Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Save The Environment - Afghanistan

What is SEA?
Save the Environment-Afghanistan SEA is an Afghan managed conservation organization created for protection of environment, sustainable resources utilization, conservation of biodiversity and integrated development of natural resource in Afghanistan. The organization is registered with the government, and member of Afghan NGOs coordination bureau at the national level. SEA is member of IUCN, IUFRO and APAFRI at the international level. As local expertise, SEA works closely with ICF, WWF, ICIMOD, ISLT and various other environment/ conservation organizations.

Bird hunters 'emptying Afghan skies'

Bird hunters 'emptying Afghan skies'

The captured birds are often sold as pets - or for their meat

Untold numbers of migratory birds are being caught and killed every year in Afghanistan, helping drive species like the Siberian Crane to the verge of extinction. Hunters say other bird populations are also declining rapidly, raising fears among environmentalists.

Noar Agha loads small stones into the leather pouch attached to his homemade sling shot. "This is like a big transit airport for birds," he says, pointing to a lush valley ringed by snowy Hindu Kush peaks in Parwan province, about 160km (100 miles) from Kabul.

Syed Khel district's wheat fields and orchards offer a perfect resting point for migratory birds.

"Thousands of White-naped Cranes, flamingos, ducks, falcons and sparrows migrate from India and Pakistan when summer temperatures begin to rise there. They make a stopover here before taking off for Russia. That's when we make a move," Mr Agha says.

About a dozen of his grandchildren nod in appreciation. Then a boy perched on a tree top waves a piece of cloth and Mr Agha orders everyone to scatter. Soon a huge flock of sparrows descends on the valley.

He and his grandchildren fire a volley of stones from their sling shots. As dozens of sparrows crash to the ground, three hunting dogs are let loose. They quickly retrieve the injured birds, including those that dropped far from sight.

Houbara Bustard
Houbara Bustards are caught and smuggled to the Gulf

Like Noar Agha, many Afghans hunt birds for meat. There is also a thriving trade in canaries and finches which are trapped, sold and smuggled to Iran, Pakistan and Gulf countries, where they are popular as house pets.

The head of Afghanistan's Environment Protection Agency, Mustafa Zahir, recently told a local TV news channel that nearly 5,000 birds are smuggled out of the country every year. That may be a conservative estimate. Many of these are falcons and Houbara Bustards - the latter widely prized as quarry by hunters in the Gulf.

With the Afghan economy in tatters, hunting and trading in birds offers a welcome source of income for many struggling Afghans. Markets selling birds of all shapes and sizes - dead or alive - are fairly common in remote areas like Syed Khel and Kohistan.

"This is how I make a living," says one hunter in a bird bazaar in Kohistan, pointing to a sack full of dead sparrows. "There is no work here. What else can I do?"

The sparrows in question are probably Spanish Sparrows, whose numbers are not thought to be at risk, Taej Mundkur of Wetlands International tells the BBC. But he adds: "The harvest could well extend to other species as well."

In truth, no one really knows.

In a country which has seen decades of war, the welfare of birds is low on the list of priorities. The Siberian Crane, once a regular visitor en route to India, has not been sighted in Afghanistan since 1999. It is now listed as globally critically endangered.

Young Siberian white cranes on part of their migration to Asia
Siberian Cranes have not been seen in Afghanistan this century

Other birds are also now less common, say Afghan hunters.

"My elders used to talk about cranes, flamingos, wild ducks and quails. These birds were very common in this part of the country. But now it is no longer so," says 27-year-old Mohammad Wahid.

That view is shared by Mohammad Agha, 70: "There are just too many hunters… so the birds have fled."

A few kilometres along the Panjshir river in Kohistan district, Haji Dost Mohammad has hunted ducks for half of his life and says every house in his village has a shotgun. Mr Mohammad, 40, starts his days early during the migrating season.

"Every day before sunrise, we put stuffed ducks in our village pond. When a flock of birds arrive, drakes are attracted to the pond. We wait as the drakes try to pair up with the stuffed ducks. Just when they are about to settle on the pond, we fire," he says.

Huge nets are used, too, to trap entire flocks of birds.

"They spread themselves across the gaps in the mountains carrying the ends of these nets. When a flock passes through the gap the ends are pulled, forcing hundreds of birds to fly straight into the nets," one village elder said.

In some places, large wooden bird boxes with paraffin lamps are hung on trees. The warmth draws the birds, which fall into the concealed trap.

Such methods can result in huge catches. I saw one hunter bagging up birds by the hundred for a local party. Two local shopkeepers caught at least 500 birds each in a single day to sell at market.

Birds in northern Afghanistan
Afghan hunters say numbers of all kinds of birds are in decline

It is impossible to know how many birds are being killed in Afghanistan every year, but the kind of hunting I saw is going on right across the country - so the figure would appear to be in the hundreds of thousands every year, at least.

The authorities say they are aware of the situation, with one senior official in Parwan even calling it a "genocide of birds".

"But you have to understand that this is the way of life here. Hunting of birds has been going on for hundreds of years. Besides, many government officials are themselves hunters. Who will speak against them?"

The government banned the hunting of migratory birds five years ago in a presidential decree but the law is still to go through parliament - and the ban is barely enforced.

"We are also working with religious scholars and other influential members of society to start an awareness campaign on the ill effects of excessive hunting," Ghulam Mohammad Malikyar, deputy director-general of Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency, told the BBC.

Caged birds to be sold as pets
Many birds are caged to be sold as pets

Educating Afghans is one challenge. Another is the lack of reliable information - because of decades of instability, no comprehensive survey on bird numbers has ever been conducted.

Qais Agah of Save the Environment-Afghanistan said there had been "significant conservation efforts", but told the BBC a recent study had identified almost 150 endangered species of birds in Afghanistan, which is not a party to the Convention on Migratory Species.

Some birds may have changed their migration routes, which would explain the apparent drop in their numbers in Afghanistan. Or Afghans may be wiping them out.

Without proper scientific data, it is impossible to know. What is clear is that hunters say some birds are now seen more rarely, or not at all.

"Thirty years ago, I used to shoot 500-700 sparrows a day with my sling shot," says Haji Shakoor, 57, from Salang valley. "The sky used to be full of birds. But now it seems so empty."

Conservationists hope that doesn't mean more birds go the way of the Siberian Crane.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Why are Afghans afraid of 2014?

Why are Afghans afraid of 2014?

composite image

"When are you going to get married?"

On a recent trip to Kabul, this was one of the first questions I asked a good friend who for years professed unending love for his girlfriend.

"I'm waiting for 2014," he said. "I'll see what happens and decide what to do after that."

"Waiting for 2014" is an increasingly common theme in Afghanistan, where uncertainty is growing about what will happen when foreign troops finally leave the country.

When dealing with milestones such as births, marriages and deaths, your average Afghan has certain questions sitting uneasily at the back of their mind.

Will Taliban violence get worse? Will our security forces really be able to cope? Will the country return to civil war?

"You've just come from London, what do you think is going to happen?"

