Afghan Forces Launch Assaults

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The Afghanistan Express Daily Newspaper

March 31, 2014

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KABUL – The Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA) released a statement on Monday saying that 36 insurgents were killed, 17 injured and 14 others arrested over the course of the past 24 hours during a series of coordinated nationwide operations conducted by Afghan forces.

The statement said the “Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army and the National Directorate for Security (NDS) conducted several joint anti-terrorism operations in Kunar, Nangarhar, Badakhshan, Sar-e-Pul, Jawzjan, Kandahar, Zabul, Wardak, Ghazni and Helmand provinces.”

The MoIA did not indicate how many, if any, casualties there were among the Afghan forces. “During these operations ANP discovered and confiscated light and heavy rounds of ammunition and IEDs,” the statement read. The series of operations over the course of the past day came as security and election officials make their final preparations for the upcoming presidential and provincial council elections this Saturday.

On Sunday, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the final list of polling centers expected to be open on Election Day. Although the number of centers to be closed is higher than previous estimates, officials suggested this precaution would help minimize the chances of electoral fraud.

Officials said 748 out of the total 6,770 available polling centers nationwide will be closed, a 352-center jump from the original estimate of 396 made by security officials in the spring of last year. However, the current figure makes up only 10 percent of all polling centers, a much smaller portion than was the case in the 2009 presidential election.

There are over 350,000 Afghan soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Foreign troops are due to leave by the end of 2014, after handing over full security responsibility to Afghan forces. (Tolonews)

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Sail With Me!

sailwithme 2

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O mind that wanders

through this momentary world,

the transcendental vessel of Goddess Tara

has cast anchor in the harbor.

Come swiftly if you wish to board the wondrous ship

that bears souls to the truth.

~~~

Sail Away 004

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Untie the complex mental knots

that moor you to the mundane realm.

Unfurl the bright sail Tara, Tara, Tara.

Ply with vigor the oars of contemplation

if you wish to set sail

and cross the stormy ocean of delusion.

~~~

55086a9570dc2f91ec9f80cc5cc91f3e

~~~

Stop purchasing cheap experiences

from the bazaar of habit and convention.

Cease this aimless browsing.

Your brief day of earthly life is almost over,

leaving you only the fleeting hours

of twilight and evening.

What more can you learn from bartering and bickering

in the marketplace of desire?

~~~

2002_the_time_machine_007

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This avid voyager of the Mother sings:

“Courage!  Courage!  Be courageous!

Sail with me!  Sail with me!

Break free forever from imaginary bondage,

from selfish grasping, from separate individuality!”

~~~

Michael_Parkes_Sailwithme3

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poem by Lex Hixon

painting by Michael Parkes

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Reinforcements Arrive At Pluckame

Pluckame Reinforcements 2

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by Rawclyde!

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Two Afghan National Army representatives

Materialize out of thin air

Dressed to the max in second-hand uniforms

They are sitting on an old blanket nearby the voting shed

~

They’re soldiers now & have weapons & pay checks

They’ve been herding stray goats on their trek to the village

They impress nobody as being fierce

Laughter thunders from 1,000 Taliban hiding behind a pile of boulders

~

The 2 ANA soldiers sweating profusely in their hot uniforms

Cool down on the blanket layed-out in the shade

A hospitable woman in a burqa brings them a pot of tea & 2 cups

“Thank you for bringing our goats back to Pluckame,” says she.

~

Taliban bullets whistle & ricochet everywhere

A rocket blows the roof off the village’s rebuilt mosque

One bullet pings on the helmet of one of the ANA soldiers

He smiles benignly & sips his tea…

~~~

(Copyright Clyde Collins 2014)

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The Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

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Duty World By Rawclyde!

3ri4wmok5vwnl1t

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I am an American who backs whatever choice the Afghan people make in regards to the government we’ve been nurturing in their country.  I believe in free will.  I do not believe in tyranny.  Taliban believe in tyranny.

