Recent history (19th-21st Century)
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Post by kmaherali »

We Cannot Stand By and Watch Afghanistan Collapse


The past few months in Afghanistan, even by the standards set by two decades of war, have been especially calamitous.

Since April, when President Biden announced the withdrawal of United States forces from the country, violence has escalated at a terrifying rate. Emboldened, the Taliban have advanced across the country and now surround major cities, including Kandahar, the second largest. The toll has been terrible: Vital infrastructure has been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, and the number of people killed or injured has reached record levels. As the United States and its allies complete their withdrawal, Afghanistan, so long devastated by conflict, could be on the brink of something much worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way: Peace is still a possibility. For too long, there was a belief that the conflict could be resolved militarily. Throughout that time, the United Nations was too hesitant to step in. We should know: Between 2008 and 2020, across six years, we served as U.N. envoys to Afghanistan. In those years, the U.N. endeavored to create openings for the peace process but could not get one underway. Though last year’s agreement between the United States and the Taliban made possible the withdrawal of international forces, it sadly did not create conditions conducive to peace.

The U.N. must now step up and guide Afghanistan away from catastrophe. The alternative, as all-out civil war beckons, is too grim to contemplate.

The organization needs to do more. Though two U.N. envoys are currently assigned to Afghanistan, neither is sufficiently empowered to make a difference. The U.N.’s humanitarian appeal to support the basic needs of Afghans — nearly half of whom urgently need material assistance — remains woefully underfunded. At the diplomatic level, the Security Council has looked on blankly as peace talks, held in Doha, Qatar, have failed to make any serious headway.

Fortunately, by contrast to times in the past when disagreements among members hobbled effective responses to global crises, the U.N. is in a good position to act. The United States, Russia and China — three of the five permanent members of the Security Council — all have a stake in Afghanistan’s stability. Along with Pakistan, they issued statements in recent months calling for a reduction in violence and a negotiated political settlement that protects the rights of women and minorities. They also encouraged the U.N. to play “a positive and constructive role in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.” Taken together, the statements demonstrate a hopeful amount of political will.

But there has not been a unified effort to hold the peace process together. The Taliban, resisting talks with the government, have focused instead on taking as much territory as possible, spreading violence across the country. Faced with a fight for its survival, the Afghan government has encouraged local warlords and leaders to take up arms. In the absence of international mediation, the two sides are raging against each other on the battlefield rather than engaging at the negotiating table. It’s a situation that revives dark memories of the 1990s, when the country descended into civil war.

Yet no single country involved in Afghanistan is well placed to help. For its part in the conflict, the United States is now viewed with suspicion. Russia and China, which have different allies among Afghanistan’s neighbors, aren’t seen as neutral either. Pakistan, regarded with hostility by the Afghan government for its ties to the Taliban, doesn’t want the involvement of India, which has opened its own channels of communication with the Taliban. Turkey, Iran and the Central Asian states are all important, but cannot act alone.

The U.N. must step into this vacuum. In the first instance, the secretary general must immediately convene the Security Council and seek a clear mandate to empower the U.N., both inside the country and at the negotiating table. That would mean the United States, Russia, China and other members of the council coming together to authorize a special representative to act as a mediator. With the pivotal support of member states, this would put pressure on both sides to halt the fighting and reach a settlement.

The U.N. mission inside the country, whose mandate comes up for renewal in September, will also need support. The rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation means that Afghans across the country will need more lifesaving assistance. The U.N. must also be able to continue its crucial work of reporting human rights violations, protecting children in conflict and supporting women and girls.

The U.N. is often criticized for failing to deliver on its original purpose: to maintain international peace and security. This is an opportunity to show its worth. In the past, international diplomacy has helped bring an end to conflicts in places as varied as Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador and Guatemala. The organization now needs to summon the same spirit, courage and energy. It cannot stand by and watch Afghanistan collapse. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

Biden Could Still Be Proved Right in Afghanistan


For years, U.S. officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me: We are there to train the Afghan Army to fight for its own government.

That turned out to be shorthand for everything that was wrong with our mission — the idea that Afghans didn’t know how to fight and that just one more course in counterinsurgency would do the trick. Really? Thinking you need to train Afghans how to fight is like thinking you need to train Pacific Islanders how to fish. Afghan men know how to fight. They’ve been fighting one another, the British, the Soviets or the Americans for a long, long time.

It was never about the way our Afghan allies fought. It was always about their will to fight for the corrupt pro-American, pro-Western governments we helped stand up in Kabul. And from the beginning, the smaller Taliban forces — which no superpower was training — had the stronger will, as well as the advantage of being seen as fighting for the tenets of Afghan nationalism: independence from the foreigner and the preservation of fundamentalist Islam as the basis of religion, culture, law and politics.

In oft-occupied countries like Afghanistan, many people will actually prefer their own people as rulers (however awful) over foreigners (however well intentioned).

“We learn again from Afghanistan that although America can stop bad things from happening abroad, it cannot make good things happen. That has to come from within a country,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a U.S. foreign policy expert and the author of “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era.”

All of which leads to a fundamental and painful question: Was the U.S. mission there a total failure? Here I’d invoke one of my ironclad rules about covering the Middle East: When big events happen, always distinguish between the morning after and the morning after the morning after. Everything really important happens the morning after the morning after — when the full weight of history and the merciless balances of power assert themselves.

And so it will be in Afghanistan — for both the Taliban and President Biden.

Let’s start with the Taliban. Today, they are having a great morning-after celebration. They are telling themselves they defeated yet another superpower.

But will the Taliban simply resume where they left off 20 years ago — harboring Al Qaeda, zealously imposing their puritanical Islam and subjugating and abusing women and girls? Will the Taliban go into the business of trying to attack U.S. and European targets on their soil?

I don’t know. I do know they just inherited responsibility for all of Afghanistan. They will soon face huge pressure to deliver order and jobs for Afghans. And that will require foreign aid and investment from countries that America has a lot of influence with — Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the members of the European Union.

And with the United States gone, the Taliban will also have to navigate their survival while swimming alone with some real sharks — Pakistan, India, China, Russia and Iran. They might want to keep the White House phone number on speed dial.

“The post-2001 Taliban have proved to be a learning, more political organization that is more open to the influence of external factors,” said Thomas Ruttig in a paper for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, The Washington Post noted.

We’ll see. The early signs — all sorts of Taliban abuses — are not promising. But we need to watch how, and if, they fully establish control. The Taliban’s main beef with America is that we were in their country. Let’s see what happens when we’re gone.

And let’s also remember: When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, iPhones, Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist. Flash forward to today: Afghanistan is not only much more connected to the world, but it’s connected internally as well. It will not be nearly as easy for the Taliban to hide their abuses from the world or from fellow Afghans.

In 2001, virtually no one in Afghanistan owned a mobile phone. Today, more than 70 percent of Afghans do, and many of them have internet-enabled smartphones. While there is nothing inherently liberalizing about owning a phone, according to a 2017 study by Internews, Afghanistan’s social media “is already propagating change as it has become a platform for denouncing cases of corruption and injustice, bringing attention to causes that have not yet been addressed on traditional media and seemingly letting any social media user voice a public opinion.’’

Maybe the Taliban will just shut it all down. And maybe they won’t be able to.

At the same time, a July 7 report in Time magazine on Afghanistan observed: “When U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban from power, in 2001, there were almost no girls in school across the country. Today, there are millions, and tens of thousands of women attending university, studying everything from medicine to miniature painting.’’

Maybe on the morning after the morning after, the Taliban will just order them all back under burqas and shut their schoolrooms. But maybe they will also encounter pushback from wives and daughters that they’ve never encountered before — precisely because of the social, educational and technological seeds of change planted by the United States over the last 20 years. I don’t know.

And what if all of the most educated Afghans try to emigrate — including civil servants, plumbers, electricians, computer repair experts and car mechanics — and the morning after the morning after, the country is left with a bunch of barely literate Taliban thugs to run the place? What will they do then? Especially since this is a much more environmentally stressed Afghanistan than the one the Taliban ruled 20 years ago?

According to a report published last year by National Geographic, “Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and one of the least equipped to handle what’s to come” — including drought, flooding, avalanches, landslides, extreme weather and mass displacement.

As for the Biden team, it is hard to imagine a worse morning after for it in Kabul. Its failure to create a proper security perimeter and transition process, in which Afghans who risked their lives to work with us these past two decades could be assured of a safe removal to America — not to mention an orderly exit for foreign diplomats, human rights activists and aid workers — is appalling and inexplicable.

But ultimately, the Biden team will be judged by how it handles the morning after the morning after. Biden made a claim — one that was shared by the Trump team — that America would be more secure and better able to deal with any terrorist threats if we were out of Afghanistan than if we stayed embedded there, with all the costs of people, energy and focus. He again suggested as much in his address to the nation Monday afternoon.

The Biden team essentially said that the old way of trying to secure America from Middle East terrorists through occupation and nation-building doesn’t work and that there is a better way. It needs to tell us what that way is and prove it out the morning after the morning after.

We’re at the start of one of the biggest geopolitical challenges the modern world has ever faced. Because there’s now a whole slew of countries — Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia — that have evicted the colonial great powers that once controlled them (and that brought both order and disorder) but have now also manifestly failed at governing themselves. What to do?

When the French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited Lebanon in July 2020, he was presented on his arrival with a petition signed by some 50,000 Lebanese calling for France to take control of Lebanon because of the Lebanese government’s “total inability to secure and manage the country.”

I doubt that is the last such petition we will see.

For the last 20 years, America tried to defend itself from terrorism emanating from Afghanistan by trying to nurture it to stability and prosperity through the promotion of gender pluralism, religious pluralism, education pluralism, media pluralism and, ultimately, political pluralism.

That theory was not wrong. We are entering an unprecedented era in human history, two simultaneous and hugely challenging climate changes at once: one in the climate of technology and one in the climate of the climate. Without such pluralism, neither Afghanistan nor any of these other failing states (or America, but that’s for another column) will be able to adapt to the 21st century.

But the theory relied on there being enough Afghans willing to sign on for more such pluralism. Many were. But too many were not. So Biden determined that we needed to stop this effort, leave Afghanistan and readjust our defense strategy. I pray that he is right. But he will be judged by what happens the morning after the morning after. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by swamidada »

By Vijayta Lalwani
Published August 20, 2021
On Aug. 16, Wali Salek was resting in his two-storey home in District 11 in Khair Khana, a neighbourhood in the northwest of Kabul. His daughters were cooking and his two sons were asleep. Suddenly, a loud thud from above jolted the family awake.

“It sounded like a bomb blast,” Salek told over a video call on Tuesday afternoon. The 47-year-old works as a security guard in the main city nearly 9km away from his home.

Plaster began to crumble down from the walls and ceiling. Hearing the crash, his neighbours came out of their homes, Salek said. He climbed up to the roof of his house to see what had happened.

He was greeted by a horrific scene, he said: blood splattered across his roof and two bodies, badly damaged. “Their stomachs and their heads had cracked open,” Salek said. “Their brains had come out.”

But where had the bodies dropped from? Salek lives about 8 km away from the Hamid Karzai International Airport and his neighbours told him they watched as two men holding on to the wheel of a plane had fallen off.

News of the tragedy spread quickly—and it wasn’t long before Salek’s relative Shapoor Zarifi in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar heard about it. The 27-year-old Zarifi, who runs a travel agency and a property company, put in touch with Salek. As Salek described the dramatic events in Pashto, Zarifi translated the video call into Hindi.

Salek sent photographs and videos of the bodies, which has chosen not to publish.

Wali Salek, over a video call, with Shapoor Zarifi and this reporter.
By Aug. 15, the Taliban had taken full control of the capital leaving several residents scrambling at the airport to find a way out of the country.

On Aug. 16, videos emerged from Kabul showed chaotic scenes of thousands gathered at the airport. Some were trying to desperately cling on to a US Air Force plane as it was gearing to take off from the runway

“When I saw them [on the roof], I first thought they were Taliban men who were thrown off the plane but we [the neighbours] checked the bodies,” Salek said.

Salek sent a photo of the plaster on his ceiling that had cracked and crumbled after the bodies fell on his roof.
His wife, Zakia Salek, had followed him up to the roof but fainted after she saw the bodies, he said. He took her down to the bedroom and then gathered 10 to 12 of his neighbours. They wrapped the bodies in cloth and blankets, and took them to Amir Hamza Mosque at 1 pm, Salek said.

