Lauryn Oates, Human Rights Activist and Development Worker
Foreign policy towards Afghanistan has never been known for its farsightedness. From the Soviet Union's decision to invade the country in 1979 or America's response in covertly arming the Islamist mujahedin, to Pakistan's assistance incubating the Taliban, the policies of stakeholder countries towards Afghanistan have often been characterized by negligence, and the consequences have been dire for Afghanistan and these same countries.
The past decade of the international community's efforts to bring security and development to Afghanistan has also had its share of shortsightedness. But where there has been dogged, long-term investment that accounts for lessons learned and that aims to build systems from the ground up, recognizing that this takes time, there have been successes. These successes are such that the country has propelled forward despite an ongoing insurgency, a government mired in corruption, and much uncertainty over future security arrangements beyond this year.
The change can be seen in skyrocketing human development indicators, the visibility of women in public life, the thriving media sector, and Afghans' ambitious pursuit of education, from the spike in primary enrolment to the rapid spread of post-secondary institutions throughout the country. And despite a highly centralized government still liable to patronage under an increasingly unstable leader, there are still understated processes of democratization underway. One such process is the professionalization and strengthening of Afghan-led security.
Professionalizing the security sector is not only about security, but is also critical to democratic development. The Afghan police and army, together known as the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), represent government at the ground level, where the state interfaces with citizens.
These institutions serve as a kind of barometer for public confidence in government. That's why it's a hopeful sign that 88% of Afghans report having confidence in the Afghan National Army (ANA) while 91% say that the ANA is helping to improve security in the country, according to the 2013 Survey of the Afghan People. These confidence levels have remained consistent since 2007, and are assessed to be because the presence of the ANSF "has brought at least some sense of law and order to the country."
That has been no small feat. These institutions have been largely built from scratch, with little to draw from the pre-2002 Taliban Government's style of security, which consisted of ragtag bands of illiterate religious police, menacingly dangling off the backs of pick-up trucks, on the prowl for those committing "moral crimes." With no uniforms aside from their black turbans and kohl-smudged eyes, yielding whips and Kalashnikovs, they gave the local population every reason to fear them, and little sense of being served or protected by professionals enforcing the law.
Besides attempting to change the very purpose and spirit of the police force and army in the aftermath of the Taliban, the current effort has required a heavy infusion of equipping, supplying, and training a force now numbering some 350,000 Afghans, including a growing number of women police and soldiers.
Canada has been part of the team of 37 nations undertaking NATO's training mission of the ANSF, providing 950 Canadian trainers and support personnel who have delivered training in core skills for the forces, as well as leadership and other areas, in Kabul and at satellite sites in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.
In 2011, literacy became part of the required training for Afghan forces, and the successes in this area have been among the most remarkable. Consider that prior to the start of the training mission only 13,000 ANSF had even the most rudimentary literacy, while nearly all ANSF have now either completed literacy training or are currently enrolled (according to ISAF, as at January 2014, 233,643 have completed Level 1, 98,648 completed Level 2, and 76,834 completed Level 3, the level for functional literacy).
In 2012, the Darulaman Literacy Centre opened at the Regional Military Training Centre in Kabul. The literacy component of training is crucial because literate police and soldiers take themselves seriously: they think of themselves as educated professionals, serving their people, as opposed to preying on them. Further, literacy is the steppingstone to learning trades like signals or artillery, allowing the further professionalizing of the ANSF.
All of this is akin to a transformation of some consequence in terms of state building. Yet to be durable, this work must continue, for at least another two years, according to NATO. But at the end of March, Canadian military personnel will leave Afghanistan. That is too soon. As the second largest contributing nation to the training mission after the US, Canada's contributions to this capacity development are too valuable to withdraw this close to the finish line. Canada should renew its training mission for another term, and continue contributing to the Afghan mission in an area in which it clearly excels.
NATO civilian leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called the "zero option", of having no international forces left in Afghanistan simply "not an option", stressing the need for continued capacity and training support in particular, to get the ANSF to a point where it can reliably and independently provide security for the citizens of Afghanistan.
