Korean Hostage Deal

Taliban insurgents finally released the group of 19 South Koreans from their custody recently. This was the first time that the Taliban kidnapped a large number of foreigners in Afghanistan and it's a warning to all other foreigners working in Afghanistan to take more caution when they travel from one province to another., The kidnapping of the South Korean group sparked anger of many Afghan people.

Because they were innocent civilians and it's against our religion and culture to kidnap innocent civilians, especially women. But unfortunately the Taliban did not care about Afghan culture and prestige. Our great prophet Mohammed peace be upon him advised his forces to only kill those enemies who fight with you face to face on the battle ground - do not kill their women and children - do not kill the young and old men who work on their fields and those who are civilians. But the Taliban broke all the teachings of Islam and kidnapped civilians who were mostly women and came here to help us.

Although some people think they came here to teach Christianity but most Afghan people believe that they came to help us and they condemned Taliban for kidnapping the Koreans. Afghans want to have good relationships with all countries around the world so we hope that the people of South Korea do not think that all Afghans are like the Taliban insurgents. They must know that the Taliban is a rebel group that can do anything for their own benefit and that has nothing to do with the Afghan people. The Afghan people are brave and hospitable and would never do such an action to make a bad name for themselves.

I think it would have been better if the Afghan government had made a deal with Taliban instead of the Korean government. The Taliban demanded the release of one Taliban commander from the custody of the Afghan government which could have been better than the Korean government dealing with the Taliban. According to some reports, the Taliban got a ransom from the Korean government to release the Korean citizens. Even though the release of a Taliban commander is a big mistake, it would have been better than the $20 million deal and the withdrawal of the Korean troops from Afghanistan. 20 million dollars is a lot of money and the Taliban can buy weapons to use against the Afghan and coalition forces and they can increase and arrange more suicide attacks around the country which will kill dozens of innocent people. I hope in the future the Afghan government should be the one to deal with the Taliban not the other government.

The presence of foreign troops is very important for peace and stability of Afghanistan. Even though the South Koreans have a small number of their troops in our country, and we have already thousands of foreign troops in our country, the terrorists have not been completely defeated and our own army is not strong enough to fight our enemies by themselves. Therefor we will need the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan for a few more years and it will be more useful if we have more troops from different countries.

If in the future any kidnap cases happen in our country then our own government is responsible to deal with kidnappers, not the 3rd country. If the other countries make deals with insurgents it will show the weakness and weak authority of our government and our people will lose their trust in their current government.

I advise foreign nationals not to travel anywhere, particularly to the south and eastern provinces, without a security escort, otherwise there will be a risk of kidnapping. The best and safest way for foreigners to travel to Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Jalalabad provinces is to travel by plane. It's cheap and safe. There are flights to these provinces 3 times a week. If they don't want to fly then they should talk with Afghan security forces before they travel. The security forces can advise them better about the situation on the motorways.

Our foreign friends should also keep in mind that if they came here for missionary activities then the Afghan people will not help them. They should know that Afghans will never accept those who are trying to carry out missionary activities. Afghans love their own religion and culture. They also love freedom but as long as it doesn't offend their religion.

Taliban is using this new tactic of hostage-taking to take advantages from the Afghan government and foreign countries that helps us in both security and reconstruction. After the successful official deal with the South Korean government, the Taliban demonstrated their wide presence in different provinces. This deal will encourage more kidnappings and the Taliban will try to kidnap more civilians to get more ransoms and advantages from the Afghan and foreign governments so we hope the foreigners will take more caution when traveling around the country. It will be safe for their own life and it will also stop the Taliban from getting ransoms and use the ransom back against the Afghan people government and foreign countries.




Civilian Casualties

According to the news reports, dozens of civilians have been killed by coalition air strikes recently in the south-eastern and western parts of the country, and it has deepened the concerns of the Afghan people and human rights organizations.

