talking about it for two years,” Bowden said. “We’ve been having meetings with USAid and others as to how to deal with it. It’s not being well prioritised.”

Humanitarian appeals are a balancing act between what is needed and what can realistically be achieved. Last year, the UN in Afghanistan received 70% of its request, one of the most successful UN appeals.

Humanitarian assistance makes up about 10% of the overall non-military assistance to Afghanistan, which also includes development and government assistance.

This year, donors are expected to renew commitments set out at the2012 Tokyo conference, where they pledged $4bn annually in assistance to Afghanistan.

The UK in particular, said Bowden, has pushed donor countries to boost aid. Last year, the UK gave the UN’s humanitarian appeal $16m, tripling 2012 levels and making the UK the third-largest national donor after Japan and the US. In total, the UK donated £25m in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan last year, according to an embassy spokesperson in Kabul.

Diplomats in Kabul point out that for European countries, aid can be a way of reducing the inflow of migrants, of whom Afghans make up 21%.

“It is essential that the most vulnerable Afghans receive appropriate life-saving assistance, quickly. If their needs are not met, Afghans will choose to migrate out of their country as a last resort,” said the German ambassador to Kabul, Markus Potzel.

About half of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan – $141m – comes from the US, but the figure is dwarfed by the $4bn the US pays annually to the country’s security forces.

“I hate to say it but, for the US, humanitarian assistance really is small change,” Bowden said.

Related: Impunity in conflict has cast a dark shadow over humanitarian work in 2015 | Clár Ní Chonghaile

With the Taliban taking over territory across the country, civilian hardship is likely to worsen. The number of Afghans in need of assistance is expected to rise from 7.4 million in 2015 to 8.1 million in 2016, according to the UN. Mass displacement caused by armed conflict, the expulsion of undocumented Afghans from Pakistan and natural disasters, is a major driver.

“With it being El Niño year, the likelihood of more flooding is quite considerable. It’s certainly not going to be any better than last year,” Bowden said. “And, depending on how you see conflict developing, possibly worse.”

Pockets of Islamic State fighters, primarily in the country’s east, also present challenges. Isis seems less accepting of international agencies and immunisation campaigns than the Taliban, with whom the UN negotiates access to affected areas. After the Octoberearthquake in north-east Afghanistan, the Taliban offered a unilateral ceasefire to allow delivery of aid.

Although Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous countries in which to be an aid worker, Bowden said “there is a great respect for international humanitarian law across the board”.

“Though there is a risk of some of that eroding, basically we’ve been able to work with all parties to get assistance through.”

Crucially, attacks on health facilities are becoming rarer, he said, “with the glaring exception of Kunduz”, where a US gunshipattacked a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in October, killing at least 42 staff and patients.

0

ON AFGHANISTAN: India’s role in bringing peace to Afghanistan

theguardian.com, Observer editorial, original
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after the opening ceremony of a new Afghan parliament constructed by India, in Kabul, Afghanistan on 25 December, 2015. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Taliban’s portentous advance on Sangin, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, and the hasty, improvised British and American response have aroused a broad range of emotions. Anger and sadness on the part of relatives of the more than 100 British soldiers who died in an ultimately vain attempt to pacify the area. Bitterness among former army officers who say Westminster failed to set clear goals and adequately support their mission. Bemusement, bordering on hopelessness, among policy-makers at a loss over what can or should be done to rescue Afghanistan from itself.

The tragedy is that these critical outpourings are largely justified. In Afghanistan, there never was a convincing, coherent, workable long-term plan. The 2001 invasion was initially a US-led effort to catch or kill the al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Its aim widened to embrace regime change, targeting the Taliban regime. Then, when the Talibs were toppled, it shifted again, to nation building. Thereafter, the US and Britain, increasingly distracted by Iraq, tended to make things up as they went along.

By 2006, the Taliban were back and the neglected Afghan project was in trouble. John Reid, the then defence secretary, oversaw the additional deployment of thousands of British troops to Helmand. Visiting the province in April that year, Reid said the mission primarily concerned reconstruction. Although it was possible British soldiers could become involved in fighting, it would only be in self-defence, Reid said. “Of course, our mission is not counter-terrorism… We are in the south to help and protect the Afghan people construct their own democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction.”

