Foreign journalists in Afghanistan: Where they cross the line?

Syed Zafar Mehdi

A free and independent press is considered the watchdog of society, custodian of public interest and a stimulus of political and social change. Described as the “fourth estate”, it reminds all in public life of their accountability to society.

But, media also has some sacrosanct responsibilities and duties. While we seek to set everyone’s house in order, we most often fail to do self-introspection to see where we cross the line and lose the plot.

It may not be exaggeration to state that the journalism of 21st century means rummaging around in other people’s closets to smell their duty socks. Stronger the smell; better is the story.

To invoke celebrated journalist Christopher Thomas, this penchant for sensationalism is just one of the rudimentary principles of journalism per se. Today, news has been reduced to a business, a competitive business. Missionary gusto of journalists has mysteriously vanished. Exaggeration and sensationalism is what we see in slapstick news reports today.

While it is fair to say the expulsion of Mr. Rosenberg was harsh and irrational, it is also true that the journalist clearly crossed the line

But it is also true that government often uses third-degree methods to bully journalists who seek to expose unscrupulous elements. When the voice of media is muzzled, democracy also takes a thrashing.

Under Hamid Karzai, media in Afghanistan flourished and became incredibly vibrant. Freedom of speech and expression, which was unimaginable before 2001, became a reality. Both local and foreign journalists reported from the conflict zone without any fear or favor. Thanks to burgeoning media outlets, Afghanistan remained in news.

However, there were instances when some foreign journalists crossed the line and invoked the wrath of government. Reporting from a conflict zone requires prudence and forethought. Objectivity and professionalism is what matters.

Barely two months ago, Kabul-based New York Times journalist Matthew Rosenberg was expelled from the country after he did a story that supposedly threatened Afghanistan’s national interests. He clearly was not prudent in this case; at least that is what Mr. Karzai thought.

Mr. Rosenberg, like many trigger-happy foreign journalists reporting from Afghanistan, had this strong urge to break stories that would earn him Pulitzer. This uncanny knack to break the news ultimately landed him in troubled waters.

A story based on unnamed sources, claimed that an interim government was in the offing to break the election stalemate between Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. It allegedly showed the incumbent government and Mr. Karzai in poor light. The Karzai government asked Mr. Rosenberg to reveal his sources, but he refused to.

In a first-of-its-kind case since the fall of the Taliban, a foreign journalist was expelled from the country. It drew sharp reactions from media fraternity in and outside Afghanistan as they questioned the wisdom and rationale behind such a decision.

The new government on Sunday decided to reverse the travel ban on Mr. Rosenberg. According to a statement issued by Attorney General’s Office (AGO), the New York Times journalist would be allowed to return to Afghanistan.

The decision has been welcomed by the media fraternity in and outside Afghanistan. In a statement, civil society group Nai, which supports open media in Afghanistan, said the government did not think before announcing the travel ban on Mr. Rosenberg and they must give an explanation now.

While it is fair to say the expulsion of Mr. Rosenberg was harsh and irrational, it is also true that the journalist clearly crossed the line. While journalists have got all the freedom in Afghanistan, this freedom entails responsibilities as well. That is where some foreign journalists, in desperation to earn promotion and awards, cross the line.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)


Stanikzai meets BCCI Secretary; asks to allow Afghan players train in India


Syed Zafar Mehdi

The annual general meeting (AGM) of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) was held in Kuala Lumpur this week. It was the final gathering of the ACC members as the organization winds up its operations.

Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) was represented at the meeting by Shafiqullah Stanikzai, the chief executive officer (CEO) of ACB.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Mr. Stanikzai also held talks with Anurag Thakur, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

According to Mr. Stanikzai, the meeting was “very much productive” and the outcome will be made public soon.

According to sources in the ACB, the two officials discussed the development of cricket in Afghanistan and how the two cricket boards can cooperate in areas of mutual interest.

According to sources in the ACB, the two officials discussed the development of cricket in Afghanistan and how the two cricket boards can cooperate in areas of mutual interest

Mr. Stanikzai, during the meeting, discussed the possibility of Afghan national players training at BCCI’s state-of-the-art cricket academies and using one venue in India as the Afghan venue.