Salek sent a photo of the blood splattered across his roof.
Salek’s neighbour confirmed to that two men fell onto his roof around noon on Monday. “I thought it was an explosion but when I came out there was no explosion,” said Abdul Wajid, a 20-year old who lives with his family in the area.

“Two young people fell from the aeroplane…on the roof of Wali Salek,” Wajid said. “When I saw them they were dead.” The young man, who graduated from Mohammad Anwar Bismil High School located 2 km away from his home, is currently unemployed.

The bodies of the two men were then taken to the mosque located 300 metres away, he said. The maulana of the mosque found the identity card of both the men from the pockets of their clothes after which their families were contacted, Wajid said.

Salek identified one of the men as Shafiullah Hotak after he found his birth certificate in the zipped pocket of the coat he wore over a shirt. Hotak appeared to be aged between 25 and 27 years, he said. The other man appeared to be barely 20 years old and Salek claimed that he did not find any identity markers for this man, or other markers such as rings, wristwatch, bracelets, or chains on either of them.

Wajid said the mosque authorities had identified the second man as Fida Mohammad who hailed from Paghman, a town near Kabul.

After Salek dropped the bodies at the mosque, he said he returned home and washed away the remnants of flesh from his roof. He then took a taxi to the city to start his six-hour-long shift at 6 pm.

When he returned home that night, his neighbours told him that the families of the men had come to claim them at the mosque. Hotak, he claimed, was a doctor who hailed from Hotkhil village in Kabul, and the other man hailed from Qargha, also located within the capital.

Living close to the airport, Salek and his family had become used to the harsh sounds of military aircraft moving about. But he had never imagined anything thundering from the sky and onto the roof of his house.

“I thought maybe the plane would drop some dollars but never bodies,” Salek said.

But the whole incident has left the family harrowed and fearful about their safety in the city. His wife has been unable to eat or sleep. In his family, including his six children, he is the only one with a passport, so leaving the country would not be possible. For now, the family was trying to relocate to a safer province.

By Aug. 17, his wife had left Kabul with one of their daughters to travel to Panjshir province, situated north of the country. “We are in shock and we are not feeling safe,” Salek said.

Shapoor Zarifi in South Delhi and Salek in Kabul over a video call.
“So much desperation”
Salek’s relative in Delhi, Shapoor Zarifi, also hails from Panjshir province. He came to Delhi in 2014.

As the Taliban have taken charge of most of the country, Zarifi has been inundated with phone calls from Afghanistan with desperate pleas for help. Afghans with passports, birth certificates and financial resources asked for his help in filling out their visa applications to India.

But none of that would matter until flights start again from Kabul. Zarifi said that his family including his mother, three brothers and two sisters, have been granted visas to India but are now stuck in Afghanistan.

“I can tell you that 90% of the people do not want the Taliban government or its rule,” Zarifi said. “Nobody can trust them and it does not matter if you are Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. There is so much desperation that is why people are risking their lives to leave.”

This piece was originally published on Scroll.i
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Post by swamidada »

The Afghan all-girls robotics team have been offered scholarships at 'incredible universities,' says Oklahoma mother who helped them escape the Taliban
Sophia Ankel
Sun, August 22, 2021, 12:03 PM

A mother from Oklahoma helped rescue members of the all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan.

Allyson Reneau previously met the girls at a conference in 2019 and wanted to help them escape.

Reneau told Insider the girls, who landed in Qatar this week, seem "safe, well, and happy."

See more stories on Insider's business page.

A 60-year-old Oklahoma mother who helped several members of an internationally recognized all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan escape the country said they are feeling "so grateful" to be out.

On Tuesday, 10 of the so-called "Afghan Dreamers," aged 16 to 18, were able to leave Kabul on a commercial flight to Doha, Qatar, after several failed attempts to flee the country.

One of the people who helped them get out was Allyson Reneau, a mother-of-11 from Oklahoma, who first met the girls at a Humans to Mars summit in Washington DC in May 2019.

Read more: The images of Afghans falling from the sky close the book on America's tragic and futile response to 9/11

"They left everything behind to pursue their dreams and to be free and educated," Reneau told Insider. "They now seem to be safe, well, and happy."

Reneau, who graduated from Harvard in 2016, said she kept in touch with the team since meeting them at the conference.

"Being a mother of nine biological daughters, I felt immediately drawn to them and I think it was it was mutual," she said.

The 60-year-old said that for weeks the girls had been texting her about the situation in Afghanistan and that one morning early in August, she woke up with an "overwhelming dreadful feeling that something was really wrong."

"I somehow felt that they were in great danger. And I couldn't shake it," she said. "It was so pronounced that I had to take action."

For days, Reneau was trying to speak to her senator and other local officials to find a way to get the team out.

But after hitting many roadblocks, she decided to take matters into her own hands and travel to Qatar herself. Shortly before her flight, she contacted an old roommate who lived in Qatar and worked for the embassy.

This friend was able to file all the paperwork, and with the help of the embassy, started the process of getting the girls out of Kabul. Reneau herself decided to stay and help from afar.

Four Afghan members of a robotics team make repairs on a robot.
Members of the Afghanistan team make a repair to their robot after their first round competing in the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge, Monday, July 17, 2017, in Washington. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
When she got the news that some of the girls got out safely earlier this week, Reneau said she "broke down."

"I got a text from one of the girls that just said: 'We did it.' All the emotion from two weeks of work and running into a wall constantly, and burying your feelings, and bearing your feelings for the girls, it just hit me all at once."

The all-girl Afghan robotics team made headlines back in 2017 when they traveled to Washington DC for an international robotics competition.

They were initially not able to obtain their visas to travel, but an intervention by former President Donald Trump allowed them to fly to DC and compete.

Reneau said that the girls are now figuring out where to go from Qatar but that they've already had an "abundance of scholarship offers from incredible universities" in the US.

"For the first time in their life, I really believe they have the freedom to choose and to be the architects of their own destiny and their own future," she said. "It's the freeing feeling to me to know that they will be able to go somewhere and get educated wherever they want."

Read the original article on Business Insider ... 23654.html
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Post by swamidada »

Founder of all-girls school in Afghanistan escapes with students and burns records
Barnini Chakraborty
Tue, August 24, 2021, 2:14 PM

The co-founder of the only all-girls private boarding school in Afghanistan said Tuesday that nearly 250 students, faculty, staff, and family members had made it out of the war-torn country and will temporarily resettle in Rwanda for a "semester abroad" for the entire study body.

"SOLA (School of Leadership, Afghanistan) is resettling, but our resettlement is not permanent," Shabana Basij-Rasikh tweeted. "A semester abroad is exactly what we're planning. When circumstances on the ground permit, we hope to return home to Afghanistan."

Basij-Rasikh also thanked the governments of Qatar, Rwanda, and the United States for helping the girls escape.

"My heart breaks for my country," she added. "I've stood in Kabul, and I've seen the fear, and the anger, and the ferocious bravery of the Afghan people. I look at my students, and I see the faces of the millions of Afghan girls, just like them, who remain behind."

Basij-Rasikh tweeted videos of herself Friday burning the academic records and files of the young women at her school amid the terror of what a return to Taliban rule could mean for women. Basij-Rasikh said she burned the documents to protect students and their families from the terror group.

"In March 2002, after the fall of Taliban, thousands of Afghan girls were invited to go to the nearest public school to participate in a placement test because the Taliban had burned all female students' records to erase their existence. I was one of those girls," Basij-Rasikh said. "Nearly 20 years later, as the founder of the only all-girls boarding school in Afghanistan, I'm burning my students' records not to erase them, but to protect them and their families."

Since seizing control of Afghanistan, the Taliban have attempted to reshape their image and portray themselves to Western reporters as a kinder, gentler extremist group that will respect women's rights within the limits of Shariah, though they provided no details of their new reading of Islamic law. When the Taliban were last in power in the 1990s, their hard-line stance led to the severe mistreatment of women. Women had become second-class citizens with very few, if any, rights. Girls were yanked out of school. And if that weren't enough, nearly all of the schools were either blown up or bullet-ridden.

Basij-Rasikh, who was born and raised in Kabul, was only 6 years old when the Taliban forbade girls from receiving an education.

Rather than giving in to their demands, her family dressed her and her sister up as boys and sent them to a secret school for girls in Kabul. They knew the stakes were high, and if caught, they could be killed. But they also knew the importance of education.

Basij-Rasikh attended high school in the United States through the YES exchange program and graduated magna cum laude in 2010 from Middlebury College in Vermont. After graduating, she returned to her homeland and co-founded SOLA, the first-of-its-kind Afghan-led private boarding school for girls.

Since the Taliban takeover, she has been pleading with the outside world to keep the girls stuck in Afghanistan in their minds.

"Those girls cannot leave, and you cannot look away. If there's one thing I ask of the world, it is this: Do not avert your eyes from Afg. Don't let your attention wander as the weeks pass. See those girls, & in doing so you will hold those holding power over them to account," she said. ... 00457.html
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Post by swamidada »

Chris Hedges: The revengeful suffering orchestrated by the American empire on Afghans will be of Biblical proportions
1 Sep, 2021 13:58

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and host of RT’s On Contact, a weekly interview series on US foreign policy, economic realities and civil liberties in American society. He’s the author of 14 books, including several New York Times best-sellers.

Washington, humiliated in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, Syria, and Vietnam, is blind to its declining strength, ineptitude, and savagery, but still capable of murderous retribution against those who expose these truths.
The Carthaginian general Hannibal, who came close to defeating the Roman Republic in the Second Punic War, committed suicide in 181 BC in exile as Roman soldiers closed in on his residence in the Bithynian village of Libyssa, now modern-day Turkey. It had been more than thirty years since he led his army across the Alps and annihilated Roman legions at the Battle of Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae. Considered one of the most brilliant tactical victories in warfare, centuries later it inspired the plans of the German Army Command in World War I when they invaded Belgium and France. Rome was only able to finally save itself from defeat by replicating Hannibal’s military tactics.

It did not matter in 181 BC that there had been over 20 Roman consuls (with quasi-imperial power) since Hannibal’s invasion. It did not matter that Hannibal had been hunted for decades and forced to perpetually flee, always just beyond the reach of Roman authorities. He had humiliated Rome. He had punctured its myth of omnipotence. And he would pay. With his life. Years after Hannibal was gone, the Romans were still not satisfied. They finished their work of apocalyptic vengeance in 146 BC by razing Carthage to the ground and selling its remaining population into slavery. Cato the Censor summed up the sentiments of empire: Carthāgō dēlenda est (Carthage must be destroyed). Nothing about empire, from then until now, has changed.

Imperial powers do not forgive those who expose their weaknesses or make public the sordid and immoral inner workings of empire. Empires are fragile constructions. Their power is as much one of perception as of military strength. The virtues they claim to uphold and defend, usually in the name of their superior civilization, are a mask for pillage, the exploitation of cheap labor, indiscriminate violence, and state terror.

The current American empire, damaged and humiliated by the troves of internal documents published by WikiLeaks, will, for this reason, persecute Julian Assange for the rest of his life. It does not matter who is president or which political party is in power. Imperialists speak with one voice. The killing of thirteen US troops by a suicide bomber at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday evoked from Joe Biden the full-throated cry of all imperialists: “To those who carried out this attack … we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay.” This was swiftly followed by two drone strikes in Kabul against suspected members of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), which took credit for the suicide bombing that left some 170 dead, including 28 members of the Taliban.

The Taliban, which defeated US and coalition forces in a 20-year war, is about to be confronted with the wrath of a wounded empire. The Cuban, Vietnamese, Iranian, Venezuelan, and Haitian governments know what comes next. The ghosts of Toussaint Louverture, Emilio Aguinaldo, Mohammad Mossadegh, Jacobo Arbenz, Omar Torrijos, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Juan Velasco, Salvador Allende, Andreas Papandreou, Juan Bosh, Patrice Lumumba, and Hugo Chavez know what comes next. It isn’t pretty. It will be paid for by the poorest and most vulnerable Afghans.

The faux pity for the Afghan people, which has defined the coverage of the desperate collaborators with the US and coalition occupying forces and educated elites fleeing to the Kabul airport, begins and ends with the plight of the evacuees. There were few tears shed for the families routinely terrorized by coalition forces, or the some 70,000 civilians who were obliterated by US air strikes, drone attacks, missiles, and artillery, or gunned down by nervous occupying forces who saw every Afghan, with some justification, as the enemy during the war. And there will be few tears for the humanitarian catastrophe the empire is orchestrating on the 38 million Afghans, who live in one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the world.

