Kabul abuzz with activities but Afghans uncertain about future by Delawar Jan

KABUL: Afghanistan’s capital Kabul calmly sits among barren mountains, with unexpected but delightful peace in its streets. Tranquility of the Yaftali Street in Share-Naw would allow one to hear warbles of birds, droning of passenger planes and sounds of hammers from an under-construction building. Fear of violence scarcely exists.

Kabul hardly appears to be the capital of a country where around 50 countries led by the US have been fighting the battle-hardened Taliban for the last 12 years. Life seems to be in full swing in the city as bazaars are abuzz with business activities and roads occupied by vehicles that are crazily driven to the surprise of many. Traffic jams give an idea of rush on the roads.

Construction of multistory commercial buildings on almost every street and elegant townships on the outskirts of the city indicates boom in construction sector. People attend offices and businesses without fear of violence. Even people of other countries, including Pakistan, are finding Kabul as destination for job.

Another event that substantiates the impression that life has returned to normalcy in Kabul is a football match. Under the surveillance balloon that oversees movements in the city, a football stadium erupts in cheers as spectators support their respective teams in the much-hyped and televised Afghanistan Premier League, launched recently.

However, military helicopters clattering over the city and presence of heavy military assets at the airport provide the signs of war in Kabul. Police check-posts at almost every square, blocked roads and embarrassing body search at all important sites reinforce the feeling of being in a war-struck country.

Despite some of the positive signs, Afghans predict a bleak future of the country. The US and its allies have failed to quell Taliban resistance in Afghanistan which unsettles people in Kabul. They fear Taliban could menace the hard-won but fragile peace in the city as foreign combat forces are preparing to leave the country in 2014. The people have no, or little, confidence in the Afghan National Army and police to withstand ferocious Taliban attacks.

“Security situation in the country is poor even the US is in charge of it. Kabul is not Afghanistan. Other provinces have been in grip of violence,” said Abdul Karim Sadiqi, who hails from Kabul. “In my understanding, the situation in Afghanistan will further deteriorate after the US withdrawal,” he added.

Omar Gul, who hails from Maidan Wardag, is also worried about the post-2014 Afghanistan. “I am afraid Afghanistan will see scenes from the past after the foreign forces pull out. Afghan National Army is not capable to hold control over the country which worries me that civil war could again start. And of course peace in Kabul will also be menaced by violence,” he said.

A report of the International Crisis Group last week said the country is plagued by factionalism and is not ready to assume responsibility for security. “There is a real risk that the regime in Kabul could collapse upon NATO’s withdrawal in 2014,” Candace Rondeaux, the ICG’s senior Afghanistan analyst was quoted as saying.

Analysts in Afghanistan predict that 2014 will cause uncertainty in the country as Afghan leaders lack vision for the future. Mujib Mashal, a leading Afghan journalist, said Afghanistan had over 300,000 police and army combined which was enough but the quality was lacking. “About our security forces, the big question is that whether they can sustain, whether they can fight on the ground without the air support from the Americans and coalition forces and whether they can do [operations] on their own,” he said.

He said the Afghan leadership had no clear vision about the country and felt Kabul would not be prepared to take over charge in 2014. “One day we are telling the security forces to kill the Taliban, they are the enemy. The next day we are saying they are our friends, our brothers,” he said. “So soldiers on the ground are confused. You don’t know how clear my mission is. Is this guy my enemy or my brother, my friend,” he added.

Muahammad Sarwar Ahmadzai, who works on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Regional Study Centre of Afghanistan, agrees that security situation would deteriorate but shrugged off concern of civil war as misplaced.  “We had [security] problems before and will continue to have them in future, though we understand they will increase after the US withdrawal. But concerns about a civil war are groundless,” he argued.

Nato and Afghanistan government reject such predictions and assert the Afghan army and police are being trained well and would better fight Taliban than the international troops as they were familiar with the terrain and people.

“Fundamentally, Nato is confident that the army and police in Afghanistan will be capable of doing the job [of undertaking the security responsibilities] after 2014 because we see them growing everyday now in their skills and experience,” said Dominic Medley, a spokesman for the Nato in Afghanistan.

He said the Afghan army had demonstrated skills in major attacks in Kabul where they led the operation to finish the attackers. He added that it was leading major operations around the country which gave alliance members the confidence that they were capable of fighting the Taliban.

