Mittwoch, 10. Oktober 2012

"Not chronically poor"

This interview with Afghan MP and presidential candidate Fawzia Koofi was published today in the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and can be found here. It comes a day after the new study of the Crisis Group and its scepticism and the statements by the ICRC, but was recorded shortly before though. Fawzia Koofi is so far the only female candidate for the upcoming Afghan presidential elections in 2014. Born 1976, a married widow with two daughters, she has worked as an English Teacher and Unicef Officer for Child Protection in her home province of Badakhshan, for which she is a member of Parliament since 2005 and women affairs activist. She is critical of the peace process the way the Afghan government understands it and of the timeline of the drawdown of the international forces in Afghanistan. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> -You are the the 19th child in a family of 23 children. Did this teach you how to fight for power? Certainly. If you come from a big family like me you learn how to become a leader. Especially as a girl you have to learn how to be visible and stand up against the elder members in the family. - You will run as a presidential candidate in 2014. Let us dream for a moment: what would you change if you were to win? Why dream? Why not think of it as a reality. My focus basically will be in two areas. One is improving the wealth of the Afghan people. Afghanistan is not a chronically poor country. We have lots of mineral wealth, something that the current government has not been able to use. We basically rely on foreign aid. What we need is a real transition to develop the potential of our minerals, while creating accountability and rule of law at the same time. - This means reducing corruption. How do you want to do this? I think we need to be role models as leaders ourselves in the fight against corruption. The fight has to start from within our own families. In doing so credibly this could affect the public sphere. At the government and top level where we have lots of cases of corruption, nobody has been sentenced up to now. This needs to change. - What do you want to do for women? This is my cause. Women are 55 percent of the Afghan population. They can make a difference in the coming elections. We speak of them as the forgotten half of the population. But let us remember that in 2004 forty-four percent of the women voted for president Karsai. He got his legitimacy largely from women, only to forget them right afterwards again. I think women rights have become a matter of revenge in this war. Taliban try to undermine whatever the international community and the Afghan government consider a success in this field. Recently there have been horrible cases of violence against women. The case of Najiba for instance, a woman who was shot dead in front of a public crowd in an area controlled by Taliban. Part of the people around were cheering as she was killed. This is not part of my identity and culture. - Do you think you can change things as a female politician against society and tradition? Fighting against the wrong aspects of tradition certainly needs a long time. It is not a matter of overnight change. - Many Afghans think that the withdrawal of international forces comes too early. What is the fear? The fear is that in leaving, the Taliban might come back. We see a sympathy for Taliban in parts of the Afghan government also. Some elements have an interest to bring them and other insurgent groups back to power and undermine the electoral process. - Are you afraid that the west might give up Afghans? Yes. That is what it is all about. The western countries have come to Afghanistan to bring security and stability. Now, twelve years later, where is this security ? Withdrawing too early makes the situation worse while the Afghan institutions are not able to become strong and stable. - Will the Afghan army survive the withdrawal? There are problems in this respect. The international community only started to pay attention with view to establishing strong security forces in 2008. But four years are just too short to stand against a phenomenon like international terrorism. Also, the salaries of the Afghan security forces are nearly exclusively paid by the international donor countries. So a withdrawal, also in a financial sense, might seriously affect the stability of the newly built Afghan forces. - Do you see an economical crisis ahead? Yes, very much. Up to now, the flow of international donor money has created a certain amount of jobs. Most of this money actually leaves Afghanistan again through other channels. But now, many people will lose their job. If they have no alternative, they may become criminals or fundamentalists. I have seen some of my friends, young university graduates, who came and asked me for a job. I could not help all of them. Later, some of them had joined the Taliban. - There has been a growing number of so called insider attacks recently, with Afghan security personnel killing their international counterparts. Why is that happening? The policy of screening new recruits in the army and the police is very weak. Sometimes guarantee letters are just issued randomly without any control for anybody who wants to join the forces. It happened more than one time that people would come and see me with a guarantee letter asking me to sign it. They would claim that they are from my constituency. Many of my MP colleges would sign these letters without knowing who these persons actually were and what their affiliation to the Taliban was. And there are other cases where a lack of culture and tradition is involved. Most of these cases stem from arguments between both sides. Because of not respecting each other, or the other's belief. Especially in the Afghan context of relative absence of education, people tend to react more aggressively. On the other hand, a better training for international troops would be good before they come to Afghanistan. They should know more about the cultural sensitivities of Afghans rather than to cross the red lines. - For example? They should be taught how to respect the holy koran for example. Or, directed towards Afghan women, not take pictures without permission. So actually the same things that we demand in any human society. Sometimes foreign troops think that because they come from abroad, Afghans are nobodies to them. If they showed more respect, clashes could be avoided. - We have witnessed an eruption of violence following the recent anti-Mohammed film. Where do you stand in the dispute between freedom of expression and religious sensibility? We are living in a global village. We all have rights and responsibilities. Freedom of expression needs to be dealt with responsibly. Not with the aim to create clashes. The filmmakers in question could have addressed the issue in many other ways than the way he actually chose. I strongly condemn the disrespect of any religion. But I also condemn outbursts of violence that occurred. We just should not give reasons to those who are looking to destroy in reaction. In Afghanistan luckily the negative consequences were lesser than in previous comparable cases.

Dienstag, 14. August 2012

Too fast too soon - observations on democracy

Here is an essay I wrote for Fikrun wa Fann, the magazine of the Goethe Institue for the cultural and intellectual dialogue with the islamic world, and its special edition 'Mapping Democracy' about the Arabellion and observations on democracy in the context of the islamic world:

