Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Kandahar

With Kandahar in the news again in the wake of the embarrassing 
prison-break, Bari Jahani’s poem gives me a great picture of how low 
Kandahar has fallen. Mr. Jahani was kind enough to share this with me a few
weeks back when I was corresponding with him on translations of some of 
his poems that I have been working on. You can find this and other poems 
of his on his website here as well: Jahani Online
             

 کندهاره در واري سم

بیا دی څه یرغل ته نیت دی چی دي تاو کړله برېتونه

بیا دي لېڅي دي را نغښتي بیا دي ښکاري مړوندونه

بیا دي واری پر ارغند دی بیا دي خپل کړل میوندونه

بیا شرنگی د زولنو دی بیا دي مات کړل محبسونه

یاغي سوي دي زلمیان دي قهرېدلي دي پلرونه

بیا باران دی دگولیو پاڅولي یې جنگونه

غواړې بیا دي په نکلونو روڼی شپې کړې تر سهاره

کندهاره در واري سم در واري سم کندهاره

ته خبر یې پر لمن دي دا د چا آسونه ځغلي

دا راکټ د چا له کوره دا د چا ټانکونه ولي

دا جنگونه چا راوړي دا فوجونه څوک راغلي

دا قلا د چا نړېږي د چا کلي سوځېدلي

دا پرون د چا ماتم وو او دا نن یې څوک ویشتلي

ویني پېژنم چی ستا دي دا غازیان چا را لېږلي

یو دي وژني په باروتو  بل د توري له پرهاره

کندهاره در واري سم در واري سم کندهاره
ته پوهېږې چی دا څوک دي ستا پر خاوره چی جنگېږي

