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Afghanistan in 2008: A Survey of the Afghan People

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On October 28, 2008, The Asia Foundation released findings from its fourth public opinion poll in Afghanistan, “Afghanistan in 2008: A Survey of the Afghan People” which covers the largest population sample ever surveyed at one time in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces. The Asia Foundation has conducted four surveys, dating back to 2004, which collectively establish an accurate, long-term barometer of public opinion across the country to help assess the direction in which Afghanistan is moving in the post-Taliban era. The 2008 survey captures the Afghan public’s perceptions of reconstruction, security, governance, and attitudes towards government and informal institutions, as well as poppy cultivation, the status of women, the role of Islam, and the impact of media. The fieldwork for the survey was conducted during June 12-July 2, 2008, when 543 Afghan men and women conducted in-person interviews with a multi-stage random sample of 6,593 Afghan citizens 18 years of age and o
lder from different social, economic, and ethnic communities in rural and urban areas in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.


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November 1, 2008 at 3:45 am

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An Afghan woman lays foundations of reform

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Globe and Mail (Canada)
September 1, 2008

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — A strange man phoned Masoda Younasy about a year ago at the construction company she owns in downtown Kandahar.

He would not give his name. And when Ms. Younasy, who is now 22, suggested that he come to her offices, the man explained that he was already outside the building but the watchman would not let him through the door.

The man was eventually ushered in to meet her and she understood her guard’s concern.

“I was very scared. He was totally like a terrorist,” Ms. Younasy said. Her sister Hameda, who was in the office at the time and who accompanied her during an interview with The Globe and Mail, nodded in wide-eyed agreement.

But the man had come on an errand of mercy and not murder.

“He said, ‘When you were two months old, I came to your home and I met your family. Your parents, your mom, were very kind to me.’ So he said, ‘I want to let you know about something,’ ” Ms. Younasy said.

He showed her a piece of paper with the names of five men involved in Afghan politics and private business. At the bottom of the list was her own name.

“He said, ‘Okay, Masoda, I got money to kill all these people on this list. First these five gentlemen. At the end, you. And I got $500 to kill you,’ ” she related.

“I said, ‘Oh my god, the price of my life is only $500!’ He said, ‘It’s much money for me. Killing people is very easy for me.’ I said, ‘Okay, so you are going to kill me now?’ He said, ‘No, I am not going to kill you. I am going to kill these five gentlemen and I am going to give them their money back for you.’ “

There are those in Afghanistan who do not like the fact that Ms. Younasy, the granddaughter of the revered former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, runs her own construction business.

But the tiny woman in a head scarf, lipstick and sparkling gold and silver jewellery stubbornly insists on charting her own course, defying tradition and murderous insurgents in one of the most dangerous cities on Earth.

Ms. Younasy was raised in Pakistan, where her Afghan family fled during the war with the Russians. Her parents returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban and summoned their 10 children to join them. For Ms. Younasy, it was a homecoming.

She took a series of positions – from justice assistant to the Afghan human-rights commission to field officer for the electoral-management body – and then landed a job as a project manager with a group of construction companies.

One of the draws of the work, she said, was that it was unconventional.

“I said, ‘Oh, this is my wish – to do something in Afghanistan that a lady cannot do because of our culture,’ ” Ms. Younasy said. “They are not doing these things because they are scared of family, culture, the Taliban. So I said, ‘Why don’t I do this?’ “

A year later, she quit to start her own firm, the Younasy Construction Company. The firm, she said, has built bridges, an 18-kilometre stretch of highway, schools, police outposts, part of a hospital and a market in Dubai.

Not that it has been easy.

On one occasion she was the successful bidder on a contract to build a prayer building outside government offices. Former governor Asadullah Khalid asked to speak to the head of her company.

“When I went to the governor’s office, he said, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I am a contractor and I am a director of the Younasy Construction Company.’ And he said, ‘Oh my God, so I gave this project to you!’ ” said Ms. Younasy.

