Mittwoch, 30. Dezember 2015

Into 2016: change makers

2015 seems to end with dull echoes on the next months to come: battles in Helmand with the spectre of a '2nd Kunduz', the young generation continuing to leave the country. But whoever continues to go and spend time in Kabul and in Afghanistan's provinces will be able to witness work of those parts of the society though who believe in change and are working hard to improve living conditions and keep hope afloat. My favorite this year in this context is the 2nd annual Students' theater festival (from nov. 8th to 11th 2015) eager and pragmatic in spirit to win back an audience after the murderous attack on a theater performance in Esteqlal lycée last december. Here are some pictures I took during this year's festival, including some rehearsals that students partly perform in private rooms due to the scarcety of official rehearsal rooms. The Festival, without any exaggeration, can be seen as a means by youths and academics who had orgainzed it, to try and keep a young generation in the country rather than to have them migrating abroad due to a lack of security and a deep economic crisis. The Festival was in fact the first event in which actors would appear publically on stage again as a sign to fight terrorism and let arts and cultural indentity revive. Just about a year ago, a suicide bomber had exploded himself during a running theater performance at Esteqlal Lycée, Kabul, killing one person and wounding many. For this year's Students's Festival, security precautions were taken, with Theater students and staff strict and searching spectators for their own security. With an audience of some 350 mostly young people daily on all four days, many females came to see the plays. It is to say that acting on stage for women in Afghanistan remains diffictult. Women speaking out loud in public are considered a taboo in Afghanistan's male-dominated society. They face with restrictions in their theater roles (a female addict cannot play out her role to the full degree without possible consequences) and professional careers. Laughing out loud in public is considered unusual and offensive to many a traditional Afghan man. Kabul's Faculty of Fine Arts, who hosted the Student's Theater Festival - on the contrary - took an open approach again this year, challenging the conservative fringe of society, even though the person in the picture above, playing an attractive US-female somewhere in Afghanistan, is a male Student and actor. See also my coverage here.

Samstag, 5. Dezember 2015

100 years Afghan-German relations: The Afghanistan we deserve

It is commonly known amongst many educated Afghans that a first delegation of the German Reich, military and diplomatic, arrived to Kabul in 1915 with the idea to win the Afghan King in the fight against the British Empire. But the plans for a German-led Jihad, enlisting different muslim countries and troops, against the Britisch influence in the Middle East and in Central asia, are not common with the German educated population nor even with most intellectuals. Why that is so, is an interesting question, discussed on the backstages of an Afghan cultural week in Berlin, initiated by the German Foreign office this week with regard to 100 years of official relations between Berlin and Kabul. It was not by chance that Ashraf Ghani extended his Europe stay for the occasion. In a way, he didn't have a choice: the problem of Afghan refugees being too pertinent for EU and German domestic policies, the question was whether Berlin and Kabul would be able to agree on taking back Afghan refugees that are rejected in their quest for asylum in Germany. Though there still seems to be no concrete outcome on the issue after Ghani's visit, the (general) German support for the economical emergency program the government of national unity has announced can hardly mask that the overriding wish of Berlin is that Afghanistan solves the crisis largely with domestic means. Though changes in this may come and are counted in, as the crisis – economical and security wise – will develop in the months ahead. Inseperably linked with each other all along the Culture Week, I have looked into what relates the art pieces, exhibitions and festival events of the official program with the behind scene talks and with the overarching policies of Western donors so far on the question of culture in post-conflict states. ______________________________________________ Essay WDR3 / German National Radio on Art & Politics in 100 years of German-Afghan relations Deutschlandfunk Audio /the ongoing migration from Kabul and Afghanistan to Germany and the European Dream of the younger Afghan generation Deutschlandfunk / Audio on political theater between conflict and refugee crisis Deutschlandfunk / Audio on Who is Daesh/ISIS in Afghanistan?

Mittwoch, 18. November 2015

Alive and kicking: theater festival Kabul

This year's 2nd annual Kabul Students Theater Festival, held from November 8th to 11th was a great success. The team of Fine Arts Faculty at Kabul university did a great job. Eleven plays were on stage this year, for which the donation we had called for in support of Afghan culture and civil society, was invested successfully. Each of the plays turned out to be a highlight, with around 350 mostly young and enthusiastic spectators every day in the theater hall of Kabul university. The festival week not only reflected the vibrant state of current Afghan theater art. It was also entertaining and - most of all - an opportunity to spread optimism at a time where many Afghan youth think of leaving the country. Click on the main picture on this page to see more and discover yourself how Afghan culture is alive and kicking. De Nationale Scene/Norway, who support Kabul Fine Arts Facutly, and the Goethe Institute in Kabul also contributed to the festival. But most of all, it was the team of some 25 students and teachers of Fine Arts facutly who made the festival week a unique event. Besides staging the plays with, caring for decor, light, sound and food, students provided security at the entrance of the stage. That the festival went without incident is also their unprecedented success. ___________________________________________ facebook: (fb-site of the Faculty of Fine Arts) (Background / Statement by some of the teachers of Kabul's Fine Arts Faculty) // - THE STUDENT'S THEATER FESTIVAL "WE - theatre actors, directors and teachers in Afghanistan - have roots that go back to the 1980s and that have regrown after 2001 as a result of the international intervention. But in December 2014, as the international community withdrew, many achievements were lost when a heavy bomb exploded during a Theatrical Performance in Esteqlal High School. This terrorist act caused death and fear, with many theatrical groups and acitivities forced to slow down or close. - REBUILD THEATER IN AFGHANISTAN YOUR DONATION can help rebuild theatre in Afghanistan and regain the artistic values of a young generation. Though still under shock, the Theatre Department of Kabul University shortly after the terror act in late 2014 started an annual festival. This festival gives birth to young theatre artists and brings students to create their own ensembles. The first festival was held in Kabul University shortly afterwards. It brings together student groups who work on joint performances and bring back artistic values that were threatened to disappear due to the attack. In founding the Student's festival, we want to withstand the negative energy and impact brought in by the extremists. -DONATE for the FUTURE OF AFGHAN THEATER WE, the Theatre Department of Kabul University, believe that the Festival for Students has the power to rebuild theatre in Afghanistan. Our young generation has the energy, potential and knowledge to recreate what is at risk of being lost. To regrow theatre through student festivals, we need financial support. Your pledge helps theatre in Afghanistan regrow and take new roots. Your contribution will help our young artists create a path for creativity and help rebuild theatre in Afghanistan. Their enthusiasm and excitement, featuring in the pictures below, must live on! " see also Deutsche Welle, Pajhwok Afghan News Agency, Deutschlandfunk/German Radio.

Donnerstag, 1. Oktober 2015

Taliban assault Kunduz: what truth?

