Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category
It was bound to create controversy and outrage in a country fixated with Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The sentencing of the Pakistani neuroscientist — dubbed the ‘Grey Lady of Bagram,’ the ‘daughter of Pakistan’ and ‘Prisoner 650′ by her supporters — in a New York court on Thursday has riled many in Pakistan, including the government that had campaigned for her release.
But other than the typical and expected anti-U.S. comments made by Aafia Siddiqui’s supporters, anger was directed at the Pakistani government. On Thursday night, Siddiqui’s sister Fauzia addressed a press conference minutes after the ruling (86 years imprisonment on seven counts) and said it was a “slap on the face of our rulers and every leader of the Muslim world” and that she had been reassured by government officials that Aafia would be repatriated. She accused the Pakistani government of “selling Aafia out repeatedly.”
It is an ironic state of affairs. The Pakistani government, which had reportedly paid $2 million for Siddiqui’s legal defense, made her into a folk hero of sorts and regularly communicated with her family, is now taking the heat. Politicians appeared instantly on television channels to denounce the government for not acting in time to ‘save the daughter of Pakistan.’ Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told Pakistan’s upper house of parliament that the government was trying to initiate an extradition treaty for Aafia Siddiqui’s release. “We did not spare any effort,” Gilani claimed, and said “Dr. Aafia is the daughter of the nation. We fought for her and we will fight politically to bring her back.”
Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said in an e-mail interview, “We have made sincere efforts to help her legally and diplomatically and will continue to do so. We understand Fauzia Siddiqui’s grief but it is sheer fantasy to believe that Aafia’s imprisonment is because of the Pakistani government’s inaction or that the Pakistani government could somehow spring her from prison in the U.S. In over two years since her reported arrest in Ghazni, the government of Pakistan has sought but not received evidence from those issuing statements on her behalf that could disprove the U.S. government’s version of events.”
Fauzia Siddiqui said in an interview with Dawn News that she had been fooled by Amb. Haqqani and alleged that he had told her he privately met with the judge presiding over the case.
Aafia’s comments before her sentencing were a mix of confusion and conspiracies. According to Al Jazeera English, “She disputed her lawyer’s claim that she is mentally unfit to stay on trial, then went on to talk about her dreams and the symbolism of her dreams, genetic testing, her belief that Israel is behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that Israel was plotting with her prison warden to attack the United States.” She claimed she was not being mistreated and appealed to her supporters to not turn to violence. Fauzia repeated Aafia’s call for calm, but also said that she had been forced to make a statement saying she was not mistreated and invoked gory visions. “Have you forgotten the hearings when she would appear covered in blood, her face would be swollen and (her body) would bear marks of being hit by rifles?”
And so the sentencing was used — as most volatile incidents are — to stage public protests countrywide.
Members of civil society and the religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Jamiat Talaba clashed with the police in Karachi and Islamabad. Their aim was to protest outside the U.S. consulate and embassy in the respective cities. On Thursday night, protestors in Peshawar burned tires and stomped on posters of former U.S. President George W. Bush.
Political parties rarely call for protests after suicide bombings, but the Jamaat-e-Islami called for countrywide protests shortly after Aafia’s sentencing. Breathless condemnations of the sentencing came in almost instantly from political parties. A high-level meeting was chaired by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday evening to form a committee on Aafia’s repatriation.
While Pakistani leaders have often been accused of dragging their feet on the issues that matter — be it condemning terrorist acts, clamping down on militant activities or ensuring transparent flood relief efforts — Aafia Siddiqui’s sentencing has kick started everyone into action.
The millions displaced by the floods in Pakistan, thousands languishing in jail awaiting trial and the countless women who are victims of honor killings, mistreatment in jails and discrimination will not see anyone rallying for their cause. Not acting swiftly to help them — who should also be dubbed daughters of Pakistan and supported by politicians — is the real injustice. Instead, the focus continues to be on the woman with the explosive purse, an illustrious past, a dubious story and now, an 86-year sentence.
This post was originally published on Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel blog here.
