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Good news from Afghanistan, 7 March 2005

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Note: Also available from the "Opinion Journal" and Chrenkoff. Many thanks to James Taranto, Joe Katzman, and all of you readers and fellow bloggers for your help with the series.

"Before my arrival in Virginia in August of last year, I had never slept in my own bedroom, attended school with boys, or gone out in public without covering my hair. I never thought I'd come to the USA. The odds were against me: Most people from Afghanistan have never traveled outside its borders," writes Ghizal Miri, a 15-year old Afghan woman who is one of the forty high school students spending a year in the United States under a scholarship program.

In her letter ("Thanks, America, for sowing seeds of freedom in my Afghanistan") to the local newspaper in a community where she currently lives, Miri recounts her personal odyssey, contemplates her dreams and opportunities, and also writes about the progress at home since the overthrow of the Taliban regime: "Believe it or not, my country has made great advances toward improvement. Most people in the U.S. do not hear of these advances, however. I'm not saying that problems don't exist or that everyone's happy. Security, drugs, organized crime, corruption, and poverty are still in Afghanistan, but significant advances have been made over the past three years to improve things."

As Afghanistan falls off the media map of the world, here is the snapshot of the previous month's efforts by the Afghan people to rebuild their lives and their country.

SOCIETY:

  • With the presidential election behind and with the parliamentary election still to come, the international community joins in to help create the democratic infrastructure for Afghanistan:

    A new multi-million-dollar project aims to put in place the necessary democratic foundations for an Afghan legislature to be established following parliamentary elections scheduled for early spring. Funded by France, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will implement the two-year project designed to ensure the timely establishment of the Afghan parliament and support its functioning...

    Support to the Establishment of the Afghan Legislature (SEAL) project will establish a secretariat to the parliament and secretariat staff to work effectively to support the new parliamentarians who will be coming from isolated Afghan rural areas with no knowledge of or previous experience in such a body.

    “We recognise that establishing a parliament in Afghanistan is a new experience for everybody and creating an effective secretariat is vital before the parliament starts its work,” [says] Karen Jorgensen, UNDP senior deputy country director...

    According to UNDP, more than 100 people will be recruited and trained to look after the work of the parliament and its members. 'We are trying to support building a truly Afghan parliament that fits the culture and the objectives of the Afghan constitution,' Jorgensen added.
  • The efforts to rebuild and expand Afghanistan's justice system also continue. In the latest initiative, "a new multi-million dollar project will promote public access to justice in rural areas of Afghanistan. According to officials at the Italian Embassy in the capital, Kabul, the initiative is to promote access to justice in selected districts of the country in the framework of human rights protection. The project aims to benefit from the traditional and communal justice systems that currently operate in remote areas of the post-conflict country." The 6 million euro ($7.8 million) project, funded by the European Union, will run for 30 months in up to 60 districts of Afghanistan.

  • In an effort to improve the standards of public service throughout Afghanistan, "[President] Karzai last year set up a nine-member reform commission to screen all of the country’s bureaucrats. Those who pass the screening test can keep their position. Those who fail are enrolled in a retraining programme and retested again after three months. If they fail again, they are dismissed. According to commission members, such a review was necessary because, over the years, the civil-service system had become rooted in nepotism, corruption and incompetence. Plans call for the testing programme to be expanded into the provinces after it is fully implemented in the capital." USAID is also assisting with improving the governance:

    Budget and operational reform is a key component of the USAID Afghanistan Economic Governance (AEG) program. AEG is helping facilitate the Afghan FY 1384 Budget process and to date nearly all Afghan Ministries have presented draft submissions. AEG’s Budget Project within the Ministry of Finance has focused on capacity building and will continue to enhance Afghanistan’s ongoing budget process. This year has seen significant improvement, with increased standardization in budget submissions and greater compliance with budget proposal guidelines.
  • In more recent USAID efforts to strengthen the economic governance: "Initiated in December 2002, Economic Governance programs have strengthened the overall economy through reforms and training within its fiscal, financial, and regulatory sectors. Fiscal responsibility has improved with the installation of a new banking framework. One of the Afghan banking sector reforms is the implementation of an Internet Communications Platform. Da Afghanistan Bank’s (Afghanistan’s Central Bank) Panjshir and Logar capital branches have been brought into the DAfB Branches.com, bringing the total number of DAB branches operating on the automated system to 29. This internet-based system makes real-time data possible for daily and monthly reports, which include number of payments, accounting snapshots, cash positions, and current account balances. Instant access to this data greatly facilitates performance management, activity tracking, accounting data collection and the realization of specific benchmarks under the International Monetary Fund’s Staff Monitored Program."

  • While progress has been uneven from region to region, and hampered by security problems and conservative attitudes, the latest United Nations report on the status and standing of women in Afghanistan observes that women have "made historic gains, with the support of the international community," and that in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban, "women came to the fore of the political life in the country and contributed to the new constitution, which clearly affirms equality between men and women." In one of the latest political developments, "Afghan President Hamid Karzai will appoint a female provincial governor for the first time in Afghanistan's history. Karzai will be choosing the governor of the central Bamiyan province from a short list of all-female candidates that includes the former Minister of Women’s Affairs, Habiba Sorabi." You can read here a list of official American initiatives to assist Afghan women in politics, business and education.

  • Afghanistan's judges are also coming onboard in the fight for equality:

    More than 70 judges who attended the final day of a seminar on promoting Afghan women's rights, held at the Kabul Supreme Court on Thursday, have called to put an end to violence against women, creating more infant and maternal hospitals in rural areas, and enforcing the rights of women as written in the Afghan constitution, fully.

    A statement containing 11 recommendations was issued at the end of the three-day workshop at the Supreme Court, which was attended by Dr Abdulmalik Kamawi the head of supreme court administration, Judge Bahawoden Baha the head of judicial reforms commission, Mahboba Hqoqmal President Karzai’s advisor on womens affairs, Dr Massoda Jalal minister of women affairs and Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai the deputy for ministry of justice.

    Some judges went further and called for a specific penalty or punishment to be imposed for the abduction of women.
  • And "women in northern Herat province have been offered official driving lessons for the first time in Afghan history."

