Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Live From Kabul | An Afghan Conversation


Join us for a live video conference with Afghan civil society activists on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 at 10 a.m. Eastern. With upcoming milestones such as the removal of NATO/U.S. forces and presidential elections to replace Hamid Karzai after 10 years of rule, this is a critical time to discuss the role U.S. civil society can play. 



To participate during the event submit your questions to Questions@afsc.org

You can also follow and ask questions on twitter use #AfghanConversation

If you can't join us on-line, here are details for a listen-only phone conference.

Dial 866-740-1260 (US toll free & Skype callers) or 303-248-0285 (int'l toll call)
For your Access Code, enter 2419975#






To really link U.S. and Afghan civil society groups, we need to know and understand each other better. Send us your questions now. They will be shared with all the speakers before the call. You will also be able to ask questions during the call. 

Bios of Participants in Kabul

Sayed Ikram Afzali is the co-founder and president of Youth in Action Association – a non-profit youth-led organization dedicated to enhancing peace and sustainable development in Afghanistan. He has been a youth advocate and development professional for the past decade focusing on peace building and anti-corruption issues. With an aim to help rebuild Afghanistan, Afzali returned to Afghanistan after 20 years of refugee life in Pakistan. Affected by years of conflict in the region, he has been a strong believer in bringing about peace through youth using non-violent approaches – such as using sport as a vehicle for peacebuilding. Sayed has also worked with the United Nations and other national organizations for more than seven years in the area of democratic governance with a focus on civil society and anti-corruption. He is currently Head of Advocacy and Communication at Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA)

Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) was established as an independent civil society organization in 2006. IWA’s mission is to put corruption under the spotlight by increasing transparency, integrity, and accountability in Afghanistan through the provision of policy-oriented research, the development of training tools, and through facilitation of policy dialogue.

*****

Hassina Serjan is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Aid Afghanistan for Education and the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Boumi Company – an internationally recognized women-owned home accessory business. Hassina co-authored the book Toughing It Out in Afghanistan, and has published numerous op-eds in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, USA Today, and more. She received a Master’s of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School and has an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from Queen’s University in Canada.

Aid Afghanistan for Education (AAE) is dedicated to empowering Afghans and rehabilitating the education system in Afghanistan, and provides primary and secondary education for marginalized Afghans. Boumi – Farsi for “indigenous” – manufactures Afghan-made products with raw materials produced in Afghanistan, supplying high-end products to the global marketplace.

*****

Najib Sharifi is the Founder and Director of Afghanistan New Generation Organization. Najib is a medical doctor by training, but over the past ten years he has worked for some of the leading news organizations around the world including the New York Times, BBC, CNN, National Public Radio and the Washington Post. He has researched for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit and Human Rights Watch. In addition, he served as senior political officer for the Office of the Special Representative of the EU for Afghanistan. In 2009, Najib won a Humphrey/Fulbright scholarship and studied public policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park. Najib’s analysis and opinion pieces have appeared on various Western media outlets including South Asia Global Affairs and the foreign policy magazine. He is a frequent commentator of issues of domestic Afghan politics and foreign policy of the Western countries towards Afghanistan on Afghan and international media.

Afghanistan New Generation Organization is a non-profit youth empowerment organization with aims to empower the youth to become competent community advocates by providing training in such areas as public speaking, media literacy, and use of information technology among others.

*****

Michael Sheridan, Director and Founder of Community Supported Film, is a filmmaker, educator and activist. For nearly 20 years Michael has engaged the public in stories from Asia, Africa and the Americas about people in poor and developing communities challenging the status quo and struggling to improve their lives. Michael co-founded Oxfam America’s documentary production unit and has sought to break new ground in the effective use of media to educate and change policy. He has taught documentary filmmaking for 15 years at the community and university level, extensively in the United States and Afghanistan, and as a Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia.

Community Supported Film
strengthens the documentary filmmaking capacity in crisis and post-crisis communities where the dissemination of objective and accurate information is essential. Local women and men are trained to produce stories on their community’s socioeconomic issues, and the resulting films are screened in audience engagement campaigns. Michael founded Community Supported Film in 2010 with a pilot program in Afghanistan that resulted in the production of 10 Afghan-made films, The Fruit or Our Labor. Michael also runs his filmmaking company SheridanWorks.

Moderated by

Peter Lems is the Program Director of education and advocacy for Iraq and Afghanistan at the American Friends Service Committee. He is also the co-coordinator of the Wage Peace campaign, a program initiative that seeks to wage peace with the same determination and energy that nations wage war.

The American Friends Service Committee carries out service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world. Founded by Quakers in 1917 to provide conscientious objectors with an opportunity to aid civilian war victims, AFSC’s work attracts the support and partnership of people of many races, religions, and cultures.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Support for Pakistani Activist Malala Yousafzai

Protests condemning the assassination attempt on 14 year-old Malala Yousafzai have spread across Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Malala was targeted on October 9 while returning home from school in Saidu Sharif, the capital of the northwestern Swat district. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack because of her diaries about the group’s atrocities and her insistence to attend school despite threats. She remains in critical condition.








Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Afghan Local Police | A Dangerous and Deadly Path

The Upper House of Parliament today demanded an investigation into the Afghan Local Police (ALP) after the killing of 11 civilians in Kunduz province on Sunday. Armed and trained by US Special Forces and initiated by General Petraeus the ALP is under the control of the Interior Ministry.

Most Afghans understand the program to be the creation of unaccountable militia forces. Bringing back memories of the terrible civil war violence between foreign armed militia armies.

