Afghanistan: not all bad news

  1. Organization: Afghan Zariza

    Industry: Online and print magazine

    Name of contact: Zafar Mehdi, Editor (

    Web references:


    In November 2013, Afghan Zariza (Millennium), a first-of-its-kind news and current affairs magazine was born in Afghanistan, seeking to provide cutting-edge reporting while redefining journalism in the war-ravaged country.

    Afghan Zariza was launched a year after thorough research and market analysis, which found that it must fill the vacuum in a lacking print media market while maintaining a strong presence online.

    Zafar Mehdi, Afghan Zariza's editor

    Afghanistan is a country where a transparent, free press, while guaranteed in the Constitution and by politicians, remains a dream. Zafar says that even in such an environment, he, as an editor, always emphasizes the importance of reporting the truth, ‘even at the risk of our lives.

    Maintaining transparency, fairness and openness are sacrosanct ideals for the magazine, and readers are engaged through social media to get their views on particular topics/stories. If responses are negative, the Afghan Zariza team sits down and works out where it may have gone wrong, and how to better itself. This, Zafar describes as ‘important for our reputation because we have toiled hard to carve a niche for ourselves and earn respect of our loyal readers.

    Another challenge facing any online magazine is that of knowing if feedback received is genuinely from its target audience. In an online world where fake profiles have grown alarmingly, Zafar admits one of the more important tasks of Afghan Zariza’s social media team is separating fake from genuine profiles.

    Social media as a vital medium for engagement

    As mentioned, Afghan Zariza realizes social media is a vital medium through which to get feedback. A dedicated web team at the magazine responds to comments in an effort to engage readers and appreciate suggestions and ideas.

    Afghan Zariza's Facebook page

    Zafar says that readers, especially through social media, often have incredible ideas or constructive criticism to offer, and that the magazine is always open to receiving them.

    In a lesson that many companies have learned, Zafar says, ‘When you respond to readers on social media and push the conversation forward, they develop an intimate association with your magazine/newspaper/news channel.

    Afghan Zariza does not just simply talk of appreciating reader feedback, but acts on it. A reader once commented on the magazine’s Twitter page suggesting that the mobile version of the website be made more user-friendly. The team swung into action and made the necessary changes. Zafar personally thanked the reader for the suggestion, who went on to recommend the magazine to his circle of friends, ‘and that is how word-of-mouth promotion helped us get more followers on Twitter.

    Afghan Zariza's Twitter page

    Lessons for others

    Zafar says that Afghan Zariza, since its inception in 2013, has improved considerably, especially through engaging ever more readers inside and outside the country, mainly through social media.

    While this engagement is about getting to know the audience, it is also about readers’ participation which helps the magazine’s staff understand what kind of impact their journalism is having.

    The Afghan Zariza team

    The intimate relationship the magazine has developed with readers/followers on social media has resulted in the introduction of new sections like a reader’s blog, a section on young Afghans, travelogues, and interviews with Afghans living abroad among others. Proof that engagement done right pays off, even in the toughest of conditions.

    Submitted By: S. Waqar H. Rizvi

    Contact the author of this entrywrizvi@gmail.com



Background on why Afghan Zariza was formed:

It is a labour of love and birth of a dream. The first-of-its-kind news and current affairs magazine from Afghanistan that seeks to provide cutting-edge reportage and redefine journalism in this war-ravaged country.

Most of the news flowing out of Afghanistan is based on half-truths and propaganda. Our aim is to give insider’s perspective on Afghan issues with more clarity to both Afghan and international readers. We wish to become the voice of ordinary Afghans and tell their untold stories to the world.

We announced our arrival in November 2013 after a year of meticulous research and market analysis, borrowing from all the leading magazines and news institutions of the world.

While electronic media in Afghanistan has taken rapid strides in recent years, the print media remains far from robust. Afghan Zariza was born to fill that vacuum, to explore uncharted territories and create a brand.

It has been a terrific journey so far, doing free and fearless journalism in one of the most dangerous places on the earth. More importantly, it has been a wonderful learning curve for all of us.

We strongly believe that the free and independent media is the watchdog of society, custodian of public interest and a stimulus of political and social change. Our guiding principle is to inform, educate and engage.

  • How important is readers’ and contributors’ feedback in how the magazine operates, especially on social media?

    The explosion of social media has been incredible. Of course the traditional methods continue to exist, but with the advent of powerful social media tools, media companies are increasingly adopting innovative social media strategies to survive the competition.

