View Full Version : [Afghan News] March 6, 2012

03-06-2012, 02:04 PM
Avalanche Buries Village in Northeast Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Rescuers shoveled through deep snow Tuesday searching for victims of an avalanche that destroyed a village of 200 people in northeastern Afghanistan, authorities said. Thirty-seven people have been confirmed dead, but authorities fear the death toll will rise.
"It is a mountainous area with so much snow," said Shams Ul Rahman, the deputy governor of Badakhshan province where the avalanche occurred on Sunday night. "My concern is that many more people were killed."
People from a nearby village were the first to reach the site. They were joined on Tuesday by rescue workers from Darwaz district, who walked for two days to reach the remote area.
About 100 rescuers equipped only with shovels are digging through mounds of snow looking for anyone who might have survived, Rahman said. He said initial reports were that only three women and one child survived the avalanche, as they were not in the village of Dasty at the time.
Mohammad Daim Kakar, general director of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, said authorities were trying to find two helicopters that can be sent to ferry blankets, food and medicine to the site, which is close to the Tajikistan border.
Deadly avalanches are common in Afghanistan's mountainous north in winter. In February 2010, one killed more than 170 people at the 12,700-foot (3,800-meter) -high Salang Pass, which is the major route through the Hindu Kush mountains that connects the capital to the north.

Afghan Leader Says Progress Made On Long-Term U.S. Deal
March 6, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says some progress has been made in negotiations with the United States on the terms of a long-term strategic partnership agreement.
The deal is aimed at establishing the legal base for the continued presence of several thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal deadline, and also detail a U.S. commitment to continue aid and support to the Afghan government for the next 10 years.
Recent reports have suggested that negotiations have stalled over the issue of the transfer of U.S.-held detainees to Afghan control, as well as night raids on suspected militants by U.S.-led forces .
The reported snags in the talks come as U.S.-Afghan relations have been embittered by an incident last month in which copies of the Koran, the Islamic holy book, were burned at the NATO-run Bagram base near Kabul.
The February 20 burning -- which U.S. officials say was a mistake -- sparked six days of violent anti-American protests in which more than 30 people were killed, and led to an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Karzai, in response to a question by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan at a news conference in Kabul on March 6, said "there has been progress" in talks with the United States, but that his government was seeking to increase it.
"Yes, Afghanistan has its own terms for the strategic relations with the U.S. and those terms were set by the loya jirga," or grand council, Karzai said.
"We are working on it with the U.S. government. During the last week there has been progress in this regard. We also had negotiations yesterday," he added. "We had some questions and asked for clarifications. There has been progress, but Afghanistan is seeking to increase it."
An Afghan government spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said Karzai met U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, on March 5.
The spokesman said that in the meeting, the three men discussed a U.S. proposal to hand over the main prison in the country, a detention facility next to the Bagram base, to Afghan control within six months.
Karzai had initially demanded that the prison be handed over by early February, then extended the deadline to March 9.
The Afghan spokesman said the three men also discussed the issue of night raids. Karzai wants an immediate halt to the night raids -- but U.S. forces argue that such operations are critical to success in the fight against insurgents.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall declined to disclose any details about the March 5 meeting.
With AFP and AP reporting

Afghan government says likely to reach U.S. prison deal
KABUL (Reuters) - An agreement on the transfer of U.S.-managed detention centers to Afghan authorities is likely soon, the Afghan presidential spokesman said Tuesday, a move that could advance efforts to reach a long-term strategic partnership.
"Both sides are studying a memorandum of understanding now. I am optimistic we will reach an agreement in the next three days," the spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told Reuters. U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement, which Washington and Kabul have been discussing for over a year, will be the framework for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the last foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan.
Afghanistan wants the United States and NATO to agree to stop carrying out night raids on Afghan homes as a precondition for signing an agreement with Washington and a timeline to assume control over detention centers.
In a meeting Monday between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, the American side proposed a six-month timeline for the transfer.
Karzai was reported to have set a deadline of March 9 for the United States to hand over the detention facilities.
An Afghan official said that under one possible scenario, a transfer of prisons could start within the next few days and it may be completed within six months.
Relations have been heavily strained in recent weeks over the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base, which triggered violent protests and prompted some Afghan security forces to turn their weapons on American soldiers.
(Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

No Sign of Progress in Afghanistan Talks Embittered by Koran Burnings
New York Times By GRAHAM BOWLEY March 5, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - The United States and Afghanistan appeared to make no headway here on Monday in high-level negotiations on a long-term strategic partnership that have been embittered somewhat by the Koran burnings last month. Elsewhere, further violence left three people dead, including two children killed in a suicide attack on the main NATO military base where the Korans were desecrated.