Most Americans with whom I am acquainted know next to nothing about Afghanistan ~ the country in which the United States has been waging war for around 12 years.  The two countries have a relationship ~ but it could be better ~ much better.  As far as I am concerned, that better relationship begins right here with me.  At times it may not seem so, but I’m quite serious about this.  Just because we’re getting a divorce certainly doesn’t mean we have to be enemies.  However, that might occur if the Taliban end-up ruling in Afghanistan.  But that’s up to the citizens of Afghanistan.

April 5, 2014, about a week from now, an election is on that nation’s schedule to happen, more intense & important than any to which I’ve ever been privy.  Lot’s of people are dying.  I’m sorry about that.  The fighting, as observed from my perch on the other side of our planet, is fierce.  And it’s between the Afghans, nobody else, although each side has its own back-up & loyal & un-loyal tribes.  Somehow, the Afghan government & my government have made it this way.  And it’s about as fair as it can get.  It’s just too bad there’s so much bloodshed.  I blame that on the Taliban.

They are the sons of Afghanistan ~ but not the only sons of that country.  I back the Afghan National Army.  They are also sons (and daughters) of Afghanistan ~ and are democratic rather than tyrannical like their fierce but not fiercer opponents, the Taliban, who governed for a while but not right now.  Presently, if the Taliban want to govern they must run for election, campaign & be elected ~ or blow the whole thing to pieces if the rest of Afghanistan and its brand new army let’s them.  Also, I must add, if the Taliban do get elected sometime in the misty future, they’ve got to uphold a democratic rather than instigate a tyrannical rule, or, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they quite possibly won’t be ruling for but a few months.

The Taliban have nobody to blame but themselves for the presence of my countrymen & others in Afghanistan.  You don’t coddle the murderer of 3,000 American citizens on American soil (September 11, 2001) and likely get away with it.  The staunch and fierce Taliban are doomed as long as they are unwilling to compromise ~ and that’s how they appear to be ~ uncompromising.  I’ve read that at one time they were kind of like folk heroes.  But it looks to me now that nobody likes them, not even their own people.  If they think their own people are only Pashtun, I beg to defer.  Their people now include all the other Afghans too.  Sorry.

One last thing ~ the Taliban or any other extremist-group highjacking of the Islamic faith is not appreciated by the truly religious anywhere on Earth.  Go ahead & ask Benazir Bhutto, the Islamic prime minister twice of Pakistan who was assassinated, as she rolls in her grave with each murder that the misled Talibanee commit in her neighboring country as well as in her own.

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new heros in town

Afghan National Army ~ new heroes in town

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http://dutypoeticslab.yolasite.com/dreaming-about-the-infantry.php

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Kabul Election Office Attacked

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Xinhua News

March 25, 2014

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KABUL, March 25 (Xinhua) — Attack on a sub-office of Afghan election commission in the capital Kabul on Tuesday left 10 people including five attackers dead and three others injured, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said.

“All five attackers have been killed by police,” Sediqi told reporters.

He admitted that five people including two policemen lost their lives in the counter-attack.

Sediqi also stated that all those held inside the election compound have been rescued by police.

A group of militants equipped with suicide bomb vests and firearms raided the election office in Darul Aman area at 11:30 a. m. local time triggering gun battle which ended at around 04:00 p. m.

Taliban outfit claimed responsibility for the attack insisting 20 election workers were killed in the attack, a claim rejected by police as baseless.

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368 Districts Get Election Materials

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The Afghanistan Express Daily Newspaper

March 16, 2014 (one week ago)

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KABUL – The Ministry of Interior (MoI) on Sunday announced transporting election materials to 368 districts without any security threat. MoI spokesman Siddique Siddiqui told a news conference in Kabul the materials included ballot papers, ballot boxes, ink, pens, candidate posters and other items.

He said the materials would be sent to areas from district centres. As many as 396 polling stations remain closed around the country. Siddiqui said police were trying to reduce security threats to polling centers before the April 5 elections. He added 13,000 women were under training to check female voters at polling stations.

