“Da Mirmano Ghag” The Women’s Voice

Posted November 13th, 2014 at 8:19 pm (UTC+0)
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by Niala Mohammad

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“Wagma!!!! I love your programs; we look forward to it every week”! Sobia Khan from Hangu screeched with excitement when her call was forwarded to VOA Deewa’s weekly women’s show -“Da Mirmano Ghag” which means the women’s voice.Many girls like Sobia flood the phone lines with their questions and comments for Wagma Jalawan’s show.  Some of show’s regular callers use interesting pseudo names from Bollywood movies and Pakistani Dramas like “Arthi Intizar” and “Ashwariya Rai”. Others call the program using their father, husband, or brothers mobile phones. One of Wagma’s frequent callers hides in the closet and calls the show secretly in a muffled voice-“Hello, please put me forward to the program before my call gets cut off…I have a question.”

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Da Mirmano Ghag airs on VOA Deewa radio every Thursday (at 9:00 p.m. Pakistan standard time and 8:30 p.m. in Afghanistan). The show is solely dedicated to women and men are discouraged from calling during this hour. The audience is the Pashto speaking women of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s border region. They make up more than half the population in the region yet their voices are often muffled, perhaps this is why they are so eager to participate during this weekly program.

The show’s main goal is to create awareness and to allow women from the region to speak their mind with ease and comfort. For this reason the show’s host, Wagma Jalawan and producer, Niala Mohammad are women.

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The Women’s Voice covers a large array of issues like polio, education, sectarian violence, domestic abuse, entrepreneurship, politics, current events, beauty, and fashion as well as taboo issues like HIV/AIDS, child marriages and sexual harassment. The show brings in experts and guests that provide women with knowledge and encouragement. The goal is to introduce tribal women to women professionals, civil rights activists, sportswomen and politicians. For example Nazia Parveen, the first female athlete from Pakistan who hails from Bajaur Agency and Dr. Hashmat a homeopathic doctor/nutritionist who offers household alternative health remedies. The guests are not always women, but men who reinforce the rights and importance of women in Pashtun society like Dr. Qibla Ayaz, an Islamic scholar that refutes common rhetoric used by extremists in the region where these women reside.  And Dr. Ifthikar Hussain, a senior Psychiatrist who helps women overcome and understand stigmas that society has placed on them.

The women that listen to this program are the most affected by extremism and terrorism yet there is not enough coverage for women in the media.  In most Pakistani entertainment programming women are depicted as traditional housewives, girls are shown as damsels in distress awaiting their prince charming. It is difficult for women to envision themselves in a role outside of the household.

Mehreen, a lady health worker assigned to the polio campaign in Tal called the program and told the host “Women were aware of facts on polio and what they need to do to prevent the spread of the disease. The information you provide in your programs has made life easier. The women actually listen and take your advice seriously not just on polio but everything you discuss-health, politics…They take the information and encouragement you give them to heart.”

The host, Wagma Jalawan said, “I try my best to encourage women to see a doctor in regards to their health concerns but I take into consideration many of them do not have access to proper health care facilities or cannot afford the care. So often times we bring in specialists that can provide them with home remedies for their issues and concerns.”

The fact that so many women like Sobia Khan from Kohat participate in this show is merely a glimpse of the success attained by this programming. The fact that women from remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan; North Waziristan, Kurram Agency, Hangu, Kohat, Upper Dir, Swat, Pashin, Khost, Helmand etc. call to participate in the program is proof enough that the other half of the population is slowly making themselves heard.

VOA Deewa radio also has a daily women’s breakfast show called Bibi Shereen that airs 7 a.m.  to 8 a.m. in Pakistan and 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. in Afghanistan. This segment will be shifting to a radio on TV, so dish owners in the region will be able to see the program on Asia Satellite 3.

Da Mirmano Ghag Official Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Da-Mirmano-Ghag/275327079305975

Malala’s Book Sought Banned At Home, Honored Globally

Posted November 12th, 2014 at 6:05 pm (UTC+0)
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Malala GWI
Deewa Report