Last week during heavy clashes between US-led coalition forces and insurgents in both western Farah and eastern Kunar provinces, coalition forces in both provinces called for air supports which killed a large number of civilians. According to the provincial officials, 108 civilians were killed in the Balabluk district of Farah province and 60 people were killed in eastern Kunar province. The first air strike killed 35 civilians in Kunar on Thursday including 9 family members of a man called Mohammed and 25 more civilians were killed on Friday while they were burying the bodies of those who were killed in Thursday's air raids

However the NATO spokesman denies the civilian deaths and says that all those who were killed were insurgents. But the villagers claim that there was no militants in the village. A senior police officer in Kunar also confirmed the civilian casualties in Kunar. According to the Afghan officials and international aid groups, more than 300 civilians have been killed by coalition air strikes in Afghanistan this year. According to military analysts, the shortage of ground forces allows commanders to call for air support.

In my opinion, the US-led coalition and the members of the NATO forces should increase the number of their troops in Afghanistan to be able to fight the insurgents in different parts of the country. If they use more ground troops it will prevent civilian casualties. Also there should be better coordination between the US, Afghan and NATO forces. The coalition forces should be 100% sure of insurgents' presence in the villages before they conduct any air strike against any village. I am not a military analyst but I advise that first of all the coalition forces must have coordination with the Afghan forces in every single operation. The Afghan forces can accurately tell the coalition forces about the presence of insurgents in the villages. The coalition forces should concentrate more on ground operations instead of using air raids against the insurgents in the villages. The coalition forces and Afghan army should surround the village and identify the exact location of the bad guys and then start their attacks. If they are not sure where the insurgents are exactly hidden then they should keep the village surrounded even for 2 or 3 days and use their small arms to kill the insurgents.

This will be a very useful way to prevent civilian casualties and if the coalition forces face a shortage of ground troops to do such an operation, then the coalition forces should provide an emergency contact number with each ANA or ANP checkpoints in every single district, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces, and the Afghan forces should have 4 checkpoints one mile away from each village and they can easily fight any insurgents that wants to sneak into the village. And if the Afghan forces aren't able to fight insurgents they must have an emergency contact number with the coalition air forces to call for air support and they can tell the exact location of insurgents to the coalition forces and then the coalition forces can target only those locations where terrorists are hidden. This will also prevent civilian casualties.

I have seen people in different areas talking between themselves about civilian casualties, saying that if US forces pay attention they can avoid civilian casualties - they have the best weapons and they can easily target bad guys among the civilians and they have those red lasers that they can aim at any bad guy from their aircraft and can easily kill so there should not be any civilian casualties. Dozens of the Afghan National Army and police have been killed in friendly fire by the coalition forces and it shows the lack of coordination between both Afghan and coalition forces. Most educated Afghans living in the cities know that coalition forces aren't deliberately killing the civilians, but they also oppose killing of many civilians over a few bad guys.

We do blame the Taliban for using villagers as human shields. They don't care about civilians' lives. They have been killing civilians by suicide attacks. They are killing teachers, doctors and any innocent civilians who work for the Afghan government or international organizations as employees and that's why we call them terrorists, insurgents and rebels. We just want more attention from foreign forces during their operations. It's hard to believe for many villagers that coalition forces aren't deliberately killing them because a few times villages came mistakenly under attack and there is a lack of education. They just don't like anyone who kills their family members or relatives, regardless of whether they are Afghan forces, Taliban or coalition forces.

There have been a large number of civilian casualties by coalition air strikes during the year 2005/2006, but people are hoping this will end soon. The Afghan people realise that without sacrifice we can't have our freedom, but we also expect the foreign forces to take more care. Especially now that the war has been going on for so long. In the year 2005, over 85% of the Afghans supported their elected government and the presence of the coalition forces in their country. But now it seems that this 85% support has been reduced a little. I still believe that most Afghan people still support the presence of the coalition forces till they eradicate all terrorists from Afghanistan and we have true freedom and democracy in our country. And we hope this will happen soon with support of the world community.




