Jan 31, 2010

Lessons from my mother: charity work

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Growing up, Christa D’Souza found her mum’s philanthropy more an irritation than inspiration, and embarked on a career at the frothier end of journalism. Yet this year she felt compelled to find out more about her mother’s remarkable work, on a life-changing trip to a school in Kabul

Christa D'Souza, left, and her mother Baroness D'Souza, third left

Christa D'Souza, left, and her mother Baroness D'Souza, third left

It’s a bit of a family joke. How my mother, Frances D’Souza, is always trying to save the world. You name the disenfranchised group, she’s campaigned on their behalf. You recall the earthquake and she’ll have been there to help. That do-gooderish gene, that compulsion to get involved, the Tigger-like verve for adventure? Not to mention the maddening lack of material greed, who knows where that came from. But one thing’s for sure, it’s not been passed on.

Or maybe it has, but after years of having her at the site of some disaster or travelling with the Mujahidin or off fighting the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, as opposed to sitting at home and looking after me, the gene may have gone into hibernation. Of course, I was happy for her when she was made a life peer in 2004 (when she became Baroness D’Souza of Wychwood) for her work in human rights, but have I ever thought of following in her footsteps? Forget it. Our worlds, they could not collide less.

Until now, that is. For here I am, sitting next to her, watching dawn break over the snow-peaked Hindu Kush. Along with a group of big, loud, heavily tattooed Texans, we are on a Kam Air flight to Kabul to visit a school she helped establish in 2002, soon after the Taleban were driven out.

It being a surprise visit, my mother has not yet told its head, Aziz Royesh, we are on our way. This is partly because she wants it to be the Ofsted-style inspection it would be if the school were in the West, and partly because, as Royesh told her in an e-mail three weeks ago (they only get three hours of electricity a day), the school was recently attacked by religious hardliners. So we have come out to offer our moral support in as low-key a manner as possible. It is unbeknown to Royesh, then, that the pair of us are lurching along the road from the airport to Dashti Barchi, the poor, predominantly Hazara-inhabited district in West Kabul where Marefat stands, far away from the central market and Chicken Street (where all the foreign aid workers congregate).

Sadly, we are minus the two encyclopaedias ordered from Amazon that didn’t arrive in time. We have in their stead, however, bag upon bag of Haribo, a couple of giant jars of Gold Blend and canisters of boiled sweets (which can be used instead of sugar in tea) from the duty-free shop in Dubai.

My mum had told me to put on a bit of make-up for the girls, make myself look as much the fashion magazine contributing editor as is possible under the circumstances. But I’m afraid I haven’t quite got it together. I’m too busy adjusting my Bamford headscarf, which keeps slipping off, and looking at the scene out of the window: the wide, gracious but deeply rutted roads; the market stalls heaving with watermelons and monster-sized pomegranates; the marmalade-haired, pale-eyed Nuristanis (supposedly descendants of Alexander the Great) and the blue burka-ed mothers carrying their children on their bellies, rather than on their sides (so as not, my mother is convinced, to accentuate their hips). Then there are the truckloads of young turbaned men toting bullet belts and casually cocked Kalashnikovs, peering dully at us through the car window.

This trip, it nearly didn’t happen. Having finally been persuaded by my other half that this was precisely the sort of thing I should be writing about (as opposed to the stuff I usually do: breast implants and wearing short skirts at 50), having informed my mother that we were, as they say, “goin’ in”, having got my ticket to Kabul and victoriously waved it in my other half’s face, there’s a setback. The office of Mark Malloch Brown, then a Foreign Office minister, e-mails my mother, advising her in no uncertain terms not to go. “Kidnapping by criminal gangs is still a very real danger,” it reads, “and we would advise you not to go unless you absolutely had to.” It goes on to say that, should we decide to fly out anyway, the embassy in Kabul will not be able to provide us with any security.

None of which worries my mother, who has recently visited Helmand and Kandahar, pops in and out of Kabul all the time, and doesn’t plan on using security anyway? But it does give her second thoughts about taking me. I am her daughter, after all, she rationalises, and she’d never forgive herself if anything happens to me. Which in turn gives me second thoughts about the whole idea. Am I being a bit mad? Is it fair on my children?

I then get a message from my mother saying she’s changed her mind, it would be fine to go. The FO is merely being cautious, what we are going to do is pop in, pop out and not bother with security because we’ll probably be safer without it. “Sorry, can’t talk now,” her breezy e-mail continues. “Crisis at House of Lords, see you at weekend. Love, Ma.”

I phone my colleague Jemima Khan, who tells me to call her friend Rory Stewart, the Old Etonian whose travels on foot across Afghanistan are chronicled in his book, The Places In Between. As it turns out, Stewart has visited Marefat, is a big champion of my mother, and is horrified to think I am passing up a chance to see Afghanistan and the place he’s nicknamed “the St Paul’s of Kabul”. Of course I must come out, everyone should come out – “It’s not Bogotá, after all” – and not only should I come out, my mother and I should stay at Turquoise Mountain, the artistic compound he has set up in a fort in the old part of Kabul.

Knowing I’m sleeping in a bed in a lovingly restored historic fort with a flushing loo, knowing we are probably safer with Rory’s driver Zia, in his dusty old Renault estate, than an armoured vehicle with UN emblazoned on the side, I feel relatively at ease here. I feel relatively inconspicuous, too: green eyes and reddish-brown hair are quite common.

We finally take a turning off the main road. At the end of a gouged-out dirt track looms the main school building, an extremely rudimentary, two-storey mud and daub block, protected, ever since the attack, by two sleepy security guards with Kalashnikovs. On the other side of an alleyway is the building where the girls’ classes are taught, as well as the cramped four-room compound where Aziz Royesh lives with 19 members of his family.