Since the 2001 invasion, the United States deployed about 775,000 military personnel to subdue Afghanistan and poured $143 billion into the country, with 60 percent of the money going to prop up the corrupt Afghan military and the rest devoted to funding economic development projects, aid programs, and anti-drug initiatives – with the bulk of those funds being siphoned off by foreign aid groups, private contractors, and outside consultants.

Grants from the United States and other countries accounted for 75 percent of the Afghan government budget. That assistance has evaporated. Afghanistan’s reserves and other financial accounts have been frozen, meaning the new government cannot access some $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. Shipments of cash to Afghanistan have been stopped. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that Afghanistan will no longer be able to access the lender’s resources.

Things are already dire. There are some 14 million Afghans – one in three – who lack sufficient food. There are two million Afghan children who are malnourished. There are 3.5 million people in Afghanistan who have been displaced from their homes. The war has wrecked infrastructure. A drought destroyed 40 percent of the nation’s crops last year. The assault on the Afghan economy is already seeing food prices skyrocket. The sanctions and severance of aid will force civil servants to go without salaries, and the health service, already chronically short of medicine and equipment, will collapse. The suffering orchestrated by the empire will be of biblical proportions. And this is what the empire wants.

UNICEF estimates that 500,000 children were killed as a direct result of sanctions on Iraq. Expect child deaths in Afghanistan to soar above that horrifying figure. And expect the same imperial heartlessness Madeleine Albright, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, exhibited when she told ‘60 Minutes’ correspondent Lesley Stahl that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children because of the sanctions were “worth it.” Or the heartlessness of Hillary Clinton, who joked, “We came, we saw, he died” when informed of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s brutal death. Or the demand by Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, who after the attacks of 9/11 declared: “I say, bomb the hell out of them. If there’s collateral damage, so be it.” No matter that the empire has since turned Libya, along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, into cauldrons of violence, chaos, and misery. The power to destroy is an intoxicating drug that is its own justification.

Like Cato the Censor, the US military and intelligence agencies are, if history is any guide, at this moment planning to destabilize Afghanistan by funding, arming, and backing any militia, warlord or terrorist organization willing to strike at the Taliban. The CIA, which should exclusively gather intelligence, is a rogue paramilitary organization that oversees secret kidnappings, interrogation at black sites, torture, manhunts, and targeted assassinations across the globe. It carried out commando raids in Afghanistan that killed a large number of Afghan civilians, which repeatedly sent enraged family members and villagers into the arms of the Taliban. It is, I expect, reaching out to Amrullah Saleh, who was Ashraf Ghani’s vice president and who has declared himself “the legitimate caretaker president” of Afghanistan. Saleh is holed up in the Panjshir Valley. He, along with warlords Ahmad Massoud, Ata Mohammad Noor, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, are clamoring to be armed and supported to perpetuate conflict in Afghanistan.

“I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” Ahmad Massoud wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. “The United States and its allies have left the battlefield, but America can still be a ‘great arsenal of democracy,’ as Franklin D. Roosevelt said when coming to the aid of the beleaguered British before the U.S. entry into World War II,” he went on, adding that he and his fighters need “more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies.”

These warlords have done the bidding of the Americans before. They will do the bidding of the Americans again. And since the hubris of empire is unaffected by reality, the empire will continue to sow dragon’s teeth in Afghanistan as it has since it spent $9 billion – some estimates double that figure - to back the mujahideen that fought the Soviets, leading to a bloody civil war between rival warlords once the Soviets withdrew in 1989 and the ascendancy in 1996 of the Taliban.

The cynicism of arming and funding the mujahideen against the Soviets exposes the lie of America’s humanitarian concerns in Afghanistan. One million Afghan civilians were killed in the nine-year conflict with the Soviets, along with 90,000 mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers. But these deaths, along with the destruction of Afghanistan, were “worth it” to cripple the Soviets.

Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, along with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, oversaw the arming of the most radical Islamic mujahideen groups fighting the Soviet occupation forces, leading to the extinguishing of the secular, democratic Afghan opposition. Brzezinski detailed the strategy – designed, he said, to give the Soviet Union its Vietnam – taken by the Carter administration following the 1979 Soviet invasion to prop up the Marxist regime of Hafizullah Amin in Kabul:

We immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Agency prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again — for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujahideen from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt.

‘Over-the-horizon’ is just the newest buzz phrase for American incompetence – as proven by recent drone strikes in Afghanistan
The clandestine campaign to destabilize the Soviet Union by making it “bleed for as much and as long as is possible” was carried out, like the arming of the contra forces in Nicaragua, largely off the books. It did not, as far as official Washington was concerned, exist – a way to avoid the unwelcome scrutiny of covert operations carried out by the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s that made public the three decades of CIA-backed coups, assassinations, blackmail, intimidation, dark propaganda, and torture. The Saudi government agreed to match the US funding for the Afghan insurgents. The Saudi involvement gave rise to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, which fought with the mujahideen. The rogue operation, led by Brzezinski, organized secret units of assassination teams and paramilitary squads that carried out lethal attacks on perceived enemies around the globe. It trained Afghan mujahideen in Pakistan and China’s Xinjiang province. It shifted the heroin trade, used to fund the insurgency, from southeast Asia to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This pattern of behavior, which destabilized Afghanistan and the region, is reflexive in the military and the intelligence community. It will, without doubt, be repeated now in Afghanistan, with the same catastrophic results. The chaos these intelligence agencies create becomes the chaos that justifies their existence and the chaos that sees them demand more resources and ever greater levels of violence.

All empires die. The end is usually unpleasant. The American empire, humiliated in Afghanistan as it was in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, as it was at the Bay of Pigs and in Vietnam, is blind to its own declining strength, ineptitude, and savagery. Its entire economy, a “military Keynesianism,” revolves around the war industry. Military spending and war are the engine behind the nation’s economic survival and identity. It does not matter that with each new debacle the United States turns larger and larger parts of the globe against it and all it claims to represent. It has no mechanism to stop itself, despite its numerous defeats, fiascos, blunders and diminishing power, from striking out irrationally like a wounded animal. The mandarins who oversee our collective suicide, despite repeated failure, doggedly insist we can reshape the world in our own image. This myopia creates the very conditions that accelerate the empire’s demise.

The Soviet Union collapsed, like all empires, because of its ossified, out-of-touch rulers, its imperial overreach, and its inability to critique and reform itself. We are not immune from these fatal diseases. We silence our most prescient critics of empire, such as Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Andrew Bacevich, Alfred McCoy, and Ralph Nader, and persecute those who expose the truths about empire, including Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale, and John Kiriakou. At the same time a bankrupt media, whether on MSNBC, CNN, or Fox, lionizes and amplifies the voices of the inept and corrupt political, military and intelligence class including John Bolton, Leon Panetta, Karl Rove, H.R. McMaster and David Petraeus, which blindly drives the nation into the morass.

Chalmers Johnson, in his trilogy on the fall of the American empire – ‘Blowback’, ‘The Sorrows of Empire’, and ‘Nemesis’ – reminds readers that the Greek goddess Nemesis is “the spirit of retribution, a corrective to the greed and stupidity that sometimes governs relations among people.” She stands for “righteous anger,” a deity who “punishes human transgression of the natural, right order of things and the arrogance that causes it.” He warns that if we continue to cling to our empire, as the Roman Republic did, “we will certainly lose our democracy and grimly await the eventual blowback that imperialism generates.”

“I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and, in the end, produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent,” Johnson writes. “The founders of our nation understood this well and tried to create a form of government – a republic – that would prevent this from occurring. But the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.”

If the empire was capable of introspection and forgiveness, it could free itself from its death spiral. If the empire disbanded, much as the British Empire did, and retreated to focus on the ills that beset the United States, it could free itself from its death spiral. But those who manipulate the levers of empire are unaccountable. They are hidden from public view and beyond public scrutiny. They are determined to keep playing the great game, rolling the dice with lives and national treasure. They will, I expect, preside gleefully over the deaths of even more Afghans, assuring themselves it is worth it, without realizing that the gallows they erect are for themselves. ... suffering/
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Post by kmaherali »

ISIS Bomber Kills Dozens at Shiite Mosque in Northern Afghanistan

The Islamic State Khorasan claimed responsibility for the attack in Kunduz, continuing its campaign of predation against the Hazara Shiite minority into a new era of Taliban rule.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — An Islamic State suicide bomber devastated a Shiite mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Friday, killing dozens of worshipers in a deadly continuation of the terrorist group’s campaign against the Hazara minority.

The massacre, while the mosque was crowded for Friday Prayer, was the group’s second attack against a mosque in just a few days. And it was the realization of Afghan Hazaras’ fears that the Islamic State’s predation would go unchecked under the rule of the Taliban, which itself preyed on the Hazara in the past.

Witness accounts described a powerful explosion with many casualties. Matullah Rohani, a Taliban official in Kunduz, told local media that at least 43 people were killed by the attack and more than 140 were injured.

A local Shiite community leader put the death toll much higher. Sayed Ahmad Shah Hashemi, who represents Kunduz Province’s Shiite population, told The New York Times that more than 70 people were killed in the attack.

“This deadly incident has caused trauma among Shiites and other sectors of the society,” Mr. Hashemi said.

Hours after the bombing, it was claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K. It was the group’s deadliest strike since the suicide bombing at the international airport in Kabul on Aug. 26 that killed about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.

ISIS-K is a Sunni extremist group that has long targeted Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan, focusing heavily on the Hazara ethnic minority, which is predominantly Shiite. Most of Afghanistan is Sunni, and ethnic Pashtuns — who make up most of the Taliban’s ranks — are a plurality in the country.

ISIS-K also staged an attack several days ago outside a mosque in Kabul, the capital, which killed several people.

In the months before American forces withdrew from Afghanistan, some 8,000 to 10,000 jihadist fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus region of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region in western China poured into Afghanistan, a United Nations report said in June. Most were said to be associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, which are closely linked, but others were allied with the Islamic State.

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Post by kmaherali »

Blast at Afghan Mosque Kills Dozens as Shiites Are Targeted Again

It was the second week in a row that attackers had struck a Shiite place of worship during Friday Prayer.

Watch video at: ... iversified

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Multiple Islamic State suicide bombers at a mosque in southern Afghanistan killed dozens of people and wounded dozens more during Friday Prayer, the second such attack on a Shiite place of worship on successive Fridays in the country.

The attack, which witnesses said involved multiple explosions, took place in Kandahar city — considered the heart of the re-established Taliban government. The Islamic State Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K, claimed responsibility hours later, saying the attack was carried out by two suicide bombers. The terrorist organization had said it was behind a similar strike last week on a Shiite mosque in Kunduz Province, in the north, that left more than 40 people dead.

Hafiz Saidullah, a Taliban official in charge of the culture and information department in Kandahar, said that the latest attack killed 47 people and injured at least 68.

Witnesses described a bloody scene at the mosque, after multiple blasts erupted inside the building.

“We have no idea if it was a suicide bomber or an I.E.D. — but it was powerful; human flesh and blood were seen all around the mosque,” said a worshiper, Mohammad Ali, referring to an improvised explosive device.

Mr. Ali said the Taliban arrived shortly after the blast and cordoned off the area. Outside Mirwais Regional Hospital, where victims were taken, people were lining up to donate blood.

Such an attack in a Taliban stronghold poses the risk of undermining the Taliban government’s commitment to provide security to Afghan citizens after the Western-backed government collapsed in August.

That pledge has become increasingly difficult to uphold as Taliban fighters are now responsible for securing major urban centers like Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, and Kabul, the capital. And it remains unclear if the Taliban will extend that promise of security to Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, whom the Sunni militant movement regards as apostates.

“People are very worried,” said Abdul Wahed Pazhwak, whose shop is just a few hundred feet from the targeted mosque. “It was the first time in Kandahar that they went inside the mosque. The chatter among us is to what to do, should we migrate? Should we stay or leave?”

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Post by kmaherali »

Afghan Art Flourished for 20 Years. Can It Survive the New Taliban Regime?

So far, the Taliban have not banned art outright. But many artists have fled Afghanistan, fearing for their work and their lives.


The day Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, fled and handed the country over to the Taliban, Omaid Sharifi was in downtown Kabul, helping his colleagues paint murals on the wall of the governor’s office. By noon, panicked employees in nearby government buildings were flooding the streets, some jumping into cars, others pedaling bicycles or running to get home, or to the airport.