He said the international community had invested billions of dollars and so much effort for a shared goal which was a peaceful, secure, prosperous [and] stable Afghanistan. “Why would we make all our effort to be in vain just to let Afghanistan collapse,” he wondered. The Nato spokesman said the alliance would continue the training, advising and assistance of the Afghan security forces.

“Afghanistan has come a long way  over the past 10 years in terms of establishing democracy, in terms of strengthening economic institutions, police and army, in terms of the vast gains we have made in education, in healthcare, in infrastructure development [and] building our economy,” said Janan Mosazai, Afghanistan Foreign Ministry spokesman. “Afghanistan is never going to go back to 1990s,” he added.

Concern about economy is also widespread. “Our economy is right now totally dependent on donor money and international aid. There has been no vision laid out for the economic sustainability after 2014,” Mujib Mashal said.

“If we compare this year with last year, I would say that the business has dropped by 60 per cent,” said Omar Gul, who has invested 30,000 dollars in garment business.

Nato spokesman, however, said the international community had pledged up to 16 billion dollars for Afghanistan and the country could also tap its resources. “So you wouldn’t expect some kind of massive economic collapse,” he hoped.

Originally published in The News International

 

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Kabul Eats: L’Atmosphere by Sundus Rasheed

Originally published at YummyMummyAndMe
Kabul, like Karachi, has only one kind of nightlife – a foodie kind of nightlife. But it can be a little bit more risqué/fun that Karachi. While Karachi asks you to bring your own, Kabul serves its own.  Kabul has a decent variety of cuisines being served across the city. Thai, Chinese, Indian, Croatian, Middle Eastern and many more. The next few blog entries will showcase some of Kabul’s best eateries. Here’s the first in my ‘Kabul Eats’ series.
 If you look up any travel guide to Kabul, you are bound to come across the name L’Atmosphere – a French restaurant/bar catering mainly to the expat community but locals are served too (there are places where locals are denied entry. Colonial much?). L’Atmosphere has three dining areas – an outdoor area, the bar/pub area with sofas and bar stools and a more formal dining area with tables and chairs.
It is located in the Qalla-e-Fatullah area, about 10 minutes away from the central district of Shar Nau. Don’t let the road to L’Atmo intimidate you – it is under construction and basically a mess right now (think Shireen Jinnah colony or Sohrab Goth 10 years ago). However, no road is too hard for a taxi to get to. Security is a bit more relaxed here – the guards will check your bags and ask a couple of ‘friendly’ questions but cameras are allowed and you will not be asked for identification.
We opted to sit in the bar area which was by far the most popular part of the restaurant – occupied mostly by American and European expats. The menu is surprisingly extensive – with crepes, pizzas, pastas, salads, soups, steaks and desserts. Alcohol is not ‘on the menu’ but it is available – beer, whiskey, rum, vodka and wine.
When dining in Kabul, place your order quickly. The food takes a while to arrive, about 20-25 minutes for the soups and salads and even. We ordered a bunch of starters – fried camembert with cherry jam, chicken salad and French onion soup.
The chicken salad was loaded with a spicy chicken chunks on a bed of ice-berg lettuce, cucumbers and onion and no dressing. Luckily, the chicken was not over-cooked and the vegetables were fresh and crunchy so you don’t really miss out on flavor.
The French onion soup was perfect for the cold Kabul evening. I would have liked a more bodied soup though.
The fried Camembert was a quick reminder that we were in fact still in Kabul. No complaints about the cheese but the sweet, bottled cherry jam gave it all away. The hot cheese on bread still works though.
The Nordic  crepes were STUFFED with lots and lots of salmon – a real treat in a landlocked Afghanistan. The crepe itself was light and soft. My company could not wait until I took a picture, hence, half a crepe only in the picture.
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Pizza has got to be the world’s favorite comfort food. No matter where you come from and where you are eating, pizza is bound to make you feel at home. L’Atmosphere has a range of pizzas – easily categorized by the toppings/meat on them – chicken, beef, cheese and so on. We ordered the chicken. The pizza was fairly large – to be easily shared between two as a main.
After a really ambitious ‘Western meal’ we ended our indulgence with a chocolate crepe and ice-cream.
The entire meal along with drinks  (including alcoholic ones) cost about  $150 for the four of us. Remember, expat dining in Kabul is expensive as it is limited and exclusive. L’Atmosphere is where the well-heeled expats come to play so you know what to expect.
And a very big thank you to Kabul’s finest violin teacher – my friend William Harvey for taking me to L’Atmo (because real expats call it L’Atmo)
AND the biggest thank you of all to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Pakistan and Afghanistan for letting me bring Kabul that much closer to Karachi – as part of the Af-Pak Journalism Fellowship Exchange Program – Understanding the Neighbour.