After Taliban began their assault on Kunduz in the night to Monday, Sept. 28th, holding the city yesterday, governmental sources claim that the city is back into their hands and that people should not worry any longer. This very reapidly has proven to be propaganda, which one can observe on either side of the parties in conflict. I've listed up here today's record of the (neutrally operating) doctors without borders, who hold the only operating trauma hospital in town and who have received hundreds of heavily wounded civilians. In contrast to the doctor's statement, I've added a) the Afghan Presidency's statement and b) what you find on the website of the Taliban on their Kunduz advance, as to get an sense of the battle on the public opinion. Even if the Taliban might withdraw in the coming days, the difficulty for any civilian in Kunduz now resides in regaining trust in each and every person he or she encounters, for the worst seeds of war and conflict is mistrust and uncertainty that follow the military battle. ___________________________________________ P.S., October 3rd: While fighting is still going on in the city of Kunduz, a US air strike has obviously badly damaged the trauma hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing a large number of doctors, patients and staff, and wounding dozens. To many observers, local and foreign, this comes as a reminder of a pattern that played out again and again in the past years as US-American aircraft trying to strike the Taliban mistakenly hit civilians. See here doctors without borders' statement. Pictures courtesy of doctors without borders. Dr. Masood Nasim, Chief of the medial team of doctors without borders in the Kunduz trauma hospital Kunduz, Afghanistan: “By midday our hospital was on the frontline, with fighting right outside the gate” Dr Masood Nasim is leading the medical team at Médecins Sans Frontières’ trauma hospital in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan. He describes the first 72 hours in the hospital after fighting engulfed Kunduz city on Monday. “Early on Monday morning, I came to MSF’s hospital here in Kunduz after hearing increasing shouting and the sound of shells falling. By midday our hospital was on the frontline, with fighting right outside the gate. You could hear the sound of shelling, rockets and airplanes. Some bullets have come into the hospital, some even through the roof of the intensive care unit. But despite being in the middle of the fighting, our hospital and staff have been respected and we’ve been able to carry on our work. Since Monday morning, we’ve received 296 wounded patients, including 64 children. Seventy-four of our patients arrived in a critical condition. Most have gunshot wounds from being caught in the crossfire. Our surgeons have been treating very severe abdominal wounds and limb and head injuries. The hospital has been completely full of patients. We normally have a capacity of 92 beds, but we expanded immediately and increased the number of beds to 150. There have been patients in the offices, in the examination rooms, and being stabilised on mattresses on the floor. We are trying to treat as many people as possible, and our team is working non-stop to provide life-saving care. We have carried out 90 surgeries over the past two days. We have 400 Afghan staff and ten international staff. They’ve worked for two days in a row without any sleep, and are completely exhausted. We are trying to give them the space to regain their energy and also trying to bring in more staff. Since we opened the hospital in August 2011, we have been receiving large numbers of patients injured in fighting, so our staff is very experienced and efficient at dealing with multiple casualties. But what makes this different is that instead of receiving an influx of wounded over a short period, we have been receiving a huge number of patients constantly, all in a very critical condition. It is very difficult to manage as there is no time to recuperate or restock supplies. We’re trying to get a new team in and to bring in more medical supplies, but it’s a huge struggle because of the active fighting. As this situation carries on for longer and longer, it becomes increasingly challenging. We are really very worried about how we will continue to cope with the number of patients. For days this has been the only functioning hospital in the area, and we are receiving wounded from across the city. We treat women, men, children; civilians and combatants. We treat everyone, regardless of their ethnicity or political affiliations and as long as they leave their weapons at the door. I’m very proud that we have this specialist trauma hospital, the only one of its kind in the whole north-east of Afghanistan. From time to time the fighting calms, and I’ve been outside the hospital briefly. But all of my energy has been focused on the medical activities here. I’m Afghan, and I’ve grown up with fighting, shelling and bullets, as has most of our team. No one looks scared. But whether or not you are used to it, when there is violence going on around you, of course you are worried. It interferes with your normal activities and thinking. You don’t see it, but in your body you feel it.” President Ghani spoke with military leadership of Kunduz province via video teleconference Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, spoke this morning via video teleconference from the Tawheed National Center in ARG with the military leadership of Kunduz province about the security situation of Kunduz city and the latest developments in that province. In this video teleconference in which members of the National Security Council were also present, General Murad Ali Murad, Deputy National Army Chief of Staff, briefed the President on retaking of Kunduz City, and assured that the situation in Kunduz city is calm, and has returned to normalcy. The Deputy Chief of Staff said that a commission made up of all security entities run all the affairs in an orderly manner, and would not allow irresponsible and powerful groups to enter the city. He reassured the President that civilians have not been harmed during the clearance operations, and all the government offices will start their operations soon, and the people will resume their routine and normal lives as well. After listening to the briefings by the defense officials, the President directed the military leadership of Kunduz city not to allow anybody to harm or harass people, and reassure people that they are safe and secure. President Ghani urged the security and defense authorities and military leadership of Kunduz city to continue the military operations and said that the districts of Kunduz, the region as well as the entire northeastern zone must be cleared of the enemy’s presence. The President said that he will soon send a delegation to assess the Kunduz incident. He added that in light of the delegation’s assessment, those who have neglected their duties will be punished and those officers and personnel of the defense and security forces who have shown bravery in retaking Kunduz city will be commended. Taliban Kunduz briefing: Spokesman of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Imam Sahib district captured, 233 vehicles seized A day after the heroic Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate managed to liberate Kunduz city from the invaders and their hireling troops, clearance operations were launched today to uproot and wrestle control of the remaining pockets of enemy resistance. Amid these operations, one of the most important districts of the province, Imam Sahib, was completely captured 08:00 pm at night with Mujahideen taking control over the administration buildings, police HQ building, 12 check posts as well as Tashgozar and Dahqan Qushlaq bases. Tens of enemy soldiers were killed and wounded in these attacks on top of which tens of vehicles and APCs, hundreds of heavy and small arms and other military equipment seized. 2 more important bases and 5 check posts were also captured in Dasht Abdan area, capital peripheries, around dusk time today causing tens of enemy casualties as well as Mujahideen getting their hands of 104 APCs, 100 Ford Ranger pickup trucks and a large amount of arms, ammunition and military equipment. Ghulam Ali base in Chahr Dara district (which was captured by Mujahideen Tuesday) also fell to Mujahideen early night hours today in which 33 hirelings were detained, 3 APCs and 3 pickup trucks along with a large amount of arms and ammunition seized. On the other hand, 50 hireling troops were taken into custody as Bala Hisar strategic hill was taken over by Mujahideen earlier today where 23 military vehicles and a sizable amount of arms and ammunition was also seized. Similarly 21 hireling troops were detained in Aliabad district to the south of the city as 6 enemy check posts were stormed during the course of the day while the large enemy reinforcement convoy arriving from Kabul and Balkh and headed towards Kunduz is still trapped by Mujahideen IEDs and ambushes in the neighboring Baghlan province with 4 APCs destroyed during today’s battles along with dozens of enemy killed and wounded. The above mentioned reports were collected from Kunduz province today. The enemy is facing a humiliating collapse in this province and are looking for a way out and all rumors about counter attacks are absolutely baseless and mere propaganda ploys. These huge conquests is the divine help of Allah Almighty which He has promised his Mujahideen and it carries a message of further victories by the grace of Allah Almighty which shall break the back of the invaders and their stooges and will finally cleanse the country from their filthy presence and replace it with divine Shariah Law which is the aspiration of the entire Mujahid nation, and nothing is hard for Allah. Zabihullah Mujahid 16/12/1436 Hijri Lunar 08/07/1394 Hijri Solar 30/09/2015 Gregorian

Freitag, 11. September 2015

New Website

Starting with today (not intentionally 9'11) you may find this blog also by accessing my new site at The page is a presentation of my photographic portfolio and film work with a focus on the Afghan conflict but including also other countries of conflict, such as Kashmir for instance. There will be added materials from my journalistic work as the pages progresses.