Mr. Sharifi, 36, decided to leave his work unfinished, asking his colleagues to pack the painting tools and head to the office.

The Taliban were in charge of the country’s capital a few hours later. Mr. Sharifi stayed at home for a week, until he and his family were evacuated to the United Arab Emirates on Aug. 22.

Since the Taliban’s return to power, hundreds of artists — actors, comedians, singers, musicians and painters — have fled Afghanistan, according to estimates provided to The New York Times by several of them. Some have resettled in the United States, France or Germany, while others are waiting in third countries, unsure where they will be allowed to live long-term.

Most left because they feared for their lives; others simply saw no future in the country, and were certain they would not be able to continue practicing their art and feeding their families.

Under the new government, there has been a concerted campaign to remove artworks from all aspects of life, in an attempt to make society more Islamic, the Taliban have said. In doing so, the group is erasing two decades of craftsmanship that blossomed after the collapse of its first government in 2001.

The Taliban have closed music schools and covered up public murals. Radio and television networks have stopped airing songs, as well as musical and comedy shows. Production of Afghan films has come almost completely to a halt.

“The future of art and culture seems bleak,” Mr. Sharifi said from Virginia, where he and his family have resettled. “It is not possible for the Taliban to live with art.”

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Post by kmaherali »

Afghan Economy Nears Collapse as Pressure Builds to Ease U.S. Sanctions

Afghanistan’s economy has crashed since the Taliban seized power, plunging the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — Racing down the cratered highways at dawn, Mohammad Rasool knew his 9-year-old daughter was running out of time.

She had been battling pneumonia for two weeks and he had run out of cash to buy her medicine after the bank in his rural town closed. So he used his last few dollars on a taxi to Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in Afghanistan’s north, and joined an unruly mob of men clambering to get inside the last functioning bank for hundreds of miles.

Then at 3 p.m., a teller yelled at the crowd to go home: There was no cash left at the bank.

“I have the money in my account, it’s right there,” said Mr. Rasool, 56. “What will I do now?”

Three months into the Taliban’s rule, Afghanistan’s economy has all but collapsed, plunging the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Millions of dollars of aid that once propped up the previous government has vanished, billions in state assets are frozen and economic sanctions have isolated the new government from the global banking system.

Now, Afghanistan faces a dire cash shortage that has crippled banks and businesses, sent food and fuel prices soaring, and triggered a devastating hunger crisis. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization warned that around 3.2 million children were likely to suffer from acute malnutrition in Afghanistan by the end of the year — one million of whom at risk of dying as temperatures drop.

No corner of Afghanistan has been left untouched.

In the capital, desperate families have hawked furniture on the side of the road in exchange for food. Across other major cities, public hospitals do not have the money to buy badly needed medical supplies or to pay doctors and nurses, some of who have left their posts. Rural clinics are overrun with feeble children, whose parents cannot afford food. Economic migrants have flocked to the Iranian and Pakistani borders.

As the country edges to the brink of collapse, the international community is scrambling to resolve a politically and legally fraught dilemma: How can it meet its humanitarian obligations without bolstering the new regime or putting money directly into the Taliban’s hands?

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Post by kmaherali »

In Afghanistan, ‘Who Has the Guns Gets the Land’

A decades-long fight over land has been reinvigorated as Taliban leaders look to reward their fighters with property, even if that means evicting others.


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — For decades, roughly a thousand families called the low-slung mud-walled neighborhood of Firqa home. Some moved in during the 1990s civil war, while others were provided housing under the previous government.

Soon after the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, the new government told them all to get out.

Ghullam Farooq, 40, sat in the darkness of his shop in Firqa last month, describing how armed Taliban fighters came at night, expelling him at gunpoint from his home in the community, a neighborhood of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan.

“All the Taliban said was: ‘Take your stuff and go,” he said.

Those who fled or were forcibly removed were quickly replaced with Taliban commanders and fighters.

Thousands of Afghans are facing such traumatic dislocations as the new Taliban government uses property to compensate its fighters for years of military service, amid a crumbling economy and a lack of cash.

Over decades, after every period of upheaval in Afghanistan, property becomes a crucial form of wealth for those in power to reward followers. But this arbitrary redistribution also leaves thousands displaced and fuels endless disputes in a country where the land ownership system is so informal that few people hold any documentation for the ground they call their own.

Just as during past changes in government, distributing property to Taliban disciples in swaths of rural farmland and in desirable urban neighborhoods has turned into at least a short-term recourse to keep stability within the Taliban ranks.

“Who has the guns gets the land,” said Patricia Gossman, the associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “It’s an old, long continuing story.”

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Post by kmaherali »

Afghanistan’s National Museum Begins Life Under the Taliban

Some experts hope the reopening of the museum in Kabul is a sign the Islamic regime will show greater tolerance toward art. Others worry it is all optics.

A Taliban fighter, Mansoor Zulfiqar, visited the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul earlier this month.Credit...

Under the watchful eyes of Islamic Emirate soldiers, the galleries of the newly reopened National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul are often quiet these days, the antiquities and other treasures inside safe from the sort of looting that overwhelmed the museum the last time the Taliban seized power there.

But visitors, the lifeblood of any museum, have dwindled.

Many of the educated people who were regular patrons of the museum have fled the country, some schools have shut down and there are not many tourists sightseeing in Kabul.

The museum, which closed in August, when the Taliban seized control, reopened in late November, a positive sign to some who hope restrictions will be looser this time and that rampant destruction won’t reoccur.

When the Taliban were last in power, from 1996 to 2001, an estimated 70 percent of the Kabul museum’s collection of 100,000 pieces was ransacked or looted. The Taliban also notoriously blew up the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, the colossal statues carved into a cliff in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley.

Omaid Sharifi, an Afghan artist and activist who’s now based in Virginia, said that the news of the museum’s reopening brought a smile to his face. “Opening the museum gives an opportunity for the residents of Kabul and people who are traveling to Kabul to have the chance to learn about the artifacts, about their history, about their culture,” he added.

“The history of Taliban with art and culture is dark,” he continued. “When I heard that the Kabul museum is not looted again, that was a sigh of relief. I said, ‘Thank God it’s not happening all over again.’”

Still, music in public areas has been banned, street murals have been painted over and what’s aired on radio and television is limited, so some express concern that the decision to reopen the museum is simply the Taliban’s attempt at projecting a less harsh image.

Samiullah Nabipour, the former head of the cinema department at Kabul University, said that the reopening “is more a political move” than one out of concern for art and culture. “Taliban are an ideological movement, and they oppose the art and artistic values ideologically,” he said.

In its heyday, the museum was a gem of Afghan culture, open six days a week and filled with visitors eager to behold its invaluable collection of artifacts. The museum, established in 1919, has been in its current building since the 1930s. The collection contains artifacts from the prehistoric, classical, Islamic and Buddhist eras, including manuscripts, weapons and sculptures, but it focuses largely on Afghanistan’s past and does not exhibit contemporary paintings or sculpture.

Now, the museum is open only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and there are frequent power outages. The museum staffers haven’t been receiving their salaries, and visitors are required to show a permission letter from the Islamic Emirate for admission.

The work of conserving ancient artifacts that tell the story of Afghanistan’s heritage has continued at the national museum.
The work of conserving ancient artifacts that tell the story of Afghanistan’s heritage has continued at the national museum.Credit...Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press

In interviews this week, the museum guards said that they had been treating the visitors very well, and that nothing inside the museum had been stolen or damaged. But during a two-hour visit on Wednesday morning, there were no visitors to the museum and it suffered a blackout. Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that the museum was averaging 50 to 100 visitors a day.

Fabio Colombo, a conservator who led a restoration project at the museum in the years following the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, remembered how back then attendance at the museum grew bit by bit.

But by 2019, the last full year that he was there, he said the museum “was absolutely full of people.” For many of the museum’s visitors, Colombo said, it was their first time learning about the country’s history and culture that was not affiliated with Islam.

Colombo also recalls thousands of fragments and shattered pieces of artifacts being scattered across the museum’s floors. “We tried to recombine and put so many sculptures back together,” he said.

Sharifi described having to destroy, more recently, his own sculptures and hide his paintings when the Taliban arrived in Kabul in August, remembering what happened the last time they were in power. “Any expression of art was banned,” he said. “My daily routine walking anywhere in Kabul was seeing all these cassettes, tapes, TVs all broken on every square and road.”

“There is no positive news for artists or for art and culture,” Sharifi said, reflecting on how the Taliban painted over murals made by his artists’ group, ArtLords, and how artists were forced to flee the country this August. But the museum reopening is “a very small step in the most dire of situations. It’s a candle lit. We’re not sure how this will go beyond this moment, but it is a positive gesture.”

Nabipour added that he doesn’t have many positive memories of visiting the museum in the past. He said he was always worried about its fate.

“Instead of enjoying to see the priceless artifacts of the different and glorious history of my country, I was worrying about losing them when I, along with students of the art school, visited the national museum or national archives,” he said. “I thought to myself, what would happen if an explosion targeted this place? What would the Taliban do with these artifacts if they win?”

But Gil Stein, a professor of archaeology at the University of Chicago and the director of the Chicago Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation, said it’s a good sign that the Taliban allowed the director of the museum, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, to remain in his position. In September, Rahimi told The National, a publication focusing on coverage of the Middle East, that he “felt the responsibility for the museum: that I should take care of it, and that I should not leave it. I was ready to give my life for it.” Rahimi did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement released in February, the Taliban vowed to protect cultural heritage and stop people from looting. “As Afghanistan is a country replete with ancient artifacts and antiquity, and that such relics form a part of our country’s history, identity and rich culture, therefore all have an obligation to robustly protect, monitor and preserve these artifacts,” it read. “All Mujahideen must prevent excavation of antiquities and preserve all historic sites like old fortresses, minarets, towers and other similar sites.”

The Taliban’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam includes a rejection of art that is not Islamic or portrays living beings, and people are concerned that view hasn’t changed between last time and now.

“I don’t think that their ideology has changed at all, but I think that they’ve gotten much more savvy about the public perceptions of their regime,” Stein said. “They’re very desperate to have a more neutral stance with the international community.” ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by swamidada »

The Telegraph
Taliban forbids long-distance trips for Afghan women without male escort
Our Foreign Staff
Sun, December 26, 2021, 10:14 AM

Afghanistan's Taliban authorities said on Sunday that women seeking to travel long distances should not be offered road transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative.

The guidance issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice drew condemnation from rights activists and called on vehicle owners to refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves.

The move follows the Taliban barring many women in public-sector roles from returning to work in the wake of their August 15 seizure of power, and as girls remain largely cut off from state secondary schooling.

It also comes despite the hardline Islamists seeking to project a moderate image internationally in a bid to restore aid suspended when the previous government imploded during the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

"Women travelling for more than 45 miles should not be offered a ride if they are not accompanied by a close family member," ministry spokesman Sadeq Akif Muhajir told the news agency AFP, specifying that the escort must be a close male relative.

The new guidance, circulated on social media networks, also asked people to stop playing music in their vehicles.

Weeks ago, the ministry asked Afghanistan's television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring women actors. It also called on women TV journalists to wear headscarves while presenting.

Mr Muhajir said Sunday that the hijab, an Islamic headscarf, would likewise be required for women seeking transport.

The Taliban's interpretation of the hijab - which can range from a hair covering to a face veil or full-body covering - is unclear, and most Afghan women already wear headscarves.

Human Rights Watch blasted the guidance.

"This new order essentially moves... further in the direction of making women prisoners," said Heather Barr, the group's associate director of women's rights.

It "shuts off opportunities for them to be able to move about freely, to travel to another city, to do business, (or) to be able to flee if they are facing violence in the home", Ms Barr added.

Early this month, the Taliban issued a decree in the name of their supreme leader instructing the government to enforce women's rights.

But it did not mention girls' access to education.

Women's rights were severely curtailed during the Taliban's previous stint in power in the 1990s.

They were forced to wear the face-covering burqa garment, only allowed to leave home with a male chaperone and banned from work and education.

Respect for women's rights has repeatedly been cited by key global donors as a condition for restoring aid.

The UN has warned that Afghanistan faces an "avalanche of hunger" this winter, estimating that 22 million citizens face "acute" food shortages. ... 34925.html
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Post by swamidada »

Fri, December 31, 2021, 12:03 AM
SHEDAI CAMP, Afghanistan (AP) — In a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts in western Afghanistan housing people displaced by drought and war, a woman is fighting to save her daughter.