As we step across this alleyway, over a rivulet of sludge on top of which float empty Pepsi cans and boiled sweet wrappers, a gaggle of young male pupils, in dusty ties and jackets crowd round, all of them with the rosy cheeks and Asiatic eyes peculiar to the Hazara (supposedly inherited from Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes), and squint at us through the sun. These are the same Hazara people we read about in The Kite Runner, the minority Shia Muslim tribe who make up around 10 per cent of the estimated 27 million population (predominantly Sunni Muslim) of Afghanistan. The same people who were either beheaded or shot in their thousands in 1993 by Ahmed Shah Masood’s Sunni troops (the famed “Lion of Panjshir”); and the same people who were later so brutally targeted by the Taleban, with men, women and children randomly mowed down in the streets by gangs in white Datsuns, their bodies left to rot or be eaten by wild dogs.

As we make our way in through the fort-like entrance, hundreds more children, girls as well in their starched white hijabs, gather round us, and, as they create a narrow path for my mother and me to walk through into a sweltering courtyard, they shyly reach out to touch her and clap and shout out her name: “Ama [Auntie] Frances, Ama Frances.” Royesh, meanwhile, is waiting for us at the top of a rickety steel balcony. “I can’t beh-leeeeve it, I can’t beh-leeve this is happening,” he keeps squealing repeatedly, while squeezing her hand. The pride I suddenly feel for her, the admiration, after all these years of being so fastidiously uninterested and dismissive and cynical, is overwhelming. Please, oh please God, don’t let me cry.

Royesh, who learnt English in a Pakistani refugee camp, first met my mum when she was on a mission to Kabul for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, an independent public body sponsored by the Foreign Office.

She remembers how Marefat looked then: a bombed-out, roofless mud hut with a sheet across the middle of it to create “classrooms” – no textbooks, no blackboards, no desks, no electricity, no water, just 30 eager “students” aged from 7 to 35, all desperate for an education. One illiterate woman she met explained how she wanted to learn geometry so she could divide up her land for her grandchildren. Then there was the ten-year-old carpet-weaver who said that the reason he wanted to learn to read and write was because he wanted to become an “intellectual”.

It was Royesh himself, though, whose childhood heroes were Gandhi and Che Guevara, who was so passionate about bringing education to his people and teaching them the concepts of democracy, who impressed her the most. So after going back to London and getting bored with the way the Westminster Foundation kept faffing about, she decided to go it alone and back the school herself.

Slowly, with small tranches of money raised by Mum through the generosity of friends and foundations (and the odd, sometimes ill-attended clothes sale in her village hall in Chipping Norton), Marefat began to grow. Community elders donated land on which to build. Parents – though many were wary at first about the idea of their daughters being educated – helped build it, brick by brick. A local businessman donated a school bus. American agency USAID, prompted by my mother, donated a generator, which Royesh very gratefully accepted – but only on condition that the parents pay for the diesel. (He was adamant that Marefat, unlike many an NGO-supported project out here, be able to stand on its own two feet.)

Seven years and a piddling £60,000 later, Marefat has 95 qualified teachers and educates 3,150 students (44 per cent of them girls), the majority of whom go on to study medicine, economics, law and engineering at university. The child carpet-weaver sponsored by the Marefat Charity Box my mother set up is now a scholarship student at the American University of Afghanistan.

Humanism, philosophy and Christianity are taught, as well as interpretation of the Koran; reading lists include Hegel, Kant and Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness (one of Royesh’s favourites); and, perhaps most important of all, the students are encouraged to be politically aware, to know the meaning, as Royesh puts it, of “mobocracy”. (The week before we were there, for example, the children had put on a satirical play about candidates in the upcoming elections, one playing an ex-prisoner from Guantánamo Bay pushing for legislation for more sleep, another pushing for more hashish smoking, and so on.) This, in a country where, three years ago, a teacher was beheaded for educating women; in a country where, we are told, despite the Karzai government’s current claim that six million children are registered at school, many teachers (particularly in rural areas) are themselves poorly educated.

We have unwittingly arrived on Teacher’s Day (Teacher’s Day – imagine such a thing in some of the schools in the UK); a lot of glitter is scattered in gratitude on to the adults, and all the kids are on parade. Managing to resist the urge to crouch as a plane flies low overhead – I feel vulnerable in this courtyard – I follow my mother and Royesh to one of the first-floor classrooms.

“Oh, look,” she cries, having just been shyly handed a plastic-beaded mirror and a fake rose by one of the girls. “I recognise those.” She is pointing to three canvases hanging up, one of Einstein, one of Shakespeare and one of – can it really be? – Whoopi Goldberg. Royesh, speckled with glitter, clasps his hands in delight at the comment. These are done by Nasrifah, the same pupil who painted a portrait of my mother that Royesh proudly lugged all the way over from Kabul on his last visit. I remember seeing it propped up in her tiny House of Lords office and wondering where she was eventually going to put it, given that in the picture, she has bountiful “Let a thousand flowers bloom”-style hands outstretched to happy, smiling children.

Round the edges of the next classroom, a group of 5th-grade female students are lined up with white paper cones perched on top of their heads. On each cone is written one of the elements: hydrogen, copper, etc. On a rickety table in the centre are models of molecules made out of discarded Coke cans.

Resources for experiments, as science teacher Parwiz Abrahami, an Afghan expat from Seattle, tells us, are limited. There aren’t many frogs around to dissect, no proper labs equipped with Bunsen burners and goggles, but “we try to do stuff with what we can”. A med student on sabbatical who is only here after chancing upon my mum’s blog about Marefat last year, Abrahami goes on to explain how they have learnt to check each other’s blood types, and have performed experiments which have involved extracting DNA from a sheep and harnessing hydrogen gas. “Of course, in the States we’d have a balloon to catch it,” says Abrahami. “Here we had to cut off the finger of a rubber glove and tie it with a rubber band.”

