Friday, April 30, 2010

Afghanistan and cricket

' I am proud to be Afghan' ..says Rayees Ahmadzai. He has not fought any anglo-afghan wars, nor has killed anyone to prove his nationalism. He is playing cricket for Afghanistan in the World Cup, T20.

I never liked cricket, because whatever I remember of cricket is the isolation of living as a refugee, 'mahajir' or at times 'gelam jam'. Contrary to Rayees Ahmadzai, India's and Pakistan's cricket craze used to remind me of the dripping disdain and misery that was brought to Afghanistan by its geography. And today, Afghanistan is playing against India for the first time.

Ahmadzai says he is proud of the unity in his team and their team are proving that Afghanistan is not about war. He talks about his experience of initial exposure to cricket after 1992 world cup that was won by Pakistan. He learned cricket by playing with kids in the muddy streets of Kachai Garai, a packed refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. The coach says, they dont even worry about rainy weather or a muddy pitch because they are used to play in hard times, not only cricket but life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The rest is history- lets celebrate the victory!!!

This morning I woke up to the national anthem being played on the national televison. As I listened to the national television of Afghanistan, saw special marches of soldiers and army officers and remembered that ' oh, today is 8th of Sawr', the day when Mujahidin, the freedom fighters entered Afghanistan after the last communist president gave up. I noticed that the preparations would have definitely cost us some millions of Afghanis to enable this glorious celebration.

I tried to be objective and asked what did national victory meant for the fighters against the communist government? But wait a minute, against the communist government? Did that government ascended from another planet and not the Afghans themselves? And what do you mean against the goverment? Hundreds of women , men and children lost their lives not only during the marathon for power in early 90s civil war, but even before that. We never asked where did those bombs and rockets go when they were fired into Kabul? Were those rockets that honest and loyal that it only hit a communist? Even if we agree that communists were not cynical terms.

But as they past is past, look at the present and make your future. But our future gets murkier and darker day by day. Who needs a democracy when the easiest way to reach to power is to stand in the elections? Who needs equal education when in one day 80 of our girls get poisoned and bid farewell to their schools? When most of the country is burning in the fire of war, we are running for parliamantary elections to bring in some more of the legacy of war crimes- the ones who might have missed the first elections or didnt dare to show their faces to the nation. But someone said, the collective memory of nations are very short so they wont remember how many rockets were fired, how many kids were killed, how many women were raped?

To gain victory you have sacrifice and we sacrificed the lives of at least 100,000 Afghans. What matters is that our jihad succeeded to topple down the communist regime. The rest is history. So lets celebrate the victory!!!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shadows of hypocrisy

These days, the media seems striving to create symmetry in its outlook. While numerous instances of children's sexual abuse by the church bishops anger everyone, a darker side of Muslim societies are questioning the vanity of closed societies.Yesterday, the BBC's report on 'restoration of virginity in Arab communities' outstripped the pathetic plight of young boys exploited as sex-slaves in the 'bacha' industry in Afghanistan reported by PBS and almost every other news agency. Although, we can not base the whole judgement on two ad hoc reports, we can not deny the struggles towards disclosing the hidden realities of closed societies, especially the 'traditional Muslim societies', I cant dare to define these.

I noticed alot of Afghans being angry on the PBS documentary and many justified that such traditions exist in every human society and there is nothing new about it. Similarly, some Arab young men (through facebook) justified the importance of virginity for their new brides and blamed the Western media for deliberate attacks on 'muslim traditions'. I remembered that many of us Afghans were furious on the stories fabricated around virginity of Afghan women in the oasis of Kabul Beauty Saloon, a couple of year ago. The book ranked in top 10 of New York Times best seller and earned 'six-figure' deal from Columbia pictures.

I understand that these reports and their scope of focus are entirely different to each other- there is no monolithic 'muslim society' similarly as there is no homogenous 'open societies'. But there is a much larger issue than any impositions to claim sanity in such circumstances.

These realities also portray the pretence and hypocrisy embedded in many human societies but strongly held in most of the muslim communities. No society is ever entirely religious or entirely traditional. There is often a mixture of both and most of the time traditions juxtapose religion, or the real teachings of religion. Alot of people disagree with me that the existence of these issues such as the value of virginity and sex-slaving boys have nothing to do with the societies being muslims but I believe the religious claims of society prohibits any convictions to raise these issues publicly and at least create local understandings of their existence. So that when we see them through the lens of the 'independent' media, we dont get defiant. In urban Afghanistan, we are not able to discuss or question the issues publicly and if we do, the first person that will condemn and issue a stoning fatwa against us would the the local mullahs, among whom, some are involved in sexual abuse of boys and children.

