Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras. The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they face on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness, and disinformation.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The other conflict in Afghanistan

By Brian M Downing

The ongoing insurgency in the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan rightly commands attention, but it obscures a critical second conflict in the country. Long-standing antagonism between the non-Pashtun peoples of the north and the Pashtun people of the south are heading toward fissure. Paradoxically, settlement of the insurgency, through negotiation or force of arms, could exacerbate this divide.

Ethnic politics
Afghanistan comprises a dozen or more sizable ethnic groups, the precise numbers and proportions of which are unclear and contested. Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkic, Baloch, and other groups differ on demographic matters; and the country's geography and decades of conflict offer little prospect of a neutral, acceptable census.

The center of the demographic dispute is the size of the Pashtun peoples of the south and east, who, on only sparing evidence, purport to be about 52% to 55% of the population and have so claimed since the 19th century.

Other groups, however, disagree. They insist that the Pashtun are perhaps slightly more than 40% of the population, while disinterested assessments say Northerners constitute 45% to 50% of the population. The dispute is not merely a matter for demographers or even for the issue of moneys doled out from Kabul. It now centers on who will preside over Afghanistan - and indeed if there will be an Afghanistan as presently constituted.

For a century or more the question of Pashtun majority could sit on the back-burner as most Afghans had far more interest in local government than in events in faraway Kabul where figures reigned but dared not rule. But decades of war and inept or intolerable central governments have brought the matter to the fore.

Mohammed Daoud's reforms of the late 1970s led to violent opposition in most parts of the country and plunged the country into decades of intermittent warfare and foreign interventions from which the country has yet to recover. His successors fared little better and the various mujahideen groupings could not govern, which led to the Taliban government of the mid-1990s through 2001.

There is wide agreement in the northern regions that Pashtun governments from Mohammed Daoud to Hamid Karzai have been incompetent, intrusive cabals that long misgoverned the country and are poised now to give it back to the Taliban in concert with foreigners from Pakistan and China. Northerners bitterly recall the Taliban as harsh southerners who slaughtered non-Pashtun people by the thousands.

Post-Taliban government
After fighting the Taliban to a standstill and ousting them in 2001, northerners felt their efforts guaranteed them predominance in the new government. They acceded to the accession of Karzai, the head of the (Pashtun) Popalzai tribe, to the presidency.

This was done in part owing to US pressure and despite considerable support in the country for the Tajik statesman, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who also enjoyed support from regional powers that had supported the north well after the US washed its hands of the area.

Over the past nine years, however, northerners have seen their politicians pushed out of key ministries, especially the Ministry of Defense, which was once administered by the Tajik leader Mohammed Fahim. That portfolio is now in the hands of Abdul Wardak, a Pashtun who has used his office to reassert his people's predominance in key military commands and simultaneously vitiated the militias of northern warlords. Northerners have been reduced to the rank-and-file of the Afghan National Army and ceremonial positions such as the country's two vice presidencies.

Outsiders have criticized the presidential and parliamentary elections as fraudulent. Karzai is widely believed to have interfered with local polling stations and given himself and his supporters wide victory margins. Northerners certainly agree but insist that outsiders miss an important aspect of Karzai's fraudulence. He not only inflated the national support for himself and his supporters, he also suppressed evidence of non-Pashtun voters and their support for Tajik, Uzbek, and other peoples' candidates. Pashtun politicians counter by insisting that it is the northerners who are tampering with the ballot box to overstate their numbers.

Today, northerners contend the nation is on the brink of another act of legerdemain that will ensure Pashtun predominance - and misgovernment. The loya jirgas, which are romanticized in the West as a protodemocratic institution in colorful local dress, are simply another Pashtun ploy to ensure their dominance.

Karzai's peace council has been hand-selected to approve whatever settlement he presents them. Northerners sense that Karzai is about to betray them by settling with the Taliban, granting them large swathes of territory which northerners feel the Pashtun mullahs will one day use again to assert control across the country. Further, Karzai is seen as collaborating with Pakistan to exploit Afghan resources in conjunction with China.

Warlords, army and the regional powers
Over the past few years, Generals Fahim and Rashid Dostum, leaders of Tajik and Uzbek forces, respectively, are said to have demobilized their forces and turned over their armor and artillery to the Afghan National Army (ANA) - as noted, a force largely purged of non-Pashtun commanders. Turning over heavy weapons is credible; full demobilization is not. There can be little doubt that these wily northerners, and other smaller ones, have retained patronage networks and forces in-being - lightly-armed, yet trained and loyal and angered by events in the south.

The position and reliability of the ANA are unclear. Though chiefly commanded by Pashtuns now, northerners constitute at least 55% of the ANA's officers and rank-and-file, with Tajiks greatly over-represented and judged to be the best fighters. Resentment toward Pashtun superiors - military and political - are almost certainly parts of soldierly conversations. The ANA's battle record thus far is sparse, unremarkable, and unlikely to have instilled a super-ethnic identity.

A break between northerners and Karzai would lead to serious conflicts within the ANA, including large-scale desertions and mutinies, particularly if called on to do so by Fahim and Dostum and the family of the late legendary mujahideen chieftain, Mohammed Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Regional powers are more aware of growing north-south tensions than the US. They have had ties with northern forces going back to the war in the 1980s and the standoff with the Taliban in the 1990s. India, Iran and Russia have aid programs and intelligence officers in the country, chiefly in the north. They, along with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and other Islamic former Soviet Socialist Republics, are concerned with the insurgency in the south and prepared to take extraordinary steps to prevent Islamist militancy and terrorism from spreading north. (Uzbekistan knows well that its militants fled south in the 1990s and today serve with al-Qaeda.)

Naturally, geopolitics and economics are at work as well. India seeks to counter growing Pakistani and Chinese influence in Afghanistan. Russia, too, is worried of growing Chinese influence in a region close to tsarist, Soviet and Russian interests.

Iran plays a double game. It gives small amounts of arms to insurgents and trains them at an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base in southeastern Iran. But this is a warning to the US should it, or Israel, attack Iranian nuclear facilities. Support to insurgents can go up markedly, perhaps to include Stinger-like missiles, and Quds Force guerrillas could be deployed against US troops to make supply lines even more parlous than they are today.

Despite its limited support for the insurgency, Iran is deeply hostile to the Taliban, whom they recall as merciless Sunnis who slaughtered tens of thousands of Shi'ite Hazaras and who invaded an Iranian consulate and killed several diplomats. The three powerful regional powers also wish to share in the exploitation of Afghan resources and have a say in any pipeline that might be built there.

India, Iran and Russia are pressing Karzai on neglected northern interests. Bagfuls of money have been known to bring nettlesome matters to a politician's attention. They would support the north in the event of a break with the Pashtuns and are at least preparing to help rebuild separate military forces there. Each regional power has its intelligence people operating in the country, especially in the north.

The US position
Northern concerns are being articulated to US officials by Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other disgruntled non-Pashtuns who have been able to retain positions in the military and diplomatic service and also by those peoples. But US attention is mainly directed on counter-insurgency operations in the south and east and in seeking to begin a negotiated settlement.

Despite its maladroitness over the past nine years, the US can join the regional powers in pressing Karzai on restoring positions in the army and state to northerners and in seating them prominently at any peace conference that might convene one day.

Failure to do so may leave Karzai with a Taliban south and a secessionist north, leaving him with palaces in Kabul and restaurants abroad. A break between north and south could force the US to withdraw from the insurgent-wracked south and concentrate, politically and militarily, in the north.

This would not be uniformly adverse: the US would find political development and military support far easier among the northerners than it is with the disparate and increasingly hostile Pashtun tribes in the south. In this regard, Washington and Kabul alike should pay greater attention to the ominous conflict with the north.

