Dec 2, 2009

'Finish the job' but not so hastily

Already published on CNN

After a long debate over increasing troops in Afghanistan, finally, President Obama said that he has decided to send around 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan. Now, deploying 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is a good idea but I’m doubtful that this will work as a long-term strategy to “finish the job.” A long-term strategy to mitigate the violence and end the war in Afghanistan is to train and equip the Afghan National Army.

No so long ago in July 2009, around 4,000 U.S. Marines alongside 650 Afghan police and soldiers took a massive operation called Khanjar (dagger) in Helmand in southern Afghanistan. It was supposed to wipe the Taliban out of the area but ultimately nothing remarkably happened. The Taliban mobilized their insurgency against international forces, Afghan Army and police in different areas and especially started moving to the northern Afghanistan. Northern Afghanistan, which has been quite peaceful since 2002, in the spring 2009 became insecure and unstable - hindering the peaceful life of every Afghan. More troops will be unhelpful unless there is an explicit strategy towards the future. If the Obama administration does not plan a clear strategy for the next four or five years, sending triple number of these troops will not be helpful.


One of the reasons for failing in southern Afghanistan is that after the NATO troops cleaned the area of Taliban, they didn’t stay in there and the ANA (Afghan National Army) was not capable to take the security. Ultimately, the Taliban returned to the area. Horribly, the poor villagers who helped NATO forces and the ANA were targeted or killed by the Taliban. Musa Qala is one of the districts in Helmand that the most intensive operation took place. In 2006, it was turned into a terror university for Taliban and deemed to be influenced by Al Qaeda. The British troops fought against the Taliban and cleaned the area but they left the region for elder leaders and villagers that promised keep their own security. But a few months later, the Taliban attacked those whom worked and helped NATO forces and some were beheaded by the Taliban.

Unfortunately, since then, the locals lost trust towards foreign forces. This created a lack of confidence between foreign forces and Afghan locals because the locals are 100 percent sure that foreign forces will leave the area sooner or later but the Taliban will be back. The locals do not have interest in Taliban but they have no choice, they are exposed from both sides and ultimately they prefer the Taliban. It will take time for the Afghan government and its supporters to reshuffle its relationship among locals but still it is possible to regain.

It is imperative to plan a clear strategy alongside of extra troops in Afghanistan. Specifically, if the United States and its allies help and train the Afghan National Army they will be able to handle the task well. For the last eight years this was not taken serious and less money spent on training the army and more money spent on foreign forces. On November 12, the ministry of defense said that if the world communities fulfill their commitment to train and equip the ANA, within four years they will be capable of taking responsibility of security across the country.

Since 2002, especially when the insurgency increased in the southern region, training ANA wasn’t so much in demand. But within the next four years, if the Afghan government with the support of the United States and its allies focus on increasing the capability of ANA, soon we will witness that they will triumph over the enemy. And finally, by increasing the ANA capabilities, the United States and its allies will be able to finish the job, but not so hastily.

Oct 30, 2009

Reflecting on Clinton Global Initiatives

Note: I wrote this piece for my college paper here

“It was a great and exciting meeting because I saw Brad Pitt and Ricky Martin.” After a few interactions with my classmates and friends at Dickinson, I discovered how to describe my trip to New York at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Conference. Apparently no one has interest in hearing that I came from a conference where world leaders came from across the world, no matter what political affiliations they have, no matter what religious beliefs they have and even no matter what languages they were speaking. They came together to commit to bringing changes in human life, like seeking solutions for climate change, eliminating human trafficking, alleviating poverty and making education accessible.

The Fifth Annual Clinton Initiative started on Sept. 22 and continued until Sept. 25. Every year at this time the CGI brings famous non-government organizations (NGOs), world leaders, business leaders and individual human rights activists to discuss some serious issues that exist today.

On the third day, in a special plenary, members talked mainly about access to education, jobs and health care. Due to a statistic that shows that almost 180 million children work instead of attending school, this year the CGI members made several commitments to create jobs and access to education, especially for children. In the plenary, which was moderated by The New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, the panelists talked about universal education, its quality and the role of youth in the modern world. In particular, the Queen of Jordan, Rania Abdulla, stressed the importance of children’s education on the primary level. She compared the $11 billion cost of sending all children to primary school, the same amount of money that Americans spend on pets in three months and that Europeans spend on ice cream in a year. This amount is equivalent to 10 percent of NATO’s military budget.

Carlos Slim, a Mexican businessman and philanthropist, was also there. Kristof asked him a question regarding poverty. Kristof pointed to his recent interview with The New York Times in which he said the long term solution for poverty is jobs, and asked if this can be possible in developing country where there are no jobs and children are facing miserable limitations. Kristof gave him an example that he heard from a Kenyan girl who asked if she should continue to sleep with a man who is paying her school fees: should she continue the risk of getting AIDS or should she drop out of the school? This remains a nightmare situation for the girl, an example of thousands.

