December 24, 2010
Amid the ongoing Wikileaks Sturm und Drang, one young website is providing a provocative and unusual look at the evolving controversy.
The creative minds behind Rap News, a button-pushing, year-old website, keep producing thought-provoking commentary on Wikileaks that is likely to rile as many people as it inspires.
The five-to-six-minute pieces feature "Robert Foster," the Rap News anchor with big glasses and a pompadour (or is it a bouffant?), who raps his way through a debate with alternate characters, including Pentagon spokesman General Baxter.
The most recent piece, "Wikileaks' Cablegate,' features Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi.
Robert Foster and the other main characters are played by Hugo Farrant, a British MC/spoken word artist who joined forces in Australia with Giordano Nanni, an Italian artist who writes, edits, directs and produces each piece.
In a recent interview the two described Rap News as a forum to challenge mainstream media, political apathy and government secrecy.
"It's not that all politicians are bastards," said Nanni, "but rather that most Americans seem to vote for the bastards rather than honest ones!"
Assange himself recently made a cameo appearance on Rap News alongside his alter ego.
December 18, 2010
In 2005, Granta published "How to Write About Africa," a satirical advice piece that offered tips for covering the continent.
The suggestions include helpful advice such as: "Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West."
Now, as part of its special issue on Pakistan, Granta has published "How to Write About Pakistan."
The Number One tip: "Must have mangoes."
Number Two? "Must have maids who serve mangoes."
The advice was put together by four contributors to the Pakistan issue, including Mohammed Hanif, author of "A Case of Exploding Mangoes."
December 15, 2010
Tributes have rolled in for the longtime diplomat who was lauded by President Barack Obama as "a true giant of foreign policy."
The Taliban even issued their own statement on Holbrooke's death.
The Taliban blamed the stress of trying to resolve problems in Afghanistan for creating too much stress for Holbrooke.
"The protracted Afghan war and the descending trajectory of the Americans’ handling of the warfare in the country had had a lethal dent on Holbrook[e]’s health as a high-ranking American official," the Taliban statement said. "He was grappling with a constant psychological stress."
At the same time, some critics of the war seized on reports that Holbrooke's last words to his doctors were: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."
Various pundits took the words as a stark jolt of reality from inside an administration working furiously to start bringing American troops home this summer.
The debate over Holbrooke's words prompted the Obama administration to speak to the media to parse the late-diplomat's words.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described Holbrooke's words as "humorous repartee."
Crowley said the comment "says two things about Richard Holbrooke in my mind. Number one, he always wanted to make sure he got the last word. And secondly, it just showed how he was singularly focused on pursuing and advancing the process and the policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to bring them to a successful conclusion."
(Richard Holbrooke photo/AP)
December 12, 2010
Earlier this year, PBS aired "Behind Taliban Lines," a Frontline documentary by Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi about his 10-day embed with Afghan insurgents.
Over the weekend, CNN aired "Taliban," a similar hour-long special based on Norwegian freelance journalist Paul Refsdal's "embed" with Taliban fighters in October, 2009.
The Frontline piece provided viewers with some surreal moments as the Hezb-e-Islami fighters bickered over their bungled attempts to attack Western soldiers.
The Washington Post describes "Taliban" as more of a "day-in-the-life project" that focuses on a Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province as he plans attacks, plays with his kids and discusses the fight against American-led forces.
A month later, Refsdal and an Afghan colleague were held captive for six days by a different group of insurgents who suspected that the foreigner was a spy.
In the more absurd moments, insurgents gave Refsdal a phone so he could call around to try to raise money to secure his own release.
But things took an ominous turn when another group offered to buy Refsdal for $50,000.
In an attempt to secure his freedom, Refsdal agreed to immediately swear an oath to Islam, a conversion that he was told would lead to his freedom.
While another insurgent group sought to buy Refsdal, Taliban leaders in Pakistan were pressing the group to free the foreigner.
On the sixth day, Refsdal and his Afghan colleague were released.
Do Taliban fighters get Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
According to a Newsweek's Ron Moreau, the answer is yes.
Taliban leaders told Moreau that they and their fighters are facing intense pressure from American-led forces in Afghanistan. And it is taking a psychological toll.
“We are humans,” Mullah Mohammad, a Taliban commander in Helmand, told Newsweek. “An animal couldn’t withstand the strains we are under.”
While many Westerners are unlikely to have much sympathy for the plight of the anti-Western fighters, spreading PTSD among the Taliban may be a sign that the U.S.-military offensive has taken a distinct toll.