It's a dangerous and deadly path.

Last September Human Rights Watch said the initiative was "a high-risk strategy to achieve short-term goals in which local groups are again being armed without adequate oversight or accountability."

Emal Habib, writing for the Afghanistan Analyst Network, investigates governmental and international support for the militia. Noting that the Afghan Local Police (or Arbaki) are presented as “armed, popular local uprisings” that have “expelled the Taliban” from several districts in eastern Afghanistan.

As commander of US forces in Afghanistan before taking over as head of the CIA David H. Petraeus said in hearings before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services that the arming of the private militias was “… in essence, a community watch with AK–47s”

On Sunday US forces announced they were suspending the training of 1,000 recruits of the 15,000 person force due to attacks against foreign forces (LA Times, The Hill, NYT )

Additional Resources:

The Generals Visit | Night Raids and Militia Forces

Impunity, Militias and the Afghan Local Police | HRW Report

From Arbaki to Local Police | Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Suicides Outnumber Battlefield Deaths for July


click on image to activate

Last month witnessed a record number of suicides in the U.S. military. In fact, more soldiers took their own lives then died on the battlefield. The interactive graphic above was published in June by Time.

Rebecca Burns writing for In These Times has a powerful profile entitled ‘Suicide is Anything but Painless.’ She features the field organizer Maggie Martin from Iraq Veterans Against War.

Yesterday the New York Times ran graphics and pictures to acknowledge that the death toll for US forces in and around Afghanistan had passed 2,000.

The average age is 26.


More detailed graphics here.

The Invisible Wounds of War: Coming Home from Iraq and Afghanistan
“The month of July set a record high for the number of suicides in the U.S. military. An Army report reveals a total of 38 troops committed suicide last month, including 26 active-duty soldiers and 12 Army National Guard or reserve members — more soldiers than were killed on the battlefield. The reasons for the increase in suicides are not fully understood. Among explanations, studies point to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems.

Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the issue in June at the annual conference on suicide prevention in the military, saying, "Despite the increased efforts, the increased attention, the trends continue to move in a troubling and tragic direction." We speak with Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard, whose new book is called, "The Invisible Wounds of War: Coming Home from Iraq and Afghanistan."”
- Democracy Now 21 August 2012




Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mid-Year Reports on Civilian Casualties | UN & ANSO


Mid-Year reports on civilian deaths in Afghanistan have just been released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan NGO Safety Network. Although the total number of civilian casualties in the first half of 2012 was 15% lower than the number in the same period of 2011, both studies warn that the underlying structure of the conflict has not changed and are deeply concerned about the continuing violence.

Click here for background analysis on trends from previous UN reports.

“The United Nations welcomes the reduction in civilian casualties, but we must remember that Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed and injured at alarmingly high levels. The 3,099 civilian casualties documented in this report were ordinary Afghans struggling to go about their daily lives in the midst of an armed conflict.” - Nicholas Haysom, Deputy UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan
“…the conflict has seen no confidence building measures which would demonstrate a genuine interest to engage in peace resolution on any side. This is particularly disappointing since it is a political dialogue, not tactical military achievements, which will ultimately determine the chances for the civilian population to see an end to extant violence.”
- Afghanistan NGO Safety Office Second Quarter Data Report

Una Moore writing for UN Dispatch highlights five disturbing findings.
“1) Targeted killings are up. Way up. During the first half of this year, 255 civilians died in targeted killings by anti-government forces, compared to 190 in the first half of 2011. According to UNAMA, “Government employees, off duty police officers and civilian police, tribal elders, civilians accused of spying for Pro-Government Forces and government officials remained the primary focus of these anti-government attacks.” This is a worrisome trend to watch as the drawdown of foreign forces continues.

2) Internal displacement is climbing. According to the UNHCR, 17,079 Afghans were newly displaced by violence between January 1 and June 30 of this year, bringing the total number of IDPs in the country to 114,900.

3) Schools, students, and teachers are increasingly under fire. In the first six months of 2012, UNAMA verified 34 cases of Anti-Government Elements launching attacks against education facilities, staff and students, and other incidents impacting education. These included the burning of schools, targeted killings of teachers and staff, armed attacks on education facilities, occupation of schools and intimidation and closure of schools, particularly girls’ schools. This represents a substantial increase in such incidents compared to the same period last year when UNAMA documented 10 similar instances. Six of these 34 cases confirmed by UNAMA involved targeted killings of teachers, school guards or department of education officials by Anti-Government Elements.

As part of its consultations with 99 conflict-affected communities across Afghanistan, UNAMA found that the Taliban’s influence on the education system in those areas is increasing. This has had consequences for children’s access to education, particularly for girls. Anti-Government Elements have asserted their influence in many communities not only to incorporate changes to school curricula based on their ideological beliefs, but also as a basis to negotiate politically with local communities.

4) Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)still kill the greatest number of civilians. Attacks involving IEDs accounted for 53 percent of civilian casualties documented by UNAMA in the first half of 2012, and victim-activated IEDs, the kind that detonate indiscriminately when touched or driven over, accounted for one third of all civilian injuries and deaths. In its mid-year report, UNAMA noted that because such devices do not distinguish between combatants and civilians, “many IED incidents that resulted in civilian casualties could amount to war crimes.”

