Issues & Analysis
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Training finishes 2nd week

The training has successfully finished its second week – with students editing their first interviews and group conversations. This second week has been about sound and story.  The first week we  introduced the camera, composition and coverage and students did a series of exercises and a assignment in which they documented a craft or small manufacturing process.  The students were asked to do an evaluation of the training up to this point.  Here are a few of the responses:

“I have lived one of the most fantastic weeks of my life.  This training is equipping me to make a difference in the future.”
— Abdul Majid Zharand

“Documentary filmmaking is my medium of choice for communicating the realities in Afghanistan.  This training is giving me the knowledge I need to pursue this work.”
— Reza Sahel

“This training, besides teaching documentary cinema, encourages coexistence. People from different backgrounds and ethnicities are sitting around the same table.  It’s amazing.”
— Sayed Qasim

“This training is teaching me to discover my true potential.”
— Mona Haidary

“Reavealing the realities of Afghanistan has been a dream of mine.  Now I have a chance to realize this dream.”
— Aqeela Rezai

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Kite flying in Kabul

On many days the sky in Kabul is full of small kites.  The children here love flying kites.  The reality here is that most children don’t have very many toys and there are only very rarely any playgrounds.  So for many kids flying a kite is something that is inexpensive, can be done anywhere and is a lot of fun.  Kite flying is also competitive.  The kids are very very good at controlling their kites.  They try to fly their kite so it’s string crosses another’s.  Then the pull quickly and thereby try to cut the other kite’s string.  The kite string is coated with fine glass particles that makes it easier to cut with.  And yes it also makes it quite easy to cut your fingers.  Therefore the kids put tape, cloth or plastic bags around their hands to protect themselves.  Below are several not very good pictures of kids flying kites in Kabul.  In the first the boy is flying his kite from the roof of his home, in the second you (hopefully) can see a boy right in the middle launching his orange, blue and white kite and in the third, if you look closely, you should see many boys on their roofs and up on the rocks flying kites.

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Win by adopting a bottom-up strategy and not suddenly withdawing

October 3rd, 2010 by Jake Chapnick

One of the reasons the West fails to comprehensively understand Afghanistan and its people is because there has been limited access to its rural areas. According to the United Nations, there are over 10,000 settlements in that country of 100 or fewer homes and 1000 with 100-250 homes (Mahmood 222). Seth Jones, a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation argues this point in his article “It Takes the Villages” in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010. He explains that most rural Afghans, who are diverse ethnically and politically, govern themselves according to traditional laws and codes of conduct that have remote connection to policies made by the central government in Kabul. They trust their community’s council more than outside entities like Kabul’s politicians or American and Afghan policy makers.

To be effective, Jones argues that we must adopt a “bottom up” strategy rather than the conventional “top-down”  approach that has worked in most Western countries. It is necessary for there be a mixture of strong central leadership and community based organizing, Jones argues. Jones explains that the Taliban used “bottom up”  strategy to gain control over so much of Afghanistan (2)

An editorial written July 29, 2010 in the New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof, a regular columnist for the Times, argues that the war can be won at a microscopic fraction of the cost that has been and will continue to be spent. The U.S. has spent more in Afghanistan than “on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War combined” (A23).

The essay notes that the cost of one soldier could build twenty schools in Afghanistan and cites Greg Mortenson, the central figure in “Three Cups of Tea,” a book that chronicles his mission to build schools for girls in rural Pakistan. Today, Mortenson has overseen 145 schools built in Afghanistan and Pakistan mainly with private dononations to his Central Asia Institute. He claims for the cost of only 246 soldiers, the U.S. could fund a higher education plan for all of Afghanistan.

A growing understanding that force will not change Afghanistan is slowly entering the mainstream thanks to people like Mortenson, who is now advising the U.S. army on its counter-insurgency strategy. “Three Cups of Tea” is now required reading for all military personnel. (Bumiller A1). Mortenson says his strategy will take generations, however he says, “Al Queda and the Taliban are looking at it long range over generations…And we’re looking at it in terms of annual fiscal cycles and presidential elections” (Burmiller A1).

An article called, “Afghanistan: What Could Work” by Rory Stewart in the New York Review of Books, January 14, 2010, presents a proposal for a strategy that would reduce troops, but require a longer stay in Afghanistan. Stewart is a former British Foreign Service Officer member who served in Iraq and has extensive knowledge on Central and South East Asia. In 2002, he walked across Afghanistan to witness for himself how Afghanistan had endured the Taliban and chronicled his journey in the “The Places In Between,” published in 2006. Stewart says that the U.S. and its allies should follow through with their call to reduce troops, but in order to maintain a basic level of peace, there must be a permanent military presence. Stewart writes:

The aim would be to knit together different Afghan interests and allegiances sensitively enough to avoid alienating independent local groups, consistently enough to restore trust, and robustly enough to restore the security and justice that Afghans demand and deserve from a national government (63).

Stewart says the type of surge that worked in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan because in Iraq, the insurgents were Sunni Muslims, a minority religiously and politically whose supporters had mostly been driven out of the capital. Plus, Iraq had a central government that was powerful, credible, and largely supported by the masses with its own militias (62). Afghanistan, contrarily, has an insurgency that is far-flung and diverse, spread out across a population of nearly 30 million people, who mainly live in remote areas.

The bottom line is that to prevent terrorists from organizing in any country, there must be a stable and credible government, which provides security and opportunities to its citizens. Education is the key to a prosperous future as well as communication networks. …

Afghanistan still does not have a law that guarantees journalists access to information and most government sources are not willing to co-operate with the media. Journalists face threats, bribery attempts, interrogation and even death from government and insurgents Ketchkenni writes. Over the last four years, ten journalists have been murdered in Afghanistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (Auletta 46). Saad Mohseni, owner of Tolo TV, said that few years ago his station was offered $100 thousand not to air a certain story, which they ran. “If someone is powerful enough to offer a substantial bribe, ‘what stops him from killing someone?’” Mohseni asks (Auletta 46).

Here is how we can help: Let us start with the lessons learned by Mortenson in “Three Cups of Tea.” He describes how he wandered into a village in the high mountains of Pakistan and developed a bond with its people. He promised to build a school for its children and went back to America to raise funds. When he returned, he had $12 thousand, enough to buy the raw materials, transport them to the village, and pay the workers to build the school, he thought. He soon realized that there were more immediate problems. Before he could build a school, the village needed a bridge to transport everything in. What they had been using for decades was a pulley system to bring in people and other commodities across the raging river in the high mountains. Here is where Mortenson learned one his most valuable lessons, that the needs of the community are not always the same as the ideal visions of philanthropists. He realized that the people were not being selfish, but that they needed other important things before they could build a school.

Another thing Mortenson learned, was a piece of advice given him by the chief of the village, Haji Ali. “Why don’t you leave it to us,” Ali told him. “I’ll call a meeting of all the elders…and see what village is ready to donate free land and labor for a school. That way you don’t have to flap all over Baltistan like a crow again, eating here and there” (177).

“Ever since then,” Mortenson writes, “with all the schools I’ve built, I’ve remembered Haji Ali’s advice and expanded slowly, from village to village and valley to valley, going where we’d already build relationships, instead of trying to hopscotch to places I had no contacts” (177).

The Christian Science Monitor, August 2 issue reported that U.S.A.I.D. has botched a number of jobs that were meant to help rural communities in Afghanistan, but left the people feeling resentful toward the U.S. for not finishing the jobs. One example was a canal dug to bring water to a turbine to create more electricity for the village. The canal cost $1 million, but it was found that the incomplete concrete walls and drainage created landslides blocking the water from reaching the turbine (Arnoldy 26). On the other hand, in some projects where the villagers were able to choose exactly where the foreign aid went, the results made a happy ending. In once case, a small village was given nearly $50 thousand on condition that they would vote on how to use the money and provide as of their own laborers as possible. The village installed micro-hydro turbine that provides reliable electricity to all 78 households. The money was given directly by the Afghan government, part of the National Solidarity Program (NSP) that is funded by international donors including the U.S. government. According to the article, 30,000 villages (nearly 70 percent) of rural Afghanistan have done an NSP project (Arnoldy 32). …

… Reverting to Stewart, if the United States wants to see enduring peace, it must stay the course in Afghanistan and not withdraw suddenly. Obama has said his strategy is to keep troops there long term, but to withdraw large numbers in the near future. It appears that they agree on the premise that Afghanistan needs the U.S. to hold out and not leave if the Taliban are to be truly repelled. But there is disagreement on how long this engagement should last.

Sources Cited

Arnoldy, Ben. “Losing Hearts and Minds.” The Christian Science Monitor 102, Issue 36 (2010): 26-32.
Bowman, Tom. “In Kandahar, It Will Take A Village To Oust The Taliban.” Jun. 24, 2010 NPR.org.
Bumiller, Elisabeth. “Unlikely Tutor Giving Military Afghan Advice.” New York Times 17 Aug. 2010: A1.
Grabowski, Christopher. “Warlords Killed My Friend.” Christopher Grabowski: Photography, Documentary, Photojournalism. 2007 http://www.mediumlight.com/solh.html.
Jones, Seth G. “It Takes the Villages.” Foreign Affairs May/Jun 2010 http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66350/seth-g-jones/it-takes-the-villages
Mortenson, Greg and Relin, David Oliver. Three Cups of Tea. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Lasar, Matthew. Personal interview. 5 Jul. 2010.
Stewart, Rory. “Afghanistan: What Could Work.” The New York Review of Books LV11, Number 1 (2010): 60-63.
Ketchkenni , Zia. “Journalism in Afghanistan: Getting better but still a long way to go”
The Canadian Journalism Project. Mar. 8 2010. http://www.j- source.ca/english_new/detail.php?id=4883
President Obama’s Speech at West Point, Dec. 1, 2009. http://www.denverpost.com/ci_13902394?source=rss (full text of president’s speech)

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The Long War: Year Ten – Lost in the Desert with the GPS on the Fritz

The Long War: Year Ten
Lost in the Desert with the GPS on the Fritz

By Andrew J. Bacevich

In January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s charge to a newly-appointed commanding general was simplicity itself: “give us victories.”  President Barack Obama’s tacit charge to his generals amounts to this: give us conditions permitting a dignified withdrawal.  A pithy quote in Bob Woodward’s new book captures the essence of an emerging Obama Doctrine: “hand it off and get out.”

