[Afghan News] February 11, 2012 - 03-03-2012, 05:04 AM
By Rob Taylor | Reuters
KABUL (Reuters) - In the crush of people in Kabul's Shahzada money market, conspiracy theories are a currency as hard as the bundles of cash in the hands of bearded traders trying to divine their future.
And the theory going around - amid the din of shouted exchange rates - is that Afghanistan's rich are preparing again to shift their money and lives from the country over fears of chaos or civil conflict after foreign troops leave.
"The money will all go out of Afghanistan. It is always like that. As soon as the foreign soldiers leave all the problems come back," says money changer Hajji Asadullah, gripping bundles of U.S. dollar bills, Gulf currencies and tattered local Afghani notes, all wrapped tightly in rubber bands.
Three years from the end of NATO combat missions and a total transfer to local security, Afghan officials are thinking hard about how to stop the flight of hard currency like dollars, euros or scrip from Gulf countries like the UAE that usually happens when nervousness overtakes their countrymen.
"It is the main topic of conversation now," says Naseem Akbar, who heads Afghanistan's Investment Support Agency and whose job is to lure investment, rather than stop it going out.
"The worry is about the country going into crisis, and parallel to that is that from now until 2014 we must work out how to avoid such a calamity."
PROPERTY A WEATHERVANE
A U.S. government audit report last year found it was almost impossible to track where much of the billions of dollars spent on security and development projects in the last decade had gone given the country's dysfunctional financial tracking system and poor bank oversight.
Wealthy Afghans have for years locked their money into safe havens and property elsewhere, with Dubai and its man-made Palm Jumeirah island being favored locations, with an estimated $8 billion stashed away in the Arab emirate.
But Haji Sher Shah Ahmadzai, the millionaire owner of a group of construction companies in Kabul, said property prices at home jumped by 15 percent at the start of last year after foreigners pledged to support Afghanistan well beyond 2014.
Confidence however began leaching away with the September assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed an Afghan peace council trying to launch talks with the Taliban.
It took a further blow as the United States, the Taliban and the Afghan government circle each other over possible peace talks in the Gulf state of Qatar, which could eventually see the austere Islamists return to Kabul as a political force.
"A flat cost around $220,000 months ago, but now it costs around $140,000 because of the uncertain situation," Ahmadzai told Reuters in his plush, heavily-guarded office in the upmarket Wazir area of central Kabul.
SIGNS OF UNCERTAINTY
Hardly any Afghans expect the Taliban to be strong enough to again rule the country by force, but memories of past brutality are enough to worry people about their influence, even as President Hamid Karzai tries to reassure his country.
In 2009, ahead of the last Afghan election, millions of dollars -- much of questionable origin -- made its way out of the country in suitcases and even on pallets loaded into aircraft, according to police at Kabul's main Airport.
Former vice president Zia Masood was stopped entering Dubai carrying cash worth $52 million and released without question, according to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that appeared later on the whistleblower website Wikileaks.
In 2010 the Afghan government took over Kabul Bank -- the country's biggest commercial bank -- after a run on deposits caused by revelations that the bank's owners had lost millions of dollars they loaned to themselves to purchase property investments.
The investment support agency's Akhbar said that without steps to build confidence political and security gains in the past decade, uncertainty will dry up new investment.
"The short answer is that any sign of uncertainty is a major blow to investment," he said, calling for a redoubled effort by Karzai's government to tackle serious corruption and fix woeful infrastructure.
Afghanistan is perennially among the world's most corrupt nations listed by Berlin-based anti-graft body Transparency International.
CAR, APPLIANCE SALES DROP
But growth has defied that reputation, averaging around 9 percent in recent years as war and aid spending worth more than $50 billion fuelled a spending boom in Kabul's dusty streets, now choked with private cars as well as NATO convoys.
At a dealership for luxury Lexus SUVs, salesman Mir Alam said once reliable Afghan ministers had stopped buying in favor of armored vehicles, while private buyers had also dried up.
"It's because of the Qatar talks. Car prices are not up, but still we haven't sold any for the past three months," Alam said. "Afghan businessmen have already left Afghanistan, or they have their money in hand in case they need to escape."
Mohammad Jawid, who sells appliances to the wealthy at the upmarket Kabul City Centre, said sales topping $5,000 a day before September were down to under to $500 now.
And the worries are the same for Abdul Haddi's Sarak Khumar electronic company.