5) Weather, not tactical changes, probably explains the relatively lower number of civilian casualties in the first half of this year. Experts believe that the decline in civilian deaths and injuries can largely be credited to this year’s unusually harsh winter, which cut into the ability of the Taliban and other groups to carry out attacks against civilian targets in the early spring. With the cold weather months now a distant memory, civilian casualties are again rising.”

What's missing from the reports is documentation on casualties for Afghan Army and Police. The Voice of America cites statistics dating back to 2007 to show that more than 6,500 Afghan security force members have been killed.

In July Afghanistan's former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh said there has been no improvement in the security situation in recent months.
"It is sincerely unfortunate: nearly 1,800 personnel of Afghan national army and police were killed and 4,000 injured in the last three months," Saleh said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai last month told parliament that 20-25 national security forces were being killed every day.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Numbers | Troops and Contractors | July 2012

For decades outside powers have intervened and occupied Afghanistan. The commitment of the international community to arm different groups is one reason the conflict has been so deadly for so long.

What is the current number of US and Afghan forces currently deployed and funded?

The answer may surprise you.

The combined forces - paid for by the US - is 567,655.

The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released their mandated quarterly report yesterday. With access to all official agencies involved with the war, it is one of the most authoritative reports available to the public.

The Special Inspector report is used to document the total number of US troops and Afghan National Security Forces. The figure for contractors comes from CENTCOM and the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.

Here is the breakdown.

Afghanistan National Security Forces
191,592 – Afghan National Army (May 2012)
146,641 – Afghan National Police (June 2012)
Total – 338,233

US Military and Contractors

87,000 – Troops Deployed in Afghanistan (June 2012)
113,736 – Department of Defense (DoD) Contractors (July 2012)
28,686 – DoD Private Security – does not include USAID and State (July 2012)

Total – 229,422


Number of US Troops from SIGAR
Contractor numbers from CENTCOM Quarterly Contractor Census Report (DoD)
Afghan Security Forces from SIGAR





Two additional points from the special inspector report.

The goal is to build the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to 352,000 and then reduce the force to 228,500 by 2017. The Government of Afghanistan is scheduled to contribute $500 million by 2015. That represents less than 10% of the cost.
“The United States is covering most of the costs of the ANA (and provides a substantial amount for the ANP. The NATO Summit joint communiqué stipulates that the Afghan government will contribute $500 million in 2015 toward the sustainment of its security forces and gradually increase its share of the ANSF costs until 2024, when it will have full financial responsibility for its security forces.”
On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed the order making Afghanistan a Major Non-NATO Ally. That makes it eligible for U.S. training, loans of equipment for research and development, and foreign military financing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan | A Journey into the Unknown

"After 31 December 2012, there is no plan to extend the validity of the POR [proof of registration] cards of Afghan refugees. Those currently registered will lose the status of refugees. They will be treated under the law of the land. The provincial governments have already been asked to treat the existing unregistered refugees as illegal immigrants.
- Habibullah Khan, secretary of the ministry of states and frontier regions.

There are currently 1.7 million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan – more than half of them under 18 – of whom 630,000 live in camps.

“Malik Sakhigul was just 28 when he ran away from Afghanistan. Soviet troops had swept through the country so he grabbed what little he could and led his parents and three daughters east across the border into Pakistan. More than three million of his countrymen ended up joining him.

Now 60, he returned home this month in a secret trip that marked the first tentative steps towards a permanent return - part voluntary and part under duress - and attempted to answer the question hanging over the heads of millions of Afghans in exile around the world: is it finally safe to go back?

"I went to see the conditions," he said last week.

"I wanted to see whether we will have a place to live there or not."

Malik is one of the elders at the Utmanzai refugee camp - a dry, dusty collection of mud huts in Pakistan's north-west, surrounded by cemeteries and filled with children who sing old songs of the beauty of a neighbouring country that to them is little more than legend.

"The younger ones think it is a magical place," one aid worker explains, "they only know it from the songs which describe Kabul as a most beautiful city with the bravest people in the world."

"It is when the children get older, about six years, that they start to learn what has happened."

Utmanzai sprang up during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan 33 years ago, when hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled for their lives across the border and sought refuge in Pakistan, kicking off [one of] the world's longest-running refugee crisis and creating what still is the biggest cluster of refugees anywhere in the globe, reaching a peak of more than four million.”
Read full article.


The UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) has additional details.

PESHAWAR, 24 July 2012(IRIN) - Pakistan is putting pressure on the estimated 2.8 million Afghan registered and unregistered refugees to return to their homeland by the end of 2012.

The government has said it will not renew the ID cards of the 1.8 million registered Afghan refugees.

Last week, Habibullah Khan, secretary in the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, was quoted by the media as saying: "The international community desires us to review this policy but we are clear on this point. The refugees have become a threat to law and order, security, demography, economy and local culture. Enough is enough.

"After 31 December 2012, there is no plan to extend the validity of the POR [proof of registration] cards of Afghan refugees. Those currently registered will lose the status of refugees. They will be treated under the law of the land. The provincial governments have already been asked to treat the existing unregistered refugees as illegal immigrants.”

“Asylum space is narrowing given that the government of Pakistan is pretty serious about returning most of them to Afghanistan,” said Aamir Fawad, protection officer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). “We are talking to the government to extend, but it is unclear what will happen.”

In June, Pakistan agreed to delay the forced repatriation of 400,000 Afghans who were rounded up in Peshawar for being in the country illegally.

