Afghanistan’s new football coach, a German with Bosnian roots,excited about his new role


Syed Zafar Mehdi

Slaven Skeledzic, the newly-appointed coach of Afghanistan’s national football team, wants to enable a European brand of football to be played in Afghanistan.

In an interview with FIFA.com, the official website of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA), Skeledzic said he is thrilled about his new role, which is also the greatest challenge of his life.

“I’m excited about my role,” said the 43-year-old German with Bosnian roots. “I want to make a difference and give the people something to smile about again.”

Skeledzic, who was born in Bosnia but now lives in Germany, was formally introduced as the new football coach at a press conference in Kabul earlier this month by the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF).

Speaking to media persons, Skeledzic said he plans to bring European football culture to Afghanistan and build a strong national team.

“I have my philosophy and style of training,” Skeledzic said at the new conference, flanked by the senior officials of AFF.

Skeledzic is aware of the football talent in this country and he has shared his plans with AFF on how to groom the young players and build a strong national team

Afghanistan is currently ranked 144th in the FIFA World Ranking and the new coach has vowed tohelp the team improve its performance at the international stage.

“My experience will help me to empathise with people more effectively,” he said in the interview with FIFA.com. “I want to use football as a tool that can touch people’s hearts and make them proud.”

Afghanistan football team has tremendously evolved over the years. In September 2013, the team created a history of sorts after defeated India to clinch the South Asian Football Federation Championship in Kathmandu.

On the course to finals, Afghanistan beat Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. The historic victory brought great joy to people who poured into streets to celebrate.

Skeledzic is aware of the football talent in this country and he has shared his plans with AFF on how to groom the young players and build a strong national team.

“When I first visited the country I was struck by the incredible warmth of its people,” he explained. “Everyone goes to great lengths to respect one another. I’ll do everything I can to remain genuine and communicate with people in an open way.”

Skeledzic will start working with the team from early March and is excited about it. “The question we need to ask ourselves is ‘What do we want to achieve?’ We will only succeed if we are all moving in the same direction.”

The highly-qualified with more than ten years of coaching experience is expecting technically adept players, so he wants to focus on “playing style, tactics, fitness and identity”

The highly-qualified with more than ten years of coaching experience is expecting technically adept players, so he wants to focus on“playing style, tactics, fitness and identity”.

“It’s important to me that we find a philosophy relatively quickly and establish a particular structure both on and off the pitch. Then we’ll make further assessments based on the players’ skills and willingness to learn. I need a team in which everyone is ready to be part of a collective unit,” he said in the interview.

Skeledzic will be assisted by his deputy Ali AskarLali, who played 25 matches for Afghanistan in the 1970s, and has been living inGermany since 1981.

“If we can inspire the country’s best young players from all corners of the globe and bring them together with the leading footballers in the domestic league, I’m confident we can build a strong unit with a solid chain of command,” said Skeledzic.

(http://www.afghanzariza.com/2015/02/25/afghanistans-new-football-coach-a-german-with-bosnian-rootsexcited-about-his-new-role)

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Adultery and stoning in Afghanistan: Blast from the brutal past

stoning.jpg

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Stung by the scathing criticism from various quarters, the Afghan government has backed away from the plan to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery, which was first exposed by US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch last week. 

Stung by the scathing criticism from various quarters, the Afghan government has backed away from the plan to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery, which was first exposed by US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch last week. A report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week sent shockwaves across the world. The report made a startling revelation that the Afghan government is reconsidering stoning, a medieval punishment that was once the hallmark and the most hideous symbol of erstwhile Taliban regime. The HRW report said the Ministry of Justice has proposed public stoning for married adulterers and flogging for unmarried offenders in a draft revision of the country’s penal code.

The idea of stoning in today’s Twitter and Facebook age as anachronistic as that of the Taliban regime was especially given the decade long nation building and ushering an era of democracy in Afghanistan.  So when the news of the stoning law spread, it did not go well, justifiably, with the human rights advocates and Afghans around the world.