Other stories I’ve done on Aafia Siddiqui’s case:
WikiLeaks: Aafia Siddiqui’s incriminating purse – The Express Tribune
Not a daughter of Pakistan – AfPak Channel
This piece was originally published at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, as part of a collection of quick takes by experts, titled “Perspectives on Afghanistan’s Parliamentary Elections”
With Afghanistan’s September 18th parliamentary vote fast approaching, the media has been overflowing with stories about how the poll will once again be compromised by a deteriorating security situation and widespread electoral fraud. This is rightly a cause for concern, but it also isn’t surprising, nor is it likely to have a great deal of impact on the near future of Hamid Karzai’s government or the ISAF campaign.
The flaws in last year’s ballot were widely reported, are considered to be deep rooted, and if the Obama administration’s current discussions on how best to manage corruption in Afghanistan are any indicator, these pervasive problems are not likely to go away any time soon. Also, with the Taliban and other insurgent groups emboldened by an increasingly nervy domestic polity in the U.S. and a strategic focus on reconciliation, any hopes that the ballot would not face interference from insurgents would be dreadfully misguided.
The real question is, what does this mean for reality on the ground? The answer is: not much. While corruption, particularly in the electoral process, could very well be damaging to Afghanistan’s democratic future, for now it is something that both the Afghan people and the international community have to live with. Also, while security is of course paramount to the success of any public ballot, there is no indicator that insurgent groups are capable of derailing the entire process. As long as attacks and security fears are limited, although regrettable, they will not cause the electoral project to be abandoned, even if they mean that voter turnout will also be limited.
At this point, hopes aren’t high and all parties are concerned with maintaining the status quo. As long as both corruption and violence are kept in relative check, the elections will still serve as a moderate PR victory and the country will continue on its present course.
Note: for a lengthier analysis, read Negah Rahmani’s guest post from yesterday.
This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.
The run-up to Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, held this Saturday 18th of September, has been reported internationally and has highlighted widespread inadequacies in the country’s government and its electoral system. When compared to the media frenzy that surrounded the country’s presidential elections last August, reporting this year has been diminished and focused on the many problems facing the ballot. Last year’s coverage of the elections, their importance to the reconstruction of the country, the significance of the act of voting to the population (especially women) and all such niceties were replaced by reporting of fraud allegations and corruption charges – systemic failures at every level – much the same as last year.
So why have the parliamentary elections not received the same level and type of attention? Is it a case of what FP’s Haring-Smith calls Afghanistan’s groundhog day or an overwhelming sense and realisation that maybe Afghanistan is a lost cause? And in the face of this systemic corruption can the international community be forgiven for perhaps not caring as much?
Firstly, A recent report by The Centre for American Progress conducted an in-depth analysis of the governance issues facing Afghanistan. The report concluded, that above all else, the country’s extremely centralised governing structure is in need of the most urgent reform. Karzai’s legal and constitutional powers make Afghanistan, “in theory, fiscally and administratively one of the most centralised countries in the world.” This amount of power has created a patronage system where Karzai flexes his influence through appointment of more than 1000 government officials at all levels of government with little public input. The paper reports, “Karzai appoints all national line ministry heads, the attorney general, Supreme Court members, the National Security Directorate Intelligence Head, provincial police chiefs and the national Bank chief.” Alongside this, Karzai appoints all members of the Upper House of parliament. In this system, all roads lead to Karzai, personal loyalties and patronage dictate electoral results and policy reform. This has set the tone for the corrupt system not only to be born but also to evolve, ensuring that those in power stay in power.
While the CAP report calls for more public input, some observers think that might just be the problem. Afghanistan’s constitution calls for several separate rounds of elections. Presidential elections (held last August), parliamentary elections to elect 249 members to the Lower House of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) as well as provincial and council level elections. However, in the case of Afghanistan the elections are out of sync. As Haring-Smith writes, “there is an election nominally scheduled every year between now and 2027, except 2012.” In this cycle Afghans will be going to the polls every year for more than a decade. The Economist reported last year that over the next 17 years there will be 11 elections held in Afghanistan. And this is without the district-council elections being held on a separate cycle, as is proposed. In a country where the concept of democracy and voting are new to most people, this system can very quickly create voter fatigue. Reports from the ground already reflect this sentiment. The financial and security burden that these elections create is yet another concern with an estimated cost of $150 million for each election to take place. Afghans, officials and candidates face harsh conditions, in some cases risk their lives to cast their vote. They might not think it worthwhile the 12th year in a row.