“There is increased pressure on them to either move to camps or repatriate,” one aid worker who preferred anonymity told IRIN. “Every day, I see people being harassed by the security officials. Those living in refugee villages are facing pressure from landlords as well. Yet at the same time, the situation in Afghanistan is not attractive for return.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why We Don't Count Afghan Deaths

In February the United Nations reported for the fifth year in a row that civilian deaths had increased.

Reporting on violence against Afghans has become so internalized that only spectacular events and high profile assassinations get attention. Recent events have again highlighted the legacy that Afghans will have to deal with in the future.

It is impossible for anybody to say that the U.S. has contributed to Afghanistan’s long-term security, reduced the possibility of long-term conflict, or strengthened institutions that can bring long-term stability.



Mural Image: Peace for Afghanistan
Patricia Sotarello & AFSC Chicago Summer Institute Students
From: Windows and Mirrors

“Violence in Afghanistan is at its fiercest since U.S.-led Afghan troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001…” - Monday 16 July | Reuters

Friday: Hanifa Safi, regional head of Women’s Bureau is assassinated by a car bomb
“The targeting of Afghan women leaders in government positions is not a new phenomenon. Safia Amajan held the same position as Safi in Kandahar. Sitara Achakzai was a provincial council member. Malalai Kakar was provincial chief of female police in Kandahar. A number of women aid workers, whose names and identities are not recorded, have also been murdered.”
Saturday: Ahmad Khan Samangani, Member of Parliament is assassinated
“Among those killed were the provincial head of the intelligence service, the NDS, Engineer Muhammad Khan, the police commander for western Afghanistan, Sayed Ahmad Sameh and the head of training for the Afghan National Army in Balkh province Muhammadullah. One of the Balkh MP, Eshaq Rahgozar, was wounded, as was the former Sar-e Pul governor, Sayed Iqbal Munib."
Sunday: Higher Education Minister Obaidullah Obaid, survives attempt
Monday: District governor Nizamulldin Nasher survives assassination attempt

Susan G. Chesser writing for the Congressional Research Service on casualties earlier this month makes the point that we do not track the deaths of Afghan Army and Police.
“Because the estimates of Afghan casualties contained in this report are based on varying time periods and have been created using different methodologies, readers should exercise caution when using them and should look to them as guideposts rather than as statements of fact.”
“Reporting on casualties of Afghans did not begin until 2007, and a variety of entities now report the casualties of civilians and security forces members. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports casualty data of Afghan civilians semiannually, and the U.S. Department of Defense occasionally includes civilian casualty figures within its reports on Afghanistan. …From July 2009 through April 2010, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) included statistics of casualties of members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in its quarterly reports to Congress. SIGAR has ceased this practice, and there is no other published compilation of these statistics. This report now derives casualty figures of Afghan soldiers and police from the press accounts of the Reuters “Factbox: Security Developments in Afghanistan” series, the Pajhwok Afghan News agency, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency, Daily Outlook Afghanistan from Kabul, and the AfPak Channel Daily Brief."
Afghan Army and Police

Afghanistan's former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh in an interview on Sunday said there has been no improvement in security situation in recent months.
"It is sincerely unfortunate: nearly 1,800 personnel of Afghan national army and police were killed and 4,000 injured in the last three months," Saleh said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai last month told parliament that 20-25 national security forces were being killed every day.
The Humanitarian Bulletin for June by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that “… almost one million children under five years to be acutely malnourished in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Unlearned Lessons From Afghanistan’s Decade of Assistance


Snapshots of an Intervention
The Unlearned Lessons of Afghanistan’s Decade of Assistance (2001–11)
Afghanistan Analysts Network, July 2012

The decade of state-building, reconstruction and development assistance in Afghanistan has left many people confused. There have been undeniable changes: Afghanistan now has an election-based, market-driven political system and many socio-economic indicators are far better than they used to be under Taleban rule or during the civil war (although that is, admittedly, not a very high bar). There have been great, albeit unequal, opportunities in terms of education, employment and enrichment. But there is also a strong sense of missed and mismanaged opportunities, which many – Afghans and internationals alike – find difficult to understand: how could so many resources have achieved what feels like so little and so fleeting?

This edited volume explores the question by taking a closer look at a variety of key programmes and projects that were designed and implemented over the last decade, or more. It consists of a collection of 25 articles by analysts and practitioners with long histories in the country, who were closely involved in the programmes they describe. The contributions present a rare and detailed insight into the complexity of the intervention in Afghanistan – including the often complicated relations between donors and representatives of the Afghan government (with projects tending to be nominally Afghan-led, but clearly donor-driven), the difficulties in achieving greater coherence and leverage and, in many cases, the widely shared failure to learn the necessary lessons and to adapt to realities as they were encountered.

The experiences that the authors describe will probably sound all too familiar to anyone who has worked in post-conflict, aid-heavy contexts: the popularity of ‘trophy projects’ (Wiles), the proliferation of ‘encyclopaedic wish lists’ as a result of cumulative planning sessions (Leslie), the diplomatic wrangling to be given a seat at the table (Wilkens), the empty government buildings due to faulty planning (Horne), the frustration of trying to secure government buy-in for measures that threaten to disturb the political and economic status quo (Barr). They will also recognise the tendency for political expediency to trump long-term institution-building and accountability (Ruttig, Olexiuk, Kouvo) and the dubious role that post-conflict elections play in a country’s democratisation (Smith, Slavu).