"I've lost more than 60 percent of my customers. The rich I know are already out of Afghanistan, or just waiting to see what happens," Haddi said.
WORLD BANK WARNING
The World Bank has warned that growth that hit an unsustainable 21 percent in 2009-10 could collapse in the next few years as aid projects wind down and funds are re-directed into areas like health and education.
The country's medium-term growth and stubbornly high unemployment would depend on the government's ability to manage the transfer of security from international to national forces, and ensure political and fiscal sustainability, the bank said.
The Afghani currency has slipped following its rise through 2010-11 on the back of large capital inflows, sliding from 46.2 to the dollar to around 49, making foreign havens and currencies more attractive.
Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who heads the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Kabul, said Afghanistan needed a stronger system of capital controls, adding the agency is setting up financial investigations units to deal with not only laundering of money from the opium trade, but also monitor cross-border cash flows.
"It is a huge concern," he said. "This country cannot afford this and we need to have better capital controls and have the money within this country invested in productivity, so we can share the employment that is so required."
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Mirwais Harooni)
Kabul digs deep to restore grand palaces – and pride
Public asked to donate to renovate historic buildings badly damaged during decades of conflict in Afghanistan
Guardian.co.uk By Jon Boone Friday 10 February 2012
Kabul - Few buildings in Kabul are as iconic, or tragic, as Darulaman Palace in the south-west of the Afghan capital.
For decades the symbol of Afghanistan's early 20th-century efforts to join the modern world has lain in ruin after being blasted to pieces during years of civil conflict. The hulking wreck, sitting at the end of what should be the city's grandest boulevard, is roofless, gutted and riddled with bullet holes.
Now Kabul council's bosses say the city is so ashamed of the state of such a landmark that they are asking for public contributions to restore Darulaman and two other nearby palaces.
Billboards asking for donations have gone up around the city, while collection boxes and leaflets have been placed at all government ministries. Some businesses have given tens of thousands of dollars.
"Even if they only give 10 afghanis, that will be a enough," said Khogman Ulomi, the deputy mayor, referring to a sum of money equivalent to about 10p. "People are ashamed of what has happened to their city and the fact the world only thinks of war when they see Afghanistan. We want to rebuild these palaces exactly as they were before."
Despite being nowhere near the target of $30m (£19m), the city has already started replanting the ornamental gardens that surround the raised palace.
It is all part of an incredibly ambitious campaign to modernise and beautify a city which in 30 years has transformed from being a small and pleasant mountaintop town to a booming, overpopulated sprawl that suffers some of the worst air pollution in the world. The city's mayor has won plaudits from international donors for his efforts to refurbish roads and plant thousands of trees around the capital.
He hopes he can now persuade foreign backers to stump up for some prestige projects, including road transport tunnels to run under one of the hills that cut the city in half. There are also plans for a cable car to carry sightseers up and over to an area near the zoo, which the mayor hopes to enlarge and improve.
Attention to the palaces is long overdue, not least because they sit next to a new complex that will soon house the country's parliament.
The buildings are also loaded with Afghanistan's tragic 20th-century history, as they are a symbol of King Amanullah who built Darulaman – the "Abode of Peace" – in the 1920s as part of his ill-fated campaign to modernise the country, which ran into fierce opposition from rural and religious leaders.
The Tajbeg Palace, next to Darulaman, was where the opening shots were fired during the Soviet invasion on 27 December 1979, the day when Soviet troops stormed the palace and killed Hafizullah Amin, the communist president who had displeased Moscow.
The buildings were badly damaged by rockets in 1990 when the communist regime defended itself against a coup attempt by the defence minister.
It was further wrecked by rival factions fighting over the control of the city after the communists were finally toppled in 1992.
13 militants surrender gov't in northern Afghan province
PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- More than a dozen anti-government militants surrendered in Baghlan province, 160 km north of Kabul on Saturday, a local official said.
"Today, 13 armed rebels laid down their arms in Pul-e-Sar district and surrendered to the government. We appreciate their decision and hope other oppositions to follow the step," Head of the government-backed Peace Council in Baghlan province Abdul Samad Stanikzai told newsmen at a ceremony to welcome the former insurgents.
"With these people joining the peace process, the security situation in Baghlan province would be further improved," he said.
Baba, the commander of the former militants who, like many Afghans, goes by single name, said in his short speech,"We want the government to ensure justice, accelerate the reconstruction process and provide job opportunities."