I recently asked Canadian Major-General Dean Milner, Commander of the NATO training mission, how far the Afghan security forces have come in their development, and how far they have left to go. "They are well past the half-way point" Milner told me, "with just a few more years of financial and practical assistance from the international community they should be capable of sustaining themselves. They defeat the Taliban in every tactical engagement, but now they need assistance with more complex skills such as building their Air Force and their logistical and maintenance systems."
With President Karzai delaying the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) there is fevered speculation that NATO troops will leave the country by 2015 and Afghanistan will once again return to chaos. When asked for his view, Major-General Milner was optimistic the BSA would be signed. "The Loya Jirga overwhelmingly supported the immediate signing and every serious contender in the presidential election has committed to signing the BSA if elected," said Milner. "It would be unfortunate if the support of the international community were to come to an end after the Afghans have progressed so far." Milner likened it to a swimmer making it 60% of the way across the channel when he gets tired and turns back.
It's often said that Canada has expended blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Some say this to argue that we've given enough to a troubled country on the other side of the world that we had little to do with prior to 2003. But many who know Afghanistan well, and who, like me, have seen how close we are to reaching some enduring stability there, would say this is exactly why we have to see this through. Cutting short the goal of building a professional armed forces after years of investment, when valuable gains need to be protected, when the state's institutions are within sight of being fully functional, and when the Taliban arerunning out of money to continue their insurgency would continue the pattern of shortsightedness that has too long afflicted the international community's efforts in Afghanistan. Canada should stay, and continue to add value to the effort of training and educating Afghan soldiers and police. We have given too much and come too far to walk out this close to the finish line, and with so much progress at stake.
February 25, 2014
Taliban militants abducted the leader of Labors Union in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province and abandoned his beheaded body behind the gate of his house in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, 555 km south of the national capital Kabul on Monday, a spokesman for the entity Basir Nuri said Tuesday.
"The armed Taliban insurgents abducted Khudai Noor, the chief of Labors Union, from his home in Lashkar Gah on Sunday and abandoned his beheaded body behind the door of his house a day later on Monday,"Nuri told Xinhua.
The late Khudai Nur had struggled for more than a decade to ensure the rights of working class in the conflict-ridden Afghanistan, he said.
To condemn the incident, the Labors Union of Afghanistan is going to stage a demonstration in the country's capital city Kabul on Wednesday, Nuri added.
Taliban militants fighting the government have yet to make comment.
Media coverage of Afghanistan over the past decade is notoriously prone to selective coverage of the negative -- the latest bomb blast or kidnapping -- while doing a dismal job of telling the story of the transformative progress that has occurred, and what exactly is at stake should security deteriorate this year upon the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Then there are the armchair pundits, who further help colour public opinion in the NATO countries towards unjustified pessimism. Last Saturday The Globe & Mail ran an opinion article by Doug Saunders called "Was our Afghan saga useless -- or worse?" in which he suggests that Afghanistan may be worse off now than it was before international intervention (while simultaneously contradicting himself by noting that there are gains, though they may not last).
Sean Maloney is the sharp-witted and ebullient generation X history professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston who also serves as the historical adviser to the Canadian Army for the war in Afghanistan. Maloney is known for critiques of Canada’s military policies that can be as acerbic and bracing as his assessments of the Canadian Forces’ loudest detractors.
Lately, Maloney has been asking some especially disturbing questions about the Canadian news media’s mistakes, its “memes,” and its occasional outright malpractice. Maloney’s main riddle: What is it that has so incapacitated Canada’s opinion-makers in the task of comprehending and articulating and debating the effectiveness of Canada’s various engagements in Afghanistan over the past dozen years?
Carla Babb January 30, 2014
A study obtained by VOA shows that Afghan citizens overwhelmingly oppose Taliban rule and believe their living conditions have improved over the last 10 years.
The study, conducted by the Kabul-based ATR (Assess, Transform and Reach) consulting firm, surveyed more than 4,200 Afghans from 11 provinces.
Taliban rule rejected
ATR Consulting says only 13 percent of Afghan men and less than 2 percent of Afghan women surveyed are willing to have the Taliban govern them.
