Monday, October 31, 2011

Details on the Afghan-Indian Strategic Agreement

The India-Afghanistan strategic agreement will have major implications for the region. The deal, made public earlier this month, precedes an anticipated US-Afghan strategic agreement that is expected to include a long-term US troop presence. The US will also likely pledge to cover the expenses of a large standing army that the Government of Afghanistan can't possibly meet.

Last week Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told a congressional hearing that 90% of the US-Afghan Agreement is complete. The outstanding issues are critical and include troop levels, weapons transfers and training. The Government of Afghanistan will be hosting a Loya Jirga in the coming weeks to try and get approval for these controversial issues.

Afghan-Indian agreement heralds a strategic shift in the region
CJ Radin, Long War Journal, 31 October

"Signaling a shift in policy, Afghanistan and India have signed a strategic partnership agreement. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh signed the document, which includes provisions for both security and economic cooperation, earlier this month in New Delhi. This is the first time Afghanistan has made such an agreement with any country, at least since 1979.

The document has three notable provisions.

First, India will help train Afghan National Security Forces. India will train and mentor Afghan army and police personnel in Afghanistan, and Afghans will attend training academies in India. India will also assist in equipping the Afghan forces. The agreement does not include any deployment of Indian combat troops to Afghanistan. Both countries already share intelligence information.

Second, India will furnish Afghanistan with economic aid and assistance. The agreement provides an additional $500 million on top of the $1 billion India has already spent since 2002. In addition, India and Afghanistan will cooperate in the development of mining and energy production.

Third, Afghanistan and India will establish a strategic dialogue between their respective national security advisers "to provide a framework for cooperation in the area of national security."

The agreement leaves open the possibility of even closer ties in the future. The Indian prime minister has said that India will support Afghanistan as it assumes the responsibility of governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces.

Strategic significance

This agreement signals a shift in policy for Afghanistan and India. Up until now, India has played a very limited role in Afghanistan in spite of India's national interest in the country. This has been largely due to Pakistani sensitivity to the issue of Indian presence in Afghanistan. Significant Indian involvement in Afghanistan has been seen by Pakistan as a threat, an attempt by India to encircle Pakistan. Accordingly, the US and Afghanistan have sought to maintain relations with Pakistan, even if it meant keeping Indian relations at arm's length.

The new pact indicates that Afghanistan's strategic calculation has changed. Maintaining a relationship with Pakistan is no longer the top priority, and Indian support for Afghan development is now a higher priority. This does not mean, however, that India and Afghanistan have decided to disregard their relationships with Pakistan entirely. Both Afghanistan and India have attempted to reassure Pakistan in the wake of the agreement. Speaking in New Delhi, President Karzai said:

Pakistan is our twin brother, India is a great friend. The agreement we signed with our friend will not affect our brother ....This strategic partnership ... is not directed against any country ... this strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan.

Similarly, the Indian prime minister said after announcing the agreement: "Our cooperation with Afghanistan is an open book.""

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Loya Jirga to Approve Long-Term US Military Presence

The Afghan government has announced that a Loya Jirga will convene in November to try reach unity on a new security agreement that would allow a long-term U.S. military presence in the country beyond 2014. A key issue will be the legal framework. Much will hinge of the level of immunity the Afghan government will allow to the foreign troops and contractors.

The proposed agreement has been drafted over many months by representatives of the U.S. and Afghan governments.

The United National Front a newly formed Afghan political group is pushing back. Calling for the removal of all foreign forces.

"Experience has shown us that foreign forces cannot bring peace to Afghanistan. We will have peace when we remove the causes of conflict among [Afghan] people," Mozhdah said. "One of the key reasons for fighting here is that we don't trust each other. We need to sit and talk to each other to gain each others trust."

Abubakar Siddique has the story. Entitled Afghan Opposition Grows to Next Stage of U.S. Military Presence.
"The opposition to the draft agreement also reached the halls of parliament, where the issue was discussed this week. The next stage for the debate is a loya jirga, or national council, whose date was announced this week and is intended to help determine a course of action.

The traditional gathering, set to begin on November 16, will provide a setting for more than 2,000 Afghan politicians, tribal leaders, clerics, and lawmakers to debate over a four-day period.

The 2005 security agreement signed by Kabul and Washington pledged U.S. cooperation for democracy building, improved governance, and economic and security cooperation. The new agreement focuses on the U.S. military role in the country after 2014, when most NATO combat operations are expected to be over.

Specific details are unavailable, but Afghan officials reportedly say the new agreement would likely give the government greater control over foreign aid and military operations while allowing a long-term U.S. presence in the country.

Afghan officials have also suggested in local media that some of their key demands, such as an end to night raids by foreign forces and mechanisms to protect Afghan civilians, are likely to be part of the final agreement.