He urged the people to stream to polling stations without any fear. “Militants are trying to disrupt the process, but security forces are ready to protect polling stations.” Afghan forces conducted 60 operations in different areas of the country over the past 10 days, killing 123 militants and seizing 400 landmines, 167 weapons and a large amount of explosives. (Pajhwok)

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Journalist & Family Laid to Rest

 

Sardar Ahmad & sons

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The Afghanistan Express Daily Newspaper

March 23, 2014

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KABUL – An Afghan reporter and his family, killed in last week’s attack on a luxury hotel here, were laid to rest in Kabul on Sunday. His relatives asked the government to stop addressing Taliban as brothers.  Sardar Ahmad, his wife and their two children were shot dead in the Taliban attack on Serena Hotel. Nine people, including foreigners, were killed in the assault.

Funeral prayers for Sardar and his family were held after their bodies were taken from the Sardar Daud Khan Hospital to their residence in the Shahr-i-Naw neighbourhood of Kabul. Hundreds of journalists, civil society activists and lawmakers attended the prayers at the Eidgah Masque. The AFP reporter and three of his family members were laid to rest in Qala-i-Zaman Khan locality.

Sardar’s nephew Toraj criticised the government’s policy that encouraged the Taliban who kill innocent people. “President Karzai calls the Taliban his brothers, which has led to increased attacks on innocent people; he should not call them brothers.”… (Pajhwok)

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Introducing Kali

kali blue

Laments the singer of this mystic hymn:

“Everyone will laugh at my attempt to swim the shoreless sea of her reality,

but my soul belongs to her and my heart delights in longing…”

~~~

Kali conventional

The Mother of the Universe is my queen

and I am subject only to her…

~~~

371_max (faded)

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This useless poet laments:

“My commitment to tilling the ground of my being

is neither consistent or deep.

Yet how intensely I long, O Mother,

to taste your most intimate presence,

to merge my soul with the radiance

of your dark blue wisdom feet!”

~~~

~~~

This desperate poet prays:

“O Mother of the Universe,

please sever with your brilliant sword of wisdom

the bonds of egocentric thought and action,

and allow my soul’s light to rise

through the crown of my head,

the gateway to total illumination…”

~~~

Timswit's Kali

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Her playful poet sings:

“Fearlessly celebrating the beauty of Ma Kali,

I throw the dust of pure devotion

into the eyes of Death

and easily elude its clumsy grasp…”

indian-army (faded)

Kali & likely the soldier pictured here are Hindu, India

~~~

quotes from

Mother of the Universe

Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightment

by Lex Hixon

1994

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Afghan reporter, family among 9 killed

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Agence France-Presse (AFP)

March 22, 2014

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Kabul — At least nine civilians including an Agence France-Presse reporter, children and foreigners were killed in a Taliban attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul, officials said Friday, just weeks before Afghanistan’s presidential election.

Four teenage gunmen with pistols hidden in their socks managed to penetrate several layers of security late Thursday at the Serena hotel, a prestigious venue favoured by foreign visitors to the capital.

Sardar Ahmad, a 40-year-old journalist in AFP’s Kabul bureau, was among those killed, along with his wife and two of their three children.

The family’s youngest son was undergoing emergency treatment after being badly wounded in the attack.

Ahmad joined AFP in 2003 and became the international news agency’s senior reporter in Kabul. He covered all aspects of life, war and politics in his native Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was deeply saddened by Ahmad’s death.

“The killing of Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two children was a big crime and is heartbreaking and sorrowful,” Karzai said in a statement.

AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog said the killing was “immensely painful and an enormous loss” for the agency.

He described Ahmad as a “dedicated and courageous journalist, a cornerstone of our team in Afghanistan who delivered, every day, exceptional coverage of the news in extremely difficult conditions.”

Ahmad’s last feature for AFP, filed on Tuesday, was about a lion rescued by animal welfare officials from living on a rooftop in Kabul — a follow-up to a story he himself broke last year.