    When it comes to feedback from readers and contributors, social media serves as an ideal platform. You get both bouquets and brickbats and that basically depends on what you serve readers. Sometimes, roses make good stories but dung is what sells.

    For a magazine, engaging readers on social media is important because it creates an impact. If your story elicits the interest of readers and becomes a topic of discussion on social media, your job is done. That is why every media group is jumping the bandwagon and trying to make it work for them.

    The number of people using different social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram has grown tremendously over the years. It is important to engage them and seek their feedback. It directly impacts your popularity and sales as potential advertisers today primarily focus on social media presence of media publications. Responding to readers is more important they provide you negative feedback.

    3) How do you overcome the challenge of having a target audience which isn’t as internet/social media savvy? How do you know which feedback is genuinely from those you are targeting, versus those just reading your content from abroad?

    Not everything is hunky dory in running a media publication. The most difficult job is to ensure that we are engaging the right people and those we engage are our target audience. While it is true that the majority of people today, especially in urban centers, use social media for news and communication, there are also people who are not social media savvy. In that case, we have to be more innovative and use different social media tools to target them. Conducting a survey/study to better understand their choices and preferences is also a good option.

    For instance, in Afghanistan, many people are still not acquainted with social media and it is a Herculean task for us to reach out to them and strike a conversation. In that case, we use traditional methods like leaflets, pamphlets, brochures etc. And our executives teach them how to access the magazine content on social media in a simple language.

    Further, I strongly believe that social media communities are a great place to search for like-minded people who want to hear what you have to say. Also, to drive the conversation forward, it is important to ask the right questions, and open-ended questions.

    It is honestly difficult to know where the feedback is coming from, since fake profiles have proliferated alarmingly. But our social media team does good job in segregating fake from genuine profiles. Also, our target audience is both within the country and abroad. Afghans live in almost all the countries and it is important for us to engage them. Social media has helped us tremendously in that.

    4) In a country where free press is still a fairly new concept, how do you remain transparent regarding your intentions and finances through social media? How important is that for your reputation?

    There are umpteen challenges in terms of freedom and independence of media in this strife-torn country. The concept of free press, although guaranteed by the Constitution and political leadership, remains a far-fetched dream. There are multiple forces at work to prevent you from writing or broadcasting what you ideally want to.

    According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the failure to protect journalistic freedom in Afghanistan has emboldened the elements who want to “suppress the criticism of the government, security forces and other powerful entities in Afghan society”.

    So, in such a volatile environment, it is even more challenging to uphold your integrity and principles. As an editor, I have always emphasized the importance of reporting truth, even at the risk of our lives. For us, truth is sacred and readers come first. So, transparency, fairness and openness are our sacrosanct ideals.

    To maintain transparency and retain the trust of our readers, we engage them in conversation on social media to know their views on a particular topic/story. If the responses are negative, we sit down and figure it out. It is important for our reputation because we have toiled hard to carve a niche for ourselves and earn respect of our loyal readers. If we are not objective and fair in our reporting, we will end up betraying them.

    5) Do you have a dedicated team that responds to and filters comments, feedback received through social media – how is such feedback worked through into actual policy-changes, if any? Can you think of any examples of when something a reader or contributor advised, that resulted in a change?

    Yes, we have a dedicated web team who promptly respond to comments. The idea basically is to engage readers and positively respond to their suggestions and ideas, if any. Sometimes, our readers on social media have incredible ideas to share or constructive criticism to offer, and we are open to new ideas and criticism. When you respond to readers on social media and push the conversation forward, they develop an intimate association with your magazine/newspaper/news channel.

    Sometimes it is also important to filter comments, particularly if they are sensitive in nature, targeting a particular ethnic group or race or religion. But the criticism that is constructive in nature is always welcome and preferred.

    Once a reader commented on our Twitter page, appreciating our work and suggesting that we improve mobile version of our website to make it more user-friendly. We quickly swung into action and made necessary changes and I personally thanked the reader for his invaluable suggestion. He recommended our website to his friends and that is how word-of-mouth promotion helped us get more followers on Twitter.

    6) If there’s anything else you want to add about reader/contributor engagement, then I can add that too. It may be nice to add a section on where you can lay out what a utopian future growth would look like for Afghan Zariza, and what part engagement will play in this.

    Afghan Zariza is still in its nascent stage and there is certainly a long way to go for us. Since November 2013, when we launched the first issue of our magazine and formally launched our website as well, we have improved considerably and engaged more readers in and outside the country, chiefly through social media.