Donnerstag, 10. September 2015

Afghanistan's refugees and Europe

The ongoing flow of refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and the Balkans to central, western and northern Europe also sees a growing number of young Afghan refugees, often male, sometimes below the age of 18, in search of an uncertain future but away from their home country where deteriorating security, a massive economic depression and joblesness have led many to opt for an odyssee that challenges the European countries as a Union. While governments in Berlin, Paris, Budapest and Vienna struggle for a compromise on how to distribute the flow of refugees fairly among the EU member states, Germany and the Western donor countries have a co-responsability in the development of Afghanistan in the past one and a half decade and thus probably also for a options to stabilize the country in what are its mulitple challenges. This analysis can be found in Die Tageszeitung today (no online version published, sorry): _______________________________________________ Die Flucht von Afghanen nach Deutschland und Europa hat in den letzten Monaten spürbar zugenommen. Gleichzeitig gehen nach wie vor milliardenschwere Hilfen des Westens in das Land. Die Abwanderung junger Afghanen hat dies allerdings nicht gestoppt. Im Gegenteil: der Abzug der NATO hat als Fanal gewirkt. So droht das Land zum dritten in kurzer Zeit eine Generation zu verlieren. Deutschland und der Westen haben dabei eine besondere Verantwortung für Afghanistan, auch weil das Land wesentlich über ihre Kredite funktioniert. Beide haben aber auch Entscheidungen versäumt, ohne die es jetzt womöglich weniger Flüchtlinge gäbe. Der Luftschlag von Kundus mit dem bombardierten Tanklaster und den zivilen Opfern ist jetzt sechs Jahre her. Kundus, wo lange die Bundeswehr stationiert war. Keine Ereignis hat aus deutscher Sicht für mehr Schlagzeilen gesorgt. In den vergangenen Monaten hat es Fluchtbewegungen aus Kundus gegeben. Viele Binnenflüchtlinge zunächst. Kämpfende Taliban haben afghanische Sicherheitskräfte immer wieder in verlustreiche Kämpfe verwickelt. Die Front wog hin und her. Nach wie vor gibt es nicht ausreichend Polizisten und Armee in der Provinz. Von den Milizen in Kundus ist zu hören, sie seien quer durch das Regierungslager von Präsident Ghani und seinem Partner Abdullah verfeindet. Rettung aus der Luft durch US-Flugzeuge gibt es jetzt nur noch selten für das afghanische Militär. Durch die Kämpfe sind viele Äcker und Gärten faktisch zu Kampfzonen geworden. Bauern können ihr Land nicht mehr bewirtschaften und sind gezwungen anderswo mit ihren Familien Schutz zu suchen. Neben der Binnen-Flucht gibt es aus Afghanistan dieser Tage aber auch zahlreiche Flüchtlinge nach Deutschland. Deutsche zivile Helfer bekommen dieses Leid mit. Einige von ihnen erhalten in wachsender Zahl emails von afghanischen Bekannten und Familienoberhäuptern, die auf der Flucht sind mit Frau und Kind. Sie bitten darin um Hilfe für ihre Odyssee nach Europa. Dass Flüchtlinge bei uns nicht immer gut gelitten sind, wissen die Wenigsten. Aufgrund der Zahlen, die in der Bundesrepublik zuletzt Aufnahme finden, gewinnen die meisten eher das Gefühl, dies sei das richtige Zielland. Eine email ist von Hassan, einem Filmemacher. Er schreibt, dass er vor den Taliban auf der Flucht sei. 2012 wurden seine Arbeiten auf der Documenta13 in Kassel gezeigt. Jetzt hat er eine Reportage über einen Mullah gedreht, der die Aussöhnung mit den Taliban suchte und dabei ums Leben kam. In Kabul hatte Hassan ein kleines Café, ein Künstlertreff, in dem sich junge Männer und Frauen trafen. Von dort flüchtete er, nachdem die Polizei eine Razzia durchführte. Offenbar handelte die Polizei im Auftrag konservativer Geistlicher. Wie den Taliban ist den Geistlichen westliche Lebenskultur in der sich junge Frauen und Männer offen begegnen ein Dorn im Auge. Jede dieser emails ist für sich genommen bedrückend, spiegelt sie doch den relativen Misserfolg westlicher Hilfe für Sicherheit und Entwicklung. Die afghanische Zivilgesellschaft, deren Aufbau der Westen sich auf die Fahnen geschrieben hatte, scheint auf einmal in Auflösung begriffen. wirtschaftliche Depression hat sich breitgemacht nach dem Abzug der ausländischen Truppen. Viele Gegenden sind unsicherer geworden. So bleiben Investitionen aus. Arbeitslosigkeit ist chronisch und ein möglicher Treibsatz für Radikalisierung. Was politisch, was wirtschaftlich motivierte Flucht ist, müsste die Einzelfallprüfung ergeben. Diese ist aber unter den Bedingungen Afghanistans nur schwer möglich. Verständlich ist, dass - nach vielen afghanischen Übersetzern der Bundeswehr - nun auch afghanische Angestellte ziviler Hilfsorganisationen nach Deutschland wollen. Sie sind oft nicht weniger exponiert. Mittlerweile hat das Schlepperwesen auch afghanischen Städte erreicht. Das schildern deutsche Helfer im Land, die gut vernetzt sind. Eltern versuchen zum Teil vergeblich, ihre Kinder vom Auswandern abzuhalten. Diese können auf Facebook Informationen mit Listen zu Sozialstandards in EU-Ländern finden. Auch Foto-Postings gibt es, von Landsleuten, die es bereits geschafft haben. Politiker fordern zu Recht mehr Druck auf jene Länder, aus denen die Flüchtlinge kommen. Für Afghanistan tragen Deutschland und der Westen dabei eine besondere Mitverantwortung. Denn der Westen finanziert weiterhin den Löwenanteil des afghanischen Staates. Ohne Frage bestehen hier Möglichkeiten, angemessen einzuwirken auf die Regierung in Kabul. Zugleich ist der wirtschaftliche Aufbau alles andere als optimal gelaufen. Bei effektiverer wirtschaftlicher Hilfe wäre ein Teil der Menschen vermutlich heute nicht auf der Flucht. Sinnvoll wäre rückblickend ein echter Marshall-Plan für Afghanistans Wirtschaft gewesen. Mit Wohnungsbauprogrammen, die Menschen langfristig in Arbeit bringen. Robusten Hilfen für afghanische Industrie und Landwirtschaft. Projekten, die das Land weniger als Absatzmarkt für deutsche und ausländische Waren begreifen. Solar-Energie etwa hat eine Zukunft in Afghanistan. Noch aber werden zu wenig Zellen vor Ort hergestellt. Bis 2006 hätte man so Fundamente setzen können. Da waren die Taliban noch nicht erstarkt. Jüngere Flüchtende schreiben in ihren mails immer wieder: „Wir bekommen in Afghanistan keine Chance“. Arbeit werde nicht nach Qualifikation vergeben, sondern nach Seilschaften und Vitamin-B. Viele haben resigniert, weil Korruption oder gewendete Warlords im Land herrschen. Auch dies ist ein Grund für die schlechte Stimmung im Land. Dabei sind es die Geberländer die viele der warlords bis heute an der Macht halten. Was also tun? Afghanistan braucht unverändert langfristige Projekte, die auf die realen Bedürfnisse der Menschen eingehen. Projekte, die Hoffnung vermitteln. Das kann ein Theaterfestival in Kabul sein, das den Glauben an die afghanische Zivilgesellschaft erhält. In jedem Fall wirtschaftliche Anreize, die die Arbeitslosigkeit zurückfahren und die Ökonomie der kurzfristigen Entwicklungshilfe durch nachhaltiges Wirtschaften ersetzt.

