Setting the ground for Imam’s reappearance

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Imam Asr

The idea of a messiah or savior or redeemer is common to all religious schools of thought, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity. In the Islamic context, the concept of messianism, which is the belief in a messiah, revolves around an eschatological figure who is expected to rise and fill the earth will peace, justice and social order.

Holy Quran and Prophetic traditions have in unequivocal terms predicted the glorious triumph of the forces of right and the establishment of an Islamic society built on the foundations of justice and righteousness. The wait and anticipation for that bright tomorrow continues. As Imam Sajjad (as) says, “The greatest success is to wait for the reappearance (of Imam)”. (Al Ihtejaj vol.2 Pg.154. Kamaaluddin vol.1 Pg.320)

Awaiting is primarily the result of two main conditions: not satisfied with the status quo and expecting things to change for good. But, merely being disgruntled with the status quo is not sufficient. A person has to step out of his comfort zone and prepare the ground for visible and productive change to happen. In more precise terms, he has to participate in the process of change.

In the words of British historian Eric Hosbawm, the concept of messianism, which we call Mahdism, can be broadly divided into two categories: passive and active. In the passive Mahdism, people immerse themselves in prayers and hope for the savior’s early reappearance. In the active or revolutionary Mahdism, people run the gauntlet and participate in the process of change.

In today’s era – with the moral bankruptcy, endemic corruption, grinding poverty, and scourge of illiteracy, ignorance, misrule and barbarism reaching the climax – what should a waiter wait for? What are the responsibilities of a person waiting for the change to happen?

The forces of imperialism have become menacingly stronger than ever. Human rights abuses have become frighteningly rampant. Weak and voiceless continue to be oppressed and subjugated by mighty and powerful

There is a clear instruction in Holy Quran for believers waiting for the change. “And say to those who do not believe that you act as much as you can. We are also trying. You all wait and surely we all are waiting.” (Quran 11:121-122).

But, what does this wait entail and what are the believers waiting for. The narration attributed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) makes it amply clear. “The world will not perish until a man among the Arabs appears whose name matches my name.”  (Sahih al-Tirmidhi, V9, P74)

We are witnessing social, political and cultural upheaval across the world today. Morals and ethics have degraded alarmingly. Grinding poverty has resulted in the poor quality of life. Illiteracy and educational backwardness has sent us back to dark ages. The forces of imperialism have become menacingly stronger than ever. Human rights abuses have become frighteningly rampant. Weak and voiceless continue to be oppressed and subjugated by mighty and powerful.

In such a scenario, when the darkness of despair prevails everywhere, there is an elixir of hope. The hope lies in the divine intervention. The hope is the divinely guided leader, the Mehdi (ajtf), who is expected to come out of the occultation and establish a system based on the divinely ordained laws. It will be an ultimate victory of truth, justice and righteousness. “Mehdi (ajtf) is no longer an idea waiting to be materialized nor a prophecy that needs to be substantiated,” Shaheed Baqir as Sadr writes in An Inquiry Concerning Al Mahdi, “he is a living reality, a particular person, living among us in flesh and blood, who shares our hopes, suffering and sorrows is waiting for the appropriate moment to stretch his hand to every oppressed and needy person and eliminate the tyrants.”

Allah (swt) says in Holy Quran, “O’ Muhammad (pbuh), you are but a warner, and for every community, there exists a guide.” (Quran 13:7). There will always be a divinely gifted guide for people in every age and every time. For us, the people of this age, it is the Mehdi (ajtf).

Looking at the state of affairs today, the discourse around the reappearance of Imam Mehdi (as) and the responsibility of setting the ground for his reappearance has assumed huge significance. With the world sinking into the abyss of darkness and people across the world grappling with myriad self-inflicted woes, the responsibility on our shoulders has increased. Imam’s occultation, however, does not mean he has abandoned us or that we must despair about the present state of affairs. Imam Ali (as) said: “Await for the reappearance (of Imam) and do not despair of the divine mercy. Because the best deed in the eyes of Allah, the great and the mighty, is to wait for the reappearance (of Imam). It is the duty of those who are believers.” (Al Khisaal, vol2, Pg616).

The hope is the divinely guided leader, the Mehdi (ajtf), who is expected to come out of the occultation and establish a system based on the divinely ordained laws. It will be an ultimate victory of truth, justice and righteousness

What are our responsibilities as believers to prepare the ground for Imam’s reappearance? A tradition attributed to Imam Hasan Askari (as) exhorts people to remain vigilant and participate in the process of educational change. “Be aware, if somebody teaches ignorant, guides a misguided, instills the teachings of Ahlulbayt (as), then on the day of Qiyamat (judgment day), he will be with us. We will give him a seat next to us wherever we may be.” Hence, it is amply clear that during this period of Imam’s occultation, among the biggest responsibilities on our shoulders is to bring about educational reformation in our society.

Such educational reformers enjoy supreme position in the eyes of Allah (swt). Imam Ali Naqi (as) extols the virtues of these reformers. “Had there not been such scholars in the period of occultation who call people towards the Ahlulbayt (as), guide towards them, defend their religion with the proofs of Allah, protect weak Muslims from the devilish designs, deception of the tyrants and tentacles of the enemies of Islam, then surely all would have deviated from the religion of Allah.” (Mahajjatul-Baizaa, Vol. 1, Pg. 32)

It’s important to enjoin others to pursue good deeds (amr bil maaruf) and advocate against sinful practices (nahi anil munkar). Spreading awareness about the sinister plots and conspiracies being hatched by the enemies of Islam is another big responsibility. We must promote and propagate the divine message of Islam and develop scientific temper in our youth through education and reformation.

The practice of writing ariza must be encouraged so that the youngsters become more aware of their duties and responsibilities. We must strive to expose the corrupt rulers and extend helping hand towards poor and needy in our society. We must constantly try to polish our morals and ethics to be able to join Imam’s army.  Above all, we must raise our voice – individually and collectively – against corruption, injustice, terrorism, crime, immorality and other such menaces.

