Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Adulterers may be stoned under new Afghan law

Adulterers may be stoned under new Afghan law

Afghan women line up outside a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 10, 2013, to register for elections. A draft law would reinstate death by stoning for adulterers.
Under a draft of a new sharia penal code for Afghanistan, the penalty for convicted adulterers would be death by stoning if there are four witnesses to the crime.
KABUL, Afghanistan – Death by stoning for convicted adulterers is being written into Afghan law, a senior official said on Monday, the latest sign that human rights won at great cost since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 are rolling back as foreign troops withdraw.
"We are working on the draft of a sharia penal code where the punishment for adultery, if there are four eyewitnesses, is stoning," said Rohullah Qarizada, who is part of the sharia Islamic law committee working on the draft and head of the Afghan Independent Bar Association.
Billions have been invested on promoting human rights in Afghanistan over more than 12 years of war and donors fear that hard won progress, particularly for women, may be eroding.

During the Taliban's 1996-2001 time in power, convicted adulterers were routinely shot or stoned in executions held mostly on Fridays. Women were not permitted to go out on their own, girls were barred from schools and men were obliged to grow long beards.
Providing fresh evidence popular support for the brutal punishment has endured, two lovers narrowly escaped being stoned in Baghlan province north of Kabul, but were publicly shot over the weekend instead, officials said.
"While they were fleeing, suddenly their car crashed and locals arrested them. People wanted to stone them on the spot but some elders disagreed," the provincial head of women's affairs, Khadija Yaqeen, told Reuters on Monday.
"The next day they decided and shot both of them dead in public. Our findings show that the woman's father had ordered to shoot both man and woman."

The public execution was confirmed by the provincial police chief's spokesman, who said the killings were unlawful.
"It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The U.S. based rights group has urged funding to be tied to commitments and last month, Norway took the rare step of cutting aid on the grounds that Afghanistan had failed to meet commitments to protect women's rights and fight corruption.
Most donors, however, have stopped short of using money to pressure President Hamid Karzai's administration and U.S. and United Nations officials were aware of the plan to reintroduce stoning, Qarizada said.
The new law, he told Reuters, was unlikely to make stoning a common practice.
"The judge asks each witness many questions and if one answer differs from other witnesses then the court will reject the claim," Qarizada said.
Writing by Jessica Donati.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Loya Jirga from the BBC's perspective

Obama vow as Loya Jirga debates US-Afghan security deal

Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
The Loya Jirga can recommend the amendment or rejection of clauses

US President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai vowing to respect his nation's sovereignty, as Afghan elders debate a crucial post-2014 security pact.

Mr Obama vows US forces will not enter Afghan homes except for "extraordinary circumstances" - a key point of debate.

Mr Karzai urged the 2,000 elders to back the deal, which could see 15,000 foreign troops remain after 2014.

But he said it would not be signed until after elections next year.

The presidential polls will be held in less than six months' time, and Mr Karzai has served two terms so cannot stand again.

His office could not confirm to the BBC whether Mr Karzai - or his successor - would sign the pact.
'Sanctity and dignity'
The BBC's Karen Allen in Kabul says the issue of US raids on Afghan homes has been a key stumbling block in a deal that has taken months to hammer out.

But a draft of the deal was released by Kabul shortly before the grand assembly of elders - or Loya Jirga - started on Thursday.

Our correspondent says that in a dramatic moment as he delivered his speech to the meeting, Mr Karzai produced the letter from Mr Obama which gives an assurance on US raids.

The letter reads: "US forces shall not enter Afghan homes for the purposes of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of US nationals.

"We will continue to make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes and in their daily lives, just as we do for our own citizens."

It continues: "The US commitment to Afghanistan's independence, territorial integrity, and national unity, as enshrined in our Strategic Partnership Agreement, is enduring, as is our respect for Afghan sovereignty."

The Loya Jirga can amend or reject clauses in the agreement, though its decisions are not binding. The deal will also have to be approved by parliament.

Mr Karzai's statement on the timing of the signature of the document appears to be a new condition, our correspondent says.

The US had wanted the deal to be agreed quickly.

Indeed Mr Obama's letter says: "We look forward to concluding this agreement promptly."