Slim said that education is important today and that it should happen in early childhood. Once again he emphasized that there is no way out of poverty but education.

The panelists talked more on other important issues, such as youth’s education and increasing the quality of education in developing world.

Human trafficking was one of the serious worldwide issues in this conference. Every year CGI gives awards to a number of people who achieve great success in education and the alleviation of human trafficking and slavery. This year, Ruchira Gupta, a woman from India who is the founder of the Aapne Aap organization, received the CGI annual award. She combat against human trafficking and so far through her organization she has saved 854 children from sexual exploitation and enabled them to access education. Gupta, while receiving the award from actress Demi Moore, said, “I receive this award on behalf of people who want a world in which it is unacceptable to buy or sell another human being and to imagine an economy in which one is not forced to sell oneself.”

According to the United Nations, 161 countries out of 192 are involved with human trafficking. Only in 2007, 27 million people were smuggled around the world for different forms of exploitation like slavery, commercial labor and sexual purposes. Children comprise 50 percent of human trafficking and mostly they are aged of 12 to 14 and most likely they are subjected to sexual exploitation.

In a separate session about strengthening infrastructure, Kofi Anan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, emphasized that we not only need physical infrastructure but also soft infrastructure like education, global economy and exchanging global ideas.

One of the most interesting sessions was on human dignity. Wangari Muta Maathai, founder of The Green Belt Movement in Kenya and Noble Prize winner, stressed that dignity comes from giving women opportunities to work, giving education to children and having a land on which they can build their houses. This year there was a special focus on women as a vulnerable body of the society; they are disproportionately affected by poverty. According to statistics released at the meeting, more than 1.4 billon people live in extreme poverty, on $1.25 a day or less, and the vast majority of them are women.

At the Clinton Global Initiative, many well-known people, including Hollywood actors and actresses and singers, participated. Ricky Martin also took opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking. Through his organization, the Ricky Martin Foundation, he advocates for children's rights and combats human trafficking.

Shortly after Ricky Martin, Brad Pitt took to the podium to discuss rebuilding New Orleans. Pitt started a foundation in 2007 that focuses on home construction in a section of New Orleans that was heavily damaged when Hurricane Katrina struck in Aug. 2005.

The fourth and final day, the closing plenary featured the progress achieved over the past five years. Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton closed the meeting.

Former President Clinton announced that CGI members at the conference in 2009 have made 284 new commitments, valued at more than $9.4 billion dollars. In total, these commitments are projected to improve more than 200 million lives. Since 2005, members of the Clinton Global Initiative have made nearly 1,700 commitments valued at $57 billion dollars. Eighty million people will generate sustainable income through self-employment or new job opportunities through these commitments. At the end of the day when the conference ended, I walked out from the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, and as I was walking in the crowd of multi-ethnic people, many questions rushed into my mind but of one them stuck: How we can bring changes in our own community as individuals?

Oct 1, 2009

Homage To Mahatma Gandhi

Google opened my clotted mind with its logo that paid tribute to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the 140th anniversary of his birth today. Google replaced its first ‘G’ with his picture. I have already written on my Farsi blog and ask my Farsi readers to pay homage to this wise man who devoted his time freeing millions of people in his country. I write these words to honor his wisdom, greatness and as an emancipator of humanity. I write these lines to pay special homage to him when he stood against imperialism and smiled at them while saying these words:

"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions...If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."
Nothing stops Gandhi in his quest for truth ‘Satyagraha’. This is what Gandhi believed so strongly that he prepared to die for it. What a great desire is moved him towards reaching his goal. He didn’t dream this truth but he managed to reach it and ended the injustice and inequality. He believed every human being is born free and should live freely. He took long way from London to South Africa and from South Africa to India, he carried a precious gift and ultimately he gave it to millions of people who were suffering. It was their freedom. Finally this is what Gandhi telling us to do:
I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.

Sep 4, 2009

Meet Afghanistan's Biggest Blogger

BY ANNIE LOWREY
From: FP Logo


At this point, the litany of contemporary Afghanistan's problems is well known. The country has few paved roads, let alone computers; its population is poor and illiterate; it is blighted with poverty, disease, and violence. For the past 30 years, Kabul has been under the control of radicals, strongmen, foreigners, or some combination of the three. Only rarely can the foreign reporters who describe these conditions leave the safe bubble of Kabul or the back seat of an armored vehicle. As a result, Afghanistan's people, culture, and traditions remain woefully unknown to the world, or reduced to crude stereotypes.