A crime scene in Afghanistan. Two worlds that could not be further apart. While the media in Europe and the United States were asking questions about what could have motivated the American soldier who killed sixteen civilians, among them many children, in a single night of violence in Kandahar back in spring of this year, an official Afghan commission back then has established that the crime and its background make it impossible to conclude that it was carried out by a single perpetrator. Since then numerous Afghan media have been spreading versions that make room for the theory of an orchestrated murder by members of the United States armed forces.
Even if the facts seem to contain little that would support this thesis, perhaps there is no better indication of the depth of the mistrust that has established itself between the indigenous population and the foreign military.
Furthermore, the drama of Kandahar transcends the fiction of every script that has been written about the conflict in recent years. While politicians and the NATO leadership are understandably trying to present the crime as an ‘isolated incident’, in truth there are many reasons why it should be seen in the overall context of a war that is characterised by years of brutalisation, sustained disproportionateness, and growing alienation.
When furious Afghans took to the streets after the qur'an burning in Bagram, just a few days later the idea had almost crystallised that an entire people were in danger of being instrumentalised by radical Friday preachers and the Taliban.
This idea ignores the calls for moderation that were in many instances being made by precisely such mullahs in kabul and elsewhere. It would be doing multifaceted Afghan society a disservice simply to reduce it to the cries of ‘Margh ba America’ – ‘Death to America’ – that have been echoing in the media as a result of these most recent events.
There is in fact more than one war being waged in Afghanistan. We are also experiencing the revival of an internal cultural battle with its origins in the last century. The slogans of the increasingly critical public – were they to dare to take to the streets on a regular basis – might just as easily be ‘Down with karzai’ or ‘Fight corruption’.
Certainly, when it comes to defining the position of democracy in the Afghan context, it is not too great a stretch to turn to the example of the upheaval in the Arab world. In Afghanistan too large sections of the population are seeking an outlet for their rage and disappointment: with warlords and nepotism, the arbitrariness of the authorities, and the state-sanctioned robbery of the people.
It is hard these days to find Afghans who do not, in private conversations, vehemently demand that those responsible at all levels of state, whether national, regional or local, be called to account. In the ten years of the international presence in Afghanistan, corruption and state inefficiency have had greater success in consolidating themselves than ‘good governance’, the programmatic title for the many projects that have swallowed millions of dollars in subsidies.
Nonetheless, despite the recent events in Kandahar, the scenario of democratically-inspired street protests is likely to remain a fiction for many years to come. That, at least, is the view of those to whom I have spoken. The younger generation in particular is unequivocal. ‘Taking to the streets and demonstrating for our goals is the last thing we would do under the current circumstances,’ says Abdullah khodadad, one of the founders of Eslah Talaban (‘those who seek reform’), a group of students and university graduates, linked up via Facebook, who have given themselves the
name of the ‘Reformist Movement’. They are demanding university places and further education for the tens of thousands of school leavers who graduate without any career prospects; governmental bodies that answer to the people instead of holding out their hands for bribes; the removal of old leadership elites. At a press conference, the Reformist Movement draped the walls with orange publicity banners. The idea was convey something of the atmosphere of the Ukrainian revolution. It is also the same
orange as the overalls that presented the world with its first image of the prisoners in Guantánamo, in January 2002.
The movement’s website lists around 170 Facebook friends. The number is growing every day, the initiators insist. They have been trying to establish a network with similar initiatives, so far without success. Social media in Afghanistan are indeed becoming daily more popular at a low level. There is, however, a lack of authorities or charismatic figures who could focus the protest. There is also the question of how independent such movements really are.
‘Groups like Eslah Talaban still have the same connections with the political circles of the Northern Alliance,’ comments Gran Heward, a young Afghan who works as a researcher on the subject for AAN, an independent international think-tank in kabul. ‘The former head of the Afghan secret services, for example – Saleh – got a lot of media coverage after he won the support of another section of the Afghan youth for his so-called “green movement”.’
So is it all just an illusion? ‘how are the youth here supposed to stage successful spontaneous protests and bring about the downfall of the existing structures when the “big brother” United States and the europeans can’t manage to curb the evil that is rampant in the country?’ asks Shafiq, a journalist and colleague who has worked for many years for the Afghan Service of the BBC. ‘but even if the young people were able to bring about the fall of the karzai government, there would be another monster lying in wait for them: the new old Taliban.’
Certainly anyone who takes to the streets to demand their rights in Afghanistan must expect to come into conflict not with the forces of the state but with several of the armed political factions. This has a deterrent effect on young people. ‘Unlike in Egypt, where it was possible to identify a comparatively clear opponent in the form of the president and the apparatus of state, here we are dealing with threats from many different sides,’ says Shafiq, in an attempt to explain the situation in Afghanistan. So the overwhelming feeling among the younger generation is that they are condemned to a sort of dubious trek through Afghan state institutions until they arrive at an influential position. If, that is, they see their future as being in Afghanistan at all.
This is certainly a gloomy perspective. Not least because we have now reached a point where the Afghan government is quite shameless about eroding aspects of the newly-created institutions from the inside. The international players are often hesitant in registering any kind of protest. Thus at the beginning of the year president karzai did not extend the mandates of three leading representatives of the independent Afghan Human Rights Commission, which in effect was the same as firing them. The main reason for this was a classified study that lists the names and alleged crimes of leading warriors such as former warlords, including some who currently hold office in the karzai government. They are pressurising the president not to publish its conclusions. To date, Western governments have barely commented on the incident, which says a lot about the political rules of the game in Afghanistan. Yet it is common knowledge that since the end of 2001 the donor countries, above all the United States, have been cooperating in the fight against the taliban with the same warlords now targeted in the controversial study.
Against this backdrop the inaction and the perceived fear of the young generation is understandable; it might even be seen as realpolitik. Looking beyond youth protests, many people in Afghanistan consider their own government and the ruling class of nouveaux riches to lack political legitimacy. Two massively rigged elections and the enrichment of an elite that has no scruples about using money and bribes to buy power and political office are among the reasons why the term ‘democracy’ has clearly suffered since 2001 in the eyes of ordinary people as well as intel- lectuals and those who believe in progress.
Another issue is the rapid speed with which tens of thousands of international advisers, civilian experts and military personnel spread out across the land. Overnight, Afghanistan became one big re-education camp. This was too great a strain, both socially and culturally, as Naser observes. ‘Too fast, your democracy,’ comments the thirty-five-year-old development aid worker from Herat. ‘Large parts of our society were not prepared for it.’
Shafiq, the man who has been with the bbC for years, finds that the relative media freedom in the country is, nonetheless, the fulfilment of his personal dream. But he too sees Afghan culture as an area in which the limitations of the conflict of the last few years have become apparent: ‘The cans of beer that you used to get in kabul in the first few years for three US dollars; the Asian brothels that
appeared on the scene and which were followed by prostitu- tion on the Afghan side; the invasion of the Indian enter- tainment industry’ – all this, he says, has compromised the name of democracy.
Shafiq won one of the coveted scholarships to study in the United States, and anti-modernisers are his bêtes noires; yet his words sound like the kind of thing an anti-moderniser would say. However, the hubris of the West seems to have created a double reflection. Some people it has inflamed against it, whilst at the same time strengthening the scepticism of others who are in principle well-disposed towards it.
Now, against the backdrop of the noble motto for 2014, ‘Transfer of Responsibility’, politicians have started stating that the goal of establishing a democracy in Afghanistan is unattainable. How then, one would like to ask, should the poorly coordinated attempts of the past ten years be categorised? And why did these efforts seem to lack direction from the start? The Afghans, at any rate, deserve better than ‘democracy light’.
For a moment Shafiq grows melancholy at the thought of it all, as if it were possible to turn back the hands of time. ‘9/11 was wrong, the US intervention was wrong, and the premature peace talks that are taking place now are wrong too.’ During our conversation two words stand out: ‘monsters’ and ‘beasts’. Both, he groans, are constantly plaguing Afghanistan. ‘There has to be modernisation, whether it comes from the Moon, from Mars, from Germany, from Europe or from somewhere else. But it has to proceed more cautiously and with less haste.’
Anyone who wants to understand why democracy is not a surefire success in Afghanistan, as some people assumed at the beginning of 2002 that it would be, and why the Taliban has been enjoying relative popularity since 2005, will find an explanation in the failure of the Afghan state and its representatives. ‘They do whatever they want. They loot and steal from us, and they think only of themselves,’ says a tribal leader from paktia province, talking about state officials and travellers from the capital. ‘They wear jeans and drink alcohol “in the name of democracy”. But our culture and traditions
do not allow this.’ This sort of criticism is not just an ex- pression of the city - countryside divide, which according to my observations is widening with all the billions that are being poured into Afghanistan. Scientific studies are now also questioning the fundamental assumptions of Western development aid with regard to sustainability and democracy.
A recent US study asks whether well-intentioned aid projects can in fact trigger a mobilisation against the Afghan government. The study concludes that they can. The reasons it gives are as follows: lack of fair distribution of goods, insufficient information about the actual needs of the people in the project location; attempts to manipulate foreign aid organisations, as well as the prejudices of the international agents themselves towards the country and its people.
All this in turn influences the democratic process. Furthermore, aid projects exacerbate the political situation in places where insurgents have secured themselves a share in them. Numerous media reports in recent years suggest that in areas where the Taliban or insurgents lay claim to power, they are siphoning off taxes and duties amounting to between 20% and 40% of the aid budget. Without such secret agreements, aid or supplies for NATO facilities would often simply not get through.
We can tell from the public use of the words that the process – the rather coy term favoured by researchers and diplomats – is on the defensive. For a long time now Afghan aid workers have refrained from naïvely using terms like civil society or democracy when going about their work. They are afraid that doing so could invite trouble. Some of the aid workers define ‘civil society’ as an imported Western concept.
Until now, Naser’s aid organisation in Herat has been led by a German. In two years’ time, he might well be be replaced by an Afghan. Naser points out an ongoing fundamental difficulty that they encounter in their daily work. ‘When we do vocational training outside the city it is frequently the case that the tribal elders react with mistrust. Or they refer to the clergy. Many of the mullahs continue to propagate the kind of thinking that says the devil enters the room when an Afghan woman and a strange man come together to work in the same room.’
In mentioning this he is highlighting the influence of the Afghan clergy. For anyone who wishes to understand the social context that goes with the process of democratisation, this is key. The upgrading of the status of the Afghan clergy over the past thirty years could indeed be one of the ‘beasts’ referred to earlier.
‘Along with the political leaders, they are our real problem. Sometimes the political leaders and the clergy are even one and the same,’ says Enayat, a journalist from Mazar-e-Sharif who works for both national and international media. ‘Those who are part of the ulama treat Islam as their own property, as if they had unlimited authority to determine matters. The lower the level of education of the people, the more the clergy take this for granted.’
On the one hand, Mazar, where Enayat is from, is said to have a liberal atmosphere. On the other, it was here that the case of the journalist perwiz kambakhsh, who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, originated. The story was covered by media all over the world. The death sentence was later commuted under pressure from abroad. But Enayat is still afraid: ‘When I’m taking part in a public debate and I translate passages from the qur'an into the local language, Dari, and add my own personal comments in certain places, I have to pay close attention. If the debate gets heated, I could be risking my neck,’ he says bluntly.
The atmosphere of 1980s and ’90s is still prevalent here. Up to the 1970s the mullahs and talebs were the butt of jokes and had little relevance within society, but in the years that followed their power quickly grew. ‘Islam was a side issue in the 1960s and ’70s in the context of Afghanistan as is was then,’ remembers the translator and philosopher Masoud Rahel. ‘Back then we had no inhibitions about making jokes in public about religion and the clergy; we didn’t have to fear reprisals, or being seen as the enemy. Taleb was what we used to call a mullah’s young assistant back then: a boy who was a kind of acolyte and went from door to door seeking alms.’
then the Soviet occupation brought parties and movements with Islamic leanings into the equation, groups that in their pakistani exile primarily organised religious education on a grand scale. To this day the numerous madrassas in the border region are an expression of this fundamentalisation. Soviet sources at the time estimated the number of clerics in the population – from educated ulama doctors of Islamic law to uneducated village preachers – at around 300,000 – a number that has probably risen further still as a result of the wars. Under the Taliban almost all the important positions in government were held by mullahs: they were the ministers, representatives, governors and vice governors. The judiciary was also in the hands of the clergy.
These structures have not simply been swept away since the US intervention. Nonetheless, the advent of modern mass media, above all television, since 2001 has resulted in many Afghans taking a critical view of the clericalisation of their society. So the country is experiencing, for the third time in just a few decades, an escalating struggle between modernisers and conservatives, the first of whom explicitly want help and influence from abroad; but at the same time, their warnings and advice often go unheeded.
the forthcoming talks between the United States and the Taliban signify the start of a new chapter. It is unclear what place democracy will have in this, or how it will be negotiated, and this is a cause for concern in spite of hopes for a negotiated peace. Women in particular, as well as those living in the cities, are afraid of losing the freedoms they have gained in recent years.