Hamid Karzai at Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
Hamid Karzai urged the gathering to accept the deal

Protester at Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
One protester said the deal was selling out the country

The US would have to take into account any amendments that are put forward, and would still have the option of pulling out altogether.

Another key sticking point that Mr Karzai appears to have conceded concerns the jurisdiction for the prosecution of US troops.

The US insistence on immunity from Afghan prosecution for troops has been central to Washington's demands.

The failure to resolve a similar legal issue in Iraq led to a total withdrawal of US forces.

The US-Afghan draft says: "Afghanistan authorises the United States to hold trial in such cases, or take other disciplinary action, as appropriate, in the territory of Afghanistan."

According to the draft, the deal will remain in force "until the end of 2024 and beyond".

Currently the multinational Nato force is due to pull out of Afghanistan from 2014.
Taliban rejection
Opening the four-day Loya Jirga, President Karzai said the only issue on the table was whether the security agreement would be signed.

A woman delegate shouted from the floor that US troops had spilt too much Afghan blood and should be stopped.

Mr Karzai acknowledged there were difficult issues involved but advised delegates to accept the agreement.

He said that a number of world leaders - including from Russia, China, and India - were backing the deal, and that it would provide the security Afghanistan needed, as well as the foundation for forces from other Nato countries who were assisting Afghan troops.

But Mr Karzai also admitted there was a lack of trust between him and the Americans.

He said: "I don't trust them and they don't trust me, the last 10 years has shown this to me. I have had fights with them and they have had propaganda against me."

The Loya Jirga delegates will now meet in smaller closed-door groups to look at the deal in detail.

Security is tight for the meeting after a suicide bombing last weekend near the huge tent where it is being held.

The Taliban has branded the meeting a US-designed plot, and has vowed to pursue and punish its delegates as traitors if they approve the deal.

Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
Prayers are said ahead of the debate

Isaf commander General Joseph Dunford at the Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
Isaf commander General Joseph Dunford attended the Loya Jirga

Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
There was intense security outside the gathering

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

India: Dark is beautiful in 'historic' advert

India: Dark is beautiful in 'historic' advert

Tanishq jewellery's remarriage commercial

Advertising can reinforce unrealistic ideals of beauty and other stereotypes. But a new batch of adverts on Indian television seeks to challenge those stereotypes, says Upasana Bhat.

A dark-skinned woman with a young daughter prepares for her second wedding. A single mother practises long-distance running with her son. An upper-class professional with a malfunctioning phone is helped by a housewife. An elderly man competes against boys in an online game.

These are some of the adverts now screening on Indian TV that reflect changing times on the subcontinent.

To depict the remarriage of a woman with a darker complexion can be regarded as ground-breaking in a country where fair skin is considered beautiful, owing to the deep-rooted caste system. Adverts more typically feature Bollywood stars promoting skin-whitening creams.

And second marriages are relatively uncommon in India, particularly for women, although attitudes are changing slowly.

The Pioneer newspaper praises ads such as Tanishq jewellery's remarriage commercial for "breaking the mould and pushing progressive social values" as well as "redefining traditional representations" of women.

Author Swapan Seth describes 2013 as "unarguably Indian advertising's finest year" in the First Post. "Great brands do not belong to companies and consumers. They belong to society. They are the tears of the troubled. They are the smiles of the satisfied. They show the broken. And the mended. For that really is what life is all about. They are meticulously planted fillings in the cavities of every culture. And they have a duty to perform. They must be the bugles that announce the change."

But can adverts nudge along social change? Yes, says Piyush Pandey, creative director of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather India. Market leaders such as Tanishq "must take little chances of taking the society forward".

"I don't think we should be at all critical about this ad. Then we will stay in the past," he tells the Economic Times. And actress Nandita Das, who supports the Dark is Beautiful campaign, tells the Times she hopes the remarriage ad "might motivate others to follow suit".

Social activist Ranjana Kumari doesn't think adverts bring about social change, but tells the Hindu Business Line that it's "good when they focus on the progressive portrayal of women rather than resort to cliches and stereotypes".