Aziz Gul’s husband sold their 10-year-old into marriage without telling his wife, taking a down-payment so he could feed his family of five children. Otherwise, he told her, they would all starve. He had to sacrifice one to save the rest.

Many of Afghanistan’s growing number of destitute people are making such desperate decisions as their nation spirals into a vortex of poverty.

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy was already teetering when the Taliban seized power in mid-August amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and halted funding, unwilling to work with a Taliban government given its reputation for brutality during its previous rule 20 years ago.

The consequences have been devastating for a country battered by war, drought and the coronavirus pandemic. State employees haven’t been paid in months. Malnutrition stalks the most vulnerable, and aid groups say more than half the population faces acute food shortages.

“Day by day, the situation is deteriorating in this country, and especially children are suffering,” said Asuntha Charles, national director of the World Vision aid organization in Afghanistan, which runs a health clinic for displaced people near the western city of Herat. “Today I have been heartbroken to see that the families are willing to sell their children to feed other family members.”

Arranging marriages for very young girls is common in the region. The groom’s family pays money to seal the deal, and the child usually stays with her parents until she is at least around 15. Yet with many unable to afford even basic food, some say they’d allow prospective grooms to take very young girls or are even trying to sell their sons.

Gul, unusually in this deeply patriarchal, male-dominated society, is resisting. Married off herself at 15, she says she would kill herself if her daughter, Qandi Gul, is taken away.

When her husband told her he had sold Qandi, “my heart stopped beating. I wished I could have died at that time, but maybe God didn’t want me to die,” Gul said, with Qandi by her side peering shyly from beneath her sky-blue headscarf. “Each time I remember that night I die and come back to life.”

Her husband told her he sold one to save the others, saying they all would have died otherwise.

"Dying was much better than what you have done,” she said she told him.

Gul rallied her brother and village elders and with their help secured a “divorce” for Qandi, on condition she repays the 100,000 afghanis (about $1,000) her husband received. It’s money she doesn’t have.

Her husband fled, possibly fearing Gul might denounce him to authorities. The Taliban government recently banned forced marriages.

Gul says she isn’t sure how long she can fend off the family of the prospective groom, a man of around 21.

“I am just so desperate. If I can’t provide money to pay these people and can’t keep my daughter by my side, I have said that I will kill myself,” she said. “But then I think about the other children. What will happen to them? Who will feed them?” Her eldest is 12, her youngest - her sixth - just two months.

In another part of the camp, father-of-four Hamid Abdullah was also selling his young daughters into arranged marriages, desperate for money to treat his chronically ill wife, pregnant with their fifth child.

He can’t repay money he borrowed to fund his wife’s treatments, he said. So three years ago, he received a down-payment for his eldest daughter Hoshran, now 7, in an arranged marriage to a now 18-year-old.

The family who bought Hoshran are waiting until she is older before settling the full amount and taking her. But Abdullah needs money now, so he is trying to arrange a marriage for his second daughter, 6-year-old Nazia, for about 20,000-30,000 afghanis ($200-$300).

“We don’t have food to eat,” and he can’t pay his wife’s doctor, he said.

His wife, Bibi Jan, said they had no other option but it was a difficult decision. “When we made the decision, it was like someone had taken a body part from me.”

In neighboring Badghis province, another displaced family is considering selling their son, 8-year-old Salahuddin.

His mother, Guldasta, said that after days with nothing to eat, she told her husband to take Salahuddin to the bazaar and sell him to bring food for the others.

“I don’t want to sell my son, but I have to,” the 35-year-old said. “No mother can do this to her child, but when you have no other choice, you have to make a decision against your will.”

Salahuddin blinked and looked on silently, his lip quivering slightly.

His father, Shakir, blind in one eye and with kidney problems, said the children had been crying for days from hunger. Twice he decided to take Salahuddin to the bazaar, and twice he faltered. “But now I think I have no other choice.”

Buying boys is believed to be less common than girls, and when it does take place, it appears to be cases families without sons buying infants. In her despair, Guldasta thought perhaps such a family might want an 8-year-old.

The desperation of millions is clear as more and more people face hunger, with some 3.2 million children under 5 years old facing acute malnutrition, according to the U.N.

Charles, World Vision’s national director for Afghanistan, said humanitarian aid funds are desperately needed.

“I’m happy to see the pledges are made,” she said. But the pledges “shouldn’t stay as promises, they have to be seen as reality on the ground.”


Abdul Qahar Afghan in Shedai Camp, Afghanistan, and Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this report. ... 29217.html
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Post by swamidada »

Nowhere to hide: Abused Afghan women find shelter dwindling
According to the UN, 87pc of Afghan women have experienced some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence.
AFPPublished about 16 hours ago

Married off at seven to a man old enough to be her great-grandfather, Fatema endured rapes, beatings and starvation until she could take no more and tried to kill herself.

Through tears she recalls the beatings she received — like the time, aged 10, she was flung against a wall and “my head crashed against a nail ... I almost died”.

Today the 22-year-old is living in one of the few shelters for battered women still open in Afghanistan since the Taliban's August return to power, but is fearful she could lose her place at any time.

If the refuge closes, Fatema will have nowhere to go. She has lost touch with her own family, while her in-laws have vowed to kill her for dishonouring their name.

Fatema's plight is shared by millions in Afghanistan, where patriarchal tradition, poverty and a lack of education have held back women's rights for decades.

According to the United Nations, 87 per cent of Afghan women have experienced some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence.

Despite this, the country of 38 million had only 24 shelters dedicated to their care before the Taliban's return — almost all financed by the international community and frowned upon by many locals.

In this picture taken on December 11, 2021, a victim of gender violence (L) helps a cook while preparing lunch for residents and staff in a shelter for Afghan women and girls victims of gender violence in Kabul. — AFP
'Start from scratch'
Some NGOs running shelters stepped up their work long before the Taliban takeover.

The director of one organization told AFP she began moving women away from shelters in unstable provinces in advance of the US troop withdrawal.

Some were sent back to their blood relatives in the hope they would be offered protection from vengeful in-laws. Others were sent to shelters in bigger provincial capitals.

As the Taliban onslaught continued the situation became desperate, and around 100 women were transferred to Kabul — only for the capital to fall.

“We have to start from scratch,” says the director, who asked not to be named or the organization identified while they navigated how to operate under the new regime.

The Taliban insist their strict interpretation of the Holy Quran provides women with rights and protection, but the reality is very different and they are slowly being squeezed out of public life.

Most secondary schools for girls are shut, women are barred from government employment apart from select specialized areas, and this week new guidelines stated they cannot undertake long journeys unless accompanied by a male relative.

In this picture taken on December 11, 2021, a survivor of gender violence watches TV in a shelter for Afghan women and girls victims of gender violence in Kabul. — AFP
There has been some glimmer of light.

Earlier this month supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada denounced forced marriage, while Suhail Shaheen — the Taliban's would-be ambassador to the UN — told Amnesty International that women could go to court if they were victims of violence.

The regime has not made any formal pronouncement on the future of shelters, although the refuges have not escaped their notice.

Taliban fighters and officials have paid several visits to the one housing Fatema and around 20 other women, according to employees.

“They came in, looked at the rooms, checked there were no men,” said one worker.

“They said this is not a safe place for women, that their place is at home,” said another.

Still, it gave one woman hope.

“It was much better than we expected,” the first worker told AFP.

'Accused of lying'
Even before the Taliban takeover many women in abusive households had little recourse.

Zakia approached the Ministry of Women's Affairs — since shut down by the Taliban — for advice on how to escape a father-in-law who had threatened to kill her.

“They didn't even listen to me,” she said, and told her that her situation was not that bad.

Mina, 17, who ran away from an abusive uncle seven years ago with her younger sister, had a similar reception.

“The ministry accused me of lying,” she told AFP.

In this picture taken on December 11, 2021, women and girls have lunch in a shelter for Afghan women and girls victims of gender violence in Kabul. — AFP
And it is not just the women seeking shelter who are vulnerable, with Amnesty International saying shelter workers also “risk violence and death”.

Several staffers said they had been threatened over the phone by people claiming to be Taliban seeking the whereabouts of women who had fled their households.

Cases of abuse are likely to rise with the virtual collapse of the economy bringing soaring unemployment, a cash-flow crisis and mounting hunger.

“When the economic situation worsens, men are out of work, and cases of violence increase,” one shelter worker said.

“The situation has probably worsened ... services have generally decreased,” said Alison Davidian, interim representative for UN Women in Afghanistan.

One of the few shelters open — albeit discretely — is run by Mahbouba Seraj, a pioneer in the struggle for women's rights in the country.

After being inspected by the Taliban it was “kind of left alone”, she says, but her concern is now for the women trapped in abusive households who have nowhere to go.

Zakia, at least, has shelter for now — but for how long?

“My own father said he didn't care about me,” she says. ... -dwindling
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Re: Afghanistan

Post by kmaherali »

Taliban Renege on Promise to Open Afghan Girls’ Schools

The schools were supposed to reopen this week, and the reversal could threaten aid because international officials had made girls’ education a condition for greater assistance.

Girls attending a class after their school briefly reopened in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, before being quickly shut down again.Credit...Ahmad Sahel Arman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Wednesday abruptly reversed their decision to allow girls’ high schools to reopen this week, saying that they would remain closed until officials draw up a plan for them to reopen in accordance with Islamic law.

The move is likely to deal a significant blow to the credibility the Taliban had been trying to build with international donors in recent months. And it could threaten the billions of dollars of humanitarian aid that have helped keep millions of Afghans from famine as the country grapples with a devastating economic collapse.

The news was crushing to the over one million high school-aged girls who had been raised in an era of opportunity for women before the Taliban seized power in August last year — and who had woken up thrilled to be returning to classes on Wednesday.

One 12th-grade student in Kabul said the decision had stamped out her last bit of hope that she could achieve her dream of becoming a lawyer.

“Education was the only way to give us some hope in these times of despair, and it was the only right we hoped for, and it has been taken away,” the student, Zahra Rohani, 15, said.

On Monday, the Ministry of Education had announced that all schools, including girls’ high schools, would reopen on Wednesday at the start of the spring semester. The following day, a Ministry of Education spokesman released a video congratulating all students on the return to class.

Across the capital, Kabul, many girls had arrived at high schools on Wednesday morning excited to return to the campuses, and some schools did open, at least briefly. But as news spread that the Taliban had reversed their decision, many left in tears.

Mehrin Ekhtiari, a 15-year-old student in 10th grade, said she and her classmates were shocked when a teacher announced the news to the classroom on Wednesday morning.

“My hope was revived after eight months of waiting,” she said, adding later that the announcement had “dashed all my dreams.”

A view of Kabul in September.Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

In recent months, the international community has made girls’ education a central condition of foreign aid and any future recognition of the Taliban. Under the Taliban’s first rule, from 1996 to 2001, the group barred women and girls from school and most employment.

At an hourslong news conference at the Ministry of Education on Wednesday morning to note the start of the spring semester, Taliban officials did not mention the last-minute reversal and did not take questions from journalists present about girls’ high schools.

Many principals and teachers said they only received the new instructions from the ministry after students had already arrived for classes Wednesday.
The move came a little more than a week before a pledging conference where the United Nations had hoped donor countries would commit millions of dollars in badly needed aid, as Afghanistan grapples with an economic collapse that has left over half of the population without sufficient food to eat. It is unclear whether donors will be willing to contribute following the Taliban’s abrupt reversal on the key commitment of girl’s education.

“It creates a lot of challenges in terms of how is the world going to engage with them and try to stop Afghans from starving when there’s no space to negotiate and convince the Taliban to shave off even the sharpest edges of their rights abuses,” said Heather Barr, the associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations and the United States condemned the decision on Wednesday.

“I’m deeply troubled by multiple reports that the Taliban are not allowing girls above grade 6 to return to school,” tweeted Ian McCary, the chief of mission for U.S. Embassy Kabul, currently operating out of Doha, Qatar. “This is very disappointing & contradicts many Taliban assurances & statements.”

Many Afghan girls had waited for months to hear whether they would be allowed to return to school, after the Taliban seized control of the country. When schools reopened in September for grades seven through 12, Taliban officials told only male students to report for their studies, saying that girls would be allowed to return after security improved and enough female teachers could be found to keep classes fully segregated by sex.

