Afghan Female Artist

Afghanistan sees its first female artist, Shamsia Hassani’s, work in the streets of Kabul with just a spray can and hope to see a peaceful future. As well as representing art in Afghanistan, Shamsia Hassani is also a representative and a spokesperson for women’s rights in Kabul. She sees her art work in the city of Kabul as a way to ‘spray over the memories of War.’

The artist, Shamsia Hassani, was born in Iran to her Afghan parents. She is a street and digital artist who works in the country’s multifaceted and conflicted capital. She returned to Afghanistan in the year 2005 in order to pursue her education in Fine Art at Kabul University. She works to start yearly graffiti workshops through the country and to change the way society views women who refuse to stay silent and those who come out of their veils to stand up for their opinions.

The history of Afghanistan has seen many invasions that carried many cultures and beliefs, occupations and empires that so often emaciated the country. Upon the invasion of the Taliban in the year 1996-2001 most practices of art and cultural expression were banned. The War on art was inspired by the Quran as it prohibits the depiction of living things. Drawing or sculpting living things was believed to be an insult to God.

Paintings, books containing art work, TV sets and music were all destroyed by the Taliban and were amongst the primary actions of elimination.  At the beginning of the Taliban rule and rise of power, in the year 1996, the Afghan National Museum was burned down and destroyed and used to keep the insurgents warm.

As well as the ban of art, social and traditional expressions such as kite flying and owning pet birds were also prohibited. Women were banned from make-up and high heels. A new dress code was introduced for women, to cover as much as possible, from head to toe. If any of the rules were disobeyed, women were beaten in public to scare others from doing the same.

The future of art in Afghanistan is not certain as the shadow of War is still lurking in the streets of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, there have been many developments to reinstitute art studios and traditional clay sculpting schools in order to reopen the doors that were once closed to the people of Afghanistan and grow upon its lost, gone and bottled-up traditional teachings and cultural legacy.

Shamsia Hassani talks about art 

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ISIS heads towards Afghanistan

As ISIS enters Afghanistan, the people and its government face new challenges and threats to an already frail situation.

ISIS

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) took over the al-Qaeda organisation, founded by Osama Bin Laden. Abu Bakr al-Baghdad who is also known as Abu Dua is the ISIS leader and has become the World’s most powerful jihadi leader.

ISIS seized control of Mosul, which is Iraq’s second-largest city. Their power base is in Raqqa which is in eastern Syria. According to energy expert Luay al-Khateeb, who spoke to CNN, ISIS are in control of more than half of Syria’s oil assets as well as a number of oil fields in Iraq.  Al-Khateeb also explained that the oil is finding its way to the black market and could be making ISIS up to $3 million each day. The group has established to be more ruthless and more active at controlling the land it has held.

ISIS is under tight directions by top leaders to kill Shia Muslims and Christians whenever possible. The exact size of ISIS is unclear, people have travelled from around the World to join ISIS and fight in Syria and Iraq. Officials suggest that more than 11,000 people have joined and some have returned home. Research shows that, countries with bigger Muslim populations send the largest number of fighters.

Isis members

ISIS in Afghanistan

It has been 15 years of the US invasion, which lead to the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is still in a fragile state. It remains afflicted by Taliban attacks, long-lasting levels of corruption, political instability, and the economic uncertainty.

ISIS is spreading drastically from its main location to other countries. Recently the group found its way into the cities of Afghanistan. This could lead to a new wave of political and religious violence.

Afghanistan has a history of political violence in the name of Islam and a large number of religious extremist groups. In its decade-and-a-half long revolution, the Taliban failed to capture and keep major cities and district centres. In promising to work with ISIS, the Taliban aimed to get more supporters help, earn a bigger name and receive more funds.  The rise of ISIS has encouraged extremists in Afghanistan to review and transmit their strategies in the direction of an imposing display of force.