As for the mother-and-son-running advert, Seth says it takes "the trials and tribulation of single parenting and made a triumph out of it". He also regards the remarriage advert as "purely historic".

That Day After Everyday - 'Eve-teasing' fight-back film divides opinion

India: 'Eve-teasing' fight-back film divides opinion

A still from the film, showing a woman with her fists clenched

A short film has stirred controversy in India by showing women who fight back against sexual harassment - known as "eve teasing" on the subcontinent.

That Day After Everyday by director Anurag Kashyap has raked up almost two million views on YouTube in just a week. Three women decide they are fed up with daily harassment, and the film climaxes with the trio fighting off abusive men with fists and purses.

It has prompted robust debate in India, where sexual harassment is a major problem and a rape is reported every 21 minutes.

Comments on YouTube range from those praising its message - "This movie will definitely encourage ladies to empower themselves" - to those who regard Kashyap as "a male-hating feminist". On Twitter, views are equally forthright. "Finally, someone got it right. No one comes to your rescue except yourself," tweeted Aparna Kar.

But many warn of repercussions for women if they retaliate against would-be attackers. "Violence never is and never will be the solution to any problem, let alone eve teasing," wrote one blogger.

Despite national soul-searching after last December's fatal gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi, some still speak of India's "rape culture", fuelled by an acceptance of inequality and violence against women.

Nasiruddin Haqqani: Who shot the militant at the bakery?

Nasiruddin Haqqani: Who shot the militant at the bakery?

Pakistani youth and onlookers gather at the spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated outside the Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 11, 2013.
The crime scene was quickly washed down and the body taken away by police

At first it appeared as if two men had been injured in a gun attack at a bread shop in the eastern suburbs of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad - just a routine shooting, a senseless crime in a large city.

But eyewitnesses noticed a number of aberrations. Some told local press that the police who arrived at the crime scene collected bullet casings and other evidence and then washed the area down to clean away the blood stains.

One of the injured was taken to a nearby house, witnesses said. Later, the injured man - or was he dead by then? - was put in a vehicle and driven away in the presence of senior police officers.

Local police registered a report saying unknown assailants on a motorbike injured a naan-bread maker at a suburban market. When confronted by the reporters, they denied there had been a second injured man.

The capital's main hospitals also reported only one casualty from the scene - one Mohammad Farooq, the naan maker.

Local Pakistani residents are pictured at the spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated at an Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 11, 2013.
Haqqani family members had been living in the Islamabad area for several years

But by mid-afternoon on Monday rumours were swirling that the second mystery man hit in the attack was in fact Nasiruddin Haqqani, a key leader of the so-called Haqqani network, considered one of the deadliest Afghan Taliban groups fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.

Confirming the rumours, a relative of Mr Haqqani told BBC his body had been spirited from Islamabad to the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan - roughly six hours drive across two provinces and one federal tribal territory, all dotted with heavily-manned military and police checkpoints.
Militant's Islamabad residence
There are obvious reasons for this cover-up.

For years, Pakistan has been accused by the West of backing the Haqqani network to counter the influence of arch-rival India in Afghanistan, a charge it denies.

So the idea that some of the group's key leaders were freely moving around in Islamabad - and even had a permanent home in the city, as has become apparent following the attack - could cause the country some embarrassment, a reminder of what it faced in 2011 when al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed by the Americans in a Pakistani city.

Jalaluddin Haqqani speaks in an interview on 22 August 1998 in Miranshah, Pakistan.
Nasiruddin's father, Jalaluddin, set up the Haqqani group to fight US troops

Nasiruddin was the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s who then set up the Haqqani network to fight the Americans in the post-9/11 era.

He was also the elder brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who heads the Haqqani network these days.

The Haqqanis belong to the Jadran tribe which is a native of eastern Afghanistan's Loya, or greater, Paktia region, and pledge allegiance to the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

But they have their main sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal territory of Waziristan and maintain operational independence from the Afghan Taliban.

The group is known for launching spectacular attacks against Western and Indian targets in Afghanistan.

And it is known to have played a prominent role in seeking to bring the anti-Pakistan militant groups in the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) alliance to the dialogue table with Islamabad.