Around 200 anti-government militants have given up militancy and resumed normal life in Baghlan province over the past one month.
Taliban militants fighting the government have yet to make comment.
More than 3,000 militants, according to officials, have laid down arms and resumed normal life in Afghanistan over the past one year, according to officials.
However, the Taliban outfit has termed the claim as baseless, saying no Taliban loyalists have surrendered.
US-Taliban Talks End Without Result, Pakistani TV Says
TOLOnews.com Friday, 10 February 2012
The talks between the US and Taliban in Qatar have ended without reaching any results, a Pakistani Tv channel has reported.
A Pakistan TV Channel, Dunya News, has reported that representatives of the Haqqani Network and Hezb-e-Islami led by Gulbduddin Hekmatyar were also present during the talks between the US and the Taliban.
The talks, according to Dunya News, focused mainly on broad-based government in Afghanistan, accepting President Hamid Karzai's leadership, and establishment of a government system similar to the one in Iraq, to which the Taliban have not agreed and the talks have ended without any results.
The Taliban have reported put forward certain demands that have caused the talks to lead to no achievement.
The report has yet to be independently confirmed, but if true this is the first time US representatives have met with representatives of three anti-government armed groups.
The Afghan government has recently announced that it has reached some agreements with Washington, but no details of the talks have been provided.
It comes as the Afghan High Peace Council has frequently stressed on an Afghan-led peace process.
There have been reports previously that the US had held secret talks with some Taliban representatives for ten months, something that provoked strong reaction of the Afghan government.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani also went to Qatar recently to discuss Afghan peace with officials there.
US officials have announced that Washington is trying to speed up the talks with the Taliban and that it will officially be announced at the upcoming Chicago summit.
Pakistan denies sending NATO supply via its airspace
ISLAMABAD, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik has categorically denied the U.S. claim that the country's air space is being used for sending supplies to NATO- led forces in Afghanistan following the closure of land supply route by Pakistan, local media reported on Saturday.
Addressing a Senate session on Friday, Malik said that NATO supplies have not been restored by using airport or airbase in Pakistan, the Nation newspaper reported.
Neither Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani nor President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered the resumption of NATO supplies through airspace, he said.
The minister said that he will ask the foreign or defense minister to present a comprehensive briefing on the issue to the house.
Talking to media on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said that the supply to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan is being airlifted through Pakistani air space.
Pakistan blocked NATO supply route through its territory after a cross-border air strike by U.S. helicopters on two Pakistani checkpoints left 24 soldiers dead in November last year.
Pakistani parliament will decide whether or not to reopen the land supply route after review of relationship with the U.S.
Informer Misled NATO in Airstrike That Killed 8 Civilians, Afghans Say
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN and JAWAD SUKHANYAR February 10, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan government officials who traveled to the snowbound village where seven children and a young adult reportedly were killed in a NATO airstrike this week said that the bombing was based on incorrect information.
The officials said that after talking to local residents and seeing the area, they concluded that an informer had misled the French troops who control the area.
The airstrike took place on Wednesday in the village of Geyaba in the eastern Afghan province of Kapisa. Seven boys under 14 and an 18-year-old were killed in the attack, according to Abdul Mubin Safi, the administrative director of Kapisa Province. They were herding sheep less than half a mile from their homes when the bombing happened.
NATO representatives and Afghan officials traveled to the area by helicopter to investigate and returned Friday, said Maj. Jason Waggoner, a NATO spokesman. He said there was no word yet from NATO officials on the findings of the joint Afghan-NATO team.
One member of the team, Mohammad Hussain Khan Sanjani, the chairman of the provincial council who was reached by telephone in Kapisa, said that after talking with people in the village, it seemed that misinformation had been passed to NATO forces.
“These people are involved in animal husbandry, they own sheep and goats, and their children went out to feed the animals behind their village under some oak trees,” Mr. Sanjani said.
“The French troops had a secret report from one of their agents who told them that in that area there were armed men preparing to attack the government and the French soldiers in Kapisa,” he said. “We talked to locals and found that the intelligence was wrong and they targeted civilians.”
The French soldiers, who are largely responsible for Kapisa Province, have faced stiff resistance from the insurgents there and in the Sarobi district of neighboring Kabul Province. Eighty-two French soldiers have been killed in combat since 2001, mostly in those two areas.
France’s military high command did not respond to requests for comment on the airstrike in Kapisa.