“I said, ‘You didn’t give me the project, I won the project.’ He said, ‘Okay, I will do whatever you want, but please leave this project. You cannot work on it. It’s not your field. Females can work at the home with babies but they cannot work with construction, with machinery.’ “

She pleaded for a chance to show what she could do. The governor reluctantly gave in and the project was completed 1½ months early. But there have been no more contracts from the provincial government.

Meanwhile, her extended family is enraged by Ms. Younasy’s chosen occupation.

About 1½ months ago, in the days before she was leaving to take an entrepreneurial course in Michigan, two uncles and three cousins who own their own construction company asked her into their home to discuss business.

She accepted the invitation and brought her mother and sister along for company.

The uncles “asked ‘Why are you going to the U.S.A.? It’s time for you to stay home. This is against our culture, that a single girl is going to the U.S.A. So sit in your home and we will get you married with your cousin,’ ” she said.

She refused. A fight broke out. She was slapped and her uncles locked her and her mother and her sister in a room, saying they were calling the rest of her family over. “They said, ‘We will kill all you here. No one will know about it. Soon you will be finished,’ ” said Ms. Younasy.

Once the door was closed, she said, she pulled out her cellphone and called the Afghan police. They arrived and rescued the three women but refused to lay charges, saying it was a family matter. Ms. Younasy said she has not heard from her uncles since that day.

Her next ambition, she said, is to get a degree in politics at a Canadian or American university. Hameda, her sister, will look after the construction company and her other projects in her absence.

Then, she plans to come back and become a politician in Afghanistan.

“And this is my goal, it’s not my dream or my wish, it is my goal: I want to offer myself as a candidate for the president of Afghanistan,” she said.

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September 3, 2008 at 3:03 am

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New Claims Of Afghan Civilians Killed In US-led Strikes

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August 30, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP)–Two senior Afghan police officers alleged Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition killed five civilians in air strikes aimed at Taliban insurgents, but the force denied causing any civilian casualties.

The claims come after the coalition was also accused of killing more than 90 people, including 60 children, in air strikes in the west a week ago – a charge it denies.

“Five civilians, including two women and a child, were killed in an air strike by coalition forces early this morning,” Sayed Sakhidad, criminal investigation police chief for Kapisa province outside Kabul, told AFP.

Five Taliban were also killed, he said.

Kapisa’s deputy provincial police chief Abdul Hamid Hakimi also said “five civilians and as many rebels, including a militant commander, were killed in the strikes.”

He gave the names of the civilian dead, whom he said were from the same family and included two females and three males, one of them 17 years old.

The coalition dismissed the allegations. “There were no civilian casualties in that incident,” a spokesman said.

The coalition said in a statement earlier that “several militants” were killed in the operation in Kapisa’s Nijrab district, which started Friday.

Troops were looking for a Taliban commander involved in smuggling weapons and attacks on foreign soldiers when they came under attack from a compound, the coalition said.

The troops then ordered militants to leave the compound.

“Several women and children exited the compound and were moved to a safe area at which time coalition forces again came under AK-47 and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire,” the statement said.

“Coalition force responded with precision air strikes, killing several militants.”

Allegations of civilian casualties are difficult to verify.

Investigations teams from the United Nations and Afghan government have said more than 90 civilians were killed in the western province of Herat a week ago in what would be one of the deadliest incidents in the past seven years.

But the coalition rejects the number, admitting though that five civilians were killed.

Kapisa, where French troops have recently deployed to reinforce U.S. soldiers, has seen an uptick in unrest, as has much of Afghanistan, despite the presence of nearly 70,000 international soldiers in the fight against rising extremism.

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August 31, 2008 at 2:48 am

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Taekwondo-Afghanistan wants medal to heal home wounds

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By Ian Ransom

BEIJING, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s cashed-strapped taekwondo team present the only hope of bringing home the country’s first Olympic medal.

Rohulla Nikpai and Nesar Ahmed Behave make up half of the Afghan delegation, the other half being two 100-metres sprinters who have never trained on a proper running track in their home country.

“They have qualified here on their own terms. We did not need a wild card to compete,” team head Ghulam Rabani said of the taekwondo team who boast a world silver medallist in 23-year-old Behave.