This is all in stark contrast to the blue- domed madrassa, 15 minutes across town, whose students were involved in an attack on Marefat three weeks before our visit. Run by Ayatollah Mohseni, the cleric behind the controversial Shia Family Law (which appears to legalise marital rape and child marriage), and backed by the Iranians (to the eventual tune of perhaps $55 million – £34 million – suggest some sources), the Khatam-ul-Nabieen seminary and mosque provide free bed and board to students, as well as lessons in Mohseni’s fundamentalist credo. Marefat, Aziz Royesh explains, has been a thorn in Mohseni’s side for some time now. Through the Iranian-sponsored TV station Tamadun and the madrassa, Mohseni has been preaching against the school and even Royesh himself, for spreading Western propaganda and teaching “non-Islamic” subjects.

It all reached fever pitch after some of the female students from Marefat joined a peaceful gathering outside the madrassa protesting against Mohseni’s law. As reported in the Hazaristan Times in April, a mob of madrassa students some 50 to 60-strong descended on the school in the morning. They encouraged poor, illiterate locals, some of whom were relatives of the pupils, to join in, pelted the windows with stones and called for Royesh’s immediate execution, forcing him to lock all the doors and call the police. By the time they arrived two hours later, more pupils from other local madrassas had joined in, and the crowds only dispersed after the police fired shots into the air.

It is now noon, and Royesh has brought us to his family compound. With only an hour’s advance notice, a huge spread of caramelised Kabuli rice and mutton dahl, and sheets of naan bread to dip it in, has been prepared by the womenfolk and laid out for us on the carpeted floor. A few of the teachers have been invited, as have some of the male members of Royesh’s family. There are also five female students, including Royesh’s own daughter, Farida, 16, who, having graduated from Marefat at the age of 13, is now studying economics at Kabul University. Historically, Hazara women have always played a significant role within the community, entering politics and even, on occasion, fighting alongside the men in times of war. Today, however, even though Royesh is encouraging them to speak out and to ask Frances and me questions, they seem hesitant to speak up in front of the men.

It is only later, when Royesh takes my mother off to look at the new building her latest instalment of money has bought (a three-storey construction which will take just 25 days to put up), that I get a group of the women to myself, and they begin to open up. They tell me about the demonstration some of them participated in outside Mohseni’s madrassa, how members of their own community, spurred on by Mohseni’s Tamadun TV station, called them “dogs” and “slaves of Christians”.

One, an extraordinarily beautiful young woman called Adela, 21, who could neither read nor write when my mother first met her 7 years ago, yet is now thinking of taking a master’s degree, tells of the difficulties she had persuading her ultra-conservative family that it was right for her to join the protest, that women should be equal to men. Another, Baihana, a serious-looking girl with alabaster skin, ginger hair and a sprinkling of freckles across her upturned nose, explains how she wants to become a doctor. She does not want to practise abroad, however, intending to stay here to help her people.

All of them look quite baffled when I tell them how brave I think they are, and even more so when I tell them that, when I was their age, I rebelled like mad against Frances. “You rebelled against? feminism?” one shy but horrified girl of about 13 haltingly asks. Although they giggle like any other teenage girls when I bring up the subject of boys, and profess to be hooked on Harry Potter and the TV series 24, it is the concepts of “feminism” and “women’s liberation” that they are most interested in. “How do you combine being a Muslim, a woman and someone who is politically involved all at the same time?” asks another student, who lives 100 kilometres away in a rural community near Jalalabad.

That night, a group from Turquoise Mountain, including its American director, Shoshana Coburn, and its boyish, public school-educated head of security, John Elliot, takes us to a well-known French restaurant called L’Atmosphère. Situated in the “posh” part of Kabul, on a street lined with sprawling NGO villas protected by barbed wire, Latmo, as its loyal expat clientele call it, is guarded, as usual, by men wielding AK-47s. There are three stone “chambers” you must pass through, with passport and body searches in each one, before you emerge, as if in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, into a canopied garden terrace.

So this is where all the cool, single NGO workers (and there are many of them) hang out. This is the place that must remind seasoned war correspondents of the old days in the Sixties and Seventies, when Afghan women wore miniskirts and the pro-Western King Zahir Shah ruled. There’s even a swimming pool out the back where you can lounge around in a bikini while sipping a cocktail. What would Adela or Baihana think of this place? Or, indeed, the upper-school pupils we’d met earlier in the day, who prefaced each of their carefully constructed questions with “In the name of Allah...”?

How very far away it feels from Marefat, despite the fact that Dashti Barchi is only 25 minutes’ drive away.

Over chilled French rosé, and tartare de thon and foie gras, we talk about Royesh’s indomitable spirit and the fragile future of Marefat. We talk about the pupils’ most un-Western thirst for knowledge, and how fabulous it would be if we could get our own perfectly receptive, perfectly inquiring children to value knowledge even a tenth as much as the kids at Marefat. We talk, too, about the billions upon billions of aid poured into Afghanistan and how most of it, inevitably, ends up in the government’s pockets or in the Western bank accounts of ludicrously overpriced contractors. And of Royesh’s ambitious but wonderful plan to duplicate the Marefat model elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Back in London, life is as it was. I’m at my computer writing the definitive piece on – what is it this time, eyelashes? – and Frances is firefighting at the House of Lords. Except, of course, life is not the same as it was. I’ve been bitten, as it were, by the bug. I’m beginning to get it, at last, the need she has always had to get out of her comfort zone to feel alive. I am beginning to understand, too, that compulsion of hers to get involved, that dogged belief that every little bit really, really does indeed help. They say, don’t they, every daughter turns into her mother eventually. If this is so, well, then lucky old me.