The province is divided ethnically, with some areas heavily Tajik and others Pashtun. The Pashtun areas have had a strong insurgent presence that includes both Taliban fighters and fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an insurgent leader.
The Najrab district, where the airstrike occurred, is mixed with Tajiks, Pashtuns and Pashai, and while local officials said it was not held by insurgents, their presence could not be ruled out since Najrab is adjacent to less stable districts.
“The area is not influenced by the Taliban, but there was some sort of illegal weapon smuggling,” said Abdul Saboor Wafa, the Kapisa governor’s chief of staff.
Civilian casualties have caused serious tensions between the United States-led military coalition and the Afghan government. Civilian deaths caused by NATO and Afghan forces dropped last year, although the number of civilians killed by airstrikes that were intended to hit insurgents rose, to 187, the United Nations has reported.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the loss of life in Kapisa and blamed a NATO airstrike in a statement on Thursday.
Scott Sayare contributed reporting from Paris.
Panetta Calls For New Probe Into U.S. Marine Photo
February 10, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has asked the U.S. Marine Corps to look again at an investigation, which concluded that Marine snipers who posed with a logo resembling a Nazi symbol in Afghanistan should not be disciplined.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Panetta asked the Marine Corps on February 10 to look into it "and to take appropriate action."
Little added that the use of racist and anti-Semitic symbols was unacceptable among U.S. service members.
The Marine Corps has said it does not plan to discipline the troops.
The soldiers posed for a photo in 2010 in front of a flag with a logo resembling that of the Nazi SS, since it concluded there was no malicious intent.
A leading Jewish organization in the U.S. has demanded President Barack Obama order a full investigation.
Compiled from agency reports
Teenage girl from Afghanistan to box at Olympics
Associated Press By RAHIM FAIEZ Saturday, February 11, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Besides going after a medal in the boxing ring at the London Olympics, Sadaf Rahimi will be taking a few punches in the fight for equal rights for Afghan women.
There are female Afghan success stories, yet most women in Afghanistan remain second-class citizens, many cloaked from head-to-toe in blue burqas, some abused or hidden in their homes.
Rahimi, a determined 17-year-old student, wants to become the new face of Afghan women, gaining honor and dignity for herself and other women in here war-torn country and improving their image worldwide.
She will get her chance this summer in London, where women's boxing makes its Olympic debut.
"When we participate in the outside competitions, there is pressure on us," Rahimi said while training in a makeshift gym in the Afghan capital. "But I will try to show that an Afghan girl can enter the ring and achieve a position for Afghanistan."
In line with conservative norms for women in Afghanistan, Rahimi is expecting to wear black tights under her boxing gear at the Olympics to cover her knees. She trains for hours three days a week, punching heavy bags and sparring with her teammates and trainers.
They throw punches on faded pink and green mats covering a concrete floor of a room in an Afghan sports stadium where the hardline Taliban regime used to stage public executions. The female boxers still don't have a real boxing ring to hone their skills.
After the Taliban banned women from participating in sporting events, the International Olympic Committee suspended Afghanistan from the games. Afghanistan missed the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as a result. The Taliban were toppled in 2001 and the suspension was lifted the following year. Afghanistan sent female athletes — for the first time in its history — to the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Rahimi, who has the support of her family in Kabul, is following in the footsteps of Robina Muqimyar, the female Afghan runner who competed in Athens. Another woman, Mehboda Ahdyar, was scheduled to go to the 2008 Beijing Games but couldn't compete because of injuries.
"I am well aware that my opponents in the London 2012 Olympics are more powerful and even twice as good as me, but I have prepared myself to participate and win a medal," said Rahimi, who started boxing four years ago and won a silver medal during a boxing competition in Tajikistan.
Female boxing is an unusual sport in a country like Afghanistan, where most of the women are still struggling for their rights and get little respect in the male-dominated society.
Recently in Baghlan province in the north, 15-year-old Sahar Gul was locked up, beaten with cables and tortured by her husband and in-laws after she refused to work as a prostitute. They deny any wrongdoing. She became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan after being rescued in late December when an uncle called police.
Her story shocked Afghanistan and prompted calls to end underage marriage. The legal marriage age in Afghanistan is 16, but the United Nations estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry before their 16th birthday.
In Kunduz province, also in the north, a 30-year-old woman named Storay was killed last month because she gave birth to a third baby girl, instead of a boy. Storay, who used only one name, was slain, allegedly by her husband, when her third child was 3 months old. Her husband has left the family.