Brian M Downing is the author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

کمیته صیانت از آراء ولایت غزنی تشکیل شد


شماری از نمایندگان معترض به تاخیر اعلام نتیجه غزنی
نمایندگان ولایت غزنی و شماری دیگر از نمایندگان هزاره ها که به مجلس دوم راه یافته اند، تاخیر اعلام نتایج نهایی این ولایت از سوی کمیسیون انتخابات را غیر قانونی خوانده و خواستار اعلام فوری آن شده اند.
کمیسیون مستقل انتخابات افغانستان، به استثنای ولایت غزنی نتایج نهایی تمامی ولایات دیگر را اعلام کرده است.
این کمیسیون در روز اعلام نتایج نهایی انتخابات علت اعلام نشدن نتایج نهایی ولایت غزنی را "مشکلات تکنیکی"(فنی) خواند و سخنگوی این کمیسیون تاکید کرد که نتایج نهایی این ولایت نیز به زودی اعلام خواهد شد.
ولایت غزنی در مجلس نمایندگان یازده کرسی دارد، فهرست نتایج ابتدایی این ولایت نشان می دهد که همه این یازده کرسی را نامزدانی از قوم هزاره به خود اختصاص داده اند و از پشتونهای غزنی کسی در مجلس نمایندگان راه نیافته است.
شماری از نمایندگان هزاره ها که به عنوان اعضای کمییته صیانت از آراء مردم غزنی در یک کنفرانس خبری شرکت کرده بودند، اعلام کردند که "آنها در یک گردهمایی بزرگ که از سوی احزاب سیاسی و حلقات مختلف هزارها تشکیل شده بود، به عنوان اعضای این کمیته انتخاب شدند."
احمد بهزاد نماینده هرات، جعفر مهدوی و عالمی بلخی نمایندگان کابل، اسدالله سعادتی نماینده دایکندی، حاجی محمد عبده نماینده بلخ و همه نمایندگان غزنی عضو این کمیته هستند. اعضای این کمیته می گویند، استدلال کمیسیون انتخابات برای اعلام نتایج ولایت غزنی به دلیل "مشکلات فنی" پذیرفتنی نیست.
عبدالقیوم سجادی
"اگر خدای نخواسته دستبردی درنتایج صورت بگیرد ما آن را به مفهوم دفن روند دموکراتیک در افغانستان می دانیم"
عبدالقیوم سجادی نماینده غزنی در مجلس پیشین که این بار نیز اسمش در فهرست ابتدایی نمایندگان غزنی دیده می شود در این کنفرانس خبری گفت: "اظهارات آقای رئیس جمهور که خواستار چاره اندیشی در باره ولایت غزنی مبنی بر مصلحت اندیشی برای تامین وحدت ملی شده بودند از همان آغاز برای ما نگران کننده بود، باور ما این است که بهترین راه تامین وحدت ملی، حاکمیت قانون و پاسداری از آن است."
آقای سجادی افزود: "اگر خدای نخواسته دستبردی درنتایج صورت بگیرد ما آن را به مفهوم دفن روند دموکراتیک در افغانستان می دانیم. هرنوع مهندسی که در آراء ولایت غزنی صورت بگیرد، به مفهوم، آغاز یک بحران ملی در افغانستان خواهد بود. اگر با استناد به مسایلی چون رعایت ترکیب قومی دستبرد صورت بگیرد چنین چیزی در همه سطوح و مناطق کشور سرایت خواهد کرد. جامعه تشیع و هزاره ها در اجتماع بزرگی تصمیم گرفتند که نسبت به این مساله و عواقب آن هشدار دهند."
احمد بهزاد از دیگر اعضای کمیته صیانت از آرای غزنی گفت، تاکید رئیس جمهوری مبنی بر رعایت ترکیب قومی، مبنای قانونی ندارد، زیرا به گفته او در قوانین افغانستان به صراحت یا به اشاره ذکر نشده است که باید ترکیب قومی نمایندگان پارلمان در حوزه های انتخاباتی حفظ و رعایت شود.
آقای بهزاد افزود: "براساس قانون اساسی افغانستان، هر نماینده مجلس بدون در نظر داشت اینکه از کدام حوزه انتخاب شده، مذهبش چیست و به کدام زبان سخن می گوید، وقتی در یک حوزه انتخاباتی برنده شد، نماینده تمام مردم افغانستان است، پس در این صورت چگونه هزاره های غزنی نمی توانند از پشتونهای این ولایت یا مردمان مناطق دیگر نمایندگی کنند؟ اگر معیار آقای کرزی را بپذیریم که هزاره های غزنی نمی توانند از پشتونهای غزنی نمایندگی کنند، پس خود جناب ایشان هم به عنوان یک پشتون نمی تواند از اقوام دیگر افغانستان نمایندگی کند".
احمد بهزاد
"اگر معیار آقای کرزی را بپذیریم که هزاره های غزنی نمی توانند از پشتونهای غزنی نمایندگی کنند، پس خود جناب ایشان هم به عنوان یک پشتون نمی تواند از اقوام دیگر افغانستان نمایندگی کند"
احمد بهزاد گفت او به نمایندگی از کسانی که اورا به عنوان عضو کمیته صیانت از آراء غزنی برگزیده اند هشدار می دهد که ابتال نتایج ولایت غزنی، نه تنها منجر به ابتال کل انتخابات "بلکه منجربه ابتال نظام در افغانستان خواهد شد و مردم مصمم هستند با استفاده از رویشهای قانونی به صورت گسترده دست به اعتراض بزنند.
در همین حال شماری دیگر از کسی که در انتخابات برنده نشده اند نیز به اعتراضهای چند روزه خود ادامه داده و خواستار رسیدگی به شکایات خود هستند.
دادستانی کل افغانستان نیز بعد از اعلام نتایج انتخابات با صدور اعلامیه ای اعلام نتایج را قبل از وقت خواند و خواستار رسیدگی به شکایات نامزدهای معترض شد.همچنین دادستانی افغانستان پنج تن را که دوتن از آنها صراف هستند و سه تن دیگر از آنها را دادستانی اعلام کرده که خود را به جای ناظران بین المللی انتخابات معرفی کرده بودند، به اتهام اینکه در معاملات پولی در رابطه به انتخابات دست داشته اند، بازداشت کرده است.
همه این حوادث نشان می دهد که درگیری برسر نتایج انتخابات پارلمانی افغانستان که بعد از اعلام فهرست ابتدایی شروع شده بود، همچنان ادامه دارد و ظاهرا به نظر نمی رسد راه ساده ای برای حل نهایی آن وجود داشته باشد

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Why Isn't the Vote in a Volatile Afghan Province Certified Yet?


The results of Afghanistan's parliamentary elections announced this week were an anti-climax, coming two months later and tainted by an avalanche of fraud and vote-rigging allegations. But returns from one of the country's 34 provinces were not certified, and that's where things get interesting. In Ghazni, a Taliban stronghold with an ethnic Pasthun majority, preliminary results apparently show that the Hazara minority swept the polls by claiming all 11 seats. Given the eastern province's mixed demography, it's widely agreed the improbable outcome stems from the insecurity that kept tens of thousands of Pashtuns away from the polls. Much as the Afghan government and its foreign backers want to move on, there are now fears that if corrective steps are not taken, the country's largest ethnic group could be further isolated — to the Taliban's advantage.
While the threat of violence had an impact across most of Afghanistan when people went to the polls on Sept. 18, it caused paralysis in Ghazni. According to U.S. military officers based here, there were at least 23 attacks on election day. Of these, more than half took place in Andar, a volatile district where only four voting stations were open. The dearth of stations here was emblematic of other Pashtun-dominated areas in the province, they say, and in the end it didn't matter: a total of three people cast votes. Shahbas Khan, 32, a Pashtun shopkeeper, said going to the polls was out of the question due to the militants' pre-election warnings that participants would be harmed. He called it "a big show" staged by the government and NATO despite foreknowledge that a free and fair process was impossible. As a U.S. officer later admitted to TIME, "We weren't surprised when no one showed up." (See how bullets trumped ballots in the Afghan election.)
Hazaras, meanwhile, turned out in droves. Having suffered terribly under the Sunni-Muslim, largely Pashtun Taliban regime, the Shi'ite minority has rebounded since late 2001 to secure greater constitutional rights and gain an outsized stake in the fledgling democracy. Their success in Ghazni extended to other provinces like neighboring Wardak, another mostly Pashtun province, that yielded the Hazaras, who have a sizeable presence there, three of five seats. Informed for the first time of the landslide results, some Pashtuns in Ghazni said they don't have a problem with the idea of non-Pasthun's representing them; it's their trust in the Afghan government and its claims to democracy that has being lost. "We're all brothers in Islam," says Abdul Hadir, 35, a local mullah, speaking among an ethnically mixed crowd in the village of Arazu. "Our problem is with leaders that have forgotten us all and play games." (Can the allies trust Afghan soldiers to watch their backs?)
Indeed, ethic tension seems beside the point. In recent weeks protests have come from all sides over sundry election irregularities. Nearly a quarter of 5.6 million votes have been tossed out, while the Afghan attorney general has called for a broad investigation into systemic fraud. Although the Independent Election Commission is eager to draw a close to an election that has sullied the reputation of the parliament as well as its own, it is still hesitant to endorse Ghazni's lopsided results over concerns such a move could backfire. In what may be a bid to shape the dispute in favor of the president's allies, members of the Karzai administration have already warned that the insurgency would likely profit in contested areas, a prospect Pashtun candidates on the losing end have no doubts about.
Khial Mohammad Hossaini, a Pashtun candidate from Ghazni who did not win election, is convinced the vote was rigged by "foreign hands" and ethnic Tajik-led northerners who don't want any Pashtuns in government, though he doesn't stop there. "[President] Karzai is Pashtun, but you cannot count on him," he says. "It's not because of security, it's because they don't want us to be elected as parliamentarians," adding that there "are lots of countries involved. Of course, it will cause violence in Ghazni because these people will not trust the government and will stir trouble and help the Taliban." According to Haroun Mir, an independent analyst in Kabul, this is not to be dismissed as just another angry politician's bluster. "Security-wise," he says, "I think [the reaction among Pashtuns] will be a big problem."
This leaves Afghan authorities with a difficult choice: They can certify the Ghazni results next week, as some election officials have said, and chance the consequences; or, have a re-run in Ghazni sometime in the near future. Yet with Taliban influence still prevalent and a hard winter approaching, there's little reason to believe conditions will be any better the second time around. Shah Jahan, an ethnic Hazara and projected winner from the province, maintains that while militant intimidation surely undermined the Pashtun turnout, anti-Hazara vote-rigging was also a reality in core parts of Ghazni, where some voting stations reportedly ran out of ballots. The existing results should therefore be accepted. "Even if a re-re-run happens, the result will be the same as it is now," he says.
Angling for a solution, some Western officials have suggested appointing Pashtuns to seats in the upper house of parliament, or or staff positions in the provincial government. Karzai supporters, for their part, favor allowing the exiting MPs from Ghazni, most of whom are Pashtun, to stay in office until a re-vote is completed. Others have talked of waiting until the spring to do a second round, but there again the picture remains bleak. That's just the time fighting tends to pick up, and in the intervening weeks other candidates claiming to have lost due to Taliban threats could make their case to be included. Would-be winners would then fight back, potentially pulling the country deeper into gridlock. That's to say nothing of the fatalism shared by some disenfranchised Pashtuns, who say there's really no point in elections at all with more pressing concerns at hand. "Our main problem here is the same," says Shabas, the shopkeeper who didn't vote. He was referring to the Taliban, without naming names.

