‘Men should take lead in promoting women’s rights’

 Zahira Sarwar, Afghan-Canadian blogger and women’s rights activist, believes law enforcement is easier and effective than changing the minds and men should take lead

Q. What is the role of Afghan women, inside and outside Afghanistan, in shaping the destiny of country post 2014?A. I do not want to preach what all Afghan women living outside should do, but from my own experience, there
is a lot we can do, regardless of where we live. As an active member of the Afghan Students Organization here in Ottawa, I think its important for us to use every opportunity to give back to people in Afghanistan. We raise funds through our events for different initiatives. For the women inside Afghanistan, they have been doing tremendous work but I think what is often left out of these conversations about the future of women in Afghanistan, is role of men. There needs to be more solidarity and support from the men in our communities to help their daughters, sisters, wives, as well as their sons, nephews, and brothers to have a brighter future. We need more men in Afghanistan to speak out against women’s inequality, violence against women, child marriages, and women’s right to education.

Q. How do you see the progress of Afghanistan since 2001, in terms of politics, economy, society?

A. The progress of Afghanistan since 2001 has been quite positive for the most part. I was in Afghanistan in
2001 just before the intervention of international troops and again in 2005 and the difference was incredible. Businesses started to thrive after 2001; more boys and girls went back to school; women started working in various fields. But as time passed and the number of war casualties rose and government’s credibility came under question, the optimism was replaced by hopelessness. Things have not been progressing as much as we would have liked, given the lack of job opportunities, lack of security and development and overwhelming economic dependence on foreign aid. These are some of the critical areas for Afghans and the international community to address post

Q. The crime against women still continues at an alarming rate. What are the main factors responsible for it?

A. This is a complex issue because there is no single factor responsible for crimes against women such as domestic abuse, child marriage, or simply lack of respect for basic human rights. Changing people’s mentalities will take a long time but if the government and law enforcement agencies continue to take a stance against these issues, and consistently implement harsh punishments against perpetrators throughout the country in all cases, this will be a good start to help eliminate some of these issues. I also think proper religious education can help people in this respect because if we read and understand Quran, we will realize the status of women in Islam and the respect accorded to her.

Q. How do you predict the future, especially after the withdrawal of international troops in 2014? Will the country emerge stronger or slip into chaos?

A. I am a realistic optimist so I would say the country will not slip into chaos. The Afghan people are incredibly determined and the youth of the country have had enough of war and chaos because this is all they have known and experienced. They are ready for something better and brighter and will not let their country slip back into a dark phase like before it was prior to 2001.

Q. What are the dreams you have for the country?

A. My dream is to see Afghanistan evolve into a free and democratic country where all the people are respected because diversity makes our nation unique; where ethnicity is not a determining factor of your alliances because we are all Afghans; where girls and boys go to school and college without fearing for their lives, and where we have highly educated, progressive and bright people in various spheres of life, working for the future of Afghanistan.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2014/01/31/men-should-take-lead-in-promoting-womens-rights)


‘The war in Afghanistan is all about opium’


By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

A well-known Afghan activist, poet and author, Shafie Ayar is brutally honest. He was small when his parents separated and in his own words, his father unintentionally helped him “become a fighter”. He ran the ‘Afghan Revolutionary Youth Association’ at Kabul University in late 1970s when Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and spent five years in Policharkhy prison after being arrested. Ayar is the author of five books: Hamasa-e-Eman, Paqnjal Hae-e-Khoneen, Nawrooze tan Behrooz, Afghanistan – Jihad and Peace, and Afghan Hearts & Minds.


In a freewheeling interview with Afghan Zariza, Mr. Ayar talks about his early life when he saw his father abusively treat his mother before they separated, his days in university when he became a political activist, why he thinks Pakistan foments trouble in Afghanistan, why U.S. has failed to win hearts and minds of Afghans, his expectations from new President, his opinion about US-Afghan security agreement, his love affair with Khayam and Hafez, and why he thinks Quran is the solution to all evils in society.


Q. Your book Afghan Hearts and Minds was critically acclaimed. Let me ask you, why has the international community led by U.S. failed to win hearts and minds of Afghans?

A. I will attempt to scratch the surface of this critical question in a few sentences here, but I think it would do justice to the question if people read my book in English or watch some of my weekly political and religious shows in Farsi freely available on internet. I believe Pakistan has played a major role in making sure the U.S. does not win the hearts and minds of people here.

Sadly, Pakistani policymakers see Afghanistan as both a strategic bargaining chip and an economic commodity that they want to continue to milk for their own benefit. For this reason, they have played a major role in making certain the Afghan hearts and minds are poisoned with negative sentiment towards NATO forces. This ensures that Pakistan is always invited to the bargaining table. They have misled the international community in assessing the Afghan situation and at the same time they have misled the Afghans about the US and NATO activity in Afghanistan.

