Meet the Bruce Lee of Afghanistan: Bruce Hazara


Syed Zafar Mehdi

He bears striking resemblance to one of the greatest martial artists ever, Bruce Lee.  Like Lee, he is free-spirited, talented and passionate about martial arts. He has been learning Chinese martial arts, colloquially referred to as Kung Fu, and emulates Lee by watching his movies and reading about him.

He calls himself the Bruce Lee of Afghanistan.

Meet Abulfazl Abbas Shakoory, aka Bruce Hazara, from Kabul. The young Kung Fu practitioner, who turned 20 this September, is creating flutter these days after his pictures went viral over social networking sites.

The pictures, showing him practicing difficult Kung Fu moves in front of the historic Darul Aman Palace in Kabul, have metastasized through reposts on Twitter and Facebook.

In one of the pictures, he shows off a Kung Fu move, which is reminiscent of Lee in his young days.

With magnificent Darul Aman Palace in the background, Bruce Hazara shows his strong reflexes and body mechanics, which are considered important for martial arts training.

Like Lee, he stretches his lean and lanky body, then strikes and jumps with effortless ease. In one of the pictures, he shows off a Kung Fu move, which is reminiscent of Lee in his young days.

He calls Lee his “children hero” and “only dream” who inspired him more than anyone else. From his early days, he tried to emulate Lee by watching his movies and carefully copying the style and personality of the legendary pop culture icon of the 20th century.

The 20-year-old staunchly admires and hero-worships Lee. Belonging to Hazara tribe, he proudly calls himself Bruce Hazara. He says he cannot be exactly like his hero, but he will continue to learn and grow.

Owing to his fascination for anything remotely related to Lee, he also learnt Nunchaku, a traditional Japanese martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks and a short iron chain.

While growing up, he faced many economic hardships but his father was always supportive and encouraged him to train. Now, since past four months, he has been playing Wushu, a full-contact sport from the school of Chinese martial arts.

In one of the Wushu competitions in Kabul recently, he earned the top rank in his category.

Bruce Hazara wants to continue training and practicing Kung Fu and rightfully be known as the Bruce Lee of Afghanistan.



“In Afghanistan, women have become the change makers”

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Rokhsaar Azamee is a young Afghan journalist who wants to become a successful diplomat in future

She comes across as a free-spirited, confident and unpretentious young woman.  She speaks eloquently, writes profusely and does not mince her minds. Her strong ideas and compelling arguments have won her lot of admirers, mostly on social networking sites like Facebook.

Rokhsaar Azamee is a young and bright Afghan journalist working with Voice of America’s Afghan bureau. She is also studying law and literature at Mashal University in Kabul and has plans to go abroad for higher education. “My ultimate aim is to become a successful diplomat so I believe a Masters degree in International Relations (IR) will come handy,” says the young lady.

Rokhsaar had her first brush with journalism when she was still in school. “I have always been an ambitious and argumentative girl and the field of journalism was tailor-made for me,” she says. She was fully aware of the challenges a woman journalist has to face in this country and that inspired her to walk the extra mile. “It is not the safest place for journalists, especially young female journalists, but I wanted to break the juggernaut.”

Originally hailing from Logar province, her family moved to Kabul many years ago. She found a job with Ariana Television in Kabul when she was in standard 10 at school. A first member in her extended family to join electronic media, she had to convince her family that journalism was the field for her.

“After my family agreed to it, I went to Afghan TV, which was a prominent news channel that time, but they turned down my application because I was a student,” says Rokhsaar. “That was a very sad day for me, that day I promised myself to make it big.”

Balancing studies and job was another big challenge for her. “It was difficult but somehow I managed to strike a healthy balance,” she says. Rokhsaar is passionate about women’s rights and heads an organization that works for women in Afghanistan.

As a journalist working on ground zero, she is hopeful for the future of country, especially the future of women

“In our country, if a woman drives a car, or sings on television or works in media, it is a big deal,” says Rokhsaar. “There are many simmering issues to be addressed and my organization seeks to spread awareness about women’s rights and promote equal opportunities for women,” she adds. Her organization provides educational scholarships to women.

As a journalist working on ground zero, she is hopeful for the future of country, especially the future of women. “Over the years, we have seen women don the mantle of change makers and that gives me great hope, there is no stopping them now,” says Rokhsaar.

She is also hopeful about the future of media in Afghanistan. “One area in which we have seen tremendous progress in past one decade is media, and now everyone understands the power of media, which is considered the fourth pillar of society,” says Rokhsaar.

