Friday, March 19, 2010

Grey is possible if not acceptable!!!!

I asked the question of ' Is grey acceptable' from myself a while ago and found the answers repeatedly within myself. Grey is possible if not acceptable. In most of our human societies, there are lines, circles, limits and even imginations quiet well defined and framed, that even thought of moving beyond seems like a great sin for most of the people. While setting limitations for every human society is important- the same does not have to be judgemental. We are so well trained with our imaginations that the first impression of anything or anyone is judgemental rather than exploration. Someone looks bad, something is wrong , this is not acceptable, how can this even happen, are all phrases of our daily life. We dont try to understand why something is wrong or why someone looks bad - and by the way, what is that 'bad' and how did you know something is 'bad'. If we ask these questions, people think we are insane and have gone crazy, so they quickly label us as outside those circle and the moment ' you are not part of us' then ' you are nothing'. We have taken our lives, our relationships and our surroundings so much for granted based on flawed assumptions of definitive assertions. This is this and that is that, no arguments!!!. And I think we dont even know ourselves because we are lost in the crowd and are so scared to be left behind the crowd because then we would be excluded and - exclusion is destruction, non existence. But have we thought that actually you can find yourself when you are excluded - not by others excluding you, but by your intentions of creating your own terms of exclusion. An exclusion that brings your individual identity to yourself and you are no longer a sheep of the herd.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is grey acceptable?

I was always astonished knowing and reading about people's changing subjectivities when they move places , especially calling it 'torn between cultures' and I used to challenge the changing subjectivities in conditions as such. However, now I find myself in the very same situation. In societies, where prejudice is called value and wage wars to preserve them...there are no middle grounds. Its either good or bad, and only the power guised as masses , decided what comes as good and what is bad? The good that needs to be preserved and the bad that needs to be demolished and silenced.

I increasingly find myself nowhere amidst the chaos. I challenge what needs to be preserved and I give voice to what is considered to be silenced. Although I am not in opposition to any of the impositions, I dont find myself leaning towards any of the fronts and that is where the grey shines. But would grey be the question that remains silent?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Future Options in Afghanistan: London School of Economics

Future Options in Afghanistan

Chair: Lakhdar Brahimi

Speakers: Wazhma Frogh, David Kilcullen, Horia Mosadiq, Michael Semple, Tom Tugendhat

Listen to the mp3

Note: We apologise for poor sound quality during the web transmission. This is only a short part of the MP3.

My fight to protect the women in my country

My fight to protect the women in my country

AFGHAN women’s rights defender Wazhma Frogh rubbed shoulders with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama when she won the 2009 US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award.

She has faced prejudice, intimidation and death threats to speak out against domestic violence, marital rape and child abuse in Afghanistan.

Yet the 30-year-old post graduate student at Warwick University says: ” If I am able to open doors for 10 other women in my country, then it is worth it.”

Day 3 of our series on women’s rights to coincide with International Women’s Day. By Catherine Vonledebur.


ANYONE who has read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini will know women in Afghanistan have been deprived the most basic human rights.

This story of two women, by the author of The Kite Runner, is set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s past 30 years – from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to the post-Taliban rebuilding.

In his story, Mariam, aged 15, is married off to Rasheed, a shoemaker 30 years her senior by her estranged father, following her mother’s suicide. After seven miscarriages Rasheed takes a second younger wife Laila, who is educated, ambitious and secretly pregnant with another man’s child...

And that is just fiction.

Wazhma Frogh has witnessed the harsh reality.

The 30-year-old human rights lawyer from Kabul said: “I’d say Khaled Hosseini’s story is not wholly representative of Afghan life, but the very brutal reality of child abuse is true.

“In The Kite Runner the tradition of making boys dance and using them as sex slaves is quite common, and like the characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns young girls are married off to old men.

“I have been to a wedding where a three-year-old girl was married. Her father gave her to an old man. They took her to her husband’s house and she was just playing, she didn’t understand.