If private schools are seeking ban on Malala’s book in Pakistan, the George Washington University Global Women Institute together with Malala Fund and others is developing curriculum tools to introduce “I Am Malala” at the university level around the globe.
The launching of “I Am Malala Resource Guide” is due at the George Washington University Global Women Institute at 12.00 noon on Thursday to be attended beside others by, Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai. The Global Women’s Institute (GWI) is the educational partner of the Malala Fund, named after Malala Yousafzai, the teenager activist working to ensure that girls around the world have access to education. The GWI-affiliated faculty will work with the publisher Little, Brown and Company to develop curriculum tools regarding Malala’s memoir, I Am Malala. The book chronicles Malala’s efforts for girls’ education.
Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban that almost killed her in October 2012 in her native Swat valley.
“Malala’s courageous campaign for girls’ education is an inspiration to all,” said Mary Ellsberg, GWI director. “We are honored to serve as the Malala Fund’s educational partner, and to work with Little, Brown and Company to develop a curriculum that will not only educate students but spark the very activism Malala stands for.”
The university-level curriculum will be available to faculty members and students around the world at no cost. The curriculum tools will focus on themes such as the importance of a woman’s voice, how education empowers women, global feminism, political extremism and youth activism. A cornerstone of the curriculum will be to encourage advocacy and service learning that extends beyond the classroom. Examples of successful campaigns and various toolkits will help students take action.
“We are thrilled to collaborate with the George Washington University and Little, Brown and Company to bring Malala’s story to students around the world,” said Shiza Shahid, co-founder and CEO of the Malala Fund. “We are so heartened by the support Malala has received, and we hope her book and this curriculum will give students the knowledge and resources to join Malala in her fight.
She said when Malala agreed to write the book, she hoped it would be used in schools and colleges around the world to help understand the circumstances of girls suffering from terrorism, violence and lack of opportunities. Her dedication of the book ‘to all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced’ reflects this desire. “We hope this curriculum will spur a powerful debate on girls’ rights and international policy in American colleges” said Shiza Shahid.

Professors from any discipline will be able to use the curriculum tools, which will be created by an interdisciplinary group of GW faculty from the Elliott School of International Affairs, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the University Writing Program and women’s studies and religious studies programs in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
“All of us are on cloud nine. It is a privilege to develop this curriculum with such a dynamic group,” said Michele Clark, an adjunct professor in international affairs who will soon begin work with a team of faculty on the four-month project to develop the tools. “We look forward to creating the resources that help spread Malala’s message of educational equality.”
The curriculum tools will offer suggestions for group and individual assignments and activities, and will include a companion website with multimedia resources, such as interviews and video clips that illustrate cultural and political themes and challenges, helping students see and hear the challenges facing millions of girls around the world. After launching a pilot curriculum at universities—George Washington will begin to use it in various classes; faculty will also create a high-school curriculum to accompany the book.
“Malala’s incredible story touches on so many topics of vital importance to the educational community not just the value of an education to all people, but also the rights of women and girls everywhere, and a deeper understanding of Muslim culture and the political conflicts that shape our world,” said Heather Fain, vice president, associate publisher and marketing director at Little, Brown and Company. “We feel honored to be working with such a creative and forward-thinking university to make sure that ‘I Am Malala’ reaches as many students as possible.”

The First Daughter of Afghanistan-Mariam Ghani

Posted October 31st, 2014 at 5:04 pm (UTC+0)
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by Niala Mohammad

Though she refuses comment on her family or ethnic ties, one thing is irrefutable; she is the daughter of Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. She is as intelligent as her father and as poised as her mother but one thing sets her apart-she is stingy with words but generous with her work to society.

Mariam Ghani

Photo courtesy of Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU

Mariam Ghani graduated with her Bachelors from New York University and Masters from the School of Visual Arts. She is a Brooklyn-based artist writer, filmmaker, and teacher. Her eloquent style of writing and deep understanding of Afghan history can be seen through her works. But her projects do not just revolve around areas pertaining to her “ethnic ties”; she has produced and presented work from all over the world and has been showcased internationally.

When VOA Deewa asked Mariam Ghani, what made her gravitate towards the arts? Her reply was philosophical, “being an artist allows me to investigate many different places, moments, and ideas, and also allows me to present that research in many different ways.” Mariam presents her research through the art of writing, photography and film making.

In an artist profile with Studio Visit; a web based initiative that offers virtual presentations of artists working in the New York area, Mariam describes her passion as, “My work explores how histories, places, identities and communities are constructed and reconstructed, and the shifting private and public narratives that comprise and contest those constructions. I am particularly fascinated by border zones, nomanslands, translations, transitions, and the slippages where cultures intersect; security cultures, archives, architectures of democracy, and national imaginaries; places where nature and artifice imitate and influence each other; and cities in conflict and post-conflict conditions

The young Ms.Ghani has a knack for capturing time, moments of history and cultural evolvement; in fact she recently worked on a project regarding unfinished Afghan films from the 80’s. “For several years I have been advocating through my critical and curatorial work for greater attention to be paid to the films held in the state film archive of Afghanistan, Afghan Films. The films in the archive are unique windows into Afghanistan’s past, and should be both circulated in the present and preserved for the future. Radio Television Afghanistan likewise has an amazingly rich archive of audiovisual material deserving of wider attention. Both institutions are working towards digitizing their archives, but both need more support for those efforts.”

