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Archive for the 'Afghanistan' Category

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the Afghan Elections

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah CoburnIn the lead up to the April 5th elections in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, authors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape have created Afghan Elections dedicated to observation and analysis of the 2014 vote.

The site includes posts about coverage of the election as well as on-the-ground reports about how Afghans are preparing for and thinking about the elections. A recent post on the site drew on interviews with Afghans about why they’re voting and what it means for the country. Other recent topics have included the threat of violence and the role of youth activism in the campaigns.

Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Noah Coburn and Ronald Neumann argue that the United States must be realistic in expectations about the Afghan elections and react accordingly. The Afghan elections, Coburn suggests, will not be perfect—there will be corruption and disputed results. However, the need for stability is crucial and the United States must allow for the Afghan people to have the space and time to address the growing pains of a fledgling democracy.

Coburn and Neumann explain:

At this point, the United States needs to understand that what is most important in these upcoming elections is Afghanistan’s long-term stability. This is best achieved through a peaceful transfer of power to a new president with authority recognized broadly by Afghans. Democracy is, of course, important, and beyond a point its neglect would undermine stability, but the priority should not be on holding perfect elections. Afghans are likely to tolerate many types of procedural irregularities and small-scale fraud. Widespread violence and a breakdown of the tenuous political balance are likely only if these manipulations are seen as overtly propelling into office a candidate with little national support. Instead, Afghans are primarily preparing for both a national and, through provincial elections, local long-term renegotiation of political power. This is the challenge that the international community needs to focus on.


Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Poetry of the Taliban — “Waiting for Freedom”

Poetry of the Taliban

We conclude our week-long feature on Poetry of the Taliban with one of the final poems in the collection, “Waiting for Freedom” (2007), by Lutfullah. (For more on Poetry of the Taliban: watch a interview with the book’s editors; browse the book in Google Preview, links to reviews and features, read quatrains by Nasrat, read the poem How long?, or win a FREE copy of the book).

Waiting for Freedom

I was burned in the caravan of darkness,
I was burned in the pain and grief of the country.
I wait for the freedom of my homeland.
For that I was burned in the flames of migration.
Nobody has expressed their condolences to me,
I was burned out of anxiety alone.
There is happiness all around the world;
I was always burned in the dark nights of grief

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

VIDEO: The Editors of “Poetry of the Taliban” Discuss the Book & The Controversy Over Its Publication

Earlier this summer, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn discussed their edited book Poetry of the Taliban on CNN.

In the interview the editor of Poetry of the Taliban discussed their experience in Afghanistan and interacting with members of the Taliban. They also read from the book and respond to critics who argue that the book glorifies the Taliban. (For more: browse the book in Google Preview, links to reviews and features, read quatrains by Nasrat, read the poem How long?, or win a FREE copy of the book).

Here’s the video of the CNN interview with Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn:

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Poetry of the Taliban — “How long?”

Poetry of the Taliban

The works in Poetry of the Taliban give voice to the Afghans’ view of their country in the wake of the U.S. occupation and the U.S.-backed Karzai government. In this 2007 poem M.A. expresses frustration with Afghanistan’s current state and the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. (For more: browse the book in Google Preview, links to reviews and features, read quatrains by Nasrat, and win a FREE copy of the book):

How long?

How long will people wander in disappointment?
How long will they wander thirsty, hungry, and insecure in
    the deserts?
Most people are jobless wandering around.
How long? You wander hungrily in deserts.
The wrecked economy deprives you of education.
How long? You pass the time waiting patiently.
Pretending to carry out reconstruction; they established
   personal businesses,
They enjoy life, and you? How long will you wander in the
   rubbish heap?
They voice hollow slogans of equality;
The salaries of a hundred men are given to one; how long will
    the poor wander?
They observe well what is going on with oppressed people;
How long will you wander unauthorised?
Every day, our nation suffers from the fire of the enemy,
How long will the shameless puppets walk without being taken
   to account?
M.A. is astounded by such a life;
How long will they stay drunk and happy?