These aspects are but a few that form part of a deeply flawed system which has helped create the corrupt environment in which these elections will be held. A retrospective report on the extent of the fraud and poll manipulation of the 2009 presidential elections warns that although fraud will still be as rampant as last time, it will be less blatant. The report by Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) states that those responsible for the electoral fraud in 2009 have learnt from their experiences and will be more sophisticated in manipulating results. The report points out key systemic flaws which allow such rampant fraud to take place. In particular, the absence of a coherent voter registration list means that people register multiple times. Provinces such as Khost and Paktika recorded registration equalling 140% of the population last time. The report further adds that the problem of multiple registrations is well-known yet little has been done to create an alternative system. Perhaps more disheartening is policy reforms which further engrain and enforce corrupt and centralised processes. Since the last elections, new laws have brought the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the UN’s election watchdog, under Karzai’s control. The new laws enable Karzai to appoint all five commission members while the UN can select two representatives. The new measures will curtail the role that the ECC plays in monitoring and investigating fraud allegations.
Under these circumstances the international community’s disinterest with the elections is understandable and not just restricted to the media. The international agencies and organisations involved in Afghanistan have scaled down their election monitoring activities considerably. According to reports by The Guardian, the UN has evacuated one third of its international workforce in Afghanistan out of fear of violence and attacks by the Taliban. The EU has cut its previous 120-strong observation team down to just seven and the Asian Network for Fair Elections down from 74 to 30. Although the results of the elections won’t be announced for a while, fraud allegations have already started pouring out. In these circumstances international observers can be of little relevance where they cannot effectively prevent or monitor fraud. If the forecasts are anything to go by these elections will not only be a further blow to the country’s aspirations for reconstructing a functioning democratic state but will also further affirm international sentiment that little has been achieved in Afghanistan.
Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.
This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.
The August 9th cover of Time Magazine with the portrait of 18-year-old Aisha has ruffled a few feathers, and rightly so. The magazine’s subtext “what happens if we leave Afghanistan” leaves little guessing room as to where they stand in regards to the war efforts.
I can’t imagine anyone who will not be touched and outraged by Aisha’s plight. However, the story of Aisha is neither unique nor recent. Horrendous experiences like that of Aisha’s are reported on a regular basis where Afghanistan is constantly being ranked as one of the worst places to be a woman.
The use of the burqa-clad Afghan woman as part of the war propaganda has been much contested. It’s hard to believe that nine years later and the images like that of Aisha are still being used to persuade public opinion and justify the U.S occupation. The current cover asks no questions and instead states boldly that atrocities like this will happen if WE, the West, leave Afghanistan. This forms part of a much larger and outrageously orientalist media discourse on the topic. The point that the cover is making in short is this: we, the white man need to rescue these Afghan women from the cruelty of Afghan men. The image of Afghan women have been used, and overused, for far too long as a propaganda tool to justify the ‘liberation’ of Afghans by the coalition forces and it is sad and frustrating to see that Time has continued the trend. And I guess the simplest analysis is that this DID happen while WE were there.
As Michael Scheuer states in a recent article for the Diplomat, winning in Afghanistan was never more than finding Osama Bin Laden and stamping out the Al Qaeda stronghold in the country. In fact U.S’s initial attempts to bargain with Taliban to handover Bin Laden and their consequent partnership with the Northern Alliance and Pakistan, all with deplorable record of women’s rights abuses, sums up how much of a priority women’s rights was and has been in the war effort.