Mariam’s ability for capturing time via showcasing-construction, destruction and reconstruction of infrastructure history in various cities can be seen in her Speculation Series project. VOA Deewa asked Mariam what she was looking to capture in this project and she stated, “The Speculations series includes photographs from a number of different cities, including Kabul, and documents the different ways in which those cities have been expanded or rebuilt.

Her tale-telling pictures speak a story for itself and her sophisticated style of writing gives readers the ability to picture Kabul’s past and present simultaneously. This private yet talented young lady is the First Daughter of the new Afghanistan and a role model for young women to follow.

You can learn more about Mariam Ghani’s work on her website:

http://www.kabul-reconstructions.net/mariam/

Social Media on Malala Yusafzai! #MalalaWinsNobel

Posted October 10th, 2014 at 8:03 pm (UTC+0)
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by Niala Mohammad

At the age of 12, Malala Yusafzai began blogging for the BBC under a pseudonym describing her life under Taliban occupation in Swat valley. Her voice reached the masses, her face was on television and her story became known to the predators she criticized. On October 9th 2012, a gunman boarded Malala’s school van in Swat, pinpointed her and aimed a Colt 45 straight at her face and fired three shots.

Malala miraculously survived and instead of silencing her, the Taliban inadvertently empowered her. Her story of survival and her mission to educate children around the world has gained both propriety and criticism.

While the majority of the west looks to her as a hero, some among her own people have sadly painted her a villain and an agent of the “CIA” that is perhaps more deserving of becoming an “Oscar Winner” than a Nobel Prize winner. These differences in opinions show the stark divide in mindsets amidst the population in Pakistan.

Social Media has been trending #MalalaYusafzai and #MalalaWinsNobel non-stop all day. Everyone from film stars to politicians have been praising Malala with words of encouragement and support.

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United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon stated,  “Malala is a daughter of the United Nations…The United Nations will continue to stand with her against extremism and for the right of girls everywhere to be free of violence, to go to school and to enjoy their right to education.”

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However, many torn by conspiracy theories in her native Pakistan have made comments on social media such as, “Malala is just an international drama”, “international conspiracy…from bullet to trophy”, and “she [Malala] will probably end up with an Oscar as well [as a Nobel Peace Prize]”.

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Malala Yusafzai is not an anomaly; she is representative of all the girls in the region and around the world who suffer at the hands of extremism. Regardless of anyone’s opinion, one thing is for certain-and that is that she has highlighted the importance of girl’s education in the fight against terrorism.

Learning from History with Dr. Qayyum Kochai

Posted October 7th, 2014 at 4:32 pm (UTC+0)
14 comments

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by Niala Mohammad

Dr. Qayyum Kochai, a former Afghan diplomat in his mid-seventies that fled Afghanistan with his family nearly two decades ago during the Soviet invasion. As I sat with him in his living room on the outskirts of “Little Kabul”, I received one of the greatest history lessons of my life, leaving me with a glimmer of hope for the future of Afghanistan.

Dr. Kochai is the quintessential Pashtun man, with his tall stature and grayish-green eyes; his every word was delivered with poise and class – leaving me in awe of his knowledge and experience. A native of Logar Province, Dr. Kochai holds a Ph.D in Political Science from the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow; he possesses a wealth of knowledge on South and Central Asian history. Like most elderly Afghan men, he is fluent in several languages including English, Pashto, Dari, and Russian.

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As we sipped on green tea and nibbled on biscuits, he described to me his time as a young political officer during the late 1960’s and 70’s at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan. He served as a counselor and Charge d’ Affaires for the Embassy of Afghanistan in Bulgaria.

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During the 70’s he served at the Afghan Embassy in Moscow, a crucial time for Soviet-Afghan relations where he developed a strong contempt for the Soviet Communist ideology. A contempt that had him jailed for two years by the Communist government in Pul-e-Charkhi, a prison notorious for torture and execution after the Soviet invasion. He was released along with many others that opposed the Communist regime without consequence in 1980 and left Afghanistan that same year for Europe where he stayed until 1982 in hopes that peace and stability would return to his homeland. Dr. Kochai eventually migrated to San Francisco with his family, and found it difficult to look back. But he eventually did look back, and he told me that despite all of the present obstacles, he still has hope for Afghanistan and the Pashtun people.