Despite such atrocities, there are increasing opportunities for Afghan women who want to participate in sports, said Mohammad Saber Sharifi, the coach of the Afghan female boxing team.
The team was established by the Afghan Olympic Committee in 2007 and so far has registered more than two dozen female boxers.
Rahimi, who fights in the 54-kilogram (118.8 pounds) weight class, will get into the Olympics through a wild card berth. She plans to travel to London on Feb. 19 to train for several weeks. In May she will fight in a competition in China, but win or lose there, she will be at the Olympics in London.
"Sadaf Rahimi is the only girl who will participate in these games," Sharifi said. "She will represent all Afghan women, which makes her the biggest female personality in Afghanistan."
Things have been much easier for male athletes in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's first Olympic medal winner was Rohullah Nikpai, who won a bronze medal in men's taekwondo in 2008, defeating rivals from Germany, England and Spanish world champion Juan Antonio Ramos at the Beijing Games.
Because of insecurity in Afghanistan, his family fled to Iran where he grew up. He returned to Afghanistan in 2004 — four years after the Taliban government collapsed. After participating in Beijing, he became a symbol of national pride.
"In the 2008 Olympics, I won a bronze medal and I am hopeful to win a gold medal in the Olympic 2012 in London," Nikpai said.
Two other male athletes will round out the foursome who will represent Afghanistan in this year's games. Massoud Azizi, a 25-year-old, 100-meter sprinter who competed in 2008 in Beijing, and Nasar Ahmad Bahawi, another taekwondo fighter.
"The people are expecting a lot from us. We know we will face the hardest opponents," said Bahawi, who practices inside a newly built gym at the sports stadium under the supervision of a foreign coach and Afghan trainer. "We have the prayers of our people, and God willing, we will do well."
The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn't Want You to Read
Rolling Stone By Michael Hastings February 10, 2012
Earlier this week, the New York Times’ Scott Shane published a bombshell piece about Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, a 17-year Army veteran recently returned from a second tour in Afghanistan. According to the Times, the 48-year-old Davis had written an 84-page unclassified report, as well as a classified report, offering his assessment of the decade-long war. That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military's top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it’s been going. "How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?" Davis boldly asks in an article summarizing his views in The Armed Forces Journal.
Davis last month submitted the unclassified report –titled "Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leader’s Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort" – for an internal Army review. Such a report could then be released to the public. However, according to U.S. military officials familiar with the situation, the Pentagon is refusing to do so. Rolling Stone has now obtained a full copy of the 84-page unclassified version, which has been making the rounds within the U.S. government, including the White House. We've decided to publish it in full; it's well worth reading for yourself. It is, in my estimation, one of the most significant documents published by an active-duty officer in the past ten years.
Here is the report's damning opening lines: "Senior ranking U.S. military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the U.S. Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable. This deception has damaged America’s credibility among both our allies and enemies, severely limiting our ability to reach a political solution to the war in Afghanistan." Davis goes on to explain that everything in the report is "open source" – i.e., unclassified – information. According to Davis, the classified report, which he legally submitted to Congress, is even more devastating. "If the public had access to these classified reports they would see the dramatic gulf between what is often said in public by our senior leaders and what is actually true behind the scenes," Davis writes. "It would be illegal for me to discuss, use, or cite classified material in an open venue and thus I will not do so; I am no WikiLeaks guy Part II."
According to the Times story, Davis briefed four members of Congress and a dozen staff members and sent his reports to the Defense Department’s inspector general, and of course spoke to a New York Times reporter; only after all that did he inform his chain of command what he'd been up to. Evidently Davis's truth-telling campaign has rattled the Pentagon brass, prompting unnamed officials to retaliate by threatening a bogus investigation for "possible security violations," according to NBC News.
Although Davis's critics have tried to brush off his claims as merely the opinions of a "reservist," – as Max Boot put it – his report is full of insight, analysis, and hard data that back up each one of his claims. He details the gross failure of training the Afghan Army, the military's blurring of the lines between public affairs and "information operations" (meaning, essentially, propaganda), and the Pentagon's manipulation of the U.S. media. (He expertly contrasts senior military officials public statements with the actual reality on the ground.) Davis concludes: "It is my recommendation that the United States Congress – the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in particular – should conduct a bi-partisan investigation into the various charges of deception or dishonesty in this report and hold broad hearings as well," he writes. "These hearings need to include the very senior generals and former generals whom I refer to in this report so they can be given every chance to publicly give their version
of events." In other words, put the generals under oath, and then see what story they tell.