Besides the image on the cover, the article itself has some inherent flaws. The article uses photographs of women like Fawzia Koofi, the former Deputy speaker for parliament and Mozhadah Jamalzadah a young Afghan-Canadian woman who has returned to start an Oprah-style talk show in Kabul. Aryn Baker tries to paint a picture of Kabul as a city of opportunities and possibilities for women like Jamalzadah. The only problem is that these women form a minority within a minority. The elites from Kabul are a world away from their counterparts in the provinces. Jamalzadah with her bright blonde hair and western attire will seem foreign to women in Badakhshan, Helmand and Herat. This is the mistake that has been repeated in Afghanistan time and time again. Kabul is not Afghanistan. The ideology and experiences of Kabul’s elites are not shared with the rest of the country. It is not indicative of what Afghanistan is as a country and who the Afghans are as a people. This was the issue when Queen Soraya and King Aminullah tried to modernise the country in the 1920’s and has been repeated in the 60’s, 80’s and again now. Afghanistan needs to be understood for the diverse mishmash of cultures, tribes, traditions, histories, identities and mentalities that it is. The lives of women in Kabul, especially the urban elite, are dictated by different circumstances and social codes than what women face all over the country. Examples such as Koofi are not relevant and rarely do the changes made in Kabul have an impact in the provinces.
This is also true of the concepts and standards Baker uses to measure progress. Concepts of the constitution safeguarding women’s rights, mandating a minimum 25% female representation in the parliament and opportunities to join the police force and army are shallow shells and empty promises. Although the constitution of Afghanistan gives men and women equal rights it also gives Sharia Law supreme power. Sharia can be applied to overrule constitutional laws and are deemed more appropriate in instances where the law is not clear. The reality of the situation is that women do not have equal rights, violence against women is as WomanKind WorldWide put it in their 2009 report ‘exponential’ (and they were only considering the things that get reported). These changes, insisted on by the Western allies, have little to no bearing to the lives of Afghan women, especially outside of Kabul. Time magazine’s claim that WE (ie the West) are what stand between hell for women and equality is laughable at best.
What’s worse is that articles like these fail to recognise that perhaps the presence of U.S and its allies has had a detrimental effect on women’s rights and have set the feminist movement at least a decade back. Povey, one of the most cited academics in the field of Afghanistan concluded in her 2004 paper that the Western ‘pre-packaged’ idea of improved women’s rights have failed to recongnise what Afghan women had achieved throughout the Taliban regime. She writes of an underground feminist movement that was spread throughout the country where women were putting their lives at risk to defy some of the Taliban’s harshest rules. Every single woman interviewed by her admitted to have partaken in income-generating activities. Most were teaching girls or were sending their daughters to make-shift schools. Women formed a large network and despite the circumstances had created, in essence, a social movement that had incredible potential and affected real, grassroots change for the women by the women.*
The biggest defeat of the war has not been the regress of the policies and politics of the country but rather this fact. Women have been set back. The networks that they had created that were sustaining them have been broken. And they have been denied the recognition for their efforts in the struggle for better rights and living standards. They have been denied their voice as much after the U.S occupation as they were before. This image of them as helpless and in need of rescue by white men in shining armour is not only grossly inaccurate, overly simplified and misused but an offense to the identity, struggle and history that they have lived.
* Povey’s paper can be found: Povey R, 2004, ‘Women in Afghanistan: Passive Victims of the Borga or Active Social Participants’, in Women and War: Feminist Perspectives, Oxfam GB, UK
Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.
This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “Getting A Grip on WikiLeaks“
By now, most readers are aware of what The Guardian calls “a huge cache of secret U.S. military files” that was leaked online by WikiLeaks on Sunday. There are more than 90,000 records and it will take journalists, pundits, and researchers a very long time to pore over all of them, but The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel, which received the leaked records several weeks ahead of time, carried out the initial analysis.
You can find the dedicated pages set up by the newspapers by clicking the links above, or if you have a lot of free time on your hands, browse the entire set so far released on the WikiLeaks website. For those with less time, Gregg Carlstrom has a solid selection of the key points to have been reported thus far up at Al Jazeera English.