I do live in London, and yet I was asked this many times - and with a real sense of urgency.
Stockpiling cash
Rubbish collection
The Jahesh charity group run by Mirwais Rahmani cleans streets among other ventures

Aziz Shah, 38, a clothes shop owner in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif says this feeling of impending doom has translated into slow sales.

"People just aren't spending money like they used to," he told the BBC. "Everyone is worried about 2014."

Perhaps it is Afghanistan's chequered past that is to blame. It has a woeful track record for maintaining stable government.

When Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the country collapsed into civil war.

And in some areas the "2014 effect" is not just an abstract fear. As foreign troops slowly depart for their homes parts of the economy are feeling the strain.

Afghanistan's once booming housing market has been particularly hard hit.

Houses that used to be rented out to foreign troops and civilian contractors for several thousand dollars a month are now standing empty.

Abdul Ahad used to be an estate agent in Herat province, but gave up his job after seeing house prices fall by half in his area. He is now in Kabul looking for work.

"People try to stockpile cash in case things take a turn for the worse, he says.

Farida is one of the rare female drivers found around Kabul

There are also fewer job opportunities. Ahmad Samim used to get paid good money as a translator for foreign troops in northern Afghanistan.

"I honestly believe that the growth we saw in the Afghan economy was just an illusion from the very start," he said.

And my friend, the reluctant bridegroom, is not the only one holding back on weddings.

Afghans are famous for holding extravagant nuptial parties, sometimes with more than 1,000 guests, but when I was there I attended few parties - a noticeable change from previous visits - and each time there were barely 200 guests.

"We used to have lots of parties just a year ago, but now people prefer to hold them in their houses," said Mohammad Zalmai, the owner of a hotel in Kabul.
'We clean streets'
There is a pervading sense of gloom and it is easy to succumb to the sense of helplessness.

But your perspective also depends on where you are in the country.

I grew up in the north and witnessed the growth of an extraordinary drive borne out of hardship that nowadays seems to possess young Afghans. The main concerns here, unlike in the south and east where security concerns dominate, are economic.

For others in more rural areas, the harvest is of greater interest than the year 2014.

But after years of living through war, young Afghans are used to playing many roles, doing more than one job at once as part of a conscious effort to be a force for change in the country.

"We share money and buy clothes, foodstuff for the poor," said Mirwais Rahmani, a member of a charity group called Jahesh.

"We are concerned about the future, but evading responsibilities is not the way."

Farida Akbar, one of a small number of woman who drive in Kabul, took me on a tour of Kabul in her silver Toyota.

"We have a charity group, Hadia. We clean most of these streets," she says pointing out a central street in Kabul.

"We plant saplings, we donate food and we even distributed flowers to women on the streets on women's day," she added.

These are examples of the generation who came of age in the last decade which saw unprecedented foreign intervention and investment.

Distributing roses
The charity Hadia distributed flowers to women on women's day

And it is the loss of these certainties that preys on their minds even while they are eager to become the country's future leaders.

Many express concerns about the events beyond their control, such as talks with the Taliban and a fear that Afghanistan could become a pawn in a regional power struggle.

And in recent months militant attacks have been on the rise. I was in Kabul when the Taliban attacked the Supreme Court in June, killing at least 16 people. I sought cover in a nearby hotel.

"You need to be here in Kabul to understand how life is like," one friend told me.
Fears exaggerated?
Some are seriously considering moving abroad.

"I have paid $15,000 for someone to smuggle me to Germany," says Ahmad Wali, a Kabul university graduate, showing me his passport. "I really don't want to be a victim of 2014 and civil war."

President Karzai was recently so concerned by the general feeling of pessimism in the country that he felt moved to intervene. He asked people to calm down, saying nothing was going to happen in 2014.

Last year, he blamed the media - Afghan and foreign - for "propaganda" about what would happen after 2014, which he said was "a tactic to terrify us".

Many Afghan analysts agree with him, arguing that fears are exaggerated.

"The key to Afghanistan's permanent stability is in the hands of the people," says Davood Moradian, of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS).

He sees forthcoming presidential elections as a gateway to Afghanistan's permanent stability.

Coalition forces depart Afghanistan in 2014, leaving behind a skeleton staff for training

"It is the most important issue that will determine the peace process, security transition, economic transition and overall political direction of the country. If we get the election right, it will be a turning point for the country. Otherwise, we will enter explosive and unpredictable terrain."

I asked charity worker Mirwais Rahmani who spends his time trying to make a difference on the ground, what advice he would offer my friend who postponed his marriage.

"This 2014 is just a superstition and people will get over it. Tell the guy to get married and not waste a year waiting."

He would argue that like many other Afghans, my friend has the power to change the doomsday scenario of 2014 into a new chapter of hope - at least for himself by getting married and throwing a big party.

Pakistani women use jirga to fight for rights

Pakistani women use jirga to fight for rights


Women in Pakistan's Swat valley are making history, and perhaps some powerful enemies, by convening an all-female jirga, a forum for resolving disputes usually reserved for men. Some readers may find details of this report by the BBC's Orla Guerin disturbing.

Tahira was denied justice in life, but she continues to plead for it in death - thanks to a grainy recording on a mobile phone.

As she lay dying last year the young Pakistan wife and mother made a statement for use in court.

In the shaky amateur video, she named her tormentors, and said they should burn like she did.

A young girl in a headscarf Tahira was married off at the age of 12 and died last year following a suspected acid attack

Tahira's flesh was singed on 35% of her body, following a suspected acid attack. Her speech was laboured and her voice was hoarse, but she was determined to give her account of the attack, even as her flesh was falling off her bones.

"I told her you must speak up and tell us what happened," her mother Jan Bano said, dabbed her tears with her white headscarf. "And she was talking until her last breath."

Tahira's husband, mother-in-law, and father-in-law were acquitted this month of attacking her with acid. Her mother plans to appeal against that verdict, with help from a new ally - Pakistan's first female jirga.

Under the traditional - and controversial - jirga system, elders gather to settle disputes. Until now this parallel justice system has been men-only, and rulings have often discriminated against women. The new all-women jirga, which has about 25 members, aims to deliver its own brand of justice.

It has been established in an unlikely setting - the scenic but conservative Swat valley, formerly under the control of the Pakistan Taliban. We sat in on one of its sessions in a sparsely furnished front room. Women crowded in, sitting in a circle on the floor, many with children at their feet. Most wore headscarves, and a few were concealed in burqas.
Probing injustice
For more than an hour they discussed a land dispute, problems with the water supply, unpaid salaries, and murder. The only man in the room was a local lawyer, Suhail Sultan. He was giving legal advice to jirga members including Jan Bano who he represents.

"In your case the police is the bad guy," he told her. "They are the biggest enemy. " He claims the police were bribed by the accused, and were reluctant to investigate the case properly.

The jirga is making history, and perhaps making enemies. In Swat, as in many parts of Pakistan, men make the key decisions - like whether or not their daughters go to school, when they marry, and who they marry. And oppression starts early. Tahira was married off at just 12 years old, to a middle-aged man.

"Our society is a male-dominated society, and our men treat our women like slaves," said the jirga founder, Tabassum Adnan. "They don't give them their rights and they consider them their property. Our society doesn't think we have the right to live our own lives."