The US and international community should accept blame for playing into Pakistan’s hands and not only accepting this type of argument but publicly recognizing and negotiating with the Taliban.

It is high time that we start working hard to create a healthy society and wealth-generating economy so that we do not have to beg for donations. Today Afghan economy is all about ‘opium war’. And look at the corruption. If we do not take care of that, it soon will become part of our culture.

Q. So, like many political experts here, you also believe that Pakistan is responsible for fomenting trouble in Afghanistan and supporting the armed opposition groups here. Am I right?

A. I absolutely agree. The war in Afghanistan is more than anything else the ‘opium war’. Pakistan is making billions of dollars in this war, and to maintain that wealth, it needs an insecure and unstable Afghanistan. Of course, there are other political reasons as well, but at this moment, it is all about opium.

If you have been watching any of my television shows, you would know that I dedicate an incredible amount of time and energy towards unraveling and simplifying the confusing puzzle of Pakistan and ISI. It is very important and I highly recommend that we Afghans wake up to this fact and take it into consideration before electing the next president.

Q. Coming to upcoming elections, how do you rate President Karzai’s 12 years at the helm? And what are your expectations from his successor?

A. My expectation from Karzai’s successor is that he should not be confused and should not confuse the Afghan people with questionable policy. He should stop begging the Taliban for peace. Afghans have fought too hard and too long to be slaves to Taliban ideology. He should start creating self-sustaining economy that generates work so that our people do not have to beg and look to international community for donations.

Today Afghan economy is opium, war and begging. He should take a strong stance against corruption. If we do not take care of corruption, it will soon become part of our culture.

Q.    What is your take on the US-Afghan security agreement that has become a bone of contention between Obama administration and President Karzai?

A.  I would classify it as a game. I do not see contention or disagreement. Till now, any agreement they have wanted Karzai to sign; he eventually found a way to sign it. At most, Karzai wants to get some attention and to give people reason to argue that he is not a puppet.

Q. Let us talk about your early days. You were in university when communists invaded the country and that is when you formed Afghan Revolutionary Youth Association. Tell us something about that.

A. To be honest, when the soviet coup happened, I was initially happy and thought we needed it as a nation to move forward. But, within a few weeks, I noticed my friends, my classmates, their families, my country-men in general were being taken for no good reasons and disappearing forever. That made me really upset. Something inside me clicked and gave me a signal to stand up and fight. I did. I asked all my friends to help me form a student organization at Kabul University.

That was a time if you were caught, you would be in a list of those killed. We played a good role. After a few years, I was captured, sentenced and spent five years in Policharkhy prison. I have written extensively about my time in prison and have also shared my experience in my shows, which you can see on You Tube ‘0066 Afghan Talk Shows by Shafie Ayar’.

Q. You take inspiration and strength from your mother who was victimized by your father but refused to suffer silently. Was patriarchy common in Afghan society then and how are things now?

A. I have shared those memories of my early life in my writings and my shows, not necessarily to evoke sympathy of reader or viewer, but to convey a message. If and when we can honestly do this, we would realize how horrible we have treated our women. Patriarchy existed in our time and exists today also. The only difference is that today it is worst than ever before.

Q. The trauma you faced as a child after your parents were separated made you take shelter in books. How did the works of Khwaja Abdulla, Khayam, Hafez, Sadee, Rumi and Bidel shape your worldview?

 A. I often say that I was reborn from the ovum of these books; stronger, calmer, happier, mature, and a human being. This time when I was born, I was a human being.

Q. You have authored the book Afghanistan – Jihad and Peace and you have also done comprehensive study of Holy Quran. What is the source of religious extremism?

A. The source of religious extremism, more than anything else, is people abusing religion for their self-interest and their own purpose. They abused Islam for 1375 years and derailed the base of Islam from the Holy Quran. Today the fake stories and fake hadith lead to misinterpretation of Islam. Islamic extremism incubates on these plots of dirt. The confusion and misinformation of these fake stories is used by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

Buzkashi on a cold December morning

December mornings in Kabul are generally cold and frosty. The hands freeze in sub-zero temperature and nose becomes chronically inflamed like in the condition of rhinophyma. On one such morning, in an open field tucked between the rocky hills in Kabul’s Kasaba area, braving cold weather and threats, vendors made a beeline to sell popcorn as thousands of animated spectators made their way into a large field. Young and old jostled for a space on the edge of ropes, to get a clearer and closer view.

Within a few moments, posse of battle-hardened riders on horseback, called chapandaz in local Dari language entered the field. They were greeted with thunderous applause, which echoed in the hills around. As the players with kamcheen (whip) in their hand, high leather boots, padded jacket and fur hat made their way to the centre, I quickly took out camera to capture the moment. They paused for a moment, posed for the audience and stoically looked at the gravelly hills around the dilapidated field.