What is important is the right strategy and approach to pave the ground for educational awakening and social reformation. Grooming children from the elementary level, making them understand the purpose of existence and their responsibilities, explaining how Islam is not just a religion but a complete way of life, stressing on the need to analyze with a free mind, the need to inquire and argue fearlessly, the need to debate and discuss passionately, and the need to exchange ideas generously. The approach has to be thoughtful, progressive and result-oriented. It must ensure the gains of education are properly utilized to bring up children who are educated, informed, aware and enlightened.

Considering that we are impatiently waiting for someone who is a righteous and virtuous messiah, it’s important that we familiarize ourselves with the ideals of deliverance and act on them in letter and spirit. To prepare the ground for his reappearance, we have to develop a reformist spirit in ourselves and others so that the society undergoes change. To protect society from social infirmities, ethical degeneration, cultural disorder, misrule and anarchy, it’s important to educate ourselves and others around us. If we remain trapped in the vortex of ignorance; social anomalies, cultural dilemmas, and orthodox beliefs will continue to hinder our personal growth and that of the society.

As Allah (swt) says in Holy Quran, You are the best nation brought forth for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah” (Quran 3:110). The seeds of the promised rule of Mehdi (as) shall soon sprout and our agonizing wait shall end.

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“There are barriers not just in winning hearts, but letting our own hearts be won”

 Farzana Marie is a poet, author, social worker and former Air Force offer. She heads Civil Vision International (CVI), an organization focused on positively influencing international relationships through connecting, informing, educating and inspiring. She is the author of Hearts for Sale! A Buyer’s Guide to Winning in Afghanistan. 

Ms. Marie served as Air Force Officer in Afghanistan for two years, between 2010 and 2012. Before that, she had worked with Afghan orphanages between 2003 and 2004. Her research focuses on Persian literature, especially Afghan women’s poetry. In conversation with Syed Zafar Mehdi, she speaks about her experience as soldier and social worker, her poetry, and what she thinks of Taliban and Afghan youth. 

Q. You served as volunteer in Afghan orphanages before being deployed as an Air Force officer in Afghanistan. How was the experience as soldier and as social worker?
A. When I first went to Afghanistan in 2003, I was 19 years old. I was probably very naive and trying to ‘change the world’. But I think being with those kids at Allahudin and Tahai Maskan orphanages changed me far more than it changed them. After I was commissioned as an Air Force officer, I volunteered to go back to Afghanistan as soon as I could. I was nervous, though, because I was afraid I would be stuck inside the base doing something meaningless and disconnected from Afghans.

I was very frustrated, especially in the first 6 months, with many paranoid restrictions. My deployment was supposed to end after those 6 months, but I was offered the opportunity to extend it. It was in the second year (under the great leadership of people who understood the importance of engagement) that I was able to participate in more significant work as part of the ISAF Anti-Corruption Task Force called Shafafiyat.

Q. In your book ‘Hearts for Sale; A Buyer’s Guide to Winning in Afghanistan’, laced with intellect and emotion, you urge Americans to come out of their fortified barracks and mingle with Afghans to win their hearts and minds. Why have they failed to do so in all these years?
A. What I saw when I was serving in Afghanistan was that many American men and women in uniform were in fact very eager to spend time outside and connect with Afghans. The policies and regulations that often prevent them from doing so largely stem from a system built on rewards that are not based on actual results or success. The system is based to advance careers, and thus treats deployments as ‘checking a box’ with the goal of coming home safe (with medals, of course).

The other problem is a misconception of safety: the idea that security is derived from high walls and heavily-guarded gates. In my experience, this is incorrect. The best source of security and safety in a place like Afghanistan is an ‘arsenal’ of deep relationships with Afghans. The best ‘weapons’ are language and culture, which are usually far better tools for navigating tense situations than bulletproof glass or the raised muzzle of an M-16.

Actually, you have to fall in love. It has to be real. And the mission you are fighting for, the mission you have left your loved ones behind for has to mean something. The short tour lengths, the high physical and mental walls, the mindless briefings disconnected from the realities of Afghanistan, the lack of understanding of the tremendous potential of Afghanistan’s future and how U.S. partnership can help secure that against the forces seeking to destroy it. These are barriers not just in winning hearts, but letting our own hearts be won.

The best source of security and safety in a place like Afghanistan is an ‘arsenal’ of deep relationships with Afghans; the best ‘weapons’ are language and culture, which are usually far better tools for navigating tense situations than bulletproof glass or the raised muzzle of an M-16

Q. In your book, you tell gripping stories of your engagement team’s 350 plus missions around Afghanistan. Which one was most memorable?
A. I think it was the trip to Panjshir Valley on the 10th anniversary of Ahmed Shah Masoud’s assassination just before 9/11. That day involved memories of so many kinds I love Afghanistan for: stunning natural beauty, hospitality of people, importance of remembering our shared history. A close second was an Iftaar dinner at Governor’s house in Herat with young leaders and friends from civil society in attendance.

Q. Your research primarily focuses on Persian literature, especially Afghan women’s poetry. As a poet yourself, what do you make of it? 
A. I feel very honored and humbled to be studying this. The enormously rich tradition of classical Persian poetry combined with the important and intriguing new material Afghan poets are producing today makes me feel very small and very excited at the same time. Understanding Persian poetry (and hopefully one day Pashto poetry as well) is a lifelong pursuit for me. I think what interests me most about the poetry of contemporary Afghan women is the strong impulse to address socio-political issues, the potential for poetry to be more than just a venue for expression, but actually a process to bring awareness and stir action. I am probably most interested in the unusual or striking images that I find as I read. For instance, in Somaya Ramish’s new book, A Season of Pomegranate Dreams
(Yak Fasl-e Khaab-e Anaar), there is a poem whose first line and central idea is: ‘load poems like guns’.

This gives us a lot to think about in terms of the power of poetry and its potential as means of ‘fighting back’ against forces that would seek to destroy, to oppress, or perhaps most significantly in this case, to silence.