In Afghanistan's Interests

These are among the most divisive issues within the Afghan government in its dealings with the United States, according to lawmaker Gul Badshah Majidi. He says that lawmakers on October 24 rejected a 2002 agreement with the International Security Assistance Force that allowed them to freely conduct military operations across Afghanistan. This, he says, indicates opposition to the new strategic agreement, which was also opposed by some lawmakers in recent debates.

Majidi says that the government needs to launch a robust information campaign to convince Afghans that the new agreement is different from the past agreements. And that it will actually serve Afghanistan's national interests. He says that the issue comes up in discussions with his constituents in southeastern Paktia Province who express pessimism over the deal.

But he says that they often change their views after learning more about the nature of the agreement. "I think the ultimate decision about the agreement will entail a legal framework for the presence of these forces. Their presence is needed in Afghanistan and it will serve Afghanistan's national interests," Majidi says. "The people of Afghanistan are still concerned about the return of the Taliban. They are also worried about an occupation by the Pakistan-based [fundamentalist] militias."

Afghan officials expect to host 2,030 people in the November loya jirga. They plan on briefing participants on the draft agreement before the assembly formally opens on November 16.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently indicated that the draft agreement agreed by the traditional leadership council will be sent to the parliament for final approval."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

115 Dead After 7 Day NATO Assault in Kunar

The Associated Press is reporting that "NATO and Afghan forces have killed at least 115 insurgents over the past week as part of an ongoing operation in a northeastern Afghanistan province."

“NATO said the operation has been going on since around Oct. 15 and has included the use of fighter jets and long-range bombers.”

Last week, a study of NATO press releases by the Afghanistan Analysts Network found that 5% of the casualties from NATO attacks were 'leaders' or 'facilitators'.

NATO continues to claim they are deliberate in their targets.

"The fact is, we target bad guys," said Nicholas Conner, NATO Spokesperson. In tandem with NATO's Afghan partners, "we go after them wherever they are; whoever they are."

The details of the on-going campaign coincides with a surprise visit by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who is in Kabul urging Afghan officials to continue negotiating with Pakistan and the Taliban.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kajaki Dam and the Helmand Valley Authority

Jean MacKenzie reports about the history of the Kajaki dam project in Helmand Province. The upgrade of the dam has been billed as the linchpin of the military effort in Helmand, and key to delivering power – and of course influence – in Kandahar. It is a story of a failure.

Watershed of Waste: Afghanistan’s Kajaki Dam and USAID

It is also an update of a project with a very long history, and many previous failures. A project that was modeled in many ways on the Tennessee Valley Authority in the US .

It started in 1946 when the government of Afghanistan first “hired the largest American heavy engineering firm, Morrison Knudsen, Inc. of Boise, Idaho, to build a dam. Morrison Knudsen, builder of the Hoover Dam, the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and soon the launch complex at Cape Canaveral, specialized in symbols of the future. The firm operated all over the world, boring tunnels through the Andes in Peru, laying airfields in Turkey.”

It is a fascination story told by Nick Cullather.

He explores the way development was used in the post-colonial period to gain influence and sheds light on the chapter of Afghan history that is little know; when the U.S. and the Soviet Union sought influence in Afghanistan through development project and not armies.

From New Deal to New Frontier in Afghanistan: Modernization in a Buffer State

The goal of the project was to project power – by a central government – over areas of the country it had little control. It was to modernize the country. It was political, fueled eventually by the desire of the Monarchy to create a ‘Pastunistan’ consisting of most of Northern Pakistan that would address the uncertainty of Pashtuns after the partition of India in 1947.

The long history of US companies and U.S. aid.
The Helmand Valley project “came under American supervision in 1946 and continued until the departure of the last reclamation expert in 1979, outlasting the theories and rationales on which it was based. It was lavishly funded by U.S. foreign aid, multilateral loans, and the Afghan government, and it was the opposite of piecemeal. It was an “integrated” development scheme, with education, industry, agriculture, medicine, and marketing under a single controlling authority. Nation-building did not fail in Afghanistan for want of money, time, or imagination. In the Helmand Valley, the engines and dreams of modernization had run their full course, spooling out across the desert until they hit limits of physics, culture, and history.”

Here is how it starts.
“In May 1960, the historian Arnold Toynbee left Kandahar and drove 90 miles on freshly paved roads to Lashkar Gah, a modern planned city known locally as the New York of Afghanistan. At the confluence of the Helmand and Arghandab rivers, close against the ancient ruins of Qala Bist, Lashkar Gah’s 8,000 residents lived in suburban-style tract homes surrounded by broad lawns. The city boasted an alabaster mosque, one of the country’s best hospitals, Afghanistan’s only coeducational high school, and the headquarters of the Helmand Valley Authority, a multipurpose dam project funded by the United States. This unexpected proliferation of modernity led Toynbee to reflect on the warning of Sophocles: “the craft of his engines surpasseth his dreams.” In the area around Kandahar, traditional Afghanistan had vanished. “The domain of the Helmand Valley Authority,” he reported, “has become a piece of America inserted into the Afghan landscape. …The new world they are conjuring up out of the desert at the Helmand River’s expense is to be an America-in-Asia.