She has many dreams for her country. “I want to contribute to my country in whatever way I can, and I am determined to chase my dreams against all odds,” says the young prodigy.


Combating the culture of corruption in Afghanistan

Syed Zafar Mehdi

All the surveys and reports point to the alarming increase in the level of corruption in Afghanistan, made worse by the lack of political will to address the issue 

“The hoary forms of corruption persist alongside and facilitate the spread of the newer, more potentially destructive modes of corruption,” writes the former Harvard professor Robert Rotberg in Corruption, Global Security, and World Order. Corruption, at present, has become a hydra-headed monster and the single most pressing issue in the developing world.

The biggest and the most ominous threat to Afghanistan today does not come from terrorism or extremism. It is the malaise of same corruption that has become deeply entrenched in the political and social fabric of the Afghan society. For the second year on trot, Afghanistan lags at the bottom of the Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index for 2013, making it the most corrupt country in the world. The country shares the dubious distinction with North Korea and Somalia in this biggest and most comprehensive annual survey on corruption across the world.

Twelve years after the autocratic Taliban regime was overthrown and the international community announced its arrival in the war-ravaged country, corruption has become alarmingly rampant and a source of distress for all the stakeholders. The country has abruptly slipped in the Transparency International index since 2007, when it stood eight positions up from the bottom.

The descent into a cesspool of corruption has not come as a bolt from blue. Many scientific surveys and research reports in the recent past have confirmed this uncomfortable truth. A joint survey by Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption (HOOAC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last year revealed that half of the population in Afghanistan shelled out bribe in 2012 to get work done from government officials. It put the total cost of corruption at staggering 3.9 billion dollar, a figure equal to twice the Afghan government’s domestic revenue.

“While corruption is seen by Afghans as one of the most urgent challenges facing their country, it seems to be increasingly embedded in social practices, with patronage and bribery being an acceptable part of day-to-day life,” read the survey report. The level of corruption, according to the survey, varies from sector to sector. “Bribes tend to be larger in the justice sector, where the average bribe paid to both prosecutors and judges is more than 300 dollars,” notes the report. The bribe given to local authorities and customs officials is pegged at 200-odd dollars and those given to other officials range between 100-150 dollars.

In September 2012, President Hamid Karzai sacked five provincial governors and many key figureheads in different provinces in an attempt to crackdown on corruption. Among those who faced the axe included governor of Helmand province, Gulab Mangal, the former army general. “He had allegedly accumulated disproportionate assets, gotten cozy with many foreign officials, which was not appreciated by President Karzai,” said one government official, wishing anonymity.

In May this year, Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal turned the tables on lawmakers during his impeachment, accusing them of demanding lucrative foreign business contracts and free houses. After the shameful incident, Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan came down heavily on the foreign aid and military organizations for fueling corruption in the country.

In an article for Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan expert and Senior Advisor to the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Barnett Rubin says a mere course correction is not enough and a change of strategy is required.  “A mere course correction will not be enough to prevent the country from sliding into chaos. Washington and its international partners must rethink their strategy and significantly increase both the resources they devote to Afghanistan and the effectiveness of those resources’ use.”

In his explosive article ‘Letter from Kabul: Solving Afghanistan’s Problems’ for Foreign Affairs in November 2009, Kim Barker breaks down corruption into three categories: low-level corruption, high-level corruption, and corruption related to Western presence. “For Afghans, corruption falls into three categories: first is petty corruption by lower-level government employees who are looking out for their own survival. Next is large-scale corruption, which is committed by ministers and relatives of top Afghan officials, involved in lucrative international contracts or the drug trade. Last is Western-driven corruption, which begins with the foreign contractors who live conspicuously well in Kabul.” While the first two classifications are acknowledged by all and sundry, the last category is conveniently ignored.

What is lacking is the strong political will to weed out corruption, believes Azizullah Ladin, former Head of the Anti-Corruption Unit of government. “The biggest impediment in the fight against corruption is the lack of political will. Our efforts bear no fruits when the people sitting at the helm are not serious enough to tackle the issue,” he said during a seminar organized by Afghanistan Justice Organisation on the International Anti-Corruption Day. He said most of his recommendations were cold-shouldered by the government. “The lip service is not enough, it is important for the government of Afghanistan to act tough against the corrupt officials.”

He said the culture of corruption has become ubiquitous and now people feel obliged to grease the palms of public officials to get their work done. “It has become a nuisance for the country and a matter of grave concern for tax payers,” said Mr. Ladin. Accountability and transparency, he believes, are essential to create an efficient system.