Getting into a war is generally a piece of cake.  Getting out tends to be another matter altogether — especially when the commander-in-chief and his commanders in the field disagree on the advisability of doing so.

Happy Anniversary, America.  Nine years ago today — on October 7, 2001 — a series of U.S. air strikes against targets across Afghanistan launched the opening campaign of what has since become the nation’s longest war.  Three thousand two hundred and eighty five days later the fight to determine Afghanistan’s future continues.  At least in part, “Operation Enduring Freedom” has lived up to its name:  it has certainly proven to be enduring.

As the conflict formerly known as the Global War on Terror enters its tenth year, Americans are entitled to pose this question: When, where, and how will the war end?  Bluntly, are we almost there yet?

Of course, with the passage of time, where “there” is has become increasingly difficult to discern.  Baghdad turned out not to be Berlin and Kandahar is surely not Tokyo.  Don’t look for CNN to be televising a surrender ceremony anytime soon.

This much we know: an enterprise that began in Afghanistan but soon after focused on Iraq has now shifted back — again — to Afghanistan.  Whether the swings of this pendulum signify progress toward some final objective is anyone’s guess.

To measure progress during wartime, Americans once employed pins and maps.  Plotting the conflict triggered by 9/11 will no doubt improve your knowledge of world geography, but it won’t tell you anything about where this war is headed.

Where, then, have nine years of fighting left us?  Chastened, but not necessarily enlightened.

Just over a decade ago, the now-forgotten Kosovo campaign seemingly offered a template for a new American way of war.  It was a decision gained without suffering a single American fatality.  Kosovo turned out, however, to be a one-off event.  No doubt the United States military was then (and remains today) unbeatable in traditional terms.  Yet, after 9/11, Washington committed that military to an endeavor that it manifestly cannot win.

Rather than probing the implications of this fact — relying on the force of arms to eliminate terrorism is a fool’s errand — two administrations have doggedly prolonged the war even as they quietly ratcheted down expectations of what it might accomplish.

In officially ending the U.S. combat role in Iraq earlier this year — a happy day if there ever was one — President Obama refrained from proclaiming “mission accomplished.”  As well he might: as U.S. troops depart Iraq, insurgents remain active and in the field.  Instead of declaring victory, the president simply urged Americans to turn the page.  With remarkable alacrity, most of us seem to have complied.

Perhaps more surprisingly, today’s military leaders have themselves abandoned the notion that winning battles wins wars, once the very foundation of their profession.  Warriors of an earlier day insisted: “There is no substitute for victory.”  Warriors in the Age of David Petraeus embrace an altogether different motto: “There is no military solution.”

Here is Brigadier General H. R. McMaster, one of the Army’s rising stars, summarizing the latest in advanced military thinking:  “Simply fighting and winning a series of interconnected battles in a well developed campaign does not automatically deliver the achievement of war aims.”  Winning as such is out.  Persevering is in.

So an officer corps once intent above all on avoiding protracted wars now specializes in quagmires.  Campaigns don’t really end.  At best, they peter out.

Formerly trained to kill people and break things, American soldiers now attend to winning hearts and minds, while moonlighting in assassination.  The politically correct term for this is “counterinsurgency.”

Now, assigning combat soldiers the task of nation-building in, say, Mesopotamia is akin to hiring a crew of lumberjacks to build a house in suburbia.  What astonishes is not that the result falls short of perfection, but that any part of the job gets done at all.

Yet by simultaneously adopting the practice of “targeted killing,” the home builders do double-duty as home wreckers. For American assassins, the weapon of choice is not the sniper rifle or the shiv, but missile-carrying pilotless aircraft controlled from bases in Nevada and elsewhere thousands of miles from the battlefield — the ultimate expression of an American desire to wage war without getting our hands dirty.

In practice, however, killing the guilty from afar not infrequently entails killing innocents as well.  So actions undertaken to deplete the ranks of jihadists as far afield as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia unwittingly ensure the recruitment of replacements, guaranteeing a never-ending supply of hardened hearts to soften.

No wonder the campaigns launched since 9/11 drag on and on.  General Petraeus himself has spelled out the implications: “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”  Obama may want to “get out.”  His generals are inclined to stay the course.

Taking longer to achieve less than we initially intended is also costing far more than anyone ever imagined.  Back in 2003, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey suggested that invading Iraq might run up a tab of as much as $200 billion — a seemingly astronomical sum.  Although Lindsey soon found himself out of a job as a result, he turned out to be a piker.  The bill for our post-9/11 wars already exceeds a trillion dollars, all of it piled atop our mushrooming national debt.  Helped in no small measure by Obama’s war policies, the meter is still running.

So are we almost there yet?  Not even.  The truth is we’re lost in the desert, careening down an unmarked road, odometer busted, GPS on the fritz, and fuel gauge hovering just above E.  Washington can only hope that the American people, napping in the backseat, won’t notice.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.  His bestselling new book is Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.  To catch Bacevich discussing how the U.S. military became specialists in quagmires in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Andrew J. Bacevich

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United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan – Allies in War, but the Goals Clash

By HELENE COOPER, NYT, October 9, 2010

IN the panoply of national security conundrums facing the Obama administration, there is one that stands central.

Can the United States ever succeed in the Afghanistan war if its two principal allies mistrust each other? Indeed, can the war succeed if one of those two principal allies is in cahoots with the enemy?

The enemy, of course, is the Taliban. And the allies are the Pakistani and Afghan governments. Troops from both countries, as well as American forces, have been fighting elements of the Taliban on their respective soils.

But Pakistan has also been accused of pulling its punches in that fight, because it fears the day when a strong Afghanistan might align with India. It would be convenient for Pakistan if the Taliban remained a force to prevent that.

That explains why suspicions of such double-dealing were the talk of Washington last week, spurred by the multiple attacks on NATO convoys that just about every diplomat, foreign policy official and Beltway taxi driver laid at the feet of the Pakistani government.

In retaliation for American helicopter strikes that killed three Pakistani border soldiers on Sept. 30, the Pakistani government had shut down a border crossing used to supply the Afghan war effort. That offered Taliban and Qaeda insurgents a golden opportunity to blow up the NATO convoys, and within a week, three major attacks destroyed dozens of trucks.

Although the United States responded by blanketing Islamabad with mea culpas for the helicopter strikes, the incident has laid bare the fundamental challenge of the American-Pakistan alliance: When it comes to Afghanistan, America and Pakistan have very different national security interests.

President Obama defines American national security interests in South Asia as revolving around the need to prevent the region from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the United States and American allies.

That’s why, Mr. Obama says, American troops are in Afghanistan, and that’s why the United States is pushing the Pakistani government to act on its soil against militants like the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network. That’s also why American troops were engaged in cross-border strikes.

But Pakistan, for its part, defines its national security interests as revolving around India, its nemesis in a tangle of disputes that have proven intractable for six decades. Every step that the Pakistani government takes is seen through that prism.

What Pakistan wants most in Afghanistan is an assurance that India cannot use it to threaten Pakistan. For that, a radical Islamic movement like the Taliban, with strong ties to kin in Pakistan, fits the bill. That is why the Pakistani government’s intelligence agencies helped the Taliban in its initial rise to power in the 1990s.

Now, Pakistan wants to ensure against the possibility of an Afghan national government with a strong army emerging on its border and aligning with India. So supporting the Afghan Taliban is again a hedge, as it was in the 1990s.

What’s more, the Pakistanis don’t believe that the United States will stay in Afghanistan, and Mr. Obama’s announcement that he will begin a pullout starting in July 2011 has exacerbated that belief. And if the United States leaves, the Pakistanis believe, it is only a matter of time before the Afghan Taliban return to power. When they do, Islamabad wants to make sure that it has kept in the Taliban’s good graces.

Finally — again because of India — the Pakistani government wants to make sure that its historic allies, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, will be deeply entrenched in any efforts to reach a political settlement that would involve power-sharing in Afghanistan.

“The Haqqanis represent a powerful element of the Pashtuns,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. “Those are the tribes that straddle the border.” The Pakistani government, Mr. Nawaz said, “feels that if the Pashtuns are in power, Indians are less likely to have a strong hold, because the Indian relationship has been very overtly with the Northern Alliance.” He was referring to the group of largely non-Pashtun Afghan militias that ousted the Taliban in 2001 with American assistance.

Moeed W. Yusuf, a South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace, adds: “Pakistan sees that any political settlement in Afghanistan that does not include groups that are friendly to Pakistan, like the Haqqani network, will mean that Pakistan will have gotten the rough end of the deal. It will not be able to ensure an Afghanistan which does not allow inroads to India.”

