Does press freedom promote democracy or the other way round? Martin Scott considers the influence of the media
by Martin Scott, Guardian Professional,
Is journalism really an effective ‘searchlight on corruption?’ Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian
One of the aims of World Press Freedom day in May was to encourage us to reflect on the value of an independent media. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently while writing a new book on media and development and co-producing the video below. How exactly does good journalism promote transparency and accountability? What role can technology play in enabling ordinary citizens to promote good governance?
One of the most famous answers to such questions comes from former World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, who said: “A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.”
These are fine words. But what do they actually mean? It’s not clear to me how a “searchlight on corruption” leads to the building of consensus, for example, or whether consensus is always the result of “enfranchising poor people”. We might also wonder whether public consensus is an effective mechanism for change in any context other than a fully functioning democracy. Indeed, does press freedom promote democracy or does democracy promote press freedom?
Unfortunately, such grand and over-simplified claims about the role of press freedom in development are common in public discourse. Whether in stories about mobile phones and good governance or internet access and economic growth, it’s much easier to persuade people of the importance of press freedom if you pretend that the links to development are direct and clear-cut.
The trouble is, they are not. The media have multiple, overlapping roles which are fundamentally shaped by local contexts. Pretending that they don’t leads to bad project design and policy making. It also fuels the mistaken belief that access to technology alone is enough to solve problems.
Such misleading stories about the inevitably positive role of technology are not limited to the subject of press freedom. Those concerned with behaviour change communication also tell exciting tales about the benefits of mobile phones, for example, in promoting flood safety oreducating young mothers. Yet disseminating information through the media will only change behaviours in very specific circumstances – when the right people, can access the right information, at the right time, understand it, trust it and be able to act upon it. It’s no use telling people to boil their drinking water, for example, if they don’t have the means to boil it.
The point here is not that the media doesn’t matter for development. It does. Increasingly. The point is that efforts to highlight the importance of the media should exist alongside, rather than seek to obscure, recognition of the complexities of the media’s role. Ultimately, it’s not helpful to pretend that the media always have a direct and positive influence on development.
If good information is not available then rumors will spread. The weak media culture in South Sudan continues to fuel the ongoing conflict because of limited legal protection for public broadcasting, media regulation and freedom of information. Additionally journalists face safety concerns, restrictions on what issues they can report, and limited funding and training.
Accurate news coverage has been difficult to obtain, allowing warring parties, responsible for countrywide atrocities, to escape accountability for their crimes. The media sector in South Sudan needs to be strengthened to promote accountability and transparency of all parties involved in the conflict. This can be done if the package of media legislation can be signed by the President and if there is a national effort between the government, bilateral organizations, national media groups and journalists to promote countrywide news reporting. Increasing the availability of reliable information will decrease the spread of rumors, improving cross tribal communications and peace building.
Since independence the government has cracked down on the media through the harassment of journalists and the use of fear to limit the spread of information, according to journalists who wish to remain nameless. Just this month, according to the Committee to Project Journalists, the Minister of Information tried again to limit news coverage by warning reporters not to interview opposition groups or else risk arrest or expulsion from South Sudan. The legal uncertainties in South Sudan make journalists more susceptible to threats and abuse by the authorities. The signing of the media legislation package by the President will establish a legal framework that protects journalists and media outlets. Implementation of the media laws will be another issue, but passing the media legislation is the first priority.
South Sudan will be celebrating its 4th Independence Day this July. As the world’s youngest country it is difficult to build up a media sector on par with the rest of the world- the U.S. has had over 200 years to build its media network. Additionally, South Sudan has experienced some setbacks, such as the closing of the journalism program at the University of Juba. But national and international development groups have met setbacks with coordinated efforts. The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and Association for Media Women in South Sudan (AMWISS) are offering training focused on long-term capacity building for journalists. These national organizations having been partnering with bilateral organizations, such as the Norwegian People’s Aid, to increase the number of journalists trained and to improve the media sector through coordinated efforts focused on skill building.
There have also been coordinated efforts in the media field by UNESCO, Fondation Hirondelle, BBC Media Action, Internews, AMDISS and AMWISS to work together for regulatory changes and advancing the field of journalism. The Ministry of Information has been involved in some of the capacity building efforts, including a Media Sector Working Group, and their participation is important to ensure the safety of journalists and having a dialogue on pressing national media issues.
The on-going conflict has disrupted the growth of South Sudan since independence. South Sudan is facing development issues along with the struggles of being a young nation. Only 37% of the population is literate, based on responses to a 2013 South Sudan National Audience Survey by Internews. How can literacy and education improve for the next generation if, according to the UN, over 1 million people have been displaced? Is the literacy rate going to take a similar path to GDP, which according to the World Bank has had a negative 47.6% growth rate in 2012? The conflict has had devastating effects on the South Sudanese today, but it will continue to be felt for generations to come if something is not done to stop it.
Peace talks in Addis Abba continue to be delayed and there is no promise that they will lead to reconciliation. Although it will be difficult to do, it is in the government’s best interest to promote a healthy media field because it will improve the development of the nation and will be a major factor in ending the conflict. Media is a tool that South Sudan can use now to facilitate peacekeeping. If the government works with bilateral organizations and national organizations it can pass the media legislation package, increase the safety of journalists and a focus on promoting accurate news coverage.
The writer is a holder of a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice Candidate 2014, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
The big international aid agencies have been hugely successful. Organizations that were once small civil society operations – groups of friends with a passion to make the world a better place – now have thousands of staff members, multi-storey headquarters buildings and multi-million dollar budgets. But insiders fret that they have become too big and have lost the flexibility and responsiveness they once had.
They also worry about the future, and whether big international agencies are still the best way of doing things. It’s hard to imagine a world without Oxfam or Save the Children, but 20 years ago it would have been hard to imagine a world without Kodak film and cameras, or multi-volume editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now both have gone, swept away by technological change they were slow to see coming.
In Britain a lot of soul-searching is taking place inside what is known as the START Network (once called the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies), which brings together 19 major NGOs and their worldwide partner organizations. The Network’s Director, Sean Lowrie, thinks the way the sector works is cumbersome and old fashioned. “NGOs are stuck in a Victorian model, which requires people to suffer and die to get on the front page of newspapers, and the newspapers trigger public donations and that triggers political will. It’s a reactive model,” he says.
It’s also very slow. The START Network is explicitly looking for a new and better way of working, and has made a beginning with the START fund, a pot of money provided by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Irish Aid, which can be mobilized immediately in a crisis and channelled to whichever organization, international or local, is best placed to use it. The key is that the money is already there – it doesn’t have to wait for a crisis to get on the television news. Smaller emergencies or slow-onset crises may never give rise to that kind of money-generating publicity.
Olivia Maehler, START’s business manager, said they aim to consider proposals and release funds within 72 hours of receiving an alert. “We could get an alert on a Tuesday and the funding could be going out by Friday morning,” she told IRIN.
This demands a collaborative way of working, and an unusual degree of selflessness on the part of member organizations, who may in the past have competed for funding and public profile. The principle is that the money goes to whoever can make best use of it straight away, and so far over half the money has gone directly to local implementing partners.
The fund is still in its ‘design and build’ stage, but has already been able to respond to the violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and to one of the sudden spikes in conflict and displacement in South Sudan. Until now the meetings to allocate funds have taken place in London. “We are hoping that for future project selection we will be able to do the decision-making in the field, at the local level,” Maehler says.
But the tools that make this kind of devolved, collaborative way of working possible also threaten to disrupt the traditional roles of the big NGOs and perhaps bypass them altogether. At a public debate in London, linked to START’s first annual conference, speakers presented the kind of innovations that have the power to shake up humanitarian action.
“Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed”
Paul Skinner, whose organization, ‘Pimp My Cause’, matches marketing volunteers with charities and social enterprises that need their skills, spoke of the need to harness people’s underlying participatory spirit, and “make a humanitarian of everyone”.
“Whereas the NGO of the past may have been something you chose to support, maybe in quite passive ways, the NGO of the future is likely to be something you will turn to because they can help you achieve something worthwhile yourself,” he said.
From your armchair
Luis Morago, of the online campaigning organization, Avaaz, described getting involved in a form of international activism which can bypass conventional NGOs altogether by using the example of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008.
The government was blocking aid flights so Avaaz’s online followers rapidly raised US$2 million and sent it via a network of Buddhist monks who had been appealing for help online. “I didn’t leave my armchair,” Morago said, “But still I was feeling very happy and it cost me ten dollars… But it’s what happens after the clicks that matters – how we use that support. That’s what can bring incredible change.”