Q. How does poetry wrestle with the conflicts and social issues of our time? As Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail puts it, is poetry not medicine but an X-ray?
A. I think poetry (and art more broadly) can be both part of the diagnosis and the healing. Poetry is a layered language, but it also does a great deal of exposing. It can point to the wounds, identify the broken places which are often ignored or have been hidden beneath the defensive mechanisms of forgetfulness or willful ignorance. Once these places are spoken back into the light, we can begin confronting them more clearly. Poetry is about finding new ways to see, and I think in this sense, it is an important part of confronting the issues of our time, especially in conflict. I think poetry can help us see the way forward in that too.

Q. How do you rate Afghanistan’s new breed of leaders? Do they present hope and optimism?
A. Afghanistan’s young leaders give me such exuberant hope. I have the great privilege to be connected with many visionary young Afghans who I am convinced will shape their country’s future in positive and inspiring ways. These are the leaders who are constantly thinking of helping those in need. These are the leaders who are not afraid to stand up to a corrupt official, who are voting or running for office, who stand in peaceful protest, who plant trees, who make courageous art and music. Through their actions and words, they choose to be a part of creating the future they want to see for Afghanistan.

I have the great privilege to be connected with many visionary young Afghans who I am convinced will shape their country’s future in positive and inspiring ways

Q. In the wake of withdrawal of international forces by the end of 2014, do you think Afghan forces will be able to take control of things?
A. I think there will still be a residual force to continue training the Afghan forces beyond 2014, but I think the Afghan police and army have been taking tremendous strides and are capable of rising to meet this challenge. To me, it is not so much about equipment and particular skills. Those things are important, but I think the determining factor in how successful the ANSF is at meeting the challenge of Afghanistan’s enemies is leadership. The Afghan troops are facing a psychological battle, which is intensified by the high number of physical casualties they have been suffering. They need inspiration and they need leaders who have integrity and see rank as an opportunity to serve rather than rule.

Q. What are the major challenges in negotiating with Taliban? Why did Doha talks fail?
A. Negotiations have to begin on some kind of common ground, however small. Usually in peace negotiations, part of that common ground is a desire for peace. Unfortunately, it appears that the sponsors of Taliban in Pakistan do not actually want that. Another foundational element of the necessary common ground in negotiations with the Taliban is acceptance of the Afghan constitution as the law of the land. In the political theater performance in Doha, indications from the raising of the Taliban flag to the ‘Islamic Emirate’ sign made it clear that the Taliban are not yet willing to accept a government other than one of their own making, under their own terms, even if they have to continue to kill Afghan civilians by the hundreds to get it.

I think there will still be a residual force to continue training the Afghan forces beyond 2014, but I think the Afghan police and army have been taking tremendous strides and are capable of rising to meet this challenge

Q. What is the story about your name, which you got as a gift in 2003 and has become a part of your identity now?
A. Farzana was the name my first Afghan friend, Zulekha, gave me. This was in California, before I first went to Afghanistan, and I was trying to learn some Dari. “You need an Afghan name,” she said.”Oh, I would love that! In Kazakhstan they called me Fariza,” I said. “Ok then, you can be Farzana,” she said. And it stuck.

Q. “Light beckons! Come, come to your senses”. These words in your beautiful poem Memento Mori sound ironical, almost mocking at all the entities that have turned Afghanistan into a bedlam. Where do you see Afghanistan ten years down the road? 
A. I think what we see determines what we do, and how hard we work for it. I see Afghanistan in 2024 with strong civil society, independent women, development in industry, access to education and healthcare, thriving art and dying Taliban.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2014/03/13/these-are-barriers-not-just-in-winning-hearts-but-letting-our-own-hearts-be-won–interview)

‘Women’s empowerment is not in the status quo mode anymore in Afghanistan’

 Samira Hamidi is the Program and Advocacy Director for Empowerment Center for Women-ECW and former Director of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), which comprises more than 90 women’s organizations and 5,000 individuals. She is also the recipient of Afghan Presidential Medal.

Q. Did you always want to become a women’s rights defender or it happened by chance?
A.
 I grew up in an educated family. My parents paid equal attention to me and my brothers for our growth, access to education and other opportunities. That helped me become independent and take my own decisions. While working in various organizations, interacting with women, understanding their issues, I decided to engage myself in women’s rights issues and address the challenges women of my country face.

Q. You have extensively worked to advance gender equality in Afghanistan. Has the ground reality changed in terms of women empowerment or is the status quo intact?

A. There have been tremendous changes in the life of women in last 12 years. Women’s access to education, healthcare, employment, political participation and economic engagement are some of the important steps towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. Afghan National Development Strategy and National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan are important tools that have led to empowerment of women. Afghanistan, for the first time, has Elimination of Violence against Women Law that addresses domestic violence as a social issue rather than a domestic one. After 12 years, women’s empowerment is not in the status quo mode.

Q. As the former Director of Afghan Women’s Network in Afghanistan, working with 90 women’s organizations and 5,000 individuals, what challenges did you confront and how was the experience?
A.
 During my tenure with AWN, it was challenging but rewarding to advocate and coordinate at the policy level, demand women’s role at various platforms, their participation as well as their role in decision-making. My overall experience has been enriching. AWN is an institution where women’s empowerment and equality is the vision. While I used my expertise and knowledge in leading the network, I also had the opportunity to learn a lot.

Q. The countdown for April 2014 elections has begun. How do you rate Karzai’s tenure and as an Afghan woman, what are your expectations from his successor?
A.
 I personally respect President Karzai for his courage to step in to lead Afghanistan in 2001 when there was no system in place and the development budget was zero. Most of the development today can be credited to his leadership. However, with time, he has failed to maintain the confidence people showed in him after he got re-elected in 2009. His decision to bring warlords and criminals in government has further dented the trust people had in him.

The new President has to show political will to support people’s aspirations and respect the core values of democracy. He should devise concrete plans to fight corruption, establish robust justice system and strong law enforcement sector. He must also consider inclusion of 30 percent women in the new cabinet as per Afghan Constitution, and appoint male cabinet members based on their past record.