News Source:,8599,2033312,00.html

Thursday, November 25, 2010


You can access the whole report by clicking on following link:


This report documents two massacres committed by Taliban forces in the central highlands of Afghanistan, in January 2001 and May 2000. In both cases the victims were primarily Hazaras, a Shia Muslim ethnic group that has been the target of previous massacres and other serious human rights violations by Taliban forces. These massacres took place in the context of the six-year war between the Taliban and parties now grouped in the United National Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (the "United Front"), in which international human rights and humanitarian law have been repeatedly violated by the warring factions. Ethnic and religious minorities, and the Hazaras in particular, have been especially vulnerable in areas of conflict, and Taliban forces have committed large-scale abuses against Hazara civilians with impunity. In this report Human Rights Watch calls upon the United Nations to investigate both massacres and to systematically monitor human rights and humanitarian law violations by all parties to Afghanistan's civil war.
The massacre in Yakaolang district began on January 8, 2001 and continued for four days. In the course of conducting search operations following the recapture of the district from two Hazara-based parties in the United Front, the Taliban detained about 300 civilian adult males, including staff members of local humanitarian organizations. The men were herded to assembly points in the center of the district and several outlying areas, and then shot by firing squad in public view. About 170 men are confirmed to have been killed. The killings were apparently intended as a collective punishment for local residents whom the Taliban suspected of cooperating with United Front forces, and to deter the local population from doing so in the future. The findings concerning events in Yakaolang are based on the record of interviews with eyewitnesses that were made available to Human Rights Watch and other corroborating evidence.
The May 2000 massacre took place near the Robatak pass on the border between Baghlan and Samangan provinces. Thirty-one bodies were found at one site to the northwest of the pass. Twenty-six of the dead were positively identified as civilians from Baghlan province. Of the latter, all were unlawfully detained for four months and some were tortured before they were killed. Human Rights Watch's findings in this case are based in large part on interviews with a worker who participated in the burials and with a relative of a detainee who was executed at Robatak. These accounts have been further corroborated by other independent sources. With respect to both massacres, all names of sources, witnesses, and survivors have been withheld.
Mullah Mohammad Omar, the head of the Taliban movement, has stated that there is no evidence of a civilian massacre in Yakaolang and blocked journalists from visiting the district, until recently accessible only by crossing Taliban-held territory. On the night of February 13-14, 2001, however, United Front forces recaptured Bamiyan city, the provincial capital. The offensive secured an airport and a road link to Yakaolang.
On January 19, 2001, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement expressing concern about "numerous credible reports" that civilians were deliberately targeted and killed in Yakaolang. The secretary-general called on the Taliban to take "immediate steps to control their forces," adding that the reports required "prompt investigation" and that those responsible should "be brought to justice."1 On February 16, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson called for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch is concerned that such a commission would take too long to establish; the need is for a small team of experts that could be deployed immediately.
The Taliban's denial of responsibility for the Yakaolang massacre, and its failure to hold its commanders accountable for these and other abuses against civilians by its forces, make it critical that the U.N. itself investigate both cases. There have been preliminary discussions within the U.N. on the feasibility of investigating the Yakaolang massacre; a similar discussion also took place after the Robatak massacre, although no further action was taken. These discussions should be resumed. In doing so, however, the U.N. should not repeat the missteps that resulted in an inconclusive 1999 field investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, into the 1997 killing of Taliban prisoners by United Front forces in Mazar-i Sharif and the reprisal massacre of Hazara civilians by Taliban forces the following year. To allow an effective investigation into the cases documented in this report, the U.N. should adopt the measures outlined below.
1 Secretary-General, United Nations, "Secretary-General very concerned about reports of civilians deliberately targeted and killed in Afghanistan," January 19, 2001, as posted on Relief Web, (accessed February 16, 2001).

Silk Road from Bamiyan

Travel by Sun Lai Yung
A Sri Lankan of Chinese descent

The dusty small town of Bamiyan lies on the famous Chinese Silk Road. The destruction of the colossal Buddha brought Bamiyan to the world stage. The two Buddhas’ remained virtually unharmed for 1,500 years except for two occasions. In the 11th century Mahmud of Ghazni attacked Afghanistan, he looted the monasteries for important artifacts but left the statues alone. Then in 1931 King Nadar Shah fired cannons at the Buddha, He damaged the statues but was beyond his ability to destroy it. Even the Invasion by Genghis Khan in 1221 generally left the statues alone. The two Buddha statues were positioned to face the rising sun and they watched the Bamiyan valley below with benevolent eyes of Karuna (Compassion). The smaller statues (121 ft) were built in 507 AD and the second larger statue (180 ft) was built about 50 years later in 554 AD. This was the largest Buddha carvings in the world. The larger statue portrayed the Dipankara or Vairochana Buddha and the smaller as the Sakyamuni Buddha.

The Taliban (the word Taliban means student) came into power in 1996. The Afghan people supported the Taliban, thinking they would be better than the warring Mujehedins. In March 2001 The Taliban radical clerics declared that the Buddha statues were against the tenants of Islam. Taliban regime banned all form of entertainments such as sports, music, and television, singing and dancing. This was in accordance to the strict interpretation of Islamic laws. Three countries recognized the Taliban government, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE). The whole world protested in vain and ultimately the statues were savagely destroyed while the world watched.

Taliban Boasts about their act

The statues were carved out of the rock from the cliff and attached to the mountain. Destroying it was not easy. First dynamite was used and later anti aircraft guns and when this did not have the desired effects, anti tank mines were placed at the bottom. Still it was not as successful, then men were lowered to the cliff and explosives placed into the holes of the statues. Finally a rocket was fired to break the colossal head of the statue. (the pic above is by an unknown photographer, I am told taken from the Bamiyan Roof Top hotel)

On March 6, 2001 The Times reported that Mullah Omar stating " Muslims should be proud of smashing idols, it has given praise to god that we have destroyed them" Taliban Foreign Minister said " We are destroying the statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely a religious issue". The person widely seen as responsible for this destruction was Mawlawi Islam Mohammadi a cleric and Governor of Bamiyan at that time. Eventually he was elected to the Afghan parliament in September 2005. However, he was assassinated on January 26, 2007. Ironically King Nadir Shah who fired cannons was also assassinated two years later in 1933.

My Impression – What I learnt

My understanding and image of the Bamiyan Buddha was only the statue. I did not realize that there were two statues involved. What I learnt on my visit was the Bamiyan Buddha was a huge complex of monasteries, caves, stupas , paintings and a major cultural and learning centre on the famous Silk Road. In terms of a cultural centre it is comparable to Nalanda of India, Mahavihara, Abayagiri viharaya and Jetawanarama viharaya of Sri Lanka. The physical similarity of the statue is similar to Aukana Buddha 470 AD. (Height 38 feet 10inches) And Gal vihara of Polonnaruwa (12th Century A.D) in Sri Lanka where the statues are carved from granite rock.