Michael Hastings is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and author of The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan.
Lost years: Afghans' incendiary period cut from books
The Age By Kevin Sieff February 11, 2012
KABUL - In a country where the recent past has unfolded like a war epic, officials think they have found a way to teach Afghan history without widening the fractures between long-quarrelling ethnic and political groups: leave out the past four decades.
Government textbooks funded by several foreign aid organisations do just that, pausing history in 1973. There is no mention of the Soviet war, the mujahideen, the Taliban or the US military presence. In promoting a national identity, Afghan leaders deemed their history too controversial.
''Our recent history tears us apart,'' Afghanistan's Education Minister, Farooq Wardak, said. ''We've created a curriculum based on the older history that brings us together, with figures universally recognised as being great. These are the first books in decades that are depoliticised and de-ethnicised.''
Students are expected to get the textbooks in time for the school year this northern spring. The books are the only ones approved for public classrooms as part of the new curriculum.
Afghan officials insist the new textbooks will be a state-building tool, offering a fresh perspective to a generation raised during a war but unencumbered by the biases of the past four decades. In that time, warring political and ethnic groups used their own course materials, peppered with their own heroes and villains.
''That's how we got our extremist ideas,'' the director of publication and information for the Education Ministry, Attaullah Wahidyar, said.
Foreign powers deepened divisions, distributing textbooks to further their own agendas.
In the 1970s, the Soviet Union printed books that stressed communism's virtues and the importance of Marxist theory. Near the end of the Cold War, the US spent millions on Afghan textbooks filled with violent images and talk of jihad as part of a covert effort to incite resistance to the Soviet occupation. During the Taliban's reign in the 1990s, conservative Islamic texts were imported from Pakistan.
When educators and politicians started to overhaul the curriculum in 2002, they were intent on undoing the politics of Afghan historiography. But they could not agree on how to address the country's descent into civil war or its various insurgent groups.
Educators suggested the solution was to omit the period after King Mohammed Zahir Shah, whose ousting in 1973 began an era of political instability.
Despite broad consensus, some Afghan scholars and educators claim the new textbooks mark an abdication of the ministry's academic responsibility.
''This will be the biggest treason against the people of Afghanistan,'' said Mir Ahmad Kamawal, a history professor at Kabul University. ''It will be a hindrance to all of our spiritual and material gains over the last four decades.
''All these young people will be deprived of knowing what happened during this period.''
Afghanistan's Future Is Freezing, Tired and in Need of Help: The Ticker
Bloomberg By Katherine Brown Feb 10, 2012
Afghans under the age of five are literally freezing to death from an especially harsh winter, the coldest in two decades. In camps set up in Kabul for Afghans fleeing the volatile south, at least 22 children have died. The families would rather stay in the camps with no heat or electricity than return to the warmer yet dangerous territory they left behind.
Then there is the harsh economy. On Tuesday, the International Labor Organization reported that children as young as 5 years old contribute to an enormous underage labor market in eastern Afghanistan. They are essentially doing the dirty work of brick-making to pay off their families' debts. It may be better than being an "opium bride," described by journalist Fariba Nawa in her new book, "Opium Nation." Farmers wanting a cut of Afghanistan's $1.4 billion opium business borrow money for supplies from drug traffickers, and some end up paying back the traffickers with their daughters instead of cash.
It's not all bad news. There are 8 million children enrolled in school, 2.4 million of whom are girls -- a stark improvement since 2001. Ninety percent of children have been inoculated against polio and child mortality rates have dropped. Western non-governmental organizations and groups like the U.S. Agency for International Development have scores of programs to provide training, health care and other services to young Afghans.
The coming troop withdrawal in 2014 has attracted most of the headlines. But even after the troops leave, bilateral aid programs and a network of NGOs will remain in Afghanistan to try to build on this progress.
The West has invested a decade into the country -- and during that time, millions of Afghans have been born and come of age: More than two-thirds of Afghanistan's population of 34 million is under the age of 30. As the U.S. prepares to leave Afghanistan, we should also remember those who will lead Afghanistan next.
(Katherine Brown is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial staff.)
For more quick commentary from Bloomberg View, go to The Ticker.
A cricket game to end all war? Afghanistan takes on Pakistan.