  • On the refugee front, "the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ruud Lubbers, said today he believes most of Afghanistan is safe enough for the return of some 3 million Afghan refugees who remain in Pakistan and Iran." As Lubbers says, "We are still not 100 percent there, but to a large part, Afghanistan is becoming safe enough to return to," he said. "We have seen last year, again, substantial repatriation. In round [figures], 300,000 to 600,000 from Iran, 300,000 from [Pakistan]. It adds up to three million people [since the fall of the Taliban regime]." When back in Afghanistan, the United Nations is assisting many returnees to get back on their feet:

    A widow for 15 years, Rahima, like most of the residents of the village of Andkhoy near the Turkmenistan border, fled with her children to Pakistan five years ago to escape Afghanistan's civil war. In 2002, following the defeat of the Taliban, she returned. She had the skills to provide for herself and her dependents but lacked the money and materials needed to resume her work as a carpet weaver.

    Through the local village council, or shura, Rahima's precarious position as a single mother and sole source of income was brought to the attention of a UNHCR-funded organisation which is helping returnee families to earn a living.

    The income-generation programme is aimed at families who are considered particularly vulnerable. Most recipients are returning refugees with large families and no means of supporting themselves. Many, such as Rahima's, are families headed by widows.

    Those selected are given the wool and tools needed to make one carpet. The package, worth around $110, allows the weavers – who are almost exclusively women – to then use the sale of the finished carpet to purchase new supplies and continue the cycle while providing for their families.
  • Meanwhile, some of those who have not yet returned will be the subject of a census conducted by 2,000 workers throughout Pakistan. "In addition to providing a more accurate idea of the number of Afghans in the country, the census will record vital information such as date of arrival, place of origin in Afghanistan and current residence in Pakistan. It will also ask about repatriation intentions."

  • In health, the battle to raise health standards throughout the country continues: "A new vaccine storage facility will open in Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad on Tuesday 8 February, improving immunization services for at least 500,000 children in surrounding provinces. The new storage centre, which has been established by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health with the support of UNICEF, will be able to hold 700,000 vials of various vaccines at any given time. This capacity is sufficient to meet both immediate and longer term vaccine needs for four provinces -- Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Nuristan." Thanks to huge vaccination drives, the number of cases of polio has dropped by 44% and there are only a handful of cases left in Afghanistan. But more will be done: "The springtime Afghan government polio vaccination campaign, starting Monday 28th aims to reach more than 5.5 million children in 257 districts throughout the country within three days... 36,000 volunteers, including 8,000 women, will be participating in the program."

  • There is also more help from overseas: "India’s expertise in telemedicine will be deployed for the benefit of the sick and infirm in Kabul this year. The Indian Space Research Organisation will link Kabul with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) through the Insat satellite. The network will be extended to other cities in Afghanistan in due course for diagnosis and treatment of patients in the neighbouring country."

  • Meanwhile, a group of doctors and nurses from Wisconsin is working in Afghanistan to help reduce mortality in the country's largest women's hospital. "Two doctors, three nurses and a hospital administrator from Wisconsin are in Afghanistan this week and next training health care professionals. The trip is the first phase of a three-year project that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded to the Center for International Health, based in Milwaukee... While in Afghanistan, the team will observe and evaluate medical practices at the hospital and eventually make recommendations. Several medical teams are expected to visit the hospital in the course of three years."

  • In education, Afghanistan is receiving significant assistance from USAID:

    USAID continues its long-term efforts to expand educational opportunities in Afghanistan through its Afghanistan Primary Education Program (APEP). One component of this three-year long program is to provide textbooks, teacher training and accelerated learning for over-aged students. To date, more than sixteen million textbooks have been printed and distributed to the district level. Distribution continues from the district level to the school level. Few Afghan teachers have received formal training and many live in mountainous, remote areas where winter travel is difficult and few training opportunities exist. APEP developed a teacher training program via radio, to help those teachers to learn current teaching techniques. To date, 43,000 teachers have been trained by radio, and 6,819 through formal programs. Currently, 150 teacher trainers are enrolled in a master training program sponsored by APEP and implemented in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. This particular training program is expected to be completed February 21st. Years of Taliban rule severely restricted primary school attendance. Now, older boys need to be caught up and girls of all ages need the educational access they were denied. APEP accelerated learning programs helps over-age students reach their appropriate grade level as quickly as possible, before they are forced to drop out due to economic or early marriage reasons. APEP met its 2004 target to enroll 170,000 students in its Accelerated Learning programs and it continues to assess gaps in enrollment figures. Their current focus is on the common increase in drop outs at Grade 4. This trend is due to curriculum expansion and more frequent testing in this particular grade. In addition to this trend, the severe winter can hinder enrollment in some provinces.
  • USAID is also making it easier for Afghan women to take advantage of new opportunities in higher learning: "With the start of the academic year this month, female students will begin entering the newly-rehabilitated National Women’s Dormitory in Kabul. The dorm will enable girls from rural areas to attend one of four institutions of higher learning in Kabul, including the medical school, the Afghan Education University, the Polytechnic Institute and Kabul University. Last fall, President Karzai and the U.S. Ambassador inaugurated the facility of four expansive wings with three floors, a huge dining and study area with modern kitchen, pristine laundry facilities, a library, sports courts, with full access for the physically challenged. The spacious, bright dorm rooms have separate sleeping/study units for six girls. The dorm will accommodate 1,100 female students."

  • Read also about this school in Kabul, which is teaching deaf Afghan children the sign language and helps them to integrate better within the society and the workforce.

  • In the media news, "young Afghans are enthusiastically tuning in to pop music. Three years after the collapse of the Taliban regime -- which had banned any music it deemed as 'un-Islamic' -- the popularity of pop music programs aired by Afghanistan's new private broadcasters is on the rise. Kabul's private Tolo TV has been broadcasting a nightly one-hour music video program for the past five months called 'Hop.' The format is similar to that of the international music television channel MTV -- with an Afghan twist... In addition to the songs of Western pop music stars like Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, 'Hop''s young Afghan hosts also present music videos by Iranian, Turkish, and Indian pop stars.

    After just five months on the air, the format is proving to be extremely popular with young Afghans. In fact, according to some audience research, “Hop” is becoming the most watched prime-time television program in Kabul. The one-hour show begins at 7:30 p.m. every night -- immediately following the news on the private station Tolo TV. The pace of the program is fast -- with tight editing and camera angles that are unconventional by the standards of Afghan state television. And the script focuses mainly on music and performers.