Other speakers in the debate included Laura Walker Hudson from Frontline SMS, which has created tools to conduct mass campaigns using basic mobile phone technology, and Harry Wood from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, a free collaborative mapping project that came into its own during disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
The possibilities presented were exciting but also unsettling for many in the audience. Powerful new tools for mobilization, like Avaaz, could be used for good purposes, said Frances Stevenson of Help Age International, but also destructively. “Just imagine if they had been around in the 1930s,” she said. “It could be used either way, so I suppose we had better grab it before the other side does!”
John Borton, a senior research associate in the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a UK think-tank, was struck by the way all this fizz of innovation was happening outside the established humanitarian NGOs. “They create their own organizations, and that makes me uncomfortable. I guess it’s all part of the sector becoming more diffuse, expanding from dozens of organizations to hundreds,” he said. “There’s something here about the way that the established organizations embrace technology.”
That concern got short shrift from Ken Banks, author of ‘The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator’, which covers the stories of 10 people who solve unexpected problems. “Money kills innovation,” he says bluntly. “Look at Ushahidi [a non-profit open-source software development company]. Why didn’t the Red Cross build Ushahidi? They should have done. The Red Cross needed something like Ushahidi many times in the past. I think people taking their ideas to the bigger NGOs would absolutely kill them, and drive them [innovators] to despair!”
The message is clear. Change – disruptive change – is inevitable, and the humanitarian sector needs to be prepared to work differently, and also to play a very different role in the future. What can’t be predicted is whether change will kill their traditional business – as it killed the traditional business models of Kodak and Encyclopaedia Britannica – or whether – as in the case of digital publishing – it will give the sector a new lease of life.
Either way, says Luis Morago, change is coming. “Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed.”
After months of planning and a very stimulating, meeting-packed two weeks in Haiti, I’m thrilled to report that we are ready to move forward with our project, Haitian Perspectives in Film. Of course, to actually make it happen we have to raise the funds. To that end, with excitement, anticipation and a wee bit of anxiety, we have launched the campaign with an ambitious goal to raise $40,000 in 30 days. Please visit our support page to find out how you can support this initiative to amplify the voices and vision of Haiti’s most vulnerable.
And your reward for supporting this work? Immense satisfaction that you will strengthen the capacity of Haitians to tell their own important social and economic stories. If that’s not enough, what about a recording of my notorious laughter? That and many more perks are available in return for your generosity. See the list to the right.
But seriously, there are so many ‘David and Goliath’ issues that need to be voiced and visualized by Haitians – for Haitians and for the international community. This work urgently needs your financial support. As Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, CSFilm’s Haiti project coordinator, says in our interview:
“Most of the reporting on Haiti is done by Western journalists, and often about issues pertaining to natural disasters, to poverty. They show the sad face of Haiti. It does not seem to fit their narrative to show the other side of the coin, that there are so many amazing initiatives that are undertaken by Haitians themselves.
It is these local perspectives and initiatives that will help us understand Haitian challenges and solutions. Ralph and many other Haitians that I met are eager to expand their storytelling skills to engage Haitian and international audiences through the medium of documentary film.
As Ralph further stated in his interview with me:
“My role as a journalist and my duty as a Haitian is to try and organize people via the media so they can be part of the decision-making process to solve our problems. …The main problem here in Haiti is that the stakeholders are not involved in the decision-making. And I’m convinced that for Haiti to “develop” people have to be more involved in the decision-making. That’s the reason why I think that as a journalist my role is to gather people around the issues that affect our daily lives in Haiti.”
I can’t wait to have the opportunity to work with Haitians like Ralph to nourish an understanding of Haiti through their eyes and voices. I hope you’ll help us make it happen. If you do, we’ll be able to strengthen the capacity of Haitian storytellers in documentary filmmaking so that they can produce 10 short documentary films that provide a unique insider’s perspective on the economic and social development challenges they’ve faced since the 2010 earthquake. Their films will be released in advance of the 5 year anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015 as part of an international education campaign.
Description: Community Supported Film is looking for an intern to play a key role in helping this young organization grow and communicate its mission. Interns will assist with film promotion and distribution; outreach and planning for filmmaking trainings; research; fundraising; and daily operations.
Location: Boston, MA
Primary responsibilities: 1. Administration
Learn about and assist with the fundamental activities of a start-up arts organization
• Assist with the maintenance and improvement of administrative systems
• Assist with fundraising, donation tracking and acknowledgments
• Writing and copyediting for various purposes
• Assist with the coordination of screenings, presentations and fundraising campaigns
• Research training, distribution, and fundraising opportunities
Take a leadership role in helping CSFilm develop and implement a media strategy that builds its audience and promotes its activities
• Write blog postings and assist with the maintenance and development of csfilm.org
• Research, develop and maintain the organization’s social media presence
• Identify, build, and maintain relationships with journalists and producers
• Assist with the writing, editing and distribution of press releases and all related correspondence and materials
• Pitch stories and interviews; book CSFilm spokespeople on radio and television; track media hits
• Maintain a communications database
Learn about funders and grant writing
• Research grant opportunities and assist with the drafting of grant applications
Essential Knowledge, Skills and Experience:
• College degree, near degree completion, or equivalent experience
• Study of and experience with public relations, press outreach and social media
• Administrative capacity
• Excellent written and oral communication skills
• Experience with: Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook
• Web technology including but not limited to HTML and WordPress
• Detail oriented with ability to take initiative and carry multiple tasks to completion
• Knowledge of the language of documentary video production and public engagement
• Knowledge of issues of social and economic development
• Video compression and media production for the web
This is an excellent opportunity to help build an organization in its start-up phase.
Learn and see more at www.csfilm.org.
Reports to: Director and Program Assistant
Hours: 10-15 hours per week
Commitment: 3-6 months
Application Deadlines: Fall Internship: August 1st
Please submit a cover letter, résumé, and contact information for three references to with the subject line: Administrative and Communications Internship.
*Applicants without a separate and attached cover letter will not be considered.
About Community Supported Film
CSFilm’s mission as a not-for-profit organization is to integrate training, storytelling and awareness building by:
1. Training storytellers from poor and developing communities in non-fiction filmmaking and assisting them with the development of their careers as filmmakers and video-journalists
2. Producing engaging stories from the trainee’s perspective about important social and economic development issues in their communities. These stories counteract the relentless focus of the western media on battlefronts, crises and disasters.
3. Building a bridge between the community of filmmakers, communities in development, and an international community of concerned citizens. This conversation raises awareness about sustainable paths to a more peaceful and equitable world.
We believe that socioeconomic development and conflict resolution are effective when the challenges and solutions are understood from the local perspective. High quality locally made documentary storytelling provides essential insights, for community members and policymakers, into sustainable paths to a more equitable and peaceful world.
On Thursday, June 12, Cambridge’s own Community Arts Center presents: REBEL An original play about the Haitian Revolution
This spring, the Community Art Center’s School Age Child Care Program
is working on an original play about the Haitian Revolution.
Visual, media, dance and theater arts classes at the Community Art Center are collaborating to tell the story of Johanne, a young girl coming of age in the revolutionary landscape of Saint-Domingue- the French colony that would become Haiti.
As Johanne witnesses and participates in the changing life around her she must confront her present fears and find new, future hopes. Her story is told. Through the telling, we learn what freedom, courage and responsibility mean for one girl in one country struggling for liberation.
The Community Arts Center presents: REBEL Thursday, June 12 • Doors open at 6:00 PM Cambridge YMCA 820 Massachusetts Ave. Doors open at 6:00 PM Free and open to the public, although voluntary donations are welcome
Maafushi Island Shows the Way for Inclusive Wealth Creation through Tourism
SUBMITTED BY SANDYA SALGADO ON THU, 05/29/2014
The success story of Maafushi, an island in the Kaafu Atoll in the Maldives, dates back to 2009 when the government liberalized its policy on local tourism. A visionary entrepreneur, Ahmed Naseer, lost no time in starting a four roomed guest house in 2010, to kick start the concept of local tourism in his home island Maafushi. And the rest is history!
Maafushi’s expansion from one guest house in 2010 to thirty guest houses to date is a remarkable success story which I was privileged to witness firsthand last week.
An island with 2000 locals had welcomed 600 tourists last year. They were coming in search of an affordable, simple holiday, just for the sun and sea experience, living amongst the islanders while experiencing theiruniqueculture and lifestyle. Maafushi’s model of attracting local tourists has provided an alternative to the high end tourism that Maldives is known world over for.
Asim Mohamed, better known as ‘Simbe’ of Maafushi Dive
I was curious to know what factors contributed to this amazing story of growth of local tourism on one solitary island in the archipelago.
“Proximity to Male, ease of transport, a well-functioning sewage system and a water treatment plant definitely helped us” said Simbe, the beaming thirty two year old owner of Maafushi Dive.