I dont want to get into the debate on the nature of issues such as life-death value of virginity, or using boys as sex-slaves by men- but want to question the hypocrisy and pretending that such do not exist in our societies. Anyone from within the society that tried to raise the issues were suppressed and silenced. Some unconventional writers within the south asian region of India-Pakistan had written about the hidden realities rigidly religious and traditional societies including Ismat Chughtai who was indicted three times by the British-Indian court in the charge of obscenity for her popular short story called 'Lihaaf', the Quilt, in 1944. Similarly, a young journalist was sentenced to be hanged by the Kabul Supreme Court in 2008 for the charges of Blasephomy and was accused of questioning religion on the treatment of women. No one till date has seen what exactly he had written. Anyways, in societies with a dominant illitracy, we cant expect change through writing.

Back to the story of hypocrisy. A simple dictionary definition for hypocrisy is 'a practice of claiming moral values and standards to which one's own behavior does not conform'. A pretence that creates standards based on some abstract fantasy called moral values driven by religion, culture, upbringing, schooling, society, media, subjectivity and many other abstract thoughts. But the same standards are not seen in the person's life behind the curtains.

We dont take hypocrisy much serious but we forget that its like a pest that has infected our lives to a level that we dont understand what it means anymore. Although many would blame me for being naive and generalizing a complex situation, I think we first need to take the principles right and then cope with the structures. If principles that have shrouded our lives with vanity and tyrany are no longer applicable, then lets accept that and move ahead, but if even today we are committed with our principles, then lets face hypocrisy that flourishes rights inside us before it reaches the neighbor.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

UK Leaders Debate on Afghanistan (Published in Guardian)

Ironically, when the UK stood by the United States in the ‘War on Terror’ in 2001, they didn’t try to influence or solicit the public opinion on why they went to Afghanistan, but today when leaders are competing for a general elections, Afghanistan becomes a top foreign affairs priority.

Sound political leadership is about shaping public opinion. When a crowd of anti-war protests were asking for the UK troops to get out of Afghanistan, the leaders weren’t convincing enough about their strategies in Afghanistan. While all the three leaders accepted failures in strategies in Afghanistan, none of them illustrated any changes or anything new to recuperate the sinking mission in Afghanistan.

As an Afghan I believe the leaders too are already convinced by the popular views that come from the United States, rather than coming up with their own perspectives in relation to Afghanistan war. I also think the three leaders are too obsessed with the southern region of Afghanistan and base their whole analysis to Helmand rather than understanding the overall challenges of Afghanistan. David Cameron tried to impress audience by his mythical general knowledge that most of the Taliban insurgency is based in the South, which is a Pashtun dominated region and then the National Army are dominantly Tajiks. However, we Afghans believe that the problem of continued militancy is the lack of a cohesive strategy of the UK and other international allies that have built a parallel government in Afghanistan. The success of this war does not depend on helicopters as claimed by Cameron, but depends on the coordination and partnership of UK with the Afghan government, none of the leaders talked about the importance of governance and working along with the Afghan government.

I also found contradictory remarks in the debate by the political leaders. While Nick Clegg claimed for a value based politics and complained about human rights violations and torture by the UK troops, at the same time he said that UK is in Afghanistan just to keep itself safe from the terrorists, rather than ‘parachut democracy’ in Afghanistan. How can we Afghans then believe that the troops and international assistance comply with their political values rather than a mere national interest realism.

While UK is the second largest donor of the international aid in Afghanistan, the leaders seemed unaware about the importance of aid effectiveness. As none of them raised the issue, we Afghans believe that the international aid has not been effective enough to help Afghan government and Afghanistan to stand on its own, and haven’t seen strong accountability mechanisms in the aid.

While Gordon Brown tried to link up the resurgence of the Taliban with the border infiltration but leaders do not seem to understand that the Alqaida threats are flourishing in Pakistan beyond its Frontier provinces, given the arrests of the Taliban leaders in Karachi. They need to realize that Taliban insurgency is being supported by the Pakistani intelligence, considering that Pakistan itself is a nuclear power and the more insurgency strengthens in the region, chances are that nuclear bombs will fell into the hands of the Alqaida.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Feature : Different faces of prostitution in Afghanistan

Prostitution is not an easily accepted reality in our society. Most of the time, we are in denial that in Muslim societies women do not sell their bodies for money, even if they do, no one will buy. It is actually the opposite, even if a woman does not want, the societal miseries make her do anything for survival and livelihood of the family. While Prostitution in many other parts of the world could be understand as a woman's sexual desire and of her immoral character; the truth behind it is hardly explored.