Palatial mansion: Pakistan’s biggest and busiest diplomatic mission

By Robin Fernandez

KABUL: Situated in the Karte Parwan neighbourhood of Kabul is Pakistan’s diplomatic mission. Steeped in history, the embassy building and the adjoining ambassador’s residence together form the country’s single biggest mission in the world – a frontispiece to our public diplomacy abroad.

Inaugurated in July 2012, the sprawling grounds of the Quaid-e-Azam Complex cover more than 26 acres of land that once belonged to the British Legation in Kabul. Today it may well be Pakistan’s busiest diplomatic mission.

On any week day (from Sunday to Thursday) one is likely to find thousands of Afghans queuing up outside the Pakistan Embassy for a visa. “Up to 12,000 multiple [entry] visas are issued every day. Not a single application has been rejected so far,” says Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq. This figure may seem high, according to officials, but it pales in comparison to the sheer number of people who make border crossings every day between the two countries. Currently, Pakistani officials say, 56,000 people travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan through both designated and undesignated crossing points daily — mainly for trade and business purposes.

The main embassy buildings are now housed in what used to be the dispensary of the British Legation buildings in the Afghan capital. In one corner of the premises, English-language and computer classes are held for Afghan students, especially those in the neighborhood. “The classes are free and are part of the embassy’s effort to encourage education,” says an official.

The next door residential complex of the ambassador is much grander, still reflecting the colonial glory that Lord George Curzon, the then foreign secretary, had wanted Britain’s top envoy in Kabul to have. Curzon, also a former viceroy general of India, did not live to see the majestic Legation structure, dying two years before its completion. The Legation buildings in Kabul sprang up some eight years after Britain signed the 1919 Treaty of Rawalpindi which officially recognised the independence of Afghanistan.

Though Pakistan’s right to the Legation buildings’ ownership was recognised by the early 1960s, Islamabad had to wait three more decades for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to finally accede to its possession. But the property did not pass into Pakistan’s hands until another decade and a half. By that time it had already been ransacked by a violent mob and suffered a vicious arson attack. Several buildings, including a church and smaller residences, were razed to the ground. Perhaps the only building that escaped harm was the clock tower that stands near one of the boundary walls.

When Ambassador Sadiq moved into the gleaming white palatial building this year following a massive renovation of the premises, President Hamid Karzai took a gentle swipe at the envoy. “I see you have moved into your vice-regal seat,” Karzai was quoted as telling Sadiq.

The entire building was reconstructed in a record time. “Despite the huge challenge, it took us about six months to restore the complex,” a Pakistan Embassy official said. Another official said the funds saved through the [earlier used] Wazir Akbar Khan mission were spent on the restoration work. “We used that money for restoration and saved thousands of dollars in the bargain,” the official explained.

From the vantage point of the ambassador’s residence, one can see a freshly-manicured cricket ground and an equally impressive soccer pitch. And in the distance one can see the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains. The sight would have certainly pleased Curzon no end.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd,  2012.

Kabul youth determined to exorcise old ghosts

By Robin Fernendez

KABUL: Kabul is bursting with life and quite unlike the capital of a country that has seen internecine fighting for the better part of more than three decades. Its thoroughfares and streets, though narrow and potholed, are clogged with traffic; its shops and bazaars replete with goods, most of them from Pakistan and Iran.

Construction is booming in this city of more than five million and property prices are staggeringly high, sometimes rivaling Tokyo and New York.  The city is seeing an uptick in vertical growth, with hundreds of tall apartment buildings and office complexes sprouting out every few months. Cell phone service giant MTN is building an 88-storey building in the heart of the capital, which will soon dwarf the Soviet-built telecommunications office towers by 60-odd floors.

The Afghan national currency stands stronger against the US dollar than the Pakistani rupee, with one dollar roughly equal to 52 afghanis. Ludicrous as it may sound, Pakistanis in Afghanistan have to spend twice as much money on a product than they would in their own country.