This chatty social activist, and mother of four, knows that challenging culture and tradition comes with risks. "Maybe I could be killed," she said, "anything could happen. But I have to fight. I am not going to stop."

As we spoke in a sun-baked courtyard Tabassum got a disturbing phone call. "I have just been told that the body of another girl has been found, " she said. " Her husband shot her." She plans to investigate the case, and push the authorities to act.

"Before my jirga women have always been ignored by the police and by justice, but not now. My jirga has done a lot for women," she said.

There was agreement from Taj Mehal, a bereaved mother with a careworn face, sitting across the courtyard on a woven bed.

Her beloved daughter Nurina was tortured to death in May.

"They broke her arm in three places, and they strangled her," she told me, putting her hands to her own throat to mimic the action. "They broke her collarbone. They glued her mouth and eyes closed. Just her face was left, the rest was flesh and broken bones."

She speaks of her daughter's suffering with a steady voice, but grief is wrapped around her, like a heavy shawl.

"When I looked at her, it was like a piece was pulled out of my heart," she said. "I was turned to stone. I see her face in front of my eyes. I miss her laughter."

Nurina's husband, and his parents, have now been charged with her murder, but her mother says that initially the courts took no interest.

"Whenever we brought applications to the judge he would tear them up and throw them away," she said. "Now our voice is being heard, because of the jirga. Now we will get justice. Before the jirga husbands could do whatever they wanted to their wives."

Women are little seen or heard on the bustling streets of Mingora, the biggest city in Swat. Rickshaw taxis dart past small shops selling medicines, and hardware supplies.

There are stalls weighed down with mangoes, and vendors dropping dough into boiling oil to make sugar-laden treats. Most of the shoppers are men.
'No justice' at jirgas
When we asked some of the local men their views on the women's jirga, the results were surprising. Most backed the women.

"It's a very good thing," said one fruit seller, "women should know about their rights like men do, and they should be given their rights."

Another said: "The jirga is good because now finally women have someone to champion their cause."

The response from the local male jirga was less surprising. They were dismissive, saying the women have no power to enforce their decisions.

That view was echoed by the prominent Pakistani human rights activist Tahira Abdullah. "I don't see it as more than a gimmick," she said. "Who is going to listen to these women? The men with the Kalashnikovs? The Taliban who are anti-women? The patriarchal culture that we have?"

Ms Abdullah wants jirgas stopped whether male or female. "The jirga system is totally illegal, and has been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. It can never be just. There are several extremely notorious cases where we have noticed that women do not get justice from jirgas, neither do non-Muslims."

One of those cases took place last year in a remote region of northern Pakistan where a jirga allegedly ordered the killing of five women - and two men - for defying local customs by singing and dancing together at a wedding.

And there are regular reports of jirgas decreeing that women and young girls be handed over from one family to another to settle disputes.

But for some, like Jan Bano, the women's jirga is bringing hope. Every day she climbs a steep hill to visit Tahira's grave, and pray for the daughter whose voice has still not her heard. Her video recording was not played in court.

Habiba Sarabi, Afghanistan's First Female Governor, Wins Ramon Magsaysay Award

Habiba Sarabi, Afghanistan's First Female Governor, Wins Ramon Magsaysay Award
Habiba Sarabi Wins Magsaysay Award afghanistan
This undated photo released by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation shows 2013 Ramon Magsaysay awardee Habiba Sarabi, 57, from Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation)
MANILA, Philippines -- Afghanistan's first and only female governor and a humanitarian worker from Myanmar's Kachin minority are among this year's recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, often regarded as Asia's version of the Nobel Prize.
The Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation announced Wednesday that it had selected three individuals and two organizations as this year's awardees, including a Filipino doctor, an independent commission eradicating corruption in Indonesia and a civil society organization in Nepal created and run by human trafficking victims.
The awards, named after a popular Philippine president who died in a 1957 plane crash, honor people and groups who change their societies for the better.
Habiba Sarabi, 57, was chosen for helping build a functioning local government and pushing for education and women's rights in Afghanistan's Bamyan province despite working in a violent and impoverished environment in which discrimination is pervasive, the foundation said. Public education and the ratio of female students have increased in her province, where more women are taking up careers that were forbidden under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime.
"In the face of widespread hostilities toward women assuming public roles, her courage and determination are outstanding," the foundation said of Sarabi, a member of an ethnic and religious minority in Afghanistan.
Lahpai Seng Raw, a 64-year-old widow, was selected for helping rehabilitate damaged communities in Myanmar amid ethnic and armed conflicts. The emergency relief, health care and sanitation projects of the civil society group that she helped found in 1997 in then-military-ruled Myanmar has today reached over 600,000 people across the country.
Another awardee, Ernesto Domingo, a 76-year-old physician, has dedicated his career to pushing for the poor's access to health services and for groundbreaking and successful advocacy of neonatal hepatitis vaccination that has saved millions of lives in the Philippines, the foundation said.
Also being honored is Nepal's Shakti Samuha, or Power Group, the world's first NGO created and run by human trafficking victims. The group's founders are being recognized for working to root out human trafficking and transforming their lives to serve other trafficking survivors. The group has established a halfway home that provides shelter and assistance to survivors and emergency shelters for women and girls at risk of trafficking.
Indonesia's Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or Corruption Eradication Commission, won for its successful campaign to prosecute erring officials, recovering more than $80 million in assets, and undertaking civil service reforms and citizen anti-corruption education.
Each awardee will receive a certificate, a medal and a cash prize.

Despite Education Advances, a Host of Afghan School Woes

Despite Education Advances, a Host of Afghan School Woes

A girl reading in front of her class at Mir Ali Ahmad Girls School in Parwan Province. Female teachers are acutely scarce.