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Dr. Kochai’s life and career were defined by the history of Afghanistan. As a diplomat, he lived at the epicenter of Afghan politics and history for years. Discussing King Zahir Shah, he viewed him as a fair man and a symbol of long standing peace. He also viewed Mohammad Daud Khan as a proponent of change that became a symbol popular among the Afghan youth. When it came to Russia, however, the tone on the conversation changed instantly. As a first-hand witness to the Soviet destruction of Afghanistan, he views Stalin as one of the most ruthless dictators in history. We spoke in length about the Communist era, the Afghan Civil War, warlords, the Taliban regime during the 1990’s, Al Qaida’s role in Afghanistan, American presence, and even his views on the Karzai administration of the Afghan government. Because he lived through all of these historical events at the eye of the storm, he had very interesting views to offer from every angle. Despite the ups and downs he has seen in Afghanistan over the past four generations, he has hope that Afghanistan will prevail if the right leadership is chosen. He is a strong supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, and believes that he could be the proponent of change that Afghanistan so desperately needs. “The Afghan people are tired of war and this current [Karzai] government. They want change. Ashraf is the only one who could bring change and security.”

Although Dr. Kochai has had several opportunities to return back to Afghanistan and take up ministerial positions, he refused to work for a cause that might force him to compromise his morals and values. So, for the last 18 years, Dr. Kochai has worked for a non-profit organization in San Francisco as a counselor, helping mend families and advising them through their difficult times – a way to give back to the community that he and his family now consider home.

But recently Dr. Kochai returned to Afghanistan during the 2014 Afghan Presidential Elections to help his fellow Afghans transition to democracy-a step that took tremendous courage. Leaving behind a life of security and stability in San Francisco to fulfill a commitment he made to his country and his people over 30 years ago.

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His wife Malal, a stunning woman with jet black hair and turquoise-green eyes, showed me pictures of their two daughters and their families. Dr. Kochai also showed me several photos illustrating his incredible life experiences, and I found myself swelling with pride to share an ethnicity with such a distinguished and honorable man.

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Dr. Qayyum Kochai’s book “Si Asi Stoonzay Aw Zama Daredze” (English Translation: Political Problems and My Standpoint) is available in Pashto and Dari at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

 

Drones continue hunting Alqaeda Operatives in Waziristan

Posted October 3rd, 2014 at 6:37 pm (UTC+0)
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Behroz Khan

Waziristan Bannu Map

A relatively less known al-Qaeda operative is the target of the latest suspected drone strike in the volatile South Waziristan, the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sheikh Abu Turab name is listed among the most wanted terrorists by Saudi Arabia, media reports suggest. Despite an intense drone campaign and military operations since 2004, presence of the hardcore al-Qaeda elements speak volumes of the fact that the area has still not been purged of terrorists.

Locals and Pakistani intelligence agencies are skeptical about the activities and rank of Abu Turab in the terror network. “The name of another person killed with Abu Turab is also a mystery,” a tribal elder told VOA Deewa, pleading anonymity. “Arab fighters belonging to al-Qaeda have taken shelter with the Wana-based Taliban headed by Salahuddin Ayubi”, said the source adding that even the mention of their presence in the area by local tribesmen is inviting trouble.

Local Taliban:

The Wazir Taliban came under the command of Salahuddin Ayubi when its founder Mulla Nazir was killed in a US drone strike last year. The Local Taliban force is in an agreement with the Pakistani military since 2005 but is fighting against the NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Mullah Nazir spearheading an uprising of the Ahmadzai Wazir against the fighters of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 2007 successfully flushed them out of the Wazir land. However, Mulla Nazir later told a press conference that al-Qaeda fighters were welcomed and they will be protected.

Al-Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden along with his three to four wives and lieutenants moved to South Waziristan after he escaped US bombing on his Tora Bora mountainous hideout in Afghanistan’s Nangrahar province. Osama was killed in a US raid on his compound in Pakistan’s garrison city of Abottabad on May 2, 2011. He was living there for more than five years with his three wives and several kids. Apart from al-Qaeda, reports suggest that the Wazir territory of South Waziristan is still a safe sanctuary for Chechens and Uighurs. China is demanding from Pakistan to take action against Uighur fighters hiding in the Waziristan region.

Uighurs:

The ongoing military operation in North Waziristan, officials in the Pakistani political administration said, was conducted by the government mainly due to the pressure from China, where the Uighur separatists are being trained and sheltered by Taliban. Locals claim that fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Uighurs are the prime target of the operation. The Uighurs pursue their goal for a separate state under the umbrella of Islamic Movement of East Turkistan (IMET). Tribal sources informed that the Uighur fighters are on the run and that China was able to disrupt their internet links and other communication systems. The outgoing Corp Commander Peshawar, Gen. Khalid Rabbani during his farewell visit to South Waziristan early this week called upon the Ahmadzai Wazirs either to expel foreign terrorists or be ready for a similar situation being faced by tribesmen in North Waziristan.

