Category: News

Afghanistan holds day of mourning after bomb kills at least 80

Found on TheGuardian, Associated Press in Kabul,

Afghans pray for victims of Saturday’s suicide attack.
Afghans pray for victims of Saturday’s suicide attack. Photograph: Massoud Hossaini/AP

Authorities said 231 people were wounded, some seriously, in the bombing on Saturday afternoon at a march by members of the ethnic Hazara community, who are predominantly Shia Muslim. Most Afghans are Sunni, and Isis regards Shias as apostates.

The attack was Kabul’s worst since a Taliban insurgency began 15 years ago, and the first by Isis, raising concerns about its reach and capability in Afghanistan.

Bereaved families collected their dead from hospitals and morgues, and the first funerals went ahead in the west of the capital. Many people chose to bury their dead together with others rather than in traditional family plots, encouraged by organisers of Saturday’s demonstration, who call themselves the Enlighten Movement.

In a hilltop graveyard in the Surkh Abad suburb of south-west Kabul, hundreds of people, most of them men, braved high winds and swirling dust to conduct the Shia funeral rites. Simple wooden coffins covered in the green Shia flag were carried by men on their shoulders and lowered into graves that relatives had dug themselves with shovels.

In Omaid-a-Sabz, the grieving chose to bury their dead side by side in long rows. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rasat said the Hazara people felt a deep sense of injustice and anger that the government had not kept its election promise to ensure development was equal for all Afghan ethnic groups. “Our people only want justice and equal development for all,” he said.

Afghan women mourn during the funeral of victims of the Kabul bombing.
Afghan women mourn during the funeral of victims of the Kabul bombing. Photograph: Massoud Hossaini/AP

Hazaras account for up to 15% of Afghanistan’s population, estimated at around 30 million, and say they face discrimination. During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, Hazaras were often brutally treated. The Taliban were quick to deny culpability for Saturday’s attack, however, issuing a statement before Isis claimed responsibility.

The attack has raised concerns about sectarianism, and the interior ministry announced a ban on public gatherings and demonstrations in an apparent attempt to avoid any inter-communal strife. A presidential spokesman said the ban on public gatherings did not apply to the funerals for Saturday’s victims.

Isis has had a presence in Afghanistan for the past year, mainly in the eastern province of Nangarhar, along the Pakistani border. The Afghan military, backed by US troops, is planning an offensive against Isis positions in Nangarhar in the coming days.

Prior to bomb attack, thousands of Hazaras had marched through Kabul on Saturday to demand the rerouting of a power line through the impoverished province of Bamiyan, in the central highlands. It was their second demonstration; the first was in May with a much better turnout and attended by senior Hazara politicians, who were absent from Saturday’s march.

The office of the president, Ashraf Ghani said march organisers had been warned to call off the demonstration after intelligence was received that an attack was likely.

Daud Naji, an Enlighten Movement leader, said on Sunday that they had been told only that there was a “heightened risk” of attack and had subsequently cancelled nine of 10 planned routes.

On Sunday Ghani attended a memorial prayer service in a mosque on the grounds of the presidential palace, his spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said.

The office of the United Nations assistance mission in Afghanistan issued a statement conveying its “deepest condolences and solidarity” and noting that people of all ethnicities across the country were queueing at hospitals to donate blood for the wounded.

Hazara demonstrators have continued to occupy Demazang Square, where the attack took place as the march was winding down and some prepared to set up a camp, Naji said. They would stay until three conditions were met, he said.

Candles are lit at a memorial for the victims of the 23 July blast in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Candles are lit at a memorial for the victims of the 23 July blast in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph: Jawad Jalali/EPA

The Enlighten Movement wished to have its own representatives, as well as others from international human rights organisations, involved in a commission Ghani has established to investigate the Isis attack.

The movement also wanted the power line rerouted through Bamiyan, as originally demanded. The multimillion-dollar regional project was routed away from Bamiyan by the previous Afghan government for financial considerations, according to people involved in the planning.

Thirdly, Naji said, they wanted the name of Demazang Square changed to Shahada (Martyrs) Square, “to honour the memories of those who were killed, along with a picture of everyone who died there”.

Ghani’s spokesman said the president has issued a decree to change the name of the square as the Hazaras had asked. He said Enlighten Movement members would be invited to participate in the investigation commission.

