Jan 29, 2016

Afghanistan's Economic Prospect: From Troubling to Bleak

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has just released its quarterly report on Afghanistan to congress. The special project's report contains a list of reports that are highly concerning about Afghanistan's future. Among the many of concerns on the country is its economic prospect.

Despite more than a decade of reconstruction and development efforts, the Afghan economy remains in fragile and worsening condition. Intractable insurgents, cutbacks in foreign military personnel, persistent emigration of people and capital, and a slowing global economy are shifting Afghanistan’s economic prospects from troubling to bleak. Source: SIGAR Quarterly Report

Giving the fact that the country has been in turmoil for decades, long enough that the infrastructure eventually extirpated, it is considerably hard to measure Afghanistan’s economy growth on a global economic index, but there are some reports that give a good estimate of how has Afghanistan’s economy been doing in post-Taliban era. Since 2002, the slowest growth that Afghanistan economy has experienced was in 2014.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the highest GDP growth was recorded 14% in 2012. Then, in 2013, it surprisingly experienced a drastic decline which was recorded 3.9%. In 2014, it dropped lower to 1.3%, and in 2015, it even went steeper to 1%, which is lowest than it has ever exited. But now there is a report that came out just yesterday indicating Afghanistan’s GDP growth may drop even lower.

Considering all these facts about Afghanistan's economy, it is safe to say that Afghanistan's economy in 2016 may not change if there is not any improvement in its current political instability and violence that is overwhelmingly increasing throughout the country. Based on SIGAR report, Afghanistan has become more dangerous today than the years before. It reports that the Taliban now have control more territory than at any time since 2001. It estimates that roughly 71.7% of the country's districts are under Afghan government control, or influence.

In the end, the negative yield curve in Afghanistan economy could only change if there would be any outside help not only to fragile economy, but as well as to its security. 

Jan 24, 2016

Hazara Female Models on the Catwalk in Kabul



A decade-and-a-half after the end of Taliban rule, women in Afghanistan still face pressure to dress conservatively in their Muslim-dominated society. That makes holding a fashion show with female models a risky endeavor. But some young women are making a fashion statement, defying threats and social taboos to take to the runway. (RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan). Source RFE/RL

Here is another example of bravery that is presented by Hazara women defying the threats against themselves. However, there is just one caveat to remember. We must be careful and distinguish when we are talking about women in Afghanistan. Ethnic plays an important role in women's freedom. You won't see women from other ethnic groups among them. These young females are ethnically Hazara, the most persecuted and downtrodden people on earth. If chance given to them, and they receive support, these women can be an embodiment of courage and freedom that can exemplify it for others.

Jan 4, 2016

A Brief Review: The Last Thousand: One School's Promise in a Nation at War


I posted this on my Facebook page, then I realized that I must have first published it here to make it an official piece, but then I thought an official piece means that I have to do a thorough review of the book. Well, I might come back and do that soon, before my classes start, but for now, it is not a bad idea to share a glimpse of the book which contains inspirational stories of young Hazara girls at Marefat High School. Contrary to other books that so far have published on Afghanistan and have tried to give a grim outlook of the future, The Last Thousand is the opposite, it gives an optimistic picture of Afghanistan's future, while noticing the lack of insecurity and warning about the fall of the country into the hands of the Taliban. 

I just finished reading The Last Thousand: One School's Promise in a Nation at War by a renowned journalist Jeffrey E. Stern. The original version of the book will come out on January 26. I started it three days ago, and thought that my incremental reading would last for a week. I was wrong. When I started reading, it was hard for me to even take a break. It is so elegantly written, so masterly told that it feels more like leafing through the diary of a dear friend that one tries to discover the secrets, than an excursion through the current historical experience of Afghanistan that centers around the young Afghan girls who are thirsty for education.

The Last Thousand is all about hope, and happiness that Afghanistan needs for its futuer, like Najiba, a mother of four children who starts school at an old age because she wants her kids to be raised by smart parents; like Tamana who despite her loss and ordeal becomes a symbol of hope and strength in the school; like Yunos Bakhshi who brings his telescope to school to teach Marefat students about the universe, the other planets and our solar system; and like the Teacher Aziz Royesh, the main character who revolutionizes the minds of young girls, turning them into powerful contributors to social change and education.

These girls are the powerful determinants of their lives in Afghanistan’s future. The epicenter of all these changes is Marefat, and finally it tells the reader that the crust of the Afghan society must adjust itself to the nature of ever-increasing magnitude of change that is brought by young girls.

A deep and hearfelt thank you to Jeffery Stern for writing such a painstakingly beautiful book - of hope - which is full of inspirational stories!

Oct 6, 2015

In Egypt: Freedom of Expression is Under Military Attack

The 'Egyptian Shakira (Suha Mohammed Ali) and her recent album is call "al-Kamoun"
In Egypt, freedom of speech has been worsening since the military has taken over control of the country after it ousted President Morsi, in 2013. Recently, an Egyptian court sentenced two women to six months in prison. The two performers are famous belly dancers and known as Bardis and Egyptian Shakira (Suha Mohammed Ali and Dalia Kamal). Their charges are committing debauchery and promotion of immorality through their videos. If carefully watched, neither of the two videos contains nudity or promotes immorality. So, why the court has charged the two singers into six months prison? What is in the video that could be assumed offensive to Egyptians?

For Egyptian Shakira, the video clips starts with a scene where a dancer swings her hip while clinging to the wall. Then, the scene leads to a decorated room, more looks like a bar, or a nightclub, than a studio. The main character of the video is the singer who emerges with extravagant makeup. A few scenes later, the singer and dancers appear in school uniform. Thus far, everything looks normal, but what come next could be provocative parts for some religious viewers in Egypt, which could be one of the reasons that the court might based on its charges against the dancer. At one point, the singer appears in bare shoulders, while dancing in a close-up view for the camera, she bites and sucks her lips, which could be interpreted as deliberately and sexually enticing. In many Muslim countries, singing, dancing and demonstrating any sign of explicit sensual acts are forbidden and the consequences might be dire.