Jan 29, 2010

It Depends on the Pashtuns

Ali Jalali

Ali Ahmad Jalali is a Distinguished Professor at the Near East South Asia Strategic Center for Strategic Studies in the National Defense University in Washington. He served as the interior minister of Afghanistan from January 2003 to October 2005.

The Electoral Complaints Commission has done its job by rejecting the fraudulent votes. However, the credibility of the election was also reduced by the low turnout in the Pashtun-dominated South, where the Taliban insurgency is growing.

The challenge now is to engage the disenfranchised Pashtuns.

Most Pashtuns feel let down and ignored by the government and its foreign supporters, who failed to provide enough security for them to vote. This disenfranchisement of the Pashtuns was compounded by the cancellation of thousands of votes from their districts because of accusations of fraud.

The exclusion of the Pashtuns from the election has left many of them convinced that the results have no credibility. So the problem of legitimacy in the August election was not only caused by the irregularities highlighted by the E.C.C., but also by the low turnout and the failure of the government and its backers to integrate the Pashtuns into the vote.


The main challenge for the runoff is thus to get the disenfranchised Pashtuns into the electoral process. If this does not happen, then no matter how well the vote goes in other parts of the country, the Pashtuns will feel excluded. The Taliban will use this in their propaganda to convince the population that the government not only does not care about them, but is in fact an alliance of non-Pashtun interests intent on oppressing them from Kabul.

The second round faces further technical challenges, not least of which is the incredibly short time available to set up a national election. Improving public awareness of the issues at stake is vital, as is tackling the daunting security challenge that prevented people from voting.

The onset of the harsh Afghan winter, apathy among a disillusioned electorate, and the increasing ethnic polarization of the country are all substantial hurdles to overcome. It is unclear how the authorities intend to ensure a less fraudulent ballot, since they were unable to do so last time with far more time to prepare.

While the election itself is important, the broader aim of the process is to lead to the emergence of a legitimate government. However, in war-devastated Afghanistan legitimacy is derived mostly from the capability to deliver services and security, rather than from the ballot box. Whoever wins the election, his legitimacy will depend on the kind of a government he forms, and if it is seen as inclusive, effective and clean.

from New York Times

Jan 28, 2010

Jan 26, 2010

Afghan warlord courts Canada

from timesonline

He's eradicated opium poppies, driven out the Taliban, and brought prosperity to his province. Now Atta Mohammad Noor is promising Canada a better return on its aid investment.

From a plush chair, behind a hand-carved desk crowded with custom china and a tissue box made entirely of gold, Atta Mohammad Noor rules his province with an iron fist.

In the five years since the former warlord was crowned provincial governor of Balkh, he's defied every odd: He's eradicated poppy cultivation and driven out the Taliban. He's sowed security that's fuelled stunning economic growth.

Under his forbidding watch, Balkh has become a model of peace and prosperity for the rest of Afghanistan. Now, Mr. Noor has a modest proposal for Canada: “Your country is spending billions of dollars in Kandahar, but you are also losing lives. ... The Taliban are killing your sons, burning your schools and your clinics,” he points out, seated beneath a gild-framed oil painting of Hamid Karzai, his political rival.

“If you spent money in my province, where there is safety and security, we can deliver results,” he promises, with a wave of his hand and flash of his diamond-studded watch.

When Mr. Noor speaks, people tend to listen. Three aides seated on the sidelines diligently take notes of our interview. Outside, a team of his personal bodyguards stands sentry, more powerful than the local police or national army.

Holding court in his office, Mr. Noor, who refers to himself as a full-rank general, appears immensely confident, immensely pleased.

Not long ago, the international community shunned the former mujahedeen commander, viewing his violent past with disdain. He was seen as vestige of Afghanistan's warlord culture, an obstacle to the country's development.

Now, with Mr. Karzai perilously weak, the West is poised to reach out to local Afghan leaders such as Mr. Noor in an effort to bypass the corruption and incompetence of the central government.

In provinces such as Balkh, such a move would further entrench the warlords and rekindle ethnic tensions, but some analysts say the trade-off would be worth it.

As frustration mounts with Mr. Karzai's government and the West seeks strong partners, Mr. Noor is an obvious candidate.

An ethnic Tajik, he was a high-school teacher before he took up arms.

He helped raise an army against the Soviets, fought mercilessly in the civil war, and, ultimately, helped oust the Taliban from power.

He makes no apology for his past. “I'm not saying I'm perfect,” he says, with a bored sigh.

“Imagine if somebody invaded your country and your shopkeepers are obliged to fight, but they don't know how to pull a trigger,” he says. “What are you going to do?”

Today, he wears designer suits. His authority is no longer solely derived from by the barrel of a gun. He also holds substantial interests in real-estate and transportation across Afghanistan's strategic north, home to a vital new NATO supply line.

Mr. Noor has plenty of ideas for how the West might win his support, saying he is ready to forgive “years of neglect.”

“The world community should have two policies: one in the stable provinces; and one in the insecure provinces,” he says.

“Unfortunately right now, they are playing a double role. In those areas where there is fighting, drugs and killings, there are also many projects. But here, in Balkh province, it is very secure, yet the people feel they are being punished with no projects.”

Canada, he believes, should lead the way, “Canada is losing its sons in Kandahar, but the world does nothing. They should also pay attention to other provinces, like Balkh,” he says.

“Look around,” he says with pride. “Instead of calling me a warlord, they should call me a hero.”

The bustling provincial capital of Mazar-I-Sharif has transformed itself into one of the most stable and prosperous in Afghanistan. Since the fall of the Taliban, its population has doubled, topping one million people.