“When I started work on child sexual abuse I had the problem that people would not even listen. They’d say: “You need to stop talking about these issues. We are a Muslim country”.

“Human rights activists set up a woman’s shelter and we used domestic abuse cases of these women to advocate and lobby for women and children’s rights.”

Cases include a woman whose nose and ears were cut off by her husband because she simply walked out of her home without him, and a woman murdered by her husband in front of the whole community because she left him, tired of the domestic abuse she had suffered.

The gender and development specialist continued: “One mother at the shelter brought her 12-year-old daughter who was raped by her uncle. Her husband had said to her ‘If you raise your voice about this I will kill you’, but the mother ignored him and took her daughter away.

“It’s amazing when you see a mother challenging her husband and pressing charges against the uncle. You just want to salute her.”

Wazhma’s bold outspokenness for women, children and social justice has won international recognition and also seen the passing of Afghanistan’s new Elimination of Violence Against Women law.

In 2009 Wazhma was one of eight women chosen for the US State’s International Woman of Courage award, presented by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.

She said: ”This award recognises the women of Afghanistan are not all passive or victims, but women who are making a difference.

“Both of them are very nice. Michelle Obama is an ordinary woman with alot of passion and commitment for women worldwide. I met her again at the London Conference in January and she emphasised her continued support for the women of Afghanistan.”

Wazhma is studying for a masters in international development law and human rights at Warwick University, but she also writes a blog – – and has written for newspapers, including the Washington Post and The Guardian.

“Warwick University has a good image worldwide. I wanted to study this course because one day I would like to become a judge in Afghanistan’s Supreme court,” she said.

Growing up in Kabul, Wazhma was the oldest of five children, four girls and one boy.

She has vivid memories of the Soviet occupation, the bombing and the reign of the Taliban.

Under the 1996-2001 Taliban rule Afghan women were routinely beaten in public and even stoned to death for perceived breaches of Islamic law.

Wazhma and her sisters, like all other women, could not leave the house without a male relative or wearing a burka.

She said: “One of the scariest moments for me was going to the market with my dad. I was wearing a burka and could hardly see where I was going. I held on to what I thought was his coat but it turned out to be a Taliban leader.

“He turned and shouted at me asking what I was doing there alone. Terrified, I said I’d lost my dad: ‘Go and find your father!’ he shouted.”

When she was 10 Wazhma’s family fled. They ended up as refugees in Pakistan.

At the age of 12 Wazhma offered to tutor her landlady’s children in exchange for reduced rent, so she and her sisters would be able to continue school.

She said: “I started challenging values and because I was able to earn money that gave me status and they started listening to me. It was not easy at that time. But education is an empowering tool.”

Wazhma first became involved in human rights when she was 17. She used her internship at a leading Pakistani newspaper to expose poor living conditions and abuses of women’s rights in the Afghan refugee camps.

Wazhma has since organised public debates on domestic violence and marital rape in Afghanistan, both previously unmentionable topics in her country.

She persuaded mullahs to join her in a month-long campaign of speaking out against domestic violence, and, by mobilising a group of over 35 civil society organizations, convinced the government of Afghanistan to take action against child rape.

Even in her own family Wazhma has seen attitudes change towards women. Her father is now very supportive of her sister’s education. One sister is married and studying law, another is training to be a teacher while her 15-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister, are still in school.

Her parents are “happy and proud” of their daughter’s work, but understandably worried for her safety.

Last April an outspoken female Afghan human rights activist Sitara Achakzai was gunned down at point blank range by the Taliban.

Although she lives hundreds of miles away from Kabul in Coventry, Wazhma has received death threats.

She said: “Three months ago someone phoned my Dad in Kabul and said: ‘Your daughter thinks she’s safe in the UK, but this is not true’.