In a country like Afghanistan where religion is deeply politicized and people can be tried for blasphemy by both state and non-state actors, the reintroduction of heinous and inhumane law like stoning can have damning repercussions.

Stung by the scathing criticism and denunciation from various quarters, Afghan government did a volte-face, criticizing the reports about reintroducing stoning in the penal code. “It is not correct. The Minister of Justice has rejected it,” President Karzai told Radio Free Europe, soon after the HRW report came out.

An ancient practice, stoning has existed as a form of punishment since Ancient Greece, and contrary to the widespread perception, its origin is not from Islam. According to historians, the practice is rooted in Ancient Greek mythology. “It is only a co-incidence that the practice is prevalent today mostly in countries with Muslim majority, while the fact is stoning has existed throughout history,” says Jameel Yazdan, Kabul-based historian.

An ancient practice, stoning has existed as a form of punishment since Ancient Greece, and contrary to the widespread perception, its origin is not from Islam

Stoning is not part of only the Islamic Hudood crimes; it has been specified as a penalty for various crimes under rabbinic laws in the Old Testament. It is also widely prevalent in some Iraqi tribes. In 2007, a young girl was stoned to death by the community, who practice ancient Yazidi religion. The incident took place in a small town in Ninawa Governorate and became public through a mobile phone clip that was widely shared over internet.

While other countries have successfully brought reform in their justice delivery system, Muslim countries in general and Afghanistan in particular are still lurking in the dark.  Last summer, there was a massive public outcry against the public execution of 21-year-old woman Najiba in Shinwari district of Parwan province, located on the outskirts of Kabul city. The incident snowballed into a big controversy and caused major embarrassment to the Karzai government after a harrowing three-minute footage showing the women being executed in front of cheering crowd of men leaked out. The woman was accused of adultery by the influence-yielding warlords of the province. Taliban denied involvement in the killing, which NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen called “an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty”.

Najiba’s killing, however, is not an isolated case of brutality against women in Afghanistan. The public executions by stoning and gunfire have not stopped entirely after the fall of Taliban regime in 2001, says Jalal Ahmad, Kabul-based political analyst. “The barbaric practice continues in many insurgency-hit areas of Afghanistan, infested with Taliban elements.”

Many of these gruesome incidents go unnoticed, as locals do not lodge the complaint for fear of retaliation. Some of the incidents, however, have come to light. In the province of Ghazni, a mother and daughter were stoned to death in November 2011. A couple was stoned to death in Kunduz in August 2011. In 2005, a 29-year old woman accused of adultery was stoned to death in Badakhshan. In each case, the Afghan government condemned the incident.

Even in areas with little or no presence of Taliban forces, there have been honor killings of women who revolted against their abusive husbands or eloped with someone they want to be married to.  All these killings have taken place outside the ambit of law and in local courts called Jirgas, traditional dispute mechanisms, where tribal leaders pronounce verdicts against women accused of among other things adultery, infidelity, and betrayal. In most such cases, men get away because of the influence they yield.

Even in areas with little or no presence of Taliban forces, there have been honor killings of women who revolted against their abusive husbands or eloped with someone they want to be married to

On November 25, HRW released a report based on the leaked draft of the penal code, which said Afghanistan Ministry of Justice was planning to introduce new provisions in the penal code that would allow stoning as punishment for adultery. According to the report, married individuals accused of adultery would be stoned to death and unmarried individuals accused of same crime would face 100 lashes as punishment. “It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.

The statement issued by HRW asked Afghan government to “immediately reject a proposal to restore stoning as punishment for adultery” because it violates international human rights standards, including prohibitions on torture and cruel and inhuman punishment. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, HRW statement said, allows countries to impose the death penalty only for the most serious offenses, which does not include adultery.

The report created tremendous furor prompting civil rights activists to launch scathing criticism at the Karzai government. Many leading activists, academics, senators, commentators denounced the move. Amnesty International also issued a statement warning that it will “mark a dangerous return to legalized state brutality” and urging authorities to reject the plans. “Stoning and amputation are always torture, and so is flogging as practiced in Afghanistan. All these forms of punishment are strictly prohibited under international human rights treaties which are binding on Afghanistan,” said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan Researcher at Amnesty International.

