The United States, Afghan, Qatari, and Pakistani governments have all voiced their support for the opening of a Taliban office in Doha in order to promote peace negotiations. Some consider transforming the Taliban from an armed insurgency into a legitimate political group to be the critical first step in the Afghan peace process. However, to date, reconciliation efforts have stalled and focus more on rhetoric rather than substance.
There is no concrete evidence that Taliban leadership is either worn down or desperate to reach a peace agreement. Attempting to secure his legacy as a peacemaker, Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to reach an agreement before the end of his term in April 2014. Because the Taliban have also cooperated somewhat with this principle of reconciliation, it is not immediately clear why the current approach has achieved nothing.
The answer is that the Doha peace process has been riddled with unrealistic expectations, and remains hopelessly inconsistent. Such reconciliation efforts without strategy and clear objectives reflect a hook without bait - while encouraging, these talks are doomed to fail without significant reform. Only with realistic expectations, a coherent strategy, national solidarity, and lots of patience, will reconciliation stand a chance of materializing.
Where We've Been Thus Far
The reconciliation offer requires three specific things from the Taliban: ending violence, breaking ties with al-Qaeda, and accepting the Afghan Constitution. The fourth, less advertised condition is the acceptance of a residual ISAF element in Afghanistan post-2014. At a recent summit in London, British, Afghan and Pakistani leaders set a six-month timeline to reach a peace settlement.
But substantive results are unlikely to emerge until after the 2014 Afghan Presidential elections. This is the single most important date in the reconciliation process and will set the tone for future debate. A six-month deadline to reach an agreement is not only unrealistic, but also damaging to the credibility of the process.
A more realistic approach to the peace process would be both accepting that this dialogue will take a long time and recognizing the importance of Afghan national consensus on the issue. Key stake-holders should focus efforts on reaching internal consensus between now and mid-2014, when the elections will take place. With reconciliation playing a significant role in Afghan political dialogue leading to the elections, the next president should enter office with a clear mandate on how to tackle engagement with the Taliban. Any further wavering will increase the likelihood of infighting amongst regional powerbrokers and warlords.
Negotiations are also unlikely succeed until the majority of Coalition Forces leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Why would the Taliban want to reconcile with the Afghan Government on the eve of ISAF's withdrawal? Still in control of significant swaths of land across the country, the Taliban will be hesitant to strike a deal until it becomes clear that Afghan security forces can maintain control without ISAF support.
Lessons Learned and Relearned
The most opportune moment for reconciliation has likely already passed. The Bonn negotiations, which took place immediately following the Taliban's swift defeat in late 2001, failed to peacefully incorporate Taliban loyalists into the new government. At that point, the Taliban were the defeated foe and their long-time enemies, now at the forefront of Afghan politics, circumvented any reconciliation efforts.
When the Taliban re-emerged as a significant threat between 2006 and 2009, Coalition COIN strategy focused more on marginalizing the Taliban through the "clear-hold-build-transfer" model, and did not pay enough credence to reconciliation efforts.
Additionally, the Afghan-led reconciliation process is fractured. While Afghan security forces are more focused on reintegrating individual insurgents willing to give up the fight, President Karzai's reconciliation program is focused on reaching a deal with the Taliban core leadership. This is not a "grand bargain" with the Taliban, but rather a presidential appeal to Afghan nationalism in an attempt to erode Pakistani influence on the Afghan Taliban's senior leadership. The result of the two incongruous approaches has been failure.
A Change in Direction is Required
For the peace process to work, it must change course. First, there must be national solidarity and consensus on the peace platform. The current plan, though basic, does not have widespread support among loyal Afghan opposition parties, such as Afghan Mellat, Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, or Jamiat-e-Islami. In fact, the process appears monopolized by a small group of Presidential Palace senior aides, rather than made transparent in order to seek buy-in from a wider sector of Afghans.
Second, we must understand the influence of external regional and international players on the Taliban as well as the Afghan government. Finally, the lead negotiators will need time to develop the proper relationships between opposing parties; this role is probably best handled by a group of mediators, supported by the key western stakeholders and accepted by all sides. All indicators point toward limited progress between now and the April 2014 Afghan elections.
The current Afghan government faces opposition from all the major ethnic groups in the country. Most ‘loyal opposition' parties and leaders - some of which are presidential contenders - are missing from the negotiating tables; these are the political parties featuring moderate Afghan party leaders who have worked with NATO over the past twelve years. By ignoring the "loyal opposition" parties, reconciliation officials are also excluding from the negotiation table the largest segment of the Afghan population - the youth. Afghan political leaders are increasingly paying attention to the youth-movement in an effort to "get the vote" from the most dynamic - and potentially volatile - segment of the population.
Part of the reconciliation process must start inside urban centers, where the majority of the population and the biggest opposition to the Taliban live. Only with a national consensus on reconciliation will the peace process move to a stage in which the Qatar office can start delivering results. This will take time and considerable trust-building measures.
While Pakistani support to the Taliban is an undeniable issue, the fact remains that poor governance from the Afghan government and deficiencies in the Afghan security apparatus make areas of the country vulnerable to insurgent (as well as criminal elements) influence. If the Qatar peace process is to work, all involved must understand that the peace terms can only be Afghan-generated. External entities can facilitate the peace process but cannot set the terms. One of the challenges for the reconciliation process is that few possess the patience to approach it as a long term process. Many hours of deliberation and countless cups of tea will be required to build the trust and goodwill necessary to start the reconciliation process and a vital - to the ultimate peace - drop in violence.
In order for the international community to support the peace process and help it move forward, the Taliban must be better understood. Although the Taliban are most often associated with their strict adherence to Shari'a Law and violent insurgent tactics rather than their Foreign Ministry's diplomatic efforts, they have pursued basic diplomatic solutions in the past and may still be open to such activities. Twelve years of conflict since the end of the Taliban's regime have made it difficult, but not impossible, to leverage Taliban diplomacy in future negotiations.
Ultimately however, no reconciliation can start unless there is pause in the carnage supported by the Taliban senior leadership. Similarly, there must be a willingness on the part of the Afghan government to adhere to some form of cease-fire. The negotiating parties must be willing to compromise, as concessions are essential for both sides to achieve realistic goals.
The most important thing the United States can accomplish on reconciliation this year is to give up on the idea that reconciliation will be accomplished this year. Only by realizing how far the reconciliation process is from the end goal can the U.S. avoid doomed-to-fail quick fixes that reinforce hopelessness. The U.S. must see reconciliation in the context of the political transition that will come after the mid-2014 Afghan Presidential elections. A good first step toward national reconciliation will be the commitment of each candidate to making the peace process a key element of their platform and laying out their plan to achieve lasting peace during their term.
With this more modest understanding of 2013 as the year to begin a real dialogue rather than expect results on reconciliation, there are three key components that set the table for future breakthroughs.
First, international engagement must be persistent and consistent rather than episodic and occasionally even working at cross-purposes. More specifically, this means committing to the Doha process, which is the closest credible option for most Afghan factions, and having permanent international staff working with the parties, rather than visiting delegations. Similarly, clarity of purpose from these engagements would be useful, as the Coalition and the Afghan Government send conflicting signals on whether insurgent groups are considered the "enemy" or, albeit "upset," brothers.
Second, the United States and its allies must recognize that real reconciliation in Afghanistan requires the involvement of all parties, not just the false binary of the Karzai Government and the Taliban. Talks must include other armed resistance groups, as well as the loyal opposition (i.e. parties and individuals who choose political means of opposing government policies without violence) which has consistently acted as the Afghan government's conscience and challenged the carnage caused by the fighting between the government and insurgents. Given that this latter faction probably represents a substantial majority of Afghans and aligns most closely with priorities of the international community, reconciliation must not further marginalize them.
Third, much of the 2014-2019 Presidential term should set the conditions for reconciliation. In effect, the new Afghan President should be sworn in with a national agenda and a mandate to push toward a potential breakthrough during their time in office. But reconciliation should not be attempted at all costs. In other words, unless there is real intent to stop the violent insurgency in earnest, the idea of negotiations is absurd. For example one cannot expect positive results on reconciliation efforts when civilian casualties are going up significantly. According to the U.N. data, 3,092 civilians were killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict between 1 January and 6 June this year, with children accounting for 21 per cent of all civilian casualties.
Ultimately, true reconciliation will take generations to materialize. Abandoning the current failed ‘foolosophy' in favor of a more realistic - but much longer term - approach is a good first step in our collective "12-step process" to reconciliation recovery.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Dr. Kamal Alam specializes in 21st century relations between Arab states, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
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In a recent article for the AfPak Channel, Megan Reif and Nadia Naviwala argue that the violence attending last month's elections in Pakistan should be interpreted as "a sign that electoral administration is getting stronger and that democracy is maturing." While they do not condone electoral violence, they argue that it is a normal part of the democratization process and signals the strengthening of institutions, reduced opportunities for fraud, and a crowding out of extremists from the electoral process. To prove their points, they provide historical examples of electoral violence in France and the United States as a reminder that many of the world's consolidated democracies also experienced violence as part of an incremental, centuries-long move toward democracy.
Part of Reif's and Naviwala's motivation may be to defend the democratic process under adverse conditions and to encourage nascent democracies to trudge forward in their pursuit of democratic consolidation. However, the authors fall short when they argue that more reform can lead to more violence and, hence, violence can be interpreted as a sign of democratic and institutional progress. Such a conclusion is troublesome and misleading. Their thesis, while provocative, conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of the motivations behind the use of violence, which in many cases is a deliberate strategy employed by political actors.
The Pakistani Taliban did claim responsibility for much, but not all, of the electoral violence that occurred before the national election in Pakistan. According to their statements, the violence was meant to disrupt and delegitimize the democratic process. However, there were also many instances where violence seemed to be employed as an electoral strategy by both the Taliban and political party agents.
Commentators noted that Taliban-friendly political parties and candidates had been largely spared from violent attacks and that these parties, in fact, benefited from the violence. Violence was used to deter certain candidates -- primarily those representing liberal parties -- from participating in the election. Pamphlets were distributed that warned of the dangers of electing women and "infidels" into office. There were also reports of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement by political party agents on Election Day.
The use of violence by political parties is not new to Pakistan. Indeed, the European Union's Election Observation Mission report for the 2008 national and local elections notes that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement is known for using violence Additionally, there is a precedent of Pakistani politicians using attacks by extremists as a cover for their own political gains; a new working paper by Paul Staniland of the University of Chicago details the collaboration between extremist groups and politicians. Thus, there is sufficient reason to believe that the electoral violence that occurred in Pakistan had many purposes besides preventing the election, one of which was to affect the outcome.
The strategic use of violence may masquerade as an indicator that groups have no legitimate option by which to express their opposition to elections due to improvements in the electoral process. But our research on Kenya shows that this use of violence suggests insufficient institutional reform, a critical failure of the state to protect the franchise of its citizens, and a high level of impunity for the past use of violence. The presence of electoral violence indicates weak institutional development, not democratic maturation.
Much like the attacks in Pakistan, electoral violence in Kenya has historically taken many different forms and has been used for many different purposes. It been used both to suppress and mobilize voters, deter aspirants from participating in elections, punish perceived political opponents, and to delegitimize the electoral process.
Prior to elections in 1992, political elites allied with President Daniel arap Moi and the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party supported organized gangs, through which they orchestrated ‘ethnic clashes.' While the clashes mainly pitted Kalenjin communities against non-Kalenjin and perceived KANU opponents, it also encompassed many different ethnic groups . Approximately, 1,500 Kenyans died as a result of the violence -- first in a bid to demonstrate to Kenyans the dangers of transitioning from single party elections to multiparty elections, and later in an attempt to scare Kenyans into either voting for incumbent Moi or not voting at all. This pattern repeated itself in 1997 when approximately 100 people were killed in Coast Province (eastern Kenya) as part of Moi's electoral strategy. The Kikuyu ethnic group, which comprises approximately 22 percent of the population, was the main target of the violence, although other groups considered as non-indigenous to Coast were also affected.