A former national taekwondo athlete and president of the country’s taekwondo federation, Rabani came back to Afghanistan in 2002, after fleeing Taliban rule to live in Iran in the 1990s.

“Those years were terrible. Every day was hearing bad news,” said Rabani.

Afghanistan has been torn apart by nearly 30 years of war, turning an already impoverished nation into one of the very poorest in the world. Life expectancy at birth is just 44 and nearly one in five children die before their fifth birthday.

The Taliban used the main sports stadium in Kabul, a modest concrete structure, to execute murderers in public, amputate the limbs of thieves and lash adulterers.

The Olympics team all know people who have been killed or had limbs blown off and tragedy still strikes with alarming frequency.

“I’ve just found out one of our athletes has been killed by the Taliban while driving on the road to Kabul from Kandahar,” Rabani said.

Rabani has helped build a network of 700 taekwondo clubs across the country since the Taliban were swept from power after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

But facilities remain “less than zero”, and most tournaments are still held “under the sunshine”. National team athletes can expect a government subsidy of $10 a month.

Still, things are better than the days when the Taliban were in power, said Behave, who will compete in the men’s 68-kg category on Thursday.

“Training in those days was terrible. There were bombs exploding around us and people would come in telling us to pray all the time,” Behave said.

The team, whose Beijing adventure has been funded by the International Olympic Committee, boasts a Korean coach and is confident of breaking the country’s medal duck.

A medal would help, not least in bringing a $50,000 bonus promised by an Afghan mobile phone tycoon and allowing the country’s diverse people forget their differences for a time.

“There are many different faces, different languages here, so sometimes they don’t like each other,” Rabani said.

“But when we got the silver medal at the world championships, all Afghanistan was happy. I heard that even the Taliban was happy.” (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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August 18, 2008 at 4:57 am

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Afghanistan hopes to end Olympic medal drought

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BEIJING, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) — Afghanistan’s Olympic delegation strode into the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday night.

The delegation, whose only four athletes arrived in the Chinese capital one day before the Olympics open, is seeking a historic medal in the Beijing Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Afghanistan from Olympic competition in 1999 for the Taliban ruling. After missing the 2000 Sydney Games, Afghan athletes were allowed to participate in the Athens Games since the IOC lifted the ban in 2002.

Runner Mehboba Andyar, the only female Afghan athlete in Beijing, will compete in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters events.

Ahdyar spent years training for her chance on the world supreme athletic stage. In spite of the change in Afghanistan’s political fortunes, the only female Olympian has faced daily taunts from her more conservative neighbors, vicious rumors about her character, and even death threats from extremists.

Ahdyar left her training camp in June to seek political asylum in Norway, saying she just wanted undistracted training.

In Athens, women’s athletes Friba Razayee and Robina Muqim Yaar represented Afghanistan for the first time in the country’s history.

Afghanistan’s best Olympic finish was Mohammed Ebrahimi’s fifth place in wrestling at the Tokyo Games in 1964.

Afghanistan, a mountainous Islamic country in Central Asia with a population of about 31 million, has a history and culture that goes back over 5,000 years.

The most popular sport in Afghanistan is buzkashi, a team sport played on horseback. The second most popular sport is soccer, followed by cricket.

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August 10, 2008 at 2:47 am

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Against all odds, Afghans try their luck in Beijing

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By John Chalmers

BEIJING, Aug 9 (Reuters) – Sprinter Robina Muqimyar does not have a qualified trainer, she has no sponsor, she comes from a country ruined by war and she grew up under hardline Islamist rulers who would not brook girls playing sport.

Little wonder that she stands little chance of a medal at the Beijing Olympics.

But Muqimyar, the only woman among four athletes representing Afghanistan at the Games, told Reuters she would just be happy if she could improve the 100 metres time she clocked up at Athens four years ago, 14.14 seconds.

“I’m the luckiest girl in the world to participate in two Olympic Games, and I hope to get to London,” she said after a ceremony to raise the black-green-gold tricolour of Afghanistan among a sea of flags at the athletes’ village.

Although Afghan society remains deeply conservative, some things have improved for women since 2001, when U.S.-led and Afghan forces ousted the Taliban rulers.