Peace Jirga

Pakistan and Afghanistan reiterate their commitment to put up a joint front against the terrorists in the region during the Estranged South Asian Neighbors conference in Kabul. Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani prime minister Shaukat on Tuesday urged working together against the insurgents and terrorists along their common border. Addressing a joint news conference, both leaders expressed confidence towards the Peace Jirga slated to meet in the last week of June or early August in Kabul. Last week the Peace Jirga delegation from the Afghan side met President Musharaf in Islamabad and voiced maximum interest in a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. Both the Afghan and Pakistani delegation have agreed that the joint Afghan/Pakistani Jirga should be held after two months in Kabul and they are now busy with working on the Jirga agenda.

There are two main issues that need to be solved before the Jirga starts. According to members of the Afghan delegation, the Pakistani side rejects the participation of the women and 3rd party to monitor the Jirga, saying we can settle issues overselves, which is not true, because Pakistan reneged its commitments many times, so the participation of the 3rd party is very important. In the presence of international community, it will be hard for Pakistan to break its commitments in the future. However, the Pakistani prime minister expresses that they will try to resolve the two issues in the next meeting of the delegations. Most Afghan people think that this Jirga will not be very useful so therefore we are hoping that the Pakistani side will agree on the participation of the 3rd party.

There is another main issue which needs to be solved and that is the porous British era frontier which is called the Durand Line and it was given to the Indian government under a 100 year contract, which has now expired, and this issue needs to be solved before the Pakistan government creates obstacles along the joint border. Why should Pakistan create obstacles if Pakistan knows that the Durand Line contract has expired and it is smart to build a wall and split our own lands from our country. According to the Afghan tribal leaders living along the border the Pakistani army has moved their check point a few kilometers inside Afghanistan territory during the Taliban regime. This issue must be solved then Pakistan could think about building up a wall along the border.

Pakistan claims to have 90,000 troops along the Pakistan/Afghan border, which is enough force to fight the insurgents if they patrol the area constantly and honestly. Then there will be no need of barbed wire or a wall to separate the two nation and split the areas which has been unresolved. We are hoping that the Pakistan government will accept the participation of women from both countries as well as the participation of the 3rd country. If Pakistan agrees to these two main issues then this Peace Jirga will be successful and it will solve many issues including the terrorist influence along the Pakistani/Afghan border.




Civilian Kidnappings

The Taliban insurgents have been kidnapping Afghan and foreign workers and journalists recently. They do this hoping to exchange these civilian journalists with their key commanders. As far as I am concerned, these kidnappings of the foreigners are the best and shameful way for the Taliban group to release their commanders from the Afghan government custody.

First they kidnapped the Italian and Afghan journalists and then they kidnapped the French male and female humanitarian aid workers along with 3 Afghan workers. Later on the French lady was released but the future of the French man along with 3 Afghans is still unknown.

These civilians had nothing to do with the Afghan government. They are just servants who carry out humanitarian aid and help the poor Afghan people. And the journalists tell us the truth about the situation in the region. These journalists aren't only telling the news on behalf the Afghan and coalition forces. They also tell the news on behalf of the Taliban too.

Sometimes we do hear news from these journalists saying the Taliban captured a district in the southern province of Helmand etc. So it means that the journalists aren't only working for a specific organization or group. They work to tell the truth and provide news for the people of the world. So they deserve respect, not death. When the Taliban released the Italian journalist, people were hoping that his fellow Afghan journalist, Ajmal Naqshbandi, would also be released, but it did not happen. The Italian journalist was released and the Afghan journalist was cowardly killed. Most people blame the Afghan government over the killing of the Afghan journalist, Ajmal Naqshbandi, and I agree with them. The Afghan government could tell the Taliban that we will release your top 3 commanders if you release the Afghan journalist along with the Italian journalist. But the government did not really care about its own citizen and said that the Afghan journalist was kidnapped again after he was released. How could he be kidnapped again if he was with the Italian journalist and had security support? Why were the Taliban commanders not arrested by the Afghan forces right after the release?

The government had a poor exchange plan and poor security management, causing the killing of the Afghan journalist. We were hoping that the Afghan government would do something to free the Afghan journalist, but they refused to release the Taliban commander. After Ajmal Naqshbadi was killed, every Afghan was really upset. I heard some people were telling each other if the Taliban can kill an innocent Afghan, why can't the government behead their commander? We must give them an answer and show them we can also kill. If we do this they may not kill our people in the future.