After the 2007 elections, a serious political crisis broke out in Kenya. The Electoral Commission of Kenya declared incumbent Mwai Kibaki the victor of a close and highly contentious presidential election, amid myriad allegations of fraud and vote rigging. Violence -- instigated by supporters of Raila Odinga, Kibaki's opponent -- began as a ‘punishment' for supporters of Kibaki, a Kikuyu. Over the course of the next month, inter-ethnic violence claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Kenyans.
This post-election violence was a turning point in Kenya. Its resolution required international mediation and led to the adoption of several major political reforms. Most notably, a new constitution was approved in a 2010 referendum, significant electoral reforms were enacted to prevent fraud and increase confidence in the election, and steps were taken to reform the police -- which were responsible for almost 40 percent of the fatalities.
Elections in 2013 -- Kenya's first since 2007 and the major reforms that ensued --have been widely lauded for their relative peacefulness. But here the world has focused only on the post-election period. In fact, in the months leading up to the election, more than 300 people died as part of the campaign process. Some of the violence, appearing as ethnic clashes, could be linked to aspirants vying for the new county-level positions, as documented by a Human Rights Watch report. In other cases, the objective was to prevent the vote from taking place. The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a separatist organization, attacked election officials and facilities to disrupt what they argued was an illegitimate election, much as the Taliban in Pakistan has denounced democracy as un-Islamic. The MRC felt that by using violence and intimidation to lower voter turnout they would deprive the elections of their legitimacy and, ultimately, lend credence to the MRC's claim that Coast Province should be independent of Kenya.
The pre-election violence of 2013, which took place after considerable reform, is not a signal of institutional progress in Kenya. Rather, it is a reflection of insufficient reform. Devolution spawned new competition for elected office, while an atmosphere of impunity for past attacks facilitated violence in other areas. More to the point, ineffective and partisan electoral management bodies and a weak, corrupt judiciary have facilitated the use of violence as a part of the electoral process.
To date, although the violent tactics employed by Moi and his associates are widely known, no one has been charged with a crime. Furthermore, despite repeated calls from civil society and demands from the international community, none of the perpetrators of the 2007 electoral violence have been brought to justice. In Kenya, electoral violence has never signified the strengthening and deepening of democracy, but rather it has served as an indicator of democratic fragility.
In addition to spotlighting institutional inadequacies, in rare but extreme cases, electoral violence may also be the first shot fired in what then becomes a deadly civil conflict. In Congo-Brazzaville's 1994 legislative elections, the three leading candidates all had private militias, which clashed after the results indicated that Pascal Lissouba's party had won. The resulting violence left 2,000 dead. After fighting broke out again between Lissouba and Denis Sasso-Nguesso in 1997 over electoral rules, 15,000 died before Lissouba took over. Another 20,000 died from related violence over the next two years.
Instead of accepting violence as a sign of democratic progress, we should learn from countries that have successfully navigated democratization without a call to arms. There are many counter-examples of peaceful processes in Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, and Mauritius.With greater understanding of the motivations behind electoral violence, we can do more to prevent it. Strengthening political institutions, improving electoral management, and ensuring those who commit electoral crimes are brought to account are all ways in which violence can be and has been successfully counteracted.
Most importantly, violence is not an indictment of electoral democracy. Instead, it should be seen as a means to help reformers identify where the breakdown of democracy is occurring. Violence in Kenya has highlighted problems with electoral management, corruption in security forces, and judicial incapacity -- all of which were targeted by significant reforms after 2007. Kenya's 2013 election was much improved from previous contests in terms of the integrity of electoral management and the monitoring of violence, but violence was still a part of the electoral process and it suggests that more reforms are necessary to protect the gains Kenya has made thus far. The lessons learned in Kenya can easily be applied to the Pakistani case. In both countries, we can congratulate courageous voters who cast their ballots under duress while still decrying violence and identifying areas for future reform.
Stephanie M. Burchard and Dorina A. Bekoe, the editor of Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, are research staff members at the Institute for Defense Analyses. The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and should not be viewed as representing the official position of the Institute for Defense Analyses or its sponsors. Links to web sites are for informational purposes only and not an endorsement.
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Today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its 2013 Annual Report, focusing on Pakistan and 28 other countries around the world, including Afghanistan. As an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department, USCIRF's Annual Report identifies violations of religious freedom, as defined by international conventions, and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
Based on our monitoring over the past year, we have concluded that the situation in Pakistan is one of the worst in the world.
The report found that "sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi'a Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith." An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology that undertake attacks impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country's security and stability.
In the face of increasing attacks against Shi'as and consistent violence against other minorities, Pakistani authorities have failed to provide protection and have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.
In light of these particularly severe violations, USCIRF recommends that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern," or CPC, by the U.S. Department of State for these systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. The CPC designation is a special blacklist created when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act. Unlike some other ‘blacklists,' the CPC designation does not carry any specific penalties for the countries on the list. What it does do is assign a framework through which U.S. officials can encourage the designated country's government to address the egregious violations of religious freedom. This can come in the form of a binding roadmap of agreed actions, a waiver, or punitive steps if progress is lacking.
Countries currently named by the State Department include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated as "countries of particular concern," and USCIRF has concluded it overwhelmingly meets the threshold established in the Act.
The facts speak for themselves. As the report states:
The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shi'a Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed "unIslamic" will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country's blasphemy law, used predominantly in Punjab province but also nationwide, targets members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently results in imprisonment. USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalize various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views deemed "un-Islamic." The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.
Designating Pakistan as a CPC would make religious freedom a key element in the bilateral relationship and start a process to encourage Islamabad to undertake needed reforms.
There are a range of issues that should be on the bilateral agenda, whether or not Pakistan is designated a CPC. The U.S. government should include discussions on religious freedom and religious tolerance in U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogues and summits, as well as urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities from violence and actively prosecute those committing acts of violence against Shi'as, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and others; unconditionally release individuals currently jailed for blasphemy; repeal or reform the blasphemy law; and repeal anti-Ahmadi laws. The United States can also highlight to the new government how the Federal Ministry for National Harmony is an institution unique among other nations, and maintaining it would keep a partner to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and freedom. For sure, none of these are easy, so naming as a CPC would cut through the distractions and help create the political will to act.
The situation in Pakistan is acute, with the increasing violence against diverse religious communities and a system of laws that violate human rights. With a new government soon coming to power, there is a unique opportunity to work together to confront these threats to Pakistan. At the same time, negative pressures could tilt the new government in the wrong direction. For instance, the Pakistani Taliban's targeting of "secular politicians" could give traction to their offer from late 2012 to cease violence in exchange for constitutional amendments to install their religious vision over the country. The CPC process would support Pakistanis who want a better future for their country and counterbalance these pressures -- if the Pakistani government fails to address these issues concretely, penalties could follow after a CPC designation.
The United States is Pakistan's only friend that has the heft and desire to encourage it to tackle these difficult challenges. For sure, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is complicated and designating a CPC would likely complicate things further. However, to protect all Pakistanis, these issues cannot be ignored and must be confronted and addressed.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Any personal views expressed are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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The long agony for Afghanistan's women ended with the fall of the Taliban in 2001. This past January, Ms. Saira Shikeb Sadat, whose husband disappeared under the Taliban rule, assumed office as Afghanistan's first female district administrator in Jawzjan province. She recently told media that one of her top priorities was to empower women and girls. She said this can be achieved through the development of her district, Khawaja Do Koh, which is home to a population of 5,000 whose access to education, healthcare, and employment assistance, such as income-generation schemes, has been very limited. But she is determined to address these problems during her tenure in office, and the Afghan government supports her in these efforts.
Like Ms. Sadat, thousands of women are politically and socially active in Afghanistan in various capacities. The first female provincial governor and district mayor in Afghan history are currently in office. The key ministries of public health: women's affairs, and labor, social affairs, martyrs and disabled are led by women, as is Afghanistan's Independent Commission on Human Rights. At the same time, the Afghan Parliament continues to convene with a higher percentage of female representatives, 27.3 percent, than the legislative bodies of many of the most established democracies, including the U.S. Congress (15.2 percent) and British Parliament (19.7 percent).
Yet despite these important advances, the condition of women in Afghanistan is in need of urgent attention. One woman dies every 29 minutes in childbirth, the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world (1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births). Mountainous terrain and weather conditions prevent timely medical attention to patients and pregnant women. Severe food shortages have resulted in chronic malnourishment among children, and 48 percent of Afghan women are iron-deficient.
Millions of girls cannot attend school because of security concerns or restrictive social norms. Just 12 percent of women 15 years and older can read and write, compared to 39 percent of men. The overall literacy rate for women between the ages of 15 and 24 stands at 24 percent, compared to 53 percent for men in Afghanistan.
This troubling situation is a legacy of decades of war and state collapse in the country. During the past 30 years of conflict, the needs of women stood neglected because Afghanistan did not have effective state institutions that could provide services to the people. Under the Taliban, women were relegated to the confines of their homes and deprived of education and basic human rights.
Afghanistan today is making efforts to recover from the effects of decades of utter desolation and destitution. Improving the condition of women is a priority in our national development strategy. In 2008, we launched a national action plan for the women of Afghanistan to provide a comprehensive, cross-ministerial approach to improving the condition of women. Indeed, we have a long way to go before we can catch up with the rest of the world, but we are working hard.
In the past eleven years, schools and universities have opened their doors to a record number of women. Of nearly 5 million children in grades one through six, 36.6 percent are girls. The number of girls in high school almost doubled from 2007 to 2008, from 67,900 to 136,621 students. Some 8,944 university students graduated in Afghanistan in 2008. Of them, 1,734 were female students. These numbers have continued to rise in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, despite a spike in the number and frequency of terrorist attacks across Afghanistan, often targeting schools, teachers, and students, with most victims being girls.
Public health also has seen tremendous improvement over the past eleven years. Up to 80 percent of the Afghan population has access to basic health care, a massive increase from just 8 percent in 2001. More than 1,650 professional midwives are employed by the ministry of public health, providing health care and childbirth services across Afghanistan. This has helped reduce infant mortality rates by 23 percent, saving 80,000 newborn lives each year.
In addition to taking these concrete steps, we are working to change societal mind-sets. In some parts of Afghanistan's most traditional areas, attitudes hamper the progress of women. Unlike most governments in the world, the Afghan government not only makes and implements policies, but also functions as an agent of social change, working to ameliorate the traditional views that hold women back from fully developing their abilities and contributing to society. We are partnering with local elders and religious figures to ensure that attitudes change through a community-centered approach. Through the National Solidarity Program, more than 22,000 Afghan women are actively participating along with men in more than 10,000 community development councils to assess local needs, receive and implement grants from the ministry of rural rehabilitation and development and lead project design and implementation.
Slowly, we are seeing progress. As the success story of Ms. Sadat and others reminds us, women are the pillars of Afghanistan. With enhanced attention to women's issues, more than half of the Afghan population can be socially, economically and politically empowered to make a significant contribution to Afghanistan's long-term development. The international community must help the Afghan government approach the task of empowering Afghan women as a continual process rather than as a single benchmark, for international experience shows us that even legal equality does not translate into equal treatment.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
Just after Christmas, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) offered a peace deal of sorts to the Pakistani government. In exchange for a cessation of TTP violence, they demanded Pakistan's constitution be brought into conformity with their version of Islamic law and the government break ties with the United States. In response, a senior Pakistani government official reportedly called the offer "preposterous."