Nothing becomes antiquated faster than symbols of the future, and it is difficult, at only fifty years remove, to envision the hold concrete dams once had on the global imagination. In the mid-20th century, the austere lines of the Hoover Dam and its radiating spans of high-tension wire inscribed federal power on the American landscape. Vladimir Lenin famously remarked that Communism was Soviet power plus electrification, an equation captured by the David Lean film Dr. Zhivago in the image of water surging, as a kind of redemption, from the spillway of an immense Soviet dam. In 1954, standing at the Bhakra- Nangal canal, Nehru described dams as the temples of modern India. “Which place can be greater than this,” he declared, “this Bhakra -Nangal, where thousands of men have worked, have shed their blood, and sweat and laid down their lives as well? …When we see big works, our stature grows with them, and our minds open out a little.”43 For Nehru, for Zahir Shah, for China today, the great blank wall of a dam was a screen on which they would project the future.”

GLOBAL DAY of LISTENING | Friday 21 October

6:30 pm Afghanistan time (10 am Eastern, 7 am Pacific).
Will continue for 4 hours.

Click here for details

Click here for news.

The Goal

Every month people from around the world listen together to ordinary people living in war-torn countries. It is a way of letting them know that someone is listening; and a way for us to learn what the realities of war and hope look like.

The meetings began with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and spread to include conflict and war zones around the world.

Join Us.

Details on last meeting here.

Write to to request a time to talk.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Border War with Pakistan | Focus Paktika

The NYT has a front page article on increased violence in Paktika Provence. The region includes a long border with North and South Waziristan in Pakistan. The details come from an embedded journalist at the US base Sharana, one of the areas of the country where the US surge has sent additional troops.

The point of the article is to show that soldiers feel their hands are tied.

It says something about the way the war is fought in Afghanistan when having your hands tied means you need to limit the number of high explosive weapons used and must refrain from using artillery shells with White Phosphorus.

The article notes that there is a CIA base in the province. But say’s nothing of the CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Over the past six years strikes have focused on North and South Waziristan. Over the past two years, there has been a dramatic shift in the location of the strikes. In 2009, 42% of the strikes took place in North Waziristan and 51% in South Waziristan. In 2010, 89% of the strikes took place in North Waziristan and 6% in South Waziristan.

The graphic above is from the Long War Journal.

The map shows the number of internally displaced Afghans along the border.

Here are the details.
There were at least 102 of these so-called close-border attacks against the same outposts since May, including one on Oct. 7 that the American military called the largest and most coordinated insurgent operation in the province since 2009. Last year, during the same period in the same places, there were 13 close-border attacks. Most of the indirect-fire attacks, officers said, have been with 107-millimeter rockets, which have a range of about five miles.”

Interviews with soldiers focus on their frustration.

When taking fire from Afghanistan, they said, they return fire with barrages of high-explosive and white phosphorus artillery rounds. (The burning effects of white phosphorus, they said, can detonate rockets waiting on launchers; for this reason, white phosphorus falls within rules guiding the soldiers’ use of force.)

When receiving fire from Pakistan, they said, they do not return fire with white phosphorus and fire far fewer high-explosive rounds. Attack helicopters and aircraft are also less likely to fire ordnance the closer the firing position is to the border, they said, even if it is on the Afghan side.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ghosts of Afghanistan | New Book by Jonathan Steele

Jonathan Steele has covered Afghanistan for the Guardian (London) for more than thirty years. He was part of the Guardian team which published the Wikileaks Afghanistan cables.

His latest book, Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths, has just been published.

Advanced praise:
"In this original look at the West's obsession with Afghanistan the ghosts include, of course, the inevitable innocents who fall in war but also the public myths, official lies and inconvenient truths that lie behind so much of the bloodshed there. In a riveting chapter, Steele also puts to rest the notion that America had no choice but to go to war after Osama bin Laden's orchestration of the 9/11 attacks." —Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

"Ghosts of Afghanistan is the best single book on the inter-related US policy crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan and should be read by all students of foreign affairs." —Selig S. Harrison, author of Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal

Yes, there are dozens of books on the Afghan wars. Most of them are all about firefights and heroics. But this is the first to take the events of the war Bush and Blair started and put them in the context of the Soviet war and even the British imperial wars that preceded them, and draw the lessons out, and make a sharp summary of what should happen next. No war is ever won against the Afghans. The only option is to give up, but the military never want to give up. The politicians eventually resume control, but Obama has not overruled his generals yet.

Read Steele to see how the Russians coped; how Gorbachev ended the wasteful war, and see how Obama might. This is an extremely well-written modern history -- clear, coherent, with real explanatory power. It's a synthetic work, drawing on Steele's deep experience of the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1988 during which period he was the Guardian's man in Moscow, and using that to illuminate the course of war since the post-9/11 invasion.