Muqimyar, dressed in a headscarf, said that most people in her country would be very proud that a female athlete was representing them in a world sports event.

Her Olympic teammates include two taekwondo competitors and a men’s 100 metres runner, Masoud Azizi, a 23-year-old.

There is not a single proper running track in the whole country and athletes in Kabul, the capital, train at a sports stadium where the Taliban used to hold public executions.

“We have to run on concrete,” said Azizi, another Athens Olympian who went to Malaysia for five months before the Beijing Games to train. His best time in the 100 metres is 10.87 seconds.

“Under the Taliban regime it was very difficult to be an athlete but now with (President Hamid) Karzai things are better,” he said.

“Afghanistan faces a huge funding crisis. At international donor meetings funds go to schools, health and construction but no one considers sports,” he said. (editing by Alison Williams)

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August 10, 2008 at 2:46 am

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Afghanistan Strives to Register All Newborns

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by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
NPR – National Public Radio

July 1, 2008

If you ask people in Afghanistan how old they are, you are likely to get a vague response.

Many will tell you they are “around” a given age. Others may give you a range of years. Such vagueness is not due to vanity, nor to any objection to the question. Instead, it is because many people in Afghanistan do not actually know how old they are.

Officials in the Afghan government are trying to change that. Starting this spring, they have been issuing their youngest citizens something most people in Afghanistan have never seen: a birth certificate.

Starting with Kabul

At the moment, Kabul is the only place in Afghanistan where every newborn baby is being registered, including those who are born at home.

The Afghan government, with United Nations help, hopes to do the same for newborns all over the country by the end of 2009. If they succeed, it will be the first time this has happened in Afghan history.

Currently, the government says less than 1 percent of Afghans have a birth certificate.

Najibullah Hameem is a child protection specialist in Kabul with UNICEF, the body funding the birth certificate drive.

“Having identity, proper identity is eveybody’s human right,” Hameem says. “This is something which is lacking in Afghanistan. By registering births, we are solving so many problems.”

The government hopes the program will help ensure all children are vaccinated and receive those shots at the right age. It is also intended to give the government an accurate tally of its youngest citizens, so enough schools can be built.

Some officials hope the certificates might even keep Afghan parents from marrying off their daughters at too early an age. That, in turn, could lower infant and maternal mortality rates.

Inaccessible Regions

Still, despite popular support and the fact that birth certificates are required by law, Mir Abdulrahman Maaqool, a senior Interior Ministry official, says it is difficult to make the certificates standard issue in Afghanistan. One particular problem has been reaching newborns in remote areas, where four of every five Afghans live.

“No one opposes it, but there isn’t a whole lot of cooperation, either,” says Maaqool. “We tell local religious leaders and village elders about the benefit the certificates can bring to their communities, but they want to be paid a salary by UNICEF or the government. That we simply can’t afford.”

Nor does the Afghan government have the means to collect or store nationwide data.

“We need to support them in terms of space, in terms of equipment, in terms of transportation, which is a main issue,” says Hameem. “Currently we have provided motorbikes to birth [registrars]. By motorbikes you can access all the communities.”

However, another stumbling block to the rollout of the certificate program is that many areas of the country are engulfed in war and too dangerous to access to offer the certificates. Hameem says this could prevent the Afghan government from meeting its 2009 goal of registering all newborns.

Finding a Name

In a Kabul maternity ward, hospital worker Mahbooba asks a dozen mothers if they have chosen names for their babies. All but one say no. Parents in Afghanistan often take several days to select a name.

The exception on this afternoon is 22-year-old Shamina.

Mahbooba asks the new mother what name she has chosen for her son. “Karam,” she replies, and the hospital worker scribbles it down on the birth certificate.

Even though most parents do not settle on a name before they leave the hospital, Mahbooba prefers to register the babies immediately after birth, as the hospital has no way to ensure that the parents will return to complete the birth certificate.

Mahbooba says she now finds herself suggesting names to the parents. Most of the time, she says, parents go along with her suggestions. She guesses it is because she selects religious names found in the Quran.

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July 2, 2008 at 4:31 am

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