Yet it may not be, especially regarding the implementation of religious law. Similar demands were met in 2009 after the TTP took the Swat valley, with the Pakistani government giving away these very rights. The local government led by the Awami National party agreed to establish sharia law in Swat and the broader Malakand Division, which was approved by the national parliament and signed by President Zardari. It was only when the Pakistani Taliban pushed for more territorial gains that the government responded with force of arms. If past is prologue, the government may bend to get a deal now.
However, the status quo arguably meets TTP demands regarding religious law, as much of what they seek already exists - Islamic law plays a major role in governance, and militants are free to violently force their religious interpretations on the population.
This slide towards religious governance goes back to the country's founding. From the outset, the Objectives Resolution of 1949, which preceded the first of several constitutions, tilted Pakistan towards an Islamic state where citizens and their rights were defined by religion. This occurred despite Jinnah's famous speech two years earlier to the Constituent Assembly, in which he said, "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State." The Objectives Resolution went in a different direction, and while it recognized the presence of religious minorities, it only promised "adequate provision" of basic rights, while defining the entire state in Islamic terms. Constitutions that followed built off and expanded this foundation.
The biggest leaps came from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's secular Prime Minister from 1973-1977, and General Zia ul Haq's reign from 1978-1988. Under Bhutto, the Ahmadis were effectively outlawed through constitutional changes that created a definition of a Muslim that excluded Ahmadis. The constitution was also amended to establish the Council of Islamic Ideology to advise on whether proposed laws are compatible with Islam. Not considered particularly devout, he took these and other steps to shore-up his flagging political fortunes, currying the support of religious leaders.
Zia went even further, setting into place much of what the TTP wants today, changing both statutory law and constitutional provisions. He amended the blasphemy law, a colonial era holdover, and increased the penalty to include death, but without requiring the provision of evidence. This alone has had far-reaching effects. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) where I work knows of at least 17 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and 20 others serving life sentences. Many more are in jail awaiting trial or appeal. The surprising outcome of the Rimsha Masih case is an exception to the sad norm.
In addition, Zia altered the penal code to criminalize the basic acts of the Ahmadi faith. He amended the constitution to create the Federal Shariat Court to review legislation that may conflict with sharia law, creating an unclear legal structure that appears to run parallel to or oversee the secular system. In addition, Zia Islamicized the education system, the banking system, and the penal system through the Hudood ordinances.
And today, for what the law does not forbid (which is much), militants have free reign to impose their religious views at the point of a gun.
This was shockingly evident last week, with the January 10 attack that killed 81 Shi'a Muslims in twin bombings in a Shiite area of Quetta. The attack was tragically predictable, as the targeting of Shia Muslims steadily increased throughout 2012, with rights groups estimating (before this attack) more than 400 murdered. The TTP, and fellow travelers like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, regularly claim responsibility. Human rights organizations continue to criticize government inaction, but the body count keeps rising.
Another case in point is the TTP murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs and the only Christian in Zardari's cabinet. Working bravely against the blasphemy law, the TTP answered Shahbaz's efforts in 2010 by assassinating him steps from his mother's Islamabad home in broad daylight. The TTP were so brazen as to leave fliers at the scene claiming responsibility, but no one has been held accountable and the investigation fizzled.
Ahmadis continue to suffer discrimination, abuse, and violence. 80 Ahmadis were killed in May 2010 when two of their mosques were attacked by the TTP. Violence continues today throughout the country - in July of this year the president of a local Ahmadi community outside Karachi was murdered and in December over 100 Ahmadi graves desecrated in Lahore. Hindus too are among the victims of Pakistan's climate of intolerance. The forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls has increased in Sindh Province, and in 2012 upwards of 250 Pakistani Hindus from Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces have migrated to India to avoid increasing violence. Christians remember the violence of Gojra in 2009, where an entire village was burned to the ground and no one held to account, and last year the National Commission for Justice and Peace found nine places of worship were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, including 5 churches and 3 Hindu temples.
Clearly, the Pakistani Taliban's demand for enforcement of their version of Islamic law is not far from reality. In the current environment, Pakistani law is used to enforce religious views, and militants act with impunity against those they consider un-Islamic. Both the majority Muslim population and minority religious communities are at risk. Pakistan's active civil society must continually retreat and retrench to protect the small openings for peaceful debate and human rights work. Consequently, the very fabric of Pakistan is being torn, and if this "preposterous" ask is implemented, it could unravel more.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
Early last month, while the United States was in its own pre-election haze, Americans giddily re-tweeting whatever incremental shift Nate Silver's model had just spat out, CNN personalities with their Magic Wall, nightly groping at some Ohio precinct, over in Kabul, Karzai was making his move. With the West's gaze averted, he quietly set in motion his plan to control Afghanistan's next election.
Through the ministry of justice, Karzai pushed a draft amendment to the country's election law that would add sweeping new restrictions to candidate eligibility for the Afghan presidency. The law now sits in Parliament awaiting debate, but if it passes, it would disqualify anyone who has a disability -- physical or psychological, anyone who can't speak and write in both Dari and Pashtu, anyone who doesn't have ten years of work experience in the administration, anyone who doesn't have a university degree, anyone who can't pay one million Afs (the equivalent of $20,000), and anyone who can't come up with 100,000 signatures cumulatively from at least twenty different provinces.
A contrast, to be sure, with the comparatively modest 35 years of age and a citizen required of U.S. presidential candidates. But is it a necessary one? After all, superficially the law would seem to weed out warlords, as well as especially ethnocentric candidates, for whom the inability to speak one of the languages that half the country speaks may indicate undue animus towards them, and for whom signatures from twenty provinces would seem to demand at least some appeal beyond just an ethnic powerbase which, in the fractious ethnic politics of the country, could be enough to propel a candidate into a run off election. Besides,
"Afghanistan is very unsettled," as Ambassador Ronald Neumann, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, told me. "It is not clear whether a brokered election coming out of agreement among power brokers would be more or less destabilizing than a contentious fight among multiple candidates with highly partisan ethnic or tribal political bases."
And perhaps that's what's going on here; perhaps Karzai knows better than anyone how to promote a peaceful transition, and, in furtherance of that goal, what kind of people should be disqualified.
Or perhaps he knows exactly which people he wants to disqualify. The timing, after all, is curious. Eighteen months before an election is awfully late to introduce laws that restrict who can stand for them. And when you look at the names that began to circulate in the rumors about the upcoming elections, an explanation emerges: he had to wait that long because he had to see who might run before designing laws to disqualify them.
Haneef Atmar, the highly regarded bureaucrat who served ably in three different ministries, lost a leg while fighting in Jalalabad in ‘88. The disability provision would disqualify him-and many others, given that Afghanistan has the world's second highest proportion of disabled people (behind only Cambodia) and has its most heavily mined capitol city. Yunos Quanooni, who came in second behind Karzai in the 2004 elections, and is a former Minister and speaker of the parliament, was disabled by a car bomb in 1993. Also disqualified. Zalmay Khalizad, an American of Afghan extraction who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and to the UN (and therefore whose candidacy would require an awkward -- though not unprecedented -- citizenship change) has no lack of expertise in government, but does not have the requisite ten years in Afghanistan's. And the list goes on. Is Karzai's law tailor-made to disqualify specific challengers?
That is, of course, is the most conspiratorial analysis. It's famously difficult to decipher Karzai's political calculus, but if he is trying to assure maximal control over his successor, how better than to cast doubt over who will be eligible to run? That would be vintage Karzai. In earlier cycles, it was the date of the election he delayed announcing and then moved up, which kneecapped opponents who hadn't been able to plan for the elections without knowing when they would be, and now only had two months to campaign. Indeed, today, potential candidates, and those who might support them, are sitting on their hands. No one wants to cast his or her lot without knowing who will actually be eligible. Every day the qualifications for office requirements to run are unknown, candidates without Karzai's blessing see their chances fade. There will simply not be enough time for an alternative to make himself (or, more improbably, herself) known to the Afghan electorate before the election.
Though Karzai's intentions are not apparent, the practical effects the law would have are clear. The "ten years in government administration" probably won't include Taliban or pre-Taliban government experience, which means what the law is really saying is that candidates must have been in government between 2001 and 2014-all the years Karzai was in charge. In practice, the clause is a lazy euphemism for "must have worked for Karzai."
Or, take the university degree requirement. At first blush, an apparent assurance that the president will not hail from the country's deep stable of power-hungry warlords. And yet in practice, it would be better at eliminating regular Afghans from the field than especially violent ones. A college education was a luxury unavailable to most who remained in the country during the thirty years of on again, off again war, so the requirement would reduce the field of homegrown candidates in favor of émigrés to Western countries who returned after the worst of the fighting-a species Afghans have historically had a hard time trusting. Nor would the degree requirement even be all that effective at preventing warlords from running, since they could sue for exception given their military rank, or their knowledge of Sharia, as many have before in order to qualify for ministerial posts or Parliamentary seats. Some actually have essentially honorary university degrees, granted by Iran or Pakistan as part of the patronage relationships those countries have with their clients in Afghanistan.
Then there is the filing fee. The average income in Afghanistan is about $1,000 a year; the filing fee is twenty times that. It would virtually guarantee that all the candidates either be from the country's small financial urban elite, or have external backing. Or, have Karzai's. By way of comparison, there is no filing fee for an American presidential candidate, and other developing or post-conflict countries that do have filing fees have very small ones, designed to insure some accountability from those who run for office-not eliminate everyone who isn't already wealthy.
And every single one of these stipulations, by the way, militates against the participation of women, because they all depend on access. Work experience, financial resources, education level, and even the mobility required to get signatures in twenty-five different provinces for the requisite 100,000 signatures, raise a bar still difficult for women in Afghanistan to clear.
So how should the international community respond? Does it matter whether these are the cynical machinations of a despot desperate to hold on to as much power as possible after he leaves office? To install a seat warmer loyal to him for five years so that he can run again in 2019 (though constitution sets a limit of two consecutive terms, it does not mention a limit on non-consecutive terms)? Or are these the considered steps of a leader who knows better than anyone how to prevent the kind of violence possible when a presidential election comes along to inflame ethnic tensions, at exactly the same time the troops that might quell them are pulling out?
Certainly, the law is anathema to real representative democracy, and potentially, to the legitimacy of a post-Karzai president who will already, regardless of who he is and to which ethnic group he belongs, have a severe mandate problem in large parts of the country.
Fortunately, the law is still pending. At weakening the field, though, its effect is not contingent on its ratification, since no one can start a campaigning in earnest without knowing whether they'll be able to run. Meanwhile, the United States has begun negations with the Karzai government about the terms of the U.S. military withdrawal, with particular tension over immunity for the U.S. troops that remain. We need to think seriously, though, about what it is those troops that stay behind will be protecting. And how do we balance the tension between one man's idea of how to maintain stability, and a people's right-a right which comprised part of the justification for this nation sacrificing no shortage of blood and treasure-to choose their leader, from a field of candidates unfiltered by one man notorious for cronyism?
Jeffrey E Stern--www.JeffreyEstern.com--is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
screams tore through the sky, travelling the deep lengths of haunting silence guarded
by military men at River Neelum. She wanted to grab her son, Ali Ahmad, from
the other side of the border and run. Instead, Jamila saw him being dragged
away by Indian soldiers, away from the river, away from the border, away from
her sight. The cross-border meeting time was over.
Ali Ahmad is 20 years old and was raised in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir by one of his mother's relatives, who had looked after him since he was an infant. He was left or forgotten on the Indian side of the border when his mother was swept up in the mad rush to flee to Pakistan during the violence of the early 90s. He now lives and studies in New Delhi, and made the long journey to the border for the rare opportunity to see his mother. In fact, it was the rarest of opportunities, as she stood in front of him for the first time across the border at River Neelum -- also known as Kishanganga -- that splits the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan; the place where all the wars in his life began.
Jamila still lives in the beautiful, isolated valley of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir very near to the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the two countries and continues to be their single most threatening bone of contention.