“It is hard. I see that they are trying to create fear in me so that I will stop – but I will not stop! If I am able to open doors for 10 other women in my country, then it is worth it.”

Wazhma believes International Women’s Day should be remembered as a struggle for justice across the world.

“In Afghanistan, International Women’s Day is known as Women’s Solidarity Day.

“We have a lot to celebrate. We have achieved a lot in the last nine years,” she said. “But education, health and jobs in the rural economy are still important issues – out of six million children only 40 per cent of girls are going to school.

“We recognise in different parts of in the world there are common situations. In the UK there is the pay difference between men and women, the glass ceiling.”

Cycle of abuse

WOMEN human rights defenders in Afghanistan have told Amnesty International they face intimidation and attacks as they attempt to tackle violence and discrimination in the country.

Women and girls in Afghanistan face widespread human rights abuses including abduction, rape and trafficking.

More than 87 per cent of Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse, according to the UN, and between 60 and 80 per cent of marriages are forced.

This is despite a pledge from the Afghan government to protect women’s rights and promote gender equality in Afghanistan.

AFGHAN wives are choose to burn themselves to death to escape a life of domestic torture and abuse.

Domestic violence and forced marriage are forcing women to commit self-immolation and suicide.

“I poured fuel over my body and set myself ablaze because I was regularly beaten up and insulted by my husband and in-laws,” Zarmina, 28, told a IRIN Afghanistan TV.

She along with a dozen other women with self-inflicted burns, were treated in Herat’s burns hospital.

More than 90 self-immolation cases have been registered at the hospital in the past 11 months; 55 women had died.

IN January 17-year-old Afghan girl Amina of the Chakhansoor District of Nimroz Province set herself on fire and died because of a forced engagement to a 55-year-old man.

Dur Mohammad, her father, had engaged his daughter to Faiz Mohammad and in exchange had engaged his 22-year old daughter to himself.

Dur Mohammad has a wife and five children and Faiz Mohammad has a wife and four children.

Amina had many suitors and some young men were even ready to pay as much as 750,000 Afghanis but Amina’s father wouldn’t agree.

Amina Hakimi, head of the Women’s Administration of Nimroz, condemned Amina’s engagement and said families shouldn’t force their daughters into engagement or marriage.

Ghulam Farooq Sherzad, an appeal court chief said that if it was proven that Amina committed suicide because of the forced engagement her father would be arrested and could be jailed for ten years.

OVER the past two years more than 1,900 cases of violence against women in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were recorded in a database run by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and UN Fund for Women.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oped: Daily Times, Pakistan March 6, 2010

VIEW: We do not learn from history —Wazhma Frogh

Women’s groups, Afghan civil society organisations and activists have regularly raised alarm because they are concerned that the cooption of the Taliban is likely to amount to a loss of the achievements made over the past nine years

Could we turn the clock back in Afghanistan and travel through time? If so, then the Bonn Agreement of 2001 would be the right time and place to present the Taliban reintegration plan introduced at the recent London conference on Afghanistan. This is because the war was almost over back in late 2001, and a large number of Taliban members were eager for a new life in a new Afghanistan. But the government’s failures since then have made the people who had given up violence rejoin militant groups, turning militancy into a full-fledged insurgency that is not being tackled by almost 100,000 of international troops and a similar number of Afghan Police and the Afghan National Army.

The London Conference on Afghanistan held on January 28 marked another page in the country’s history. It presented a reintegration plan for those Taliban who are ready to renounce violence and be brought back into the ‘political process’ as declared by President Karzai. The plan includes providing financial ‘incentives’ to those leaders and low-ranking fighters who have joined the militants for economic gains rather than ideological reasons. This ‘buy out’ plan is guised as a political settlement or deal. But the plan is likely to backfire and intensify the crisis.