A few months ago, ACB made a request to BCCI to allow Afghan players use the infrastructure in India and have one venue as the Afghan venue.

In response to the request, Mr. Thakur that time said the Indian board is willing to extend all kinds of help to Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan Cricket Board has requested BCCI that they want to come and play here, use the infrastructure and also to have one venue as the Afghan venue,” Mr. Thakur told media. “Their board has requested to create one centre in India which can be dedicated to Afghanistan cricket.”

Mr. Thakur said BCCI is “more than happy” to offer any help for the promotion of game in Afghanistan.

In an interview with Afghan Zariza before the World Cup, Mr. Stanikzai said India has been quite supportive and appreciated their help.

“They are building a world-class cricket ground in Kandahar and we expect lot more help from them,” he said. “We are planning to have a meeting with officials of BCCI in Kabul in near future and we want to build a strong relationship with them.”
Unlike the neighboring countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, cricket in Afghanistan is still in its nascent stage. Lack of financial support has been a major hurdle for development of cricket in this country.

Cricket analysts, however, believe the sponsorship deal is not enough and more financial and technical support from corporates and regional countries is required

Last month, the ACB and Alokozay Group of Companies signed a sponsorship deal of 1.3 million Afs for the period of 10 years.

Cricket analysts, however, believe the sponsorship deal is not enough and more financial and technical support from corporates and regional countries is required.

“India is a powerhouse in world cricket and it is good that ACB has formally approached them for help,” says Ismail Shah, a cricket writer. “If our players go to India training, their performance will greatly improve.”


Fans in Afghanistan thrilled about their team’s first World Cup appearance

Syed Zafar Mehdi

The countdown has virtually begun for the biggest cricketing spectacle on the earth. ICC World Cup 2015, starting February 14, promises 44 days of action-packed, high-voltage, rip-roaring cricketing action between the finest and formidable sides of world cricket.

India, the defending champion, would face stiff challenge from teams like Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It promises to be a no-holds-barred showdown in which apparently everything will be at stake.

To be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, the two powerful cricketing nations, this year’s World Cup will be played between February 14 and March 28. In the inaugural match on February 14, Sri Lanka will take on hosts New Zealand at Hagley Oval, Christchurch. Sri Lanka, the 1996 World Cup champion, has tremendously evolved over the years from being minnows of world cricket to becoming a force to reckon with. But, they will have to play out of their skin to beat Kiwis in their backyard.

Cricket fans all across the world are waiting with bated breath for the mega tournament to start. This year, perhaps for the first time, the World Cup euphoria has gripped people in Afghanistan as well. It will be Afghanistan’s first appearance on the big stage. The excitement and thrill is palpable.

This year, perhaps for the first time, the World Cup euphoria has gripped people in Afghanistan as well; it will be Afghanistan’s first appearance on the big stage

The last time people in Afghanistan danced on the streets was when their football team thrashed India 2-1 in the finals of South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFFC) in 2013. For the war-weary people in this country, it was a moment of celebration, a big carnival. There is nothing that unites people in this country more than popular sport like cricket and football.

Afghanistan’s road to World Cup has not been smooth. Ithas all the ingredients of a Bollywood pot-boiler. The progress this team has made since 2001, when the Taliban regime was ousted, is remarkable. Many of these players in the World Cup squad spent years in refugee camps in Pakistan.

They had no home, no facilities, no infrastructure, no playground, and no support-system. But, they had something more important: a dream. Notwithstanding the insurmountable odds, they dared to chase that dream.

After the ouster of Taliban in 2001, many of them returned home and started playing cricket in their own country. Homecoming after many years in exile was bittersweet.They used to play in dusty fields with small rocks and wooden planks. Despite myriad hardships, they refused to give up. Without any formal coaching or training, they learnt the nuances of game.

As the years passed, their dreams translated into reality. A national team was established and they got to represent their country. They became ambassadors of this beautiful country.

A few years after the national side was established, Afghanistan earned the membership of both Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and International Cricket Council (ICC). They finally started their cricketing journey. The leap was incredible. They had finally arrived on the big stage.

