The Taliban group in Afghanistan following a statement condemned the art project for distribution of 10,000 pink balloons and called it an act to break culture of hijab.
The article written by Qari Habib and publish in Taliban group website added that the event encouraged un-Islamic behaviour and criticized the art project in which 10,000 pink balloons were given away for free in Kabul.
Taliban titled the article “Was it a balloon show or a mini-skirl show?” and called it another trick to promote Western values among the young Afghan generation.
Qari Habib in his article accused the West for using different techniques to promote their culture in Afghanistan.
He said that both boys and girls were in western-style outfit while distributing the balloons, and some girls were without headscarves, tight jeans and tops and even mini-skirts.
The event was organized by Yazmany Arboleda, the New York based Colombian-American artist who has previously created this orchestration in India, Japan, and Kenya.
More than 100 young Afghan artists—filmmakers, painters, musicians, photographers and crafters of traditional arts— are participated in the event.
The project was an unusual attempt to bring a dose of creativity and fun to the Afghan capital, which has been wrecked by decades of war.
Each balloon contains a written message of peace from volunteers around the world, the organizer of the project Arboleda said.
Coalition troops are ready to ‘rough it’ while closing Afghan bases
Troops stationed at bases in Afghanistan enjoy some of the comforts of home: living quarters, bathroom facilities, cooked meals, even laundry and mail services.
But as the U.S.-led coalition withdraws, life will become more “expeditionary,” meaning troops will begin roughing it with fewer amenities, said the top engineer for U.S. and coalition forces.
“Does that mean we’re going to be with a rucksack and living in a tent, eating MREs three meals a day? No. There’s a gradual transition. Expeditionary standards do have a limit,” said Army Brig. Gen. Michael C. Wehr, referring to meals ready to eat — portable, foil-encased food that does not require cooking.
“I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek here, but Wi-Fi is the last thing to get cut,” Gen. Wehr said. “But my point is, there may be two hot meals and one meal ready to eat.”
Coalition officials are engaged in hard discussions over which services to cut and when, in an effort to keep troop morale high while withdrawing from the war responsibly and cost-effectively. Nearly all international combat troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year.
“How do you close the gate and make sure the last guy that leaves has been fed, has had access to sewage, whatever it is that sustains that life on the base?” Gen. Wehr said.
The Afghan army and police agencies have been increasingly taking charge of security operations and missions as coalition troops take on support and training roles.
“Today the [Afghan National Security Forces] have about 80 percent of the security operations, and that requires [our] force posture to change,” the general said. “And that includes closing and transferring our own coalition bases. As we step back, the Afghans take the lead.”
Of the coalition’s 800 bases, about 450 have been transferred to Afghan forces and 225 have been closed.
Gen. Wehr said most of the remaining bases will be closed by February and that decisions about the rest of them will be made after officials determine how many troops will stay in Afghanistan after 2014. The coalition currently has more than 100,000 troops, about 66,000 of whom are U.S. service members.
“We’re now up to the larger operational bases that take some more deliberate thought,” Gen. Wehr said of the process of handing over bases to the Afghans. “If we have 110-volt electricity and their standard is 220 volt, we’re not going to leave something that’s dangerous. And we also recognized that because these are temporary structures, they have a shelf life. And if it’s not safe to hand over, we don’t want to do that.”
“There’s some complex sewage systems we don’t want them to try to operate. We will not leave a hazardous problem for future liability.”
Burn pits, where trash is incinerated, and sewage lagoons such as the “Kandahar Poo Pond,” where human waste is disposed, will be closed responsibly and safely, he said.
No date has been set for closing the pond, but “as long as there are people there, there needs to be a place to handle sewage,” said the general, who heads the coalition’s Joint Engineering Directorate. Gen. Wehr said the coalition does not want to leave behind structures that can’t be secured against thieves and insurgents.
“If there is a border outpost and it was in question that the Taliban could take it over or something, then we don’t obviously want to leave that because that’s a burden to secure it,” he said.
Meanwhile, a $9.2 billion program is underway to shelter and train the Afghan National Security Forces. Of that, $5.8 billion will be spent on 361 projects or bases for the Afghan National Army and $3.4 billion for 762 projects or bases for the Afghan National Police.
About 45 percent of those projects are complete, and 50 percent are in progress. The remaining 5 percent are in the acquisition phase. These facilities are expected to cost $93 million a year to maintain.
Gen. Wehr said 4,050 facility engineers for the Afghan National Security Forces have been authorized and their training is continuing.
