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ISIS Radio Tries To Lure Young Afghans To Jihad

JALALABAD — It's a cold evening in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province. At night, young people here gather around the fire to discuss their daily lives. But over recent months, their meetings have increasingly included listening to broadcasts on an FM radio channel that went live in August. Supporters here of ISIS, also known as Daesh, have launched a radio station called Sadaye Khilafat, which means "Voice of the Caliphate." In the station's promotional ad, listeners can hear the sound of galloping horses, a strategic approach intended to conjure an image of the Prophet Muhammad, who used horses during war. The daily three-hour broadcasts include anti-government propaganda, invitations to join ISIS in Syria and interviews with ISIS fighters. Saad Emarati is a guest on today's program about the heroes of ISIS. Once an active Taliban militant, he has since declared support for ISIS and urges young listeners during the broadcast to join him. "I ask all people who are not linked with ISIS to get connected soon and follow Abu-Bakar Al Baghdadi as a leader of Muslims," he says. "I especially invite religious people to join ISIS. People do not have any real reason to delay." Voice of the Caliphate has been compared to Pakistan's Mulah radio, a station the Taliban used to broadcast its messages in 2007 and 2008. Aerial view of Jalalabad, Afghanistan — Photo: Bryan Battaglia The audience Naveed-ur-Rahman, 22, has been unemployed for the last seven months and has been a regular listener of Voice of the Caliphate since the station first began broadcasting. But he says he's not convinced of the message. "I know the main purpose is to recruit young people like me who are jobless and don't have any source of income, but I don't think any sensible young man will join Daesh," he says. "They want to use the name of Islam, but I don't think it will work anymore to deceive Afghans." By contrast, 25-year-old Hazrat (not his real name) says he is pleased that ISIS has its own space on the airwaves. "Media plays a vital role in wars now, so it's good that Daesh has a radio channel," he says. "I don't want to say if I am an ISIS supporter or not, but I like the radio channel because it gives Daesh an opportunity to share their version of the story. I wait all day long to hear the program." In Afghanistan, radio is a major source of news and entertainment for people in cities and villages, and there are around 170 radio stations across the country. But earlier this month, Afghan government officials claimed that a U.S. drone strike destroyed the station, killing 29 militants and five radio station employees. Though ISIS has strongly rejected the claims, Naveed-ur-Rahman says he has been unable to listen to the station for several weeks. He has switched instead to Pashto music — a welcome change, says his mother Gul Bibi. "My son used to listen to the Daesh programs, but there has not been a program on for more than two weeks now," she says. "The militants want to spread their fear through that station, but ISIS fighters should know that they can't rule by force." ...

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Maternal Mortality: Midwives To The Rescue In Afghanistan

JALALABAD — Shah Zaman, 11, spends his days carting people's luggage to earn a few cents. His mother died during his birth and soon after, his father remarried. "I wish my mother had been taken to the hospital," he says. Shah lives in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, where war and internal conflicts have weakened the local economy and health system. Like in so many parts of the country, health facilities lack trained staff. In more remote areas, health facilities can also be hours away, making it difficult for pregnant women to reach them in time. This, in a country where women give birth to an average of six children, and where one in 11 women dies in pregnancy or childbirth, according to a 2012 report from Save the Children. The government is working hard to address the issue by training midwives — more than 4,000 since the fall of the Taliban in 2002. Saliha, a midwife in the Kama district hospital in eastern Nangarhar province, thinks the initiative has helped, but says maternal mortality is still far too high. Blaming both the lack of female health providers in her area, and bad roads, she decided she would step in. "It was my dream to be a doctor," she recalls. Unable to afford medical school, she completed a two-year midwifery course. " A newborn baby at a Kandahar hospital — Photo: Staff Sgt. Arthur Hamilton Saliha says that because patients can show up at any moment, health facilities keep midwives on call 24 hours per day. "Our services have helped reduce the maternal mortality rate," she says. A survey by the Afghan Ministry of Health and its partners suggests that the maternal mortality has indeed dropped steeply: from 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2002 to 327 deaths per 100,0000 live births in 2010. Medical practitioners say women in rural areas have started to trust the local health services, and rather than give birth at home, as they did in the past, are traveling to hospitals to deliver their babies. Aasiya is Saliha’s colleague at the hospital, where she has been working for the past eight years. "Pregnant women used to give birth in their homes," she explains. "They have a false perception about deliveries in health facilities." The women have also organized health education and awareness sessions to encourage locals to take advantage of the new care available. Nazia recently traveled to the hospital with her sister, who is having her first baby. "We are very grateful to the staff who provided us with great support, and for free," she said. "This is vital for poor people like us who can’t afford it otherwise.". ...