Why not give the Pakistanis the strategic hedge that they want? For anyone who hasn’t read the latest policy brief on the Haqqani network, here’s a quick summary: From its base in the frontier region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, and across eastern Afghanistan; that insurgency has carried out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations. It is allied with Al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch that answers to Mullah Muhammad Omar. Though he is now based in Quetta, Pakistan, Mullah Omar was in charge when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan and sheltered Al Qaeda there, notably on Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, Western officials have blamed the Haqqani network for a string of attacks, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the kidnappings of the British journalist Sean Langan and the New York Times reporter David Rohde, and hundreds of attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani is believed to be in the top tier of the allied forces’ “kill or capture” list.

In short, the Haqqani network has a lot of American blood on its hands.

“The aims of the U.S. and Pakistan in Afghanistan,” says Mr. Nawaz, of the Atlantic Council, “are not congruent.”

So given all this, the logical thing to do might be to focus on the Pakistan-India problem. After all, if you remove Pakistan’s fears of India as a threat, maybe the Pakistanis will stop working against American interests in Afghanistan?

Not so fast.

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years.”

Professor Fair argues that because India is on the ascent, and will be even stronger militarily and economically in 10 years than it is now, the Indian government has no reason to negotiate seriously with Pakistan over the host of issues that bedevil the two adversaries now, when it can throw its weight around much easier later.

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

Of course, Alexander the Great managed to conquer the Gordian knot. But we shall leave musings of how well he did in Afghanistan for a later article.

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Daily Affairs in Sunny Kabul

Kabul is sunny and clear blue, except that is for the dense haze of dust and smog.  Incredible that people’s lungs can take it.  No wonder the average life span is 44.   At night it is like driving through a fog on the Maine coast. And then every once in long while it pours.

Driving through the city you can quite easily forget that there is a war on.  One soon stops noticing the men with guns at every door and street corner.  Once in a while you feel that something odd must be going on somewhere when nervous hyper vigilant foreign or Afghan armies pass in heavily armed convoys.

The majority of my time I feel like I am in any typically out of control South Asian city. The streets are a chaos of every day survival activities. Of course surviving is a rough business here and not only because of the decades of instability.  This is just another part of the world where there are too few jobs and too few opportunities, packed mostly with people only able to think about making it from one day and one meal to the next.

At night it is different from most places I’ve experienced – but typical for insecure places.  From 4-8 the city is stuck in one large traffic jam.  Once the knots are untied and the vehicles released there is little to nothing downtown.  Shuttered shops stand in long rows.  A few pedestrians quietly move around in streets that were hours before impassable.  There is nothing to do in the city at night – no music, no movies, no tea shops (of course alcohol is banned, so no bars – for locals anyway) and precautionary measures stifle what little social life one tries to find.  The other night I was waiting outside the French Cultural center to meet some colleagues.  The wide main street was controlled by a pack of dogs and once in a while a car passed at great speed – the faster they go the more likely they are inhabited by government officials or foreigners.  But otherwise nothing else.  I didn’t get into the French compound.  My colleagues didn’t realize that after 8:30 no one is allowed in – known guest or otherwise.  They finally came out and we followed their official French car as it sped, in classic form, to the French embassy guest house.  There our car was not allowed to wait outside for fear it contained a bomb. It waited elsewhere and returned when we called it – still intact.

So, so it goes.  Wake at 6 (well, I’m first woken at 4:30 by the myriad of calls to prayer), picked up at 7.  Bump along scarred roads and sit in traffic and haze until 8.  Arrive at the center where we are holding the training and madly work with the 10 students and my great team until 5 or 6.  Wait and work until 7, hoping for less traffic, and get back in a taxi or provided car, and either creep or careen through the dark fog back to my room.  A fairly normal day considering.

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Meet our trainees

Afghans selected to participate in the production training, October 2 – November 4, 2010

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Interviewing candidates for the training

Four days and 37 interviews later and I have a fresh understanding of the Afghan experience.  These candidates were selected from over 60 applicants from throughout the country.  We are looking for people with a passion for storytelling, sensitivity to village life and a demonstrated interest in social and economic development. The candidates do not have to have experience with filmmaking. They can be working for example, as print or radio journalists, novelists, poets, photographers or in the theater.

Asking candidates where they are from and where they grew up typically illicit two different answers.  Repeated stories of displacement either during the Taliban reign (96-01) for the younger candidates and/or during the civil war (78-96) for the older candidates.  Many have returned since 2002 from Pakistan or Iran, and one from Tajikistan, where they were refugees and not allowed to fully integrate into society or attend university.  Most have family in their province of origin but may now be living in Kabul either for work, school or due to insecurity in their home community.

Those from the provinces are rooted in their communities.  From the south and east, where the insurgents dominate, they constantly negotiate their security by keeping channels of communication open with those family members who are members of the Taliban.   Those from the provinces typically come to the interview in traditional dress while the city folk come in suits or shirts and trousers bearing all sorts of western logos.   All are looking for quality education – which is from their experience all too rare in Afghanistan.  The Kabul University students repeatedly stated that their time would be better spent skipping school and attending the training.  And apparently no one would notice their absence.    We are not encouraging this and in general are looking for older candidates with a bit more life experience.

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The Work Begins

The work in Afghanistan has begun.  On Wednesday I arrived in Kabul at sunrise with 6 suitcases containing five video production kits and everything else necessary for a five week training course in documentary camerawork and five weeks of production work on Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War.  Flying in over Afghanistan from Dubai to Kabul the morning skies were hazy – an indication that the cooler temperatures of fall are arriving. Temperatures in this arid environment, at 6000 feet, fluctuate dramatically.  By midday it will be in the upper 80s to low 90s and then drop to the 40s at night.  Soon the temperatures will plummet all together as winter sets in.

But before then we will carry out our five week intensive documentary videography training with 10 Afghans.  After the training, four trainees will be selected to work on the production work for Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War. During the next month, I will be finalizing the selection of stories to be told from the perspective of Afghan families and villages.  The trained camera people working with me and other Afghan filmmakers will follow their stories for one year.  The film’s premise is that economic development can contribute to peacemaking.  We will investigate whether this is true or not and what approaches to economic development work best.   We will begin this production work in November and work until the snow limits our access to the provinces.  It is remarkable – and indicative of the isolation that permeates much of the country – that many communities throughout the mountains of Afghanistan become inaccessible for four or five months of winter.  Many families spend much of their winter ‘hibernating’ under blankets that cover whole rooms.

We have received over 50 training applicants, male and female, from across the country.  Twenty four will be interviewed starting tomorrow.   I feel extremely lucky to be assisted by a dedicated and talented Afghan crew of trainers, translators, editors and assistants, in addition to the amazing organizational support of the staff at the Killid Group – our Afghan co-producer.  It never ceases to amaze and shock to learn of the challenged histories that each of these Afghans – often in there 20s or 30s – have already gone through.  Decades of war and displacement and survival as refugees in the not too welcoming towns and cities of Pakistan, Iran and beyond is only a part of their stories.  Their bios will be added to the crew section of the website over the next days.  But for a compelling start please read Mehdi’s story .

Mehdi is an experienced Afghan documentary filmmaker and educator with an inspiring dedication to both.  Within minutes of first meeting him last June, I knew that I would be lucky to have him bring his knowledge for the art and craft of documentary filmmaking and his dedication to sharing it and expanding the capacity of other Afghans in filmmaking and video-journalism.   Mehdi has taken primary responsibility – with the assistance and experience of the Killid staff – to prepare the logistics for the training and the outreach for training candidates.  The location has been rented at the foundation of Culture and Civil Society in Kabul.  Like many organizations in Afghanistan their buildings are in a poor state after years of war and Taliban era neglect.

Our first task was to do some cleaning, setup and repairs. I will keep the website updated about our work and news of economic development and stability issues in Afghanistan and beyond.  If you’d like to receive a weekly notification about new postings via email please sign up by adding your email to the subscribe option in the right column.

Thank you for your wonderful support.  We have a long way to go to raise the necessary funds but we remain cautiously optimistic about reaching our goal.

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It Takes a Village to Raise a School

New York Times, OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR, DANA BURDE, September 16, 2010

Americans are right to be alarmed by the rising numbers of roadside bombs and suicide attacks in Afghanistan, we can’t overlook a more subtle campaign that has been a key element of the Taliban’s strategy for years: disrupting access to schools.

Close to 1,000 schools have been bombed or burned since 2006, and hundreds of teachers and students have been killed. The Taliban, who when they were in power banned education for women, attack girls’ schools disproportionately, and in some southern provinces the proportion of girls attending middle school has dropped to less than 1 percent.

These attacks are made easier when there is a physical school to take aim at. But education is not about four walls and a roof. Many nongovernmental organizations have been promoting schooling without school buildings as the best strategy to increase enrollment quickly in the poorest rural areas of the country.

Thousands of these community-based education programs, housed in existing community structures, are bringing education to girls and boys across the country. According to a report released by CARE last fall, there has been only one recorded physical attack on such a community-based school.

Yet these schools have received little attention. Most attention and money has gone to the “Three Cups of Tea” strategy of constructing schools. While shiny new schools make for great photo ops, they are very expensive and some provide the Taliban with easy targets. In the short term, we should de-emphasize that approach in favor of more flexible, cost-effective approaches in community-based education.

It works like this: Villagers provide a space for the school, usually in a large house or mosque, and choose teachers from the community. An aid organization delivers government-approved textbooks and stationery, and provides training for the teachers and parents who help oversee the schools. The Afghan government integrates the community-based schools into the larger educational system, certifying teachers and, eventually, paying their salaries.