What he didn’t say was that the unique entreprenurial spirit of the islanders coupled with their warm and friendly nature with which they welcomed the guests, making them feel at home and comfortable at all times definitely added to their success.
A Norwegian diving instructor I met in the island said “people of Maafushi are very different in nature to some of the other islanders,” and confirmed that the success of Maafushi could also be largely attributed to this unique characteristic of its people. Having spoken to many different groups in the island, I would definitely think she knew what she was talking about.
What was most intriguing for me was how the islanders had demarcated a special area for the guests to enjoy the sun and sea, without encroaching into each others’ lives. The palm leafed fence beautifully separated the privacy of both the guests and the islanders who believed in a ‘live and let live’ philosophy to help with the growing local tourism in the island.
The success of this island is not limited to development of its guest houses, but the growth of complementary services which makes the model sustainable, inclusive and beneficial to a larger group of islanders. Some of these services include transport, laundry service, internet and cable TV services, restaurents, handicrafts, engineering and maintainence services, construction work, carpentary, garbage collection, motorbike repairs, traditional music and dance, fishing, diving and water sports and still growing…
Unattended waste management
As any form of development is bound to have challenges, Maafushi is conscious of theirs. Sea erosion is a primary concern which will badly affect the booming industry if timely intervention is not forthcoming. The other pressing issue is the escalating consumption of electricity and beyond affordable rates that seem unsustainable with the increasing business needs. Waste management is another growing problem that hasn’t found a solution yet. The entrepreneurs are hopeful that the government will provide them with solutions to these three major threats that will determine the growth and sustainability of this remarkable development success story that has helped Maafushi in wealth creation and shared prosperity.
During the Afghan elections in early April I was traveling in Central Asia, mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I wanted to inquire into the fears of the governments there as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. What did they think of the growth of Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Officials in each country cited two threats. First, the internal radicalizing of their young people by increasing numbers of preachers or proselytizing groups arriving from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. The second, more dangerous threat is external: they believe that extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to infiltrate Central Asia in order to launch terrorist attacks.
Islamic extremism is infecting the entire region and this will ultimately become the legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan, as the so-called jihad by the Taliban against the US comes to an end. Iran, a Shia state, fears that the Sunni extremist groups that have installed themselves in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Iranian border will step up their attacks inside Iran. In February Iran threatened to send troops into Balochistan unless Pakistan helped free five Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped by militants. (The Pakistanis freed four of the guards; one was killed.)
Chinese officials say they are particularly concerned about terrorist groups coming out of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are undermining Chinese security. Although China is Pakistan’s closest ally, its officials have made it clear that they are closely monitoring the Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang province, who are training in Pakistan, fighting in Afghanistan, and have carried out several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.
Terrorist assaults from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir have declined sharply since 2003, but India has a perennial fear that Islamic militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province may mount attacks in India. Many Punjabi fighters have joined the Taliban forces based in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and they have attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan. India is also wary of another terrorist attack resembling the one that took place in Mumbai in 2008.
For forty years Pakistan has been backing Islamic extremist groups as part of its expansionist foreign policy in Afghanistan and Central Asia and its efforts to maintain equilibrium with India, its much larger enemy. Now Pakistan is undergoing the worst terrorist backlash in the entire region. Some 50,000 people have died in three separate and continuing insurgencies: one by the Taliban in the northwest, the other in Balochistan by Baloch separatists, and the third in Karachi by several ethnic groups. That sectarian war, involving suicide bombers, massacres, and kidnappings, has gripped the country for a decade.
Some five thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen have been killed and some twenty thousand wounded, both as targets of terrorist attacks and during offensives against them. The economy has sharply declined, and there are widespread electricity shortages. The political elite is divided and at odds with the military over how to deal with terrorism, while many in the middle class are leaving the country.
Two years ago all the states in the region would have publicly or privately accused Pakistan’s military and Interservices Intelligence (ISI) of supporting, protecting, or at least tolerating almost every terrorist group based in Pakistan. The ISI had links with all of them and often collaborated with them. Recently those relations have changed. Governments in the region now accept that Pakistan is in some ways trying to fight terrorism on its soil. But those governments are also concerned that the Pakistani military and political elite have lost control of large parts of the country and cannot maintain law and order. The US and Western countries fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal is vulnerable and that terrorists in Pakistan may be planning an attack comparable to that of September 11.
There is still no overall political or military strategy to combat Islamic extremism. The Pakistani army tries to suppress some terrorist groups but not, for example, those that target India. Such a selective strategy cannot be maintained indefinitely and poses enormous risks to the entire world.
Since the mid-1970s the ISI has supported extremist Islamic groups in Afghanistan including the Taliban, but that policy may now be changing. Contrary to many predictions, the situation in Afghanistan may be taking a turn for the better. Despite the threat of Taliban reprisals, seven million Afghans turned out on April 5 to vote in the first presidential election in which President Hamid Karzai was not a candidate. This was also the first genuine attempt in Afghan history to transfer power democratically. A remarkable 58 percent of the 12 million eligible voters turned out—35 percent of them women. Although the Taliban did not make a show of force to stop the vote, relatively few people voted in many Taliban-controlled areas in the south and east. Preliminary results released on April 26 show the Tajik leader Abdullah Abdullah in the lead with 45 percent of the vote and his Pashtun rival Ashraf Ghani trailing with 32 percent. Over three thousand cases of fraud still have to be investigated before the count is final.
Since neither candidate had a majority of 50 percent, there will be a runoff election between the two by the end of May. A new government will not be in place before July, which means that a security agreement with the US, which all the candidates have agreed to, will be delayed. The US and NATO want a military force of some ten thousand to stay in the country in order to train the Afghan army and gather intelligence. Such an agreement will be necessary if the US Congress and Europe are to be persuaded to keep the Kabul government financially afloat. Afghanistan needs a minimum of $7 billion a year to pay for its budget and army. In January the US Congress cut by half the $2 billion earmarked for US aid to Afghanistan.
To bring the civil war to an end the new president will try to open talks with the Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan is now also keen on such talks because two thirds of Pashtuns live in Pakistan, including members of the Taliban, and there has been talk by Islamists of carving out a separate Pashtun state. Will the Pakistan military put pressure on the Afghan Taliban leaders who live in Pakistan to talk to the new government in Kabul while Pakistan deals with its own Pashtun problem? A lot will depend on whether a much weakened Pakistan still has the power to force the Afghan Taliban to engage in negotiations.
All the recent books I have seen on the Afghan wars have recounted how the Pakistani military backed the Taliban when they first emerged in 1993, but lost its influence by 2000. Then, after a brief respite following September 11, 2001, Pakistan’s military helped to resurrect the Taliban resistance to fight the Americans. My own three books on Afghanistan describe the actions of the Pakistani military as one factor in keeping the civil war going and contributing to the American failure to win decisively in Afghanistan.*
Now in The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014, Carlotta Gall, theNew York Times reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than a decade, has gone one step further. She places the entire onus of the West’s failure in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s successes on the Pakistani military and the Taliban groups associated with it. Her book has aroused considerable controversy, not least in Pakistan. Its thesis is quite simple:
The [Afghan] war has been a tragedy costing untold thousands of lives and lasting far too long. The Afghans were never advocates of terrorism yet they bore the brunt of the punishment for 9/11. Pakistan, supposedly an ally, has proved to be perfidious, driving the violence in Afghanistan for its own cynical, hegemonic reasons. Pakistan’s generals and mullahs have done great harm to their own people as well as their Afghan neighbors and NATO allies. Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy.
Dogged, curious, insistent on uncovering hidden facts, Gall’s reporting over the years has been a nightmare for the American, Pakistani, and other foreign powers involved in Afghanistan, while it has been welcomed by many Afghans. She quickly emerged as the leading Western reporter living in Kabul. She made her reputation by reporting on the terrible loss of innocent Afghan lives as American aircraft continued to bomb the Pashtun areas in southern Afghanistan even after the war of 2001 had ended. The bombing of civilians was said to be accidental, supposedly based on faulty intelligence; but it continued for years and helped the Taliban turn the population against the Americans.
Before human rights groups or police arrived in remote, bombed villages, Gall was often there first. Thus in July 2002, she writes of driving “for three days over dusty and rutted roads” to reach a village in Uruzgan province that had been bombed during a wedding. Fifty-four wedding guests were killed, including thirteen children from one household, and over one hundred people were wounded. The survivors of this massacre “were collecting body parts in a bucket”—Gall’s quote of the provincial governor that haunted reporters and other observers in Kabul. She continued:
Sahib Jan, a twenty-five-year-old neighbor, was one of the first to reach the groom’s house after the bombardment. Bodies were lying all over the two courtyards and in the adjoining orchard, some of them in pieces. Human flesh hung in the trees. A woman’s torso was lodged in an almond sapling…. Bodies lay in the dust and rubble of the rooms below.