Doubtless Reid spoke in good faith. But the effect of his public statements and of other Labour ministers at the time, including Tony Blair, was deeply misleading. Within months, British soldiers were sucked into a bloody, thankless conflict from which the armed forces emerged, eight (not three) years later, with their reputation and self-esteem much dented. The dream of nation building was despoiled amid the shrapnel of a thousand IEDs, the screams of the injured – both military and civilian – and the lack of a consistent, well-funded and thought-through policy. As the troops left, 68% of Britons said their efforts were “not worthwhile”.

Despite repeated assurances, it is now plain, post-withdrawal, that the Afghan army and police, expensively retrained and re-equipped by Nato, are not yet, and may never be, up to the task of defending Afghanistan’s security and stability. They nearly lost Kunduz in the north earlier this year. Large rural areas are again under insurgent control. Now symbolic Helmand totters on the brink. Courageous though they be, British and US special forces cannot stem this tide indefinitely.

What is to be done? First, it is time to let go of the discredited idea that western military intervention, at current or expanded levels, can cure Afghanistan’s chronic insecurity. More or better guns are not the answer. In any case, public opinion would rightly refuse to tolerate another escalation.

Second, cultivate a modern mindset. The future projection of Afghanistan as a unitary nation state on the 19th-century European model looks hopelessly inappropriate. It ignores the country’s deep ethnic, geographical and cultural fissures, not to mention the artificiality of the colonial era border known as the Durand Line, which deliberately divided the Pashtun areas straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan. If lasting peace is to be secured, it may be that devolved, federal arrangements offer the best hope of resolving Afghanistan’s problems.

Last, surrender the lead role in forging an Afghan political and security settlement to the regional states most directly concerned, namely Pakistan and India. Islamabad is already promoting a peace process involving the Taliban and other parties that may resume next month. But Pakistan, with its own Taliban problem and a history of unhelpful alliances, can only do so much. What is needed is a bolder, more imaginative initiative from the region’s leading power.

Under its prime minister, Narendra Modi, India has reached out to the Afghan government, helping with institution building and supplying military helicopters. The two countries have signed a strategic partnership agreement. Modi visited Afghanistan and Pakistan last week. Now this proud nationalist has a golden chance to show that where the old western powers failed, the “new India” can succeed.

0

AFGHANISTAN: Women Suffer Psychological Problems After Living Under Taliban

ipsnews.net, by Ashfaq Yusufzai, original
Women being examined by female doctors in free medical camp held in North Waziristan, one of the seven districts of FATA. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

– “My two sons were killed by Taliban militants mercilessly three years ago. My husband died a natural death two year back. Now, I am begging to raise my two grandsons,” Gul Pari, 50, told IPS.

Pari, who is waiting for her turn at a psychiatrist’s clinic in Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says she dreamed every night that her sons were alive and would return one day.

“I am waiting for them. They are martyrs and will come and take revenge from their killers,” she said.

While psychiatrist Dr Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that a majority of the women from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) suffer from psychological problems due to endless violence by Taliban militants.

“We have been receiving at least 200 people, mainly women, with post-traumatic stress disorders due to the human and financial losses.

FATA comprises seven districts, is home to 6 million people and has suffered immensely due to endless conflict,” he said.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas located on the border with Afghanistan is thick with militants since 2001 when the U.S.-led coalition forces toppled their government in Kabul in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.

They took refuge in FATA from where they began targeting Pakistani forces, damaging schools and other government-owned buildings.

Towards the end of 2005, Pakistan, a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, began military operation which displaced at least 3million people.

“Most of the displaced people have developed psychological problems because they have lost their near and dear ones in war between Taliban and the army, besides losing their trades, shops and agricultural productivity,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.

FATA near Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, has suffered immensely.

Muhammad Rafiq, a shopkeeper in North Waziristan, one of FATA’s districts told IPS that his daughter developed mental problems due to displacement. “We now live in a mud-built house which is without clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. There is no electricity, which makes my children face health problems,” he said.

Rafiq said he had better house back home and had earned an appropriate amount to lead prosperous lives but now they have become extremely poor and couldn’t get proper food.

Prof Syed Muhammad Sultan head of the psychiatry department at the Khyber Teaching Hospital Peshawar warns that residents of FATA would face more mental and psychological problems in the days ahead.

Most of the displaced population has taken temporary shelter in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in tiny houses or schools where they lacked basic amenities.