Each community-based school serves only the village in which it is situated; schools are widely dispersed, making attendance more practical for children spread across remote regions. Many aid workers have long favored such schools since they are quick and inexpensive to set up, and because communities develop a sense of ownership. Parents visit classes regularly, checking attendance and observing lessons.

With aid from Washington, nongovernmental groups have started approximately 3,000 community-based schools in roughly 1,400 communities in more than a dozen provinces in Afghanistan. In a study I carried out with Leigh Linden of Columbia from 2007 to 2009, we found that children in rural Afghanistan are almost 50 percent more likely to attend classes if there’s a community-based school available. Most important, when a community-based school is an option, the rate of girls’ attendance in most communities goes up by 15 percentage points more than that of their male counterparts, virtually eliminating gender disparities in primary education.

Community-based education is not a panacea: rural teachers may not have much in the way of training, and most schools offer only the early grades. Still, it is a practical medium-term solution to the lack of conventional schools in Afghanistan.

Despite impressive increases in enrollment since in 2001, some 60 percent of young Afghans are not in school; two-thirds of them are girls. Conventional schools are scarce, expensive and likely to remain under threat of attack. To best help Afghanistan, we need to support safer, cheaper and more effective ways to educate all its children.

Dana Burde is a professor of education at New York University.

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A New Way Forward, Rethinking US Strategy in Afghanistan

At almost nine years, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest in our history, surpassing even the Vietnam War, and it will shortly surpass the Soviet Union’s own extended military campaign there. With the surge, it will cost the U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year, a sum roughly seven times larger than Afghanistan’s annual gross national product (GNP) of $14 billion and greater than the total annual cost of the new U.S. health insurance program. Thousands of American and allied personnel have been killed or gravely wounded.

The United States should by no means abandon Afghanistan, but it is time to abandon the current strategy that is not working. Trying to pacify Afghanistan by force of arms will not work, and a costly military campaign there is more likely to jeopardize America’s vital security interests than to protect them. The Study Group believes that the United States should pursue more modest goals that are both consistent with America’s true interests and far more likely to succeed.

THE WAY FORWARD: A FIVE POINT APPROACH
Emphasize Power-Sharing and Political Reconciliation
Scale Back and Eventually Suspend Combat Operations in the South and Reduce the U.S. Military Footprint
Keep the Focus on Al Qaeda and Domestic Security
Promote Economic Development
Engage Global and Regional Stakeholders.

Read the Full Report

Report from The Afghanistan Study Group:

Matthew P. Hoh
Director, Afghanistan Study Group
703-999-8075 phone
mphoh@afghanistanstudygroup.com

Steve Clemons
Director, American Strategy Program
New America Foundation
202-986-0342 phone
202-986-3696 fax
clemons@newamerica.net

William Goodfellow
Executive Director
Center for International Policy
202-232-3317 phone
202-232-3440 fax
wcg@ciponline.org

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UNICEF to boost aid efficiency by targeting poorest

By Louis Charbonneau, Source: Reuters, 07 Sep 2010 15:17:41 GMT

* Focusing on neediest is more cost-effective – UNICEF

* Changing aid distribution could save millions of lives

The U.N. children’s foundation UNICEF plans to make the poorest and most remote regions of needy nations top priority for aid, an approach it said on Tuesday is not only morally but economically sound.

“It’s not often that the right thing to do is also the most cost-effective thing,” UNICEF chief Anthony Lake told Reuters in an interview.

Lake, who was former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s National Security Adviser, said a new study on aid distribution undertaken by UNICEF showed aid agencies could save millions of lives by going first to the most disadvantaged mothers and children and their communities.

Traditionally aid programs have focused first on a country’s capital and major cities, where underprivileged populations are relatively accessible, only later moving to difficult-to-reach pockets of poverty and disease.

But the new study, Lake said, found that the economic and developmental impact of going straight to the neediest and hardest to reach communities, and then working back to the central cities, was significantly greater than the traditional approach.

One reason for that approach is that remote poverty-stricken areas lack infrastructure and personnel. But Lake said it was possible to work with a minimum of infrastructure and provide locals with sufficient expertise to supply routine medical services.

UNICEF, he said, would be focusing its future humanitarian and developmental aid in line with the results of the study.

NOT WITHOUT RISKS

A report on the UNICEF study released on Tuesday said it showed that by comparing the effectiveness of different strategies for aid delivery, targeting the poorest and neediest children could save more lives per $1 million spent than the current path.

Among the advantages of what UNICEF describes as an “equity-based approach” to aid delivery would be the ability to avert many more child and maternal deaths and episodes of stunted growth than the current approach.

A $1 million investment in reducing the deaths of children younger than five years in a low-income high-mortality country would avert an estimated 60 percent more deaths than the current approach, UNICEF said.

Because disease, ill health and illiteracy are concentrated in the most impoverished child populations, focusing on such areas could also improve poor nations’ progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals aimed at slashing poverty by 2015 and reduce disparities within countries.

The approach is not without risks, Lake said. Sometimes the remotest and poorest communities are in areas where the central government has little authority and insurgents are in control, making the distribution a very risky business.

This is the case in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan or Somalia. But Lake said UNICEF has proven capable of getting into and operating in unstable regions because it is apolitical and focuses on children.

“If you’re a local militant, you wouldn’t want the mothers saying that you weren’t letting in UNICEF,” he said. (Editing by Jerry Norton)

For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit www.alertnet.org

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U.S. to temper stance on Afghan corruption

By Greg Jaffe

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 4, 2010; 1:32 PM

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN – U.S. commanders in southern Afghanistan are adopting a strategy that increasingly places the priority on fighting the Taliban even if that means tolerating some corruption.

Military officials in the region have concluded that the Taliban’s insurgency is the most pressing threat to stability in some areas and that a sweeping effort to drive out corruption could create chaos and a governance vacuum that the Taliban could exploit.

“There are areas where you need strong leadership, and some of those leaders are not entirely pure,” said a senior defense official. “But they can help us be more effective in going after the primary threat, which is the Taliban.”

The issue of corruption in Afghanistan has taken on renewed urgency in recent weeks with the arrest of a senior aide to President Hamid Karzai and new questions about Kabul’s commitment to fighting graft. Senior Obama administration officials have repeatedly emphasized the need to root out graft in Afghanistan and have deployed teams of FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents to assemble corruption cases. The United States has spent about $50 billion to promote reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001.

It was not immediately clear whether the White House, the State Department and law enforcement agencies share the military’s views, which come at a critical time for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. After an eight-month buildup, the 30,000 additional soldiers and Marines that President Obama ordered to this country are almost entirely in place, allowing U.S. and Afghan forces to conduct sweeps of Taliban strongholds and detain insurgent leaders at the highest levels of the nearly nine-year-long war, military officials said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited two U.S. Army units on Friday that had been hit with tough losses in recent days as they cleared insurgents from areas in and around this southern Afghanistan city, the spiritual home of the Taliban and the site of some of the heaviest fighting for U.S. and Afghan forces.

“It has been a tough week for you,” Gates told soldiers from an Army battalion that had lost seven soldiers this week. “Unfortunately, there are going to be more tough weeks ahead.”

The Kandahar campaign reflects the breadth of the problems that the United States faces throughout Afghanistan and explains why some U.S. officials are reluctant to take too hard a line on Afghan corruption. “Kandahar is not just a Taliban problem; it is a mafia, criminal syndicate problem,” the senior defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “That is why it is so complicated. But clearly the most pressing threat is the Taliban.”

Some military and civilian advisers to the U.S.-led command in Kabul argue for a comprehensive effort to root out graft and other official abuses, contending that government corruption and ineffectiveness have prompted many Afghans to support the insurgency. “You can’t separate the fight against corruption from the fight against the Taliban,” one of the advisers said. “They are intimately linked.”

But U.S. officials and defense analysts say that challenging local power brokers and criminal syndicates, many of which depend on U.S. reconstruction contracts and ties to the Afghan government for support, would likely add to the unrest in southern Afghanistan and produce a higher U.S. casualty rate. “Putting an end to these patronage networks would not come cheaply,” said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised U.S. commanders in Afghanistan.

By contrast, allowing some graft among Afghan power brokers on the condition that they agree to limit their take and moderate predatory activities, such as their use of illegal police checkpoints, could promote near-term improvements, Biddle said. “We spend a lot more money in Afghanistan than the narcotics trade,” he said. “A lot of money that funds these networks comes from us. So we can essentially de-fund these networks, taking away their contracts.”

The military’s strategy on corruption appears to more broadly apply conclusions reached earlier this year by top military officers in Kandahar. Some diplomats and military officers had recommended the removal of Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, as the chairman of the Kandahar province council, but Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, eventually concluded that there was no clear evidence of wrongdoing and that ousting him could leave a power vacuum in the area.

Instead, the military has sought to limit the amount of money flowing to Ahmed Wali Karzai by awarding lucrative contracts for supplies and services to firms that he and his relatives do not control.

Recently, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, asked a group of senior officers to study more closely how U.S. reconstruction and logistics contracts are awarded. He also said he planned to publish contracting rules that would help ensure that U.S. spending practices weren’t fueling discontent by excluding influential groups and driving them to support the Taliban insurgency. Such a move would be welcomed by President Karzai, who has argued that foreign money is fueling corruption.

Gates also has said that the United States must do more to ensure that its contracting practices aren’t fueling corruption.

The growing understanding that military commanders will have to work with some corrupt officials and warlords hasn’t led them to abandon time-consuming efforts to build local government capacity. In areas where U.S. and Afghan forces have driven out the Taliban, they are working with locals to assemble councils made up of elders that will help decide how reconstruction money is spent and serve as a check on government abuses.

