Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Afghanistan: In Danger of Becoming Afghanistan Again

It has been almost two years since we were in Afghanistan filming BEYOND BELIEF, and from the moment we left, the situation has been steadily deteriorating. Just 24 hours after our departure in May 2006, anti-Western riots erupted in Kabul after a US military vehicle's brakes gave out coming down a hill and slammed into a line of cars, killing five Afghans. The incident ignited the worst violence in Kabul since America's invasion in 2001.

Rioters chanted "Death to America," and terrorized international aid organizations in a search for foreigners. The Naween Guest House, a B&B known for foreign guests—and where we had stayed for our entire visit—came under attack, as gunmen fired bullets at the front gate. The armed guard who was on duty outside the Naween was forced from his post, and Aziz Humraz, the manager who smoked shisha with us on our last night, hid under the reception desk. Just a few blocks away, the CARE International offices we had visited every day during our filming were ransacked and set on fire, and an Afghan toddler at the organization’s daycare center was pulled from her caretaker’s arms after being mistaken for a foreigner because of her light skin. Only when she cried out in Dari was she saved.

When the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 ended five years of barbaric Taliban rule, there was hope that a new democratic government would help liberate Afghanistan’s most oppressed population: the women. But many dreams have been dashed as fundamentalist restrictions on women take hold once again. As William Dobson, managing editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, told me, "Afghanistan is in danger of becoming Afghanistan again."

Disturbing trends include increasing arson attacks on girls’ schools, forced gynecological exams of women “caught” in public with men who are not their husbands or relatives, and the murder of a young female TV host who was condemned by conservative clerics for being “un-Islamic.”

In September 2007 a new burn unit opened up at Herat’s hospital to handle the dramatic rise in cases in which women set themselves on fire to avoid a forced marriage (60 to 80 percent of all marriages are believed to be forced) or end an abusive one.

And just last week Islamic clergymen in Tahkar province made it illegal for male tailors to measure women for fittings—a ruling reminiscent of the oppressive bans imposed by the Taliban between 1996 and 2001.

Little by little the Taliban is once again gaining power and exerted influence across Afghanistan.

Yesterday, when the Serena Hotel—a favorite of foreigners and diplomats—was attacked by Taliban suicide bombers, Nato officials were quick to call it a “sign of Taliban weakness.” But this is a naïve description for such a brazen attack in Afghanistan’s capital. Eyewitness Lisa Gans who is an NGO worker in Afghanistan wrote in an email to friends and family after the attack: “I hope that this country will not go the way of Iraq, but I'm sure that I'm not the only one here who sees this as a dramatic event that will shift the security situation on the ground. This tragedy will have broader-reaching implication, not only for me, but for the country of Afghanistan.”

Unlike previous winters which signaled an end to fighting before a spring offensive, this year, Taliban leaders have begun a winter offensive in dramatic fashion. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed has put Westerners on notice: the restaurants you eat at and the guest houses where you stay are “not safe anymore.”

For more:
BBC News -- Little Hope for Afghans in 2008

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