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Good news from Afghanistan

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    Good news from Afghanistan

    One of the Universal flaws of the Mass Market Media is that it is easily preoccupied with things that go boom. This article describes all of the things that have gone on in Afghanistan over the last month that have been reported in the press. Since good things seldom go boom, most of these things have passed unnoticed, without big dramatic headline. The biggest suprise is that over one thousand Afghan clerics have signed a petition to strip Mullah Ohmar of his religious authority. What a great idea! One only has to wonder what it will take for the rest of the worlds "moderate muslims" to follow thier lead and start excommunicating other hate filled mullahs.

    Take the time to at least skim the entire piece, only a portion of it is below. The number of projects going on in Afghanistan, whether they succeed or fail is truely stunning. All beneath the radar.

    Stripping Mullah Omar
    A roundup of the past month's good news from Afghanistan.

    Monday, June 6, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

    Over the last few weeks, Afghanistan has been in the news again--unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. The media pack has made a brief reappearance in Afghanistan to report on carefully staged "spontaneous" riots, which briefly erupted around the country, ostensibly in protest over a report in Newsweek (later retracted) about desecration of Koran by the American military personnel at Guantanamo Bay.

    Sadly, in the rush of commentary about Afghanistan's slide into anarchy and America's deteriorating position in Kabul, most of the international media again missed or downplayed many other stories, some of them arguably far more consequential than an antigovernment rampage whipped up by opponents of President Hamid Karzai. Take this story:

    A crowd of 600 Afghan clerics gathered in front of an historic mosque yesterday to strip the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar of his claim to religious authority, in a ceremony that provided a significant boost to the presidency of Hamid Karzai.
    The declaration, signed by 1,000 clerics from across the country, is an endorsement of the US-backed programme of reconciliation with more moderate elements of the Taliban movement that Karzai has been pursuing ahead of the country's first parliamentary elections, due in September.

    Symbolically, the ulema shura, or council of clerics, was held at the Blue Mosque in the southern city of Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban movement.

    At the same venue in 1996 the Taliban leader held up a cloak said to belong to the Prophet Mohammed, which is kept in a shrine in the mosque. He was proclaimed Amir ul-Mumineen or Leader of Muslims by the same clerical body, one of the few occasions the title has been granted anywhere in the Islamic world in the modern era.

    This important gathering and its implications were reported by only a handful of news outlets around the world--in stark contrast to the news several days later about the assassination at the hands of the Taliban of the head of the council and the suicide bombing at the historic mosque during his funeral, which appeared through hundreds of media outlets around the world.
    Faced with this sort of media coverage, President Karzai expressed his exasperation during his recent visit in the United States: "Sometimes--rather often--neither our press, nor your press, nor the press in the rest of the world will pick up the miseries of the Afghans three years ago and what has been achieved since then, until today."

    Below, then, the past five weeks' worth of stories that were yet again completely overshadowed by terrorism and violence.

    Society. Registration of candidates for the September parliamentary election has closed, with some 5,300 Afghans putting their hands up:

    Of the 5,531 hopefuls registered with the poll panel for the parliamentary vote, 2,826 are men and 212 women; for provincial council seats, 2,705 people including 319 women are in the run.

    You can read more about the process, as well as the challenges of the next few months, here. Voter registration will commence June 25.

    Meanwhile, both candidates and voters alike face a dilemma:

    Would you want to run for office as a toothbrush? How about a meat grinder? . . . The Joint Electoral Management Body, JEMB, made up of a small army of international advisors along with nine Afghan election commissioners, has come up with a solution: create 400 generic symbols that have no religious, ethnic or political significance, and assign one to each candidate. Hence, voters this fall could be deciding whether they want a toothbrush, an electric plug, a hairbrush or a broom to represent them.

    Afghan democracy is maturing with the growth of a multiparty political system:

    A leading politician who ran against Hamed Karzai in last year's presidential election has announced the creation of a new coalition that hopes to win a majority of seats in the national legislature this autumn, and create a parliamentary form of government.
    Mohammad Yunus Qanuni, who ran for president last October, said that the National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye-Tafahhum-e-Milli), made up of 11 political parties, would act as an opposition to the Karzai government.

    Once in parliament, the bloc will seek to amend the constitution to replace the current system of government, which it believes gives the president too much power. Instead, the coalition favours a system in which "the prime minister is chosen by parliament, and power is shared between the president and the prime minister," said coalition spokesman Sayed Ali Jawed, of the Hezb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami party.

    Quanuni's bloc and another party, Mustafa Kazemi's Iqtidar-e-Milli, have been registered by the authorities. "So far, of 88 parties having submitted applications, 67 have registered with the Ministry of Justice."
    And it seems that the democratic bug is proving very infectious in Afghan society:

    For the first time in the history of the eastern Afghan provinces, barbers have form a committee, calling themselves Pak Salmanian or the clean barbers with the hope of taking part in the forthcoming provincial elections.
    Barbers attending a meeting held in the provincial capital of eastern Nangarhar, Jalalabadd, from Kunar, Laghman and Nangarhar, nominated Saida Gul as their leader and representative.