Later, Taliban officials insisted that Afghan girls and women would be able to go back to school in March, and many Western officials seized on that promise as a deadline that would have repercussions for the Taliban’s efforts to eventually secure international recognition and the lifting of at least some sanctions.

Taliban fighters patrolling in Kabul in November.Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

In recent months, the Taliban had also come under mounting pressure to permit girls to attend high school from international donors, aid from which has helped keep Afghanistan from plunging further into a humanitarian catastrophe set off by the collapse of the former government and Western sanctions that crippled the country’s banking system.

At one girls’ private high school in Kabul, more female students had arrived for classes Wednesday morning compared to previous years, the school’s principal said in an interview. But the excitement that had filled the hallways early was soon replaced with a sense of devastating disappointment when they learned that the school would have to close.

“They came to my office, crying,” said the principal, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of Taliban retribution.

The decision “doesn’t make sense at all, and it has no logic,” the principal added, noting that the new government has had over seven months to design a new uniform and address the teacher shortage.

But even as girls’ high schools sent students away in Kabul, they were able to return to classes for the start of the spring semester in at least two northern cities, Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif, according to teachers and education officials there.

That geographic discrepancy is indicative of the new government’s largely erratic policymaking and its struggle to adopt a uniform, nationwide approach to key issues.

As an insurgency over the past two decades, the Taliban operated on a decentralized basis with local leaders empowered to make independent decisions in their provinces. Since seizing power, the Taliban have been reckoning with the need for consistent policies while struggling to tread a delicate line that satisfies their more moderate members, their hard-line base and the international community.

For months, Taliban delegations have been meeting with E.U., U.N. and American officials, appealing for funding and recognition. So far, no country has recognized the Taliban’s government, and many donors remain skeptical of its promises to meet human rights obligations.

The sudden reversal on the girls’ secondary schools seemed to validate existing concerns among Western donors that, despite assurances, they are dealing with much the same Taliban as the 1990s.

It is also the latest sign that increasingly the group’s ideological views are taking precedence over international engagement, according to Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant.

Arriving at a girl’s school in Panjshir on Wednesday, just hours before it was ordered to close. Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The Taliban have been solidifying their position and becoming hard-line on a lot of issues,” Mr. Bahiss said.

In recent months, the new government has issued restrictions on local media and cracked down on peaceful protests. Taliban officials have also issued new restrictions on women, including a ban on traveling farther than 45 miles in a taxi unless they are accompanied by a male chaperone.

If the Taliban continue to restrict women’s movement, the policies could effectively confine women to their homes, advocates say — a move reminiscent of the group’s repressive rule in the 1990s.

“You can’t exercise your other rights if you can’t leave your house to attend your job or attend education classes,” Ms. Barr said. “It’s a really alarming sign of what may be to come, it’s likely to herald further crackdowns on women.”

Safiullah Padshah reported from Kabul and Christina Goldbaum from Dubai. Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Houston and Sharif Hassan contributed reporting from Mexico City. ... 778d3e6de3
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Re: Afghanistan

Post by kmaherali »

Taliban Outlaw Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan

The move will have far-reaching consequences for the many farmers who turned to the illicit crop as a brutal drought and economic crisis have gripped the country.

Farmers harvesting opium from poppies last year in Maiwand, Afghanistan.Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced on Sunday that cultivating opium poppy in Afghanistan was banned, a move that will have far-reaching consequences for the many farmers who have turned to the illicit crop as a brutal drought and economic crisis have gripped the country.

Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, the prime minister’s administrative deputy, read the official decree to local and international media during a news conference at the Ministry of Interior. High-ranking Taliban officials, including the acting interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, were present.

“All compatriots are informed from the date of the issuance of this decree, poppy cultivation is absolutely prohibited in the whole country and no one can try to cultivate the plant,” said the decree, issued by the Taliban’s leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada. “If someone violates this, his cultivation will be destroyed and the violator will be dealt with according to Islamic Law.”

The Taliban’s decision to ban opium poppy in Afghanistan, which accounts for about 80 percent of the world’s supply of opium, comes as the group is under increasing international pressure after a series of decrees targeting women, including their ability to attend secondary school.

The decree issued on Sunday also banned the use, sale, transfer, purchase, import and export of wine, heroin and other drugs.

After the Taliban toppled the Western-backed government in August, the insurgents turned rulers indicated a desire to ban the production of opium, but said shortly after that there were no plans to stop or eradicate cultivation, acknowledging that Afghans were in the middle of an economic crisis.

Many farmers had planned for some kind of ban after the Taliban’s return to power and knew that growing the crop — which can be stored for some time after harvesting — would be a good investment as supply dwindled and prices rose. The Taliban’s announcement on Sunday came during the poppy harvest.

In Kandahar Province, white flowering poppy fields lined Highway 1, which cuts through the region. The crop is mixed in with wheat and grapes. The harvest is underway, with teams of workers slicing the bulbs and scraping the milky resin that will eventually be opium. Almost every farmer seems to have dedicated a portion of their plots to the crop.

Poppy farmers in the area, which is considered the Taliban’s birthplace, said on Sunday that they were unaware of any type of ban.

The Taliban have had a complicated relationship with the crop. During their first time in power, the group made several halfhearted attempts to restrict opium before banning its cultivation on religious grounds in the late 1990s and in 2000. But after they were toppled following the U.S. invasion in 2001, the Taliban turned to the crop for funding, using the profits to fuel their war machine for two decades.

Safiullah Padshah reported from Kabul, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Bryan Denton and Yaqoob Akbary contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan. ... ews_dedupe
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Why millions of girls in Afghanistan can’t go to school

Post by kmaherali »

Girls leave their school in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23 after the Taliban ordered girls' secondary schools to close just hours after the start of the new school year. (Image credit: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images)

Expert says to ‘speak out’ on behalf of Afghan girls


- Girls in Afghanistan can no longer go to school beyond the sixth grade.
- The Taliban government made this decision on March 23.
- CBC Kids News spoke to an expert to understand what's being done about it.
- She says countries around the world need to step up.
- This includes removing hurdles for refugees.
- Read on to find out what else is being done.

It’s been more than a month since millions of girls in Afghanistan were told they can no longer go to school, and according to one expert, it’s time for the world to step up and help.

On March 23, Afghanistan's Taliban rulers decided against reopening schools to girls above the sixth grade, breaking their promise that girls of all grades would be returning to school that day.

The Taliban, an Islamist extremist group that has been waging war in the country for nearly 30 years, took over Afghanistan in August 2021.

Many feared they would strip back the rights of women, as they did during their rule in the 1990s.

At the time, we published an article explaining the history of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which may be a helpful piece to go back and read before reading on.

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, explained
In response, the international community has urged Taliban leaders to open schools and give women their right to public space.

But is that enough? What else is being done?

More... ... -to-school
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Eid Under the Taliban Shows a Changed Afghanistan

Post by kmaherali »

For many Afghans the holiday this past week served as a reminder of the dissonance between the promise of peace many had imagined and the realities of the end of the war.

On Eid, many chose to pray outside of the Shir Shah Mina Mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, fearing another suicide attack.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Thousands of Afghans had piled into buses and set out down the country’s once perilous highways bound for relatives they had not seen in years. Afghanistan’s only national park was filled with tourists who had only dreamed of traveling to its intensely blue lakes and jagged mountains when fighting raged across the country.

And Zulhijjah Mirzadah, a mother of five, packed a small picnic of dried fruit, gathered her family in a minibus and wove for two hours through the congested streets of the capital, Kabul, to a bustling amusement park.

From the entrance, she could hear the low whoosh of a roller coaster and the chorus of joyous screams from Afghans inside celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But she could not go further. Women, she was told at the gate, were barred by the Taliban from entering the park on Eid.

“We’re facing economic problems, things are expensive, we can’t find work, our daughters can’t go to school — but we hoped to have a picnic in the park today,” said Ms. Mirzadah, 25.

As Afghans endured the constant and random violence of the last two decades of war, many held hopes that when peace finally came to the country, Eid al-Fitr would be its high-water mark, a day where families long separated by fighting would finally be able to celebrate together.

Now that war is over. People can travel freely down highways devoid of gunfire, roadside bombs and attempts at extortion. The terrifying drone of warplanes overhead is long gone. But for many, the holiday that began last Sunday in Afghanistan served as a reminder of the dissonance between the promise of peace many Afghans had imagined and the realities of the end of the war.

On the first day of Eid, a private donor distributes commodities among the poor in Kabul. Millions of Afghans are facing hunger and struggling to put food on the table as the country’s humanitarian situation remains grim.

Zulhijjah, 26, and her family sit on the sidewalk across from the City Park, an amusement park in Kabul. This year, the Taliban banned women from entering parks on Eid.

A crippling economic crisis that has slashed incomes and sent the prices of basic goods soaring forced many families to forgo for the first time the Eid traditions of new clothes or dried fruit. Mosques were emptier than usual after a recent string of explosions stoked fears of the return of terrorist attacks.

And many women in urban areas, who have been devastated by the Taliban government’s restrictions, found little reason to celebrate. On Saturday, the Taliban decreed that Afghan women must cover themselves from head to toe, expanding a series of onerous restrictions on women that dictate nearly every aspect of public life.

“To be honest, we don’t have Eid this year,” said Ms. Mirzadah, who had spent the afternoon with her family sitting across the street from the park on a narrow strip of grass.

Most people in Kabul learned that the Taliban had announced the start of the holiday after a roar of celebratory gunfire thundered across the city last Saturday night. Afghanistan was the first Muslim country to officially declare a sighting of a full crescent moon, kicking off the start of the holiday.

The following morning, hundreds of men with prayer rugs tucked under their arms filed into the Sher Shah Suri Mosque, a large Sunni mosque in the west of Kabul. Across the courtyard, they laid out the rugs in the shade of twisted tree branches while armed Taliban intelligence agents clad in camouflage pants and bulletproof vests patrolled the mosque’s grounds for threats — a stark reminder of the threat of violence that persists despite the end of 20 years of war.

Young men celebrating Eid in the madrasa, or Islamic school, at the Shir Shah Mina Mosque in Kabul.

Inside the madrasa, young men, students and the elders greeted one another with wishes for a happy Eid.

In the two weeks leading up to the start of Eid this year, a bloody spate of terrorist attacks on mosques, schools and public gatherings killed at least 100 people, mostly Afghan Shiites, and stirred fears that the large prayers on the first day of Eid would be the next target.

At the Seyyed Abad Mosque, the largest Shiite mosque in the city of Kunduz in the country’s north, only around 50 worshipers arrived for prayers on Sunday morning — compared to 400 to 500 people in previous years, attendees said. Many people, terrified of another blast, steered clear of the mosque altogether. But many of those who attended were motivated by a different fear: disobeying the Taliban government’s declaration that Eid began on Sunday.

Many Afghan Shiites cast doubt over the date — a day before Saudi Arabia and two days before Iran, a Shiite theocracy. But anxious about repercussions from the Taliban — which have employed police-state tactics to maintain order since seizing power — many attended Eid prayers on Sunday, even as they continued their daylong Ramadan fast and refrained from celebrating in their homes.

“The Taliban did not threaten us that we must pray, but as soon as they came and told us that Eid prayers would begin on Sunday, and that they would come to provide security at the mosque, no one dared to tell them that we did not believe Eid had begun,” said Mansoor, 33, a resident of Kunduz who preferred to use only his first name for fear of repercussions.

But for Taliban soldiers and police officers, the holiday offered a moment of reflection on the struggle that brought them back to power, and the lives they have established for themselves since.

In the parking lot of one police station in Kabul, a gaggle of Taliban policemen arrived in a dark green pick-up truck, weapons slung over their shoulder. Handcuffs dangled off the wrist of one police officer like a large bracelet, while another held to his nose a pink flower plucked from a median in the road.

Taliban fighters, all from the Chak district of Wardak Province, in front of a police station in Kabul on the first day of Eid. Many of the young men haven't been home for Eid in years.

Idris, 21, a Taliban fighter from the Chak district of Wardak Province, called his mother to wish her a happy Eid from the police station where he is posted. This was his first Eid away from his family.

Mohibullah Mushfiq, 26, had spent every Eid in mountainsides and dusty villages away from his relatives since he joined the Taliban at 15 years old. But after the Taliban seized power, he moved his family from their village in the east to a third-floor apartment in Kabul.

On the first morning of Eid this year, he shared sweets with his four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, both bouncing with excitement at the prospect of spending the holiday in the big city. He welcomed his government’s announcement about the start of Eid with pride.