The HRW report stirred the hornet’s nest outside Afghanistan too.  A senior British minister, Justine Greening, who has made women’s rights the priority for her government’s aid operation in Afghanistan, met President Karzai to express her indignation. The Foreign Affairs Minister of Netherlands, Frans Timmermans also joined the chorus, warning that Afghanistan will be risking its relationship with his country if it introduces stoning as punishment for adultery.

Taken aback by the torrent of blistering criticism, Afghan government backed away from the proposal to reintroduce public stoning.

Abdul Rauf Heerawi, Head of the Legislation Directorate of the Ministry of Justice, had confirmed that public stoning to death for adulterers was included in the draft to amend the penal code. “The Islamic Sharia instructs us to do so. There is a verse in the Quran about it,” he was quoted by Wall Street Journal. But after a few days of growing international criticism, the Ministry of Justice issued a statement saying it would not appear in the revamped penal code because there was no need to amend the issue. “The legality of the crime and punishment is fully addressed and there is no need to regulate the issue in the new code. So, the Ministry of Justice does not intend to regulate it in the new draft code,” read the statement.

Taken aback by the torrent of blistering criticism, Afghan government backed away from the proposal to reintroduce public stoning. In an interview with Radio Free Europe, President Karzai downplayed the reports about stoning being reintroduced in the amended penal code. “It is not correct. The Minister of Justice has rejected it,” he said, indicating that stoning would not be coming back. According to privy sources, it was the brainchild of the Minister of Justice, Habibullah Ghalib, a known hardliner who has a knack for courting controversies. Following a barrage of condemnations and sensing trouble, President Karzai stepped in and quashed it.

According to Syed Yosuf Halim, the Deputy Minister of Justice, the criminal law in Afghanistan, introduced in 1976, needs to be reassessed and revamped to address and conform to the current realities of Afghanistan.  “The proposal of introducing stoning in the penal code was put forward by one member of the committee, which was not accepted by others,” says Mr. Halim. He says a committee has been working for the past eight months to revise and amend the penal code.  And a member of the committee had suggested the Hudood, Qisas and Diyat already stated in the code should be made clear.  But, the committee decided to leave it “as is”.

Some top government officials, however, have termed it a ‘western propaganda’.  “The timing of the report is suspect.  As the stalemate continues over the US-Afghan bilateral security pact, it looks like a conspiracy by western spin doctors to discredit and shame Karzai’s administration,” says Matiullah Kharoti, a political analyst.

While welcoming the decision of the Afghan government not to include stoning in the revised penal code, HRW rued the fact that the human rights, especially women’s rights still face threat on multiple fronts. “Of course it’s a huge relief that the government appears eager to disown this proposal now, but this is not an aberration that appeared out of the blue,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told The Guardian.

The crime of adultery is not new to Afghanistan.  It is even referred to in the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and reference is made to punishment under Hudood – stoning

The Afghanistan Constitution, contradictory and pluralistic at places, clearly outlines the application of Islamic law. While Article 3 says no law must be made in contravention of the holy religion of Islam, Article 130 tells the courts to apply first the provisions of this constitution and the other laws to cases before them, but when no provisions are found in either, then to resort to Hanafi Jurisprudence. Further, the courts are instructed to apply the Hanafi Jurisprudence “within the limits set out by this Constitution” and to “rule in a way that attains justice in the best manner.”  And Article 7 also obligates Afghanistan to observe United Nations Charter and Human Rights Declarations.

