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.


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)

Panjshir Valley: Incredible Afghanistan Lives Here

 The picturesque peaks kissing the clear azure sky; the icy-cold water surging down the glacial heights; the brackish lakes dotting the breathtaking landscape; the lush green meadows dancing in the breezy air and the rich heritage seeped in history.

Meandering through the serpentine roads tucked into the rocky mountains; you land up in an exotic place, unarguably Afghanistan’s best-kept secret. The drive to Panjshir valley, 150 kilometers north of Kabul, in the lap of majestic Hindu Kush Mountains, is both adventurous and exhilarating.

Panjshir valley, which translates into ‘valley of five lions’, gets the name from five brothers who quite astonishingly made a dam here for Sultan Mahmoud Ghazni, the most prominent ruler of the Ghaznavid empire, in 10th century. Their shrine greets visitors at the entrance of valley.

Bordered by Hindu Kush Mountains, which divide Central Asia and South Asia, Panjshir valley with its shimmering rivulets and rocky terrains is an incredible sight to behold. A silent and blissful place, its intimacy belies the rugged 4,500 meter peaks enveloping the former kingdom.

Bordered by Hindu Kush Mountains, which divide Central Asia and South Asia, Panjshir valley with its shimmering rivulets and rocky terrains is an incredible sight to behold

The valley starts at Dalang Sang and stretches for 100 kms right to the Anjoman Pass, through beautiful fields of wheat, maize, walnut and mulberry. The fast flowing Panjshir River is famous among locals for fishing escapades.

For foreign tourists and water sports enthusiasts, the river is ideal for kayaking, which has evolved into a popular water sport.

Passing through well-irrigated farms and fields, you come across a football stadium, which is expected to become better than the one in Kabul city.

Among the major attractions of Panjshir valley is the green-domed mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Masoud. Hailed as the ‘Loin of Panjsher’ because of his resistance to Soviets, the Tajik guerilla leader also fought Taliban and Al Qaeda as the commander of Northern Alliance, and was assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks. A massive portrait of Masoud sits at the entrance of the valley and his beautiful mausoleum attracts large number of visitors, both locals and foreigners.

Panjshir, claim some historians, was not just a hiding place for Masoud, but was a source of income for him and his party because of emerald mines. Even today, miners are digging deep into the mountains of Panjshir valley to extract some of the world’s finest emeralds. The huge deposits of rubies, sapphires and lapis lazuli, which are currently sold for about $200 million USD every year, could well lay the foundation of a robust gem industry here in future.

Panjshir has become a favourite destination for tourists not only because of the tranquility and calm, but also because of the history and legends associated with this place, which is the central setting of Ken Follett’s 1985 spy novel ‘Lie Down with Lions’. This is truly a delight.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2014/03/06/panjshir-valley-incredible-afghanistan-lives-here