SALANG, Afghanistan — There is not an ounce of fat on the wiry frame of Abdul Wahid, and no wonder.  
After he finishes his morning work shift, he walks 10 miles down mountain trails in northern Afghanistan to the first road, where he catches a bus for the last couple of miles to the teacher training institute in Salang. He walks back up the mountain another 10 miles to get home, arriving well after dark, just in time to rest up for his day job.       
In his determination to formally qualify as a teacher, Mr. Wahid, 33, exemplifies many of the gains for Afghan education in recent years. “It’s worth it, because this is my future,” he said.
But he also personifies how far the efforts here have yet to go. Mr. Wahid’s day job is being the principal of the high school in his village, Unamak. Though he has only a high school diploma, he is the best educated teacher that his 800 students have.
It is widely accepted that demand among Afghans for better schooling — and the actual opportunity to attend, particularly for girls — is at its highest point in decades. For Western officials seeking to show a positive legacy from a dozen years of war and heavy investment in Afghanistan, improvements in education have provided welcome news.
But for those who are working to make it happen — local Afghan officials, aid workers, teachers and students — there are concerns that much of the promise of improvement is going unfulfilled, and major problems are going unsolved.
In interviews, they pointed out an abysmal dropout rate, widespread closings of schools in some areas of conflict and a very low level of education for those who do manage to find a seat in a class. Overcrowding is so bad that nearly all schools operate on split shifts, so students get a half-day, and many of them are on three shifts a day, meaning that those students get only three hours of instruction daily. And many children are not in school. Unicef estimated in 2012 that one in two school-age children did not attend at all.
Further, while there has demonstrably been positive and rapid growth in the public school system, there have also been daunting challenges, particularly a lack of capacity to find or train qualified teachers, print enough textbooks or build enough safe schools.
According to statistics compiled by Unicef, only 24 percent of Afghanistan’s teachers are qualified under Afghan law, meaning they completed a two-year training course after high school. In many rural places, there are sometimes teachers with 10th-grade educations teaching 11th and 12th graders.
Forty-five percent of the country’s 13,000 schools operate without usable buildings, under tents or canvas lean-tos, or even just under the branches of a tree; in a country of harsh extremes of climate both in winter and in summer, that means many missed school days.
The Afghan public school system has expanded immensely in recent years, buoyed by extensive international aid — the United States Agency for International Development alone has given $934 million to education programs over the past 12 years, according to the government agency. The education minister, Farouk Wardak, insists that 10.5 million students are enrolled this year, 40 percent of them girls, a huge increase from an estimate of 900,000 enrolled students, almost none of them girls, under Taliban rule in 2001.
Those numbers are widely quoted by Afghan and Western officials as a marker of success, but the claims are seen as unsupportable by many here.
Jennifer Rowell of CARE International, who has been conducting a study of education in Afghanistan, cautions that enrollment numbers are not actual attendance numbers.
And she said that when CARE tried to contact the headmasters of schools around the country, using contact lists kept by the Education Ministry, “half to three-quarters of phone numbers of school masters were missing, or the man we call has not been in the job for years.”
That makes it difficult for the Education Ministry to do any meaningful monitoring of actual school attendance around the country. Beyond initial enrollments, attendance tends to drop off quickly, often within just a few weeks. Only about 10 percent of students make it through to graduation, according to U.S.A.I.D. figures.     
Those numbers are even lower for girls, most of whom drop out between sixth and ninth grades, after puberty makes them marriageable in many areas. Female teachers are acutely scarce, and families worry about the safety of sending their daughters to school given continuing threats from the Taliban and resistance from some local elders.
The schools themselves have an incentive to inflate their figures, since their financing, which comes from Kabul, is based on enrollment.
In the eastern province of Khost, bordering Pakistan, Education Ministry documents from Kabul officially list 252,000 students enrolled last year. But in Khost Province’s education department, Kamar Khan Kamran, who works as a recruiter of teachers, said those numbers were wildly inflated. “I think we would hardly be able to enroll 20,000 to 25,000 students this year in the province, though the demand for education is booming rapidly.”
The shortage of teachers is so acute that in many districts the schools are hiring teachers who graduated only from sixth, seventh or eighth grade, Mr. Kamran said, “even though it’s not legal.”
For all of that, even those who warn that establishing quality education in the country is a mission far from accomplished will acknowledge that improvement has been marked over the past decade.
One United Nations official, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to anger Afghan officials, noted that while there still was not enough attention paid to the quality of education being provided, “enrollment has been tremendous, very encouraging, particularly for girls.”
S. Ken Yamashita, the head of U.S.A.I.D. in Afghanistan, said that even though reliable statistics are hard to come by in Afghanistan, “what’s absolutely clear is the number of kids in school has gone up, the participation of girls has gone up, and it’s such a huge differential.”
He added, “Education is very much a success in Afghanistan.”
A good example of that success is the Sardar Kabuli High School for Girls, in the capital. It was built for $27 million from the United States — and is still not the most expensive American-financed school. The Ghazi Boys High School in Kabul cost $57 million.
Last year Sardar Kabuli High graduated 290 girls, more than a third of the number of this year’s first-grade enrollments, and half of them passed university entrance exams.
“This school is an example to the whole country,” said the headmistress, Nasrin Sultani. Two years ago, it consisted of 38 tents and students attending in three shifts.
Now its 6,600 students, in two shifts, all have their own desks and no more than two students share one textbook.
In Zamina Stanikzai’s 12th-grade math class, when she asked for a show of hands of girls who want to go to college, all but one of the 40 students’ hands shot up. The one was a younger girl, waiting for her sister to finish classes to take her home.
When the girls were asked how many thought their families would allow them to go to college, however, half of the hands went down.
A girl in the back stood up and asked to speak, which she did in halting but good English. “Many of our families still believe in the old ways,” she said.
Mr. Wardak, the education minister, expressed pride when he talked about what has been accomplished despite the challenges, and particularly in remote areas, like Ghor Province. “For the first time in the 5,000-year history of Afghanistan, for instance, Ghor has 800 schools, 173 of them high schools,” he said in an interview.
He becomes defensive, however, about the quality issue. “I have $70 per student per year to spend,” he said. “In the U.S. you spend $20,000, in Pakistan $130. You don’t expect to do much for $70 a year.”
Outside Kabul’s public school system, the difference in quality can be drastic. At Mir Ali Ahmad Girls School in Char-i-Kor, in Parwan Province, the girls share their building with boys — two shifts for boys, one for girls. Only the boys have sports fields and playgrounds. One set of textbooks is shared by three or four girls. Two girls share a seat at each desk.
And even in the capital, most public schools are not the showpiece that Sardar Kabuli High is.
At Sayid Ismail Balkh School, 8,000 students are enrolled in three shifts, three hours each. They have buildings, but one set of them has no roofs or windows — it was a World Bank project, but the contractor took the money and ran — and another set was a Japanese-financed project that also was never finished, so only the first of two stories were built. Canvas tarps are slung over the walls to provide shelter.
“When it rains, we take the day off,” said Barat Ali Sadaqi, the headmaster.
Toilet facilities and running water systems have not been finished, and the odor of sewage permeates the small compound. Electricity is intermittent, and there are six computers for the whole student body.
On a given day, only 5,400 students attend out of the 8,000 enrolled. Still, they are crammed in: three to a desk, 40 to a class, 10 textbooks per class.
“This is development after 10 years in Kabul,” Mr. Sadaqi said.
At Sayid Ismail Balkh school in Kabul, 8,000 students are enrolled in three shifts of three hours each.
A teacher gave orders to pupils as they left class at Sayid Ismail Balkh school
Some buildings at Sayid Ismail Balkh school have no roofs or windows — the contractor took the money and ran.
A class for teachers in Parwan. According to statistics compiled by Unicef, only 24 percent of teachers are qualified.
Most Afghan girls drop out of school between sixth and ninth grades, after puberty makes them marriageable in many areas.
A school in Bamian. The public school system has expanded immensely in recent years.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

And now on Facebook!

It appears that there are now two different pages with the name 'Afghanistan on my mind' on Facebook.  I am not affiliated with either one, and my blog was started a few years before either page came into existance. 

The links are below - enjoy!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Women 'banned from shopping alone' in northern Pakistan

This seems ridiculous.  A blanket statement saying that all women spread vulgarity and spoil men's fasting during Ramadan.  Why don't we look at the other side of the coin and say that men spread vulgarity and spoil women's fasting during Ramadan?  I'm starting to think that women don't matter much to these men....... (yes, that is sarcasm) 


Women 'banned from shopping alone' in northern Pakistan

Veiled women in Peshawar, file pic
Most women in Pakistan's tribal north-west cover their heads and bodies

Islamic clerics and tribal elders in Pakistan's north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have barred women from shopping without a male relative.

