October 22, 2007

Afghanistan's Favored People

Aunohita Mojumdar

Little India

It was an interest in elephants that led Shanthini Dawson to Afghanistan, a country of high mountains and rugged terrain where most people don't know what an elephant looks like. But for Dawson, the trajectory was quite logical. Working on elephant ranges, which were expected to be "people-free," led to an awareness about the exclusionary aspects of environmental policy, which broadened into an interest in social development.

Vrinda Dar in Badakshan ProvinceThe rest was a natural progression. Even for Afghanistan, which attracts unusual people, Dawson stands apart. She applied for her job in Afghanistan because of her growing interest in Islamic populations sparked by her work amongst the Rohingas of the Rakhine state of Thailand (bordering the Chittagong area of India). Initially Dawson was to come to Afghanistan while the Taliban was still in power. 9/11 changed all that and Shanthini finally arrived in 2002. Unwilling to join the "UN circus" as she calls it, she opted to work in the field with Christian Aid in its community based programs before joining the Government of Afghanistan. Currently she works as an adviser to the Minister of Education, playing a critical role in shaping and implementing the national education strategy that has brought 5 million children into schools, one of the few major achievements of post Taliban reconstruction, an endeavor otherwise riddled with loopholes, missed opportunities, weak policy and poor implementation.

Even for Afghanistan which attracts unusual people, Shanthini dawson stands apartWhile Dawson is an international development specialist, her Indian identity underpins much of her work in Afghanistan. Though Western countries dominate the post conflict development paradigm in Afghanistan, both in the areas of policy and finances, Indian expertise is increasingly being valued. Because of the cultural similarity, shared history and economic milieu, regional experience enjoys a premium. Dawson brings the regional expertise "subconsciously" into her work, which has also taken her on frequent trips to India for tie ups with Indian institutions. "When technical assistance is from the region, people are able to accept it better," she says, touching on one of the most sensitive aspects of nation building in Afghanistan, the prickly hostility of Afghans to occupation and patronizing. Even amongst the regional countries, Indians are perhaps the most favored community. Afghans look upon India as a friend without ulterior motives, something they treasure as many of them feel that most of the international community has played a self-serving role in Afghanistan. This friendship is undoubtedly clinched by a hostility towards Pakistan, who Afghans blame for much of the recent violence in their country. Coupled with a craze for films and soap operas emanating from Bollywood, the love affair is passionate, even if it quite one-sided. For Indians residing in Afghanistan this warmth is palpable and makes for easy access to all corridors, from those of power to ordinary homes.

Pushpa Pathak with her Kabul Municipality colleaguesThe word "hind" opens doors, says Vrinda Dar, a community development specialist based in Kabul. Dar had a more than unusual reason for taking up a job in Afghanistan. She wanted to "settle down." An unsettling country to most, a job with a reputed international NGO seemed steady to Dar after a period of itinerant wanderings as a freelancer. That and the irresistible lure of a challenge of a lifetime. In Afghanistan, Dar works in community development projects, often traveling to rural areas, a space she finds more real and accepting than urban Kabul. Initially people are skeptical, but they warm up soon, Dar says. Married to an Italian, she experienced an outsider bias in small town Italy until people got to know her better and elected her to the community council.In Kabul her life is constrained by a plethora of restrictions that limit her movements and interactions so strictly that even her organization cannot be named. Expatriates working for international organizations are barred from walking on the streets, must undertake door to door travel under armed escort, are subject to night curfews and prohibited from using of public transport; many areas are simply out of bounds. Every fresh incident of violence brings further clampdowns. Dar's organization also bars visits to the homes of Afghans. The restrictions are even greater for women. If Indians are favored, women, in general, are not. War, displacement, extreme conservatism, overlaid with exposure to TV's pop culture of commodification of women and a liberalism movement has created a confused value system that has a strong streak of hostility toward women in public spaces. Whether it is women going to work, walking outside their homes or participating in public life, a visible minority is openly hostile, and most expat women live with some sense of discomfort if they venture out of protected spaces. Dar finds this accentuated in cities like Kabul, because "people here do not get to talk to you," unlike more intense community based interactions in rural areas. "I feel like I am in a cage" says Dar, adding that the need for male protection as soon as a woman steps out of the home or office makes her feel handicapped.For Pushpa Pathak, one of the one of the few women to brave the male dominated corridors of Kabul Municipality as a senior adviser, her Indian experience was invaluable in dealing with the gender discrimination. Pathak who grew up in a conservative family in Ballia, in Western Uttar Pradesh, initially had a hard time convincing her family when she decided to come to Afghanistan. The challenge of working in Afghanistan appealed to her as it is "the biggest development challenge in the least developed countries," even more so in the post conflict countries.Her Indianness worked in two ways to break barriers. The initial difficulty in communicating with colleagues who had never encountered a woman in a working environment was overcome as her Indian identity helped open doors. Professionally, her Indian experience also bears great resemblance to Afghanistan. An example is the planning and municipal laws, the principle of customary ownership, and cost recovery strategies for municipal services, which mirror Indian practices. The significant difference perhaps is that the regional expertise helps in dealing with these challenges better than western solutions. Pathak feels it is important to not come with preconceptions or models, but to instead develop them indigenously. She says she is now so well assimilated that her colleagues no longer remember she is a woman. She says she was able to overcome "a rough beginning," because the resistance to a woman in a senior position is something she had to overcome in India as well, especially in the early stages of her career. Small town India, Pathak says, has the same attitude and she remembers many a round table meetings where she would be bypassed completely as people assumed she was either present in a secretarial capacity or would have nothing worthwhile to say. It was by doggedly maintaining her space and her professional attitude that Pathak was able to make inroads in India, something she also adopted here to survive. Of her colleagues in Kabul she say : "Perhaps some of them had never talked to a woman outside their family and there was resistance in listening to a woman. I continued and did not get disturbed," building relationships with patience over endless cups of green tea, Afghanistan's favored way of engaging whether it is between friends, or business partners, deal makers, politicians or even sizing up an adversary.Adaptation is perhaps the most important feature of surviving in Afghanistan at both the professional and personal level. For Indian women, the experience is intensified. As Indian and women, they get to straddle the contradictory and peculiar space of love and hate that makes their experience distinctive - sometimes bizarre but always unique.