Montag, 23. Juli 2012

Remains of a bubble: the Kabul dOCUMENTA (2)

The dOCUMENTA, one of the world biggest contemporary art exhibitions that is based in Kassel, Germany, has closed its Kabul branch last week in its first ever attempt to go abroad and co-exhibit in a war zone. Fora month art works of 27 artists have been presented in the Afghan capital’s Babur Gardens. Reactions were mixed: from welcoming feelings like ‘breaths of fresh air’ to simple rejection. . The approach of the organisers of the exhibition might have contributed to this, with a discourse that did not sufficiently open up to the Afghan realities (see part I of the Kabul documenta analysis with AAN.)

Roughly 15,000 visitors in four weeks, with a peak 2,000 in the Princess's Palace located in the Babur Garden on each of the four weekends Fridays since it opened on 20 June : At first glance, the number of people the Kabul dOCUMENTA has attracted could be considered a success. Families from different ways of life, workers as well as intellectuals mixed with foreign diplomats and NGO workers. All wandered through the pompously renovated and furbished building, that also hosts an offshot of Kabul's five-star Serena Hotel restaurant since a few months.

Some of the visitors of the exhibition would take the time to stand in front of the art works for a short time of reflection and later sign a guest book laid out at the entrance that would record statements of support or enthusiasm rather than statements of rejection that could have been expected for the rather avant-garde art shown, and sometimes point at ‘the beautiful rooms’ of the palace, that at times seemed to overshadow the artworks themselves.

Other visitors, far from visiting on purpose but rather picknicking with their families on the lower green of the Babur Gardens , were attracted by people queuing at the entrance of the palace in the upper part and became curious about what was going on. One could later see some of these random visitors rushing through the aisles of the palace somewhat disorientated and saying, on leaving, that ‘there was nothing there’ (‘chis na bud’). One should be fair, though, to say that such a rejection by parts of the audience is nothing out of the ordinary in a modern art context and can be encountered even in the biggest western art capitals. In effect, the exhibition venue in Kabul’s Babur Gardens became an ambiguous place where cultural perceptions clashed.

The good intentions expressed by the dOCUMENTA’s core team at the start of the exhibition were not translated into actions in other respects also. While insisting that they have shown cultural sensitivity when designing the Kabul programme and the preceding seminars, over the two years, there was no space given for a statement of the Afghan curator on the opening of the Kabul exhibition. Though Afghan Minister for Information and Culture, Sayed Makhdum Rahin pronounced some solemnly words on the occasion, I hardly think it can make up for this.

A number of reviews in German newspapers, days after the opening, welcomed the punsh and courage to stage the event in Kabul. The author of the TAZ for instance sees a „transfer (of ideas) that works sursprisingly well“, and „the rare case of an intervention that will go down in history books, really awakening the forces of the (Afghan) civil society, that are to carry the country's future in the period ahead.“ The Swiss Neue Züricher Zeitung with a more nuanced approach welcomes the exhibition as a „therapy of art“ for the Afghan society, while pointing to western governmental policies trying to make use of modern art events in countries of conflict as a tool to propagate a rethoric of democratisation in recent years. „In Afghanistan as well“, the author writes, „funding for the art scene is part of a democratic nation building and the establishment of a civil society.“ I doubt though, with my experience of the Kabul art scene from the last ten years, that – besides a number of more general statements on the correlation of arts, conflict and reshaping state structures in environments of conflict - one would find somehting that matches something of an international strategy to help the Afghan culture and art scene build its own identity, and doing this with care and reserve, rather than with a offensive approach. .
Also some figures also reflect this western-centric approach: only 3 of the 27 artists presented in Babur Garden and in Kassel have grown up or are currently and permanently living in Kabul. The rest were international artists or Afghans who grew up abroad and/or have largely mixed identities, with a sound understanding of how the mechanisms of the western art scene functions. Not surprisingly, the interaction, in Kabul and in Kassel, between the foreign artists and the group of Afghans artists from the diaspora was more intense than that with the Afghan artists from the country itself.
‘For us as Kabul artists, the works presented in the Kassel and Kabul exhibitions and the artistic discourse of the dOCUMENTA was something totally new, often too far away from our realities’, one of the three Kabul artists told me.
From the few in-depth reviews of the Kabul dOCUMENTA I came about, that by Robert Kluijver stands out (he has been an acquainted with the Afghan art scene for a long time). He points out that some of the limitations of the Documenta ‘are caused by the fact that [its organisers] ended up relying heavily on the US-Afghan connection. This of course doesn’t detract from their quality as artists. But how tuned-in are they to contemporary developments in Afghanistan? Their relationship with this country is colored by their dreams of a homeland that would conform to their expectations, which are in turn shaped by the nostalgia of their exiled parents. Their art reflects this and, in my experience, doesn’t resonate much with Afghans that didn’t grow up abroad."
The Kabul dOCUMENTA has certainly enriched the local art scene and given new inputs to its mostly young generation. It also has made an international audience - donors and buyers - aware of Afghan art, who now will know who to contact when looking for something original in terms of art from a war zone. But here lies the problem: it can hardly be argued that the the show in Babur Garden has introduced new standards of quality to Afghan art and cultural identity. On the contrary: with the end of this one month’s exhibition( with its international headlines of ‘first manifestations’ of Afghan art (see the articles on the ‘first Afghan graffiti artists’, the ‘first Afghan independent rock group’, the ‘first female Afghan rap musician’ etc. The reality looks less bright. The Kabul art scene is dispersed and limited to a few individuals in each single field rather than what the regular headlines from a supposedly vivid environment for arts suggest . And at times, some of the activities of dynamic youngsters seem in fact rather pushed or even initiated by foreigners, their presence, contacts and money, than emerging from an independent creative reflex.

Having said this, the more traditional branch of Afghan art, involving manifestations of poetry and literature, also exists, but it was not considered for this exhibition. Some of it obviously has to do with limitations of time and space, and – it seems -a lack of wanting to open up to broader parts of the Afghan population and its customs. Other reasons may lie with an approach that seems to concentrate alone on a context of modernity for which the Afghan captial stands. Or, as a graffiti artist has sprayed in blue on one of the walls of a narrow street in Taimani: ‘Kabul is a bubble’.

Last but not least, the Kabul art scene still has to struggle with reflexes of censorship and self-censorship. On the opening day, two art worksby young Kabuli artists that were part of the documenta opening exhibits were confiscated by the Afghan authorities . During this action, one of the artists was slapped and held in custody for half an hour, according to himself.

Last but not least, the Kabul art scene still has to struggle with reflexes of censorship and selfcensorship. On the opening day, two art works by young Kabuli artists were confiscated by the Afghan state authorities, that is the ministry for Information and Culture, with one of the artists begin slapped and held in custody for an hour, to what he claims. The Afghan authorities pretend there has been a misuse of writings and of the significance of the Qur'an, while the young artists claim that they simply hinted to a social reality – that is lots of Afghans 'reading' the Qur'an on a daily basis without knowing its exact meaning – a fact widely known all over the country. (see (1) below)

The authorities claimed that there had been misusing writings from the Qur'an as an underlying text for some miniature paintings. The young artists claims, meanwhile, that these were simply pages from an Arabic history book on which he drew his miniatures on. As we speak, the art works have still not been given back to the artists. The selfcensoring aspect of stories like these, that do not occur for this first time in the Kabul context, are evident. In the same way that a defense for freedom of expression does not exist for journalists and media in cases of supposed blasphemy, artists also do suffer from the consequences of a lack of independent jurisprudence.

So what footprint did the Kabul dOCUMENTA finally leave behind for Afghans? Was it a success and what will people remember? Any answer will need to consider the frail or even absent structures for Afghan art – the lack of galleries, art museums, in depth art education, art publications and media devoted to the issue etc. It is far from clear also, what of the existing art landscape, with its often foreign impulses, will survive beyond 2014 and in what form. If we look at it positively, the approach of the Kabul dOCUMENTA has pointed out the fragility of the Afghan art scene and its ambiguities in the current international context.