As Steele makes plain in reporting the views of all sides on the ground, almost all Afghans simply want all foreigners off their soil whether they be jihadist Arabs or Texans, and will fight until that happens. This is, as Steele demonstrates, like all previous foreign invasions of the country, an unwinnable war for the Western allies.

Ghosts of Afghanistan stands out for the combination of its calm clarity and comprehensibility, the firmness of its arguments, Steele's stature as an analyst of the region of 30 years standing, his position as the one UK journalist who had first access to the WikiLeaks cache on Afghanistan, and his interpretation of what he found there.

10 Myths About Afghanistan | Recent article by Jonathan Steele

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Documenting the Kill/Capture Missions

Click here for interactive maps.

The Afghanistan Analyst Network has a new report documenting the foreign forces policy of targeted assassinations and arrests in Afghanistan. The report is based on an analysis of all 3,700+ ISAF press releases from 1 December 2009 thru 30 September 2011.

The operations known as kill/capture have long been presented by ISAF as one of the more effective parts of the international military mission in Afghanistan. A close study of press releases show that “the terms used by ISAF to denote that 'key leaders' were being killed or captured is confusing at best, misleading at worst”

From the Report | In Their Own Words

From 1 December 2009 to 30 September 2011, ISAF press releases reported a total of 3,157 incidents.

Of that there were 2,365 capture‐or‐kill raids.
3,873 individuals were killed.
7,146 detained.

Of that 174 ‘leaders’ were killed and 501 detained.
25 ‘facilitators’ were killed and 423 detained.

The number of ‘leaders’ and ‘facilitators’ killed equals approximately 5% of the total deaths.

The number of ‘leaders’ and ‘facilitators’ detained equals approximately 13% of the total detentions.

The overwhelming number of civilian deaths prompted the writers to conclude with a question. “To what extent is violence in a particular area at least in part a product of the presence of ISAF troops?

The Guardian newspaper has a datablog (above) of interactive graphs and maps that highlight the findings of the investigation. The report itself has charts and graphs to better understand the way ISAF is fighting the war, and how they talk about it.

The missions mushroomed under General Petraeus and peaked in June 2011. There has been a steady decline since then. "The decline may well be linked to the seemingly unsustainable pace of the capture-or-kill operations coupled with the departure of General Petraeus."

About the authors:
Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn are researchers and writers based in Kandahar. They have worked in Afghanistan since 2006, focusing on the Taliban insurgency and the history of southern Afghanistan over the past four decades. Their research extends to other Muslim countries, and they are regular commentators on major western news channels.

Full Report:

A Knock on the Door | 22 Months of ISAF Press Releases

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Windows and Mirrors | Albany NY Area | October 13 – November 13

One of the two Windows and Mirrors community exhibits will begin a month-long schedule of activities in Albany starting tomorrow.

The Capital District Chapter of Women Against War will co-sponsor the exhibitions.

Skidmore, Union, Russell Sage College, and the College of St. Rose are among the region's colleges and universities that will be involved.

The costs of the Afghanistan war – on a personal and global scale – will be the subject of three upcoming events sponsored by Skidmore's Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

Skidmore Events

On Thursday, October 13, guest speaker Donna Marsh O'Connor will lead a discussion titled "No End in Sight," about the U.S. being a nation at war. Her talk, free and open to the public, begins at 5 p.m. in Gannett Auditorium, Palamountain Hall.

On Friday, October 14, a new exhibition titled "Windows and Mirrors on Afghanistan" opens at Wilson Chapel. Skidmore is one stop on a national tour of this exhibition, which is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.

A reception in conjunction with the exhibition is planned at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, at the chapel. Hours of the exhibit are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Friday, Oct. 21.

On Wednesday, October. 19, Ed Kinane will present "Eyewitness in Kabul: One month on war-torn Afghanistan." His talk begins at 5 p.m. in Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall.

Admission to all events is free and open to the public.

Donna Marsh O'Connor is the mother of three children. Her daughter Vanessa was murdered on 9/11. Vanessa worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center and at the time of her death, was five months pregnant.

Since 9/11, Donna has worked to counter the discourse of hate and fear that has been the primary mechanism of America's violent responses to the tragedy of that day. Donna Marsh O'Connor is an adjunct faculty member in the Writing Program at Syracuse University and has taught writing and rhetoric for over 25 years.

This community exhibit is a selection of 25 installations from the originals. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history, yet for many of us it has been rendered largely invisible. This exhibit is an opening and an invitation to reflect upon the impact of this war on a civilian population caught in the crossfire.