The Bamiyan complex stretches for about a mile in length now, but during its heydays it would have encompassed the whole area for miles. Looking at the empty space I was amazed at the size and the workmanship of its time. Behind the Buddha one can walk up almost 10 stories on carved steps and higher (which I did not go beyond) to enter the accommodation of the monks. The caves were cool and well ventilated. The whole cliff was dug and tunneled and connected from East to West. There were shrine rooms and living accommodation dug into the rock. They were rock cut, cave temples. They were huge places for worship. Every room was painted long ago with frescoes depicting the life of the Buddha and other Jataka stories and also pictures of Kings, Queens, ladies, monks, artists and prominent gentry of its time. The paintings portrayed a great amount of historical references and the style of dresses and its culture at the time. The whole complex would have taken 0ver 100 years to complete.

The holes seen from outside the cliffs; where the empty Buddha stand now are caves and carvings of the seated Buddha and some openings were huge open spaces overlooking the Bamiyan valley below. Thousands of Buddhist priests lived here and there were over 10 monasteries.

It must be mentioned that the large Buddha’s robes was painted red. According to 7th century Chinese traveler Huan Tsang " the face of the giant Buddha was covered with gold and decorated with precious gems that dazzled the eyes". The overhead roof of the Buddhas was painted too. Beside the Buddha, all the rooms inside the complex were also painted with frescoes. These paintings were done by travelers on the silk road. Research on the paintings was conducted by the Japanese centre of scientist at the National Research Institute, the French museum and the Getty’s Museum of America. All of them declared that the painting was oil based and the oldest oil based paintings in the world. Europeans had not discovered oil paintings until 600 years later. After this discovery all ancient ruins were re examined in Iran, India, Turkey, China and Pakistan.

As I climbed storey after storey I was amazed at the complexity of the place. I wondered how could they carve such large shrines through the rock, how could they paint thousands of caves and every inch of the cave was painted. All caves had space for many Buddha statues. Today none of the Buddha statues remained only the remnants of the carvings and most of the paintings have been deliberately chipped and destroyed. I saw a few paintings and took photographs. The attack on the Buddha was an attack on man kind’s legacy. I came out a sad man, wondering why we do this to ourselves.

The Silk Road and its influence to the region.

One cannot take Bamiyan in isolation from the Silk Road. It was the silk Road that gave prominence and character to this ancient city. The word Silk Road was first coined by the German geographer Ferdinand Von Richtheofen in 1877. Since then, the term has been used for this caravan route from Rome, Egypt, Turkey, and Africa to China and all the 6,500Km of roads including India, Vietnam, Malacca, port of Mahatitta from Sri Lanka (Mannar). Today both sea and land routes are known as the silk Road.

The Silk route existed for almost 3,000 years. It was during the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) that the routes gained prominence in the Silk trade, ivory, slaves, spices, musk, jewellery, glassware etc. The exploration of Zhang Qian of the Han dynasty around 114 BC extended and expanded the route to Central Asia which included Afghanistan.

What is not known is that the Silk road contributed to the development of civilization in these countries and laid the foundation of the modern world.

Donkeys were used at the beginning. The domestication of animals helped transportation. Once the Bactrian camel was domesticated, heavier loads over long distance were made possible.

To link the Silk Road from Egypt the successive Pharaohs even tried to build the ancient Suez canal to link the Nile to the red sea. Over the centuries many attempts were made. The plan was abandoned when it was discovered the sea was higher than the land and feared sea water will be mixed with the Nile. However, the succeeding Pharaohs completed 85 kms of the canal, a 4 days journey; this was done 3000 years ago.

Silk Road and Gandhara

The expanded Silk Road brought Alexander the Great in 329 BC to the region. Greeks ruled Central Asia including Afghanistan for over 300 years. During this period Greek and Indian arts merged to form the Gandhara period. Initially Gandhara was a settlement where Greco?Buddhist art emerged, eventually to affect the cultural, religious and art of the region.

With the expansion of the Silk Road many new nations emerged. The road opened to new technology and information, beside commerce, cultural values exchanged, poor isolated tribes benefited by new opportunities in trade. Many barbarian tribes became skilled warriors and were able to conquer rich cities.

On the other hand the Chinese always admired the tall powerful horses ridden by the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. The Chinese called them "Heavenly horses". The Chinese were able to acquire the powerful Arabian horses and other horses from the great plains and improve their war machinery using the Silk Road.

Asoka the Great introduced Buddhism to Afghanistan, north west India (Pakistan) and to Sri Lanka. His edicts were carved in stone and wood and his empire reached beyond Afghanistan by the end of Asoka’s life. By this time the Kushans ruled the Bamiyan region. The Kushans were a Chinese tribe from Yuezhi The Kushan empire spread from Afghanistan, modern Pakistan to the Han Empire of China. The Great King Kanishka of the Kushans (144?172 BC) greatly influenced Buddhism in this early stage in the settlement of Gandhara. Under King Kanishka, the Gandhara period of art reached it Golden age. Great amount of art was produced during this period. Many great monasteries were built. A 400 ft monument was built in Purushapura the capital of the Kushan empire (City of men), today; its { Peshawar Pakistan) It was destroyed by Muhamud of Ghazni during the 11th century. One of the notable relics was "Buddha’s Bowl". Fa Shien the great Chinese traveler wrote in 400AD, that he saw the Bowl in Kandahar. This city was named after Gandhara. This was last sighted in Kandahar in 1872 by Britisher Bellows and noted in his journal. Olaf Caroe in his book wrote that he saw the Buddha’s bowl in 1958 in the Kabul Museum. Today its whereabouts are unknown. This is what has happened to all the artifacts and relics of Afghanistan. It must be noted the Gandhara period lasted almost 900 years.

Under Kanishka, Buddhism expanded and Bamiyan on the Silk Road was the intersection and strategic road to Persia, Egypt, India, Central Asia and China. The influence of the Gandhara period brought Buddhism to China.

The influence of Buddhism had a great affect on the lives of the nomadic tribes of central Asia. These people lost their barbaric and soldierly qualities, eventually losing their nomadic qualities to live in fixed abodes and farmed. These people became more civilized and were accepted as civilized by their civilized neighbours. Buddhist kings introduced more humane legislations. Learning started to take place, many Buddhist manuscripts were translated, Sanskrit was used, art in the form of painting started to take place. Sculpture with the influence of Greco styled was mixed with Buddhist art.

In the past, the old school of Buddhism, The Buddha was represented by a footprint, an empty seat or throne or a horse without a rider. It was in Afghanistan during the Gandhara period sculptures of Buddha emerged in a new form. Initially they were very Greco in style and later sculptures were made with a mixture of Greco, Indian and Iranian influence. The Buddha statue that emerged later depicted 4 sublime state of Buddhism, namely Metta ( Loving kindness) Karuna (Compassion) Mudita (Blissful joy) and Upekkha (Equanimity). This style portrayed Buddha in a human form, rich aesthetically, thus inspiring the worshipper. The Buddhist faith through Buddhist missionaries from Kushan and Parthian, were able to travel freely and eventually Buddhism spread along the Silk road and had a great cultural and religious influence all the way to China. Similarly few centuries later, Chinese missionaries and travelers were able to reverse the trend and visited the great learning centres of Bamiyan.

Buddhas of Bamiyan

At the beginning Bamiyan had Theravada or Hinayana Buddhism. Bamiyan was a Buddhist cultural and learning centre for almost 1000 years. Later due to Chinese influence the monasteries would have converted to Mahayana Buddhism. The height of Buddhist culture and influence was in the 8th to the 9th century in Afghanistan. Some of the early Hinayana frescoes were repainted over, with Mahayana art. Then the Arabs invaded Afghanistan and Buddhism eventually was overtaken by Islam. The early Islamic conquerors did not damage or destroy the monasteries. Islamization took 150 years before whole of Afghanistan was converted to Islam.

After the Islamization of Afghanistan the monasteries were abandoned, the priests could not survive without the help of the public. Due to wars most of the manuscripts were burned and the temples looted. Many Buddhist priest were killed. Slowly the once great centre of learning crumbled and fell into decay.

The caves where the priests lived and the cave temples were occupied by the local residents. Cooking with firewood and char coal sooted the paintings of these caves and slowly the paintings were first blackened and the plaster fell off or peeled for the heat and the severe cold winters. Human neglect and nature’s ravages gradually destroyed everything. Water seepage and extreme cold weather affected the sandstone cliffs of the Buddha. Small earth quakes cracked some parts of the cliff and parts of the statue fell piece by piece over time. The Bamiyan Buddha complex became a human settlement for over 1200 years.

Today the place is guarded; however the entrance to the complex is open. The UNESCO is involved in rehabilitating the Buddhas. Huge boulders taller than me were strewn at the foot of the Buddha. Most fragments were collected and stored carefully and housed shading from the sun. The Governments of Switzerland, Germany and Japan will finance restoration work. Locals are charged Afghani 60.00 and foreigners are charged Afghani 500.00 ($10.70) A Ministry of Culture (MOC) official will accompany you when you visit the complex. He is a young boy with no knowledge and little interest. He was around to make sure we did not vandalize the place. He was with us for about half an hour and he disappeared. I never learnt any thing from the MOC official. It is sad there are no professional guides at the place to explain the history that changed China and the regions around. People never understand; that Chinese Arts and crafts, writings, culture and philosophy changed after Buddhism was introduced from Afghanistan.