(1) “A Man Reading Qur'an, Without Knowing the Meaning” is Mohsen Taasha’s interpretation from an older painting exposed in the National Gallery in Kabul, called “A Man Reading Holy Quran”. The picture can be see here
and was created after Taasha participated in a seminar called “Seeing Studies” as part of the teachings held by the Documenta in Kabul. The aim of the seminar was to extend the ways artists perceive their environment and to find artistic translations of complex matters touching everyday life. “When you read Quran, without knowing the meaning, it is like thousands of words dance in your head”, the artist states about the painting. “Playing and joking with Arabic words and letters is considered against holy religion of Islam”, the ministry replied to this in its statement of confiscation of this and another art work. Mohsen Taasha (also refered to as Mohsen Wahidi), who is the winner of the Kabul „Afghanistan Contemporary Art Prize 2010“ issued by the Turquoise Monuntain Foundation, following a statement of the Minister of Information and Culture together with artists Azizullah Hazara and Amin Taasha has been forbidden to participate in future exhibitions in Afghanistan as result of the incident during the Documenta. This – as in other previous instances – does not have to be the final word, but it shows what pressure is being exerced.

Dienstag, 17. Juli 2012

ISAF's northern exit: a road trip through the Salang

The news that Pakistan has agreed to re-open supply routes to Afghanistan after a seven month diplomatic standoff between Washington and Islamabad will not only ease the costs for the US and other NATO member states for their withdrawal plans. It also procures northern Afghanistan – namely its road system and population – some long hoped for relief, as supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan have put massive strain on the two essential routes from the north in the past months. Both have to pass through the – now dreaded - Salang Tunnel as the only way to reach Kabul, Bagram base and other destinations. I a few days ago had the chance to travel this road:

When I wanted to take the road north to Mazar-e Sharif by car last week, I had been warned not to do so. Not so much because of security, but because the worrying news and tales kept flowing in, of the constantly growing number of fuel and cargo trucks converging from both directions on the Salang Tunnel, the bottleneck on the northern supply route for NATO. The foreign military are, of course, not the only users of the tunnel: the Salang is also on the main route for all Afghan civilian traffic. (There is only a much more difficult, and recently more dangerous(*There is increasing insurgency activity reported from Kahmard district), route through Bamian over a number of passes one of which, tellingly, is called Dandan-Shekan, or the Breaker of Teeth.) Reports of people who travelled before us predicted unprecedented traffic jams with up to ten hours of waiting time before one would be able to enter the Salang tunnel.

Fortunately, in the end, I did not encounter this worst-case scenario, but some effects of the seven months US-Pakistani stalemate were still clearly visible. First and foremost, the endless chain of hundreds of trucks, most of them filled with petrol that one has to pass during every hour of the trip, make you realise the risk and possible outcome of a potential terrorist attack that could produce spectacular international headlines. This goes especially for the roughly two kilometres-long, main tunnel itself, in which trucks often get stuck temporarily. Apart from that, manoeuvring around the supply convoys lengthens the time taken to get to Mazar considerably. While it took up to seven hours before the US-Pakistani stalemate, once Islamabad cut its route to Afghanistan, the drive took ten and a half hours or more.

One hour alone we spent in the main tunnel (this is apart from the time spent in the shorter tunnels and half-open galleries) and encountered some worrying scenes. Motorcyclists without protective clothing drove in the exhaust fumes of cars and trucks, only with a towel around their heads to protect themselves. The complete absence of lights in long stretches of the tunnel, combined with the fat dust whirled up by passing cars, the heat and the fumes, meant the tunnel could turn the tunnel into a mass grave instantaneously. We saw many people praying before entering it.

‘If an accident occurs inside the tunnel, the fumes might kill all the people stuck inside in the absence of ventilation’, an engineer I meet up on the Salang says. This dangerous shortcoming has never been solved in all the years since the Soviet-built tunnel first opened in 1964. Almost every winter, travellers who are stuck in the tunnel after avalanches, die from asphyxiation (read one report here). In November 1982, under circumstances similar to today, a fuel truck exploded and killed hundreds of Soviet troops and Afghans in one of the biggest tunnel disasters ever.

Nothing has happened in the past decade, either: although USAID is said to have spent $5 million on repaving a part of the tunnel last summer, sealing leaks (melt water from the snow above is constantly coming in) and repairing part of the lighting, I witnessed no fundamental change compared to what I had seen passing through in previous years. Potholes, almost craters, inside the tunnel and along the road have deepened and widened still further in recent months as a result of the NATO supply traffic. Starting from the tunnel’s northward exit, toward Doshi – after some one to three hours of driving, depending on the density of traffic - the road often resembles a cloud of brown dust, covering the local people working in the small dukans (shops) or cultivating their fields along the road as well as fauna and flora with thick layers of grime. And then there is the enormous noise the engines cause with their constant gearing up and down.

Along the road, one can also see a number of burned out cars, coaches and fuel trucks. It looks as if the enemy has just struck. Rumour goes that some drivers or truck owners get them exploded or burnt in order to cash in the insurance in some sort of a lucrative business. Close to the Salang, in another scene, I passed a fuel track lying upside down at the edge of the road, with dozens of young and old people trying to save some of the fuel that came flushing out of the transporter. A spark would have been enough to turn the scene into an inferno.

The temporarily extended use of the northern supply routes is reported to be costing the US and other NATO states an extra $100 million a month. This is up to five times the sum they had originally calculated. Ironically, as the international military prepares for to withdraw most of its troops from the $ 62 billion Afghan reconstruction effort, the road north through the Salang is currently in its most pitiful state for the past eight years. An official responsible for the tunnel’s maintenance, whom we met there, tells us that it would take at least four months to make the necessary repairs – and that, if the tunnel was completely closed – but NATO apparently insists this is not an option given its vital demand for supplies. One wonders whether the Salang route will be fixed before the Western departure in a sustainable way and whether the task of overhauling the northern main roads, parts of which have obviously suffered from poor internationally-financed construction work and corrupt use of donor money since 2001, will fall to Afghan engineers and road workers alone.