In response to the rerouting demand for the so-called Tutap power project, the spokesman referred to a contract signed on 21 June for the transmission of a 300-megawatt power line from the north into Bamiyan. Like the Tutap line, it is funded by the Asian Development Bank.

The death toll in Saturday’s attack was not yet finalised on Sunday, according to the interior ministry. The ministry said on Saturday that 80 people had been killed; Naji said the Enlighten Movement put the death toll so far at 84.

Laura Bush’s Case for Remaining in Afghanistan

Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic, June 28th, 2016. 

Fifteen years after President George W. Bush first sent American forces into Afghanistan, his wife considers the job unfinished. “I hope we won’t leave,” former First Lady Laura Bush said on Monday.

She cited the conversations she’s had with Afghan women, who worry about what follows the exit of U.S. forces. “They hope that our troops won’t leave too fast,” she said, “because if we leave there’s a vacuum. And they saw what happened in Iraq, where it just wasn’t successful for us to leave.” And she applauded the progress that Afghan women had made over the past decade and a half. “That’s one of the reasons I hope we won’t withdraw our troops—because we would have to start all over again,” she said.

It’s a war that President Obama inherited from his predecessor, and despite his pledge to “end the war in Afghanistan” by 2014, one that he’ll now pass along to his successor. Although there was overwhelming support for the invasion when it was launched, 42 percent of the public said they now considered it a mistake in a 2015 Gallup poll.

But Laura Bush remains as committed to the empowerment of Afghan women as she was when she first publicly took up the cause, in a November, 2001radio address. “I hope Americans will join our family in working to ensure that dignity and opportunity will be secured for all the women and children of Afghanistan,” she said then. In a nation that remains wracked by violence and torn by insurgencies, it’s proven an elusive goal.

Bush spoke on Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, to promote her new book, We Are Afghan Women. She traced her interest in Afghanistan all the way back to a 6th grade country report, when she chose it “because it just seemed like the most remote and exotic country I could pick.”

After the American invasion, championing the rights of Afghan women became one of her signature issues. “When American women started looking at our sisters in Afghanistan and imagining what their lives were like,” she said, they were moved to help. Bush co-founded the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, on which she still serves as an honorary co-chair alongside Hillary Clinton.

“The fact is that in countries like that where women’s rights are … marginalized,” she said, “These are countries where no one’s rights are protected.” She explained that American women had responded strongly to learning of “half of a country left out.” When that happens, she said, “what you see … is a failed country, and that’s what Afghanistan was.”

Of course, many would argue that this is what Afghanistan still is—a failed country, despite the expenditure more than $100 billion and the loss of more than three thousand American lives. For Laura Bush, though, the continuing struggles of Afghan women only underline the need to provide further aid. The message of her book, and of her remarks, is that America can’t abandon them now.

Afghanistan’s Theorist-In-Chief

George Packer, The New Yorker, June 26, 2016

“Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, wakes up before five every morning and reads for two or three hours. He makes his way daily through an inch-thick stack of official documents. He reads proposals by applicants competing for the job of mayor of Herat and chooses the winner. He reads presentations by forty-four city engineers for improvements to Greater Kabul. He has been known to write his own talking points and do his own research on upcoming visitors. Before meeting the Australian foreign minister, he read the Australian government’s white paper on foreign aid. He read four hundred pages of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report on the day of its release, and the next day he apologized to General John Campbell, the American commander in Afghanistan, for having not quite finished it. He reads books on the transition from socialism to capitalism in Eastern Europe, on the Central Asian enlightenment of a thousand years ago, on modern warfare, on the history of Afghanistan’s rivers. He lives and works in the Arg—a complex of palaces inside a nineteenth-century fortress in central Kabul—where books, marked up in pencil, lie open on desks and tables.”

Read more here.

Afghan Americans Denounce Orlando Shooting

By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 19th, 2016. 

“Afghan American groups across the United States this week strongly denounced the Orlando nightclub massacre, saying the attacker, the son of Afghan immigrants, did not represent their community or its beliefs. They also said that Afghan American views on homosexuality, which is seen as an abomination in their native culture, are becoming more tolerant, especially among members of the younger generation who have been raised in a Western democracy.

In a statement, 35 groups belonging to the District-based Alliance in Support of the Afghan People said they “unequivocally reject” the attack and the “dehumanization and hate” that caused it. Stressing the importance of both “our Afghan heritage and our American values,” they expressed “our support for the city of Orlando and the LGBTQ community” and asked that “our patriotism not be questioned on the basis of one man’s misguided actions.”