Women and children are vulnerable to psychological conditions, he said.

“They are destined to develop short as well as long term psychological disorders in addition to physical problems,” he said.

Most of the displaced persons have developed the problems of de-personalisation, a condition in which people feel change in their personalities, as well as de-realisation, a condition in which people feel a complete change in the other people’s personalities, he explained.

Professor Sultan said the burden of psychological disorders is unseen but it could go out of proportion if attention is not paid to control it early.

“Women are the worst victims of this mass displacement, which is likely to cause them anxiety disorders, panic disorders, mixed anxiety depression disorder and depression,” he said.

Psychologist Zeenat Shah said many displaced persons suffered from poor self-esteem as well as insecurity about future, while grief and bereavement were other issues faced by them.

“The people who have to flee homes, struggle to adjust to new environments and have a sense of insecurity. This is the result of loss of social structure as well as deaths of close relatives in the conflict and will cause permanent phobias, chronic depression and adjustment problems among displaced people,” she said.

Another psychologist has voiced concern about the mental health of displaced women and children.

“From childhood to adolescence, a child passes through a lot of dramatic changes in physical as well as mental health. During the transition, they gain their identity, grow physically and establish social interaction and relationship in home, in community and in society as whole,” she said.

The psychologist said children going through through the psychological ordeals as in FATA couldn’t progress academically.

She said the situation with regard to women would deteriorate if they (women) continued to stay in the conditions which they were currently in.

“Such women have to live in host communities with relatives or in small rented houses most of which don’t have proper water, electricity and sanitation system. It is very difficult for them to work and cook in the current fasting month in this hot weather, especially when they don’t have access to basic amenities,” she said.

Zainab Bibi, another psychologist from the hospital, has seen the situation as critical for the Waziristan people.

“They (the displaced) have left their homes in a hurry to save their lives. They are victims of decade-long war in their native areas.,” she said.

“It will be very difficult for them to face challenges. However, they could overcome some of them with the help of the government and welfare societies as well as relatives,” she said.

The incidence of psychiatric disorders among displaced persons would soar due to the protracted life difficulties.

Interventions like educational and recreational facilities for the displaced to help them fight mental health problems could help alleviate the problem, she suggested.

(End)

Recommend Share/export

0

AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan calls on India to step up military assistance

indianexpress.com, Nov. 13, 2015, original, Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi |
afghanistan, kabul, afghan army, kabul army, indian army, indian military, india news, latest news
India deploys some 325,000 troops-not counting paramilitary forces and central police 
in counter-insurgency duties in the 1,01,000 square kilometre Jammu and Kashmir state.

 

Afghanistan has asked India to step up supplies of lethal equipment for its military, battered by a resurgent Taliban that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 soldiers, and led to loss of government control in large swathes of territory. The request, diplomatic sources told The Indian Express, was delivered by Afghanistan’s national security advisor, Hanif Atmar, who visited New Delhi this week.

Atmar, the sources said, has asked for India to consider contributing to a long list of deficits in logistics and strike capacity, including training equipment, air and ground mobility assets, engineering infrastructure and light infantry.

Last week, Russia’s ambassador to Kabul, Alexander Mantytskiy revealed his government had also received a request for “certain types of assistance free of charge”. The request, he said, was “under consideration at almost the final stage”.

Kabul, an Indian government official familiar with the talks said, had also requested China for military assistance. However, he said, Beijing had not committed to help Afghanistan, perhaps because of resistance from Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s search for assistance from old regional allies comes amid declining levels of Western aid to its beleaguered military-a 352,000-strong force, including 157,000 armed police, which the country says is unable to meet demands on it because of chronic problems with mobility and equipment.

The Afghan National Security Force budget, estimated at $5.4 billion, is expected to fall to about $5bn next year because of lower aid. The United States is contributing $4.1bn to the ANSF this year, but has requested only $3.8bn for 2016. United States military assistance to Afghanistan has declined year on year since 2011, when it touched a high of over $10bn.

Afghanistan’s NSA, Indian diplomats said, underlined the Taliban’s threat to the regime, describing its recent occupation of the city of Kunduz as “a disaster”. Forced to commit large numbers of troops to defending cities from attack, he argued, lack of offensive hardware and mobility had limited the army’s ability to stage offensive operations.