President Hamid Karzai met with Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, according to the Afghan government spokesman, Aimal Faizi.
In the meeting, the three men officially discussed for the first time an American proposal to accelerate the transfer of detention centers in the country to the Afghans to as soon as six months from now, but President Karzai stuck to his position that he wanted an immediate transfer of all detainees to Afghan control by a deadline of Friday, Mr. Faizi said.
“It was proposed, but it does not mean that we have accepted it or that we reached an agreement,” Mr. Faizi said. “It will be discussed in the coming three days.”
A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Kabul, Gavin Sundwall, would not comment on the negotiations.
Describing the meeting as “fruitful,” Mr. Faizi said the fact that the men had met was a sign that talks were still continuing toward reaching an agreement.
“There was a very positive meeting,” he said.
But fears were growing that the two sides were maybe too far apart after the Afghan government’s refusal to accept the American offer of a six-month timetable, already a large concession from an American position that even as recently as a few weeks ago delayed any transfer indefinitely.
The three men also discussed Mr. Karzai’s insistence on the complete cessation of night raids — another issue for the Americans, who maintain that the nighttime operations are critical in the war — but the main focus was authority over the detention centers.
The long-term strategic agreement is supposed to lay out an American commitment to continue aid and support to the Afghan government for the next 10 years, and provide the basis for an agreement on the long-term troop presence after the 2014 withdrawal deadline. But the burning of Korans in February by American soldiers at the Bagram air base, which provoked widespread outrage in Afghanistan, has hardened the atmosphere of the talks.
In the violence around the country, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing two children and wounding six other people, as he tried to enter a gate at the Bagram base on Monday, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for the desecration of the Korans and other holy texts.
Roshna Khalid, a spokeswoman for the governor of Parwan Province, said the attacker drove to the base before approaching one of the gates on foot and detonating a suicide vest.
According to Aziz Ahmad, secretary to the governor, two NATO soldiers were among those wounded, but NATO would only confirm that an explosion had taken place outside the base.
In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber struck at a police checkpoint about 200 yards from the provincial governor’s office in Jalalabad, killing an intelligence officer and wounding 12 other people, police and health officials said. The attack took place during an official visit by the deputy interior minister responsible for security and senior officials of the national intelligence service.
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, and an employee of The New York Times from Nangahar, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan president backs strict guidelines for women
March 06, 2012 Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan's president has endorsed a "code of conduct" issued by an influential council of clerics that activists say represent a giant step backward for women's rights in the country.
President Hamid Karzai's Tuesday endorsement of the Ullema Council's document, which allows husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances and encourages segregation of the sexes, is seen as part of his outreach to insurgents like the Taliban.
Both the U.S. and Karzai hope that the Taliban can be brought into negotiations to end the country's decade-long war.
But activists say they're worried that gains made by women since 2001 may be lost in the process.
Karzai said that the document issued Friday was in keeping with Islam and did not restrict women.

Senior police official injured in E. Afghanistan blast
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, March 6 (Xinhua) -- A senior police official and three of his bodyguards were injured Tuesday morning in a blast in Jalalabad city, capital of eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.
"A bomb planted along a road in Jalalabad city went off at around 8:15 a.m. local time when my vehicle passed-by the area," Mohammad Ayub Hossainkhil, a senior police commander with Afghan border police, told Xinhua in a provincial capital hospital.
He said he escaped the attack but only received minor injuries and that his three bodyguards were also slightly injured in the incident.
Afghan officials and pro-government figures have been repeatedly targeted by the militants since May 2011 when the Taliban insurgents launched a rebel offensive against Afghan and NATO forces in insurgency-hit country.
A security officer with Afghan intelligence agency was killed and 11 others including eight civilians were injured a suicide bombing in Jalalabad city on Monday afternoon.

Roadside bomb wounds 6 Afghans
KHOST, Afghanistan, March 6 (Xinhua)-- Six people were injured as a roadside bomb struck a vehicle in Khost province 150 km southeast of capital Kabul on Tuesday, a local official said.
"A mine planted by militants struck a police van in Khost city, the capital of Khost province at around 09:00 a.m. local time today. As a result, six people were injured and all the victims have been taken to hospital," head of health department in Khost city Amir Padshah Mangal told Xinhua.
Two police officers and four civilians,including a child, are among the injured, he added.