Most of the Arabs, Chechens and Uighurs are believed to have shifted to the Wazir land in South Waziristan ahead of the military operation in North Waziristan. Afghan officials claim the Haqqani Network is not the target of Pakistani military operation, a claim Islamabad has rejected and insists that the ongoing drive was against all the terrorist groups hiding in the tribal region. The Pakistan military has, however, so far couldn’t target a known member of the terrorist organization, the Haqqani Network.

India Factor:

The increasing popularity of India in Afghanistan has worried Islamabad. India has invested around $2 billion in developing Afghanistan’s infrastructure over the decade. The former Afghan president Karzai declared India as friend No. 1 in his farewell speech. Already, Kabul and New Delhi signed a strategic treaty followed by a similar agreement between Afghanistan and the United States to the chagrin of Pakistan. The conflict of interests of India and Pakistan is, as some experts believe, sandwiching Afghanistan, thereby fanning another era of proxy war.

To begin with, for example, Pakistan-based Punjabi Taliban chief Asmatullah Mua’awiah has announced quitting terrorism inside Pakistan but pledged to continue their “Jihad” in Afghanistan. The presence of the sanctuaries of the militant outfits in Pakistan near Afghanistan is seen as a continuation of the Pakistan’s deep state old mindset—seeking strategic depth across the Durand Line.

To counter Pakistan, the United States and India both have developed a new friendship for combating terror in the region, increasing economic cooperation and sharing know how in the civil nuclear sector. The US has denied civil nuclear assistance to Pakistan, mainly due to trust deficit, analysts believe.

Washington and New Delhi have also recently increased pressure on Pakistan for dismantling terrorist facilities being used for violence in Afghanistan, India and elsewhere. Soon after the meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington this week, the US treasury department placed sanctions on two Pakistan-based entities for links to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM). The department also placed sanction of the chief of HuM Fazlur Rahman Khalil and two other Pakistani individuals.

President Obama and premier Modi also urged for dismantling the terrorist havens in Pakistan, a long-standing demand which has not been addressed to the satisfaction of the stakeholders. Based on their statement, Pakistan’s leading newspaper Dawn in its October 3rd editorial, “Price of Inaction” cautioned,

“Consider that the joint US-India statement also refers to “dismantling” terrorist safe havens: is that an ominous sign that however remote the possibility at the moment, the US and India have begun contemplating the possibility of targeted counterterrorist operations on Pakistani soil at some point in the future?”

Tamim Ansary – An Exemplary Afghan-American

Posted October 1st, 2014 at 12:43 am (UTC+0)
2 comments

by Niala Mohammad

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I arrived at a bright red house, situated on a steep road that overlooked the dusty mountains surrounding the unique city of San Francisco. A man with East Asian features, a head full of white hair in a bob cut, a whisky beard, small framed glasses, an orange shirt and suspenders answered the door. He greeted me with a warm pleasant smile and generously invited me inside. As he prepared tea for us, I sat in his living room, taking in the sights of shelves and tables full of books, as well as paintings on the wall that he later told me were made by his daughter.

He was born and raised in Afghanistan to an Afghan father and an American mother. He is a Sayed, and his East Asian features are courtesy of his Hazara grandmother. He grew up in Lashkar Gah, a town in Helmand province where his father oversaw a massive irrigation project that the US initiated during the 1950’s. Tamim explained that during that time, Lashkar Gah was, in fact, considered a little American town – a stark difference to the Lashkar Gah of current times that is known for its insurgents, warlords and opium. At the impressionable age of 16, Tamim left Afghanistan only to return 38 years later, when the Taliban were ousted from power.

Many know Tamim Ansary for a controversial email that circulated around the world. He was the first to speak up against statements made in the media after 9/11 that suggested Afghanistan be “bombed back to the Stone Age”. The email was sent to about 20 of his friends who then sent it to another 20 of their friends, with this cycle continuing until it became a chain email that gained international media attention. His words reflected a truth that many were unaware of. He wrote:

“The Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They’re not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who captured Afghanistan in 1997 and have been holding the country in bondage ever since. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a master plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think “the people of Afghanistan” think “the Jews in the concentration camps.” It’s not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity, they were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would love for someone to eliminate the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country. I guarantee it…Some say, if that’s the case, why don’t the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban themselves? The answer is, they’re starved, exhausted, damaged, and incapacitated.”

