Nov 29, 2008

Empty promises in Afghanistan


ASIA TIMES

SOUTH ASIA, NOV 21, 2008

COMMENT

Empty promises in Afghanistan

By M. Ashraf Haidari

More than 30,000 returned Afghan refugees - including women, children and the elderly - are now living under thin plastic tents pitched in an area without running water and electricity miles away from urban centers in eastern Afghanistan. They cannot return to their villages due to insecurity and unemployment.

With a harsh winter looming, more than 300,000 Afghans remain displaced throughout the country. Their deplorable situation is compounded by food insecurity and high food prices, a lingering drought and large-scale crop failure, and frequent casualties caused by the United States-led coalition's bombing of Taliban fighters who often use civilian shields.

The recent returnees face severe hardships as Afghanistan has reached its absorptive capacity for refugees and cannot effectively assist returnees. Now, the world has taken notice.

Delegations from more than 30 nations and international organizations participated in a day-long conference on the return and reintegration of Afghan refugees this past Wednesday in Kabul. Co-hosted by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the conference highlighted the government's limited resources to receive and successfully reintegrate large numbers of Afghan refugees from neighboring countries under the current precarious conditions in Afghanistan.

"Return, alone, does not mean success. It must be followed by successful reintegration, enabled by conditions conducive for the social and economic well-being," said Afghan Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Spanta, who co-chaired the conference.

Heads of the delegation - which included senior officials from Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States - admitted that preconditions such as security and availability of basic social and economic services had to be in place before Afghan refugees could be reintegrated successfully. They pledged strong support for the government's reintegration strategy within the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, whose implementation over the next five years is estimated to cost some US$509 million, but only if the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring countries allows.

The saga of Afghan refugees began in late December 1979: Afghans were an impoverished people but content with their agrarian and traditional way of life. They hardly ever wished to migrate abroad for economic opportunities. But their normal lives abruptly ceased in the days following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as the country became a major victim of the Cold War, and Soviet tanks rolled into Afghan villages indiscriminately killing innocent civilians, destroying their livelihoods, and driving most Afghans abroad in search of protection and human security. More Afghans fled violence, persecution and ethnic cleansing and genocide as a result of regional proxy conflicts in Afghanistan throughout 1990s. Many sought refuge in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

However, over the course of the past three decades, Afghan refugees have never hesitated to return home as soon as conditions have given them hope for the restoration of peace and justice in Afghanistan. In 1992 and 1993, for example, following the fall of the Afghan communist regime, more than 2 million Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriated from Pakistan and Iran. But their return ground to a halt shortly after the breakout of the civil war that plunged Afghanistan into anarchy and chaos for a decade.

Buoyed up by international re-engagement in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, more than 5 million Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan and Iran, making the largest voluntary repatriation in the UNHCR history.

Despite Afghan refugees' record repatriation and the many hardships they face on return, Iranian and Pakistani officials have occasionally politicized what is actually a humanitarian issue - inappropriately labeling Afghan refugees as "burden on our economy" or potential "recruits for terrorism". Unfortunately, these political stereotypes not only mischaracterize Afghan refugees but also disregard the many contributions that refugees actually make to their host societies and the world at large.

After all, refugees are ordinary civilians with dignity and human rights but whose normal lives have suddenly changed for the worse due to circumstances that have forced them to abandon their home for safety elsewhere. German physicist Albert Einstein and French writer Victor Hugo, for instance, were great intellectuals of their time, but they were suddenly refugees in a strange land after escaping persecution in their home countries. While in exile, they gave back much in knowledge to their host societies and continued making significant contributions to science and literature.

The millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran are assets to those countries' economies. Many Afghans in both states fill a glaring need in the labor sector, working casual jobs at wages much lower than that paid to locals who may not even be willing to accept such jobs because of social taboos associated with casual labor. Other Afghan refugees use their special skills - such as carpet weaving - to produce quality Afghan rugs, which local firms purchase below market price, brand them made in the host country, and then sell them in developed countries for manifold profit.

Still, another large segment of the Afghan refugee population, particularly in Pakistan, receives monthly remittances of US$800 to $1,000 from their relatives in developed countries (mostly Europe, North America, Australia and the Gulf states), and spend the funds on housing and services in the local economies. Moreover, a great number of well-off Afghan refugees run businesses in Pakistan, Iran and the Gulf states, making notable contributions to those countries' economic growth. Since 2001, a large number of exiled Afghan businessmen have returned home and invested in key sectors such as telecommunications, construction, transportation and logistics, which in turn have facilitated increased trade and commerce through and between Afghanistan and its neighbors, particularly Pakistan and Iran.