Ed Kinane will talk about the effects on the people of Afghanistan of our 10-year war in their country. He had just returned from a month in Kabul and was in Iraq with "Voices in the Wilderness" for five months when the "Shock and Awe" campaign there began in 2003. He has been a lifelong activist for social causes, having traveled in Africa for three years and joining the anti-apartheid movement there and in the U.S. he has twice been jailed for participating in protests against the School for the Americas.

Impact or Illusion? Reintegration under the APRP

This Peace Brief is part of a project by the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to identify issues and options to help Afghanistan move toward sustainable peace.

The report was completed before the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the High Peace Council. The full report is published on the PRIO site. Peace From the Bottom-Up?

Previous studies on the dangers of reintegration without a reconciliation process are here.


  • The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) aims to reintegrate insurgents in return for security, jobs and other incentives, but has seen limited results.
  • Rapid implementation of the program has failed to address adequately a variety of political, employment and security concerns.
  • As a result, reintegrees of varying backgrounds are joining the Afghan Local Police, potentially perpetuating instability.
  • Without a political approach addressing drivers of the insurgency and higher-level reconciliation, reintegration will see limited results. The government and its partners should concentrate on how to make reintegration part of a broader political process.


The Missing Political Approach

On paper, the APRP is a two-track program “aiming to promote peace through a political approach”—involving reintegration and reconciliation. In reality, international actors and the Afghan government have disagreed on the sequence of both. ISAF and donors hoped that the reintegration of low- and mid-level fighters, combined with the pressure of kill-capture campaigns would force insurgent leaders to negotiate. However, this largely military-led strategy is unlikely to fully address the ties of patronage and loyalty within the Taliban movement. Almost all active insurgent commanders interviewed argued they were not interested in reintegration unless their leaders were at the table with the Afghan government and the process addressed the core grievances of the international military presence and government corruption and predation. At the same time, many former fighters reintegrated under the program appear only loosely tied to the insurgency, if at all. All this suggests that reintegration without broader reconciliation will have limited strategic impact.

The main national and international civilian and military actors involved in APRP used a review conference in May to evaluate its progress. Their plan for the APRP now aims to put the necessary infrastructure in place quickly. But many of the people interviewed find it overly focused on econom­ics, while overlooking other factors like the behavior of foreign forces, dissatisfaction with the Afghan government and Pakistan’s influence. The emphasis on economics also ignores the destabilizing impact of development aid, which can fuel corruption and competition for limited resources.

The international community and Afghan government appear reluctant to tackle drivers of the insurgency linked to their own behavior—notably government corruption and foreign troop’s tactics. Also, some interviewees noted that those who are implementing reintegration are far from neutral in that they are parties to the conflict. That has led to groups questioning the legitimacy of the HPC, for example, some of whose members have more experience waging war than making peace. Many insurgents therefore regard reintegration as surrender. As one Taliban commander from Helmand said, “This is not a reintegration process, this is an American process. With whom should we join? With this corrupt and unjust government? I will never join this process and won’t let any of my friends.”

Many U.N. and Afghan officials agree that significant reintegration will not occur unless insur­gents see it as part of a broader, politically negotiated settlement process


There is broad support among Afghans and Afghanistan’s partners for a peace process. On paper, the APRP is quite comprehensive, however, to date it has yielded limited results. In rolling out the program quickly, political issues like grievance resolution and amnesty were inadequately tackled, and the lack of a political approach to reintegration embedded in a broader reconciliation process remains a fundamental flaw.

Reintegration began during an American military troop surge and was aimed by ISAF at weakening the Taliban movement before inviting them to the negotiating table. However, as troops withdraw and the Afghan government assumes increasing security responsibilities, there may be an expansion of talks with the Taliban leadership. This “transition” involves challenges, but also opportunities to tie reintegration to a broader political process. Looking ahead to this process, the international community and the Afghan government should:

Link reintegration with reconciliation. Situate reintegration of low- and mid-level com­manders within a broader reconciliation process aimed not only at insurgent leaders, but also disenfranchised groups. Prepare for scenarios under which reintegration supports the implementation of a peace settlement, potentially including a broader based Afghan management mechanism acceptable to settlement parties, or management by a third party implementer.

Focus on quality not speed. Afghanistan will require a robust reintegration infrastructure able to handle large numbers to secure a sustainable peace. Instead of trying to quickly re­integrate the highest numbers possible, concentrate on establishing effective institutions, particularly political and judicial, and manage expectations through clear communication of program goals and features.

Support local processes. Expand administrative, financial and moral support for local of­ficials involved in implementing APRP, coupled with monitoring of the use of resources and community vetting of reintegrees.

About This Brief

Deedee Derksen is a journalist, Ph.D. candidate and author of “Tea with the Taliban,” a Dutch book nominated for a non-fiction award. Research was conducted in Kabul and two provinces, Baghlan and Helmand, and included about 65 interviews with Afghan and Western officials, active and reintegrating insurgent commanders and analysts.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Human Rights Film Festival Kabul | 1-7 October

“Though there are 33 human rights film festivals worldwide, there are none in this region. Bahrain was supposed to have one, but it was cancelled following the protests [in the spring] there.” - Festival director and filmmaker Malek Shafi’i.