"People outside of Afghanistan have no idea what really exists here," a deep-voiced 26-year-old blogger named Nasim Fekrat says. "I was searching for Helmand [on the Internet] the other day. The only things that came up were about terrorists and suicide and bombs. But there is another side to Helmand, another face. There is agriculture, art, museums, culture."

On his groundbreaking blog, Afghan Lord, Fekrat hopes to tell that to the world. Writing in Farsi as well as self-taught English, he has taken it upon himself to show Afghanistan's softer, more genuine face. Until recently, he feels, this face was nearly impossible to find.

"In 2004, a journalist friend of mine told me that he was using the Internet to search for an Afghan word. He kept on coming up with this picture of a dog -- an Afghan hound!" Fekrat says, laughing ruefully. "We didn't even know there was such a dog in Afghanistan."

Although he passionately hopes to bring Afghan art, culture, and music -- life, really -- to readers around the world with his blog, Fekrat certainly does not downplay the trauma of Afghanistan's recent history. Indeed, his life and his blog are very much a product of it.

Fekrat grew up in a religious family in a village in Ghazni province. His childhood, he recalls, was defined by hardship and alienation. In particular, the young Fekrat strained under the strictures of his father, who once raised his hands to the heavens and called on God to kill his son when he would not pray one evening. Fekrat was 11.

But Fekrat has always been strikingly intelligent, erudite, and resourceful. When he was a teenager, he fled to Kabul, then under the control of the Taliban. A local family took in the refugee and gave him shelter. Soon after, he found life there too onerous -- he gives no clear reason why -- and joined the peripatetic community of Afghan refugees moving from country to country. Along the way, he spent time in Pakistan, Iran, Pakistan again, and the United Arab Emirates.

While living abroad, Fekrat became a member of this literate and engaged, if disaffected, Afghan expatriate community. He discovered a profound love for poetry and classical music in spite of his lack of higher education -- he delightedly describes how he pulled together money to buy compact discs of sonatas, concertos, and religious music in the record stores of Islamabad.

Around this time, Fekrat also discovered the online Afghan diaspora. People applying for political asylum in the West, Fekrat says, started to find one another on the Web in Farsi and Pashto chat rooms starting around 1998. Fekrat was swept up by the virtual community.

"For me, the Internet became a portal not just for information" about Afghanistan and its people, but "literature, poetry, and music," Fekrat says. "And it did not just become a way to communicate. As much as I learned, I became more uninformed," he says, pausing to struggle with his English. "No -- that's not how you say it. When I'm online, I realize I'm not informed enough," he says, and chuckles.

In 2000, the year before the United States invaded Afghanistan, Fekrat contacted two people he found writing articles online in Farsi. They were both native Afghans applying for asylum and living abroad. In their online correspondence, Fekrat -- who had by then returned to his native country -- discovered blogging. It was a revelation. "I asked them how they were publishing online," he says. "And they said, 'No, no, it's a blog!' I went online and found the ready-made template. It was so easy. For me, it was amazing."

Soon after, Fekrat joined the nascent Afghan blogosphere. His first blog, founded in 2002, was an anonymous and sophomoric effort on poetry and music. Reading what he wrote, he felt dissatisfied with his work and changed his subject and pseudonym several times. Nevertheless, Fekrat delighted in expressing his own thoughts and feelings with a level of freedom virtually impossible to find in Taliban- or even U.S.-controlled Afghanistan.

Fekrat moved around between a few jobs in journalism, but it wasn't until 2004 that he decided to make blogging his vocation. Afghan Lord was born.

His first post reads, typos and all: "Who can believe that Afghanistan got its peace after an awful situation more than two ddecades war. The situation that human was killing human, brother killing brother, war lords were killing innocents people and lots of difficulties occurred in Afghan land. What was the reason? Who was responsible for all these? Who is guilty? Who was supporting them and armed them to kill each other for nothing? And what is going on now? To all these categories I will put my pen. I will try regularly post daily from Afghanistan."

It spoke to the trauma of the Taliban takeover, and the shock of the U.S. invasion. And it allowed Fekrat to begin speaking to the world.

Over the past five years, not only has his English improved in leaps and bounds, but Fekrat has found his voice as a writer -- aching with wonder at the beauty of his culture and the horrors of war. He posts mostly on breaking news events, interspersed with commentary on politics. But he also includes reflections on the joy of riding a motorbike, or a poem. As with so many blogs, it reads like an upload of the author's thoughts -- unadulterated, emotional, and sometimes contradictory.

Committed to life as a professional blogger, Fekrat became a more professional journalist as well -- and his profile quickly grew. In 2005, readers around the world voted for his blog for Reporters Without Borders' "Freedom of Expression" blog awards. His writing on occupied Kabul became internationally known; he bought partner URLs and expanded his Web presence. He started working for the BBC's Farsi edition and other journalistic outlets, including for international organizations such as NATO.