    According to Saida Gul, "A barber's life is in a bad way, because people no longer respect them in the society. So they have taken matters into their hands and want to address their own problems by having a representative." Another member of the association says that "democracy was at play and their rights were finally being met."
    A new youth movement aims to put aside past conflict and build a better future for the country:

    Hundreds of young men, fed up with the ethnic animosities that have long divided Afghanistan, are traveling the country preaching peace and brotherhood.
    "Just yesterday our youngsters were trying to kill one another, but today they're thinking about national unity and they want to live as brothers," said Haji Sarajuddin, a teacher from Kandahar province.

    Sarajuddin recently accompanied about 200 senior high school students from the traditional Pashtun stronghold in the south to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, in an area where ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks are in the majority.

    The two regions came to symbolise the deep divisions that marked the years of strife of the Nineties.

    But in April, nearly 300 students in Mazar-e-Sharif warmly embraced their fellow countrymen from Kandahar when they met at a local hotel.

    The students, all in their teens or early twenties, were too young to have participated in the years of civil war.

    "We know that due to the conflicts, a lot of distance has come between the peoples of Afghanistan," Mohammad Nazar, 23, told IWPR. "You can't bring about national unity by just talking, so about 30 of us at schools in Kandahar got together and decided to do something practical."

    From the core group of 30, the unity movement boomed, said Nazar.

    The young men say they have no political agenda other than reconciliation. They have taken their message not only to Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, but also to other northern regions such as Parwan, Baghlan, Takhar and Kunduz, to Paktia and Zabul in the south, and to the capital Kabul and the nearby Wardak province.

    Meanwhile, Karzai's administration gets an additional boost as some of his past enemies are coming in from the cold:

    A Taliban splinter group, widely regarded as a moderate camp, on Monday pledged support to the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai.
    Abdul Hakim Mujahid, heading the political wing of the Jamiat-i-Khuddamul Furqan, categorically declared aversion to the trail of murder and mayhem stemming from Taliban activities in Afghanistan.

    In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, Hakim said they had snapped all links to the hard-core Taliban leadership after joining Khuddam's council three years ago.

    Khuddam resumed activities in Peshawar (NWFP) soon after the ouster of Taliban from power in 2001. Last year, its leader Mohammad Amin Mujadeddi said the party, launched more than 30 years back, had been reactivated.

    In a recent TV interview, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, "a former foreign minister for the ousted Taliban militia called on his former comrades to hold talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, and criticized Osama bin Laden for never caring for his host country."
    In the capital, an important landmark is undergoing restoration:

    Darulaman Palace, a symbol of national unity and independence since 1929, is being rebuilt after being left a shell of a building by years of civil war.
    Designed by German and French architects and constructed mostly by hand between 1919 and 1929, Darulaman was commissioned by the then king, Amanullah Khan, who is still revered for ending British influence on the country.

    Darulaman was used by the Afghan defence ministry from the Soviet occupation of 1979 onwards. It was severely damaged in 1991 and 1992 during the factional fighting that brought an end to communist rule.

    "Darulaman palace represents the link between the old and new Afghanistan," said Nasrullah Stanekzai, deputy minister of information, culture and tourism.

    When completed, the new palace will be used by Afghanistan's legislature for offices and meetings, although the body does not plan to convene there for its regular sessions.

    The three-phase, 70 million US dollar reconstruction project is being undertaken by the Darulaman Reconstruction Foundation with financial assistance from German donors as well as expatriate Afghans living in Germany.

    Rebuilding is expected to take three years. The project will employ an estimated 1,500 workers, said Abdul Hamid Farooqi, a foundation member.

    Afghanistan is also receiving other support for the development of democracy:

    The National Democratic Institute (NDI) together with the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) will train potential candidates competing for the Wolesi Jirga (the Lower House) and the Provincial Council elections, to be held concurrently on September 18. . . . The training organized by NDI, will initially take place in eight major provinces and consist of training sessions on the election process and the requirements for political candidates.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development is also involved in training of political candidates:

    In preparation for the parliamentary elections, voter education programs include independent candidate and political party training, with over 12,000 Afghan participants across 8 provinces. Judicial support includes human rights and women's rights training to 3,037 local community members in 6 provinces, judicial personnel training, the distribution of the Afghan Constitution and legal code, and English training for legal professors.

    Afghan activists are receiving recognition for their work:

    Three democratic activists from Afghanistan have been chosen to receive the 2005 Democracy Award of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which will be presented on July 13 at an event in the U.S. Congress. The three honorees are leaders of civil society organizations who have distinguished themselves in educating average citizens and local leaders about the basic values and principles of democracy, the rights of women and ethnic minorities, strategies for peace-building and conflict resolution and the importance of broad political participation.

    After decades of lawlessness, Afghanistan's legal system is also getting some much-needed attention and assistance. A new law regarding the structure and authority of lower courts has been approved: "In this connection, 36 judges took oath of office and will later head the criminal, civil, trade and common security tribunals."

    The Afghan government has also approved a new Juvenile Code, which gives Afghan children increased legal protections:

    One key provision in the new Juvenile Code, which was formally adopted by the Afghan cabinet in February 2005, is the increase in the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years, as well as recognizing the definition of a child as being anyone under the age of 18.
    The code also introduces important protection for children under the process of the law, including no child can be held without trial for more than two months, and children awaiting trial will be kept in the care of their families or guardians. The new code provides a broader range of measures for children convicted of crimes, including official cautions and probation as an alternative to custodial punishments.
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