This is the second bomb attack against police in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
In the previous attack a senior police official and three of his bodyguards were injured as a bomb planted by insurgents went off in Jalalabad city, capital of eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar at 08:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ousted deputy leader of Pakistan Taliban favors government talks
By Jibran Ahmad Tue Mar 6, 2012 10:49am EST
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A deputy leader of the Pakistan Taliban, reportedly ousted at the weekend by a militant council, still favors peace talks with the Pakistani government, he told Reuters on Tuesday.
Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, who commands militants of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistan Taliban, in the tribal region of Bajaur near the Afghan border, has reportedly been in talks with the government in Islamabad over a peace deal.
The TTP, allied with the Afghan Taliban movement fighting U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, is entrenched in the unruly areas along the porous frontier. It has pledged to overthrow the Pakistan government after the military started operations against the militant groups.
Past peace pacts with the TTP have failed to bring stability, and merely gave the umbrella group time and space to consolidate, launch attacks and impose their austere version of Islam on segments of the population.
The TTP leadership is split over new talks with the Pakistan government, with some hardliners rejecting them.
Mohammad said, however, he has never disobeyed the council.
"Whenever I've held talks with the government of Pakistan, I've held them with the permission and advice of the central leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan," Mohammad said from an undisclosed location.
"When the Taliban in Afghanistan can talk to America, then why can't we talk to the government of Pakistan?"
Pakistan last month urged leaders of the Afghan Taliban movement to enter direct peace negotiations with Kabul, a possible sign that Islamabad is stepping up support for reconciliation in neighboring Afghanistan.
A council which reportedly included TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, ousted Mohammad, but he said he had "no information on this council, its members, or where its meeting was held."
"Except for Ehsanullah Ehsan, who contacted the media, no important Taliban leader has contacted me." Ehsanullah is the spokesman for the TTP and announced the demotion.
Pakistan and the TTP have been in stuttering peace talks for months, with Mohammad one of the most vocal proponents of negotiations. In December, he said he hoped to sign a peace deal in Bajaur that would be a model for the rest of the tribal areas.
TTP leader Mehsud, who is close to al Qaeda, vehemently opposes the talks.
Any division within the TTP could hinder the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda's struggle in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies, making it more difficult to recruit young fighters and disrupting safe havens in Pakistan used by the Afghan militants.
It could also make the Pakistan Army's chore of clearing out the militant-infested regions easier if it can exploit the divisions.
The TTP has long struggled with its choice of targets. Some factions are at war with the Pakistan state while others concentrate on the fight against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.
There has been a noticeable decrease in militant attacks in Pakistan in recent months, but there continue to be random acts of violence across the country.
Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban commanders are asking the TTP to provide more men for the fight in Afghanistan and are looking to smooth over the dispute within the TTP.
(Writing by Chris Allbritton; Editing by Ed Lane and Maria Golovnina)

More than half of Americans back Obama's Koran apology
By Missy Ryan Mon Mar 5, 2012 6:42pm EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than half of Americans support President Barack Obama's apology for U.S. troops burning copies of the Koran, an incident that triggered a spate of bloody protests and attacks on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, 56 percent of those surveyed backed Obama, who has been criticized by U.S. Republican presidential candidates for apologizing to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Twenty-three percent disagreed.
While the spasm of violence that erupted following the incident on a NATO base in Afghanistan does not appear to have significantly altered Americans' perspective on the war, 66 percent of those polled also said Washington should bring its troops home immediately.
Obama's formal apology and the debate that decision created have underscored the delicate course the president must tread in his campaign for re-election in November.
Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues are sure to take a backseat to the economy in the campaign but Obama is loath to give Republicans more ammunition in the crucial months before the elections.
The poll, conducted from March 2 to March 5, showed that far more Democrats supported Obama's apology, with 76 percent of them saying Obama made the right decision.
Only 37 percent of Republicans backed the apology, and almost half said Obama was not right to do so. Some 53 percent of independents supported the apology.
In keeping with calls from Capitol Hill, Democrats surveyed professed even less support than Republicans for a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
Some 76 percent of Democrats said U.S. troops should be withdrawn immediately, compared with 53 percent of Republicans. Seventy percent of independents favored an immediate withdrawal.
The poll included 1,143 Americans interviewed online. The poll had a credibility interval of 3.4 percentage points.
Obama cannot allow the outcry over the Koran incident and other NATO missteps to undermine tentative security gains, weakening his ability to point to a series of security successes such as the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, or worsen tensions with the mercurial Karzai government.
His decision received extra scrutiny when, several days later, two U.S. officers were shot dead by an Afghan inside the Afghan Interior Ministry, one of a spate of so-called 'insider' attacks on NATO forces since the Koran burnings took place.
