Issues & Analysis

Death to the Camera wins $10,500 Award at Winterthur Short Film Festival, Switzerland

Death to the CameraCongratulation to CSFilm trainee Sayed Qasem Hossaini, whose short film Death to the Camera won the competitive Promotional Award at the International Short Film Festival in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Download full Press Release for Death to the Camera Winterthur.

Death to the Camera was a collaboration of minds and talents, including the very hard and smart work of the Afghan editor, Hamid Alizadha, Jamal Aram, interpreter and translator, and CSFilm director Michael Sheridan.

International Kurzfilmtage

The award is worth 10,000 swiss francs ($10,500).  “The Jury gives the prize to this documentary because it offers a stage to men and women from the margin of society to raise their voices and reflect injustice and manipulation.  The magnetism of the documentary medium is powerfully present in this film.”

Qasem was able to accept the award via Skype video conference between Switzerland and Afghanistan.


The Jakarta Post ‘My Film, My Nation’: A Workshop to Improve Indonesia Film

The Jakarta Post

The film and television industry have frequently captured social issues from the perspectives of filmmakers and television producers, who do not necessarily reflect the real situation in a particular place or country, which can lead to the creation of various stereotypical images and prejudices, a noted filmmaker and educator said. Read the full article. 

To learn more about the film trainings CSFilm is doing in Indonesia check out our post!


CSFilm in Indonesia — 4-Day Intensive Film Trainings

Community Supported Film director Michael Sheridan just finished the second of three documentary filmmaking trainings in Bandung Indonesia. Organized by the Directorate of Art and Film from the Ministry of Education and Culture, these trainings are part of the country’s “My Film, My Nation” initiative, to improve Indonesian film. The program has been getting amazing feedback from both the students and the training organizers – despite the over-reaching expectations of covering so much in so little time.

Practice with the camera

Each training session will be four days, with CSFilm holding trainings  in Bandung, Bali and Jakarta. There are 50 students in each training with a wide range of experience, including high school and college film students and faculty, those with non-film storytelling experience, and film professionals. The diversity is challenging but many students are demonstrating through their work the impact of the back-to-basics training methodology that emphasizes “lived-reality” storytelling and production fundamentals.

Beyond skill development, the goal is to motivate participants to use their new abilities to tell engaging stories about the quality-of-life issues facing their own communities.

In a few weeks Michael heads to Afghanistan to conduct a 10-day training in storytelling for America Abroad Media‘s radio producers in Kabul. They are producing a series of 15 programs on Afghan women entrepreneurs.
There are additional exciting projects in the pipeline including local training and storytelling in the refugee and new immigrant communities in Chelsea, MA and a storytelling exchange with Iranians – we hope!

Getting the shot Taking a Break

In the meantime, check out this great article in the Jakarta Post about Michael’s work, CSFilm, and the government supported Kuta program that brought CSFilm to Indonesia.

Don’t forget to follow us on facebook or twitter for more updates on Michael’s storytelling journey through Indonesia and Afghanistan!

The Gang



“Fruit of Our Labor” Screening in Spencertown, New York — Nov. 17th

Community Supported Film is proud to announce a screening of The Fruit of Our Labor at St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Spencertown, New York!
St. Peter's Presbyterian Church and Chatham Synagogue

Date and Time:
November 17, 7:30 – 9:30 PM.

St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church
5219 County Route 7
at the junction with NYS Route 203

The event is sponsored by St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church and the Chatham Synagogue as the last segment of their 5-part film series, “Tales that Matter: An Interfaith Social Justice Film Series” that began this past August. The series presents films that focus on social change, but also promotes interfaith cooperation within a community.

A selection of films from the Fruit of Our Labor series will be screened in addition to a discussion about the series. There will also be a presentation on the continued mission of CSFilm to strengthen the documentary storytelling capacity in countries in crisis with a focus on socio-economic development issues.

The Fruit of Our Labor is a documentary series made by Afghan filmmakers that chronicle 10 different stories of a day in the life in Afghanistan. The series  showcases Afghans working to address the socio-economic challenges they face every day. The issues presented in the films are rarely seen in mainstream media despite the intense coverage of the country and its people for the past decade.


“Death to the Camera” screens at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur Film Festival – November 6th-11th

Death to the CameraCommunity Supported Film is proud to announce the official selection of “Death to the Camera” for the 16th Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winthertur Short Film Festival in Switzerland – from November 6th-11th!

Death to the Camera,  part of CSFilm’s documentary collection The Fruit of Our Labor, is a film by Sayed Qasem Hossaini about a group of Afghan women working on a job site.  The camera follows their conversations as they move from belly laughs to insults, discussing how they will make ends meet throughout the winter, wondering what happened to all the promised international aid, and arguing about whether Karzai is a crook or a servant of the people.

The short film festival of Switzerland - Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur

The Internationale Kurzfilmtage  – International Short Film Festival – is the largest short film festival in Winterthur, Switzerland, and is dedicated to the art of and the sustainable promotion of short films. Tickets are now available!


Time to Pack Up, NYT Editorial

NYT Sunday Review, Editorial, October 13, 2012

After more than a decade of having American blood spilled in Afghanistan, with nearly six years lost to President George W. Bush’s disastrous indifference, it is time for United States forces to leave Afghanistan on a schedule dictated only by the security of the troops. It should not take more than a year. The United States will not achieve even President Obama’s narrowing goals, and prolonging the war will only do more harm.

Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. said on Friday that “we are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” Mr. Obama indicated earlier that this could mean the end of 2014. Either way, two more years of combat, two more years of sending the 1 percent of Americans serving in uniform to die and be wounded, is too long.

Administration officials say they will not consider a secure “logistical withdrawal,” but they offer no hope of achieving broad governance and security goals. And the only final mission we know of, to provide security for a 2014 Afghan election, seems dubious at best and more likely will only lend American approval to a thoroughly corrupt political system.


This conclusion represents a change on our part. The war in Afghanistan had powerful support at the outset, including ours, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

After Mr. Bush’s years of neglect, we believed that a new president, Barack Obama, was doing the right thing by at least making an effort. He set goals that made sense: first, a counterinsurgency campaign, stepped-up attacks on Al Qaeda, then an attempt to demolish the Taliban’s military power, promote democratic governance in Kabul and build an Afghan Army capable of exerting control over the country.

But it is now clear that if there ever was a chance of “victory” in Afghanistan, it evaporated when American troops went off to fight the pointless war in Iraq. While some progress has been made, the idea of fully realizing broader democratic and security aims simply grows more elusive. Meanwhile, more than 2,000 American troops have died in this war, more than 50 of them recently in growing attacks by Afghan forces, and many thousands more have been maimed. The war has now cost upward of $500 billion.

Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, said at the debate on Thursday: “We don’t want to lose the gains we’ve gotten. We want to make sure that the Taliban doesn’t come back in.”

More fighting will not consolidate the modest gains made by this war, and there seems little chance of guaranteeing that the Taliban do not “come back in,” at least in the provinces where they have never truly been dislodged. Last month, militants struck a heavily fortified NATO base. Officials say the Pakistan-based Haqqani network is behind many of the attacks on Americans.

Americans are desperate to see the war end and the 68,000 remaining troops come home. President Obama has not tasked military commanders with recommending a pace for the withdrawal until after the election. He and the coalition partners have committed to remain engaged in Afghanistan after 2014 at reduced levels, which could involve 15,000 or more American troops to carry out specialized training and special operations. Mr. Obama, or Mitt Romney if he wins, will have a hard time convincing Americans that makes sense — let alone Afghans. The military may yet ask for tens of thousands more troops, which would be a serious mistake.

To increase the odds for a more manageable transition and avert an economic collapse,the United States and other major donors have pledged $16 billion in economic aid through 2015. That is a commitment worth keeping, but the United States and its allies have tried nation building in Afghanistan, at least for the last four years. It is not working.


The task is to pack up without leaving behind arms that terrorists want and cannot easily find elsewhere (like Stinger missiles) or high-tech equipment (like Predator drones) that can be reverse engineered by Pakistan or other potential foes. The military can blow those things up if it must.

It is hard to be exact about a timetable since the Pentagon and NATO refuse to discuss it. The secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, told us last week that decisions about the timetable would be made after the military command reported to Mr. Obama in December. He would not say much of anything beyond that — whether the withdrawal would be front-loaded, or back-loaded, or how many troops would be needed to secure the election.

Some experts say a secure withdrawal would take at least six months, and possibly a year. But one year is a huge improvement over two. It would be one less year of having soldiers die or come home with wounds that are terrifying, physically and mentally.

Suicides among veterans and those in active service reached unacceptable levels long ago. A recent article by The Associated Press quoted studies estimating that 45 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are claiming disability benefits. A quarter of those veterans — 300,000 to 400,000, depending on the study — say they suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is far too high a price to go on asking of troops and their families.

Four years ago, Mr. Obama called Afghanistan a “war we have to win.” His strategy relied on a newly trained Afghan Army and police force that could take over fighting the Taliban; a government competent to deliver basic services; and Pakistan’s cooperation. Here is what happened:

AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES NATO and the Pentagon built an Afghan Army and police force of nearly 352,000 that is now nominally in the lead for providing security in most of the country. Attrition rates are high and morale is low; the attacks on coalition forces have eroded trust and slowed the training. Afghan leaders have to work harder with Washington to weed out corrupt troops and Taliban infiltrators, but the nation cannot hang its hopes on that happening.

There is an agreement to finance the army to 2017 with Kabul paying $500 million, Washington about $2.5 billion and other donors about $1.3 billion. If Kabul keeps its commitments, the donors should make good on theirs.

The Taliban have not retaken territory they lost to coalition forces, but Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, the Taliban base and the main focus of the 2010 surge, remain heavily contested. A Pentagon report in May said Taliban attacks in Kandahar from last October through March rose by 13 percent over the same period a year earlier.

William Byrd, an Afghan expert at the United States Institute of Peace, said, “The most that probably can be hoped” is that the army continues to hold Kabul and other major cities. It is not likely to ever become an effective counterinsurgency force.

EFFECTIVE, CREDIBLE GOVERNANCE President Hamid Karzai’s weak and corrupt government, awash in billions of dollars, continues to alienate Afghans and make the Taliban an attractive alternative. Mr. Karzai recently chose Asadullah Khalid, a man accused of torture and drug trafficking, to take over the country’s main intelligence agency. Dozens of Karzai family members and allies have taken government jobs, pursued business interests or worked as contractors to the United States government.

A recent report by Afghanistan’s central bank said the Afghan political elite had been using Kabul Bank as a piggy bank. In 2010, word that the bank had lost $300 million caused a panic, and the number later tripled. To win pledges of continued aid at an international donors conference in July, President Karzai promised to crack down on corruption and make political reforms, but he has done little. The aid sustaining his government is at risk if he fails. We doubt that he will exercise real leadership. For now, he has proved himself to be not only unreliable, but a force undermining American goals and Afghans’ interests.

In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Karzai’s supporters tried to defraud the national elections. With elections scheduled for 2014, the question is whether Mr. Karzai will keep his vow to abide by the Constitution and leave when his term is up. He needs to make sure the Parliament and the government put in place an electoral system that encourages competent candidates to run and enables a broadly accepted election with international monitors. All sides are lagging. (There has been even less progress in restoring local governance, the bedrock of Afghan society, where the Taliban exert enduring influence.)

Mr. Obama wants to use American troops to provide logistical assistance and security at the elections. There were real threats to voters’ lives in the first post-Taliban elections, but the real threat to democracy is from corruption, not bombs. Mr. Karzai stole the last election, and he got away with it with American forces in place. After giving him 10 years and lots of money, things keep going in the wrong direction. Why would this now change?

RELATIONS WITH PAKISTAN After some bitter disputes, Pakistan began cooperating with the United States again in June by reopening a critical supply route to Afghanistan. American officials say the Pakistanis may have decided that sowing chaos in Afghanistan by supporting Taliban proxies is not in their interest after all. This could be wishful thinking. Last week, the Pentagon blamed the Pakistani-backed Haqqani network for some of the recent “green on blue” attacks. Islamabad’s collusion with the Taliban and other extremist groups is the biggest threat to Afghan stability.

The United States has a huge interest in a less destructive Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 170 million that supports jihad in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Indian cities. But there is reason to argue that America’s leverage with Pakistan on security matters is limited by its need for Pakistani bases, border crossings and intelligence on the Taliban.

If tens of thousands of American troops were removed from landlocked Afghanistan, that might actually allow the United States to hang tougher with Islamabad. Pakistan officials might not listen, but at least the United States could be more honest about what the Pakistanis were doing to worsen the threat of terrorism and insurgency.


We are not arguing that everything will work out well after the United States leaves Afghanistan. It will not. The Taliban will take over parts of the Pashtun south, where they will brutalize women and trample their rights. Warlords will go on stealing. Afghanistan will still be the world’s second-poorest country. Al Qaeda may make inroads, but since 9/11 it has established itself in Yemen and many other countries.