"Return my son", she pleaded as people held her from trying to cross over the river. "Forgive me for leaving India. I was scared. Please return my son before I die."
Jamila uttered gibberish and let go of her last scream, before the sun slipped
behind the dark green mountains splitting Kehran into what Pakistanis generally
call ‘Azad [free] and Occupied Kashmir.'
For 20 years, Jamila had waited to meet her son, attempted to reach him, and since the recent initiation of cross border permits, has made dozens of visits to the permit office. All to no avail. Her application to cross the border has never been rejected, "they don't reject or give a reason for delay. They just don't grant us the permit," Jamila later told the AfPak Channel. "I have been trying for several years, and have spent hundreds of thousands of rupees just making incessant visits to the office, sometimes bribing officials who never really helped. Those who do get their permits must be really lucky, but I have never met anyone like that."
Jamila has no family on the Pakistani side of the border. Her father and husband were killed during the massacres of the 1990s in Indian-held Kashmir a few months after her marriage. The Indian army is accused of committing thousands of extra-judicial killings, and "stories of arrests, torture, killings, and secret burials were rife in Kashmir" at the time.
Jamila's town of Zachaldara, Handwara in North Kashmir's Kupwara district was infamous for such violence, and her "only hope was to escape." Her son was just a year old when she decided to go to Pakistan with a group from her village that was "fleeing to Azad Kashmir for freedom." "It sounded like a miraculous imagination, a dream, at that time to be able to live freely," Jamila said. "But freedom is pointless if it separates you from your own child." Today she is 45 but looks a decade older, perhaps aged by a lifelong desperation to live with her son again.
"I want to see him graduate from college and find a nice girl to marry. For
years I have dressed him for school in my head and I have imagined tucking him
to bed. But like the dreams we have had of freedom in Azad Kashmir, these
dreams I have for him are not real and I fear they shall never become." She
says she is "very tired" and fears dying from this wait.
What do Kashmiris want?
It seems for many Kashmiris that there is nothing more horrible than having a family and knowing that you will never meet them. Jamila is one of thousands of such Kashmiris in Pakistan, who are now speaking out about their issues through protests and demonstrations. On July 10th and August 5th of this year protesters gathered on both the Pakistan-controlled (Azad) and Indian-controlled sides of Kashmir bordering the Neelum Valley, and caught the attention of local and foreign media outlets. Chanting in demand for freedom from the armed forces of the two countries, they held banners that said "India, Pakistan, leave us alone." "Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris," and "Kashmir is burning, leave us alone."
Among the various difficulties that Azad Kashmiris face when trying to meet with their families on the other side of the border, the topmost include: (a) being unable to communicate with their relatives either via mobile phones or land lines; (b) being unable to send and receive mail, letters and packages, "It is also commonplace, that our mails and letter never really reach our families on the other side, and if they ever do, they are always open," pointed out Jamila; and (c) being unable to commute and meet their families across border.
The question is, why do these Kashmiris have to gather in dissent when India and Pakistan seem to be having rather healthy negotiations and agreeing on confidence building measures (CBMs) that often focus on relaxing regulations for Kashmiris? Kashmiris are now nominally permitted to meet their families as often as three times per year, for as long as 30 days per visit. And Kashmir now has five transit routes at the LoC for Kashmiri-born traders.
The most recent CBMs discussed by the two countries have resulted in landmark developments, including increasing the number of trading points along the Line of Control, increasing the number of days on which trading can occur, the launching of a new bus service to operate via new routes between northwestern Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and southern Indian-occupied Kashmir, and an increase in the frequency of the bus service between Muzaffarabad (the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir) and Srinagar (the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir). However, there is clearly a vast different between agreeing to a policy and implementing it on ground.
Local analyst and professor Khalil Sajjad, who works in the Peace Studies department at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, believes that CBMs are merely a marketing tool to flaunt improving relations between India and Pakistan, and are not really delivering on the promises made to Kashmiris. "Even though new developments such as re-opening and regularizing of bus routes seems to provide unstinting opportunity to traders and people, if thousands of families have still been unable to meet their relatives for the past two decades, then in essence the impermeability is intact."
The core issue: Who gets the cross border permits?
Jamila is one of the approximately 10,000 applicants who have been seeking cross border permits since 2005. There are no exact numbers on how many applicants actually receive permits every year. The bus using the route between Chakoti in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir carries around 40 passengers every Monday. Major Iftikhar from the Chakoti Military check post says, "90% of valid applicants get their permits. Only those declined by our verification procedure have to wait."
The verification procedure is long, and includes various levels of checks and double-checks. When applications are submitted, the individual's biographical details are initially verified by different government departments. "If their records are clean, we then give these details to about five agencies that are part of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)," Major Iftikhar told the AfPak Channel. "We are very careful with who we are allowing to the other side of the border. This develops a feeling of neglect and hostility among many applicants who await permits, but we need to be fastidious since our relation with India is still very sensitive" he added.
Officer Mubarak Abass, who manages the Chakoti Crossing Point and looks after
the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service on the Pakistani side, says "40 percent
of the total permits are currently pending. Many applications are held because
they do not qualify the verification procedure. Some submissions are incomplete;
others are marked red based on security concerns. For example, if we find the
applicant to have suspicious links or the data submitted by candidates is unverifiable
then we hold such applications. One needs to be chary of
the risks involved."
Are these limitations
violating civil rights? Broadcast
journalist Aurangzeb Jarral, who works for the private national channel Dunya
TV, says, "[the most] genuine and the most bland applicants with unblemished
records don't get their permits. I have met and interviewed many people who
have nothing to do with militancy or have the thinnest possibility of something
mistrustful, but they don't get their permits for years if not decades. This is
a clear-cut abuse of human rights, when the government has a system in place
just for these people but they are still not able to avail it. Many of them die
According to Wadood Ahmed,
who is currently conducting academic research on the Kashmir conflict, "It is
tacit knowledge that India and Pakistan do not want to provide absolute cross-border
access to Kashmiris on either side. And Kashmiris on both sides of the
border are well aware of this. More than any militancy threats, the real fear
has to do with a fair people's access." For India, the fear is that more
Kashmiris coming from the Pakistani side may create pressure for freedom, and
in the worst-case scenario, they may join liberation armies in Indian-held
Kashmir. For Pakistan, the fear is of spies sent by the Indian government. "As
long as India and Pakistan want to hold on to their sides of Kashmir, neither
of them will provide fare permits freely, even to the most authentic
Indian journalist Jahangir Ali told the AfPak Channel, "An old lady died in July this year of cancer. She had communicated her last wish to the [Indian] government; it was to meet her son. Her daughter and family tried to urge the government to let her son come to meet her from Pakistan. The government refused to give him the cross border permit. It was heart breaking to watch her die without seeing him. What good are such CBMs if they can't be serviced for genuine cases like this?"
Does this mean that India and Pakistan are only nominally applying the CBMs? Is Kashmir just a convenient rallying point for both countries? And is there is a strong interest on both sides of the border in keeping Kashmir alive?
"Look, absolute peace is really not in the interest of
either of the two countries," researcher Wadood Ahmed told this author. "Neither
of them wants to see Kashmiris independent because that would mean [one] of
them loses their territory." Both governments have failed to provide the
populace with welfare, development or infrastructure. Visa permits are just one
example of how the two states continue to put off the difficult task of giving Kashmiris'
their right to self-determination while giving the world the impression that
real progress is being made.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist based in Pakistan, currently covering the country's conflict areas to report on issues of human rights. She can be followed @kirannazish.
Religion matters in Afghanistan in significant ways. However, U.S. policy over the past decade has paid it insufficient attention, costing the United States in its effort to build a stable country that does not foster violent extremism. I diagnosed the problem in my last posting, providing a coup d'œil of sorts about the tactical and strategic advantages of thoughtfully engaging Afghanistan's religious terrain. Now I am returning to offer specifics on how to advance religious tolerance and freedom in Afghanistan in a way that doesn't create a backlash. Much depends on fostering a legitimate government that respects, rather than represses, fundamental rights and provides the civic space needed for peaceful debate on issues of religion and state.
Granted, the legitimizing role of religion has been sought after in the Afghan nation-building enterprise. Military counterinsurgency and stability operations doctrine places much emphasis on fostering a government viewed as legitimate, attempting to pull the "uncommitted middle" away from the irreconcilable insurgents into the government's orbit through outreach to religious leaders and communities. Yet U.S. doctrine and practice does not contemplate the consequence of pulling religious leaders with a Taliban-like religious viewpoint into the government fold.
A recent example of this error comes from President Hamid Karzai's endorsement of a so-called code of conduct issued by the Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, which permitted spousal abuse and promoted gender segregation. Yet Karzai has the legitimacy equation backwards. While it is doubtful the Afghan populace viewed him differently after his statement, the Ulema Council emerged with greater perceived influence as an entity that impacts political power. This is seriously problematic. The Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre highlighted two years ago how the result of such accommodation "has been both to sustain the former jihadi leaders' influence and contribute to the marginalization of more moderate Islamic forces."
The key is to change the equation, so political leaders see the benefit of legitimizing voices supporting religious tolerance and rights, instead of trading them for ephemeral political gains.
To advance this idea, the United States needs to foster and build an indigenous movement of religious leaders and public figures who can shape the environment in a positive way through their deeds and interpretations of Islamic law and practice. For those courageous enough to step forward, speaking out can be life-threatening. The murders of Salman Taseer and my friend Shahbaz Bhatti in neighboring Pakistan speak to this danger, as they resolutely criticized Pakistan's deeply flawed blasphemy law, but did not enjoy wide support and were vehemently opposed by the clerical class.
How can we avoid this? Iraq offers a surprising example of how the U.S. government engaged the religious dynamic constructively.
From 2006 to 2007, the Command Chaplain of Multinational Force-Iraq, Col. Michael Hoyt, together with Anglican clergyman Cannon Andrew White, began to engage Sunni and Shia religious leaders about the sectarian violence ripping the country apart. Over a year of tireless and dangerous work, Chaplain Hoyt and Cannon White found voices willing to denounce the violence. Far from being one chaplain's good initiative, the process had political backing from both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as well as enjoying the support of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and his National Security Advisor.
The outcome was the issuance of a remarkable document that denounced violence, which included the two major Islamic sects, as well as religious minority leaders who were also being victimized. The document was issued the day after the second bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, an attack that was followed by none of the widespread killing unleashed after the first Samarra bombing. In addition, observers credit this initiative with creating the conditions under which Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged calm and Shiite militant leader Moqtada al-Sadr chose not to incite his fighters.
Chaplain Hoyt's effort made a difference, sowing the seeds of tolerance by finding key leaders to embrace the effort, and a similar approach could work in Afghanistan. What follows are specific suggestions for how the U.S. government could increase its efforts to foster religious tolerance and freedom, creating the civic space needed to undercut extremists and to empower many voices that can legitimize this approach.
Prioritize: Decide that creating civic space through the promotion of religious tolerance and freedom will be a priority and act accordingly. For those skeptical about the ability of the United States to move the needle on sensitive issues woven into societal and religious mores, look no further than the progress made on women's rights. The Taliban were terrible persecutors of women, denying them education and forcing them under a burqa, and tradition-bound Afghan society was thought to be beyond moving on sensitive social issues. While much work remains, the international community's emphasis on women's rights has already benefited millions of Afghans.
This did not happen by accident. It happened because the issue was made a priority and woven throughout U.S. and international engagement. For instance, the Chicago NATO Summit Declaration on Afghanistan had very strong language on women's rights. The emphasis of the international community likely compelled President Karzai to condemn the brutal assassination of a woman for alleged adultery. A similar commitment could do the same for religious tolerance and freedom, which could further concretize gains for women.
