Zahed is a forty something years old Afghan-German who lives in Germany with his family. He’s lived there for over two decades now. About two and a half weeks ago, he came back to Afghanistan to visit his hometown in Surkhrod area of Nangarhar Province. He missed his relatives and friends and his garden. He had a beautiful garden near his Qalla or village house where he used to sleep under the shade of its trees in some peace and quiet back in the day. He took very good care of the trees and plants in his garden and he enjoyed checking on the trees in the garden almost everyday.
Second to his relatives and friends Zahed, of course missed his precious garden. He went to visit the garden and he savored every moment of it. On his third day in Surkhrod he want to take a nap under the cool shade in his garden and enjoy the afternoon breeze. He arranged his little bed in the garden solo. Lying on his bed he enjoyed looking at these now-tall trees he called it very joyful moments of his life, says his cousin Rahim. As he was dozing off the moment was interrupted by a motorcycle that parked near him. Two guys approached him and told him that the district governor wanted to see him and make sure that there are no security threats for him while he is in town. The bikers did not let him tell his family where he was off to. He rode on the motorbike with the two strangers who claimed to be secret police officers.
After riding for a few miles on the motorbike, one of the kidnappers took out a cloth and blindfoled his eyes. Zahed doesn’t remeber anything after that. When he opened his eyes he was in a dark room with an chain in his ankle. The kidnappers contacted his family here in Jalalabad and asked for $1 million ransom. After a lukewarm response from them, they contacted the victim’s family in Germany to send them $1 million for his release.
Zahed’s family in Germany said they hadn’t saved that much in their entire life Germany. After a lot of negotiations, they settled for $50000 (fifty thousand USD) for his release.
It’s not clear how they handed over the $50K to the kidnappers but they did. About a week ago the kidnappers brought him (still blindfolded) near Nazanin Jabarkhel High School in Surkhrod at around eight o’clock in the evening and let him go. “You can’t open your eyes until you can no longer hear the sound of our motorbike. We’re watching you!” Said the perpetrators to Zahed. “The last motorbike ride from a mud house where I was held for one week and the school where I was droped off that evening was five minutes ride,” he said.
He was locked in a dark pit toilet for one week where all he saw was one little child who brought him food everyday — the only person he could recognize he ever meets him again.
Zahed went back to Germany and I doubt that he’ll ever miss his garden or hometown again.
Not a lot of people in Afghanistan know where Cambodia is as many people in Cambodia don’t know where Afghanistan is located. I was in Cambodia for a month and people would ask me where I was from. I would answer “Afghanistan”. Most of the people would ask “No, what is the name of your country?” Well, that is the name of my country. They thought it was a small village in some country. I was riding in a tuk tuk with my friend, Una, to the Central Market in Phnom Penh and this tuk tuk driver who spoke very good English asked me about my nationality and I said Afghanistan. To my surprise, he made a gesture and screamed, “boom boom boom” then asked said “are you from this country?” Yes, sir. I am exactly from that country, I confessed.
