Gender Corridor Afghanistan (2008): A New Beginning

Gender Corridor Afghanistan, November 2008 “Gender Corridor Afghanistan” is the publication of Gender Equality Project of UNDP Afghanistan. A NEW BEGINNING Armed men loyal to brutal Afghan warlords set up checkpoints and take what they want – including helpless young girls. Women are often raped before being given or sold to whoever desires a bride. Some who survive and escape can no longer live with their ordeal. They douse themselves in gasoline and set themselves ablaze. “Who can say ‘no’ to a war commander?” asks Naseera Shafi, 26, the Regional Office Coordinator for UNDP’s Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. “They have guns and power. They do whatever they want. When they see a beautiful girl, they may kidnap her and force her to marry …. It’s not uncommon for a young girl to marry an old man under these conditions,” Naseera says. The ANBP aims to create new opportunities for peace and security in the war-torn country by focusing on the disbandment of illegal armed groups. These bandits challenge the nation’s security, leaving ordinary Afghans to grapple with instability and making the vast majority of Afghan women prisoners of an oppressive social environment. [...]

November 5, 2008 // 1 Comment

Bam – The Flattened Civilization

From what is left, you still can be amazed by the grandeur of an advanced ancient civilization 27 December 2003, the small town of Bam – located in southeastern Iran, about 300 kilometers from Kerman – was shocked by 6.8 Richter-scale earthquake. More than 40,000 were killed. Asides of the human casualty, Iran has another thing to grieve, as one of its civilization jewels was nothing but flattened. The ancient mud city of Bam used to be one of the strongest tourism magnets in Iran. People claimed it has 3,000 years of history, at least from the Sassanian period. Thousands of interesting old mud houses, sprawl under a giant mud citadel, giving exotic fairytale impression. I adore the old pictures of Bam, which are still hanged everywhere to remind how majestic the place used to be. But, the view of Arg-e-Bam (the ancient citadel surrounded by the mud city) today makes me weeping. The place is in severe desolation. The citadel which was appraised by Marco Polo and other ancient travelers now turned to be rubble. The old town become sad crumbling remains and debris. Workers are everywhere, hoping to restore the old town to its ancient glory, but not [...]

June 14, 2008 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Welcome to Ariana Flight

The boarding room of Kabul International Airport. Everybody is ready to fly … The first encounter with Ariana – the Afghan national carrier – is not always thrilling. It might be a unique experience from the Afghan land. In last several months I have been working as a consultant for UN. This, more or less, has changed my preference in traveling. Probably I got spoiled already with those amenities, facilities, and luxuries. Today, the first day of me turning back to be a backpacker again, I feel a sudden shock. Usually I prefer to take overland trip, but this time, on my way going to Iran for a short holiday to change the routine in Kabul, I chose to fly Ariana. The Kabul – Herat’s 1000 kilometer distance can be reached through three different routes. The northern route, through Mazar-e-Sharif, takes at least four days, killing unpaved road full of dust of the desert Dasht-e-Laila at the end of its leg. I have experienced this in 2006 and am not so keen to try again. The second option is the Central Route, through Bamiyan, Ghour, and Heart provinces. Most of the roads are unpaved, hitchhiking is required, and in my [...]

June 9, 2008 // 3 Comments

Kabul – A Midnight Jog

Kabul taxi, can be dangerous day or night People tend to have more things to say when they are angry or disappointed. And today I do the same. I regret I didn’t tell you earlier how I was impressed by hospitality of Kabul taxi drivers, who usually refuse to receive money from a foreign guest (only lip service mostly, but anyway it makes me happy), but now I have to tell a scary experience with a Kabul driver. I was invited by a friend to a dinner in Wazir Akbar Khan area, the rich part of Kabul where many embassies, foreign organizations, and expatriate housings are located. I usually don’t stay until late night, but yesterday we talked until completely forgetting about the time. At the end, an AFP French reporter friend of mine realized that it was already 10:30, and we had to leave. She offered me to walk together to the main road, from where I can find taxi to go home and she went back to her house on foot. We walked together to the direction of the main road. Usually, at this inconvenient time of the day, taxis are hard to find. But God-knows-why, we found [...]

January 9, 2008 // 0 Comments

Kabul – The Afghan Independence Day

The happy parade inside the stadium When an independence day is celebrated with fading pride as an independent country… If Indonesia is still in splendor of the 62nd anniversary of its independence day, Afghanistan is celebrating its 88th today. The British Treaty of Rawalpindi on August 8, 1919 admitted the self-determination of Afghanistan, of which foreign affairs formerly under British subject. Afghanistan had been arena of power struggle between nations since the beginning of its history, and at the end of the 19th century it became arena of the Great Game between Russian and British imperials. As both imperial powers were almost equally strong, Afghanistan was used as buffer to delimit Russian empire from the British India. Under British and Russian influence, the northern border with Russia (Amu-Darya River), the eastern border with British India (Durand Line) and the border with Persia were drawn. Afghanistan, under subject of Russian-British agreement, was given independence but not in its foreign affairs, which is under the British control. The king Amanullah Khan succeeded to force British to admit Afghanistan as fully independent country, by his invasion to India in 1919 and resulted the Treaty of Rawalpindi. The full independence of Afghanistan was proclaimed [...]