Freedom Called Lethal Risk for Jailed Afghan Women

By Aunohita Mojumdar

WeNews correspondent
Women are jailed in Afghanistan for "crimes" that would make them victims of domestic abuse elsewhere. As the annual festival of Eid brings the prospect of presidential pardons, advocates warn that many women are safer inside prison.

KABUL, Afghanistan (WOMENSENEWS)--Each year the festival of Eid that ends the month-long Ramadan holiday season is commemorated in Afghanistan with presidential pardons for prisoners.
It's a show of cultural benevolence since Ramadan is traditionally celebrated with families coming together.
But as Eid approaches on Oct. 13, women's groups and international organizations are warning that many women, if released, will become homeless, ostracized and vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Others may wind up back in custody for being "unaccompanied" women.
Some may become victims to relatives who carry out punishments as severe as execution.
"Women die after leaving prison," said Dr. Anou Borrey, a gender justice consultant for the United Nations Development Fund for Women in Afghanistan.
"Afghan women in jail are lucky, at least they are alive," said Carla Ciavarella, the justice program coordinator of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, who has worked with Afghanistan's penitentiary system for four years. "We do not know how many women are killed or abused at home every day."
The warnings follow an early September report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime that found at least half the women in Afghanistan's largest jail are there for so-called moral crimes such as adultery, "running away," being in the company of a man who is not a relative or even giving shelter to a runaway woman.
The agency's Afghanistan representative, Christina Orguz, said many of the women would be considered victims, not perpetrators, in most other countries.
Findings Echoed
The findings echo a January 2007 assessment of the status of women in Afghanistan by Medica Mondiale, an advocacy group for traumatized women and girls in war and crisis zones that has worked extensively with female prisoners in Afghanistan.
"The judiciary overwhelmingly tends to hold women responsible for crimes even when they themselves are the victims and cases are judged employing tribal laws of traditions instead of codified law," the Cologne, Germany-based group found. "In particular accusations of 'zina,' or sexual intercourse outside of marriage--irrespective of the truth--are often prosecuted and the woman sentenced to prison even when she was the victim of rape."
For the U.N. report, investigators interviewed 56 of the 69 women imprisoned in Pul-e-Charkhi, the country's largest prison located on the outskirts of Kabul.
One of the female prisoners at Pul-e-Charkhi told interviewers that her husband killed a man in a land dispute and later claimed it was her adultery that led to the killing. Since she had no witnesses to prove she had not committed adultery she was imprisoned. The woman, who is illiterate and poor, is serving a six-year sentence along with her child. Her initial sentence of one year was increased she says, after her request for a divorce, a plea she feels may have prejudiced the judge against her.
Among the 11,200 people imprisoned in Afghanistan there are 300 women, a number that has roughly doubled from 2004 to 2006.
Some of the women's "crimes" are not listed in Afghanistan's formal modern criminal code, which is based on Sharia, or Islamic religious law.
Women as Property
The formal justice system based on Sharia as well as the traditional or customary councils of elders--which are often harsher--view women as the property of their husbands' extended family, a view that warps the interpretation of the criminal code.
As property, for instance, women do not have the right to run away because they do not have the right to leave the house without permission of a husband or male relative, a custom that prevents depriving men of their possessions.
Women are also the bearers of family honor and any perceived erosion of that honor can be considered dangerous and punishable by families.
A UNIFEM study from May 2006 estimates that 82 percent of the violence against women in Afghanistan is committed by family members.
Domestic violence is more common in forced marriages, including those involving brides younger than 16. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's last assessment estimated that the majority of marriages in Afghanistan--between 60 percent and 80 percent--are forced and many include a child of either sex.
Afghanistan's laws allow a girl to be married at the age of 15 with paternal consent, but in practice many fathers are considered entitled to grant consent to children of any age.
Marriages and divorces are often not documented in Afghanistan. This means a woman who marries after a divorce risks being accused of adultery if her former husband claims he never divorced her. Social customs and tradition here make it much more difficult for a woman to initiate divorce proceedings and the lack of formal documentation of births, marriages and divorces makes it difficult to provide proof. In a dispute where it is a man's word against a woman's, the man is usually believed. Some ex-husbands exploit the lack of proof of divorces to gain monetary compensation from a second husband for taking his "property."
Women are given away in exchange for debts, to settle scores, to redress complaints.
Forced to Marry 9-Year-Old Boy
Amina, who like many other Afghan women uses only her first name, is a member of the local women's peace council in Ghazni, a city located in southern Afghanistan. In a meeting in Kabul with her local female parliamentarian she angrily recounted the story of a 46-year-old widow she knows who was forced to marry her 9-year-old brother-in-law because custom demands widows marry into her husband's family.
Zahira Mawlai, the parliamentarian, pointed out that under Islam a woman's consent is mandatory for any marriage and any use of force is considered a sin. But in practice, she said, Afghan women often lack such decision-making power. A first step to ending forced and under-age marriages, she said, is to add the practices to the country's penal code as criminal offenses.
U.N. representatives and women's groups such as Medica Mondiale are working to equip female prisoners with skills that will help them survive and to establish conditions for their safe release.
These include literacy vocational training for employment and legal awareness classes. Advocates are also working to establish short- and long-term guidelines with the Afghanistan Ministry of Justice for the treatment and rehabilitation of female prisoners.
Transitional houses are yet to be established, but have been recommended by the United Nations and other groups.
Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian journalist who is currently based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for 17 years and she has covered the Kashmir conflict and post-conflict development in Punjab extensively.
Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.
For more information:
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,"Female Prisoners and Their Social Reintegration"[Adobe PDF format]:http://www.unodc.org/pdf/criminal_justice/Afghan_women_prison_web.pdf
Medica Mondiale:http://www.medicamondiale.org/_en/
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An elusive quest for justice in Afghanistan