  • USAID is one of the foreign organisations who are currently working to revitalize and strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's nascent media:

    The newest media center, Novice Journalism Training Program (NJTP), is housed in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province. The NJTP provides practical journalism training to Afghan university students and links them with 300 fellow journalism colleagues and students in Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul, and most recently Khost and Kandahar provinces. The NJTP continues to be successful as it expands. The NJTP now runs Kabul University Radio and will increase its air time and its coverage area. Currently, the station only airs one hour per week and can not be heard beyond the university campus. The NJTP’s radio station at the University of Herat was the only Afghan media outlet that went live real-time with the speeches of President Karzai and Iran’s President Khatami in Iran last week. The speeches were covered by student journalists. Upon his return, Karzai was interviewed live on the student station.
  • Speaking of Iran, Afghanistan's western neighbor has established a cultural center in Herat, which will provide training for professionals working in the areas of cinematography, television, journalism and literature. Read also about the efforts to make Afghanistan's independent radio self-sustaining by promoting advertising.

  • Art life also revives in the capital:

    Kabul's badly depleted music scene received a welcome injection of excitement last week with the arrival of Suphala, the tabla player and composer, who held a joint concert with some of the Afghan capital's most celebrated classical musicians.

    One of the first foreign musicians to visit the war-battered city - and a rarity as a woman performer on the tabla, a pair of small hand drums traditionally played by men - Suphala packed a concert hall here. Reporters from Afghanistan's leading private television station, Tolo TV, followed her around town. Local companies and donors sponsored the concert last Thursday in a new hall at the private Foundation for Culture and Civil Society.

    But it was the welcome Suphala received from Afghanistan's master musicians that set her visit apart. The musicians, who had survived years of war and repression only to be silenced completely under the Taliban, gathered to play for her, gave a lunch at the mostly destroyed musicians' quarter in the old city, and then, in an unusual break with tradition, joined her on stage.

  • Meanwhile, just across the border, a new initiative aims to preserve Afghanistan's music heritage:

    Music might have suffered terribly in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, but a group of exiled Afghan musicians in neighbouring Pakistan have taken it upon themselves to preserve the musical tradition of their homeland by setting up music academies in this border city [Peshawar]. Today they are reaping the benefits from their hard work and are looking forward to the day when their music students will be able to perform freely in their newly liberated country under President Hamid Karzai.
  • As the academy's founder Ustad Mohammad Ihsan reminisces, "the Taliban insisted that there is a 'hadith' (a record of the Prophet's sayings) warning people not to listen to music lest molten lead be poured into their ears on Judgment Day. Until then, the Taliban police were wreaking their own violence --against musical instruments and anyone who dared enjoy their use... Musicians were persecuted and their musical instruments and recordings destroyed." Adds singer Balyalai Samadi: "Music plays an important role in Afghan society in keeping the ethnically diverse country together." Hopefully, it can do so again.

  • Not just music, but humor, too, is being given a free rein:

    Mubariz Bidar would give Robin Williams a run for his money. He's an Afghan comic who has this city - once ruled by severe Taliban - howling at their former oppressors. His spot-on impressions of everyone from a Taliban soldier to an Afghan drug addict would have even Mullah Omar giggling into his turban.

    At a recent impromptu performance, Mubariz wraps on a long black turban - a favorite Taliban accessory - and twists his face into a scowl. He grabs a Kalashnikov to complete the look. Then he screams at the men to go to the mosque, physically prodding them with his rifle. He grabs one long-haired man and berates him for letting his locks grow - a Taliban pet peeve. His imitation is so precise that the audience can't stop laughing.

    It's a disturbing sight for outsiders, but for Afghans who remember the hard-line regime and can finally laugh at it, it's a welcome release.
  • As the report notes, in addition to the therapeutic aspect, there is also a serious side to comedy and theater: "Before last October's presidential elections, a Kabul-based nongovernmental organization hired the actors to promote voting in some of the country's most remote southern villages. Hundreds of people saw each show; the message stuck. Women's turnout in Paktia province, which borders Khost and is so traditional that women are rarely seen in public, was among the highest in the country. The success of the shows, Afghan observers say, illustrates how effective humor and theater is for educating a public with a low literacy rate (only 64 percent of Afghans can read). It may be, they say, the best way to unify the country's four major ethnic groups that are still quietly split along ethnic lines - one of the major obstacles to lasting peace."

  • Afghan sportspeople continue to enter the world stage. Among the latest, two judokas, making their debut at the 3rd South Asian Judo Championship being staged at Indore, India. Afghanistan has also conducted its first paraolympic games in Kabul. "Eighty disabled players from Nangarhar, Balkh, Herat and Kandahar provinces will participate in the volleyball, football and basketball matches... Adding poignancy to the competition is the fact that most of the disabled players have been disabled in the civil war in Afghanistan."

  • Lastly, something for the local pride: a Canadian author of a new book is arguing that Buddhist monks from Afghanistan had reached America centuries before Columbus.

RECONSTRUCTION:

  • A postcard from Kabul:

    Afghanistan's war ravaged capital of Kabul is a city that appears to be on the mend. With nearly three decades of destruction and mayhem in its past, thanks to the political shenanigans of the rugged country's warlords and unscrupulous politicians, Kabul now presents itself as a city where its people and leaders want change in right earnest, a change for the better and a change that reflects its modernity. Engulfed in snow and battered by inclement weather over the past few days, the Afghan people haven't stopped their activities to make the city beautiful. Cranes can be seen lining the streets to reconstruct heavily damaged buildings, buildings ravaged by bombs and rockets since 1979.

  • No wonder that with all the growth going on, Kabul is now grappling with a problem that was unimaginable only three years ago - traffic:

    Like cities everywhere in the world, Kabul is facing a surge in traffic that sometimes threatens to strangle the capital. Now, three government agencies are working to ease the congestion.

    The city government is planning to construct a number of car parks while the traffic department is busy installing new traffic signals in an attempt to bring some order to the current chaos on the streets.

    In addition, the ministry of transport is planning to build car parks near the main entrances to the capital to get more vehicles off the roads.

  • And the lights are flicking back on around the capital:

    Ismail Khan set himself a daunting task when he took office as Afghanistan’s minister of water and energy in December. The former mujahedin commander who long held sway over the western city of Herat promised the hard-pressed residents of Kabul that he would fix their energy shortage within two months.

    Now, through a combination of hard work and good luck, it appears that the strongman from Herat has been able to fulfil his pledge. Instead of having power for only a few short hours, three nights out of seven, residents of much of the city now have electricity on a nightly basis.

    “Right now, 70 per cent of Kabul's homes have electricity every night,” Ismail Khan [said]. Providing power in a city that saw much of its electrical infrastructure destroyed during decades of fighting hasn’t been easy. In addition, years of drought have severely limited the country’s ability to use its hydroelectric generators – the country’s main source of generating power – to produce electricity.

    It would take between 150 and 200 megawatts of power daily to meet all the power demands of the city. Since Ismail Khan took office, the amount of electricity available to the capital has increased from 60 to 110 megawatts a day. He hopes to be able to provide 100 per cent of the energy need very soon.