America’s global interests suffer when it is mired in unwinnable wars in distant regions. Dwight Eisenhower helped the country’s position in the world by leaving Korea; Richard Nixon by leaving Vietnam; President Obama by leaving Iraq.

None of these places became Jeffersonian democracies. But the United States was better off for leaving. Post-American Afghanistan is likely to be more presentable than North Korea, less presentable than Iraq and perhaps about the same as Vietnam. But it fits the same pattern of damaging stalemate. We need to exit as soon as we safely can.


US Military Pulls Out Development Teams; See our short film

To learn more about these troubled “Development” teams, see our short:

U.S. Winds Down Afghanistan Aid Program

JALALABAD, Afghanistan—The U.S. military is ending a massive nation-building experiment in Afghanistan, shutting down teams that have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into roads, schools and administrative buildings in the country’s hinterlands.

The shutdown, part of the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces over the next year, will mark the end of a hearts-and-minds campaign that has been central to the military’s strategy.

As part of an effort to improve the reach and reputation of Afghanistan’s central government, the U.S. and its allies set up over two dozen Provincial Reconstruction Teams around the country to dispense development aid and advise local officials. At least five of these have closed in recent months, and most of the remainder will shut down over the next year.

The U.S. agreed to end the program in a partnership agreement reached in May with the Afghan government, which sees the program as undercutting the effectiveness of local institutions.

The shift is effectively turning off the money flow to Afghanistan’s provinces. Many U.S. and Western officials say they are doubtful that provincial administrations are ready to fill in the void. “No one has a clue how much is being spent in province A or B” by provincial governments, said a senior Western official. “It’s a serious national-security threat to the country.”

Each of the reconstruction teams usually includes some 100 troops, is led by a military officer, and draws on civilian aid expertise, often with representatives from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture.

With most U.S. forces slated to leave in 2014, commanders at the remaining PRTs are preparing the drawdown. “We’re pretty much in the business of finishing these projects,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Grant Hargrove, who commands the PRT overseeing Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.


In 2010, at the height of the U.S. troops surge, the Nangarhar PRT spent around $24 million on projects in the province through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, a fund given to military commanders to invest in reconstruction projects. The work included $5.5 million for street repair in the provincial capital of Jalalabad, $300,000 for the pediatric wing of a hospital and several high schools that cost around $200,000 each. Civilian agencies also channeled money through the PRT.

That CERP money has all but dried up as part of a planned phaseout. The Nangarhar PRT now oversees around half a dozen projects with a total budget of $750,000. Col. Hargrove said the team still has “bulk CERP” available, but the small-scale funds—capped at $5,000 per project—can only pay for a well or a modest irrigation project.

The U.S. has already closed at least four PRTs in eastern Afghanistan, closing teams most recently in Laghman and Kapisa provinces near Kabul. In parallel, the U.S. is winding down the work of smaller district support teams, which provide similar aid to the equivalent of municipal and county governments.

The June closure has “badly affected” the local economy, said Sarhadi Zwak, a spokesman for the governor of Laghman. “There are no more projects,” he said. “When the PRT was here they would implement several projects and create job opportunities for the people.”

The closing of PRTs will put pressure on provincial governments and local offices of central ministries, said Farid Mamundzay, deputy minister for policy at Afghanistan’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance, a central government agency overseeing local administrations. “Whenever I visit the provinces, I hear from provincial governments that when the PRTs leave, they’ll leave behind a big gap,” he said. “We’re working from Kabul to fill this…but it needs to be done quickly.”

The creation of the PRTs, with uniformed troops taking on the work of aid workers, was controversial. n the program’s early years, iInternational aid groups criticized the military for invading their territory.

At a conference in Germany last year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai railed against the PRTs and district teams, calling them “parallel structures” that have “undermined the development of institutions in terms of strength and credibility.”

Afghan negotiators demanded the a clause calling for the shutdown of PRTs in the strategic partnership agreement with the U.S., which was signed in May. The deal opens the door to a long-term U.S. military presence, but with a significantly smaller footprint than the 68,000 currently in the country. Talks on that long-term presence are set to begin in the coming days.

Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who was involved in negotiations over the strategic partnership pact, said the exit of the PRTs would have an upside, because citizens would have to turn to the government for services instead of the PRTs, shoring up local administrations’ authority.

As a result, he added, Afghans would “take the government of Afghanistan much more seriously.”

The PRTs served as centers of gravity in the provinces, with the directors of local ministries turning to the military instead of the central government for project funds.

In Nangarhar, monthly meetings at the provincial governor’s office until recently were a forum for the directors to pitch their proposals.

“All these local line ministries used to come to the PRT for everything,” said Army Lt. Col. Lawrence Shea, who works on economic development issues for the team.

After the withdrawal of most U.S. and international troops in 2014, U.S. civilian agencies talk of maintaining a presence in many parts of Afghanistan to continue development work and provide advice and assistance to the provincial government.

U.S. officials describe Nangarhar, on the Highway 7 corridor that is the prime trade conduit between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a promising location. But security restrictions and attacks on coalition forces have already severely impeded their work.

“If you look at the PRT for that capacity-building, we’re almost like a consulting company,” said Col. Shea. “And to be a consultant, you’ve got to be with your client, and that’s probably one of the more difficult things to do. Some good work’s taking place, but we’ve moved the ball a lot slower.”

—Habib Khan Totakhil and Maria Abi-Habib contributed to this article.

Write to Nathan Hodge at


International community silent in the face of recent human rights abuses


At the Human Rights Council’s 21st session in Geneva, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Armanshahr Foundation/OPEN ASIA alerted the international community to an upsurge in violence in Afghanistan. The last two months have been characterised by a new wave of brutality and summary executions by the Taliban. Thus far, however, the Council has failed to take action.


See full report:

Proof of the ineffective and wasteful results of soldiers attempting development work

Leave Development work to Develoment Professionals:

The Guardian

Afghan schools and clinics built by British military forced to close

UK spent millions on health and education centres that Karzai government can’t afford to keep open

Afghan schoolgirls attend a class

Afghan girls attend a class. A confidential report warned that the British had built some schools in Helmand without considering how they would be maintained. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty

Schools and health centres built by the British in Afghanistan as part of the military‘s counter-insurgency strategy are being forced to close down because President Karzai’s government cannot afford to pay for them, the Guardian has learned.

Britain has spent hundreds of millions of pounds in the province over the last six years building and restoring services decimated by conflict and the years of Taliban rule.

But the Guardian has been told that a confidential report compiled this year warned that some of the buildings in Helmand were constructed without enough consultation with the Afghan government and without thinking through how they would be maintained.