The city hosts an army of guest workers, some 100,000 of them from Pakistan alone. This is hardly surprising because Kabul is really a “second Dubai” for many people, as Hamid Zazai of Mediothek prefers to call his beloved city. For guest workers in the region, the one advantage that Kabul has over Gulf Arab cities is that it does not charge them a sponsorship or even a resident permit fee. This is a specially neat arrangement for Pakistani workers, many of whom prefer to work without a holiday for up to three months at a stretch, because at those intervals they can cross the border with a heavy pay cheque in hand.

Like Pakistani medical professionals, construction workers from the country are much sought after.

“They work fast, are skilled and cause less trouble than their Afghan counterparts,” said Mohammad Sheikh Hamdam of the Afghan Anti-Corruption Network. “They are prepared to accept lower wages than our nationals,” he added. Hamdam believes he would have been able to construct a new house in Kabul six months earlier had he employed Pakistani labourers. Many other home builders in Afghanistan share this view.

Afghan officials are proud of the decade of development that their capital has seen, in particular, after the catastrophic rule of the Taliban.  They wince when the news media glosses over their country’s progress in several key areas and instead belittles their efforts towards reconstruction.

Civil society groups and a relatively free media are at the vanguard of this effort. Young Afghan men and women have banded together to form leadership and policymaking advisory councils that are already liaising and interacting with both the Karzai administration and the opposition groups. A member of the youth leadership group, Dr Fawad Farzad, points out that as direct stakeholders a number of youth have taken their place in government ministries and departments. “What we are trying to create is a second and third tier of leadership for the country,” explains Dr Fawad Farzad. “With five or ten years, you will see them firmly in control of Afghanistan.”

Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry and himself a former youth leadership programme member, says his compatriots desire freedom and progress for the next Afghan generation. Sediqi says he and other Afghan youth are also determined to keep the Taliban out. “The Taliban cannot come back…we will never allow dark and barbaric forces to rule us again.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2012.

Auf Wiedersehen Kabul!

Team Pakistan is back after spending ten exciting days in Kabul. Kabul is one of the youngest capital of the world. One looks around and see young parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists and lawyers. They have vision for post 2014. They are confident about themselves and their country. Pakistani fellows had an opportunity to meet these people and share their vision. We will have more reports on this page written by FES-Af-Pak fellows. Q. Zaman -FES-Pakistan.