August 19, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Warning: Travel Ban in Afghanistan

No foreigners are allowed to take this road to leave Kabul overland, due to the Korean hostage crisis Following the worsening of the 23 Korean hostages’ crisis, Afghanistan government has instituted new strict security measures in order to protect foreign citizens in the country. Foreigners, de facto, are banned to travel outside Kabul overland. Any foreigners wishing to travel by land must submit first an application to police two days in advance of the trip. To enforce the travel ban, new checkpoints had been instituted at all of Kabul’s main roads. The ban is given to an unlimited time, or will be announced later. I am sure the recent hostage crisis will cause various indirect effects. South Korean government has already included Afghanistan in travel-ban list, forbidding any citizens to get into the country without permission from the government and Afghanistan government was requested not to allow Korean citizens to enter the country. Lonely Planet independent travelers’ guide book is going to publish Afghanistan edition this summer and Aga Khan Foundation is to hold Wakhan Festival in Wakhan Corridor (Badakhshan province) to promote tourism in the isolated area, but it’s very likely that situation in Afghanistan is still not too [...]

July 26, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Women and Terror

The road of Ghazni, where the incident took place The most recent news brought from the southern part of the country, is the striking hijacking of a bus full of foreigners in Qarabagh district, southern part of Ghazni province, by the Taliban. 18 foreigners on board, all Korean nationals, are taken hostage by the hijackers on 19 July. Among the 18 hostages, 15 of them are females. Initially the people were reported as tourists traveling from Kandahar to go back to Kabul, but later confirmation from the news agency reveals that these Koreans are Christians working as volunteers for a Christian missionary group, Saemmul Community Church in Bundang south of Seoul. These people entered Afghanistan on July 13 and were supposed to return home right after they arrive in Kabul. But the incident on their way to Kabul not only delayed their return, but also put a big question mark on their live survival. This is the largest-scale abduction conducted by the Taliban after 2001. The spokesman of Taliban urged the South Korean government to pull out its 200 troops in the Islamic Republic; otherwise these hostages would be slaughtered. Today I saw from BBC News the Korean newspapers showing [...]

July 21, 2007 // 0 Comments

Murghab – Life in Murghab

A morning greetings from Murghab Murgab (Murghab) was promising when it was built. It was a new Russian settlement built as frontier city of Pamir. The highway connecting the isolated mountains to the lowland towns was supposed to bring wealth to the nomadic community. Life had changed ever since. A town was built on the top of mountains. People were educated. Frontier military checkpoints were enforced. But how is life now, after Tajikistan gained independence from the USSR and civil war took place in the new country? The hope of the future had turned to be a bad fate. I had got a chance to know Gulnara, a 54 year old woman working as a primary school teacher in Murgab. Gulnara is the younger sister of Khalifa Yodgor from Langar. But the last time she saw him was 2 years ago. “It is too expensive to go there,” said her. Langar is not too far from Murgab. It is around 250 km only, but the public transport there is very rare and expensive. At present, Murghab-Langar cost 50 Somoni/pax. Gulnara’s salary is only 80 Somoni per month. She hardly manages to feed her family with that money, needless to say [...]

October 31, 2006 // 0 Comments

Langar – Connecting Afghanistan

Yodgor family. Aga Khan portraits always decorate the houses of Ismaili families in Tajikistan Pamir. Three months ago, on July 31st exactly, I came to this little bridge. That time I was coming with the Shah (the King) of Panjah, district officials of Khandud, and Afghan soldiers. At that time, we were there to see the opening of the bridge and overwhelmed by the optimistism of the desperate Wakhi people from Afghan side, about the change of their future by this new border. Today, I am at the other side of the bridge, seeing the barren hills of Afghanistan with all of its hopes, from Tajikistan side, with Mulloev Yodgor Dildorovich, the khalifa (religious leader)-cum-teacher of Langar. Yodgor was among those who were overwhelmed by millions of mixed feelings when the border was opened, only for one day. On August 1, 2006, there was held an Afghan bazaar just next to the bridge in Langar side. The people from Afghanistan Wakhan Corridor were coming from all directions, from as far as Khandud and Sarhad-e-Boroghel, to attend this rare moment. So were people from Tajikistan side. This was not merely a moment of trading, but also a moment of reunion of [...]