Freitag, 31. Juli 2015

Mullah Omar confirmed dead: quo vadis Taliban?

After the death of Mullah Omar has been confirmed, many observers ask what follows out of it for the Taliban as a political-military movement. 'Will the Taliban survive the official announcement of his death?', the RFE/RL Afghan Service asks for instance, echoing that fundamental changes in the insurgency are ahead. Find a piece I wrote for German Service Deutschlandfunk (not to be mixed up with the Deutsche Welle) here: _________________________________________________ Nachdem bekannt wurde, dass Taliban-Anführer Mullah Omar bereits seit zwei Jahren tot ist – eine Nachricht, die erst der afghanische Geheimdienst publik machte, dann die pakistanische Regierung und zu guter letzt die Taliban selbst – ist binnen weniger Tage der Friedensprozess mit der afghanischen Regierung zum erliegen gekommen. Das Ende von offiziellen Gesprächen mit Taliban-Vertretern geht einher mit einer neuen Serie ungewohnt heftiger Anschläge in Afghanistan auf staatliche Einrichtungen mit einer extrem hohen Zahl ziviler Opfer. Präsident Ashraf Ghani hat deshalb den Friedensprozess vorrübergehend beendet und verlangt, dass endlich „Pakistan die gleiche Definition von Terrorismus an den Tag legt, wie Afghanistan“. Während Ghani noch vor Wochenfrist gehofft und erklärt hatte, die Klarheit über den Tod von Mullah Omar eröffne neue Perspektiven für den Frieden, scheint in Wahrheit das Gegenteil eingetroffen. Der Terror hat eine neue Chance bekommen. Dahinter dürften sich zahlreiche Machtkämpfe innerhalb der Taliban verbergen. Ein klares Bild zu entwerfen über die Stärke der rivalisierenden Fraktionen vermag im Moment kein Beobachter. Fest steht, dass der zu Omars Nachfolger ernannte Mullah Akhtar Mansur innerhalb der Bewegung auf Widerstände stößt, darunter von Mullah Omars Sohn Yaqoub, der ebenfalls die Nachfolge beanspruchen soll. Mansur hatte bis zuletzt versucht, den Einfluss Pakistan auf die der Taliban zu mindern. So verlegte er die Verhandlungsführung der Friedensgespräche von Pakistan nach Qatar und zog sich damit den Zorn Islamabads zu. Pakistan wiederum setzte daraufhin Taliban-Vertreter mit an den Tisch, die Mansur nicht gebilligt hatte. Auch die späte Bestätigung von Mullah Omars Tod, die Mansurs Absichten zuwiderlief, könnte vom pakistanischen Geheimdienst ISI orchestriert sein, wird nun vielfach vermutet. Mansur hat zwar den Führungsrat der Taliban für die Wahl seiner Nachfolge einberufen. Ob und inwieweit ihm dies aber Gefolgschaft garantiert oder vielmehr die beginnende Zersplitterung der Bewegung vertieft, werden die nächsten Wochen und Monate zeigen. In Kabul wird vermutet, dass Pakistan versucht, seinen Einfluss auf die Pakistan wieder zurückzugewinnen. Viel spricht dafür, dass diese Kräfteverschiebungen sich in den nächsten Wochen in vermehrtem Terror entladen könnten, zumal die zwei Stellvertreter Mansurs an der Spitze der Taliban nun Anführer des Haqqani-Netzwerkes sind, das von der US-Regierung – anders als die Taliban selbst zuletzt – als Terrorgruppierung gelistet wurde. Das Verbindungsbüro der Taliban in Qatar ist als politischer Akteuer erst einmal geschwächt und sein Vorsitzender als Folge des Führungsstreits zurückgetreten. In Afghanistan selbst hat der Friedenskurs, der sich noch bis zum 30. Juli so positiv anhörte, erstmal sein Unterstützer verloren. Die Rechnung zahl wie so oft die Zivilbevölkerung. _________________________________________________ The lines above are an update on my anaylisis with German Broadcaster Deutschlandfuk here _________________________________________________ „Werden die Taliban die Nachricht vom Tod Mullah Omars überleben?“, fragt der Afghanistan-Dienst von Radio Free Europe, einer der meistgehörten Informationsquellen für viele Afghanen, in seiner jüngsten Ausgabe. Die Frage mag zugespitzt erscheinen. Gleichwohl ist nicht zu leugnen, dass die offizielle Bestätigung des Todes einer der ominösesten weil von Mythen umrankten Personen der Zeitgeschichte, eine Zäsur für die Taliban-Bewegung und damit auch für Krieg und Frieden am Hindukusch bedeutet. Obwohl im Zuge der um zwei Jahre verspäteten Todesnachricht jetzt zahlreiche Szenarios möglich erscheinen, steht immerhin fest, dass auch die Friedensgespräche mit der afghanischen Regierung einmal mehr einen merklichen Dämpfer erhalten haben. Anders ist die Aussetzung der nächsten Verhandlungsrunde nicht zu erklären. Als US-Spezialkräfte Osama Bin Laden im Mai vor vier Jahren zur Strecke brachten führten die Spuren nach Pakistan. Auch jetzt zieht Islamabad – das die Taliban groß gemacht hat – im Hintergrund die Fäden: Die zweite Runde der eben erst gestarteten Friedensgespräche ist geplatzt. Das haben nicht etwa die Taliban bekanntgegeben, auch nicht die Regierung in Kabul, sondern das Außenministerium in Islamabad. Die Unterbrechung sei, so das Statement, der Wunsch der Taliban-Führung und die Folge der Nachrichten zum Tod ihres Anführers Mullah Omar. Man darf wohl davon ausgehen, dass der pakistanische Geheimdienst ISI – ähnlich wie im Fall Bin Laden – wusste, wo sich Mullah Omar aufhielt seit er sich Ende 2001 der Verfolgung durch das US-Militär entzog. Mutmaßungen, die Nachricht von seinem Ableben sei nun gezielt lanciert worden, um die Gesprächsgrundlage für die anstehenden Verhandlungen zwischen Taliban und afghanischer Regierung noch einmal zu verhindern, kommen nicht von ungefähr. Immer wieder wurden Friedensgespräche in den vergangenen Jahren durch Indiskretionen u.a. aus dem Umkreis pakistanischer Dienste torpediert bzw. beeinflusst. Nach Informationen des afghanischen Geheimdienstes starb Omar bereits vor zwei Jahren in einer Klinik im pakistanischen Karachi. Spät haben die Taliban die Meldung schließlich bestätigt unter dem Druck der Ereignisse. Diese drohen die Bewegung jetzt ihrer seit 2001 größten Zerreißprobe auszusetzen. Obwohl nicht mit einer so hohen Kopfgeld-Prämie versehen, könnte der Tod von Mullah Omar größere politische Auswirkungen haben als der von Osama Bin Laden. Denn eine Reihe von Absetzbewegungen abtrünniger Splittergruppen zuletzt, aber auch Machtkämpfe in der Taliban-Spitze selbst, könnten den Zerfallsprozess der Taliban als politisch-militärische Bewegung, im schlimmsten Fall, beschleunigen. Das wäre dann ein denkbar schlechtes Szenario für Kabul und den Westen. Denn die afghanische Regierung ist für Frieden und Verhandlungen auf eine vergleichsweise einige Taliban-Front angewiesen. Mit dem heutigen Tag aber ist womöglich für eine ganze Weile fraglich, wer die Führung der Taliban stellt und ob diese es schaffen, ihre innere Krise zu überwinden. Zu Omars Nachfolger ist in einem Verfahren, über das bislang keine Einzelheiten bekannt sind, der bisherige Taliban-Vizechef Mansur ernannt worden. Ziemlich sicher ist damit zu rechnen, dass es hierzu aus der Bewegung Widerspruch und Widerstand geben wird. Mullah Omars Sohn Yacub, der Mitte zwanzig ist, wird ebenfalls als einer der Prätendenten genannt in Agenturberichten. Eine Zerfaserung der Taliban als Bewegung könnte wiederum das Geschäft des sogenannten Islamischen Staates machen – mutmaßen nicht nur Experten und Medien. Auch Präsident Ghani hat sich wiederholt in dem Sinn geäußert. Neben usbekischen und pakistanischen Terroristen sind es hier wiederum rivalisierende Taliban, die eine Rechnung mit der aktuellen Führung offen haben, die die Fronten wechseln. IS-Strukturen wie im Irak oder Syrien sind in Afghanistan allerdings bislang nicht in Sicht. Ein Erstarken des IS am Hindukusch könnte gleichwohl eine Art neuen Zwei-Fronten-Auseinandersetzung in Afghanistan bedeuten. Wobei die Taliban alter couleur den IS ausdrücklich als Gegner ansehen. Ihre Agenda beschränkt sich auf Afghanistan. Eine Allianz scheint hier nach allen Regeln der politischen Logik ausgeschlossen. Über Mullah Omar selbst ist für einen Führer seines politischen Ausmaßes über Jahre vergleichsweise wenig bekannt. Vor allem wird er als Steigbügelhalter der fatalen Partnerschaft mit Al Qaida in Afghanistan in die Geschichte eingehen. Weil er – durchaus gegen Widerspruch aus den eigenen Reihen, soweit man weiß – auch nach dem Angriff auf das World Trade Center darauf Bestand, Bin Laden in Kandahar ein Refugium für ihn, Teile seiner Familie und für seine Bewegung zu gewähren, fand die US-Intervention in Afghanistan statt. Kein Video oder Audio des etwa 55-Jährigen seit 2001. In der Kommunikationswelt des modernen Jihad musste auch dies propagandistisch früher oder später danebengehen. Über den Umgang mit Omars Vita wurden innerhalb der Bewegung zuletzt heftig gestritten. Dass sein mutmaßlicher Segen für die jüngsten Friedensgespräche Fassade war, wissen wir jetzt. Es kommt jene teuer zu stehen, die verhandeln wollten. Die weiter im Kampf gegen US- und NATO stehen, dürften sich dagegen gestärkt fühlen.