At the moment the French national along with the three Afghans are detained by the Taliban and the Taliban have warned the Afghan and French governments that they will kill the detainees if the French forces refuse to leave Afghanistan. I think it is a very hard decision for the French government to deal with. Also for the Afghan government. The lives of these 4 men are also very important. We hope both governments find a peaceful solution to this matter so that the bad experience of the Ajmal Naqshbandi killing won't be repeated. But if the Taliban really kill these 4 men then the government should do the same action, just as those Afghans suggested - ie if the Taliban can kill our innocent citizens, why can't our government kill their criminal detainees? Our religion Islam forbids the killing of detainees without a proof of their crimes and without a legal court. Our Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) used to tell his fighters "if you fight the enemies, do not harm their innocent civilians, do not kill the detainee kids and women, do not destroy their farms, feed the detainees the same thing you eat, do not behead or cut their body parts". So I hope the Taliban really call themselves true Muslims and would follow this way and quit beheading people without having a legal court or without proving someone's crime. If they want to fight, then fight and kill the soldiers in a face to face fight. They can release their commanders if they capture a detainee. That would be the right way. But using civilians in order to release their commanders is the worst way.




Afghan National Army

According to a report by The Herald, less than half of the Afghan National Army soldiers have chosen to re-enlist after three years in uniform. This report concerned the 70,000 strong national army plan which will be completed in 2009. And if less then half of the ANA soldiers choose to re-enlist after three years service then it will be impossible to have a 70,000 strong national army by 2009. So we hope the Afghan government and coalition forces work on a better plan to increase the requirement process and also avoid the failure to re-enlist of the soldiers after three years by seminars which aims to show the importance of their service to their country.

The Afghan National Army currently faces some problems. Many of their weapons are old and the ones which are new aren't good quality weapons. Most of them look like AK-47s, but they are from China, Iran and some other Asian countries. They also have Russian weapons which remain from the Soviet Union which are better, but many of these weapons are over 25 to 30 years old and a lot of ANA soldiers complain about their weapons. The salaries of the Afghan National Army soldiers are very low compared to other employees. Also there are always delays in getting their salaries - they do not get paid on time - sometimes they have to wait 2 to 3 months to get their payments, so they go broke and that is disappointing to the soldiers. A construction worker makes more than an ANA soldier. An ANA soldier makes between $70 to $80 a month, which is unjust, and their job is risky, so they should at least make more than a construction worker. So salaries should be increased - otherwise it will be very hard to have a 70,000-strong army by the end of 2009.

The Afghan government should also make housing plans for the ANA officers and soldiers such as building apartments for the Afghan Army personnel and the government could issue land or an apartment for those who have been serving or will serve at least 5 years for the Afghan Army because most of the ANA soldiers are financially poor and with $80 salary they will not be able to afford serving in the Army. That's why many of them want to serve only 3 years. The United States of America and some other countries like Canada, Germany, England, and France physically train and financially help the ANA - particularly the United States of America which is already taking a huge part in training the Afghan National Army. Since 2003, some countries financially and logistically help the ANA, but they don't have big hand in the training of ANA. It will be possible to have a 70,000-strong Afghan National Army if some other countries take part in order to train the ANA.

Some countries aren't happy to send their troops to war against terrorists, but if they send some of their troops to train the Afghan Army, it will also be like a war against terrorists because once Afghanistan has a strong national army, we can defeat the terrorists by ourselves and other countries wouldn't need to bother sending their troops. We hope more countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea etc and each of these countries train one battalion at a time and issue them with new weapons or used ones - at least their weapons are better than Chinese, Iranian and Pakistani weapons. We know that it will cost millions of dollars to have a 70,000-strong Army. We appreciate those countries who have been training the Afghan Army but if more countries contribute to this process it will run faster and Afghanistan will have a 70,000-strong national army by 2009.