    This seems possible because the government has recently purchased 25 generators from a British-based manufacturer, at a cost of 4.9 million US dollars, which will have a combined capacity to produce an additional 30 megawatts of electricity daily.

  • Meanwhile, in the provinces, the lights also switch on with some innovative technology:

    The first of several solar-powered street lights have been installed in the eastern Afghan town of Orgun-E in a joint effort between the local Afghan government and Coalition partners. The solar lights, installed by Coalition Civil Affairs and local Afghan workers, were completed to help the local government improve living conditions and reduce crime.
  • And with some interesting consequences: "Local officials believe this prompted a citizen to turn in the location of a weapons cache. 'This is what you see with progress; you can’t stop it,' said Paktika Province District Chief Haji Abdul Satir. The weapons cache consisted of 11 anti-personnel mines and a small quantity of small-arms ammunition. The cache was recovered by the Afghan National Army and later destroyed."

  • The reconstruction effort throughout Afghanistan is set to continue with some significant foreign assistance. Among the projects envisaged under the $81.9 billion security and aid package requested from the Congress by President Bush: a law school, seven provincial hospitals and up to 210 health clinics for Afghanistan.

  • Among Afghanistan's growing commercial and infrastructure contacts with neighboring countries: the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline project has received support from the Pakistani government (under this project Afghanistan wants to supply natural gas from its abundant reserves to both Pakistan and India) and Turkmenistan is now also trying to accelerate the work on the project; the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission is now in sitting (first on the agenda, improved transport and communication infrastructure along the border); Pakistan has also offered to accord Afghanistan a preferential trade agreement, which would, among other priorities, work to reduce tariffs between the two countries; Iran is planning to construct a 207-kilometer railway line from Turbat e Jam in Iran to Pakistan, through the border city of Islam Qala near Herat, thus linking Afghanistan to international markets; Indian Industry chamber CII will be participating in training of Afghan construction industry workers; India will also be assisting Afghanistan in reviving its mining industry as well as civil aviation industry, in particular upgrading the air traffic management system and assisting with maintenance (speaking of air traffic management, the Kabul airport might finally be getting a radar); business council will be established by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry to coordinate economic cooperation between Afghanistan and the Emirates; and a business forum on Afghan reconstruction has been recently held in Uzbekistan.

  • The efforts to revive agriculture also continue. One of the latest initiatives concerns nuts:

    In an attempt to restore the local economy while reviving an Afghan tradition, the government has begun a program to plant pistachio trees in several northern provinces, restoring a crop that has been decimated by years of war and drought. The program began in late January, when 10,000 saplings were planted in the foothills around Maimana, the capital of Faryab province.
  • The report adds that "there are still hundreds of thousand of acres of pistachio forest in the northern provinces, including more than 300,000 acres in Badghis and 200,000 more in Samangan. Despite the destruction of more than 50 percent of its pistachio trees, Afghanistan still exports 1,300 metric tons of the nuts annually, valued at about US$130 million." However, over the past few decades the harvests were interrupted by war, as local warlords restricted access to forests and monopolized the trade.

  • USAID also continues to contribute to modernization of Afghan agriculture:

    USAID’s is enhancing food security and income for the rural population through its Rebuilding Afghanistan’s Agricultural Markets Program (RAMP) project. The project’s objectives are to increase agricultural output and productivity as well as boost incomes by linking producers and markets. The program supports the expansion of knowledge and technologies (new crop varieties, fertilizers, crop management and protection, equipment and machinery) through extensive field demonstrations, information dissemination, and building private sector capacity. In the last several weeks, 1,422 farmers attended crop demonstrations and 98 participated in agricultural training programs and field days. RAMP also supports market center construction, providing Afghan farmers with a place for cleaning, sorting, cold and dry storage and packaging for their products. The facilities are strategically located to capitalize on project improvements in irrigation and road rehabilitation. They also give buyers and traders easier access to farmers and their produce. To date, 141 market centers have been constructed. Construction on a vegetable dehydration factory in Parwan province is nearly complete and the factory will contract with 1,400 Afghans to provide vegetables for the international dehydrated vegetable market. The factory is expected to employ several hundred workers.

HUMANITARIAN AID:

  • As harsh winter conditions grip the country, the need for humanitarian aid increases dramatically. Fortunately, the international community is responding with emergency supplies and help in delivery to the particularly affected areas. In one such action, "following a request from the Afghan Ministry of Health and an assessment of the needs, Italian Cooperation, working in conjunction with the Italian Red Cross and the ICRC, distributed 45 tonnes of wood and over 400 blankets on 1 February to families living in a makeshift camp at Chaman-i-Babrak on the outskirts of Kabul. A similar distribution was carried out to 60 families living in another tented camp, Shahi Shahid, the following day. Nearly 200 families – about half the camp's residents – benefited from the aid provided in Chaman-i-Babrak. While it certainly did not cover all the needs, it was a start. A further distribution is planned."

  • More help is arriving: the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has distributed 3,350 metric tons of food to 442,100 Afghans in need. "Major donors to WFP's operations in Afghanistan include: the United States (US$126 million), Japan (US$34 million), India (US$26 million), the European Commission (US$17 million), Italy US$8 million), Canada (US$6 million), the International Committee of the Red Cross (US$3 million), the United Kingdom (US$3 million), Switzerland (US$3 million), Saudi Arabia (US$2 million), Denmark (US$2 million), Luxembourg (US$1 million), Netherlands (US$1 million) and Ireland (US$1 million)."

  • International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies is also assisting the Afghan Red Crescent society in helping some 17,000 internally displaced persons living in Kabul who have been particularly affected by the severe weather conditions.

  • Winter aside, many organisations are also trying to help Afghanistan's disadvantaged:

    Nearly 500 girls and boys graduated from a vocational training course run by a Belgium-based NGO... in the capital city of eastern Nangarhar province, Jalalabad. Most of the students were young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who couldn't afford to go to school because they had to earn money for their families by working on the streets.

    Eng. Mohammad Ismail Mahmood, the president of the Afghan branch of the NGO, in Jalalabad told Pajhwok Afghan News: “Nearly 250 girls and 250 boys who trained in 13 subjects will be provided with the relevant tools of their trade, worth up to US $80”...

    Zarghona, a student, [said]: “I am very happy to have learned embroidery (Charma Dozi) and now I can help my family.” Jawid, a resident of Jalalabad, told Pajhwok: “Before coming on this course I was earning a living by transporting heavy goods using a hand-cart. Now that I know how to sew, I hope that one day I will become a good tailor.”