Change the conversation: To push extremist voices out of the civic space, steps must be taken to change the domestic conversation and educate the population about other interpretations of their faith. The United States should flood Afghanistan with Americans and religious leaders who can speak credibly about issues of religion, society, and law. The visits of the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, to Afghanistan have been very successful. He is able to "talk religion" with high-level Afghan Government officials, religious leaders, civil society representatives, and students. More of these trips are needed, but also with delegations of religious leaders crossing sectarian and/or religious lines. Further, the U.S. government can facilitate trips of religious leaders to the United States or through Islamic democracies.
Utilize military chaplains: The United States has at its disposal religious leaders in uniform in the chaplaincy corps. In 2009, the Pentagon issued Joint Publication 1.05 for religious affairs in joint operations, which gives commanders the option of using chaplains to engage religious leaders in their area of responsibility. The change in doctrine reflects that chaplains understand religion in unique ways and can be deployed in conflicts where religion is a driving factor. Smartly using chaplains in this role worked in Iraq. Of course Afghanistan is not Iraq, but religion matters in both. With the chaplaincy corps still in theater, there is an opportunity to deploy them with like-minded partners to build a movement for tolerance and religious rights.
Bolster and protect: Any effort must privately encourage the Afghan leadership to appoint politically moderate religious leaders, political reformers, and human rights defenders to key positions. This would be in government ministries, but also in Afghanistan's court system, Ulema councils, the human rights commissions, and other places of influence. Once in place, the international community can bolster their progressive work by supporting and funding initiatives. At the same time, the international community must emphasize that their security is a matter of serious concern and press for the provision of adequate protections.
Educate. The children of Afghanistan need to understand that "the other" has value, even if they have different religious or political views, thereby countering the narrative that leads to violence. USAID has a major role in such an effort, in developing primary and secondary education materials and textbooks that incorporate themes of religious tolerance and religious freedom. Curriculum for both secular and religious schools should incorporate international human rights standards and speak of Afghanistan's pluralistic record in prior times.
Talk about it: To demonstrate a deep interest, matters of religious tolerance and freedom should be a prominent part of the bilateral conversation and agenda. Despite no reference in the Strategic Partnership Declaration, these issues can be addressed in communiqués from donor and contact group meetings. As recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), where I am policy director, the U.S. government should include a "special working group on religious tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues" and integrate "human rights concerns into the reconciliation process looking toward a post-conflict Afghanistan."
Train: Along with efforts of this sort should come a commitment to train U.S. personnel, both civilian and military, on Islamic law and Afghan custom. The Afghan constitution in Article 3 enshrines Islamic law, stating "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam," and Article 130 states that Hanafi Islamic law shall apply when the law is silent. Together, these two provisions bring Islamic religious law into the realm of secular application. The JAG corps, the military's lawyers, are embracing this reality by including training on Islamic law, but more needs to be done. The U.S. government has no role in theological debates, yet it must be able to understand and engage with the law of the land.
All these steps, if taken together and vigorously executed, could foster a wider understanding of the benefits of religious tolerance and freedom, which could begin to give reformers the support they need to guide Afghanistan toward a progressive future. Without a course correction, President Karzai will continue the flawed approach of attempting to build legitimacy by pulling neo-Taliban religious actors toward the government and trading human rights for political support. This won't work and is done at the peril of U.S. interests. And while engaging the religious terrain to promote religious tolerance and freedom is not a silver bullet, to quote Chaplain Hoyt from Iraq, it should be "part of the ammunition belt" that brings stability.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
When the U.S. and Afghan governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on handing over Bagram jail and its detainees, both of the governments and the media -- including myself -- saw the agreement as a real transfer of sovereignty and a victory for President Karzai. Now I am much less sure. It seems a system may be emerging where the gains in sovereignty are illusory and, though there is an Afghan face on security detentions, the U.S. military remains in control.
There is another twist to the handover of Bagram prison, which is officially known as the Detention Facility in Parwan -- or DFiP. The MoU committed the Afghan state to using detention without trial for some security prisoners and both the United States and Afghanistan have moved swiftly to set up the system for doing this. However, the government denies having made any such commitment. The Presidential spokesman, Aimal Faizi, was unequivocal:
We signed the MoU... mainly to put an end to detentions without trial because they are not in accordance to the Afghan laws... The President has always been absolutely against detentions without trial and this is his stance today as well... We have not signed or agreed anything which allows detentions without trial.
The Bagram MoU was a response to President Karzai's ultimatum in January 2012 that the United States had a month to hand over both prison and inmates after reports of maltreatment. This MoU -- along with a second one on Afghan-izing special operations (dealing with the especially sensitive topic of night raids) -- were pre-conditions on the Afghan side for the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which the United States wanted in place before the recently-held NATO summit in Chicago.
The United States was worried about the possible release of men whom it considers the most dangerous in detention, as the 3,000 odd people currently held by the U.S. military without trial in Bagram could well be considered illegally incarcerated under Afghan law. Hence the Afghan and U.S. negotiators took recourse to the Laws of Armed Conflict. Both MoUs cite the 1977 Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (APII) as the legal basis for detention without trial. APII acknowledges that when a state is fighting a war, it may deprive its citizens of "their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict."
Is it possible that President Karzai might not have understood what using APII entailed? The English version of the Bagram MoU says only that the Afghan government would be using "administrative detention" at Bagram, but the Dari version is more specific. It is "gheiri qazayi", or non-judicial, and the Afghan president's legal advisor confirmed at the time this would be without trial. A presidential decree on the handover also appears to have been passed. A reference to an undated, un-numbered, and as far as I know as yet unpublished decree appears in another document -- the (also unpublished) Procedure for the Transition and Management of Bagram[i] -- which was signed by the ministers of justice, interior, and defense, the head of Afghan intelligence (the NDS), the head of the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General on March 3 (read a translation here). The Procedure also cites APII. It is possible that the Afghan government does not want to admit it is now using internment because it would be politically unpopular, or because using APII means implicitly acknowledging that Afghanistan is fighting a civil war.
Getting information on what exactly is happening at Bagram is difficult, but from interviewing those involved in the handover, none of whom would speak on the record, and after getting hold of the Procedure, it has been possible to paint a fuller picture.
The mechanisms for handing over the prison have been rapidly established. Since at least mid-April, the U.S. military has been passing on detainees' case files (in English, with Dari translation) at a rate of 30-40 a day to an Afghan technical committee (made up of representatives from the ministries of interior and defense, from the NDS, Supreme Court and Attorney General's office). The Committee sends cases with prosecutable evidence to NDS for trial under Afghan criminal law. The remaining case files are passed to a review board (made up of representatives from the ministries of interior, defense, and NDS) which, for just over a week, has either assented to continued detention without trial, if it believes the individual is a continuing security threat, or has recommended release. There is no detail about the nature of the required evidence here, but according to the Procedure, continued detention can be ordered even if the Board believes the prisoner is only a "potential supporter of an armed group engaged in hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or international forces."
If the review board recommends release, the file is sent back to the Bagram Transfer Commission (made up of five ministers), which can order a release. However, if the U.S. military believes an individual continues to be a terrorist threat, the MoU says this assessment should be "consider[ed] favourably." Such an (apparent) veto on release may not seem unreasonable given the way detainees frequently use influence, bribes, or intimidation to secure their freedom once inside the Afghan justice system. Still, it does not look like a transfer of sovereignty.
There are other indications that the U.S. military may still retain control. After initially reading the MoU, I assumed, like others (including the BBC) that, after six months, Bagram and its detainees would be handed over, once and for all, to the Afghans. The MoU says:
The United States Commander at the DFIP is to retain responsibility for the detainees held by the United States at the DFIP under the Law of Armed Conflict during the processing and transfer period, which is not to last more than six months. (Article 6c)
Re-reading all the documents and interviews, I rather think the U.S. military may intend to also have the option of retaining control of each freshly detained person for a maximum of six months before transferring him to the Afghan authorities. When asked about this, the U.S. embassy spokesman would only say: "We have nothing further for you on this topic at this time."
One can well imagine a scenario in which Afghan forces, working with the U.S. military, knock down the doors of Afghan homes and make the arrests (as per the second MoU on special operations), but the detainees, if considered interesting, stay in U.S. custody. The United States would still control initial detention, classification, and release, but the Afghan government would be in the firing line, either under pressure from the relatives of detainees wanting their people freed or criticized on human rights grounds relating to indefinite detention and the lack of legal recourse to evidence, independent counsel, and the like.
Now that the legal doors to internment have been opened, one can also imagine detention without trial spreading to other Afghan facilities. This must be a concern, given the many abuses, including torture, already staining the Afghan justice system, particularly for security detainees.
The new arrangements in Bagram are not yet set in stone. The MoU itself makes clear that, "this arrangement is subject to review as part of the Bilateral Security Agreement to be negotiated between the Participants after the signing of the Strategic Partnership." Up till now, however, voices of protest about the nature of the handover have been few. One belongs to MP Shukria Barakzai, chair of the Afghan Lower House Defense Committee, who has questioned the very legality of detention without trial. Otherwise, the start of the state interning its citizens has taken place quietly, with almost no comment in the media or in parliament. Afghans are simply not aware of their loss of one of the most fundamental rights - for a prisoner to have his or her day in court. The opportunity for an honest debate on detention without trial is not yet over, but there are no signs yet of the discussion even beginning.
Kate Clark is the senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network and is based in Kabul.
[i] ‘The Procedure for Transition and Management of Bagram Detention Facility and Pul-e Charkhi Detention Facility from the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan'
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
This month's NATO summit in Chicago has provided many writers and analysts a moment to debate possible outcomes of the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan. Commentary ranges from David Ignatius "thinking the unthinkable" about the Taliban returning to Kabul, to former First Lady Laura Bush urging the international community to remember the women of Afghanistan. The meeting provides a timely inflection point about the price paid in blood and treasure, and the future return on this costly investment.
Yet there is a glaring gap in this conversation, one that ignores the on-the-ground reality of Afghanistan. It is the role of religion and its influence on the trajectory of the Afghan government. By paying it little or no heed, the United States is omitting a key piece of the complex jigsaw puzzle that is Afghanistan's future.
My meeting with Afghan Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghalib in Kabul drove home the importance of religion and its influence on matters of state. Our conversation in December 2010 quickly turned to the application of Islamic religious law to the affairs of men and women, especially the issue of apostasy, a topic which places core freedoms of religion and conscience at the center of government policy. At the time, a convert to Christianity was being detained, but similar cases had arisen where Muslims were charged with "criminal" activity considered blasphemous. He justified government actions on Islamic law, brushing aside my counterarguments for freedom of religion and belief based on international standards, the Afghan constitution, and even Qur'anic references.
It wasn't surprising that the Minister was unmoved in his view that apostasy and blasphemy were crimes to be punished by the state, as it reflected past Afghan government actions against Muslims and non-Muslims to stifle freedom of thought and restrict expression. However, it underscored the cost of not addressing the role of religious tenets in law and governance.
Afghanistan's legal system is a big part of the problem, despite Article 7 of the Afghan constitution stating that the Afghan government "shall abide by" the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In practice, Afghanistan has established a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law through the vague repugnancy clause in Article 3 that states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Consequently, there are no protections for individuals to dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate the role of religion in law and society, advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or question interpretations of Islamic precepts.
David Ignatius' "unthinkable" thought of a Taliban return to Kabul could happen, but perhaps even faster than he imagines. The Afghan constitution's provisions referencing undefined notions of Islamic law give Taliban sympathizers legal cover to apply their regressive religious interpretations through laws against human rights, religious freedom, and women's rights.