Q. There is a political lobby that wants negotiations and peace parleys with Taliban. Do you think it is a sensible thing to do at this juncture?

A. The current peace process is not moving in the direction as the people of Afghanistan had recommended during the 2010 National Peace Consultative Jirga. The lack of a clear strategy on how the peace process will become inclusive is another issue. Lack of access to information, symbolic presence of women in High Peace Council and Provincial Peace Councils is another grave issue. I am not optimistic about any negotiation if women are not made part of it.

Q. There is a large majority of students who drop out of school. How can government encourage them to pursue higher education and have bigger goals in life?
A.
 More than 60 percent Afghan population are youth and the direction they take is bound to affect the country. Unfortunately the education sector is in shambles. Children still study in tents. The lack of security in some parts of country is another big challenge, forcing students out of school. Government needs to make education its top priority.

Q. Are you hopeful about the future of Afghanistan?
A.
 Despite all the challenges, it is important to admit that we have come a long way. We cannot expect a country that started from scratch to become fully developed in 12 years. All Afghans need to work together to build their country.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2014/03/10/womens-empowerment-is-not-in-the-status-quo-mode-anymore-in-afghanistan)

‘It would be much harder to film something in the streets of Sydney than in Jalalabad.’

 Australian artist and filmmaker, George Gittoes has set up mobile studios for three decades, creating works in regions of conflict around the world. He has worked in North America, Europe, Middle East, Asia Pacific and Africa, creating works in both traditional and digital mediums, still and moving images, within a matrix of cultural interfaces.

Mr. Gittoes is currently making films in Afghanistan, painting and drawing and continuing to move around the globe. His documentary film Love City Jalalabad was widely acclaimed and screened at many international film festivals. He also runs Yellow House, an art and film school in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. In a freewheeling interview with Syed Zafar Mehdi, he talks about his cinema, his love affair with Afghanistan and his dreams for the war-weary country.

Q. You are known for your documentation of the effects of war in films and on canvas – how difficult or easy is your job?

A.     I grew up in Rockdale, Sydney, a neighborhood always favored by new migrants. For a kid born in 1949, this meant I was surrounded by refugees from World War II. A war my own father and uncle had fought in. People took me to their homes and I learnt of all the terrible things they had endured. When I travelled to America in 1968, I saw injustices about race that did not fit with the Hollywood image we had been shown through film, as well as the mass protests against the Vietnam War. I started doing drawings and paintings about the civil rights movement and Vietnam and that is how it all started.

I regard my work as a war against war. I have been at the frontline of conflict in Cambodia, Somalia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Palestine, Southern Lebanon, Western Sahara, Sinai, South Africa, Rwanda, Mozambique, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, East Timor, Bougainville, Tibet and Iraq.

This job has not been as bad as it may seem because people everywhere have been kind and warm to me. The violence is always caused by a minority while the majority suffers. People see me as an advocate and friend, willing to risk my life to tell their story to the world. For example, whenever I arrived in Baghdad during the worst days of the war, the people who ran my apartment would say “everyone else is here trying to destroy our country but you are here to create and show the beauty of our culture”.  It is wonderful to feel so appreciated and loved.

Q. How did you come to make Love City Jalalabad and how did your love affair with Afghanistan start?

A.      My relationship with Afghanistan goes back a long way. Australian Army Engineers set up a demining program in coordination with the UN and I documented their work in the 1990’s. I travelled all over the country spreading mine awareness and made many friends, basically falling in love with the country and the culture.

The work I have done with the Jalalabad film fraternity, however, came about because of the assistance I offered to the Pashtun language Tele Movie industry out of Peshawar. While making my documentary Miscreants of Taliwood, I started funding dramas. This led me to the Dutch NGO Oxfam who providing a small budget to create work for this industry which had been devastated in the war. In a sense, I became a one-man-film-school, teaching the latest techniques in camera, sound and script writing. All the filmmakers were self-taught and had not known the benefits and nuances of formal training.

I believe some of the artists and filmmakers I have met can stand up with the best in the world and will be known for the greatness of their contribution in generations to come

The filmmakers of Jalalabad are linked with those in Peshawar and often use the same editors and equipment. When Amir Shah Talash and Mohammad Shah Majroh heard of what I was doing, they visited me on the sets and persuaded me to come to Jalalabad.

The first day I arrived in Jalalabad, one of the video stores was bombed, graphically demonstrating the difficulties filmmakers were facing there. My reaction was to book the Spingah Hotel and start working with this talented group on script development.

We needed to find a subject that would allow women to play strong and meaningful roles in films, which would appeal to audience for their content and storytelling rather than the usual action – violence shown in the Pakistani films. Films men would want to purchase as DVDs and take home for their wives and daughters to share in the entertainment. We decided that there was nothing more universal or enjoyed by Afghans than a good love story. I was so impressed by the Jalalabad group of artists that I was happy to give all my support to make three feature length dramas. I was joined in Jalalabad by my wife Hellen Rose, who is a famous Australian actress, singer and theatre director. The three films we made were Love City, Talk Show and The Tailor’s Story, all based on true stories we had collected from real people in Jalalabad.

Q.What is the film Love City Jalalabad about, and why did you choose Jalalabad?

A.     In a sense, Jalalabad chose me as I was invited there to help the local film industry as a guest and now I see it as my second home.

The name Love City Jalalabad is confusing because one of the three dramas we made in Pashto language is also called Love City. My documentary is about the process of forming the film group and creating a base for them in what we have named the Yellow House. The film shows the making of the three adult dramas and a children’s film with a first-time Pashtun woman director. The film then follows us taking the actors and films to communities with our Cinema Circus. We screen the films inside a tent to mainly children who have never seen films before. These films appeal because they are made with Afghans about Afghan culture.  The reactions have been joyous and we have proven that those foreigners who say Afghans do not like art, music and film are wrong.