Other allegations that terrorists recruit from Afghan refugee camps are utterly baseless and a political excuse to avoid cooperating sincerely in the "war against terror". Afghan refugees are actually victims of violence and terrorism, and abusing their status is clearly a violation of their rights under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Countries party to the Geneva Convention and other international human rights pacts are obligated to respect refugee rights as human rights and safeguard them by providing refugees with protection from the violence, persecution, and insecurity that collectively make it impossible for most refugees to return home.

Although more than 5 million Afghan refugees have repatriated from Pakistan and Iran over the past seven years, most of the remaining refugees are reluctant to return home. When a UN reporter in June asked one Afghan refugee, Hazrat Shah, if he planned to repatriate, the carpet weaver now living in Pakistan replied: "There is no place in the world like home. But where would you go if your house were ablaze?"

He added, "Today two new graves have been dug for two brothers who were killed in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan." The two youngsters - not related to Hazrat Shah - had returned home to Gereshk in Helmand province the week before to find jobs and gradually to pave the way for the repatriation of their entire family from Pakistan.

The government and people of Afghanistan appreciate the humanitarian assistance Pakistan and Iran have provided to Afghan refugees over the past three decades. But "pull" factors such as improved security, enhanced protection and reintegration assistance, and increased employment opportunities in Afghanistan should determine "push" factors in host states.

The Islamic republics of Pakistan and Iran must honor the principle of non-refoulement rooted in international and Islamic law to refrain from the forcible deportation of Afghan refugees. The Afghan government maintains separate trilateral agreements with Pakistan, Iran and the UNHCR - a key provision of which is to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from the two countries only if the conditions inside Afghanistan allow.

Although host states have an interest in encouraging refugees to go back home, the UNHCR is mandated to prevent and protect refugees from repatriating prematurely if the prevailing conditions at home are not ready for their return. Except for spontaneous returns during 2002-2003, Afghan refugees must have been warned about increasing instability and a severe lack of reintegration assistance in Afghanistan in the following years.

Contrarily, however, Afghan refugees have been encouraged to return home, as repatriation - voluntary or otherwise - has been viewed as a positive sign of stabilization and reconstruction progress in Afghanistan. The story of Gul Haider is an example. He was nine when the war against the Soviets forced his family to seek refuge in Pakistan in the early 1980s. "Now I have five children," Haider told an IRIN reporter in August in the Barikab returnees' township, about 60 kilometers north of Kabul. "We were encouraged to repatriate and were told that the government would give us a house, work and other facilities," said Haider. "But those were only empty promises."

The fall of the Taliban in 2001 - coupled with the political rhetoric of implementing a long-term strategy modeled after the Marshall Plan to secure the future of Afghanistan - made millions of refugees overly optimistic. Of course, a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan has yet to materialize. Nonetheless, the talk of it did re-displace hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees who had a good life that took them more than two decades to establish in exile.

The fact that thousands of returnees have ended up internally displaced without assistance should be cause for serious concern to the UNHCR and the international community to halt further premature repatriation of Afghan refugees until the conditions in Afghanistan have improved. At the same time, the international community must honor the principle of burden sharing and provide relief assistance to states with large numbers of refugees. Assistance to Pakistan and Iran should aim at empowering Afghan refugees so that they will gain skills necessary both to contribute to their host societies and later to use those skills to earn an income on return home.

Additionally, developed countries must expand their resettlement programs, taking in more Afghan refugees from Iran and Pakistan on an annual basis. Resettlement of Afghan refugees in the developed countries will go a long way in helping rebuild and develop Afghanistan. Resilience and high achievement motivation that characterize most refugees will quickly enable resettled Afghan families to adapt into their new societies, taking advantage of social and economic opportunities there to establish themselves and to continue supporting their relatives at home, as well as in Pakistan and Iran.

In the long run, most resettled Afghans will have gained wealth and education which they would certainly use to invest in Afghanistan. Proof of this is evident in the return of many wealthy Afghans and technocrats who have made significant contributions to Afghanistan's reconstruction since 2002.

Almost 2,500 years ago, Euripides wrote, "There is no greater sorrow on Earth than the loss of one's native land." Indeed, for most Afghan refugees, like Hazrat Shah, no foreign land can ever replace their homeland where they will return as soon as they feel secure to do so. It is obvious that the real durable solution to the Afghan refugee problem is voluntary repatriation, which can only be guaranteed by security in Afghanistan. Hence, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan's other neighbors can and must cooperate with the international community to stabilize Afghanistan first.