Tamim Ansary humanized the Afghan people by explaining them and their circumstance in terms that Americans could relate to and understand. In an exclusive interview with VOA Deewa, Tamim stated, “Because I grew up bi-culturally in both places, …I was in a position that enabled me to see what the people on this side thought and what the people on this side thought [Tamim gestured his hands from one side to another]. And I was on the top of that fence and they couldn’t see each other. I felt a responsibility to explain the two sides to each other.” From that point on, Mir Tamim Ansary served as a bridge between the two vastly different cultures of Afghanistan and America.

Tamim Ansary has written several books including Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story, The Widow’s Husband, and Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan. These books have helped countless Americans better understand the Afghan people, as well as their history and society.

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Not only did he make it his mission to help Americans understand Afghanistan – he also uses his talents and skills to empower the Afghan-American community by serving as a mentor for first generation Afghan-Americans like himself. In his spare time, Ansary directs the oldest free writing workshop in North America, where he offers private workshops and conducts one-on-one consultations with select writers. “Afghan-Americans – they have an experience that is kind of wrenching. Because they came in under the shadow of their parent’s holocaust, they are divided between two worlds….and after 9/11 more so.  There is a sense of displacement and a sense of not being in your home. And then it’s natural to suppose your home is Afghanistan especially because parents are always nostalgically talking about their homeland. So now you are seeking your identity in the very thing that the whole world your actually in touch with is saying is despicable. That is psychologically interesting and complex. I felt like these kids should be writing about this. So I got a grant and I started a project to get young Afghan-Americans to write.” The New York Times bestseller, The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir is proof of Tamim Ansary’s passion for mentoring young Afghan writers.  He co-authored the memoir of his student-protégée Farah Ahmedi who tells the tale of her prevailing journey from Afghanistan to America.

Ansary is equally American as he is Afghan but it took him a while before he would come to terms with his cultural identity. Growing up he always felt like an outsider. Tamim said, “no matter what room I walked into, whether it was a bunch of Americans or a bunch of Afghans…people would think: ‘the outsider is here.’” Perhaps the events of 9/11 are what compelled him to finally feel comfortable in his own skin – and help other Afghan-Americans make peace with their identity, as well.

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Will Syrian Khurasan Surface in Pakistan Too?

Posted September 23rd, 2014 at 7:54 pm (UTC+0)
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ISIS chief ISIS chief Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi
By Behroz Khan
As US president Obama and Pentagon confirmed attacking the al-Qaeda linked Khurasan group in Syria on Monday night, the US intelligence experts have indicated the group has links with terrorists hiding in Pakistan’s border regions near Afghanistan. If true, the revelations will send ripples in Islamabad’s power corridors, taking Pakistan once again to the central stage of the terror theater.
President Obama said: “Last night, we also took strikes to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria who are known as the Khurasan Group.”
The US president said it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.
US Experts’ Take on Khurasan:
A former CIA deputy director Mike Morell explained on “CBS This Morning” that a group of militants from al Qaeda-central, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, have joined the fight in Syria and “evolved into the external operations arm” of the group’s franchise in that country, the al-Nusra Front. Referring to the terrorist Islamist outfit, he said: “Khurasan members came from Pakistan,” said Morell. “They focus on attacks in the West.
David Mack, Middle East Institute expert and former US career diplomat to a number of Arab states said Khurasan is a loose coalition of Arab and non-Arab terrorist organizations. In an interview with VOA Deewa, he said: “Khurasan appeals to the Arab nationalism.”
Ismail Khan, VOA Deewa reporter says the Syria-based Khurasan group is led by a 30-year old Qatari militant Mohsin al-Fadali and the group is different from the one active in Pakistan. He, however, said the group has members from Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Khurasan in Pakistan:
Khurasan is apparently a splinter militant group which hitherto worked under the umbrella of Tehrik Taliban Pakistan known as TTP. Its present leader Abdul Wali, also known as Khalid Khurasani is from Mohmand tribal district of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. Khurasani was a student leader and belonged to Islami Jamiat Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat-i-Islami, having its ideology and inspiration from the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood founded by Syed Qutab.
After the announcement of Caliphate by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL), Khalid Khurasani distanced himself from the TTP and aligned his group with the ISIL. Graffiti like ‘Long Live Daesh (IS)’ and ‘Salute to Daesh’ have been appearing in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan and Pakhtunkhwa provinces bordering Iran and Afghanistan. The group is mainly cashing in sectarian strife in the Balochistan region.
Khalid Khurasani parted ways with the TTP’s Mehsud faction after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a suspected drone strike on 1st November 2013 in North Waziristan. The differences between the Mehsud factions led to the division of TTP where most of the smaller groups remained under the leadership of its new chief, Mulla Fazlullah, who was head of TTP Swat. The TTP was kept united to a great extent reportedly due to active role played by Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network and the Al-Qaeda leader Aiman Al-Zawahiri. However, TTP chief Mulla Fazullah expelled Khalid Khurasani from his group as both terror leaders couldn’t resolve their differences.
Myth about Jihad-i-Khurasan
Influenced by their Arab brothers-in-faith, Khalid Khurasani and his followers too believe that the movement for the glory of Islam will emerge from the Mountains of Khurasan, the ancient name of present-day Afghanistan and will conquer the world to be followed by the Doomsday. The concept of Jihad-i-Khurasan came to Afghanistan and Pakistan with the arrival of Arab fighters during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which was later shaped into al-Qaeda headed by Osama Bin Laden. The al-Qaeda chief was killed in a raid on his fort-like abode in Pakistan’s garrison city of Abbottabad by US Navy Seals on May 2, 2011.
Apart from Jihad-i-Khurasan, al-Qaeda has recently announced formation of its Indian chapter, which the Indian Intelligence Bureau has dubbed as the handiwork of Pakistan ISI. Al-Qaeda is spreading propaganda quoting unauthentic sayings of prophet of Islam that Jihad-i-Khurasan and Jihad-ul-Hind must take place before Islam dominates all other religions and states around the world.

