Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Taliban kill 17 Afghans in police station attack

Wednesday’s police station killings, along with a suicide bombing in Kabul, underscore concerns about security in Afghanistan less than two years before American troop withdrawals are scheduled to take place.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents poisoned, then shot and killed 17 people as they slept at a local police post in eastern Afghanistan, one of two attacks in as many days targeting Afghan security forces, an official said Wednesday.
It's unclear how the militants were able to drug people inside the post before firing bullets into their incapacitated bodies Tuesday night, said Abdul Jamhe Jamhe, a government official in Ghazni province.
Ten members of the Afghan Local Police, a village-level defense force backed by the U.S. military and Afghan government, and seven of their civilian friends died in the attack, said Provincial Gov. Musa Khan Akbarzada. He said there was a conspiracy of some sort but declined to confirm that poison was involved.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in Andar district. He told The Associated Press by telephone that the attackers fatally shot the men in their sleep, but denied they had been poisoned.
Residents of Andar took up arms last spring and chased out insurgents. The villagers don't readily embrace any outside authority, be it the Taliban, the Afghan government or the U.S.-led NATO military coalition.
The lightly trained village defense force, which is overseen by the Interior Ministry, is tasked with helping bring security to remote areas. But President Hamid Karzai has expressed concern that without careful vetting, the program could end up arming local troublemakers, strongmen or criminals.

In other violence, a suicide bomber slid under a bus full of Afghan soldiers and blew himself up in Kabul, wounding 10 in an attack that underscored the insurgency's ability to attack in the heavily guarded capital. Kabul police said at least six soldiers and four civilians were wounded. The suicide attacker died.

 Taliban attack: Afghan security men stand guard at the scene of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday. IMAGE

The bomber, wearing a black overcoat, approached the bus purposefully in heavy morning snow as soldiers were boarding, set down his umbrella and went under the chassis as if to fix something, according to a witness. Watching from across the street, office worker Ahmad Shakib said he thought for a moment the man might have been a mechanic.
"I thought to myself, what is this crazy man doing? And then there was a blast and flames," that engulfed the undercarriage, he said. "It was a very loud explosion. I still cannot really hear."
Bakery owner Mirza Khan said the blast shattered the windows of his nearby shop where people were waiting to buy bread, leaving six wounded.
The Afghan government uses buses to ferry soldiers, police and office workers into the city center on regular routes for work, and the vehicles have been a common target for insurgents.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, also claimed responsibility for the Kabul bombing.
The attack occurred three days after a would-be car bomber was shot dead by police in downtown Kabul. That assailant was driving a vehicle packed with explosives and officials said he appeared to be targeting an intelligence agency office.
It also comes as the U.S.-led military coalition in the country is backing off from its claim that Taliban attacks dropped in 2012, tacitly acknowledging a hole in its widely repeated argument that violence is easing and that the insurgency is in steep decline.
Some 100,000 international troops are helping secure Afghanistan at the moment, but most, including many of the 66,000 Americans, are expected to finish their withdrawal by the end of 2014.
Also on Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan met with  President Karzai to discuss abuse allegations against American special forces and Afghan troops linked to them in the strategic eastern Wardak province.
The allegations led Karzai to issue an order on Sunday calling for U.S. special forces to be expelled from the province within two weeks despite fears that the move would leave the restive area and the neighboring Afghan capital more vulnerable to al-Qaida and other insurgents.
Karzai and Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of all U.S. and allied forces, discussed the issue and agreed to work together to address the security concerns of the people of Wardak, a coalition statement said.
Wednesday's meeting came a day after hundreds of Wardak residents converged on the provincial capital of Maidan Shahr to call on Karzai to implement his decision as soon as possible.
"The people are really angry about the actions of both the U.S. special forces and the Afghans working with them," provincial government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, adding the protesters threatened to stage larger demonstrations if the elite troops aren't gone by the deadline.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ultimate taboo: Actress takes on rape in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A woman is raped. Instead going after her attacker, the law and society imprison the victim.
This is often the reality in Afghanistan. To bring attention to the issue, Afghan-American actress Fereshta Kazemi took the role of a rape victim in a recent film, "The Icy Sun."
"The concept of honor for the men rests on a woman’s shoulders," said Kazemi, 35. "Her brothers and her family feel that they have been raped of their honor."