A residence believed to belong to Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, is pictured in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 11, 2013. Nasiruddin Haqqani apparently used the Islamabad house as a base for fundraising for the group

Nasiruddin Haqqani was not central to the group's military operations, but had a vital role as a fundraiser and emissary who frequently travelled to the sheikhdoms of the Middle East to raise cash, and also, according to some reports, to look after his family business there.

He also played a part in last year's efforts to set up a Taliban office in Doha for peace talks with the United States, although the Haqqani network was not a direct interlocutor in those talks.

In addition, he was understood to be the group's main contact person for pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan, and was frequently seen moving around in Islamabad.

According to local residents, some family members of Nasiruddin Haqqani had been living in the Shahpur area on Islamabad's eastern outskirts for well over four years.

He was apparently using this base to organise financial and logistic;al support for his group and the Afghan Taliban.

So there were a number of groups who could have wanted to see him dead.
Analysts believe his assassination has dealt a blow to the group's fundraising activities, because they think Nasiruddin was the only Haqqani free to exploit his father's vast Middle Eastern contacts. The others are either dead, or engaged in operational matters.

Some quarters also suggest he was Islamabad's main link to the TTP leadership in its recent peace overtures to that group.

A Pakistani youth looks at a bullet-riddled wall of an Afghan bakery where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad (photo: November 11, 2013).
A boy points to bullet holes in the wall of the bakery where Haqqani was shot

For these circles, the obvious suspects behind his killing would be either the Americans or the Afghans.

But others point to growing unease within the wider Taliban community in the North Waziristan sanctuary as the time for Nato's drawdown in Afghanistan gets nearer.

This unease is partly due to a fluid situation in Pakistan, where the political and military establishments are putting up a half-hearted battle against some right-wing politicians who appear bent on exploiting the anti-American feelings in the country to push it into international isolation.

Tribal sources say there is a clear split within the TTP, with some ethnic Mehsud commanders accusing the Haqqanis of toeing the Pakistani line.

The Haqqanis have also faced opposition from some Punjabi Taliban groups that were initially hosted and feted by them but have now sunk their own roots in the area and consider the Haqqanis to be as foreign to Waziristan as they are themselves.

Analysts feel 10 years after it was created, the Waziristan sanctuary is readying for change, with dozens of groups realigning amid shifts in relations and tactical priorities concerning Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

For a while, there may be no clear friends or enemies in the area, they say.

Afghanistan opium harvest at record high

Afghanistan opium harvest at record high - UNODC

Colonel Fakhar Gul, head of Herat counter-narcotics police, with piece of raw opium in his hand
The report said police had tripled their effectiveness at seizing drugs

Afghan opium cultivation has reached a record level, with more than 200,000 hectares planted with the poppy for the first time, the United Nations says.

The UNODC report said the harvest was 36% up on last year, and if fully realised would outstrip global demand.

Most of the rise was in Helmand province, where British troops are preparing to withdraw.

One of the main reasons the UK sent troops to Helmand was to cut opium production.
David Loyn reports from the village where Afghans have been buried after being executed for trying to smuggle opium into Iran

The head of the UN office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Kabul, Jean-Luc Lemahieu, said that production was likely to rise again next year, amid uncertainty over the withdrawal of most foreign troops and the presidential election.

He said that the illegal economy was taking over in importance from legitimate business, and that prices remained high since there was a ready availability of cash in Afghanistan because of aid.

"As long as we think that we can have short-term, fast solutions for the counter-narcotics, we are continued to be doomed to fail," he added.

Mr Lemahieu said there had been some recent successes, including the arrest of leading figures in the drugs industry, but it could take 10-15 years to deal with Afghanistan's opium crisis, even if policies improved.

Afghan opium cultivation graph 1994-2013

The report said the total area planted with poppies rose from 154,000 to 209,000 hectares, while potential production rose by 49% to 5,500 tonnes, more than the current global demand.

Half of the cultivation area is in Helmand province.

Meanwhile two northern provinces which had previously been declared poppy-free - Faryab and Balkh - lost that status.

The report called for an integrated, comprehensive response to the problem.