    Eng. Ismail said most of the students were orphans and disabled youngsters and some of them developed the skills of welding, and repairing motorcycles.

  • And this Pennsylvania girl is doing her bit to help her Afghan peers:

    Sometimes it takes a look from a different perspective to realize that Americans take much for granted.

    Taylor Barth, a sixth grader from Murrysville, Pa., got a glimpse of a different perspective from a friend, U.S. Army. Capt. Kevin Higgins. Higgins told Taylor about Afghan children he saw who didn't have some things considered part of everyday life here.

    “My friend Kevin Higgins said that the children there had no shoes and I should try to do something about it,” Taylor said. “We have all this kind of stuff, like great kinds of shoes and stuff they don't. And they should have the chance to have those kinds of great things.”

    Taylor, 11, wanted to do something to help, and suggested sending used shoes to Afghanistan.

  • Read the rest of the story how this small idea has snowballed into a humanitarian action involving the whole community.

THE COALITION TROOPS:

  • This report summarizes the activities of the Coalition troops throughout the country:

    American troops came to Afghanistan as vengeful warriors on the trail of al-Qaeda. But three years after the fall of the Taliban regime, the average GI is as likely to be rebuilding and making friends as hunting America's enemies.

    Fourteen garrisons, called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), of American soldiers are distributing largesse across the country, often in still dangerous combat zones.

    Soldiers are building hospitals and schools, digging wells, treating illness, training Afghan soldiers and police, and advising local officials. The teams are increasingly pleased with the public-relations success of their efforts. Friends are won, security improved, and Taliban remnants sidelined, their officers claim.

    The PRTs are part of a new nation-building effort by the American government, from an administration that was once averse to the very idea. America doles out half of all foreign aid being spent on rebuilding the country, while the American ambassador meets its president daily to offer his assistance (and is nick-named the Viceroy for his pains).
  • Speaking of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, "the US-led coalition forces will establish five new provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan. The PRTs are part of the civilian reconstruction efforts carried out by the Coalition Forces as well as the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Colonel Randy Brooks, Director of Civil Military Operations for the coalition forces told a press conference on Monday that the five additional PRTs would bring the total number of PRTs to 24." Read here how a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Farah province is bringing hope and support to the locals, including building three all-girl schools for 1,500 students.

  • The reconstruction cooperation between the troops and civilian authorities continues to bear fruit. Among the recent developments: the opening of the Khoshal Khan Kuchi Tribal School, which will provide education to 1,400 Kuchi students; constructing a security wall at the American University; helping with the renovation of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Communications buildings; and distribution of more than 16,000 sets of cold-weather gear to the Interior Ministry personnel. In southeastern Afghanistan,

    the Afghan government and the U.S. Agency for International Development are partnering to put Khowst province on the high road to economic prosperity...

    Khowst spans across southeastern Afghanistan and shares a 140-kilometer-long border with neighboring Pakistan, noted Army Maj. Carl Hollister, commander of the Khowst provincial reconstruction team and a member of the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion.

    The province boasts “an ideal location to facilitate trade,” Hollister pointed out. Accordingly, he said, the province's governor and the Khowst PRT "have been working together to develop this province into the economic engine" for southeastern Afghanistan.

    As part of that partnership, Hollister said, the governor and the PRT have formulated a five-year economic plan for Khowst. The plan features six areas of focus: education, healthcare, water, energy, reconstruction and economic development.
  • Read also this interesting report of how lessons learned in Afghanistan are now being applied in Iraq: "Although the insurgency there has proved far less virulent, military officers say successful partnerships with village leaders and efforts to bolster the central government may be the kind of experience that applies to Iraq. Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, who oversees day-to-day operations in Afghanistan, says the strategy has been to build goodwill for international forces and decrease support for the lingering insurgency. 'It's classic counterinsurgency doctrine,' Olson says. 'It's separating the guerrilla from the population'."

  • The multi-faced nature of the military involvement in Afghanistan is illustrated by this story:

    Jeff Nelson isn't working in a typical job these days. The 1978 Lumen Christi High School graduate and colonel in the South Carolina Army National Guard is in Afghanistan, working to rewrite laws, reorganize the legal system and help develop infrastructure.

    “Afghanistan is starting at less than zero,” Nelson said in an e-mail interview. “There is a historic precedent for a legal system in this country -- it just hasn't operated for the past 30 years or so.”

    Nelson, the son of Circuit Judge Charles and Patricia Nelson of Jackson, splits time working to help the Afghan government reorganize its legal system and manage infrastructure projects such as installing electrical and telephone lines. He also makes humanitarian trips about once a month.
  • There is also help to develop local media: "The only radio station in the southern province of Zabul, has been reactivated after 26 years with the help of the civil-military Provincial Reconstruction Team(PRT) in the southern province of Zabul. On Monday, local people turned on their radios to hear Zabul Radio broadcasting for four hours from the provincial capital of Kalat."

  • The troops have been also active in helping the Afghan people affected by the recent harsh weather: "That help included medical-assistance visits from the Parwan provincial reconstruction team to the Camp Chamin-e Barbak and Camp Huzuri displaced-persons camps near Kabul to deliver much needed winter clothing and medicine to more than 2,500 people... The packages, he said, contained 3,000 kilograms of beans, 3,000 kilograms of rice and 400 blankets. Village elders identified the neediest families in the village to receive the items. Coalition members also assisted motorists by rendering medical attention; providing food, fuel and warming tents; and by clearing a snow-covered stretch of the Jalalabad roadway." More on the topic here.

  • The help is also reaching some isolated villages in the Ghazni province: "While conducting assessments of village needs, Coalition forces serving here delivered critical humanitarian supplies Feb. 2 to villages suffering from heavy snowfall. The members of the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team conducted a mounted patrol to assess several villages and to distribute critical humanitarian aid along the way. With over two feet of snow making it nearly impossible to access these villages whose residents are more likely to travel with mules than the necessary four-wheel drive, the local residents enthusiastically welcomed the assistance."

  • In another recent action, "about 50 U.S. and South Korean troops visited Chamin-E-Babrak, a local camp for displaced people, Feb. 5 and handed out nearly 5,000 items including medicine. Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghan minister of women’s affairs, was also on hand to help hand out supplies and visit with Afghans. Lines of people waited patiently for their turn to be given blankets, shoes, toiletries and clothing. Children received medicine in one line, and medical tents were set up for people who needed treatment. The mission was led by the Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team, one of 19 PRTs spread throughout the country. The coalition forces provided medics, security and troops who said they just wanted to make a difference."