This perception of honor means that society often blames the women who are attacked, she says.
"There is this atmosphere where women are vulnerable to having people talk about them or say negative things or say that she wanted to be raped or say, 'Look at the way they were behaving,'" Kazemi said.
These deeply ingrained attitudes exist against a hostile backdrop for Afghan women and girls: The country remains one of the most dangerous countries in which to be a woman, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey. Close to 90 percent of women face at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence in their lifetimes, according to a Human Rights Watch annual report. Up to 80 percent of women face forced marriage, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.
Additionally, many Afghan women are imprisoned for so-called moral crimes, which include running away from an abusive home or fleeing a forced marriage. Human Rights Watch estimates that around half of the approximately 700 women and girls in prison in the country are facing such charges.
One woman’s real-life story vividly illustrates the problems confronting women who are violently attacked.
In 2009, Gulnaz’s cousin’s husband tied her to a bed and raped her when she was home alone. She was left pregnant from the assault. Her family reported the crime to local police in the northern province of Kunduz, but instead of going after her rapist, officials jailed her for adultery. While in prison she gave birth to a baby girl, Masqa.
Her plight made international headlines over a year ago. American lawyer Kim Motley took on her case and helped Gulnaz get a presidential pardon in December 2011.
"I think in theory justice was done. She was released, she was exonerated," Motley said. "What trumped that once she was released was the culture. It was the … perception of her probably going to fail as a woman, as a single woman with a kid in Afghanistan."
After her release, Gulnaz was confined to a women’s shelter for 13 months.  She felt it was no different from prison. Afghan officials blocked Gulnaz, now 22, from getting papers to apply for asylum in another country, Motley says.
The same officials pushed Gulnaz into a decision -- two weeks ago, Gulnaz married her rapist.
"Basically there were people in the Afghan government who helped to facilitate and pressure her to marry the guy," Motley said.
Many Afghan rape victims are forced to marry their attackers as a way of restoring the family honor.
Against this backdrop, Motley says she understands why women hesitate to go to the authorities.
"I can certainly understand a woman not wanting to report a rape," she said. "Frankly … if I was raped here as an Afghan woman, I don’t know if I would do the same," she said.
A recent United Nations report found one positive trend: In some areas, such as the major cities of Kabul and Herat, more women are reporting rape. This does not necessarily mean that more are being assaulted, only that victims are willing to come forward. In contrast, in Taliban strongholds such as Logar and Wardak, there were no reports of rape. U.N. officials say in the report that this does not mean that no rapes occurred but that women were too scared to report them.
So when it comes to security, it is safety close to home that seems foremost in the minds of Afghan women.
As one American diplomat speaking on the condition of anonymity said:
"I am always taken aback when I talk to Afghan women and ask them what worries them the most. Their reply is domestic abuse. They are more concerned with being beaten or set on fire by their husbands or uncles than any larger issue like Taliban."

Monday, February 25, 2013

Afghan police accused of corruption and child abuse

Very interesting insight from a Western mind and a Western point of view.  We (the West) are 'helping' the poor little Afghan troops who need to be taught how to fight the Taliban.  How quaint.  How idealistic.  We (the West) do not understand the mindset of Afghans.  We do not understand the complexities.  We never will.  We have a good goal (get the bad guys), but our way of helping does not work in Afghanistan.  Only superficially.  Hence the negative article.  It has truth to it, yes, but you will find corruption lies in the heart of humans - not only in the heart of Afghans. 
The article:

Afghan police accused of corruption and child abuse

BBC Panorama reporter Ben Anderson spent five weeks with US Marines working to advise Afghan security forces in Helmand province. While he was there, he witnessed corruption and criminality among the Afghan police force.
Most police forces investigate crimes like corruption, kidnapping, drug use, murder and child abuse. But in Sangin - the most violent district in Afghanistan - these are crimes that some of the police commit.
Politicians insist the handover to the Afghan security forces is going smoothly and that they will be able to maintain security as the allied forces withdraw.
On a recent visit to Helmand, UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the "transition is proceeding very well - it is on track.
"The Afghans are developing capabilities faster than we expected and we have every reason to believe that they will be able to maintain security as the Isaf forces draw down," he added.
The outgoing commander of Nato forces, Gen John Allen, is even more ebullient: "Afghan forces are defending Afghan people and enabling the government of this country to serve its citizens. This is victory. This is what winning looks like, and we should not shrink from using these words."

The reality in Sangin is very different.
I spent five weeks embedded with US Marines, who took over the region from British troops in 2010. I hoped to gain a true sense of what progress has been made in readying the Afghan forces to secure the area.
During my time in Sangin, just two teams of 18 US Marines went out every few days to advise the Afghan army and police across the district.
The remaining American forces have withdrawn to the main forward operating base, which they rarely leave.
Because of the growing risk of deadly insider - or "green on blue" - attacks, the Americans live completely apart from their Afghan counterparts. Whenever the Americans enter the Afghan side of the base, they have their weapons cocked, ready to fire.
When they did go out, what the marines saw was far from encouraging. At one checkpoint, the Afghan police were openly smoking marijuana. Two other police officers, assigned to fill sandbags to fortify a watchtower, were high on something stronger - probably opium or heroin. When one of the police commanders was shot, three weeks after I left, the American medics who saved him found a bag of heroin in his pocket.
Major Bill Steuber is leading the police advisory team, and spends much of his time at headquarters with the police leadership.
End Quote Major Bill Steuber US Marine
He said corruption is rampant, and even compared it to the American television show The Sopranos.
"It's vast," he said, "everything from skimming ammunition off their supplies to skimming fuel off their shipments.
"There's false imprisonment - they'll take people during an engagement, and they'll just wrap everyone up, then they'll wait for the families to come in and pay them money to be able to release them."
He said the police sometimes sell ammunition and weapons in the local bazaar, including rocket-propelled grenades. So weapons paid for by the allied forces could well be ending up in the hands of the Taliban.
In one instance, a patrol base was deemed unsafe to stay in because the Afghan police were selling off the security walls as scrap metal.
Major Steuber said the foreign military working here have to accept the limitations on what they can hope to achieve.
He said that because the Afghan police were unable to sustain themselves, sometimes corruption was the only way they could function.
"If we were to go in and shut down all of their schemes, all of their corruption schemes, you would render them completely ineffective," he said.
But there are issues Major Steuber said need to be tackled head-on - including the sexual abuse of young boys by local police commanders.
On every police base I visited in Sangin, there were young boys: some were armed, and some looked like servants. They are known as "chai boys".
Major Steuber says they are often sexually abused.
The problem is widespread. While I was in Sangin, four boys were shot while trying to escape police commanders, three of them fatally. None of the commanders responsible were arrested.
Sangin Deputy Police Chief Qhattab Khan admitted this abuse is taking place, and promised to take action.
He told Major Steuber: "The kids themselves want to stay at the patrol bases and give their bodies at night… There is no humanity. There is no military command".
Mr Khan retired before any action was taken to free the chai boys. To date they have not been released.
"Try doing that day in, day out," said Major Steuber, "working with child molesters, working with people who are robbing people, murdering them. It wears on you after a while."
The Afghan government says it is fighting corruption and that the police and armed forces are ready and willing to take full responsibility for the security of their country.
Ministry of Interior Spokesman Sediq Sediqi, said the Afghan Government would investigate the claims of corruption and abuse, highlighted by Panorama.
But from what I saw, corruption and criminality are widespread among the police in Sangin. This is exactly the kind of behaviour that led many Afghans to welcome the Taliban when they swept to power in 1996. Is this what all the fighting and bloodshed has been for?
Ben Anderson has travelled to Helmand province many times since 2007. He has written a book about his experiences there - No Worse Enemy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Afghanistan on my mind Facebook page (not mine though!)