see also at AAN Afghanistan Analysts Network

Mittwoch, 20. Juni 2012

Arts in a war zone: dOCUMENTA in Kabul

The Documenta in the German city of Kassel is said to be the world biggest exhibition on contemporary art. Taking place every five years, it is curated each time by a single foreign curator and his team of international agents and aides. This year, for its 13th edition, for the first time Afghanistan is a focus of the exhibition’s programme. Works of Afghan artists, both from within the country and from the diaspora, as well as from internationally renowned artists who spent time in Kabul in residency are not only shown in Kassel, but also in Kabul, where a complementary exhibition is presented in Babur Gardens since 20 June for one month. Preceding this, the organisers have held a series of seminars in Kabul and Bamian. Martin Gerner, a journalist and regular AAN guest blogger, who has followed the cultural scene in Kabul over the past years, reflects on the debate that surrounds the Kabul Documenta and documents first experiences of participating artists‘War creates facts. But art, too, can create facts of a highly different order’, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of the 13th Documenta, writes in an essay about why, with Kabul (and also Kairo), she chose two places in war and conflict as complimentary venues for the exhibition's 13th edition. Christov-Bakargiev, an American with Italian and Bulgarian roots, admits that these choices may be ‘possibly pretentious and naïve’, but she also likes to see them as an encouragement for everyone involved. She is convinced that ‘art has a major role to play in the social processes of reconstruction’, with ‘imagination as a crucial force in that process’ and in ways ‘that do not isolate people even further, but provide opportunities for the opposite’.In this spirit, a delegation of the Documenta's core team visited Kabul first in late summer 2010. A series of lectures and of seven seminars followed, five of them in Kabul and two in Bamian, most of them held in early 2012. Some culminated in a series of artworks produced by international and Afghan artists, both from within the country and from the diaspora. Other works were separately commissioned by and for the Documenta.One part of these artworks is now exhibited in Kassel, the other part can only be seen in Kabul. They are supposed to complement each other like in an artistic equation. But the complete Afghanistan focus of the Documenta will only be accessibly for a few privileged people who are able to travel both to Kassel and to Kabul.There are not only geographical limitations for an artistic discourse in a war zone. The organisers also have been confronted with the challenges of the social, political and psychological context of Afghanistan. While the core team and artists associated with the Kabul programme stress that teaching and exhibiting in Kabul is about an exchange without prejudice and not about a ‘colonialist approach’, some of their recent reactions and accounts suggest, though, that some of them discovered the full implications of the project only when ‘on the job’.Goshka Macuga, a Polish artist who has produced two large tapestries for the Documenta 13, that are presented separately in the Fridericianum, Documenta’s main venue in Kassel, and in the Queen's Palace in the Afghan capital, says she has experienced Kabul ‘very much as an outsider, conditioned and limited by never-ending security measures equal to those [in place for] elite groups, the NGOs and the international contractors based there. I was embedded in the activities of the Documenta programme, and mainly met people involved with it. The threatening presence of the military, the segregation of international elites from the ordinary citizens of Kabul, made me wonder who I was making the work for’.While it is probably true that experience can only be gathered on site, Christoph Menke, a German philosopher, who held one of the seminars in Kabul, recalls a ‘fascinating element of protest’ among the mostly young Afghan participants. ‘In the beginning treated us like authorities who had been flown in. We were somehow supposed to answer all of their questions, including fundamental ones such as “What is good or bad art?“ or “Should one make art in the first place?“. However, the situation changed and participants started to express their own concerns and positions.’Aman Mojaddedi, an Afghan artist who has worked in Kabul from 2002 onwards and has influenced the Afghan capital’s art scene in different ways, is now one of two curators for the Kabul Documenta. He is well aware of the mutual cultural learning process such encounters regularly include. But he also sees the obvious risk for such an exhibition to be instrumentalised by foreign interests and donor countries. ‘In the last three years there has been a major international push in Afghanistan on supporting and funding art and cultural activities, as part of their propaganda and information campaigns. This goes for the United States, Britain, France and others, investing a lot of money into these activities as a way to create a sense of Afghanistan being in a supposedly much better state than it was before, leading up to what is potentially going to be the extraction of the countries militarily’.This conceptual problem has led to a number of discussions behind the scenes of the Documenta, but it was surprisingly not what interested any of the 2,000 or more journalists present at the opening press conference in Kassel. Some German papers credited the Documenta makers for its ‘international solidarity’ with Afghanistan (taz 10 June 2012, also Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8 June 2012), and so far a number of them has focused on the international artists in residence in Kabul rather than on the young generation of Kabuli artists.Although Mojaddedi, who grew up in Jacksonville/Florida, does not want to put the Kabul part of the Documenta into the category of donor-oriented programmes, he agrees that more generally a constant dependence on foreign funds hampers the motivation of Afghan artists. ‘Often people are waiting for the money to come in before they would actually start doing something. For me sustainability is an obscure word. It suggests that solutions would always come from the outside. Which would be a false concept. Probably forming collectives of artists, coming from the Afghan artists themselves, with exhibitions on their own initiative, would be a way to have an more sustainable approach.’Some collectives of artists have in fact emerged over the past years in Kabul. Among them is Roshd(3), a group of young male and female artists, who currently face an interesting internal debate on whether to apply for registration with the Ministry of Culture and Information or not. Creating the legal framework for being a cultural NGO is tempting for some in the collective as long as funds are available. For others in the group it is a no-go area. The Jump Cut Group, a collective of male filmmakers and cameramen, has gone into working on a two-way strategy, depending partly on funded projects with hardly any artistic value, while dedicating the bulk of their time to independent artistic productions. ‘This is a training for ourselves’, one of its members, Jalal Husseini, says. ‘Those filmmakers who solely work and rely on funded films right now will face a more difficult transition later on.’ Other, more recent Kabul-based art collectives, like the Bad Artists who have split from other groups and are still in search of their own identity and freedom, are fed up with what they call a tendency of ‘tanzim thinking’ and ethnic divides even among young artists. They take the position that this does not allow for a free artistic thinking in the Afghan context.While Afghan diaspora artists tend to be well tied to the western and/or international art markets and agents, the Kabul art scene seems still fragile, as the low number of artists involved in graffiti spraying or rock music shows. Although the mostly young art scene is acting fearlessly in one way, some are concerned that a certain support is still missing on the other hand. ‘At university, in my faculty I cannot paint in the same abstract style I am exhibiting here in Kassel’, Zainab Haidary says, a young female Kabul artist who has received most of her education at a private Kabul art school and from Afghan teachers who had emigrated to Iran. ‘My professors at university would declare my work for insane and stupid. Not so much because they haven't seen this kind of art before but because the academic structures don't allow for a new thinking.’ Haidary says that she found the Documenta seminars very encouraging in this sense. They helped her ‘to believe in and respect my own thinking’.Haidary’s work and that of half a dozen other Afghan artists is exhibited off the main stage in Kassel, in what until recently were the rooms of a Chinese restaurant, refurbished for the occasion, and lodged in the shadow of the big Fridericianum. In these small, individually decorated rooms, a number of Afghan artists only had the opportunity to meet with German and international media and galerists, as they had to leave for Kabul again on the day of the opening in Kassel to the public to finish their artworks in Afghanistan. As a result, they missed the opportunity to engage in a wider exchange of views with the public of the Kassel documenta.The question what influence the Documenta has had on the international artists who taught and performed in Kabul is comparably easy to answer. The experience on site seems to have resulted in approaches that are more humble. Goshka Macuga puts her’s in a question: ‘Do we, let alone Documenta, have the capacity to accept that other cultures have different aspirations and definitions of how humans thrive and flourish, which are equally valid and valuable?’ And she concludes that ‘the exploration and appreciation of other cultures cannot materialise through imposing the heritage or system of western traditions.’The question whether the Documenta is in any way important for Afghanistan and whether ordinary Afghans have any benefit from it, deserves a more critical answer.‘Probably not’, answers philosopher Menke. He realises that even the best intentions cannot easily change the course of a country and a population whose abilities to consume art and to reflect on it are hampered by the struggle for their daily livings and the implications of the military conflict.And while Afghanistan incorporates a big number of cultural identities, the Documenta has basically reached out to Kabul only. This is because its core team took two cities (Kabul and Kairo) and not two countries as focal points for their attempt to organise cultural encounters, by linking the World War II history of Kassel (that was heavily destroyed by allied bombardments) with aspects of war and conflict in Kabul. Also, the selection process for the more than 20 Afghan participants who would be able to follow all the seminars in Kabul reduced the chance for students and artists from other cities to participate in the adventure. The exception was Bamian, where a one-week seminar on stone carving was held by US artist Michael Rakowitz, aiming at recuperating this traditional skill intrinsic to the Hazara region. A second seminar is to follow later in July, about the modern reading of the Shahname, Firdawsi’s famous ‘Book of Kings’.As the doors of the Kabul Documenta are now open for a month in Babur Garden, the people of Kabul themselves will give an answer as to how much they want to engage in a dialogue with the art works exhibited and in how far they value the varying degrees of abstraction in them. As for the wider cultural and artistic context and the impulses exchanged, as one participant put it - maybe the Documenta needs Kabul more than Afghanistan actually needs the Documenta.

This entry is also posted on the Afghan Analysts Network the Kabul Documenta see also the blog posting of Robert Kluijver, a independent curator who has spent long years in Afghanistan working on arts and culture.

Freitag, 20. April 2012

An Afghan Pulitzer Prize Winner

On Tuesday, Massoud Hossaini, 30, a friend and former collegue with one of the Kabul based media NGOs, has won the Pulitzer Prize for 'breaking news photography'.
He is the first Afghan ever to win this prestigeous award.
Hossaini, according to the Pulitzer committee, won the prize "for his heartbreaking image of a girl crying in fear after a suicide bomber's attack at a crowded shrine in Kabul.“ The AFP photograph published 7 December 2011, shows a young girl, Tarana Akbari, screaming after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a crowd at the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul on 6 December. Massoud was slightly injured by flying shrapnel while taking the picture. The background story of the picture is here. One of a series of galleries of his photos is here

Having witnessed how, in a few years, Massoud has matured from a student of photography to a successful professional in his job, the prize for me not only honours his own work but also symbolically stands for the many young Afghan photojournalists, male and female, I've met throughout the past years and who with persistance and talent have portrayed the horror and hardships, but also – and to a larger extent than most of their foreign counterparts – the beauty, poetry and warmth of Afghan daily life.
Those of us who have worked in Afghanistan in daily news coverage know that it needs courage to go out to the scenes of bomb blasts and suicide attacks again and again to report. There is the risk of the second wave detonations, the physical confrontation also with the place of the incident. A blog Massoud wrote mostly during 2010/2011 reflects this pretty well, with all its traumatizing side aspects he occasionally refers to.
Massoud has been working with the AFP office in Kabul since 2007, relentlessly. Very often he would not take week-ends or work additional shifts.
In 2008 I had curated an photo exhibition with him and other photographers on Afghanistan in Germany with assistance of the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.
We had been trying to select a series of pictures that would try and portray the other side of Afghanistan. Massoud, like other talented Afghan photographers I have met, was carrying a relative frustration at that time about what and why certain pictures about his country made it to the news in the international media and others not: "There are so many images of Afghanistan that the Western media would never show. Lots of them include pictures of normal, daily life".
Massoud has a great sense of humour. It mixes with realism when he says: „I was born in the wrong place: Afghanistan. I grew up in the wrong place: Iran. And I am currently living in the wrong place: Kabul. But let's see what will happen next.“ See also at Afghan Analysts Network

Freitag, 23. März 2012

Generation Kunduz - The war of the others

'Generation Kunduz – The war of the others'
is a documentary feature films I have produced in the past months.
Contrary to most material you can see in daily news coverage and
even to films who make it to the movie theaters, this one is shot
fully unembedded in the city and the province of Kunduz,
highlighting the fate and dreams of a young Afghan generation there
10 years after the international intervention.
I am currently touring Germany with the film,
see the screening dates here, as well as background information.

'Generation Kunduz – Der Krieg der Anderen'
ist ein Dokumentarfilm, den ich Mitte 2009 angefangen habe zu drehen und der zur Zeit bundesweit in deutschen Kinos läuft. Anders als viele Fernseh-Reportagen aus Afghanistan und die wenigen Dokumentarfilme über Afghanistan, die es auf die Kinoleinwand schaffen,ist er unabhängig entstanden und vollkommen ohne militärische Begleitung gedreht worden.
Hier die Spielorte der Deutschland-Tournee sowie weitere Hintergrundinformationen.