The decision was made during a meeting at a mosque in Karak district and announced over its loudspeaker.

Most women in Pakistan's tribal north-west cover their heads and bodies.

The step is reportedly aimed at keeping men from being distracted during the holy month of Ramadan. It is not clear whether it will be lifted when it ends.

The annual period of fasting and prayer this year falls in July.

One cleric and tribal elder said the ban would be publicised using local mosques' loudspeakers.

"We have decided that women will not visit bazaars without a male relative," the cleric, Maulana Mirzaqeem, was quoted as telling AFP news agency.

"Those who will visit markets without male relatives will be handed over to police.

"They spread vulgarity and spoil men's fasting in Ramadan."

The clerics have requested police help enforce their ban and called on shopkeepers not to serve unaccompanied women.

One told Reuters news agency he feared the ban would be bad for business and the region's reputation.

"We never supported this ban and convened a meeting on Wednesday to protest over the clerics' decision," Reuters quoted the trader, Munwar Khan, as saying.

Life in transit: What is it like to live in an airport?

Life in transit: What is it like to live in an airport?


This weekend, the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, will have spent four weeks in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Two thousand miles away, in neighbouring Kazakhstan, a young man has already spent four months in the transit area of an airport - and admits it is driving him round the bend.

As airports go, Kazakhstan's Almaty International has not much going for it. It's small, and there's not much to keep travellers entertained.

For Mohammed Al Bahish being stuck there for 120 days has been an excruciating ordeal.

He does not even have access to the duty free or the overpriced cafes.

The 26-year-old Palestinian refugee, born in Iraq, is confined to what officials call "the sterile zone" for travellers and airport staff - he's the only one who belongs in neither category.

He cannot enter Kazakhstan because he has no visa, but nor does he have a visa to enter any other country. Israel won't allow him to travel to the Palestinian territories, and the UN accepts that with no living relatives in Iraq, it would be unsafe for him to return to the country of his birth.

Mohammed looks on as passengers leave airport

Every day he wakes up to the same monotonous female voice announcing flight details, gate closures and a lengthy monologue - regularly repeated - on Kazakh customs regulations.

"I feel like I am going slightly crazy," he says.

Already pale and puffy-faced, he is confined to a windowless 2m by 3m room inside the arrivals hall.

It reeks of cigarette smoke. There is a bunk bed, a shabby sofa, and a Koran on a table by the wall.

Mohammed's bed at the airport

Through the door, which is slightly ajar, new arrivals stream past on their way from the landing gates to passport control.

Intensifying Mohammed's sensation of limbo, he is fed on meals prepared for passengers on Kazakhstan's national air carrier, Air Astana.

"They bring aeroplane food three times a day - tiny boxes of salad and cakes," he says. "For the entire month of June I ate beef and mushroom stroganoff. I don't think I will ever eat beef again."

Airport security controls his every movement outside the room. Occasional coffee runs to a drinks dispenser are permitted, as are visits to the showers used by staff in the luggage department.

Wherever he goes, police or security guards accompany him.

His only opportunities for fresh air are walks to a porch area overlooking the runway.

His only contact with the outside world comes when the airport's irregular free wi-fi signal flickers into life. Then he uses Skype.

"I talk to my cousin Yaser, he lives in Norway. I don't have any other close family, my parents died in Iraq when I was 16, and I don't have any brothers or sisters," he says.

The desk in Mohammed's room at the airport

It was the desire to make his own family that brought him to Kazakhstan to live with his girlfriend, Olesya Grishenko, now pregnant with their first child.

The Kazakh national met Mohammed on holiday in Dubai when he was working there as an interior designer.

In Kazakhstan, while registering their intention to marry, Mohammed's refugee travel documents went missing, and his Kazakh and UAE visas expired.

He later flew to Turkey in the hope of renewing his Kazakh visa, but was turned back at the border.

"I was deported from Istanbul for lack of a valid visa, and they sent me back to Almaty. But here I also did not have a valid visa so they sent me straight back to Istanbul. Four times I flew back and forth between the two cities," Mohammed says.

Kazakh immigration is keeping Mohammed in the airport's transit area, which legally is not considered Kazakh territory.

Last month, the Kazakh authorities turned down his application for asylum.

Mohammed says he has been preoccupied with a single thought since becoming trapped - how to escape.

"I miss the sunshine, I miss being outside," he says.

"I see all these people leaving the building, and I am just stuck here, I can't go anywhere," he says.

We walk through the sliding door on to the steps where passengers board and disembark from shuttle buses. But Mohammed can go no further.

The sound of plane engines fills the air. Behind Almaty, mountains glisten.

"I get too angry when I come out here," he says. "Because I truly feel that I am in jail."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

India Supreme Court orders curb on sales of acid

India Supreme Court orders curb on sales of acid

In a picture taken on December 6, 2012, Indian acid attack survivor Sonali Mukherjee poses outside her temporary home in New Delhi
Acid attacks leave victims, mostly women, disfigured for life

India's Supreme Court has ordered federal and state governments to regulate the sale of acid in an attempt to reduce attacks on women.

The court said that acid should be sold only to people who show a valid identity card.

Buyers will also have explain why they need the chemical and sales will have to be reported to the police.

There will also be more compensation for victims. There are an estimated 1,000 acid attacks a year in India.

The victims, who have to live with terrible disfigurements, are mainly women and are often targeted by jealous partners, correspondents say.

In Thursday's ruling, the Supreme Court ordered that acid should be not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. It also ruled that there should be no bail allowed for the offence.

In addition, victims of acid attacks will be entitled to more financial help from state governments - the court said compensation of at least 300,000 rupees (£3,320; $5,000) must be paid to help rehabilitate them after their ordeal.
New penalties
The Indian government has been accused of being too slow to deal with the issue of acid attacks.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court strongly criticised the government for failing to formulate a policy to reduce such attacks.

It says it wants to see these new measures enforced within the next three months.

Campaigners hope it will lead to a fall in the number of crimes committed, as happened in Bangladesh when it bought in restrictions on acid sales.

Acid attacks are a problem throughout South Asia, with cases also reported in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Campaigners say women who reject boyfriends, husbands or employers are often targeted by men using easily available and cheap chemicals.

Earlier this year, India introduced tough new legislation to counter violence against women.

The legislation contains harsher penalties for rapists, including the death penalty, and up to 10 years in jail for acid attacks.