Initially I was not interested in making a documentary as I felt this had all been covered by my film Miscreants of Taliwood about similar work in Pakistan. But, as the cameras rolled, I realized the footage we were getting was much more positive and happier than what we shot in Pakistan. Miscreants of Taliwood is a relatively dark film about an embattled industry and their hardships but Love City Jalalabad is all about fun, joy and love.

Q. Tell us about the Yellow House Jalalabad. What was the idea behind it?

A.     The Yellow House was created to serve multiple purposes as an art and film school in Jalalabad, where there was nothing for young artists and filmmakers to develop their skills.

I have been the sole funder of the Yellow House because I believe so deeply in fostering talent I discovered there. I have done this as a private individual. The aim is to make it self sufficient within a few years with its products, film and artworks, finding markets that can sustain it without outside help.

Q. From the Soviet era to the Taliban regime and post 2001, how do you see the evolution and progress of Afghan Cinema?

A.     I greatly respect the work of Afghan Film in both Kabul and Jalalabad and I admire the courage of the individuals in this organization who have preserved and maintained a film culture through the worst of times.

My vision for Afghan cinema is to see it getting international success and appreciation from global audience. The reason I am continuing to support the Yellow House filmmakers is the talent and dedication all the individuals have shown. Afghanistan has a rich and ancient culture that can be shared with the world through cinema. Some of the artists and filmmakers at the Yellow House are real masterminds. The next step in my plan is to sponsor the most talented in the group to come to Australia where they can study at Film and Art schools and take what they have learnt back to Afghanistan with them.

In all these years I have worked in Afghanistan, I have never faced any threat of violence or harassment by armed opposition groups; I have only seen and experienced friendship and love

Q. Have you faced any threats from armed opposition groups in Afghanistan in all these years?

A.     In all these years I have worked in Afghanistan, I have never faced any threat of violence or harassment by armed opposition groups. I have only seen and experienced friendship and love. When talking about this work outside Afghanistan, in countries like the U.S., people tell me how brave I must be because they think I am risking my life every day. They do not want to believe me when I tell them I have never felt my life or those of our actors and crew to be at risk. Before starting my projects in Jalalabad, I was told by non-Afghans that I would be kidnapped and killed by armed groups within the first week of production and that we would never be able to work outside secure areas. In reality, we have filmed in rural and urban areas without any resistance or harassment. It would be much harder to film something in the streets of Sydney than in Jalalabad.

Q. What is the role of Cinema in promoting Peace and Tolerance in Society. Do you think this applies to a conservative society like Afghanistan?

A.     Cinema is particularly important in Afghanistan for promoting peace and tolerance as it penetrates into homes and can be viewed privately by all members of the family. Our films promote equality and education. This is done in a way that supports tradition and tries not to be confrontational to conservative values. Our scripts are all written collectively and discussed in a group called Jirga. If there is anything anyone feels to be offensive to traditional customs, we either edit it or put it differently.

I do not believe Afghanistan is ready for films which represent American or European lifestyles or morality. Our Yellow House films respect existing culture and reflect our belief. It is more important to bring change slowly than to make people irate with films that are offensive and divisive.

For me, it is the children’s films that are most important and I am very proud of our efforts to train young actors and directors at the Yellow House workshops. These kids are the future and their vision for a better Afghanistan is full of passion and hope.

Q. How do you rate the local artists in Afghanistan? How difficult is it to train and teach them?

A.     Afghanistan has always had a creative spirit that is unique and rich with genius. I believe some of the artists and filmmakers I have met can stand up with the best in the world and will be known for the greatness of their contribution in generations to come.

Q. What has been the role of the Afghan government in promoting art and cinema in Afghanistan?  

A.     Through Afghan Film, in both Kabul and Jalalabad, and the support of the various ministries responsible for the arts and film, I can see the beginning of a renaissance for Afghan cinema. At 64 years of age, when I should be retiring near a beach in Australia with my family and children, my greatest desire is to see the Yellow House collective of artists and filmmakers in Jalalabad achieve their full potential and bring Afghan culture to the world’s attention. If I can play some part in making this possible, I will be a happy old man.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2014/01/12/it-would-be-much-harder-to-film-something-in-the-streets-of-sydney-than-in-jalalabad)

What frenzy is this!

In Kabul, the rainy days don’t always evoke a somber mood. Every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. The dark clouds hovering menacingly over Afghanistan these days also have a silver lining, albeit elusive and obscure. On Wednesday, as hundreds of intrepid young men and women poured out into the streets of Kabul, defying all sorts of threats and odds, I could see both the dark clouds and silver lining.

Emotions were running high. The mood was incredibly tenebrous as people marched on the streets of Shehr e Naw, the bustling urban center of Kabul, with flags and banners in their hands. Students, activists, academics, journalists – everyone was out there to make a statement. Some of them struggled to hold back tears, the copious tears that were indistinguishable from rain drops descending from heaven.

There was deep anger and outrage, and understandably so. Three days ago, almost 80 Taliban guerilla fighters had ambushed an army outpost in eastern Kunar province, killing 21 Afghan soldiers in cold blood. The soldiers were asleep when they were showered with bullets in the dead of night and put to sleep forever. The ‘defenders of faith’ soon claimed responsibility for the attack, which was clearly the deadliest in last one year.

The American drones killing Afghans or Pakistanis in border provinces cannot be justified as ‘war against terrorism’. Similarly, the bloodshed of Afghans or Pakistanis by Taliban guerillas cannot be termed as ‘jihad’

Any loss of innocent lives must be unequivocally condemned, irrespective of who the perpetrator is. The American drones killing Afghans or Pakistanis in border provinces cannot be justified as ‘war against terrorism’. Similarly, the bloodshed of Afghans or Pakistanis by Taliban guerillas cannot be termed as ‘jihad’. The 21 soldiers killed in Kunar were not terrorists, occupiers or tormentors. They were Afghans.
There is no love lost between the Afghans and US-led allied forces occupying their land, and there is a history behind the animosity and hatred they share for each other. But Afghans are immensely proud of their own soldiers. The families of slain soldiers are equally proud of their martyrs. “I sent my son to defend the country and I am proud of him,” said father of Amir Husain, one of the soldiers killed in the attack. Amir, 35, leaves behind two small children. “I have another son who serves in Afghan army and I will feel more proud if he too gives the ultimate sacrifice for the country,” said the proud father, a Hazara. Most of the soldiers killed in the attack belonged to Hazara tribe, which bears testimony to how deeply patriotic Afghans are, both minority Hazaras and majority Pashtuns.