New housing developments and hotels are being built. Banks, telecom and transportation companies have rushed to set up shop.

Yet Mazar, and the province of Balkh, have received minimal international aid, compared with other provinces. Prominent businessmen banded together to build the city's elaborate traffic circles adorned with soaring bronze statues and neon lights.

The vast majority of Afghans here credit Mr. Noor for their city's success. They view him with equal measures of fear and respect.

“If Atta left for even one hour, the whole city would be looted,” says Hajji Mohammed, an elderly shopkeeper who sells traditional emerald green chapan coats in the city's bazaar.

“I am happy. We can work day and night and there is no problem. It's not like Kabul,” says another man, who drives an ancient taxi through the city's traffic-choked streets.

General Sardar Mohammad Sultani, the local police chief, says Mr. Noor – not him – deserves credit for keeping the peace.

“Nobody can deny whatever [Mr. Noor] says. It's the law. ... The governor has every department under his order. Whoever tries to disobey will be punished,” Gen. Sultani says.

Mr. Noor's appointment by Mr. Karzai in 2004 was part of a complicated calculation on the President's part to appease former warlords to consolidate his power.

Many, like Mr. Noor, agreed to lay down their arms, and forced their followers to do the same.

But in recent years, he has emerged as one of Mr. Karzai's fiercest critics. During the last presidential election, Mr. Noor backed Abdullah Abdullah, Mr. Karzai's chief rival. Campaign posters featuring the faces of both men are still plastered all over the city.

However, Mr. Karzai's presidential victory has fuelled speculation that Mr. Noor might soon be removed from his post, a move that would prove deeply unpopular in Balkh and could trigger a larger conflict along ethnic lines.

Northern Afghanistan is dominated by Tajiks and Uzbeks – whose loyalty to Mr. Noor runs deep – and backed by armed force if necessary.

Mr. Noor has become increasingly critical of Mr. Karzai.

Last week's brazen strike by Taliban insurgents on the presidential palace highlighted Mr. Karzai's weakness, the governor says.

“They shouldn't have waited until the enemy attacked their buildings.

They should have had a plan. Instead, bullets arrived to the presidential palace wall. How can we be proud?” Mr. Noor says.

Any attempt by Mr. Karzai to replace him is bound to backfire, observers say.

“The government can't find better than Atta,” says Sayeed Mohammad Tahir Roshanzada, who heads the provincial Chamber Of Commerce, which boasts several hundred members.

“He himself is a businessman,” Mr. Roshanzada points out. “If his stomach is full and his pockets are full of money, he doesn't need to go and get money from other people,” he reasons.

Opposition to Mr. Noor's iron clad control exists, but is muted.

Zainab, a senior government official in the Education Ministry, would like to see Mr. Noor ousted.

She visited the governor's office one day last week to complain about an three-centimetre-thick file folder full of fraudulent 12th-grade diplomas, signed by Mr. Noor.

However, she agreed to be interviewed in a whisper, and did not want her last name published for fear of retribution.

“He is a millionaire. Where did he get that money?” Zainab asks. “He doesn't obey the rules, but because he is a warlord, nobody will oppose him.”

Even if someone does, Mr. Noor has no intention of going anywhere. He has just signed off on a new five-year plan for his province, which he plans to execute with or without outside help.

“There are still some goals I would like to finish,” he says.

Jan 22, 2010

Grants for investigative reporters

Investigative journalists from Russia (and the former U.S.S.R), Eastern Europe, The Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America are now welcome to apply for grants that will cover their travel and stay at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2010 at Geneva, Switzerland.

We especially invite journalists who are willing to show and share their experiences and work, through presentations at the conference. If you are able to demonstrate how you worked with your life's best investigative story, you might pick up free tickets and stay at the conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Our goal is to gather some of the world's best examples of investigative journalism in recent years. Between 400 and 500 investigative reporters are expected to participate at the conference.

The main focus during seminars will be journalistic work methods, how journalists are using their skills, patience, eagerness to dig up dirt and neat techniques to get in touch with sources, better research material and in the end, good stories that makes a difference.

We are also going to cover how difficult it is to do investigative journalism in certain parts of the world.

GIJC 2010 is also going to be a unique place to do networking to get your own global contact net. We intend to facilitate trans-national investigative journalism cooperation on the topics you cover.

Please send your applications to contact@gijc2010.ch This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Please supply the application with your CV, a short summary of your work in the field of investigative journalism and personal references. It will also help us if you can get references from organizations working with investigative journalism. Please try as well and as actively as you can to get a sponsor in your own region.

Our final application deadline is 31st January. Applications will be evaluated as they come in. You will be hearing from us regarding your application!

visit the website

Jan 20, 2010

Lifting the Veil Using a 'Bluetooth Burqa'

from Spiegel

For the Modern Muslim Woman

Lifting the Veil Using a 'Bluetooth Burqa'

Can a burqa be sexy? A Berlin-based artist has invented a digitally-enabled robe that will send an image of a woman's face -- or anything else -- via Bluetooth.

A burqa may not be the flirtiest garment ever invented for women. The highly modest head-to-toe robe even shrouds the eyes, so for centuries it's been difficult for women wearing them to send suggestive signals to men.

But now a German designer has debuted a digitally-enabled burqa that can broadcast a photo of the wearer to nearby mobile phones. Markus Kison calls it the "CharmingBurka," and says it isn't forbidden by Islamic law.

A model demonstrated a prototype of Kison's garment at the Seamless 2008 design and fashion show in Boston, a high-tech fashion event run with support from the Masschusetts Institute of Technology.