  • Elsewhere, "in a 40-person, 16-vehicle convoy of Soldiers and Airmen from here traveled more than 30 miles southwest into the Afghan mountains, delivering humanitarian aid to two snowbound villages. Enough blankets, clothes, food and medicine were provided for 2,700 households, officials said." And here's news about similar mission to Kharwar, a village isolated by 30 feet of snow.

  • The US troops are also distributing food and other humanitarian aid supplied by the United Nation's World Food Programme. In central province of Ghor, "hundreds of Afghans in a snowbound mountain town cheered from the rooftops on Friday as a U.S. military plane air-dropped emergency supplies to an area where dozens have died during the worst winter in decades." In Zabol province, Operation Bear's Paw has been distributing tonnes of food via land, or if inaccessible, via air to remote villages (here's more about Zabul).

  • Other aid effort is purely a matter of private initiative. The humanitarian efforts of this group of Utah soldiers are bearing fruit back home:

    A Utah soldier back in the states for a few days on leave from Afghanistan is getting to see firsthand one of his most important missions -- an eleven year old Afghani boy get life saving heart surgery.

    The eleven-year old Afghan boy is in Loma Linda, California today for heart surgery. His journey here started with a Utah soldier several months ago, as he and other members of the 211 Aviation unit of Apache helicopters based in West Jordan adopted his village.

    Layne Pace , 211 Aviation Regiment: “His father approached us numerous times, asking for help. It was difficult to determine his problem. He was synoptic, dark in color, and didn’t do well when he ran with other kids.” On another trip to the village a military cardiologist diagnosed the boy with a heart defect.

    Layne Pace: “We knew what he had, we knew what we had to do, just didn't know how we'd be able to do it. So we stated a little campaign, several of us with a series of e-mails to family and friends back here in Utah to see if anyone was willing to help with surgery.” Pace found numerous people all over the country who were willing to help.

  • Another similar good news story: "In mid September, Capt. James Gruber had little Qudrat Ullah placed in his lap while on a routine refugee camp humanitarian visit by the 76th Infantry Brigade. Little did he know the miracle that was in store that would enable the child to receive treatment in the United States that was not available in Afghanistan...

    After diagnosing Qudrat’s condition, Capt. Michael Roscoe, a physician assistant with the 113th Base Support Battalion, 76th Inf. Bde., contacted Lt. Col. Terry Snow, the Civil Military Operations officer for Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix. Snow, an avid member of the Rotary Club of Greenfield, Ind., took the next step by using his contacts within the Rotary organization to secure funds through the “Gift of Life” program. The U.S. military is providing transportation from Kabul to Indianapolis while Rotary will defray the costs of food and any collateral spending Qudrat will need while in Indiana. Within 72 hours of asking Rotary for help, Snow received word that the organization would provide funding. Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis agreed to perform the procedure on Qudrat through its own donations. Three surgeons volunteered to operate on the boy, making a $50,000 surgery free for this family.
  • A 14 month old Qudratullah, suffering from a serious heart defect, is being flown by the US army with his father to the United States for a life-saving surgery at Riley Children's hospital in Indianapolis (which will be performing the operation free or charge). And here's the story of the operation by the American army medic to correct a severe cleft palate of an Afghan boy.

  • Elsewhere, this serviceman's effort to clothe the Afghan children are also proving very successful and rewarding:

    Capt. John Dingeman, the director of the 11th Wing Contracting Office, had no idea that his effort to distribute a box of donated items while deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, in August 2004 would grow into a massive project of good will.

    Working with a group of in-station community relations volunteers, Captain Dingeman made contact with a local hospital orphanage, where he would present them with the much-needed supplies.

    While visiting with the boys and girls who would make use of the notebooks, pads of paper and pencils he'd brought, Captain Dingeman observed that the Afghan children had yet another need -- their clothes were tattered and many of them had no shoes.

    The captain said that it was not just the smaller children, or the infants, or the teenagers who were barefoot but it was all of the children. “I could not believe it,” he said. “And I wanted to help.”

    When communicating with the contracting officer, family and friends back home in Michigan would often ask if there was anything they could do to help him while deployed. For the most part, Captain Dingeman said he had everything he needed, so instead of asking for items to help make his temporary living conditions more comfortable, he asked that items be sent for the children.

  • Read the rest of this amazing story of how Capt Dingeman's effort has taken off. Meanwhile, this serviceman's initiative is bringing shoes and school supplies to Afghan children:

    Todd Schmidt's idea took root during a conversation with his mother before his Army unit left for Afghanistan, and it sprouted during Internet exchanges with a Texas history teacher. In less than a year, his effort has brought backpacks, school supplies and winter clothes to thousands of children struggling in poverty as Afghanistan emerges from decades of civil war.

    Capt. Schmidt, 32, a Greenwood native, founded Operation Dreamseed after the 25th Infantry Division, normally based in Hawaii, arrived last April at Kandahar Airfield. Since then, the organization has grown. Other soldiers help deliver supplies sent by Maple Grove Elementary in Johnson County, where Schmidt's mother teaches, and by schools, groups and individuals from nearly every state.

    On Wednesday, Schmidt helped soldiers from the Georgia National Guard deliver 1 ton of supplies to an isolated mountain town. “Believe it or not,” he wrote this week in an e-mail, “even with 3 feet of snow in this remote, mountainous village of Nele Zaragak in the Ghor Province, many children were without shoes.”

    Schmidt estimated more than 3,000 children received shoes, clothing or school supplies. This week's delivery was the largest since the first large-scale mission in December at a soccer field, where 2,500 schoolchildren from Kandahar had gathered to receive backpacks and school supplies. Schmidt also has organized smaller deliveries.
  • Read also about the Operation School House, started by 265th Air Defense Forward 2, a Florida National Guard battalion.

  • Last, but not least, Maj. Robert Fraser of the Oregon National Guard is trying to introduce softball to the people of Afghanistan.

SECURITY:

  • There is some good geo-strategic news for the future of the American-Afghan relationship:

    Afghanistan and the United States will establish a long-term military partnership and officials have already begun working out the details, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday. To consolidate the war-ravaged country's fragile recovery from years of impoverishing conflict, 'we do need a long-term, strong and strategic partnership with the United States,' presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said at a news conference. “The question of what form that will take is being worked on but it will, we believe, span over a broad range of spheres including the economy, including politics, including military,” Ludin said.

  • Meanwhile, a top American military commander reports on the progress in securing Afghanistan:

    [Col. Cardon Crawford, director of operations for the U.S. military command in Afghanistan] says al-Qaida no longer has an effective presence in Afghanistan and that the Taliban leadership is divided, with some members ready to join the political process...