    Reader engagement is about getting to know our audience. It is about readers participating in what we are doing. More than anything else, engagement helps us understand what kind of impact our journalism is having.

    Over the past 19 months, we have developed an intimate relationship with our readers/followers on social media, and they have been generous with their comments, ideas and suggestions. It has helped us improve and grow as the first news and current affairs magazine from Afghanistan. Based on their feedback, we have introduced many new sections in our magazine, like reader’s blog, section on young Afghans, travelogues, interviews with Afghans living abroad and much more.

    We are constantly trying to innovate and improve to meet the growing expectations of our readers, especially young readers. We will hopefully continue the engagement process and take this relationship to the next level. We will continue to inform, educate and engage our readers, because we believe in the lofty ideals of free and independent media.


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    Afghanistan-Pakistan détente: An elusive goal?

    Syed Zafar Mehdi

    Even though the government in Kabul has made peace overtures to Pakistan, the relationship between the two estranged neighbors continues to be marked by mistrust

    The political ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two estranged South Asian neighbors, have always been marked by acrimony and hostility. Although the former president Hamid Karzai once described the two countries as “inseparable brothers”, the brothers have never really liked each other.

    The Karzai government had close relations with Pakistan’s Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the initial years. But, in 2006, he accused the Pakistani government of interfering in Afghanistan.

    That was perhaps the beginning of political and diplomatic wars between the friends-turned-foes. During the latter part of President Karzai’s tenure, the bickering turned ugly. Afghan government accused Pakistan of surreptitiously sponsoring terrorism on this side of Durand Line, a claim Pakistan dismissed precipitously.

    The change of guard in Kabul late last year inspired hope that the fractured ties with the Pakistan may be amended. During election campaign, President Ashraf Ghani vowed to pursue the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process and seek the support of political and military leadership in Pakistan.

    As the renowned author and foreign policy expert Ahmed Rashid remarked at the Jaipur Literature Festival recently, the peace process can see headway only if Pakistani military facilitates it since Afghan-Taliban leaders live across the border.

    President Ghani’s olive branch to Pakistan

    President Ghani, who took over on September 29, 2014, has looked keen to shake hands with Pakistan and work together for peace in the region. During his much-publicized two-day visit to Islamabad late last year, he held talks with top political and military leadership of Pakistan and sought their cooperation in combating terrorism and extremism.

    At the London Conference on Afghanistan in December 2014, President Ghani said his government bats for regional cooperation. “We have started an active engagement with our neighbors and we are very pleased with the nature of the dialogue,” he said, thanking Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for indicating that a new strategic opportunity has opened up.

    “President Ghani looks sincere to revive the stalled peace process but the cooperation and support of Pakistan is important,” says Wadir Safi, political commentator and vice president of Afghanistan Justice Organisation (AJO). “Nawaz Sharif government must realize that coordinated counter-terrorism operations require sincerity and seriousness.”

    President Ghani even extended an olive branch to Taliban to resurrect the peace process. Speaking at a conference in Beijing in October 2014, President Ghani urged Taliban to lay down arms and join the peace process.

    “Peace is our top priority. We invite the political opposition, particularly the Taliban, to join and enter Afghan dialogue, and ask all of our international partners to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” he stated.

    There were also reports recently that President Ghani has revived back-channel dialogue with Taliban under the aegis of United Nations. The reports surfaced up following a series of suicide attacks across the country, especially in Kabul.

    “It is important to engage armed opposition groups in a meaningful dialogue to understand their demands and grievances,” says Waheed Mujda, political analyst. He appreciates President Ghani for taking the initiative and extending an invitation to the Taliban

    Peshawar school massacre and the response of Pakistan government

    The attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, which left 141 people dead including 132 school children, jolted the Pakistani government and military out of deep slumber. In the words of Ahmed Rashid, it served as “a horrible warning”, bringing political parties and military on a common platform against terrorism and extremism.

    The responsibility of the gruesome attack was claimed by Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) headed by Mullah Fazlullah. According to TTP spokesman, the attack was a revenge for Pakistan army’s Zarb e Azb (sharp strike) military operation in North Waziristan.

    Following the tragic incident, the political commentators in Pakistan claimed that Mullah Fazlullah, the mastermind of the attack, was hiding in Afghanistan. After the whirlwind visit of Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief General Rizwan Akhtar to Kabul, a day after the Peshawar school attack, there were reports that they had asked for extradition of TTP chief.