Pakistani fellows at the Kabul Airport

Pak-Afghan future inter-linked

by Bari Baloch

Originally published in The Nation on 12th October 2012

KABUL: After destruction of many years Afghanistan particularly its
capital Kabul is fast developing which could be gauged from the lofty
buildings, roads, educational institutions, hospitals and media
outlets.
The decades long war and oppressive regime of Taliban had destroyed
almost entire Afghanistan, its infrastructure, educational
institutions, hospitals and above all millions of Afghan people were
killed while millions of others migrated to neighboring countries such
as Pakistan and Iran.
Kabul which is the heartbeat of Afghanistan, centre of politics,
commerce and culture was also badly affected not only in Taliban
regime but also during Soviet aggression.
When Taliban regime was eliminated by United States and it allies in
2001 a new ray of hope created amongst the people of Afghanistan to
rebuild their war-torn country with the help of world community.
Besides, US, European Union and other countries, Pakistan being
neighboring and sharing 2600 km long border with Afghanistan showed
commitment to play a role in the rebuilding and reconstruction of
Afghanistan.
Since last many years Pakistan has begin a number of development
projects in various parts of Afghanistan particularly in education,
health and construction of roads. Pakistan is providing $ 330 million
for building of educational and health institutions, and communication
infrastructure of Afghanistan.
“Pakistan is playing an important role in the development of
Afghanistan since a stable Afghanistan was vital for stable Pakistan,”
says Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul.
He said some 5,200 Afghans crossed the border into Pakistan everyday
in 2009 for business, jobs, medical treatment, education and to visit
relatives. “This was significant increase over a year ago when 44,000
Afghans traversed the border daily. Pakistan issues more visas to
Afghans than the rest of the world combined and Pakistan does not
charge any visa fee from Afghan passport holders,” he said.
He said that due to Pakistan’s longstanding policy on educating Afghan
nationals some 30,000 Afghans had attended Pakistan universities and
colleges in last three decades. “Today, 6,000 afghan students are
enrolled in Pakistan’s colleges and universities while half a million
Afghan refugee children attend schools in Pakistan.
Pakistan has constructed many educational institutions, including
Allama Iqbal Faculty of Humanities at Kabul University costing $ 10
million was completed in 2009, Rahman Baba High School in Kabul
costing $ 4 million. Some educational institutions have been also
constructed in Balkh, Kandahar, Wardak, Baghlan and Herat.
“We have always more expectations from Pakistan to do more
particularly in the education sector,” says Fawzia Koofi, a member of
Afghan parliament, adding that we knew Pakistan had its own problems
but not much had been done in development of Afghanistan on the part
of Pakistan which could be visible.
“In Afghanistan which has been in war for the last decade, there are a
lot of hopes from Pakistan especially in education and health
sectors,” she added.
Over 80 per cent of Afghans seek medical treatment in Pakistan
particularly in the hospitals of Balochistan in Quetta and Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa in Peshawar.
Pakistan is playing a significant role in building healthcare
infrastructure in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.
Similarly,  Nishtar Kidney Centre was built in Jalalabad at a cost of
$ 7 million.
Another main project in health sector is Jinnah Hospital of 400 beds
in Kabul worth $ 20 million was completed in 2011. A 200-bed hospital
was constructed in Logar at the cost of $ 20 million.
One of the shining examples of Pakistani cooperation with Afghanistan
is the construction of a 75 km long road linking Torkham with
Jalalabad Road at a cost of $ 34.42 million.
“Our neighbours are very important for us for developing this region.
Pakistan has played a role in constructing the Torkham-Jalalabad
Road,” says Sediq Sediqi, spokesman of Afghanistan’s Interior
Ministry.
Sediqi said that development in education and health sectors was
crucial but most important for them was security and counterterrorism.
“There is a need of strong will among people in both the countries to
help each other like when there was earthquake and flood in Pakistan,
Afghan government was among the first to help Pakistanis,” he added.
Sediqi said there were conflicts in this region especially between
Pakistan and Afghanistan and it is sad that after so many years we
have not been able to find a solution to our common problems.
Notwithstanding that Pakistan is playing a key role in putting back
Afghanistan on the track of development, there are a lot of issues
that need to be resolved which are creating a gulf between the two
countries.
“We know the people across the border love us and we love them too.
But Pakistan is responsible for uprisings in Afghanistan and its
destruction,” says Ahmed Zia Neekbin, a professor in Kabul University.
Prof. Neekbin said that Pakistan should respect “our borders and
completely wind up its interference in Afghanistan” and should prove
to be “a responsible neighbour”.
Over 100,000 Pakistanis hailing from different sectors mainly
labourers are working across Afghanistan particularly in Kabul and
playing a significant role in the reconstruction of Kabul and other
cities of the country.
Officially, the trade volume between Pakistan and Afghanistan stands
at $ 2.6 billion while informal trade is estimated at more than $ 2
billion which is creating over 3.4 million jobs in Pakistan.
Afghanistan is a tremendous market for Pakistani economy as it allows
Pakistani goods and products to be widely available.
Political analysts on both sides of the border believe that peace is
essential for the regional prosperity and Pakistan, being a developed
country, as compared to Afghanistan, should play a significant role in
the process of development of their Afghan brothers

Afghan govt condemns Imran’s jihad comment

by Ayesha Hasan

 

Originally published in The Express Tribune on 13th October 2012

 

KABUL: The reverberations of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan’s political gaffe are being felt across the Durand Line.

The Afghan government has strongly condemned the PTI chief for his statement, said Farhad Azimi, deputy secretary of the Afghan parliament while talking to The Express Tribune.

“This is clear interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. We urge the Pakistani government to arrest people who support the Taliban,” Azimi said. Imran, while visiting child activist Malala Yousafzai in Peshawar on Thursday, had termed the ongoing war in Afghanistan against foreign troops ‘jihad.’

Azimi said Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet members of parliament in a regular session on Saturday (today) to discuss the issue.

He is likely to issue some directions in this regard, Azimi said.

 Political slogan

Veteran journalist and political analyst Fahim Dashti said this is not the first time Imran has given such a ‘negative’ statement about Afghanistan.

“It is a political slogan through which Khan wants to gain more support. Clearly this is neither fair nor logical,” Dashti said.