That brings us to an important question. Why are Afghans baying for blood of Afghans? The answer to this and many other questions was so convincingly and compellingly given by young men and women on the streets of Kabul yesterday. “Pakistan is a terrorism-sponsoring state,” read a poster carried by the activists of Awankend Youth Movement. There were many other posters and banners in Pashtu and Dari language, slamming Pakistan and Taliban. That is the war-cry in this country. Everyone here is pointing fingers at Pakistan for fomenting trouble on this side of border.

Why are Afghans baying for blood of Afghans? The answer to this and many other questions was so convincingly and compellingly given by young men and women on the streets of Kabul yesterday

Even the top-notch politicians, who otherwise make all the incoherent noises, are now training guns at the neighboring country. Condemning the attack by “enemies of Afghanistan”, President Karzai called on the government of Pakistan to crack down on its militant sanctuaries. But, the outgoing President did not deem it necessary to attend the funeral of slain soldiers, giving heartburn to many Afghans. As Noam Chomsky told me in an interview recently (to be published in March issue of Afghan Zariza), “I don’t know what President Karzai thinks he is doing.” Even I have no idea. When the nation is mourning, Presidential protocols should be thrown to the wind. The funeral was, however, attended by thousands of people from all walks of life. Many eyes turned moist when 21 coffins made way into the ground.

The Presidential contenders for April 2014 elections, however, did the miss the opportunity to offer their condolence messages. The slain soldiers were hailed as “martyrs of peace” by Abdullah Abdullah, one of the frontrunners in the race for Presidential Palace. Zalmai Rasool suspended his election campaign for a day as a mark of respect for martyred soldiers. Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai called it “unacceptable”.

Interestingly, the Afghan intelligence officials have squarely blamed Pakistan for orchestrating the attack as revenge for the killing of 23 Pakistani security personnel last week. Pakistan government alleged the hand of Afghan intelligence agencies behind the killings, but the Spokesman for Afghan government dismissed the allegations as baseless. “It is impossible to nurture venomous snakes on one’s soil and wishfully think that they will only bite others”, read the scathing statement. The killings in Kunar happened a day later.

The truth has many layers and there is certainly more to this story than meets the eye. What is unfortunate is the loss of innocent lives on both sides of border.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2014/02/27/what-frenzy-is-this/blog)

‘Afghanistan is a sovereign state and it is not our prerogative to choose its leader’

 

Michael O’Hanlon is a Senior Fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and Director of Research for the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings Institution. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University, Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a Member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. His most recent book is Healing the Wounded Giant: Maintaining Military Preeminence while Cutting the Defense Budget. He has also authored Toughing It Out in Afghanistan (Brookings Institution Press 2010); and <span data-mce-=”” underline;”=””>The Science of War (Princeton University Press 2009). He coauthors Brookings’s Afghanistan Index. He and Bruce Riedel wrote A Plan A- for Afghanistan in the winter 2010/2011 issue of The Washington Quarterly and published a paper on Afghanistan and Pakistan for Brookings’s Campaign 2012 project.

 

He is a strong votary of the US-Afghan security agreement and believes it is a win-win situation for both the parties. In his recent articles, he has slammed President Hamid Karzai for dragging his feet over the agreement. He believes it is about the Afghan and American people, not one individual.

In a freewheeling interview with Afghan Zariza, Mr. O’Hanlon takes some tough questions about the bilateral security agreement, war crimes in Afghanistan, and why he is still hopeful for the future of country, despite umpteen challenges confronting it.
Q. In your recent New York Times Op-ed, you launched a scathing attack on President Hamid Karzai for not signing the bilateral security agreement with the U.S. How is this agreement ‘about the American and Afghan people’, as you write in your article?

A. First, we did not meant it to be scathing, and the New York Times used a title we did not approve of. But we did mean to underscore that President Karzai does not appear to be speaking for most Afghans, given the results of the Loya Jirga, the fact that all Presidential candidates appear to support the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with U.S., and so on.
Q. Over the past few months, airstrikes have resulted in the deaths of several civilians. Can we say the ongoing U.S. raids and strikes have contributed to Karzai’s concerns, especially the way U.S. authorities refused to cooperate with National Directorate of Security (NDS) to investigate the Wardak incident where 18 men disappeared after U.S. raids?

A. I doubt your information is correct on the latter point; normally we take all concerns about civilian casualties extremely seriously.

Q. In a report that was published on September 23, National Directorate of Security (NDS) investigators said they had asked the United States for access to three U.S. Green Berets and four Afghan translators working with them but were rebuffed. “Despite many requests by NDS they have not cooperated. Without their cooperation this process cannot be completed,” said the report. So, doesn’t that mean investigations were halted due to lack of cooperation from U.S. or you don’t trust what NDS said?

A. But, in general, the US/ISAF and NDS/ANSF do cooperate on investigations. There are many times they have done so, and as you know ISAF tries hard to take responsibility if mistakes are made that lead to loss of life. It is worth remembering that this has been the most careful counterinsurgency campaign in history with far greater efforts made to protect civilians than in virtually all previous wars.

Q. At the recent NATO meeting in Brussels, Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. does not rule out the possibility of exploring other options if President Karzai refuses to sign the deal. Do you think they will dump Karzai and rope in some other person to go ahead with the deal?

A. No, Afghanistan is a sovereign state and it is not our prerogative to choose its leader.
Q. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan, the three senior U.S. government officials failed to answer two simple questions about the casualties of U.S troops and the cost of war in Afghanistan. Do you agree something is seriously wrong with the U.S. plan and policy in Afghanistan?

