“Don’t Listen to Experts on Afghanistan”

Masood Aziz, former senior advisor at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC, recently published an article on The Daily Beast outlining the six fallacies that continue about US involvement in Afghanistan. Follow the link here.


“Joined by War”

America Abroad, a monthly documentary program on NPR, recently produced a program with Killid Radio, Afghanistan’s first twenty-four hour  talk radio station. The program was a conversation between two live audiences, Afghans in Kabul and Americans in Washington, DC, about US involvement in Afghanistan. Follow the link here.

Event: Detention Procedures

Upcoming Event: Detention Procedures and Rule of Law in Afghanistan, with Michael Gottlieb, former deputy director of Joint Task Force 435, US Forces Afghanistan, and Associate White House Counsel.

Monday April 11, 2:30-3:45 PM. Rosenkranz Hall Rm 006.

The Future of Afghan Feminism: A Talk with Women for Afghan Women

“I really want to insist that, as slight as it is, as modest as it is, there has been progress over the past 10 years.”

That is how Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Women for Afghan Women (WAW), described the hard-won gains for women’s rights in Afghanistan. WAW is at the forefront of advocacy for Afghan women. Its programs in Afghanistan and New York combat domestic violence, forced marriage, and other violations of women’s human rights.

When Viswanath first learned about what was happening to Afghan women under the Taliban rule, she wanted to do something to help. With her background in women’s rights, she was shocked that there weren’t any existing organizations in New York that were working on the issue, In 2000 she began to search for a way to start her own.She spent a lot of time with the Afghan community in Queens, NY, just listening to what women there had to say. “I didn’t want to do anything without our feet firmly planted in the community,” she said.

Viswanath and WAW began to organize a conference on women in Afghanistan for the fall of 2001. When 9/11 happened, that conference suddenly was at the center of media attention. In 2001, everyone wanted to know about Afghan women, but over time, Viswanath said, the media’s focus has drifted away. Making sure the world doesn’t write off Afghan women is at the core of the advocacy work of WAW.

The programs that WAW runs in Afghanistan are based on what they learned from the Afghan community in New York. “The model we use to work on the cases in Afghanistan is very similar to what we use in the Queens community,” Viswanath said, and noted that WAW’s work in New York was recently the topic of a New York Times article.

At the heart of the organization are the Family Guidance Centers, offices staffed by lawyers and case workers who can help women who report violations of their human rights. The first step in addressing these problems is frequently a “jirga”, a meeting of everyone involved in the situation, anyone who the women thinks would it be helpful to bring together. If, for example, the woman’s husband signs something in front of these people he respects (like the imam) and agrees to not abuse her, it can be very effective.

However, for some women, those strategies aren’t possible, and in every city where WAW has an Family Guidance Center, they also have a women’s shelter in a hidden location. Currently, WAW runs 5 shelters in Afghanistan, and is set to expand to 8 this year. However, these shelters, and those run by other NGOs, have come under attack from conservative elements in the Afghan government, which accuse the organizations of mismanagment and immorality. There is currently a law under debate that would have the government take over the shelters, and force women to go in front of an all-male panel of judges to prove their abuse before they are allowed to go to a shelter.

Viswanath was hopeful that the government would back down, but she urged audience members to sign petitions in support of the women’s shelters. The takeover, she argued, would be the first step in dismantling all of protections women have won in the last ten years. Viswanath was also worried about the long-term prospects for women’s rights. She warned that, if the US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the situation for women in the country will return to what it was before 9/11.

“We just know that, if the foreign troops leave, we will not be able to do our work….We operate very much like locals, so we will be the last ones to leave. But we will have to leave…[without the] security afforded to us by the foreign presence.” Nonetheless, Viswanath was clear that women’s rights aren’t only a western idea. All human beings know their rights, she said, and it is their bravery in fighting for those rights that inspires the work the WAW does.

The Yale Afghanistan Forum thanks Sunita Viswanath, and our co-sponsors, the Yale Women’s Center, the Asian American Cultural Center, Reach Out Yale, the International Students Organization, the Muslim Students Association and the South Asian Studies Council.

