Join me in the back row for this event, make sure to bring pretzels and something to drink or popcorn…
NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute to Host Panel Discussion, “Talking to the Taliban,” Feb. 18
Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010
New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute will host a panel discussion-“Talking to the Taliban: How Well Has the West Understood Its Enemy in Afghanistan?”-on Thursday, February 18, 6:30 p.m. (20 Cooper Square, between 5th and 6th Streets, 7th Floor). Subways: 6 (Astor Place); R, W (8th Street). The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org is required. Call 212.998.7887 or go to journalism.nyu.edu/events for more information. Photo ID required for entry.
Reporters interested in attending must RSVP to James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212.998.6808 or email@example.com. Filming, videotaping, photographing, and audio recording the event is prohibited.
The panel will be moderated by Barnett Rubin, director of studies at NYU’s Center on International Cooperation and currently a senior adviser on Afghanistan to U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. Other panelists include: David Rohde, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times who was held captive by the Taliban for seven months in Pakistan’s tribal regions; Michael Semple, a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School who has served in Afghanistan with the United Nations and the European Union; and, Alex Strick van Linschoten, co-editor of My Life with the Taliban, an autobiography by former Taliban minister Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef.
‘Voices from Southern
Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn
SCR, Politics and International Studies, 17 Mill Lane, 13.00 to 14.00, Monday 8 February
As more American soldiers are deployed to southern Afghanistan as part of the recently-announced ‘Surge’, Kandahar province has come under renewed scrutiny. Based full time in Kandahar city for the past two years, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn will introduce the history of the province initially through the life of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a high-ranking former Taliban diplomat whose autobiographical memoirs, My Life With The Taliban, are just about to be published (Hurst, London), These were edited and introduced by Alex and Felix.
Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban movement, and its people have dominated Afghanistan’s history since the early days of the Afghan state. Van Linschoten and Kuehn will explore the current situation in Kandahar, highlighting dynamics within the Taliban and the local tribes from whom they draw their support. They will discuss the concerns and views of local Afghans living amid the strategic confusion engendered by foreign political and military intervention in an ever-deteriorating conflict.
Felix Kuehn first travelled to Afghanistan five years ago, having spent long periods in the Middle East, including in Yemen, where he learnt Arabic. In 2006, he founded AfghanWire.com
Alex Strick van Linschoten founded AfghanWire.
Confirmed book tour events so far…
January 21st, 2010 — Talk — School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
10 Thornhaugh Street, London, WC1H 0XG — 5.30-7pm.
February 1st, 2010 — Talk — International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
13–15 Arundel Street, Temple Place, London WC2R 3DX — 12.30-1.30pm.
February 3rd, 2010 — Talk — London School of Economics (LSE)
Room U8, Tower 1, Clement’s Inn, London WC2A 2AD — 12.30-2.00pm.
February 5th, 2010 — Talk — Chatham House
10 St James’s Square, London SW1Y 4LE — 1.30-2.30pm.
February 9th, 2010 — Book Launch — Frontline Club
13 Norfolk Place, London W2 1QJ — 7-9pm
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
February 18th, 2010 — Discussion Panel – “Talking with the Taliban” — New York University (NYU)
Manhattan, New York, NY 10011 — 6.30-8.30pm
February 26th, 2010 — Talk — Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20036 — 2.30-3.30pm
March 2nd, 2010 — Talk — Middle East Institute (MEI)
1761 N Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20036-2882 — 12-1pm
March 11th, 2010 — Talk — Carr Center, Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge MA 02138 — 4-6pm
March 11th, 2010 — Talk & Signing — The COOP Bookstore, Harvard
1400 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138 — 7-8.30pm
Not available online yet but here the link anyway:
Last edition of the German magazine Zenith featured the cover story by Christopher Grosse and myself about Taliban poetry. Alex Strick and myself have been working on an ongoing project concerned with Taliban poetry. By now we have collected hundreds of poems and translated them into english, hoping to publish a ‘anthology’ of Taliban poetry in order to shine more light on this ignored output of the group.
Originally posted on Wednesday, 26 August 2009
It was perhaps twenty minutes after the call to prayer had sounded and we were breaking the fast, sitting on the floor around a plastic sheet with plates of rice and meat, when I was knocked sideways to the ground.