“It shows our unity, our position in the Islamic tradition — they announced Eid and everyone had to accept that,” he said.

Nearby in the parking lot, Ubaidullah Edris, 21, talked quietly into his phone. On the other end of the line, his mother pleaded with him to come home to their village in Wardak, a mountainous province southwest of Kabul, to celebrate Eid.

Speaking to her made him homesick, he said. His entire life, Mr. Edris had spent Eid in his village, trekking up a mountainside to roast a goat or sheep with his friends. But, after hanging up the phone, his nostalgia for home was quickly replaced by the sense of duty he felt staying in Kabul on patrol.

“I miss my relatives, but I’m happy to be here serving the people, providing security — this was my big ambition,” he said.

Across the country, some Afghans took advantage of the relative security the Taliban have been able to provide for Eid celebrations. Hundreds of domestic tourists flocked from around the country to Bamiyan, a province in central Afghanistan known for its natural beauty and ancient ruins, according to hotel owners and travel agents.

Parwin Sadat, 32, a private-school teacher, made a 27-hour trek to Bamiyan with her husband and six-year-old child from the western city of Herat — a trip that would have been all but impossible during the war, when fighting along highways made cities islands of their own. Visiting Bamiyan left Ms. Sadat awe-struck, she said.

“I didn’t know that our country has such tourist destinations, historical places and so much beauty,” she said.

The entrance to Kabul’s zoo. The low turnout at the zoo was a reflection of both the country’s economic downturn and the Taliban’s edict barring women from visiting on Eid.

Since the Taliban have segregated parks and public spaces, some girls stayed at home for Eid. Many have been out of school for months.

But for many Afghans who have been crushed by the country’s economic collapse since the Taliban toppled the Western-backed government, the freedom of travel and luxury of celebratory outings remained out of reach.

City Park, the amusement park in Kabul, and the city’s zoo, had less than half of the number of visitors that typically come each Eid, according to park managers. The low turnout was a reflection of both the country’s economic downturn and the Taliban’s edict barring women from visiting on Eid — the latest in a growing roster of restrictions on women in public spaces.

In a modest house tucked into one of Kabul’s many hillsides, Zhilla, 18, gathered with relatives at her aunt’s house on the second day of Eid. Her young cousins and siblings chased each other in the small courtyard. Inside, Zhilla marveled over her new cousin, just six days old, sleeping peacefully in her mother’s lap.

“The baby knows we’ve been through a lot, she needs to behave for us,” Zhilla joked.

The previous year, she and her relatives had gathered by the city’s Qargha reservoir for a picnic by the river, as boys and girls rode bicycles along its banks and took boats out on the water — a memory that feels like a lifetime ago, she said.

“This Eid is the same as any other day — we cannot go out, we cannot be free,” she said.

The Taliban officially banned girls in sixth grade and up from going to school in March. Some celebrated Eid at home.

Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Houston. ... iversified
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Afghanistan gurdwara attack: Sikhs say 'We don't feel safe'

Post by kmaherali »

By Secunder Kermani
BBC Pakistan & Afghanistan Correspondent


The attack on a Sikh prayer site in the Afghan capital, Kabul, began early in the morning.

Militants opened fire outside the fortified doors leading to the compound housing a Sikh gurdwara, as well as the homes of members of the community.

The assailants killed the security guard, and armed with grenades they managed to make their way inside, whilst Taliban members stationed at nearby checkpoints rushed after them.

"My house is just in front of the gurdwara, as soon as I heard firing I looked out the window, people were saying attackers are inside," Kuljit Singh Khalsa told the BBC. "It was chaos, then all of a sudden there was a blast from outside."

A bomb hidden inside a car, parked next to a Taliban checkpost, had been detonated, killing the unit's commander and ripping through the surrounding shops and homes.

The attack had begun around half and hour before daily morning prayers were due to start. "If it had been later, there would've been even more people inside," Mr Khalsa said.

Deadly explosion rocks Sikh site in Kabul

Afghanistan was once home to tens of thousands of Sikhs and Hindus, but decades of conflict have seen the number dwindle to a tiny handful.

In recent years, those who have remained have been repeatedly targeted by the local branch of Islamic State (IS) militant group.

In 2018, a suicide bomber struck a gathering in the eastern city of Jalalabad, whilst another gurdwara was attacked in 2020.

"At the time of the attack in Jalalabad, there were around 1,500 Sikhs, after that people thought, 'We can't live here'," Sukhbir Singh Khalsa said. More left after the attack in 2020, he, added, and by the time the Taliban took power last year, there were less than 300 Sikhs. Now there are just around 150.

"All our historical gurdwaras have been martyred already, and now the only one that was left has been, too."

Ruins inside the Gurdwara
The site was hit by a bomb early in the morning

A man stands inside the ruins of the Gurdwara
The attack began half an hour before morning prayers

So far, there has been no claim of responsibility but it appears likely that IS was also behind this latest attack.

Afghanistan's Shia and Sufi Muslim minorities have also repeatedly been targeted by the group.

IS is much less powerful than the Taliban and does not control any territory, but has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in the country's history.

Overall, levels of violence in Afghanistan have fallen dramatically since the Taliban returned to power - ending their insurgency - but IS is undermining the Taliban's promise to have finally brought security to the nation.

Khalid Zadran, a spokesman for Kabul's police force, told the BBC that targeting civilians showed the "cowardly" nature of the attackers.

"Our comrades have sacrificed their lives for the Sikh community, it is their right under an Islamic state to be protected," he added.

All the attackers were killed around three hours after the assault began, during which time intense gunfire and multiple explosions could be heard. At least one Sikh man and one member of the Taliban's security forces were killed.

Wandering through the still smoking wreckage of the Gurdwara, Sikh community members said they were grateful for the Taliban's help in bringing the attack to an end, but that they did not feel safe and wanted to leave the country.

"We've appealed a lot to the Indian government, to find a way to give us visas, we don't want to live here anymore," said Sukhbir Singh Khalsa.

"Those of us left here are only here because we don't have visas, no-one wants to stay here. This has happened now, tomorrow it will happen again, and then again after that."

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Devastating Afghanistan Earthquake Leaves More Than 1,000 Dead

Post by kmaherali »

The quake — the deadliest in the country in two decades — was the latest in a string of tragedies to affect the country since the Taliban seized power from the U.S.-backed government last summer.

Video at: ... 778d3e6de3

KABUL, Afghanistan — For much of the past two decades, the southeastern part of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border was plagued by insurgent activity, as police and military posts were frequently overwhelmed by Taliban fighters, and received few benefits from the American military presence.

The Taliban takeover in August finally brought relative peace to the far-flung population, despite the hardships they continued to face as the country suffered a drought and economic collapse.

Then early Wednesday, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit the region, shattering what little peace and stability the people there had been able to hold on to after so many years of hardship and violence.

More than 1,000 people were killed and 1,600 others injured in the quake, officials said, striking another blow to a country that has grappled with a dire humanitarian and economic crisis since the Taliban takeover in August.

The quake — the deadliest in the country in two decades — hit about 28 miles southwest of the city of Khost, a provincial capital in the country’s southeast, the United States Geological Survey said, and had a depth of about six miles. But the worst damage was in the neighboring Paktika Province, which lies along the border with Pakistan.

“Nearly all government and private hospitals are full of victims,” said Awal Khan Zadran, a doctor in the Urgun district of Paktika. Some of the injured were taken to Kabul, the Afghan capital, by helicopters and others were transported to nearby provinces, he said.

A photo provided by the state-run news agency Bakhtar of injured people at a hospital in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.Credit...Bakhtar News Agency/EPA, via Shutterstock

Mohammad Almas, the head of aid and appeals at Qamar, a charity in Afghanistan active in the area, said he expected the final death toll to be high, because the affected areas are far from hospitals and because the earthquake happened at night, when most people were indoors sleeping.

As many as 17 members of the same family were killed in one village when their home collapsed, he said; only one child survived. Mr. Almas, reached by phone from Pakistan, said that more than 25 villages were almost completely destroyed, including schools, mosques and homes.

Rugged, mountainous and in many areas inaccessible except by dirt roads, Paktika province is one of Afghanistan’s most rural, where some eke out a living by illegally cutting trees to sell for firewood.

It is also one of the poorest, with residents in some areas living in homes of earth and clay. The area is overwhelmingly Pashtun, the same ethnic group to which most of the Taliban belong.

The Taliban government on Wednesday called on aid organizations to provide humanitarian support, even as the militant rulers have increasingly distanced themselves from the West following their refusal to loosen restrictions on women’s education while imposing other draconian rules.

President Biden directed the United States Agency for International Development and other parts of the administration to assess how it can best help Afghanistan after the earthquake, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on Wednesday in a statement.

Afghans line up to donate blood for the earthquake victims being treated at a hospital in the district of Gayan in Paktika Province.Credit...Ahmad Sahel Arman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Sullivan said humanitarian partners of the administration were already in the process of delivering medical care and supplies to those on the ground.

“We are committed to continuing our support for the needs of the Afghan people as we stand with them during and in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Even before the earthquake, the Biden administration faced increasing pressure to provide more humanitarian support to Afghans — an issue that became even more politically divisive after the Taliban assumed power.

The administration has taken some steps, including making exemptions to some sanctions and allowing money transfer companies to send money to the country as long as it did not benefit people on a terrorist list.

In January, the United Nations appealed for more than $5 billion for humanitarian relief for Afghanistan to avert what Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s emergency aid coordinator, said could become a “full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.” Much of that appeal was for food after the economic collapse plunged half the population into potentially life-threatening food insecurity.

The earthquake was felt in several parts of Pakistan, especially in the northwest, but the country was spared the kind of damage seen in neighboring Afghanistan, officials said.

Some of the areas hit by the earthquake are in remote, rough country near the Pakistani border and were the scene of heavy fighting before and after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Telecommunications are poor or nonexistent, making it hard to get a full accounting of the casualties.

A photo provided by the state-run news agency Bakhtar of Afghans evacuating an injured person in Paktika Province.Credit...Bakhtar News Agency, via Associated Press

For civilians in Afghanistan, earthquakes are yet another risk in a country traumatized by decades of war. Many of the country’s densely populated towns and cities sit on or near several geological faults.

The earthquake was felt in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and across the northern part of Pakistan, according to a map that the European Mediterranean Seismological Center posted on its website.

The earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, appeared to originate from movement between the India and Eurasia tectonic plates.

The agency said in a report this year that more than 7,000 people had died in the past decade because of earthquakes, an average of 560 a year. In one area between Kabul and Jalalabad, it estimated that an earthquake of magnitude 7.6 would affect seven million people.

In January, two earthquakes struck a remote, mountainous area of western Afghanistan, killing at least 27 people and destroying hundreds of homes.

In March of 2002, at least 1,500 people were killed when a series of earthquakes with a magnitude between 5 and 6 struck northern Afghanistan, destroying a district capital in the Hindu Kush. A 1998 quake measuring 6.9 killed up to 4,000 people in Afghanistan’s north.

Looking for survivors in a village in Paktika Province, on Wednesday.Credit...Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press ... 778d3e6de3
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Relief Efforts Intensify in Afghanistan After Devastating Earthquake

Post by kmaherali »

Aid has been streaming into the rugged regions hit by the quake on Wednesday. Hundreds were killed and many more are missing, with officials saying that they do not expect to find more survivors.

A family setting up tents near where their house had stood in the village of Azor Kalai, Afghanistan, on Thursday. A second temblor hit the region on Friday, killing at least five more people and injuring another 11.Credit...Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Relief efforts ramped up on Friday to aid victims of the deadly earthquake that struck an impoverished region of southeastern Afghanistan this week in a disaster that killed hundreds and devastated a country already teetering on economic collapse nearly a year after the Taliban seized power.

As hopes of finding survivors faded, a second earthquake on Friday jolted Geyan, the district hit hardest by the 5.9-magnitude temblor on Wednesday. The follow-up quake killed at least five more people and injured another 11, according to local officials.

That added to the hundreds killed and many others injured on Wednesday in the provinces of Paktika and Khost, which are both on the border with Pakistan. According to Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, more than 1,000 people died and at least 3,000 others were injured; the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Wednesday put the current death toll at 770.

Large numbers of people are missing, and aid agencies have said that they expect the toll in the rugged region, where communications and access are difficult, to rise.

The news of fresh tremors came as rescue efforts from Wednesday’s quake were winding down and as Taliban officials issued more calls for assistance from aid agencies and international governments. The Taliban and local functionaries said that they did not expect to find more survivors.