Many of the responses from commentators, particularly from experts on the conflict, have been unimpressed. CNAS fellow Andrew Exum called the records “merely additional examples of what we already knew” in the New York Times, and was even more dismissive in his initial responseon his blog. Afghanistan analyst Joshua Foust called the bulk of the newspaper reports from the three above “low-hanging fruit” and wrote at length about the possible danger this leak has created for sources that were carelessly not redacted by WikiLeaks. Steve Schippert of Threats Watch finds this “latest episode amusing at best and reckless at minimum.” And so on.
Much of the discourse in the wake of this leak has also been about Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Some have asserted that Assange is “a master of making it about himself,” that he has “a flair for public relations” and that he’s more of an “activist” than a journalist. These assertions are another failure of perspective. The media landscape is full of journalists with opinions and entire publications that blur the line between activism and journalism. This is not new. It also is not at all uncommon for journalists to use stories to bolster their careers and publications routinely build readership by getting “scoops” published. Journalism is a competitive industry and being good at public relations shouldn’t be viewed as something insidious.
Firstly, I agree that the failure by WikiLeaks to make more effort at redactions to protect individuals from reprisals is contemptible. I also agree that those that have been watching Afghanistan closely, even over just the past few years, may not find it at all surprising that Pakisan’s ISI is heavily involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan, or that there are many instances of seemingly recklessfriendly fire incidents and IEDs causing civilian casualties. Many may not even by surprised by reported Iranian involvement in maintaining the Afghan insurgency or rumors of Osama bin Laden’s death. These things have been talked about for a while now and, some (like the ISI business) more credible than others (like OBL’s death), but WikiLeaks has not, thus far, been able to present hard evidence of any of them, leaving many of us exactly where we started off before the leak.
What I disagree with is the lack of perspective shown by so many writers and analysts in their failure to see the forest for the trees. Assange may be sketchy and WikiLeaks may be anti-war but the narrative constructed from this raw data is being funnelled through three respectable publications that have long reported on the war. The reason why the “War Logs,” as they are called by the Guardian, are important is not that they provide groundbreaking new information or even explosive evidence to back up old information. They are important because of the sheer scale of documentation and because of the overall picture they paint of the war, considering that this is a war that is steadily approaching the nine year mark and has cost taxpayers in the U.S. alone almost $200b. And the public, particularly in coalition countries and the many countries in the region that this war has a direct impact on, still needs to think about this war.
Of the government statements in response to this leak, my favorite so far has been Senator John Kerry’s initial take:
However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.
So yes, there is little that’s new (so far) in these “War Logs” and, yes, we know little about Julian Assange and his motivations and, sure, if you don’t trust the man and are an expert on the conflict, then feel free to disregard this story completely. Whether you believe that this war should end or not, it’s safe to say that it isn’t going very well and, at the very least, we should welcome an opportunity for the public to reassess and rethink whether, to them, this is a war that is still worth it. For that purpose, then, the “War Logs” can’t do any harm.
All excerpts from reports published on wikileaks:
‘Refusal of treatment’
TF Devil reported a local national woman was struck by a US convoy 26 kilometers southwest of Kabul. At 1127Z, Task Force Devil reported that a local national female stepped into oncoming traffic and was struck by an up-armor HMMWV (M1114) traveling 30 miles per hour. A medic on-scene attempted to render aid, but the local males refused to allow treatment of the woman. The woman was treated at a local national hospital. She was later scheduled for transfer from the local hospital to a medical facility on Bagram Airfield.
‘The cultural situation’
3. Traffic accident south of Abad, Nurang District. Woman taken to FST Abad and injuries resulted in amputating both feet. She was medevacd to BAF. Family member was unable to accompany PT in helo. FST provided a note to get him to the hospital at BAF and money for transportation.