Religion matters in Afghanistan, and promoting religious freedom and tolerance can help achieve human rights and security goals. Repression of religious freedom strengthens the hand of violent religious extremists. As I've written elsewhere, conditions of full religious freedom allows for the peaceful sharing of differing views and interpretations. This openness can displace extremist influences from social and religious networks, thereby limiting their ability to influence populations of concern and turn them towards violence. Recent studies and research are building an empirical case that limitations on religious freedom lead to more, not less, societal instability.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- where I work -- has documented Afghanistan's poor religious freedom record and placed Afghanistan on our Watch List. USCIRF has described the situation as "exceedingly poor for dissenting members of the majority faith and for minority religious communities." Regarding religious minorities, USCIRF reported how "the small and vulnerable Christian community experienced a spike in arrests, with Christians being detained and some jailed (and later released) for the ‘crime' of apostasy." The Hindu and Sikh communities continue to face discrimination and violence, while the small Baha'i community operates basically underground, especially since a 2007 ruling by the General Directorate of Fatwa and Accounts decreed their faith to be a "form of blasphemy." Even the much larger minority Hazara Shi'a community, which has experienced greater freedoms, was targeted by suicide bombers in late 2011.
A string of events in recent months bears further witness to religion's unmistakable role in Afghanistan:
Taliban response to Strategic Partnership Agreement - There were two Taliban responses to this agreement, one violent, but the other focused on religion. The violent response received much greater attention, since this was the attack on Bagram Airbase after President Obama left the country. However, the Taliban also issued a statement in April, immediately after the announcement of a deal, outlining five ways the Karzai government was caving. Four of the five focused on issues relating to Islam - preventing a true Islamic government; bringing in secularism and liberalism; creating an army hostile to Islam; and being a continuous threat to Muslim countries in the region. The Taliban believes this issue to be relevant to the Afghan populace.
Qur'an burnings - The accidental destruction of Qur'ans and other Islamic materials triggered a nationwide backlash, attacks on U.S. and ISAF personnel, and an apology from President Obama. Dozens were killed and scores more wounded. Sensing a public relations bonanza, the Taliban pressed to exploit the situation to their advantage, issuing statements urging violence and offering this as further evidence of America's supposed war against Islam.
Ulema Council statement and Karzai response - The Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, issued a "code of conduct" for women that permits husbands to beat their wives and promotes gender segregation. If that wasn't alarming enough for human rights and women's rights advocates, President Karzai endorsed the statement. He had other options, such as refuting the findings or at least ignoring them, but Karzai felt the need to endorse them, saying they were in line with Islamic principles. Why? Because the role of religion in politics and governance has a great influence in Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, a response is not to be found in the Strategic Partnership or the recent NATO summit declaration. No mention was made of promoting religious freedom and religious tolerance, key elements of any attempt to see human rights and women's rights protected and respected.
While these high-level documents are silent, there is increasing recognition of this challenge in U.S. government policy. The State Department has initiated a program to counter extremist voices, which looks to bring other Islamic perspectives into Afghanistan to help expose Afghanis to the broader Islamic world. After 30 years of civil war and the impact of a narrow Taliban-imposed view, there is little understanding of how their religion can work successfully with democracy and human rights. USAID is also doing interesting work with Afghanistan's informal justice system, introducing human rights into the centuries-old traditional system, and doing so through the lens of Islamic law. However, these efforts, while positive, are not enough to have a lasting impact.
In other words, the current level of programming won't move a needle that is pointing dangerously in the wrong direction.
It's getting late in the game, but it's not too late to move the needle. There is still time for concerted action. The U.S. government can ramp up its efforts to increase public diplomacy relating to religious freedom and religious tolerance, and bring more delegations of Afghan religious and NGO leaders to the United States and take American religious and NGO leaders to Afghanistan. The United States can jump-start training about the balance between religion and state and the compatibility of Islam with human rights and religious freedom. Continuing to press for greater freedoms in public and private is critical, as well as starting new initiatives, such as creating a special working group on religious freedom/tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues. U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces should be trained to understand international standards when engaging with Afghan religious leaders, local government officials, or Afghan local police forces. U.S. government personnel also need to increase their "religious IQ" on the role of Islam in Afghan society, as well as understand how religious freedom can promote stability and security.
As Afghanistan goes about building institutions as the international community departs, getting the religion question right will be a part of every answer. The Taliban and the Afghan government talk about religion, apply religious law, and use it to their advantage. Considering religion is the lens through which everything passes, significantly increasing engagement on religious freedom and tolerance will advance U.S. human rights and national security interests.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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In recent days, details have emerged about the Pakistani government's pursuit of Internet filtering technologies that would enable it to block up to 50 million websites. This news comes just weeks after a parliamentary committee proposed a ban on "anti-Pakistan" programming on private television stations.
Pakistan's media may be feisty (the country's private television channels are often stridently anti-government in tone), but feisty does not necessarily mean free. In its 2011-12 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranks Pakistan 151st out of 179 nations. The country's culture of violence toward the media is the main reason for this low ranking, but state policies threaten media freedoms as well. Because the rapid and relatively recent expansion of the Pakistani press has not been accompanied by checks on its excesses, media-muzzling measures have effectively become proxies for regulation.
It wasn't always this way. For years, Pakistan's television media environment was dominated by the staid, state-run Pakistan Television. Not until the early 2000s did the nation experience a sudden and explosive proliferation of private cable and satellite TV outlets-the result of a liberalization regime initiated by then-President Pervez Musharraf, who, according to some observers, sought alternatives to the Indian satellite television channels watched by many Pakistanis at the time. Today, Pakistan boasts about 90 private television channels and more than 100 radio stations, but only one media oversight entity: the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority, which falls under the information minister's purview and is widely regarded as ineffective.
What has this pell-mell transition wrought? First, it has produced a vibrant media environment that strengthens Pakistani democracy. It has also promoted civic activism; Pakistani television networks helped catalyze the anti-government fervor that erupted following Musharraf's firing of the country's chief justice in 2007.
Yet it has also unleashed a torrent of ugly content. This ranges from sloppy reporting (The News' coverage of the Congressional hearings on Balochistan earlier this year misidentified a witness, M. Hossein Bor, as a Congressman) to unethical practices (newspaper articles frequently print names, phone numbers, and even addresses of vulnerable citizens such as human rights activists and rape victims, and print journalists are often accused of plagiarism).
Then there is sensationalism. The recent exploits of Maya Khan and Shamoon Abbasi-TV personalities who, with cameras rolling, sought to expose dating couples frolicking in parks and lovers engaged in homosexual activities-have attracted considerable attention. Yet there is also popular TV personality Meher Bokhari, who berated and bullied the late Punjab Province governor Salman Taseer in a 2010 interview. One observer concluded that the interview whipped up such hatred that it contributed indirectly to Taseer's assassination just weeks later. Oftentimes, however, politicians drive the sensationalism. A senior leader from Imran Khan's party once hurled a glass at a fellow guest during a Business TV talk show. And just last month, an official from Musharraf's party appearing on Express News issued a death threat to a co-panelist-with no intervention from the host or producer.
Perhaps the most troubling consequence of Pakistan's unregulated press is the erosion of the line separating fact and fiction. In late 2010, the Express Tribune published a horrifying story about Shamsul Anwar, a soldier-turned-taxi driver. Anwar claimed that two of his sons were kidnapped by militants, with one killed and the other released-only to be diagnosed with cancer, which Anwar had no money to treat. About a year later, The News published an update: not only was the son still in need of medical care, but Anwar reported that his daughter had now been abducted as well.
In January 2012, Anwar admitted that his story was a hoax-concocted, he said, to swindle money from sympathetic readers. Sehrish Wasif, who wrote the initial article, said she hoped the affair would be "a lesson to all journalists, including myself, to not let emotion be the guiding force of a news report." Yet the real blame lies with the anything-goes, report-everything media environment that Anwar so skillfully exploited. The murky distinction between truth and untruth also hovered over the coda to the Khan and Abbasi affairs, when both journalists claimed that their offending segments had actually been staged. And it loomed large in 2010, when several media reports insinuated (with little evidence) that a famous 2009 video of a girl getting publicly flogged in Taliban-occupied Swat was actually a fabrication orchestrated by paid actors.
Islamabad rarely responds to media shenanigans with carefully targeted interventions. Instead, it casts a wide net and resorts to outright bans. In 2010 the government temporarily outlawed Facebook and YouTube (for anti-Islamic content), while in recent months it unsuccessfully attempted to filter 1,500 words out of mobile-based text messaging-including incendiary terms such as "athlete's foot" and "finger food."
These draconian measures are driven as much by political fears as by concerns about better-quality media. Tellingly, the announcements about Web filtering technologies and curbs on anti-Pakistan TV programming were made at a time when national coverage about Balochistan, a province rife with anti-government sentiment and separatist ambitions, has been on the rise. Rolling Stone's website has been inaccessible in Pakistan since July 2011, when it posted a story critical of the army's budgetary spending. And only in the last few days has the government overturned a four-month ban on BBC World News, which aired a documentary last November questioning Pakistan's willingness to tackle militancy.
Encouragingly, Pakistan's media and civil society have taken steps toward promoting regulation. According to Sahar Habib Ghazi of the citizen journalism portal Hosh Media, many small media outlets voluntarily follow the Society of Professional Journalists' code of conduct. The Huffington Post has spotlighted Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, comprised of Pakistanis "who regularly monitor and discuss" national media content. Other promising efforts, however, have lapsed. These include an attempt by Dawn News journalist Matiullah Jan to launch a TV show that singles out unethical behavior in the media. The show was cancelled after 12 episodes, and Jan acknowledged resistance "from the highest levels of the media industry."
This resistance to such ombudsman-like arrangements underscores a basic reality (and one not unique to Pakistan): Sensationalism sells. Criticism of questionable Pakistani media practices tends to emenate from other media professionals, and not from the general public. Media experts contend that news programming -- which produces the most outrageous content -- is more popular with Pakistani audiences than entertainment offerings.
Fortunately, there is another way to improve Pakistani media standards: Bettering the lot of the average journalist. In 2011, for the second year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists designated Pakistan as the most dangerous country for reporters. Yet their bravery often goes unrewarded. "It's alright to keep your employees starving while you sip champagne and devour caviar in the comfort of your many mansions," a bitter Pakistani journalist fumed last month about the country's media magnates. Even Taseer, who owned the Daily Times, was excoriated for his staff management; one critic alleged that his workers did not get paid "for months on end" or received only half their salaries. Meanwhile, according to Dawn columnist Huma Yusuf, most of Pakistan's 17,000 journalists have little relevant training; less than 1 percent of the labor force is trained in media or communication studies at the college level.
Expecting powerful media titans to take the lead in regulating their output quality may be expecting too much. A more realistic expectation is that they simply help their employees. Momentum is building for such measures; last week, the Media Commission of Pakistan, a media rights watchdog, released a report demanding that journalists be provided with health and life insurance. By offering more competitive salaries, providing training opportunities, and improving journalists' general well-being, media bigwigs can help make their staffs happier and more productive. Better compensated and trained journalists are more likely to practice their craft ethically and responsibly-thereby setting an example worthy of emulation by their bosses.
Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @michaelkugelman
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Portrait of Massouma Esmatey-Wardak (left), UNESCO Conference, Paris, France, 1959
"I was trouble," my grandmother said with amused satisfaction as she recounted tales of growing up in Afghanistan. "Right from the start, I gave the boys hell."
At first, the "boys" were cousins in Kandahar whom she harassed mercilessly, at the risk of a beating by her parents; then it was the men in the government whom she lobbied as the president of the Afghan Women's Council (AWC) and Minister of Education, and later it would be a group of Islamic fundamentalists whom she defied -- at the risk of death.
Massouma Esmatey-Wardak was not an exception, but an example of the freedom countenanced by women in Afghanistan. In 1959, at the advent of social reforms by Prime Minister Daud Khan under King Zahir's rule, she was among a small group of women who adopted the ban on mandatory veiling in public. Maintaining that Islam and honor were not contingent on women's seclusion, she advocated for women's rights and served on the Constitutional Advisory Committee that drafted the progressive 1964 Afghan Constitution, which enfranchised women and gave them access to education and employment. In 1965, her election to the lower house of the Afghan Parliament from the conservative province of Kandahar surprised the nation and further revolutionized the role of women. She was not the token female candidate, but rather the product of a popular vote to elect an educated and competent representative. Championing sweeping reforms that galvanized social and economic development, she became known for her steadfast commitment to women's rights, in face of societal pressures, as well as her pragmatic and frighteningly-tough character.