I walked about the complex with my Afghan friend Abdullah who is a graduate in Business from Bangalore University, we explored the caves freely. Both of us were amazed at the works of art and the complexity of the place. Abdullah felt happy that his ancestors were great creators of art and men of great learning, but today most Afghans are illiterate and hardly get any schooling beyond 5th or 6th grade. Abdullah was saddened at the destruction as much as I was. The Taliban deliberately damaged most of the frescoes and murals on the cave temples, they chiseled off the plaster. The few years of Taliban rule did more damage than 1200 years of neglect and apathy. We agreed that we had lost a great treasure for mankind and Afghanistan’s Heritage.

Genghis Khan Destroys City of Bamiyan

Few centuries after the Islamization of Afghanistan, Genghis Khan invaded Afghanistan in 1219. His army met a crushing defeat at the hands of General Kutikonian in Parwan, close to Kabul. Genghis was waging a campaign in Herat. He hastened to Bamiyan, laid siege to the city. It was here that his grandson Mutugen or Motuken was killed. This infuriated Genghis Khan. Finally when he captured the Citadel he instructed nothing was to be spared. Every man and animal was killed and the city laid waste. The column is the remnants of the Citadel on a hill opposite the Bamiyan complex. From here the Bamiyan Complex could be seen clearly.

A little must be mentioned of Genghis Khan. His invasion affected Bamiyan and the regional political and economic landscape. Genghis Khan had the largest empire in the world. What took 400 years for the Romans was conquered in less than 50 years. (Even after his death). His conquest covered areas much greater than the Romans or the Greeks. He had many traits that made his soldiers to die for him. Genghis Khan was greatly misunderstood. The books written by the west portrayed him as a Horde of Mongol savages. Genghis Khan was a superb strategist and militarist. His soldiers were well disciplined. He decreed the Yassa code of conduct. This conduct forbade to hunt during breeding season, No selling of women, prohibiting to take other people’s property. He forbade his soldiers to take civilian property. The poor, artists and the monks were not taxed, he allowed universal education to his people.

He learnt some of his war strategies from the Chinese. Especially laying siege to a city. He would divert the river and cut off the water supply. He used Chinese engineers to build catapults. He used spies very effectively. Every military campaign was planned carefully. The Soviets studied his war tactics during the Second World War, so did the Germans. He selected his generals through meritocracy and loyalty. Pic: of Genghis Khan

In the past generals were selected among family members. He did away with that. He was tolerant to many religions. In Europe there was no religious tolerance at that time. All European nations had to be under the Holy Roman Empire. However, Genghis Khan ruled 30% of the land mass, 24,000,000 sq Km and over a 100 million people. Since he ruled a large area and most of his subjects were Hindus, Buddhists, Islamic and Christian. He gave religious tolerance. He also had advisors from these religions. His descendants married Christian princesses from Europe, or forged alliances through marriages that were Christian. The armies that were captured were absorbed into his army. The orphans were looked after, he even gave some of the orphans to his mother to take care.

He was ruthless when he was resisted. When he was insulted he is known to pour molten silver into the ears and eyes of the victims or boil them alive. He used great psychological warfare. Those who waged war and resisted were demolished and crushed and the whole royal family killed. Whole cities were utterly devastated. This gave fear to his enemies to surrender. To hear his name created fear, that was his psychology. The name preceded the man.

Genghis khans’ conquest of Eastern Europe and Western Crimea and Russia had a great influence on Europe. Europeans started wearing pants or trousers after seeing the Mongol Army. Until that time Europeans wore robes and tunics. The real art of horse riding was shown to the west by the Mongols. Even the cuisine changed in Europe. Genghis khan introduced paper and paper money to Europe, the compass, gunpowder, and even astronomy, where Asian star charts proved European knowledge was wrong. It is believed and not wrong to state that the European renaissance (Europe’s awakening and its greatest period in art, culture and invention) came about because of the Mongol invasion and rule of Genghis Khan.

However, Bamiyan never recovered from the destruction. Agricultural land laid waste with nobody to farm. There were no cattle left to work or live on. The knowledge to trade on the Silk Road had been crushed. The city became Mounds of tombs where the dead were hastily buried or simply piled together and covered with lime. The Silk Road faced new challenges. Eventually the new Islamized nations closed the Silk Road and made it difficult to travel. By then the Europeans found new sea routes to go to China and had better ships and better guns. The Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British ruled the seas. The Silk Road was abandoned.

Going back to Bamiyan now, you will see people riding donkeys and going about as they did 1000’s of years ago. It seemed life had not changed. Predominantly the Hazara’s live here. It is believed they were the remaining troops of Genghis’s army who stayed back. Travelling in Afghanistan has it rewards and dangers. I did not know what to expect when I started. My trip to Bamiyan was traveling to the past and wondered what the future of Bamiyan would be in another 100 years. Well, there will be somebody else to write and record.

Leaving Bamiyan, I saw an abandoned Soviet era T?55 Main Battle Tank. They all came and they all left leaving scars in Afghanistan’s history. Now Life in Bamiyan goes at its own pace like 1000 years ago.

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"Tell Them to Come to Afghanistan and Make Friends": Bamiyan Diaries, Day Four

Sunday 31 October 2010

by: David Smith-Ferri, t r u t h o u t | Report
Again and again in this isolated Afghan province, when visiting Afghan people in their homes or when talking with members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), we have heard this message: "We want to know the people of the world, and we want the world to know that we are human beings, not animals."
On our first night in Bamiyan, we joined the AYPV at a restaurant on the main street in town. The restaurant, unlike those I am accustomed to visiting, served groups of customers in separate rooms. We walked down an alley, around the back of the restaurant, and up a steep flight of metal stairs to a narrow landing which opened onto several small, windowless rooms. Inside one of them we arranged ourselves as comfortably as possible on the floor and along the walls, eleven Afghan youth and three Americans.
At the outset of the conversation, fourteen-year-old Ali asked us, "How do Americans know we are bad?" The question burst out of him, without preamble, as though he'd been carrying it for years, waiting for this opportunity. He followed it with a statement: "We want Americans to know we are not animals." Later, while he held my arm and walked me home in the dark, I asked Ali about this belief regarding American perceptions of Afghan people. "Why else would they bomb us?" he said. There wasn't anything more to say.
Today, two days later, we again gathered for a shared meal, this time in twenty-year-old Moh'd (short for Mohammad) Jan's home in a village outside Bamiyan. We piled into a van and drove out over rocky, pitted, unpaved mountain roads, following the fickle course of a narrow river. High, red rock cliffs loomed above us, and wherever there was flat land, it was cultivated. "Would you like to leave the car here and walk to my home along the river?" Moh'd Jan asked. We readily agreed.
Stenciled on nearby rocks in the Dari language were words warning people that the hills above are laced with landmines. We left the road and followed a creek lined with willow and cottonwood trees, along the edge of cultivated plots – apple orchards, potato fields being harvested, swaths of thickly-sown, bright-green pea plants – the autumn sun pouring into the valley with sweet abundance, as though time had stopped and it would always be like this.
Half an hour later, we were greeted by Moh'd Jan's brother, Tooryalai, a tall, handsome Tajik man in a long white robe who welcomed us graciously into their home and seated us on mats in a large, rectangular room with colorful pillows lining the walls. Outside, young children followed us into the house with their eyes.
Moh'd Jan served us whole wheat bread in long, large, oval unleavened loaves that we tore with our hands, platters of homemade wheat noodles that Moh'd Jan's mother had labored over, fried potatoes, local apples and bottles of orange soda. "If you weren't vegetarian," seventeen-year-old Faiz whispered to me, "we would have gone fishing this morning." Faiz lives in the same village, and is treated as a part of Moh'd Jan's family.
Moh'd Jan's mother joined us. "In 1998," she told us, "violence came to this valley." At this time the Taliban were sweeping through the north-central part of the country, trying to expand their control. The families who lived here were forced to flee in the winter, in deep snow and deadly cold, in the dark. And in their desperate attempt to escape along steep and dangerous mountain tracks, some perished from exposure and others died after falling off the side of a trail into a ravine. "We were terrified … I carried one of my children on my back the whole time."
After this account, during which his mother was clearly upset, Tooryalai cut the tension in the room by joking, "War is the only time Afghans wonder why we have so many children. You have to put one on a donkey, one on your back, one on your shoulders … "
Like many others at the time, the family fled on foot to Kabul, 175 kilometers away, seeking refuge. "Did anyone help you?" Kathy Kelly asked.
Her question was greeted with wry laughter. "There were so many refugees that no one paid any attention to us," Tooryalai said.
"How did you survive?" we asked.
"We organized ourselves to sell things," Moh'd Jan explained. "We worked as street vendors and in the market, and we used the money to buy flour to make bread."
The family lived like this in Kabul for four years. During much of this time, their home in the mountain valley outside Bamiyan was occupied by a political militia – "not the Taliban, but the militia of a political party called 'Party of One.' They treated the house and the land well."
In town, over the last three days, we have met Afghan people who work for the Afghan government, who work in private construction building barracks for US military personnel, who operate radio stations, who are business owners, who teach at the university. Some of them contend emphatically that a US troop withdrawal would be a disaster, ushering in a return to Taliban power and abuse and the prospect of civil war. In every case, they see the issue through a narrow lens – for example, through their ethnicity ("They will slaughter the Hazara people again") or through their job security ("They will shut down the university," or, "If the U.S. leaves, I will not be able to do this media work."). At times, we have been met by looks of silent derision for even asking whether the U.S. should withdraw. Most disturbingly, some of these people have stated unequivocally and dispassionately that it is good when the US military kills people. "Most of them are Pashtuns," one person said. "They should be killed."
During the meal at Moh'd Jan's home, we heard something else. Toward the end of our conversation in his home, Moh'd Jan said:
"Even though we had to flee our homes for four years, and it was terrible not being able to give people a proper burial, having to leave the bodies with just a few rocks on them, we are thankful for this time of relative peace. But we know that there are people in other provinces that are in conflict, and things there have not changed, have not improved for them."
When asked about US troop withdrawal, families we've visited have told us, as Moh'd Jan implies in his statement, that they want peace for all of Afghanistan.
Today when we asked his family, "What should we tell people when we return to the U.S.?" we heard the same proposition we have heard from people in other villages and on more than one occasion from members of the AYPV.
"Tell them," Tooryalai said, "to come to Afghanistan and make friends."