Khumariyaan Intoxicate Washington, D.C.

Posted September 17th, 2014 at 8:22 pm (UTC+0)
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by Niala Mohammad

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“Art is Like Water for the Fire of Fundamentalism”-Khumariyaan the Band

As I sat on in the grand foyer of the Kennedy Center, overlooking the Potomac River, a feeling of pride and nostalgia overcame me as I watched a group of young Pashtun men dilute the image of extremism placed upon their people. The crowd was filled with people of all creeds and races, clapping, dancing and cheering as Khumariyaan intoxicated the audience with their Pashto folk-tunes.  

Peshawar’s hyper-folk boy band Khumariyaan (English translation-The Intoxicators) performed at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in Washington, DC last night-kicking off their month-long tour in the United States. Hundreds gathered to watch Khumariyaan perform live along with Moroccan Berber funk band named Ribab Fusion as a part of a program created by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with New England Foundation for the Arts.

Unlike other Peshawari Boy bands, Khumariyaan is purely instrumental. That’s right-no vocals, only beat! It consists of four members; Farhan Bogra, Aamer Shaique, Shiraz Khan and Sparlay Rawail whose purpose is to revitalize traditional Pashtun music with a modern edge.

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The resurgence of traditional music, instruments and poetry has not only preserved Pashtun culture and language but serves as a defense against extremism. Lead guitarist, Sparlay Rawail told VOA Deewa, “The band was formed in 2008, in times when many great artists were being persecuted or forced into exile. Its sole purpose is to work on the evolution of folk music, to make it relevant in the contemporary times. Music for us is something that is hardwired into our brains as human beings and we try to exploit that dance-along feeling that one gets when listening to a basic beautiful melody. When it’s pure and basic, it can turn up, add a bit of accentuation and you’ve got something that the new Pashtun generation loves. Back home, and everywhere, art is like water for the fire of fundamentalism.”

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Music is purely a passion for these young, educated gentlemen who take their careers as seriously as they take their music.

Farhan Bogra, who plays the rabab and sitar is from Thana, Malakand. Perhaps the funniest of his band members, Farhan is a foodie who enjoys snapping candid pictures of his band members.  He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Institute of Management Sciences and works as the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa provincial coordinator of Institute for the Preservation of Art and Culture (IPAC), Pakistan.

Aamer Shafique, the guitarist is from Swabi. He is perhaps best described as a kind-hearted ball of energy and enthusiasm. It is not a surprise that he works in works in disaster management bringing positive energy to communities in distress. Aamer works with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority on a World Bank funded project in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. He has two masters’ degrees in development studies from the Institute of Management Sciences.

Shiraz khan, the zerbaghali/drum player is from the renowned Naway Kalay, Peshawar. However, instead of picking up a squash racket like the other predecessors of his village…he picked up a drum or rather a zerbaghali!  Shiraz is a quiet, green eyed, youngling of the group. He works with an NGO called Basic Education for Awareness, Reforms and Empowerment (BEFARe) on a USAID project in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Shiraz is currently pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration from the Institute of Management Sciences.