It was 8 O’clock in the morning. The sun was hidden under a thick blanket of dark clouds. The visibility was low and the noise was deafening. All eyes were on a headless carcass of a goat, called buz, placed in the middle of field, surrounded by around 60 riders on horseback from both teams. The game got underway, and the riders, sporting colorful attire, wrestled in a dangerous and free-wheeling battle on a dusty pitch to keep control of a headless carcass of goat and steer it across the goal line, past a scrum of fast and ferocious opponents.

I jostled for a space near ropes, as high-adrenaline action unfolded and riders charged at each other furiously and ferociously like we only see in the battlefield

I jostled for a space near ropes, as high-adrenaline action unfolded and riders charged at each other furiously and ferociously like we only see in the battlefield. Of course, it was a battlefield, minus bullets and bombs. A test of brute strength. The players from opposite teams grabbed the headless goat’s carcass, and their horses galloped at breakneck speed. They lost balance, they tripped, they collapsed, they get mauled in the jamboree of horses, yet the show went on.

In Buzkashi, the players are supposed to grab the carcass of goat and carry it around the field without losing it to opponents. From the starting line, they have to go round the flag on the other end of field and return to the team’s scoring line, without losing control of the carcass.

The people standing near the ropes hysterically cheered for the horses, or perhaps the riders. I also tried to make some noise without knowing who I was rooting for. Some people menacingly stared at me and my camera as if I were some extraterrestrial reptilian species holding a missile. A few minutes later, somebody comes up and mutters something in Pashtoo, confusing me for a local pathan. Kashmiris and Afghans bear striking resemblance, appearance wise. My blank expression, however, made him suspicious. Here, you can easily be labeled a foreign agent or a troublemaker, if you are not smart enough.

A lone referee, called Raees e Buzkashi, ran around the field with bated breath, and kept close eye on 60 odd brawny horse riders to make sure they don’t flout rules. But, as Douglas Bader once said, rules are for fools. They smacked each other and their horses with sheer contempt. They jostled, pushed and shoved for the possession of goat’s carcass. It was free for all.

Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan, is an intriguing component of Afghan culture, which dates back 800 years when Genghis Khan and his Mongol armies conquered this region. According to a legend, people from various tribes would come on horseback, swoop on goats and cattle and whisk away. As a strategy to defend against such attacks, Buzkashi was born, and soon it caught the imagination of people here. The games would last many days as the distance between the scoring line and starting line was into kilometers. Sometimes, instead of the carcass of goat or sheep, games would be played with the carcass of someone from the enemy tribe.

In Buzkashi, the players are supposed to grab the carcass of goat and carry it around the field without losing it to opponents

Horses used for Buzkashi are classy and expensive, ranging between $2000 and $4000, most of them owned by rich Afghan warlords who maintain stables of brawny horses and a team of star riders (chapandaz). The horses are trained for a minimum of five years before they are ferried to the field. They possess special qualities, like if the rider trips and falls to ground, the horse stands there for him to get up again. Little surprise, Buzkashi games are like proxy war and organized mayhem. You can do anything just short of murdering your opponent to grab the buz (goat’s carcass) and take it across the goal line.

The carcass of goat or calf is soaked in cold water for 24 hours before the start of play. The head is chopped off, legs are cut from the knees and the internal parts are emptied. Besides Kabul, the game is popular in Balkh, Badakshan, Faryab, Jozgan, Baghlan and Mazar e Sharif. They play it on weekends, festivals like New Year and Eid, and in local fairs. The champion teams participate in big tournaments.

Buzkashi was briefly banned during the Taliban rule as they considered it ‘immoral’, but after the fall of Taliban in 2001, the game staged a strong comeback. Buzkashi finds mention in many popular books on Afghanistan, both fiction and non-fiction. It is mentioned in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Steve Berry’s Venetian Betrayal, Roland and Sabrina Michaud’s Horsemen of Afghanistan, Gino Strada’s Buskashi, Rory Stewart’s The Place in Between among others.

Some books written about Buzkashi were later adapted into films like Joseph Kessel’s 1967 novel Les Cavaliers filmed as The Horsemen in 1971. But, it was 2012 film Buzkashi Boys, set against the spectacular landscape of present-day Afghanistan and its national sport, which tells the story of two young boys – a street urchin and son of a blacksmith – who aspire to become champions of Buzkashi. The movie was nominated for Oscars in Short Film category this year.

Meanwhile, the game ended at afternoon, after five hours of rip-roaring play. All the spectators stood up and applauded the chapandaaz of both teams. The players who smacked each other on the field hugged and kissed with a typical Dari expression ‘khair bi bini’ (stay blessed). I stood there, wondering, was it love or war, but then everything is fair in both.
Much like Afghanistan itself, Buzkashi is both dangerous and fascinating.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2013/12/16/buzkashi-on-a-cold-december-morning/blog)