Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More 'what's going on' in Kabul

A local market outside the city center.

Traffic jam.

The ram has been 'adorned' with henna paste and may have been a participant in the Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) which was celebrated at the end of November.

Two of the thousands of homeless dogs that roam the streets of Kabul. No dogcatcher; no SPCA.

Just wandering around, looking for something to do.

First the sign, then the building.

It's the 'Perfect' Restaurant.

The University keeps a low profile; some groups don't.

In case you don't recognize a door when you see one....

Wonder what got their attention.

Uses for a wheelbarrow.

The answer is: 'No, I haven't.'

And this last - at the German Clinic last week.
I'm off to England: meeting my son Jason in Manchester for Christmas.
Happy Holidays everyone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

crackdown on corruption

There was a recent article in, Qatar - Central/S. Asia which announced the arrest of Kabul's deputy-mayor, Wahibuddin Sadat, for allegedly misusing his authority. Here's an excerpt from that article with special reference to the arrest and conviction of his boss, the mayor of Kabul, Abdul Ahad Sahebi.

"Afghanistan's government has come under increasing pressure to crack down on corruption in the wake of the country's fraud-tainted elections.
Analysts say public outrage over corruption and bad governance is fuelling support for the Taliban, who were ousted from power in the US-led invasion of 2001.

Sadat's (the deputy mayor) arrest comes five days after an Afghan court convicted his boss, Abdul Ahad Sahebi, Kabul's mayor, of awarding a contract without competition and sentenced him to four years in jail. He was also ordered to repay more than $16,000 involved in the contract.

The mayor was the first high-profile Afghan politician to be convicted since a task force was ordered by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to target government officials suspected of criminal activity. The solicitor general's office is also looking into claims that Sehebi failed to account for millions of US dollars that were meant to pay for reconstruction projects.

Sehebi, who has appealed the conviction, is refusing government orders to give up his post and claims he is being targeted as part of a political vendetta.

The government departments involved in the case have so far failed to agree on who should enforce the court's ruling.

Neither the courts nor the police say they have the ability to seize Sehebi and send him to jail and he is still receiving police protection at city hall. "

My comment: It is clear that not a lot of corrupt officials have been removed from office here in Afghanistan, since apparently there is no established policy as to which government department is responsible for doing so.

You could not make this up.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Street People (part 2)

Here are some more people pictures - most of which I took before the weather got colder.

I love the yellow pants!

A young girl working on her modern gear - apparently with the approval of her more traditionally-dressed mom.

The guys.

Some things are the same worldwide!

Not sure what the contraption is - a kids' ferris wheel thingee?

Seems to be some kind of argument/discussion re: a motorbike. Even the police are involved, but I suspect not in an official capacity.

This fellow can be seen most days right here or across the street.

Division of labor in a family unit.

Happy days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

the 'surge'

President Obama announced last week that he would be sending an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. The objective is to 'reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government' and the extra troops will also increase 'our ability to train competent Afghan security forces and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight.(quoted from Obama's speech 12/1/2009).

Additionally he stated that 'success' in Afghanistan is 'inextricably linked' to an 'effective partnership' with Pakistan. The Taliban, occupy both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border and only by working with the Pakistanis can we prevent the spread of the Taliban 'cancer.'

And the third part of Obama's plan is a 'more effective civilian strategy,' meaning that Afghanistan must move towards a corruption-free government .

I don't know if the additional troops will accomplish the stated goals.

I do know that the defeat of the Taliban is absolutely necessary for the growth of Afghanistan, and particularly for the betterment of women. No country can hope to be successful in the world theatre if 50% of the population are denied basic human rights, including the right to work and to go to school and to live an active life without gender-specific restrictions. Women in Afghanistan need to be given the same chance for fulfillment and the same opportunity to contribute as they are in other parts of the world.

The Taliban don't agree; under their regime women had to stay at home: no work, no school. And they couldn't wear lipstick!!!!

Tiny steps forward in the area of women's rights have been made in the last 8 years . My fear is that if the Taliban gain control again, that forward movement will be stopped and reversed. Particularly with regard to the education of young women.

Here at the American University of Afghanistan women make up about 20% of the population. The University is one of the few places that men and women can mix as equals. They compete with one another, argue with one another, and learn from one another. Hopefully we're doing our part to ensure that the future leaders of Afghanistan include educated men as well as educated women.