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Trump And Torture, Reflections Of A Good Soldier

The terrorists attacks in Brussels last week provided instant fodder for the U.S. presidential campaign. Republican front-runner Donald Trump had already boasted last month that he would order the U.S. military to "target the families of terrorists," also pledging to reinstitute waterboarding and "a whole lot more" as a tactic to extract information from terrorists. With 35 innocent people dead in the Belgian capital, Trump wasted no time in doubling down on his support for torture, declaring in an interview that he would have used waterboarding to extract information from Salah Abdeslam, the suspect in November's Paris terror attacks who'd been arrested just four days before the Brussels attack. "Frankly, waterboarding, if it was up to me, and if we change the laws or have the laws, waterboarding would be fine," Trump said. "We work within laws. They don't work within laws. They have no laws. The waterboarding would be fine and if they could expand the laws I would do a lot more than waterboarding." Perhaps the most notable response to Trump's virulent pledges have come from Michael Hayden, the retired Air Force general and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. "If he [Trump] were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act," Hayden said during an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. "You're required not to follow an unlawful order. That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict." Gen. Michael Hayden when he ran the CIA There's only one problem with that statement: Soldiers almost always follow orders. I know because I was a soldier once, a good soldier. I did as I was told. When I enlisted at the age of 17, I was a high school dropout with few prospects other than the military. In 2005, at the height of the Iraq War, the Army was more than willing to give me a job fighting overseas. I knew nothing about international law or human rights. The moment you enlist, you swear an oath to "obey the officers appointed over you." During basic training, the obligation to follow orders is physically and mentally drilled into you. No military tolerates dissent among its ranks. That's how armies have functioned for thousands of years. It's how they must function. Without discipline, an army becomes a rabble, easily defeated by a well-organized enemy. When I failed to follow orders, it inevitably led to physical suffering or public humiliation. An example of a minor infraction was when I neglected to get a haircut. My platoon had been in the field all week training, and I was frankly exhausted. But my platoon leader said, "I won't have any fucking Elvises in my platoon. Get it trimmed." With every intention to get a haircut, I headed back to my barracks. Once I arrived, my roommate offered me a cold beer, and I happily accepted. One led to another, and then another. Before I knew it, the barbershop had closed for the day. I could've had a fellow soldier cut my hair in the barracks, but I decided to forgo it and enjoy the rest of my night. I could always get a haircut the next day. Next morning's formation proved otherwise. I was dealt a quick and severe punishment by a dog-faced sergeant via "corrective training," which is a euphemism for punishment. Throughout the day I was forced to perform various physical exercises meant to degrade me, such as crawling on all fours everywhere I went. To add insult to injury, the sergeant also shaved my head with a razor. Exhausted, humiliated and bald, I swore never to disobey another order. I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I arrested countless military-age males with no little or no cause. I happily turned over those prisoners to Iraqi and Afghan Army or police units, whom I knew routinely tortured and even executed their prisoners. It wouldn't be a surprise if some of the "high-value targets" I assisted in capturing are now in Guantanamo, where they perpetually languish, without charge. I abused my authority, ransacking homes as I "searched" for contraband in Iraqi and Afghan houses. Scandal of U.S. military torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison — Source: Wikimedia Commons My fellow soldiers and I are not sociopaths, and you wouldn't even consider us bad guys if you met us. We were just following orders. We're programmed from the first day of basic training that if a superior instructs you to jump, your only response will be, "how high?" So, when that same platoon leader who told me to get a haircut told me to "tear this fucking house apart!" I did. I was a good soldier, they said. Follow orders — get rewarded. Disobey — be punished. Worse than punishment, you'll be seen as weak. Speak out, and they'll call you snitch. A more severe infraction, such as abandoning your guard post in Iraq, could warrant death by a military court martial. §890 of Article 6 (link) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) states: "Any person subject to this chapter who — (2) willfully disobeys a lawful command of his superior commissioned officer; shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct…" The operative word in the section is "lawful." As long as what your superiors tell you to do is lawful, you are legally bound to follow orders. Your life may even depend on it. Therefore, General Hayden is correct: Service members are not required to obey "unlawful" orders. The problem is they almost always do. I'm thankful I was never ordered to torture a prisoner, because I would have done as I was told. If the military followed the illegal orders of one bad president, we would follow the orders of another. That's what good soldiers do. *The author is a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Robert Christy is a pseudonym. This is Worldcrunch's international collection of essays, which includes pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any other language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris that we call home. Send ideas and suggestions to rueamelot@worldcrunch.com. ...