Bamiyan scripts due here

By The Nation
Published on November 8, 2010

Ancient Buddhism scriptures retrieved from the Bamiyan mountains in Afghanistan where two giant Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taleban government are scheduled to arrive today for public exhibition and
A reception is scheduled at Suvarnabhumi Airport to welcome the 2,500yearold scriptures, believed to be the world's first writing of the Tripitaka, before it is taken to the Buddha Monthol complex in Nakhon Pathom for display initially until February.

"Negotiations are underway to keep the scriptures in Thailand until the next Magha Puja Day in March," Amnart Buasiri, acting director of the National Buddhism Office, said yesterday.

The pubic display and worship were also in honour of His Majesty the King's 83rd birthday next month.

The ceremony, with the Norwegian ambassador invited, was set for the auspicious time of 9.19am, not long after the flight lands from Norway.

The scriptures were believed to have been written in the sixth centu�ry and were kept in the Bamiyan Valley before they were smuggled out of Afghanistan for fear of destruction by the extremist Muslim Taleban government, which ruled the country until 2001 when they destroyed two giant Buddha statues. They were later toppled from power following the US' intrusion.

The scriptures should arrive at the Buddha Monthol at 3pm, when another ceremony is held, before the ancient document is put on view.

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10 years after destruction, Bamiyan remembers its Buddhas

McClatchy Newspapers

They stand like missing hearts carved out of the mountain's chest, abandoned chambers where ancient wonders of the world once gazed placidly.
It's been nearly 10 years since the Taliban destroyed Bamiyan's towering Buddhas. With Afghanistan convulsed again by war, rebuilding isn't even on the agenda.
No one knows how much it would cost to restore the work of craftsmen who've been dead for more than 1,500 years, and "nobody's ready to pay," said Hamza Youssefi, of Afghanistan's Historical Monuments Department.
Youssefi sold tickets at 300 afghanis, about $7, for the visiting foreigner, and 60 each for two Afghan colleagues. His office is tacked with posters explaining what used to be here. Down a dim hallway, locked cabinets contain recovered bits of statue.
We walked in the autumn afternoon sun toward the smaller of the two main alcoves, which held the female Buddha, 118 feet tall. The male figure was 174 feet tall.
Tourists avoid Afghanistan now, and only a handful of foreigners were about. Three small Afghan boys chased a black goat that got away. Magpies fluttered.
The Taliban committed atrocities, both human and cultural, against Bamiyan's ethnic Hazaras. Ignoring global pleas, they destroyed the Buddhas in March 2001, first trying mortar and artillery, then succeeding with dynamite, claiming them to be an affront to their conservative Islamic faith. Some say they hoped to find gold in the statues' bellies.
We walked up a dizzyingly steep staircase that the ancients carved beside the Buddha, now modernized with handrails made of rebar, and looked out across the valley, imagining it in the sixth century. Like ghosts, snatches of intricate paintings can be glimpsed in hollowed-out chambers.
The Buddhas of Bamiyan haven't been forgotten. Under the auspices of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, European and Japanese archaeologists have stabilized the cliff face, which was damaged in the explosion; surveyed the honeycomb of caves; and preserved pieces of the original statues.
They've discovered previously unknown oil paintings in the complex and a stupa, or Buddhist shrine, at the base of the cliff, said Habiba Surabi, the governor of Bamiyan province.
Large fragments are tightly wrapped in yellow plastic at the mountain's base. Scaffolding fills the main chamber, like the skeleton of a Buddha. But with Afghanistan's war and poverty, finishing the work isn't a job for today.
Unlit lights are strung across the scaffolding. In the Dari language, they spell out: "Peace."
(Special correspondent Habib Zohori contributed to this report.)

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Final Afghan election results show Hazara minority trumped dominant Pashtuns

Hazaras' strong showing is concerning to majority Pashtuns – many of whom couldn't get to the polls because of insecurity – and casts doubt on how fair the election was.

Kabul, Afghanistan
Nearly two months after Afghans cast their votes in the parliamentary election, the country’s Independent Election Commission released the final results for all but one area of the country.
While concerns remain about corruption and fraud, one of the biggest flash points ahead may prove to be the disproportionately large number of Hazara representatives elected – especially compared to Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
“It is indeed the deprivation of a very large group in the country, pushing them further towards isolation,” says Haji Mohammed Hazraq, a member of the provincial council in Wardak. “One of the biggest reasons for insecurity is that the Pashtuns don’t see their representatives in the government, despite being the largest group in the country.”
The swell in Hazara representation comes in large part from insecurity in Pashtun regions that kept potential voters from the polls on election day. Throughout the country, most of the fighting takes place in Pashtun areas and the Taliban is almost exclusively Pashtun movement. As a result, they were more likely to experience threats and danger on election day and military forces had greater difficulty securing their areas.
“The security forces created a vacuum, nobody was there, and the Taliban threatened them,” says Israr Khan, the president of the Awakened Youth Association, a political awareness group focused on creating peace.

Hazaras' disproportionate strength

Early analyses of the final results show that the Hazara community may have snagged a share of the lower house that represents as much as double their actual proportion of the population.
In Ghazni, the last remaining constituency to be counted, preliminary results indicated that all 11 seats went to Hazara candidates, even though the province has a slim majority of Pashtuns with significant Hazara and Tajik minorities. Officials estimate it will be another week before they have official results due to the closure of numerous other polling stations, as well as other election-day irregularities, such as one district that only counted three votes.
Wardak province also saw a surge in Hazara representation. Though the region is predominately home to Pashtuns, three of the five seats went to Hazaras.
All this is a serious concern for many of the country’s Pashtuns, who allege that they are now underrepresented, especially in Wardak and Ghazni.
The Hazaras’ victory, however, is unlikely to spark ethnic strife. Instead, it may cast further doubt on the fairness and representativeness of the elections. Ethnically imbalanced results suggest to some Afghans a process that was either not truly democratic or, at worst, rigged.
Allegations of fraud still loom heavy over the election, with doubts remaining about whether today's announced results will be accepted.
Hours before the IEC publicized the results, a number of candidates launched a demonstration protesting what they say was a corrupt and fraudulent election.
Such demonstrations have been commonplace since the elections took place on Sept. 18 and nearly one-quarter of all 5.6 million votes were thrown out due to fraud.

Was the Hazara vote fair?

The enthusiastic participation of Hazaras versus the lackluster turnout among other ethnic groups – particularly Pashtuns – has created competing narratives since voting day.
Hazaras have faced historical oppression in Afghanistan. Their suffering under the Taliban regime and their newfound rights under the current Constitution has made the community an ardent supporter of the democratic process. Hazaras turned out to vote in force.
However, Hazara leaders suspect that other ethnic groups – fearful of the Hazara strength at the ballot box – have worked through the government to suppress as much of the Hazara vote as possible.
In Hazara areas of Kabul, as well as the Ghazni districts of Jaghori, Malistan, and Nawur, ballots ran out early, with some Hazara leaders claiming the government purposely short-changed polling centers there. In one mixed Hazara-Pashtun district of Ghazni, Qarabagh, no polling centers opened at all due to a lack of voting materials.
Leaders from other ethnic groups, however, see no evidence of systematic suppression of Hazara votes.
A current Pashtun parliamentarian from Ghazni, Daoud Sultanzoy, scoffs at the notion of Hazara disenfranchisement, pointing out that Hazaras looked poised to sweep all the seats, including his own. But he acknowledged that their enthusiastic participation paid dividends not enjoyed by other groups.
“I don’t want to blame Hazaras, whether they cheated or not. They participated in the process, whether they milked the process for everything they could – good for them,” he says. “The Pashtuns and Tajiks did not fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, did not participate in some parts of the province.”

