Monday, February 28, 2011

Crossfire in Kandahar

Afghanistan’s new journalists navigate an ambiguous war

Venessa M. Gezari looks at the challenges Afghan journalists face. Compounding the issues in the article, an additional challenge comes from the success of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funding of Afghan radio. The commitment of USAID to print and radio has helped with the development of skills by emerging Afghan journalists, but it has also imposed restrictions on the type of stories being carried.

"Instead of facts, Afghan journalists are generally forced to make do with one side’s word against the other. They would receive a statement from NATO saying that fifty Taliban had been killed, Rehman told me. The Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, would call to tell them that insurgents had destroyed four tanks and killed a large number of soldiers. “Journalists here know that both are wrong,” Rehman said. “But it’s easy to make that story, and the office also expects it."

Windows and Mirrors - LA

The travelling mural exhibit is now in Los Angeles. Here is a 30 second video slideshow from one of the LA openings. The guest speaker was Tom Hayden. You can find more about the Los Angeles events here.

To visit the tour home page with links, MP3’s and video, go here.

Windows on Afghanistan: Past, Present, Future

The War in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history, yet for many of us it has been rendered largely invisible.

Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan is an invitation to reflect upon the impact of this war on a civilian population caught in the crossfire.

The artworks are windows on a war-torn country – but they are also mirrors reflecting our identity as citizens of a nation that too often resolves its problems through violence – both at home and abroad.

We are present in every shot fired, every missile launched, and every bomb dropped. But this is not our only option. We also can be present in acts of diplomacy and reconciliation, community reconstruction and peaceful partnership. The choice is ours.

Who Speaks for Afghanistan?

On Saturday I had the pleasure of hearing Michael Sheridan introduce four short documentaries from Afghanistan. The evening was entitled The Fruit of Our Labor– Afghan Perspectives in Film. Produced and designed by Afghan men and women, the films are rooted in current realities, exploring issues rarely seen in the west. The vignettes we saw showed the efforts of one woman to create a girls’ schools in her neighborhood, the dynamics of a community run bakery (think Afghan Co-Op), the disparity of two neighboring villages – one with a water source – the other without, and the devastating impact on one family of a husband who succumbed to drugs .

These films are the result of the wonderful idea called community supported film in Afghanistan. The project trains local men and women in Afghanistan in video-journalism and documentary filmmaking. In addition to helping support/train/equip a community of artists in Afghanistan, the films will be used to better influence local and international views on Afghan priorities for a more peaceful and equitable future.

You can find clips from the documentaries here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Afghan Officials Claim NATO killed 62 civilians

On Sunday (20 February) Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused NATO of having killed more than 50 civilians in eastern Afghanistan's troubled Kunar province. A team was sent to investigate the alleged civilian deaths.

"After three days of investigation, we found out that 62 civilians, including women and children, were killed and 10 others injured in the NATO operation," the head of the probe team, Shahzada Massoud, who is a Karzai adviser, told reporters in Kunar.

Reuters carries a story about the real impact of a night-time raid that took place in August. It is the story of Abdullah. The killing of his father and brother, and his interrogation.

A few minutes and a few bullets were enough to turn Abdullah from an 11th grade student with dreams of becoming a translator to the despairing head of a family of more than a dozen.

A Big Picture Resource

Afghanistan Rights Monitor Annual Report on Civilian Casualties

Over nine years after the internationally-celebrated demise of the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan, civilian Afghans increasingly suffer from the armed violence and rights violations committed by various internal and external armed actors. More ordinary Afghans were killed and injured in 2010 than a year before. And while US officials dubbed Afghanistan as their longest foreign war, Afghans suffered it for 32 years relentlessly.

Almost everything related to the war surged in 2010: the combined numbers of Afghan and foreign forces surpassed 350,000; security incidents mounted to over 100 per week; more fighters from all warring side were killed; and the number of civilian people killed, wounded and displaced hit record levels.

Collecting information about every security incident and verifying the often conflicting reports about their impacts on civilian people were extremely difficult and risky. The war was as heatedly fought through propaganda and misinformation as it was in the battlefields thus making independent and impartial war reporting tricky and complex.


In addition to civilian casualties, hundreds of thousands of people were affected in various ways by the intensified armed violence in Afghanistan in 2010. Tens of thousands of people were forced out of their homes or deprived of healthcare and education services and livelihood opportunities due to the continuation of war in their home areas.

In November 2010, ARM was the first organization to voice concerns about the destruction of hundreds of houses, pomegranate trees and orchards in several districts in Kandahar Province by US-led forces as part of their counterinsurgency operations. In January 2011, an Afghan Government delegation reported the damage costs at over US$100 million. In compensation, US/NATO forces have doled out less than $2 million.


A second key issue highlighted in this report is the emergence of the irregular armed groups in parts of Afghanistan which are backed by the Afghan Government and its foreign allies. These groups have been deplored as criminal and predatory by many Afghans and have already been accused of severe human rights violations such as child recruitment and sexual abuse.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Peace Offerings: Theories of Conflict Resolution

This discussion paper by Matt Waldman and Thomas Ruttig takes a more theoretical approach to the current debate about reconciliation, often too narrowly described just as ‘talking to the Taliban’. It looks into various theories of conflict resolution and which insights they may offer for a peaceful solution of the Afghan conflict.

Peace Offerings: Theories of Conflict Resolution and Their Applicability to Afghanistan

Matt Waldman & Thomas Ruttig, Afghanistan Analyst Network, Jan. 2011

Despite the recent deployments of more troops and greater military resources to Afghanistan by the US-led Western coalition, there has been no abatement in the insurgency. It rather is increasing in lethality, territorial scope and mobilisation beyond their main base in the Pashtun ethnic group. As a result, doubts about the efficacy of conventional war-fighting, counter-insurgency and transition strategies grow and alternative means of mitigating the conflict come into sight.

The paper briefly discusses seven such theories and draws conclusions from them for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan: ripeness theory, theories of mediation, theories of reconciliation, power-sharing theories, credible commitment theory, spoilers’ analysis and local peace-building. While such theories are not panacean, they can help to understand the conflict and point towards practical steps that can contribute to improve the prospects for peace. The authors point out, though, that as abstractions they must necessarily be adapted to circumstances.

U.S.- Taliban Talks

Steve Colls article in this week’s New Yorker reveals that direct US-Taliban talks have been taking place for some time.

On August 22, 1998, Mullah Omar, the emir of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, made a cold call to the State Department. The United States had just lobbed cruise missiles at Al Qaeda camps in his nation. Omar got a mid-level diplomat on the line and spoke calmly. He suggested that Congress force President Bill Clinton to resign. He said that American military strikes “would be counter-productive,” and would “spark more, not less, terrorist attacks,” according to a declassified record of the call. “Omar emphasized that this was his best advice,” the record adds.

More details on the impact of the article are found in this interview with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Coll is the author of the book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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