The Yale Daily News has an article about the event here
An article about WAW’s shelters in Afghanistan is here

Talk on Future of Afghan Feminism

Today at 4:30 pm in WLH 116

with co-founder of Women for Afghan Women, Sunita Viswanath

“Kabul at Work” – a documentary about the everyday lives of Kabul citizens

Oliver Englehart, a filmmaker and journalist based in London, recently completed a documentary entitled Kabul at Work. The film follows four citizens in Kabul: a female general, a sweetmaker, a taekwondo champion, and a bonesetter. The film captures both their everyday tasks and their thoughts about the past, present, and future of Afghanistan. Definitely a must-see. You can find the documentary here.

Thoughts on our neighbor


The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has shown only too clearly the growing extremism in Pakistan, the radicalisation of its society and the polarisation that is taking hold. This is not just between the religious and the secular, but also the polarisation that the “war on terror” has caused between the various religious sects.

There were no Pakistanis involved in 9/11 and al-Qaida was then based in Afghanistan. The only militancy we were suffering was among the tribal groups who had fought against the Soviets and whose idea of jihad was a war against foreign occupation. Yes, there was sectarian violence, but suicide bombers were unheard of.

So after 9/11, when General Musharraf chose to ally with the Americans in the “war on terror”, it was a fundamental blunder. Overnight he turned the jihadi groups created to fight foreign occupation from supporters into enemies, people prepared to fight the Pakistani army because of its support for the US invasion.

Musharraf then made a second mistake in sending the army into the tribal areas. Our own tribespeople immediately rose up in revolt. Rather than co-opting these people – and, remember, every man is armed – we made new enemies. Then along came the American drones to kill more of our people. Soon, the American “war on terror” was seen as a war on Islam by the majority of Pakistanis and certainly by the Pashtuns in the tribal areas. Terror and extremism intensified.

Every year extremism gets worse, our society becomes more radicalised and the bloodshed grows. This is how you must see the context of this assassination. Society is now so polarised that because Taseer criticised the blasphemy law he was seen as criticising Islam. But that was not what he said. This assassination would not have happened before the “war on terror”.

Imams of different sects are being killed now, and mosques and churches bombed. The fanaticism keeps getting worse. As disturbing as Taseer’s assassination is, just as disturbing is the way his assassin has become a hero. That is why this whole thing is so dangerous, it shows where we are headed.

I have been predicting this from day one. There is no military solution in Afghanistan, only dialogue, so the supreme irony is that in siding with the Americans all we have done is send the levels of violence up in Pakistan. The “war on terror” has weakened the state and then, thanks to the George Bush-sponsored National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2007, which allowed an amnesty for all the biggest political crooks, we now have the most corrupt government in our history. The “war on terror” is destroying Pakistan.

Clemenceau once said: “War is too important to be left to the generals.” He was right; for us it has been a disaster. There is incredible anti-American sentiment here, and the drone attacks only fuel that hatred. We need a change of strategy, otherwise the worst-case scenario will be achieved here; an unstable nuclear state.

It’s not a question of there being no room for moderates, it’s that moderates are being pushed towards extremism. Taseer didn’t say anything anti-Islamic, he just questioned the blasphemy law and whether it should be used to victimise innocent people. His death has caused many moderates to think there is no point in being a martyr. If it makes people such as myself think twice about what we say, then where does that leave us? We are all now at risk.

Crime in Pakistan is now at a level that breaks all records. Yet 60% of the elite police forces are now employed protecting VIPs. Where does that leave ordinary people? Young Pakistanis are being radicalised and the Taliban grow in strength. The US is no longer fighting just the Taliban, it is fighting the whole Pashtun population.

The consequences for Pakistan, with its population of 180 million, are enormous. And there is an impact, too, on Muslim youth in western countries. Graham Fuller, the CIA chief of staff in Kabul, wrote in 2007 that, if Nato left Afghanistan, Pakistan security forces could overcome terrorism and extremism. But, as long as the Americans push Pakistan to do more in the tribal areas, the situation will worsen – until Pakistan itself implodes.