The overarching lesson of the volume is probably that the key tools of the international assistance intervention – the protracted policy processes and coordination mechanisms, the large and inflexible assistance budgets, the focus on capacity building through mentoring and technical assistance – have proved to be very blunt indeed. There were successes to be found in the cracks, but mainly where a coherence of vision, realism and a fair amount of political will on the Afghan side ensured that good use was made of the resources provided.

The release of this book ahead of the Tokyo conference in July 2012 serves as a reminder of the recurring gaps between ambitious plans and conference statements on one hand and the subsequent realities of aid programming and implementation on the other. It is hoped this volume will help fortify the institutional memory of the donor community in Afghanistan, preventing future lapses and helping enable a greater capacity to learn world-wide. The lessons that have not been learned have relevance far beyond Afghanistan.
- Martine van Bijlert

Afghans Protest Woman's Public Execution

The release of a video showing a young woman’s public execution was absolutely heart breaking. There was a public protest in Kabul today calling for an end to gender-based violence.

Afghan women march with banners to protest the recent public execution of a young woman for alleged adultery, in Kabul on July 11, 2012. (MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/GettyImages)

Una Moore speaks to the day’s events.
“Today, for the second time this year, progressive Afghans took to Kabul’s streets to voice their outrage at a gruesome act of gender-based violence and demand justice for the victim. This time, the demonstration was prompted by the extrajudicial execution of a young woman named Najiba in a village less than two hours from the capital.

Last week, shocking video of the crime emerged online, causing uproar among civil society activists and human rights advocates. The New York Times published this unsparing description of the footage, which quickly went viral and is still available on the Guardian’s website."
Full post here.

Afghanistan head of Human Rights Commission Seema Samar (C) marches with Afghan women to protest the recent public execution of a young woman for alleged adultery, in Kabul on July 11, 2012. (MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/GettyImages)

Massoud Hossaini, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize last year for his work in Afghanistan has a slideshow of the demonstration.

Una Moore writes for UN Dispatch and has a great site called transitionland.

Young Women for Change have been focused on this issue for a long time. Check out their engaging facebook page.

Monday, July 9, 2012

War Supplies Resume Through Pakistan | Drone Strikes kill 19


On Friday, one day after Pakistan resumed transit of NATO war supplies to Afghanistan, CIA drones killed 19 in the Dhattakel region of North Waziristan.

The shipment of war supplies through Pakistan were suspended in November following a US cross-border air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

One of the requirements to open the supply line was an apology. In return, Pakistan agreed to levy no extra fees from the $250 per truck, and appear to have abandoned their demand that the US stop drone strikes in their country.

Background post here.





Friday, June 15, 2012

Regional Summit Addresses Impact of War

Yesterday the government of Afghanistan hosted representatives from 14 countries in the region to address the impact of three decades of war. The gathering focused on refugees, economic development, drug-trafficking and terrorism.



In addition to Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, participants at the conference included Russia, China, India, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Representatives of 15 mostly Western countries and a dozen regional and international organizations also attended as observers. They included the United States, Britain, Germany, the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO.

Below is a report from the Associated Press.
“KABUL - Afghanistan and regional heavyweights have agreed to work together to fight terrorism and drug-trafficking and pursue economic development — a formidable agenda in a neighbourhood fraught with power struggles and rivalries.

On Thursday, the Afghan government played host to 14 other countries in the region, a peculiar role for a nation at war for more than three decades.

The issues they discussed were not new. What is new is that these countries agreed to work as a team to solve common problems. The hope is that regional co-operation will build confidence and erode decades of mistrust. And that, in turn, could help foster stability and greater prosperity.

"Afghanistan recognizes out of a grim experience of the past that it is only in stability and harmony and peace in this region that Afghanistan can prosper and be stable," President Hamid Karzai said in his opening remarks.

The conference, held under heavy security in Kabul, was a follow-up to the first "Heart of Asia" meeting held in November in Istanbul.

Both sessions took place after the U.S.-led NATO coalition decided to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by the close of 2014. While that deadline likely hastened work to foster more regional co-operation, the meetings are more of a recognition that an unstable Afghanistan threatens the entire region.

"Whatever happens in Afghanistan affects us in one way or another," said Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Turkey and co-chairman of the event.

"In order to build confidence, one needs to commit to working together, to leave past negative memories behind and positively reconstruct future expectations."

The 15 nations that participated in the conference were: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. Representatives of 15 other countries, most of them Western, and a dozen regional and international organizations also attended.

Rivalries abound.

Pakistan and India, for instance, have fought three major wars since the two were carved out of British India in 1947. India and Afghanistan recently signed a strategic partnership agreement, adding to concerns in Islamabad that New Delhi was increasing its influence on Pakistan's western flank. Iran feels threatened by any long-term presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and rivals Saudi Arabia for domination of the Persian Gulf.

Enhanced co-operation could also stall over an inability to find a political resolution to the Afghan war.

The Taliban have been willing to hold discussions with the United States but have rejected talks with the Afghan government — though Karzai insists that Taliban leaders have spoken with his government in private. The Taliban have announced their intent to open an office in Qatar. Karzai has backed that plan, but has been pushing Saudi Arabia as a venue for any possible talks.

Karzai announced at the conference that Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the high peace council, would visit Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the near future. Rabbani is the son of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed in September 2011 by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.

At the Istanbul conference, the nations identified more than 40 steps that could be taken to build confidence in the region. On Thursday, they agreed to:

—Improve the exchange of information about commercial opportunities and trade conditions; enhance co-operation among chambers of commerce; and develop a strategy to develop interconnecting infrastructure across the region — with support from international partners.
—Broaden co-operation and exchanges in the fields of education and science.
—Develop joint plans for disaster management.
—Counter the production, trafficking and consumption of opium, other narcotic drugs.
—Work together to fight terrorism.