Young girls also attend the elementary and high schools here in Kabul. Many come from the provinces where education of females is still not universally encouraged. Their families send them here; presumably recognizing the importance of education for their daughters as well as their sons. Here's a student in her school uniform striding out.

The Taliban alternative to education for women still abounds on the streets of Kabul.

As to the surge's proposed strengthened partnership with Pakistan, I think it's an important aspect of the surge philosophy; whether or not it will work is problematic.

I do want to talk about the so-called more 'effective civilian strategy'...the clean-up of the Afghan government. And it needs it! This country has recently been rated by Transparency International as the second most corrupt country in the world, 179 of 180 investigated ('bested' only by Somalia!).

And here's 'the man!'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He was recently declared the winner after an election rife with fraud and an aborted run-off. The legitimacy of his presidency is questionable, at the very least.

But...he's the President: he's the one responsible for routing out corruption and he promised in his inaugural speech to 'move in a new direction.' Which is certainly vague.

The Afghan government has been told the 'days of providing a blank check are over.'

The international community must take some blame for what has not occurred here over the past 8 years, (lack of oversight, misallocation of funds, etc. etc.) and Secretary of State Clinton has promised that efforts will be made to keep tabs on aid in the future.

In any case, whoever/whatever is to blame....the American's have been here for more or less 8 years and Karzai's been in power for 8 years and still....this is what's out there.


A telling photo. It and its caption were published in the Afghanistan Times on 11/24/2009.

The water is undrinkable.
And not all of it flows through pipes.

Living high on the hill would be idyllic by US standards, but here that means hauling water up that hill, by donkey: no piped water.

Electric power is on, but not all the time.

There is no sewer system in Kabul.
Garbage pickup, generally, is primitive.

Hospitals are rudimentary.

Those concrete boxes are used for flowers in the summer, but they're not flower boxes. They're security barriers and they're everywhere.

And then there's unemployment.

40% unemployment in Afghanistan: 185 of 200 countries listed in the CIA World Factbook.

Afghanistan is also the 8th poorest country in the world, with an average monthly salary of $66. (International Monetary Fund/CIA World Factbook).

And the roads...
Many, many, many not paved. An uncomfortable amount of the 'neighborhood' roads have crater-size potholes that give real meaning to the term 'bone rattling.'

and other road projects. But you never see road 'crews.' Just a few guys, generally with wheelbarrows.

Here's one piece of equipment - resting.

These men are digging culverts for snow run-off.
These guys are watching.

The kids are getting some 'on the job' training, I guess.
This is the infamous footbridge which is 'under construction' over Darulaman Road. The construction has stalled, however. Perhaps because the election is over.

I'd like to see a difference in the life of the Afghans. More services, better roads, cleaner water and........

And more of a future for this little boy.

and the thousands of beggers just like him.

I hope the surge works. I hope the Taliban is vanquished forever. I hope the Afghan forces can finally take over the security of their own country.
But I think what's really going to make a change in this country is the clean up of the central government: the dismissal of the bad guys and hiring of good guys who the Afghans can trust. And an improvement in the way in which relief monies are distributed so that the millions of dollars coming into this country go where intended and without being wrongfully diminished along the way.

Word is that Karzai's to replace 21 of 26 of his ministers 'any day' now - this Saturday by the latest news. I asked one of my students who is involved in the selection process if he thought the new cabinet was going to be an improvement on the old. 'I hope so,' he said. But he didn't look hopeful. We'll see.

Do I agree with Obama's decision? Yes. I wish the decision wasn't necessary. I want the U.S. to be able to concentrate on its own problems. However, I think we have unfinished business in Afghanistan thanks to Bush and his administration's premature departure to invade and occupy Iraq. I think it is this administration's job to try and clean up the mess and give the Afghans a chance to take ownership of their country.

Quoting from Bob Cesca's article "Obama's Unavoidable Cure for the Afghanistan Cancer' in the Huffington Post of 12/2/2009 Obama has made his decision based on 'reason and reality' and that he is 'unwavering in his determination to repair the Bushie mistakes in Afghanistan and, once ...accomplished, to withdraw.'

I agree. I don't think there was anything else President Obama could have done as an honorable man or that the United States could have done as an honorable nation.
I hope it works.