Durable stability and prosperity in the country would automatically attract Afghan refugees to voluntarily return home - negating the need for pressure or forcible repatriation by the host states. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, who co-chaired Wednesday's conference, stressed the fact that "ensuring sustainable refugee return and addressing irregular migration have at least one solution in common - an improvement in the overall economic environment and in employment opportunities. Progress in these areas will surely encourage more Afghans to return and provide reasons for others not to leave the country."

Most returnees are at the breaking point given the enormity of security and socio-economic challenges facing them in Afghanistan. They are indeed an unfortunate lot. Exiled life was imposed on many by the war against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Other Afghans' displacement throughout the 1990s was caused by the West's premature disengagement from Afghanistan - a country they knowingly allowed to become a regional proxy battlefield and a terrorist base that saw nothing but death, destruction, destitution and despair for a full decade.

Allowing Afghanistan to slide back into the chaos of the 1990s is sure to endanger international peace and security. The international community, and the West in particular, is morally obligated to secure Afghanistan and must help its refugees reintegrate successfully in order to rebuild their country in the long run.

A former refugee, internally displaced person, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees field officer, M. Ashraf Haidari is the political counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. His e-mail is haidari@embassyofafghanistan.org

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Nov 26, 2008

Islamic Scientific Scholarships International

We are a UK based not-for-profit organisation offering scholarships for undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate science students. We take the best students from deprived communities all over the Muslim world and provide them with funding that enables them to access some of the world's leading academic institutions. We strongly believe that it is only through education that the Ummah can progress.

We are proud to announce an exciting new scholarship programme designed to provide significant support to students in Afghanistan.

Islamic Scientific Scholarships International is inviting applications from students in Afghanistan who are seeking financial support to continue their academic studies. Successful applicants can expect to receive full academic funding plus maintenance costs for domestic or international study.

Please note that Islamic Scientific Scholarships International offers funding only. However, in exceptional cases we are able to facilitate applications to affiliate UK universities.

Application Form

Nov 25, 2008

A dew

Look at her, how you can encourage her when Taliban threw acid on the faces of two schoolgirls in Qandahar.

Nov 10, 2008

PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN


PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN
OCT 31, 2008 - 6:07PM PDT

By M. Ashraf Haidari
All posts by this author


I had heard many good things about Wilton Park's conferences, and was finally able to participate in one entitled "Public Diplomacy: Meeting New Challenges" on October 7, 2008. The conference consisted of several sessions, including one on Afghanistan that generated much discussion by a number of publicly renowned diplomacy experts and practitioners from some of the countries with forces in Afghanistan. We discussed challenges and opportunities for public diplomacy in my country in the context of international stabilization and reconstruction efforts.

In my remarks, I pointed out three key opportunities for international engagement in Afghanistan that have been underutilized. I stated that no recent post-conflict intervention had enjoyed as much international goodwill and consensus as Afghanistan. Today, some 70 countries are providing assistance to rebuild Afghanistan, while forces from 40 nations participate in the NATO/ISAF to stabilize the country.

Secondly, our international partners understand that no peace operation is successful without popular support. Unlike other post-conflict situations, the international community hardly needed to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people upon re-engagement in the country seven years ago. In fact, the Afghan people played a key role in helping the Coalition forces overthrow the Taliban in less than two months. In the two years following the defeat of the Taliban, millions of Afghan refugees optimistically returned home in a show of support for international peace-building efforts and the new regime they helped establish in Afghanistan.

Finally, I pointed out that significant progress had been made with less international investment in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan over the past seven years. We have established the key institutions of a permanent government, and we have made considerable progress in rebuilding infrastructure, in expanding access to basic healthcare, and in providing education to an increasing number of Afghan girls and boys across the country.

I noted, however, that our international partners had been either unwilling or slow to capitalize on the above three strategic opportunities. Afghanistan's international partners have so far faltered on three key accounts to help secure the future of Afghanistan, and thereby serve their own national security interests.

First, they have been reluctant to provide the necessary level of aid resources to meet Afghanistan's basic reconstruction needs. Second, they have failed to coordinate their aid efforts with one another and with the Afghan state to ensure aid effectiveness. Finally, they have lacked an effective public diplomacy strategy to listen to the Afghan people and deliver on their very basic expectations. At the same time, our partners have not done enough to educate their own publics on how their involvement in Afghanistan ensures their own citizens' security and prosperity in a dangerous world where security is globalized as much as prosperity.