“Sardar was not only among the very finest journalists in Afghanistan, but also a wonderfully optimistic and engaging personality,” AFP editor-in-chief Phil Chetwynd said.

“He has been the pillar of our bureau for the past decade and a great friend to many AFP colleagues.”

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‘Direct Link’ To Election

~

The Serena attack was claimed by the Taliban, who have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 poll that will decide a successor to Karzai.

Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls.

Another bloodstained election would damage claims by donors that the expensive intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state, as US-led NATO combat troops wind down their long deployment.

“We believe that such attacks have a direct link to the upcoming elections, and the enemies try to stage such attacks to frustrate the people of Afghanistan about their future,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told a news conference.

The attackers reached the hotel’s restaurant around 8:30 pm (1600 GMT) and began firing indiscriminately at diners, Sediqqi said.

Nine people were killed in the assault, including several foreigners. Four women and two children were among the dead.

One of the civilians killed in the attack was Luis Maria Duarte, a former Paraguayan diplomat in Afghanistan as an election observer, Paraguay’s foreign minister said.

Canada’s foreign ministry said two Canadians were among the victims.

The Afghan foreign ministry said the dead also included two Bangladeshis — one of whom was a dual US national, the American Embassy in Kabul tweeted.

The attack ended around 11:30 pm, when Afghan security forces killed the last of the attackers. Most of the hotel guests had been able to take shelter in special safe rooms.

It took place on the eve of Nawroz, the Persian New Year that is a major holiday in Afghanistan, and the hotel was hosting special celebrations.

The United States and the United Nations secretary-general denounced the attack, the latest in a wave of violence that has left more than 50 civilians dead in Afghanistan this week.

US Secretary of State John Kerry “is incredibly sorry for the loss that AFP has experienced, and certainly, our heart and our condolences go out to the family of that reporter,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

A spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said he condemned the bloodshed “in the strongest terms.”

“These attacks took place as Afghans prepare to celebrate Nawroz… a time when Afghans celebrate the values of peace and solidarity among communities,” he said.

“The deliberate targeting of civilians is a flagrant breach of these values as well as of international humanitarian law.”

~

Fears For The Future

~

The Serena, the most upmarket accommodation in Kabul, has been targeted by militants in the past, including a Taliban suicide attack in 2008 that left eight people dead.

By upgrading its security, the hotel has continued to attract diplomats, foreign workers and Afghan businessmen to its two restaurants, coffee shop and gym complete with outdoor pool.

Sediqqi pointed to a failure of hotel security, as the attackers were able to smuggle six handguns and ammunition inside.

“We are investigating, but our initial conclusion is that a failure of the security structure of the hotel made the attack possible,” he said.

Such a brazen assault on the Serena, a supposedly secure building, will send further shockwaves through Kabul’s already rattled expatriate community.

It comes less than a fortnight after Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner was gunned down in central Kabul.

It will also raise fears that independent foreign election monitors will be unable to do their job effectively — heightening the risk of poll-rigging on April 5.