The troops are under pressure to complete the facilities as soon as possible, he said, but not all of them may be finished when the coalition leaves.
“There may be some border outposts that do not make sense. It is very difficult to try build something, then secure and hold [it]. Typically, it’s secure, hold and build,” he said. “So there are some locations that have been very kinetic and don’t make sense to try to finish. Those are operational decisions,” Gen. Wehr said.
“These facilities enable the ANSF to take security responsibility.”
Kandahar officials worried over deployment of Pakistani militants
Officials in southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan on Monday expressed concerns regarding security threats in the regions which have been evacuated by coalition security forces.
The officials also said that a significant number of Madrasa students have been deployed in Afghanistan to carry out insurgency activities.
Panjwai district chief, Fazal Mohammad Ishaqzai on Monday said the number of Afghan security forces are not enough in Panjwai district, to provide proper security coverage for all the villages.
Mr. Ishaqzai further added, “Taliban militants from Pakistani Madrasas have been deployed in Panjwai district which has created issues for the local residents. Their deployment comes amid withdrawal of coalition forces from Moshan and Talokan areas. It will be difficult to control Panjwai with 450 Afghan national police, 350 Afghan local police and two Kandaks of Afghan national army, as the geography of Panjwai is wider as compared to other districts.”
He said at least 50 Pakistani Taliban militants have been arrested during the military operations who are speaking fluent English besides speaking Dari and Pashtu.
In the meantime local residents also complain that Taliban militants are frequently using improvised explosive device (IED) which incurs more casualties to ordinary Afghan civilians.
Panjwai district chief also confirmed the comments of the local residents and said significant numbers of IEDs were discovered and defused by Afghan and coalition security forces last year.
Panjwai is one of the key districts in Kandahar province which is located 25 kilometers away from central Kandahar city. Majority of the Taliban leaders and members of the Quetta council belong to the same district.
Kimberley Motley, best known for defending a young girl imprisoned for 'adultery' after being raped and impregnated in 2010, is the first US lawyer to litigate on behalf of Afghans in Afghanistan.
As Western troops plan for the drawdown in Afghanistan, one American lawyer has set up her own private practice in the Afghan capital and doesn’t have plans to leave any time soon. She’s too focused on helping make sure the laws are enforced.
The lawyer, Kimberley Motley, is best known for defending a girl imprisoned for “adultery” after being raped and impregnated by her attacker in 2010. The victim had received a 12-year sentence in appellate court with the alternative of marrying her rapist, and was serving the sentence when her case came to Ms. Motley’s attention.
She lodged a request for a presidential pardon citing Sharia law, Afghan law, and international conventions, while at the same time launching an online petition that garnered 6,000 Afghan signatures in three days. The girl was granted the pardon in December 2011 by President Karzai and released to a shelter.
Motley is trying to lead by example. She says it is important to draw attention to human rights abuses through specific cases – if the victims are willing to go public – in order, she says, “to create test cases of how things can be done.”
She made her first trip to Afghanistan in 2008 as part of the US government’s rule-of-law support program after five years working for the Wisconsin Public Defenders’ Office.
The aim of the program was to address a lack of general legal knowledge. Motley and the others on the program helped train local defense lawyers and assisted them in writing legal briefs. Motley personally helped write the brief for the landmark 2009 appeal by an Afghan student who had been sentenced to death after downloading an article on women’s rights.
As she looked around at all the nongovernmental organizations and researchers in Kabul trying to help, though, she realized tangible results were relatively few and far between.
So, “sick of all the report writing on capacity building,” she determined the best way she could achieve results was to act directly within the system. She started her own private legal services and consultancy firm, initially taking only foreign clients. She then spent two and a half years gaining familiarity with the complications and intricacies of Afghan law and courts before she decided it was time to accept her first Afghan client.
A SERIES OF FIRSTS
Motley’s first case for an Afghan client didn’t draw much attention, but some of her subsequent ones have made international headlines and brought her death threats and an arrest warrant, which she shrugs off. “It’s sort of standard operating procedure,” she says.
In December Motley filed the first civil suit against government officials for refusing to act: A young law student reported spousal abuse to police who did nothing, and the student was later killed. The case is currently pending. Many local colleagues in the area have expressed appreciation for Motley’s work but also concern over potential backlash from conservatives.
"Sometimes international attention is needed," says Mary Akrami, who opened Kabul’s first women’s shelter and who represented Afghan civil society at the 2001 Bonn Conference. "But sometimes it is also very risky, given the reactions we’ve seen from conservatives.’’