Malala Yousafzai's diary inspires other Pashtun girls yearning for education

Malala Yousafzai's diary inspires other Pashtun girls yearning for education

The words of a young girl whose determination to go to school made her a target for the Taliban has made others eager to learn
Pakistani girls at school in Mingora, Swat valley. Malala Yousafzai has inspired other girls
Pakistani girls at school in Mingora, Swat. The Taliban's shooting of Malala Yousafzai has paradoxically inspired other girls to study. Photo: A Majeed/AFP/Getty
For many in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, is a symbol of resilience and courage in her fight for the right of young girls to receive an education. For hardline right-wing groups and conspiracy theorists, she is a controversial figure accused of being a "CIA agent" and having staged the attack on herself.
But for young Pashtun girls in Karachi, Malala's struggle to get an education in the Swat region amid an insurgency is an inspiration. This part of Malala's life – documented in a diary published by the BBC – has encouraged many of them to start writing and sharing their own dreams of staying in school.
After the Pakistani Taliban attempted to assassinate Malala last October, a young teacher with the Teach for Pakistan programme started reading Malala's diary to her 13-year-old pupils at a government-run secondary school in Karachi.
"They had heard other things about her," recalls Afrah Qureshi, who teaches English to 200 students at the school, in a poor, conservative Pashtun district. "Some said that they had heard she had committed blasphemy, that she had said something about religion. And then I asked them if they had read Malala's diary."
Qureshi began reading a page of Malala's diary to her young pupils every day in her class, and encouraged them to begin writing their own. As they read her diary, their perceptions changed almost entirely. "They loved reading her thoughts," said Qureshi. "I wanted them to make an informed opinion."
One 14-year-old girl, Sara*, writes in an elegant, cursive hand and at length about her own aspirations and scenes from everyday life. "I think Malala is a brave and an intelligent girl," reads the first entry in her own diary, titled A Tribute to Malala.
"The Taliban should not stop her to go to school because every person has their own life. A killer should not attack on her because it is not right … We all should respect our talented people, as we respect Malala."
Sara told the Guardian that she had enjoyed reading Malala's diary and her story in her own words, and she loved writing her own diary. "It improves my English," she said.
One year on, she says she can't wait to return to school after the summer holiday is over. "I didn't like studying so much before, but now I really want to. My younger brothers, my sister and I … we are all reading our books."
Sara's diary is a reflection of the perils in the city she lives in – Karachi – where an average of eight people are killed in assassinations and clashes between rival factions every day. "About 8pm there were two bomb blasts in Karachi and I'm so sad," she wrote in November. "Why [do] killers kill the people? Do they feel good after killing the people?"
Afrah Qureshi said Sara's father was incredulous at first, when she had a conversation with him in English. "You must have rote-learned this," he told his daughter, according to Qureshi. Now, he's proud of his daughter's English skills.
Aliya, a 13-year-old pupil, exuberantly wished Qureshi "Happy Malala Day, teacher!"

'I love going to school'

Aliya said she had been moved by reading Malala's diary. "I felt very bad that she wasn't allowed to study. It was only her parents who did a great service to her and helped her do so," she said.
"I love going to school," Aliya said. "My teacher is there, my friends are there. I get up early for school, and I'm even attending summer camp where I've taken every single class. I love studying."
She rattled off a list of things she wants to do when she's older, including going to one of the country's most prestigious private universities. "I want to take science subjects in class 9 and class 10, and then study computer science at LUMS [Lahore University of Management Sciences], and then I'm going to work for Teach for Pakistan!," she said, referring to the nationwide movement of graduates who volunteer to teach in under-resourced schools.
For many of these girls, there is little hope that they will ever get more than a secondary school certificate. Many are taken out of school when they are 14 to get married. In this community, there is no concept of women working, though that is changing in other Pashtun districts in Karachi. At a parent-teacher conference, Qureshi recalled a girl's father telling her that he was "very worried" about his daughter's future. "I see that she's so intelligent and I want to help her, but how?" he said.
Despite the challenges, Teach for Pakistan says these young girls are incredibly eager to learn, and spend their breaks in the classroom so they have an opportunity to closely engage with their teachers. The organisation's teaching fellows work with the communities and the parents – who they consider the biggest stakeholders – to ensure that they are all on board and involved with the girls' education. In Aliya and Sara's school, enrolment has nearly doubled this year as a result. More women are applying to work at Teach for Pakistan, which means that they can place more teachers in girls' schools.
Another entry by Sara recalls a conversation she had with her sister about what she wanted to do later in life. "Sometimes I think: what will I become? I like many professions like singer, actor, writer, teacher, poet whatever, but my most favourite is army ... If I cannot become something special, I want to become a good person."
*The names of pupils have been changed to protect their identity.

Afghanistan's women wary as Taliban creeps back into political life

Afghanistan's women wary as Taliban creeps back into political life

Omar Sobhani / Reuters file
Abdul Rahman Hotak gestures as he speaks during an interview in Kabul on July 1, 2013.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- As American and NATO forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, some fear the Afghan government's efforts to bring the Taliban into the political fold may mean a step back in time for the country's women.
After the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom toppled the militant Taliban regime 12 years ago, girls' schools reopened, burqas were no longer compulsory and many women went back to work. So when the Afghan government last week appointed a former Taliban official as a commissioner on the newly established independent human rights commission, many were shocked.
Abdul Rahman Hotak, nominated for the post by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was the editor of Taliban newspaper "Afghan Sunrise" and worked for the group's education directorate during its rule – an alarming choice, some say, for someone tasked with championing the rights of women who were denied so many freedoms under the Taliban.
Hotak also opposes Karzai's proposed Elimination of Violence Against Women law (EVAW), which would make domestic and public violation against women punishable by law. Criticized for being un-Islamic, it has been languishing in Afghanistan's parliament since 2009.
"I want to help the women… I want to try to tell people that they are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters," Hotak told NBC News, claiming that he actually championed women's rights during the Taliban regime and asked them to allow girls to go to school.
He said his ideas and politics were not in line with the Taliban's and that he was compelled to work for them because there was "no other option when there is a government like that."

Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images file
Shukria Barakzai speaks in Kabul in a photo from 2010.

As for opposing EVAW, he said he believes that if most politicians are not in agreement about a piece of legislation then it must mean it is flawed.
Nonetheless, his appointment does not sit well with some.
"We need the human rights commissioner to be independent and we ask the president to rethink his choice … It is not a good choice for an ex-Taliban to be in this role," said Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament who hopes to run for president in next year's election.
Barakzai, known as "the woman feared by both NATO and the Taliban" for her outspoken views, has been fighting for women's rights for years.
She believes promoting people like Hotak gives the Taliban and other conservative groups a "green light" to strike political deals that would hold women back further – deals designed to make peace more attractive to Taliban leaders. "They will not join forces but they will benefit from each other," she said.
"All these years it is not only the Taliban who have been problematic for women's rights but equally the government, members of parliament and the legislative committee," Barakzai said.
Just this past May, conservatives in parliament surreptitiously removed a law which stipulated there should be at least 25 percent female representation in the upper house. Female politicians fought to have the law reinstated when they discovered the move. A spokesman at the presidential palace would not comment but said the reinstatement was waiting to be approved by the upper house and the president.
Additionally, in 2012 Karzai endorsed a "code of conduct" law that protects men from being prosecuted for rape within a marriage, and allows husbands to beat their wives under certain circumstances.
"The government and the Taliban have a shared view when it comes to women," Barakzai said.
However, after facing years of hurdles, Barakzai now welcomes the Taliban in Afghan politics. "I just don't want to see any more violence – that is why I would rather have the Taliban in parliament. It is the only way to end the killing." She believes if the Taliban were part of the government, they would be forced to follow the law and adopt democracy. They would have to put an end to their violent principles, she says.
"The only difference between the Taliban then and the Taliban now is that they no longer wear turbans, but are dressed in smart suits. However the principles are the same as before," she said. "But we will civilize them."
For some, like student Halima Rashidi, it doesn't matter who is in charge – the outcome is all that matters.
"I don't think that only people who are in the government right now can change the future of women. A Taliban or mujahedeen can also do that, too. It is not important for me who is running the show but I need protection and my rights, peace and security and a better future."