Some of those killed were friends of President Karzai and these bombings infuriated him and caused his relations with the US to deteriorate. As late as 2009 Gall was still covering such disasters, as when US planes bombed the village of Granai, killing 147 people—“the worst single incident of civilian casualties of the war.”
Carlotta Gall was, in effect, a one-woman human rights agency. She spent much time and effort exposing the torture and killing of Afghans taken prisoner by the Americans. This was a highly sensitive issue—the American victors did not expect American media to expose their wrongdoings. But Gall went ahead. She told the heartbreaking story of Dilawar, a naive taxi driver who was wrongly arrested in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, incarcerated in an isolation ward at the US airbase at Bagram, and then beaten to death by his American jailors. She spent many weeks tracking down Dilawar’s family and obtained the death certificate issued by the US Army:
I gasped as I read it. I had been looking to learn more about the Afghans being detained. I had not expected to find a homicide committed by American soldiers.
Nobody was ever charged and the same US team of interrogators was deployed to Abu Ghraib in Iraq—the other site of grisly US treatment of prisoners. Gall’s modesty does not allow her to mention that it was this story that led to the making of the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.
All her skills were put to the test when she reported on the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and tried to discover whether senior Pakistanis had been hiding him all along. Methodically adding one fact to another, she concludes not only that some were, which is convincing, but that all the top officials in the military and the ISI knew of his whereabouts, although the evidence she offers for such widespread knowledge is not wholly plausible; and her assertion that there was a specific “bin Laden desk” at the ISIappears, from my own inquiries, to be flimsy.
For many Pakistanis the main failure of the government is that nobody has ever been punished or held responsible either for hiding bin Laden or not discovering him earlier. Gall surmises that the ISI had let it be known that bin Laden’s hideaway was an ISI safe house. That is why nobody ever knocked on the door—a reasonable assumption.
However, the fiercest opposition to her views comes from American officials themselves. They insist, as they are obliged to do, that none of the top Pakistani leaders knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Gall’s conclusion that the Obama administration deliberately kept the ISI’s role in harboring bin Laden secret in order to save the US–Pakistan relationship is difficult to accept for two reasons. The first is simply the propensity of officials in Washington to leak to journalists. The second is that US–Pakistani relations would collapse a few months after the killing of bin Laden over different issues, notably Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. The US therefore would not have been so concerned to protect its relations with Pakistan.
Most states today, including the US and NATO countries, believe that the Pakistani military is no longer in control of the Taliban in Afghanistan or capable of putting decisive pressure on them. The army leaders have too much of a problem at home with their own Pakistani Taliban. Their ability to persuade the Afghan Taliban to make peace with Kabul is very limited. Moreover, the Pakistani military has shown no willingness to kick the Afghan Taliban out of Pakistan and back to Afghanistan. The civilian government is trying to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban but the military is against such talks and would rather use force, a major division in policymaking in Islamabad. There are enormous risks involved, such as the two Talibans merging to fight the Pakistani army.
The Pakistani military belatedly understands that a Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would eventually ensure that Pakistan would find itself with a Taliban government in Islamabad. As Gall recounts, the Pakistani army has spent years propping up the Afghan Taliban, training their fighters, allowing them to import arms and money from the Arabian Gulf and to recruit among Pakistani youth. As Gall shows, the army even decided which tactics the Afghan Taliban should use. The army is now desperate to find a political solution that would send the Afghan Taliban home.
Many army and police officers find themselves confused as they are ordered to protect some Taliban and other extremists and kill others. Pakistani officials are supposed to be loyal allies of the US and they take its money but they also are encouraged by powerful Pakistanis to promote anti-Americanism in society and the army. There has been no adequate explanation for these dual-track policies, which have ravaged state and society and undermined the army internally. Moreover the army is still not prepared to give up its militant stand against India.
Gall writes that Pakistani soldiers “were fighting, and dying, in campaigns against Islamist militants, apparently at the request of America, but at the same time they were being fed a constant flow of anti-American and pro-Taliban propaganda.” Unfortunately she does not acknowledge that there have been shifts in the military’s thinking and that it faces the more open kind of confusion over its strategy and its loyalties that I have described. Her book starts and ends on the same note even though thirteen years have elapsed.
Afghans have observed that the ISI has not interfered in the Afghan elections. Contrary to its policy since the 1970s, it has avoided favoring Pashtun candidates. It has also tried to improve relations with the former anti- Taliban Northern Alliance (NA) warlords it once opposed by meeting with the leaders of Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek groups that were the major components of the alliance. Consequently all the Afghan presidential candidates have softened their comments on Pakistan, avoiding the harsh rhetoric of Hamid Karzai.
Yet for the reasons described by Gall, the Pakistani military still does not comprehend how deeply Pakistan is hated by most Afghans. Even today the worst atrocities and suicide bombings causing civilian deaths are often blamed on the Taliban elements “trained by Pakistanis.” Hatred for Pakistan is possibly even stronger among the Afghan Pashtuns who have been Pakistan’s traditional allies. The Pakistani army must undergo deep self-examination and show considerable humility in dealing with the Afghans if it is to genuinely create an opportunity for peace.
However there are large gaps in Gall’s analysis that cannot be ignored. Pakistan was not the only cause of the failure to control the Afghan Taliban; the failure in Afghanistan has been an American failure as well. The lack of a US political strategy stretched over four administrations. Two Presidents—Bush and Obama—were unable to make up their minds about what to do in Afghanistan or how many troops should carry out which tasks. The overwhelming militarization of US decision-making and the hubris of American generals undermined diplomacy and nation-building; the US failed to curb open production of opium and other drugs. There was constant infighting between the White House, Defense, and State Departments over policy. There was also widespread corruption and waste both in the private contracting system used by the US military and in some of the operations of the US Agency for International Development. The list of such American failures is indeed long, and assigning responsibility for the losses in Afghanistan will occupy US historians for decades.
Gall’s second omission is not to recognize the negative effects caused by the neighboring countries, apart from Pakistan, and their constant interference in Afghanistan. She ignores the Afghan civil war after 1989 when all the Afghan warlords had international backers. She fails to mention that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia backed the Taliban while Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, and the Central Asian republics supported the Northern Alliance.
More recently Iran has given sanctuary to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, India is funding the Baloch separatist insurgency in Pakistan, and Afghanistan has provided a refuge to the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The US presence has failed to provide protection for people in the region. Most Afghans will tell you today that what they fear most about the Americans leaving is that intervention from all the country’s neighbors will start again. Gall doesn’t blame neighbors other than Pakistan.
Why did Pakistan adopt policies of intervention in Afghanistan, especially after September 11, when it had essentially lost the game in Afghanistan? There has been a disastrous logic to the military’s policies—which more thoughtful Pakistanis have always resisted.
Here some history is useful. The Pakistan military has used militant political groups as an arm of its foreign policy in India and Afghanistan since the 1970s. This was allowed by the West as part of the cold war. During the 1980s the CIA funded the Afghan Mujahideen and Islamic extremists from forty countries when they were fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It was not until September 11 that Pakistan’s use of Islamic extremists as a tool of its foreign policy became unacceptable.
After September 11 General Pervez Musharraf and the military regime believed that they could, for a time, appear to meet US demands by capturing al-Qaeda leaders while avoiding harm to the Afghan Taliban. Musharraf was always treated as a messiah by the Bush administration; but a year after September 11 well-informed Pakistanis knew that Musharraf had started playing a double game with the Americans by covertly supporting a Taliban resurgence.
What was the Pakistan military’s logic in doing so? After the war to oust the Taliban was over in 2001 the military faced the defeat of its Taliban allies and had to suffer the Northern Alliance and its backers—including India and Iran—as victors in Kabul. Musharraf felt he had to preserve some self-respect; and Bush appeared to acknowledge this when he allowed ISI agents to be airlifted out of Kunduz before the city fell to the Northern Alliance and its backers—a series of events well described by Gall. Bush had also promised Musharraf that the NA would not enter Kabul before a neutral Afghan body under the UN took over the city. But as the Taliban fled, the NA walked into Kabul without a fight and took over the government.
The Pakistani military was further angered at Bonn in December 2001, when the new Afghan government was unveiled and all the provincial security ministries were handed over to the Northern Alliance, with Pashtun representation at a minimum. This was the usual outcome by which the spoils of war went to the victors, but for Pakistan’s generals it was further humiliation that bred resentment and a desire for revenge.