Aunohita Mojumdar KABUL

Asia Times

Afghanistan's latest National Human Development Report has called for a new and hybrid justice system that will bring together modern formal justice systems and the local traditional shuras and jirgas that have functioned as dispute-resolution mechanisms. The proposal for a collaborative model is a radical departure from the current efforts to expand the reach of the modern formal justice system, an effort that has met with limited success so far. The differences in the two justice systems, both in law and in principle, are also likely to stir up some controversy, especially among purists. Proposing the launch of a pilot project of the hybrid model in five provinces by mid-2008, the report, released on Wednesday, argues that the current formal justice system does not reach the majority of Afghans, with more than 80% of the cases throughout Afghanistan settled through traditional decision-making assemblies. By acting in isolation, state and non-state institutions of justice are missing an opportunity to improve the delivery of justice significantly, the report states. The justice sector is an area that is commonly accepted to have lagged far behind others in the efforts at reconstruction of the country. Despite sporadic efforts at reform, the changes have not been far-reaching. Severe constraints in capacity, including basic training and education of judicial staff, have severely hampered uniform delivery of justice through the formal court systems, and public perception of corruption of the courts is also high. The report notes this, saying the judiciary suffers from severe deficiencies: "Most judges cannot access legal textbooks, procedures and practices." Only a little more than half of the judges (in a random survey) were holders of university degrees in law or sharia. "Allegations of corruption within the formal justice system have tarnished its legitimacy and made the informal justice sector more appealing in the eyes of the many citizens." The formal court system, however, does represent Afghanistan's attempts to evolve a secular interpretation of law, based on international law and Western jurisprudence, elements that are missing in some aspects of the traditional justice system. The traditional mechanism relies on customary law, or orf, that is delivered through the shuras or jirgas to settle disputes. The customary law varies according to region and ethnic group. While the main principle of customary law is to restore balance and order in a community, this order can sometimes be achieved by means that are considered to be brutal or violative of internationally recognized principles of humanitarian and human rights laws. "Although the restorative aspect is a positive concept in itself, the way crimes and disputes are settled has an extremely harmful impact on the lives of women," a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states. Baad, for example is identified as one of the four main principles of justice applied by traditional jirgas and shuras by the report. It "gives" a woman from the family of the accused to the victim's family as compensation. Though the underlying principle may be to create family ties and resolve the dispute, the outcome is the barter of a woman as a commodity. Other practices such as badal, forced marriages to settle disputes and forcing a widow to marry someone from her husband's family, however unsuitable, are part of the customary practices. The report points out that such practices as baad are of serious concern and adds, "Women are almost totally excluded from participating in the decision-making of jirgas/shuras, resulting in serious consequences for their status and the protection of their rights." The report argues that the hybrid model will harness the positive aspects of non-state dispute-settlement institutions while ensuring that their decisions are compatible with the Afghan constitution, Afghan laws and international human-rights standards. The report argues that unlike the state justice system, which creates winners and losers, the jirgas/shuras reach community-led decisions that promote restorative justice, helping to restore peace and dignity among the victims, offenders and other key stakeholders. While arguing that the proposed collaborative system would make justice more widely accessible, efficient, cost-effective and humane, the report recognizes the challenge of reconciling inherent tensions between the formal and informal justice system while nurturing the respective strengths of these sometimes competing and conflicting approaches to the rule of law. Though the proposal of the hybrid model is likely to evoke some controversy, what is undisputed is the urgent need for justice-sector reform and justice delivery systems. The judicial system is a first line of defense to many social ills in any democracy, especially in war-ravaged societies. The report's data on human development indices paint a dismal picture, showing that Afghanistan's human-development indicators are actually lower than earlier assessments. The National Human Development Report for 2007, the second since the ouster of the Taliban, reveals a literacy rate of 23.5%, down from the 2004 assessment, which put it at 28.7%. Life expectancy is also lower at 43.1 years compared with the estimated 44.5 in 2004, according to the report released by President Hamid Karzai in New York on Wednesday. (The 2004 National Human Development Report was based on data collected in 2003, while the latest one is based on data collected in 2005-06.) Analysts familiar with the figures, however, caution that no comparison should be made with the earlier-cited figures, since the methodology used is significantly different. Aiso Vas, technical adviser to the Ministry of Rural Development and the Central Statistical Organization of Afghanistan, which jointly carried out the National Risk and Vulnerability Survey of 2005, the basis for much of the report, is emphatic on this point, saying the sampling frame has changed. Collection of data is difficult in Afghanistan, which has yet to see its first fully fledged census. Notwithstanding the risks of comparison, the current data reveal that Afghanistan remains among the poorest countries in the world, despite billions of dollars in aid over the past six years. Positive trends in the report include an increase in gross domestic product and a drop in infant mortality, which has fallen from 165 to 135 per 1,000 live births, though maternal mortality figures remain constant at 1,600 per 100,000 live births. The report also refers to another area of major concern, the increase in violence. In 2006 alone, it points out, the number of civilian deaths was twice as many as in 2005. Vested criminal interests preclude the Afghan judiciary from operating independently, free of intimidation and in accordance with the constitution and international human-rights standards. The report states that a climate of impunity still prevails in Afghanistan and political resistance within the government and other state institutions to address past human-rights violations and war crimes persists. "The judiciary, police and legislature are failing in their mission to meet the changing needs of Afghan citizens. Under-resourced with a limited reach, the formal state institutions of justice require a renewed and more coherent strengthening and restructuring effort," the report states.

