Afghan refugees and their problems

Almost three decades of war since the first Soviet invasion in 1979, foreign enemies and warlords forced Afghans to leave their country. A majority of Afghan refugees emigrated to Pakistan and Iran. Several others made their way to other destinations in the world, but Iran and Pakistan are home of millions of Afghan refugees. There are nearly two million Afghan refugees in
Pakistan and more than one million in Iran. Afghan refugees faced many problems during their emigration. In some countries, especially in Pakistan and Iran, several were jailed for just being refugees and police were beating and fining them with out any logical reasons. Since 2002 more than three million Afghan refugees have been repatriated.

Due to last year's cold winter, repatriation of refugees stopped, but in the current year thousands of refugees will return from Pakistan and Iran. A majority of refugees are homeless and living in tents. During the civil war and Taliban regime, most people were compelled to sell their houses and property for a very cheap price and spend the money to emigrate to other countries. Lack of shelter, unemployment and absolute poverty is a major problem to most returnees. I have been in some refugee camps in Kabul city and people complain about their living conditions. They say that they spent years in exile and with the establishment of the new Afghan government they thought it was time to return home and resume a respectable life, but now they think that returning was a big mistake.

Hundreds of children died due to cold weather inside their tents in different camps. There is a camp beside the ANA central corps with more than 60 tents. Before the onset of winter, the US Army issued blankets and food for all refugees in this camp, which was a great help. And they were safer than any other camp in Kabul. During the winter they appreciated the US Army's help, but there are some other refugee camps that still need food, clothing and medicine and need serious attention. However the government promised many times to issue land for these homeless people, but they never fulfilled their promises. Every day hundreds of refugees return home from Iran and Pakistan. I hope the Afghan government and NGOs help these refugees and that the government issues land to these homeless people and provides education for the kids inside these camps.




Thankyou everyone

I appreciate all those people who kindly donated to my blog in order to buy a laptop and get the internet connection. I have already bought a laptop computer and I am going to get the internet connection in few days. I would also like to thank chap for his package and digital camera. Soon I will have interviews with the ANA officers, NCOs and soldiers and I will post their voice and photos to the world. I am trying to persuade some of my friends to start their own blog and let them use my computer. We must all work together and make a peaceful world. Once again I appreciate all of you for your kind efforts.




The Taliban's New Radio Station

Taliban guerillas launched a new clandestine radio station last week, called "Shariat Zhagh" or "Voice of Shariat". It goes on the air between six and seven o'clock in the morning, and the same time in the evening, broadcasting anti-government commentaries and propaganda from a mobile transmitter. The broadcast can be heard in five southern provinces, including the former regime's old power base Kandahar. Radio Shariat was the Taliban's main radio while they were in power. By satellite phone from an undisclosed location, the Taliban spokesman Hakimi said that the Taliban is fighting an insurgency in the south and east of the country. Since they were out from power in late 2001, they needed their own voice because the international media were pro-American. The Taliban's new radio station criticized US and other foreign troops operating in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted. When the Taliban spokesman was asked what Taliban would do if US forces disclosed and destroyed their station, Hakimi said they would install another one.

Most Afghans listen to radio BBC, Voice of America and to the ISAF radio called "Sadai-E-Azadi" which means "Voice of Freedom" which broadcast in Afghanistan's two main languages, Dari and Pashto. There are also a few local private radio stations funded by aid donors broadcasting from the capital, Kabul, and also in a few other provinces.

However, the Taliban radio runs anti-government propaganda - the people of Afghanistan will be deceived. Afghan people selected their president and they strongly support their elected government. Afghans had a bad experience from the Taliban regime and other warlords. Some Taliban know that their fight againts the coalition forces is useless. They are not able to capture any city and a large number of Taliban accepted the government-initiated national reconciliation policy and would soon announce their support of the policy. President Karzai announced that those Taliban who want to lay down their weapons will be forgiven with the exception of Mullah Omar and a few other Taliban leaders. The other Taliban who haven't committed major crimes should feel free to talk with the government and its time to rebuild our country. Many Taliban members have surrendered to the government since the collapse of the former extremist regime.