1. Briefed the Governor on the traffic accident and steps taken to ensure family member was with her at the hospital in BAF. Anticipate meeting with the family members/Elders in the near future. Radio message will be that it was a unfortunate accident, her immediate medical treatment by CF and follow on movement to the hospital in BAF, and family member provided assistance to ensure he was given the necessary paperwork to get access to the base hospital to be with her. Three things will have to happen before the radio address 1) update the Governor on her condition and 2) that the family member is with her, and finally 3)identify the family member, first reports he was either the son or nephew. (This is to ensure a more sincere message to the people)
2. The villagers in Sirkani met with the Governor and he relayed that the people feel the CFs dont care. PRT CMDR and the Governor will go to Sirkani, meet with Elders from the Tribes, state facts of the incident and get from the Elders what is needed to rebuild from the damage. This meeting will take place within the next few days once we can sync up the PRT and Gov’s schedule.
3. Per Chosin, they spoke to the ANP chief today and he said that the people in Dag had come to the police station and were actually happy about the operation. The operation got rid of some bad people, including Pakistanis. The only thing concern was two women were wounded, who will be alright. PRT discussion with ODA regarding the operation revealed that the women were medically treated by ODA with ANP present with complete respect to the women. This will be covered in the Governor’s radio address, emphasizing the success of the mission, removing ACM from this village and regret for the injury to the women, and assurance to the people that the women were treated by CF onsite with all due respect to the women and the culture. The mood seems very good with respect to the locals so far. Chosin plans a meeting with the village Elders in the next 48 hours.
‘The Nangarhar lessson’
Conducted a meeting with Gov Sherzai to discuss results and lessons learned from an operation conducted to arrest LN individuals involved in SVIED activity in the Boti Kot District of Nangarhar.
Attending the meeting were VANGUARD, PRT Jalalabad, Nangarhar Chief of Police and NDS Chief. One of the major complaints of the Afghans was the taking of the injured woman, child and female escort to first JAF hospital, then BAF hospital without a LN male escort from the house or local village. This was widely viewed by the Afghans in attendance in the meeting as a major cultural mistake, which they assessed was the impetus of the 500-person demonstration and near riot that occurred in Boti Kot this morning. PRT Jalalabad requested two male elders from the Boti Kot area to come to the PRT where we could find a solution to the situation. We eventually flew the elders from the PRT to BAF via H-60 to accompany the LN females. The plan is to return all LNs to JBAD via helicopter support on 30 Apr, regardless of the female’s medical condition, due to the cultural situation.
Ambassador and Minister Shahrani discussed the recent incident in Jalalabad in which a young Afghan woman seriously injured during a coalition operation against the Taliban was transported without a male relative or local elder by Coalition forces for medical treatment at Bagram (Ref). Local elders were infuriated by this action and deemed it contrary both to Islam and to Afghan customs. Given that the woman’s life was in danger, Minister Shahrani said her transport was not inconsistent with the principles of Islam. He said only local tradition and interpretation created the tension and public outcry. He told the Ambassador that he is doing all he can to calm and educate people regarding the issue. In addition, Ambassador and Minister Shahrani discussed the Islamic themes that might have resonance in the counternarcotics campaign in Afghanistan.
While the world collects its thoughts on Wikileaks, here’s an excerpt from one of the reports that pinpoints so many things that have gone wrong with the wars waged in Afghanistan:
Men speaking on behalf of the crowd stated that they are a very poor people. They hate the Taliban because the Taliban come into their village and steal money from them and tell them to feed their troops. They hate the Americans because they bomb our homes. (The villagers were not aware that Polish troops were now working the area.) The villagers felt the Americans acted the same as the Soviets, coming to Afghanistan under the pretense of helping the country but then proceeding to kill villagers. The crowd was flabbergasted at how the CF could fire on a village with women, children and old men without cause (i.e. no fire coming from the village) using mortars in an attempt to hit Taliban insurgents instead of coming up to the village and questioning the owners on the presence of insurgents.
The villagers knew the Taliban intruders were planting IEDs and had asked them to stop conducting operations in their area. As a sign of the desperation of the villagers, they recently sent their women with a Koran to ask the Taliban intruders in the name of Allah to leave and stop operations in their area. Their efforts were met with threats of death if they interfered.