Samstag, 25. Februar 2012

Die Folgen einer Bücherverbrennung

Nach fast einer Woche der Unruhebn in verschiedenen Orten in rund der Hälfte
der Provinzen von Afghanistan besteht einhellige Verurteilung der Tat,
die die z.T. gewaltsamen Proteste ins Rollen gebracht haben. Weniger klar ist, zumindest im Detail, welcher Anteil der Proteste von politischen oder selbsternannten Anführern manipuliert war. Die überwiegende Anzahl der Berichte internationaler Medien tendieren dazu, islamische Agitatoren am Werk zu sehen, und tatsächlich
hat es solche gegeben, u.a. mit Aufrufen zum Jihad im afghanischen Parlament.
Andererseits ist weitgehend untergegangen, dass der Protest gerade gestern, dem Tag des Freitag-Gebets ruhiger blieb als gemutmaßt. Martine van Bijlert, Analystin beim AAN in Kabul, schreibt, dass „..the outright majority of the population either stayed inside or went home peacefully after attending Friday prayers. Most demonstrations ended without incident and none of them were massive (the largest seem to have counted a few thousand demonstrators). There was anger, for sure, but there was also a lot of restraint. Across the country people have been calling for calm and patience in their communities, not wanting to see more bloodshed. They did not manage to preempt all violence and we may still see nasty riots in the coming days, but it will be difficult for anyone to argue that the rioters are acting on behalf of the whole population.“
Tatsächlich drängt es den größten Teil der Afghanen aus einem auf Erfahrungen der letzten Jahre und Jahrzehnte beruhenden Wissen und Instinkt nicht auf die Strasse. Viele erwarten dort vielmehr eine ihnen unberechenbare Polizei und bewaffnete Anhänger zum Teil zweifelhafter politischer Gruppen, die ihr eigenes Süppchen kochen - so jedenfalls empfindet eine Mehrheit. Ein Bekannter in Kabul (Wohnbezirk Makroryan 3) emailt mir am Abend "... So after prayer when I came out, an average number joined the protest and tried to throw stones on to the Afghan police and so I rushed back home quickly as two military helicopters were monitoring the protests above the protestors. It is right that muslims in general are hurted by this act, but this is not the way to burn everything and be voilent. (...) I don't know whether you watch pakistani and Irani television these days, they use this issue as best as they can to emotionalize the Afghans against Westerners".

Die Unruhen sind vordergründig das Öffnen eine Gewalt-Ventils gegenüber der ausländischen (Militär)Präsenz. Zugleich liefern sie ein weiteres Beispiel für eine Art von Kultur-Kampf, in dem Afghanistan zum wiederholten mal in den letzten Jahrzehnten steckt. van Bijlert schreibt „...those engaging in violence probably think there will be a reluctance to question their actions or call them to account - and they may be right, because who wants to be accused of not caring enough?“ und bemerkt, dass es von nun an moderate bis pro-westliche Stimmen schwieriger haben werden, sich Gehör zu verschaffen.
Tatsächlich drängt - und auch hierfür gibt es genug Beispiele in den vergangenen Jahren, jede Polarisierung der Debatte in Afghanistan, die zwischen unmoralischem Westen einerseits und heilsbringendem Islam andererseits zuspitzt, jenen Teil nuanciert denkender Afghanen in die Defensive. Diese werden dann gerne pauschalisierend als „Handlanger des Westens“ oder der „Immoralität“ bezichtigt, oder - was sozial und in der Öffentlichkeit schwerer wiegt - des Ausscheidens aus der Gemeinde aufrichtiger Muslime angeklagt. Mit diesem Totschlag-Argument funktioniert immer noch ein grosser Teil des politischen Diskurses in Afghanistan.

Zugleich hat ein Teil der Wut und Enttäuschung reale Ursachen. Vom ausländischen Militär erwarten die Menschen Sicherheit und ein Zurückdrängen der Taliban. Stattdessen zieht sich die ISAF, wie jetzt das deutsche Militär in Taloqan, vor den Steinewerfern auf der Strasse, zurück. Politisch ist das ein fatales Signal, bestärkt es doch den Diskurs, der Westen ziehe überstürtzt ab und hinterlasse eine wehrlose Bevölkerung ein weiteres Mal (nach 1989) den Fängen von warlords und Taliban.
Ander als Taloqan liegen die deutschen Militärlager in Norden Afghanistans, aber auch zahlreiche Militär-Camps der US-Amerikaner, längst weit ausserhalb der Städte, ohne nachvollziehbaren Kontakt zur afghanischen Bevölkerung. Das war in den Anfangsjahren bisweilen anders.
Viele Afghanen fühlen ausserdem seit Jahren ihre Würde im eigenen Land mit Füssen getreten. Dieses Gefühl, das wie eine Eiterbeule angeschwollen ist, platzt jetzt auf. Es gehört zum Alltag, dass das ausländische Militär öffentliche Strassen sperrt oder Autos über lange Strecken am Überholen hindert. Der eine Insasse kann seine kranke Frau deshalb nicht rechtzeitig ins Krankenhaus bringen. Ein Anderer hat Angst erschossen zu werden, wenn er eine falsche Bewegung macht. Die unterdrückten Gefühle, die das zurfolge hat, kann man im Umgang mit den Menschen physisch spüren.
Nun (aber warum erst jetzt) stellen alle im Brustton der Überzeugung fest: Das ausländische Militär und damit auch politisch verantwortliche Akteure haben es in den vergangenen zehn Jahren versäumt, ausreichend auf interkulturelle Kompetenz. d.h. Sensibilität im Umgang mit Kultur und Religion in Afghanistan wert zu legen. Offenkundig fängt das mit Versäumnissen am Heimatstandort, vor Entsendung an den Hindukusch, an. Vielen Soldaten ist nicht klar, welche Reaktionen z.B. das Tragen einer schwarzen Sonnenbrille auslösen kann, oder Pinkeln im Stehen unter den Augen afghanischer Frauen.
Schändungen des Koran hat es über die Jahre in mehreren Fällen gegeben. Nicht immer hat die militärische Führung der ISAF dabei so schnell ihre Fehler eingestanden wie jetzt, (wenn Sie es jetzt tut, dann sicher auch, um die andauernden Gespräche für mögliche Verhandlungen mit den Taliban nicht unnötig zu belasten.) So ist viel Kredit verspielt worden, der nicht zurückzuholen ist. 2001 wurden die fremden Truppen anfangs von vielen durchaus willkommen geheissen. Das wird heute gerne vergessen. Aber diesen Bonus hat man leichtfertig verspielt. Etwa dort, wo bei zivilen Opfern in Folge von Luftangriffen Fakten erst einmal bestritten und zu spät reagiert wurde. Mangelnde kulturelle Sensibilität findet man zugegebenermassen aber auch bei einem Teil der zivilen Helfer, insbesondere wenn sie sehr jung und/oder unerfahren ins Land kommen.
Für sie fungiert Afghanistan längst als ein cooler Platz um seinem curriculum vitae ein upgrading in den Augen der Zuhause-Gebliebenen zu verschaffen.
Ein Teil innerhalb es grossen Ganzen, der zu den Schalgzeilen dieser Tage wie der vergangenen Monate gehört, bleibt – aus Gründen, die man ahnt – bisher weitgehend unkommentiert und wenig recherchiert: die tödlichen Übergriffe afghanischer Sicherheitskräfte auf ISAF-Soldaten. Auch sie sind, nach allem was man weiss, weitaus häufiger Ausdruck interkultureller Spannungen und gehen nicht allein auf die Infiltration durch Taliban zurück, wie in den Medien immer wieder gemutmaßt wird. Untersuchungen des US-Militärs dazu liegen vor, nur wurden sie entweder der Öffentlichkeit vorenthalten oder werden aus einer Mischung aus Scham und Selbstkontrolle bisher wenig thematisiert. Jeffrey Bordins Studie „A crisis of trust and cultural incompatibility“, die mittlerweile „unclassified“ ist und die man im Netz herunterladen kann, gibt einen guten Eindruck davon, wie gegenseitige Abneigung entstehen und in Gewalt eskalieren kann.

Sonntag, 12. Februar 2012

Democracy Now? Thoughts on a process

Here is a short essay on the process of democratization in Afghanistan over the past ten years that I've been asked to write for Art & Thought, the magazine for cultural dialogue of the Goethe Institute. It will be up in English shortly.