Senior British officials in Helmand are working with Afghan ministers to identify the schools and clinics that are deemed “critical” and should remain open, while most of the rest could be phased out between now and the end of 2014.

The report made clear the British “had built too much” in the province, and that this was a consequence of the UK military trying to win “hearts and minds” among the populace.

It is not clear how many schools and clinics will be affected, but it is thought dozens are potentially at risk, particularly in more rural areas.

“Of course we built too much,” said one official. “We didn’t think about how the Afghans would pay for it. But it was understandable. Nobody is blaming the military. We wanted to show them what we could do for them, but without regard for sustainability.”

The need to reduce the number of schools and clinics will be a bitter blow to the Afghans who have come to rely on them, and for the British civilians and soldiers who helped to build and restore them.

But though British officials fear the closures will overshadow some of the progress that has been made in Helmand, they also believe it would be better for Afghanistan if the cuts were explained and made sooner rather than later.

The head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand, Catriona Laing, admitted she is working with the Afghans to identify what should be retained.

The UK is pushing for services in important population centres, such as the capital Lashkar Gah and nearby city of Gereshk, to be kept open.

Those in areas further way from the central Helmand river valley – where security is more precarious – are more vulnerable to closure.

Laing, who is the most senior Nato civilian in the province, told the Guardian: “The key is that we are still here and we can still help the government think through which of those bits of infrastructure are really critical to maintain.

“Helmand is one of the biggest provinces, yet people are still willing to travel to receive better quality services. I think the idea that you need in every district centre, even the really remote ones, a school, a clinic, a justice centre … it’s not all about quantity, it’s much more about quality. My expectation is that there will be some consolidation. That is sensible to do. It will be much more important in some areas to maintain the service than in others.”

Sir Richard Stagg, the UK’s ambassador in Afghanistan, told the Guardian the overbuilding had been caused by a desire to show the Afghans “we were serious” about helping them.

“With the best of intentions, between the period of 2003-2008 we developed a very expansive view of how we could help Afghanistan, and many countries invested a lot in that mission. We focused on the physical and visible rather than the human capital which would manage the country in the longer term.

“The challenge for Afghanistan now is not a lack of roads and school buildings. It is a lack of capacity in its governmental structures in particular to run the country.”

Laing, who has been in post for six months, has ordered a stop to further building projects unless she is convinced there is a proper long-term maintenance budget.

The need for cuts was underlined by the report, which was jointly commissioned by the PRT and the US General, Charles Gurganus, who was head of the military in Regional Command South West.

Written by members of the British government’s Stabilisation Unit, it looked at all the work that had been completed in Helmand and the funds available to the Afghan government as it assumes responsibility under the ‘transition’ programme.

It concluded there is a “mismatch between the value of the assets and the Afghan government’s ability to maintain them”. The report highlighted the scale of development and how some of the projects were not adequately budgeted over the long term.

The British have help to build 270km (168 miles) of new road, and upgraded another 105km; the province now has 55 health centres – twice the number that were open in 2009. Fifteen comprehensive health centres have either been refurbished or rebuilt with money from the PRT. Eighty-six schools have restored and reopened since 2009, bringing the total to 164 across Helmand. Twenty-six new schools have been built.

Though the building programme has transformed services in certain areas, British officials concede the UK tried to do too much, and that it took the counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine further than was intended.

Under COIN, the watchwords for winning the trust of the population are “shape, hold, clear, and build”.

“We probably put too much emphasis on the build,” said one official. “We should have involved the Afghans more than we did.”

General Adrian Bradshaw, the most senior British officer in Afghanistan, defended the building programme. “It is pretty difficult to do counter insurgency without getting involved in nation-building. Because the one complements the other and we have to have a comprehensive approach.

“COIN campaigns are not won by military means alone. They involve economic, political and development activities that complement the military activity. It is entirely correct that we should have been involved in those things in addressing the insurgency. But I think it is very important to remain focused on the reason why we came here – to prevent Afghanistan ever becoming again a haven for al-Qaida international terrorists. That is the effect we have to deliver in the end, not the total defeat of the insurgency.”

The priority for the PRT, which is part funded by Department for International Development, is to ensure Helmand’s civilian infrastructure is made robust to weather the withdrawal of Nato’s combat troops and civilian aid workforce.

Rather than building, Laing has ordered the PRT to focus on measures that make the Afghan government accountable. She also wants to protect and expand the role of elected local councillors – Helmand is the only province to have them.

So far, 432 British forces personnel and civilians have died while serving in Afghanistan, the vast majority of them since 2006, when the UK first set up base in Helmand.

In an interview with the Guardian a fortnight ago, the defence secretary Philip Hammond admitted he could not justify keeping British troops in Afghanistan for nation-building.

“I believe very clearly that if we are going to ask British troops to put themselves in the firing line, we can only do that to protect UK vital national security interests,” he said.

“We can ask troops who are here to help build a better Afghanistan, but we cannot ask them to expose themselves to risk for those tasks.”


NEW and Reedited! – Watch CSFilm and WAND’s Webinar “The Real Afghanistan” to see how you can get involved!

On Monday, May 14, in partnership with Women’s Action for New Directions, CSFilm proudly presented…

“Real Women. Real Stories. The Real Afghanistan.”

QT Export – Wand Webinar Final 1080p from Michael Sheridan on Vimeo.

This 45 minute webinar – a live digital presentation watchable on a home computer – featured CSFilm Director Michael Sheridan and WAND‘s Public Policy Director Kathy Robinson, to discuss the importance of hearing local Afghan perspectives and including women’s participation for a peaceful path forward in Afghanistan.  With excerpts from the Afghan-made documentary shorts The Fruit of Our Labor, the presenters explain the work of CSFilm, the Compassion Campaign for Afghan Civilians, and give ways for you to get involved.

Participants see how the stories in these films connect to CSFilm’s and WAND’s policy goals for a comprehensive U.S. peace-building transition strategy in Afghanistan, based on enhancing security through demilitarization and the promotion of women’s rights.

The films are a part of The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film, a collection of ten Afghan–made documentary shorts that brings to life Afghans’ efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions.

For more information about this work or to get involved, please email info[at]csfilm[dot]org.


Pashtun Awakening – Policy Brief

Pashtun Awakening 

Defeat the Taliban by Changing the Narrative

Pakistan has systemically weakened Afghanistan by undermining the sacred tribal structure of the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, by attempting to replace it with the extremist ideology and practices of the Taliban – a process we refer to as “de-Pashtunization”. The only way to stop this process is by changing the narrative via a grassroots public relations campaign and through psychological operations aimed at telling the truth about the Taliban’s origins and objectives.