His career as a blogger has not come without danger, though. A few years ago, someone stole his pseudonym to post pro-Taliban comments. With his Internet persona and reputation compromised, he had no choice but to reveal his true identity. Since then, he has received numerous death threats in comments on his blog, and in text messages, phone calls, and e-mails. When I spoke with him in May, he was living on friends' couches, moving every few days to avoid men he believed to be following him.

Last year, a journalist he knew in northern Afghanistan was sentenced to death for allegedly making anti-religious comments on a Web site. But Fekrat thinks the security situation and the nascent community of those speaking truth to power is improving.

In 2006, Fekrat decided to take his blog community offline as well, and he created the Afghan Association of Blog Writers to aid the country's community of about 20,000. (An absurdly high number if one considers that there are only a few hundred-thousand computers in Afghanistan, most brought in by the United States or aid groups.)

As the head of the organization, Fekrat started meeting up regularly with other bloggers in Internet cafes. He decided to start teaching blogging as well, as those expatriate Afghan journalists had taught him. "I would ask people to donate just a few dollars," he says. "We would hire a generator so that we could run the computers at night. And then we'd turn on the Internet."

Now, he runs a blog school, teaching young Afghans about digital media, blogging, photography, and videography. It is his proudest achievement. "I show young, talented Afghans the Web. And now they have powerful tools to write about the situation, the society."

About a year ago, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul began funding Fekrat's blog school -- before then, he had sought donations on his Web site. The new-media guru now travels all over Afghanistan (usually on a motorbike) teaching remote communities about the power of the Internet and blogging. When I spoke with him last week, he had just finished stints in Helmand and Bamiyan.

This spring, he came to the United States for the first time, on the invitation of Joe Torsella, then the chief executive of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Fekrat ended up staying in the United States to learn more about digital media and culture on a three-month fellowship at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University. (He has a great video post of himself riding around the North Carolina campus on a pink bicycle.) And he may return to the United States to attend Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

Now, Fekrat sees an opportunity for Afghanistan to leapfrog the United States into the age of digital media. "Afghanistan is not in an era to experience print media," he says. "In the United States, [newspapers] are in a state of crisis. In Afghanistan, we shouldn't repeat those mistakes. The world is going digital. I found the world online. And I want to put Afghanistan online. Why wait? Why spend the money to fund a newspaper?" His dream is to continue blogging and running his small-scale media shop -- and, eventually, to find funding for a "for-Afghans, by-Afghans" think tank.

Although he welcomes all the funding and support he can get, Fekrat doesn't just blog for the NGO crowd; he is most encouraged that his writing is finally catching on with literate Kabulis and rural Afghans alike. "It used to be, when you talked with someone and said you were a blogger, people thought you're not doing something responsible," he says. "Because of the religions and minorities, you are always offending someone." But now people are much more open to user-produced media, and much more open to blogs and political commentary.

This growing acceptance has a lot to do with what has been happening next door in Iran and the role online media played in the recent disputed election there. "Our neighbor, in Iran, it is a big country for writing blogs. And that has impacted here in Afghanistan, because Farsi is a language spoken here," Fekrat explains. "People have realized that there is an audience, and there is a way to [disperse] information. Everybody here knows about what happened in the Iran election, and they know how the Internet and blogs changed it."

Of course, Afghanistan is facing an election of its own, and the growing Afghan blogosphere will have a role to play, however small in a country where only one in 30 has Internet access. "Before, people always had to ask 'What is a blog?', and that is changing," Fekrat says.

In the meantime, Fekrat's mission remains showing Afghanistan to the world -- and spurring Afghanistan to put itself online. I asked him what he hopes to achieve with his journalism and community-building in the next year. "We are people and we need connection. For you, Annie, to understand me as a human being, as an Afghan, as a human being who has feelings, love, hatred, and culture, is listening to the same music as Annie listens to."

That is Fekrat's goal. And to achieve it, all that needs to happen is for readers to visit his blog.

Aug 2, 2009

Learning Online Journalism and Writing Blogs in Helmand Province

Note that this article was first published in the America.gov (direct link of this interview)and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.
-----

Introduction: A surprising number of Afghans blog on the Internet and even more want to learn how. Nasim Fekrat has been at the forefront of helping Afghans use modern technology to communicate with each other and the rest of the world – but it can be a dangerous business. America.gov’s Jane Morse talked with him earlier this year while he was in United States on a fellowship (see: Eager to Learn About the World, Tech Savy Afghans Turn to Blogs.) In a new guest post, Nasim talks about his latest efforts to teach blogging in Helmand province, the largest in Afghanistan and the world’s top opium-producing region. The province is the site of ongoing deadly fighting between the Taliban and American, British and other NATO troops.

This is the sixth day that I am in the war-torn province of Helmand. My friends in other provinces do not know what I am here for, and before I explain it to them, they ask me, “What the heck are you doing there?”

