Taleban threaten to blow up girls’ schools if they refuse to close

December 27, 2008

From the Times:

girlsThe Taleban have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the war-ravaged Swat district and warned parents and teachers of dire consequences if the ban is flouted.

In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.

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A foreign face beloved by Afghans from all sides

December 25, 2008

John F. Burns in International Herald Tribune:

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Alberto Cairo, right, heads the orthopedic rehabilitation program of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a job dedicated to helping disabled Afghans live normally again by equipping them with artificial legs and arms. Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Kabul: History has fostered a notion here that all foreign occupations of Afghanistan are ultimately doomed.

There was the catastrophic retreat of a British expeditionary force in 1842. Nearly 150 years later came the Soviet troop withdrawal of 1989. Now, with the Taliban pressing in on this city and dominating the countryside, there are fears that this occupation, too, will eventually fail.

But whatever the outcome, Afghans of all ethnic and political stripes, even the Taliban, seem likely to count Alberto Cairo as one foreigner who left the country better than he found it.

Cairo, once a debonair lawyer in his native Turin, Italy, is almost certainly the most celebrated Western relief official in Afghanistan, at least among Afghans. To the generation who have been beneficiaries of his relief work for the International Committee of the Red Cross, he is known simply as “Mr. Alberto,” a man apart among the 15,000 foreigners who live and work in this city.

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In the lair of the Taliban

December 8, 2008

They were ousted in 2001, yet across Afghanistan the Taliban are steadily regaining control. The writer Nir Rosen ventured into their heartland – and lived to tell the tale. From the Sunday Times:

talibanOn the outskirts of the capital we are stopped at a checkpoint manned by the Afghan National Army. The soldiers are suspicious of my foreign accent. My Afghan companions, Shafiq and Ibrahim, convince them that I am only a journalist. As we drive away, Ibrahim laughs. The soldiers thought I was a suicide bomber. Ibrahim did not tell them that he and Shafiq are mid-level Taliban commanders escorting me deep into Ghazni.

Until recently, Ghazni, like much of central Afghanistan, was considered reasonably safe. But now the province, 100 miles south of Kabul, has fallen to the Taliban. Foreigners who venture there often wind up kidnapped or killed. In defiance of the central government, the Taliban governor in the province issues separate ID cards and passports for the Taliban regime, or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

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A life in the day: ‘Rebecca’, UN worker in Kabul

November 24, 2008

A 29-year-old UN adviser describes her daily life in Afghanistan. Sharon Brennan in the Times:

I set my alarm for 6.50 every morning and light a wood fire in a metal heater in my room as soon as I get out of bed. During winter it was often minus 25 outside. I’ll have a shower and dry my hair. It’s a 15-minute battle trying to dress as covered up as possible while feeling professional and feminine. I must have my head covered at all times when I’m outside my house or workplace. You’re not meant to see the female shape, and the three scarves I own go down to my knees. They are all black, so they match everything and don’t get dirty: there’s so much dust in this city.

I get picked up at 7.45am by a driver in a UN Land Cruiser with blast-proof windows. I could walk to work, as it’s only five minutes away, but for our safety we’re never allowed to walk far on the streets.

I head for the Portakabin canteen in our UN compound. Breakfast this morning was a British-style egg sandwich with lots of ketchup.

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Making movies the Afghan way

Cinema was banned under the Taliban, but film-makers are once again at work inside Afghanistan. Robert Fisk visits a set near Bagram. From the Independent:

Actors on the set of The White Rock, about the murder of 680 Afghan refugees by Iranians

Actors on the set of The White Rock, about the murder of 680 Afghan refugees by Iranians

Drive north of Kabul for an hour, turn left into a grey desert and head east for fifteen minutes, the sand shawling up the side of the windows until an armed man in the uniform of the Iranian police stops you before a forbidding compound of watchtowers, mud walls and razor wire. For a brief moment, that willing suspension of disbelief – I can see the inmates sitting on the sand beyond the iron gate – I forget that this is an Afghan movie set, and that Daoud Wahab, the producer of ‘The White Rock’ is sitting in front of me. “Looks real, huh?” he asks over his shoulder. It does.