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League Of Their Own: Women’​s Soccer Gains Ground In Afghanistan

KABUL — Inside the Afghan capital’s soccer federation stadium, dozens of Afghan women, some of them recently returned from a training camp in Japan, are practicing their skills. "From 2006 up to now, the Afghan women’s national soccer team has conducted several different trips abroad, for training and matches," says Zohra Mihree, chief of the Afghan women’s soccer committee. "The team participated in SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) tournaments in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Our team came in third place in 2014." Currently, more than 100 women soccer players are training in different clubs around Afghanistan, up from just a handful a few years ago. Rahima, 18, has been playing for two years now. She always dreamed of joining the national team — and now she is actually doing it. "When I saw other soccer players on TV I hoped I could be like them one day," she says. "Then I found out Afghanistan had a women's soccer team and was looking for recruits, so I joined. I hope one day I can be the best female soccer player in Afghanistan." Going against the grain In a conservative country like Afghanistan, it is not easy for women to play soccer. Many female players have stories of being criticized and even threatened for daring to play a sport. "When I started playing soccer in 2007 I faced lots of social difficulties. Even when I traveled for training or matches abroad my family kept my travel secret from our relatives," says University student Khatol Dawer, 23, a former player and now trainer. "Sometimes I also received phone calls, people threatening me, saying that if I continued playing they would target me with an explosion and kill me." Girls soccer team in Afghanistan Oct. 31 2012 — Photo: msnsam/Afghanart But Asadullah, a male player in the local league Kabul, is very supportive of women players like Khatol. "I am very happy to hear about these women who are interested in doing sport, especially soccer," he says. "I don’t agree that women should only be at home, doing housework. Women playing sport is happening not just in Afghanistan, but also other Islamic countries. It is very good that women here have the chance as well." Officials from the Afghan women's soccer federation say that despite the problems, they have made huge strides in the past three years. "Fortunately women’s enthusiasm for soccer has really increased," says Shayista Sidiqee, head of the women's soccer referee association. "Before we could hardly find a woman to recruit to the team. Due to social problems and threats most of the women and girls were not willing to join us. But now they come on their own." Creating opportunities Other barriers remain. Most female players, for example, stop playing once they get married — with some exceptions. Player Massoma Muhammadi worked to convince her husband, who eventually came around to the idea. "When I got engaged my spouse knew that I was a soccer player," she recalls. "He told me I could keep playing up to the point that we got married. Then after our marriage, when he found out how much I love playing soccer, I convinced him, and he let me continue." Marina Aslamzada, the captain of the Afghan national women's team, says she is working hard to promote the sport across the country. A key step is to open soccer clubs for women in provinces all over Afghanistan. "We have clubs for those who want to join us. And when they learn skills, then they can play in the women's soccer league," she says. "From that league we select the best players for the national team." ...