Sharia expert and Professor at Kabul University, Nassirullah Khalid explains the crimes falling in one of the two categories under Hanafi School of Jurisprudence: “Haad” (meaning limit in Arabic) or “Ta’zir” (meaning discretionary punishment in Arabic).  In other words, Ta’zeeri (plural of Ta’zir) are crimes that do not fall under Hudood (plural of Haad) or crimes that lack sufficient evidence to prove under Hudood.  Hudood refer to those crimes ordained by Allah.  The punishment for these crimes is fixed in the Quran and or Hadith. However, the punishment of stoning for adultery, a Hudood crime, is not stated or fixed in the Quran but claimed to have roots in Hadith, says Professor Khalid. He further states that the standard of proof is beyond reasonable doubt so it is very difficult to prove such crimes, to begin with.

Article 1 of the current Afghan Penal Code, codified in 1976, states that the Penal code is promulgated to regulate Ta’zeeri crimes and punishments, and the “crimes of ‘Hudood’, ‘Qasaas’, and ‘Diyat’ shall be punished in accordance with Islamic religious law (the Hanafi religious jurisprudence)”. So the Penal Code clearly states the punishment for Hudood crimes, including adultery, are to be administered under Hanafi jurisprudence.

The genesis of specifying stoning and lashing punishment for adultery cases stems from one of the two probable scenarios: since the international community’s intervention a decade ago, the adage applies that everything in Afghanistan must be looked at to modernize, improve, modify or amend. Or some Islamic scholars fear that courts will misinterpret Article 1 of the Penal Code, leading to travesty of justice with respect to Hudood crimes because it does not clearly outline the burden of proof and the standards of proof, and the Afghan judiciary lacks the necessary capacity in Hanafi jurisprudence to apply Hudood crimes. It is, thus, suspected that both scenarios played a role in the committee’s decision, which consists of both Afghan and International legal experts, to include amending Article 1 of the Penal code by enumerating the punishment for Hudood including adultery. Thus, the draft amendment that describes the punishment for adultery (stoning and lashes) that everyone is now talking about and condemning.

Even though clearly stated in the code, since 1977, there is no record of any Afghan regime, except the Taliban, that has applied stoning as punishment

The crime of adultery is not new to Afghanistan.  It is even referred to in the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and reference is made to punishment under Hudood – stoning. It is part of Hudood crimes that is clearly included in Article 1 of the Penal Code and for which there is clear punishment under Hanafi Jurisprudence.

But what is interesting is that after HRW warned of the potential inclusion of specifying the punishment for adultery in the draft amendment, mainstream media in the west, true to their style, sensationalized the whole affair. The western media too suffers from the classic syndrome of “Khaitalogy”.  Media institutions like the Wall Street Journal and BBC misquoted officials, misspelled names and used the wrong names all together, but most egregiously, claimed that stoning is in the verse of the Quran.  Both Nathan Hodge who has been reporting from Afghanistan for several years and understands Dari and his colleague, Habib Khan Totakhil, did not bother to check the veracity of Mr. Heerawi’s statement before publishing it.

Even though clearly stated in the code, since 1977, there is no record of any Afghan regime, except the Taliban, that has applied stoning as punishment. The idea that Hudood and other crimes stated in Article 1 of the Penal Code ought to be specified with the requirements for proof does not necessarily mean Afghanistan is going back to the Taliban era nor it should be sensationalized or threats made about funds or relationships.  Further, mere protest or threats of removing the specificity of the punishment as leaked in the so-called draft amendment did not render mute the potential application of stoning to punish adultery.  It is still there under the Hudood umbrella, and if a judge so desires will apply the punishment in adultery case. But rather, the penal code should be looked at both from a historical aspect and an Afghan perspective and amended to reflect their wishes and views and aligned with today’s universal human rights standards.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)

 

 

 

“Unlike attitudes, laws can be enforced immediately”


Syed Zafar Mehdi

Mina Sharif, Afghan-Canadian journalist and activist, on what it means to be an educated and independent Afghan woman and the emotional equation she shares with her motherland

Q. You were born in Afghanistan, grew up in Canada, and returned to Afghanistan in 2005 for nearly ten years. How difficult was it to adjust in a new country?
A. My adjustment to a completely new environment differs from others. It was by choice and it was back to Afghanistan rather than out of it. There was an adjustment to daily life like harsh winters without heat, stomach bugs and other conditions that differ so much from life in Canada, but it took no time for that to feel normal.