A. This is an unfair way to attack the U.S. officials without even saying why you think they failed to answer the questions. I have lots of criticism of U.S./International policy, however, so I would agree that it is far from perfect.

Q. Rep. Gerry Connolly called it “a stunning development”. “How can you come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject and not know” he said. And here is what Rep. Dana Rohrabacher had to say: “Maybe this is the grovel administration. This is insanity and it’s time for us to get our butts out of that country, not for their sake, but for our sake.” Why do you think these gentlemen were so angered by the lack of response from officials at the hearing?

A. I am not familiar with the Congressional debate that you mention. I have my differences with administration officials but don’t think of any of them as unprepared or ignorant. So my working assumption is that the two Congressmen were angry and perhaps trying to gain some attention for their remarks – and I probably would not agree with their choice of words.
Q. In your article ‘Plan A-Minus for Afghanistan’, you argue that the strategy of U.S in Afghanistan ‘still has a good chance to succeed’, but you hasten to add that it is ‘not guaranteed to succeed, for reasons having little to do with its own flaws and more to do with the inherent challenge of the problem’. Could you explain this dichotomy?

A. Taliban forces are strong; corruption is rampant; the state is relatively weak, Pakistan is ambivalent at best, and relations with President Karzai are complex. All that said, I still believe in the mission – and the country and people of Afghanistan. On the whole, I am very hopeful.

Q. You coauthor Brookings’s ‘Afghanistan Index’, which is a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion and security data. How far have the international community’s counterinsurgency and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan succeeded?

A. It is mixed, as you know. There has been a great deal of progress on economics, the quality of life and security institutions. But, there are also problems like Taliban, corruption, neighbors etc.

Q. In its November 2013 report on Preliminary Examination Activities, the International Criminal Court has found that the war crimes and crimes against humanity continue to be committed in Afghanistan by US-led foreign troops? Do you agree?

A. No; with the rare exception.
Q. There are reports that U.S. is throwing its weight behind Abdullah Abdullah in the upcoming Presidential elections. How strong are his chances against Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Rasool, the two men considered close to Karzai?

A. I doubt that you are right. In fact I am fairly confident you are wrong to think the U.S. has a preferred candidate for 2014 Presidential elections.
Q. How do you rate President Karzai’s 12 years at the helm? How has Afghanistan evolved over the years?

A. I think I will leave it at that.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2013/12/22/afghanistan-is-a-sovereign-state-and-it-is-not-our-prerogative-to-choose-its-leader)

Remembering the martyr of Kashmir

 

By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

His son Ghalib was barely two when Mohammad Afzal Guroo was picked up by the sleuths of Delhi Police from a bus terminal in Srinagar Kashmir as ‘prime’ accused in the Indian Parliament attack case, two days after the attack took place on December 13, 2001.

He had no inkling that his doting father had been implicated in a high-profile case of terrorism that was to change his and his family’s life forever. He was too little to understand the nitty-gritty of criminal laws, the art of hounding and persecuting innocents and making them pawns in utterly sinister games.

India was shaken and stunned. L K Advani, the then Home Minister of India, termed it an attack on the ‘sovereignty’ of India. Suspicion, as is the norm with mandarins in South Block, was pointed at shadowy forces across the border. Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan was called back in protest. Troops were dispatched to the border. Dogs of war on national television went into tizzy. A full-scale armed confrontation between the estranged neighours looked imminent. Even the possibility of a nuclear war could not be ruled out.

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Amid all the perfunctory frenzy and wild speculations, Delhi Police was engaged in some serious business. Within no time, they zeroed in on the suspects. The four people were paraded before the agitated, breathless reporters of Indian media, and all of them Kashmiris. Kashmiris, in this part of the world, make for incredibly good scapegoats.

The ‘suspects’ became ‘dreaded terrorists’ even before the trail kicked off. The equation had conveniently tilted in favour of vengeful State and its collaborators. It was no more the question of innocent-until-proven-guilty, rather the other way round.

Besides Afzal Guroo, his cousin Shaukat Guroo, Shaukat’s wife Afshan Guroo, and Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani were also arrested. Those who knew Afzal at a personal level were in utter disbelief. His family was shocked, even shattered. The foot soldiers of extremist right-wing outfits like Bajrang Dal, RSS, and Shiv Sena took to streets and demanded death to the ‘terrorists’.

Even before the trail commenced, Indian news channels were holding their own parallel trials in air-conditioned studios and pronouncing verdicts against those who they accused of ‘plotting terror against the greatest symbol of the largest democracy’.

Trial court sentenced Afzal, Geelani and Shaukat to death, while Afshan got five years of rigorous imprisonment. The High Court subsequently acquitted Geelani and Afshan, but upheld the death penalty of Afzal and Shaukat. Geelani’s acquittal, who was initially introduced as the ‘mastermind of attack’, blew a cavernous hole in the prosecution’s version.

Supreme Court came to the rescue of Shaukat, reducing his punishment to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. Afzal, however, got no reprieve. He was served three life sentences and a double death sentence. In its order, the court said, “the collective conscience of society will be satisfied if the death sentence is given to the offender’. The court, however, observed that his involvement in the attack on Indian parliament could not be established ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. It was wholly based on circumstantial evidence, rather any direct evidence.

While his wife Afshan was exempted of all charges and acquitted, Shaukat Guroo’s sentence was relaxed. SAR Geelani was acquitted by Supreme Court. All three of them were represented by eminent lawyers. However, for Geelani, the ‘trail’ wasn’t over yet. His crime was perhaps that he was a bearded Muslim, a Kashmiri and an Arabic teacher. After failing to indict him in court, they wanted an out-of-court cold-blooded settlement with him.

He was attacked by the hired goons soon after his acquittal, outside his lawyer’s residence on the night of February 2008, 2005. Not less than five bullets pierced his torso. Displaying an exceptional fighter’s spirit, he crawled his way to hospital and survived to tell the tale.