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Drug Rehab Comes To War-Torn, Opium-Rich Afghanistan

KABUL — Here at Pol-e Sokhta, in a spot in western Kabul where hundreds of drug addicts gather each day, Afghan government workers have become a regular presence. The government workers have been given the mission to round up the city’s drug users and move them to a former NATO base, less than 10 kilometers away. The Afghan ministries of counter-narcotics, public health and economy have joined together in the initiative to provide treatment for drug addicts at the camp. Salamat Azimi, Minister of Counter Narcotics, says the state has the means to treat thousands of drug addicts, and will soon be opening another similar camp in eastern Afghanistan. "We wanted to provide services to those who are addicted to drugs and are living in a very bad situation,” Azimi said. At Camp Phoenix — Photo: Ghayor Waziri Gul Aqa, 35, has been using a cocktail of drugs, from morphine to opium, for about three years now. Burns are visible on his fingers from accidentally lighting his hands while smoking drugs. “I want to be treated so I can return to my old life,” Aqa says, “Nobody has offered to provide treatment before, so I am happy to go to this rehab center.” In the past few days alone, hundreds of drug users have been collected from the streets and moved to Camp Phoenix. From outside, the camp looks like a military base, but inside the rooms are modern and clean, and it’s here where Kabul’s addicts will be treated for the addiction, and some will be given job training in such fields as carpentry and house painting. Public Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz says they plan to help as many users as possible. “Our aim is to start by finding the drug addicts who are homeless, abandoned by their relatives, and are living on the street,” he explains. “The campaign will continue over the coming days. Alongside treatment at the camp, they will be trained in different skills and professions to stimulate their minds and encourage to move away from drugs.” Thirty-year-old Habiballah is a former sergeant for the Afghan army, having served in the war-torn Helmand province. He started using drugs to cope with the pressure of fighting against the Taliban and facing their deadly ambushes. “During the fighting and insurgency I had to deal with a lot of mental stress, that’s why I started using drugs,” he says, “When I got addicted my relationship with my wife and daughters and other family members fell apart." Drug addicts waiting for treatment in Kabul, Afghanistan — Photo: Ahmad Massoud/ZUMA Facing resistance Habiballah was eventually forced to leave the army, and fell deeper into addiction. "I don’t know where my family is now. So far the treatment has been good, I feel happy and healthy and hope to get back to normal.” But back at Pol-e Sokhta, not all the drug users encountered are happy to be taken to Camp Phoenix. A number of addicts that live under a bridge in the western part of Kabul refuse to move. Relapsed drug user Mohammad Yasin became addicted to morphine while living as a refugee in Iran 12 years ago. “Once I was treated and stopped taking drugs, but when I became unemployed, I started (using) again,” says Yasin, “When I can’t find money to buy drugs, I take drugs from people who sell it and I then I sell it for them, so I get the drug for free. Sometime addicts also steal, from shops, houses and people, so they can find the money.” According to the government there are an estimated 3.5 million people addicted to drugs in Afghanistan, an opium-rich country and one of the biggest producers of narcotics in the world. Activists say the government’s campaign is a good way to help limit the production and smuggling of drugs across the country. It may also save some lives. ...

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Town Crier Juma Khan, Afghanistan’​s Low-Tech Newsman

BAMYAN — For decades town criers were responsible for delivering news and information. But in the digital age, the tradition has almost died out. There aren't many people like Juma Khan left. Khan has been personally delivering the news to the residents of Bamyan province since 1986. "I was a farmer when I was young, and living in Kabul," he says. "Sometimes I did some laboring, but then in 1986 I came to Bamyan province. The city was very old and the person who was working as the newsman here had just passed away." He explains that because he had a little bit of education and knew how to read and write, he took over as the next "newsman." In the 1940s and 1950s, "Jaar-chi," the equivalent of medieval Europe's town criers, were well known in Afghanistan, and Khan represents one of the very few who remain. He says he never thought about notoriety, but he soon become very well known in Bamyan, with his distinctive, clear voice. "When I started my job, the town crier was the only way to inform people about events," he says. In the beginning, he had to memorize his announcements, but now they are written down so that he can read them. Bamyan is a mountainous province in central Afghanistan. Though there has been a huge growth of media around the country, Bamyan is rarely covered in the news because it's so remote. Only one radio and national television staion broadcasts from here, but its coverage is limited. That means most people in the city, like shopkeeper Zahra Laali, get their news and public announcements from Khan, whose nickanme is "Landani," which means "the Londoner" in Persian. The name is a joking reference to his rivalry with BBC radio. Photo: Ghayor Waziri “It was more than 10 years ago that I came to Bamyan province and opened my shop here," she says. "Mostly I get information about events, news and commercials via Landani. I think he is doing a very important job, as radio and TV broadcasting is just for a few hours here and most people don't have access to them." When Landani walks through the city, most people emerge from their doorways to hear the latest news. "When I announce something, everyone pays attention to my voice," he says, "They want to know what's going to happen in the province." Khan receives between 6 and 10 items of news and advertisement each day, mostly from the public and the local government. Kazim, who works for the media department within the Bamyan municipality, takes his announcements to Khan because, he says, it's the most efficient way to disseminate the news. "Our announcement today is about a big campaign for city cleaning that we are going to start," he says. Khan enjoys his job, which pays him between $3 and $4 for each announcement, and says he will continue for as long as he is able. Bamyan has among the lowest levels of education in Afghanistan, and no one is Khan's family is literate enough to take over. "Sometimes I feel pain in my legs and waist, but I will do my job up to end of my life." ...

