Issues & Analysis
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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.

Notes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict in the post-9/11 era. Go to the Blog »
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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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Armed Conflict Forces Increasing Numbers of Afghans to Flee

Internal Displacement Monitoring Forces (IDMC), 15 April 2010

EXCERPT: “After large, and mostly spontaneous, return movements following the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2002, internal displacement is again on the rise, with new displacements as a result of the intensification of fighting in many regions. The latest estimates indicate that 240,000 persons are currently internally displaced due to armed conflict and insecurity. Data-tracking and the provision of humanitarian aid is inordinately difficult due to security and logistical constraints, particularly where displacement serves as a short-term coping mechanism. IDPs in Afghanistan suffer from lack of access to basic services and legal protection mechanisms, including lack of access to land (repossession of land and landlessness), absence of livelihoods, additional risks due to the minority status of some and political and ethnic dynamics in places of displacement. Female heads of households are particularly vulnerable due to their exclusion from social and economic services and the lack of social protection measures in the country. Access to education has been affected by attacks on schools, especially girls’ schools and female teachers.”

Read the entire report [pdf].

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The Humanitarian’s Dilemma: collective action or inaction in international relief?

Source: Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Date: Aug 2010

Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January of this year and the intense media coverage of the subsequent aid operations, the UK’s The Lancet journal published an editorial entitled ‘The growth of aid and the decline of humanitarianism’. The piece described aid agencies as:

‘…highly competitive with each other. Polluted by the internal power politics and the unsavoury characteristics seen in many big corporations, large aid agencies can be obsessed with raising money through their own appeal efforts. Media coverage as an end in itself is too often an aim of their activities. Marketing and branding have too high a profile. Perhaps worst of all, relief efforts in the field are sometimes competitive with little collaboration between agencies, including smaller, grass-roots charities that may have better networks in affected counties and so are well placed to immediately implement emergency relief…’ (The Lancet, 2010)

The article concluded: ‘…But just like any other industry, the aid industry must be examined, not just financially as is current practice, but also in how it operates from headquarter level to field level.’

The supposed lack of examination of the aid sector is also a key theme in a widely publicised critique of aid agencies published in 2010 by Linda Polman, a Dutch journalist. In War Games, Polman cites numerous examples of humanitarian aid agencies making things worse in the countries in which they operate by furthering war economies and sustaining the need for aid (Polman, 2010).

What is perhaps most surprising to many of those working within aid agencies is that these arguments have been presented as breaking scandals, as if the messages were new insights. Despite the rather sweeping accusations to the contrary, humanitarian aid organisations do examine their work. Many of the critiques cited above were first identified in efforts that were commissioned, funded and managed by the humanitarian system itself – from the Rwanda evaluation published in 1996 (Danida, 1996) to the Tsunami evaluation published in 2006 (TEC, 2006). For well over a decade now the humanitarian sector has been exploring various dilemmas of aid, and doing so in a way that is arguably much more systematic and less anecdotal than Polman, and less partial and sensationalist than The Lancet editorial.

That is not to say that the anger and frustration expressed in The Lancet and by Polman is not understandable. However, the question that humanitarians should be asking themselves is not how to defend the sector against these critiques – although of course this may be necessary. The burning question is: why do these findings, many of them identified by aid agencies over a decade ago, still have traction?

This is what we explore in this Background Note, first by examining the stated reasons for the apparent lack of change put forward by those within the sector. We then move on to introduce analytical frameworks which we believe will help uncover some important underlying and often neglected issues. Following a preliminary application of these ideas to the sector, we reflect on the implications for its future and suggest how change might be brought about.

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A Community based peace-building approach

Please check out this fascinating new collection of testimonies from the Afghan organization Cooperation for Peace and Unity:
Nomadic and Settled Communities, A Community based peace-building approach

This is the introduction to the study from CPAU project manager Khibar Rassul

We are pleased to present testimonies of nomadic and settled community members which CPAU has collected since November 2009. CPAU has been working with nomadic and settled communities in Nangarhar, Laghman and Wardak towards the promotion of a community based approach to conflict resolution and conflict transformation. This program has involved training workshops for members of these communities and the gathering of 30 personal testimonies from members of the two different communities. The testimonies have been gathered in-order to give voice to the people and bring out their perspective on this conflict which enable greater understanding of the
conflict and of potential common ground were progress can be made towards stability. All 30 testimonies can be found online in English, Dari and Pashto at http://www.cpau.org.af/Peace_building/NomadicSetCom_AComPBapp.html

The testimonies give us an insight into the deadly and violent conflict which has occurred against both sides, building an understanding of these people’s experiences, perspectives and perhaps even the feeling they have towards each other. The testimonies have also shown us that there is potential for stability between these people. Their past experiences prior to the 1979 revolution tell of beneficial mutual trade and good relations between elders of both communities. These relationships enabled them to solve their disputes internally, limiting the level of violence and the magnitude of the conflict.