"If the drug problem is not taken more seriously by aid, development and security actors, the virus of opium will further reduce the resistance of its host, already suffering from dangerously low immune levels due to fragmentation, conflict, patronage, corruption and impunity," it said.

But the report said there were some encouraging signs, with police tripling their effectiveness to capture "well over 10%" of production and a growth in services set up to tackle addiction.

The findings of the latest report reverse a decline in production last year attributed to bad weather and disease.

However, cultivation has been rising yearly since 2010 despite government efforts to eradicate the crop.

More farmers have been trying to grow the poppy as the price of opium has been rising.

Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium.

Last Jew in Afghanistan faces ruin as kebabs fail to sell

Last Jew in Afghanistan faces ruin as kebabs fail to sell

Zabulon Simintov, an Afghan Jew, prepares for prayers at his residence in Kabul
In a dilapidated building that also houses Afghanistan's last synagogue, he tries to make his kebab café a success.
KABUL —  Zabulon Simintov always removes his kippah, the skullcap worn by Jewish men, before entering his cafe in a dilapidated building that also houses Afghanistan's last synagogue.
"Let me take off my cap, otherwise people will think something bad about me," Simintov said cheerfully as he descended grime-caked stairs to the ground-floor cafe.

In his 50s, Simintov is the last known Afghan Jew to remain in the country. He has become something of a celebrity over the years and his rivalry with the next-to-last Jew, who died in 2005, inspired a play.
Mindful of Afghanistan's extremely conservative Muslim culture, Simintov tries not to advertise his identity to protect the Balkh Bastan or Ancient Balkh kebab cafe he opened four years ago, naming it after a northern Afghan province.
"All food here is prepared by Muslims," he said.
Now the cafe, neat and shiny, faces closure because kebabs are not selling well — largely because of deteriorating security in Kabul that has made people frightened to eat out or visit the city.
Simintov used to rely on hotel catering orders but even these have dried up as foreign troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, further weakening security and investment.
"Hotels used to order food for 400 to 500 people. Four or five stoves were busy from afternoon to evening," he said. "I plan to close my restaurant next March and rent its space."
At lunchtime, a single table was occupied, with a pair of customers ordering tender meat on long skewers and other Afghan dishes. Neither appeared to know about Simintov's history and said they came only because a cafe next door that made a special dish of Afghan noodles had shut down.
Little is known about the origins of Afghan Jews, who some believe may have lived here more than 2,000 years ago. A cache of 11th century scrolls recently discovered in the north provided the first opportunity to study poems, commercial records and judicial agreements of the time.
The community was several thousand strong at the turn of the 20th century, spread across several cities but having limited contact with fellow Jews abroad. They later left the country en masse, mostly for the newly created state of Israel.
Simintov's wife and daughters also left for the Jewish state, but he decided to stay behind with his Afghan "brothers".

A native of the western border city of Herat, the cradle of Jewish culture in Afghanistan, Simintov displays dog-eared posters and prayer books when he shows visitors around the dilapidated synagogue.
He pulled a "shofar" — the ram's horn used for Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement — from a dusty cupboard and blew into it with little effect. Simintov also maintains a nearby cemetery, marked by little more than a few broken pieces of stone in an unkempt yard.
Other religions have fared even worse than Judaism.
There are no Afghan Christians left, at least none who is open about it, and the only permanent church is inside the Italian diplomatic compound. There is a small Hindu population, but it is shrinking rapidly.
Simintov's personal ill fortune is linked to the increasing risks of running a business.
More than a dozen years since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban movement to end its five years in power, fear of bombs, shootings and crime is still part of daily life.
Simintov said the cafe had lost $45,000 and all the valuables collected by his father were stolen before the Taliban were ousted in 2001. He hopes that renting the cafe's space might generate enough money to renovate the synagogue.
Much of the whitewashed building's interior, including the synagogue's floors and walls, are covered in a black film. It survived the Taliban, but the contents were ransacked.
However resolute Simintov remains about practising his faith, he is embittered, even enraged, by misfortune and by the failure of the U.S-led NATO force to create conditions for peace and security without the threat of the Taliban.
"It is better to see a dog than to see an American," he said. "If the situation in the country gets worse, I will escape."