Aid items dispatched by the Taliban government to the earthquake-affected region on Friday. Afghan officials have issued more calls for assistance from relief agencies and international governments.Credit...EPA, via Shutterstock

The punishing terrain and challenging weather conditions in the affected region made it difficult to send aid swiftly to Paktika Province, according to Mohammad Nasim Haqqani, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Disaster Management.

But as of Friday morning, a flow of aid from international governments and agencies had begun to stream in via air and road. Volunteers were carrying in whatever aid and supplies they could in their cars in a makeshift convoy along unpaved and steep mountain roads.

About 42 humanitarian aid planes and group of 15 trucks sent by the Ministry of Disaster Management carrying emergency housing and food items — including rice, oil and flour — had reached the province and the supplies were already being distributed, according to Mr. Haqqani, who said that the Afghan government had allocated 100 million afghani, or about $1.1 million, to help survivors.

Planes filled with medical supplies and aid from India, Iran and the United Arab Emirates began arriving early Friday, according to Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman.

“The aid that has been given to the people is enough for 10 to 15 days, but they have lost everything and there is a constant need for cooperation from international aid agencies,” Mr. Mujahid said. Afghans based abroad, he added, were having trouble making donations as the Afghan banking system has largely collapsed under the weight of international sanctions.

The Taliban said on Thursday that some supplies had also arrived from Pakistan and Qatar. The United States, along with the United Nations and the World Health Organization, also took steps to provide aid. South Korea has promised $1 million in humanitarian assistance.

Across Afghanistan, an army of volunteers, including teachers, students, and young professionals, fanned out to raise funds and collect supplies. Najib Alkozai, 34, a journalist in Nangarhar Province who lost his job at a local television station after the Taliban takeover last year, said that he had been working with a team in the city of Jalalabad to collect donations.

People injured in the earthquake received treatment at a hospital in Sharana, Afghanistan, on Friday. The punishing terrain and challenging weather conditions in the region have complicated relief efforts.Credit...Ali Khara/Reuters

“Today people donated more than 500,000 Afghanis,” or the equivalent of about 5,600 dollars, Mr. Alkozai said, adding that donations had come from people from all walks of life, including “day laborers, construction workers, farmers, teachers.”

While the earthquake was considered moderate in magnitude, it wreaked havoc in southeastern Afghanistan, where many houses are made of masonry or even mud and were unable to withstand the force of the tremors. More than 2,100 homes were estimated to have been damaged in Khost and Paktika, according to the World Food Program, with the worst damage centered in Paktika.

In Geyan alone, one of the districts in the province that was pummeled by the quake, the World Food Program said that 1,500 houses had been damaged or destroyed. The Afghan disaster management ministry said that the damage was even more extensive, estimating that more than 10,000 houses had been affected.

The disaster could hardly have come at a worse time for Afghanistan, a nation of 39 million that has been in the throes of economic collapse since the Taliban stormed to power in August and toppled a government that had been sustained for two decades by support from Western governments and a military coalition led by the United States.

Before the Taliban took over, foreign aid funded 75 percent of the Afghan government’s budget. The Taliban has since struggled to attract foreign money as Western donors have balked at edicts barring girls from attending school and restricting women’s rights, among other concerns.

A truck filled with rice and flour headed toward Geyan, in Paktika Province. Houses in the remote region are generally made of masonry or even mud and were unable to withstand the force of the tremors.Credit...Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Around half the country is now facing life-threatening levels of food insecurity, according to the World Food Program.

Some of the challenges, such as a drought and hunger, have been shaped by external factors. But others, including the flight of refugees and an exodus of skilled workers, stem from fears about how the Taliban, a group that ran a harsh regime of repression the previous time it was in power, will govern this time round.

In that context, the earthquake presented a major test of the Taliban’s rule.

While some trained ministry officials stayed in their roles after the Taliban took power, most left, limiting the experience pool that the government can draw on to help coordinate relief efforts.

The disaster was also a test for the Biden administration’s approach to the Taliban; the United States currently refuses to recognize or provide the group with financial assistance.

American aid to Afghanistan has continued, with more than $1 billion sent directly to humanitarian programs in the country over the past year. But many rights advocates say that Washington must work with the Taliban government and provide it with economic assistance to alleviate the widespread suffering on a lasting basis.

Afghan soldiers guarding aid in the village of Azore Kalai in Paktika Province on Thursday. The earthquake has presented a major test of the Taliban’s capacity to govern.Credit...Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Taliban officials are also calling on Western nations to provide their country with more aid in the wake of the disaster. On Thursday, a senior official from the disaster management ministry, Ghulam Ghous Naseri, urged donor countries to “not politicize” their help and to “continue their aid to the people of Afghanistan,” according to Tolo News, an agency based in Kabul, the capital.

So far, the Biden administration has rejected entreaties to directly fund the Afghan government, insisting that the Taliban meet its earlier vows to allow women to attend school and go to work and follow though on a promise to deny sanctuary to terrorist groups. U.S. officials express fear that the Taliban might steal or redirect American aid for unintended uses.

In statements on Wednesday, senior Biden administration officials signaled that they were open to discussing humanitarian earthquake relief with the Taliban government.

The State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, said that Washington had not received a direct request for assistance. But he added that he expected aid “will be a topic of conversation between U.S. officials and Taliban officials in the coming days.”

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said in a statement that President Biden had directed the federal government to “assess U.S. response options.” ... 778d3e6de3
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Aga Khan Development Network Sends Relief Aid to the Quake-Hit in South-East Afghanistan

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Aga Khan Development Network Sends Relief Aid to the Quake-Hit in South-East Afghanistan

By Saqalain Eqbal / in Afghanistan / on Friday, 24 Jun 2022

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) consigned relief aid to the people affected by the fatal and devastatingly powerful earthquake in south-eastern provinces of Afghanistan.

In a recent statement, released on 23rd June, the AKDN’s Diplomatic Office in Afghanistan, expressed its “deepest condolences and sorrow to the people of Afghanistan.”

While reaffirming its “commitment to the people of Afghanistan”, the AKDN announced that it has already delivered aid including “food and non-food items, emergency shelters, … and medical assistance,”

The AKDN also notes of establishing a mobile health unit on site. It also announced that a team of skilled individuals would be sent for searching and rescuing the victims of the earthquake.

This aid comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) in Afghanistan wrote in a tweet on 22nd June that it had sent a package of 9.8 tonnes medical supplies.

According to the WHO Afghanistan, the shipment included 50 surgical kits and 30 emergency kits in addition to the medicines that are sent to the affected people in south-eastern regions of Afghanistan.

The earthquake that devastatingly jolted south-eastern provinces of Afghanistan, particularly Khost and Paktika provinces, has resulted in the damage of almost 1,500 houses, killing 1,000 and wounding 1,500, according to the Taliban officials.
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Afghanistan, One Year After the Fall

Post by kmaherali »

Mullah Naqibullah, a slim, young Taliban fighter, tossed his shawl over his shoulder and adjusted his rifle. He made his way from under a spreading mulberry tree onto the patio of a small mud-brick mosque in Sangesar, a small village in southern Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, and went inside.

He stood inches from a microphone wrapped in colorful cloth to keep the dust at bay, and in a falsetto he called the faithful to prayer.

It was here that in 1994 Mullah Muhammad Omar founded the Taliban movement. The group went on to capture Kabul in September 1996 and establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which instituted a narrow definition of Islamic jurisprudence that barred women and girls from working and attending school. Omar’s decision to provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda eventually brought down his government after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the Taliban never went away.

Taliban officials gathered at a wedding hall in Kabul in May to commemorate the 2016 death of the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.

I first went to Afghanistan in 2009 to document the war. By then, the United States was in the thick of a brutal conflict against the Taliban, who had mounted a formidable insurgency to win back control of the country.

Besides the war, the United States was trying to assist in formation of a government in Kabul while the U.S. military was attempting to build an Afghan Army in its own image.

Hesco barriers at an abandoned U.S. Special Forces base in Nerkh in Wardak Province.

But for Afghans, this was just another chapter of foreign intervention in the country’s long history of struggle, which has included colonialism, tribalism, monarchism, Communism and strict Islamic law. The Americans didn’t realize how fragile the systems they created were until it all came crashing down.

Taliban fighters in front of blast walls decorated by graffiti left behind by American forces.

I went to Afghanistan in July 2021 to document the U.S. withdrawal. When things began to collapse around me, I stayed. On the morning of Aug. 15, I stood outside the U.S. Embassy and photographed U.S. Chinook helicopters scrambling to evacuate staff members. By that afternoon, I was photographing Taliban fighters as they entered the city.

Before that day, Taliban fighters seemed like ghosts. I seldom saw them, but I always felt their presence. It was surreal to watch them rolling through the blast walls erected to keep them out and congregating under the graffiti left behind by American troops.

In May, I returned to see how Afghanistan had fared under Taliban rule. Nine months after their stunning victory and takeover, they are still struggling to shift to a governing, political force.

A money changer awaiting customers in Kabul.

A female vendor pushing her vegetable cart in Kandahar City.

I found a country that continues to lack a functioning economy. Crowds of women wait outside bakeries for handouts. Men who once held office jobs must now sell vegetables at the market or peddle used goods to be able to buy a little bit of food to take home. Merchants have seen their customers dwindle as prices soar.

The Taliban government banned opium production this spring.

Taliban fighters question drivers at a checkpoint in Kandahar Province.

In the countryside, where the fiercest fighting took place, Taliban fighters now haunt the former military installations of the U.S. occupation. They marvel at the luxuries their adversaries enjoyed while they spent years sleeping in the mountains, hiding from U.S. drones.

A car decorated with a souvenir license plate at a mechanic’s shop in Lashkargah in Helmand Province.

The Taliban are all too aware of the fragility of their control. They championed a brutal style of rule. The same struggle can easily be waged against them.

Mohammad Usman Hamasi is a Taliban commander from the Chak district in nearby Wardak Province. During the war he trained as a suicide bomber but was arrested before he could complete his mission. “I did not have a wife and children at that time. I wanted 100 percent to carry out such an attack, but God did not want me to become a martyr,” he said.

Mr. Hamasi told me he is frustrated by the leadership’s refusal to allow girls in school. “In fact, many mujahedeen are unhappy with the schools being closed,” he said. “I am here,” he explained, as he talked about his hope for the movement, “so that my sister or daughter can go to school and be educated in the framework of Islam, Shariah and hijab.”

It is Afghan women who have been most victimized by the Taliban’s return to power. Despite the Taliban’s pledge to protect their rights, they have seen progress recede.

A billboard announcing Taliban female dress codes looms over an intersection in Kandahar City.

Ogai Amil, an educator, journalist and civil society activist, watched the country fall back to the Taliban from her small apartment. She hoped things would be different this time around. “People were thinking that maybe the Taliban had changed and their takeover would be easier, governance would get better, security could get better and the country would get peaceful,” she told me. By May, women were instructed to cover their faces in public and avoid leaving home.

Afghan women have bristled under the increasing curtailment of freedoms.

She told me that over the past year she has come to engage informally with many Talib officials. “I tell them, ‘I am not your enemy, but I want you to stop all these restrictions,’” she said. “These are our human rights, which are given to us by God. Don’t take them from us.”

Basma, left, and Bahara Ahmadi, who have not been able to attend school since the Taliban takeover, have battled hopelessness and depression. Basma mostly slept the first two months. “I thought, ‘Why am I alive?’” she said.

Initially, the Taliban assured Afghans that girls of all ages would attend public schools when they reopened last September. But they have since gone back on that promise.

I met two sisters, Basma and Bahara Ahmadi, at their family home in a hillside neighborhood on the edge of Kabul. The uncertainty of the Taliban’s restrictions has shaken them.

Since they can no longer go to high school, they spend their days poring over English lessons in the same room that houses the loom where their family weaves carpets to make ends meet. They hope the ability to speak perfect English will be their ticket to scholarships that will allow them to study outside the country.

Children swim in what is left of the Arghandab River in Kandahar Province.

The rapid collapse of the government that the West built was a milestone in an ongoing, centuries-long struggle for self-determination thwarted by outside intervention. After more than a decade of reporting, I have come to understand that, as anathema as the Taliban are to many, for some they are an iteration of this process and not an aberration from it. Having lived under many regimes, many Afghans wonder how long this one will last.

It’s impossible to know what the future will hold for the country, but the next chapter must be written by Afghans themselves. ... 778d3e6de3
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