India deploys some 325,000 troops-not counting paramilitary forces and central police-in counter-insurgency duties in the 1,01,000 square kilometre Jammu and Kashmir state. Afghanistan has similar numbers for its 662,225 sq km-terrain far harsher, and worse connected by road, than Kashmir.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan assessed that about half of Afghanistan’s districts have a threat level considered high or extreme. In addition, it flagged Taliban threats to key communication axis, like the Kandahar-Kabul highway.

India had promised, in a strategic partnership agreement signed in 2011 to assist in “the training, equipping and capacity-building programmes for [the] Afghan National Security Forces”. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, however, stalled Afghan requests for military hardware, fearing they could derail its peace negotiations with Pakistan. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government had placed the requests on hold after it took office, when it began a policy aimed at persuading Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Atmar’s request to India comes amid the collapse of the peace bid.

0

AFGHANISTAN: The Pentagon Spent Nearly $43 Million On A Gas Station In Afghanistan

What we’d call Corruption if someone else did it.

 

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense spent almost $43 million to build a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan that would have cost up to $500,000 anywhere else and which may no longer even be operational, a congressional watchdog said on Monday.

“Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme,” wrote John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in SIGAR’s just-released report on the Pentagon-funded station.

Sopko cited figures from the International Energy Association and the Pakistani government to say it should have cost between $200,000 and $500,000 to build a compressed natural gas station, even in an underdeveloped and relatively dangerous country.

The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which had an $822 million budget for projects in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2014, contracted an Afghan company to build the station in 2011 to demonstrate the potential of CNG stations to investors. That contract was for $3 million, the SIGAR report noted — but the cost to build and supervise the station ended up soaring to $42.7 million by 2014, with $30 million going to overhead costs, according to the task force’s own assessment.

The station opened in May 2012, and the task force planned to license it to a private firm willing to build a second CNG station, according to task force documents SIGAR cited. An Afghan firm did take over the station in May 2014, but its license expired in November 2014, and neither the watchdog nor the Defense Department could confirm that it is still operating, the inspector general said.

The report blasts the Pentagon for claiming that it can no longer answer questions about the task force that financed the station’s construction.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense could not respond to SIGAR’s queries or assess task force documents because the entity was shut down in March, wrote Brian McKeon, the Pentagon’s principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in letters attached to the report. Pentagon officials would have been happy to help locate former task force officials and sort through documents about its activities, but SIGAR investigators did not take up that offer, McKeon wrote, and that was the most the Defense Department could do.

Sopko and his allies on the Hill are not satisfied with that reasoning.

“One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome,” Sopko wrote in an Oct. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter regarding his report.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the ranking member of its investigations subcommittee, sent her own letter to Carter on Nov. 2.

“I am particularly troubled by [the watchdog’s] account of its difficulty in obtaining information regarding the CNG facility,” McCaskill wrote. She asked Carter to tell her staff who at the Pentagon is now responsible for the shuttered task force’s projects, which together cost U.S. taxpayers more than $800 million.

“There’s few things in this job that literally make my jaw drop. But of all the examples of wasteful projects in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Pentagon began prior to our wartime contracting reforms, this genuinely shocked me,” McCaskill said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “It’s hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs more than 8,000 percent more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational.”

The controversy surrounding the task force — once praised as essential for future stability — may become one of the most prominent battles in the fight to expose U.S. government waste in Afghanistan. While Pentagon officials have cooperated on other audits, they seem especially reluctant to allow access to information about the task force, SIGAR said. “Experience indicates that [the Defense Department’s] repeated promises of access to [task force] files are more pretense than promise,” the report stated.

As American forces come home and the Taliban insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan gains strength, the U.S. has found it increasingly difficult to monitor the success of its reconstruction efforts there. Sopko previously warned that President Barack Obama’s planned troop drawdown would diminish that ability further. But Obama decided in mid-October to abandon his plan to slash the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by the end of his presidency, and 5,500 American soldiers will remain in the country in 2017, after the president leaves office.

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

0

AFGHANISTAN: Cashing In on the Decision to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

foreignpolicy.com, Oct. 30, 2015, original

In August, the nation’s top military officer came to President Barack Obama and bluntly asked him to break a promise to bring the last American troops home from Afghanistan by the time the president left office.