In February 2010, Afghanistan prevailed over Ireland in the finals of World T20 qualifiers to qualify for World T20 in West Indies. In March 2012, they finished as runners-up in the World T20 qualifiers. In June 2013, the team joined the league of Associate members of the ICC, which was a huge achievement.

In October 2013, the young Afghan team routed Kenya in the World Cricket League (WCL) to qualify for the 2015 World Cup

In October 2013, the young Afghan team routed Kenya in the World Cricket League (WCL) to qualify for the 2015 World Cup. The team had to work really hard to qualify for the mega tournament. After some initial hiccups in WCL, the team had to win all the remaining six matches. They had to beat Kenya in the final two games. Kenya was demolished by Afghanistan in both the games.

Afghanistan’s 15-member squad for the World Cup is a perfect blend of experience and youth. While there are seasoned campaigners like Mohammad Nabi, Nawroz Mangal and SamiullahShenwari, there are also supremely-talented young stars like UsmanGhani, AfsarZazai and Hamid Hassan.

On the fast pitches of Australia and New Zealand, Hamid Hassan, with his lethal pace and unnerving swing, can prove dangerous for any team. The other youngster to watch out for is 19-year-old UsmanGhani. Ghani, who made his international debut against Hong Kong, has been a revelation.

Afghanistan will play its first match against Bangladesh on February 18 at Manuka Oval in Canberra. Cricket, as they say, is a game of glorious uncertainties. Let us hope Mohammad Nabi and his boys do what Arjuna Ranatunga’s Sri Lanka did in 1996 World Cup. A little optimism goes a long way.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)

Afghan refugees in Pakistan likely to get extension of stay until the end of 2017

By Syed Zafar Mehdi

The Afghan government has requested Islamabad to allow nearly 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees to extend their stay in Pakistan until the end of 2017.

The request was made on Saturday during a tripartite meeting of the representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kabul.

The meeting was held to discuss the fate of three million Afghan refugees, which includes 1.5 million unregistered Afghan nationals, currently living in Pakistan.

The legal stay of registered Afghans with proof of registration (PoR) cards is scheduled to expire by the end of this year.

The stay of Afghan refugees with PoR cards in Pakistan was originally scheduled to end on June 30, 2013.

The Pakistani government decided to extend their stay till December 31, 2015 following a tripartite meeting between the government officials of Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR in Kabul in June 2013.

Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan continue to live dangerously. Hundreds of them have been forcibly expelled in recent months, especially since December 16 Peshawar school attack, and many more have been arrested allegedly on bogus charges.

Afghan government officials have been in talks with their counterparts in Pakistan over repatriation of Afghan refugees. Many meetings have taken place between them in recent months.

During his visit to Pakistan late last year, President Ashraf Ghani had assured Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan will be facilitated by the Afghan government.

On Saturday, Sayed Hussain Alimi Balkhi, the minister of refugees and repatriation, informed that a 100-member delegation from Afghanistan will visit Pakistan soon to monitor the documentation of the unregistered Afghan refugees.

Mr. Balkhi said the unregistered Afghan refugees will be registered and then provided documents allowing them to stay in Pakistan until the end of 2017.

Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, the minister for states and frontier regions of Pakistan, who represented the Pakistani delegation during the meeting, said Pakistan will continue to provide hospitality to Afghan refugees.

He assured that they will not forcibly evict Afghan refugees from Pakistan but encourage them to voluntarily repatriate.

He said the request to allow Afghan refugees to stay until the end of 2017 will be discussed with concerned departments and the issue will come up for discussion in the federal cabinet as well.

The previous meeting between the officials of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UNHCR was held in Islamabad in March, where they reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of voluntary repatriation to end the problems related to Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The participants emphasized importance of creating an enabling environment for voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.

All the parties agreed to support the process of voluntary repatriation and reintegration, taking into account Afghanistan’s absorption capacity, and pledged to help in empowering them to become self-reliant upon their return in Afghanistan.

The parties also agreed to complement the return grant of 1,200 USD per family of six members, provided under UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme, with a long-term reintegration component through Enhanced Voluntary Return and Reintegration Package (EVRRP) for a period of one year.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)