Ein gutes Jahr nach dem Aufbegehren in der arabischen Welt, hat sich nun auch in den Strassen von Kabul und in den Städten Mazar, Herat und Jalalabad der Protest gegen soziale und politische Verhältnisse Luft gemacht. Zu Tausenden sind die Menschen auf die Strasse gegangen. „Nieder mit Karsai“ und „Kampf der Korruption“ haben sie skandiert. Andere Banderolen trugen die Aufschrift „Afghanistan den Afghanen“, wobei sich Paschtunen und Tadschiken, Hazara wie Uzbeken erstaunlich einig waren in ihrem Protest auf dem Platz vor dem Präsidentenpalast. Ein massives Polizeiaufgebot versuchte die lautstarke Menschenmenge in Schach zu halten, sekundiert hier und dort von Beratern des NATO-Militärs. Westliche Diplomaten betrachteten das Spektakel aus der sicheren Entfernung ihrer abgeschotteten Botschaften, bevor sie zur Krisen-Berichterstattung in ihre jeweiligen Hauptstädte telefonierten.
Dieses – wohlgemerkt fiktive – Szenario geht mir durch den Kopf, wenn ich versuche eine Standortbestimmung von Demokratie im afghanischen Kontext vorzunehmen.
Das Szenario könnte dabei die logische Folge jener Gespräche sein, die ich zuletzt in Kabul und den Provinzen geführt habe. Ähnlich wie in der arabischen Welt suchen Wut und Ohnmacht weiter Bevölkerungsteile ein Ventil, wenn es dieses gäbe: gegen warlords und Nepotismus, Behördenwillkür und staatlich sanktionierten Diebstahl am Volk. Zum Teil auch gegen eine internationale Militärpräsenz, die in den Anfangsjahren, vermutlich zum ersten Mal in der afghanischen Geschichte, von vielen durchaus mit Wohlwollen begrüsst wurde, heute aber immer häufiger, von Einheimischen wie internationalen Experten, mit dem Attribut der Besatzung in Verbindung gebracht wird.
Es fällt schwer dieser Tage Afghanen zu finden, die im persönlichen Gespräch nicht vehement Rechenschaft einklagen von Verantwortlichen auf allen Ebenen des Staates, ob national, regional oder lokal. In zehn Jahren internationaler Präsenz haben sich Korruption und staatliche Ineffizienz eher noch verfestigt als dass good governance, die programmatische Überschrift für viele millionenschwer bezuschusste Projekte, einen wirklichen Trend beschreiben würden.
Das Szenario afghanischer Strassenproteste dürfte trotzdem für lange Jahre Fiktion bleiben. Das zumindest sagen mir meine Gesprächpartner. Gerade die junge Generation gibt sich unmissverständlich. „Auf die Strasse zu gehen und zu demonstrieren für unsere Ziele ist das Letzte, was wir unter den aktuellen Bedingungen tun würden“, sagt Abdullah Khodadad, einer der Begründer von „Eslah Talaban“ („die sich Reform wünschen“), einer Gruppierung aus Studenten und Uni-Absolventen mit Facebook-Vernetzung, die sich den Namen „Reformist Movement„ gegeben haben. Studienplätze und höhere Bildung für zehntausende Abiturienten ohne berufliche Perspektiven fordern sie; staatlichen Behörden, die den Bürgern verantwortlich sind anstatt die Hand für Schmiergelder aufzuhalten, die Ablösung alter Führungseliten. Auf einer Pressekonferenz hat das Reformist Movement die Wände mit orangefarbenen Werbebannern drapiert. Einen Hauch von ukrainischer Revolution soll das verbreiten. Es ist auch das gleiche Orange jener Overalls, durch die die Welt erstmals im Januar 2002 von Häftlingen in Guantanamo erfuhr.
Ihre website der zählt rund 170 Facebook-Freunde. Täglich würden es mehr, versichern die Initiatoren. Eine Vernetzung mit ähnlichen Initiativen sucht man bisher vergeblich. Zwar gewinnen soziale Medien in Afghanistan täglich auf niedrigem Niveau an Zulauf. Instanzen oder charismatische Figuren, die den gesellschaftlichen Protest bündeln, fehlen dagegen. Auch stellt sich die Frage, wie unabhängig derart Bewegungen am Ende sind. „Gruppierungen wie Eslah Talaban haben unverändert Verbindungen zu politischen Kreisen der Nord-Allianz“, merkt Gran Hewad an, ein junger Afghane der für AAN, einen unabhängigen internationalen Think-Tank in Kabul zum Thema recherchiert. „Einen anderen Teil der Jugend hat zum Beispiel der ehemalige Geheimdienst-Chef in Afghanistan, Saleh, medienwirksam für seine sogenannte „grüne Bewegung“ aktiviert“.
Also alles nur Schein? „Wie soll die Jugend hier von sich aus erfolgreich protestieren und den Sturz der bestehenden Strukturen herbeiführen, wenn die USA - der große Bruder - und die Europäer es nicht schaffen, die grassierenden Übel im Land einzudämmen?“, fragt Shafiq, ein Journalist und Kollege, der lange Jahre beim afghanischen Dienst der BBC gearbeitet hat. „Aber selbst wenn die Jugend den Sturz der Karsai-Regierung herbeiführen könnte, würde ein anderes Monster auf sie warten: die neuen alten Taliban.“
Tatsächlich muss, wer in Afghanistan für sein Recht auf die Strasse geht, damit rechnen, nicht nur mit der Staatsmacht, sondern mit mehreren der politisch-bewaffneten Fraktionen in Konflikt zu geraten. Das übt auf junge Menschen einen abschreckenden Effekt aus. „Anders als in Ägypten, wo mit Präsident und Staatsapparat ein vergleichsweise klarer Gegner identifiziert war, haben wir es mit Bedrohungen aus mehreren Richtungen zu tun“, versucht Shafiq die Situation in Afghanistan zu erklären. So überwiegt bei der jungen Generation ein Gefühl, zu einer Art fragwürdigem Marsch durch die afghanischen Institutionen verurteilt zu sein. Sofern sie ihre Zukunft in Afghanistan sehen.


Eine dumpfe Perspektive, zugegeben. Zumal mittlerweile ein Punkt erreicht ist, an dem die afghanische Regierung recht unverhohlen dabei ist, Teile der neu geschaffenen Institutionen von innen auszuhöhlen. Die internationalen Akteure melden dazu oft nur noch zögerlich Protest an. So hatte Präsident Karzai zur Jahreswende die Mandate dreier führender Repräsentanten der unabhängigen afghanischen Menschenrechtskommission nicht verlängert, was faktisch ihrer Entlassung gleichkommt. Grund ist vor allem eine unter Verschluss gehaltene Studie, die Namen und mutmaßliche Verbrechen führender Kriegsfürsten wie ehemaliger warlords, darunter solche, die aktuell in der Karsai-Regierung amtieren, auflistet. Diese drängen den Präsidenten, die Ergebnisse nicht zu veröffentlichen. Westliche Regierungen haben sich zu diesemVorfall, der viel über die politischen Spielregeln in Afghanistan aussagt, bisher kaum geäußert. Dabei ist allgemein bekannt, dass die Geberländer, allen voran die USA, seit Ende 2001 im Kampf gegen die Taliban zum Teil mit den gleichen warlords kooperieren, die jetzt Ziel der umstrittenen Studie sind.
Das Abwarten, ja die vermeintliche Furcht der jungen Generation erscheint vor dem Hintergrund als verständlich, ja fast als Realpolitik. Nimmt man den Protest der Jugend einmal aus, fehlt es nach Ansicht vieler Menschen in Afghanistan der eigenen Regierung und einer Klasse von Neureichen an politischer Legitimation. Zwei massiv gefälschte Wahlen und die Bereicherung einer Elite, die sich skrupellos mit Geld und Bestechung Macht und Ämter erkauft, sind ein Grund dafür, warum der Begriff Demokratie in den Augen einfacher Leute wie Intellektueller und Fortschrittsgläubiger seit 2001 merklich gelitten hat.
Hinzu kommt das rasante Tempo, mit dem Zehntausende von internationalen Beratern, zivilen Experten und Militärs, über das Land gekommen sind. Afghanistan wurde über Nacht zum Umerziehungslager. Eine gesellschaftliche wie kulturelle Überforderung, stellt Naser fest. „Too fast your democracy“, bemerkt der 35jährige Entwicklungshelfer aus Herat, „weite Teile unsere Gesellschaft waren darauf nicht eingestellt.“
Shafiq, der langjährige BBC-Mann, findet immerhin die relative Medienfreiheit im Land als die Erfüllung eines ganz persönlichen Traums. Auch er sieht die Kultur als einen Ort, an dem sich die Auseinandersetzung der letzten Jahre ihre Grenzen beweist: „Die Bierdosen, die man in den ersten Jahren in Kabul an vielen Kiosken für drei US-Dollar bekommen hat; die asiatischen Bordelle, die Einzug hielten und die Prostitution auf afghanischer Seite nach sich zogen; die Invasion mit indischer Unterhaltungsindustrie“, all das habe dem Namen der Demokratie geschadet.
Shafiqs Worte klingen dabei wie der Diskurs jener Anti-Modernisierer, die ihm, der eines der begehrten Stipendien in den USA ergattert hat, ein Dorn im Auge sind. Gleichwohl scheint sich hier die Hybris des Westens doppelt zu spiegeln. Die Einen hat er gegen sich aufgebracht, die Anderen, die ihm eigentlich wohlgesonnen sind,in ihrer Skepsis bestärkt.
Nunmehr, vor dem Hintergrund des hehren Mottos „Übergabe in Verantwortung“ für 2014 erklären westliche Politiker, das Ziel, eine Demokratie in Afghanistan zu errichten, sei nicht erreichbar. In welche Kategorie, möchte man fragen, sind die mehr schlecht als recht koordinierten Versuche der letzten zehn Jahre dann einzuordnen? Und warum hat auf hoher See von Anfang an der Kompass gefehlt? Die Afghanen verdienen jedenfalls Besseres als Demokratie light.
Für einen Moment wird Shafiq melancholisch bei alldem, als liesse sich das Rad der Geschichte zurückdrehen. „9/11 war falsch, die US-Intervention war falsch, und die voreiligen Friedensgespräche, die jetzt stattfinden sind es auch“. Zwei Begriffe ragen, während wir uns unterhalten, hervor: 'Monster' und 'Bestien'. Beide, so stöhnt er, suchten Afghanistan immer wieder heim. „Eine Modernisierung muss kommen. Egal ob vom Mond, vom Mars, aus Deutschland, von Europa oder von sonst woher. Aber sie muss behutsamer vonstatten gehen und weniger hastig.“