    It almost threatened to derail the peace process as politicians and political commentators in Pakistan went into overdrive. The then Afghan Army Chief General Sher Mohammad Karimi said the TTP Chief does not live in Afghanistan, although he did not entirely deny the possibility.

    “We have a long and porous border, so it is possible he might be operating from both sides of the border like other terrorists. But he is always on the run. We have never sheltered terrorists and will never do so,” he said.

    “It is highly unlikely that Mullah Fazlullah will be hiding in Afghanistan, and it is ludicrous to suggest he is being sheltered by security agencies here,” says Akbar Orya, Kabul-based political analyst. “Afghanistan has never supported or sponsored terrorism against Pakistan,” he adds.

    However, the observers in Pakistan are unwilling to buy that narrative. “There is enough evidence suggesting that Mullah Fazlullah has been operating from Afghanistan’s border areas,” says Raza Malik, a Lahore-based journalist-activist. “Unlike the previous administration headed by Hamid Karzai, the current government in Afghanistan led by President Ghani must stop supporting anti-Pakistan elements.”

    President Ghani and CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah had strongly condemned the Peshawar school attack. President Ghani during his meeting with Pakistani Army Chief and ISI Chief a day after the attack said he will not allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorism activities against the neighboring country and offered support and cooperation to Pakistani government in their fight against terrorism.

    Ahmed Saeedi, a noted political commentator, says Afghanistan has always tried to be a friendly neighbor to Pakistan. “We believe in the values of peaceful coexistence and we have always batted for peace and stability in the region,” says Mr. Saeedi. “We condemned the Peshawar massacre because we believe terrorism in all its forms and manifestations should be condemned, irrespective of who the perpetrator is and who the victim is.”

    Since the December 16 massacre, many top Pakistani political and military leaders have come to Kabul. Last month, a delegation of Pakistani politicians including senior leaders like Mahmoud Khan Achakzai, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Afrasiab Khattak visited Kabul and held talks with President Ghani, Dr. Abdullah, National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar, among others.

    The leaders agreed to bolster bilateral ties to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, and addressed the problems of Afghan migrants in Pakistan, according to a statement issued by the presidential palace. “People in Pakistan have now realized that there is no difference between good and bad terrorism. Terrorism is not only a threat to the two countries but to the region and the entire world”, said the delegation in their statement.

    Pakistan’s war in Afghanistan

    Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently said he will not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorism activities against Afghanistan. “If our soil is used for terrorism activities against Afghanistan, we will take serious actions against the insurgents,” he said.

    The statement came a day after Afghan Army Chief, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi accompanied by Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), met Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif in Islamabad. A statement issued by ISAF said the meeting focused on “coordinated military and counter-terrorism operations” on both sides of the border.

    However, despite the assurances given by the Pakistani government and military leaders, the proxy war continues in Afghanistan, allegedly backed by Pakistan. “The bitter truth is Pakistan does not want a strong Afghanistan,” says Mr. Saeedi. “Afghan government has the evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in Afghan war and the issue has been discussed at the highest level.”

    In December last year, hundreds of armed insurgents carried out ferocious attacks on Sara Kamar, Kachli and Shenki villages of Dangam district in eastern Kunar province, rendering thousands of people homeless. The clashes continued for weeks and resulted in loss of lives and incalculable collateral damage.

    The heavily-armed insurgents destroyed many residential and commercial buildings in various parts of the district and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. The deputy governor of Kunar, Mohammad Nabi Ahmadi, said the insurgents came from Pakistan, a claim corroborated by many army generals and tribal elders in Kunar province.

    Since the establishment of the National Unity Government (NUG), there have been many suicide attacks in Kabul, creating panic among the residents. An official of National Directorate of Security (NDS), the premier security and intelligence agency of Afghan government, says the insurgents come from Pakistan and are backed by Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency.

    Even President Ghani turned emotional during his speech at the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November last year, while recounting the tragedy of Paktika’s Yahya Khail district, where 57 people were killed by a suicide bomber during a volleyball game.

    “To hold wounded children in one’s arms in a hospital, as I was late Sunday evening, is to feel the depth of our fall from our sense of shared humanity and the values of our great religions,” he said.

    Rahmatullah Nabil, the chief of NDS, recently sent media into a tizzy by claiming that Taliban chief Mullah Omar lives in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi and is sheltered by ISI. Mr. Nabil said NDS knows the exact location of Mullah Omar, who has been spearheading insurgency in Afghanistan since 2001.