Afghan Defense Minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak said on Tuesday that the Afghan security forces (ANSF) will likely be reduced from its peak strength of 352000 to 230000 after the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. This will be a significant reduction in the Afghan National Security Forces. Now, some might argue that these 122000 personnel will be unemployed. No, they will not. The question is who will continue employing them beyond 2014? The Taliban is longing for an opportunity like that. These ANSF personnel will have the skills to fight in a time when they’ll be furious at the Afghan government for taking away their jobs and career. What is the solution then? “If something is unsustainable, either you have to find the resources to sustain it or you have to reduce the size of the project.” Quotes a New York Times article from a senior western official in Kabul. Sooner or later, the international donations will inevitably taper off and dry eventually. It’s extremely important for Afghanistan to bring about big changes, and I mean big, to prepare for 2014 and beyond and more importantly to avoid a potential civil war in the country– now is a good time to start this since the international coalition forces will be there to intervene if anything goes wrong in the process of bringing these changes. Depending on how large of an Afghan security forces the international alliance agrees to continue supporting in Chicago Summit next month, Afghanistan will have to make some serious decisions. Just a few thoughts on this: First of all, President Karzi should get rid of all those gangsters in the ministries of interior, defense and commerce along with others. It will be a challenging task for the president but there’s no way he can move forward. It’s like running hard but standing still without making any progress with these corrupt officials’ involvement in his government. Karzai wants to keep everyone happy by giving them what they want but that’s how it works. The president will have built trust between his government and the public by doing so. Now, that the number of ANSF has not reached 352000 yet, we should stop increasing it. Instead of wasting that money on training, equipping and giving salaries to them that cannot be sustained beyond 2014, the money can be used more wisely by investing in the National Directorate of Security (NDS) or the Afghan intelligence agency and the existing ANSF personnel. They should work on the quality rather than quantity. A stronger and higher number of NDS means less insurgent activities and with the help and coordination of our current well-trained ANSF there will be better security. And as a final point, I think it’ll be wise for the Afghan government to focus on developing strategies for economic growth and independence and create more jobs for people including bridging any unemployment gaps that the ANSF may have undergone. Private local businesses should be strongly encouraged so that it creates more jobs and it generates and spends money locally. Improving private businesses is a good way of sustainable development and it’s dwarfed by the international donations in the long term. To conclude, by removing druglords and corrupt officials from the government, training the current ANSF and investing more on NDS and focusing on private business development and economic growth I think we will survive and the Central Asia doesn’t have to be afraid.
I was flying from Delhi back to Kabul after having been on a few flights in Southeast Asia. Normally, in-flight safety announcements for passengers in airplanes were all similar. Since the flight from Delhi to Kabul was mostly Afghans so the announcement was a bit more tailored to us. The announcement said, smoking in the airplane is strictly prohibited. Then it added, “not even in the toilets”. They’d obviously found cigarette butts in the toilets before that and decided to change the announcement hoping that it’ll work. The announcement also requested us to switch our phones off but then there were my fellow Afghans making phone calls for final goodbyes after the announcement. They would to tell their family/friends how they were in the airplane and flying right then. I wanted to Tweet it but my phone was off You know how short our telephone conversations are here in Afghanistan. There was one American, one Briton and one Afghan and they were all in hell together. They missed their families and they wanted to call back home. The American called home and talked to his family for four minutes and the Satan brought the bill and it was $20000. Then the Brit called home and talked with his family for three minutes and he was billed $15000. Finally, it was the Afghan’s turn to call home. He called and talked to his family for three hours. Satan brought the bill and it was $3 and then the American and the the Brit complained to him why they were so ridiculously overcharged and why the Afghan was charged so cheap. Satan told them that it was a local call. From hell to hell is local price. I say this with a lot of love but we do talk a LOT most of us enjoy breaking some small rules like the one on the airplane.
Video credit: AFAfghan
Missouri Agriculture Development Team has helped farmers in Kama districts and equipped some of them with advanced tools of farming. They’ve also taught new approaches of farming and how to harvest more healthy crops.
Pul-e-Jawan, which literally means “bridges of youth” in Dari, Urdu and Hindi, is a group of regional peace building and active youth from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In September 2011, Internews, Afghanistan took initiative and invited five citizen journalists with an interest in peace and reconciliation issues from each of the above countries (a total of fifteen people) to meet in Kabul.
The aim of Pul-e-Jawan is to provide an exchange for the youth and to bridge any gaps and issues between the three countries. When we met in Kabul back in September (I am a member of the team) we took part in a forum on security and we met with policymakers, NGO representatives, academics, journalists and other senior experts in the field. There were five groups of three (in each group there was one Afghan, one pakistani and one Indian) and each group worked to make presentations on an issue of their interest. One of the presentations that my team worked on was a comparison of state universities with private universities.