October 26, 2006 // 1 Comment

Kabul – Life of Afghan Police

Two Afghan police (or soldiers) guarding the ex-palace in Kabul My experience yesterday, being beaten by police, is actually nothing new in life in Afghanistan, and especially for journalists. Rights of journalists, as any other civilians, are not yet observed by the police, the guardian of the people, in Afghanistan. Najeebullah, a Pajhwok journalist, was kicked on his chest by a police when he made the coverage about the bomb happening last Saturday. Violence like this is not news anymore. “Why dont you write about the police atittude,” I asked him. They have written so many times, but the police never care, nor change their behaviour. “They are uneducated. They have low salary,” said Wais, telling me the reason for the bad behavior of Afghan police and soldiers. Inspired by this, I would like to learn more about the life of Afghan police. I traveled to Darulaman Palace, at the western part of Kabul. This is a palace built by Amanullah King and now resembled a building after earthquake. The building, and the whole area, suffered a lot from the wars since Mujaheddin time. I met two young police guys there, Manzur, a 20 year old Tajik and Noor Ahmad, [...]

October 3, 2006 // 3 Comments

Chekhcheran – The Capital of Ghor Province

A boy from Chekhcheran selling bushes for fire. “We are the center of Afghanistan. But why we are so poor?” – a villager from Chekhcheran The capital of Ghor province was a famous arena in Afghan history pages. It was mentioned many times by Babur, the great Moghul emperor. It was also expecting to prosper much further in 1970’s when there was a plan to build road through the Central Route of Afghanistan, thus connecting the Europe as far as to New Delhi. But Chekhcheran today was an isolated town, far from both Herat and Kabul, suffering Taliban attacks in few years back, and now was desperate for further development. The road in the whole province was unpaved, and it was not lit by electricity at all. The whole province had to rely on private generators to produce local electricity to watch TV (no radio signal in the whole province), light the rooms, listen to Indian songs, and run businesses. At night, it was a complete dark. “We are the center of Afghanistan,” said a local man, “but why we are so poor? Why our life is so difficult?” Chekhcheran, geographically, located exactly at the center of Afghanistan. The man [...]

September 17, 2006 // 0 Comments

Ishkashim – Peeping Into Tajikistan

Welcome to Badakhshan “In Tajikistan they have everything but money. In Afghanistan we have money but nothing else.” – Mehruddin The distance from Faizabad to the eastern town of Ishkashem is merely 160 km, but as anywhere in Badakhshan province, the road is unpaved and dusty. The transport is also difficult and unreliable. I was staying in the house of a journalist-cum-farmer, Mr Jaffar Tayyar, in the outskirt of Faizabad. As customary in Afghanistan, all long distance public transport departs very early in the morning as traveling after dark is dangerous. To reach the bus depot in Faizabad I had to walk from the village of Mr. Tayyar as early as 4 a.m. There is no direct bus to Ishkashim. First one has to get to Baharaq, 42 km or 2 hours from Faizabad. It costs 150 Af. Baharaq is a nondescript little bazaar village. Here the onward transport to Ishkashim might be found. They only depart when there are enough passengers, and as Ishkashim is not a major destination, thus it’s unreliable. Comfortable public hot water shower in Faizabad I was lucky when I arrived there was a passenger bus (4 WD Toyota coach but mistakenly written as “ATOYOT”) [...]

July 28, 2006 // 0 Comments

Kunduz – The Remnants of Guerillas

Security is still a main issue in Afghanistan “Why those commanders haven’t surrendered the weapons yet?” Kunduz is the capital of the Kunduz province, located just 60 km away from the Tajikistan border. Despite the high mountains that lead one to Kunduz from Kabul, Kunduz is a very hot place. The road from Kabul passed through the Salang Tunnel, passing through the stomachs of high mountains that once isolated northern Afghanistan from its central. The tunnels were built in 1960s, before the decades of wars in the country, one of the proofs how prosperous Afghanistan was. The long tunnels, resembled never ending dark caves, were not something to be built by a poor country. When I visited Afghanistan in 2003, the Salang tunnels were closed for reparation, apparently done under foreign reconstruction programs, for several months. The hot weather of Kunduz is comparable to that of Kandahar or Jalalabad, notorious of their heat waves in unforgiving summer peaks. The altituted of Kunduz is merely 400 m, a sudden decrease from the Salang Tunnel which seats on altitude of 3363 m. Kunduz is like the bottom of the plain bowl of Central Asia, with its characterized heat and environment. The people [...]