“I’d say 100 percent of Taliban have suffered and seen enough death and destruction to become mentally sick,” one senior Taliban intelligence officer told Newsweek. “There is no Taliban member who has not suffered a big mental shock from combat, explosions, the loss of fellow fighters and friends."
One Taliban member who looks after the insurgents with PTSD told Newsweek that at least two militants had snapped and turned their weapons on their comrades.
PTSD is not just a problem for Taliban fighters. It extends to much of the Afghan population that has endured decades of invasion, occupation, insurgency and civil war.
“It’s alarming, but not surprising, that there are so many psychologically disturbed people in Afghanistan,” Dr. Wahab Yousafzai, a Pakistani psychiatrist who runs training courses for Afghan physicians, told Newsweek. “Common people feel helpless. Death can come at any minute from U.S. and NATO forces or the Taliban.”
December 10, 2010
In one small victory for women's rights this week in Afghanistan, local police arrested Sulaiman, the Afghan man accused of helping to cut his daughter-in-law's nose off in a brutal attack that has become a potent symbol of the deep-rooted problems facing women in Afghanistan.
With the help of aid groups, the woman, Bibi Aisha, recently traveled to the US for reconstructive surgery.
This month, National Geographic is carrying "Veiled Rebellion," a powerful story-photo essay about the uphill battles Afghan women face in trying to secure the most basic of rights.
On Friday, the United Nations released a jarring new report that offers a stark look at how far Afghan women have to go.
"There are hundreds of Bibi Aishas in our country," said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of Afghanistan's independent human rights commission.
Among the key findings:
* "Law enforcement authorities often are unwilling or unable to apply laws that protect women’s rights."
* Half the women in Afghan prisons -- about 300 -- are held for nebulous "moral crimes" such as "running away" with the intent to commit adultery.
"The police and judiciary often fail to enforce laws that respect women’s rights and take a selective rather than impartial approach to administering justice," the report states. "They often pursue cases where women are perceived to have transgressed social norms and fail to act when women report violence or in cases of child marriage claiming these are 'private matters.'"
* Baad, the practice of giving girls away to settle disputes, is widespread across Afghanistan.
"The practice of baad or giving away of girls to settle disputes, forms one of the most egregious types of violence against women in Afghanistan," the report states. "Baad allows communities or families to settle crimes such as murder, in theory to restore peace and order between the conflicting parties, by transferring punishment for the crime to a woman or girl. The 'honor' of the aggrieved family is “restored” through punishing the woman for a crime she did not commit."
* A majority of Afghan girls are forced to marry before they turn 17.
In 2009, the Afghan government enacted the Elimination of Violence Against Women law in an attempt to institutionalize broad protections for women.
But, the report states, many Afghan officials, especially in remote areas, don't even know about the law. And those charged with enforcing the law often take a selective approach.
The United Nations "believes that little meaningful and sustainable progress for women’s rights can be achieved in Afghanistan as long as women and girls are subject to practices that harm, degrade, humiliate and deny them their basic human rights," the report states. "Ensuring rights for Afghan women – such as their participation in public life including in the current peace, reconciliation and reintegration process; their access to adequate health care; and equal opportunities in education and employment – require not only legal and constitutional safeguards on paper, but also, more importantly, adequate implementation."
December 9, 2010
It was one of the most embarrassing political incidents of the year in Afghanistan: Widely touted reports that Karzai had met with a high-level Taliban leader proved to be a debacle.
The high-level Taliban leader, it turned out, was an impostor.
Some accused the UK of bringing the impostor to the table. Others said it was the US military leadership that approved the discussions.
NATO officials told The New York Times that they were actively helping the Taliban leader by providing him with safe passage and flights into Afghanistan.
This week, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, told ABC News that he and the US military always had doubts about the man professing to be a top Taliban official.
George Stephanopoulos: There was that embarrassing-- that embarrassing episode a couple of weeks ago, where it turned out-- supposedly a top level Taliban who was negotiating with the Afghan government turned out to be an impostor. How could that happen?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, it was not a surprise, George-- that the--
George Stephanopoulos: Not a surprise?
Gen. David Petraeus: Not at all. That's the—
George Stephanopoulos: Well, then why--
Gen. David Petraeus: There was doubt—
George Stephanopoulos: --the person let in?
Gen. David Petraeus: This was-- there was enormous doubt about this individual from the very beginning. And decisions were made to go ahead and pursue that just to see where it leads. Partly because it-- maybe he actually proves to be who he is. But more than likely, even if he doesn't, you-- you see what dynamics that creates-- see how it evolves. And there was-- there was-- healthy skepticism about that individual...