Wer verstehen will, warum Demokratie in Afghanistan kein Selbstläufer ist, wie einige am Anfang 2001 vermutet hatten, und warum die Taliban seit 2005 vergleichsweise grossen Zuspruch gefunden haben, findet eine Erklärung im Versagen des afghanischen Staates und seiner Repräsentanten.
„Sie machen, was sie wollen. Sie plündern und bestehlen uns, und denken dabei nur an sich selbst“, so ein Stammesältester aus der Provinz Paktia über staatliche Behörden-vertreter und Reisende aus der Hauptstadt. „Sie tragen Jeans und trinken Alkohol im „Namen der Demokratie“. Aber unsere Kultur und Traditionen lassen das nicht zu.“
Derlei Kritik ist nicht nur Ausdruck eines Stadt-Land-Gefälles, das zunimmt nach meiner Beobachtung mit den Milliarden, die ins Land fliessen. Auch wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen stellen mittlerweile die Grundannahme westlicher Entwicklungshilfe in Frage, wenn es um Nachhaltigkeit und Demokratie geht. Können – so heisst es in einer jüngsten US-Studie – gut gemeinte Hilfsprojekte Auslöser einer Mobilisierung gegen die afghanische Regierung sein? Die Antwort der Studie lautet ja. Als Gründe werden genannt: der Mangel an fairer Verteilung der Mittel, ungenügende Informationen über die tatsächlichen Bedürfnisse der Menschen am Hilfsort; Versuche, fremde Hilfsorganisationen zu manipulieren sowie Vorurteile der internationalen Akteure selbst gegenüber Land und Leuten.
Dies alles wiederum beeinflusst den demokratischen Prozess. Hilfsprojekte verschärfen die politische Lage ausserdem dort, wo sich Aufständische ihren Anteil daran sichern. Zahlreiche Medienberichte aus den vergangenen Jahren legen nah, dass in Gegenden wo Taliban oder Aufständische die Macht (mit)beanspruchen, sie Steuern und Abgaben in Höhe von 20-40 Prozent der Hilfsbudgets abzweigen. Ohne solche verschwiegenen Absprachen würde vielfach die Hilfe oder der Nachschub für NATO-Einrichtungen nicht laufen.


Dass der Prozess, wie sich Wissenschaftler und Diplomaten gerne technisch etwas schamhaft ausdrücken, in der Defensive ist, merkt man am öffentlichen Umgang mit den Worten. Begriffe wie „Zivilgesellschaft“ oder „Demokratie“ werden von afghanischen Helfern in Ausübung ihrer Arbeit schon längst nicht mehr unbedarft ausgesprochen. Es besteht Sorge, damit in Konflikt zu geraten. Einige der Helfer definieren 'Zivilgesellschaft' als ein westlich importiertes Konzept.
Bei Nasers Hilfsorganisation in Herat soll in zwei Jahren ein afghanischer Chef an die Stelle des bisherigen deutschen Chefs treten. Unverändert verweist er auf eine grundsätzliche Schwierigkeit bei der täglichen Arbeit. „Wenn wir Berufsausbildung ausserhalb der Stadt durchführen kommt es immer wieder vor, dass Stammes-Älteste misstrauisch reagieren. Oder sie berufen sich auf den Klerus. Viele Mullahs verbreiten unverändert ein Denken, nach dem der Teufel den Raum betritt, wenn eine afghanische Frau und ein fremder Mann zur Arbeit in einem Raum zusammenkommen.“
Damit ist der Einfluss des afghanischen Klerus gemeint. Will man den sozialen Kontext verstehen, der mit dem Prozess der Demokratisierung einhergeht, liegt hier ein zentraler Punkt. Der Aufwertung des afghanischen Klerus in den letzten 30 Jahren könnte in der Tat eine der „Bestien“ sein, von denen weiter oben die Rede war.
„Neben den politischen Führern ist er unser eigentliches Problem. Manchmal sind politische Führer und Klerus sogar identisch“, so Enayat, Journalist aus Mazar-i-Sharif, der für nationale wie internationale Medien arbeitet. „Jene, die Teil der Ulama sind, behandeln den Islam wie ihr Eigentum, so als verfügten sie über die uneingeschränkte Definitionshoheit. Sie tun das umso selbstverständlicher, je geringer die Bildung der Menschen ist.“
Mazar, wo Enayat herkommt, wird einerseits ein liberales Klima nachgesagt. Andererseits hat hier der Fall des wegen angeblicher Blasphemie zum Tode verurteilten Journalisten Parwez Kambakhsh seinen Ursprung. Die Geschichte ging weltweit durch die Medien. Später wurde das Todesurteil auf Drängen des Auslands revidiert. Aber die Angst bei Enayat bleibt: „Wenn ich in einer öffentlichen Debatte Passagen des Koran in die Landessprache Dari übersetze und einigen Stellen mit meinen persönlichen Anmerkungen versehe, muss ich auf der Hut sein. Falls sich die Debatte zuspitzt, riskiere ich Kopf und Kragen“, meint er nüchtern.
Unverändert wirken hier die 80er und 90er Jahre nach. Waren Mullahs und Talebs bis in die 70er Jahre hinein Gegenstand von Witzen und gesellschaftlich wenig relevant, gewannen sie in der Folge rasch an Macht. „Islam war ein Rand-Thema in den 60er und 70er Jahren im Kontext des damaligen Afghanistan“, erinnert sich der Übersetzer und Philosoph Masoud Rahel, „wir haben damals an öffentlichen Plätzen unbefangen unsere Scherze gemacht über Religion und die Geistlichkeit, ohne Repressalien zu befürchten und angefeindet zu werden. Taleb nannten wir damals einen jungen Helfer der Mullahs, eine Art Messdiener, der an der Tür klopfte auf der Suche nach Almosen“.
Die sowjetische Besatzung rief dann islamisch geprägte Parteien und Bewegungen auf den Plan, die im pakistanischen Exil vor allem religiöse Erziehung im grossen Stil organisierten. Bis heute sind zahlreiche Madrassen im Grenzgebiet dort Ausdruck dieser Fundamentalisierung. Sowjetische Quellen von damals schätzen die Anzahl klerikaler Bevölkerungsteile – vom gebildeten Ulama-Doktor des islamischen Rechts bis zu ungelernten Dorfpredigern – auf rund 300.000. Eine Zahl, die infolge der Kriege vermutlich noch angewachsen ist. Unter den Taliban wurden fas alle wesentlichen Stellen im Staat von Mullahs gehalten - Minister, Stellvertreter, Gouverneure und Vize-Gournerneure. Auch die Justiz befand sich im Griff des Klerus.
Diese Strukturen sind nach der US-Intervention nicht einfach wie weggefegt. Gleichwohl: das Aufkommen moderner Massenmedien allen voran des Fernsehens hat seit 2001 dazu geführt, dass viele Afghanen der Klerikalisierung ihrer Gesellschaft kritisch gegenüberstehen. Und so erlebt das Land, zum dritten Mal innerhalb weniger Jahrzehnte, einen sich zuspitzenden Kampf zwischen Modernisierern und Konservativen, bei dem Erstere sich explizit die Hilfe und den Einfluss von aussen wünschen. Zugleich werden ihr Warnungen und Ratschläge dabei oft nicht erhört.
Die sich anbahnenden Gespräche zwischen USA und Taliban schlagen nun ein neues Kapitel auf. Der Platz der Demokratie dabei und wie er verhandelt wird, ist unklar und löst, bei allen Hoffnungen, Sorgen aus. Vor allem Frauen befürchten den Verlust gewisser Freiheiten aus den letzten Jahren. Andere sitzen vorerst weiter auf gepackten Koffern.