“That representative council is important because that is really the link between the people and the district leadership,” said Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Even building effective local councils will take time in areas where U.S. forces have little to no knowledge of the key players and power relationships.

U.S. forces are only now beginning to push into areas that have had little or no American presence in recent years and to develop an intimate knowledge of the players and power relationships.

“We have never had the granular understanding of local circumstances in Afghanistan that we achieved over time in Iraq,” Petraeus said this week. “One of the key elements in our ability to be fairly agile in our activities in Iraq during the surge was a pretty good understanding of who the power brokers were in local areas and how the systems were supposed to work and how they really worked. . . . That enabled us enormously.”

jaffeg@washpost.com Staff writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Washington contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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Understanding the Taliban

London Review of Books, Vol. 32 No. 17 · 9 September 2010by Jonathan Steele

The road from Kabul to Kandahar was once known as the Eisenhower highway. Built in the 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed peacefully for Afghan friendship, this US-funded 300-mile ribbon of tarmac was plied for two decades by lorries and garishly painted buses with no concern for security. Among the passengers were half-stoned Western hippies on the overland trail through Asia. Then came civil war and in 1979 the Soviet invasion. Ambushes turned the highway into a death trap until the victorious Taliban swept into Kabul in September 1996, eliminating all security problems once again. The only threat when I travelled the highway a few weeks later was colossal discomfort. After years of neglect, the road was close to collapse. Long stretches rippled like a corrugated roof, making travel in our hired minivan unbearable even at five miles an hour. What should have been a six-hour journey took 23.

I was on the way to the Taliban’s Kandahar heartland with a colleague from the New York Times. We had seen wide-eyed young Taliban fighters in Kabul, like peasant boys parachuted into Gomorrah, rip cassettes out of car stereos and stride into hospitals to order female doctors home and men to grow beards. Now we wanted to meet the ideologues who had launched the movement. We asked an official in the Taliban’s ‘liaison office’ about the Taliban budget and how they decided their spending priorities. He looked blank. It was clear that the Taliban had nothing resembling normal state administration, let alone service delivery. What role did the government play in connection with the foreign aid which the UN and a few Western NGOs were still providing? The official relaxed visibly. ‘We identify projects. We assist them in assisting us,’ he answered, as though the Taliban were doing foreigners a great favour.

Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani, the governor of Kandahar and a close associate of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was happy to receive us for two hours as soon as our translator contacted his office. An unhurried and genial figure, he planted the metal end of his artificial leg on a small table between us in an apparently practised gesture. He clearly saw it as a useful talking point, knowing we would ask about his record in the jihad. He had lost his right knee fighting the Russians, he said. With no sense of awe he described Mullah Omar as a political leader more than a fount of wisdom. ‘He has not too much religious knowledge,’ he said. ‘He was involved in fighting for years and did not have the time to acquire it. A lot of scholars know more than he does.’ Television was banned under Taliban rule because ‘worshipping statues was forbidden by the Prophet and watching television is the same as seeing statues. Drawing pictures or looking at them is sinful.’ Large weddings with male and female guests and music and dancing were also forbidden. Education for girls was permitted but had to take place in a separate building; the Taliban hadn’t had the funds to build any new schools in the two years they had held power in Kandahar. Women would be allowed to work outside the home once the war was over. Stoning was the punishment for adultery, with the man put into a sack and the woman, in her burqa, placed in a pit up to her waist before the crowd pitched in. It was an effective deterrent, the governor said: so far as he could recall there had been only two or three cases in Kandahar in the last two years. ‘I was busy and couldn’t see it. In fact I’ve never seen it.’ Asked whether the Taliban wanted to spread their views beyond Afghanistan’s borders, Hassan was adamant that this was ‘enemy propaganda’. Afghanistan wanted good relations with everyone and would not interfere abroad.

Fourteen years have passed since that encounter and, remarkably, almost no other senior Taliban leader has offered himself for interview in that time. After 1996 journalists rarely got visas to Afghanistan, until the Taliban lost power in 2001. Since they re-emerged to start their insurgency against the US-led intervention, not one top mullah has met the press. About 30 ‘reconciled’ Taliban now live in government guesthouses in Kabul. Some are ex-Taliban leaders who were captured and taken to Guantánamo after their regime fell, then amnestied on their release and sent back to Afghanistan; others were not senior enough to be detained in the first place. They talk to the media and Hamid Karzai sees them as potential mediators with their former colleagues. But none were part of the new insurgency and it is unclear whether they still have contact – let alone influence – with the men who are running it.

So the Afghans who really matter are out of view at exactly the wrong time, with Obama’s war sinking into a Vietnam-style quagmire and pressure growing for a political settlement as the best exit strategy for the US and its allies. Mullah Hassan went into hiding when Kandahar fell in 2001. His whereabouts are unknown, as are Mullah Omar’s. He is said to live near Quetta but no diplomat, politician or journalist has been able to meet him since 2001. Occasional statements on the Taliban website are all we have to go by. So the important questions remain unanswered. Have the Taliban changed in the decade since they lost office? Is there a neo-Taliban, as some suggest? What of the younger generation of field commanders who lead today’s resistance to the Americans and British? Are they in regular touch with Mullah Omar and do they answer to him in any practical sense, either in military strategy or in their political objectives? Above all, is there room for compromise between the Taliban, President Karzai and the Tajik and Uzbek leaders who surround him in Kabul so that, if the US withdraws in the next few years, a power-sharing government can have a chance of lasting?

Some evidence that the Taliban have moved on since they were in power is provided by Antonio Giustozzi, a scholar at the Crisis States Research Centre at the London School of Economics, who has edited a collection of essays entitled Decoding the New Taliban.[*] For one thing, the technology has changed. Men who used to reject television now put out propaganda DVDs and run a website of news and opinion, complete with pictures. More important, their social attitudes have shifted. Giustozzi argues that the Taliban realise their old position on education was self-defeating and lost them support, and the line is now being reversed. In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, according to Tom Coghlan, one of Giustozzi’s contributors, people in September 2008 ‘reported a strikingly less repressive interpretation of the Taliban’s social edicts.’ They no longer ban TV, music, dog-fighting and kite-flying; nor do they insist on the old rule that men grow beards long enough to be held in the fist.

Some analysts believe that US air strikes have been so effective in killing senior Taliban that the war is now being run by a new generation of men in their twenties and thirties, with no experience of the anti-Soviet struggle that schooled the mujahidin warlords as well as Mullah Omar and his Taliban colleagues. Whether this means they are more radical than the previous generation is unclear. Coghlan quotes a Taliban cleric near Lashkar Gah in Helmand in March 2008 as saying: ‘These new crazy guys are really emotional. They are war-addicted.’

Recent reports suggest that most Afghans, tired of the all-pervasive insecurity, want negotiations with the Taliban. A survey of 423 men in Helmand and Kandahar, carried out in May by the International Council on Security and Development, found that 74 per cent were in favour of negotiations. In Kabul in March, I interviewed several women professionals, the people who suffered most from the Taliban’s restrictions on girls’ education and women working outside the home. To varying degrees they all supported the idea of dialogue with the Taliban. They felt the top priority was to end what they saw as a civil war – not an insurgency, as Nato calls it. They saw the Taliban as authentic nationalists with legitimate grievances who needed to be brought back into the equation. Otherwise, Afghans would go on being used as proxies in a long battle between al-Qaida and the US. It was time to break free of both sets of foreigners, the global jihadis and the US empire. Shukria Barakzai, an MP and women’s rights campaigner, put it like this: ‘I changed my view three years ago when I realised Afghanistan is on its own. It’s not that the international community doesn’t support us. They just don’t understand us. The Taliban are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that.’

The shift in Afghanistan’s public mood since 2007, when I was last in Kabul, is dramatic. Then, the Taliban’s military comeback was still in its infancy and defeating them was the priority. There are several things behind the change: growing disappointment that billions of dollars of Western aid seem to go nowhere except into the bank accounts of foreign consultants or local politicians; despair over the continuing civilian casualties, many caused by US airstrikes; anger and humiliation caused by the high-handedness of foreign troops; and a desire to build a national consensus in which Afghans resolve their problems themselves. Karzai’s recent outbursts against the Americans and other foreigners reflect a widely held mood.

The war logs released by WikiLeaks and analysed in July in the GuardianDer Spiegeland the New York Times paint a picture of worsening insecurity and previously unreported but mounting civilian casualties, caused by Taliban IEDs as well as Nato air strikes. A UN report in August said civilian casualties had risen by almost a third in the first six months of this year, including an increase in Taliban assassinations of teachers, doctors and tribal leaders accused of collaborating with the US. The war logs put the spotlight back on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate’s role in funding the Taliban in the early 1990s and sheltering many of its leaders since 2001. Although much of the intelligence is flimsy or based on prejudice, the general trend of ISI support for the Taliban is clear.

Conversations with Afghans, too, reveal increasing anger with Pakistan as well as the US. Many feel Pakistan exploits the war to keep Afghanistan divided and weak. They see Pakistan’s link with the Taliban as malign, though opinions differ as to whether the Taliban are puppets, victims or willing agents of Islamabad. Among Afghanistan’s Pashtun population there is considerable support for the view that the north-western territories of Pakistan, including the city of Peshawar, belong to them; Afghanistan has never officially recognised the Durand Line that was drawn in 1893 between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Afghans believe Pakistan tries to control any Afghan group that seeks power in Kabul in order to prevent it from raising the Pashtunistan issue.