Samstag, 30. Mai 2015

Untitled: Afghan Contemporary Art

The Italian industrial and textile consortium Benetton with its research, media and communication centre 'Fabrica' has recently published a book of paintings and drawings exclusively dedicated to Afghan art, a collection of more than 100 works including calligraphs, miniatures and mixed-media art. Amanullah Mojadidi, an Afghan, US-born, artist who has played a major role over the past decade in Kabul mostly as an impulse giver and networker for many a young artist, is the curator of the project. We have exchanged different times about what alienates Afghan artists from the voluntary Western approach to the country. The book 'Untitled – Contemporary Art from Afghanistan' is a way to escape the existing dilemma. ________________________________________________ Q: You've seen lots of art projects start in Afghanistan. What is different with this book and its intellectual approach? A: I have never considered myself a curator. I am an artist. So when I was first contacted about curating the Imago Mundi Project for Afghanistan, I was skeptical, even if I was already well aware of Luigi Benetton’s contribution to art and culture around the world. I also had questions: Why would Benetton want to do the project in Afghanistan? Was it another form of commodification rooted in a European’s romantic perception of the exotic Other? Was it simply a different manifestation of Conflict Chic? Once I had a chance to research the Imago Mundi project, and its various incarnations around the world including in India, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Eastern Europe, South America, Australia and beyond, I began to see the potential of this project as an exchange with, and between, artists in Afghanistan. // Q:What do you mean by conflict chic? A: Whether in the visual arts such as painting, film, and photography or performing arts such as music and theater, Afghanistan’s artistic and cultural activities, particularly in Kabul, have, in the last several years become embroiled in the geopolitics of, foreign nations. This was the manifestation of an eagerness on their part to show that more than a decade of economic and military interventions have led to the creation of a contemporary culture that not only justifies their initial invasion, but would also explain their partial or complete withdrawal from the country. As such, Afghanistan has become what I call “Conflict Chic,” and the romanticized, exaggerated glamorization of contemporary culture in the country has, like cultural carnival mirrors, created a distorted reflection of reality. It becomes difficult therefore to engage with a project in the field of contemporary art in Afghanistan without feeling that you are a part of the cultural commodification of “Afghan art” that supports what American and European nations would like to say about the country. // Q: The book consits of more than 100 small paintings, each 10x12 centimeters. How did you gather them in a country in conflict? A: With 142 artists to engage and keep track of, there are inevitably problems of access to artists who live in insecure areas of the country and problems of assurance that those artists will actually be in the country when it is time to collect their works. A massive exodus of Afghans like the country has not seen since the days of Soviet occupation, Civil War, and Taliban law has some artists fleeing the country before creating their artwork. The exodus is a response to the fortune-telling predictions of what will happen to the country after 2014, when foreign armies are to withdraw and foreign money is to be significantly reduced. // Q: What was the attitude of the artists when you approached them for the project? A: The first questions asked would often be, “Who is the donor?” “What is the theme?” followed by “What is the budget?” Creation for creation’s sake is still difficult in a country where the trials and tribulations of daily life can occupy all of your time and energy. What is the value of artistic production without some sort of economic support and/or benefit when you’re living in a conflict zone where security is not guaranteed, inflation is high, and employment increasingly scarce? So even after having spent hours with artists discussing the possibilities of the project, they did not seem to be flocking at the chance to create something for it. I had to tell them: there would be no seminars, no workshops, no trainings, and no “capacity building” that are often seen by foreign-initiated projects as necessary precursors to artistic production in the country. There would also be no thematic guidance given to the artists, allowing them to create an artwork that was simply what they wanted to express, rather than dictating the creation of work about subjects such as Human/Women’s Rights, Peace, Anti-Drugs, or whatever message the foreign backers wanted to convey through the work. The Imago Mundi project in many ways lacked the preconceived attitudes towards artists in Afghanistan, as well as the expectations of what an Afghan artist should produce work about. What this has meant is a sort of creative tunnel vision that made the Imago Mundi project a challenging experience for the artists. // Q: How to the drawings and paintings look? Anything that surprised you? A: Although we do find some standard, and even expected, symbols connected to Afghanistan (i.e. the burqa, the rider game of buzkashi, the poets and saints, the Bamiyan Buddha grottos, the landscapes, the market scenes), but what I also see are new symbols emerging in this collection, such as that of the imagery of hands. Perhaps the hands are about the West lending assistance or reflect the Western notion of “saving” Afghans from themselves. Or perhaps they are about Afghans coming together to rebuild their society, as hands have often historically been symbols of solidarity. Whatever the individual or collective meanings, what can be said is that I am seeing the emergence of a contemporary style in the work of Afghan artists more and more, that it is at once unique and globally relevant. // Q:Why is the whole collection of 142 pictures called 'Untitled'? A: This uncertainty is reflected everywhere and in the majority of works created by the artists. Like the country’s future – Undefined, Unknown, Uncertain, Untitled – the only name many of the artists feel comes close to describing their work is no name at all. As a metaphor not only of a country and the contemporary culture growing within it, but also of the personal practice of so many artists participating in the Imago Mundi project in Afghanistan, I have taken this “no name” as what identifies and distinguishes the collection, Untitled: Contemporary Art from Afghanistan. Far from being definitive, Untitled is an attempt to provide a landscape of the still nascent production of contemporary art in the country. The collection of 142 works includes painters, calligraphers, miniaturists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, poets, and mixed-media artists of all levels – from the self-taught to the high school and university students to the artistically educated to the professors to the never-before exhibited and the internationally renowned. (picture: Fatima Haidari, Untitled)