I am in Helmand province to conduct a training session on online journalism and blog writing. We had planned for owners of 20 media outlets to participate in this two-day training session, but we received more applications than we expected. We were unaware that we would get 28 people for the training session, including reporters, poets and writers.

You may think that we had everything we needed for the training class, but we did not have everything. We had just two computers that connected to the Internet and we had 28 journalists. Every one of them required the Internet during the training. It may be unbelievable for readers or funny to them, but we did it. Every one of the participants had a blog entry by the end of the training session and had posted two subjects on their blogs. Almost all of the blogs were written in Pashto (one of the official and most common languages in Afghanistan) and discussed subjects such as culture, literature, community, politics and agriculture in Helmand province.

When I asked the participants what made them participate in the training, our discussion taught me something new. One of them, who was familiar with Wikipedia, told me: “I want to inform people about Helmand province.”

He said that whenever he goes to the Internet site to search Lashkargah (the capital city of Helmand province) and Helmand province, he only finds results that center on drugs, war and violence.

Therefore, he is learning to utilize blogging in order to inform the world that Helmand is not a place of drugs and war but has agriculture, culture and literary works which have not been widely publicized.

One of the participants told me that he wants to discuss the security challenges in Helmand province using blogging, and he wants to hear opinions from other bloggers concerning the operation in Helmand province and find solutions for the conflict in this province.

The enthusiasm for the training was more than expected and the reason for that is clear: This is a war-torn province and nobody is willing to put himself in danger in order to conduct training for journalists. But for me, as a young Afghan from the generation of war victims and refugees, I love to serve my country and my fellow citizens. I want to teach them the things that I have learned. I like to spread the culture of blogs and online journalism in Afghanistan among the younger generations.

This was the third workshop on blogging and online journalism which was conducted with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the blogging Institution of Afghanistan in Helmand province. This program has been scheduled in other provinces and the next workshop will be in Bamyan province.

Read more about Nasim’s efforts at his English language blog, Afghan Lord at http://www.afghanlord.org/

You can see his photo gallery The World Through My Eyes at http://www.fekrat.org/

Additional photo galleries by Nasim can be found on NATO’s website, as well as at PreventHate.org:
http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2008/02/PHOTO/EN/index.htm
http://preventhate.org/gallery.asp

Aug 1, 2009

Eager to Learn About the World, Tech Savvy Afghans Turn to Blogs

Note that this article was first published in the America.gov (direct link of this interview)and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

Afghan blogger teaches others his craft
-------

By Jane Morse
Staff Writer

Washington — Tech-savvy Afghans increasingly are turning to blogs for information about their country and the world. They also use blogs as a platform for telling their stories about Afghanistan to the world, says Nasim Fekrat, one of Afghanistan’s trailblazing bloggers.

Although Internet penetration is not high in Afghanistan compared with other countries, since 2002, some 20,000 Afghans have started blogging, Fekrat told America.gov. Fekrat, who blogs under the moniker “Afghan Lord,” estimates that at least 1 million Afghans access the Internet through Internet cafes and at local schools and universities.

Fekrat discovered blogs in 2000, when only two Afghan expatriates — one in Canada and one in the United States — were blogging in Farsi. He e-mailed them requesting more information and then taught himself how to use the medium. In late 2002, he launched his first blogs featuring his poetry and discussions of classical music. Later, he included discussions about events in Afghanistan as well as philosophical issues.

In 2008, Fekrat taught blogging workshops in Kabul and Bamyan. Approximately 40 people attended the three-day workshops. They shared 10 computers Fekrat was able to rent with funds he raised from donors over the Internet. He hopes to raise enough money to repeat the classes again this year, sharing what he learned during his recently completed three-month fellowship at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University in North Carolina.

Barack Obama’s deft use of Internet tools to send his message to voters, raise money and ultimately win the U.S. presidential elections profoundly impressed Fekrat. “This can be a model, a lesson to Afghanistan for presidential elections which are coming in a few months,” he said.

Afghanistan’s presidential elections are set for August 20. According to NATO officials, nearly 16 million voters have registered to vote — about half the country’s population.

That an African American won the U.S. presidential elections is “a big lesson” for Afghans,” Fekrat said. Afghans, he said, “should build up the determination to end inequality and hatred toward each other.”

“When I go back [to Afghanistan],” Fekrat said, “I will tell [my blogging students] about the media and morality. I’ll tell them how we can’t have exactly the same thing [as in the United States]; but with what we’re able to learn, to transform in [an] Afghan way; not in a very traditional way.

“We can change,” he said. “We can bring a picture of different models of Afghanistan.”