    “I won’t be surprised if he is found there, the way Osama Bin Lin was found in Abbotabad,” says Ismail Shah, a resident of Kabul. “They are either incompetent to arrest them or willingly sheltering them,” he adds.

    War-mongering by Pakistani politicians

    To complicate matters, former and current politicians in Pakistan issued statements that can only be interpreted and taken as controversial and war-mongering. The rhetoric started by the politician-cum-cleric Fazlur Rehman who warned that the terrorist attacks in Afghanistan will continue as long as foreign forces are in the country.

    Hamid Gul, the former chief of ISI, said the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan is not ideal for peace and stability as it emboldens armed insurgents to carry out suicide attacks.

    Siraj ul Haq, a senior leader of Jamiat-e-Islami Pakistan said Taliban’s fight against foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan is legitimate and warranted, terming it a “freedom struggle”. Drawing parallels between the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and resistance movement against Indian rule in Kashmir, he said that he supports both “freedom” movements.

    “Politicians in Pakistan have this uncanny tendency to stir hornet’s nest by issuing controversial political statements,” says Mr. Orya. “It is the responsibility of civil society in Pakistan to unequivocally denounce this sort of blatant war-mongering and isolate those elements.”

    Shumail Zaidi, an activist with Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA), says Pakistani people want peace in the region. “We are also the victim of terrorism and we understand the suffering of people in Afghanistan,” says Ms. Zaidi. “The views of these few people are not shared by a majority of people in Pakistan, and civil society here has always condemned it.”

    Indo-Pak proxy war in Afghanistan: Fact or fiction?

    The former military ruler of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf recently warned that the drawdown of NATO combat forces from Afghanistan could push India and Pakistan towards a proxy war in Afghanistan. The growing influence of India in Afghanistan, he said, is a potential danger for Pakistan.

    President Ashraf Ghani, speaking at the SAARC Summit, reacted strongly to Musharraf’s statement, saying he will not allow his country to become the battleground for a proxy war between India and Pakistan.

    President Ghani said Afghanistan will not endanger regional security and is committed to promote and strengthen the cooperation between the SAARC member countries. Without mentioning any country, President Ghani said state sponsorship of non-state actors could have “blowback effects”.

    Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, speaking at an event in New Delhi, also reacted sharply to Musharraf’s statement, saying that the Afghan government will not allow the country to be used as battleground for India and Pakistan to assert their regional supremacy. President Karzai, who did not share best of terms with political leadership in Islamabad, slammed Pakistan for continuing to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy and creating instability inside Afghanistan.

    Modasir Islami, a Kabul-based civil society activist, says Pakistan has tried and will try to pressurize Afghan government to limit India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, even if that means destruction and killings. “More than India or Pakistan, it affects us,” says Mr. Islami.

    Siddharth Varadajan, prominent Indian journalist and political commentator, in an interview with Afghan Zariza also spoke about the need for political dialogue between the three countries, as well as confidence building initiatives like joint economic projects. “You are familiar with the old theory of ‘strategic depth’ against India, something the Pakistanis now say they have abandoned. But there is a great deal of suspicion, most of it unwarranted, and it is in Afghanistan’s interest that these suspicions are allayed,” he said.

    India has drawn closer to Afghanistan in recent years with promises of aid, arms and an offer to invest billions of dollars in mining sector. The two countries have also signed a strategic partnership agreement under which India will train Afghan forces. According to observers in India, these developments, which includes supply of arms and military training to Afghan forces, has created alarm in political circles of Pakistan.

    “Given the history of India-Pakistan relations, the improving ties between India and Afghanistan do not augur well for Pakistan,” says Syed Jalil Husain, Research Associate at Delhi Policy Group (DPG), New Delhi based think tank.

    “The two countries have fought three wars since 1947 and it is clear the government in Pakistan sees Indian presence in Afghanistan as a threat to them, so they will continue to use militants as proxy forces for attacks on India.”

    Narender Modi, India’s new Prime Minister, has vowed to strengthen ties with Afghanistan. His meeting with President Ghani was the highlight of SAARC Summit in Kathmandu recently. “Pakistan is not against India’s humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, but any military involvement will not be appreciated by Islamabad,” says Humayun Shirzad, Islamabad-based military analyst.

    What is the way ahead?

    There is no reason to despair though.  Nasirullah Khalid, Lecturer at Kabul University and Legal Training Director at Afghanistan Justice Organisation (AJO), believes the two countries can work together. “They have agreed to joint counter-terrorism operations and that seems to be the only way ahead,” says Mr. Khalid.