As one nomadic participant said; “previously when conflicts occurred between us and the Hazaras, for example if our cattle crossed over to their agricultural lands and inflicted damage, we would pay for their looses and the conflict would be solved; now they ask us to leave the area and never return”.

And as one settled participant said; “the conflict with the nomads in Behsud region goes back in time. During the revolution for 10 to 15 years the nomads could not come to the area. During the government of Taliban and Karzai, the nomads arrived to the area, the people of the area had no problems with them. In fact, we spent 100,000 USD on building karezes and canals and allowed the nomads and their livestock to use these. If any problems occurred between the people of the region and the nomads our elders and leaders would discuss it and the problem would be solved. The fighting began with the 1387 (2008) nomad attack on upper Kujaab Valley”.

In November CPAU will publish a conflict analysis report about the conflict between nomadic and settled communities in the Behsud region of Wardak which will draw upon the testimonies published today as well as additional primary research amongst the communities.

The project is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). CPAU does not endorse the views of any particular community in the project but seeks to provide a platform through which the communities can engage one another and explore ways of addressing their conflicts.

CPAU is an Afghan non-governmental organization and has been working in
conflict resolution and transformation in Afghanistan for the last 14 years.
More about CPAU’s approach to community conflict resolution and our ongoing
research programmes can be found at www.cpau.org.af <http://www.cpau.org.af> . Please feel free to
pass this email on to any contacts who may be interested.

Kind Regards,
Khibar Rassul
Project Manager and & PR Coordinator
Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU)
Kabul, Afghanistan
+93 (0) 788092387


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Afghanistan Tops “Food Risk Index”

The Press Association, 19 August 2010

EXCERPT: “Afghanistan is at greater risk of suffering disruption to its food supplies than any other country, new research has found. Poverty, poor infrastructure and the ongoing war between Nato forces and insurgents mean the central Asian nation is ranked top in the ‘food security risk index‘ compiled by global analysts Maplecroft. Afghanistan was judged to be at highest risk despite the billions of pounds of aid pumped into development projects since the 2001 US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban. Maplecroft said the food security situation there remained precarious because of the continuing violence, failing road and telecommunications networks and the country’s vulnerability to droughts and flooding. The index is based on 12 factors, including nutrition and health levels, cereal production and imports, GDP per head, natural disasters, conflict and the effectiveness of governments.”

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Afghan refugees homeless again in Pakistan floods

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP), Date: 20 Aug 2010

By Sajjad Tarakzai (AFP)

AZAKHEL PAYAN, Pakistan — Afghan refugees who fled their homeland when Soviet troops invaded 30 years ago are now homeless once again — this time due to the floods that have devastated Pakistan.

“Nothing is left. Everything is destroyed,” Muhib Ullah, 40, told AFP, sitting on the debris of his home at Azakhel refugee camp.

Originally a giant tent city for Afghan refugees, the camp morphed into a permanent village. Today the settlement lies in ruins close to the Grand Trunk road heading to the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The smashed remains of what were once brick and mud homes lie scattered across the muddy ground for several kilometres, as if the area had been carpet-bombed.

Ullah, a teacher in a madrassa, who migrated from Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet occupation, has moved his five boys and five girls into a nearby tent.

Wearing wet clothes and a traditional white Muslim cap, he bundled bedsheets, cushions, quilts and pillows to one side and tried to dry them out.

Broken beds, stools and other furniture were visible under the debris of Ullah’s house while a ceiling fan full of mud and dirt lay on one side.

Millions of Afghan refugees fled three decades of civil war and turmoil, crowding into camps in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

The Pakistani government says 20 million people have been affected by the country’s worst flooding in 80 years, which has struck an area the size of England, ravaging villages, farmland, infrastructure and businesses.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said Azakhel accommodated around 6,000 Afghan families but the villagers who lost everything said the number was closer to 11,000.

“Ninety-nine percent of the camp has been completely destroyed by the floods. Clearing the rubble will take at least two months,” said UNHCR shelter coordinator Werner Schellenberg.

“I saw a handful of people trying to rescue their belongings but most of the Afghans have left to live with relatives or camp along the roadside, where a makeshift site has sprung up,” he said.

