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)