Maybe not, but as Afghanistan played its first major international cricket match today against rival Pakistan, some hoped the goodwill between the players on the field would translate into better relations off it.
Christian Science Monitor By Issam Ahmed, Correspondent February 10, 2012
Islamabad, Pakistan - For the first time – ever – Afghanistan today played an international cricket match against an elite team. It was against top-ranked neighbor Pakistan, with whom it has a relationship that is sometimes fraught with uneasiness, sometimes full of professions of brotherhood.
But the historic cricket match, which took place in the UAE, both illustrated the love/hate relationship and helped fans on both sides of the border to forget, at least for a while, the tensions that exist between their countries.
“Everyone here is watching the match on TV. It’s very exciting and we’re praying hard for Afghanistan,” Pardis Haidary, a military officer in Kabul told the Monitor over the phone. “Matches like this help build friendship,” he says.
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For newcomers Afghanistan, it was their first chance to pick up the bat against a major international team, having previously only played against other low-ranked teams.
Cricket was brought to war-torn Afghanistan through refugees who picked up the game during their time in Pakistani camps, and is popular mainly in the Pashtun-majority areas in the south and east of the country.
Though Afghanistan is new to the game, its rise has been nothing short of a “wonderful story,” according to the International Cricket Council, which provides the Afghanistan Cricket Board with $700,000 a year to develop the sport.
Relations between the two countries have remained tense since the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in September last year. Mr. Rabbani, who was head of a government-appointed peace council, was killed in his home by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy, in an attack that some Afghan officials have blamed on Pakistan’s main intelligence agency.
Both sides, meanwhile, accuse each other of allowing militant havens inside their respective borders to carry out raids in each other’s countries. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is set to host his Afghan and Iranian counterparts for a trilateral summit in Islamabad next week.
At the popular Kabul Restaurant in Islamabad, staff and customers remained glued to their television, rooting for Afghanistan to pull off an unlikely upset. Though the Afghans eventually lost, Pakistan’s cricket captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, lauded them for the talent they displayed and their fighting spirit, which at times stretched former world-champions Pakistan.
Some hoped the goodwill between the players on the field could translate into better relations off it. “I have been in Pakistan for 19 years, but I can’t get a Pakistani passport,” complains waiter Naqeebullah Kabir. “Now we can’t get visas to visit home, either.”
Afghan Children Ensnared in Heroin Trade With Iran
Smuggling endemic in western district, and children used as mules despite risk of poisoning and arrest.
IWPR By Zalmay Barakzai 10 Feb 12
Afghanistan - Two years ago, Mohammad Reza was a 17-year-old student in Ghoryan, a district in the Herat province of western Afghanistan, spending half his days at school and the other half playing football with friends.
Among those friends, he noticed, some were making huge amounts of money. Reza was fascinated to see them growing richer, igniting in him a desire to have what they had – to own a Shehab motorcycle, to have bracelets and rings and an iPhone.
And so he found himself at the home of a smuggler named Arbab Qoudus, listening closely as the man told him the secret to becoming rich: “The more capsules you swallow, the more money you earn.”
The capsules contained heroin bound for Iran.
Reza agreed to try, and in doing so become one of a growing number of young men recruited by smugglers in a dangerous, sometimes deadly, practice.
An investigation by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in four villages of Ghoryan district found a high number of children who have become entangled in smuggling rings. Some of them never return.
By midnight, Reza had swallowed ten capsules. In an interview with IWPR, he said he wasn’t sure if he could swallow more, but he knew if he could manage another three capsules, he would earn Iranian cash worth 20,500 afghanis, or about 400 US dollars, twice the amount he’d be paid if he only swallowed ten. He swallowed the last three with the help of boiled milk. Thirteen plastic-coated capsules of Afghan heroin were now sitting in his stomach.
The next day, he set out with a group of children and a handler. With fake travel documents, they were waved through the border checkpoint into Iran. There, at a smuggler’s home, he was given laxatives to pass the plastic capsules. The smugglers were only able to retrieve six, however. They paid him for those and sent him back to Ghoryan with seven capsules still in his stomach.
Reza felt the pain in his stomach before he had a chance to shop for an iPhone. He called his family and told them what had happened. His parents took him to an illicit doctor to have the capsules removed by surgery. He survived. But other children have not been so lucky.