Sonntag, 24. Mai 2015

Finding Afghanistan - photo exhibition

A selection of my photographic work is on exhibition since this week and until July 3rd in the foyer of Deutschlandfunk in Cologne (see here). The selection is accompanied by a choice of audio features and interviews that I have recorded and produced along the years of the Afghan conflict. And while international photojournalim about Afghanistan mostly focuses on Western soldiers and narratives stemming from the intervention of international forces persent in the war, this exhibition looks at the dynamic of urban Afghanistan and its young generations, its dynamics and challenges, dreams and dramas amidst Taliban and warlord threats. (see also here)

Donnerstag, 14. Mai 2015

Afghan theater donation: identity and threat

Recently Siddiq Barmak, without any doubt the most profiled Afghan film maker whose feature film 'Osama' has been internationally acclaimed a few years back and who keeps being one of the most prominent Afghan intellectual figures, moved out of Afghanistan and to Europe. This signals an important loss for the cultural scene in Kabul, many film makers taking inspiration from Barmak's experience and work. On another scale, it also sees the struggle for cultural Afghan identity at a crucial moment as the conflict moves on, despite or rather as a consequence of the withdrawl of foreign troops. Currently teaching as a lecturer for conflict and conflict resolution at the University of Hamburg, I introduced a chapter on Afghan theater in conflict in my seminar. After the suicide attack in Kabul Esteqlal Lycée last december on a running play, the Afghan theater scene especially is confronted with new challgenes. As a result an initative was born and a DONATION CALL launched for the support of the Afghan Student Theater Festival a few weeks ago. (see here). The texts published below – English and German – are a common wording undertaken with the Faculty of Fine Arts of Kabul University, who is to be the host of the event later this year. "A common initiative by Martin Gerner, correspondent, curator and lecturer together with the Faculty of Fine Arts, Kabul University. - HELP KABUL'S STUDENT'S THEATER FESTIVAL: WHAT IS AT STAKE? "WE - theatre actors, directors and teachers in Afghanistan - have roots that go back to the 1980s and that have regrown after 2001 as a result of the international intervention. But in December 2014, as the international community withdrew, many achievements were lost when a heavy bomb exploded during a Theatrical Performance in Esteqlal High School. This terrorist act caused death and fear, with many theatrical groups and acitivities forced to slow down or close. - REBUILD THEATER IN AFGHANISTAN YOUR DONATION can help rebuild theatre in Afghanistan and regain the artistic values of a young generation. Though still under shock, the Theatre Department of Kabul University shortly after the terror act in late 2014 started an annual festival. This festival gives birth to young theatre artists and brings students to create their own ensembles. The first festival was held in Kabul University shortly afterwards. It brings together student groups who work on joint performances and bring back artistic values that were threatened to disappear due to the attack. In founding the Student's festival, we want to withstand the negative energy and impact brought in by the extremists. - DONATE to assure the FUTURE OF AFGHAN THEATER LIFE WE, the Theatre Department of Kabul University, believe that the Festival for Students has the power to rebuild theatre in Afghanistan. Our young generation has the energy, potential and knowledge to recreate what is at risk of being lost. To regrow theatre through student festivals, we need financial support. Your pledge helps theatre in Afghanistan regrow and take new roots. Your contribution will help our young artists create a path for creativity and help rebuild theatre in Afghanistan. Their enthusiasm and excitement, featuring in the pictures below, must live on! " // GERMAN VERSION: WAS STEHT AUF DEM SPIEL? "WIR – Studenten und Studentinnen, Dramaturgen und Dozenten der Fakultät der Künste an der Universität Kabul – befinden uns an einem Wendepunkt. Ein Terror-Anschlag im Dezember 2014 auf der Bühne des Esteqlal-Lycées, mitten in Kabul, hat bei laufender Aufführung zahlreiche junge Theatermachende getroffen. Es gab Tote und Verletze. Kunst- und Kulturschaffende haben Anst. Für viele Betroffene bedeutet der Anschlag das Ende ihrer Auftritte. Ensembles haben sich aufgelöst oder stehen vor dem Ende. WIEDERAUFBAU DES THEATERS IN AFGHANISTAN Wir wollen und können dem nicht tatenlos zusehen. Deshalb dieser Aufruf für das 2. Studenten Theater-Festival als eine Initital-Zündung beim Neuaufbau des afghanischen Theaters. Wir haben Wurzeln, die auf das Theater der 1980er Jahre zurückgehen. Nach 2001 als Folge der internationalen Intervention haben wir weitere Schritte gemacht hin zu neuen Freiräumen und Kreativität. Jetzt, da die internationale Gemeinschaft dabei ist, Hilfsgelder und Aufmerksamkeit zurückzufahren, geht es mehr denn je darum, Theaterkunst und ihre Ausbildungsstätten nachdrücklich zu sichern und Perspektiven für eine selbstbestimmte Theaterlandschaft zu schaffen. DEINE SPENDE ist dabei ein wichtiger Beitrag. Mit der Hilfe für das 2. Studenten-Theaterfestivals unterstützt Du die Arbeit und das Engagement einer jungen Generation lernbegieriger und spielwütiger Schauspiel-Studenten und Studentinnen, die an der Fakultät der Künste ausgebildet werden. Für das Festival im Herbst sind zur Zeit zehn Aufführungen mit neuen Ensembles geplant. Deine Spende kommt dem Entstehen dieser Aufführungen zugute. Konkret geht das Geld in Produktionkosten, Kostüme und Austattungen, die für die Inszenierung nötig sind. Details findest Du auf dieser website. MIT DIESER INITIATIVE wollen wir ein Zeichen setzen gegen jede Form von Extremismus und Gewalt. Ein Theaterfestival mit Publikum ist die beste Antwort darauf. Der Anschlag vom Dezember 2014 war für viele von uns wie eine zweite Stunde Null. Die Kultur ist einmal mehr bedroht. Wir stehen zugleich für einen Neuanfang. Gerade die junge Generation hat die Energie, das Talent und das Wissen dazu. Damit das Theaterfestival wachsen kann, brauchen wir finanzielle Unterstützung. Die Spenden helfen unserer Arbeit und Kreativität zu unterstützen. Die Bilder auf dieser Seite mögen einen Eindruck vermitteln, was du mit einer Spende erreichen kannst für unsere kulturelle Identität." // (photos: courtesy H.Noori)