The military was equally perplexed about why the US did not commit more ground troops to hunt down al-Qaeda instead of leaving that task to Northern Alliance warlords. The military was convinced that the Americans would soon abandon Afghanistan for the war in Iraq and leave the NA, backed by India, in charge in Kabul.
Bush’s refusal to commit even one thousand US troops to the mountains of Tora Bora where bin Laden was trapped sent a powerful message to Pakistan. By 2003 US forces in Afghanistan still amounted to only 11,500 men—insufficient to hold the country. Five years later in 2008 there were only 35,000 US troops in Afghanistan, compared to five times that number in Iraq.
The Pakistani military’s insecurity about American intentions and the growing power of the NA, India, and Iran led to its fateful decision to rearm the Taliban. It believed that the Taliban would provide a form of protection for the Pakistani military against its enemies. Instead the revamped Afghan Taliban helped create the Pakistani Taliban and the worst blowback of terrorism in Pakistan’s history. It is the Taliban’s terrorism within Pakistan rather than US pressure that altered the military’s position from backing the Afghan Taliban to its now seeking a peaceful Afghanistan.
Gall’s account of the rise of the Taliban is also open to question. She writes that three commanders in Kandahar and Kabul—two of them drug smugglers and one of them a landlord—initiated the Taliban movement. Between 1994 and 1998, in Kandahar and Kabul, I interviewed nearly all the students who were the founding members of the Taliban and the three men she names were never mentioned, except as intermittent financiers. The founders of the Taliban were pious, conservative, simple young villagers who had fought the Soviets as foot soldiers and were now deeply disillusioned with their former leaders for fighting a civil war. They came together to rid Kandahar of criminal gangs. They then traveled around the country asking warlords to help end the civil war and bring peace. When that failed they decided to launch their own movement.
Contrary to Gall’s account that they wanted power over Afghanistan from the first, the Taliban founders initially had only three aims—to end the civil war, disarm the population, and introduce an Islamic system. Until they reached the gates of Kabul in late 1995, they had no intentions of ruling the country. Instead they were demanding a Loya Jirga, or meeting of tribal elders, to decide who should rule. Some, like Mullah Borjan, were actually royalists who wanted to call back the former King Zahir Shah from exile. Gall says Borjan was killed at the behest of the ISI in 1996, although it is widely accepted that he died a year earlier in the first attack on Kabul.
All the founding members of the Taliban I interviewed gave a different account from Gall’s of the rise of their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. They all had equal status, the requisite piety, and a strong record of fighting the Soviets. There was no natural commander among them. After much debate they picked Omar as the first among equals, the most pious and apparently the most humble. His status rose only after he insisted that his colleagues swear an oath of allegiance to him. He continues to be powerful. Too much of Gall’s information and analysis on the history of the Taliban seems to reflect the views of the Afghan intelligence service, whose own interpretation is flawed and one-sided.
Today, with Pakistan torn apart by unprecedented violence and the situation in Afghanistan still precarious, the Pakistani military has strong reasons to change its past policies of sponsoring wars fought by nonstate organizations. Some changes are happening, but only at a glacial pace. Serious reform needs to start at the lowest level of the military, at the schools and colleges from which the army is drawn, where drastic curriculum changes are needed. The ISI needs to be brought under a code of conduct and accountability, particularly with respect to its dealings with violent organizations. Its personnel should be trained in political realism rather than in ideological prejudices. Unless changes in the army can be made more quickly, there is still the danger that this nuclear power could slip into chaos.
*The trilogy is: Taliban (I.B. Tauris, 2000); Descent into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (Viking, 2008); Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan(Viking, 2012). ↩
southasia.foreignpolicy.com, May 9, 2014
Parnian Nazary, a representative of Women for Afghan Women, a grassroots civil society organization, recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee how far both she and the women of Afghanistan have come in just over a decade by recounting a harrowing story of the challenges she faced and the barriers she scaled in order to gain an education under the rule of the Taliban. While expressing her elation that Afghan women no longer have to attend secret schools and surreptitiously teach themselves English like she did, she also emphasized that these successes are fragile and at risk without the sustained support of the international community.
Nazary’s words square with my own experience in Afghanistan. When I first moved there in 2003, land mines were scattered across the once fertile farm land, women were hardly ever seen in public, and less than a million boys and only a handful of girls attended school. After a decade of persistent effort by Afghans and support from the United States and the international community, Afghanistan has changed dramatically. Pomegranates growing in orchards once littered with land mines are being packaged and exported, women actively participate in the Afghan government and civil society, and more than 8 million boys and girls are enrolled in school.
According to the United Nations, Afghanistan has experienced greater improvement in human development — a measure of health, education, and standard of living — than any other country in the world since 2000. Life expectancy alone has increased by 20 years, from 42 years to 62, and maternal mortality has decreased by 75 percent. All this progress came at less than 3 percent of the total cost of the civilian and military effort in Afghanistan.
While these achievements are substantial, Afghanistan still needs our support and attention. It remains a poor country deeply affected by 30 years of war: Half of Afghan families are surviving on less than $1.25 per day. To address this, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is continuing its work with the Afghan government to combat corruption, strengthen Afghan institutions, and encourage business growth and entrepreneurship. At the same time, USAID applies strict safeguards to ensure U.S. dollars are utilized for maximum results as we work with the Afghan government.
But if Afghanistan is to successfully navigate its way out of a cycle of extreme poverty, it will need its women, youth, and civil society to play an essential role. To this end, USAID has made it a priority to focus on these three groups. As such, we will be launching our largest gender program in the world in Afghanistan. The program, known as “Promote,” will help educate Afghan women and turn them into the country’s future business, political, and civil society leaders. At the same time, USAID is working with the Afghan government to bolster institutions of basic and higher education and to increase opportunities for youth to receive the kinds of technical and vocational training necessary to find jobs in the expanding economy. We are also helping to provide civil society groups with new skills needed to effectively address the issues facing their communities with programs such as Promote, which will enable women’s rights organizations and coalitions to influence public policy and social practices.
With an active and engaged citizenry, the many fragile gains Afghans have made can be transformed into lasting successes.
Nazary concluded her testimony by voicing a concern that many Afghan women share: that the international community will abandon Afghanistan. While Afghans are ready to take on the challenges ahead, as demonstrated by the high number of voters who turned out for the April 5 presidential election, she underscored that they cannot tackle them alone. Together with the Afghan people, the United States can help ensure that the remarkable development progress in Afghanistan is maintained and made durable, and that Afghan women like Nazary do not have to study in secret ever again. The risks and sacrifices that the people of the United States have made in Afghanistan in support of our national security interests, and the determination that the Afghan people, particularly women, have shown, demand no less.
Kathleen Campbell is the Acting Deputy Assistant to the Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Spring is eternal in Haiti, where I’ve been for the last week. Often quite hot and humid, there is a cool breeze right now as the rain clouds come down over the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince. Steep hills covered in shacks of mostly cement clinging to every nook and cranny. As usual in a country as poor as Haiti, the poorest are pushed into the most inhospitable locations to try and scratch out a living space.
Too often I am surprised at how easily I could get confused and think I am in Afghanistan. With roads and homes in disrepair the look of rebuilding Kabul after 30 years of war does not feel that different than the rebuilding of Port-au-Prince after the earthquake of 2010.
But of course the cultural differences are dramatic, for one the call to prayer and sermons of the Muslim tradition have been replaced by the sounds I hear now, coming from a tin roofed building across the street – the music and orations of a Christian service.
I came 8 days ago with the usual mixture of anticipation and anxiety about the development of our new program in Haiti. After months of research, spreadsheets full of contacts and a new assistant meeting me at the airport, we began the adventure of knocking on doors at Haitian community media groups and development organizations, international aid groups, local and international journalists and filmmakers and embassies and funding agencies. It has been a whirlwind tour up and down the steep, steep streets of Port-au-Prince, hunting for addresses defined by the color of their door, a number of speed bumps from a corner or the shop nearby.
Ralph Thomassaint Joseph has been my guide and partner and how lucky I am to have him. CSFilm posted a job description for a Haitian program assistant to help with translation and logistics as we initially developed the project in the US. Ralph, living in Port-au-Prince, heard about it and applied. As he said to me, “I hesitated, I know it was a bit crazy, you in Boston and me here, and my English is completely self-taught and not very good, but then I decided, why not.” Why not indeed. Ralph’s English is very good and he is a very sharp, sensitive, committed young Haitian. I’d say young Haitian journalist, but as Ralph would tell you, he’s studying law because it is nearly impossible for a journalist to make a living in Haiti – the quality and demand has to be increased. None-the-less he has done years of remarkable reporting – a lot of it without pay – from the camp that has housed 1.5 million people since the earthquake.