According to more than 50 interviews with smugglers, parents and police officials, an estimated 60 children in four Ghoryan villages have died in the past decade after swallowing capsules of heroin, a refined substance that has increased in popularity since the ouster of the Taleban. According to these interviews, conducted over a period of several months, as many as 1,000 children have disappeared from Ghoryan province since 2002 after they were persuaded to smuggle heroin across the Iranian border.
In the villages of Mangwan, Kariz, Barnabad and Sabol-e Haft Chah, parents fear for their children as long as the smugglers remain active. Some children are killed, while others have been thrown in prison. In fact, children are attractive to the smugglers because they are not executed in Iran, where drug trafficking is a serious offence that carries capital punishment.
Yaka Khan, who is now a butcher at the Ghoryan district center bazaar, said he was arrested two years ago in Iran, along with two other smugglers. One of them, a Ghoryan man named Azizullah, was hanged. The other remains in prison. Yaka Khan said he was returned to Afghanistan because he was only 16 when he was caught.
Cautionary stories like those of Yaka Khan and Mohammad Reza may do little to curb the practice of heroin smuggling. Crystallised heroin, often smoked by addicts through improvised water pipes, sells for 1,200 dollars per kilogram in Afghanistan, according to smugglers. Its value doubles in Iran.
In the four villages, there are at least eight major smuggling ringleaders. Two of them agreed to be interviewed by IWPR on condition of anonymity.
The first, a smuggler from Mangwan, said the heroin originates in Helmand province. It is secreted in trucks coming into Herat, in loads of perhaps hundreds of kilograms hidden under other, legal goods.
Children are easy to recruit for smuggling operations, he said, adding that if they are jailed, they will eventually be released.
A child can smuggle five, eight or ten grams of crystal heroin, depending on his size. He swallows the capsules and within a 24-hour period, he will be transported to Iran and will pass the capsules. “We pay them 300,000 tomans [about 260 dollars] for five capsules.”
The second smuggler, who is 53 and operates out of Mangwan as well, said he has used children to smuggle heroin, but says they were all warned of the potential dangers.
Sometimes, he said, parents will rent out their children to smugglers. Other times, children are paid directly for capsules, as Reza was.
Contrary to these claims, child smugglers say they are seldom warned of the dangers.
“The smugglers exploit our poverty and obligations,” said one child, Aarash. He has trafficked crystal heroin many times, he said, but was never told he could be killed.
Ghulam Haidar, a resident of Mangwan village, lost his son Sebghatullah to smuggling. Sebghatullah disappeared for days, Haidar said, and no one in the village knew his whereabouts. A friend learned that Sebghatullah had been arrested in the Iranian border town of Islam Qala. When the friend went to the border, Haider said, “The police handed over his corpse.”
Heroin smuggling has been on the rise in Ghoryan for the last decade. It has become systematised, with strong links and networks. The province is less than 50 kilometers from Herat city and shares more than 170 kilometers of border with Iran. Local smugglers are armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, and they drive the latest-model Toyota HiLux trucks or Land Cruisers. They are not afraid of clashing with police.
Border police can do little to stop the trade. They are often outgunned, and some of them take bribes from smugglers to let them pass.
Last year, Mulhim Khan, the general in charge of the Herat border police, was arrested by the Iranian authorities in Islam Qala on charges related to drug smuggling. He has since been remanded to Pul-e Charkhi prison in Kabul, according to Nazir Haidar Zadah, a provincial councillor in Herat.
Khan had allegedly taken some 70,000 dollars from subordinate officers who abetted the drug smuggling, Haidar Zadah said. The case was widely publicised in the Herat media. One colonel recorded a transaction with the general on his mobile phone. Khan did not fight the charges in court and was put in prison.
Still, counternarcotics police in Herat say they are making some headway. Over the last four years, the police have arrested nearly 500 smugglers in Ghoryan. Five of the suspects were children trying to traffic swallowed heroin capsules, said Ahmad Zia Hafezi, head of the provincial counter-narcotics police.
But there is much more to be done. There are still many parents in the province who are missing their children, and there is no shortage of children willing to take the risk.
These days, Mohammad Reza has given up his dreams of easy money, and is studying at the Yar Mohammad Alkozay School in Ghoryan. He can still feel the pain in his stomach, from surgery that cost his family 800 dollars – double what he earned on his smuggling adventure.
Zalmay Barakzai is an IWPR-trained reporter in Afghanistan.
This report was produced in November 2011 as part of the Afghan Investigative Journalism Fund project, and originally published on the Afghan Centre for Investigative Journalism website which IWPR has set up locally.
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