The study reveals a geographic divide among Afghan men. Only 3 percent of those surveyed in northern provinces say they want to see the Taliban rule, but 27 percent of men in the country's south favor that option.
Alam Payind, the director of the Middle East Studies Center at the Ohio State University, tells VOA this difference is expected because the northern alliances have strongly opposed the Taliban for years.
"But in the southern areas, where mostly the Taliban came from," Payind says, "they want some sort of negotiations because they have learned that without including Taliban in future negotiations, there will be no peace in Afghanistan."
While this desire for a peace agreement with the Taliban is widespread in Afghanistan, almost half of Afghans do not think the Taliban would respect a peace deal if one is ever reached with the government.
The ATR consulting report shows the most common answer to why Afghans believe the Taliban is fighting in their country is that Taliban insurgents are serving as proxies for other countries. One in four think the Taliban is fighting against foreign occupation.
Living conditions, government trust up
Overall, the results show Afghans believe their living conditions have improved in the last 10 years. Men in southern provinces are the exception; only about one-third say conditions have improved, with another third saying conditions are the same and the rest believing conditions have worsened.
A vast majority of the citizens surveyed (80 percent) believe the government is in control, but as many as 62 percent of rural respondents from southern provinces believe territorial control is shared with Taliban forces.
The survey also reveals that nearly three-fourths of Afghans trust the Afghan National Army, with about two-thirds of citizens trusting the Afghan National Police. Women are by far more trusting of security forces, with 82 percent trusting the ANA and 74 percent trusting the ANP.
When asked about the role of the international community in Afghanistan, survey participants ranked financial assistance and support for the Afghan National Security Force as top priorities. More than one-third of men in southern provinces rejected any future involvement of the international community.
Payind questioned how secure the country can be once almost all of the International Security Assistance Force has withdrawn at the end of this year.
"If the 150,000 foreign troops and the Afghan troops could not bring stability and peace to Afghanistan, how can only about 6,000 or 7,000 or 8,000 residual forces really do the task?" Payind says. "So unless there is a political solution to the problem, I don't think that there is a military solution."
With a new round of presidential elections this April, there is also a geographic divide on the international community's role in the Afghan polling process. Only six percent of the country's south prioritized international help, compared to 41 percent in the north.
Roshan Noorzai from VOA's Afghan Service contributed to this report.
Volunteer turns outrage into concrete action to help her peers in Afghanistan
Licia Corbella, Calgary Herald April 25, 2013
“This,” says Janice Eisenhauer, sweeping her hand around her tiny office in her southwest Calgary home, “is the national head office of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.”
The executive director of the grassroots, not-for-profit organization laughs heartily as she takes a couple of steps into the 30-square-foot room, which quickly brings her to the far wall of the office. The irony is as big as the room is small. From this compact space, Eisenhauer has helped open a world of promise to women and girls living in Afghanistan and she has done it without accepting one cent of pay for her 15 years of full-time work.
It all started in 1997 when Eisenhauer was earning her degree in development studies at the University of Calgary. She read an article in the now defunct Homemakers magazine by editor-in-chief Sally Armstrong, who was one of the first journalists to expose the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan living under Taliban rule.
“I can still recite almost word for word the first paragraph of that article,” says Eisenhauer, from her sunny dining room in Calgary’s Knob Hill community.
And Eisenhauer comes very close to getting the following spot on: “It’s hot in here. Shrouded in this body bag, I feel claustrophobic. It’s smelly, too. The cloth in front of my mouth is damp from my breathing. Dust from the filthy street swirls up under the billowing burka and sticks to the moisture from my covered mouth. I feel like I’m suffocating in the stale air.”
Those words that start the article quote a then-28-year-old psychiatrist named Fatana, who fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan to escape the Taliban’s medieval government.
Armstrong’s article revealed that the Taliban — which means Islamic scholar — “catapulted” the lives of women and girls “back to the dark ages” when they seized power on Sept. 27, 1996.