There are still over 140,000 in makeshift camps. While in the western media, if we hear anything about Haiti, we often hear about the 7-8,000 houses the international aid effort has built in Port-au-Prince, the figure that we don’t typically hear is that some 80,000 homes have been rebuilt by Haitians themselves without any aid. But, I was introducing Ralph… Take a look at the multi-media piece about the camps that just won Ralph the Maison de la Radio in Paris, the Prix Chaffanjon.
Visiting Medialternatif, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Putting together my research and outreach with Ralph’s local knowledge about the media and development world, we have organized some 30 meetings. Check out the work of some of the journalism and media making groups that are among some of our potential training and distribution partners: Groupe Medialternatif, Cine Institute and SAKS. Our objective with this trip is to learn what is already happening and needed in the documentary media making and journalism sectors and how CSFilm’s program can contribute constructively.
Night has fallen and the thunder has started and soon I expect there will be the uproarious sound of heavy rain pounding on the tin roofs around. I look forward to sending further updates in the near future. Check out the first photos from this trip in the gallery.
Washington, D.C., January 9, 2014 – Four years after an earthquake devastated Haiti and killed some 220,000 people and displaced 1.5 million, housing, sanitation and health care remain woefully inadequate, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-DirectorMark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot noted that while some 200,000 people are still stuck in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, and many others have beenforcibly evicted onto the streets – and while under-funded sanitation and health care allow a cholera epidemic to continue to ravage the country — many of the urgently-needed funds meant to assist the people of Haiti have gone instead into the pockets of contractors, or have been used to fund projects that benefit foreign corporations far more than they do Haitians.
“The lasting legacy of the earthquake is the international community’s profound failure to set aside its own interests and respond to the most pressing needs of the Haitian people,” Weisbrot said. “Four years of exposés in the international media, appeals from the U.N. and international aid groups, and pleas from the Haitian government, Haitian grassroots groups and many others have failed to change the misplaced priorities of the international response to the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.”
Weisbrot applauded the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and cosponsored by 34 other legislators, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month. The Act is meant to foster greater transparency in U.S. government contracting in Haiti through regular progress reports to Congress.
Much of the U.S. government aid earmarked for Haiti following the quake has gone to foreign contractors, providing little benefit to Haitian businesses, organizations or workers. 67.1 percent of USAID contracts has gone to Beltway-based firms, while just 1.3 percent has gone to Haitian companies. The Haitian government has also largely been bypassed as aid funds have gone to foreign contractors, international agencies and the many groups that populate what is known as the “republic of NGOs.” Of the $6.43 billion disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors to Haiti from 2010-2012, just 9 percent went through the Haitian government.
Weisbrot noted that although the massive displacement of people from their homes was one of the most visible and damaging aspects of the earthquake, four years lateronly 7,515 new houses had been built. A U.S. government plan to build 15,000 new houses has reduced its goals by over 80 percent.
The cholera epidemic, brought to Haiti by U.N. troops, has killed 8,500 people and sickened over 695,000. While the U.N., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Haitian and Dominican governments launched a $2.2 billion plan to eradicate cholera over a year ago, it remains woefully underfunded, and the U.N. itself has pledged just 1 percent of the funding needed, even as the U.N.’s mostly military and police mission in Haiti costs over $572 million a year.
Projects such as the Caracol industrial park, meanwhile, continue to receive additional funding, with the Inter-American Development Bank announcing last week that it would commit another $40.5 million for the facility’s expansion. The project has come under scrutiny over poor working conditions and low pay for garment workers; theWorkers Rights Consortium [PDF] found that “On average, workers were paid 34% less than the law requires” at Caracol.
“The least that the U.N. and international community could do is to clean up the mess that they themselves made,” Weisbrot said. “This means providing the infrastructure for clean water, as quickly as possible, to get rid of the deadly cholera bacteria that U.N. troops – who did not come to Haiti for earthquake relief – brought to the country.
“The millions of dollars brought to contractors and big NGOs have often not been used to meet the urgent needs of the Haitian people.”
International Crisis Group Report
Asia Report N°25612 May 2014
The Executive Summary is also available in Dari.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The war in Afghanistan entered a new phase in 2013. It now is increasingly a contest between the insurgents and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Many within and outside the government are more optimistic about stability in the wake of a relatively successful first round of presidential elections on 5 April 2014. However, any euphoria should be tempered by a realistic assessment of the security challenges that President Karzai’s successor will face in the transitional period of 2014-2015. Kabul may find these challenges difficult to overcome without significant and sustained international security, political and economic support.
The overall trend is one of escalating violence and insurgent attacks. Ongoing withdrawals of international soldiers have generally coincided with a deterioration of Kabul’s reach in outlying districts. The insurgents have failed to capture major towns and cities, and some areas have experienced more peace and stability in the absence of international troops. Yet, the increasing confidence of the insurgents, as evidenced by their ability to assemble bigger formations for assaults, reduces the chances for meaningful national-level peace talks in 2014-2015.
A close examination of four provinces – Faryab, Kunar, Paktia and Kandahar – reveals underlying factors that may aggravate the conflict in the short term. Historical feuds and unresolved grievances are worsening after having been, in some cases, temporarily contained by the presence of international troops. In Faryab, these are largely ethnic tensions; in Kandahar they are mostly tribal; but in all transitional areas there is a variety of unfinished business that may result in further violence post-2014. Similarly, clashes among pro-government actors may become more frequent, as predicted by local interlocutors after recent skirmishing between government forces in Paktia. The situation in Kandahar also illustrates the way mistreatment of Afghans at the hands of their own security forces, operating with less supervision from foreign troops, breeds resentment that feeds the insurgency. Finally, despite its rhetoric, Pakistan has not reduced safe havens and other support for the insurgency, while Afghanistan’s hostile responses – especially in Kandahar and Kunar – risk worsening cross-border relations.
None of these trends mean that Afghanistan is doomed to repeat the post-Soviet state collapse of the early 1990s, particularly if there is continued and robust international support. In fact, Afghan forces suffered record casualties in 2013 and retreated from some locations in the face of rising insurgency but maintained the tempo of their operations in most parts of the country. Afghanistan still has no shortage of young men joining the ANSF, offsetting the rising number of those who opt to leave them or abandon their posts. The government remains capable of moving supplies along highways to urban centres. ANSF cohesiveness, or lack of it, may prove decisive in the coming years, and Paktia notwithstanding, only minor reports emerged in 2013 of Afghan units fighting each other. As long as donors remain willing to pay their salaries, the sheer numbers of Afghan security personnel – possibly in the 370,000 range today – are a formidable obstacle to large-scale strategic gains by the insurgents.
That will not stop the Taliban and other insurgent groups from pushing for such gains, however. Despite a short-lived gesture toward peace negotiations in Doha, the insurgents’ behaviour in places where the foreign troops have withdrawn shows no inclination to slow the pace of fighting. They are blocking roads, capturing rural territory and trying to overwhelm district administration centres. With less risk of attack from international forces, they are massing bigger groups of fighters and getting into an increasing number of face-to-face ground engagements with Afghan security personnel, some of which drag on for weeks. The rising attacks show that the insurgents are able to motivate their fighters in the absence of foreign troops, shifting their rhetoric from calls to resist infidel occupation to a new emphasis on confronting the “puppets” or “betrayers of Islam” in the government. The emerging prominence of splinter groups such as Mahaz-e-Fedayeen is a further indication the insurgency will not lack ferocity in the coming years.
For the first time, the insurgents inflicted almost as many casualties on Afghan security forces in 2013 as they suffered themselves, and several accounts of battles in remote districts suggested the sides were nearly matched in strength. There are concerns that the balance could tip in favour of the insurgency, particularly in some rural locations, as foreign troops continue leaving. President Karzai has refused to conclude agreements with the U.S. and NATO that would keep a relatively modest presence of international troops after December 2014. The two presidential runoff candidates have vowed to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S., which would in turn allow for a NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). While retaining a contingent of foreign soldiers would not be sufficient on its own to keep the insurgency at bay, its absence could prove extremely problematic. The ANSF still needs support from international forces, and signing a BSA and a SOFA would likely have knock-on effects, sending an important signal of commitment at a fragile time, thus encouraging ongoing financial, developmental and diplomatic support.
With or without backup from international forces, the Afghan government will need more helicopters, armoured vehicles, and logistical support to accomplish that limited objective. Such additional military tools would also permit the government to rely increasingly on the relatively well-disciplined Afghan army rather than forcing it to turn to irregular forces that have a dismal record of harming civilians.
Certainly, the future of the Afghan government depends primarily on its own behaviour: its commitment to the rule of law, anti-corruption measures and other aspects of governance must demonstrate its concern for the well-being of all Afghans. However, responsibility also rests with the international community; its patchy efforts over a dozen years to bring peace and stability must now be followed not with apathy, but with renewed commitment.