For incredibly, as Afghanistan sinks back into the anarchy which became its natural state these past 29 years, Afghan film-makers are producing movies of international quality, turning out pictures which prove – even amid war – that a country’s tragedy can be imaginatively recreated for its people. Safaid Sang – Dari (Persian) for White Rock – was an Afghan refugee detention camp inside Iran whose Iranian guards helped to massacre more than 630 of their prisoners in 1998 after inmates protested at their treatment. The atrocity – largely unknown in the West – ended after two Iranian helicopters strafed the Afghans with machine guns. Quite a story. Quite a movie.

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Obama and the (bleep) K word

November 4, 2008

Hours before the American people decide on their next President, Democrat presidential candidate (and front-runner) Barack Obama hit a raw nerve in India with his comments on Kashmir. “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants,” Obama told Rachel Maddow of MSNBC in response to a question on why he believed more American troops were needed in Afghanistan.

India, always prickly about third party intervention (its stand is that Kashmir is an ‘internal problem’ that is nobody’s business but its own) was quick to respond. Defence and security analyst C Raja Mohan warned in The Indian Express: “If Obama’s Kashmir thesis becomes the policy, many negative consequences might ensue.”

Officially, India has downplayed Obama’s Kashmir comments. But BJP party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said they were “an unwarranted interference in India’s internal affairs”.

Obama’s statement has been welcomed by Kashmiri separatists, including the Kashmiri American Council

Obama’s stand on Kashmir — and his view that the solution to Afghanistan lies in Pakistan both because al Qaeda and the Taliban are based there and also because it suits Pakistan to back Islamic militants against India — are not particularly new. Obama visited Afghanistan in July and had at the time also voiced his opinion on the need for the US to work towards improving relationships between India and Pakistan.

Read the transcript of Barack Obama’s interview here.


Kabul notebook

November 2, 2008

In The Spectator, David Tang writes from Kabul:

The grandson of the King told my wife and me at dinner that we were ‘the only two tourists in Kabul’! In fact, we nearly did not arrive because on the eve of our flight, the aid-worker Gayle Williams was shot dead by the Taleban in broad daylight. The incident made world headlines and the Afghan capital suddenly more dangerous. I was at a shoot and all my fellow guns thought I would be mad to go. But I also knew that I would go mad if I did not. For assurance, I telephoned the inimitable Rory Stewart on the ground. He was too polite to insist on our visit, but sounded calm – not exactly unexpected from someone who had walked across the entire breadth of Afghanistan and was a deputy governor of an Iraqi province. So my wife and I packed – she with a large scarf and I with my oldest clothes (that fitted).

There was no one in the arrivals hall at Kabul airport, because no one was allowed in the arrivals hall at Kabul. Everyone had to walk a gauntlet of 500 yards of barricades from the airport building. But Rory Stewart was not anyone. He had arranged, impressively, a diplomatic car right in front of the entrance of the airport, except there was no one around to be impressed.

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A warning, a blast, a fight to save an Afghan life

November 1, 2008

In an isolated Afghan outpost, it was up to an American Army doctor and trauma medics to keep a wounded Afghan alive. From the New York Times:

 Members of a team trying to save the life of Jamaludin, an Afghan cook wounded in a Taliban mortar attack. Tyler Hicks / NYTimes

Members of a team trying to save the life of Jamaludin, an Afghan cook wounded in a Taliban mortar attack. Tyler Hicks / NYTimes

COMBAT OUTPOST LOWELL, Afghanistan – Jamaludin, an aging Afghan cook, twisted and writhed on the green stretcher. Blood ran from his mouth and nose. Medics had cut away his clothes, revealing puncture holes where shrapnel from a Taliban mortar round had struck him minutes before.

Capt. Norberto A. Rodriguez, an American Army doctor, listened through a stethoscope as two Army medics and a Navy corpsman inventoried Jamaludin’s wounds. There were holes on his back, neck, buttocks, left leg and beside his right eye.

Jamaludin, who like many Afghans has only one name, had been made wild by fear and pain. But for some reason he could not speak. He shook his head, sputtered and vomited blood. “Oh no, no, no,” Captain Rodriguez said, and quickly rolled him to his side.

The patient had heavy internal bleeding and was choking on his own seepage. The captain needed information. Was it shrapnel, a shock wave or both that had ruptured him inside? Jamaludin was near death. They were racing against time.

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