Pashtun Awakening – NWSC – Policy Brief


Afghan-made film screening – Northampton MA, this friday 9/2



Date: Friday September 21st

Time: 7pm-9pm

Location: Media Education Foundation, Frances Crowe Screening Room, 60 Masonic Street, Northampton MA

Description of the event: Screening of The Fruit of Our Labor, a collection of documentary shorts made by Afghan filmmakers.  The films bring to life Afghans’ daily efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions, offering a personal and first-hand Afghan point of view rarely seen or heard in the US – even after 10 years of intense media coverage.

The screening will be accompanied by a presentation by Community Supported Film, an organization that builds documentary storytelling capacity in countries in crisis with a focus on social and economic development issues.  CSFilm seeks to raise the concerns of Afghans as we deliberate our immediate and long-term role in Afghanistan.

Date: Friday September 21st

Time: 7pm-9pm

Location: Media Education Foundation, Frances Crowe Screening Room, 60 Masonic Street, Northampton MA

Description of the event:


Screening of The Fruit of Our Labor, a collection of documentary shorts made by Afghan filmmakers.  The films bring to life Afghans’ daily efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions, offering a personal and first-hand Afghan point of view rarely seen or heard in the US – even after 10 years of intense media coverage.

The screening will be accompanied by a presentation by Community Supported Film, an organization that builds documentary storytelling capacity in countries in crisis with a focus on social and economic development issues.  CSFilm seeks to raise the concerns of Afghans as we deliberate our immediate and long-term role in Afghanistan.

More information:

The screening is a part of the Friday night film series organized by the Northampton Committee to Stop the Wars.


Afghanistan, Development: The West is now morally obliged to leave the country in safe hands.

I left Australia in February last year convinced that international forces should leave Afghanistan, and that all Afghans must feel the same.  How ill informed I was.  These were assumptions made without having visited the country or having spoken to an Afghan, but I was nonetheless sure of my opinions. Yet every Afghan I spoke with, and there were many over the past 12 months, pleaded that the West remain or civil war would resume.

Read more:


Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival

Mona Haidari’s Bearing the Weight will be screened at the upcoming Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival!

Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival

Bearing the Weight from CSFilm’s collection The Fruit of Our Labor will be screened at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival in Flagstaff, Arizona from October 10th – 14th!

Bearing the Weight is a film by Mona Haidari about an Afghan woman disabled from the war who learns to overcome the ‘paralysis of her soul’.

The 2012 festival will take place Oct 10th-14th at the historic Orpheum Theater.

The Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival’s mission is to provide a cultural alternative to the mainstream commercial film experience and to celebrate, promote, nurture and teach non-fiction filmmaking. The festival seeks to provide a window to the world and screen movies that inspire change.




The Fruit of our Labor to be Screened on WORLDDOCS

The Fruit of our Labor is scheduled to be screened on WORLDDOCS cable access show in the Washington, D.C. area!

The Fruit of Our Labor

The Fruit of our Labor will be shown over two episodes of WORLDDOCS.  The first episode focusing on Afghan women will air on:

  • Monday: August 13th at 10:00 AM
  • Thursday: August 16th at 1:00 AM
  • Sunday: August 19th at 8:30 PM

The second episode which will concentrate on Afghan men will air on:

  • Monday: September 10th at 10:00 AM
  • Thursday: September 13th at 1:00 AM
  • Sunday: September 16th at 8:30 PM

WORLDDOCS is a public access TV show produced by Ken Meyercord which features documentaries from around the world that you won’t see broadcast on corporate TV. The show goes out over 3 public access stations to 2 million cable viewers in the Washington, D.C. area.

WORLDDOCS airs on Fairfax Public Access: (cable channel 10) in Fairfax, Loudoun, Stafford, Prince William, and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia, on Mondays at 10:00 AM; Thursdays at 1:00 AM, and Sundays at 8:30 PM; on Montgomery Community Television (cable channel 19) in Montgomery County, Maryland at 9:00 PM on Tuesdays and 11:00 PM on Thursdays (live-streamed on; and at various times on DCTV (Comcast channel 95, RCN/Verizon channel 10) in Washington, D.C (live-streamed on


For Afghanistan to develop, the war there must end

August 01, 2012, by David Cortright

Without the political conditions for peace in Afghanistan, economic development will be impossible, no matter how much aid donors pledge. Major states meeting in Tokyo earlier this month pledged approximately $4 billion a year in financial support to Afghanistan through 2015. The aid commitments are part of a strategy to secure Afghanistan’s future by providing support for the Kabul government and funding for economic development. The theory is sound – governance and development are unquestionably necessary for peace – but the strategy is missing the most crucial element: a plan for ending the war.

Afghanistan has faced almost continuous war for more than 30 years. There was, first, the war against the Soviet Union, then a civil war, and, at present, the Taliban-led insurgency against the United States and its allies. All of these have contributed to the country’s status as one of the world’s least developed nations.

Security conditions in Afghanistan today remain a serious concern and could worsen as foreign troops depart. Afghans have watched civilian casualties steadily increase in recent years, and insurgent groups control many parts of the country. The U.S. has tried to encourage peace negotiations but is also operating on the assumption that the war will continue.

According to the Congressional Research Service, approximately 20,000 foreign troops will remain after 2014 to train and support Afghan security forces as they battle the insurgency. If the fighting degenerates into renewed civil war, as many fear, civilian suffering will increase, recent gains in women’s rights will be lost, and the prospects for economic development will disappear.

Afghanistan needs economic aid – but its greatest development need is assistance in ending the war. This is what will best serve the Afghan people. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the Tokyo conference that security and development in Afghanistan depend on “whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds.” A peace accord between insurgents and the Kabul regime would reduce the need for large, unaffordable security forces, allow greater spending on civilian priorities and increase the prospects for attracting foreign investment.

The challenges in negotiating such a settlement are huge. Washington and the Afghan government have endorsed the goal of a negotiated peace, but they have not devoted the necessary energy and resources to the process. The Taliban and other insurgent groups initially favored peace talks, but last year walked away from the process, demanding American fulfillment of earlier promises to release some detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison. U.S. officials met recently with a Taliban representative in Tokyo, but no progress has been achieved yet in beginning formal negotiations.

Most wars end through negotiated peace agreements rather than military victory. A peace accord would bring security and stability to the Afghan people. It would also reduce the appeal of armed militancy.

Research shows that peace processes are most successful when they are comprehensive and inclusive, with strong international backing. The chance of success also improves when agreements are monitored and policed by third-party peacekeeping forces. This will require continued international involvement and support for Afghanistan, but with a greater focus on peacemaking instead of war-fighting.