Note that this article was first published in the New York Times and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

There have been always a very good relationship between American and Afghan troops and also with other coalition forces. I have worked in the ANA central corps and I have interpreted and communicated between the ANA and the American forces. After the official or off time they play volleyball, soccer or sometimes the ANA invites their American advisors to their chow hall and to their offices for food and tea and their advisors also invite some of the ANA officers to their chow hall. Since I work as a night shift interpreter, I have also been invited in some of these meetings to interpret between both sides and they usually ask about each other's culture, traditions and holidays. A lot of ANA soldiers and officers know about Christmas holidays. There are a few that know about other holidays too. Sometimes American soldiers go to the ANA chow hall because they like Afghan bread and rice with meat sauce. And Afghan soldiers that have eaten in US military chow halls liked the hot wings stick and American sodas.

I also know about most holidays in America because during free time I talk with the soldiers and ask lots of questions about US culture and about life in America and they always gives me useful information. During the holiday season they talk about the holidays and they wish to be back home with their families, especially during Christmas. So far I know about these holidays like Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Independence Day. I heard that on Halloween people aren't off and mostly young people celebrate. American soldiers in Afghanistan also celebrate this day. In 2003, one day I went to the chow hall to eat dinner and I saw different kinds of scary-looking and funny-looking heads and 2 coffins with a skeleton on it which said "died in 1979" on it which was very interesting.

I have also told many soldiers about our holidays. We have more holidays than the US does. We have two major holidays called Eid and people are off for 6 days during these 2 Eids. We have new year holiday, independance day and we also have another holiday called the victory of Mujaheedin against Soviets and also have 2 other religious holidays. So we have more holidays in Afghanistan. These holidays are very important for me and other Afghans because we get a chance to meet our friends and relatives. During the Eid holidays people have to go to each other's house to congratulate the Eid and everyone, rich and poor, wear new and clean clothes. They decorate their houses and cook good food and have drinks like tea with fruit.

During my services for both Afghan and US troops I have been very effective, particularly in 2004 when General Dostum's forces created some problems for the ANA in the northern provinces and his soldiers came into fighting position. It was Friday and all central corps interpreters were off and I was the only interpreter in central corps, so the US base commander, who was a lieutenant colonel, came and picked me up and I interpreted between US commanders and the ANA corps commander. We discussed the situation and the situation was solved after the US Air force came to support ANA and aircraft flew over General Dostum's militia and they moved back and nothing serious happened. So I think it was one of my most effective services for both sides.

I have lots of memorable moments from my job that I can never forget. At the end of 2002 I got my job as an interpreter for the special forces and they were all very professional trainers and their mission was to train the presidential protective guard in different fields like physical training, driving, snipers, cat team and scout. I was working with the Driving and Physical Training team where I also learnt driving and a little bit of shooting too. During the 6 months training course we graduated more than 250 presidential guards. Their food, salaries and barracks were much better than the ANA soldiers. First when these young men came to join the program, most of them could only do 10, 20 or 25 pushups. But after 2 months they could easily do over 60 pushups in a minute. Also in shooting, the first days they were missing their targets and only a few bullets could hit, but at the end of the training days they could put most of their bullets in the black circle.

Now these candidates are very active guards of their president and when sometimes I walk along the palace I see them and they really respect me as a teacher. Even though I wasn't their teacher, only a translator, but they respect me like a teacher and it makes so glad now.

Our president Hamid Karzai used to have American bodyguards to protect him and those bodyguards trained our own Afghans to handle security for their president and now they are doing a great job as bodyguards of their president.




Freedom of Speech

Note that this article was first published in the New York Times and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

Under the Taliban regime, Afghan civilians couldn't raise their voices through the media. Only one or 2 newspapers were in the whole of Afghanistan with one radio station that belonged to the Taliban. So in this case there was not any private media - radios and TV channels. But after the fall of the Taliban regime, the media have promoted incredibly in our country. People can easily write anything they want and express their opinions. There are some good female writers and reporters that write in the two official Afghan languages - Pashto and Dari - and there are some Afghan female reporters that report in English for the local English newspapers. We have some Afghan bloggers that write in Pashtu and Dari and only a few in English.