Many Afghans never learned about democracy, according to Fekrat. “Rather they heard communism, socialism, equality, Marxism, those ideas based on Marxist theory.” Compounding the problem, he said, is widespread illiteracy. “Those people, who never heard democracy, freedom, freedom of speech and human rights … they have to have an idea, a description of democracy that they never had,” he said.

“The meaning of democracy was not transformed in the context of Afghan meaning, Afghan knowledge, Afghan language,” he said. For many of the uneducated people, he said, democracy means little more than women discarding their head scarves.

AFGHANISTAN’S NEW GENERATION: GENERATING CHANGE

“The new generation is not the generation of Taliban,” Fekrat said. “The new generation — they are simply about learning. … They want to connect themselves to the world.”

Blogging and the Internet won’t reach Afghanistan’s illiterate poor, and Afghan society, Fekrat acknowledged, is highly controlled by tradition, religion, differing tribal customs and fear of retribution. Even so, there is a core population of young people interested in change, according to Fekrat.

Afghans who blog enjoy a lively forum for discussion, Fekrat said. “They’re talking about elections, presidential elections. Hundreds of articles are published in Web sites. There is debate among them. They’re discussing the issues,” he said.

“I’m sure there are lots of misunderstandings, misconceptions and biased information from Afghanistan,” Fekrat said. If given the proper tools, young Afghans could provide a more accurate picture of their country, Fekrat said.

Although Fekrat blogs in both English and Farsi, the vast majority of Afghans blog in Farsi. But Fekrat would like to see the viewpoints of the Afghan people reach a wider non-Farsi speaking audience. His plan is to teach Afghans to do video interviews and podcast interviews with subtitles in English. Once again, he’s hoping to raise the funds for the video camcorders by soliciting donations online.

“You can find lots of Nasims like me in Afghanistan; lots of people will contact you and talk to you. You can learn a lot from Afghan society,” Fekrat said.

For more, see Fekrat’s Web sites in Farsi and English.

Jul 27, 2009

Sunset in Helmand

Jul 11, 2009

Trip to Helmand

As we were about to land, suddenly the aircraft whirling round up and down in the sky, panic spreading through the passengers, an Indian who is sitting in front of me grabbed the backseat and looking on the right side.

A fighter jet was moving close to us. Brad who has called me in the plane that we are going together in media center told me this later when we were in the car towards PRT media center.

I never had this experience before, my mood was changing, almost nauseate. The aircraft bent to the right and start landing immediately.

After we got briefing and asked our blood types, we were asked to wear body armor and get into the car. The car drove in dust among several other cars that were divided to different directions.

I met Ben in PRT, who was my only contact. I had chance to check my e-mail and brows the news websites. Write you more here.

Jun 12, 2009

Shifting Into Neutral and Risking

Tired tired and badly tired. The engine has got a problem, it becomes hot so hot. It seems the fan in front of the engine is broken. It stopped in the middle of Sheebar Pass, thanks god; the shepherds helped me to reach the top of the mountain. I had no option but shifting into neutral and driving down to the bottom which was a big risk. If i was remained at that top of the mountain at night, probably the wolves would bite me.

I am in Bamyian right now, if you have ever been in a dream to see a scene of paradise, come to Bamyian. The blue sky, the cool weather, the greenish nature, all these bring you joyful moments. The villagers smile at you and invite you for a cup of tea, and then they share their stories with you which is untold and unheard yet.

It happened to me yesterday, I was almost broken in to pieces if the woman of the village wouldn’t give me a cup tea and bread. I was so hungry, my legs were almost paralyzed. When I had tea, there were another two women; they asked me if I am doctor to give them medicine for her sick child. It is really hard to get close to the villagers, especially women but if you respectfully talk to them and call them mother and sister they behave you so kindly.

Tomorrow I am going to Tob Chi School which is linked to a North Carolina friend school in the United States.

Jun 10, 2009

My Insanity

I am excited and impatient as well. I bought a Kawasaki motorbike 250cc offroad just a few days ago. With this I am going to travel to Bamyan and in central Afghanistan. It is a Japanese used dirt bike which currently is in a good condition. I am going to do a tour, passing through several districts and province to reach my village. My mother is sick and i promised to see her weeks ago. This time I am doing a quick tour with this motorbike and I hope to do it again but with a friend of mine who is still trying to make his mind.

In spite of everything i love to drive motorbike, it is my love and part of my insanity which drove me so far. My friends advised me not do to this tour because of security and distance but what we should do if we shouldn’t do what we want?

More, through this tour, I am trying to reunion my mind, my memories and recall them. I will update here more.

Apr 28, 2009

Walking into the Wind

----


A man in Mazar-e Sharif (northern Afghanistan) who walks into the wind with his son, suddenly a powerful wind tugged him and fell down on the ground, then stood and started to spit blood on his son when he was suffering from pain. I took this picture when they were walking farther down the street.
He is one of those warriors who lost one of his legs in war against Soviet Invasion, today he is begging on the streets alongside of hundreds of others who are effected by war.