Donnerstag, 26. März 2015

A new relationship?

The five day visit of Ashraf Ghani to the United States looks as ordinary as it may seem exceptional. Obviously feeling at home in a country where he spent nearly half of his life and with his family and in forced exile, Ghani made many a congressman optimistic in his speech to the two US chanbers. Ending corruption and eliminationg the culture of impunity were two of his master phrases, already stated earlier during his campaigning. There is a realist in Ghani and also a dreamer. Drawing the vision of a country that would come back to the time of the 'Land of beauty and hospitality', alluding to a famous film of the Afghan Tourism Organisation from the sixties in which a US-American couple boards an airplane which transports them to Bamian and all the other sights of the noble Afghan history, is not less than the translation of an inherited political trauma Ashraf Ghani comes from and looks to overcome. „We want to be ordinary people again“, was a sentence that echoes from his speech. This sentence, a few days after the events in Kabul around the murder of Farkhunda, very precisely show the absence of normality in a disillusioning way. They have struck many Kabulis (for an analysis trying to explain the unexplainable see here) and have in relatively short delay and with a considerable amount of internatinal media coverage on the case led to first fact finding results, that may seem like a new old burden on the shoulder of Ghani's government. On security, the official joint US-Afghan presidential statement does not make mention of the so called Islamic state as a threat for Afghanistan. Ghani very overtly in public calls the movement a „terrible threat“ for his country nontheless. In front of the congress stood a man „free of a complex of inferiority against western empires“, because - as Ghani smilingly said - „we defeated most of them“. Following his own presidential statistics, nearly one million (sic!) US soldier by now have been deployed to Afghanistan (if this is leaving out US contractors or not, he was not clear about) – but the figure in itself shows the investment in what has produced may efforts, as vain as successful. For the latter it is to be said that nothing is never achieved for good (Joseph Rovan). Only the new generations can bring about real change. In this sense, it may sound promising to young Afghans that the Obama administration envisions to raise by 50 % the number of Fullbright scholarships. // It resonates envious even to a person like myself, to say the truth: as a matter of fact I have been working many years now as to facilitating an Academic exchange between Afghanistan and Germany for students in the fields of media/journalism and film/art. Success is still on hold, as the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD – depending on the German foreign office for its investments – argues that only the so called 'hard subjects' of study, like engineering, management, computer sciences or geology are worth supporting for mutual exchanges. It seems not a coincidence if some of the young talented Afghans look for other destinations than Berlin, Munich or Hamburg to build their professional future. For a comment on the new security architecture Ghani has in mind and with regard to possible talks with the insurgency, here is an op-ed for German WDR: Gespräche mit den Taliban muss es geben. Und zwar so rasch wie möglich am Besten. Aber ohne faule Kompromisse. 10.000 US-Soldaten bleiben nun länger am Hindukusch als geplant. Womöglich auch mit Folgen für einen verlangsamten Abzug deutscher Teil-Kontingente. Keine Abrüstung also am Hindukusch und obwohl die NATO-Führung unlängst die Schlagkraft der neuen afghanischen Streitkräfte noch einmal gepriesen hat. (Das gehört in die Politik der positiven Schlagzeilen, eine Konstante der letzten Jahre.) Visier runter also – in der militärischen Sprache. Zugleich aber das Visier hoch – der Auftakt zu Gesprächen mit den Taliban ist näher denn je, verlautet aus vielerlei Quellen der letzten Tagen. Weder Kabul noch Washington wollen die Taliban jetzt offenbar zu einem Waffen-stillstand zwingen – was wiederholt versucht wurde in der Vergangenheit – bevor man sich mit ihnen an einen Tisch setzt. Tatsächlich scheint Ashraf Ghani, der neue starke Mann in Kabul, Zuversicht zu verbreiten. Nicht nur in den USA, auch in Islamabad, Riad und in Peking. Dort hat er seine Antrittsbesuche schon gemacht, für eine Art neuer Sicherheitsarchitektur. Peking ist dabei jetzt ein neuer Makler für Kabul. Vor allem einer, der Druck auf Pakistan ausüben kann und Islamabad klar zu verstehen gibt: das künftige Afghanistan nur ohne Taliban an den Waffen. Dafür liefert Kabul mutmaßliche uigurische Terroristen an Peking aus. Verlangsamt wird der Abzug von US-Truppen womöglich auch, weil Schlagzeilen über den sogenannten Islamischen Staat auch in Afghanistan die Runde machen. Organisierte Strukturen wie im Irak und Syrien sind dies nicht, sagen Experten, aber es besteht ein Risiko. Da sind einsickernde Extremisten aus zentral-asiatischen Nachbar-Republiken. Und abtrünnige Taliban-Kämpfer, die im Streit geschieden sind, und für deren Revanche-Gelüste die Schreckens-Marke IS offenbar gerade Recht kommt. Eine Zweifronten-Krieg ist aber das Letzte was Kabul gebrauchen kann, zumal Aufschwung und Investitionen greifen sollen. Sogar die Taliban dürften auf der Hut sein. Im Fall von Verhandlungen könnte die Bewegung weier zerfasern und mehr Unzufriedene zu Gruppen wie dem IS abwandern. Steinig wird der Weg zum afghanischen Frieden in jedem Fall. Wie darf man sich den Wandel der Taliban von einer Truppe in eine politische Bewegung vorstellen? Darauf gibt es keine klare Antwort: wo die Fundamentalisten die afghanische Verfassung verwässern wollen in Fragen der Menschen- und Frauenrechte, internationaler Standards und demokratischer Spielregeln, dürfen Kabul und seine Verbündeten nicht nachgeben. Was aber bietet man den Taliban dann an? Mit der Reintegration Tausender ihrer Kämpfer allein werden sie sich vermutlich nicht zufrieden geben. Einen Preis würde Ashraf Ghani wohl oder übel zahlen müssen. Es ist zu hoffen, dass darunter nicht die afghanischen Frauen leiden müssen. Gerade hat eine wütende Menge in Kabul eine unschuldige junge Frau gesteinigt und verbrannt. Die Polizei schaute zu. Es klingt wie Vorboten einer Re-Talibanisierung.