Kison says the burqa has a "digital layer" that incorporates a Bluetooth antenna, which lets women "decide for themselves where they want to position themselves virtually." Nearby mobile phones that also use Bluetooth will light up with any small file a woman chooses to broadcast as her identity -- a photo, a cartoon, a text file or even a sound clip.

Kison's broadcast technology started as a marketing tool; the so-called "Bluebot" system is meant to send digital advertisements to passing phones. But Kison's new design turns a burqa into a walking MySpace page.

A broadcasting burqa may not be explicitly forbidden by Islamic law -- since most interpreters of Shariah have never imagined such a thing -- but certain Islamic governments have tried to clamp down on electronic flirting. By 2002 it was so common for teenagers in Saudi Arabia to send each other pictures of themselves by phone that an import ban was imposed on camera phones. But demand was so high that the law was lifted two years later.

Jan 14, 2010

Haiti earthquake left 100,000 dead in 60 seconds

A woman is helped away in Haiti yesterday as a stunned world learned at least 100,000 died in its earthquake.

Distraught Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive announced the massive toll while witnesses told how the victims died in 60 seconds of mayhem as buildings collapsed on them.

But one estimate predicted the final toll could reach 500,000, making it the second most devastating quake in recorded history.

The grim task of recovering thousands of bodies got under way inHaiti yesterday as the sheer scale of the disaster began to emerge.

Rescue workers in the capital Port-au-Prince dragged so many bodies from the rubble they had to pile them in the streets.

Within hours, the mounds of corpses were everywhere. The bodies of tiny children were piled near schools that had collapsed when the earthquake struck with devastating force.

The bodies of workers were piled beside what remained of their offices.

Outside one crumbled building lay an entire family, five children and three adults.

Miraculously, every so often those who had cheated death crawled from the wreckage, weakly pushing aside debris and gulping in air as they dragged themselves to safety.

Ragged-looking survivors wandered the dust-shrouded streets in groups, holding hands as they gazed at the devastation.

Occasionally, a survivor stooped to lift one of the sheets thrown over bodies to check for missing family members. Thousands gathered in public squares to sing hymns.

Port-au-Prince itself has been all but destroyed. The quake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, flattened the president’s palace, the cathedral, the parliament building, hospitals, schools, the main prison and thousands of homes.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said initial estimates were 100,000 had died after an initial minute-long quake.

But senator Youri Latortue said the final toll could reach 500,000 – an astonishing figure for a nation with a population of nine million.

Mr Bellerive said: “I hope that it is not true, because I hope the people had time to get out.

“But so many buildings, so many neighbourhoods, totally destroyed.

“And some neighbourhoods we don’t even see people, so I don’t know where those people are.”

Hundreds of thousands are thought to have been injured, with many still trapped.

Ian Rodgers, a Save the Children worker who is in Haiti, said: “I can hear very distressed people‚ a lot of distress, people wailing, trying to find loved ones trapped under the rubble.”

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western world. Many of its inhabitants live in poorly constructed homes that would have stood no chance of withstanding either the initial quake or the sizeable aftershocks that were still rumbling on 24 hours later.

Source:mirror News

Jan 12, 2010

OpOpportunity for Afghan Women

Bpeace is seeking female and male business people in Mazar-i-Sharif and the Balkh Province who are committed to creating jobs for other Afghans, and who need technical assistance to grow their businesses.

Female and male businesspeople who have a vision to move Afghanistan to greater prosperity will find a proven ally in Bpeace. We will work side by side with the best entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, understanding their businesses, solving problems, and collaborating with them on ideas to increase employment and peace. The most successful Afghans are those who understand that growing a business is a full-time job, and that making a profit sustains the business and the community.

You can apply for this program if you:

  • Are a female or male businessperson between the ages of 21 and 35 years of age.
  • Are an Afghan citizen and live in the Balkh Province.
  • Already operate a business or desire to start a business.
  • Are willing to devote at least 10 hours a month for six months to work with the Bpeace program and 5 hours a month for 18 months thereafter.

To download the Microsoft Word version of the application form, please click here.

You must submit your application by January 15, 2010.

Bpeace is a non-profit organization of U.S. volunteer business professionals.

  • Bpeace will assist 30 female and male business owners create 1,000 jobs in Balkh over the next two-three years.
  • Bpeace delivers business skills to motivated Afghan business people.
  • Bpeace does not provide grants or cash.

Young entrepreneurs accepted into the Bpeace program will receive:

  • Business skills training in Mazar and technical assistance at their places of business in finance, marketing, customer service, and staff recruitment and management.
  • Most importantly, Bpeace will connect each entrepreneur with U.S. business professionals who will provide technical guidance in industries important to the economic development of Balkh.

Since 2004, Bpeace has helped Afghan businesswomen create more than 1,400 jobs supporting more than 12,000 Afghan family members. For the first time, Bpeace is inviting a limited number of male Afghan entrepreneurs into its program in addition to women. Partial funding for this program comes from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

How to Apply

To download the Microsoft Word version of the application form, please click here.

  • Complete this application form, in English.
  • Email completed applications to mazar@bpeace.org by January 15, 2010. Applications submitted after January 15th will not be considered.

Jan 10, 2010

Independent Television Service Announces International Call for Producers Outside United States

The Independent Television Service's International Call enables independent producers from outside of the United States to create documentaries for U.S. television.

The program is designed to help storytellers from other countries introduce U.S. audiences to their global neighbors. In addition to production funding and support, ITVS International will premiere funded programs on U.S. public and commercial television.