Justice fails Afghan women

Al Jazeera
By
Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul

Many female prisoners face rejection by their families after their release [File: EPA]
Afghanistan is building new jails for women. Though there are only 300 female prisoners now, that number is expected to grow.
While there are no signs of a crime wave, one of the reasons for the increase is an unlikely one.
Lacking in transitional houses for released prisoners, a suggested solution includes using jails as secure places where women can stay until they are reintegrated into society. By some strange logic, funding for building jails is much easier to come by. But again, half of the women in jail should not be there at all.
Imprisoned for what are loosely described as "moral crimes", these women would qualify as victims rather than criminals under any interpretation of international human rights laws, including those to which Afghanistan is a signatory.
A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Afghanistan's female prisoners and their social reintegration drew attention to their dismal condition in a country where women face acute discrimination.
Not only are an estimated half victims themselves, but they are further victimised by the criminal justice process.
And on release from prison, they face victimisation for a third time. This can take the form of, at best, the family leaving the woman to fend for herself, and at worst, a so-called honour killing.Released in Kabul on Sunday, the UNODC report recommended laws changes, better facilities and improved legal aid to address some of the issues facing female prisoners. These suggestions were debated with representatives of the ministry of justice, the supreme court and other Afghan departments.
Forced marriagesThe UN women's fund (Unifem) found that 80 per cent of the violence perpetrated against women in Afghanistan originated in their homes.According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), 60 to 80 per cent of marriages in Afghanistan are forced, some of them involving girls as young as six years old.
Subjected to sexual and psychological abuse along with violence in their marital home, many girls run away. And when they come in contact with Afghanistan's criminal justice system, instead of receiving any protection, they are seen as offenders and convicted.
Opening a seminar organised jointly with the ministry of justice, Christina Orguz, UNODC country office representative, said that many people do not want to talk about the issue of female inmates.
Many are "in prison for things that would make them victims not perpetrators", she said.
Increased awarenessAnou Borrey, a gender and justice consultant with Unifem, said: "There is a need to increase the awareness of women about their rights so they don't end up in prison".
She said simple measures like registering marriages and the birth of a child could prevent adultery charges and stop child marriages.
"Currently the majority of the female prisoners are being held for violating social, behavioural and religious norms" UN Office on Drugs and Crime"Currently the majority of the female prisoners are being held for violating social, behavioural and religious norms," UNODC said.
The reason is the lack of a robust formal criminal justice system.
An estimated 80 per cent of all legal cases are dealt with by the traditional justice system, based on customary laws that vary from region to region and tribe to tribe.
Documentation of the customary laws by the International Legal Foundation showed that the laws are at their most discriminatory towards women.Not only are women penalised disproportionately for crimes, but they are punished on evidentiary standards that discriminate against them. Moreover, some of the customary laws also allow for them to be used as barter for settling other disputes, debts and feuds.
"In the restorative practice of the justice in Afghanistan, women who are regarded as the property of men, are often used as valuable commodities in the settlement of crimes and disputes" UNODC said.
"Rape may be treated as adultery and punished accordingly if a settlement cannot be reached between the two families concerned."
Unclear definitionEven Afghanistan's formal justice system does not clearly define rape as a separate crime, including it under the offence of "zina" or adultery, pederasty and violation of honour.
In practice, a woman often has to prove her lack of consent in a rape case in order to avoid being punished for it.
Although there is no distinct penalty for rape, there is a distinction - the so-called honour crimes. Those who commit them are exempt from the charge of murder, the conviction is discretionary and imprisonment is for a maximum of two years.
A 30-year-old woman serving a six year sentence in Pul-e-Charkhi jail became the victim of this clause of the law.
When her husband killed his neighbour during a dispute, he claimed he had been driven to murder by the man committing adultery with his "property". He received leniency from the court and his wife was jailed for committing adultery.
Mercenary reasonsSeveral women who were interviewed by UNODC were verbally divorced and had married again, but were later "reported" by their first husbands and jailed. In one case the woman had been in her second marriage for 10 years and had given birth to five children.
"Rape may be treated as adultery and punished accordingly if a settlement cannot be reached between the two families concerned" UN Office of Drugs and CrimeThe reason is not necessarily malignancy but often mercenary. If a man can prove his "property" has been seized by another, he can claim compensation using the threat of the criminal justice system.
But, as the UNODC report says, being in prison for moral crimes is only part of the problem.
Other women are dealt with outside the formal justice system, a threat that still awaits the prisoners when they step out of jail.
Shukria Noori, the national project co-ordinator for social reintegration of prisoners, says that women may be "threatened, violated and even killed".
Shelters for women do not have the capacity to absorb the large numbers of victims and are reluctant to accept inmates from prison, she said.
Borrey said there is a lack of support from the government, non-governmental organisations and the community to ensure that the women are reintegrated.Even if she does not become the victim of a so-called honour crime, a female prisoner's chance of survival after her release is very low.
Social moresIn a substantial number of cases, her family refuses to take her back. She has few marketable skills and Afghanistan's social mores make it extremely difficult for a single woman to survive on her own.
"A lot of women in prison are not criminals according to international standards" Dorothea Grieger, a criminal justice programme assistant with UNODC, said.
"But the underlying principles of minimum standard rules apply to them as well. Improvement should be used to help them to lead self-supporting lives after release."
This is something that UN bodies and women's organisations like Medica Mondiale are trying to address.
Legal aid as well as literacy, education and vocational training inside the prisons would empower the women prisoners with some marketable skills that could help them survive.
But most important of all perhaps is preparing them for release.
Mediation with the family, local elders or religious leaders enhances the chances of her acceptance. Sudden releases, like during Id al-Fitr, can actually harm the women more, leaving them on the streets.