Recently discovered Facebook page called 'Afghanistan on my mind'.  It was created in 2012, not to be confused with my blog which was created in 2010. 

Here is the link:  Afghanistan on my mind Facebook Page.   

The page has many interesting articles, photos, etc... of current and past life in Afghanistan. 

Buzkashi Boys - short film

Buzkashi Boys hopes to rekindle Afghan Cinema

Movie Trailer

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From the streets of Kabul to Hollywood: Fawad Mohammadi

From the streets of Kabul to Hollywood: Afghan boy from nominated film to walk red carpet

NBC News
Afghan teen Fawad Mohammadi, 14, is getting ready for a trip down the red carpet at the Oscars.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- On Tuesday, Fawad Mohammadi embarked on a long journey from the dirty mud-baked streets of Kabul to Hollywood's red carpet. It would be his first time leaving Afghanistan and his first time on a plane.
"So excited!" the 14-year-old said as he waited expectantly at Kabul International Airport for his flight. He looked the part, wearing jeans and brandishing his newly minted passport.
It all started when he befriended an American director, Sam French, who was looking for an actor to star in his film, "Buzkashi Boys," two years ago. The movie tells the story of two poor children dreaming of becoming famous buzkashi players, a popular traditional Afghan sport similar to polo.

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A 14-year-old Afghan street seller was overcome with emotion when he learned the film Buzkashi Boys, in which he acted, was nominated for an Oscar. Emma Murphy of ITV News reports.
The small-budget film hit the big time in January, when it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.
Mohammadi's own life echoes that of the character he plays.
Since he was five, he has supported his widowed mother and six siblings by selling souvenir maps for a few dollars to tourists on the streets of Kabul. He was paid $1,500 for acting in "Buzkashi Boys," which he gave to his mother to help out his family. Average annual income in Afghanistan is under $500 a year.
He never thought his movie debut would change his life.
But it did. Life altered when he learned, in a dusty Internet cafe in Kabul, that the film was nominated for an Oscar, and that he would be invited to the United States. At the time, he had never even heard of the Academy Awards. He was thrilled that he was going to fly on an airplane. This was great news for Mohammadi, who wants to be a pilot when he grows up.
On Tuesday he boarded a plane to take a trip of a lifetime. His final destination is Hollywood, where dreams are made. Mohammadi said he was "proud for Afghanistan, the first Oscar for Afghanistan."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Delhi's No.1 ladies' taxi company

A driver trained by the Azad Foundation in Delhi In India, as elsewhere, it takes months of training to become a taxi driver

The world of taxi drivers is dominated by men. But there is one small cab company in Delhi, where all the drivers and passengers are female. Women's safety is a hot topic in India at the moment, so it's proving a very popular service.
"When I'm on the road driving our cab I feel very proud, because this is a cab service for women, and I'm a woman," says 31-year-old Shanti Sharma.
"Our work is supporting the women of Delhi. We're giving them safety."
Sharma is one of eight female drivers with a taxi service called Cabs for Women by Women.
The last couple of months, since the brutal rape and murder in the city of a student travelling on a bus, have been particularly busy for her and colleagues.
"After this case, our workload has increased so much," says Sharma. "Women who used other cab services are also turning to us now."