To help Afghan security forces withstand a rising insurgency
To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:
1. Sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. and a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with NATO.
2. Take urgent steps to reduce casualties among Afghan forces, including a large-scale effort to train police and soldiers in the basics of emergency medical care.
3. Strengthen anti-corruption measures to ensure that security personnel receive their salaries and other benefits, and confirm that ammunition, diesel and other logistical supplies reach Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) units.
To the government of the United States:
4. Significantly increase the size of the Mobile Strike Force (MSF) program, so that sufficient ANSF quick-reaction units are available to handle many of the worsening security trends of 2014-2015 and beyond.
5. Find a way, possibly by working with other donors, to expand Afghan capacity for tactical air support, including more helicopters in support of government efforts to retain control over remote district centres.
To all donor countries:
6. Convene a meeting of donor countries as a follow-up to the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, with a view to expanding annual pledges of support, realising them on schedule and allowing the ANSF to maintain for the time being personnel rosters approximately equal to their current levels. Those ANSF levels are not indefinitely sustainable or desirable, but reductions should progress in tandem with stabilisation.
7. Support anti-corruption measures by the Afghan government to ensure, inter alia, that salaries are distributed to all ANSF members and logistical supply chains function as required.
To reduce tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan
To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:
8. Increase diplomatic outreach to regional governments, including Pakistan, to find ways of reviving peace talks with the insurgents; maintain, at a minimum, lines of communication between Afghan and Pakistani civilian and military leaders; and explore ways to increase bilateral economic cooperation as a way to ease tensions with Pakistan.
9. Refrain from taking direct military action inside Pakistan or supporting anti-Pakistan militants.
To strengthen the rule of law
To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:
10. Reduce reliance on and ultimately phase out the controversial Afghan Local Police (ALP) program, given the ALP’s abuse of power and destabilising effect in most parts of the country.
11. Respond with transparent investigation and disciplinary measures as appropriate to any report of ANSF failure to protect or deliberate targeting of civilians, in violation of obligations under Afghan and international law.
To all donor countries:
12. Assist with programs aimed at encouraging the ANSF to respect the constitution and the country’s obligations with regard to human rights and the laws of armed conflict.
To improve political legitimacy and state viability:
To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:
13. Encourage open public and media discussion and debate of security problems so as to find solutions and keep policymakers informed; and acknowledge that, aside from the conflict’s external factors, internal Afghan dynamics such as corruption, disenfranchisement and impunity also deserve attention.
14. Strengthen efforts to make the Afghan government more politically inclusive, particularly at the provincial and district level.
15. Refrain from interfering in the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Independent Complaints Commission (IECC) processes of disqualifying voters and adjudicating complaints in connection with the 2014 and subsequent elections.
16. Direct propaganda messages toward front-line insurgents that publicise the absence of international forces in their areas of operation in order to undermine the logic of jihad after the departure of foreign troops.
To all donor countries:
17. Sustain economic assistance for the Afghan government and work with the finance ministry to encourage growth in customs and other forms of government revenue.
18. Encourage the IEC and the IECC to comply strictly with electoral laws, including requirements to conduct their work in a transparent manner, in the processes of disqualifying voters and adjudicating complaints.
19. Provide diplomatic support for the Afghan government’s efforts to improve relations with Pakistan and revive peace talks, when feasible, with insurgent factions.
The Anthropology of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia, or ACME Journal reviewed CSFilm’s The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film in their last issue. Below you can read an excerpt from the review:
Rather than being a single, comprehensive film, this production comprises ten separate short documentaries, each filmed by a different Afghani trained by Community Supported Film. They range in length from 6 to 20 minutes and focus on Afghani citizens going about their everyday affairs. They ‘bring to life Afghans’ efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions’, in the words of an accompanying brochure. These slice-of-life vignettes accomplish this goal and give some insight into the problems facing poor and working class Afghanis as they go about their daily routines. Most of the subjects are women, although six of the filmmakers are men. The subject of the war rarely comes up, but it is still a presence in several of the pieces.
‘L’ is for Light, ‘D’ is for Darkness (dir. Hasibullah Asmati, ed. Hamed Alizada, 12 mns) tracks a female teacher in a remote village as she goes house to house trying to persuade villagers to send their daughters to a newly established school in the wake of the Taliban’s departure. She wears a burqa that she takes off at some houses and at others leaves in place. She is welcomed at most houses, at others she is given excuses (‘her brother will not allow her to go to school’) and at one there is no answer at all to her persistent knocking. The local mulla supports the school, but has no power to compel the girls to attend. A final scene shows the school operating in a damaged building with no roof. Searching for a Path (dir. Reza Sahel, ed. Rahmatullah Jafari, 13 mns) focuses on a pushcart vendor in Kabul. A young man who peddles bananas from a wheelbarrow narrates this piece, explaining how he had tried other jobs, but could not make enough money. As he wheels his car through the streets of Kabul he talks about harassment by the police, his wedding debts, his hopes for his children (that they become doctors), and his aspiration to open a small shop. It is a hard life, but the vendor speaks without bitterness, just a sense of hope for something better.
In another remote village, pregnant women have to make a long trip to Kabul for maternity consultations because there is no local maternity clinic. Hands of Health (dir. Zahra Sadat, ed. Jawed Taiman,14 mns) has scenes of women baking bread, men constructing a stone wall and picking fruit, all the while talking about women’s health and the number of children a family should have. They also lament the fact that there are no local medical facilities, but even after the villagers have built a small clinic, the national government has not staffed or equipped it, leaving the women no better off than before.
Heroin addiction is a serious problem in Afghanistan. In The Road Above (dir. Aqeela Rezai, ed. Jawed Taiman, 6 mns) a woman named Mona is shown doing heavy manual labor (puddling concrete, shoveling gravel etc. for the construction of a road). Her husband is an addict and she has not seen him for months, thus she is forced to work to support herself and her family. Accompanied by a policeman, she goes searching for her husband at a site under a highway, where addicts congregate to shoot up. She has no luck in her quest, and concludes that he is probably dead and that it is better that way, as he was already lost.
Knocking on Time’s Door (also known as Opening the Door of Time, dir. Ahmad Wahid Zaman, ed. Hamed Alizada, 6 mns) profiles a former mujahidin fighter who has come back to his village and become a teacher. The former warrior is shown discussing with two comrades their time fighting the Taliban; then there are scenes of the construction of a school, followed by shots of students and teachers in the school and classroom. A vision of hope is projected, as the aging teacher plays volleyball with some young pupils.
Bearing the Weight (dir. Mona Haidari, ed. Hamid Arshia, 13 mns) also references the war, in that the protagonist, Shafiqa, lost her husband, newborn daughter and her leg in a rocket attack. But this is a story of redemption, as Shafiqa has been able to care for herself, her two sons and be a vital member of her community. She is shown teaching other disabled women how to sew and make garments. There is testimony about how she was inspired by other disabled women who strived to overcome their injuries and scenes of her counselling others. Nevertheless, things are difficult for the disabled in Afghanistan; Shafiqa remains very poor and suffers discrimination, not even able to hail a taxi. The piece ends with Shafiqa stating her ambitions for her two remaining children – to become educated and get a university degree.
Water is essential to life everywhere, but in parts of Afghanistan there is very little water to be had. Water Ways (dir. Majeed Zarand, ed. Jawed Taiman, 11 mns) chronicles the quest for water in a rural area of Afghanistan, where government programmes have helped some farmers tap the water-table dozens of meters below the surface, while other farmers are forced to rely on undependable rains and occasional good luck. Much of the farming is still done without the benefit of tractors or other modern technology. The film ends with scenes of a minor construction project financed by the government’s National Solidarity Programme. Afghanis are doing all they can to survive under difficult circumstances. Life is hardest for the poor. Beyond Fatigue (dir. Baqir Tawakoli, ed. Hamid Arshia, 9 mns) follows a woman who, in one day, visits her sick mother-in-law in a distant village, teaches small children at a mosque school, and works at a vocational training center operating a foot-treadle sewing machine. All this time she is accompanied by her young child for whom she cannot afford day care. Her dream is to get a loan that would enable her to buy her own sewing machine.
Treasure Trove (dir. Fakhria Ibrahimi, ed. Rahmatullah Jafari, 11 mns) is set in a very rustic bakery, where the women who operate it are showing splitting wood for the oven fires, kneading the dough, and baking the loaves in a tandoor. These are very poor women, who converse in a lively fashion amongst themselves and with other women who come to buy bread. The banter is often sexual in nature, and none of the women are veiled. It is a rare behind-the-scenes view of Afghan women at ease among themselves.