The only detailed insider account of the Taliban is a memoir by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the movement’s former ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef is no spokesman for Mullah Omar and the Quetta shura. But My Life with the Taliban usefully shows that its leaders saw themselves as nationalists, reformers and liberators rather than Islamist ideologues.[†]Mullah Hassan’s characterisation of Mullah Omar in that 1996 Kandahar interview as a political rather than a religious leader fits well with Zaeef’s version of history. Zaeef, too, is contemptuous of Pakistan, and the ISI in particular. He made a point of resisting their advances when he took up his diplomatic post in Islamabad, seeing them as ill-intentioned and manipulative. Pakistan ‘is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull,’ he writes. ‘They use everybody, deceive everybody.’ Some of his anger comes from his childhood in refugee camps near Peshawar, where Afghans were treated as second-class citizens, regularly picked on by the Pakistani police. But he is also furious with Pakistan’s role in the ‘war on terror’: its torture and detention of suspected terrorists, he believes, is as bad as anything the US does.

Arrested after the Taliban collapse in 2001, Zaeef was sent to Guantánamo. On the way he spent time in US custody in Kandahar and Bagram, where he was kept in solitary confinement with his hands and feet tied for 20 days. In Kandahar – shades of the abuse in Abu Ghraib – Zaeef says he was stripped naked and mocked by male and female US troops, one of whom took photos. After three years in Guantánamo, he was offered release on condition he signed a statement that he had been a member of al-Qaida and the Taliban and would cut all ties with them. ‘I was a Talib, I am a Talib and I will always be a Talib, but I have never been part of al-Qaida,’ he retorted. Eventually they allowed him to go after signing a declaration: ‘I am writing this out of obligation and stating that I am not going to participate in any kind of anti-American activities or military actions.’

Zaeef maintains that he was shocked by al-Qaida’s attack on 9/11, of which he had no foreknowledge. He says he wept when he watched TV pictures of the burning buildings and people throwing themselves out and falling to the ground like stones: ‘I stared at the pictures in disbelief.’ He immediately saw the likely repercussions. ‘I knew that Afghanistan and its poverty-stricken people would ultimately suffer for what had just taken place in America. The United States would seek revenge.’ He admits that some of the Taliban watching the scene were jubilant and thought the US was too far away to retaliate. ‘How could they be so superficial?’ he asks.

Mullah Omar rang to consult Zaeef about how to react. Next morning Zaeef called a press conference in Islamabad and read a statement condemning the attacks. ‘All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions,’ it said. Zaeef returned to Kandahar, where he found Mullah Omar blindly sure that the US was unlikely to attack. He tried to warn the Taliban leader. He told him Pakistan was urging the US to launch air strikes on Afghanistan and had already started talks with the Northern Alliance in the expectation that they would be the leaders of a post-Taliban government. But Omar claimed America could not attack Afghanistan without valid reason. He had asked Washington to deliver proof incriminating bin Laden and said the Taliban would take no further action until it was given hard evidence. Zaeef’s account seems plausible given that the Taliban made no preparations for war, but it shows how out of touch Omar had become. The destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamyan earlier in the year had already suggested he had no real understanding of the way the outside world perceived the Taliban.

We know almost nothing about the Taliban’s current views, but it’s clear that on the US side there is as yet no readiness to talk. There is some evidence that General David Petraeus, the new US commander in Afghanistan, is more in tune with Afghan realities than his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal. But both have been committed to the current ‘surge’ of extra US troops. Petraeus’s image in the US as a man who had success with the surge in Iraq may wed him even more closely to the strategy than McChrystal. Known as a company man with an ear for the subtleties of inter-agency jockeying in Washington, Petraeus recognises that the White House believes the Taliban have to be weakened militarily before the US can contemplate talks. Petraeus will not step out of line.

In its political strategy the US puts its money on ‘reconciliation and reintegration’. Decoded, this amounts to little more than amnesty and surrender. Taliban fighters and commanders should renounce violence and sign up to the constitution, in return for which they may be paid a short-term allowance and perhaps be offered a job. The deal is highly unlikely to tempt anyone of any significance. Amnesty was first offered in 2005 and no senior commander has defected. Only 12 of the 142 Taliban leaders on the UN security council sanctions list have come over, and none was involved in the post-2001 insurgency. The Americans are fighting a variety of local Taliban commanders, and, in south-eastern Afghanistan, different groups entirely: Hizb-i-Islami, founded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the so-called Haqqani network, led by a father and son team. Each group has different regional and tribal loyalties but it is fanciful to imagine any of them can be persuaded to join the Americans and fight each other. Previous American efforts to create local militias have had minimal success. Offering local ceasefires is a more productive path. Groups would keep their arms but drop out of the fight unless outsiders move into the district. The British tried this in 2006 in Musa Qala in the northern part of Helmand when they persuaded the town’s elders to ask the Taliban not to enter if the British withdrew. At the time the Americans were not happy, and neither was General David Richards, then the International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan and soon to be Britain’s chief of the Defence Staff. The truce broke down after a US air strike killed the brother of the local Taliban commander just outside the demilitarised area. It may have been deliberate sabotage.

The US ‘reconciliation’ approach at least recognises, for the first time, that most Taliban are motivated by a sense of grievance and a demand for justice. They are not ideologues or Islamists pursuing a global jihad like al-Qaida. Trying to start a dialogue with them through local elders may be productive if it is aimed at understanding their wider objectives beyond the obvious one, the withdrawal of Western forces from their district and ultimately from the country. At the national level it is essential that talks take place between Karzai and Mullah Omar. If Omar insists he can only talk with the Americans, there could be a format that includes plenary sessions with Karzai, the Taliban and the Americans so that the Taliban address their remarks to the Americans. Pakistan’s role is vital. Ideally, Pakistan would be included in a regional forum of ‘Friends of Afghanistan’ made up of Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia: these countries would be asked to make pledges of non-interference and recognise Afghanistan as a non-aligned state with no foreign bases. But Pakistan is likely to insist on more than that. A model might be the Geneva talks that ended the Soviet occupation in 1988. They included the Soviet Union, the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today’s version would be the US, Pakistan, the Kabul government and the Taliban. Eventually, there should also be an Afghan Loya Jirga with all the Afghan parties, including the Kabul government, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar and the Haqqanis. Any changes to the constitution must be agreed by representatives of Afghan women’s groups and human rights organisations.

Can a settlement along these lines be found? Only an exploratory dialogue with the Taliban can even begin to answer this question. There are bound to be misunderstandings and breakdowns on the way. Twenty-six years elapsed between the Conservative government’s first secret contacts with the IRA in 1972 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. In South Africa, where there was broad agreement on the need for a transfer of power, it still required four years to work out the details. What would a post-American Afghanistan look like? It is likely to have a weak central government and powerful semi-autonomous regions, in part because Kabul has never been a strong ruling centre. The national army may well have to be broken into regional corps. At the moment its officer corps is Tajik-dominated and it is hard to see how Taliban commanders could work with them.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Until the Obama administration comes round to the idea of negotiations, progress is stalled. When David Miliband advocated talks with the Taliban in March, he did not mention their name in his key sentence. ‘The idea of political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult,’ he said in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In spite of this cautious formulation, US policy-makers reacted negatively and the current British government’s line is not to repeat it. But Obama will have to move at some point from his ‘reconciliation’ policy to one of ‘accommodation’. That means taking the Taliban’s grievances on board and being willing to address them in a compromise deal that is likely to involve the formation of a power-sharing government in Kabul in return for a US withdrawal. The US public is growing steadily more disillusioned with what is already America’s longest war. Obama has promised to review his strategy in December, a year after he announced the surge. By then the results of November’s Congressional elections will be in. The decision he faces is momentous: go into the 2012 campaign as a president who has started the endgame or play the tough guy even though he must know any hope of defeating the Taliban militarily is doomed.

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Somalia: the intervention dilemma

Source: Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Date: 31 Aug 2010

INTRODUCTION

On 23 July 2010, the eve of the African Union’s Summit in Kampala, AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping announced that he had asked countries, including South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea, to send troops to Somalia to boost the under-strength African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), currently comprising Ugandan and Burundian forces. This move came against the background of suicide bombing attacks on 11 July 2010 that had killed 79 people in the Ugandan capital. Al-Shabaab, the militant Somali organisation with undefined links to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the bombings, explaining that these were retribution for Ugandan and Burundian violence against the civilian population in Mogadishu. It would appear that the bombings were also aimed at testing the endurance of Uganda as a contributing country, as well as the resolve of other AU member states that may be contemplating contributing towards the required troop surge.

AMISOM was first deployed in 2007 to protect the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and strategic infrastructures (the port and airport) in Mogadishu from the insurgents who had strengthened their position as Ethiopian forces withdrew, and to provide support for humanitarian assistance for the Somali population. The proposed additional deployment to Somalia must be viewed in the context of the chronically unstable situation in Mogadishu and in Somalia as a whole.

In a nutshell, the AU decision to reinforce AMISOM by almost 2 000 troops would increase the size of the force from its current level of around 6 300 (4 Ugandan and 3 Burundian battalions), to the 8 000 mandated in 2007. Some AU member states had even called for the force to be augmented to between 14 000 and 20 000 troops.

This Policy Brief examines the apparent urgency to increase AMISOM force levels. It interrogates the AU’s interventionist strategy in Somalia, including the planned troop surge, analyses the terrorist dimension of the bombings, drawing parallels with the Afghanistan case as a basis for suggestions for a clear and holistic approach to the conflict in Somalia.