In my work on women's issues in Afghanistan, I came across many women who have at least once sold their bodies to earn a living either forced by a family member or in secret. However, I chose to write about these three women I met three years ago in an old city of Kabul. These three different women have at least one thing in common, that even in a closed traditional and religious society, they were made to be prostitutes, either in public or in secret.

A couple of years ago, I was on a monitoring visit to a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and during the distribution of medical kits for the rehabilitated patients, noticed three women getting the medicine who didnt seem as patients. They were quiet well-dressed and the red lipstick was shining on the faces. When asked about their addiction, I found out that these three are not addict, they come to take the medicines because it can help them overcome the mental trauma they are going through....and someone whispered to me"these three are prostitutes"..... I tried to probe into their life stories and after almost two weeks of talking to them, here is a short summary of their stories :

Rahima, the eldest of the three women was 38 years old and mother of 4 daughters and a son. She returned from Iran in 2004 and has been living in her in laws house. The house was big, scary and ruined during the civil war. Her husband was an iron smith but when they were in Iran, he became a drug addict and could no more provide any living for the family. Rahima remembers the first time that she knew her body could earn her a living was the offer of her husband's friend, when he came as a guest to their home. That was when Rahima had two of her daughters in the hospital because awild dog had bit them. She said that the clinic asked her to buy two vaccines worth of 6,000 Afghanis to save her daughters and when she sought assistance from her husband's old friend, he offered her 5000 Afghanis for one night and a promise to find more clients as she earns more experience in this field. Rahima had no other options and accepted and she said, he was the only man she knew who was so loyal to fulfil his promise.

Negine, was the tallest and the most beautiful of the three women. She was around 35 years old and had been living with her father. Initially, I couldnt believe that it was her father who made her a home-based earning prostitute. She said, he died in a fortunate suicide attack last year in Kabul but she continued paying attributes to his legacy. Negine's father was a cook in a Police Teaching Academy in one of the central provinces and whenever he came home, he used to bring a high ranking police official to their home and she was made to stay with that prestigious guest and entertain him. In his lifetime, Negine could never get out of the house and it was the father who bought her beautiful clothes and make up and encouraged her to look attractive to his superiors. Negine said that her father's sudden death left a big shop that was built on her money and she could live a better life with that income,but after so many years of entertaining the high ranking police chiefs, she is kind of used to this way of life. She said, she likes when a high rank officer obeys her orders.

Shahperai, the youngest of the three was around 15 years of age. She said, she found herself on the streets since she remembers. Shahperai was a very outgoing, and loud young girl. She used to make fun of everything and it seemed that she had nothing to regret in her life. Shahperai recalled her first experience of using her body to earn money in the busy streets of the expat bazaar, Chicken street of Share Naw, Kabul. She said some three years ago, while cleaning a car in a car park, two men came closer to her and said " we will pay you - if you show us...." and since then she has been earning through displaying and selling her body.

These were the three women with a summary of their stories. I am sure there are many other untold similar experiences fearing the hypocratic society. We need to accept these realities and be able to confront these injustices inflicted on women.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Winning Heads and Bodies!!!!

These days I have embraced all gamuts of insomnia. There is so much we hear and read about Afghanistan in the media, above all what we go through in Afghanistan.While we happen to be a piece of news for the rest of the world, for us its the epic tale of our realities, that doesnt seem changing.

Last night as I was reading the last pages of Ghost War, a genealogy of planted terror in the Afghan lands guised in cold war rhetoric, received an email from an angry friend with the link of the CNN video about the massacre of 5 family members in Khataba of Gardez. I might be accused of naiveness for using the word massacre on the killing of 5 people, but I am not a prisoner of political correctness, for me every loss of a human life, and that with such a blind deliberation is a massacre. You can decide for yourself.