Official Web page

"Afghan filmmakers’ fiction and documentary contributions cover a range of issues: the alienation of Afghan refugees in Iran; child labor and poverty; rape; drug addiction; disability; and ethnic persecution. A chilling biopic, “Before I Was Good,” follows a young disfigured woman, Zahera, who immolated herself to protest against a forced marriage. “Half Value Life” documents the struggle of Maria Basheer, the first and only provincial chief prosecutor, as she deals with the violence faced by women in abusive domestic situations.

The films do not only cover dismal topics, however. “Look Who Is Driving” examines the director’s own efforts to challenge social taboos by enrolling herself in a Mazar-i-Sharif driving school."

Some of the other Afghan films being shown.

Shelter, animation about a homeless child who lives under a tree and becomes the friend of a bird before the war begins to change their lives forever.

Addicted in Afghanistan, is an intimate and uncompromising documentary portrayal of the day to day struggles of a new generation of children addicted to heroin.

An Apple from Paradise, follows one father’s search for his son, who is a student at a religious school in Kabul.

I want horse not wife, the story of a 10 year-old Zal who wants to have a horse instead of a wife.

Joined for Life, an inspiring documentary film about 11 years-old conjoined twins Abby and Brittany Hensel.

Light in the Cave, a film by Sayed Suleiman Amanzad featuring his account of survival against Taliban violence in Bamyan in 1999. He was four years-old when Taliban over ran his village.

More details about the goals and challenges here.

Banned Filmmakers Find Warm Welcome in Kabul
"Jafar Panahi may be stuck in an Iranian prison, but his film is playing in Afghanistan.

The popular Iranian neo-realist filmmaker was sentenced to six years last December for his alleged role in protesting his country’s contested 2009 presidential election. Panahi’s films are banned at home, but one – “Accordion,” an insightful short about two young buskers who have their accordion confiscated, only to find their oppressor trying to earn money with it – made its way across the border for Afghanistan’s inaugural Autumn Human Rights Film Festival in Kabul on October 1."

The Afghan Experience with War

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported in 2009 that almost all Afghans – 96 percent – have been affected either directly or indirectly by warfare; more than one-third (35 percent) had a family member killed, 29 percent said they had been tortured, and a third (35 percent) had been wounded.

Around the same time, eight nongovernmental organizations operating in Afghanistan conducted research in 14 provinces to better understand how Afghans experienced and understood the past thirty years of conflict. The different phases of the war is captured in this quote.

Wars have no difference. The mujahadeen killed my father and then the Taliban tortured and killed my brother. It is always the people who are suffering.” – Female, Daikundi

The top graph is from the ICRC report, the bottom from the cost of war.

Our World, Views From the Field
Afghanistan Opinion and In-Depth Research, 2009
International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent

Afghanistan Experience with Conflict 1978 – 2009 | The Cost of War

Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSF), Afghan Peace and Democracy Act (APDA), Association for the Defence of Women’s Rights (ADWR), Cooperation Centre for Afghanistan (CCA), Education Training Center for Poor Women and Girls of Afghanistan (ECW), Oxfam GB, Organization for Human Welfare (OHW), Sanayee Development Organization (SDO) and The Liaison Office (TLO).

The Alternatives

Despite displacement and exile, Afghans have maintained their political, cultural, and social identity, and family livelihoods through extensive networks of remittances. They possess the capacity to build their own country, but need assistance breaking the crippling dependency on spending related to the presence of international military and donor organizations. Consider: The World Bank finds that 97 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product stems from those sectors.

That money comes at a cost.

The US and the international community put conditions and demands on how their money is spent. Pushing Afghan institutions in directions that are unsustainable and will insure more conflict and violence. Instead of creating a militarized state with a standing army costing an estimated $6 to 8 billion we could invest in and support sustainable institutions. For example, fully funding the government’s ambitious five-year strategic plan for the ministry of education would be $2.5 billion.

Until the US, the most powerful economic and military force in Afghanistan, embraces these goals, as well as a genuine peace process that includes all parties to the conflict, nascent Afghan institutions will never have a chance.

The $10 billion per month the US spends on the war in Afghanistan could make a very big difference in funding education, health care and other infrastructure needs both in Afghanistan and in our own country.

It's time to get the troops and weapons out.

Mural Art and Activism to End the War

We invited muralists from around the world and school children in Kabul to create art illustrating the human cost of war in Afghanistan.

The video animation - with selections from the Afghan music project - highlight work from the traveling exhibit Windows and Mirrors.

The exhibit and online experience shows the devastating impact of the war. The wage peace campaign works to end it.