Recent reports by the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization working in violent conflict areas, and the RAND Corporation, a leading think tank, recommend the creation of a high-level United Nations-led mediation team to work with the Afghan government, insurgent groups and neighboring states to facilitate a comprehensive, multifaceted peace process. Those involved in negotiations should seek an agreement between insurgents and the Afghan government and a diplomatic compact among neighboring states. The former would attempt to create more inclusive and accountable governance within Afghanistan, while the latter would seek pledges of noninterference and support for stabilization from surrounding states. Afghan women should be included in negotiations and their gains and rights protected throughout the process.

The U.S. and its partners should increase their support for a negotiation process and devote more energy to the search for a political settlement in Afghanistan and among its neighbors. Working for a negotiated end to the war would do more than all the aid pledges in Tokyo to enhance the prospects for development in Afghanistan and improve the lives of its people.

David Cortright is the director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::



CSFilm to screen and present with Windows and Mirrors in Providence, RI – Thursday July 26th

Community Supported FilmThe Fruit of Our Labor will present The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film in conjunction with American Friends Service Committee’s Windows and Mirrors mural exhibit on Thursday July 26th.

Location and Time:

University of Rhode Island – Paff Auditorium, 80 Washington Street, Providence, RI – 7pm

Windows and Mirrors mural: AFSC Guilford College Community-Mother and Son

The Fruit of Our Labor is a collection of 10 documentary shorts made by Afghans during a training conducted by Community Supported Film in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The films provide an opportunity to learn about Afghanistan directly from local women and men, as each story focuses on Afghans doing work in their communities – illuminating challenges and what ordinary Afghans are doing to make positive change.  Topics covered in the films include access to water and maternal health care, under-employment, the effects of heroine addiction on Afghan families, dealing with disabilities, and setting up schools for girls and boys.

Audiences often say watching the films are the first time they’ve heard and seen Afghans beyond the mainstream media’s coverage of the war.  The films have been well-received at numerous film festivals, and have been seen around the country at dozens of community screenings.  The presentation will also provide opportunities for audiences to get more involved in CSFilm’s Compassion Campaign for Afghan Civilians.

The Windows and Mirrors mural exhibit on Afghanistan is open to the public from July 9th to August 25th in the same building, the University of Rhode Island – Feinstein, 80 Washington Street, Providence RI.

Windows and Mirrors

Gallery Hours for the exhibit are Monday – Thursday 9am-9pm; Friday and Saturday 9am-4pm

Sponsored by American Friends Service Committee and URI Feinstein Providence Campus Gallery

Thank you to:

Event coordinator Martha Yager, AFSC Staff

Steven Pennell, Coordinator, Arts and Culture Program, URI Providence Campus; 401-277-5206;



You Did It and More… Much More!

Wow!  You are simply amazing!  We just finished adding up all the donations and pledges. Our total went from $13,775 to $20,123 in the last day of the fundraiser!  We can’t thank you enough for your support and encouragement.
If you weren’t able to get your donation in, please still consider it. We have big plans to expand our mission to train women and men to share their stories so that we can learn from the perspective of poor, developing and conflicted communities about how to effectively and sustainably create a more peaceful and equitable world.

Your generous support is now allowing us to: 

  1. Launch an email and letter writing campaign, in collaboration with the Friends Committee for National Legislation, to pressure Congress, the US military, NATO and the UN to end the war for Afghans as well as the international community and to commit to the long-term stability and development of Afghanistan.  This is the dream come true for CSFilm: Afghans trained to make films that share Afghan voices and experiences with concerned and active citizens around the country;  We will let you know when this new facet of the Compassion Campaign for Afghan Civilians launches so that you can participate too.
  1. Create a sustained training and production program for Afghan storytellers to further share their voices and vision for their country’s better future.
  1. Pursue inquiries we have received these last weeks from Indonesia and Cuba, as well as develop training opportunities in Haiti and Burma;

We couldn’t do any of it without you.

Many many thanks!
P.S.  Gifts of $250 or more will receive a set of new Afghan landscape note cards.  See the bottom of the page for sample images. 


Make a Secure Donation NowWhen you click this “Donate” button your contribution is fully tax deductible and 92% of it goes toward CSFilm’s work. (5% goes to our fiscal sponsor, The Center for Independent Documentary, and 3% to Donation Pay).

If you write a check made out to The Center for Independent Documentary and mail it to CSFilm’s address below, your donation is fully tax-deductible and 95% of it goes toward the work of CSFilm.


If you write a check made out to Community Supported Film and mail it to the address below, 100% of your contribution will be used for CSFilm’s work. If you click the donate button below, 97% of your contribution will go to CSFilm (with 3% going to PayPal) – but neither of these options are tax deductible.

Community Supported Film
31 Lenox Street
Boston, MA 02118, USA

While you’re at it why not buy a DVD of the The Fruit of Our Labor, 10 award winning short films, made by our Afghan trainees, that bring to life Afghans’ daily efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions.

“The Fruit of Our Labor” – DVD options

DVDs cost $25 for private use and home screenings and $250 for institutional use and public screening. Learn more here.

film training

Community Supported Film started two years ago to help communities tell their own stories and to provide an unseen perspective on local issues, needs and abilities. We are proud to have done just that in Afghanistan and to have shared Afghans’ experiences through The Fruit of Our Labor screenings and live discussions. We’ve taken Afghan voices to policy-makers, think-tanks and academic institutions, and across the country to activists and community events.  These films and conversations are opening eyes, ears and minds to the needs and concerns of Afghan civilians and they are contributing to measurable impact:

  • Now, peace groups, politicians, the press and the public are adding Afghan civilians to their list of concerns as the West moves toward disengagement;
  • Now, more and more people are acknowledging the moral imperative of working for peace for Afghans as well as an end to the war for the international community;
  • Now, Afghan initiated and cost effective, development work is being recognized.

We could not have participated in this process of change without your financial support.  But, unfortunately, due to funder uncertainty in Afghanistan and foundation funding cuts here and in Europe, we have not received the institutional support we had hoped for.

Now, Community Supported Film is facing a serious funding shortfall and your support is essential to our survival. We have a big vision and a lot of determination but to continue our work we are depending on the generous financial support of individual donors like yourself. Please give as generously as you can.

Over the last year Community Supported Film has been acknowledged for the quality and integrity of our work. We’ve developed a unique model of training to help communities in crisis and post-crisis to tell their own stories. We’ve developed innovative ways to share these stories, including through our Compassion 

Video still from "'L' is for Light, 'D' is for Darkness"Campaign and webinar, to influence public perception and policy.  But we can’t continue without your support.