It takes a split second till you realize what happened; the shock-wave had blown out the windows, sending the glass flying like shrapnel into the room. It was a miracle that no one was injured.
Our glass is double glazing, and glass kept on raining down the facade landing on our terrace, shattering into thousands of tiny pieces. There have been bomb blasts before that shook the ground, but nothing like this. I heard gunfire on the streets for several minutes, and I moved to the back rooms of the apartment with my friends. No pretty pictures this time, but I doubt I could have held the camera steady those first few minutes anyway.
Soon after the gunshots stopped, we walked out onto the terrace, glass crunching under our sandals and watched as police cars and ambulances rushed past towards the blast side. The air was filled with dust and a few blocks down I could the flashing lights and cars gathering. Quite soon after, a fire burst out, with flames and black smoke billowing into the sky – firefighters passed by.
The blast site was near to Sharjah Bakery, a shop I visit most days for soda and sweets. Just across the street is a wedding salon, and the NDS/intelligence services office is close by along with a private security company and a construction company. A friend called and said it might have been a bomb factory that blew up. Some 40 minutes later reports came in that it was a car bomb. Casualties kept arriving at Mirwais hospital for hours after the explosion. People were being dug out of the collapsed building. This morning the toll had risen to 43 dead and 65 injured.
My desk is littered with pieces of plaster that have fallen off from the ceiling and the window frames sit next to the wall.
30 minutes after the blast a convoy of foreign troops drove by, the unmistakable sound of their heavy vehicles roaring through the streets, followed by more ambulances.
Smoke kept on rising into the sky hours later, even though the firefighters seemed to have managed to put out the fires. Helicopters were flying overhead through the night sky.
Sitting in the now windowless living room last night talking with my Afghan friends, one turns to me and says: “There are those Afghans who migrated to the west who say they miss Afghanistan!” He bursts out into laughter. “This is what they are missing!” Another shakes his head: “Fuck Kandahar. Fuck Afghanistan.”
Around 11:00pm people were being evacuated from the Continental guesthouse. The police chief was talking about another 4 possible suicide bombers who were still at large in the city and heated discussion broke out in my apartment as to whether or not we should stay or move to another building further away from the Continental guesthouse and the main roads.
In the end we stayed. The idea that a truck bomb would drive into our building and explode seemed unrealistic at the time.
Now the next morning, the air is filled with the sound of people cleaning up broken glass on the street. The shopkeepers just opposite our building have all lost their glass windowfronts. I can see the blast sight; some buildings are missing, and the ones adjacent to the center of the explosion seem derelict, without windows or frames, just the empty carcasses left standing.
The area around the Shah Jahan Restaurant is a popular area, with many people spending their evenings on the little green grass strip in the middle of the road. Half an hour ago I drove to the blast site, and the destruction leaves little doubt that this has been Kandahar’s biggest bomb so far: entire buildings were annihilated and squares of mud huts flattened.
Sharjah Bakery is gone, the construction company reduced to a pile of bricks across the street from it. The restaurant itself collapsed, burying everyone inside underneath it.
Another friend called in and said he believed that the district chief of Khakrez was at the restaurant along with a number of government officials, but nothing is confirmed yet.
Emotions were running high yesterday, and security forces in town were quick to pull the trigger. Standing outside on the terrace waiting to being put through to CBC Radio for an interview, someone started firing his AK47, and a bullet whizzed past me, hitting the door and reaching as far as our living room.
I did the interview anyway, even though I guess I must have been a little freaked out at the time, given the amount of swearwords I used.
In the end, though, no one is surprised. This is not a turning point or the start of something; it’s what has been happening all along for the past few years in Kandahar. Violence has been on the rise, and there is no security for the people of southern Afghanistan.
re-posted on the AfPak Channel
Election Day: A divine comedy
Originally posted on Tuesday, 25 August 2009
It’s the middle of summer down here in Kandahar, with temperatures peeking around 50 degree Celsius by noon. In the run up to Afghanistan’s second presidential and provincial council elections foreign troops stepped up their efforts, launching multiple operations to prepare the ground for voters.