The ANA soldiers in front of them shown, are taking care of security measurements of the Nawrooz festival, the fist day of the year.

Nawrooz is historically cheerfully celebrated by Afghan people and also popular in Iran. Actually Nawrooz is a Zoroastian holiday and it originated in northern Afghanistan then spread across the continent by Afghans. Nawrooz is celebrated in a very special way in Afghanistan which tells a lot about its history and Zorosastian, especially about the people while in Iran it is just turned into a cultural event.

Apr 5, 2009

The Bush Legacy - Afghanistan & Iraq war

On Thursday evening, March 26, while everyone was getting ready for watching Duke Basketball game at Duke Campus, in the social science building there was a very interesting discussion on US National Security in the 21st century with the former national security adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley was working as national security adviser from 2005 to 2009 under Bush administration.

More than 60 students and faculty member attended this discussion and sponsored by Duke and the Triangle institute for Security Studies. Peter Feaver, who worked under Hadley from 2005 to 2007 as special adviser for strategic planning and international reform on the National Security Council interviewed Hadely and then opened the floor for the audience.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is the Bush legacy and today the new administration has to carry out to defeat the enemy. The United Sates was quite successful to overcome the terrible situation in Iraq but not in Afghanistan. This was an issue I had chance to ask Hadely personally.

He believes, the Bush administration was unsuccessful on war against terror in Afghanistan, not only Hadely but a numbers of politicians whom I met, they sated that the United Sates went to Afghanistan to prevent another September11 which was successful. The interpretation is; Taliban, war in Afghanistan is an Afghan issue, they should solve their problem by their own.

Mar 31, 2009

Cycling and Exploring

I made this video for my Farsi blog readers but then I thought I should post it here as well. The pink bicycle helped me to explore the Duke Campus, the city and also do some shopping but at the end of the day both my knees felt stiff. Some may find it funny to see me on a pink bike (which is for women) but guess what, I don't really care what others think of me. I don't have a car and I needed to explore the campus and what would be better than a bike. You might ask then why a pink? Well, that was the only bike that I had access to.

Mar 28, 2009

Time to Hip Hop and Rock

It is regretful since I came to the United Sates, I never wrote about my adventure on my blog. Henceforth, I promise myself at lest to write a few posts per week about the events that leave impression directly or indirectly on me. This also has to be described what those are directly and indirectly impressions. Shortly to say directly when I am involved and indirectly when I hear from others or read.

By accident I went to MTV channel, the people exploding with joy and moving their bodies. In their website says, it is the spring Panama City Beach, where thousands of bathing beauties rock it all day long to Lil Wayne, Flo Rida, Kid Cudi, 3OH!3 and more.

The other fellows are left for weekend at the beach, I can’t remember exactly to which one but they will spend two nights there. I remain in my apartment and stick around Duke Campus. People are so kind here especially Ty who take care of me and today he took me to his parent’s house.

By the way, today I got a pink bicycle from our office at Sanford institute to use it and as transportation for going around and may be far from campus. I am enjoying of hard metal, hard rock and hip hop which are rocking really. Sometimes I am tired of reading news especially about my country but it is time to rock with these music.

Mar 15, 2009

Buzkashi



Afghan National Sport
Buzkashi, which literally translated means "goat grabbing" is the national sport of Afghanistan. Many historians believe that Buzkashi began with the Turkic-Mongol people, and it is indigenously shared by the people of Northern Afghanistan. There are two main types of Buzkashi, Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is relatively simple compared with Qarajai, even though they share similar objectives.

Feb 15, 2009

At Duke University

It is almost a week I am in US at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina on a fellowship program about media.
As a Duke Media Fellow, we attend special seminars about media and democracy, led by Duke University faculty, leading journalists and guest lecturers. We are also be able to attend regular Duke University classes and work with faculty and staff to pursue independent projects.

It is great opportunity to learn from other fellows about media challenges in US, France, Germany, South Africa and Georgia. For more information about this program, please visit this website for this program.

Jan 27, 2009

In The Berlin Prison

The title may a little surprise you, but that what happened with Nasim is that he is Berlin prison now. May be you will think that he is suspected, because he comes from the country which provides 95% of opium to the world.

I am in Kabul now, this post had to be posted already, but it was missing somewhere in between of the data. I was invited by the GTZ as a photographer for a photography workshop on November 7 to 14. There were six other photographers from other countries; Jodi Bieber from South Africa, Dörthe Boxberg from Germany, Stefan Erber from Germany, Elena Koktanek from Germany, Michael Tsegaye from Ethiopia, Leonel Vasquez from Colombia and two workshop leaders: Ralf Bäcker and Jörn Neumann from Germany.