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Afghan Woman Fights Taliban, One Radio Program At A Time

KANDAHAR — The main bazaar in Kunduz looks deserted. It's because many have left the city or are staying indoors after the Taliban took control in October. A local journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, says it's simply too dangerous to stay in Kunduz right now. "The Taliban has taken several people from their homes and killed them for no reason," he says. The Islamic terrorist group has also recently attacked three radio stations in Northern Kunduz, and militants have also threatened several prominent reporters. But in the conservative area of southern Kandahar — also the birthplace of Taliban leader Mullah Omar — Maryam Durani has founded a radio station for women called Mairman Radio. In the Pashto language, "Mairman" means "woman," and most of the station's programs focus on women's issues. In the four years that it has been on the air, the station has become very popular, says 28-year-old Durani. "Women call the station to share their problems, to seek guidance and ask our experts," she says. "The parents, especially the fathers, also ask us for guidance about how to create a better future for their daughters. So these are great achievements in a province where women can't go outside without wearing a burqa, an area where families don't allow women to work." Mairman Radio broadcasts cover topics for women such as education, women's rights and agriculture. It airs 13 hours of programs daily, and more than 800,000 listeners tune in every month, mostly women in Kandahar. But Durani admits that promoting women's rights in the second-largest city in Afghanistan isn't easy and that it has made her particularly unpopular with the Taliban. Being the voice of the voiceless is always dangerous. Undaunted "It's very difficult to be a station owner," she says. "I have survived different attacks. My family has received threats, and even my employees have received threats several times for the work we do." But the death threats sent via text message leave Durani undaunted. In fact, they have made her even more determined to keep running her independent radio station, which is partly funded by the United Nations. Durani receiving the 2012 International Women of Courage Award from Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton — Photo: U.S. Department of State "I have never been afraid of threats and never bothered about them," she says. "Instead, I have tried to convince my opponents of my work, and have been more than ever focused on my work, to enhance it instead of stopping or slowing down." And Durani’s hard work is being recognized. In 2012, she received the International Women of Courage Award, which is chosen by the U.S. Secretary of State. The same year she was included in Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people. Last month, Durani also took home the N-Peace Award for her work in building peace and transforming communities. Jina Popal, a 17-year-old student in Kandahar, has been a regular listener of Mairman Radio for several years. "I have realized the important and valuable role of women in the world," she says, adding that the station is "like a school for women in Kandahar." Hamida Muhammadi, a producer and anchor at the station for more than two years, says one of the biggest issues women here face is family resistance regarding the role of women. "Our parents and relatives have different opinions about women who have jobs, especially about those who work in media," she says. "Their attitudes have prevented many women from getting out of the house for a job in the media or any other place. People look down on working women in our area." Maryam Durani is also a provincial council member, a role that she uses to promote women's empowerment. She hopes one day to extend her radio shows to other provinces, but for now, the medium is an effective way to reach a mass audience. "It's very difficult to gather men and women in the same place at the same time for any activity or discussion in Kandahar," she says. "That's why I started the station, to convey a message to the maximum number of people at the same time." ...