For Islam Gul, 30, who lost his medical store and his home, the future in Pakistan is so bleak that he’s contemplating a return to Afghanistan, convinced that his native city Jalalabad in the east can now afford more comfort.

“All the medicines are buried. I have nothing to feed my family with,” he told AFP outside the wreckage of his shop.

Children paddled barefoot in filthy water. An awful stench stung the back of the throat and made breathing difficult.

“It’s because of dead cattle. Hundreds have died here,” Gul said.

All around, parents and children were busy rescuing their belongings from the filthy water.

An eight-year-old boy clutched a toy in his left hand, having walked through muddy, contaminated water to retrieve it.

“Everybody is facing skin problems and allergies. We’re also facing gastro discomfort and other stomach problems,” said Gul.

The lack of electricity and miserable conditions in the nearby displacement camp means Gul is now considering taking his parents, five brothers, their wives and children, as well as his own offspring, back home.

“I’m living on that roof over there but plan to go to Jalalabad along with my family. There are so many mosquitoes here,” he said.

Exhausted and weighed down with bags on their shoulders and in their arms, schoolteacher Mohammad Ali, 45, and his 12-year-old daughter Salma walked out of the camp with bundles of household goods and a bag of clothes.

They were going back to their family, now relocated to the nearby small town of Akora Khattak, famous in Pakistan as the location of a pro-Taliban madrassa.

Ali’s house and the school where he taught were destroyed.

“For me the real problem is the destruction of the school. I’m worried about the future, both the future of our children and my own,” he said.

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Kabul blames most corruption on Western allies

BY SARDAR AHMAD, AFP AUGUST 23, 2010

KABUL – Afghanistan said Monday blame for most of the corruption plaguing the impoverished country lies with its Western backers who dole out “illegitimate” contracts that have created an “economic mafia”.

Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, is under intense pressure from its foreign backers to end endemic graft.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omer said Afghanistan’s foreign allies were responsible for the vast bulk of corruption in the country, which is mired in extreme poverty despite receiving tens of billions of dollars in Western aid over the past decade.

“Our international partners provided the ground for some people in Afghanistan to become unbelievably rich. Some people (have) become an economic mafia in Afghanistan,” he said.

Security deals between U.S. and NATO troops and private security companies operating in the troubled nation since 2001 were chief among the “corrupt contracts” that saw cash drain out of Afghanistan, Omer said.

“One of those is private security companies who have earned billions of dollars in contracts and are threatening sustainability of peace here in Afghanistan,” he said.

Karzai last week ordered the 52 private security firms operating in Afghanistan, local and foreign, to disband by the end of the year.

Despite concerns among the international community about finding an alternative source of security, Omer said the Kabul government was “determined” the decree would be carried out.

Private security firms in Afghanistan are employed by U.S. and NATO forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organisations, embassies and Western media.

They employ about 26,000 registered personnel, though experts say the real number could be as high as 40,000.

The tenor of the decree has been largely welcomed as the presence of tens of thousands of armed private guards is seen as potentially undermining government authority.

Afghans criticize them as overbearing and abusive, particularly on the country’s roads, and Karzai has complained they duplicate the work of the Afghan security forces and divert much-needed resources.

But there are concerns about the tight deadline, which allows little time to negotiate an alternative to private contractors in a country were security is a priority and police are generally not trusted.

Omer said the government would integrate employees of private security firms into Afghan state security forces and other government institutions.

He conceded that some government officials were involved in graft, but said that a much greater share of the corruption was caused by Western allies.

“From every 100 dollars that have come to Afghanistan, 80 dollars was spent by the international community, the remaining by Afghans,” he said.

“From that 80 dollars the international community have spent, there are Afghans who have turned into economic dragons. They’re not the ones who have (received) bribes working for the Afghan government,” he said.

Most of the graft within Karzai’s administration was in “service delivery” such as customs and the courts, although some Afghan politicians had used their positions to obtain military lucrative contracts, he said.

“Like the war on terror, we want corruption to be addressed at its roots. The roots of corruption are in the big contracts,” he added.

Omer defended the release of a presidential aide from jail reportedly at Karzai’s order after he was arrested late last month by a U.S.-backed anti-corruption taskforce.

Mohammad Zia Salehi, a senior official in Karzai’s national security council, was arrested on allegations of soliciting a bribe to close a probe into a money-transferring contract deal.

Omer said Salehi was being investigated by Afghan prosecutors but Karzai had opposed the nature of his detention, which he said contravened his human rights.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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