Obama had been repeating the vow for years, but Gen. Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States needed to keep at least 5,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 to ensure that the Islamic State didn’t take root there and to prevent al Qaeda from moving back into the country. In July, the Pentagon discovered that the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks had been running a pair of large training camps in southern Afghanistan, including one that covered nearly 30 square miles.

The president, anxious to prevent Afghanistan from turning into another Iraq, told Dempsey that he was willing to consider the troop request. First, though, he wanted the general to tell him the “no kidding” cost of keeping U.S. forces there — including what the Pentagon would pay the thousands of contractors needed to house, feed, and support U.S. military personnel. Wisened after years of overseeing two wars, Obama didn’t want to let the additional cost of contractors escape him, particularly since the military rarely includes it in its proposals. The exchange was first reported by the Washington Post. The White House declined to comment on the president’s decision-making.

That Obama even factored “in contracting costs marks an evolution in the way leaders think,” said Sean McFate, a professor at the National Defense University and the author ofThe Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. “Just 10 to 15 years ago, contracting costs came as an afterthought,” he said. “Now they are part of strategic planning. This makes sense, since the majority of ground personnel are contracted.”

This is certainly true in Afghanistan, where there are 30,000 contractors working for the Defense Department, according to the latest Pentagon tally. Of these, roughly 10,000 are U.S. citizens. The rest are local or third-country nationals from states like Nepal. The Pentagon figures don’t include the thousands of other contractors working for the State Department, USAID, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

That means Obama’s decision to extend America’s longest warwon’t just keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan longer than had been expected; it will also keep thousands of contractors there, ensuring that the gold rush sparked by the 2001 invasion continues for the next several years.

That’s good news for companies like Fluor Corp. and DynCorp International, which have been providing U.S. troops with things like electricity and laundry services on their Afghan bases for years. They and the other contractors working for the military stand to earn billions of dollars per year.

It also means the U.S. government is going to have to continue to provide close scrutiny of their work, as major contractors have been accused of overbilling the government, failing to deliver what they promised, abusing their labor force, and, in some cases, committing outright fraud.

But contractor wrongdoing will be even harder to detect in the years ahead because the ongoing military drawdown will make it extremely difficult for government auditors to travel the country and check on specific projects. U.S. civilian personnel conducting contractor oversight only have access to about 10 percent of the country today, according to an official in the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

“With the drawdown of [coalition] forces in Afghanistan, the ability of U.S. government personnel to go out and kick the tires in order to provide proper oversight is limited,” said John Sopko, the current head of SIGAR, in a statement to Foreign Policy. “With less of the country accessible, it means the American taxpayer is footing the bill for billions of dollars in projects that a U.S. government employee may never see.”

While Obama may have gotten a clearer picture of the costs of an extended mission in Afghanistan, the American public did not. There was no mention of how much money it would cost to delay the drawdown when Obama finally announced in early October that he had decided to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of next year before reducing that footprint to 5,500 for 2017 and beyond. (Under Obama’s original 2014 proposal, only 1,000 troops, all based in Kabul, were scheduled to stay in the country beyond 2016.)

But Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has come up with a good back-of-the-envelope way of estimating the cost of operations in Afghanistan based on funding trends from 2005 to 2013.

When analyzing the data over that time period, Harrison discovered a linear relationship where the total annual cost of operations in Afghanistan equals the number of troops deployed multiplied by $1.3 million — the cost per year of keeping each soldier or Marine in the field — plus $6 billion in fixed costs that don’t vary with the size of the force.

This means the additional cost of keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan in fiscal year 2017 is about $13 billion. That would come on top of the money Washington would be spending on American reconstruction projects and to pay for the Afghan security forces.

“So all in [all], it would probably end up being about $20 billion,” Harrison said. A large portion of that would go to contractors who are involved in everything from maintaining weapons for Afghan forces to building new infrastructure projects across the country.

That doesn’t mean that’s the number you’ll see the Obama administration requesting for its war budget though, Harrison noted.

In recent years, the White House has used its war spending bill — also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, fund — to finance the purchases of $20 billion to $25 billion worth of weapons and other programs that really belong in its base budget. That has allowed it to effectively hide the true cost of some of its procurement efforts. But, Harrison noted, it means the “OCO budget is no longer a good indication of actual war costs.”

As for contractors, the number in Afghanistan has been steadily falling from its peak of 117,000 in 2012, as the number of U.S. troops on the ground shrinks. There were 15,000 more contractors working for the Defense Department in the country last October than there are today.