Omar Mateen, 29, a troubled former security guard, was killed while carrying out the June 12 shootings that left 49 people dead and wounded 53 in the gay dance club called Pulse. He was born and raised in the United States after his parents emigrated from Afghanistan. He expressed his allegiance to the extremist Islamic State during the attack and appeared to plan it carefully in advance, making several attempts to purchase weaponry and body armor and visiting the club.

In interviews Thursday and Friday, Afghan-American professionals and activists in California, New York and the Washington region said they were shocked and saddened by the shootings. Several said they felt a common bond with the victims because both groups are minorities in the United States. They also said that although homosexuality is still widely rejected and a taboo subject among older Afghan Americans, younger ones tend to be more accepting of it.

“It is not our job to judge how people should act or who they love. These people did not deserve to die that way,” said Mezhgan Aziz, an Afghan immigrant in Northern Virginia who helps administer a nonprofit, The Children of War, that operates schools for girls in Afghanistan. “I have a lot of friends who are gay, and I treat them the way I treat all friends,” she said.

Wali Kohgadai, 38, who runs a feeding program for the homeless in San Francisco, said it was wrong to blame all Muslims or Afghans for the act of someone he described as mentally ill. “I don’t need to apologize for what happened because I am Afghan and he happens to be Afghan,” Kohgadai said. “He doesn’t speak for me or the rest of normal Afghans.”

Like several others interviewed, Kohgadai said he has seen a gradual shift in his community’s views on homosexuality and Western gay lifestyles. When he immigrated in 1981, “there was a huge stigma if someone was gay. But slowly we are seeing a shift. We are not living in an Islamic country. We are living in a melting pot under U.S. laws,” he said. “Even the elders are becoming more tolerant.”

Afghan culture is traditional and tribal, with arranged marriages and deeply conservative values. Virtually all Afghans are Muslim, and converting to another religion is a capital crime. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have immigrated since the 1970s during a series of conflicts and repressive regimes at home. Most have clustered in ethnic communities based around mosques, but more and more are working and studying elsewhere, blending into American society.

“Our interwoven identities as Afghans and Americans are not paradoxical,” the letter from the Alliance said. “We are a community of many different faiths and faith systems. A society only willing to see individuals as black or white, Muslim or non-Muslim, LGBTQ or straight, ignores the vast range of experience” in between.

Zohal Hamidi, 32, a pharmacist in Fairfax and a member of the Afghan Medical Professionals Association of America, said she felt especially drawn to reaching out to the Orlando victims because “we are a minority in this country, too. We have been very supportive of the LGBT community, and many people from their community have supported Afghan American Muslims. We all have to help each other,” she said.

None of those interviewed said they had faced personal attacks or criticism since the shootings, and several said the incident had led to meaningful discussions with non-Muslim co-workers and acquaintances. Morwarid Hatef, who works in mental health services in the Afghan community within Fremont, Calif., said she had gotten a lot of “positive feedback” since the Orlando attack.

“I had co-workers who came up to me and said, ‘We apologize for the backlash against Muslims and Afghans,’ ” said Hatef, 33, who was born in California to immigrant parents. “I felt so fortunate.” ”

Click here to read more.

Afghan Woman Breaks New Ground in South Asian Games

By Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Feb 19, 2016
“Sumaya Ghulami was one of Afghanistan’s heroes of the recent South Asian Games. She’s the first Afghan woman to win a gold medal in Taekwondo at the competition. She says she is competing for her country, her family and for Afghan women.” 

Click here to read more.

Afghanistan is on the Brink

“Afghanistan must restore its tradition of pluralism. It is a culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse nation with a long history of tolerance. Afghanistan’s strong Sufi tradition emphasizes acceptance of other Islamic sects and religions. In fact, Afghanistan was home to a substantial Jewish population as well as Hindus and Sikhs for years before the civil war. Because of constant international intervention, Afghans have been coopted and mobilized to defend a political Islam that leaves little room for interpretation. But that is not who we are.” 

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Afghan Photo Exhibit Seeks to Redefine Peace

“It’s been said that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice. That spirit underpinned the Peace Campaign 2015 photo exhibition that ran from November 25 to 27 in the historical Bagh-e Babur Park in Kabul.”

Click here to read more.