No jirga like a peace jirga

Himal
Analysis
Kabul and Islamabad have taken an important step back from guiding the attempt at d├ętente. Now it’s up to the myriad others to take the nascent peace process forward.
By : Aunohita Mojumdar
Now let’s get down to business: Pakistani jirga members arrive in Kabul, August 2007
In the feeding frenzy of deadline journalism, the first-ever Afghanistan-Pakistan ‘peace jirga’ quickly turned into a snack for the mass media. Insta-pundits and participants were asked to offer snap assessments of the four-day jamboree. Demanding instantaneous declarations on whether the jirga, held 9-12 August in Kabul, had been a failure or a success, media organisations sought to simplify the phenomenon, variously terming it a ‘tribal assembly’ or reducing it to the pronouncements by Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf. But the jirga itself was much more than that.
Though termed a jirga because it was modelled on the tribal assemblies of the past, the ‘peace jirga’, like the Emergency Loya Jirga of 2002 and the Constitutional Loya Jirga of 2003, included not just tribal leaders, but also politicians, warlords and refugees recently returned to their homeland. The previous jirgas had seen the proactive, behind-the-scenes presence of the international community. During the peace jirga, however, there was a concerted effort to minimise international presence, and to emphasise the indigenous nature of the event. But the fact was that the idea of the peace jirga itself was first mooted in Washington, DC last year, following the separate meetings of presidents Musharraf and Karzai with George W Bush.
Backed by the US, and held at the initiative of the Kabul and Islamabad governments, the jirga departed from the traditional script by handing over some of the lead to non-government representatives. Parliamentarians, provincial-council members, tribal leaders, elders, civil-society activists as well as representatives of Islamabad and Kabul were brought together in the marathon four-day gathering. While a high degree of government involvement ensured that the jirga did not throw up completely unpleasant surprises, the format allowed the participants to debate issues without the pressures of government agendas, diplomatic niceties and the need to produce rhetorical results.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the meeting was that it was held at all, and allowed some 700 Afghans and Pakistanis to come together and openly exchange views. In the tense and fraught relationship between the two countries (and certainly between their capitals), such exchanges are exceptional. Of late, most of the traffic between the neighbours has been one way, with Afghans travelling to Pakistan – for refuge, for employment, for trade and even, Kabul would allege, for militant training. Here was a rare opportunity for opinion-makers from the two countries to discuss outstanding crossborder issues.
The intense involvement of Pakistan over the last two decades of Afghanistan’s conflict has resulted in a constant blame game. Though much of Islamabad’s involvement was fuelled by Western powers playing out the Cold War, Kabul would now like nothing more than to lay the blame for all conflict within its borders squarely on Pakistan. This would help to absolve the Afghan government of the pressure of admitting its failures regarding internal reconciliation and power sharing with disparate political groups. Islamabad, on the other hand, would like to point fingers at this very factor, insisting that the violence is bred wholly within the neighbour, and refusing to admit that the support and safe havens inside Pakistani territory energise the violence and complicate the politics of the insurgency, allowing for no easy solution.
Attempts over the last six years to produce some kind of d├ętente have been largely confined to the two governments, and have yielded little – instead, exacerbating tensions as the political leadership engages in the ritual finger pointing. By now stepping away from full control of the attempted peace process, the two governments can be credited with at least the realisation that peace must include a people’s engagement, as well as the task of addressing the issues of dissatisfied communities.
And peopleThe August peace jirga took cognisance of this realisation, and its eventual recommendations addressed the shortcomings of both the Pakistani and Afghan governments. A joint declaration described “terrorism” as a “common threat”, and pledged that “the government and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan will not allow sanctuaries/training centres for terrorists in their respective countries.” This is an oft repeated sentiment, of course, but a crucial difference here was the reference to “people”. The sharing of the onus of responsibility with the citizenry was further spelled out in the recommendations of the subcommittees that were set up to look at various issues. These called for “utilising tribal influence and traditional means against terrorism”, and stated that “whoever gives sanctuary to a terrorist or otherwise supports him should be identified by the concerned tribe to the government authorities.”
The declaration and recommendations, if implemented with commitment, would indeed strengthen current attempts to rein in militant elements in the frontier. Islamabad and Kabul have varying and fluctuating degrees of control in these areas, and their best-intentioned plans for implementing order would make little headway without the support of the local inhabitants and the loose power structures of tribes and communities that form the de facto frontier government.
The downside of devolving the responsibility onto the ‘people’ is that it has the potential to divest the governments of responsibility. Two such ‘local peace agreements’ – in North Waziristan, and on a much smaller scale in Musa Qala District of Helmund in Afghanistan – have unravelled spectacularly, potentially leaving the areas even more unstable than before. The insecurity in North Waziristan has recently escalated to such an extent that there were few participants from the area at the peace jirga, an absence attributed to fears of retribution from those opposing the jirga, most notably the Taliban.
Participation, or lack thereof, was one of the main weaknesses of the jirga, and this eroded some of its achievements. Missing were not only some of the tribal and community leaders from the Pakistani border areas and senior members of Pakistan’s opposition parties, but also anti-government insurgents in Afghanistan. Since the participation of Afghan delegates in the jirga mandated adherence to the Constitution and laying-down of arms, it automatically precluded any representation from those groups engaged in armed struggle.
Despite the weaknesses in participation, the meet did underline the importance of engaging with these groups. The joint declaration resolved to constitute a jirgagai, or a smaller jirga of 25 representatives from each country, which would, among other things, work to expedite the ongoing process of dialogue for peace and reconciliation with the “opposition”. When asked to spell out exactly what ‘opposition’ meant in this case, the jirga functionaries were coy about the specifics, but admitted it included those not reconciled with the government.
Regardless, the fact that the issue of reconciliation and militant sanctuaries appeared in the joint declaration represents a step forward for both governments, taken at the behest of the civil society in each country. Afghan Urban Development Minister Yousaf Pashtun told this writer that the jirga represented the two countries coming to “a more realistic approach on the issue”. Likewise, Kabul’s top official on the jirga, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Farooq Wardak, said the big achievement was that the two countries had adopted a common stand on the issue of ‘terrorism’ – a unified approach rather than that of two parties.
Much of the success or failure of the jirga will, of course, depend on the subsequent steps taken. The jirgagai is supposed to meet at regular intervals to oversee the implementation of the summit’s decisions. The five new subcommittees also have an extensive list of their own recommendations, including: relaxing trade restrictions, expediting clearance of goods at border crossings, establishing relations between the universities of the two countries, deployment of Pakistani doctors in Afghanistan, technical training of Afghans, identifying special export zones in the border areas, exchange of parliamentary delegations, establishing a crossborder chamber of commerce, cultural and media exchanges, a joint committee to counter drug trafficking, and bilateral education and social-welfare projects in militancy-affected areas.
If even a portion of these initiatives is eventually implemented, the result would be a multilayered interaction between the people of both countries. This would herald a gradual deceleration of the extant mutual hostility. By operating a step away from the governments, the members of the jirga would face less of the jingoistic pressure under which politicians inevitably find themselves. Both their mandate and their achievements would be based on real progress on peace, rather than on the shrill hostility that politicians in power often utilise to secure popular appeal.
Only time will tell whether the jirga will actually prove to be a functional blueprint for use in other parts of Southasia, where people’s engagement could be tapped to reduce hostility and lay the groundwork for solving longstanding problems. Otherwise, the Afghanistan-Pakistan peace jirga of August 2007 will remain nothing more than a four-day wonder.