Women’s groups, Afghan civil society organisations and activists have regularly raised alarm at the prospect of such plans because they are concerned that the cooption of the Taliban is likely to amount to a loss of the achievements made over the past nine years. The preservation of these achievements is important no matter how nominal they might appear to the rest of the world. This is because no peace can ever be brought without justice. But the Afghans lost their chance for justice when the Afghan parliament passed an amnesty law in the first year of its establishment, providing immunity from prosecution to all the parties involved in war crimes of the last 30 years. And right after nine years, another plan to give amnesty to militants and insurgents is on the table in the name of reintegration.

Justice is not only about prosecution but also a chance for the people to remember victims, condemn the injustices of the past and so create ways to prevent such conflicts in future. Therefore, this plan needs to assure us all that there are specific red lines to any negotiations and peace deals.

Civil society groups and activists who are critical of the reintegration plan are now being regarded as representing an anti-peace front. The accusation has no ground because such critics desire justice, which is at the core of any peace process. Their scepticism about the peace offer to the Taliban reflects the views of a majority of Afghans, even including some of the architects of this plan who themselves have doubts about the plan’s success. The plan’s most likely outcome is not peace but the militants’ takeover of the presidential palace in Kabul.

The price that Afghan women have been paying, and are still paying, for this conflict has never been addressed properly. The Afghan women are rightly feeling resentful of this plan, which rewards those who are causing trouble and ignores those who have suffered as a result of Taliban violence. An Afghan woman in a consultation process said recently, “We are not a threat to anyone, so why should they care about us? Do they want us women to hold arms and start a rebellion so as to be taken seriously?” Maybe, that is the reason we have women also joining militant groups.

I do not think anyone in Afghanistan, or among its international allies, opposes the principles of dialogue and reconciliation. We Afghans are tired of the ongoing violence, but the remedy is not what is being proposed. While we have failed to carry out the much simpler tasks of need-based service provision, why are we attempting the most difficult one? If the government and its allies believe that one of the reasons that the common people (men) join the militants is for economic gains, then why do they not strengthen the government’s responsiveness to people’s needs? For how much longer are we going to continue reintegrating militants into politics while the same politics make hundreds of young Afghans desperate and hence ready to join hands with militants? If we are to reward the ones that renounce violence, what will be the reward and incentive for the rest of the provinces in the country that did not join militants nor grew poppy in the past years? In simple words, we need a strong government that can provide jobs and economic opportunities for all Afghans, not only those who are affiliated with militants.

But let us assume that the plan makes sense and should be implemented. But are we, in practice, capable of implementing the plan? If the government’s own vehicles are hijacked by militants and used against the civilian population, as happened during January 1, 2010, Kabul bombing, how will the same government be able to attract the right beneficiaries for the peace package amidst the current atmosphere of uncertainty and violence?

Reconciliation and conflict resolution are the right solutions for the Afghan dilemma, but only when the common Afghan who sells potatoes on the street has a stake in this government and trusts it. Then no one would need to pay him to root out militants from his community, but he himself would fight for his nation, as the Afghans did in the past.

So the question is, how will the common Afghan start trusting the government? The answer is simple. We need a state capable of providing basic services in an accountable and transparent manner. A state whose cabinet members will be voted in by parliament because of their qualification and commitment, rather than the weight of the envelops filled with dollars left on the seats of MPs. A state that will not reintroduce its own previously sacked ministers just to fill the position and the rulers’ pockets.

Let us not forget that this reintegration plan will take place simultaneously with airstrikes and drone attacks. While the war is raging with the 39,000 troops surge, we want to reintegrate the ones we are fighting, while we do not know whom are we fighting in essence.

Today we have hundreds of families that fled Helmand after the Marjah operation and now live in desperate conditions in displaced persons’ camps in Kabul. They have no food and nothing to shelter them from the snow.

If, after nine years, we have realised that this war has another alternative, then why are mud-built homes still being bombed into ashes every day?

Wazhma Frogh is an Afghan civil society activist currently a postgraduate fellow at Warwick University, United Kingdom