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Facebook Smarts To Fight Afghanistan Brain Drain

KABUL — Does everyone really want to leave Afghanistan? Not quite. A few young Afghans want to stop the exodus. Among them is Sharam Gulzad, who grew up in Germany, but left behind professional opportunities there to return to his home country in 2006. Gulzad's Facebook campaign "Afghanistan Needs You," which he founded with five friends, encourages others to follow his example. And it seems to have hit a nerve. "If your mother were sick, you wouldn't just leave her behind," Gulzad says, explaining his motivation. He feels the same way about Afghanistan. He believes that those who want the country to recover should stay and try to change things for the better. Gulzad and his friends have done exactly that. Young Afghans use the Facebook campaign to post photos of themselves with signs depicting the slogan, "Afghanistan Needs You!" Beneath their pictures they post their reasons for staying home and offer thoughts about why their peers should do the same. They often say that Afghanistan really does need them, that by leaving they make a gift of their own resources to other countries. They also say that the youth of a country is the gateway to the future. But sometimes the message is much simpler than that. "If you want Afghanistan to exist as a country in the future, you will have to stay," they argue. Asking people to stay is no small request. The recent deadly battles over Kunduz, a city in Afghanistan's northern region, show that the Taliban is still powerful and the country as a whole is dangerous. Foreign troops haven't completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, and it already seems to be engulfed by a wave of chaos. Even Kabul is unsafe, and the attacks cause uncertainty, which in turn influences the economy. Unemployment rates are high and, together with American forces, foreign investors are leaving the country. Relief funds are providing less and less support too, Gulzad says. Digital skills are marketable anywhere. Photo: Facebook These are the reasons why many young Afghans just want to leave the country. They are looking for security, education and a future that allows them to improve their lot, and they are doing so increasingly within Europe. Gulzad could have had all of these things. His family fled the Taliban when he was three and managed to escape to Germany. He grew up in his aunt's house in Hamburg, finished his A-levels and found work. All he had to do was stay. Working for the family business But the young entrepreneur decided to return to Afghanistan in 2006 and then followed in his father's footsteps. "He is a true patriot," says Gulzad, "who wanted to fight for his country." His father returned to Afghanistan early on and founded an import-export company that deals in building materials. Gulzad joined his father's business upon his return. "It was quite difficult in the beginning," says Gulzad. Difficult because everything was new to him — the rampant corruption, the work ethic, the culture. Employees often stole goods. Some of those fired as a consequence even threatened his family with retribution. "The people can't seem to think beyond the here and now," he says. But the biggest problem, he says, is corruption. Some of his friends once tried to complain to an anti-corruption department about crooked civil servants. But the response was sobering: "We can take note of your complaint, but how much can you pay us to see it through?" Young Afghans in particular want to leave the country, Gulzad says. "It's not exactly cool to be pro-Afghanistan," he notes. The public has become apathetic and hopeless. And it is this particular feeling that the Facebook campaign tries to eradicate. "We want people to once more shoulder responsibility, we want them to not just simply sit on their hands and wait for the government to fix the problem," Gulzad says. They are supposed to become active citizens, to develop new ideas, to found new businesses. But are 5,000 likes and a few photos enough to achieve all of this? "Maybe that's naive," he says, "but even Ghandi started with only an idea." The first step, he insists, is to change the way people think. The six activists seem to have found some traction. It took only a week to achieve 5,000 likes. Several press agencies wanted an interview, and the Afghan Ministry for Refugees offered to cooperate with them. In the end, even a large Afghan banking institution offered to provide jobs to 20 young Afghans. Gulzad and his friends most certainly are not among those Afghans who are badly off. Gulzad himself is from an old merchant family that has good connections to the government. The others are all well-educated, he says. But what about those who lack good qualifications? What is to become of those in a country that doesn't even have anything to offer to the well-educated? "You don't have to have a lot of money to make a change," Gulzad says. He speaks of micro credits given to poor Afghan women. "Many of them have done wonderful things with them." Besides, this movement isn't about the poor who can't afford to flee the country. "We are aiming at the well-educated, like us, who want to leave, those people the country needs most." You could counter that there are still many people who fear for their lives, people whose mothers, fathers or brothers were executed by the Taliban. Gulzad says that he doesn't harbour any illusions regarding people's safety, and he himself has only narrowly escaped attacks. His own office has even come under fire. "But it cannot get any better if all of us leave," he says. Those who cannot stand to be in the countryside should come to the cities "and we will rebuild the country from there in." ...