The tour is in San Francisco through October.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kabul Theater Festival

“Hopelessness, despair, and cynicism are some of the most powerful weapons of the oppressor. If we feel there is no point and that we can never win; then there will be weak efforts.” - Kayhan Irani

Here is an antidote to despair we can feel looking in from outside.

These reflections from the seventh Kabul theater festival highlight an often hidden aspect of Afghanistan. The world of creativity, cooperation and drama.

Featuring theater troupes from Kandahar, Ghazni, Khost, Heart, Bamiyam and Tajikistan the performances were inspiring and diverse.

So is the post below...

Kabul goes to my head

"The last four days at the Kabul Theater Festival has been heady, thrilling, hopeful, and heartful. I was overjoyed to meet most of the theater artists that I worked with last year. They were presenting their work at the festival (one of them won best scenery and costumes!) and they all looked radiant and full of life. Moreover, I met so many new, creative people working in MANY different provinces of Afghanistan and in different forms of theater.

I was so happy to see all the forms that these shows took. People are really getting creative, getting inventive, and are taking the initiative to make art however they can.

We met groups who have faced great danger making their art, people new to theater, others who are well established, some on the cutting edge, and folks who are just joining in for the sake of it – maybe hearing about it for the first time. This is exactly the type of vitality and diversity you want to see in any field.

In general (and not just with theater folks) there is so much love, energy, brilliance, and hope I feel when talking to Afghanis. Just the opposite of what the mainstream media shows us. I suppose that outside forces need people to believe things are drab and hopeless to get support for unending war. Imagine if we heard about theater festivals, language schools, women judges, youth voices, inter-ethnic solidarity projects, music and dance forms.

Hopelessness, despair, and cynicism are some of the most powerful weapons of the oppressor. If we feel there is no point and that we can never win; then there will be weak efforts.

The truth is, Afghans are creating their futures with vision and dedication. I hope that reading this blog will allow you to reignite your hope for the people of Afghanistan and believe in their brilliance and power.

Without further ado … proof that hope springs eternal – through theater!"

Kayhan Irani is an artivist and an Emmy award winning writer. She believes in the liberatory power of the arts to deepen people’s engagement with social issues and transform society. She is a writer, director, performer, and facilitator.

Her acclaimed one-woman show, “We’ve Come Undone”, which tells the stories of immigrant women post 9/11, has toured nationally and internationally. In 2007 she was awarded a certificate of recognition by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for her arts work in immigrant communities.

To see more festival images visit Thru Afghan Eyes blog.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Poem as Tribute | Taha Mohammed Ali

Taha Muhammad Ali died on Sunday in Nazareth. He was born in the Galilee village of Saffuriya in 1931.*

His poetry followed the experiences of Palestinians living in Israel, and Palestinian refugees around the world.

The beauty of this poem, on the nature of revenge and compassion, is universal. Revealing the power of love to heal, restore, and resolve conflict.


At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

April 15, 2006

© 2006 by Taha Muhammad Ali. English translation and copyright 2006 by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin.

To learn more click here.

* His family fled to Lebanon with most of the inhabitants of his village during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Unable to return to his home he moved to the nearby city of Nazareth where he lived and worked in a souvenir shop throughout his life as an Israeli citizen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Letter From Kabul | Witness to a ten-year war

I arrived in Kabul early in the morning on Saturday August 20 for my fourteenth annual visit since 2002. One is immediately struck by the militarization of the entire city, from the man who stamped my passport, to the heavily armed police presence at every street intersection. Check points, huge concrete blast walls, barbed wire on every official and foreign establishment, armed guards, soldiers and police are ever present.

We drove by the British Council, scene of a ten-hour battle between six suicide insurgents and the Afghan police assisted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) the day before. The large building was completely flattened, with all the nearby windows shattered and debris all over. The Toyota van the insurgents had used to smash the metal gate by explosion was reduced to mangled pieces of metal and not recognizable as a car. This was one of a series of spectacular attacks and assassinations by the insurgents this year. It seems that they can attack anyone, any time, any place.

Zaher Wahab | 1 September 2011

Mural image from Windows and Mirrors: The Children of Afghanistan, by Camille Perrottet, New York, NY.


Last night he sent me these thoughts on what life is like in Kabul today. It is an unvarnished account of the dangers an Afghan peacemaker sees emerging in the country. In June he sent a dispatch that looked at the rays of hope.


Letter From Kabul | Witness to a ten-year war and occupation

Since early 2002, I have been spending at least a semester annually here in Afghanistan, attempting to (re)build the higher education system in the ravaged country. My adopted country - the US, launched operation Enduring Freedom on October 7/2001 claiming to bring freedom, peace, prosperity, democracy, security, women’s liberation, eradication of drugs, and stability to the war-torn country. There are now some 150/000 troops from 45 countries, that many civilian contractors from around the world, and 340,000 U.S. trained sectarian Afghan security forces all ostensibly fighting “terrorism”.