The final film, Death to the Camera (dir. Sayed Qasem Hossaini, ed. Hamed Alizada, 20 mns) is set at a work site where women, supervised by men, are making The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film 195 some kind of mud bricks. A few are wearing burqas, others not. Some of the women are interviewed and the film captures their responses, which reveal the tensions that define their situation. None of the women are very happy; it is hard, dirty work that some find shameful. They state that they are just ‘trying to make a living’. ‘Ignore our shame,’ says one. They complain about hiring practices (women from certain ethnic groups are hired last or not at all), the government of Hamid Karzai, unpaid wages and the like. Their comments are not without some humor, but it is a dark humor that reinforces the unfortunate plight of these marginalized women.
The mission of Community Supported Film is to produce films that show ‘realities often unrepresented in the media’ to ‘influence local and international perspectives on sustainable solutions for a more peaceful and equitable world’. The Fruit of Our Labor does a good job of conveying the plight of everyday Afghani citizens struggling to make ends meet in a very challenging environment. Thus, it fulfills the first part of the mission. Whether it can exert any influence depends on whether it is seen by those with the power to effect the changes needed to improve such people’s lives. Probably not. But it can be seen by students who may eventually be in positions to find solutions to the world’s problems, and thus it should be used in the classroom. It can educate students about the plight of women and the poor in countries like Afghanistan and can help them see where improvements can be made.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5/13/14
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A mosquito-borne virus that was detected for the first time in Haiti last week has quickly spread throughout the Caribbean nation, a health official said Tuesday.
Some 1,529 cases of the chikungunya virus have been confirmed, said Ronald Singer, a spokesman for Haiti’s health ministry. The bulk of the cases, about 900 of them, were found in the west department, where the capital of Port-au-Prince is located. Another 300 cases were confirmed in northwestern Haiti.
The new numbers seem to represent a startling jump over the past week. The health ministry said last Tuesday that lab results confirmed a mere 14 cases.
Since then, Port-au-Prince has been abuzz with people complaining about a sudden and debilitating illness that’s been referred to as “the fever.”
The symptoms of chikungunya include not just a sharp fever but also headache, full-body rash and joint pain. The illness is rarely fatal but recovery usually takes about a week. Some people experience joint pain for months to years.
The illness, which is most commonly found in Asia and Africa, was first detected in the Caribbean in December on tiny St. Martin.
It was the first time that local transmission of chikungunya had been reported in the Americas. Since then, it has spread to nearly a dozen other islands and French Guiana.
Its arrival in Haiti was expected. In neighboring Dominican Republic, authorities have confirmed at least 150 to 200 cases.
There is no vaccine for chikungunya and it is spread by the pervasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also transmits dengue fever in the region.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/13/4114872/mosquito-borne-virus-spreads-rapidly.html#storylink=cpy
Watch “Afghan Elections Through a Gender Lens.” Recorded last week at the New America Foundation, see what Afghan women thought about the April 5 election.
Despite the Taliban’s effort to disrupt the recent Afghan presidential elections, seven million Afghan citizens voted (out of an electorate of 12 million), 36% of whom were women. With the preliminary results of the elections announced on Saturday April 26th, this timely event will take stock of the situation in Afghanistan a month after the elections occurred, with particular focus on women, peace and security.
The progress made by Afghan women over the last 13 years is irrefutable and stands as a testament to the pride, focus and commitment of leaders such as Sima Samar and Belquis Ahmadi. However, the drawdown of U.S. and NATO troops, uncertainty regarding future international funding, and continued domestic challenges to women’s progress combine to create an unstable situation in which tenuous gains made by Afghan women could be walked backwards.
The discussion addressed a number of questions, including the leading Afghan presidential candidates’ stances on women’s issues, expectations of Afghan women from the new Afghan government, and examining how the international community should support Afghan women beyond 2014.
Join the conversation online using #Afghanlens and following @NatSecNAF.
Watch the event here: http://newamerica.net/events/2014/afghan_elections_through_a_gender_lens?utm_content=bufferb6b8d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Eliz Thank You Card (Click on images for larger view)
Last month, Michael made a special trip to the Carroll School in Lincoln, Massachusetts to discuss the work of CSFilm with an elementary school class. The students are reading the Afghan book The Breadwinner, which takes place during the Taliban regime and was the impetus for inviting Michael to provide a more contemporary perspective. Below are some of the thank you cards and drawings sent to Michael from the kids.
It was a completely new experience communicating with this age group. We don’t usually try and engage kids under High School age and even older students can be a reach without a specific focus on issues such as the role of the media in society, poverty reduction, governance or geography.
Lessons learned from elementary school students:
1. Be prepared to role with a nonlinear conversation and questions coming at you mid-thought and sentence – unless you lay down different rules and try and stick to them – as Dinan, their teacher, quickly implemented for Michael.
2. No matter how much you try and expand the conversation beyond “the war,” some boys at this age are only going to ask you about your experience of guns and bombs.
3. Youth have remarkable memories and will latch on to everything you say – even side comments – as can be seen in the inclusion of some repeated oddities in their comments and pictures, such as:
Tom’s Thank You Card (Click on the images for a larger view)
“I learned that Afghans drink Coke.” I asked them what was unusual in one one picture I showed. I was expecting them to note that the women were not wearing burkas and were dressed in western clothes. A few of them instead rightly noted the Coke can on a table and expressed surprise that soda is available in Afghanistan.
In a few of their comments they noticed that all the cars were Toyota Corollas, an amazing truth – almost all cars in Afghanistan are Corollas – an oddity that occurred since the return of cars post Taliban. Hence a number of drawings with Toyota logos!
You’ll also notice that many got the theme of the presentation – that Afghanistan is much more than a war zone as commonly depicted in our media.
Community Supported Film trained Haitian storytellers to make documentary films about the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges their communities have faced since the devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010. This project is a partnership between Community Supported Film, Groupe Medialternatif, concerned citizens and the Swiss Development Cooperation. The objectives of this project are:
To strengthen Haitian governance and economic development by empowering local video-journalists and documentary filmmakers;
The production of 10 Haitian-made high-quality short films that uniquely present Haitian issues and needs from the local perspective;
To use these films to influence opinion and policy regarding effective aid and sustainable development.
Training and Production
The intimate lived-reality stories produced by the Haitian storytellers go beyond the mainstream media’s focus on disasters, conflicts and crises which leave core-causes and long-term development issues unaddressed or misunderstood. In addition to producing 10 high-quality short films, the training equiped the storytellers with employable skills.
In collaboration with Haitian and international partner organizations, the Haitian stories are being used to engage people in local and international communities and institutions in dialogue and actions. Broadcasts, press coverage, and the outreach capacity of the NGO collaborators are bieng used to expand the public’s knowledge of effective aid and disaster response.
The screening and dialogue strategy is expanding on the model piloted during CSFilm’s Afghan project. The Afghan-made films were the centerpiece of congressional briefings in collaboration with organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and were shown to legislators, congressional committees and government departments. The films were used to stimulate dialogue at venues including the US Institute of Peace, the World Bank and the Asia Society and at 148 community, university and film events across the country.
Screenings: We are looking for partner organizations in Haiti and the US to use the films for education and advocacy;
CSFilm’s project in Haiti is well underway. We are currently talking with several potential collaborators in the U.S and in Haiti, and we are planning a trip to Haiti for this month. Here’s a quick introduction to our plans for the project in Haiti:
This year Community Supported Film will train Haitian storytellers to make documentary films about the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges their communities have faced since the 2010 earthquake. Their short films will be released in advance of the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.
This project will be a partnership between Haitian community media and development organizations, Community Supported Film and international NGOs. The intimate lived-reality stories produced by the Haitian storytellers will counter the mainstream media’s focus on disasters, conflicts and crises which leave core-causes and long-term development issues unaddressed or misunderstood.
Photo by: Action Aid
While Michael is in Haiti he will meet with Haitian community media groups and local and international development organizations. The community media groups will help us define the project so that it contributes to their needs and plans. The development organizations will identify the specific issues in Haiti that the films could most effectively focus on. In more recent talks with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and Action Aid, we have learned a lot about their work around land grabs in Haiti, and the importance of helping Haitians protect their natural resource and land rights, especially for women and in areas where mining and tourism are being developed. Check out AJWS’s special report on Human Rights in Haiti.
Photo by: News Junkie Post
Land grabbing is currently a vital issue in Haiti. This article discusses the issue of land grabs on the island of Ile a Vache in Haiti, and how peasants are fighting back against the construction of an international airport being built to promote tourism. Read more about it here.
This spring is an exciting time for CSFilm with our Haiti project underway! Remember to check our Facebook and Twitter pages for news and updates!