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Faisal Devji and Alex Strick van Linschoten on Poetry of the Taliban

In the past few days Alex Strick van Linschoten, the co-editor of Poetry of the Taliban was interviewed in the Christian Science Monitor, and Faisal Devji, who wrote the book’s preface, spoke with NPR (you can listen to his interview below):

In both interviews, van Linschoten and Devji spoke about how Taliban poetry addresses a variety of issues from the Soviet and American invasions to the beauty of the Afghan landscape. The poetry, as both suggest, should not be seen as merely Taliban propaganda, as Devji says, “this is the kind of verse that not only tries to put the Taliban view, if you will, across to other people and other situations of life, situations other than militancy, but also in doing so makes itself vulnerable, opens itself up to other ways of conceiving life, religion, and politics as well.”


Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Poetry of the Taliban — An Excerpt from Quatrains

Poetry of the TalibanAs part of our week-long feature on Poetry of the Taliban, each day we will post a poem in its entirety or an excerpt. For more on Poetry of the Taliban, you can browse the book in Google Preview or read reviews and features about the book. Finally, don’t forget that you can win a FREE copy of the book.

In “Quatrains,” Nasrat, a female poet, draws upon the traditions of Persian and Urdu verse as well as Afghan history and the natural beauty of the country. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

Let’s hug each other;
Let’s unite ourselves
It is the time of love and brotherhood;
The time of hate has passed.

My competitor cut my heart;
Tears streamed from my eyes.
O relentless one, your heart is harder than stone;
I weep for you and you laugh at me.

We love these dusty and muddy houses;
We love the dusty deserts of this country.
But the enemy has stolen their light;
We love these wounded black mountains.

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Book Giveaway! Poetry of the Taliban

Poetry of the TalibanOur featured book this week is the much-discussed and debated new poetry collection Poetry of the Taliban, Edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn; Preface by Faisal Devji.

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of the book and its coverage. We are also offering a FREE copy of Poetry of the Taliban to one winner.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address (U.S. and Canadian mailing addresses only, unfortunately). We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

For more on the book, you can browse Poetry of the Taliban in Google Preview or check out interviews with the editors, reviews and more on the book.

Here’s what Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Lion’s Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan, wrote about Poetry of the Taliban:

A remarkable and important work. In Poetry of the Taliban, we see that within the movement there are warriors with wounded hearts, lyrical souls, and a passionate love for language and ideas.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

An interview with Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, editors of Poetry of the Taliban

“This collection was not conceived or published with a political agenda. In fact, it was refreshing to be able to think about Afghanistan outside the usual tropes and patterns. If there is any wider point to be made, it is simply that this is not a conflict that has a military solution. The war will end when the political conflict is tackled, which possibly must begin by challenging and questioning our stereotypes about the Afghan Taliban as well as Afghanistan as a whole.” — Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

Poetry of the TalibanMonday, June 11th, The Atlantic ran an interview with Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, the editors of Poetry of the Taliban. The interview, conducted over email as both Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn are in Kandahar, addresses the war in Afghanistan, Afghan cultural tradition, and the controversy their collection of poetry has stirred up in the media.

Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn begin by discussing why Afghan culture is overlooked by the West:

A certain narrative of the war in Afghanistan, or of the country itself, has existed for a few years now. The groundwork was laid long before the events of September 11, 2001, in part by journalists who travelled in the country during the 1980s. But the main themes became very clear from 2001 onwards. As part of this, the focus has been on the foreign involvement in Afghanistan, rather than on Afghanistan itself (i.e. on its own terms).


Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Stephen Tankel — Afghan War Is Not Over Yet

Storming the World StageYesterday, CNN.com published “Afghan War Is Not Over Yet,” by Stephen Tankel, an assistant professor at American University, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the author of Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba. In this article, Tankel takes a detailed look at the unsettled political situation in Central Asia after President Obama’s announcement of the “irreversible” plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. Tankel sees a great deal of uncertainty that must be resolved and a wide variety of challenges that must be be met before any successful withdrawal can be effected.

He first questions the efficacy of the Afghan National Army in maintaining stability:

The Afghan National Army is already taking the lead in regions with roughly 75% of the population, with U.S. and other NATO troops acting as support. However, this does not include the most contested areas in the south and east, where Afghan forces are slated to assume responsibility by next summer. Serious doubts persist about their readiness to do so.

Despite significant training efforts, the army’s level of competence remains in question. It lacks many of the support functions needed for war fighting. The army will remain dependent on international forces for these capabilities and on the international community for financial assistance, expected to cost at least $4 billion a year.


Monday, May 14th, 2012

The Poetry of the Taliban

The Poetry of the TalibanThe Poetry of the Taliban, edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn and due out in July is already garnering a lot of discussion both positive and negative.

Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan criticized the book in The Guardian, cautioning readers against “being taken in by a lot of self-justifying propaganda”.

However, Michael Dwyer, managing director of Hurst & Co., the British publisher of The Poetry of the Taliban, views the book as an important part of their list of books focusing on Afghanistan: “All these books, including Poetry of the Taliban, contribute to our knowledge of Afghanistan and the vicissitudes endured by its people in recent decades.””

In the New York Times blog At War, C. J. Chivers argues that the book Reading The Poetry of the Taliban as a way of better understanding the Taliban and Afghanistan:

Whatever the current controversy, “Poetry of the Taliban” serves as a martial and social artifact from a broken land. Its poems are variously political and pastoral, one moment enraged and the next heavy with sorrow … They capture ambitions, loneliness, resolve and fear. Many passages crudely mock the West. Others sketch the Taliban’s foes in harsh but lyrical caricature, including a passage in “Death is a Gift” that acidly describes Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, as among “those who have one mouth but utter fifty different words and have fifty different thoughts/Like Karzai; I will not behave like a juggler.”


Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed — Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan

Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed

The authors of Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience recount their experiences with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In particular they focus on some of the practical and frequently difficult experience of having to work with unfriendly governments or warring factions. While Doctors Without Borders is committed to providing medical assistance to all individuals civilian and combatant alike, they must be wary of being used for political purposes.

The following excerpt is from the chapter, “Afghanistan: Regaining Leverage,” by Xavier Crombe (with Michiel Hofman) describing MSF’s return to the country. In this passage Crombe describes MSF’s dealings with opposition groups, including the Taliban:

Full compliance with MSF’s “no weapon” policy was to be the starting point for the medical programmes. They were launched officially in Kabul in October, but remained effectively on hold in Lashkar Gah until January 2010. The teams were on the wards, but had to wait for drug supplies to arrive as their transport by truck from Kabul to Helmand depended on obtaining permission from the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (IEA), the most influential armed opposition group, also known as “Quetta Shura”. This was in essence a sovereignty issue, as most districts in the southern provinces, and consequently road traffic, were under effective control of this group.

Since MSF’s return to Afghanistan, there had been several setbacks in engaging the Taliban leadership. Getting approval for the Kabul project had been relatively straightforward as MSF’s initial opposition contacts judged the selected hospital located in a Pashtun area to be easily accessible by their constituency, and planned surgical activities opened up the prospect of treatment for their wounded combatants. But the scant interest and commitment they had shown from the outset regarding MSF’s intended projects in the southern provinces, including Helmand, known to be the heartland of the IEA, had cast doubts over the breadth of their connections.


Friday, January 20th, 2012

My Life with the Taliban

We are pleased to announce that the much-discussed My Life with the Taliban, by Abdul Salam Zaeef is now available in paperback.

My Life with the Taliban is the autobiography of Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former senior member of Afghanistan’s Taliban and a principal actor in its domestic and foreign affairs. Translated for the first time from the Pashto, Zaeef’s words share more than a personal history of an unusual life. They supply a counter-narrative to standard accounts of Afghanistan since 1979.

For more on the book, you can read the chapter No War to Win and below is an interview with the editors of the book Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Is the War in Afghanistan Necessary? — Talal Asad

Talal AsadTalal Asad, author of On Suicide Bombing, argues in an essay for Religion and Ethics, argues that the war in Afghanistan was not necessary. In examining the rationale for the war, Asad demonstrates the various ways that through rhetoric and legal arguments the war has been justified to the international community and the U.S. public.

Asad begins by examining the ways in which the idea of “evil” was employed to rally the American war effort. He writes: “But what intrigued me from the beginning were the sentiments that shaped the violence, how the will to extirpate evil (‘terrorism is evil’) was combined with a desire to reach out, reform and uplift a part of the world in which “evil” (the aggressive rejection of “our way of life”) still thrives. Thus, the invasion of Afghanistan was not only an act of self-defense aimed at rooting out terrorists but an opportunity to spread American values.

The conduct of the war, specifically the use of torture and other methods that might appear as antithetical to American values were explained away by employing legal arguments about Afghanistan’s status as a failed state without the same rights of other sovereign nations. In turn, enemy combatants would not have the same rights as normal soldiers.