Those who consider terrorism a threat would never support Khan in this stance, Dashti said, adding “even if they are supporting him, he will lose them slowly.”

He said the Afghan people had high expectations from Imran when the PTI emerged as a strong political entity, but he proved to be a conventional politician.

‘Imran supported by Taliban’

“The war in Afghanistan is not jihad. This is a war by terrorists against Afghanistan, its people and the entire international community,” said Hamid Zazai, managing director of Mediothek, an Afghan-German NGO.

He alleged that Khan is receiving support from the Taliban, and that by making such statements, he is just “paving the way for stronger Taliban support than what he is enjoying now.’

Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2012.

After ban, no Pakistani papers getting through border: Envoy

by Ayesha Hasan and Taha Siddiqui
Originally published in The Express Tribune on 8th October 2012
KABUL: There is confusion on a reported ban on Pakistani newspapers’ entry into Afghanistan. Embassies in Kabul have not been getting newspapers since September 20, which is a cause for concern, said Pakistan Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq while talking to a delegation of Pakistani journalists on a 10-day visit to Afghanistan on Sunday.

But the Afghan authorities insist the ban is just on 15 Urdu dailies and not English papers.

The ambassador said he was not informed why the mainstream English media from Pakistan, including The Express Tribune, were being stopped by the border post.

“[The mainstream] English newspapers have no hate literature. This is a bit too much and really sad,” said Sadiq.

“We raised our concerns with the ministry of information and the foreign ministry in Afghanistan, but they said they were not aware of the ban on mainstream Pakistani English newspapers.”

He said some foreign magazines were also banned. The ban, he said, was not affecting the common reader. However, the foreign embassies in Afghanistan were not receiving any Pakistani newspapers, he added.

Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry spokesperson Sediq Sediqi has denied any ban on the mainstream Pakistani newspapers. “Only 15 Urdu newspapers that have low circulation in Pakistan have been banned for spreading hatred for the Afghan government and supporting the Taliban stance,” he said.

Adding on the issue, a senior official at the embassy said that the Afghan government often acted impulsively because it is a young democracy, and decisions such as the recent ban on the Pakistani newspapers reflected that.

Earlier, the ambassador also discussed bilateral trade relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The ambassador said that the Pakistan-funded development projects in the country have helped create a better image of the country in Afghanistan. He said that Pakistan’s annual trade with Afghanistan is around five billion dollars.

“There are more than 140 trade routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said. However, he added that the illegal cross-border movements, which he said, are detrimental to the trade and law  and order in both countries.

“Most Afghans move in and out without visa and it’s a failure of border control on both sides. It needs to be controlled,” he said.

Elaborating on the future of Afghanistan, the ambassador criticised Pakistan’s past policies of interfering in Afghan internal matters. “We do not really know what will happen after the pull out of International Security Assistance Force, but we are talking with all the stakeholders, especially people from the northern region who were ignored previously,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2012.

The To-Do List for Kabul by Sundus Rasheed

The second leg of the FES Af-Pak Journalism Fellowship 2012 is due to begin in early October. In the second phase of the program, 11 Pakistani journalists will travel to Afghanistan and once again work with their Afghan counterparts on stories of mutual interest.

As we start thinking about what stories we want to do, I can’t help but want to know more and more about the magnificent yet heart-breaking city of Kabul – it’s past splendour and current attractions. However, it is not often that people think of Kabul in terms of it’s ‘attractions’ – but why not? Browsing through various travel websites and blogs has lead me to believe that Kabul is a city that’s brimming with excitement, you just have to know where to look.

So here’s my list of ‘things to do in Kabul’ – let’s see how many of these things I get around to doing:

  1. Visit the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) :

As a project of the Ministry of Education, ANIM provides free music education to young Afghans. Students who have financial difficulty and/or are earning members of their family are even given special ‘scholarships’ to make up for their loss of income. The institute was founded by and currently run by Dr. Ahmad Nasser Sarmast, a PhD in Music. I was introduced to ANIM by my very talented friend, musician and ANIM faculty member – William Harvey. Harvey is also the co-founder of the Afghan Youth Orchestra

2. Check out Chicken Street

This sounds a lot like Bohri Bazar in Karachi. All kinds of handicrafts are available here, from jewellery to carpets, ‘antique’ muskets to lapis lazuli. Most of the buyers are foreign, so prices are bound to be scaled up. I’m not sure what the verdict is on women wandering around Chicken Street. I think I am going to need a male escort – preferably a local.