Samstag, 7. März 2015

Photography of protest

Afghanistan has mostly disappeared from the special editions of German and international media outlets on this year's international women's day. Kurdish female fighters in Iraq or Syria, acting against the military and ideological threats of the so called Islamic State make the headlines instead, but also Europe-based women – muslim or converted - who choose to engage in the fight of the IS or other salafist movements as a way to radicalize their lives. In a way, this widely contrasts with some of the very basic rights and needs Afghan women remain deprived of. A photo exhibition entitled 'Mujeres - Women', that is currently shown in Spain as an initiative of ASDHA, a Spanish NGO engaged in Human Rights, hightlights the daily plights of these Afghan women. (a glance in the catalogue to the exhibition can be found here) Spanish Afghanistan correspondent Monica Bernabé spent years of travelling and interviewing with her male photographer collegue Gervasio Sanchez and aided by a network of Afghan Women Associations to gather an impressive number of portraits that cover the hardships females encounter. “A woman who wants to marry the man who raped her. A 14-year old girl beanten up by her husband. A young woman mutilated for abandoning the matrimonial home. A woman murdered for committing adultery.(…) ” While Bernabé/Gervasio agree to say that in some ways, conditions for women in Afghanistan have improved and that they are “no longer treated as the spoils of war as in the past when the warlords allowed their soldiers to rape them as a form of compensation and to intimidate the opposing sides”, they also point at the inefectiveness of international donor programmes and – even more – Afghan governmental policies that have not reached fundamental changes with regard to the traditions and family logics governning the fate of the majority of Afghanistan's females. The law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) adopted under Hamid Karzai's presidency holds one of the main arguments in this. Insinuating a major progress in the international standardisation of Human and Afghan women's rights, there is little hope, the authors argue, that the law will be seriously applied and on a visible scale by local Afghan authorities and judiciary in the rural areas the years to come. All of this leaves very little hope for the period after the withdrawal of the bulk of the NATO forces. It comes like a relief consequently when in the last chapters of the sadly beautiful catalogue we see faces of some of the young and urban female generations in stark contrast to the unbearable fates of rural Afghanistan. Though the image painted here in some of the photos about Afghan urban police women shows how modern, proud and apparently equal already they seem in comparison to their male counterparts, one should not forget that this represents a reality mostly limited to Kabul and with a few exceptions to Mazar or Herat. Already in a middle sized town like Kunduz would I find no advertising billboards on the street to recruit women for the ANP. Still, “women against the current”, as one of the hope-giving chapters in entitled, are what I have been witnessing myself again and again, even under very remote circumstances. With its sober documentation and some two hundred interviews, allowing short insights into a good number of walks of life and with its undramatic portrayals, the exhibition gives a certain idea of why a change for the better for many an Afghan women is not to come soon. The empathic iconography the photographs echo are a warm reverence to a dark chapter of Afghan reality and of human mankind. (cover picture: courtesy of the authors)

Donnerstag, 8. Januar 2015

Worlds divided

On a day like this, after yesterday's murder of nearly the whole editorial staff of the French satiric weekly Charlie Hébdo (see for international reactions on cover and front pages here here, including in media of some islamic countries), it seems appropriate to highlight some of the drawings Afghan cartoonists have put out with the pen in the last thirteen years or so. They contain different answers to the question above and can be found in greater number in Afghan print and online media. From Kabul, I was sent an edition of Hasht-e Soubh ('8 am'), considered one of Afghanistans leading and fairly modern (partly liberal) newspapers, that had this photograph on its front page, paying tribute to the freedom of press under attack.
All things considered, the Afghan landscape has showed two folded-reactions to the events in Paris. On the one hand and according to Afghan media, President Ashraf Ghani condemmed the attacks saying there was no justification for a brutal act against civilians (see here and also Afghan Women's Writing Project), while in Mazar-i-Sharif, activists of the Afghan civil society in northern Balkh province urged the UN to play a leading role in preventing insults against the Prophet Mohammad and help avoid such bloodshes. On the other hand, Pajhwok's News Agency correspondent in Uruzgan, a central Afghan province with a population very exposed to ISAF's negative consequences of anti-terror strategies and thus with a certain amount of sympathy towards the policy of the Taliban, writes that "hundreds of enraged people took to the street in support of two assailants that had attacked the French Charlie Hebdo newspaper office in Pairs. The protesters dubbed the attackers as heroes". (see also here) And Radio Free Europe to note that "Taliban took the opportunity to publish an article on its website on January 8" describing the killings as "an alarm bell for those who have in the past insulted Islam and the Prophet" but stating at the same time that the group "did not go so far as to openly support the attack." So an (Afghan) world divided, once more. // The following drawings look at some cartoons by Aghan satire collegues that deal with politics and the foreign intervention from 2001 more generally. Different things strike the eye when looking to this personal choice of Afghan cartoons and trying to put them into perspective: - the representation of prophets is often not an issue with Afghan cartoonists when it comes to dealing ironically with the Western presence. // - The narrative of human and/or women rights is portraied as a dialogue of naively and sometimes forcefuly introduced arguments into a society where males have often not been taken into consideration or been included into the dialogue. From this observation one sees a series of parallels running to our own Western societies. - We get an understanding, in a way reassuring, that far from leading to an ever more aggressive and disproportionate discourse on cartoons – an interpretation in the face of satire can be an eye opener in itself and can serve as an interpreting tool, taking it away from the cliché of the role of agent provocateur in the western-islamic context. The cartoons I introduce here - on the scale of the sole Afghan war but also beyond - open up a field for arguments, a new debate. Yesterday's killers seemed to have no arguments other than the gun. // Interestingly, I had suggested to different partners, institutions and relevant German media in the past ten years and in regular intervals to expose and exhibit the work of Afghan cartoonists as the war unfolded, but none of them took up the initative so far. The intercultural context and challenge behind it is evident. So far, most Western and German cartoonists on Afghanistan have come along with simplistic black-and-white narratives, with some rare exceptions. // It is to say that Afghan cartoonists have more than the Taliban and religious extremists as enemies. The fight for full freedom of press and of information has reached a new legal stance last month with the publication of a new law for on 'Access for information' for all Afghan citizens. (A blog on the law is to follow in one of the next editions.)