جنگ د چا سوبه د چا ده چی ستا کور پکښی نړېږی

هغه ستا شین ارغنداو دی چی لمبې یې پورته کېږی

هغه ستا  دخور پوړنی ستا د پلار مېنه سوځېږي

د نیکه پر هدیره دي بیا پردۍ لمبې بلېږي

دا پردی چړي راغلی دا پردی ملا غورېږي

بیا یې نوي دي زده کړي منترونه له باداره

کندهاره در واري سم، در واري سم کندهاره

څه ارزانه دي تویېږي مستي ویني د زلمیانو

څه اسانه دي نړېږي مالتونه د خپلوانو

څه په زور دي ابادېږي هدیرې د شهیدانو

څنگه زړونه در سړېږي د پېړۍ د غلیمانو

څه پلټني دي جوړېږي د بې وزلو یتیمانو

څه نېښونه در رسېږي د لستوڼی د مارانو

ته به کله را ویښېږې د دښمن د باغ ملیاره

کندهاره در واري سم، درواري سم کندهاره
چا دي واخیستل پوځونه د طلا په خرمنونو

چا زلمي در لېوني کړل په وعدو د جنتونو

اوروي څوک له اسمانه بارانونه د بمونو

بې څښتنه دي جونگړه کبابېږي په اورونو

په زامنو دي نازېږي پنجرې د زندانونو

په خپل کور کی یې پردی کړې د پردیو تپوسونو

د ازل برخه دي ښکاري ستا له خپله لاسه خواره

کندهاره در واري سم، در واري سم کندهاره
نه خوشال توره ایستلې را وتلی پر اورنگ دی

نه ایوب چپاو را وړی پر توپونو د فرنگ دی

نه زخمي دښمن په زړه کی ستا د مټو په خدنگ دی

ښار په وینو کی لمبېږي د خپل ځان په وینو رنگ دی

د تور تم ادې لنگېږي له رڼا سره یې جنگ دی

د عرفان ډېوې مړې کېږي د نصیب د توري شرنگ دی

ته به کله را پاڅېږې د اوږدو شپو له خماره

کندهاره در واري سم، در واري سم کندهاره
لا تر څو به یې مغروره په کیسو د میوندونو

لا نیکه به درته لولي زړې پاڼی د قرنونو

ورځی شپې به دی تېرېږي د بدیو په نکلونو

د سیالانو به دي تېر وي جرسونه تر مزلونو

ته به سل کاله یې پاته  د زمان له کارانونو

لټوې به په پرون کي تعبیرونه د خوبونو

لا تر څو به دي په خوا وي د مرگي د کنډو لاره

کندهاره در واري سم، در واري سم کندهاره
ته د غم په شپه پیدا یې ته ماتم ته زېږېدلی

ته  د هري بلا سپریې هره ورځ اجل نیولی

هر خونکار دي په لمن کي خپل غضب دی ازمېیلی

چا دي سترگي دي ایستلي چا دي زوی دی در وژلی

چا دي ویني بهولي چا دي کور دی سوځولی

چا له پاسه په بمونو چا پر مځکه یې ویشتلی

همدا ستا چیغي به باسي دا لېوان له دغه ښاره

کندهاره در واري سم، در واري سم کندهار
د افغان دبگړۍ گله د غلیم د سترگو خاره

کندهاره در واري سم ، در واري سم کندهاره
٢٠٠٨-٢٢-جون                     ویرجینیا


Hekmatyar the Compromise?

A couple days back, Pajhwok broke news of Hizb-e-Islami and Taliban battling each other in Maidan Wardak. The news, despite being very curious, went almost unnoticed. Even the usually attentive Af-Pak Channel at Foreign Policy had only line on it in their daily brief. But if some sources are to be believed, the news could give us a clue about Hekmatyar’s future. First, here is the Pajhwok piece:

The death toll from an ongoing clash between Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) in central Maidan Wardak province increased to seven on Sunday when four more people were killed, a district chief said on Sunday.The clash that erupted between armed men loyal to two rival commanders, Mullah Zakhil of the Taliban and Azizullah of the HIA in Sadmardi area of Nirkh district on Saturday night was still ongoing, Mohammad Hanif Hanifi said. He added they had received reports of seven people killed and scores wounded in the firefight.Residents said the Taliban commander Zakhil was injured and some of his supporters were killed. More gunmen were joining opposition ranks and residents staying indoors, they said. There was no word from the anti-government groups about the clash.

On the one had, its natural to interpret this us as a clash of only local proportions where personal animosities between commander might be the cause and nothing ideological. However, if one Washington insider is to be believed, the news is a reflection of how Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Hizb e Islami leader, has broken away from the Taliban and might be reconciling with the government soon.

The news comes a day after the Pakistani Prime Minister visited Kabul to announce a joint Peace Commission between the two countries. The visit had particular importance because the Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Kayani and the ISI Chief General Pasha both accompanied him on the trip. Moreover, the announcement of the joint commission was made by Gilani and Karzai only echoed it. Pakistan showed an enthusiasm for reconciliation that was unseen to date. In fact, this was their first resounding statement after a long period of hesitance.

Hekmatyar has always been a darling of Pakistan. One of the reasons why the civil war dragged so long during the 1990s was that Pakistan wanted to see Hekmatyar take the highest office in Afghanistan, which never materialized. If there is any connection between these two dots– the battle in Maidan and the visit by Pakistani delegation– then its a fair assumption that Hekmatyar might be the compromise that Pakistan has achieved. Pakistan has convinced the United States to bring Hekmatyar on board and he will be the safeguard to their interests in the future of the Afghanistan.

What throws off this assumption, though, is that Hekmatyar has never seemed to be a priority of Karzai’s government. In fact, his name barely comes up in the talks on reconciliation with the insurgency: southern Taliban have always the focus of his reconciliation efforts.  This lack of attention to Hekmatyar could be that Karzai does not believe he makes up that big a part in the insurgency. Or, another possibility, is that behind the silence there has always been talks with Hekmatyar through Pakistan that might be coming to fruition now. The number two in the Peace Council, Attaullah Ludin, is a Hizb e Islami. They have had talks with Hekmatyar’s representatives recently. And what was the location of their couple meetings with Hizb e Islami representatives? Surprise surprise: Islamabad.


A New Afghanistan

The younger generation of Afghan politicians–people like Fawzi Koofi, Waheed Omer, Amrullah Salleh etc– give me tremendous hope for the country.