The email said "Shame on us witnessing this and still being able to sleep..." That sentence irritated me. I havent slept well for many years now, especially not these days, the legacy of news addiction. With a sense of reluctance, I clicked on the link and in a blink of an eye, heard an old woman weeping and saying something in a language that was too familiar. I shivered. That was the voice of a mother who lost her two pregnant daughters in a blind night raid. The video showed the plight of the family members of the five people who were brutally killed in a night raid by the international troops, who upon the shooting, removed the bullets from the bodies , and washed the wounds with alcohol. I couldnt stop the tears flowing on my face as saw those images of dragged bodies that was filmed in a mobile by another member of the family. The media calls it as graphic, a real life horror graphic.

Can you imagine your friends and protectors being this heartless? In 2001, we were made to think that the marines are on a feminist mission but kills women like this?

Doesnt such a cruelty mirror the claims of 'winning hearts and minds' ? and for a moment, I lost the sense of anything such as winning, hearts, minds, heads or bodies. The video concluded that the Nato spokesperson accepted the cover up of the incident by its forces and sought an apology from the family. I imagined what would have been the wordings of an apology - Sorry, we mistakenly raided your house in the dark, shot at first sight as we saw your sons in the yard and then when the women came out shouting , we fired on them as well. Because it was an emergency situation , we didnt allow any other member of the family or the neighbors to touch the wounded. Some might have survived if they were rushed to a hospital. Then our troops got worried that they had targeted the wrong place, so they removed their bullets from the bodies and washed the wounds. They shouldnt have been worried because even if made-in china American bullets were found in bodies, who would know? We covered up the incident. And by the way, our troops carried out the raid based on credible intelligence that there were militants in your house.
And then the voices go silent and the story is over. After all , what do we know of justice- we have always been at war.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Will you go with me.....

Today a very courageous Afghan girl dared to talk about the increased prostitution among the women of Afghanistan...while discussing the article, many boys raised their concerns on the validity of the article and that such claims can not hold grounds and etc. While reading their denial of the issue...I remembered a recent experience I had and shared with them.

I was head of an organization that was working with Family Court, and whenever I went to the Family Court, used to go in the office car which had a special permission and took me to the door steps of the Judge's office. The Family Court is located inside the building of the Provincial Office, a big Police department, the National Identification department, many Courts and a temporary detaining facility for prisoners as well. So its a crowded place with various kinds of people. Someone there to visit a jailed son, someone to get the passport, someone brought his daughters to get identification for school , some women are there to file their cases in the Family Court, and countless number of soldiers and Police officers.

Whenever I went to this building, noticed women and girls so worried, trying to cover their faces, trying to correct their clothes and seemed very scared. A bet further scene would be soldiers passing comments on women like '' hey ...will you go with me...oh I love your butt....look at her breasts...'' and things like this....going alittle towards the Family Court, you could see soldiers and police officers standing there, staring at women and girls and touching them wherever possible, while crossing by the crowd of women.

Impressed of watching these scenes from the car, one day I decided to go without the car so walked to the building and as I entered , I started getting comments on various parts of my body. I kept quiet and kept walking ahead. As I reached near the Family Court, I stood there. It was an afternoon around 2 pm and a quiet and sunny day. In a matter of seconds a very young soldier came and stood next to me, very closely. He didnt even look at me but quietly said " If you go with me...I can help with your it in the Family Court...maybe you want divorce from your husband..." I said "Yes....lets sit in that corner and talk about it"...he said " Oh, you seem very experienced.." I said " very much" and we sat on a bench in the corner and I asked him " How old are you?" He said..."17" and I said I am 30....he suddenly said "no problem". I said " you know why i stood there....because I thought that not you as a man, but your uniform as a police officer is trust worthy and will protect imagine ....I am your elder sister and would you still behave in this way?"....He shouted on me and said " Shame on sister will never come to the Family Court like this....the reason you women come here is because you want to.....". I said " Ok ...if not now ...but imagine if you die in suicide attack and your father is a drug addict, or a jobless man ...then your mother and sister will not only come here but will have to go many other places in order to survive"...amidst of this discussion...the head of the Police department that knew me came rushing and said " oh madam...why are you sitting here...and behaved so much with respect and while talking to him...the young boy disappeared.... After that day whenever I went to Family Court, I used to get off the car and say hello to this young soldier whose duty was at the gate of the building. His name was Jawad....and he was such a respecting boy. While I was coming to UK....I said good bye to him and he said " I learned a lesson of life from you...and our prophet says if you learn one word from someone the person is your guardian ...since I met you...I decided that till I am alive, I will be the guard of Afghan women wherever possible...even at the cost of my life".