Overnight, women could no longer work, they had to be completely covered from head to toe in a burka, could not be in the company of men who were not relatives, and were not allowed outside alone without a male relative. Windows were blacked out to prevent women from being seen from the street; radio and television were forbidden, along with music, singing, dancing and clapping. Photographs were considered un-Islamic and were forbidden. Every Afghan woman was a prisoner. They could be beaten if they made too much noise when they walked and would be stoned in the public square if they were found in the company of an unrelated man.
Reading about what the Taliban was doing to women and girls — and how little the international community was doing — outraged Eisenhauer.
Along with her friend, Carolyn Reicher, Eisenhauer co-founded Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan).
“It was so enraging and it continues to be enraging,” says the 61-year-old mother of a son who is in university.
“But the way that we manage that rage and the empathy that we have for women worldwide is to be active, to take action, to do something,” adds Eisenhauer, who was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal last year in recognition of her 15 years of volunteer work.
“And I am so thankful to have had Women for Women as the way that I — along with so many other tremendous people — could do something to cope with that rage and turn it into something positive and to ensure that our programs are relevant and helpful.”
Since its inception in 1997, Women for Women has raised more than $4.8 million and has trained more than 4,000 teachers, who in turn have helped bring literacy to about 400,000 men, women and children. The organization, which has 14 chapters across Canada, has also opened community libraries in cities and remote villages, and helps street kids and orphans obtain an education and get one warm meal daily, as well.
Much of the money is raised by women across the country, holding Breaking Bread dinners to raise awareness and fund the $750 salary of an Afghan teacher for six months. These dinners usually involve a host inviting nine other women to a potluck dinner, with each person donating $75 while learning more about the plight of women and girls in that landlocked country.
Tonight, however, the country’s largest Breaking Bread dinner is taking place at the Thorncliffe Community Centre. Six hundred people will attend the 10th annual fundraiser that was started by Irene MacDonald — a retired Calgary schoolteacher — in 2004 in her home, and growing exponentially since.
This year, Armstrong — the woman whose article was the seed that sprouted the passion — is speaking at the sold-out event.
Last year, CBC journalist Mellissa Fung, who was kidnapped at knifepoint and held hostage for 28 days in Afghanistan in 2008, enthralled the crowd.
Armstrong, a journalist, author, member of the Order of Canada and human rights activist, is grateful for Eisenhauer and the mighty little organization she has built.
“Janice has put in hours and hours and hours over 15 years to benefit the well-being of others,” says Armstrong.
“She is really a daughter of Alberta and she doesn’t get recognized enough for it. You know, around the world, people talk about Janice Eisenhauer and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. So here’s a woman from Calgary who heard about a situation in Afghanistan and decided that she just couldn’t look the other way, she had to do something about it. So she set out with her friend to start a program, and look what they’ve accomplished.”
Armstrong, who has visited Afghanistan numerous times, remembers hearing Eisenhauer’s name being mentioned by schoolgirls in a remote community of the mountainous country.
“About six months after the Taliban was toppled (in 2002), I visited a Canadian-Women-for-Women-in-Afghanistan-funded school in the central highlands of Afghanistan in a place called Jaghori. The school was in the middle of nowhere — kids walked miles over the mountains and down the valleys in their black school dresses and white head scarves, leaving home at dawn to make it to school on time,” says Armstrong, whose latest book is called Ascent of Women.
“From a distance they looked like penguins dotting the Earth. When the students were told why I was there, I was astonished by how much they knew about the people who opened their school. Words like ‘Canada’ and a hugely mangled version of ‘Janice Eisenhauer’ sprinkled through the comments they were making in Dari. When I asked them what they wanted from school, an 11-year-old said, ‘I want to be an astronaut,’ and a little six-year-old said, ‘I want to be president of Afghanistan.’ I thought their dreams could come true because of a collection of women half a world away in Canada.”
And drawing from the theme of her latest book, Armstrong says she plans to speak about women like Eisenhauer. “Janice is a torchbearer for the world, because she learned of an injustice and decided not to look the other way,” says Armstrong.
Torchbearer is a perfect word to describe the work that Eisenhauer does.
“Women in Afghanistan refer to their lives when they were illiterate as ‘being blind,’” explains Eisenhauer.