July 22, 2006 // 1 Comment

Ghazni – From the Glorious Past

The glorious past has gone, forever The glorious past has gone Ghazni is the capital of province of the same name, located north of Zabul province on the Kabul – Kandahar highway. The altitude of slightly more than 2000 m guarantees the temperature in Ghazni is cool. At this moment, Ghazni is among the riskiest provinces in Afghanistan, where Taliban attacks happen in regular basis in the districts of the province. But as everybody tried to convince, the city is a safe place. Shehr Ahmad Haider is a Pajhwok journalist covering the news of the area. His office is a tiny office in a hotel near the bus station to Kandahar. There are two computers in his 3 x 5 m room, and his main weapons of getting news are: two sets of mobile phones and a desktop phone. He never meets Taliban, despite that most of his news dealing with Taliban. Interviews are done through phones. But he is not idle. In fact, to get at least five news per day he has to make many telephone calls and some visits to the Internet Cafe, the only one in the city and costs beautifully at 70 Afs (1.40 US$) [...]

July 16, 2006 // 1 Comment

Kabul – The Woman Movements

Being invisible very often is necessary in a warzone “They feel save being invisible” ——— Lam Li The image of Afghan women which laid the strongest impression among Indonesians, and maybe also other nations in the world, is women hiding in blue burqa, the veil covering the whole head, including hairs, necks, face, and even eyes, makes the body under it completely anonymous. A friend of mine described burqa / burka as invisible blanket, just like the fantasies in those Japanese animations. Whoever wears this blanket will be invisible. Nobody will recognize. No recognition, no attention. “They feel save being invisible,” said Lam Li. Lam Li made her impression after staying quite a while in Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly Peshawar and Kandahar, among the most conservative places of the two countries. In previous occassion I met her in Peshawar, she describes her inability to understand why the woman always lived under fear, hiding under the purdah. But after more than two months in Kandahar – the heartland of the Pashtuns, after long time interaction with some Kandahar female friends, she started feeling that burka is not a complete symbol of orpession (but she still cannot accept to be forced to [...]

July 12, 2006 // 0 Comments

Kandahar – From the Heartland of the Pashtuns

Pottery making is a traditional industry from Peshawar which still survive till today. “Everything here is expensive. But human life is cheap” Kandahar, the second biggest city of Afghanistan, had been lingering in the legends of the country since centuries ago. The description of old folklores about the heatwaves, about the tough desert, and about the hospitality of the Pashtun tribes are still up to date, but no doubt, the prolonged wars and the spread of fundamentalism has changed the face of the city. Living in Kandahar at this peak of the trend “war on terror” is overwhelmed by the concern of security problems. Suicide bombs can happen anywhere, and random shootings on street may deliver hot bullets just next to your feet. Taliban is the one who is always blamed to be the cause of everything, but nobody does really know who was the real actor behind all of the terrors. The politics in Afghanistan is complicated. Not only religious extrimists (thus those who always lay religion as the excuse of everything), manyu foreign nations also have importance and play in Afghan internal politics. Unexpected things can happen here on daily basis The Kandahar life has changed since, and [...]

July 10, 2006 // 2 Comments

Bamiyan – Three Years After

Radio Bamiyan In July 2003 I visited the valley of Bamiyan for the first time. Along the way, there were war remnants to remind all visitors that the land was scrapped by the long period of wars. The trip in 2003 was full of horror and mistery, when seeing the skeletons of tanks scattered on the side of dusty and windy roads. Today, almost three years after, I went to Bamiyan again, alone. The public transport, as what it was in three years ago, started very early in the morning from Kabul. The difficulty of travelling from Kabul is that there are too many bus stations, and each bus station only has vehicles to go to a certain destination. Therefore it’s essential to make sure from which station start the vehicle you are going to take. The other difficulty is that the timing, most buses in three years ago would be all departed after 6, so passengers should come around 4 or 5 in the morning. The problem is if the bus station located far from the residential area, then another taxi would be needed, and they might be scarce in dark mornings. Navigating through Afghan’s unforgiving roads, this kind [...]

June 17, 2006 // 0 Comments

Kabul – The Long Way to Afghanistan

Let’s go to Afghanistan! The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is described by the Durand Line which devided the land of Pashtuns, the Pashtunistan, to two different countries. The Pashtuns in the Pakistan side, according to the agreement of the government and the tribal leaders, were given special autonomy to preserve their tribal culture until nowadays. The tribals have their own law, and Pakistani law barely has any effect on them. These tribal areas in the NWFP border province had been given agencies status, and are under control of Politcal Agent. The agencies of NWFP province are notorious of being troublesome. Waziristan is always on the top of ‘the place you likely want to visit’ among Pakistanis, and completely closed to foreigners. Not only once I read news about mission of Pakistani armies there in Waziristan, about terrorists (probably included mis-hit civilians) being killed, and about propaganda against foreigners who were accused by the government of being problems in this area. The ‘foreigners’ is a very wide term, ranging from Afghanis, Tunisians, Americans, or maybe Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese… As usual, I didn’t get the answers of all of my questions from the newspapers I was reading that day. And Waziristan [...]

June 9, 2006 // 0 Comments