Lead guitarist and ghungroo percussionist, Sparlay Rawail holds Bachelors in Architecture from National College of Arts (NCA) in Rawalpindi. He is a Peshawar native whose father is from Mardan and mother is from Karak. This charismatic hipster has dance moves that will leave you in awe and hair that will makes most ladies jealous. Sparlay teaches architecture and communication & cultural studies at NCA in Rawalpindi and works as a freelance architect.

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Together they form Khumariyaan, a unique, modern-traditionalist band of musicians whose mission is to counter extremism whilst promoting Pashtun culture.

Link to their performance at the Kennedy Center:

http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/videos/?id=M6024&type=A

Degrading the Islamic State; the debate inside America

Posted September 17th, 2014 at 6:56 pm (UTC+0)
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ISIS chief
By Iftikhar Hussain
President Obama, US top officials and Congress are engaged in a grappling debate over how to degrade IS or Islamic State, the extremist Sunni militant group that holds large swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria raised the level of threat for other nations, including Western capital.
As the broader lines of the US debate crystalize, American experts with a focus on the debate in Washington are forecasting that answering the question to counter the group will not be an easy one. And to put it exactly in the words of US Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, the war will be “long and complicated.” He called for effective partnerships. And more importantly, US military Chief Gen Dempsey testifying in the Congress did not rule out boots on the ground in Iraq, if needed.
To begin with, it took Secretary of State John Kerry hectic rounds of Arab and European capitals in the past two weeks to put together a coalition of some 40 nations, including Arab states, which agreed in Paris to counter the IS. The coalition meeting was not without serious disappointments, analysts and experts said after the conference. Effective partnership needs action more than words, says Wayne White, former US Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East affairs. “It is really a big disappointment to see Turkey backed off on its promise to be part of the coalition,” he told Deewa Radio. “Istanbul was strategically crucial,” he argued.
The IS successful propaganda of video killings and recent gains in terms of occupying territories has put it in comparison to with its global rival – Alqaeda. Wayne White says the IS is more vulnerable than Alqaeda. He says, “Alqaeda is more elusive while we know where the IS is and what is its weaponry”.
For many in Washington part of the challenge to defeat the IS is the limitations to hit the group in Syria, where it can be made to lick its wounds if targeted successfully in Iraq. That is a big strategic disconnection, says Dr. Alam Payind, Director Middle East Center at the Ohio State University. Dr. Payind told Deewa, “the real challenge will be to defeat the IS in Syria in the face of a hostile Asad regime battling his own survival”.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a major player not only in the Arab but in the entire Muslim world and Riyadh’s role has been under criticism due to its policies based on sectarian imperatives. Alex Vatenka is an expert with the Washington-based Middle East Institute and believes that the Kingdom has to play an important role. But its dual and varying policies cast doubts on the success of any partnership in the region, he says. “The Kingdom will be willing to cooperate with the US against the IS in Iraq but things might get complicated in Syria because Riyadh would not like to lose an opportunity to remove the Shia Asad regime in Damascus.” The complication Vatenka underlines here seems appears to be Riyadh’s willingness to see Syria’s Bashaar al-Asad gone from power to
The emergence of IS, like other outfits of Alqaeda, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabab in Somalia, Lashkar Tayyaba and Tehreek Taliban in Pakistan and so many others from North Africa to East Asia, brings Islamic radicalism under scrutiny. The answer, experts and scholars agree, probably lies within Islam because it has strong internal religious dimensions.
The mainstream Islamic narrative has been at the center of the debate among both the Muslim and non-Muslims scholars to counter radicalism but apparently it has lost its appeal. The counter-radical narrative in Islam is either weak inherently or not appealable to the Muslims.
The condemnation of IS by leading scholars from Al Azhar University signifies that such groups are more damaging to the Islamic societies itself than to the outer worlds. US Muslim Affairs Council policy analyst Khoda Alshahtawi while talking to Deewa on the topic said that the group has no appeal to the US Muslims because American Muslims, like other Muslims around the world, adhere to the mainstream Islamic teaching of peace. One wonders why all these and similar voices are not loud and thus heard in the Muslim world. It leaves one with a question: has the mainstream Muslim narrative been hijacked by radicals or the Muslim majority is empathetic?
Arab world interpretation of Islam is crucial to the rest of the Islamic world, many in the Islamic world agree. The sectarian division of the Arab world, led by the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, is so deep rooted that resonates beyond the Middle East splitting the Muslim world on religious lines. A democratic and tolerant society may be the general answer to the Muslim radicalism but the IS emergence on the scene is a recurring reminder that such groups mean failures of Muslims both as states and societies as a whole.

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