I was either the Afghan amongst the expats or an expat amongst the local Afghans. It took a long time for me to realize this was always going to be the case and I had to accept that I am a product of two very different worlds.

Q. Somebody quite famously said, you can take me out of my country but you cannot take country out of me. Do you relate to this sentiment?
A. Yes. I think I first felt the power of that sentiment on arrival at Kabul Airport. Nobody could have prepared me for the instant connection I felt to Afghanistan as soon as my feet hit the tarmac. I had left when I was a year old, so I had actually agonized on the way over whether or not this was a mistake and whether or not I would even be welcome. Any doubt was gone as soon as I landed.

Q. In the minds of westerns, Afghanistan mostly conjures up the images of war, violence. What do you tell your friends when they ask you about it?
A. It is annoying that in this day and age people can forget that media is obsessed with sensationalism and negative reporting. We allow ourselves to dehumanize entire groups of people because they fall under the simplistic labels and stereotypes.

That being said, I would have had same perception had I not been to Afghanistan myself. I tell people that my friends in Afghanistan are great. I go to work, weddings, grocery shopping, and restaurants. I meet some kind people and some mean spirited people like anywhere else in the world.

Q. What does it mean to be an independent, educated, successful Afghan woman in 21st century?
A. It means different things for different women. For some it is exercising their right not to be abused. For some it is learning to read and write. For those who have been lucky enough to reap benefits of past 12 years, it has meant accomplishments.

There are women holding positions in government, teaching, running companies and raising educated children. If the progress continues at same pace, the women in Afghanistan will continue to redefine what it means to be a successful Afghan woman.

Q. Despite tremendous progress made in last 12 years, women continue to face violence in Afghanistan. What needs to be done to address the issue?
A. Women face violence everywhere. The improvement in situation comes with addressing it and punishing the culprits. I would like to believe that the insecurities that lead people to use the veil of religion, culture or any set of rules to support violence against others will go away. Attitudes take generations to change.

The enemies of a peaceful Afghanistan keep their power by trying to convince us that hurting each other is part of who we are. Unlike attitudes, law can be enforced immediately.

Q. This is an important year with elections, followed by withdrawal of international troops. How do you predict the future of Afghanistan, post 2014?
A. It is difficult to predict but I sincerely hope and pray we will continue to move forward. I think it is very basic – security and education are the two key areas we have to focus on.

Q. What are your dreams for your country? Do you plan to come back?
A. 
I have many dreams for Afghanistan. More than anything, I want our children to refer to these days as “before”. Healthy, happy and safe is what I wish we could offer the next generation. I hope I will be witness to that.

(http://www.afghanzariza.com/2014/05/18/unlike-attitudes-laws-can-be-enforced-immediately)

PostZubair Hatami, a young photojournalist with Mitra Television in Kabul, was injured in a suicide attack at Estaqlal High School and succumbed to his injuries 10 days. (Photo: Naimat Rawan)

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Journalists in Afghanistan continue to live dangerously, and according to fresh reports, 2014 has been the deadliest year for journalists in this country.

Journalists in Afghanistan have to walk a tightrope. Reporting daily events, under dangerous and life-threatening conditions, can be a daunting task. Over the years, many journalists have suffered casualties in various incidents of violence across the country. But, despite ominous threats and heavy odds, they have upheld the highest ideals of journalism under extremely trying conditions.

Security is the biggest challenge for journalists who have to report from highly volatile areas. They face threats from armed rebels, government officials, power lords and criminals. According to Nai – supporting open media in Afghanistan, 2014 was the deadliest year for journalists in Afghanistan. Many journalists lost their lives and many suffered serious injuries while on duty.

Addressing media persons in Kabul recently, Sediqullah Tawhidi, Head of Nai, said 125 cases of violence against journalists were reported by Nai in 2014, marking 64 percent increase from the previous year. In 2013, 76 cases of violence had been registered.