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Lacking Money and Leadership, Push for Taliban Defectors Stalls

New York Times, By ROD NORDLAND, Published: September 6, 2010


Photo: Eros Hoagland for The New York Times

Muhammad Akram Khapalwak, a top official at the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Commission, said some fighters who had changed sides in the past had been disappointed.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A $250 million program to lure low-level Taliban fighters away from the insurgency has stalled, with Afghans bickering over who should run it, and international donors slow to put up the money they had promised.

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The Takeaway With The Times’s Rod Nordland

Six months after Afghanistan’s foreign backers agreed to generous funding for a reintegration effort, only $200,000 has been spent so far by the United States and little or nothing by other donors.

During the same period, the flow of Taliban fighters seeking to reintegrate has slowed to a trickle — by the most optimistic estimates, a few hundred in the last six months. It is not clear whether that is because of the lack of a program that would provide them with jobs, security guarantees and other incentives, or because most Taliban no longer see the insurgency as a losing proposition.

In the past five years, a poorly funded Afghan reintegration effort, the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, recorded 9,000 Taliban who sought to join the government side — compared with 100 since April, officials said.

“It’s almost dead,” said Muhammad Akram Khapalwak, a top official at the nearly moribund commission in Kabul. He said employees there had not been paid in three months. “The Taliban know the government doesn’t have a single policy for peace and reconciliation.”

There has been broad American and international support for a more ambitious initiative. When Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal took command in Afghanistan last year, he argued in his initial assessment that there was a need for a program that would “offer eligible insurgents reasonable incentives to stop fighting and return to normalcy.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, testifying in favor of such a program before Congress, said, “This is really about getting the foot soldiers to decide that they don’t want to be a part of the Taliban anymore.”

Congress this year earmarked $100 million to support reintegration programs, while at the London Conference on Afghanistan in February, several countries, Britain, Germany and Japan among them, promised another $150 million to go into a Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, to be administered jointly by the Afghan government and foreign backers. A United States official said that as of August, only $200,000 of the American money had been spent on reintegration.

So far, Britain has put in about $2.6 million, although officials said the nation was committed to about $7.5 million. Money has yet to come from Germany, which pledged $64 million, and Japan, which pledged $50 million — although officials said both countries were expected to contribute this month.

Only Estonia has put in its full contribution: $64,000.

There is little pressure on the donors to meet their pledges more quickly, however, since the Afghans have yet to form an agency to spend the money. As one American official said, “There isn’t any there there yet.”

At a peace assembly, or jirga, in June, delegates agreed to form a High Peace Council, which would be responsible for trying to engage Taliban leaders in talks.

“I am telling you, dear brother Talib-jan, this is your country, come and have a peaceful life in the country,” President Hamid Karzai said, using a suffix that Afghans often attach to friends’ names.

Subsequently, at a Kabul conference in July, more international money was pledged for the reintegration trust fund, and delegates agreed that the High Peace Council would run the program financed by that fund.

Since then, a “force reintegration cell” at the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, has been working with Afghan officials on how such a program would be structured, but the program has yet to start because of bickering among Afghan officials over who would head the council.

“There’s a lot of political resistance to this from a lot of people,” said an American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject.

Gary Younger, an ISAF spokesman, said: “Because the Afghan government has the structure in place, hopefully it’ll move ahead quickly” once the council is formed. “We are seeing interest out there.”

Mr. Karzai’s office said in a statement on Saturday that the council’s members had been decided upon and that their names would be announced after the Id al-Fitr holiday, which begins Thursday.

Nonetheless, there is some doubt about how effective the council will be once it starts its work. “There are several parties from the government who don’t want the Taliban to come in,” Mr. Akram said.

Muhammad Dawood Kalakani, an ethnic Tajik member of Parliament, expressed a view commonly held among non-Pashtun minority groups: “We don’t want peace at the cost of losing the achievements of the last nine years in terms of human and women’s rights, civil society, media and governance.”

Insurgents who have changed sides in the past have been bitterly disappointed, Mr. Akram said.

Ghulam Yahya Akbari, an insurgent commander in Herat Province, was killed last October and 200 of his fighters surrendered to the Afghan government. To date, Mr. Akram said, none of them have received benefits other than emergency food rations, and they cannot return to their homes for fear of reprisals from the Taliban.

“Nobody finds them shelter, nobody gets them jobs, nobody opens a place for them in society,” he said.

More recently, small numbers of Taliban have turned themselves in to provincial officials in Baghlan Province and elsewhere, where local officials have run ad hoc programs to try to resettle them. In all, the American official said, estimates are that “several hundred” have turned themselves over in recent months, though he added that there was no way to verify the number.

NATO late last year estimated Taliban strength at 25,000 fighters, an increase of 25 percent over the previous year.

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.

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US Government Report Argues for Police Force for American Interventions Overseas

by: Matthew Harwood, t r u t h o u t | Report,  Tuesday 07 September 2010

President Barack Obama’s declaration Tuesday that the US combat mission in Iraq is officially over may give some Americans hope that US foreign policy may become less invasive and adventurous, especially if American troops begin to return home from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. Yet, inside the defense establishment, some intellectuals continue to examine the need for the United States to build a paramilitary police force to deploy to fragile or failing states to restore security and order.

In May 2009, the federally financed RAND Corporation published a 183-page report, “A Stability Police Force for the United States: Justification and Options for Creating US Capabilities”. The report, conducted for the US Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) at the Army War College, examined the need for a “stability police force” (SPF), which it described as “a high-end police force that engages in a range of tasks such as crowd and riot control, special weapons and tactics (SWAT) and investigations of organized criminal groups.” Most soldiers do not possess the specialized skills an SPF officer needs to prevent violence, the report notes. “Most soldiers are trained to apply overwhelming force to secure victory, rather than minimal force to prevent escalation.” The SPF would also train indigenous police forces, much like what occurs today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the study led by Terrence K. Kelly, a senior researcher at RAND, the United States clearly needs an SPF. “Stability operations have become an inescapable reality of US foreign policy,” the report states. The RAND report estimates that creating such a paramilitary police force would cost about $637 million annually, require about 6,000 personnel and that it should be headquartered inside the US Marshals Service (USMS), not the US Army.

“Of the options considered,” the RAND report argues, “this research indicates that the US Marshals Service would be the most likely to successfully field an SPF, under the assumptions that an [military police] option would not be permitted to conduct policing missions in the United States outside of military installations except under extraordinary circumstances and that doing so is essential to maintaining required skills.” The idea here is that members of an SPF would be a “hybrid force” and could be embedded in police and sheriff departments nationwide to retain their policing skills when not deployed overseas. When needed, a battalion-sized SPF unit could be deployed in 30 days.

This recommendation did cause a small number of libertarians to take notice of the report after it was published because of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids using the military for domestic policing inside the United States. Libertarian William Grigg blogged on LewRockwell.com that he feared that an SPF could be used domestically. “If ‘peacekeepers’ end up patrolling American streets, they probably won’t be foreigners in blue berets, but homegrown jackboots commanded by Washington,” Grigg wrote. Chris Calabrese, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, was less fearful of an SPF, but he told Truthout that the report’s recommendation to headquarter “a super police force that would be deployed both foreign and domestically in the US Marshals Service” did violate the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act.

“In essence, you have this force that would in theory be a civilian force that would be part of the US Marshal Service but they would be deployed as part of the Army and the military forces,” Calabrese said. “That would be their primary deployment purpose. Their civilian purpose would be secondary. They describe it as a training purpose. So who does this police force work for then?”

Talking to WorldNetDaily in January, Kelly did say an SPF could be deployed in the United States, although that’s not what their primary purpose is.

“If there were a major disaster like Katrina it could be deployed in the U.S. but that’s not the purpose of the research,” he said. “It’s important to point out that the goal was to create a force that’s deployable overseas. If it’s to be used in the United States it would be a secondary thing and then only in an emergency.”

The RAND Corporation would not make any of the report’s authors available for an interview. Emails to the USMS asking for a comment on the report and its recommendations also went unanswered.

Calabrese also said there are practical concerns behind such a force outside of the Posse Comitatus Act. “It’s also somewhat strange,” he said. Calabrese wonders what would happen when SPF personnel get called up from wherever they’re embedded to deploy overseas. “What happens to all the police work they’re doing domestically?” he asked.

But the RAND report has more implications for the future of US foreign policy than it does about the militarization of police inside the United States. It signals that some defense and peace intellectuals believe that the United States will continue to intervene in fragile and failing states. After listing the stability operations that the United States has participated in since the end of the cold war – Panama (1989), Somalia (1992), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003)and Haiti again in 2004 – the RAND report notes this trend will continue. “There are several countries where the United States could become engaged in stability operations over the next decade, such as Cuba and Sudan,” according to the report.

While an SPF could be part of a multilateral response directed by the United Nations, the RAND report also imagines times when the United States will need an SPF to restore security and order in another country because it has acted unilaterally. “While there may be times in which allies make important contributions, to do so would be to limit US freedom of action on the international stage.”

Robert Perito, a senior program officer at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of “Where Is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? America’s Search for a Post Conflict Security Force“, believes a stability police force is necessary, especially after the looting and rioting that occurred in Baghdad after the US invasion of 2003. If the United States was able to prevent that disaster, the Iraq campaign could have gone differently.

“We have a proven need for a capacity that would makes things better if it existed,” Perito said. “We refuse to do it and we keep ending up with a negative result.”

The United States, however, once did have some of the capabilities of a SPF, said Perito until Congress scuttled it in 1974. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) once trained foreign police officers at the International Police Academy in Washington, DC. In a recently released paper from the PKSOI, retired US Army Col. Dennis Kellerexplains why Congress eventually ended US assistance to foreign police and closed the academy.