Poppy eradication program and farmers Resistance

The poppy eradication program has begun in different provinces. In Herat province the farmers attacked a police contingent after it started destroying their corps. Farmers, who wielded sticks and stones, injured at least two policemen. The farmers who have not yet received any aid from the government or the international community, have reason for resisting the anti-eradication program. Although President Karzai declared fight against the rising narco-production, farmers say that their resistance will continue until they get assistance from the government.

The second phase of poppy eradication program has begun in the eastern province of Laghman, in the mountainous area of the province. The officials could not start the eradication process earlier this month because the fields were covered by the snow and the road was blocked and it was not possible to destroy them. People in the area are not so happy with the process. They say the government should build us bridges, roads, dams and help us to get chemical fertilizer first, and then they should destroy our
poppy fields.

Officials have promised to do all this but failed to fulfill their promise. On Thursday, the Afghan farmers challenged President Karzai's plans to destroy the world's largest narcotics industry. Afghan opium growers vowed to protect their poppy corp from an ongoing eradication campaign. In Kandahar province the eradication program was suspended on it's first day when police sent to destroy the poppy fields clashed with the farmers. The protesters started throwing rocks at the police. At least 7 people were injured. An angry farmer said "If they destroy my poppy fields I will throw my children into the river". Another farmer said "If they bring tractors to destroy my fields I will lie down in front of them. They will have to kill me before they get into my field.". The farmers from Kandahar province said they would be ruined if they lost their crops, and claimed they have not seen any sign of government aid promised to help the farmers. Some farmers say they borrowed money for diesel just to irrigate their fields and they will not lose them for nothing. According to the farmers, three men have died and many were injured during the resistance against the police. I had another blog about the poppies last month and some people asked in their comments why the farmers don't cultivate saffron or cotton. I think it's a very good idea for farmers to grow cotton or saffron but the government or ministry of agriculture should provide some short courses to persuade and provide aid for farmers to grow useful plants.




New Law for Non-Government Organizations

The Afghan government has asked the NGOs to submit their work reports and expenditures for the last three years. President Karzai appointed a committee of local and foreign representatives to study draft legislation aimed at controlling aid agencies after some Afghan people raised concern over the bill. The Afghan government announced that they had drafted the legislation in a move which followed a government probe into the activities of some non-government organizations {NGOs} and amid the perception by many Afghan people that the organizations are squandering international aid money. Most Afghan people say that half of the aid money is spent on the personal requirements of these NGOs. Fierce debate is raging over the slow progress in making Afghan daily life easier. The Afghan people accuse NGOs of squandering funds channeled through them. The Afghan people welcome President Karzai for appointing a committee to control the NGO activities. President Karzai skirted the NGO controversy at the outset of the Afghanistan Development Forum last week and instead pitched for more control over the way money is spent. All organizations concerned are accountable for expenditure of the funds contributed to Afghanistan. In past three years Afghanistan was the eyewitness to considerable political development and to rehabilitation and economic development of Afghanistan. It should be explained to Afghan people alongside its expenses. So the people can be assured the funds contributed for rehabilitation of Afghanistan were not embezzled. The government is responsible for its people because it is established based on their vote.




First provincial woman Governor in Afghanistan

Afghanistan named its first female provincial governor. President Hamid Karzai appointed Ms Habiba Surabi as the governor of Bamian province last month and made a step forward in the slow political progress of women since the fall of Taliban more than three years ago. Surabi, who was selected from an all-female short-list, served as a Minister of Women's Affairs in President Karzai's previous transitional government for almost three years. The previous administration of President Hamid Karzai approved the constitution enshrining equal rights for women last year. Conditions for women in Afghanistan have gradually improved since the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001, who barred women from education. Ms Surabi, the 48-year old wife and mother of three children, is an ethnic Hazara.