Before going to the workshop in Berlin I had been in Italy where i received my freedom of expression award from Information Safety and Freedom (ISF) in Siena.
The workshop subject was “Developing security and security development” the central theme of for 2009 of the GTZ. For one day I was shooting in the main Berlin prison “Justizvollzugsanstalt Tegel”, which contains 1580 prisoners from 62 countries right now. Around 32% of them are foreigners.

It was early morning, when we arrived at the prison. The security guards at the main gate got our passports and in return a coarse card, not easy to bend, was given to us and we were demanded to not lose it, otherwise we couldn’t get out of the prison afterwards.

The doors and windows are built out of rigid steel and concrete structures, strong glasses are used for the windows and soundproofed rooms. Inside the control room are many monitors that show the area where the staff and prisoners are moving around. A burly security man suited in a dark blue suit, with written on his arm and back “Justiz” guided us around inside the prison. We were told not to photograph the prisoners or security guards, nor locks and keys. And we had to empty our pockets from money and electronic devices.

The buildings inside are surrounded by a barbed wire fence and in each corner cameras are controlling your steps. We were given two hours inside the prison, by the security guard who was with us. Me and my German colleague Elena definitely had to be clever to use our time as well as possible. Elena was excited to see the inside of the prison, me too. It was very important for me to see the prison in Berlin and to compare it to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul. It's a large prison in Afghanistan. I visited Pul-e-Charkhi prison and remember pretty well how horrible it was.

Now, I found myself in the biggest prison in Germany. I was looking for the meaning of Sicherheit inside the prison, in the Berlin streets, in the city with its skyscrapers and well dressed people with luxurious cars moving and people 'petting' with their best friends, which is not normal in Afghanistan and other Islamic states.

I had to find out now what Sicherheit means in this country, for the Berliners, for the people who work and earn money to live, for those who hope to have a shelter where to spend the night, for the many who survive.

This time Berlin became very interesting for me, but how to figure out its looks? I like this city, but how can I find myself if I would live there for a day? With this workshop I learned a lot, and also from the people who I met in the streets, at their work, and also the beggars who smiled at us.

The 44 years old security guard Rafael Galejew, who originally comes from Georgia, accompanied us. He works in the Justizvollzugsanstalt Tegel prison since 1994. Rafael carried a bunch of large keys. One was bigger than the others and I joked by calling it “the king key”. Yes it was a real special one, because he could open any door with it.

Entering the first building of the prison, and looking up to the walls painted yellow doesn’t give a sense of being be happy. "But for a prisoner" said Rafel, "yellow is a happy color". Doors are numbered together with their prisoner names. The stairs, door, and windows are netted with steel girders. While I tried to take pictures Rafael told me to not picture the prisoners. To have him trust me I showed my pictures to him every now and then and told him to do so as well after our tour. That made him happy and he told me he trusted me.

Time was running and we had to go to the next building, moving from the short term punishment prison to the lifelong imprisonments building. The 8 floors building contains over 300 prisoners who committed murder or similar crimes.

Another security guard joined us when we came on the fifth floor. We entered a cell of 2x3 meters wide, with a bed, tv, tape recorder, a toilet and lots of pictures of family, children, and relatives hanging on the wall of the prisoner who himself is outside and waving to us. But we can’t respond to him nor take pictures because we had been asked not to talk or get close to the prisoners.

In the entry hall of the building hangs a picture of a priest, the writings on it say that he was killed by the Nazis. Rafael commented, "The Nazis were the enemy of human kind, not only Jews."
I asked Rafael if there are any Afghans in the prison, and he told me that a couple of years ago there were a few, but now they are all released.

They have special meals for the Muslim prisoners, and however, "since 2000 the numbers of prisoners are decreasing" as Rafael described.

The reason for being in the prison and to look for the word of “Sicherheit” was because in the German concept, Sicherheit has no specific meaning. Many use it as 'security' and 'safety' which are not right translations in German.
As photographers from various backgrounds, but all coming from post-war countries, we had to find out the meaning of security in Berlin, where I don’t see police, or military convoys in the streets.

So, what does security really mean for Berliners here? But it is the question and the theme of our workshop photography.
We had to explore the city to find the meaning of security in the German context among Berliners and foreigners living in Berlin.
It was very interesting hearing the meaning of security in so different ways. For some, security is about money, or trust, love, or sex, profession, or travel, while for others it means to find shelter, to be safe.

Jan 6, 2009

My Interview with the Rai News 24

It is a bit funny to see myself in this clip. It just made me to laugh, I can't believe what I was telling to Mario Forenza, the Interviewer.

By the way, i am trying to do video podcasting but I still challenge with myself how to overcome on my shyness.
By the way, you can also download the movie from here.