For preparing this presentation, our team visited Kabul University and American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and we interview students from both universities. AUAF is a very expensive university and not a lot of Afghans can afford going to there. After interviewing, I asked a student there if the future leadership of Afghanistan will go to the sons and nephews of the corrupt commanders and other officials or to them (those who are getting the best education in Afghanistan). He answered, “excuse me!?”. My father is a commander. I was kind of expecting that answer but I still wanted to hear it from him. That was a Pul-e-Jawan experience.
In addition to discussing peace and reconciliation in the region, Pul-e-Jawan was a great networking opportunity for us. We worked eight hours everyday and spent most of the evenings going out and eating Afghan foods in restaurants of Kabul. One evening we all went to a restaurant called “Sufi” and sang everyone took turn and sang a song in their own language. The rest of the group would try to sing along.
Pul-e-Jawan has a website and a Facebook page where we post and discuss issues that are common in the three countries.
Pul-e-Jawan website: http://pulejawan.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/254234317940298/
In the basement of once notorious Ghazi National Olympic Stadium of Afghanistan is where the Afghan national team of female boxers train tirelessly hard for the Olympics 2012 in London.
Once known as the stadium of death the venue was used for holding public executions and stoning under the brutal Taliban rule, 1996 to 2001. Under the Taliban women were completely forbidden from participating in any sports, not even as spectators.
Refurbished by the US government, Ghazi Olympic Stadium reopened in recent years and thousands of young athletes train here everyday, including Afghanistan’s national female boxers team. Beaming with hope, this group of 25 girls with a mission, meet in this darkened training club in the basement with cracked mirrors, three times a week and run hard practices to prepare for the upcoming 2012 Olympics. The team has been given a chance to participate in Olympic games in London. They really have their work cut out for them.
Shabnam, a 19-year-old boxer won gold medal in an international competition in October 2011 in Tajikistan. Her younger sister also won silver.
In a country where still a very insignificant number of women are allowed by their families to participate in sports and despite threats of kidnapping and violence, Shabnam and her other fellow boxers continue to fight thier way to the Olympics 2012 in London. “We work for the future, because the past is lost”, says Mohammad Shabir Sharifi coach of the national female boxers team in an interview.
These boxers are the beacons of hope for Afghanistan and their victory means hope and encouragment to millions of other Afghan women. I admire their bravery and the noble love and support these young women receive from their families and their coach in the pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Their spirits are high and with practice and strong determination they will show the world that they too can be the contenders. The team that represents Afghanistan in international competitions has little support from the government ($1 a day per athlete).
Here is a petition to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai to give the Afghan women’s boxing team more protection and support that they truly deserve. Petition to Hamid Karzai
I was in Dara-e-Noor, a district far to the north of Jalalabad city. My team members and I were there for a mapping survey for which talking with a local resident helped us make better and more accurate maps for any given area.
Here, we ran into Baghcha Gul. We were talking about the village and names of the roads, public buildings, etc. and my colleague, Akbar asked this random question: “How many children do you have?” “I have only one son”, Baghcha Gul answered.
Then Akbar asked again, “What do you do, Mama?“
He said, “that’s what I do.“
Baghcha Gul: Making babies.
Later, we found out that the man had 10 children: Nine girls and one boy. Some people, especially in rural areas of Afghanistan , shy away talking about female members of their family.
When I was taking this picture I raised my index and middle finger and parted them asking the gentlemen to make peace gesture. The senior man in the back shouted, “No, there is only ONE God!” “There are not two Gods”, he added. I almost got into a big trouble. They probably thought I was trying to convert them or something. It was in my own city of Jalalabad but these folks seemed alien. Some people in Jalalabad know what the sign means.
“When my father died, I lost everything: my education, my struggling spirit and my parental love and even the love from my siblings because I had to go away and live with others,” she said.
If there is one lesson she’s learned, it’s that “you must never give up hope,” she said. “You must struggle and struggle until one day you see success.”
Article on VOA Cambodia: Plucked From Garbage Scavenging, a Girl Makes Good