Taliban leaders earlier this month urged their fighters to attack polling staff, officials, voters and security forces before the election.

~~~

Copyright © 2014 AFP.  All rights reserved.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is the oldest & largest news agency in the world…

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Illusion of Safety Shattered

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by Matthew Rosenberg & Azam Ahmed

New York Times

March 21, 2014

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KABUL, Afghanistan — His handgun drawn, the clean-cut insurgent stood in the restaurant of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, listening to the mother of three as she begged, “Take my life, but please don’t kill my kids.”

Her pleading made no difference. As frightened hotel staff members watched from the kitchen, the young militant shot the children first before killing their mother, some of the first casualties inflicted by four Taliban attackers who rampaged through the luxurious hotel on Thursday. The assault killed at least nine people and struck at the heart of the fortified existence enjoyed here by Westerners and the moneyed Afghan elite.

With its high walls and heavy fortifications, the Serena was a magnet for foreign dignitaries and officials, along with well-heeled Afghans, who flocked to its restaurants, coffee shop and full-service spa. Many international organizations also put up visiting staff members there, confident in the metal detectors and multiple checkpoints manned by guards armed with assault rifles that were erected after a 2008 attack on the hotel left six dead.

Thursday’s attack shattered the illusions of the Serena as one of the few remaining safe havens for the rich or foreign in Kabul, and the fallout was swift.

The National Democratic Institute decided on Friday morning to pull out staff members who were staying at the hotel after one of them, Luis María Duarte, a former Paraguayan diplomat, was killed. Mr. Duarte and the other staff members were in Afghanistan to observe next month’s presidential election, and the organization was reassessing its election monitoring activities.

The other dead in Thursday’s attack included the mother and two of her children, along with their father, Sardar Ahmad, a prominent Afghan journalist. A Canadian, two Bangladeshi nationals and another Afghan woman were also killed.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, reinforcing fears that the election to replace President Hamid Karzai will be accompanied by widening bloodshed. A series of attacks have made it apparent that Afghan and foreign civilians are likely to bear the brunt of the violence, which in the past two weeks has included a suicide bombing at a bazar in northern Afghanistan and an assassination of a Swedish journalist on a crowded Kabul street.

The spate of attacks has left a number of election observer missions and international organizations weighing whether they could stay on in a city that has become increasingly perilous for Westerners in recent months.

It appeared certain that security concerns would now shrink the already limited international role in the election, scheduled for April 5, further diminishing the chances to document fraud and avert any potential crises in the aftermath of an election that is widely seen as crucial to Afghanistan’s stability as American-led combat forces withdraw from the country.

But the focus on Friday for Afghans and foreigners alike was on mourning the dead and figuring out how the gunmen managed to get inside the Serena.

Mr. Ahmad, 40, a reporter for Agence France-Presse, was shot along with his wife and two of his three children, ages 4 and 5, as they celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year, at a dinner accompanied by live music.

The couple’s third child, a toddler, was seriously wounded by gunshots to the head and an arm, and was in a coma at a nearby hospital.

Bronwen Roberts, an Agence France-Presse journalist who worked with Mr. Ahmad in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2009, said he was a stalwart of the agency’s coverage here who enjoyed fishing and reading Afghan poetry and was proud of his young and growing family.

“He was heartbroken about what was happening in his country, but he didn’t want to leave because it meant so much to him,” she said by phone from Paris. “He was a romantic soul, a sweet, sweet man.”

Dozens of Afghan reporters, distraught over the death of Mr. Ahmad, pledged to embark on a 15-day boycott of all news related to the Taliban, though it was unclear how it would work in a country where insurgency looms over many aspects of life. 

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed the children were not executed but were killed in crossfire. He insisted that the Taliban was not responsible for their deaths, and that Mr. Ahmad was an unintended victim, not a target, of the attack.

Still, he sought to justify the deaths as unfortunate casualties in an “unbalanced war” where air strikes by the American-led coalition have killed Afghan civilians.  But “there is no acceptable way to defend the deaths of these children, and we regret their deaths,” he said in telephone an interview, as a child squealed in background.

 Seddiq Seddiqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman, told reporters the young insurgents managed to sneak guns past the hotel guards and metal detectors by hiding them in their socks and wrapping them in plastic. He did not explain how the plastic would have shielded the guns from detection, and also suggested that the assailants may have had inside help.

Regardless of how they slipped past security, by the time they walked across the stone driveway and into the lobby, they appeared ready to celebrate, hotel staff said in interviews on Friday. Wearing trimmed beards and smart clothes, they told staff they planned to mark the Persian New Year in the hotel’s elegant dining room, where patrons enjoy nightly buffets of Western and Afghan fare.

But first they wandered around the Serena for a while, staff recalled, taking in its opulence, which differs starkly from the homes that even prosperous Afghans live in, never mind the mud hovels of the poor villagers from which the insurgent draw most of their fighters.

They even asked staff members when the Nowruz celebrations would start.

Then they settled in for their meal. They ate slowly, drawing the suspicion of several Afghans seated nearby in the dining room, according to members of the hotel staff. Mounting tension turned to violence as fearful patrons began throwing plates and glasses at the young insurgents.

The attackers responded by drawing their .25 caliber handguns and opening fire, according to a server in the dining room at the time.

The server, like other hotel workers interviewed, asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from the insurgents and the Afghan intelligence service, which instructed at least one witness not to speak with reporters.

After killing seven people in the dining room, they quickly moved toward the lobby where they killed two more people as they came under fire from the hotel’s armed guards.

One guard is believed to have killed an insurgent before his gun jammed, at which point he was shot in the arm, hotel staff members said.

Afghan security forces, including special commandos who have repeatedly handled similar situations in Kabul, overcame the attackers before midnight. Two insurgents were killed in the restaurant and another two in a nearby restroom, Mr. Seddiqi said.

Throughout the attack, frightened guests holed up in their rooms or found shelter in safety bunkers around the complex. Some called friends and colleagues around Kabul, trying to find out what was happening or simply seeking the solace of familiar voices.

The hotel remained under a heavy security blanket. Agents from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence service, commandeered cafe areas within the hotel to conduct interviews with staff and security officers on duty the night of the attack. Others were taken to the intelligence services headquarters for questioning.