Reform of Afghan police force hindered

By Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul

FT.com site

Published: Sep 03, 2007

Reform of the Afghan police system has been hindered by neglect by the international donor community, according to a Brussels-based think-tank, leaving the force corrupt, inefficient, and politicised.
In a report released Thursday, the International Crisis Group said that despite being paid less than the army, police were being used in anti-insurgency operations for which they are ill-trained and badly equipped. Last year (May 2006-2007), 406 police officers were killed compared with 170 soldiers, it said.
There have been some improvements in terms of equipment and buildings, the report said, but the "return on invested human and financial capital is modest ".
The ICG criticised the lead nation approach in which different donor countries were given responsibility for different security sectors - the US for the Afghan National Army and Germany (recently replaced by the EU Police Mission to Afghanistan) for the police. This, it said, resulted in the "absence of a comprehensive strategy " and a failure to grasp the "centrality of comprehensive reform of the law enforcement and justice sectors ".
The Afghan National Army "received the lion's share of attention though a reformed police and judiciary would have had far more impact on the average citizen's life and perception of the government's legitimacy, "according to the report.
The outcome has been the emergence of a police force that citizens view "more as a source of fear than of security, " ICG said, noting that currently even the numbers of Afghanistan's police force on duty are not known.
The report documents a highly politicised appointments procedure with factional networks and those linked to the drugs world competing for posts, especially ones that oversee smuggling routes. ICG said the Karzai government lacks the political will to tackle a culture of impunity and end political interference, merely shuffling police chiefs from one province to another in response to complaints.
Presidential spokesperson Humayun Hamidzada said: "I have not seen the report as yet, but in general I can say the president and the government are trying seriously to reform the police. The president yesterday called a meeting of police chiefs and spoke of the urgent need of building confidence and regaining the trust of the people. "
Dr Ali Wardak, a senior researcher with the Centre for Policy and Human Development, who has not seen the report either but has been working on the issue of rule of law, said: "One of the problems with the Afghan national police is that it does not operate as an integral part of the justice system and has little to do with prosecution. The judicial system should be one system in its entirety. "

Karzai blames west for poppy 'explosion'

By Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul and Alex Barker and James Blitz,in London,

Financial TimesPublished: Aug 30, 2007

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, yesterday launch-ed a powerful attack on the international community's failure to come up with a coherent counter-narcotics strategy for his country, blaming the west for Afghanistan's explosion in opium poppy cultivation.
In the aftermath of a United Nations report showing that opium production soared in Afghanistan by 34 per cent last year, Mr Karzai said there was insufficient co-operation among members of the international community in the fight against drug production in Afghanistan.
The president told journalists in Kabul that part ofthe problem facing Afghan-istan was that theinternational community had not respected the Kabulgovernment's proposals to reduce poppy production.
Mr Karzai did not explain which ideas were being over-ruled, but said: "Wherever the government is present, the drug fight is successful but where the government is overshadowed it is not successful."
Mr Karzai's comments were strongly rebutted by the UK government in London, which is leading the international fight against opium production in Afghanistan.
Britain has been under pressure on the issue because this week's report from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime showed that the biggest increase in opium production last year took place in Helmand province, where British troops are fighting the Taliban insurgency.
"The Afghan CounterNarcotics strategy is an Afghan-owned strategy and supported by the international community," a Foreign Office spokesman said last night.
"It has shown signs of progress in some provinces, and we are following the same approach in Helmand. The increase of cultivation in Helmand is a real concern but we are working very hard, side by side withthe Afghan authorities, to provide the security that will allow the counter-narcotics strategy to take hold."
British officials argue that there is no easy solution to Afghanistan's drugs problem.
"Bringing down drugs production [in Afghanistan] will take 10 to 15 years," one senior official said yesterday.
British officials say production has been soaring in Helmand because of rising insecurity and because the Taliban are taking a more active role in the trade.
British officials argue that production can only be brought down by a balanced strategy that improves incentives for farmers to switch crops, better governance and more targetederadication.
Nato has also adjusted its tactics to step up eradication in recognition of the links between the Taliban insurgency and the drugs trade. Nato will therefore provide greater support for Afghan law enforcement.
Senior US officials are keen to use aerial crop spraying as a means of tackling the soaring production rates in some of the country's provinces.
However, crop spraying has been strongly resisted by many European, Afghan and Nato officials who fear it will force farmers to shift their support away from the Afghan government and towards the Taliban insurgency.
Some western officials also believe the Afghans need to be more proactive themselves in the fight against the narcotics trade.
"We do need high-level arrests to begin to disrupt the big traffickers," said one official.
"We're slowly seeing some progress on this from the Afghans."