ITVS International Call seeks programs that bring international perspectives, ideas, events, and people to U.S. television; content that represents diverse communities and advances underrepresented points of view; content that explores globally significant themes and inspires public dialogue; single story-driven documentaries with broadcast hour versions; programs that have already begun production and can be realistically completed within one year of contract; and co-production projects with either international broadcast partner(s) or co-productions with producers from different countries.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old. The primary applicant must be a citizen of another country and must not reside in the U.S. Dual foreign/U.S. citizens are eligible if they do not reside in the U.S. American citizens may only participate as co-applicants in a true co-production relationship with a non-U.S. primary applicant. Applicants must have previous film or television production experience in a principal role (producer, co-producer, director, or co-director) as demonstrated by credits on a sample tape of a previously completed work submitted with the application.

All written materials must be in English. Video materials must also be in English, subtitled if necessary.

Visit the ITVS Web site for complete program guidelines.

Link to Complete RFP

Primary Subject: Arts and Culture
Geographic Funding Area: National

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Jan 9, 2010

Hazaras Hustle to Head of Class in Afghanistan

Published: January 3, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — For much of this country’s history, the Hazara were typically servants, cleaners, porters and little else, a largely Shiite minority sidelined for generations, and in some instances massacred, by Pashtun rulers.

But increasingly they are people like Mustafa, a teenager who has traveled a rough road but whose future now looks as bright as any in this war-ravaged country. His course reflects the collective effort of the Hazara, who make up 10 to 15 percent of the population, to remake their circumstances so swiftly that by some measures they are beginning to overtake other groups.

Like many Hazaras of his generation, Mustafa, now 16, fled Afghanistan with his family in the mid-1990s. They settled in Quetta, Pakistan, living with other Hazara refugees outside the Taliban’s reach and getting a taste of opportunities long out of their grasp.

After the 2001 American invasion, his family returned, not to their home in impoverished Daykondi Province, but to Kabul, where his uneducated parents thought Mustafa and his siblings would get better schooling. “There was no opportunity for studying in Daykondi,” he said.

Mustafa is now a top student at Marefat High School in Dasht-i-Barchi, a vast, poor Shiite enclave in western Kabul of potholed dirt streets, unheated homes and tiny shops. Nearly every one of his graduating classmates will go on to college. Mustafa, an 11th grader who favors physics and mathematics, wants to study nuclear physics at a Western university.

“The Pashtun had the opportunities in the past, but now the Hazaras have these opportunities,” said Mustafa, whose school director asked that his last name not be published. “We can take our rights just by education.”

The Marefat school is a refuge for 2,500 Hazaras, many from families like Mustafa’s who fled their homeland in central Afghanistan for Pakistan and Iran in the 1990s and returned after the fall of the Taliban, which had massacred thousands of Hazaras, to make their lives in Kabul.

Since the 2001 invasion, an influx of Hazaras has changed the composition of the capital. More than a million Hazaras now live here, making up more than a quarter of the city’s population.

With a new generation of Hazaras attending school in relative security and motivated by their parents’ dispossession, their success could alter the country’s balance of ethnic power.

“The Hazara always wanted an open atmosphere to breathe, and now we have that,” said Mohammed Sarwar Jawadi, a Hazara member of Parliament from Bamian Province.

If there is a recent parallel it is the Kurds of northern Iraq. Once dispossessed and abused, they created a thriving new society after the imposition of no-fly zones in the 1990s and the ouster of Saddam Hussein almost seven years ago.

The Hazara resurgence is not so geographically concentrated. The principal Hazara provinces, while relatively safe, remain impoverished and, their leaders complain, are bypassed by the foreign aid sent to Pashtun areas as a carrot to lure people from the insurgency.

Instead, it is a revival built largely on education, an asset Hazaras could carry with them during their years as refugees.

“With education you can take everything you want,” says Qasim, one of Mustafa’s classmates, a 15-year-old Hazara who moved to Kabul, the Afghan capital, from the northern city of Kunduz five years ago because his parents wanted better-educated children.

The old Afghan rulers “wanted to exploit Hazara people, and they didn’t want us to become leaders in this country or to improve,” he said. But that will change. “By studying we can dictate our future.”

The Hazara gains have already been rapid. Two Hazara-dominated provinces, Bamian and Daykondi, have the highest passing rates on admissions exams for the country’s top rung of universities, according to officials from the Ministry of Higher Education. In the high school graduating class of 2008, three-fourths of students in Daykondi who took the test passed, and two-thirds in Bamian, compared with the national rate of 22 percent.

In a country that has one of the world’s lowest female literacy rates — just one in seven women over age 15 can read and write — the progress of Hazara women is even more stark, especially compared with Pashtun provinces.

Pashtuns, who are mostly Sunni, are the country’s largest ethnic group. While the Taliban insurgency rages in Pashtun regions, and many schools are attacked or forced to close, the enrollment of girls in Bamian schools rose by nearly one-third the past two years, to 46,500, as total school enrollment there grew 22 percent. Continue reading on NYT

Jan 8, 2010

Applications Being Accepted for 2010 Peace through Business Program

Program Overview & Application Instructions


The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women’s PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS program provides long-term business education to women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda. The program is based on the theory that a country that is more economically sound has a greater capacity for peace.

PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS is implemented in three phases:

  • In-Country Education (Afghanistan & Rwanda)
  • Leadership Development (U.S.)
  • Pay It Forward (Afghanistan & Rwanda)

Currently, our classroom sites are in Kabul, Afghanistan and Kigali, Rwanda. However, if you are not in these specific areas – still apply! We are looking into developing additional classroom sites in outlying villages in both countries, based on demand and ability. (Keep checking here for updates.) And, remember, it never hurts to apply!

By applying to the 2010 PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS program, you are applying for the In-Country portion of the program. There are 30 seats available per country. 15 students from each country will be selected for travel to the United States in June 2010 for participation in Leadership Development, which includes mentorship and an International Women’s Economic Summit. Students selected for U.S. travel are also expected to Pay Forward their education by mentoring their fellow countrymen and women. See more below on the selection process and requirements for Leadership Development.