An illiterate woman who learned to read, count to 10, and sign her name said she no longer is shortchanged by merchants and she can now read the signs on businesses.
The only paid Canadian staff member in the organization is projects director Lauryn Oates, who started the Vancouver chapter of CW4WAfghan when she was just 14, back in 1998.
“Since I first became involved in development work in Afghanistan,” says Oates, who in less than a week is heading back to Afghanistan for the 37th time, “I have met a plethora of humanitarians, activists, project leaders and others working in some capacity in the development sector, many of them heroic, courageous and innovative individuals. I have travelled throughout the world, met heads of state, Nobel laureates and celebrated change-makers. But to date, I have never met anyone like Janice. Soft-spoken, humble and kind, she is also more defiantly relentless than anyone I know in pursuit of her commitment to the idea that every female deserves a chance at an education, and at dignity.”
Eisenhauer’s humility is evident. Try to talk about her and she changes the topic to talk about someone else — Sally Armstrong, Lauryn Oates, Irene MacDonald and many others. She’s a lot like her tiny office — compact, unassuming and world changing.
Sami Sadat Member, Afghanistan Analysis And Awareness; former advisor to Afghanistan’s minister of interior
I am writing this in the hope of providing an Afghan perspective on the challenges and achievements of the last decade as the war in Afghanistan is nearing an end. I am tired of hearing about different doomsday scenarios boasted by Afghan as well as international news organizations in the last year or so.
Let me give you a brief summary of my experience, as an Afghan living, working and fighting for justice and democracy in my homeland. There was no doubt that the Sept. 11 attacks were planned by extremists who were given sanctuary by the former Taliban regime and supported by Afghanistan's neighboring countries. But based on my own experience, I believe the Taliban regime would have collapsed whether the U.S. had intervened or not. The U.S.-led intervention only sped up the demise of the militant regime. This was evident in the fact that most Afghans did welcome U.S.-led coalition forces back in 2001 as liberators, something unprecedented in the history of the country. More than a decade ago, my countrymen and women cheered as the last fighters of the Taliban regime -- with their Pakistani and other extremist allies -- were driven out of Afghan cities one by one.
I remember the day very vividly because the arrival of international forces more than a decade ago coincided with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. I saw Afghan families in Kabul providing food to coalition forces as they passed through the ruins of what was left of the Afghan capital.
Now eleven years later, I am afraid to say that the same feelings and emotions are no longer felt by many Afghans. But the fact remains that despite the many challenges, incredible progress has been made throughout a very short period of time. But the overall objective of U.S. intervention and Afghans' aspirations to live in a free and prosperous country has only been partially realized. No doubt that al-Qaida is weak but still deadly and dangerous. Many extremists groups were pushed out of the country but there are still many new ones who have risen in the last ten years. They still remain active and deadly partly because of the support they receive from certain neighboring countries and also because of their safe havens in Pakistan.
But on the positive side of things, great improvements have been made in the areas of education, health care and governance, to include distinction as the first nation in the region to adopt a democratic constitution.
Another area of progress has been the increasing strength and confidence of Afghanistan's National Security Forces (ANSF). Having grown sufficiently in capacity and capability, the ANSF now stands at more than 350,000 strong. Providing security for more than 75 percent of the Afghan population, the ANSF is on track to take full charge of Afghanistan's security by the end of 2014. In addition, Afghan Special Forces, a key expected player in 2014, is now numbering at around 30,000 strong. As a former Afghan official with the Afghan ministry of interior, I have witnessed firsthand the growing strength and bravery of Afghan Special Forces. I have witnessed their growing capability in rapid deployment to conduct independent or joint operations with Coalition partners. Looking ahead, this new capability will most likely play an important role in supporting future peacekeeping missions and regional cross-border counter-terrorism operations as Afghanistan's domestic security directly affects regional stability.