Friday, July 12, 2013

This is a link to a study carried out by 'UN Women' on 'Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harrasment in Egypt'.  Sexual harrasment and attacks have become a major problem in the past few years.

(The link is a PDF, by the way)

Monday, July 08, 2013

Extremist attack in Nigeria kills 42 at boarding school

Extremist attack in Nigeria kills 42 at boarding school

Nigeria sufffered one of its bloodiest days as terrorists carried out a massacre on 42 children and teachers at a boarding school in the country’s insurgent-plagued north-east.

A car burns at the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011 Photo: Reuters

Gunmen thought to be loyal to the al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram fundamentalist movement descended on the Government Secondary School in Mamudo, spraying it with bullets and using jerry cans of petrol to burn some pupils alive.
At the regional morgue, Musa Hassan, 15, recalled the horror of listening to the death cries of his fellow pupils.
“We were sleeping when we heard gunshots. When I woke up, someone was pointing a gun at me,” said 15-year-old Musa. He put his arm up in instinctive self-defence, and suffered a gunshot that blew off all four fingers on his right hand.
He said the gunmen came armed with jerry cans of fuel that they used to set light to the school’s administrative block and one of the hostels.
“They burned the children alive,” he said, horror showing in his wide eyes.
Survivors were taken to a clinic three miles away where they were under guard by the Nigerian army, which has been deployed across three northern states under an emergency offensive against Boko Haram launched in May.
Hundreds more children from the 1,200-student school were unaccounted for, having escaped into the bush.
Malam Abdullahi, a farmer and father of two victims, declared that he was determined to withdraw his three remaining sons from a nearby school.
He complained that there was no additional security protection put in place for students despite the deployment of thousands of troops since May.
One of Mr Abdullahi’s sons, a 10-year-old was shot in the back as he apparently tried to run away, while a 12-year-old brother was shot in the chest.
“It’s not safe,” he said. “The gunmen are attacking schools and there is no protection for students despite all the soldiers.”
Mamudo lies just a few miles from Maiduguri, the town known as the birthplace of Boko Haram, often referred to as the Nigerian Taliban. The name of the group, which was established there 11 years ago and has flourished ever since, translates as a call to ban Western education.
As a regional insurgency waged by Boko Haram has spread, the group has sought to retaliate against government offensives by attacking government schools.
It maintains that Western-style education is at the root of corruption and criminality in Nigeria, having lured people away from following Islamic teaching as a way of life. In traditional Koranic schools, pupils receive no formal education but spend their days memorising the Koran. Such schools are common in the Boko Haram stronghold.
Abu Qaqa, a spokesman for Boko Haram, declared the attacks on schools would escalate as long as the government soldiers involved in the assault targeted Koranic schools.
In one incident last month Nigerian soldiers had beaten pupils with canes. “When you attack Koran schools, you totally destroy Western schools,” his message said.
President Jonathan has declared Boko Haram a threat to Nigeria’s integrity and sought Western support for an offensive to crush the group.
He imposed a state of emergency in the states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, saying Boko Haram had captured towns and territory, turning swathes into no-go zones for the security forces. Dozens of schools have been burnt and unknown scores of students killed among more than 1,600 victims slain by extremists since 2010.
An estimated 10,000 pupils have been forced out of state schooling by the groups’ hit-and-run attacks, which have intensified since the start of the seven-week-old military offensive.
Suspected Islamist militants opened fire on a school in Maiduguri last month, killing nine students, and a similar attack on a school in the city of Damaturu killed seven just days earlier.

Top Afghanistan female police officer killed

Top Afghanistan female police officer killed 

A top female police officer has been shot dead in Afghanistan's Helmand province, officials say.

Lt Islam Bibi was ambushed by unknown attackers as she left her home in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, a spokesman for Helmand police said.

The commander of 32 female police officers, Lt Bibi, 37, was known as a role model for other women in the conservative province.

Her death came as four girls were also killed in a roadside blast in Helmand.

Lt Bibi was on a motorbike alongside her son-in-law when she was wounded in the gun attack. She later died in hospital, officials say.

Like most Afghan women in rural areas of Afghanistan, Lt Bibi had struggled to work outside the home, says the BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul.

Meanwhile, the four girls, said to be aged between seven and 12, were attending a wedding in Lashkar Gah and had gone to collect water from a stream when the explosives detonated.

Last month Afghan forces assumed security responsibility for the whole country ahead of Nato's departure. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are one of their biggest challenges.

Helmand is one of Afghanistan's most volatile provinces.

Correspondents say that civilian casualties in the south have increased recently, and many of those are due to the use of improvised explosives by the militants.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Pierre Borghi: How I gave the Taliban the slip

Pierre Borghi: How I gave the Taliban the slip

Pierre Borghi

French aid worker and amateur photographer Pierre Borghi spent four months in shackles, imprisoned by the Taliban in a hole in the ground. But an opportunity to escape eventually came his way, thanks in part to the weight he had lost on the "Taliban diet".

I was abducted by the Taliban on the evening of Tuesday 27 November.

It had been an ordinary, relaxed day in Kabul - no bombs or gunfire or stress. I had been to the supermarket, bought Chinese noodles for dinner and planned a quiet night in watching a zombie movie.

This was my second week in Afghanistan on my second visit to the country. I was looking for work in the humanitarian or urban planning sectors while I tried to make it as a photographer.

I was walking back from a bar, where I had been debating with other freelancers and friends the safest way was to get around Kabul. Security was on my mind, but the bar was in pretty much the safest area in the city and I was staying a mere 500m away. I didn't think being outside for five or 10 minutes would be such a risk.

That was a miscalculation.

A white Toyota Corolla stopped just a few metres ahead of me. Four guys got out, bearded, dressed in salwar kameez - the traditional Afghan dress - and headed straight for me.

Cars driving through Kabul

They tried to grab me and take me to the car. When I fought back, one of them took out a gun and told me to stop resisting. I did.

They shoved me into the middle of the back seat, squashing me between their knees, and started driving. We went through all the supposed safety checkpoints. After a while they pulled over, blindfolded me, bound my hands behind my back and put me in the boot of the car, along with one of the kidnappers.

They made it clear that any attempt to make a noise or move would be severely repressed.

Scared as I was, I was switching to a strange survival mode. It's a very conscious process. You start thinking "Oh no - this is actually happening." And then you begin to detach yourself from everything and you try not to panic and to be as rational as possible.

After another few hours of driving, they put me in the first of the two holes in the ground I was to be kept in. It turned out to be the nicer of the two - I had a bit of space and light.