~~~

Dan Bilefsky from Paris and Afghan employees of The New York Times from Kabul contributed reporting. 

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Afghanistan’s Shot at The Future

jules-verne-to-the-moon-2
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by Viola Gienger
U.S. Institute of Peace
March 5, 2014
~~~

James Dobbins, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, touted televised debates of presidential candidates, millions of new voters registered legitimately, and other visible signs to argue that Afghanistan has a chance at scoring the country’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of presidential power next month.

“Whereas a year ago, many Afghans doubted that these elections would ever take place, more Afghans are now confident about the process and hopeful about the elections,” Dobbins told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace last week. Despite uncertainty “about the security transition and about the continued international commitment, recent polling suggest that most Afghans remain more optimistic about their future than most Americans are about Afghanistan’s future.”

Dobbins joined former American officials, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) experts, Afghan media chiefs and others in calling for continued U.S. and international attention to ensure Afghanistan’s advances in health, education, economic growth and political development can be consolidated.

They spoke at a Feb. 28 forum at USIP, “Getting Beyond 2014 in Afghanistan” co-sponsored by Voice of America and the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People (ASAP), to highlight the need for a focus on the country’s longer-term prospects. U.S. and other NATO troops are scheduled to leave this year unless an agreement is signed to allow a reduced force to stay.

“We need to take a long view here,” said USIP Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Hadley, who is among the signatories to ASAP.  For more than a decade, USIP has supported nascent civil society organizations, women’s empowerment, rule of law work and educational radio programming among a range of projects in Afghanistan. And, with the upcoming elections, the Institute’s top priority activity has been to help lay the foundations for a peaceful and legitimate electoral process.

The Feb. 28 forum was aimed at demonstrating that “Afghanistan still matters to the United States,” Hadley said, and that “America’s national security interests are best-served by the emergence of a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, that this objective can still be achieved, and that what has been accomplished in Afghanistan over the past decade offers some grounds for optimism.”

Andrew Wilder, USIP’s vice president for South and Central Asia programs, and VOA Director David Ensor lamented the drumbeat of negative news in America about Afghanistan. While it’s important to report the problems, that shouldn’t obscure and undermine the country’s true achievements in the past decade. Ensor, a former director of communications and public diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said the “If-it-bleeds-it-leads” imperative of U.S. media omits progress such as the building of health clinics.

“The American public has not heard the other half of the story,” he said.

Wilder recalled heading a policy research organization in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005 and warning that all was not going as well as some in Washington were saying at the time.

“I now find myself somewhat in the opposite camp,” Wilder said. “Having worked in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, it is to me incredible what has been achieved.”

The United Nations Development Program has said Afghanistan registered the biggest improvement in human development — health, education, and standard of living – of any country in the world, Dobbins said. Life expectancy has increased by more than 20 years to more than 62.

In addition, Afghanistan’s economy has grown. Improved legal and regulatory systems have helped attract more than $1.5 billion in investment by the telecom industry. So where there was one mobile phone company in 2001 with 21,000 subscribers, the country today has four companies with more than 16 million users. Telecommunications networks reach 90 percent of the population.

“All development progress in Afghanistan fundamentally rests upon the success of this transition,” said Alex Thier, an assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development who oversees policy, planning and learning.