Ms. Akrami has reason for concern. The few shelters in the country are in danger of shutting down due both to a sharp reduction in funding from the international community and an immediate threat to the Elimination of Violence Against Women law from traditionalist members of Parliament.
Motley is determined to make an impact on the system, but faces a number of hurdles, including corruption, lack of understanding of law – among both the population and many of those working within the system itself – and widespread distrust of the formal justice system. Many of the traditionalists have no formal training in Afghan constitutional law.
There are a lot of people currently working in the justice system who have been there for years, prior to any reform, says Heather Barr a researcher from Human Rights Watch. She points out that there are judges and lawyers who never went to university and who “cannot read and write well, let alone understand” Afghan law.
"You see this in the poor quality of judicial decisions, in the fact that there really isn’t any tradition of case law, of precedent. So it’s a very, very weak system, and it’s a system where rule of law is really compromised. And this is one of the threats to stability here,'' says Ms. Barr.
''There’s this feeling that if somebody violates your rights, if somebody comes to your house and steals from you or kills you, the government isn’t necessarily able or ready to protect you."
Another major problem, Barr notes, is that “the formal justice system is absent in many parts of the country,” leaving many with little choice but to make recourse to jirgas and shuras to solve disputes: traditional systems in which neither women nor the young have any voice.
In an attempt to address the inconsistency of decisions handed down and thus the population’s faith in the system, Motley recently launched a set of sentencing guidelines drawn up on the basis of Afghan law and in collaboration with the Italian Cooperation.
She noted that the Supreme Court had already “gotten on board” with the project. The idea is to apply the guidelines initially to juvenile cases, training judges and assessing them, and then eventually incorporate them into the entire justice system. She hopes that the guidelines will play a major role in increasing accountability. “I feel very strongly about this,” she says. “I think this is a very good way of building foundations, and I think I have enough institutional knowledge to create something like this.”
Overall, though, she says that "whether or not it’s sustainable is really up to the Afghan people – it’s always been up to whether or not they really want it."
Drug tests ordered for State Department contractors in Israel, Afghanistan
The State Department is pushing a new initiative to ensure contractors and others serving in the department’s diplomatic security corps in Afghanistan and Israel are not abusing opiates, amphetamines, steroids, cocaine and other hard drugs.
Recent weeks saw the department solicit bids from private companies to carry out “random and nonrandom substance testing” on a “semiannual basis” of some 1,625 career employees and contractors based in Afghanistan and 55 based in Israel.
A contract solicitation posted on the Internet on April 29 and most recently updated Friday calls it “critically important” that “armed employees, or those employees exposed to extreme conditions, be reliable, stable, and show good use of judgment.”
“Illegal drug and steroid use creates the possibility of coercion, influence, and irresponsible action under pressure, all of which may pose a serious risk to national defense, public safety, and security,” the solicitation says.
Drug and alcohol abuse among security personnel in Afghanistan has triggered a spate of embarrassing headlines for the U.S. government in recent years.
One prominent example came in October, when a grainy cellphone video circulated through the America media showing a group of nearly nude young men — believed to be private security contractors in Afghanistan — staggering around under the apparent influence of alcohol and narcotics.
But the department, and specifically the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is named in the posting, declined to comment on why the drug testing is being sought at this time, along with why it is specifically targeting employees in Afghanistan and Israel.
Nor would officials comment on whether the initiative is being pushed in response to a March 2012 audit by the State Department’s office of inspector general, which found that Foggy Bottom was not in compliance with federal regulations for drug testing of employees.
The audit found that “limited program emphasis and oversight” were resulting in “deficiencies” in the department’s existing drug-testing posture.
An analysis by The Washington Times found that the State Department has conducted some degree of drug testing since 2005. But the responsibility of testing security contractors in overseas posts has been left up to whatever private company was hired to provide such contractors.
During the past year, Foggy Bottom has sought to hire third-party companies to begin testing contractors based in Iraq. The push now to do the same in Afghanistan and Israel appears to be driven by a desire among State Department management to expand the initiative.
The 2012 inspector general’s audit, meanwhile, was sharply critical of the State Department’s lax posture toward drug testing. “The Department’s Drug Free Workplace Plan does not include testing at overseas posts, even though 40 percent of the department’s employees in sensitive positions that are subject to drug testing are located overseas,” the audit says. “Moreover, the number of employees in sensitive positions subject to testing is only 1 percent, or approximately 190 employees, while the plan calls for 10 percent, or approximately 1,503 employees.”