They said they were al-Qaeda, they were Taliban. They told me that they had no problem with me personally, they had a problem with my country. They said they had taken me because I was a Westerner and my country was at war with Afghanistan.

I was given a piece of paper to write down information about myself, to be passed onto a Taliban "cabinet" for background checking. They needed to check I wasn't a member of the special forces or a spy or a diplomat - all of which would have meant my immediate execution. After the background checks, this piece of paper was to be passed to the French authorities as proof I was alive.

Afterwards, I managed to hang on to one sheet of paper and the pen. I used it to write down a wish list for my life after I was freed, which I kept throughout my detention.

The list which Pierre Borghi kept while he was imprisoned
  • Pierre wrote the list in English because he had been working for some time in the language - he was also worried that if the list was discovered the "cryptic" French words would worry his captors
  • Search hard and you will find the word ukulele in the list - Pierre had bought one recently but had yet to learn how to play it properly

I also made a paper chessboard, and killed time constructing chess problems.

After about 10 days, they said they were going to take me to Kabul and give me back my life.

They got me out of the hole, bound my hands behind my back and blindfolded me again. I was put on a motorbike. But instead of taking me back to the city, I was taken down bumpy trails, over rivers and into the mountains. I've had some interesting rides on motorbikes before but never one like that.

They were taking me to my next hole.

But before that, I had 10 very strange days living with an Afghan family, assisted by two Taliban fighters who kept guard over me (these were new guards - I changed hands a number of times throughout my incarceration).

It was surreal - we ate together, slept together, watched videos on their cellphone together. I even taught them some card games that we played for hours and hours. It's utterly frustrating to play cards with a guy that could put a bullet in your head at any moment, especially when he is cheating.

But the fighters either got tired of watching over me, or had to go and fight in the mountains, or a trade agreement had been made and they had to leave.

So I was moved to a more convenient place for them to keep me - a very small hole under a trapdoor in the floor of a barn, in which I couldn't lay flat or sit up. I had one three-litre bucket to use as a toilet. There was no light, none at all. I was kept there for the next three-and-a-half months. I was only allowed out three or four times, to shoot ransom videos. My hands and my feet were chained together. The only sense of time passing came from the occasional noise outside. A farmer chopping wood, a helicopter flying overhead. But the Afghan winter is horribly silent.

I was really bored. So what did I do?

I mentally drafted thesis projects, books and the blueprints for houses and towns (I was trained as an urban planner).

When I was hungry, I thought about food. I prepared dream recipes that I am still planning to try out when I have some friends over.

I also started talking to myself and singing songs. I thought to myself: "Don't worry, you're talking aloud, but you need it and are conscious of it."

I also talked to the people I loved - or imagined I talked to them - and prayed a bit.

You could say that I remained as French as I could - humour and self-deprecation were key tools in keeping me sane.

The chains restraining me were loose enough for me to get a foot and a hand free. The trapdoor was not locked and I began to explore the barn, sometimes spending whole hours - at night - out of the hole. I started to nurture a hope that I might escape.

But the Afghan winter is not only silent, it's also very cold. My experience of the country told me that if I broke free at night wearing the sandals and summer clothes I had been allowed to keep, I would end up a frosted corpse.

So I waited.

A valley covered in snow
An image from Borghi's 2012 trip to the central highlands of Afghanistan

I had to do the videos, to prove I was alive. They told me what to say. "Tell your country that you're sick, you're tired, you want to go home. Tell them to give us what we want. Say hello and pass on a message to your family and country and religion."

For your family's sake, you try to keep yourself together, to be positive, to be kind with your words, so they don't freak out.

On the morning of 28 March, I was taken out of my hole, to shoot another of these videos.

In the space of 10 minutes, I was told I would be killed in the next few days as France was not meeting the Taliban's demands. I was given some letters my family had written and sent through the secret services, and then put back in the hole.

This was my very lowest point.

In an attempt to remain rational, I calculated how long it would take for this last video to be passed to the French authorities, and for them to make a decision about the ransom demands. I spent 10 days in torment, trying to weigh the risk of staying against that of escaping.

Then I made up my mind. I thought I couldn't afford to wait one more day - that at any moment, some executioner would show up to cut away what was becoming an embarrassing loose end for the Taliban.

There was a tiny window in the barn, about 3m above the ground.

On the night of 7 April, I wrapped my chains - still attached to one arm and one leg - in some rags to keep them quiet. Then I got out of my hole and climbed up to the window on some discarded furniture.

Outside, I saw lights shimmering away on the right-hand side, in the far distance. There's not much street lighting in Afghanistan, so I figured this was a military base of some sort.

I dropped some food, sugar and tea that I had saved over the last few days through the window, and then tried to squeeze through.

When I reached my hips, I got stuck. I freaked out. But after a few twists I fell in a heap on the outside. I would never have been able to do that without the 25lb (11kg) I'd lost over the last four months. You might call it the Taliban diet.

I started walking towards the lights, stumbling and falling in the freshly ploughed fields. I was talking to myself: "Ha, so you like coming home stumbling at night? It's your time man, make this the walk of your life!"

I passed near some checkpoints on a nearby road. There was no way of knowing if they were run by the army or the Taliban. So I went down to a crawl, hiding behind rocks and pressing myself against the hillside.

Later on that night I found myself enmeshed in razor wire, and I had to change direction when some dogs started to bark at me.

I walked all night - eight, nine, 10 hours. By the early hours, as the morning prayers echoed all around, my aching legs struggled to keep moving, but I was getting closer to what seemed to be a large city.

Pierre Borghi shortly after his escape Pierre Borghi shortly after his escape

I reached a medium-height building, with an enclosed courtyard and watchtowers. I went to the gate, and as I was looking puzzled at the signs by the entrance, the military policeman on watch shouted to me.

"Kudja meri?" - Where are you going?

"Inshallah be Kabul merim" - If God allows, I'm going to Kabul.

He pointed his AK-47 at me, not really knowing what to do with this insane-looking guy in a salwar kameez with a huge beard, who was pretending to be French and making wild claims about being locked up by the Taliban in very sketchy Dari. So he called the commandant, who called the general, who called interpreters, who asked me questions. Another background check.

A few hours later, I was taken to Kabul in a military convoy with the general. While I was sitting in the car I thought about how, at that very moment, my keepers would be coming to check on me. I couldn't help smiling to myself as I thought of their faces as they lifted the trap-door to my hole, which I had been so careful to close again after I got out.

It wasn't till the end of that day that I was handed over to the French authorities in Kabul. They took me to the military hospital, where the chief surgeon welcomed me with a nice big pair of bolt cutters.

My legs ached from the night-time walk that had followed such a long period of inactivity, but physically and mentally I was in a pretty good way. Everyone was surprised, including me.

I took my first shower in 131 days and I was finally able to call home.

"Hi mum," I said. She said it was the happiest day of her life. Very rarely had I cried during my time with the Taliban, but I did cry when I made that call.

Pierre Borghi

Pierre Borghi
  • Pierre Borghi has degrees in sociology and urban planning
  • Before being abducted, he had worked on projects in Senegal, Bangladesh, South Sudan and Afghanistan
  • He spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service