Afghanistan on course for record opium crop, says UN

By Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul
Financial TimesPublished:
Aug 28, 2007
This year's opium harvest in Afghanistan is projected to reach record levels, up 34 per cent on 2006, with Helmand province "single-handedly" becoming the world's largest source of illicit drugs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said yesterday.
Better yields have combined with a 17 per cent increase in land under cultivation to undermine poppy- eradication efforts and produce a record harvest of 8,200 tonnes. Afghanistan accounted for 92 per cent of global production, with an area of opium cultivation larger than the combined coca cultivation area in Latin America, said UNODC.
Most of the increased production is concentrated in unstable southern provinces, which account for 80 per cent of cultivation. The largest rise has been in the volatile province of Helmand, where British troops are fighting insurgency.
The number of northern and central provinces free of opium doubled to 13. In Balkh, a northern province, opium cultivation has been cut to zero from 7,200 hectares last year.
Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC's executive director, said poverty could not be used as an excuse since the south had some of the country's most fertile land and provinces in the centre and north had half the per capita income of the south.
Poppy-growing was linked to insecurity and inversely related to the degree of government control. Mr Costa has called for higher rewards for non-opium farmers and warned that delay in disbursing assistance could lead to opium-free provinces sliding back to poppy cultivation. Calling for greater deterrents to planting poppies, he urged an end to practices enabling rich land-lords to evade eradication.
The total area under op-ium cultivation rose from 165,000 ha to 193,000 ha, with Helmand alone ac-counting for 102,770 ha, a rise of 48 per cent over last year.
Mr Costa called on Nato to extend active support to anti-narcotic operations. Nato forces have so far steered clear of dealing with the issue on the grounds that it is a task primarily for the police. He would take up the issue during the meeting of the Nato council in Brussels on September 5.
He also urged the Afghan government to submit the names of known traffickers to the UN Security Council for inclusion alongside al-Qaeda and Taliban members on a list of those barred from travelling, who have their assets seized and face extradition.

PROFILE The people’s king

The Hindu

AUNOHITA MOJUMDAR
Mohammed Zahir Shah presided over the last uninterrupted peace the country enjoyed.
Photo: AP An observer: Mohammed Zahir Shah at his KabuL office.
It is not often in history that an era can be defined by the lack of what didn’t exist, the absence of what didn’t occur. tO many in Afghanistan, the 40-year reign of Afghanistan’s last king is defined by exactly that — the ab sence of war and violence and major changes.
Mohammad Zahir Shah came to power when his father was assassinated in 1933. In 1973, he relinquished power to his cousin in a bloodless coup. That was the last peaceful transition that Afghanistan was to see and the last uninterrupted peace.Behind the thrnone
If the absence of violence characterised his reign, at least part of the reason was Shah’s personality. In the first 30 years of his 40-year reign, power was exercised from behind the throne. The 19-year-old boy steered by his uncles gave way to the middle-aged monarch who seemed content to allow his ambitious cousin Daud Khan to wield power as Prime Minister. In 1963, an order prohibiting members of the royal family from taking positions of power in government was promulgated. This move, popular with citizens, also helped remove his powerful and sometimes controversial Prime Minister Daud Khan.
For 10 years, Zahir Shah ruled alone. In 1964, a new constitution was adopted providing for a representative government through a bicameral parliament though the powers of the parliament were confined to the consultative process and not all members were elected. The royal family’s attitude towards women was liberal and Shah also tried to take this forward through education. Uneasy reforms
However, he lacked both the forceful personality and political savvy needed to survive in the changing social and political milieu of Afghanistan. The reforms sat uneasily on his shoulders. Easily persuaded that allowing political parties would weaken his position, he never signed the bill that would enable them to participate in parliamentary politics (a political position he shared with the current Afghan president Hamid Karzai). Liberal reforms proceeded fitfully.
Much of the development and the programmes remained confined to Kabul, as the king exercised varying degrees of control in outlying areas. For the royal family, it was a time of hunting parties and foreign visits.
A severe famine and lack of economic opportunities helped create the conditions for the removal of Shah by a determined Daud Khan, who seized power and declared Afghanistan a republic while the monarch was in Rome.
The coup supposedly took place while Shah was taking a mud bath, a story that has assumed mythic symbolism. For the next 34 years, Shah was to largely play the role of an observer, the first 29 years in Rome and the remaining in Afghanistan until his death last week.
Though he expressed disquiet with the events in his lost kingdom from time to time, his intervention never took a more forceful form and he never attempted to regain his place.
Perhaps the lack of a powerful personality was also the reason why there were attempts to reinstate him from time to time. His neutral personality was viewed as being largely acceptable to most ethnic and political groups. Comebacks
The first attempt was after the Soviet withdrawal, but failed because of the bitter opposition from conservative groups. The move saw a new lease of life in 2001, as the international community searched for a non-controversial figure following the ouster of the Taliban. Contemporary accounts of the proceedings suggest that Shah was ‘persuaded’ to drop out in favour of the US-backed Hamid Karzai. The 2004 Constitution anointed Zahir Shah the ‘father of the nation’, effectively stripping him of the last vestiges of monarchy.
Since 2002, when he returned to the country, Shah’s presence did create a political space that has now acquired a momentum. Shah was allowed to retain part of the royal palace as his personal quarters and his presence helped leverage the influence of the members of the royal family. New political front
Unsullied by the bloodletting of the last three decades, members of the royal family also command a respect denied to factional political leaders. This has emerged as an important political element in the current fractured polity of Afghanistan. The past six years has seen a concerted attempt to consolidate power in the hands of an executive style presidency, and the result has been a growing alienation and frustration of disparate political groups.
Three months ago, disparate groups, apparently sharing little in the way of a common platform other than a disenchantment with the sources of power, came together to form a new political front.
The members of the Afghanistan National Front, include the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani; the former warlord from the North Abdul Rashid Dostum; the Vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud; the former war lord from the West Ismail Khan, Younus Qanuni from the Northern Alliance and Mustafa Zahir the grandson of the former king, among others.
While their efficacy as a united front is yet to be tested, it is already clear that they wield considerable influence. Buttressed by this new political group, Northern Alliance’ Younus Qanooni has used his position as speaker of the lower house to maintain an adamant stance on parliament’s powers to dismiss ministers, the case in point being that of the Foreign Minister Dadfar Spanta.
In a nascent democracy with an ongoing demarcation of powers, the influence of the royal family will go some way in shaping the new political balance of power, the reshaping of a republic by an erstwhile monarchy.