The Koran burnings could be behind the death of up to six American soldiers.
On Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least two civilians at the gates of the base where the Korans were burned. The Taliban said the attack was an act of 'revenge.
Underlying the debate over Obama's apology are even larger questions about the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, where over 10 years after the Taliban government was toppled the militant group remains a potent enemy.
Obama plans to pull all of the 33,000 troops he deployed in 2009-10, credited with turning around the long-neglected campaign in Afghanistan, by this fall, leaving around 68,000 U.S. troops. Most foreign combat troops are due to withdraw by the end of 2014.
(Editing by Warren Strobel and Eric Walsh)

Afghan, Pakistani Among U.S. 'Women Of Courage' Award Winners
March 6, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The U.S. State Department has included an Afghan provincial council member and a Pakistani rights activist among the honorees for 2012 International Women Of Courage Awards.
Maryam Durani, described as "a leader and a role model for women throughout Afghanistan" and a member of Kandahar’s Provincial Council, directs a nonprofit women's cultural organization and owns and manages a local radio station focusing on women's issues.
Pakistan's Shad Begum founded the Union of Women’s Welfare, which provides political training, microcredit, education, and health services to women in the ultraconservative district of Dir, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Begum has been elected to local posts and continues to work despite calls for suicide attacks against her by extremists.
Other recipients of this year's award include women from Burma, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.

Why Are We in Afghanistan?
The Huffington Post By Ethan Casey Author, 'Alive and Well in Pakistan' 05/03/2012
By "we" I mean we Americans, since I am an American and the question of the American presence in Afghanistan is the one that's most urgent and on people's minds. In 1967 the American author Norman Mailer published a novel about a hunting trip in Alaska, titled Why Are We in Vietnam? The question could not have been more timely or explicit, but -- ambitious writer that he was -- Mailer chose to address it indirectly. The real subject of his novel was the darker recesses of the human soul.
Last week I had an opportunity to speak to young people who soon will be on the front lines of the American military and geopolitical presence worldwide. The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs held its 19th Annual National Character and Leadership Symposium on February 23 and 24, and I was one of the invited speakers. Incidentally, NCLS speakers are nominated by the cadets themselves, and the cadet who nominated me was Mahhad Nayyer, who is the first Pakistani exchange cadet to study at the USAFA since 2004. I had the pleasure of spending two full days with Mahhad, and he is a fine young man who is representing Pakistan honorably and well in a challenging context.
The symposium's overall theme was "Walk the Walk: Leaders in Ethical Action." I want to forestall any easy or bitter jokes about ethics and the U.S. military by pointing out two things: that, while it's true that the U.S. military is responsible for many bad things, so is the Pakistani military; and that it's to the U.S. military's credit that it holds such a symposium annually. It would have been easy for the Air Force Academy to offer its cadets only flattery and nationalistic self-congratulation, and there was some of that at the symposium. But there also were some hard truths offered by speakers such as Sherron Watkins, a true American heroine who gained notoriety 10 years ago by exposing massive corruption at Enron Corporation. In my own speech, I felt compelled to address several recent incidents in which U.S. soldiers have made things worse in Afghanistan, first and foremost for Afghans but secondarily and importantly also for themselves and their own country.
"It's helpful to remember that some moral dilemmas aren't actually dilemmas at all," I said. (The full text of my speech is online here.) "We all know darn well, as my late grandmother would put it, that some things are just plain wrong. For example, you don't have to be a theologian or moral philosopher to know that it's wrong to urinate on other people, no matter who those people are or what bad things they might have done. You can be an uneducated farmer's daughter like my grandmother and know that.
When a video surfaced in January of four U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghans presumed -- but not known -- to have been Taliban, I wrote about it, and I took flak from many Americans, including readers who identified themselves as soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan, who were prepared to make excuses for them or to lecture me about how I should show more gratitude toward our proverbial men and women in uniform. But I know darn well that urinating on other people is just plain wrong. And, as a citizen of the United States of America, I don't want American soldiers urinating on other people in my name."
I wrote a full draft of the speech several days ahead of time. My father and a friend who read it both thought I might be hitting too hard on the urination incident. They didn't excuse it, but they feared I might alienate my audience. I had the same fear, and I did consider removing or revising references that might give offense. But wasn't the point of the references, and of the speech as a whole, the importance of taking care to avoid giving offense, especially in wartime and on another nation's soil? If I avoided confronting -- and asking my audience to confront -- the urination incident head-on, why was I there?