During her 3 years of service as Minister of Women's Affairs, she also learned to speak fluent English. Ms Surabi said "My appointment has opened a way for other women" in her speech. She believes that President Karzai, by choosing her, sent a powerful signal that women were equal to men. She hopes her appointment as Afghanistan's first female provincial governor will set a trend in a country in which women were not allowed to work outside. These things are not in Islam but are cultural traditions in some areas of the country. Surabi used to live in neighboring country Pakistan during the Taliban regime, and she returned back after the US-led forces overthrew the Taliban government after the attacks on the United States on Sep 11, 2001. When she was announced as governor, somewhere between 150 to 200 people demonstrated on the streets in Bamian town. Demonstrators were loyal to the former governor and local militia commander, but they were quickly outnumbered by up to 1,000 people who came out in her support. It shows how fed up people are with warlords and fundamentalists. Generally, the biggest challenge for women is safety from the warlords and commanders. Security is very important for women to be able to come to court or visit rights associations.

She aims to restore and rebuild historical sites in Bamian, the site of two 1600-year-old giant Buddhas which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, promote tourism, and oversee the reconstruction of the province that has no power and no paved roads. Bamian's population is mainly made up of ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shi'ite Muslims and known for their greater acceptance of women's rights. Ms Habiba Surabi said behind every great woman is a strong and liberal-minded man, "it would not be possible to do such a tough job without my husband's support". Almost all Afghan people are happy with Ms Surabi's appointment as the first woman governor. After the successful elections, the new administration contains three women ministers and for first time a woman governor.




ANA Battalion 33rd Graduated

The 33rd battalion of the Afghan National Army {ANA} graduated last week with more than 512 soldiers and NCOs from the Kabul Military Training Center and moved to Central Corp. The Afghan National Army {ANA} is improving and progressing very well. Most former militia join the ANA after participating in the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) program. The former Afghan militia realizes that the fight is over now and Afghanistan's interests are now protected by the Afghan National Army. The central government has one professionally-trained army. It is an army that comprises soldiers and officers from all ethnic backgrounds with no collective ethnic or local allegiances. At the moment the Afghan National Army has the ability to extend the authority of the central government throughout the country. In an emergency, over 19,000 ANA can be deployed to fight against the enemy. The ANA will expand to 43,000 in the next twelve months and will reach a total of 70,000 by December 2007. Disarmament of the AMF (Afghan Militia Force) is scheduled to be completed by June 2005. All of the former AMF personell will have started their reintegration training option by June 05. The disarmament program is beginning to draw to a successful close and those AMF that wait may miss out on the training options. Currently the AMF can choose to sign up for assistance with vocational training, running their own businesses, working in agriculture, training as a teacher, joining the national police and joining the ANA. The DDR program is growing daily. Together the DDR and the expansion of the ANA will ensure a secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan and it's good news that Afghan militia who fought against the Taliban are now retraining to rebuild our country. The maintenance of peace is the bright future of the brave nation.




Afghanistan needs reconstruction

Almost 3 decades of war destroyed Afghanistan and Afghanistan has suffered from the highest level of destruction of any country during the 20th century. After the fall of the Taliban, people were hoping that the world community would take part in rebuilding Afghanistan. But the progress has been very slow and the long road ahead to rebuild the country is filled with obstacles. However, Afghanistan has achieved a lot in the past three years as a result of the Bonn agreement, the Loya Jirga, the presidential elections and establishing a democratic government. These are the achievements of Afghanistan in the last three years but the main challenge for the US and world community is the reconstruction of Afghanistan which has been going very slow in past three years. Afghanistan has been destroyed by a long war of almost three decades and the reconstruction in such circumstances is a great challenge. The people of Afghanistan welcome the US for overthrowing the Taliban. They think that the US has been successful with that, but the most important phase which the US is currently going through is the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The US has set some short term and some long term development programs but prioritizing them will take a long time.