The US alone spends ten billion dollars per/ month on the war, a total of about half – a- trillion dollars in the last ten years. 1600 Americans (70 of them last August) have been killed and thousands wounded. An estimated 40,000 Afghans have been killed, 971 civilians from June to August this year alone, untold numbers wounded, and half–a-million displaced. According to a recent UN report, 2011 has been the most unstable, deadliest and most violent year for all sides, since the war started in 2001. All of the country’s neighbors also meddle in Afghan affairs and are waging proxy struggles in the Afghan theater.

After ten years of occupation (and “development”), costing the US $500 billion, Afghanistan still ranks at the bottom of the Human Development Index. Half of the population is hungry and/or food insecure. Per capita income is about $350. The average life span is 45 years. 90% of the women and 70% of the men are illiterate. Only half of the school age children attend school. More than half the schools have no building. Only 20% of the teachers are considered qualified. The Afghan government spends just $70 per year per student.

Americans spend one million dollars per year per soldier in Afghanistan. Just 1% of the age group is enrolled in college. UNICEF labeled the country as the worst place for children and women. A woman dies in child birth every hour. Half of the children die before age five. All marriages are arranged, and the majority of the girls are married (sold) off before age 16.

Ninety seven percent of the country’s $15 billion GDP and 97% of the government’s $4 billion budget are based on the presence of foreigners (armies, aid, NGOs, etc). There is little organized licit formal productive economy. Drugs constitute about a third of the economy and there are close to 2 million addicts. Half the people are (un)underemployed. Anyone who can is leavening the country. People have been divided, demoralized, and exhausted.

But since this is mostly a young nation so the prospects for an “Afghan Spring” are a real possibility.

The American installed and protected government has no legitimacy, credibility, authority, ability, will, or efficacy. It is essentially a dysfunctional plutocracy- mafiocracy with various crime syndicates and criminal gangs milking the foreigners and preying on the disempowered, divided and enraged public. The government cannot and will not provide the basic services like education, healthcare, work, security, justice, law and order, water, electricity, sewerage systems, garbage collection, clean air, roads or even traffic lights in the capital Kabul. The old and new criminal, treacherous, treasonous and sectarian warlords are empowered, paid, armed, legitimated, used and protected by the occupation forces at the expense of the wretched population. And the country’s very future is in question. Many express nostalgia about the monarchy, the communists, even the Taliban eras.

There has been no serious attempt either by the occupiers or their self-spring and corrupt client regime to build a functioning government, democracy, institutions, civil society, freedom, justice, national unity, long- term peace, real security, or stability.

The insurgents control about 70% of the country, including the outskirts of Kabul. They can hit anyone, any time, any place as demonstrated by the recent assassinations of A.W. Karzai, Daoud Dauod, Jan Mohammad a close adviser to president Karzai, the Kandahar mayor, the Kundoz governor, former warlord, former president and president of the so- called High Peace Council, B. Rabbani, the CIA employee, etc. The insurgent attacked the Intercontinental Hotel, the British Council, The US Embassy and the ISAF headquarters, and petrified and paralyzed Kabul for days. I have experienced four lockdowns, one lasting three days in the last six weeks. Kabul looks and feels like a garrison city under siege, but with no sense of security, legality, justice or normalcy.

The people despise, distrust and disdain the government, and the government has little to no concern, responsibility or respect for the people. Most Afghans hate, despise, and distrust all the foreigners and blame them for all the calamities visited upon the country. And the non Pashtoons fear and dislike the Taliban insurgents. The country is on the brink of a bloody civil war. But the one percent predatory warlords, criminals, and war profiteers love the foreigners, the war, and the “new freedom”. Anything goes, everything is negotiable, nothing matters, and people are disposable. There are governments within the government, cities within cities, and countries within the country. There is the war related contracting mafia, the land mafia, the timber mafia, the development mafia and the drug mafia, weapons smugglers, and human traffickers.

The occupiers work hand – in- gloves with the older and new known war criminals, human rights abusers, thieves and gangsters. This has widened the distance between the people and the colonial settler power and its local intermediaries. There is no clear boundary between the government the warlords and various crime syndicates, they are closely intertwined. All this explains the success of the insurgency, the moral-political-military disarray of the US/NATO invaders in the country, and the stalemate if not success of the insurgents in the war. In short, life has become much harder for the vast majority of Afghans. Who still lead primitive lives.

Additionally, they endure a brutal occupation with heavy use of storm troops, air power, drones, night raids, and the mercenary Afghan regular and irregular armies. And now there is open talk of resurgent civil war. Mr. Rabbani’s assassination has ruptured the so-called “peace talks.” The US/NATO, while talking about withdrawal is also pressing for a permanent “strategic agreement” with Kabul. There is great confusion, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty in the country. No wonder then, those who can, are leaving, with the rest preparing for the worst.

Only a miracle can save the people and the country.

Zaher Wahab | 2 October 2011
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
215-241-7000 ·