Here is a excerpt from Fawzia Koofi’s recent profile in Ms. Magazine:

Representing the distant Badakhshan province, this single mother of two young girls is a tenacious voice in the national discourse. Whether debating electoral fraud on television or revealing abuses in the prison system in Parliament, her passion and unbending civility stands out as a rare combination in the country’s infant democracy. She won the second highest number of votes from her province in the recent parliamentary elections, only 250 behind the leading candidate (a former commander), and a resounding 7,000 votes ahead of her closest male competitor. In a country where women largely make it to the Parliament because of a gender quota, the election results speak to Ms. Koofi’s popularity. At the local level she has championed the building of a highway from Kabul to Faizabad. At the national level, through her agenda and personal example, she has worked tirelessly to achieve substantial women participation in national politics.

To read the rest of the articleMs. Magazine:  Fawzia Koofi: Making a New Afghanistan For Her Daughters

Waheed Omer, the current spokesperson to President Karzai, is an impressively well-rounded character. Well educated, with a masters from York University, Omer is a poet, a writer, and a masterful orator. A former civil society activist– founder of Young Leaders Forum– Omer has spent the past 6 years in different capacities in the government. He founded the Government Media and Information Center. He was a major factor in Karzai reelection: as his campaign spokesperson, he managed the local media very well. Equally fluent in Dari and Pashto, his television debates were critical in defending Karzai’s image despite being a position of great weakness. His proficiency in both languages showed Karzai as a national figure while Abdullah’s representatives stuck to one language, Dari.

But what is most impressive about Omer is his mix of energy, eloquence, and civility that he brings to his politics.

We need more Fawzia Koofis and Waheed Omers to step up for the sake of a new Afghanistan.


Peace with the Taliban

What is at stake in the Afghan government’s efforts to make peace with the Taliban?

Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief under Karzai and current opponent of the president’s policy, agrees. He told prominent Kabul-based television channel Tolo News: “They are the same Taliban who used scorched-earth tactics against not only humans but also trees and animals. Nothing has changed about their cruelty.”

Saleh and his former government colleague Hanif Atmar have been vocal in their opposition to government attempts to forge a deal, with Atmar, the interior minister until he resigned in the autumn, calling the talks “political insanity”.

The two men, well respected as effective administrators during their years in Karzai’s national security team, are leading a vociferous opposition. Their insight into the Taliban, appeal to young people and undeniable eloquence has put the government’s political agenda in an awkward position.

A recent piece at Al Jazeera English: Rebranding the Taliban


The Power of Youth…and their Vulnerability

In the wake of the Egyptian revolution, and in relation to Dexter Filkin’s recent post about the lessons of Egypt to Afghanistan, I was reminded of a passage by Pankaj Mishra. It describes the winds of change that blew in Afghanistan in the 1960s and how the youth of Kabul University marched the streets. In retrospect, those events manifest the power of the youth as well as their vulnerability:

It is hard to imagine now, but for students at Kabul University, 1968 was no less a hectic year than it was for students at Columbia, Berkeley, Oxford, and the Sorbonne. A king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, had been presiding over the many ethnic and tribal enclaves of Afghanistan since 1933. But he knew enough of the world elsewhere to attempt, cautiously, a few liberal reforms in his capital city, Kabul. The university had been set up in 1946; a liberal constitution was introduced in 1964; the press was technically free; women ran for public office in 1965. By the Sixties, many students and teachers had traveled abroad; and new ideas about how to organize the state and society had come to the sons of peasants and nomads and artisans from their foreign or foreign-educated teachers.

In the somewhat rarefied world of modernizing Kabul, where women were allowed to appear without the veil in 1959, communism and radical Islam attracted almost an equal number of believers: to these impatient men, the great Afghan countryside with its antique ways appeared ready for revolution. It was from this fledgling intelligentsia in Kabul that almost all of the crucial political figures of the next three decades emerged.

Pankaj Mishra, The Making of Afghanistan

 


Back From Kabul: impressions

Smog in Kabul (Image: FRE/RL)

 

I recently got back from three weeks in Kabul.  Here are first two impressions. More to come later.