British casualties passed the 200 mark, with friends from London writing to me asking what is happening down south. There is a growing belief that a surge and COIN is the answer, and that pouring more troops in now will allow them to withdraw sooner in the long-term. Some commentators even suggested that this could happen in the next one to two years — an unlikely scenario to say the least.
These elections are a milestone in the western ‘Afghanistan’ project. There’s a definite need for this to happen; there’s a definite need for good news. The south is in the midst of an ever accelerating downward spiral of violence and disintegration: take last year’s numbers of casualties, attacks and bombs, as well as foreign troops; double it and you are close to what Kandahar is like these days.
The city itself is in deep crisis. Just the other day a friend named multiple city districts he can not go to anymore due to security concerns. If you are known in the city, you carry a gun.
The Afghan government has sent in reinforcements to secure the city. On my flight from Kabul last week I shared the plane with some 40 ANP. New soldiers and policemen in Kandahar means scared kids with guns, which in turn translates into more gun fights and more problems. During the two nights before the election the air was filled with spurts of AK and PK gunfire, at times lasting for over an hour, maybe because the insurgents are stepping up or because the police are edgy and trigger happy.
The day before the elections Alex forced me onto twitter and posted an introduction resulting in 40+ followers, one of which send me a tweet at 7.30am saying: “@felixkuehn Wake up. It’s a big day.” Indeed it was, and by the time I was back from the first round of visits to various election polling stations I saw his message.
The stations opened at 7am, with the governor casting the first vote of the day just a couple of minutes before the elections officially started. It’s a two minute drive from where I live to the election centre at Ahmed Shah Baba High School; at least it only takes 2 minutes on election day. All the roads were deserted, the city closed. Cars needed special permits to be on the street, shops were closed and there were double the usual number of ANA and ANP-manned security checkpoints throughout the city.
I took a picture of the governor. He didn’t look happy walking to the station; he hardly ever looks happy you have to admit, but than again, who would be happy running Kandahar…
He cast his vote at one of the 20 polling rooms amidst a battle among the who is who of Kandahari journalists. NYT’s Timur Shah, Hewaad television and Al Jazeera were swarming around him, and of course Soraya Nelson of NPR, just back from two weeks embedded in Helmand, was holding her ground, moving ninja-like through the crowd in her orange garments. When we entered the school grounds about quarter to seven, flashing our media cards from the election monitoring commission, we were greeted by a few friends, the election ‘observers’, all wearing Karzai caps and buttons.
We stuck around at Ahmad Shah Baba for an hour or so. At no point during that time did more people come to vote other than election staff and journalists hanging around waiting for them.
The caravan of journalists then poured into their cars heading for the next polling station — which was closed, so we drove to the next one. Zahir Shahi High School is a few hundred meters down the street from the police headquarters and had 8 polling stations open. When we arrived there was a small queue of around 8-10 people outside, but inside the corridors were full, giving an impression that lots of people would show up to cast their votes here. In the end the total number that came was around 1800 (1717 votes at 3.15pm with hardly anyone around); this being Kandahar’s most central polling station, a very meager outcome.
At Zahir Shah High School, however, we met Mr. Zakaria who was there to cast his vote. “I am not afraid. I am here to vote,” or something pretty close to that were his words. After his finger was stained and his card invalidated, he took the two voting cards and walked towards the cardboard voting stations with one in each hand. 30 seconds later he appeared again a voting paper in each hand, shrugging his shoulders, and asking the room what he actually had to do with them now. Several people rushed to help and a minute later, Mr. Zakaria disappeared again. Another man went over while he was standing behind the cardboard shield but was soon asked by the staff to stand back. Mr. Zakaria dropped the ballots into the boxes and and strolled away.
We walked around the corner to go the the women’s polling station. There were a few dozen there at the time, even though half of them were probably election staff. We went into one of the polling station rooms, and found ourselves in the middle of a drama: the ballot boxes weren’t sealed before the voting had started.
In the end, one of the ladies in the room sealed the boxes and stuffed the 14 ballots into them again, and we were sent on our way.
We spent lunch at our computers, quickly learning that the supposedly indelible ink could be removed with bleach. The news was tearing through Kandahar by 1pm. Everyone was on the phone, letting people know that you could remove the ink and vote again. Close to everyone I know down here has 2-3 voter registration cards to his name. I can not be sure how many people cast a second or even third vote, but I know it happened.