    “While there are good, bad and ugly elements in both the countries who don’t want peace process to make headway, but I believe the leadership in two countries wants to work together.”

    The two countries have also been making concerted efforts to bolster trade and business ties. A delegation of Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PAJCCI) last month called on President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul and apprised him of the efforts being made to improve trade and business between the two countries.

    President Ghani said Afghanistan attaches lot of importance to credible economic partners and believes that expansion of trade with Pakistan will result in development and prosperity for both the countries.

    The civil society in two countries has also made sincere efforts to initiate a meaningful dialogue on issues of mutual interest, peace-building and reconciliation. A delegation of Afghan civil society activists last month visited Islamabad for Afghanistan-Pakistan Civil Society Conference.

    “The two countries must learn to live as good neighbors, and fight the issues of terrorism and extremism together, that is the only way ahead,” says Tuba Aslam Khan, research scholar at Quad e Azam University, Islamabad. “We should remember that there is much more that unites us than what divides us.”

    “Both the countries are victims of terrorism and our enemies are common,” says Mr. Khalid. “We must foil their attempts and work together for peace in the region.”

    (First published in Afghan Zariza)

    Will Afghanistan script a memorable upset at 2015 World Cup?

    yed Zafar Mehdi

    The biggest and the most extravagant cricketing carnival, starting February 14, is set to enthrall billions of cricket buffs across the globe. For first-timers Afghanistan, it will be a tryst with history. As under-dogs, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    This will be Afghanistan’s maiden appearance in a World Cup event. Their remarkable rise, despite limited resources and enormous hardships, has earned them tremendous praise and admiration from cricket fans across the world.

    Cricket has brought joy to millions of war-weary people in this country who have seen nothing but misery and despondency. It has given them something to cheer about.

    The first goal for Afghanistan is to progress from the group stage to the ‘super eight’. It is undeniably a challenging mission but not an impossible one. To make it happen, they have to upset one of the giants in their group. As cricket pundits will agree, they have the firepower to be giant-killers.

    It will not be surprising if Afghanistan scripts a memorable upset during the course of the tournament. The team is clubbed with hosts Australia and New Zealand along with England and Sri Lanka in Pool A. Defeating any of these teams looks like a Herculean task.

    However, they have a realistic chance against Scotland and Bangladesh, the other two less-threatening teams in Pool A. Afghanistan has an impressive record against Scotland and they defeated Bangladesh in the Asia Cup last year. Overcoming the challenge from these two teams will be the Plan A for Afghanistan.

    The playing conditions in Australia and New Zealand will test the skill and temperament of Afghan players. They are accustomed to slow wickets in the United Arab Emirates, where they play most of their matches. Playing on fast and bouncy pitches in Australia and New Zealand will be a new experience for many of them.

    Afghanistan squadis a perfect blend of youth and experience. While skipper Mohammad Nabi and Nawroz Mangal have loads of experience with the bat, the young guns like Usman Ghani and Javed Ahmedi are talented and hungry for runs.

    The bowling attack, spearheaded by Shapoor Zadran and Hamid Hassan, can knock the daylights out of batsmen. They have pace, bounce, swing and aggression of fast bowlers.

    With barely a week left for the World Cup, the thrill and excitement among cricket fans in this country is palpable. As coach Andy Moles said, winning the World Cup is not their goal. Scripting an upset win against any of the major teams is a goal.

    Here is a look at the biggest upsets scripted in the history of ICC World Cup:

    World Cup 2011: England thrashed by Ireland
    England suffered shocking defeat against Ireland in the group stage of World Cup 2011. England posted a mammoth total of 327 runs on the board. Nobody gave Ireland any chance to win the match, especially after first five wickets fell cheaply.

    Kevin O’Brien, the burly middle-order batsman, was not in a mood to surrender tamely. He smashed English bowlers all over the park in his blistering knock of 113 off 63 balls to guide his side home.

    World Cup 2007: India beaten by Bangladesh 
    India, which went into the tournament as one of the favorites, was shown exit door by an underdog team rather unceremoniously. Led by Rahul Dravid, the team suffered a shocking loss against Bangladesh.

    Riding on Abdur Razzak’s 5 for 38, Bangladesh bundled out India for the paltry score of 191 runs. It was not a difficult chase even for a weak team like Bangladesh. They clinched the match by five wickets, scripting one of the greatest World Cup upsets.

    World Cup 1999: India routed by Zimbabwe
    After conceding the first match against South Africa, Indian team shocked millions of their fans by losing to Zimbabwe. Batting first, Zimbabwe posted a competitive total of 252 runs, thanks to important cameos by supremely-talented Flower brothers.