The conference communique states that terrorism and violent extremism must be addressed in all their forms, "including the dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens, as well as disrupting all financial and tactical support for terrorism."

This issue is aimed at Iran and Pakistan, which have been accused of not doing enough to counter militancy, or secretly facilitating it.

Iran has denied allegations that it provides financial support to militants.

Pakistan also bristles at allegations that it gives sanctuary to insurgents who attack Afghan and foreign forces across the border.

"If I believe that my future prosperity is linked with Afghans, then how can someone who is harming Afghanistan not be harming me?" Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar asked reporters, rhetorically, at a news conference after the conference.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi expressed support for regional co-operation, especially on drug-trafficking, but used his speech to criticize the U.S.-led military coalition. He said the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan has worsened security and led to a surge in narcotic drug production and trafficking.

The Iranian said "a particular country" intends to prolong its military presence in Afghanistan in "pursuit of its extra-regional objectives." It was clear that he was referring to the United States, which plans to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train Afghan forces and battle terrorism.

In the spirit of co-operation, however, Iran agreed to lead the education initiative — and the United States and Australia signed up to work on that issue too.

Kazakhstan has agreed to host the group's third meeting in the first half of next year in Astana.”

Pew Global Attitudes Survey | Drone Strikes Widely Opposed

Every wonder how people around the world view the impact of US policy and drones?

On Wednesday the Pew Global Attitudes Project released their latest survey (see chart). They found public opinion in 18 of the 21 countries surveyed opposed drone strikes.

The findings of the latest survey are made clear in the title “Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted

Gibran Ashaf, writing for the Express Tribune, offers a perspective from Pakistan. A country that has seen more people killed than any other from the CIA drone attacks.

One theme? Drone strikes are opposed by women more than men.


“It is little secret that the controversial drone strike programme operated by the US has been strongly opposed by many countries. The latest PEW poll from 21 countries reinforced international opposition to the programme with 18 countries, including key allies, disapproving. Interestingly, a gender breakdown of the poll results showed women expressed greater disapproval of drone strikes than men globally.

The report did not ask the question in countries which suffer from the drone strikes, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The report said a different question was asked in Pakistan, the result for which will be released in a subsequent report.

The countries where the strikes found most favour was in the US (62 per cent), UK (44 per cent – but with 47 per cent disapproval).

In what would be considered a blow, major allies of the US in the war against terror were opposed to the strikes programme, including France (63 per cent), Germany (59 per cent ), Italy (55 per cent) .

The most opposition was found in Greece (90 per cent), Egypt (89 per cent), Jordan (85 per cent), and Turkey (81 per cent).

Women oppose strikes more than men

A gender breakdown of the poll results showed an interesting aspect to the opposition, with more women disapproving of the controversial programme.

In the 10 countries for which the breakdown was provided, more women disapproved of the strikes than men, with Brazil (12 to 26 per cent), Germany (24 to 54 percent), Japan (11 to 32 percent), and the United States (51 to 74 per cent).

Legal battle continues

With the US claiming ardent success of its drone programme, the latest feather being the scalp of al Qaeda’s deputy commander Abu Yahya al Libi. But with mounting debate of its legality, the White House maintains the strikes are per US laws.

Though the question of its legality has arisen with rights groups seeking to file a law suit against the US government on behalf of the survivors and relatives of strike victims.

Recently, the question of the programme’s legality was raised from within the US Congress, with members writing a letter to President Barack Obama to explain under which tenets of the Constitution were the strikes being operated and what was the criteria being employed to select targets, thereby efforts to minimise civilian casualties.”
The Express Tribune is the first paper in Pakistan to partner with The International Herald Tribune.

Additional Resource: Drone Attack Page, Express Tribune

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pathways to Peace | Peacebuild & CARE Canada



“There have been limited attempts to demobilize rank-and file opposition fighters and to initiate a national dialogue through a national Peace Jirga and High Peace Council. While these efforts might lead to a Government-Taliban pact for power-sharing, they are unlikely to stop the fighting and even less likely to lead to a positive peace, as conceptualized by Johan Galtung.

A positive peace would restore relationships, meet the needs of the whole population, provide ways to manage conflicts constructively, and hence be widely regarded by Afghans as legitimate, fair, and worthy of support.”

Pathways to Peace: New Directions for an Inclusive Peace in Afghanistan

Executive summary

The planned withdrawal of the majority of international military forces from Afghanistan, coupled with a recognition that force alone will not lead to success in the destabilized region, demands a serious consideration of a negotiated end to the current war.

To date, negotiations have been limited to closed door ‘talks about talks’ between high-level leaders in the Afghan government and armed opposition groups, as well as among regional governments, armed opposition groups and members of the United Nations mandated, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

There have been limited attempts to demobilize rank-and file opposition fighters and to initiate a national dialogue through a national Peace Jirga and High Peace Council. While these efforts might lead to a Government-Taliban pact for power-sharing, they are unlikely to stop the fighting and even less likely to lead to a positive peace, as conceptualized by Johan Galtung.

A positive peace would restore relationships, meet the needs of the whole population, provide ways to manage conflicts constructively, and hence be widely regarded by Afghans as legitimate, fair, and worthy of support.

A lasting, positive peace can only be achieved through a comprehensive peace process that addresses the major causes of three decades of war and includes all major stakeholders.