Dobbins challenged conventional wisdom that the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan will go the way of that with Iraq three years ago – American forces withdrawing entirely because of the failure to reach a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to keep some troops behind.

In Afghanistan, the accord is aimed at providing further training and support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and for counterterrorism operations. U.S. and other coalition officials have made it clear that other types of assistance for development and economic support will mostly depend on whether a BSA is reached with the U.S. Karzai, who negotiated the agreement’s final terms with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, has since refused to sign it.

Dobbins said the Afghanistan case is different from Iraq in many ways.

“The Afghans want us to stay, they need us to stay, and we signed an agreement two years ago committing us to a long-term security partnership,” Dobbins said, adding that even Karzai has acknowledged the importance of such a pact. All leading presidential candidates also have said they would sign the agreement.

The pact will be important to bolster the Afghan government’s position in relation to the Taliban in eventual peace negotiations, said Marc Grossman, Dobbins’ predecessor as special representative and an ASAP signatory.

Afghanistan’s future also will weigh on the future of that entire region, including Pakistan and India, Grossman said. He said he believes Afghans will fight for what has been achieved in the past decade for women, the economy, elections, politics, and media.

“We ought to have the patience and the courage to support the Afghans in their fight,” he said.

Clare Lockhart, the director and founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness (ISE Center) who also is a signatory to ASAP, said she was astonished to find the capabilities of 240,000 civil servants in Afghan institutions when she arrived there in 2002 because international institutions had said the country had little or no governing capacity. The main problem was a lack of resources because of the devastation of the previous decades of war. Since then there have been extensive reforms in those institutions as well.

Now, Afghanistan needs the coming election to help deliver inclusive politics with a leader who has a broad mandate, Lockhart said.

“Governance is part of peace and stability,” she said. “And it’s the many small wins, rather than a victory or a deal, that will deliver on that for Afghans.”

The fact that the country is running its upcoming elections without outside assistance for the first time is “a great sign,” said Thier, who first traveled there 21 years ago and was Wilder’s predecessor at USIP.

“Afghanistan has fundamentally changed — when you look at its youth, its education, access to information, mobile phones, a taste of democracy, women in the economy, women in the political arena,” Thier said. “Those are all going to be powerful genies that are going to be really hard to put back into the bottle.”

Media outlets are taking their own steps to survive in a market where foreign assistance has generated 1,000 broadcast and print outlets that now must find independent financing in a conflict environment. Journalists are threatened, and warlords are vying to control the media.

Still, bestselling author Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Program at the New America Foundation, said freedom of the press is actually stronger in Afghanistan than in Pakistan. And Najib Sharifi, director of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (Afghan Voices), said journalistic professionalism in Afghanistan has come far.

Danish Karokhel, the director of Pajhwok Afghan News, said his company is looking for new streams of revenue from new products such as election and mining web sites and new subscription packages for mining companies. For security, 17 media outlets have formed an alliance to conduct investigative reporting in hopes of spreading (?) the risk of attack.

Sharifi said Afghanistan’s 75 TV stations, more than 200 radio stations, and several hundred newspapers, web sites and other outlets made possible by U.S. and other international support has given the country remarkable freedom in a region controlled by authoritarian regimes.

“We cannot afford to lose this,” Sharifi said.

~~~

U.S. Institute of Peace

http://www.usip.org/category/countries/afghanistan

~~~