However, he remains a pessimist. The new government, he says, is very unlikely to combat corruption in letter and spirit. “Most of the Presidential candidates in the fray have doubtful credentials. It would be unfair to expect them to weed out corruption because they are also corrupt,” says Mr. Ladin. “That is precisely why I do not see any ray of hope after elections because the new government will come with its own agenda to shield the corrupt officials.”

Nasrullah Stanikzae, the eminent political commentator, believes this ‘culture’ of corruption needs to be eliminated from the core. “Today corruption in Afghanistan has become a culture, and if we do not take immediate steps to address the issue, it will turn dangerous for the future of Afghanistan and then the process can be irreversible.” All the stakeholders, he says, must join hands and defeat this hydra-headed monster.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)



Abuse by armed groups in Afghanistan continues unabated: Amnesty

Syed Zafar Mehdi

According to the Amnesty International (AI) Report 2014/15, which documents the state of human rights in 160 countries in 2014, the abuses by armed groups in Afghanistan continued on a significant scale, with attacks at an all-time high in the first half of 2014.

The annual report, released on Wednesday, documents in great detail the situation of human rights in various countries and celebrates those who stood up for human rights, most often in difficult circumstances.

The report says there was growing insecurity across the country in the wake of the planned withdrawal of foreign troops in December, when the combat mission of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officially ended.

Violence by Afghan and international forces

The report says ISAF and NATO forces continued to “launch night raids and aerial and ground attacks”, killing dozens of civilians, even after the responsibility for security had been handed over to Afghan security forces in June 2013.

According to UNAMA, 9 percent of total civilian casualties were caused by pro-government forces (8 percent to ANSF and 1 percent to ISAF/NATO forces) with ground combat and crossfire accounting for the majority of deaths.

Violence against women in Afghanistan

The reports cites the statistics of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), which registered 4,154 cases of violence against women in the first half of 2014, marking 25 percent increase during the same period in the previous year.

According to the report, there was an “increase in reported crimes against women and girls”, but there is no clarity behind the cause of violence. The lack of full and foolproof application of the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), the report adds, is a matter of concern.

The reduction in the quota of women’s seats in provincial councils, and the absence of women in the peace negotiation process with the Taliban, according to the report, constitutes “backward steps for women’s rights”.

The report cites the case of a cleric who was arrested for raping one of his pupils, a 10-year-old girl, in Kunduz province.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

According to the report, arbitrary arrests and detentions continued under the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the police.

The report says suspects were “routinely denied due process, including being denied access to a lawyer or to their families”. NDS personnel continued to be accused of torture and other ill-treatment and enforced disappearances.

At least 50 non-Afghan prisoners, the report adds, remained in US custody in Parwan detention facility (formerly known as Bagram) at the end of the year. Some were believed to have been held since 2002.

Freedom of expression and freedom of media

The government, the report says, “failed to investigate adequately and prosecute perpetrators of attacks on journalists and other media workers” who were “peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression”.

According to the report, there was a reported 50 percent rise in the number of journalists killed in 2014 and a 60 percent increase in the number of attacks in the first half of the year, compared with previous year’s figures.

“Journalists were arrested, threatened, beaten or killed in apparently politically motivated attacks by government workers, international forces, insurgent groups and supporters of election candidates,” reads the report.

Refugees and internally displaced people

UNHCR estimated that Afghans continued to account for the highest number of refugees in the world, the report says. Neighbouring Iran and Pakistan hosted 2.7 million registered Afghan refugees.

“In March, UNHCR documented 659,961 Afghans who were internally displaced due to armed conflict, deterioration of security and natural disasters,” says the report.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation launched the National Internally Displaced People (IDP) Policy on 11 February 2014, providing a legal definition for displaced people and outlining the government’s responsibilities in providing emergency assistance, support and protection.

Displaced people, the report says, continued to migrate to larger cities such as Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. “Inadequate makeshift shelters, overcrowding and poor hygiene, combined with harsh weather conditions, led to an increase in communicable and chronic diseases such as malaria and hepatitis,” it adds.

Capital punishments

The report says Afghanistan continued to apply the death penalty, often after unfair trials. It cites the case of six men who were executed in Kabul’s Pul-e-Charkhi prison, two weeks after President Ghani’s inauguration.

Five had been convicted in connection with the gang-rape of four women in Paghman district and the sixth man had been convicted in a separate case of a series of kidnappings, murders and armed robberies.

On September 28, the then President Karzai signed the death warrants for the six men. “The trial proceedings of five men were considered unfair and controversial,” the report says.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)