In any case, the question was rendered moot when I woke up last Tuesday morning to the deeply exasperating news that copies of the Koran had been burned as refuse at Bagram Air Field. I accept that the Korans was not burned with any intent to offend, and it's (slightly) helpful that both General John Allen and President Obama have apologized for the incident. But, as I told the cadets, such incidents need to not happen in the first place. Ten years into a vastly destructive yet inconclusive war on the soil of a Muslim country, America needs to do better than that.
Which brings us back to my original question: Why are we in Afghanistan? I really don't know anymore. We were in Vietnam because we thought that if the Communists took over South Vietnam, they wouldn't stop until they got to America. I guess we're in Afghanistan because, analogously, we fear -- with some real cause -- that "Islamists" hate America and want to bring us down or forcibly convert us. But does that fear justify committing atrocities ourselves?
My personal answer, the answer I shared with the U.S. Air Force Academy cadets, is: no, it doesn't. That's a hard answer to live with, because it means you can't make excuses. It also means that a nation accustomed to pursuing an assertive "forward policy" in the world might have to get used to being vulnerable like everybody else.
Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004), Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010), and Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti (2012). His next book will be Home Free: An American Road Trip. Web: ( or (

Pakistani Comic's Takedown Of Afghan Musical Culture Hits False Note
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty March 6, 2012 Malali Bashir
The Pakistani media -- like the country's textbooks, which describe Afghanistan as the first country to oppose Pakistani entry into the United Nations (sidelining the issue of Durand line and Pashtunistan) but ignore the fact that Kabul stood by Islamabad during its wars with India in 1965 and 1971 -- have struggled against the temptation to promote stereotypes and hatred against Afghans.
Critics argue that the Pakistani media's negative role has been visible throughout Afghanistan's ongoing conflict. Apart from spinning major issues, they note, Pakistani media have referred to dead Taliban insurgents as "Shaheed" (martyred) -- even suggesting that such references serve Pakistan's so-called strategic depth policy.
Afghanistan has frequently been the butt of jokes from Pakistani comedians, too. But a well-known Pakistani actor seemingly went too far recently in ridiculing Afghans on Dunya TV (see video).
When one moderator asked Sohail Ahmad Azizi about a recently established music academy in Afghanistan, he replied, "What academy in Kabul!? Karzai's soldiers carry bombs and rifles the whole time there. What music will be made there?" He then launched into "Afghan-sounding" gibberish and played an "air rabab," the most famous Afghan musical instrument, pulled the pin of and tossed a mock grenade and made the sound of an explosion. Then, in a reference to words that are used in famous Pashtun romantic songs meaning, "I can sacrifice myself for your love," Azizi belted out "Yaa Qurban!" interspersed with pretending to fire a machinegun.
The moderators laughed so hard that it left this view wondering what could possibly have been so funny.
Samar Esapzai from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Pakistan, tells me on a social website that "it's really unfair to assume that just because this comedian made a joke, he is insulting Pashtuns as a whole. There is good and bad everywhere and we really need to learn how to take a joke." There are no doubt many people who, like Samar, wonder what's so bad about Azizi's remarks that Afghans can't just to get over them.
But a number of people expressed anger and disapproval via Twitter. Peymana Walizai ‏(@PeymanaWalizai), a student at Kings College London, tweeted: "That wasn't even funny. At least if he were to insult us, the joke should be worth laughing at." Munir Khan (@munir104) tweeted: "Racist and unpleasant Pashtun stereotyped. I am surprised this is called comedy in Pakistan!" Alam Zeb Khan (@Pukhtun_Zalmay), a Pashtun from Pakistan, was clearly angry as he tweeted: "Trust me the #Pujabi ppl has this prejudice against us for ages. And unfortunately they r the ones who control and rule #Pak" The joke did not go over well with Waheed Khan (@idioticcc) either: "He had only half century history thats y insulting afghan people. I will email them as well related this issue."
It's worth mentioning that music has a rich history in Afghanistan, and the Musical High School of Kabul and National Institute of Music Kabul are not the only institutes to have produced music teachers, composers, singers, musicians, and conductors. "Attan" is the national dance of Afghanistan, and the rich folk, classical, and pop music of Afghanistan is known around the world.
One of the most popular Afghan classical music legends, Ustad Mohammad Hussain Sarahang, apart from other awarded names, was awarded the "classical music crown" and dubbed the "father of classical music" in Indian Elahabad and Delhi music universities, respectively.
In the 1950s, when Pakistan was still a toddler on the global scene, the pop music culture in Afghanistan was in full bloom. Ahmad Zahir, known as "the king of modern Afghan music" and the Afghan Elvis Presley, was one of the most popular singers.