In the conclusion to his essay, Asad looks at the lack of a significant antiwar movement despite the relative unpopularity of the war. Asad writes:

The fact that United States citizens are no longer required to do military service has a serious impact on United States politics and culture generally, and with the performance of American sovereignty in particular.

As with religion, and so much else in secular market society, soldiering has become a matter of individual choice. The distancing of the military from civil society separates full citizenship from exposure to death and mutilation in defence of the political community, and passes on that responsibility – and the anxieties that come with it – to a small number of professionals, including mercenaries who are often not American nationals at all.

One consequence of the average citizen’s non-involvement in a distant war is the lack of any consciousness that he has a responsibility for it. But, as I have indicated, this seems to go along with a curious eagerness to mobilize for active support of one side in a distant civil war for which the United States government has no responsibility.

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Dan Rather recommends “My Life with the Taliban”

Dan RatherOn the facebook page for his program Dan Rather Reports, Dan Rather himself recommended My Life with the Taliban, by Abdul Salam Zaeef.

Here’s what Rather wrote about the book:

Have just read My Life With the Taliban, by Abdul Salam Zaeef. Worth reading under a “know your enemy” heading. Zaeef helped found the Taliban and knows the movement well. One may not like the author or what he’s written, much less agree with him, but he writes clearly, interestingly & informatively. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Whom are we fighting in Afghanistan?” this book provides answers worth pondering.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

An Open Letter to President Obama

A few Columbia University Press / Hurst authors, including Gilles Dorronsoro, Antonio Giustozzi, Felix Kuehn, Alex Strick van Linschoten, joined other academics, experts, and members of NGOs who have worked in Afghanistan, to protest Obama’s policy in Afghanistan. You can read the entire letter here.

The authors of the letter write:

Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone. This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. Over 680 soldiers from the international coalition – along with hundreds of Afghans – have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the United States now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.

They go on to call on the United States to broaden negotiations:

The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account. In addition, from the point of view of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations – women and ethnic minorities, for instance – as well as with respect to the limited but real gains made since 2001, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year. This is why we ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. A ceasefire and the return of the insurgency leadership in Afghanistan could be part of a de-escalation process leading to a coalition government. Without any chance for a military victory, the current policy will put the United States in a very difficult position.

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

My Life with the Taliban author on Wikileaks

My Life with the talibanOne of the documents released by Wikileaks (reprinted in The Guardian) includes a US embassy cable regarding the views of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef a former Taliban minister and author of My Life with the Taliban.

Zaeef, who has tried to act as peace broke and has become an important liaison between the United States, Karzai, and the Taliban, calls for a political solution in Afghanistan, telling the US that “peace is the only option for Afghanistan.” He went on to say that there was too much “talk and good intentions” and not enough “action, strategy, and sincerity.”

The cable written in February 2010 reveals other interesting perspectives from Zaeef about Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Karzai. Zaeef believes that had not the Taliban intervened in the 1990s, Afghanistan would have been divided between Iran and Pakistan. In order to save Afghanistan from disintegration and to clear the country of warlords it needed to be especially harsh but had it remained in power, it would have gradually become more moderate. He also suggested that the Taliban are not misogynists, who oppose women’s education and the right to return. If peace was made with the Taliban, the old strict rules would not return.


Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

George Packer Recommends My Life with the Taliban

My Life with the TalibanThe current issue of Foreign Affairs asked experts to suggest essential recent books pertaining to U.S. foreign policy. Contributors include Madeleine Albright, Fouad Ajami, and New Yorker writer George Packer, who recommended three books on Afghanistan, including My Life with the Taliban, by Abdul Salam Zaeef.

Packer writes:

Dozens of reports appear every year on the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they rarely convey the essential truths of how the militants live and think. Three new books take you as deep inside as any Western reader is likely to get. One is My Life With the Taliban, by Zaeef — the autobiography of a Pashtun who was an early recruit to the movement, then a top official of the Taliban regime in the 1990s, and afterward a prisoner at Guantánamo….

Zaeef — now “retired” in Kabul and considered to be a moderate and an intermediary to hard-line commanders — betrays the severe narrowness of his and his comrades’ world. The leaders of the Taliban were always parochial in the extreme, saturated with religiosity, and the years since their fall from power have only intensified these qualities: globalization makes them more ideological but not more worldly…..