Another controversial part is when the singer holds a hot red pepper (felfel), which is among aphrodisiac spices in Arab culture and traditionally, it is considered one of the spices that men need for awakening sexual desire. This scene is aggravated towards the end of the clip where the singer closes her eyes, and acts in an orgasmic manner by adding a groaning sound affect towards the end of a verse and then lands on the floor, next to a white scooter. Though all these gestures seem childish and insecure, zooming in on red lips, moving hip in short skirts that reveal dancers thighs could be provocative to religious viewers, but again, it all indicate that the singers use them tongue-in-cheek.

By looking at some traditional belly dancers videos from the 1980s and 90s, in which the dancers appear in a more inadequately clothed, Suha Mohammed Ali and Dalia Kamal Youssef are very modestly looking. Suha and Dalia are not the first to be prisoned. In July, another woman, Reda el-Fouly and her boy friend, who made a homemade video, was convicted of similar charge.

Similarly, in March, a well-known dancer - Safinaz - was sentenced to six months in prison. But what is different between these dancers and those dancers from twenty, or thirty years ago, is not how decent, or indecent they appear in their videos, rather it is the relative freedom of speech that once existed under the Hosni Mubarak role, which is now has gone.

While suppressing freedom of speech, in the time of Mubarak had been systematically motivated by political intentions, during the current regime - which leads by the military commander, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – suppression of freedom of speech is motivated by fear. The military ruling government which demonstrates itself as a savior of the “January 25, 2011 Revolution” is now cracking down not only on Muslim Brotherhood, human rights activist, secular and leftist elites, but also going after artists who even do not seem to be threats at all. The current military regime in Egypt carries out all these crackdowns and violence against its own citizens in order to establish itself an indisputable authority and as the only liberator and guardian of the Egyptian people since 2011. What is now happening in Egypt makes people nostalgic of the Mubarak era and according to what is coming out of Egypt and what analysts believe is as long as the country is being governed by the military and the clamp down is continued to such a horrific level, the prospect of freedom of expression will be grim and gloomy.

I wrote this post in the beginning of September, but for some reason it was lost among other files.  

Sep 18, 2015

Karzai! No One Cares What You Think



Who cares what Karzai thinks, today? No one, really. In a recent interview with the BBC, Hamid Karzai said, Americans have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars without any useful or beneficial purposes. Well, Karzai might be right on this partially, but it was his family members who benefited the most from American money than anyone else. Among members of his family, the one who directly received American money was Hamid Karzai's controversial half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai. (Wali was assassinated in 2011, and later, it was speculated that he was shot by one of his family members.) Ahmad Wali used American money for various purposes, one of which made him well-known and rich was illegal land grabbing, in Kandahar. While Wali was engaged in illegal land acquisition by using Karzai's influence, who also tried to cultivate power and buy support of Polpalzai tribesmen; others were engaged with Americans as private security contractors and they also owned several construction companies.

According to news sources, Major projects in Afghanistan had been first contracted to companies owned by Karzai's brothers, and then were subcontracted to other companies, but again, it was Karzai's family who collected major profits out American money which was supposed to be spent on construction.

When it comes to refugee crisis, Karzai appears utterly oblivious to the fact that it is his legacy and due his support of the Taliban insurgency throughout his term that has turned the country a dangerous place for all Afghans and particularly for the Hazaras who are being mercilessly targeted by the Taliban on daily basis. The majority of Afghan refugees who are now crossing the borders alongside Syrian refugees are the Hazara people. Karzai knows it, but he is afraid to pronounce it.

Charging and blaming Americans for wrongdoing is Karzai's favorite way for not only trying to dodge public disapproval and loathing, but also trying to win hearts and minds among the Taliban members whom he calls them his brothers. Like his successor, Ashraf Ghani - whose government is about to fall apart - Karzai is not a reliable person, at all. He says, he is not a coup maker, but he now is actively attempting to undermine the current government.

It is astonishing how Karzai relentlessly appears to be the number one enemy of the United States. He calls al-Qaede a myth and rejects that 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan. His schizophrenic behavior is not new, in fact, his erratic temperament began in 2009, when Obama took office. At any rate, whatever Karzai believes or says today is not really important. He does not have anything new to offer for improvement of the current situation of Afghanistan, and its government, which is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Sep 10, 2015

What an Ignoble World we Live in


Lets imagine ourselves living in a boundary where lines have divided us from each other based on our colors, ethnicity and language. Imagine that we are being told throughout our lives that it is our noble duty to protect our national values from others; others who are different from us in many ways, and there might not be even a single sign of commonality between us and others. What would happen hereafter?

It is encountering others that sometimes ignites our sense of ignobleness, and it projects fanaticism, which then let us discharge hatred towards others. The sense of otherness that infuses with ire and then invades our conscience; and eventually replace our morality and ethics with zealotry. That is when humanity disappears.

Zealotry is a threat to human civilization; Petra Laszlo is a small example of what could happen if we let our conscious be governed by zealotry that is often reinforced by political entities. It might recur in the future. We are definitely experiencing a moral problem, not only that it reflects badly on journalism ethics, its mirrors dispassion and lack of consciousness that could be embedded not in an individual, but in a greater number.

As a final note, we should not forget that what Petra did was an insult to herself first, then to her profession, and most importantly it reflects badly on Hungary, and its people. If Franz Liszt would be alive, he would certainly be ashamed of his countrywoman's detestable manner towards vulnerable refugees who are escaping war in their countries.