1. Until last week, it had not rained or snowed in Kabul. For the Kabulis, if nothing else hurts them the environment will. Pollution in this  small city is at extreme degrees. During the day, particularly in the afternoons, visibility beyond 20 meters is impossible due to dust and smoke. Quite a depressing situation. To imagine that people on the streets breath this air 24/7 is a dark reality. Cars are abundant on the street, vast construction creates tremendous dust, and on top of all that you have at least 2-3 stoves in every home that burn material ranging from wood and coal to diesel and trash.

2. The extent of women involvement in public life is much more visible. One small example speaks for it: at the airport, you see as many young female workers doing the routine security checks as male workers. Most of them in their 20s, a representation of the vast potential in Afghanistan. I hear that close to 60% of the country is between the ages of 18-35, which is quite a heartening statistic.

As dusk took over Kabul Airport and I walked up the stairs to board the plane, there were workers at the bottom of the stairs, checking the boarding passes one last time. One of them was a petite and pretty young lady, wearing a lime fluorescent jacket on top of her blue uniform. Her hands in the pockets of the her jacket, she paced about with an air of tremendous confidence. It was a fantastic little scene, very telling of some of the progress in the country.


Richard Holbrooke

Seasoned diplomat Richarad Holbrooke, President Obama’s Special Envoy to Paksitan and Afghanistan, passed away in Washington on Monday. He was 69 years old.

Mr. Holbrooke left a strong legacy of diplomatic achievements, most important of which being the Dayton agreement to end the bloody conflict in the Balkans. He also served as Deputy Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton.

A lot of expectations came with the job that Mr. Holbrooke took under President Obama– to coordinate the efforts in Afghanistan. Having established a reputation of being a tough negotiator,  the Ambassador was entrust the responsibility of working towards a solution in Afghanistan. But during his time, Mr. Holbrooke found it quite difficult there, causing tremendous strain in President Karzai’s relationship with the Obama administration.

One of the reasons given for why Mr. Holbrooke was frustrated in Afghanistan was his assertive– and at time bullying–style of diplomacy. It worked in the Balkans, but Afghanistan was different. The Ambassador was quite confident of himself and usually would not tone down his criticism of the players involved, particularly Karzai.  Jean Mackenzie at GlobalPost sums it up nicely:

Holbrooke’s last post, as the Obama administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, will most likely not figure among his finest hours. Long-time friend and colleague Peter Galbraith, who served as ambassador to Croatia while Holbrooke was negotiating an end to the Balkan war, told the BBC Monday evening that the Dayton Accords, signed in 1995 and effectively putting an end to hostilities in the three-year conflict in Yugoslavia, would serve as Holbrooke’s legacy….most observers acknowledge that Holbrooke was a problematic figure in both Kabul and Washington.

But one has to wonder whether it was Holbrooke or the awkward role that he was assigned that created the tensions. The Ambassador repeatedly declared that the military solution was not viable in Afghanistan, yet he found himself working a long side a massive military operation and trying to coordinate his efforts in that shadow. Perhaps, he would have been more effective if  reconciliation had been given a more prominent place in the policy, and if face to face negotiations with the Taliban had been taken up, what many intellectuals and experts are calling for right now.

While Mr. Holbrooke would have hoped for more concrete achievements in Afghanistan, his frustrating time there was not completely ineffective. He put tremendous pressure on President Karzai’s administration to cut down on corruption, and he spoke repeatedly for tackling the save heavens across the border in Pakistan. Above all, he assiduously spoke of a political solution, which might as well be the only way out of the war in Afghanistan..

Nick Kristof over at NYT pays  a heartfelt farewell to the Ambassador:

I’ve never met an abler diplomat, or a smarter one, than Richard Holbrooke. He was inevitably the brightest guy in the room, and usually the most pragmatic and hardest-working – and he was also a friend whom I admired hugely. His death today is a tremendous loss for all of us who knew him, and for the country as well. Richard never achieved his dream of becoming secretary of state, but he leaves a legacy around the world – from Bosnia to East Timor, from AIDS clinics in South Africa to his legions of followers in the United States – that exceeds that of many Secretaries of State. He was simply a legendary public servant, and an inspiration.