“Congress’s growing opposition to USAID’s police training and assistance programs peaked in 1973, the concern being that police trainers had allegedly approved, advocated, or taught torture techniques to civilian police in some countries, which in turn had damaged the image of the United States,” Keller writes. While other departments like Homeland Security, Justice and State do train foreign police, Keller notes there is no SPF capacity and that the training is a bureaucratic maze, carried out by large contract police trainers, like DynCorp and MPRI in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He, like Perito, however, believes the United States needs a centralized, government-led policing capacity to restore order in a fragile and failing state before terrorist or criminal organizations fill the power vacuum and then transition to training police forces to carry out their public safety duties.

Perito says four federal agencies entities have recently put forth proposals to create stability police forces to deploy overseas. He said two of those agencies were federal law enforcement entities, but would not name them, although he said one does have personnel in Iraq.

“These are serious federal agencies,” he said. “I don’t have much of a fear that this is going to turn into a rogue force that goes wandering around getting into trouble.”

Perito, however, is skeptical there is any real movement to create an SPF from the upper echelons of the US government. “I don’t think this is on the president’s agenda,” he said.

“From my perspective, I really wish it was true, that this was moving forward at a rapid clip,” Perito said. “But I don’t think it’s imminent.”

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It’s all coming together! Applications for documentary training are piling up!

In less than one month our five-week intensive training in documentary filmmaking begins in Afghanistan.  Production equipment, donated and purchased, is rolling in the door.  The passport is stamped, shots are taken and ticket bought for departure on September 13th. A staff of co-trainers, assistants, translator and editors is coming together.

Our project is particularly lucky to have Medhi Zafari taking the lead in Kabul. Mehdi is an Afghan filmmaker and educator who has worked for some years with Ateliers Varan, a French film training organization working in the observational documentary style of the legendary filmmaker Jean Rouch.  Mehdi and colleagues at The Killid Group, our Afghan co-producers, are helping to pull all the logistics together on the ground.  And, applications for the training are piling up!  It is a very exciting time after 18 months of development and planning.

Thanks to your support this project will help strengthen the Afghan news and documentary sectors, which are both seriously lacking and critically important to the dissemination of objective and accurate information in the country’s intensifying fight against extremism.

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Education aid – an apparent success story in Faryab Province

Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN),

KABUL, 29 August 2010 (IRIN) – Education in Faryab Province, northern Afghanistan, has never been as good as it is now thanks to the dozens of new schools built by Norway.

Over 120 new schools have been built in the province over the past few years and 40-50 more will follow in the next two years, with Norwegian development assistance.

“Faryab’s educational needs have been met by the new schools,” said Gul Agha Ahmadi, a spokesman of the Ministry of Education.

For an estimated population of 800,000 there are 423 state schools, 20 religious seminaries, two teacher training institutes and one vocational training centre in the province, according to the Education Ministry.

Over 40 percent of the total 282,080 students in the province are female.

Faryab is a success story in a country where almost half of the 12,600 schools nationwide do not have a building (classes are held in the open or in tents), officials said.

“We want to concentrate our efforts in a few development sectors. What is important is that Norwegian taxpayers want to see some concrete results,” Kåre R. Aas, the outgoing Norwegian ambassador to Afghanistan, told IRIN.

Norway’s flag and other official symbols are not used on the schools which, according to some experts, have helped keep them immune from armed attacks. Schools, students and teachers have often been attacked and harassed by gunmen allegedly associated with Taliban insurgents.

At least 20 percent of Norway’s US$125 million annual aid budget for Afghanistan goes to Faryab Province, where about 500 Norwegian soldiers are stationed as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The rest of the aid is spent on projects elsewhere in the country, at the discretion of the Afghan government.

Aid and the military

NATO-member states have troops in different parts of the country, where they are also engaged in aid activities through the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).

Aid agencies have criticized the involvement of PRTs in humanitarian and development projects, labelling the process “aid militarization”.

“Our military has no involvement in our civilian development projects,” said Aas, adding that his country’s aid was strongly “scrutinized and monitored” in order to prevent mismanagement and corruption.

But he conceded that not all aid projects in which Norwegian money was involved, had been corruption-free: “We have closed down some projects after corruption charges against specific projects which we supported,” Aas said.

Education Ministry officials said Norway’s school building projects were planned in collaboration with the government and implemented by NGOs.

Helmand versus Faryab

Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution insists on geographical equity in terms of development projects and the delivery of services, but the reality is different. In terms of education, the southern province of Helmand, severely affected by the insurgency, appears to lag far behind Faryab Province.

Though it has roughly the same population as Faryab, Helmand has only 282 schools of which over 150 have been closed due to insecurity and lack of teachers, provincial officials said.

But Pierre Fallavier, director of the Kabul-based independent think-tank Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, introduced a note of caution: “Building schools does not mean improving education – any more than building a hospital means improving health care,” adding that the focus on education was good but not at the cost of other important issues.

The reasons children do not go to school include the lack of safe road access, the lack of clean school toilets, parents’ financial situations as well as their attitudes towards education, said Fallavier.

Up to seven million students are currently enrolled at schools across Afghanistan, according to the Education Ministry, indicating significant progress since 2001 when only two million (boys only) were enrolled.

However, about five million school-age children, mostly girls in the insecure southern and eastern provinces, are still being deprived of an education due to war, poverty, lack of schools and social restrictions, the Education Ministry said.

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Afghan refugees forced to start over after floods

By RAVI NESSMAN (AP)
AZAKHEL, Pakistan — After fleeing the Soviet invasion of his country with nothing, Afghan refugee Ziarat Gul spent three decades building a new life in neighboring Pakistan.

After the devastating floods that rolled across Pakistan last month, he is back to nothing.

Gul and tens of thousands of other Afghan refugees here are struggling to recover from a double tragedy, seeing their homes across the border engulfed by war and then their refugee camps here demolished by floods.

“Again, I am left with only the clothes I am wearing,” the 60-year-old said.

The floods, which swamped wide swathes of the country and left 8 million people in need of aid, will hammer Pakistan’s economy and lead to “massive” job losses, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Wednesday, predicting a grim couple of years for the already fragile country.
One-fifth of the country’s irrigation infrastructure, livestock and crops were destroyed, and the reduction in agriculture will snowball into other parts of the economy, he told his Cabinet. Economic growth would drop to 2.5 percent in 2011 down from a predicted 4.5 percent this year, and inflation predicted to hit 9.5 percent next year would likely be in the range of 15 percent to 20 percent instead, he said.
The situation is particularly grim for Gul and the 23,000 other residents of the Azakhel refugee camp, 95 miles (150 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

All of their homes, made of mud and loose brick, are gone. Unable to open bank accounts because of their refugee status, they kept their cash savings in their houses. Much of that disappeared as well, with the refugees accusing neighboring villagers of looting it.
Gul, who lived with his extended family of 22 people, kept 200,000 rupees ($2,300) as well as jewelry in a wooden box in a cupboard. Now, he can’t even find the cupboard. “Everything vanished,” he said.

Gul originally came here 33 years ago, walking for 24 hours over the mountains with 10,000 others to flee the Soviets who invaded his village in Logar province. He worked as a scrap dealer until he was forced to retire six years ago after a car accident. Now, his life savings is the 200 rupees he was given by a local charity. A tarp stretched between trees is his home.

Nearly 70,000 Afghan refugees in 13 camps were affected by the floods, said Ariane Rummery, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency. Many refugees complain that they have not yet received any aid; Rummery said the agency has sent tents, tarps and mosquito nets to the refugees, but has yet to reach everyone.

The scene in Azakhel, the largest of the destroyed camps, is a testament to the ferocity of the floodwaters that overflowed the rivers rushing down from the mountainous northwest last month.

A brick frame and its wooden door stand alone as the only remnant of one house. A man points underfoot to where a mud and straw roof has melted into the earth. Mounds of crushed bricks and twisted steel are strewn everywhere, along with bundles of matted hay that had been intended to feed the refugees’ now dead livestock. The thick smell of rot, mold and sewage sticks in the hot, humid air.
Only the mosques, made of concrete, stand undamaged. The refugee agency is looking to move the residents to other camps while they rebuild the homes, roads, drainage systems, schools and health centers, Rummery said. “It needs to be rehabilitated and we’ve had our engineers there looking at what needs to be done,” she said.

In the meantime, the residents have found refuge in nearby schools, been taken in by local Pakistanis or are living out in the open. The few who have managed to scrape together some money, like Umer Khan, 45, are able to rent rooms.

Khan, who fled Afghanistan as a child, managed to turn a job selling fruit off a cart into a thriving grocery store. “We were a well-to-do family here,” he said. The flood destroyed 300,000 rupees worth of mangoes, rice and flour from his shop, one of the few structures left standing amid the rubble and craters of what was once the village bazaar. He lost another 400,000 rupees in jewelry and cash from his home, he said.

“My 32 years of hard work vanished in two hours,” he said. He has managed to recover some money by selling three freezers and a refrigerator destroyed in the flood for scrap. Other residents gather here everyday to sift through the remnants of their lives for rusted metal to sell to scrap dealers, who have hung scales from trees outside the camp.

“Now, we are back where we were when we left Afghanistan,” said Lal Marjan, a 44-year-old brick kiln worker. “We don’t have any home, we don’t have any jobs, we don’t have any money. I don’t have any resources to rebuild a home. It’s all up to the government.”
Amid the flood devastation, more than 200 families from the camp have returned to Afghanistan, Rummery said.

Marjan said he had no choice but to stay.
“What can I do there? I don’t have money to buy land in my country. Whatever we had there was gone,” he said.

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