Inspired by the Community Supported Agriculture model, your donation is invested in local documentary training and production and the stories told by local people nourish an understanding of the world that isn’t available in the mainstream market.

Please contribute what you can –  $10, $100, $1000 – and we will keep opening eyes, ears and minds, now and for years to come.

P.S.  Gifts of $250 or more will receive a set of new Afghan landscape note cards, for example: 



New Afghanistan Aid Policy Turns Away from U.S. Model

— “If these goals are followed through on, though, the U.S. will be moving away from relying on private contractors for stabilisation, maybe scaling back on large-scale infrastructure development, and really refocusing efforts on building up the Afghan state.” —

 A farmer gathers wheat in Bamyan, Afghanistan. Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

A farmer gathers wheat in Bamyan, Afghanistan. Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

WASHINGTON, Jul 10 2012 (IPS, By Carey L. BironReprint ) – For the first time, international donors gathered in Tokyo over the weekend explicitly tied ongoing financial aid for Afghanistan to progress made in the country’s economy and governance.

“We know Afghanistan’s security cannot only be measured by the absence of war,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Tokyo on Sunday, where over 70 international donors gathered to define a new aid framework for Afghanistan following the departure of international military forces in 2014.

“It has to be measured by whether people have jobs and economic opportunity, whether they believe their government is serving their needs, whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds.”

While such issues have been raised repeatedly following the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the international summits on Afghanistan – including four over the past year alone – have invariably focused on the security situation, particularly on progress made in handing over responsibility to the Afghan military in the run-up to 2014.

However, Afghanistan has inked bilateral military partnerships with several governments in recent weeks. Kabul and Washington signed such an agreement late last week, with the United States anointing Afghanistan as a “major ally” outside of the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

With the major military agreements now essentially in place, then, donors in Tokyo were able to focus on how funding would go forward outside of military spending. Afghanistan’s overall security will continue to hinge greatly on international assistance, with aid currently making up some 95 percent of the Afghan government’s budget.

To make up for that shortfall, according to a budget drawn up by the Kabul government and the World Bank, international donors would need to contribute around four billion dollars a year. At the Tokyo conference, the Japanese government confirmed total pledges of 16 billion dollars – four billion dollars a year through 2015 and then continued assistance “at or near levels of the past decade” until 2017.

According to Sunday’s agreement, however, that money will come with new strings aimed at cutting down on corruption and ensuring progress on economic and governance issues, as well as continued adherence to international norms on human and civil rights as currently enshrined in the Afghan constitution.

The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, an annex to the communiqué released following Sunday’s conference, heralds a “paradigm shift” in the nature of the partnership between the Afghan government and the international community. “The Tokyo Conference is the turning point to begin this re-definition in our partnership,” it states.

Perhaps most importantly, this sea change seems to include a significant move towards aligning aid monies behind the Afghan government.

For instance, donors pledged to increase the share of assistance delivered through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund or other routes requested by the Afghan government to 10 percent, with a promise of increasing this to 20 percent by 2025 following Afghan action on anticorruption and broader good-governance measures.

“Incentive programs should seek to provide the Afghan Government with more flexible, on-budget funding in conjunction with progress on specific economic development achievements,” the framework states.

The framework also reaffirmed a previous commitment to channel at least half of future development aid through the Afghan government’s national budget and at least 80 percent towards priority programmes as defined by Kabul, both longtime demands by observers of Afghanistan’s at times seemingly broken transition and development process.

Done differently?

An inherent part of the changes announced in Tokyo is the recognition that, in the words of the framework, “delivery of assistance … cannot continue ‘business as usual’”. As the driver of both the military and development approach in Afghanistan over the past decade, of course, much of this language is pointed at the United States.

“Today, it’s really hard to find anyone to defend U.S. foreign assistance in Afghanistan over the past several years. There is a universal recognition that things went off the rails and widespread cognisance that something needs to be done differently,” Justin Sandefur, a research fellow with the Center for Global Development (CGD), a think tank here in Washington, told IPS after returning from a trip to Afghanistan.

Still, Washington appears to be fully on board with the Tokyo announcements.

“You have to remember that all of this is happening with the impending realisation that the United States is pulling out in 2014 – suddenly, we have to hand things over one way or another,” points out Sandefur’s colleague, Danny Cutherell, a policy analyst with CGD who was also recently in Afghanistan. “The U.S. government needed to show to the rest of the world that this is going to be done rationally.”

Sandefur points out that a notable sign of change is the fact that USAID, the United States’ foreign aid agency, is participating at all in such joint pledges, much less making commitments to put substantial aid monies through the Afghan government budget, something it has been loathe to do in the past.

In Tokyo, “There seemed to be some triage in terms of the goals set,” Sandefur admits. “If these goals are followed through on, though, the U.S. will be moving away from relying on private contractors for stabilisation, maybe scaling back on large-scale infrastructure development, and really refocusing efforts on building up the Afghan state.”

As is to be expected from such a conference, the talks in Tokyo were stronger on aspiration than on detail. As such, the overwhelming response to the Tokyo pledges, whether financial or ideological, warn that nearly everything depends on how exactly the many promises made in Tokyo are carried out in the coming years, both in Kabul and around the world.

The Tokyo framework “is a welcome step, but the proof will be in the implementation,” Louise Hancock, the head of policy and advocacy for Oxfam Afghanistan, an aid agency, told IPS.

“Supporting civil society to monitor aid spending and hold authorities to account is also key. If they get more donor support, Afghan civil-society organisations can help by monitoring how foreign aid is spent, highlighting waste, and helping Afghan people, donors and their taxpayers get better value for money.”


Afghan donors must address media repression

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, is welcomed by Japan's Emperor Akihito in Tokyo in 2010. Japan is one of Afghanistan's biggest donors. (AP/Koji Sasahara)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, is welcomed by Japan’s Emperor Akihito in Tokyo in 2010. Japan is one of Afghanistan’s biggest donors. (AP/Koji Sasahara)

One thing that had better be high on the agenda this weekend at the meeting of 70 or so international aid donors for Afghanistan in Tokyo is the recently released official draft versionof the Mass Media Law (a copy of the draft can be found here). I mentioned the new draft in a June blog, “Afghan media is under political and economic pressure.” The real thing is even worse than expected.

Whatever aid money is agreed on this weekend is supposed to be contingent on the Afghan government commitment to attacking the country’s endemic corruption and upholding and improving human rights standards–something the draft media law does not seem terribly concerned with.