Unfortunately, a lack of progress in each of the above key areas over the past seven years has allowed peace spoilers—particularly the Taliban—to fill the gap and destabilize Afghanistan. As far as engaging the Afghan people is concerned, I argued that the international community had so far lacked a unified and effective public diplomacy strategy that was well connected to sound policy and policy delivery, thus helping ensure continued popular support for international peace-building efforts in Afghanistan.

For example, the Afghan government has been unable to keep its promises to provide poor Afghan farmers with alternative livelihood assistance. In 2005, poppy cultivation declined 21% as a direct result of an effective public information campaign spearheaded by President Karzai, who persuaded poppy farmers to give up cultivation in return for alternative livelihood assistance. However, the farmers went back to poppy cultivation the following year when they did not receive the necessary level of aid resources from the international community. We are again seeing a decline in poppy cultivation – 19% over the past year, but this success could be reversed if we do not deliver an effective combination of carrots and sticks to aid poor farmers and to enforce law against high value drug traffickers.

I also discussed the rebuilding priorities of the Afghan government, stressing the importance of engaging the Afghan people and maintaining their support for realizing long-term peace and democracy in Afghanistan. In fact, we cannot afford to lose popular support in Afghanistan. Our partners must seize the opportunity to regain the lost ground by involving and empowering Afghans to take control over our country's reconstruction process. Our partners can and must use their influence and resources to reward competence and moderation while weakening potential peace spoilers. Such actions will ensure that Afghanistan will stand firmly on its own feet once our partners have left.

I proposed to the Wilton Park gathering that they consider hosting a follow-up conference, specifically focusing on the practice of public diplomacy by some 40 countries in Afghanistan. The key purpose of the conference would be to share best practices and lessons learned by our multinational partners, and to work towards a unified international public diplomacy strategy to engage the Afghan people constructively in helping them rebuild our country.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the Political Counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. His e-mail is haidari@embassyofafghanistan.org

Nov 6, 2008

The Dream of Martin Luther King Become True

From Afghan LORD

Today, early morning when I opened the news pages in Internet, I red “Obama became the next president of USA” I became excited and suddenly stood and shouted. I couldn’t control myself and I said “Greeting Obama! Oh great man in which the dream of Martin Luther King became true now. The people who were close to me they laughed at me but I couldn’t control myself, while I was shedding tears I came out from the net café. When I arrived home I wept full but tears from happiness. However I don’t believe to pray but I was praying for him to win, this was my hope and today I am the witness that my hope turned to real.


Obama
is the one who wants to change. He turned the dreams of millions of people to reality, millions of people who were hoping fall of the walls. Now, he is the winner and turned to a hero of his nation and people in his country. He is the one who once there was a great man in the US history who told to his people:

‘I have a dream, I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”


But today there is another great man appeared who can follow his way and turns his dream to reality. Today, there is another great man appeared in the 21 century, from the same people who tells loudly to his people:
“Things are fine just the way they are. Take a look around, our world needs a change, you can be that change.”

His appearance was with encouraging people and giving hopes to those people who were hopelessly living not for a single moment but hundreds of years. He appeared to assure his people that “Things are fine”, what a beautiful motto.

I write these words, while the tears falling down from my eyes. I shed tears for the happiness of those people who are happy today in the US, for the people who were dreaming to become the winner, for the people who were fighting against injustice, discrimination and civil rights. Tonight, what a fabulous night would be for them. I wish I was there, I wish I was one those people who shed tears of happiness and victory today.

You know, from what pain I suffer in this corner of the world? Only God knows from my heart. Everyday when I wake up, my moments starts with tension, an explosion in the city or suicide attack, all things thing along, remove security from me. Everyday I have to go out but when I go out, you know I am completely unsure, to come back safely.

You know, I haven’t seen my mother for months and she is waiting for months to see me and my hope is to meet my mother and leave myself among her arms and shed tears fully. But you know why I can’t reach her? Because in 150 kilo meters long the distance between me and my mother, everyday we hear that Taliban beheaded people, took them with themselves or killed them on the road. But I want to see my mother.

Nov 4, 2008

I AM AN ADDICT

video

New documentary about drug addicts.
Directed by Mustafa Kia.
www.Kabulistan.com