Farhad Azad, in his article "Distorted History of Afghan Music," says of Zahir, "In the Western comparative, he was a combination of John Lennon, Johnny Cash, and Dean Martin."
That's a lot of entertainment history belying Azizi's effort at humor.

Since Skiing Came to Afghanistan, It Has Been Pretty Much All Downhill
Second Annual Championship Includes Climbing Mountain on Foot and Evading Taliban
Wall Street Journal By CHARLES LEVINSON March 5, 2012
KOH-E-BABA, Afghanistan - Ten Afghan men jumped out front as the second international Afghan Ski Challenge championship began here on Friday.
Well conditioned to the air of central Bamiyan province, they "skinned" 1,500 feet up a mountain on foot, at the front of a zigzagging line of huffing contestants. At the top, they hit the downhill portion well ahead of their far more experienced Western rivals.
As the Afghan racers crossed the finish line one after another, cheers erupted from villagers and government officials. Even the U.S.-led military coalition put out a news release to celebrate the unlikely triumph of the Afghan athletes. "My brothers and sisters see me as a hero," exclaimed the champion, Khalil Reza, an illiterate 19-year-old who lives with his parents and seven siblings in a one-room mud hut.
Though Afghanistan has plenty of snow-covered mountains, skiing is an extreme novelty here. In Bamiyan, best known for its giant Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban a decade ago, mountainous villages with no electricity, kept warm by dung-fueled heaters, saw their first skier in early 2010.
Since then, the effort to implant ski culture in Bamiyan has brought here urban hip-hop slang, donkey-leaping snowboarders, and indiscriminately urinating ski bums who offend local sensibilities. It has also brought a small but welcome trickle of tourist dollars.
The effort faces many of the same challenges as the broader struggle for bitterly fractured Afghanistan. Though the predominantly ethnic Hazara Bamiyan province is one of Afghanistan's safest and attracts some vacationers—mainly foreigners based in Kabul—the Taliban increasingly operate on the access road from Kabul.
There are no commercial flights to Bamiyan, so participants in Friday's Afghan Ski Challenge had to charter a plane—and are still stuck in Bamiyan because snowfall has shut down the local airfield.
"Some people think it's a frivolous idea to support skiing in a war-torn country," says Christoph Zurcher, founder of the Afghan Ski Challenge, which held its second annual race this year with 10 newly trained local Afghan skiers and five foreigners—including this reporter.
The silver medalist—and the widely expected winner—in the race was Ali Shah Farhang. A 19-year-old Afghan peasant just a year ago, he seemed to be destined for a life of subsistence potato farming. Then, last winter, he watched three skiers schuss into his remote village.
Italian mountain guide Ferdinando Rollando, with two female clients in tow, was looking to recruit local trainees in the village. Mr. Farhang told Mr. Rollando he dreamed of getting an education in Kabul and then becoming an engineer. Mr. Rollando said he replied: "There are 5,000 engineers in Kabul. They do not spend every day skiing with beautiful women. My job is obviously better."
The lesson stuck. Mr. Farhang has become one of Afghanistan's leading ski guides—and competitive skiers. After Friday's race, Mr. Farhang blamed his disappointing second place on a new pair of race day skis.
"The name on the skis said 'Alpine Touring Ski' and I thought it must be a very nice ski," said Mr. Farhang. "But my skis were completely bad. I was falling down 100 times."
Western diplomats first started skiing in Afghanistan at Chowk-e-Arghandeh mountain 30 minutes south of Kabul in the 1960s. There were two rope tows accessing 2,000 vertical feet of terrain and a small but vibrant après-ski scene in a stone ski lodge with a sun-drenched patio.
Kabul was a different place then, crowded with Western backpackers seeking cheap hashish on the overland Asia trail; many local women wore miniskirts and high heels rather than burqas. After a 1978 coup prompted a Soviet invasion and three decades of war, skiing disappeared along with the miniskirts and the hippies.
"That was before the jihad against the Russians, which changed the minds of the people," says Habiba Sarabi, Bamiyan's governor. "We have to change the minds of the people back," she adds. "Skiing will help do this."
In 2009, the Aga Khan Foundation, a private global development body headed by the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Shiite sect of Islam, decided that developing a ski industry in the Koh-e-Baba mountains might give impoverished locals a winter income, when their fields lie fallow.
At about the same time, Mr. Zurcher, a Swiss skier and journalist, made his first visit to the region. He decided a ski race would help motivate the locals to learn the sport, and he set about recruiting sponsors and participants.