Any peace process will be neither comprehensive nor lasting without the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 1889 or without the full inclusion of women. Women play a transformational role in peacebuilding and have a particularly high stake in a more just, open, and tolerant society; a society that allows for their participation in politics and the workforce, and respects the expansion of their rights along with the human rights of all residents. A legitimate peace process should be guided by the core values of accountability, transparency, inclusivity, and transitional justice, along with trust building, nation building, and the rejection of impunity.

Positive peace requires a transformation of society, a process that takes generations. However, the peace process provides a window of opportunity to sow the seeds for achieving this change.

A move in this direction would require:

• links between grassroots and national processes through elected representatives, a structured consultation process, and/or the effective mediation of civil society organizations;

• participation of men and women from all sectors of society in local and national dialogues; and

• peace education and trust-building to prepare people for participation in the comprehensive peace process, and to transform a culture and mentality of war into an appreciation for human rights, participatory governance, and non-violent conflict resolution.

Click here for the full report.

Troop Suicides Surging | I Am Who Survived (a poem)



Image from the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit at San Francisco’s City Hall. It was displayed on 19 March 2012 to mark the 9th Anniversary of the War in Iraq.
“Suicides are surging among America's troops, averaging nearly one a day this year – the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war.

The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan – about 50 percent more – according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press.”
-Robert Burns, Military Suicide Rate Surges To Nearly One Per Day This Year.


In April Nicholas Kristof documented the broader issue of veteran suicides.
“More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.”
This Poem, published by the Warrior Writers Project, hints why.


I AM WHO SURVIVED

I am a Christian
who survived 9 commandments but violated one
Thou shalt not kill
Plain and simple right?
It's more complicated than that
I followed my leaders with a long black crucifix in my hands
I loaded proverbs into magazines and shot them out of my crucifix
I carried bibles in my grenade pouches.
Forgive me father, for I have sinned
I have allowed bearers of false witness to burn you in an oil fire
I have allowed false idols to drop you on innocent victims, killing some, and disfiguring others
I have killed and allowed killing
I shall never kill again
I shall never get lost in the sandstorm of lies and shoot my way out.
Who survived?
I might have, but my faith didn't

by Cloy Richards

What you can do

Iraq Veterans Against War seek to address this issue through operation recovery.

AFSC Resource | The War Within: The Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Deadly Day | 68 Killed Across Afghanistan



The Associated Press is reporting that 18 civilians were killed after NATO aircraft bombed houses in support of a joint Special Forces night raid. The raid in Logar province was targeting a local Taliban leader. NATO is disputing the figures.

In Kandahar three bombs killed 22 in a busy market in Kandahar City. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack that targeted Afghan security forces outside a sprawling NATO base in the southern city.

The Afghan Interior Ministry reports that the “Afghan army and police, backed by the NATO-led coalition forces, have eliminated 26 Taliban insurgents during cleanup operations within the past 24 hours…”

NATO also reports that two soldiers died in a helicopter crash in an undisclosed location.

Alissa J. Rubin and Taimoor Shah have a sobering summary in the NYT’s of the years deadliest day for civilians.

Records kept by Xinhua, based on figures released by Afghan Interior Ministry, reveal that around 400 insurgents have been killed, 120 wounded and nearly 450 others detained since May 1 during military operations across the insurgency-hit country. Xinhua is the official press agency of the People's Republic of China.


*****


Just last week the United Nations announced a decline in civilian deaths for the first time since they started keeping track. The figures were reported during a press conference in Kabul. The report has yet to be released publicly.

The Associated Press reported.
“The number of Afghan civilians killed has dropped 36 percent so far this year compared with last, the U.N. said Wednesday, the first time the death toll has declined over multiple months since the United Nations started keeping track.”
Afghan deaths reached a record high in 2011.

Civil society organizations have been united in their appeal that in conjunction with the removal of foreign forces and disarmament efforts, there needs to be an inclusive political process to address the roots of conflict.

In fact, the recent report Unheard Voices: Afghan Views on the Peace Process finds just that.
“Many people see the obstacles to the peace process as external to the country, whereas solutions are more readily identified as internal. Locally, specific conditions in localities such as Marjah and Qadis, in Helmand and Badghis, showed distinct perspectives on questions related to Taliban demands and government strength respectively.”
Earlier in the month the NGO safety Office did release the finding of their monitoring finding that levels of violence from all actors in Afghanistan decreased except for the Afghan security forces which is increasing.

Afghanistan NGO Safety Office | First Quarter Data Report


“Armed Opposition Groups (AOG) attack volumes have decreased by 43% in comparison to Q1 2011 providing the first reliable indicator that the conflict may be entering a period of regression after years of sustained, and compounded, growth by all actors in the field. Despite this, one must still consider them an ascendant power, as they themselves clearly do, and a key question remains as to whether this lack of activity is a deliberate act and if so, why. As last year was characterised by AOG doing more earlier; this year has begun with them doing less later.



Of course, the same could be said for all actors in the field, as this years comprehensive incident volumes are 32% lower than Q1 2011, suggesting a level of synergy between the various parties to the conflict. An exception to this would be the ANSF, who are increasingly shouldering a heavier burden as the ISAF presence wanes, all part of the ongoing processes of withdrawal and transition. There are hints that this fundamental shift in responsibility may result in positive developments, particularly at the tactical level. This apparent willingness between the remaining players to reach local agreements may ultimately result in a broader space within which the NGO community is able to operate, as the volume of actively contested space shrinks.”