Whatever the future of Afghanistan, a deal with the Taliban will make life a nightmare for anyone who falls under their power.


Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The Changing Face of the Taliban

TalibanIn a recent issue of the London Review of Books , Jonathan Steele examines the current situation in Afghanistan and reviews two recent CUP books, My Life with the Taliban, the autobiography of former Taliban leader Abdul Salam Zaeef, and Decoding the New Taliban, edited by Antonio Giustozzi.

Steele, who interviewed Taliban leaders when they were in power in 1996 notes changes in the organization’s ideology and also corrects Western assumptions. Citing Giustozzi’s book, Steele describes the Taliban as no longer technologically averse, frequently using it for propaganda purposes but also less ideologically strict. Steele writes, “They no longer ban TV, music, dog-fighting and kite-flying; nor do they insist on the old rule that men grow beards long enough to be held in the fist.”

Steele also recounts Zaeef’s description of his reactions to 9/11 in My Life with the Taliban, an event which took him totally by surprise but also one he realized would create problems for Afghanistan:

Zaeef maintains that he was shocked by al-Qaida’s attack on 9/11, of which he had no foreknowledge. He says he wept when he watched TV pictures of the burning buildings and people throwing themselves out and falling to the ground like stones: ‘I stared at the pictures in disbelief.’ He immediately saw the likely repercussions. ‘I knew that Afghanistan and its poverty-stricken people would ultimately suffer for what had just taken place in America. The United States would seek revenge.’ He admits that some of the Taliban watching the scene were jubilant and thought the US was too far away to retaliate. ‘How could they be so superficial?’ he asks.


Monday, August 16th, 2010

Charli Carpenter on WikiLeaks

Charli CarpenterIn a recent Foreign Policy article on the recent release by WikiLeaks of documents pertaining to the U.S. war in Afghanistan , Charli Carpenter, author of Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond, argues that WikiLeaks tools actually have enormous potential to save civilian lives in conflict zones — if standards can be created to use them properly.

Carpenter cites the release by WikiLeaks of video footage showing the apparent shooting of wounded non combatants by an Apache helicopter crew in Iraq. This, Carpenter suggests, “adds real value to the international regime governing the behavior of soldiers in wartime by promoting precisely the sort of accountability that the Geneva Conventions require but military culture tends to discourage.” She continues writing, “WikiLeaks could provide a solution — a reporting mechanism through which individual soldiers could report specific war crimes without fear of retribution.”

However, Carpenter also cautions that without any ethical or journalistic standards in place, WikiLeaks also risks not only undermining its mission but also risking further humiliation and pain for victims of war. Carpenter calls upon WikiLeaks to have more targeted release of documents, writing, “Imagine the potential of a more targeted approach — if WikiLeaks specialized only in receiving and publicizing reports of specific war crimes submitted by troops in the field. Instead of dumping 90,000 documents into the public domain and letting the chips fall where they may, the organization would serve as a conduit through which to reveal specific events that militaries might otherwise be tempted to cover up.”

Finally, WikiLeaks also needs to “place standards for how best to minimize collateral damage to the victims of war crimes.” The identities of Abu Ghraib torture victims or Bosnian women who had been raped were not carefully protected by journalists. Carpenter concludes by contending,

If WikiLeaks were to take the lead in developing best practices in this area, leveraging its information technology to balance truth-telling with the protection of victims and sources, it would set a standard that all journalists could follow.

Assange’s indiscriminate approach may have caused undue collateral damage this time around, the extent of which might never be known. But this doesn’t mean that the weapons of his trade should be banned or written off altogether. A more targeted whistle-blowing architecture of this type could save civilian lives in warfare — which is the whole point, after all.

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Abdul Salam Zaeef Removed from U.N. Sanctions List

Abdul Salam ZaeefAbdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and author of the autobiography My Life with the Taliban, was one of five members of the Taliban recently removed from the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions list.

According to an article in the New York Times , those who were on the list were subjected to a travel embargo and asset freeze. However, many in Afghanistan viewed the list as a hit list for assassination. To be removed from the list Zaeef had to renounce violence, renounce ties to Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan constitution.

Many view the removal of sanctions as an important step in the peace process. When asked about the lifting of sanctions for him and the others Zaeef commented, “It will build trust between both sides, but on one condition. This process should continue and does not stop right here. They should remove the names of more and more people from this list — one or two or five names are not enough.”