But ANSF will still need the U.S. and our international partners support in areas of offensive air capability, intelligence gathering and building their fire-ower. The international community has committed to support Afghan security forces beyond 2014. However, they need to make their commitment more visible, tangible and more urgent. President Obama will announce U.S. troops status after 2014 and with that comes changes in the mission statement and the presence of limited number of U.S. troops, who will increasingly rely on Afghan capabilities beyond 2014. As a military man myself, I have to say that Afghan infantry forces are unique in the region but there is an immediate need to expand the Afghan air corps, strategic lift capacity, air defense and border defense systems. I say so because Afghans have seen time and time again the increasing capabilities of their security forces in defending Kabul and other major cities against mass suicide attacks by the Taliban militants. But these attacks have also revealed a key weakness: Afghan Special Ops soldiers relying on U.S.-led NATOs planes and helicopters for operational needs. The Afghan Air Force still remains weak relative to the scope of challenges posed by the militants.
In terms of socioeconomic developments, let me say that there have huge improvements in the Afghan economy. I say so because one should have only come over a decade ago to the country to understand the dramatic economic transformation of Afghanistan. But we also have to understand that the Afghan economy is still largely dependent on foreign aid. Yet people often forget the fact that Afghanistan possesses vast mineral resources, estimated to be at hundreds of billions, ready to be exploited and become the backbone of the new Afghan economy. We understand that corruption remains a problem and a hurdle to achieving this goal, but there are also serious efforts under way to tackle corruption. These efforts are led by a new generation of Afghans who are readying themselves to assume their responsibilities as the elections for 2014 is coming up in a year. And I am part of this generation who has come of age over the last decade.
Afghan cities have also been transformed over the last decade. Despite insecurity and many economic challenges, Afghans look to the future in terms of building new planned cities. For instance, the development of a new eco-city in the north of Kabul provides a tremendous example of Afghanistan's recovery. Designed by fine Japanese engineers, this exciting new 30-year public-private project is already moving forward as part of a greater initiative to modernize the country.
In terms of trade, given the geostrategic location between the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan is also uniquely positioned to provide a vital link for the transit of oil and natural gas and other resources to foreign markets. Similarly, Afghanistan's location could serve as an alternate route to facilitate the delivery of Chinese manufactured goods throughout the region.
On the geopolitical front, today the country enjoys special status as a major non-NATO ally to the United States and a key strategic partner to the United Kingdom, India, France, Australia, Germany and Italy. Additionally, it's recognized as a potential partner by regional great powers, including Russia and India. As the mission statement of the U.S. military changes, the United States needs Afghanistan as a long-term partner in order to contain Iran and be prepared to stay abreast of the rising extremism and instability in Pakistan.
Finally, I understand that some experts may question my overoptimistic outlook for my country. But I tell them that all these many achievements were carried out against the backdrop of a counterinsurgency, while recovering from a 30-year war. Without question, challenges and hard work remain.
One year from now will mark the critical juncture of 2014 when the last of NATO combat troops will depart and Afghanistan will experience a political transition as it holds its third democratic presidential election. Being part of a new generation, my belief is that elections will take place and I believe it will be a watershed moment when a new generation of Afghans will assume the leadership of their future. We will prove our enemies wrong and turn this country into a great power and a reliable partner to the United States and many other friends who helped us in the times of need.
Sami Sadat Member, Afghanistan Analysis And Awareness; former advisor to Afghanistan’s minister of interior
Originall posted: Posted: 02/11/2013 10:18 am
Graham Bowley, New York Times, August 11, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — When she refused to prostitute herself or have sex with the man she was forced to marry when she was about 13, officials said, Sahar Gul’s in-laws tortured her and threw her into a dirty, windowless cellar for months until the police discovered her lying in hay and animal dung.
Sahar Gul in December on the way to a hospital in Baghlan, Afghanistan.
In July, an appeals court upheld prison sentences of 10 years each for three of her in-laws, a decision heralded as a legal triumph underscoring the advances for women’s rights in the past decade. She is recovering from her wounds, physical and emotional, in a women’s shelter in Kabul.
But to many rights advocates, Sahar Gul’s case, which drew attention from President Hamid Karzai and the international news media, is the exception that proves the rule: a small victory that masks a still-depressing picture of widespread instances of abuse of women that never come to light.