But with Obama’s announcement, that steady reduction will come to a halt, especially among the major contractors who directly support U.S. troops by providing them meals, doing their laundry, and keeping the lights on at the bases in Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Bagram. In Afghanistan, the big players are DynCorp International, based in McLean, Virginia, and Fluor Corp., based in Irving, Texas.

The hundreds of millions of dollars these contractors stand to gain because of the delayed withdrawal in Afghanistan mirrors the lucrative deals the Pentagon has signed with the companies charged with supporting the expanding American troop presence in Iraq. There, contractors like SOS International are winning bids to provide everything from meals to perimeter security at Iraq’s Besmaya Compound and Camp Taji.

The contractors stand to pocket even more in Afghanistan because more U.S. troops are deployed there and the reconstruction effort is ongoing. In early October, DynCorpwon a $154 million one-year contract modification to continue providing support to American troops in Afghanistan. According to the company, the contract covers everything fromproviding the bases with electrical power to sewage and waste management and even food and laundry services.

DynCorp’s original contract for base support in Afghanistan had been awarded in 2009 and has earned the company more than $6 billion.

The State Department has also relied heavily on the company to perform work in war zones, especially in Afghanistan. Of the $4 billion the State Department spent on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013, DynCorp won 69 percent, or $2.8 billion, according to an April 2014 SIGARreport.

But DynCorp is not without controversy. It has been chargedwith overbilling the government millions of dollars. SIGAR is also investigating the company, along with Fluor, in connection to reports of human trafficking in Afghanistan. The inspector general has collected evidence that shows that third-country nationals from India, Nepal, and elsewhere have been enticed by labor recruiters to pay improper “recruitment fees” and “kickback payments” to obtain their jobs working for these companies on U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

In a statement to FP, DynCorp said it has put policies and procedures in place to educate employees about and prevent human trafficking.

“The company has developed a strict code of ethics and business conduct, which includes a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking; created a position of chief compliance officer; introduced global training programs; and has taken a number of additional steps to ensure a compliant, ethical, [and] successful workplace,” a spokeswoman for the company said.

Fluor said it also strictly adheres to a policy of zero tolerance for human trafficking.

“We take any alleged violation of that policy very seriously,” a Fluor spokeswoman told FP.

Fluor said it promptly responded to a request for information from SIGAR in July 2014 and has not heard from the inspector general’s office since.

The company will “proudly continue” to support U.S. and coalition forces “in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world as directed and for as long as there are requirements,” the spokeswoman told FP.

KBR, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, used to play a much bigger role in Afghanistan, but after years of winning contracts without having to compete for them and facing charges of fraud and overbilling — not to mention failing to protect soldiers from harmful chemicals in Iraq — the Pentagon decided to change things up and let other companies compete for the business.

While KBR is not providing base support to American soldiers in Afghanistan, it still is working on American military contracts in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and other countries.

The Supreme Group, headquartered in Dubai, has also seen its business in Afghanistan dry up. It used to feed up to 130,000 troops a day in Afghanistan, raking in a total of $6.8 billion, but lost its multibillion-dollar contract in 2012 to one of its competitors, Dubai-based Anham FZCO.

Then, in December 2014, executives from the Supreme Group pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States, admitting it had overcharged the government hundreds of millions of dollars for food and water. It agreed to pay $389 million in fines and damages.

In a more staggering case of Washington’s quid pro quo economy, retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail was hired in 2008 as president of Supreme Group’s U.S. branch, after giving the company the New Contractor of the Year award in 2007 when he was serving as head of the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversaw the company’s contract in Afghanistan.

The Supreme Group has continued to provide fuel to U.S. and NATO forces, even after it lost its giant food contract. British military police are now investigating claims that the company may have overcharged as much as $700 million in fuel contracts, the Guardian reported last month.

Meanwhile, Anham’s contract is valued at $8 billion. In 2013, the company admitted to the U.S. Commerce and Treasury Departments that it had shipped some of its supplies through Iran because the main route through Pakistan had been closed.

These are just some examples of why close scrutiny of overseas contractors is needed, but SIGAR warns that oversight in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly restricted because of security reasons.