In 2014, Nai registered 8 cases of murder, 9 cases of injuries, 20 cases of detention, 38 cases of harassment, and 50 cases of insults and intimidation against journalists in Afghanistan.

According to Afghanistan Journalists’ Center (AFJC), an independent body working to defend the rights of Afghan journalists, at least 46 journalists has been killed in Afghanistan since 1994.

Noor Ahmad Noori, a journalist from southern Helmand province, who worked for local radio station and freelanced for New York Times, was killed by unidentified assailants in March 2014. His body was found by local police in a garbage bag in Lashkarga area of Helmand. The post-mortem report suggested that he was severely tortured before being killed.

A Swedish journalist, Nils Horner, who was South Asia correspondent for Svergies Radio, was shot dead in high-security Wazir Akbar Khan locality of Kabul in March 2014. Sveriges Radio’s CEO Cilla Benkö, in a statement called it “one of the worst days in the history of Sveriges Radio”.

In 2014, Nai registered 8 cases of murder, 9 cases of injuries, 20 cases of detention, 38 cases of harassment, and 50 cases of insults and intimidation against journalists in Afghanistan

Ahmad Shah Naimi, a young journalist who worked with Radio Nawa and Sabah TV, was killed in a suicide attack in Kart e Naw area of Kabul same month.

Sardar Ahmad, senior reporter in Agence France Presse’s Kabul bureau, and his family were killed in an attack on Serena Hotel a day before the Afghan New Year, on March 20, 2014. His youngest son Abuzar, barely 3 year old that time was the only member of the family to survive the attack. Following his killing, journalists in Kabul announced the temporary boycott of Taliban coverage.

Anya Nideringass, who worked with Associated Press, was killed by an Afghan police officer in eastern Khost province on April 4, 2014, while she was covering elections. According to reports, the police officer was arrested following the incident.

Khalid Yaqobi, who worked for a local radio station in Mazar Sharif, was shot dead by unknown assailants at his home in Balkh province. Palwasha Tookhi, a female journalist who also worked for a local radio station in Mazar Sharif, was stabbed by knife outside her home.

Zubari Hatami, a young photojournalist who worked for Mitra Television, succumbed to his injuries ten days after he was critically injured in a suicide attack at Esteqlal High School, Kabul. He passed away on December 21 and his tragic and untimely demise was widely condoled by the media fraternity in Afghanistan.

Following the attack on Esteqlal High School, Taliban issued a statement warning media groups and civil society institutions in Afghanistan to refrain from maligning the Taliban movement against “western invaders”. The statement posted on social networking sites said they will target the media and civil society groups, who support the cause of “western invaders”.

Taken aback by the unremitting violence against journalists, media fraternity in Afghanistan, following the killing of Hatami, again decided to temporarily boycott Taliban coverage. Journalists asked the government to constitute a committee that would work to safeguard media freedom in Afghanistan and ensure safety and security of journalists working under trying conditions.

Nai also took an initiative to set up Journalists’ Legacy Fund to provide financial assistance to the families of slain journalists in Afghanistan. According to Nai officials, a steering committee has been appointed to decide on the administration of this fund.

Among those who have contributed money to the fund include first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, prominent trader Noorullah Daudzai, and Kabul Mayor.

While, the initiative has been welcomed by media fraternity in Afghanistan, they feel more could be done. “It is a commendable initiative, but journalists must have insurance cover and job security especially in a place like Afghanistan,” says Fawad Nasiri, reporter with a private news channel.

Nai has asked the new Afghan government to adhere to the commitments they have made to Afghan journalists. Among the demands include review of cases pertaining to killing of journalists over the past 13 years and bring perpetrators to justice, strengthening the institutions of justice, making security agencies accountable, supporting the media initiatives that seek to expose cases of corruption in public sector.

That is perhaps the only way to strengthen media, which is hailed as the fourth pillar of society, in Afghanistan and preventing violence against law-abiding journalists.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)