    The power-packed Indian batting line-up looked set to chase the target. But, the monumental middle-order collapse orchestrated by Heath Streak(3/36) and Henry Olonga(3/22) came as a rude shock to both pundits and bookies.

    World Cup 1996: West Indies thrashed by Kenya
    This has to be the greatest World Cup upset. Kenya, a team few people had heard of, stunned two-time World Cup champions West Indies in the group stage.

    Batting first, Kenya managed only 166 runs against the famed bowling attack of West Indies. Led by Richie Richardson, the team had the likes of Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. But, it was not their day.

    Kenyan bowlers made mincemeat of the formidable West Indies batting line-up. Rajab Ali(3/17) and Maurice Odumbe(3/15) sent them packing for the shambolic score of 93 runs.

    World Cup 1983: India beat West Indies to lift the title
    Before the tournament, no one believed India can beat West Indies, which comprised the likes of Clive Lloyd, Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge. Having already won the title two times, West Indies was the top favorite and the only favorite.

    After defeating England in the semifinal, India faced West Indies in the final. Clive Lloyd’s team was all set to make it three in a row.

    Asked to bat first, India managed only 183 runs against the terrifying bowling attack of West Indies. The chase was modest by Caribbean standards. They had the biggest names in their formidable batting line-up.

    However, the Indian side led by mercurial all-rounder Kapil Dev broke the juggernaut. The team was bundled out for 140 runs, handing India 43 run win. Indian cricket was reborn that day.

    (First published in Afghan Zariza)

    Meet the newly-appointed Afghan spy chief who walks the talk


    Syed Zafar Mehdi

    Rahmatullah Nabil, the newly-appointed Director General of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghan government’s premier security and intelligence agency, has got one of the most difficult jobs.

    Born in 1970 in Jaghato district of Maidan Wardak province, Mr. Nabil is a civil engineer by education and training. He had his primary education from Sher Shah Suri High School in Kabul before moving to Pakistan for higher education. In early 1990s, he earned a degree in civil engineering from a private engineering college in Peshawar.

    Mr. Nabil started as a construction engineer, planner and technical advisor with some NGOs in Afghanistan. He was then offered the post of Deputy Director with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which he held for eight years.

    Following the ouster of Taliban in 2001, Mr. Nabil took active part in political and security affairs inside Afghanistan. He has held some high-profile positions in government in past one decade.

    His first important assignment was that of Deputy National Security Advisor in the government of Hamid Karzai, which came in 2005. He played a catalytic role in the establishment of Presidential Protection Service (PPS) and later served as the Head of PPS.

    Mr. Nabil, who speaks fluent Dari, Pashto and English, is widely respected in political and military circles of Afghanistan. Under his astute leadership, PPS became hugely successful security service.

    In 2010, Mr. Nabil was appointed the Director General of NDS and served in that position for two years. During those two years, he made indefatigable efforts to increase the effectiveness and operational capability of NDS.

    After that, he was appointed the Deputy National Security Advisor, the post he had held earlier also. In September 2013, he was appointed the acting Director General of NDS.

    Mr. Nabil is known for his professionalism and integrity. He has been felicitated with Ghazi Ayoub Khan Medal and Ghazi Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan Medal for his services.

    He has also received an appreciation letter from Afghan Civil Society Association for his efforts in implementing human rights norms in NDS detention centers across Afghanistan.

    However, he was embroiled in a controversy during his earlier stint as the NDS Director General when he appointed a close relative of former vice president Muhammad Qasim Fahim as the deputy intelligence chief for Kabul, who apparently had a dubious background.

    Even though President Karzai conferred him with the prestigious Ghazi Mohammad Akbar Khan Medal, but there were reports that he was sacked by President Karzai for his unambiguous and clear stance on Pakistan and Iran, who he considered as trouble-makers.

    On Monday, January 12, when the cabinet of ministers was announced in the presidential palace, Mr. Nabil was formally appointed the Director General of NDS. This is a sort of home-coming for Mr. Nabil.

    The newly-appointed NDS Chief recently sent media into a tizzy by claiming that the dreaded Taliban leader is living in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi. He said the most-wanted terrorist who has spearheaded the insurgency in Afghanistan since 2001, is being sheltered by Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI.

    Now, in his second innings as the NDS Chief, all eyes are on Mr. Nabil and how he deals with internal and external security threats.