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In The Name Of Peace, Kabul Artists Beautify War-Torn Walls

KABUL — Eyes are always described as a symbol of beauty in art and eastern literature, but the two eyes painted on a wall in Kabul's Share New neighborhood have literally beautified an ugly security wall. And in this case, eyes are used as a symbol of monitoring corruption. These "we are watching" eyes were created by the ArtLords, a group of young creatives who paint war-torn walls across the city of Kabul. "We have been facing cultural and social problems in Afghanistan, and art has never been used to solve disputes," says the group's leader Kabir Mokamel. "Instead force is used to solve the disputes and issues in Afghanistan. Art is soft power and a tool to use for peace in the country." Photo: ArtLords Facebook page Mokamel graduated with a fine arts degree in Australia and retuned to Afghanistan four years ago only to realize that the city had lost its beauty. He gathered some friends, and together they have painting walls since June. He says their message is clear: peace and clean government. "We want to show that violence is not a solution," Mokamel says. "Bloodshed should be quelled on earth and corruption should be stopped too in our country since it breeds other evils." The latest report from Transparency International ranks Afghanistan among the top three most corrupt countries in the world. Another ArtLords member, Omar Shafiri, believes that art speaks a thousand words. "I prefer to use arts, music and dance since these attract young people," Shafiri says. "We use what they're most interested in to convey our message. And a lot of young people want to join us now." High school student Nasir Kakar passes the walls every day. "The ArtLords group has taken away the ugliness of the walls with the strokes of their brushes," he says, adding that bought cold drinks for them once. Photo: ArtLords Facebook page As a self-funded group, ArtLords hopes to highlight social issues with its public graffiti. Its latest project is called "the heroes of my city: the street sweepers." "Heroes in Afghanistan are always considered those who have weapons and arms," Mokamel says. "We want to change the concept of a hero in our country and want to portray sweepers as heroes who clean the city daily." Mokamel also wants to invite Pakistani artists to paint the walls here. After a recent bombing in Kabul, in which Pakistanis were blamed for the incident, things have been tense between the two countries. Mokamel believes his project could be the perfect antidote. "We want to bridge the Afghan and Pakistani communities and bring them close to each other," he says. "Art doesn't have boundaries, while politics divides us. People should exchange ideas, and art has the power to do it." ...

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U.S. Accuses Russia, Palestinian Flag At UN, Bad Beijing Buzz