While Geelani was battling for his life on a hospital bed, Afzal was waiting to embrace gallows inside jail.

He refused to seek presidential pardon, since he was not sure about his crime. His wife Tabassum Guroo filed a petition for clemency on his behalf. She, along with Guroo’s son and mother, even went to meet the then President of India APJ Kalam.

In her appeal for justice, she explained how Afzal was falsely implicated in the case by notorious Special Task Force in Kashmir. “You will think that Afzal must be involved in some militant activities, which is why the security forces were torturing him to extract information. But you must understand the situation in Kashmir, every man, woman and child has some information on the movement, even if they are not involved. By making people into informers, they turn brother against brother, wife against husband and children against parents. Afzal wanted to live quietly with his family but the STF would not allow him.”

The questions that remained unanswered even after his death are: Was it actually a case of ‘rarest of rare crimes’ that warrant capital punishment? Was the due process of law followed? Did he get a fair and just trail? Was he a dreaded terrorist or merely a pawn in a sinister game?

Afzal Guroo was sent to gallows on this day last year to ‘satisfy the collective conscience of society’. Death penalty is doled out only in ‘rarest of rare’ crimes, where crime is established beyond any iota of doubt, after a fair trial in accordance to the due process of law and international standards of human rights. But, not in this case. Guru’s death penalty violated Supreme Court’s own guidelines, which say that capital punishment should be awarded in ‘rarest of rare crimes’.

There were a lot of loopholes in the prosecution’s version about Afzal’s involvement in the case. Death sentence is doled out to accused only after strictest observance of free trail. Did he get a free trail? He was denied worthwhile legal assistance at trail court – a crucial stage where evidences are produced and examined, which later become basis for court’s verdict against the accused. Right to legal protection is an inherent right. It is clearly enshrined in UN Declaration of Human Rights. Constitution of India also entitles a citizen with right to be defended in court of law.

Prosecution had accused him for being a “facilitator”, and not directly involved in the crime. Its case stood wholly on “circumstantial evidence”, for which death penalty becomes grossly disproportionate. As his lawyer in High Court was to say later, his case rested on two grave infirmities. First was the media trail, which rendered doing justice impossible, and second was trail court, which had denied him a lawyer.

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Afzal’s case was based on unsubstantiated charges and fabricated evidence put together by investigating agencies. As per his own admission, Special task force personnel ruthlessly tormented him in Kashmir. Confessions were extracted from him under duress, after he was tortured and his family was threatened of dire consequences. In a letter to his lawyer from Tihar Jail, Afzal wrote in 2004, “Throughout the trial, I remained mute and helpless spectator as witnesses, police and even judge all became a single force against me. I remained bewildered and confused between the security and safety of myself and my family. I protected and saved my family. That is how I am lying in death row.”

The notorious Special cell of Delhi Police used media to brand him a ‘terrorist’, even before trail commenced. He was forced to confess his ‘imaginary’ crime before media. It followed the media trail in a rather brazen manner, including a film broadcasted on Zee TV, apparently previewed and approved by the then P.M Atal Bihari Vajpaaye himself. It was one of the prime factors in prejudicing the outcome of the trail.

Delhi High court acknowledged that investigating agencies had fabricated evidence against him, yet it went ahead to uphold the “unfair” verdict against him. Supreme Court admitted that his direct association with any terrorist outfit couldn’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt. His case did not meet international standards of a fair trial. Taking all the serious loopholes into account, it violated Article 7, 10, 14, 17 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Before staging a judicial murder in a secretive manner, the State did not even deem it important to inform his family. It feared the public backlash, but the protests erupted anyway. Then, they cited jail manual to refuse the request of Guroo’s family to return his corpse for proper burial in Kashmir.

As activist and author Arundathi Roy wrote in her Outlook essay few years back, he was not the dragon, he was only dragon’s footprint, and if dragon’s footprint is made to ‘become extinct’, we will never know who the dragon was”.

Today, his son Ghalib is 15 years old. He has grown up fast. He knows life better now. He is a proud son of a martyr. Today, Afzal Guroo has become a symbol of resistance for new-generation freedom-lovers in Kashmir. He has become a rallying point. His martyrdom has infused a fresh lease of life in the movement against Indian occupation and repression in Kashmir.

It is sickening to see many pseudo-liberals in India now beating their chests and shedding crocodile tears over the miscarriage of justice. Their sudden change of heart is more preposterous than the frenzied celebrations of the blood-hungry right-wing fanatics. There have been reports in Indian press suggesting that he was ‘Indian nationalist’ who was ‘wronged by law’, and who wanted to ‘rid country of corruption’.

Guroo was a man of principles. He had strong principled political stand on Kashmir. It was evident when he turned down the offer of Ram Jethmalani to plead his case, who had put some conditions before him. The conditions put by the lawyer, who also defended co-accused SAR Geelani in the same case, were against the principles and political ideology of Guroo. He was unequivocal about Kashmir being a ‘disputed’ region, and not the ‘integral part’ or ‘jugular vein’ of any other outside entity. He was a staunch freedom-lover like any one of us. If that is a crime that warrants capital punishment, then we all deserve to be hanged and buried in Tihar jail.

Today, on his first death anniversary, Kashmir is under curfew, and I am far away from home. There is internet blockade, and various other arm-twisting methods are being used to crush the spirit of young Kashmiris who want to register their protest against the secretive, vengeful hanging of this martyr. But, nothing can beat this spirit, not even death.

A stone epitaph on his empty grave in Srinagar’s main martyr’s graveyard, right next to the empty grave of the founding father of Kashmir’ independence movement Maqbool Bhat, who was executed in the same jail 29 years ago, shines bright. The epitaph reads, “The martyr of the nation, whose mortal remains are lying in the custody of the Government of India. The nation is awaiting its return.”

I do not hate people, nor do I encroach. But if I become hungry, the usurper’s flesh will be my food. Beware… Beware… of my hunger, and my anger! ~ Mahmoud Darwish (Palestinian poet and author; 1941-2008)