***



“Ultimately, the first quarter of this year raises more questions than it answers by providing numerous indicators of the increasingly fluid nature of the conflict. A new phase in the evolution of the context is being realised, though how this will play out in the coming months, and years, is unclear and only with further analysis of the interplay between the various groups will this new reality become apparent.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Naheed Farid | A Portrait of Afghanistan’s Youngest MP

“Young people represent the new identity for Afghanistan. They can show that we are not only the country of violence and blood, but a country of peace. They have big dreams for this country. I am calling on the youth of Afghanistan to be more engaged in politics, to debate and campaign so that they too can help make the change.”


“My name is Naheed Farid.

I am the youngest MP in Parliament. I am a representative of Herat province. I also consider myself a representative of youth and women.

I was the first girl from our family or tribe to leave Afghanistan and go to Europe to study.

After I got married I did my Masters in America. My education in America, as an Afghan woman, was really interesting to me. I had entered a society with a completely different system. I had entered the land of opportunities, something that never existed in Afghanistan.

I found opportunity in the path of politics, and I stepped in that path. There’s a lack of healthy leadership and politics in Afghanistan, and I thought even with small steps, I could make a difference. My steps were not steady in the beginning. I was afraid to be in this field. I was afraid for my family, my husband and my child to become victims of this path of politics.

My campaign holds both sweet and bitter memories for me.

I felt like I was giving hope to women and youth. It was like I was opening a path for them. Particularly women and girls – they were asking me to be their representative – to open up a way for them to step into politics. I really hope I can live up to this responsibility.

I saw some shocking things when I was traveling for my campaign – graveyards full of women who had died in childbirth, villages with children who had never bathed. It made me more determined to win and give these people a voice.

The people who really campaigned for me were young children. Some I had met and others I hadn’t. They persuaded their parents to vote for me. I was receiving so many phone calls from parents saying they had heard about me from their children and that they would support me.



During my campaign I couldn’t really be a mother to my child. It really saddened me to know that I wasn’t looking after her the way she needed me to.

I received so many threats that I had to stop the campaign towards the end. I got messages saying that Taliban were waiting to attack me. I was restricted to just one district in Herat. I had to ask for military protection. My family was also affected by the security problems. I had to take my daughter out of kindergarten because of the threat. This is still an issue now, my friends ask me to be careful; to employ a bodyguard and keep a gun in the car. But I hate such things.

I work in Parliament from 9am until 4pm but that is only one part of the work. Since MPs are representatives of people, we have meetings with many different groups. Often we’re home only 3 or 4 nights a week. Sometimes we have meetings until 11pm. I cannot say yes to every invitation or request, otherwise I would never be at home. I don’t like disappointing my supporters this way.

The image I had for a government of nation building, transparency, and anti-corruption is pale now because there are people inside parliament who work against these things.

Many of the women MPs come from insecure areas and they cannot work for their people the way they want to. Security is still a big issue. These women are those who 10 years ago did not have the right to go to school, to work, to the bazaar, even to hospital. We try to be united to push women’s issues to the front.

But it’s really hard for a commander, who is now an MP, a person that has never cared about women’s values and has always talked with guns. Now he must sit next to me; he gets 3 minutes to talk and I get 3 minutes. I have the right to speak, and he has to hear my voice. This is a different vision towards women.

Young people represent the new identity for Afghanistan. They can show that we are not only the country of violence and blood, but a country of peace. They have big dreams for this country. I am calling on the youth of Afghanistan to be more engaged in politics, to debate and campaign so that they too can help make the change.”

Re-posted from the web site Kabul: A City at Work.
"A portrait of a city through its working people"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Afghanistan's 'Little America' and For-Profit War



First with an ill-fated Cold War-era project and now with the war today, Helmand province has been the source of enormously lucrative private contracting that has done little to improve peoples' lives.

Visit Afghanistan's 'Little America,' and See the Folly of For-Profit War
David Rohde | Jun 1 2012
“Eight years ago, a 72-year-old American aid worker named Charles Grader told me a seemingly fantastical story. In a bleak stretch of Afghan desert that resembled the surface of Mars, several dozen families from states like Montana, Wisconsin and California had lived in suburban tract homes with backyard barbecues. For 30 years during the Cold War, the settlement served as the headquarters of a massive American project designed to wean Afghans from Soviet influence.

American engineers oversaw the largest development program in Afghanistan’s history, constructing two huge earthen dams, 300 miles of irrigation canals and 1,200 miles of gravel roads. All told, the project made 250,000 acres of desert bloom. The town, officially known as “Lashkar Gah,” was the new capital of Helmand province and an ultra-modern world of workshops and offices. Afghans called it “Little America.”

Intrigued, I hitched a ride to the town with Grader a few weeks later. A weathered New England blue blood, Grader was the last American to head the Kabul office of the U.S. Agency for International Development before the 1979 Soviet invasion. In 2004, he was back in Afghanistan working as a contractor, refusing to retire just yet and trying, it seemed, to do good.

From the moment we arrived in Lashkar Gah, I was transfixed by Little America, its history and its meaning. At enormous cost, a sweeping American Cold War effort had temporarily eased the destitution of one corner of Afghanistan but failed to achieve its lofty goals. Surveying the town, I desperately hoped America could do better.”
Click here to read the full article

Additional Resources:

Kajaki Dam and the Helmand Valley Authority

BBC Radio | How Little America was Built

Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
215-241-7000 · web@afsc.org