U.S. SAYS RUSSIA TARGETING REBELS, NOT ISIS Russia’s intervention in Syria has elicited anger from U.S. officials who are accusing Moscow of aiming at the region’s Western-backed rebels — not ISIS fighters, as the country claims. The New York Times reports that Russia’s participation in the civil war is an effort to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to support. Moscow launched a series of airstrikes yesterday against what it said were Islamist positions inside Syria. According to Lebanon's al-Mayadeen TV, quoted by BBC News, there was a series of new strikes today, targeting rebel positions in the northwest held by an alliance known as the Army of Conquest. Read more about it in our Le Blog. AFGHAN CITY STILL CONTESTED [Photo: Sardar/Xinhua/ZUMA] The situation in Afghanistan’s city of Kunduz, which the Taliban captured three days ago from the government’s military, is still unclear this morning, with both sides claiming to control key areas. Afghan troops claimed today that they had regained control of the city center after fierce clashes with Taliban militants, Reuters reports. According to Al Jazeera, Taliban fighters retook some areas they lost overnight, leading to heavy fighting this morning. “They [Taliban] said they had left the center of the city because of heavy bombardment by NATO forces, and now they are trying to get it back,” Al Jazeera reporter Qais Azimy said. The operation launched overnight saw government forces inflict heavy casualties on Taliban fighters, the BBC reports. An army victory would be significant for the government 10 months after the NATO coalition withdrew from the country. PALESTINIAN FLAG RAISED AT UN FOR FIRST TIME Though the Israel-Palestine conflict was overshadowed by the Syrian war during this year’s UN General Assembly, it was on the agenda yesterday in New York. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said during an address that Palestinians would “no longer continue to be bound” by the Oslo Accords, the peace process signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993 and 1995, unless they receive “international protection” from Israel, The Guardian reports. “The status quo cannot continue,” Abbas told the Israeli delegation, led by ambassador Ron Prosor. “It is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations for the sake of negotiations. What is required is to mobilize international efforts to oversee an end to the occupation in line with the resolutions of international legitimacy.”. The Israeli delegation has yet to react, according to Le Monde. Following the address, the Palestinian flag was hoisted for the first time at the UN headquarters, Al Jazeera reports. This decision had been approved Sept. 10 by 119 UN members. The U.S. and Israel, which were among the eight votes against the motion, strongly criticized the move. VERBATIM “I am putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they are going back,” Donald Trump said during a rally in New Hampshire yesterday, the latest lunacy from the Republican presidential candidate. LIMITING THE UN VETO IN GENOCIDE CASES During the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, dozens of countries signed a French proposal for the UN Security Council’s five permanent members to renounce using their veto in cases of mass atrocities and genocide, daily Ouest-France reports. At least 75 of the 193 UN members have so far approved the motion, but more nations are expected to join. But the four other permanent members — the U.S., China, Great Britain and Russia — did not sign it. The aim is to prevent the Security Council from being paralyzed during massacres such as Syria’s. WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO The pharmaceutical industry looks to identify new diseases so it can push new drugs on the market, and patients play along. The approval of reduced female libido as a pathology is a case in point, Wiebke Hollersen writes for Die Welt. “These days, not wanting to have sex can be cured. There’s a pill for that, and it has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But this certainly is no proof that a woman not having anymore sexual desire towards her partner has anything to do with a pathological disturbance. Critics say a woman’s lagging libido is the latest in a number of ‘made-up diseases.’ The pharmaceutical industry, eager to open up new markets, is fond of declaring new official illnesses for typical life difficulties.” Read the full article, Big Pharma, Low Libido And The Rise Of Disease Mongering. PAKISTAN KILLS 25 TALIBAN MILITANTS Pakistani forces killed 25 suspected Taliban militants in airstrikes today near the border with Afghanistan, Reuters quoted the Pakistani army as saying. This is part of an offensive launched last year by the country’s authorities against Pakistani Taliban militants in lawless border regions, particularly in North Waziristan. ON THIS DAY Dame Julie Andrews of Mary Poppins and Sound of Music fame turns a youthful, dewy-skinned 80 years old today. That and more in today’s shot of history. DID THE CASTROS HELP ESCOBAR? The top gunman for the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar claims in a new interview that Fidel and Raul Castro, as well as Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, were involved in the cocaine trafficking business. Read details from Worldcrunch following a report in Argentine daily Clarin. MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD CLIMATE CHANGE MAY THREATEN ENERGY SYSTEMS The effects of global warming, such as severe floods, strong storms and rising sea levels, could constitute a serious threat to the world’s energy systems, including fossil fuel power stations and distribution grids, a report from the World Energy Council (WEC) suggests. This means our water, transport and health infrastructures, which are all interconnected in developed and developing cities, could collapse in extreme weather, leading to catastrophic humanitarian situations. “We are on a path where today’s unlikely events will be tomorrow’s reality,” WEC Secretary General Christoph Frei warned. “We need to imagine the unlikely. Traditional systems, based on predicted events, no longer operate in isolation.” BAD BUZZ FOR BEIJING A communist party theme park honoring the foundation of the People’s Republic of China opened this week in Wuhan. Visitors can learn about “the glorious history of the CCP and the values that all good communists seek to uphold.” The park is full of “cartoon statues commemorating important figures” from the party’s history, but also athletes and astronauts. Predictably, Chinese Internet users took to ridiculing the place, calling it “brainwashing” and a “waste of taxpayer money.” ...

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