Application Instructions
To complete the application process, you must submit a copy of your passport, visa (if applicable), as well as at least three photos of your business. Formatting requirements are specified on the application. (You can also submit these files separately from the application by the application deadline.) You can not return to a partially completed application. You must complete and submit the application at the same time.


In-Country Education

In-Country Education is an intensive 8 weeks of basic business education. Each class lasts about four hours, once a week for eight weeks from Feb. 1 – March 26. The class is facilitated and conducted by a former PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS student, and the curriculum focuses on entrepreneurship development, improving technical skills and creating leaders with an emphasis on:

  • Basic Accounting and Finance
  • Marketing, Promotion and Selling
  • Operations Management
  • Human Resources
  • Basic Banking
  • Business Plan Development

The class culminates with the development of an in-depth business plan designed specifically for your business. That plan is submitted electronically to the Institute staff in the United States. Every chapter lesson will include a test and homework assignments. Books are provided, but in order to complete homework assignments, you must have access to a computer. Since the books are written in English, you must be able to read and comprehend English in order to complete homework assignments.

Five former In-Country students will be considered for selection into the 2010 PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS In-Country Education. Like new students, they will be considered for selection into Leadership Development (see more below.)

It is not required to be proficient in Microsoft Excel, however the majority of homework for the In-Country program is in Excel, so students will need to have working knowledge of the program. Excel is widely used in the business community, and it will be beneficial for students selected for Leadership Development to already be familiar with the program.

To learn more about Microsoft Excel, there are several free tutorials online. Click here for a free tutorial and free trial version of the software.

New student criteria for selection into the In-Country classes

  • Completed application
  • English Exam – 80% or higher
  • Solid Business (owner and daily involvement)

Former student criteria for selection into the In-Country program

  • Willingness to teach at least two sessions during In-Country classes
  • 2009 class scores
  • Demonstration of implementation of PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS training
  • Specific Pay It Forward examples


Leadership Development

Applying for In-Country Education is not a guarantee for travel to the United States for participation in Leadership Development. An unbiased committee will select 15 students from each country to travel to the United States for three weeks in June 2010. The announcement of who has been selected will be made on Friday, April 2.

New student criteria for selection to travel to United States for Leadership Development

For those students who wish to be considered for Leadership Development, a separate set of scores will be awarded based on the following system:

  • Attendance: 25 points
  • Completed Homework Assignments: 25 points
  • Completed Business Plan: 25 points
  • Test Scores: 25 points
  • Business Viability: 25 points
  • Potential to Pay Forward: 25 points

Former student criteria for selection to travel to United States for Leadership Development

  • Complete new or update existing business plan
  • English Exam – 80% or higher
  • Score 80% or higher on Entrepreneurship test (based on textbook)
  • Solid Business (owner and daily involvement)
  • Demonstrate how they have utilized and implemented their previous training with PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS

Additionally, both new and former students must meet the following requirements:

  • Own a legitimate business (Facilitator will visit and help evaluate each business)
  • Score a 75% or higher on written and oral English test
  • Pass a physical examination by a designated doctor (Because of the trip’s intensity and travel, women who are pregnant will not be considered for U.S. travel due to the concern of potential health risks to both mother and baby.)
  • Ability to pay for Visa (about $130 USD)
  • Ability to pay program fee ($250 USD)
  • Ability to travel to the United States for three weeks in June 2010 (June 4 – June 24)
Please go to the main source

Jan 4, 2010

Taliban killed 4,000 in ethnic cleansing drive

By Ahmed Rashid in Islamabad
Electronic Telegraph, September 10,1998, Issue 1203

BETWEEN 4,000 and 6,000 Afghan Hazaras - three times more than recent Amnesty International estimates - were massacred by the Taliban when they captured areas of northern Afghanistan last month, according to diplomats.

The envoys described the killings as a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Islamic fundamentalist militia. Diplomats, United Nations officials and aid workers say thousands of Hazaras, mostly males, were killed in front of their families in Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of the anti-Taliban alliance in northern Afghanistan, when the Taliban captured the city last month.

A senior diplomat who has interviewed dozens of Hazara families said: "Young men over 16 were brought out of their houses into the streets and had their throats slit in a ritualistic killing. Younger boys had both hands chopped off at the wrist."

An aid worker said Hazara bodies were left in the streets for days, and people trying to escape from the city were shot. The aid worker said: "They were mutilating children and telling them, 'You will never fight us again'."

The Hazaras, a Mongol people who form some 15 per cent of the country's 18 million population, have resisted Taliban offensives for the past four years from their strongholds in the Hindu Kush mountains.

The Hazaras are Shia Muslims, whom the Sunni Taliban loathe. Iran, which is predominantly Shia, has used the massacre issue as a reasons to mobilise 70,000 troops on the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Last week, Amnesty International released a report saying that thousands of Hazaras were killed in Mazar. But aid workers and diplomats who left the city after the Taliban takeover and have met Hazaras who escaped, say the number of dead could be much higher.

The Taliban have rejected the allegations, but refuse to allow aid workers, the UN or foreign journalists to return to Afghanistan. Mazar has been closed to foreigners.


UN confirms Taliban massacre of ethnic minority

ISLAMABAD, Sept 11,1998 (AFP) - The United Nations here Friday said Afghanistan's Taliban militia massacred thousands of ethnic-Hazara people when they seized the opposition stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif last month.

Amnesty International had alleged the Taliban massacred thousands of the minority Hazara comunity in the days following their capture of the northern Afghan city on August 8.

The Taliban rejected the Amnesty report.

Source of this article