At the moment Afghan people are suffering from problems with drinking water, power, health care and lack of jobs. Except in a few cities, there is no power system in almost 80 percent of the country. Two months ago the people of the capital, Kabul, had power for only 6 hours a night every day, but after the snow and rainfall the Kabul residents got lucky and have power almost 15 hours a day. But the western part of the capital still lacks power because the power system was destroyed there in the 1993 war and in the past three years no steps have been taken to fix the power system for the western part of capital. Power is really important in daily life. Most people in the capital, Kabul don’t have drinking water pipes in their houses so they go out and sometimes have to walk far to get water from the water pumps because the water system has been destroyed and really needs to be fixed. In most rural areas of the country there is no drinking water facilities for the people and they drink the river water, or some drink from the well which is not healthy.

The 3rd main problem is health care as I mentioned in a previous blog. In most parts of the country there is no health clinic and lack of doctors make it very difficult because most doctors live in the big cities and it's really hard to find a good doctor in farther parts of Afghanistan. The government must build health clinics in every village and send doctors to help people. Our education system must be changed. We need new and modern education for our schools and universities. At the school where I graduated last year, which was the 4th-most modern in Kabul, we didn’t have enough lab facilities to do chemistry subjects. Motorways are also the main problem. In order to connect the cities to each other there are some roads for transportation, but they are not paved and very dusty and complicated and it takes many hours to drive to even close places. The Afghan people hope for international aid and hope that the reconstruction process would go quicker.





There are bazaars every week in different coalition bases where hundreds of vendors sell their stuff. It helps those vendors who don't have shops - they go to different bazaars. There are bazaars almost 4 days a week. The bazaar schedule is different in every base. In some bases there are bazaars every Friday. In some, every Sunday you can find many different items like handicrafts, old coins, old British and Russian medals, Afghan jewellery, all kinds of gems like rubies, emeralds and lapis, rugs and carpets, leather coats, decorations like wooden boxes and marble, CDs and DVDs. It's very helpful for vendors and soldiers because they dont need to drive to down town and buy from the shops. Plus they don't have time to go there. So they buy stuff from these bazaars every week. All soldiers from different countries are happy with their shopping in Afghanistan because it's much cheaper than their countries. Especially gems, carpets, and DVDs. They can buy a 2 by 1 meter handmade carpet for $100 to $120 while back home it costs $600. Also the same thing with DVDs. The price of one DVD is $2.50 at the bazaars, but back in the US or Europe it costs $15 to $20. And all DVDs come with 5 movies on one disk. So you can buy 5 movies on one disk for $2.50, so that is why almost every soldier has bought almost 300 movies. In this list American soldiers come first. They buy more than other countries' soldiers. Also US soldiers buy carpets too. The Germans buy carpets and jewellery while French soldiers are mostly interested in buying gems and carpets. Some of my friends that are soldiers bought carpets from these bazaars and appraised it for much more back in US. So all coalition forces are happy with these bazaars. Also Afghani vendors can make enough enough money at these bazaars in order to support their families and improve their business. Two years ago I saw some guys that didn't have much stuff to sell, but now some of them have got new cars and some of them have got new shops too. Afghanistan's handicrafts are very popular around the world. Afghan carpets got first postition during an exhibition in Germany this year and Afghan carpets sold over one million Euro. Almost 70% of Afghan carpets are produced in the northern provinces. The carpet of Mazar-E-Sharif and Herat provinces are very attractive. Except for diamonds, Afghanistan has got almost every kind of stones. The Afghan's precious stone emerald is one of the best emeralds in the world and the Afghan emerald price is almost equal to diamond, as well as Afghanistan's ruby. The biggest mine of the blue stone lapis lazuli is also in Badakhshan province. Afghanistan lapis is the birth stone of January and is only found in Afghanistan. During the war our mines were not safe and our stones were sold dirt cheap by local commanders, but now is the time to control our mines. Our government badly needs money to rebuild the country.


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