Further, advocacy groups fear that even the tentative progress that has been achieved in protecting some women could be undone if the West’s focus on Afghanistan now begins to shift away as NATO troops withdraw and the international money pumped into the economy diminishes.
“If you take away that funding and pressure, it is not sustainable,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch.
As more details of Sahar Gul’s case have come to light — including the fact that the abuse continued even as, time and again, neighbors, police officers and her family members voiced suspicions that something was wrong — it has only reinforced how vulnerable women and girls still are in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas where under-age marriages are common and forced ones are typical.
Sahar Gul, who is now about 14, grew up in Badakhshan, a poor, mountainous province in the north. As a young child she was shuffled around after her father died, ending up with her stepbrother, Mohammad, when she was about 9. She helped with the hard work — tending cows, sheep and an orchard of walnut and apricot trees, and making dung bricks for the fire — but her stepbrother’s wife resented her presence. The woman pressured Mohammad to give Sahar Gul up for marriage after he was contacted by a man, about 30, named Ghulam Sakhi — even though she had not yet reached the legal marriage age of 16, or 15 with a father’s consent.
In effect, Ghulam Sakhi bought her: he paid at least $5,000, according to government officials and prosecutors, an illegal exchange. He drove off with Sahar Gul to his parents’ home in Baghlan, another northern province hundreds of miles away.
Ghulam Sakhi’s first wife had fled after he and his mother beat her for not bearing children, according to Rahima Zarifi, the chairwoman of Baghlan’s women’s affairs department, and the mullah in the mosque in the town in Baghlan. In his search for a new wife, there may have been a reason Ghulam Sakhi’s family looked so far afield: they intended to force her into prostitution, according to Ms. Zarifi, who followed the case closely, and officials at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul.
In Baghlan, the girl was immediately put to work cooking and cleaning, but she was able to resist consummating the marriage for weeks.
She ran away to the house of a neighbor, who alerted both the police and her husband’s family. Ghulam Sakhi’s neighbors and the police forced him to sign a letter promising not to mistreat Sahar Gul, though they let him take her back.
The warning had little effect. One day, when she complained of a headache, her mother-in-law, Siyamoi, tricked her into taking a sedative that she thought was medicine, said Mushtari Daqiq, a lawyer for the aid group Women for Afghan Women and also Sahar Gul’s lawyer.
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, and an employee of The New York Times from Baghlan Province, Afghanistan
... continued on site of original article
Lauryn Oates, Calgary Herald, July 11, 2012,
It’s often said that the war in Afghanistan is more a war of perception than anything else.
This reference is sometimes made in relation to the Taliban’s capacity to use propaganda strategically as compared to NATO, and sometimes to the Afghan government’s need to win greater legitimacy by doing a better job of rooting out the corruption that too often consumes it.
But most frequently, the reference refers to the waning public support in the West for our governments’ ongoing investments in a war routinely written off as a lost cause.
The popular perception is that the war is being lost, or at least not being won, because the Taliban continue to wage their campaign of suicide bombings, assassinations and intimidation within Afghanistan. Recently, a video surfaced of a public killing of a married Afghan woman who was accused of running off with another man.
Lives are indeed lost daily at the hands of the insurgents. The Afghan government is under persistent assault, while the Taliban produces gloating (and much exaggerated) statements of their glorious martyrdom.
But while there is never any shortage of pessimism, we’re actually winning in Afghanistan.
The Taliban are not fighting the threat of progress, modernization, individual rights and civil society, but their actual existence.
It’s these changes, above all else, that should form the basis of our assessment of whether we’re winning or losing. This is not a war for land, for resources, or for power. It’s a war against fascism and for democracy, and for the right to live free from fear.
Afghanistan has been utterly transformed from what it was a decade ago. It is now a country where young people, the majority of the population, battle out ideas in classrooms, on blogs and on TV talk shows, rather than with Kalashnikovs.
It is now a country of thousands of civil society organizations — from village co-operatives of women farmers to independent electoral monitoring organizations, to think-tanks and research institutes.
It is now a country of courageous women who have staked out their turf in parliament, with no plans to retreat.