Massouma at a UNESCO Conference, Paris, France, 1991
As president of the AWC from 1987-1990, she made bold strides in gender equality that would characterize her leadership. Her accomplishments included income generation opportunities for women, the strengthening of women-focused civil service organizations, equal pay with men, and workplace childcare; improvements designed to integrate females, who had long been traditionally marginalized, into the public and professional sphere. She also worked to change child custody regulations that granted the father and his agnates de facto custody based upon Islamic law. By the end of her tenure at AWC, membership had expanded to 150,000 women in almost every province.
In the wake of her successes at the helm of AWC, President Najibullah Ahmadzai appointed Massouma as Minister of Education in 1990, though she was not a part of his contentious political party. Her appointment at a post formerly held by her husband, who supported her, was part and parcel of the political reformations in the country at that time. Under the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), the country was progressing socially in a way that seemed incongruous with Islam. And more than ever, Massouma was determined to secure access to education and promote literacy for women. The efforts were condemned by most Mujahideen leaders, who perceived the developments as a communist endeavor destined to obliterate Islam from the country's core values, and promote sexual anarchy. [[PAGEBREAK]]
Women's rights disintegrated in the chaos of the civil war -- and the brain drain that ensued with the exodus of educated Afghans. My family left in 1990 at the cusp of the conflict, but my grandmother stayed until 1992 to hand over the Ministry of Education (MoE) to its new leader. After the Soviet withdrawal, President Najibullah agreed to transfer power to the Mujahideen in an effort brokered by the United Nations. Headed by President Mojadeddi, the former Jihadists took key ministerial positions in the new Islamic Afghan Government. The MoE was entrusted to Mohammad Yunus Khalis, a now-notorious commander and contemporary of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who led his own Islamic party, Hezb-e-Islami Khalis. My grandmother recalled the day she met him and his staff in her office; she in her tailored skirt suit, and he and his men in the traditional shalwar kameez, ridden with lice and spitting snuff under the carpets. Her key and the future of women's education rested in Khalis' hand.
For three months, Massouma lived alone in an apartment in Kabul with factional fighters fighting above her. She witnessed the atrocities that galvanized a period of depraved lawlessness during the civil war, as young girls jumped out of windows to escape rampant sexual assault by the fighters. Some sought her out in anger and were turned away by a former staffer, who remained loyal even as the threats to her life intensified. It was eventually through him that she sent word to Hamid Karzai, then the deputy minister of foreign affairs. He assured her security and safe passage, and issued her a passport out of Afghanistan. But it was no longer a country she recognized.
The Taliban dealt the final blow to the social development and women's rights of my grandmother's generation. The current Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan maintains a sketchy record of human and women's rights, and yet 50 years ago, even women in some rural areas had access to education and healthcare. Neither my grandmother nor my grandfather was born to wealthy families with vast social capital. They came from modest families that understood the value of education -- especially for women -- as a part of Islam, not divorced from it.
Born in 1930 in Kabul, Massouma was encouraged by her parents, who were teachers, to excel in her studies, which she managed to do even as the caretaker of her six siblings when her mother fell ill. At 17 she became a teacher herself and enrolled in college to study social sciences. Her performance earned her a scholarship to study education administration at a teaching college in Illinois. Together with her husband, who would complete his master's degree in physics at Georgetown University, she came to America in 1957 and returned to Afghanistan in 1959 with high hopes of modernizing the country.
Massouma holds hands with the president of the Women's Federation of Czechoslovakia, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1988
Like most displaced immigrants, my grandmother was far removed from whom she once used to be when she died in 2007. The headstone that crowns her with a simple epitaph is a reflection of her unwavering strength today, and renders the irony of her demise from Parkinson's a particularly cruel one. An even greater dishonor to Massouma's memory would be if the achievements of powerful pioneers, like her, were stricken from the current discourse of social change in Afghanistan. They are a testament to the power and potential of Afghan women -- and that cannot be buried nor forgotten.
Afghanistan is ruled not by law, but by power and patronage. The absence of the rule of law fuels the country's savage insurgency. When citizens can't rely on the state to protect them against systemic abuses, then rebellion becomes a far more attractive option. Tragically, in Afghanistan the abusers, more often than not, are from the government itself - including ministers, governors, police chiefs and militia leaders.
It needn't be this way. If there is one policy reform that all the main actors in Afghanistan purport to agree on, it's the critical importance of building the rule of law. President's Karzai's speeches are liberally salted with promises to reform the legal system and tackle corruption. The Taliban understands that a key way to win Afghans' hearts and minds is to provide them with the justice they so desperately desire. It does so by setting up mobile courts, delivering a very rough and ready justice, but one that is often preferred to the arbitrary rule of local commanders. And Western governments have spent billions on rule of law reforms, with little tangible impact.
So with this apparent unanimity on the need for the rule of law, why in Afghanistan do the powerful continue to abuse the weak with near total impunity?
The answer is that the purported commitment is largely in name only. True rule of law requires laws that are public, clear, and apply equally to everyone. It needs government officials who accept that they are subject to the law. It requires reasonably fair, competent, and efficient courts, prosecutors and police who respect the presumption of innocence and due process. It needs judges who are reasonably independent and impartial, and have the confidence in their safety to properly perform their jobs.
But the reforms necessary to achieve all this present an existential threat to the power of the ruling elite in Afghanistan. Building the rule of law involves challenging vested interests at the highest levels of the government. It is far more a political exercise than a technical one. Many Afghan power holders -- from President Karzai downwards -- benefit from a patronage based system. It enables them to buy and maintain loyalty. Corruption is an integral part of such a system.
It's not just corruption that thrives in such an environment. Equal treatment by the law requires that those who have committed atrocities against their people be held accountable for these crimes. Failure to do so promotes a climate in which the powerful continue to commit abuses with impunity. But in Afghanistan those responsible for grave human rights abuses continue to occupy positions of power. These include officials like Vice Presidents Mohammad Fahim and Karim Khalili, who face credible accusations of war crimes or crimes against humanity during the brutal civil war. They also include a generation of post-Taliban leaders -- such as the Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs, Asadullah Khaled, as well as powerful provincial governors allied to Western forces -- accused of serious human rights violations since 2001. A report soon to be released by the Afghan human rights commission -- if not blocked by the government -- will document many of the past crimes.
International intervention encouraged and promoted this impunity by returning to power warlords and commanders. Influential international actors continue to rely on alliances of convenience with these abusive power holders to promote perceived stabilization goals.
Meanwhile the Taliban also preys on the local population, and subjects those it is purporting to liberate from foreign occupation to horrendous abuses, including suicide bombings, assassinations and the use of civilians as human shields.
For Afghans, the tragic result is that today's reality is not much different from that of the last thirty years, and their lives are still dominated by powerful men with guns.
Achieving accountability is not a question of naïve aspiration: the culture of high-level impunity must be challenged, as failure to do so will undermine all other rule of law efforts and perpetuate an environment in which conflict will flourish.
The culture will not change until some of those responsible for the worst abuses against the Afghan people are prosecuted. The best option would be for the government itself to pursue some of these abusers. This would increase its legitimacy in the eyes its people and would send a clear warning to those in authority and to those seeking to do deals with the government who believe they can continue to kill with impunity. It would also undermine one of the claimed attractions of the Taliban -- that it provides harsh, but fair, justice where none otherwise exists.
Unfortunately, there is no prospect of the government providing high-level justice. The Karzai administration has consistently opted for expediency over principle when it comes to accountability, most notably in enacting a law giving amnesty to former warlords. Most international actors have been largely silent on this law. In fact, it appears that a desire for a quick exit by NATO countries may have stifled all discussion of the critical need to link reconciliation with accountability and to tackle Afghanistan's longstanding culture of impunity.
But expediency will not promote stability, and a failure to build the rule of law will lead to more instability, not less. It will also ensure that Afghan power holders - government and Taliban alike - continue to commit abuses that shock the conscience of the international community and fuel the very instability that led, a decade ago, to such a costly international intervention.
Nick Grono is the Deputy President of the International Crisis Group.
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My article criticizing certain rituals in the Shi'a Muslimtradition in Pakistan's Express Tribune on December 8 spurred a firestorm ofcontroversy, as a number of commentators deemed it inappropriate or worse. Myargument was that religious adherents need to repudiate rituals that infringeon collective rights, and which can escalate sectarian conflict; these includethe rituals during the commemoration of Muharram, that can involve men and evenchildren flagellating themselves withknives on chains, and processions of bleeding men as a display of adoration forthe martyred Imam Husain (this is byno means reflective of all Shi'a practice, but is widely practiced amongSouth Asian Shi'a).
The controversy grew more intense on Twitter, and evennotable commentators such as NasimZehra asked for an immediate apology from the Tribune on grounds that thearticle was "outrageously offensive."To her credit, Ms. Zehra later noted thatafter the apology the matter should be closed. However, hate mail from all over followed,including several messages to the president of the University of Vermont (whereI teach) asking for my dismissal, a surprising torrent against free speech evenfrom highly educated writers. The university noted that the article was wellwithin the confines of free speech and was in fact condemning violence. Insteadof admonishing me, the university offered me police protection.
Under pressure from sponsors and amid fears that other mediahouses would use this episode to spur a consumer boycott, Tribune decided tofirst edit and then completely remove the article, and noted that I was"banned" from writing in their pages again. My intention was never to rebukeShi'ism itself, but rather such rituals whose practice further leads toacrimony between Shi'a and Sunnis. Furthermore, a ritual with so much bloodbeing spilled in a procession can be a public health issue, and has been repeatedlyquestioned and curtailed in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.
Ireposted the article on my site with a clear apology for specificstatements which were, in retrospect, inflammatory for Pakistan's religioussensibilities. The newspaper's "ban" on my writing was later edited out of the apology statement posted onthe Internet, but this episode left me deeply troubled about the state ofjournalistic independence in Pakistan. The country has a vibrant civil societyand promising career track for journalists and independent writers, but therehas been a rapidrise in abductions and murders of journalists whose views were consideredantithetical to certain religious perspectives.
This episode highlighted for me a larger issue of mediafreedom in a country which often prides itself in having private TV channelswith fiery talk shows blasting politicians. Yet religious debate, often socontentious and even violent in Pakistan, remains off limits. Pakistan as asociety needs to understand that the right to offend in journalism is afundamental right. I don't mind getting hate mail despite the norms of freespeech, but what surprised me was that educated people questioned my right tocriticize a cultural practice by referring to it as "hate speech." I wasrepeatedly asked what my point was if criticism could further cause conflict. Stillanother asked, "could you criticize Jewish rituals the same way in America?" Thiskind of reaction could have taken place in many Muslim societies -- and Sunnisare equally culpable on such matters as Shi'a.
Pakistan's infamous blasphemylaws are a result of exactly this kind of oversensitivity and pattern ofraising ire following any hint of criticism about religious rituals or edicts.The valorization of extreme religious edicts by the State has unfortunatelybeen successful in co-opting the sensibilities of even many educated citizens. Thisin turn has strengthened the religious establishment's efforts toinstitutionalize a radical inertia within the political system. Perhaps unwittingly, liberal commentators whowould rather avoid tougher issues of dissent scorned my article, and by doingso strengthened the same kinds of arguments that fanatics use to marginalizeminorities or their opponents.