    Crawford would not say whether U.S. forces have come close to finding bin Laden, but said his guerrilla group has become less of a threat in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida has “no effective presence” inside Afghanistan now, Crawford said.

    He also said there are signs of divisions within the Taliban leadership, and he suggested that the Afghan government is preparing a new plan that would be designed to “widen the fissures” within the Taliban leadership. He declined to provide details. Some Taliban leaders, he said, “are probably willing - literally and figuratively - to come in out of the cold” and become part of the Afghan political process.
  • And some are doing just that: "Four senior leaders of the Taliban have accepted a reconciliation offer from the Afghan government... Under the agreement, which the official said will likely be announced within days, the men recognized the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai's government in exchange for assurances that they will not face arrest by Afghan or foreign security forces. The official identified the four as Abdul Hakim Mujahid, formerly the Taliban's envoy to the United Nations; Arsullah Rahmani, former deputy minister of higher education and a former commander in southeastern Paktika province; Rahmatullah Wahidyar, former deputy minister of refugees and returnees; and Fawzi, former charge d'affaires at the Afghan Embassy in Saudi Arabia and then first secretary at the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan." Ineligible for the amnesty are around 150 Taliban officials associated directly with Al Qaeda or known to have committed atrocities.

  • The governors of Zabul and Ghazni in southern Afghanistan are also conducting talks with Taliban, using religious leaders and local elders as intermediaries. Read more about the talks here (as one Afghan says, "This is good news for our people, for our nation, for our brothers who had been deceived. It's a major achievement for our government. It's really time for unity, it's time to get along. We should hold each others' hands and rebuild our country.").

  • In their negotiations, the authorities are receiving some valuable assistance from an insider:

    One of the Taliban's most senior and charismatic commanders has become a key negotiator as more and more members of the Islamic militia in Afghanistan give up the fight against the Americans.

    The commander, Abdul Salam, earned the nickname Mullah Rockety because he was so accurate with rocket propelled grenades against Russian troops. He later joined the Taliban as a corps commander in Jalalabad before being captured by the Americans after September 11.

    Now he is a supporter of President Hamid Karzai and is tempting diehard Taliban fighters to accept an amnesty offer and reconcile themselves to Afghanistan's first directly elected leader.

    “The Taliban has lost its morale,” he said, speaking by satellite phone from the heartlands of Zabul province, a Taliban redoubt. “But you have to go and find the Taliban and call to them and ask them directly. If they believe they will be secure and safe they will come down from the mountains.”
  • According to U.K. Army Major General Peter Gilchrist, deputy commander of international forces in Afghanistan, the local residents are proving increasingly helpful in combating the Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants. The Afghan and American authorities have also been successful in their efforts to isolate and bring to the table the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) group of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, widely seen as sympathetic to Taliban.

  • The terrorists and insurgents are losing their infrastructure as more arms caches continue to be found throughout the country. Four were located on February 5, including one containing "82 mm mortar rounds, one 100 mm projectile, two 122 mm projectiles, eight 57 mm projectiles, one 76 mm projectile, 14 23 mm recoilless rifle rounds, two C-50 rockets, 10 anti-personnel mines, 500 fuses, 21 hand grenades and 12 VOC-25 rifle rounds." On one day alone, 7 February, the troops have located six caches with weapons and 1,100 kilograms of hashish. In 13 days up to February 12, 33 separate weapons caches were discovered throughout the country. Another large cache recovered in Herat; four caches discovered in Paktya, Kunar and Uruzgan provinces and Herat; and a huge cache discovered by the Afghan Zafar army corp in Shindad district, consisting of "600 cartons of guns, rocket missiles and 65 ballistic missiles." And two roadside bombs have been recently located and disarmed thanks to tips from local elders in Oruzgan district and Herat province.

  • In other security successes: the capture of the top Taliban commander in the province of Uruzgun; the arrest in a raid in Quetta, Pakistan, of 17 Taliban members, including the former deputy governor of southern Helmand province, Mullah Khush Dil, and ex-Kabul police chief Mullah Ibrahim; and the arrest of four ranking members of Taliban in the south of the country.

  • Making Afghanistan safer for the future also means conducting the largest de-mining operation in the world. "Shohab Hakimi is the chairman of the Afghan Campaign to Ban Land Mines and the director of the Mine Detection and Dog Center. '[Before] the number of victims was very high, about 500 to 600 per month, but, as a result of the work of the mine-clearing organizations in Afghanistan, this number has been decreasing every year,' he said. 'Last year, based on the report we had -- we are talking only about registered cases -- every month about 100 people lost their lives [or were disabled] because of a mine explosion.' Despite the progress, the country still has one of the highest land-mine casualty rates in the world. Afghan authorities estimate that some 800 square kilometers of land is contaminated with land mines and other buried explosives. There are also reports of use of land mines by militants groups." Some 8,000 de-miners are currently at work in Afghanistan.

  • Elsewhere, "a total of 19,179 mines collected from militia units in and around the city of Herat were detonated in a huge explosion near the city on Thursday morning, the largest event of its kind since the fall of the Taliban three years ago." Around 100 people per week are still killed and wounded by unexploded landmines, the legacy of quarter of a century of conflict which left Afghanistan the most heavily mined country on Earth.

  • This struggle to make Afghanistan safer from landmines has many heroes. One of them is Marine Corps Maj. Scott Glennon who trains soldiers and Marines to use robots, which can locate and disable land mines and homemade explosive devices. "His unit has six large robots called Mobile Vehicle 4s. They weigh more than 12,000 pounds, are about 5 feet tall, 7 feet wide and 14 feet long... His unit also has several hundred small Croatian-made robots that weigh about 100 pounds each and are about the size of a push lawnmower."

  • It's not just mines; there is a lot of unexploded ammunition and weapons posing danger around the country, not to mention a lot of private militias to use them, thus necessitating a large scale disarmament program: "Afghanistan has disarmed 80 percent of its estimated 50,000 militiamen under a joint program with the United Nations... 'This is another milestone in the disarmament process,' [says] Ariane Quentier, senior public information officer for the Mission... The program 'has kept gaining momentum since it was initiated last year.' A total of 40,104 militiamen have handed in their weapons under the program that provides training to help find jobs in civil society."

  • The authorities are reporting that the south-western zone of the country, centered around Kandahar, has been 98% disarmed. The region around Jalalabad has been declared the second in the whole country to be fully disarmed. Meanwhile, "a second phase of disarmament of private militants have begun in Badakshan, Kunduz, Thakar and Baghlan provinces of Afghanistan." And there's more progress around Bamiyan.