The proposed new law will go in front of the legislature with little or no advice from the vibrant Afghan media community that has grown up since 2001, said Danish Karokhel, the head of Pajhwok Afghan News, who was the lead-off topic in that June 11 blog. He told me overnight that the best tactic the Afghan media community can come up with is, “Stop it from getting to Parliament.” One positive of the 2009 law now in effect was that local media were involved in its construction. Karokhel said he believes that if the new draft ever does become law, anti-media MPs (of which there are many) would seek to make the restrictions even worse, either before it is passed or later, with amendments.

Here are some of the concerns I’ve been hearing from Afghan journalists:

  • The number of journalists on the non-governmental Mass Media Commission would be significantly reduced.
  • The information and culture minister would sit at the head of an unnecessarily complicated group of bodies regulating the media, ruling as the director of a High Media Council. He would be vested with vast regulatory powers that could be enacted by decree.
  • A powerful new Media Violation Assessments Commission, with a predominance of government representatives, would be established, along with special media prosecutors and courts for civil cases regarding media issues.
  • The government would have much wider power to limit foreign broadcast programming–just as foreign influence would wane with the 2014 NATO troop drawdown and the government could swing to a more conservative political approach. Bollywood movies and Turkish soap operas are widely popular, but even their modest standards may be too racy for the post-2014 Afghanistan.

And, as Human Rights Watch mentioned this week in their analysis of the draft, “Afghanistan: Draft Law Threatens Media Freedom

Even the word choice of media outlets would be controlled by the government. Print media and websites would be required to observe a “guideline of phraseology and orthography which has been determined by an authorized committee according to an approved procedure by combined board of High Media Council, High Council of Ministry of Higher Education, Academic Council of Ministry of Education, and High Council of Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan.”

Also, the draft includes no mention of establishing guidelines for safety training or professionalization of the press corps–two pressing issues that must therefore be addressed at the upcoming Tokyo donors’ meeting.

Which brings us to another issue: International aid donors and the sustainability of Afghan media. The Center for International Media Assistance published a report, “An Explosion of News: The State of Media in Afghanistan,” in February. It points out that only a small number of news organizations will be able to survive in a commercial, free market. The majority still depend on support from international aid donors or powerful business, political, and militant groups within Afghanistan. (Some of these are called “Warlord TV,” though there are plenty of print outlets that could come under that title too.)

Agence France-Presse reports that donors in Tokyo will pledge $15 billion, which is supposed to carry through 2015. If that sounds like a lot of money, Reuters captures the reality in a story today, “As foreign aid dries up, Afghan NGOs fight to survive.” And when you think “media” in Afghanistan, for the most part you still have to think of NGO or foreign government support.

On Monday, William Byrd, who has spent much of the last 10 years organizing conferences like that coming up in Tokyo, wrote on Foreign Policy‘s AFPAK Channel “When too much is not enough,” about the “plethora of high-profile international meetings, occurring with increasing frequency in recent years” introducing the concept not just of donor fatigue but “meeting fatigue.” The first on Byrd’s list of recommendations is “keeping to realistic expectations about what meetings can accomplish.”

Maybe one realistic expectation for Tokyo is that the international community can pressure the Afghan government into reassessing its proposed regressive changes to media law, and at least insist that Afghan journalists and media owners be given a large voice in determining just what new laws will look like.

Afghan media is under political and economic pressure

Danish Karokhel (AP/Stuart Ramson)

Danish Karokhel (AP/Stuart Ramson)

Danish Karokhel, who won a CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2008, messaged this morning concerned that the news agency he runs, Pajhwok Afghan News, and some other media outlets have been referred to the Attorney General’s Office by the Ministry of Information and Culture for reporting on an alleged bribery scandal involving a member of Parliament. The action was taken by the ministry’s Media Monitoring Commission, and could lead to criminal charges.

The May 24 story that angered the ministry revolved around unnamed government officials claiming that Iran paid large bribes to Wolesi Jirga member Hazrat Ali, encouraging him to organize parliamentary opposition to approval of the strategic cooperation agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. The Wolesi Jirga (Assembly of the People) is the lower house of Afghanistan’s Parliament. On May 25, the Afghan-U.S. pact was approved, and on May 26, Pajhwok ran Ali’s robust denial of accepting the Iranian money, which Pajhwok and other media said ran to $25 million. Pajhwok had already run the Iranian Embassy’s denial of the accusation in its earlier item.

This is just the sort of story that makes media so important in emerging democracies like Afghanistan. Corruption and allegations of corruption in the country are commonplace, and the political motivations of the accusers and accused make for murky circumstances. Making the attempt to report fairly on them should not mean that journalists run the risk of possible civil or even criminal charges, should it come to that. But there are few rules to play by.

In early May, the government published its most recent draft media law. The first was introduced in 2003, followed by versions in 2007 and 2011. And in January 2008, we wrote to President Hamid Karzai after he declined to endorse the proposed 2007 media law that had been debated by a joint commission of the upper and lower houses of parliament, after getting input from journalists and media commentators. We said the new law represented a promising  step toward reaffirming media freedom. It was a step that was never taken, and subsequent drafts have tended to grow more restrictive.

There is cause for unease for the future of Afghan’s media, as for much else in Afghanistan as NATO forces prepare for withdrawal. In the country’s review in the 2011 edition of our annualAttacks on the Press, we pointed out that, while international aid organizations continued to pump resources into developing local media, many Afghan outlets faced severe challenges in sustaining their work.

In its own analysis of Afghan media, Pajhwok wrote:

The prospects for Afghan media are fraught with uncertainty as the country prepares for the withdrawal of international forces in 2014. Consumer markets are still too weak to support the level of advertising necessary for sustainability, and the prospect of post-withdrawal recession will only deepen the threat to outlets’ viability. At the same time, the cost of labor, operations, and basic reporting have all skyrocketed. Print, radio, and television outlets have been forced to shrink their news coverage, and vital information never reaches Afghan citizens because media outlets can’t afford to report it.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with several other media organizations in Afghanistan, and some of the international organizations that support them. Few were willing to speak as frankly on the record as Pajhwok, but most alluded to similar difficulties.

And it’s not just the economics that are worrisome. Some of the news organizations that look most likely to survive are those set up by political or religious leaders and sometimes called “warlord media” (maybe an unnecessarily politically loaded term–one person’s warlord is often another’s political faction leader). What is really under threat is the effort to create a non-partisan national media for Afghanistan where news organizations make the attempt to operate neutrally, trying to meet the ideals of a free and independent press.

Despite the terrific efforts of some local journalists and international organizations to build Afghan media since the Taliban’s removal from power in 2001, without continued economic support, more professional training, and a more concentrated effort from Afghan journalists to organize themselves into resilient national professional organizations, all those efforts could disappear, with or without a national media law.

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