Ironically, in my article, I clearly stated that lawsagainst hate speech must be enforced. Speech that directly urges violence towardsany particular person or group of people must be avoided at all costs. Yet tounderstand sectarian conflict, which is often compared to "cancer," we have tolook at both proximate and systemic causes. Just as one treats cancer withchemotherapy, groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ) need to be hunted down for terrorist crimes. But we also need to searchfor systemic causes of sectarian strife, which in Pakistan can be traced totheology in both Shi'a and Sunni doctrines as well as political interventionand alleged statesupport for sectarian groups like LeJ or Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP).
In a pluralistic society, the limits of what is allowed insuch cases can be debated and questioned, and laws can be passed and changedthrough democratic processes. For example, there are laws in some Europeancountries against questioning the historical validity of the Holocaust, but inthe United States, such historical questioning is protected by the firstamendment to the U.S. constitution (despite the repeated accusations by many Pakistanisthat American law and politics reflect undue Jewish influence). While Idisagree with the limitations on free speech in Europe, there is at least aworkable legislative pathway for repeal of these laws. In Pakistan, the prospectof any legislative change to errant laws is stifled by precisely the kindof bullying about religious sensitivity exhibited in this episode.
The duty of any socially conscious writer is to push theenvelope and challenge people to question their assumptions. This will makepeople uncomfortable, but incremental social change always happens through sucha dialectical process. If people were always trying to stray from controversy socialchange would never take place. Cultural sensitivity is far too often used as anexcuse for maintaining the status quo in places like Pakistan, and this needsto change if the country is ever to overcome the polarization that continues toimpede communitarian peace.
Saleem H. Ali is professor ofenvironmental studies at the University of Vermont's Rubenstein School ofEnvironment and Natural Resources and the director of the Institute forEnvironmental Diplomacy and Security at the James Jeffords Center for PolicyResearch. He can be followed @saleem_ali
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In December 2010, frustrated, irate, and depressed at the uproar around the case of Aasia Bibi and the reticence of the Pakistani government in amending the Blasphemy Laws that had condemned her to death, I interviewed Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities and the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) national assembly member Shahbaz Bhatti on the telephone. Bhatti, the man responsible for protecting Pakistan's minority groups, told me, "Many people are facing death threats and problems. They're in prison and are being killed extra-judicially. This law is being misused." Bhatti had just been named by President Zardari as the head of a committee to discuss the country's blasphemy laws. "They have their own opinion and they are free to express it, we have our own," Bhatti calmly replied to a query about the stance taken by the religious right-wing against amending the Blasphemy Laws, or pardoning Bibi.
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Will Pakistan go the way of Tunisia and Egypt? Are we on the verge of witnessing throngs of discontented Pakistanis storming the streets of Islamabad and Karachi seeking an end to a wobbly democratic regime with an ever-attentive military establishment keeping a tight leash on its extraordinary privileges?
It's not completely fanciful. Some key similarities do exist between Pakistan and Tunisia and Egypt. Obviously, they are predominantly Muslim countries, they have all experienced long periods of authoritarian rule, they have significant military establishments, and they are all U.S. allies to varying degrees. Despite the willingness of their political elites to work with the United States, especially on the "war on terror," significant segments of their populace remain either hostile toward or suspicious of the United States.
These common features might well lead some to conclude that Pakistan could be on the precipice of a political upheaval, and indeed, Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was recently forced to defend against the comparisons. Despite these seemingly compelling similarities, it is unlikely that Pakistan will witness a societywide political uprising that will challenge the existing political order.
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While half of the world is on holiday and the other half is going through the Wikileaked documents or is wondering how to follow-up on the successes of the Kabul conference, the electoral campaign in Afghanistan for the September parliamentary elections is going ahead -- at least in parts of the country. The cities are covered in posters and banners, the newspapers carry campaign ads and the candidates in the provinces are trying to find ways around the limitations posed by security and powerful rivals. Listen to what some of the candidates and voters say, when talking about the elections.
I just resigned from my job to campaign. Because I don't have money to invite people to gatherings, I meet them individually. I am travelling to the villages and meeting the elders. And I am sure the youth will support me. I haven't printed any posters or banners yet because I can't afford it, but I hope to find a businessman or a donor who has the same political views as me and who will finance my campaign. I will also contact some of the TV stations where I have friends and ask them to invite me for interviews. I have learned this during the workshops that I attended; they taught us to use any source to achieve our goals. But the economic mafia won't support us, because they know that people like me won't work for their interests.... The competition in Kabul is between 98 women candidates, including famous parliamentarians, it is a challenging competition especially for those, like me, who are young and who are running for the first time.
Young female candidate from Kabul.
I am a candidate in Kabul -- not in my own province because I have not lived there for 20 years. I have the support of both my tribe and my party and I have 29 people campaigning for me. My program focuses on the rights of martyrs and disabled, the rights of refugees and IDPs, the rights of teachers and getting them insurance, telecommunication because many people complain that the mobile phone companies are stealing from them, the bombings by international forces, a fair distribution of scholarships among the groups and tribes, proper education requirements for senior officials, and the reinstatement of the old cadre that is sitting at home - they should be used because they are a force for good.... Many candidates only registered to see if they could make a deal; they bought the [copies of] voter cards that you need to register and they are now going around and offering to step down. I was called by one of the sitting MPs, he offered me $200,000 to step down in his favour, but I refused. It's a lot of money, but he made so much more while he was an MP.... Karzai and his people are working to get at least 140 MPs elected that will listen to them, because this Parliament bothered him a lot. There are people who are making lists for him, they are making deals with candidates who promise to be loyal and they are giving them money, at least $60,000. One of the government people asked to see me a few times, but I have not responded yet.... In Kabul there are more than 600 candidates, so normally you should be able to get elected with around 3,000 votes. That I can get easily. But I am worried about the fraud.
Kabul parliamentary candidate, originally from southwest Afghanistan
My sister is a candidate in the nation-wide kuchi constituency. She has already started her campaign: she has travelled to the north and visited Balkh, Samangan, Sarepol, those places. Later this week she will probably go to Jalalabad. Many people are coming to our house, they are looking for someone to represent them. The voters are disappointed with the MPs that got into Parliament last time; they just took the money and did nothing. The tribe is behind my sister, the people are behind her and the government is also looking favourably on her. They are not supporting her directly, but they are not against her candidacy.
Brother of a female kuchi candidate living in Kabul
One of the MPs asked me to work for him. I understood it was because of the elections and because I am close to one of the religious leaders in my area. He wanted me to arrange the support of this leader and he wanted me to travel to the province to convince people to vote for him again. I told him I could not leave my family, so he told me he no longer needed my services... When I was still with him I was present at some of the meetings. One day some elders came because their relatives had been detained and badly beaten. Two of the relatives had been sent to Pul-e Charkhi prison and they asked the MP to intervene. The MP told them he could get the prisoners released, but only if he was re-elected and that they should promise to vote for him. One of the elders promised, he said: "all of us will fill the boxes for you, even the Taliban will help." Another day a villager came who had no money. Three of his sons were detained and he asked the MP for help. But he didn't help him; without money or promises he doesn't help... There are other strategies as well: This MP encouraged ten people from other areas and other tribal groups to candidate themselves, so that the vote of his rivals would be split.
Voter in Kabul, originally from southern Afghanistan
Do you see that campaign poster? I know one of the relatives of that candidate. He told me that the candidate, who is a rich businessman, said that he will spend up to 3 million dollars, as long as he wins a seat in Parliament. Just imagine the amount of money you must be able to make as a Parliamentarian.
Voter from Kabul
I am a candidate in Kabul. My campaign has started -- mainly in the districts, because the city is so crowded with candidates that it is like a buzkashi field. It went well so far. I don't have much money and I don't have anyone promising that they will make me win, but many people said they would vote for me. I have learnt from watching the last two rounds of elections: When people promise me 1,000 votes, I count it as a hundred. People exaggerate and hope that you will promise them something in return, like building a school in their area. But for me every single vote is important.... I will register my candidate agents in the coming day, I already have the forms. Having observers is important, they can watch for fraud but they also represent votes. If they are your observer, they should also vote for you and encourage one or two others to do the same. So if you have 500 observers that could be 1,500 extra votes. I will mainly send them to the areas where I have a lot of support; it is a waste of someone's time to spend all day in a polling station where you get only 10 votes.... There will not be so much fraud in Kabul city, because there are too many candidates and observers. The worst will be Sorobi district, because of the security situation. It will be difficult to send observers there. So people can take the ballot boxes and stuff them, without anyone saying anything.
Female Kabul candidate, originally from northern Afghanistan
You need to have a lot of money to run for Parliament. Yesterday the going price was $10 per vote, but the price is already going up. In the provinces where there will be a lot of fraud, the candidates are watching each other. If one finds out that his rival has arranged 5,000 votes, he will try to get 6,000. When the first one finds out that the other is preparing for 6,000, he will raise his number as well. It will become more all the time.
Politician from Kabul
I can introduce you to some of the candidates, I know most of them, but I cannot vouch for them. They will probably not tell you the truth. You see, all the candidates are getting ready for fraud. Maybe one or two of the more interesting candidates will not participate in the fraud, but all the others are making the necessary preparations. The provincial council elections were still relatively okay, but I have no idea how we should analyze the next elections: they will probably be stuffing 1000 votes per box. Several of the candidates have made deals with the local Taliban who have agreed to help with the ballot stuffing. And in the areas where the Taliban has not agreed to help, there will be fighting. So there will be ballot stuffing there too, although not in the areas themselves. And the ECC has decided that they will try to make nobody upset this time around, so they will not say very much.
Voter from Baghlan
Every candidate has their own system of campaigning, one does it in this way, the other in that way. What my system is? I used to be a commander in a large private security company. I have a kind of a protocol with my former colleagues that they will vote for me. I think I can also make agreements with people in other security companies as well. Then there are many families in Kabul from my district. The other candidate from my district is very weak, so I am quite confident that I will get many votes from my tribe. All together I should be able to get enough votes to win a seat. My only concern is fraud; that others will buy votes or steal my votes.... I have handed out business cards with my picture and my details to everybody I know or meet. And I will be hanging big posters in the city, but not yet. I will wait until the end of the campaign, when the posters of others have been damaged or are no longer being noticed. Then I will put my posters up. I have an appointment at the studio later this afternoon to get my pictures taken. And I will have a page on Facebook. I will not do that myself but my friends will do it and they will write good things about me so that people will vote for me.... I know many foreigners, but those were work relations, not political relations. I don't know how to be in touch with the political foreigners. I am trying to find out if anyone is supporting the candidates with money.
Candidate in Kabul, originally from the Shomali
The head of the IEC in my province recruited two people from my district as civic educators, one man and one woman. He told them that they don't have to do anything, but that half their salary is his. So they earn half of $400 per month for three months for doing nothing.... During last year's election I was the DFC (district field coordinator) in my district. A representative of one of the candidates brought a big bag of voter cards and wanted to use all of them to vote for his candidate, but I didn't allow it. We worked with three people in my district. This year when we applied again, the provincial IEC head was changed and the new one told us he did not need us anymore. But it is our right. We worked very well and very cleanly.... One of my colleagues had to leave the district after the elections because the Taliban were threatening him, they detained his father and his brother and then he left. My other colleague also left, he is now in Kabul. He became afraid, because he is a head teacher. And I left the area a few years ago after the Taliban attack in my village. But still the three of us wanted to work in our district in the elections again.
Former DFC (electoral district field coordinator) from southern Afghanistan
There are 22 candidates in my district alone, including two big former commanders. Two or three of the candidates are not bad. The campaign manager of one of the commanders is also not a bad man. I know him from the past and he helped me a lot recently when I had problems with the security services. So when he asks me to come to the campaign meetings of the big commander I say "of course". I will go with him later this week to the campaign meeting in the mosque. But my vote is mine, I will give it to whom I want.
Voter from Paghman, Kabul province
For more reactions from the campaign
trail, visit the Afghanistan
Analysts Network, where Martine van Bijlert is co-director and where this was originally published.
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