    (First published in Afghan Zariza)

    “My art works majorly focus on women and children in Afghanistan”


    Syed Zafar Mehdi

    Somaiya Behroozian is a young Afghan artist, photographer, author and children’s rights activist.

    Q. You were born in Iran andcame to Afghanistan in 2001 after the ouster of the Taliban regime. Was it like homecoming or you found it a different world?
    It was an absolutely different world to me.  The environment and even people sometimes shocked me. To be honest, initially I was down in the dumpsafter seeing the ground realities,the abysmal facilities and infrastructure.

    It tookme several months to adapt and adjust in a totally different environment,and even longer to communicate well with people around me. After a while,I discovered my comfort zone and this country became a part of my identity.

    Q. You studied Computer Science at Herat University and worked as Lecturer in the same university. How and when did your affair with arts and paintings begin?
    Painting was one of my profound passions since early childhood. Although I am a computer engineer by profession,I feel like an artist, because that is my claim to fame. I opted for computer science because I believed that a computer engineer will have less financial constraints than an artist.

    But I never gave up on my dream. I studied computer science but I devoted as much time to painting. The videos on YouTube and online art courses helped me tremendously. I am a self-taught artist.

    My maiden work as an artist was illustrations in a book project called ‘Let’s play together’in 2005 which wasundertaken by War Child Holland in Herat where I was studying that time. It was a great beginningthough I could not produce more work in those years because of the computer studies, which consumed most of my time.

    Then I got a scholarship to study at Technical University of Berlin in Germany. I graduated successfully and decided to teach at a university. I worked in several organizations as network administrator and database designer.

    I had a good life with good income, but I always felt something was missing.The dreams I had dreamt had to be fulfilled. So I decided to give art the first priority in my life. It is a talent I have been blessed with so I must make most of it. That is how it all started and then there was no looking back.

    Q.Your art works majorly focus on women and children in Afghanistan. Do you believe the works of art can effectively communicate the agony and plight of children and women in Afghanistan?
    A. I have always believed that art is a tool to make life better and easier for people. It can help people see the positive, better side of life, especially in a war-ravaged place like Afghanistan. The main target of my work has been children.

    My works carry the message of equality, peace and the right to learn and live. I believe we must play an active role in shaping the cultural valuesand that is possible only when we focus our attention on children, who are the future of this country. We need to nurture them and encourage them to explore their potential fully and substantially.

    Q. You have also written short stories for children which have been distributed free of cost in many primary schools and kindergartens. How did that idea originate?
    The idea of writing books for childrenstruck me when I became mother. I have a 3 years old son. When I went to buy children books for him, I could not find books in Dari language that would tell the stories about Afghan society, culture and customs.

    I wanted my son to understand Afghan culture through stories and learn Afghan proverbs. I grew up in a different culture and when I came to Afghanistan, I found it difficult to converse with people. I did not want my son to face those problems.

    I also realized that unfortunately not much attention is paid to children literature and education in Afghanistan. So I decided to write books and distribute them free of cost to children in primary schools. I also published two books of illustrations and paintings for children besides the story books.

    Q. In 2003, you start doing graffiti painting on the walls of schools in Herat province to spread the message of love and peace. Do you think it is a powerful medium to espouse the cause of peace?
    I strongly believe that art can be used as a tool to changeperceptions and in my case I used my art to bring peace. Sometimes, a simple piece of artcan change perceptions about different things. I did that graffiti work as a testament of my love for children andmy resolve to bring peace to my country.

    Those graffiti works will serve as a reminder to those students. I choseschools because these are the children who will build the foundations of future and shape the destiny of this country.

    Q. You also held an art exhibition in Herat called ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Tell us more about that.
    A.The response to that exhibition was tremendous. It was my first art exhibition in Herat and people came in large numbers to support and encourage me. I displayed 52 art works in the exhibition. Most of them were about Afghan women and the suffering they have been through.

    Through those paintings, I tried to persuade people to help in ending violence against women and espouse the cause of peace.The message was loud and clear and was meant for everyone.

    I also displayed portraits ofseven famous peace messengersincluding Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.I placed a mirror in between to show everyone that they can be peace messengers too. That mirror was important as it showed people the importance of doing what those great men did.

    Q. What is your take on the art scene in Afghanistan and the young artists here?
    There are many young and talented artists in Afghanistan today and they are supportive of each other. Unlike in the political arena, artists help and support each other here. We have freedom of speech in Afghanistan, which is truly a gift and I believe artists do use this right well. The art scene is brimming and it can only get better from here.