Last winter's first Afghan Ski Challenge was, by all accounts, a disaster. Desperate to find local participants, Mr. Zurcher rustled up a crop of peddlers from the town bazaar who seemed more interested in making a quick buck than learning to ski.
With Western sponsors expecting Mr. Zurcher to deliver a race, "the local skiers quickly realized that we needed them more than they needed us," he recalls.
During the monthlong training period, the recruits smoked cigarettes and steadily upped their demands for lunch and other perks. Mr. Zurcher says he shelled out $5,000 of his own money to bring off the race, which did happen. But it was little more than a glorified photo op.
Mr. Zurcher was ready to give up. But the Afghan ski bug had bit.
Disaster or not, it left the event's sponsors wanting more. So, too, did dozens of interested skiers from around the world who began emailing Mr. Zurcher to ask about entering the 2012 contest.
One of the main sponsors, the Swiss watchmaker Tissot, called Mr. Zurcher in December, eager to get in on the 2012 event.
Mr. Zurcher relented. In small villages, the ski bug was similarly spreading. Local teenagers who had never seen skis before last winter, began taking to the hills with homemade skis, made by nailing flattened tin cans to the bottom of wood planks and tying them to their feet with twine.
For this year's championship, the Afghan competitors were handpicked from the mountain villages, and given two months of daily training by professional Western ski instructors and mountain guides. The governor and a host of local officials trekked out to the starting line to watch.
The winner, Mr. Reza, showed off his booty after the race: a trophy, a $745 Tissot watch and an $650 Gore-Tex jacket.
Most important, as Mr. Fernando, the Italian ski guide, had once assured the young Afghans, Mr. Reza believed the win should improve his chances with women. "This victory will help my marriage prospects," he said.
Write to Charles Levinson at

London 2012 Olympics: Afghan females aim to box clever for women's rights By Jacquelin Magnay March 5th, 2012
A group of 20 Afghan females could show international sport a thing or two about women's rights.
They have challenged the suppression of their sex in the Middle East country by boxing in the underbelly of the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul – the very place where fellow women were previously executed under the Taliban regime.
They wear traditional hijab clothing beneath tracksuits and look incongruous as they trade punches and skip around the dilapidated room in a heart-warming bid to make the London 2012 Olympics.
Sadaf Rahimi, the most likely prospect to make the Games, is one of three boxing sisters and she says her taxi-driving father gets threatening letters all the time because he allows his daughters to play sport.
The 17 year-old believes her – or any of her fellow Afghan women – boxing at the London Olympics will send the world a crucial message about women's rights in Afghanistan.
As they spar, short skirts – briefly considered by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) as mandatory uniform – are nowhere to be seen.
Thankfully, in recent days, the sport's administrators have shown common sense and implemented a new rule which will directly impact on what female athletes can wear at the London Olympics.
The AIBA has now backed down from their inflammatory notion that would have limited female boxers to wearing a skirt only, and has allowed female boxers the choice of wearing shorts, or a skirt.
It is to be hoped that the federation will support individuals ' choice of clothing, rather than dictating what national federations ought to impose as a dress code.
AIBA president Dr Ching-Kuo Wu said: "We never asked women to wear skirts, we heard recommendations about this from national federations and boxers. Some women want to wear shorts and some others want to wear skirts so we shall make it optional.
And so to another breakthrough, in football, where the International Football Association Board (IFAB), a rules body composed of Fifa and the four home nations, has now agreed that female footballers can wear a hijab during matches.
The change of heart is too late for the Iranian women's team, who had to cancel an Olympic qualifying game in Jordan last year because they weren't allowed to cover their hair, which their religion asks them to do.
The new rule also has to be officially ratified at a meeting in July, just before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, "pending health and safety checks."
Fifa executive board member Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan has been pushing for the change and said he was "deeply grateful" the proposal to allow the hijab was unanimously endorsed.
But the reality is that no Muslim-dominated teams have made it through to the final Olympic standings, with Japan and North Korea being the Asian representatives and Cameroon and South Africa the African representatives.
Meanwhile, three countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei – have failed to send female athletes to the Olympics.
Saudi Arabia, which has come under intense criticism recently from Human Rights Watch for their tight restrictions on women playing sport, did send a solitary horse rider to the Singapore Youth Olympics in 2010.
It is staggering to consider, but at the Atlanta Olymics in 1996 there were 26 countries which did not send a single female athlete.
Behind the scenes at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, there are intense negotiations about whether there should be women from every country participating at the London Olympics. The IOC says of such a goal: "We are very confident of a positive outcome."