But according to recent reports, the Taliban and ISIS have declared jihad against one another due to the fact that ISIS refused to work under the same flag.  The Taliban’s deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor addressed a letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, and said, “Jihad (Holy war) against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under one leadership.”

According to The Daily Beast, there are discussions between the Taliban and Iran on how to deal with the extremist group ISIS, as they are known.

Mullah Khan Muhammad Noorzai, an ex-Taliban spoke to The Daily Beast and said that the ISIS camp was attacked by the Taliban which lead to the death of innocent followers. In a phone interview, he said, “Most of those killed were our friends and colleagues.” Despite an agreement that the Taliban and ISIS would not attack each other, Taliban broke the agreement and attacked ISIS.

Noorzai said, “A Muslim won’t break a commitment, the Taliban are not true Muslims, and not mujahedeen (holy warriors) either. Now our jihad against the ignorant so-called Taliban will go on forever.”

According to Noorzai, the Taliban are fighting in the name of Islam but are funded by Iranians and United States. He said, “The Taliban shadow governor for Farah, through the mediation of Mullah Baz Muhammad, a local elder, swore an oath by Allah and the Quran that they would not attack ISIS, but they did.” He added that Iran played a key role in this.

ISIS attacks on Afghanistan

The Taliban and ISIS announced War on one another in April after the Taliban labelled ISIS self-declared caliphate and unlawful.

The first major ISIS attack was a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed at least 35 people dead and 100 people were wounded. The bombing happened outside of a bank branch in the Jalalabad city which is Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

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A spokesperson for a provincial governor, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, described the attack and claimed that a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated a vest rigged with explosives in front of the state-run New Kabul Bank. Borhan Osman, who is an analyst with Afghanistan Analysts Network, tracked the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan, “[Isis] has not built a solid, actual political presence in Afghanistan so far,” Osman said, “but if the Taliban quasi-monopoly is broken, that will help [it] to build networks and their brand.”

The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani said, “Who claimed responsibility for the horrific attack in Nangrahar today? The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the attack.” during his visit to northeastern province of Badakhshan

There have been several attacks since ISIS have entered Afghanistan. Most recently, at least 10 Taliban members were beheaded by ISIS. The attack happened in the eastern province of Nangrahar after ISIS jihadis stopped Taliban fighters from fleeing a gun battle with the government troops.

Ashraf Ghani talking about ISIS 

The Buddha Statues have returned

The Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan have returned in the form of 3-D light projections.

The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar stated, in March 2001, that the statues were false idols.  He stated that, “These idols have been gods of the infidels.” As an act of religious terror, the Taliban forces destroyed the Buddha statues, with the help of local workers, by blowing the statues down.

Both the statues were carved beautifully in cliffs and lay in rubble for more than a decade around 1,500 years ago. Statues are based in Bamiyan Valley which is a World Heritage Site.

The idea of the projections came from documentarians, Jason Yu and Liyan Hu. They were given permission to debut their work by UNESCO and the Afghan government.

Technology has increased in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. TV’s are now working, electricy is available throughout the day and computers are used more than ever before. But the chance to see the Buddhas once again, via a projection, is by far one of the best. This allowed Afghans to see the giant Buddhas once again and to admire the beauty of the Buddhas again.

One of the men who participated in the attack stated that, “First they fired at the Buddhas with tanks and artillery shells. But when that was ineffective, they planted explosives to try to destroy them.” He also added, when the statues were taken down, the Taliban celebrated by dancing and slaughtered nine cows as sacrifice.

The 3-D light projections filled the cutouts in the mountains. According to The Atlantic, over 150 people watched the display.