American civilians are only allowed access to areas in Afghanistan within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility. Because of this, U.S. government officials — from the Pentagon, the State Department, and USAID — cannot visit reconstruction projects that altogether total more than $725 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

0

AFGHANISTAN: Pakistan and Afghanistan: The new Great Game

bbc.comoriginal
 Pakistani people light candles to pray for the victims who were killed in an attack at the Army run school in PeshawarThe Peshawar school attack was widely condemned.   Image copyright EPA

Ever since the Pakistan Taliban massacred 132 schoolboys in a Peshawar school last December, the Pakistan army has been confronting some of the country’s militants, with unprecedented determination.

But the campaign is still patchy. While the Pakistan Taliban have been forced on to the back foot, other Pakistan-based militant outfits have been left undisturbed.

Publicly, Pakistani officials insist that they no longer make a distinction between the “good” Taliban (proxy forces of the Pakistan state) and the “bad” Taliban (which mount sectarian or anti-state attacks).

But privately they argue the army has to prioritise which groups to confront first. The immediate, urgent task, they say, is to fight the militants who have caused tens of thousands of deaths within Pakistan itself.

Afghan attacks

It means militant groups such as the Haqqani network, which focuses most of its efforts on Afghanistan, can fight on unimpeded. The group, which is based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, is believed to have mounted a series of attacks on Kabul this summer.

It has been a devastating campaign. In the first six months of 2015, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented the highest level of civilian casualties in the country since it began keeping authoritative records in 2008.

Similarly, the Afghan Taliban have stepped up their military activity – most recently in the city of Kunduz in the north of Afghanistan.

Kabul for years has complained that many Afghan Taliban leaders live in and around the Pakistani city of Quetta.

When asked about the issue, Pakistani military officials say that, with as many as three million Afghans in Pakistan, it is difficult to be sure who is living where.

The lack of an outright denial is deliberate. The perception that Pakistan controls the Afghan Taliban gives Pakistani officials diplomatic leverage. If the West wants peace in Afghanistan, they are implicitly suggesting, it will have to secure Pakistani co-operation to deliver it.

In fact, history suggests that the Afghan Taliban, while happy to accept Pakistani support, are quite capable of ignoring Islamabad’s instructions and formulating their own policies.

Co-operation

When the new Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, won power in 2014, he said improving the relationship with Pakistan was a top priority: if Islamabad would cut its links with the Afghan Taliban, then Kabul would try to prevent anti-Pakistan forces finding sanctuary in Afghanistan.

The two countries, he suggested, could only find stability by working together.

But for all the hope that President Ghani engendered, Islamabad and Kabul have reverted to hurling accusations at each other. And the distrust seems set to continue.

Geostrategic concerns

Senior Pakistani military officers say one of the reasons they have a continued interest in Afghanistan is because India is extending its influence there.

Islamabad fears that, among other things, Delhi is using its presence in Afghanistan to build a closer relationship with Baloch separatists, who for a decade have been fighting to split away from Pakistan.

The issue is especially sensitive because of Pakistan’s plans to construct the China Pakistan economic corridor. The planned trade route will run through Balochistan, close to the Afghan border, down to the new deep-sea port of Gwadar.

Pakistan is hoping the corridor could generate billions of dollars of revenue.

It is a highly complex geostrategic situation.

Put at its most succinct, Pakistani strategists are supporting Islamist militants to counter Indian intelligence officers working with Baloch nationalists to thwart Chinese traders.

It all shows the extent to which the Great Game, in which outside powers struggle for control of Afghanistan, is alive and well.

The Great Game

  • Strategic rivalry between the British and Russian Empires for control of central Asia during the 19th and early 20th Centuries
  • Officially ended with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which divided Persia into three zones, declared Afghanistan an official protectorate of Britain and said that neither Russia nor Britain would interfere in Tibet’s internal affairs
  • Britain’s Capt Arthur Conolly is generally considered to have coined the term
  • Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim is set against the backdrop of the Great Game, which brought the phrase into the mainstream

As has so often been the case in the past, the stability of Afghanistan depends on it being left alone. But the regional powers all see the country as a place that can cause them problems.

The result is that many of Afghanistan’s neighbours sponsor local, tribal and religious militias so as to prevent anyone else’s proxy getting control.

It is a process Afghan civilians recognise all too well because, more often than not, they are the ones caught in the crossfire.

Page 3 of 612345...Last »