If that is indeed the case, we can now move the focus on to another annoying male imposed rule: the international beach volleyball bosses and their silly requirement about having maximum inch sizes on bikini bottoms.

Why One Tech-Savvy Aid Worker Had to Flee Afghanistan
By Spencer Ackerman Wired News - Mar 06 03:39am
Jennifer Gold had never felt afraid during her two years in Afghanistan. Not out in Jalalabad, where she helped get natal-care information to the cellphones of pregnant women. But as she waited in the Herat airport for the flight that would take her home from Afghanistan abruptly, the humanitarian aid worker and Army reservist nervously eyed her fellow passengers, fearing that one of them would try to kill her and her colleagues.
“I kept saying in my head that if two Army officers could be killed in the Ministry of Interior,” Gold remembers, “then you can bet three foreigners can easily be shot in the airport.”
Gold decamped to California. Like an increasing number of her fellow Western aid workers who came to Afghanistan in the hope of helping Afghans enjoy a better life, she doesn’t know when she’ll come back. Whatever the NATO command says about security improving in the country after a decade of American-led war, aid workers fear violent deaths, particularly after the violent protests of U.S. soldiers who accidentally burnt the Koran last month.
According to an overview compiled by the Institute for the Study of War, a hawkish Washington think tank with close ties to the U.S. military, at least 16,000 Afghans protested around the country, mostly concentrated in the east and north, between Feb. 21 and Feb. 27. Its director, Kimberly Kagan, argues that the impact of the post-Koran violence — which included the murder of two U.S. officers in the Interior Ministry — is overstated.
“The gravity and danger of the situation is less than meets the perceptive eye in Washington,” says Kagan.
But in Afghanistan, Gold found the danger unbearable.
Gold was at work in the western province of Herat when the news came out that soldiers at the detention center on the outskirts of Bagram Air Field had burned the Koran. “It was crazy reading the updates from Logar, Jalalabad, Khost, Kabul, Herat — the demonstrations and unrest spread so quickly,” she reflects. Worse, her travel plans took her to Kabul; now each day brought word of another violent protest, with hundreds or thousands on the streets.
Gold’s team was supposed to conduct a few days of interviews at three Kabul ministries. But then came the assassinations. “That really sealed the deal for us to get the heck out of dodge,” she says. “And rather than be holed up in an office in Herat, we decided to come back to the States and finish up some work that needed our attention.”
Gold, a lieutenant in the North Carolina National Guard who deployed to Iraq in 2009, didn’t think it would turn out this way. She and her friends had started a tech-heavy aid company, the International Synergy Group, that brought Gold to Afghanistan in May 2010. With some contract cash from the blue-sky researchers at Darpa, Gold sought to use mobile applications to get agriculture and health data into the hands of Afghans, particularly for pregnant women in need of natal-care facts, through the use of open-source software favored by aid workers like Ushahidi or FrontlineSMS.
Even though eastern Afghanistan is volatile, Gold and her two colleagues didn’t feel the need to hire security. They drove in local cars, dressed in the local style, and lived in a residential hotel favored by other western expats.
But even though the International Synergy Group felt secure in Jalalabad, other aid organizations didn’t feel the same way. Riots in Mazar-e-Sharif, a northern city considered safe, prompted by a Florida pastor burning the Koran in 2011, killed seven United Nations employees and sent shockwaves through the aid community. “In the east, where we’re working, there isn’t anyone working outside the wire,” Gold says, using a military term for going off-base. “A lot of the organizations that were there have already fled.”
Gold doesn’t want to stay in the United States. There’s too much work to do in Afghanistan, she says, too many people who need help, and too many Afghan friends who it would be unconscionable to abandon. But she also doesn’t know when it will be safe enough to return to Jalalabad — or how she might need to change her routine in order to stay safe. So she’s in California for the time being, working on a tele-medicine project, feeling like an expat in her home country.
Some of her colleagues weren’t willing to take the risk even before the Koran burning. Una Moore, a Danger Room friend who worked on election security in Afghanistan, wrote after the Mazar riots, “This is not the beginning of the end for the international community in Afghanistan. This is the end.”
Gold isn’t ready to go that far. There’s still a role for international development assistance, she thinks. But she feels that the Koran burnings do in fact mark the end of the U.S.’ hopes for a successful outcome to the Afghanistan war.
“The Koran burning shouldn’t have happened. It’s like we’re not learning from the mistakes we’ve made in the past or even from mistakes the Russians made before us,” Gold says. “I think that as soon as we leave, the country is just going to go back to where it was before. The Taliban will come back and it’s just going to be a complete mess.” (