This photo taken on June 7, 2015 shows the projected image of a Buddha statue in Bamiyan that had been destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The initiative to visually restore the destroyed antiquities was dreamt up by Chinese couple Zhang Xinyu and Liang Hong, who are travelling through countries on the historic Silk Road route.  AFP PHOTO / Kamran Shafayee        (Photo credit should read KAMRAN SHAFAYEE/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on June 7, 2015 shows the projected image of a Buddha statue in Bamiyan that had been destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The initiative to visually restore the destroyed antiquities was dreamt up by Chinese couple Zhang Xinyu and Liang Hong, who are travelling through countries on the historic Silk Road route. AFP PHOTO / Kamran Shafayee (Photo credit should read KAMRAN SHAFAYEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Is it time to change school uniform for girls in Afghanistan ?

Afghan school girls in Uniform - 2014
(Afghan school girls in Uniform – 2014)

School girls in Afghanistan have complained about the colour of their school uniforms. They are asking the government and schools to change the typical, black dress and white scarf to a colour that does not absorb the heat and is less depressing.

During the 1970’s, women and girls in Afghanistan attired themselves in Western clothing. This meant mini-skirts, no headscarves and stunning hair styles. Girls who attended schools and universities dressed in modern clothing including high heels, all of which was banned during the rule of the Taliban.

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(Afghan school girls- 1970)

After many years of no education for girls, Afghanistan now has thousands of girls attending schools. Education in Afghanistan includes K-12 and higher education. Currently Afghanistan is in the process of rebuilding. Despite the challenges faced by Afghans daily, the country is still moving forward and working towards a brighter and a better tomorrow.

The numbers of schools are increasing fast in Afghanistan. Since the fall of the Taliban in the year 2001, By 2006, more than 4 million public schools such as; Habibia High School, one of the oldest schools in Afghanistan, Amani High School and Lycee Esteqlal have been opened.

Private schools in Afghanistan have uniform like schools in England, including blazers, jeans, skirts, shirts and ties for both girls and boys as part of uniform. But for public schools it is different. It is required of all the girls to wear a black, long, shapeless dress and a white head scarf.

It has been reported that some girls have fainted in classes because of the heat absorbed by their uniforms. Many have complained that not only are the uniforms head absorbing but that they are also hideous.

A 16-year-old girl, Marjan says her black school uniform makes the heat of the Kabul summer unbearable. She said, “The education minister is sitting in an air conditioned office. What does he know about the conditions we’re in, or how hot these black clothes get?”

A seventh-grade pupil from the Ariana High School said. “Believe me, we see girls fainting every day in the summer. The sole reason is that black makes your body temperature rise uncontrollably.”

The colours black and light green were traditionally the main options for schoolgirls, but now the former is usually required. The choice to have black as uniform also seems to be influenced by perceptions of modesty.

Abdol Monir Negah, who is the education ministry’s academic council, said, “First, schoolgirls must be distinguishable from others. Secondly, black conceals the beauty and features of girls and women from the eyes of men. They don’t attract attention.”

School teachers have agreed to the change in uniforms. Shirin, who has been a teacher for 12 years and works for Alem Faizzada High School, said blue or grey would make a far better choice. She said, “I was a pupil myself once. I’ve been through the same experience. I know how badly wearing black affects the pupils both physically and psychologically.”

Farkhunda: the woman who stood for the truth

Farkhunda, a young woman, one of the victims of yet another unjust killing, was beaten by a mob on March 19, 2015 in the streets of Kabul.

This was by far one of the worst kinds of deaths faced since the rule of the Taliban. But this time it was not the Taliban who killed the young woman, it was the men in the streets of Kabul. They were not linked to any extremist groups. This raises concerns, is Afghanistan corrupted by their own people? Will women ever be in safe hands in Afghanistan?

Despite of improvements of security, Farkhunda was beaten and set on fire by a mob of men in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. She was accused of burning the Quran but according to Afghanistan’s interior minister, Farkhunda was innocent.

Minister, Noorulhaq Ulumi, said “The accusation against her is completely invalid. Farkhunda was a religious girl, she was not involved [in burning the Koran], she was innocent.”