An inexperienced parliament

While there will no doubt be tensions as the government resolves final voting tallies in Ghazni, few believe that it will create any violence.
“I don’t think this will lead to an ethnic confrontation. Because the election turnout was so low and there was massive fraud, I think for most people it doesn’t really matter what the results showed,” says Masood Farivar, manager of Salam Watandar, a national radio network.
Generally speaking, Afghanistan’s new 249-member lower house of parliament will be a largely inexperienced organization. Only about 90 seats went to incumbents, meaning there will be at least 148 new members. The upper house was not elected in this cycle.

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Problems in one province delay Afghan election; re-vote possible, officials say

Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 2:23 PM

KABUL - Afghanistan's election commission prolonged the uncertainty of the country's recent parliamentary vote Wednesday when it omitted one province from its announcement of final results, opening the possibility of a costly and complicated re-vote there.
The Independent Election Commission announced final tallies for 33 of Afghanistan's provinces but said technical problems had prevented it from certifying the results in the eastern province of Ghazni. In that province, Taliban violence is believed to have suppressed the vote among the majority-Pashtun population, clearing the way for the election of 11 candidates from the Hazara minority.
Officials with President Hamid Karzai's government had warned that certifying such an outcome could lead to further ethnic strife and embolden the Taliban.
By declining to announce Ghazni's results, the election commission opened itself to the accusation that it had done so under pressure from Karzai's office. Western and Afghan officials said they were not surprised by the commission's decision, which had been widely expected.
Some Karzai aides, as well as election observers, said that a new vote would be held in Ghazni and would have to be funded by the international community. But a member of the election commission, Abdullah Ahmadzai, said the commission still had not decided whether to announce the Ghazni results later or to schedule a new election there.
"So between these two options, we will make one decision, either to certify the result and announce it in one week's time, or a rerun," Ahmadzai told the Associated Press.
The prospect of a new vote raises several potential problems. Two months of protests and allegations of fraud have already passed since the Sept. 18 vote, tarnishing the reputation of election officials and casting doubt on the legitimacy of the new parliament. The Afghan attorney general has threatened to charge two election officials with defaming the nation and has called for a wide-ranging investigation of alleged vote rigging and fraud. Further delay would add to this political turmoil.
In addition, a new vote would offer no guarantees of a different result. The Taliban insurgency remains strong in Ghazni, particularly in Pashtun areas. It would be difficult to send independent election observers there or to secure the voting sites sufficiently to prevent a repeat of Pashtun disenfranchisement.
Other provinces that had problems with fraud and violence could also press for new contests in their jurisdictions if Ghazni has a second balloting.
"There will be some type of process that will take place in Ghazni, likely after winter," said one Western official who works on election issues. "This obviously brings up a whole host of challenges."
Since the ethnically lopsided result in Ghazni became known, Western diplomats have voiced growing concern about the province, citing both the possibility of palace interference and the fear of ethnic strife, and have tried to help broker a political solution.
While acknowledging that changing the vote results wouldn't work, diplomats have suggested that Karzai could appoint Pashtuns from the province to the parliament's upper house, offer them staff positions with the provincial government or persuade some Hazaras to step down for the sake of national unity.
Ghazni is "a real dilemma," said one U.S. official. "The big worry, I think, is Pashtun disenfranchisement in Ghazni. This could tip us to real ethnic issues, whether it is addressed or not."
Shahgul Razaie, a Hazara candidate in Ghazni who according to preliminary tallies would be among the winners, said that the Afghan government should accept the outcome.
"If we believe in democracy, then we have to accept it," she said. "If we have another election, it will have the same result as this one."
But Khial Mohammad Husseini, a Pashtun candidate who fared poorly, said the preliminary results "will encourage Pashtuns to revolt."
"The election commission and others have intentionally interfered and committed fraud to take Pashtuns off the list and bring in other people," he said. "Karzai's doing nothing. It's not his fault, we blame the IEC."
"New elections should take place all over the country, not just in Ghazni," Husseini added. "There was nothing but fraud in the entire country."
Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Peaceful - for now - Bamiyan

Peaceful - for now - Bamiyan
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — Poverty is endemic in Bamiyan and the infrastructure barely past medieval, but this peaceful province is about as good as it gets in Afghanistan today.
The road to the pristine Band-e-Amir lakes is being paved. September's parliamentary elections were violence-free here, and business isn't bad at Hassan Ali's craft shop on Bamiyan's single, bustling thoroughfare.
Yet word that the province could be among the first to be "transitioned" away from NATO's security blanket and turned over to Afghan forces has sent tremors of unease through Afghanistan's central highlands.
"As soon as they leave, these different ethnic groups will start fighting each other," said Ali, whose one-room shop stocks scarves, rugs and carpets made by a women's cooperative. "We're Afghans, and we know our people very well. We cannot coexist with each other."
Bamiyan, a land of majestic, snow-capped mountains and potato fields whose harvest has just been picked, is no stranger to bloodshed. Ethnic Hazaras, who are Shiite Muslims and in the majority here, have been long marginalized and oppressed. From 1996 to 2001, they suffered grievously at the hands of the Taliban, ethnic Pashtuns who are conservative Sunni Muslims and are now fighting U.S. and allied forces to regain sway over Afghanistan.
Past trauma and future anxiety underscore the challenge that President Barack Obama and the NATO alliance face in turning over even quiet areas, let alone districts in Afghanistan's south and east where fighting rages.
When alliance leaders meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in Lisbon, Portugal, later this week, the agenda is said to include a transition plan that would see U.S. and allied forces leave Afghanistan by 2014. Districts in Bamiyan, Panjshir and Parwan provinces are at the front of the queue to be handed to internationally trained Afghan national security forces, according to Pentagon officials.
No announcements about timing are expected until next year.
The talk of transition has given pause to inhabitants of Bamiyan.
If "the foreign forces will leave Bamiyan, the (Taliban) opposition will infiltrate the province and the Afghan security forces will not be able to defend the people against them," said Abdul Ahad Farzam, who works in the local offices of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Farzam spoke in the commission's offices, on a plateau that overlooks Bamiyan's old city in its mountain-flanked valley. Two mass graves lie on the city's outskirts, he said. In one atrocity, Taliban forces massacred at least 170 civilians in Yakaolang valley to the west in January 2001, according to the group Human Rights Watch.
Bamiyan isn't brimming with either foreign or Afghan troops to begin with. A provincial reconstruction team manned mostly by more than 100 soldiers from New Zealand concentrates on much-needed development projects and improving governance. Command of the reconstruction team already has shifted to a civilian.
There are 800 to 900 Afghan national police officers in Bamiyan, according to the provincial police chief, Gen. Mohammad Awaz Naziri, but no permanent Afghan National Army presence.
While residents praise the provincial reconstruction team and most wouldn't welcome its shuttering, their bigger worry is that a broader NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan might empower the Taliban to return here.
Most didn't welcome reports last month of stepped-up negotiations between the Karzai government and Taliban representatives, Farzam said, citing an informal survey the commission undertook.
There are concerns that insurgents are trying to draw a noose around this enclave. The road through Wardak province to the southeast was attacked last year, there's been trouble to the east in a district of Parwan and the Taliban are said to be in a northern district of Bamiyan itself, Kahmard.
"The Taliban will come from Kahmard ... and of course they will come from Wardak as well," said shopkeeper Ali, who bears a passing resemblance to Ho Chi Minh, but with an impish smile. He cited his age as 50.
His shop sits on Bamiyan city's single paved avenue, amid a colorful, noisy collection of stalls, one-room pharmacies, a few restaurants and an Internet cafe. Cars, small trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians vie for space.
The optimistic view, expressed by Western and Afghan officials, is that Bamiyan could be a model for the rest of the country.
Voter turnout in the parliamentary elections was 65 to 70 percent, and Bamiyan had the largest ratio of female voters in the country, said a Western official who wasn't authorized to speak for the record and thus spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
Commerce in Afghanistan traditionally has circumvented the Hazarajat, as the central highlands are known, but in some places, paved roads are slowly replacing rutted mountain tracks. The province is seeking funding for a new airport to replace the gravel airstrip, so that someday tourists might fly here directly from abroad.
Throughout history, the Hazaras "have rarely been granted the opportunity for self-improvement. They see this as their time," the Western official said. But "it's going to require the rest of the country to have stability as well."
In fact, regional officials say that Bamiyan — short-changed on resources for decades by the central government — is being penalized now for its security. Development funds and attention are being showered instead on areas of the country where the Taliban-led insurgency is most active.
"The Afghan government has always had an ethnic agenda," Mohammad Sarwar Jawadi, a parliament member from Bamiyan, said in an interview in Kabul. "They say they want to spend most of the aid money in areas where there is a lot of fighting.
"Outwardly, it looks like a good strategy for spending the aid money. Inwardly, it means all the aid money will be spent in (majority) Pashtun areas."
Habiba Surabi, Bamiyan's provincial governor — and Afghanistan's only female governor — said her budget had declined from $120 million last year to $90 million this year.
"Here, it's really difficult to get a penny of money from the international community," she said in an interview.
Jawadi said the people of Bamiyan "were so hopeful" when international forces arrived in the province. Now, with their departure on the horizon, "it will not make any difference if they stay or if they leave."