As a result, where 10 years ago women were publicly executed for “moral crimes”:
* There are now laws criminalizing violence against women;
* Women work, go to university and are in business;
* There is 55 per cent primary school attendance;
* There is improved access to water and sanitation;
* In 2009, the GDP real growth rate was an astounding 21 per cent;
* There is a thriving independent media;
* New universities have opened, and others reopened;
* Health care coverage is spreading, and
* Surveys show unequivocally that the majority of Afghans believe in democracy, support women’s rights and think their country is moving forward.
But acknowledging the progress does not diminish the significant challenges still facing Afghanistan.
It’s true that 45 per cent of primary school age kids aren’t in school in Afghanistan. But in 2001, the public school system essentially did not exist. Girls were shut out of education and a pitiful minority of boys studied in schools with a largely unregulated religious curriculum.
While in Canada, women make up only one in five parliamentarians, Afghan women represent 28 per cent of the parliamentary seats, and that within only a decade of when they were stripped of all of their rights.
Afghans have accomplished all this despite the violence they live in. And like a kicked hornets’ nest, the Taliban are raving mad about it.
It’s not wishful thinking to suggest that there is something worth fighting for in this beleaguered country. But it is most definitely wishful thinking to assume that we can give up on Afghanistan without it being a colossal betrayal to those people fighting to grasp what we already have: liberty.
Lauryn Oates is a Canadian aid worker managing education projects in Afghanistan. She is projects director at Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. Distributed by Troy Media.
In the former capital of the Taliban, it takes courage to provide modern education to young women. For such courage, Ehsanullah Ehsan of Afghanistan was awarded by the National Educator Program in the United States with its highest honor; the Charles W. Bowser Award for Innovation in Education.
Mr. Ehsan, who serves as the Director of the Afghan Canadian Community Center and President of the Afghan Learning and Development Organization, adopted “career academies,” a model of instruction from American public schools, and adapted it for his own school – the first of its kind outside of the United States. In this way, he educates his students and prepares them for the world of work at the same time.
"Through this award you, the great people of the United States are honoring and respecting my whole nation of Afghanistan." Ehsan told the international audience via Skype. "You give it to the eight hundred girls who bravely come to school every day just in a hope to have a better tomorrow."
Mr. Ehsan has helped open community learning centers in Afghanistan and Pakistan to give hundreds of young women and men equal opportunity for education, and better jobs to help their families and serve their communities.
"Democracy only works insofar as you have an educated and dedicated electorate," said Mark Thompson, Executive Director of the National Educator Program. “Mr. Ehsan is a giant in the field of education and respecting human values and that greatness must be recognized. If we could support a hundred people like Ehsan, we would be making a big difference in Afghanistan at a much lesser price. Upon receiving the Bowser Award, Mr. Ehsan becomes only the third to hold it, and the first recipient who is not American.”
During a re-awarding ceremony, Ubaidullah Obaid, Minister of Higher Education of Afghanistan said to media in Kandahar, “I am pleased to re-award this honor to Mr. Ehsan for his hard work in providing education services to Kandahari men and women. The NEP in the United States of America through this award honors the whole nation of Afghanistan.”
Dr. Toryalai Wisa, the Governor of Kandahar said, “Mr. Ehsan’s role and commitment to fostering education services in Kandahar is highly commendable and we thank NEP for honoring him with this high honor.” The governor added, “There are several private education institutions open in Kandahar, but their services have not been as effective as the Afghan Canadian Community Center’s. The ACCC has served so highly that a large number of its graduates are serving in different government offices and that’s what we really need today. I believe we should support this community learning center to continue its training services.”
On the occasion, Mehmood Karzai, the President of the AFCO International and brother of President Karzai asked governor Wisa to help invite local and international organizations to give donations for the construction of a campus building for the ALDO/ACCC.
1.Prof. Ubaidullah Ubaid Minister of Higher Education (Left) Mahmood Karzai President of AFCO International (Center) Re-awarding
2. Prof. Ubaidullah Ubaid Minister of Higher Education (Left) Dr. Toryalai Wisa Governor of Kandahar (Center) Re-awarding Mr. Ehsa.