Farkhunda allegedly had an argument with one of the Mullahs about his practice of selling charms at the mosque of Shah-Do Shamshira. He then accused her of burning the Quran.

Police investigations revealed that she did not burn the Quran. She was beaten by a mob, thrown over the bridge and then had her body set on fire and thrown in the river.

According to sources, the crowd were chanting anti-American and anti-democratic slogans while beating Farkhunda. Videos show that police were present during the incident, but they did not take any action to end the violence.

The father of Farkhunda complained about the lack of police efforts to save her. Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan described the killing as “heinous” and ordered a commission to investigate the killing. He said the death of Farkhunda has exposed that Afghan police need to start focusing on local policing as much as on the Taliban insurgency.

Islamic scholars in Afghanistan expressed their outrage over the incident and described it as unlawful. A local cleric, Haji Noor Ahmad said, “People come and execute a person arbitrarily, this is totally prohibited and unlawful.” However some Islamic Scholars justified the killing, which angered the public.

Protests took place in Afghanistan and around other parts of the World too such as, London, Australia, Canada and America. Afghans gathered in crowds asking for justice.

Women in Afghanistan protested, demanding the government to prosecute those who took part in the killings of Farkhunda. The funeral of Farkhunda involved more women than men. Men were not allowed to take part in Farkhundas funeral as they were the reason for her death.

Images of the protest in London, Trafalgar Square

A short piece written by an Afghan teacher – Zakia Hemat

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In the past I was a teacher. I loved my job. I taught mathematics. I remember how the students with interest learned. As a young woman, I had more energy to teach back then. I went to class with good materials and methods that I learned in University, from our highly educated teachers. We were always very happy to teach and learn.

Unfortunately, our country , Afghanistan, was involved in a war that nobody wanted, just those who worked for themselves. All our achievements were gone with the wind. The doors of schools and universities closed and people became homeless. In order to save their lives, people traveled from province to province, becoming refugees in other countries. I was one of them. With many difficulties to flee.

I believe in my people, they will stand on their own feet again and re-build our destroyed country. Nelson Mandela once said, “The future should be built on hope, not fear.”

Zakia Hemat ( A well known, brave and intelligent teacher, who once taught students in Afghanistan.)

Photojournalists in Afghanistan

Images are a very important part of our lives. It is images that keep us informed about the events happening in the world. People are almost obsessed with images in today’s society. There are social networking sites that simply cannot be functioned without the use of images, for example Facebook and Instagram.

As an observer I have come to a conclusion that people are obsessed with social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter purely because it gives them a sense of importance with all the likes they receive after publishing an image online.

Images of oneself is promoted more than images of real events. Videos and photographs play a major role in the online world, but images that should be given more importance do not receive much attention.

Below are some images I came across online which, as a journalist, I fell in love with and felt the need to share it with those who haven’t already seen them.

KABUL: NO GREEN ZONE

There is no green zone in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Every rout is RED. It has also taken over the country’s local media.

helmand-green-zone-3

Every headline starts with the news of insurgent attacks happening all around the country almost every day:

“Bombers attack on a foreign guesthouse in Kabul, killing two”

“Explosion in Mazar-e-Sharif city (North) injures 4 civilians”

“Blast in Nangarhar mosque (East) wounds 34 civilian”.

There is no place to run to in Afghanistan, danger has crept into every corner. Afghan security officials who are appearing on Local televisions are speechless and are finding it difficult to hide their failure of preventing these attacks.

Afghan official who wants to be anonymous said, despite the fact that Afghan security agencies receive information about the suicide attacks days before they take place; they are unable to take action to stop it.

He said that in most cases Afghan security officials know the exact hiding place, the location and even the safe homes where suspected suicidal are living. Moreover they even know the attackers target points but they are not able to take any action against the suspects to prevent the attacks.

In the past few weeks’ dozens of civilians have been killed or injured in several suicide attacks in Kabul North, East, South and West of the country. There is no reaction from the National unity government, especially President Ashraf Ghani who was mostly outside the country on official visits since he took office two months ago.