George Stephanopoulos: But you decided to give it a chance?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, again, this is not our decision. This reconciliation is an action that the Afghan government carries out in some cases with the-- some degree of at least knowledge or assistance of international elements.
George Stephanopoulos: Are there any serious talks going on right now?
Gen. David Petraeus: If there were, I wouldn't tell you about them. But I think that observers have noted that there are various strands of outreach that are out there.
But the ABC News interview neglected to touch on an important point: It was Petraeus himself who generated much of the international media attention by repeatedly trumpeting the talks when he spoke to reporters.
Petraeus began telling reporters about the talks in the fall.
“The prospect for reconciliation with senior Taliban leaders certainly looms out there, and there have been approaches at [the] very senior level that hold some promise,” Petraeus said in early September.
A few weeks later, Petraeus made the same point during a visit to Bagram Air Base.
“There are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government and, indeed, have done that,” Petraeus told reporters in late September.
The stories generated significant political buoyancy for Petraeus in the lead up to the December review and helped to create a perception that the American military surge had pushed battered Taliban leaders to the bargaining table.
When the story fell apart, Petraeus and other US military officials suggested that they had long had doubts about the credibility of the Taliban leader.
Why, then, did Petraeus repeatedly talk up the dubious talks with reporters as he was preparing to present his assessment of the war to President Barack Obama?
(AP Photo/Gen. David Petraeus introduces President Barack Obama at Bagram Air Base on Friday, Dec. 3, 2010)
December 8, 2010
How fares the war?
Everyone from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to political pundits from across the ideological spectrum are pouring into Afghanistan to take stock of the war one year after US President Barack Obama agreed to send 30,000 more U.S. forces to this country in a bid to turn the tide.
The latest chart from Indicium Consulting provides some hard numbers for perpsective.
The chart shows the steady rise in violence since 2007, and the major spike this year as the new forces pushed into southern Afghanistan.
The numbers are a starting point for an ongoing debate about what they mean. US military strategists argue that the spike in violence is the expected result of the military surge. Some analysts say that concurrent insurgent "surge" is responsible for more of the violence.
Most everyone expects the violence to drop off now that winter is setting in and insurgents are likely to retreat, recharge and restock for next spring, when many analysts expect to truly assess the impact of the Obama military surge on Taliban-led fighters.
Notes on chart:
CH: Central Highlands
ER: Eastern Region
SER: Southeastern Region
SR: Southern Region
WR: Western Region
NER: Northeastern Region
NR: Northern Region
CR: Central Region
December 6, 2010
In the opening skit, SNL featured "Julian Assange" as TMZ's Harvey Levin pumping his celeb-chasing team for juicy details and video on world leaders.
After catching Lybian leader Moammar Qadaffi coming out of a restaurant with his "nurse" (who admits that she is a prostitute), the TMZ crew tracks down Afghan leader Hamid Karzai -- played by SNL host Robert De Niro -- on a city sidewalk where he rejects allegations that his government is corrupt.
"I do not take bribes," Karzai/De Niro says as the waiter rushes out to give Karzai the briefcase he left in the restaurant, which promptly falls open and dumps stacks of cash on the sidewalk...
You can also check the skit out here.
The final part of the segment catches Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a rather crude and embarrassing moment as she exits her vehicle while being filmed by a surprising prankster...
De Niro, it will be recalled, won an Oscar for playing a Mafia kingpin in "The Godfather, Part II."
December 5, 2010
Twenty-five years ago, National Geographic featured an iconic photograph by Steve McCurry of a young Afghan girl. The fierce 1985 portrait of the green-eyed refugee remains one of the defining images to emerge from Afghanistan.
"From cradle to grave, the Pashtun woman's lot is one of shame and sadness," Rubin writes.
Afghan women have long expressed their latent frustrations through "landays," short two-line poems.
In one about a "little horror" (the man a woman is forced to marry), one writer expresses her desire for true love.
Come, my beloved, come quickly and be close to me! / The "little horror" lies in slumber and you may kiss me now.
The National Geographic package also includes a short video documenting the rare sight of a woman -- in this case, actress Trena Amiri -- getting her groove on while driving around Kabul.
As for the original "Afghan Girl," National Geographic tracked her down in 2002.
At that time, Sharbat Gula, a Pashtun woman, was living in a remote northern Afghan village where she had married as a teenager and, her brother said, never had a happy day in her life, except, maybe the day of her wedding.
(Top photos: National Geographic/Steve McCurry; bottom photo National Geographic/Lynsey Addario)
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.
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- A snapshot of Afghanistan
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- The Leatherneck Grinch who jammed for Christmas
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