But life is not simple for the women cab drivers either. Some of them had not even been in a car before they were recruited, let alone driven one. They needed several months of training not only in how to drive and the rules of the road - but also first-aid and self-defence, just in case.
One of the drivers was attacked by an angry male cab driver as she was filling with up petrol. Another was assaulted by an affluent couple because she refused to reverse on a main street to make way for their car.
Sharma, a single parent with three daughters, has been working as a taxi driver since 2011, when the service was first set up, and it has changed her life. This is the first time that she has earned enough - about $250 (£160) a month - to support her family.
Of course, she and the other female taxi drivers are completely outnumbered by male cabbies.
"When I park somewhere, there are always men there and inevitably five or six of them get together and hang out," she says.
Drivers with Sakha in Delhi show their licences
"I'm usually the only woman in the parking lot, so I just stay inside the car… even one more woman driver would have been nice, to hang out with."
It's not much better when she is out on the road. Sharma says the male drivers give her a hard time.
"As soon as they see a girl at the wheel they start honking for no reason. They'll try to overtake you. I'm always worrying about how to avoid getting hit by someone."

Self-defence classes for drivers with Viira Cabs in Mumbai
Pritti Sudhakar, operations manager, Viira Cabs

We have 20 taxis and 25 chauffeurs, and a training school where we train the girls to drive.
This is about women's empowerment. These ladies come from such a background where they are not important in the family. But they're now getting so much respect in the family.
It is very exciting - when they see a woman chauffeur or cab driver, people stop us and say "You're doing such a good job!" Our cabs work all night. They take trips all over the state. We just don't close shop, our women are very strong.
Soon, I see what she means. At one point, as she prepares to make a U-turn, a few cars back up behind us.
The driver of a government jeep right behind starts honking persistently. It seems like the other drivers are staring at us - a woman driving a woman.
Sharma looks a little tense, but she laughs and shrugs it off.
"How can I turn if there is such heavy traffic in front, tell me? I don't know what to say."
The company behind Cabs for Women by Women, Sakha Consulting Wings, had a number of goals when it set up the service. With its partner, the Azad Foundation, it wanted to give women from a poor backgrounds an opportunity "to earn at par with the men," says Nayantara Janardhan, Sakha's chief operating officer.
But by putting women "in charge of technologies" - or at least motor cars - they also wanted to change attitudes, and open up boundaries for women, she says.
Sakha's first venture of this kind was actually an all-women chauffeur service, which now employs about 50 drivers.
"There is this huge gender bias about women being bad drivers," she says.
So their first customers were friends and family. They were pleased with the service and news spread.
"As soon as we had seven drivers, we became a little more visible," says Janardhan. And that gave the company courage to start the taxi service, which began with just one cab and two drivers.
"Everyone thought that having a women's cab service in Delhi was not going to work," she recalls. "But we thought, let us put it on the road and see what happens."
Today, she's waiting for the eighth cab to join the fleet. And in the last couple of months, since the death of the young student, she has received calls and emails from people all over the world offering to help Sakha grow. The number of customers is up too - by as much as 40%, she says.
Most are relatively affluent, independent women who need to travel alone a lot. Some are new to the city, or just passing through.
One of the firm's first customers, was Praneeta Sukanya, aged 40, who works for an international charity, and often recommends the cabs to colleagues visiting from abroad.
Female taxi drivers in Mumbai Women taxi drivers are proving popular in Mumbai too
"Many women coming to India for the first time have heard these horror stories and they don't know anything about the city," she says.
Sakha helps them to get out and see Delhi in safety.
But Sukanya also likes the way that the female cabbies - like their counterparts in Mumbai and Calcutta - are chipping away at stereotypical ideas about gender roles in Indian society.
"Little eddies of change are where it's at," she says.
"They're blasting a huge myth about what women can and cannot do."

Meet a woman rickshaw driver...

Rickshaw driver Sunita Chaudhary
Some 55,000 auto rickshaws cruise Delhi's crowded streets, and it's traditionally a man's job. But Sunita Chaudhary has never been the type to follow tradition.