After lunch we drove out to Mirwais Mina just west of Kandahar city. Mirwais Mina sees open fighting on the street as well as IED attacks on a regular basis these days. The school we went to, however, is best known for the acid attacks against a number of schoolgirls earlier this year.
In the polling station for men we were escorted to one of the offices as soon as we entered the compound. Ustaz Abdul Halim was sitting in the middle of the room, smoking. Ustaz is the last of the Kandahari dinosaurs of the Soviet Jihad, and Mirwais Mina is his capital. He still has a base out there, and remains pretty influential to say the least. He was the security advisor to the last governor, and a few days ago I saw him on the stage of Karzai’s rally in the stadium. Ustaz seemed to be in high spirits, though, and after a brief chat we walked up the alley to the girls’ school.
At that polling center 94 women had cast their votes at 3.05pm.
With barely an hour left we drove to Shkarpur Darwaza Station, counting 274 votes, and hurried back to Ahmad Shah Baba High School where the day had started. We went to 16 out of the 20 stations at Ahmad Shah Baba, counting 1007 votes, while rockets hit a few hundred meters away from the school causing the ANP and ANA to hastily run towards the gate and number of people to move towards the back of the compound.
We stuck around, watching them seal the ballot boxes and then open them again under supervision, counting the votes. A journalist came in saying that the BBC had announced that the stations would be open for an hour longer, but people were already counting.
There are about 60 polling stations in Kandahar city and about 260 in the entire province. If I average what I saw on election day (and remember that two of those were the biggest in Kandahar province), and I use only the male polling stations, the most accessible etc. then I arrive at a participation rate of roughly 170,000 people or 17% for the whole province.
But, let’s be real: this is Kandahar. In the 2005 Wolesi Jirga elections roughly a quarter of all registered voters were female. I can’t recall the exact percentage but that number has grown in this year’s registrations, a miracle in itself down here in Afghanistan’s conservative heartland. So at least a quarter of the polling stations are for female voters, leaving 195 male voting stations. Let’s see where that leaves us – at roughly 13%.
In Kandahar we have 1.08 million registered voters. Out of those votes cast in the city we have a number of people who voted twice or maybe three times. In Spin Boldak, General Raziq took all the ballot boxes into his house, and rumour has it that the outcome for the presidential election in Boldak is 100% in favour of Karzai. People are talking about a 60% turnout by now. Based on what I saw and heard, a realistic estimate for the province is somewhere between 6-8%. As I told a friend who might be in the election complaints commission, and therefore a very busy man soon: “down here in Kandahar there was no election.”
But who are we kidding? It’s a milestone achievement. And in the end we will learn that at least 50-60% of the people voted, some 500,000 to 600,000 people. This was the second independent, free, fair and democratic elections in Afghanistan.
Karzai and Abdullah have both already declared their victory.
These elections were at best a sham, but in reality it was pure satire – no wait – actually it’s a divine comedy, and the foreigners are really just visiting the seven circles of hell.
article re-posted on Alex Strick’s Frontline Blog
I change my software for the blog to be more flexible about uploads and make posting easier for myself. I am a horrible blogger, i rarely write but than i write three posts at once. I cannot spell and i do not know grammar which normally means that anything i write gets edited – not here though.
Anyway life has become faster recently and with the first book out “My Life With The Taliban” – obviously as editor – but nevertheless – it seems there will be changes. Up till now i have done little publicly, i twitter since a few months; again with fluctuating commitment.
The most prominent public article i wrote so far is Alex and my piece in the Foreign Policy Magazine ““See You Soon, If We’re Still Alive” The only two Westerners living on their own in Kandahar have been bombed, ambushed, and nearly sold to kidnappers. Here’s what they’ve learned about the country where war just won’t end.”
We neither came up with the title nor with the subtitle. Life is hardly as this makes it sound but than again it is difficult to explain what it is like to be in southern Afghanistan to people who have never experienced an environment that is dominated by violence and conflict.
Even so this is the first post of this blog i will repost the two entries of the old one and than try to share more of what it is like…