While the London Conference on Afghanistan is taking place on 4th December, co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Afghanistan, the National unity government is trying to overcome disputes over sharing power, even though they are not in a position yet to address the security issues.

Analysts agree that the national unity government is not yet in a position to work together, as they are struggling to share government’s posts. This is against what President Ghani promised in his speech during his inauguration ceremony two months ago. He said, “A national unity government is not about sharing power, but about working together”.

The conference is expected to provide a platform for the government of Afghanistan in order to set out its vision for reform and for the international community to demonstrate enduring solidarity and support for Afghanistan, but it is announced that the Afghan delegation will attend the conference with some old acting ministers.

Experts have raised the issue that there are allegations of corruption against some of the minsters that were failing to secure the country, so how can the same ministers remain accountable to commitments of the up coming London conference?

Afghan females and a career in journalism

Women make up 1,500 of the Afghanistan’s 10,000 journalists. Threatened by the Taliban, risk of death, yet still they choose to work towards a career in journalism.

It is now clear to the world that life for women in Afghanistan was never easy, and the question that remains is, if it will ever be easy?

We can, without a doubt, say that females in Afghanistan dream of a career because after all, the women there are like any other woman in the world, with a dream. Afghanistan has seen a great interest of women working towards rebuilding the country.

There are now women politicians, drivers, teachers, doctors, singers, celebrities and businesswomen in Afghanistan. A huge improvement compared to the previous, dark, years of war.

Afghan Women are eager to take part in making Afghanistan a better place purely because of their passion and dreams to live a better life, and make the future brighter for their children and the future generations to come.

From my visits to Afghanistan, I have seen girls and boys going to school with a great interest in education. I recall waking up one morning and looking out of the window in my room, seeing children dressed in uniform heading towards school, Girls wearing white scarves and black dresses and the boys wearing blazers, shirts and trousers with polished shoes, cheerfully heading to school.

However, with the withdrawal of the troops and reduced aid to Afghanistan there is a very high risk of these gains and the achievements of Afghan women and men, which are already very fragile, to be reversed back as no one knows what the future holds for Afghanistan.

Fatimah, a young Afghan girl, aged 21, whom I met in Afghanistan, Jalalabad province, said that the Taliban are not the only reason that stops men and women from pursuing a career in journalism, but it is the lack of security in the country, and the unorganised policies in the countries laws.

She said, “I want a career in journalism, but the lack of security and the lack of protection for journalists in Afghanistan stops me. My family, especially my father is against my decision, he is not permitting me to work towards the career in journalism because he fears losing me.”

Palwasha Tokhi

On September 16th, young female journalist, known as Palwasha Tokhi, who worked for Bayan, a local radio in northern Balkh province, was killed inside her home.

Palwasha Tokhi studied and completed her Masters degree in Thailand, two months before she was killed.

She was taken to the Mazar-e-Sharif hospital after being stabbed by unknown men. Mohammad Khalil Tokhi, her father, said the men broke into their home when he was not there, stabbed Palwasha and then fled. Tokhi was the second radio journalist killed in Mazar-e-Sharif.

There were claims that Palwasha had been killed because she worked for the German military and it was thought she had links with them.

Tokhi’s former colleague said, “The insurgents tell people that those who work for the West are promoting Christianity in Afghanistan and are against Islam.”

Her murder is still a mystery and no one has found her killers. This raises the question, if the Afghan police/government are trying hard enough to bring those who commit crimes, such as killings of journalist, to justice.

http://www.dw.de/natos-afghan-employees-fear-for-their-lives/a-17933478

http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/backpid/1/article/female-journalist-brutally-murdered-in-afghanistan/

http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2013/02/15/afghanistan-the-most-dangerous-country-for-journalists-cpj.html

https://fascinatingmystery.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/saint-of-the-week-palwasha-tokhi/