There are many English learning centers everywhere in Kabul city. Also in other provinces people now realize how important it is to learn English and computer, especially young boys and girls - they spend half of their day in high schools and university and after school time they go to English and computer classes. Young Afghans love watching TV and they use the internet but for some people it's hard because we suffer from lack of power. In the capital, Kabul, we have power after every 2 nights and it comes on only from 6pm to 11pm - only 5 hours. The number of young Afghan singers have increased since the fall of the Taliban. There is a TV program called Afghan Star. This program started in 2005 to find new and young talented singers. The program official goes to different provinces and holds competitions between young Afghans and selects the 12 best singers out of over thousands of singers. Last year they introduced some really good singers and this year this program is in progress and 9 singers have been selected from over 1700 singers. And when they select the 12 best singers they let people SMS each singer. They have a special code so people SMS to their favorite singers and every week those singers who get lower scores have to quit the competition. So from 12 best it goes to one best singer and they call him the Afghan star.

When I was very young I wanted to be a writer or reporter, but during the war this was only like a dream because I wouldn't know if one day Afghanistan will be liberated from the Taliban and other warlords. So after the fall of the Taliban when I came back to Afghanistan I went back to school and I was working only on Fridays. I was selling Afghan handicrafts to soldiers from different countries, mostly American, Italian, Germans and French. So with this money I could support myself and my family. It was 2002 and there were only 2 net cafes in the whole capital and it was really expensive for the locals. US$5 per hour. I could only afford to use it once a week. Most users at these 2 cafes were foreigners and you had to wait 1 to 2 hour for your turn because there was a huge crowd. One time I remember I saw over 12 foreigners were waiting for their turn. I was going for a brief time to check my email. In 2003 a few more internet clubs were opened in Kabul city. They were still expensive like US$3 per hour. In 2004 the number of internet clubs increased and the prices went down and now there are dozens of internet clubs in different parts of Kabul city. There are still a few places in Kabul that don't have any net club and I hope the prices go lower than this because many Afghans can not afford it. If you get a satellite connection for your house it costs over US$1500 for the connection, then you have to pay from US$200 to $300 a month depending on speed. There is only one phone company called Afghan Telecom, which is cheaper. I also got my internet connection from this company but it's not cheap for normal Afghans because if you use it over 3 to 4 hours a day it will cost over US$100 a month. I hear from soldiers that its costs US$20 a month in America.

I wouldn't have become a blogger if there wasn't such a thing like the internet. It was the beginning of 2005 when one day I went to a net club to check my email and I had extra time so I went to an IRC chat room and I met this Australian guy named Paul Edwards. He was very excited to talk to me and he persuaded me to start blogging. So I was the first Afghan who started blogging in English. First I wouldn't think if people will like my blogs but after posting my first blog I got over 150 comments and over 80 emails in a week and every one congratulated me and asked me to keep up the good work. In the first few weeks I had problems with blogging because I didn't have my own computer. With the help of Tom Villars I set up a paypal account. Some readers contributed in donations so the total donation money was US$1600. With this money I bought a laptop computer because it was easy for me to carry from work to home. On my holidays some readers sent me packages like Sheila Kimmel offered to send winter clothes for poor Afghan kids and I was really happy, so I gave her my commander's mail address and she sent me 3 boxes of clothes in 2005 and 2 more boxes of winter clothes last month. Paul Edwards from Australia made a great donation for the poor Afghan kids. My main problem was transportation. It was hard for me to go to work from home or from home to work. Taxis cost me so much I was paying half of my salary on taxi fares and I couldn't save any money. Paul Edwards offered to loan me US$4000 for the car, but he said do not pay it back to me, instead buy school supplies for the poor Afghan children. So now every month I save over US$100 from taxis and buy school supplies for the poor Afghan kids. I am so happy with my blogging because from blogging I got donations of clothes and school supplies for the poor kids and I also feel so good when I see smiles on their faces. I hope more readers contribute to sending winter clothes for poor refugee kids who live under tents in very cold weather. There are some refugee camps in Kabul. It will be a great help to save kids from the cold winter.


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