3. Trek on the foodie trail

Kabul seems to be have a greater variety of restaurants than Karachi – thanks to the huge expat population in the city – Mexican, Italian, Korean, Russian, Thai, Japanese,  French, Indian, Middle Eastern and of course, the delectable Afghan cuisine itself. I am hoping to check out more local food  establishments than foreign but definitely want to see how the more ‘posh’ outlets compare with those in Pakistani cities.

4.  Visit an Afghan family home

Simple enough. You never really understand a city until you visit a home. Hopefully I can get one of my Afghans colleagues or friends to invite me to their home and meet their families and talk to them

5. Kabul nightlife

Yup. There is such a thing. Kabul has a thriving expat scene supported by well paid aid workers, journalists, diplomats and ‘contractors’. Interesting to see what it would be like to party in the time of war ( a bit like Karachi, perhaps?). The two names that keep popping up are Gandamak, established by a former British soldier turned BBC cameraman and L’Atmosphere by a French radio journalist.

Sounds like a plan! Who’s with me?

Taliban jihad literature: What’s read in Afghanistan is printed in Pakistan

Originally Published in The Express Tribune: August 13, 2012

PESHAWAR: 

Outside Peshawar’s mosques, after Friday prayers, magazines with articles and pictures of attacks by the Afghan Taliban and violence carried out by Nato forces are distributed, most of the time for free. The magazines are usually accompanied by guidance on Shariah law. 

These magazines are available in a number of languages including Urdu, English, Farsi and Dari, reaching out to a wide-ranging audience. One such magazine in Urdu, called Nawaa-e-Afghan Jihad, published last month, has pictures of an attack in June on a hotel in Kabul.

Part of the caption below it reads:

“The Islamic Emirate’s “Fidayeen” attacked a hotel on 22nd June, 2012 in the Green Zone of Kabul killing 25 crusaders and 9 Afghan officials. Along with this, dozens of security personnel were also doomed to hell.”

Although in Pakistan such literature has gone under the radar due to a crackdown by law enforcement agencies, in Afghanistan, this material continues to flourish in provinces along the border including Kunar and Khost, according to locals from these areas.

Near the historic Qissa Khwaani Bazaar in Peshawar is a printing press market aptly called “Mohalla Jangi,” which means the “Neighbourhood of War”.  A narrow lane leads inside to around 2,000 printing presses, busy churning out paper printed with whatever has been ordered by the customer.

Ostensibly, the shops here print school books, government publications and promotion material for the development sector, the majority of which is distributed in Afghanistan. But behind closed doors, the industry here also caters to Afghan jihad literature.

Umer, who has run a business here for the last 15 years, says Taliban literature gets printed regularly from his market. “For those who take such orders, it’s just business. Times are bad and some printers need the money,” Umer adds.

Most of his clients are also from Afghanistan, but Umer claims he only takes orders from the development sector. “Those two buildings over there, they have printing presses in them,” says Umer, pointing to a building nearby that looks like a residential complex. “They have tried to hide what they are printing by not having the machines out in the open. But here at the market we all know some of the jihadi magazines originate from here,” he claims.

Just last month, one of the printers from this market was picked up by law enforcers on suspicion of printing Pro-Taliban material. Although he has returned, he refuses to meet with the press and has not come to the market since he was freed.

Another printer, Murad, says around four to five of the businessmen here take orders from the Afghan Taliban. “Peshawar is the first choice for anyone coming from Afghanistan. But now with police harassment of Afghans increasing in Peshawar, most head to Lahore, where the local police cannot distinguish between them and Pashtuns from Pakistan,” Murad adds.

Murad and Umer both know who are behind such literature, and even though they don’t like it, they don’t complain. “The Pashtun community is based on the system of revenge and if I complain against someone, their family may come after me or my family,” Umer confides.

Meanwhile, the union representative of the area, Niaz Ahmad, justifies the printing of such material. “Who are the Taliban? They are the defenders of Islam and they follow the true Islamic Shariah. What’s wrong with what they do?” Ahmad asks.

According to Muhammad Shafiq, a media consultant based in Peshawar who frequently visits Afghanistan, “People here in Pakistan and in Afghanistan already have a lot of anti-American sentiment. Such literature reinforces those beliefs and helps Taliban get recruits and funding.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2012.