Jirga aims for dialogue

Al Jazeera
By
Aunohita Mojumdar

Security around Kabul was tight ahead of the jirgaTribal elders from two of Pakistan's most troubled zones said they would not attend the event.
The Taliban dismissed the three-day gathering as a US-organised farce.
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, excused himself from attending by citing "engagements in the capital" as the reason for a meeting to which he agreed nearly a year ago.
But despite the party poopers, Kabul has been spruced up to receive guests from neighbouring Pakistan for a headline meeting that was first announced in Washington in September last year following separate meetings of Musharraf and Hamid Karzai, his Afghan counterpart, with George Bush, the US president.
That over 300 delegates from across the border are in the city is in itself unusual, as Pakistanis rarely visit Afghanistan.
"Travel between the two countries has mainly been in one direction. Millions of Afghans have gone to Pakistan as refugees," says Amin Mudaqiq, the Kabul bureau chief of Radio Azadi.
Need for dialogue
Exchanges, especially post-9/11, have been largely between governments.
"When the governments have been in contact there have been slight misunderstandings" says Waheed Omar, deputy assistant of the jirga.
Haseeb Humayoon, an analyst with the Kabul-based Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, an independent research centre, is more blunt, saying bilateral government dialogue has sometimes widened the gap between the two countries.
Hundreds of Afghan and Pakistani delegateshave been attending the meeting [AFP] Featuring Pakistani and Afghan representatives, the three-day meeting is modelled on a tradition of calling jirgas - or tribal assemblies - in times of crisis.
And the rationale for a jirga that aims to take debate away from the strictures of formal government has never been more pressing.Both countries have seen the worst instability in territories that straddle the international border.
The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have only limited control over these areas, where tribal elders hold particular influence and where the Taliban and al-Qaeda hold bases. If tribal elders, community leaders or residents who provide food and shelter to the insurgents in the border regions were to be convinced to turn against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the fighters would find it difficult to maintain their campaigns.
"If this jirga endorses punishment of the extremists, then the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan have a legal [that is, acceptable to the tribal communities] basis for carrying out military operations in those areas," says Mudaqiq, adding that the political impact of any negative fallout from such operations would be much reduced.
Though the problem is too complex to be solved with one peace jirga, this week's council meeting could be a step towards reducing a long history of tension, he says.
Pessimistic view
Shinkai Karokhail, a member of the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament, endorses Mudaqiq's view. Emphasising that she cannot talk about what the result of the jirga may be, she says it is a good step in opening a dialogue.
The jirga will aim to foster mutualunderstanding on security issuesShe is hopeful there might be a change of attitude in Pakistan, since it has also felt the impact of terrorism in its own territory. She points out that Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, Pakistan's interior minister and that country's leader of the jirga, was himself the victim of an attack. Not everyone is quite so optimistic. Mustafa Kazemi, the spokesperson of the newly formed united front, which is now commonly viewed as Afghanistan’s first opposition, dismissed the jirga days before it began. Ramazan Bashar Dost, an outspoken Afghan MP, attacked the jirga on grounds that it was a futile exercise. Ahmed, a young Afghan, feels the real issue is one of ownership and power sharing. Calling Karzai's government US-dominated, he says: "Pashtuns will not come to Kabul while the Americans are here. In my village they came looking for me. I was not there but my cousin's son is now in Guantanamo and he has been there for the last six years. They have reduced the heroes of yesterday to terrorists."
Scope of meeting
The internal opposition to the government is something that the country has to deal with on its own and is not a bilateral issue, Omar says. The jirga will only examine the sanctuary and support provided to the insurgents in the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan's prime minister, said in his opening speech that global terrorism, Afghanistan's home-grown insurgency and the phenomenon of Talibanisation affecting Pakistan's own border areas were his country's main concerns.
However, Aziz also claimed that Afghanistan was not at peace with itself, adding that Kabul could not blame anyone else for this failure.
Some feel that the issues outlined by Aziz are already well known by the various parties concerned, but Omar says the jirga is an attempt to increase understanding.
The people of the affected areas, he says, "felt that they were ignored in addressing the problem they were most affected by. They felt the governments had taken the most superficial policy against terrorists and insurgents and that they were the ones who should have been asked. We feel this [jirga] is part of the democratic process."