  • Replacing militias, guerilla groups and other armed bands, the new Afghan army is developing in line with the plans: "Afghanistan's new army will reach full combat strength by the end of next year and training of the overall force of 70,000 should be complete by the end of 2008... The army currently has 17,000 combat soldiers, with another 5,000 undergoing training, and it would reach its full combat strength of 40,000 by the end of 2006, U.S. Brigadier-General Richard Moorhead told a news conference. He said completion of training of the overall force of 70,000, including headquarters and other non-combat personnel, would take until the end of 2008." (update: the army level reaches 20,000 troops.)

  • You can also read this extensive profile of where the creation of the Afghan National Army is at the moment:

    More than 3,000 Afghans are in a three-step, 20-week training regimen that concludes with a unit assignment...

    Launched in June 2003, the task force started slowly, focused for the first year primarily on the infantry. Recruits were tested and evaluated to determine if they were junior enlisted, senior enlisted or officer material. Additionally, U.S., French and British trainers kept an eye out for recruits who would one day take over as instructors.

    About a year ago, the task force turned over basic-training duties to those handpicked candidates. Moorhead said the plan is to do the same this April with the command and staff school, which the French army oversees. Later this year, the British will hand their clipboards to Afghan instructors chosen to conduct the senior noncommissioned officer school.
  • There's more - including building the training, logistics and communications aspect of the army. And here you can find some photos from Afghanistan's new military academy.

  • To speed up the process, the US is now doubling the number of military trainers, adding 280 to the 300 currently serving. Read this article on challenges and rewards of being an American instructor of the Afghan armed forces. Police, too, are being trained by the US personnel, including "a three-man team from the 58th Military Police Company out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, [which] has the daunting task of training more 3,382 police officers from 31 districts spread throughout three provinces."

  • NATO is finally coming onboard with more military assistance by way of an expanded peacekeeping force in the west of the country. The new units will come primarily from Italy, Spain and Lithuania. Others are also contributing to building the Afghan army; most recently India has delivered another 49 out of the promised 300 vehicles (235 in total have so far been delivered).

  • And in the fight against drugs, Gen. Mohammad Daud, deputy minister from the Kabul-based counter-narcotics department, says that 2005 will be "the year for poppy eradication." "The poppy cultivation has dishonored Afghanistan in the world and we will eradicate the illicit drug this year," says Gen Daud.

  • Great Britain is doubling its anti-drugs funding for Afghanistan, from $50 to $100 million. Meanwhile, as the planting season begins, fifteen teams of Afghan anti-narcotics agents have set out from the capital into the provinces to ensure that the eradication programs are progressing as planned. Such verification is already underway in Herat, to confirm the local claims that "80 percent of the poppy fields have been destroyed in the regions of Herat. The remaining could not be destroyed due to the heavy snowfall and will be cleared when the weather gets warm."

  • Another province also reports considerable success: "Nangarhar, one of the highest poppy producing provinces of Afghanistan has eradicated 99% of its poppy cultivation, according to provincial officials. Senior security official Commander Hazrat Ali told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday that there were some areas in the mountainous regions of Goshta, Lalpoora and Achin districts from where poppy had not been eradicated due to bad weather." The drop in cultivation in Nangarhar province is not an isolated phenomenon:

    Across Afghanistan, government officials and foreign aid workers who monitor poppy cultivation have reached a remarkable conclusion. One year after Afghan farmers planted the largest amount of poppy in their nation's history and provided the world with nearly 90 percent of its opium supply, many of them have stopped growing it. Poppy farming, officials said, may have declined by as much as 70 percent in three provinces that together account for more than half of Afghanistan's production: Nangahar in the east, Helmand in the south and Badakhshan in the north.
  • You can read this extensive report on how the local farmers are coping with the switch away from opium poppies and the support they are getting from the Afghan authorities and from overseas to help them stay on the straight and narrow. In one of the initiatives, "farmers of Nangarhar who have stopped cultivating poppy will be given loans to start poultry farming." Others are going into fish farming. You can also read about USAID's contribution to the Alternative Livelihoods Programme.

  • And to deal with the human side of the drug trade, this initiative from the Czech Republic:

    A joint Czech-Afghan project Breaking the Circle, which is to modernize the center for drug-addicts in Kabul and improve their treatment, was launched in the past days in Kabul, head of the organizing Podane ruce association, Jindrich Voboril said Wednesday.

    The EU set aside about eight million crowns (about 340,000 dollars) for the anti-drug project. “We bought an on-line computer, which the doctors will use to acquire information material for drug-addicts. They have had only 30 years old books until now,” Voboril said. Also a generator to produce electricity was purchased for the facility.

    The project's main part will be launched in the spring. A new building worth 1.6 million crowns (about 68,000 dollars) will be constructed to house therapy sessions and workshops for former opium addicts and illegal opium producers. The old building will continue to be used for lodgings.

Writes Ghizal Miri, whom we've met at the start of the article: "America has planted seeds of hope in my country and it's my duty and the duty of the rest of the citizens of Afghanistan to help the seeds to grow and spread throughout our country. I plan to work toward the great opportunities that stand before me in order to make the dream of a strong, free Afghanistan become a reality." The journey is only beginning for Afghanistan; the country will need a lot more Miris, not to mention a lot more help from the West. But working together, there is finally hope.

As always, if you have tips for future editions, please email goodnewsafghanistan “at” windsofchange “dot” net.

3 TrackBacks

Tracked: March 7, 2005 6:38 AM
Arthur's Mail from Mudville Gazette
Excerpt: Dear Mr & Mrs Greyhawk Just to let you know that the next round-up of under-reported good news from Afghanistan is here: Chrenkoff Opinion Journal Winds of Change You might also find of interest these two of today's stories: The...
Tracked: March 7, 2005 8:32 AM
Looking for Good News? from Mythusmage Opines
Excerpt: Winds of Change.NET: Good news from Afghanistan, 7 March 2005 Chrenkoff has some over at Winds of Change, tons of it. Good things are going on in Afghanistan, progress is being made. One of my favorite bits is the news...
Tracked: March 8, 2005 3:54 AM
Earthquake Swallows Beirut from The Politburo Diktat
Excerpt: The whole city just disappeared. So has Lebanon. Off the radar screen. Fallen into Purgatory. "Beirut? Huh? I can't hear you; I've got a banana in my ear." Must have been the same earthquake that swallowed Afghanistan. At this rate, some may have to gi...

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