(McClatchy special correspondent Habib Zohori contributed to this article.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pashtuns strength in Afghan parliament diminished

ISLAMABAD: Pashtuns in Afghanistan have suffered a serious setback after the September 18 parliamentary elections that has reduced their presence in the Afghan National Assembly, preliminary results of the poll show.
According to the results of the second national polls of the Wolesi Jirga – the lower house of parliament – the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan, Pashtuns, have lost their dominance in the parliament.
During an interview with The Express Tribune, Deputy Speaker of the Afghan National Assembly Mirwais Yasini admitted that barely 100 Pashtun candidates could make it to the house of 249 members, which was lower than the 115 members who were elected following the first parliamentary polls in 2005.
Yasini is a Pashtun legislator from the Afghan province Nangarhar that borders Pakistan. He was also one of the candidates who contested the presidential elections in 2004 against Hamid Karzai.
He believes that the war in the Pashtun provinces led to a low voter turnout. As a result, other ethnic groups such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, who are otherwise a minority, won more seats than the Pashtuns in the assembly.
Tajiks and Hazaras inflicted defeat on Pashtuns even in the populated provinces such as Ghazni, Qudooz, and Nangarhar, where they secured more combined seats than the Pashtuns. The Persian-speaking Hazara tribe also won in many constituencies where the Pashtuns have an overriding presence than other minorities.
In the Pashtun-populated provinces, the voter turnout was less than 25 per cent, said Yasini, adding that it was the highest in the Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik-populated provinces in the north – generally between 50 and 60 per cent. Surprisingly, the turnout also remained low (34 per cent) in the capital Kabul, which is dominated by Tajiks.
According to Yasini, Pashtuns in Afghanistan constitute over 50 per cent of the population, while Tajiks are 25 per cent followed by the Hazaras who are 15 per cent. In terms of the population size, Uzbeks are the smallest. The remaining population comprises Muslim ethnic minorities Turkmen, Baloch, Gujar and Nooristanis and non-Muslim minorities Christians, Hindu, Sikhs and three Afghan Jew families.
Yasini, however, is hopeful that the Pashtun presence may rise in the National Assembly with the ten seats reserved for Pashtun Kochi (nomads). “The Kochis will help maintain a balance in the assembly,” he said, adding that they will be a source of strength for Pashtuns in the lower house.
Until then, political analysts fear that the insufficient numbers of Pashtuns in the assembly may cause problems for President Hamid Karzai, who has been pursuing his ambitious plan to integrate the Taliban in the democratic setup of the country.
Karzai and Taliban represent Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group of Pashtuns and their recent peace talks have been opposed by the Hazara tribe who were subjected to large-scale bloodshed during the Taliban rule in Kabul. The tribe also suffered during the recent clashes with the Kochis.
However, Yasini does not agree with the perception that the defeat of Pashtuns will make Karzai weak.
Afghanistan is still largely divided on ethnic lines and although candidates stand as individuals, some blocs in the parliament are formed by regional power brokers based on their ethnicity.
Others belong to various political parties and factions, many formed by warlords who fought for and against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and in the subsequent civil war.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2010.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Afghanistan's new "warrior" hero Rohullah Nikpai


Click to play
Rohullah Nikpai's journey from an Iranian refugee camp to Afghanistan's sole Olympic medallist has made him a national hero.
By Lyse Doucet BBC News, Kabul
At a sports centre in the heart of Kabul, the sound of fighting rings out night and day. But this isn't the war that has torn Afghanistan for the past three decades.
Kabul's new warriors are taekwondo fighters. In this ancient martial art of kicking and punching, one of the newest stars is 23-year-old Rohullah Nikpai - the first athlete in Afghan history to win an Olympic medal.
"Each time I kick, I make sure I do it as well as I can," the young Nikpai explains. "I'm happiest when my training goes well and I achieve something good for my country."
The centre, a concrete block of a room, echoes with the sharp slap of bare feet hitting plastic pads. Some two dozen young men in track suits practise kicking drills, punctuated by determined cries of battle.
Region: Kabul, Afghanistan
Born: 1987
Discipline: Taekwondo
Career highlight: Bronze medal at Beijing 2008 - Afghanistan's first Olympic medal
In any other country it would be the most ordinary of days at the gym. In Afghanistan, it is a poignant reminder of what even a bit of peace can bring - an all too rare place where young men can focus their energies and where they can even dream.
When Nikpai won a bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it was a golden moment for him, and for Afghanistan.
"When our plane touched down in Kabul it was an amazing moment to see so many of my countrymen and women at the airport," he recalls with a wondrous look, still savouring the moment when he became a national hero.
Afghans poured into Kabul's Ghazi stadium to celebrate where, not much more than a decade ago, the Taliban notoriously stoned women to death.
"It was unbelievable," marvelled Mirwais Bahawi, a member of Afghanistan's Taekwondo Federation who was providing live commentary from Beijing for Afghan television.
"Afghans were watching it on TV in more than 17 provinces. Everyone was praying for Rohullah Nikpai and then, happiness blossomed!"
At Nikpai's family home in Kabul, a traditional mud brick bungalow inside a walled compound, a cabinet bursts with bright ribbons and shiny medals, including Afghanistan's highest national honours conferred on him by the President, Hamid Karzai.
Rohullah Nikpai
Afghan taekwondo fighter Rohullah Nikpai and his Olympic bronze medal
"I like all my medals but now I hope to win gold in London 2012," he declares, adding a customary "insh'allah" - "God willing". He holds his treasured red ribboned Beijing bronze in his hands.
But for all the new brightness in his life Nikpai, like most Afghans, still lives with the dark legacy of war that has scattered his family far and wide.
His twin sisters and some cousins visiting from Canada join us as we sit cross legged on a carpeted floor to enjoy fragrant rice sprinkled with berries and saffron. Nikpai ended his refugee life in Iran several years ago but much of his extended family still lives outside Afghanistan.
Even his fiancé is living in Canada. He beams with happiness when he recounts how she called him in Beijing after his victory.
Two years on from that day, the shy, slim Nikpai is still greeted with admiring looks and warm embraces wherever he goes.
"I like to see friends and fans but its hard to keep stopping when I am working and on deadline," he confesses.
"I think Nikpai is a very good athlete and also a good neighbour. He is friendly with everyone," remarks one Afghan who stands with a gaggle of young men who stop to watch their local hero walk down a narrow lane from his home.
At a gleaming Kabul barber shop adorned with posters of footballer David Beckham's array of haircuts, Nikpai gets his barber to fashion his own look: a bit of height on top; close cropped on the sides; sealed with an expert swish of hair gel. The barber tells us it's the new "Chinese style."
"No," Nikpai quickly corrects him with a mischievous grin, "its Nikpai style," his style even before he became a champion.
Rohullah Nikpai
Rohullah Nikpai (L) in action at the Beijing Olympics

After the years spent in Iran, Nikpai's style is now firmly rooted in Afghanistan. And he is keen to stay despite suggestions that he could benefit from better facilities and coaching elsewhere.
"I don't think we need to go abroad for training," he says. "Our athletes are good and we are getting ready for the next competitions."
Their training centre benefitted from support from Korea, where taekwondo originates, with a gift of equipment including chest guards and other protective wear.
"No one is helping us now," regrets Mirwais Bahawi from the Afghanistan Taekwondo Federation. But he says they will approach countries like Korea, and Japan, as well as Britain for some assistance in the run up to the London 2012 Games.
As we watch Nikpai and his fellow athletes I remark to Mirwais Bahawi that it must be difficult to be an Olympic athlete in a country still at war. He answers with a trademark Afghan nonchalance.
"It's hard," he admits. "But it's easy for Afghans."
Through the door, we can see Nikpai, his back bent, as he pauses for breath in a demanding training regime. Across his T shirt, "Afghanistan" is embossed in bold bright print.

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