Held by the Taliban: A Media Black Out…

The story of New York Times journalist, and Pulitzer Prize winner, David Rohde is a very interesting one. Rohde travels to Afghanistan to interview a Taliban leader but he ends up being taken hostage. Soon after, the NY Times requested all media outlets around the world, including Wikipedia, to respect a media blackout in order to increase any chances Rohde had of being released.

I have always admired journalists (writers, cameramen, drivers, translators…) because they take risks and follow their passion to get a story for us. Certainly biases do exist, but if that could be overlooked for a minute, the fact that individuals even risk their lives to get one interview with infamous people such as a Taliban leader is amazing.

What is also interesting is the role that Wikipedia played during this time. Wikipedia placed restrictions and controlled the coverage of information about Rohde in order to prevent any public attention from being drawn to his captivity, so as to not endanger his life. As Professor Joseph M. Reagle from NYU said in a NY Times interview, “Wikipedia has, over time, instituted gradually more control because of some embarrassing incidents, particularly involving potentially libelous material, and some people get histrionic about it, proclaiming the death of Wikipedia,” he said. “But the idea of a pure openness, a pure democracy, is a naïve one.”

Beyond anything else, however, the story of Rohde will be one that will be discussed inside and outside of the classroom for years to come- a story of journalism, captivity, bravery, and control of media.

This was the story of David Rohde who would share his experience of being captive by the Taliban for 7 months and 10 days from November 2008- June 2009.

Held by the Taliban:
Part 1: 7 Months, 10 Days in Captivity
Part 2: Inside the Islamic Emirate
Part 3: ‘You Have Atomic Bombs, but We Have Suicide Bombers.’
Part 4: A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope
Part 5: A Rope and a Prayer
Epilogue

Video of David Rohde Here

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Finding Peace in Afghanistan…

SpiralStairs

For what accounted for a majority of the 20th century, Afghanistan experienced some of its most peaceful and thriving times. It would be a coup in 1973 when King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin, General Daoud Khan, which would create an inflection point in Afghanistan’s history.

Once referred to as “the Switzerland of Asia,” the Afghanistan I grew up loving is not the same Afghanistan that many see today. It was prosperous, a place for seeing the East by many Westerners willing to explore the diverse landscapes. Years later my family would be forced to leave their home country and my grandfather, a military general, would retell stories of Soviet tanks rolling down the middle of the street.

Today, Afghanistan has become a country that has been plagued by war, drugs, and lack of healthcare. People are suffering as the Taliban continue to be a constant threat. Instability on all fronts of Afghanistan’s borders does not help the current situation in the country.

Worst of all, the majority of the population under the age of 21 faces future problems with post-traumatic stress disorder being among the top of many health challenges. The issues of mental health, tuberculosis, and polio all contribute to the reason why nearly 1 in 4 children do not make it past the age of five.

With the recent elections in Afghanistan, many of my friends have come and asked me about my thoughts on the matter. These elections were the second elections since the US  and international forces entered Afghanistan. There are two top candidates- the current incumbent President Hamid Karzi and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Both come from unique backgrounds with popular support. There is also Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Ministry who warned Afghanistan would become a “narco-mafia state”, and is using social media to push his campaign forward and who was also a speaker at TED. At the end of the day, it is difficult to comprehend whom to support when your country has gone through so much turmoil.

The Bonn Agreement of December 2001 set the transition phase for Afghanistan and was directly followed up with the Afghanistan Compact set at the 2006 London Conference. Among many of the important issues, the development of the Afghan state and civil society, the direction and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance, and the impact of such assistance on repatriation and resettlement ranked highest on the agenda. The topics of security, women in the peace and development process, counter narcotics, and human rights were also highlighted. Now, as the five-year agenda begins to slowly become a reality, these are guidelines that are important for Afghanistan’s leadership to take into their agendas as they become involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. However, through this process one of the greatest things necessary for any future leader is transparency and accountability in ensuring that corruption is minimized.

Whoever is fortunate enough to lead the country as the next president, their responsibility will be to work with global leaders to bring an end to the suffering as quickly as possible. The goal for the country is to not just end a war, but to use the Afghan people’s pride and channel it into creating an environment for compassion and mutual understanding that existed during many years of the country’s growth.

The focus in rebuilding Afghanistan after the elections will need to be on improving education and making it a priority for all children under 18. There needs to be an improvement in the economy and utilizing the country’s resources such as natural gas. Corruption stemming from political leaders, drug trade and contracts for aid money has slowed the development of Afghanistan. Stronger security is certainly a must and a key variable for perpetuating Afghanistan’s modernization.

I was once told that in peace the sons bury their fathers, and in war the fathers bury their sons. Yet, in Afghanistan, too many wives have buried their sons and husbands. Afghanistan’s history would begin early with the defeat of Alexander the Great, to Genghis Khan, multiple British invasions, the Soviet Red Army, and the Taliban. And, yet, after a long history of peace and war, more than many other Asian countries, Afghanistan’s key to converting a dream back into reality is through reunifying the Afghan people.

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If you win their hearts, you win the War…

This last Sunday I attended a demonstration in front of the Los Angeles Federal Building in Westwood. This was a peaceful rally in response to the escalation in the number of innocent civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Although the war in Afghanistan would be a great write, it would also be a long (maybe a book :-) ). However, I wanted to share some pictures and thoughts that crossed my mind on Sunday.

On August 22, the US-Coalition led forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in the village of Azizabad, a Heart province located in the western region of Afghanistan. As reported by the Interior Ministry in the Guardian, a majority of these deaths were women and children.

The problem here is that, according to the CIA World Factbook, almost 50% of the country’s population is under the age of 14. That means children who were born after the invasion of the Soviet Union and during the Taliban are now seeing an increase in innocent civilian deaths resulting in continued warfare and deaths. These children have seen nothing but war, death, and suffering so the issue of Afghanistan is not going to be solved next year, or the following year. It is an issue that will be part of the American history as it helps rebuild the country. From the Lost Boy of Sudan to the displaced children during the Bosnia conflict, studies have long suggested post traumatic stress disorder as one of the main problems that arise in adolescents from war torn countries (Goldstein et al 1997). This situation in Afghanistan should not be taken lightly and will take patience and time.

“Ignorance, isolation, illness, violence, and social upheaval have produced a “lost generation”; failure to provide long term support for Afghanistan risks losing another,” is how Professor Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta describes the conflict in Afghanistan. Since health care has been such an important aspect of my life, on February 2002 the British Medical Journal published possibly one of the most over looked pieces of work in the 21st century. The article, Children of war: the real causalities of the Afghan conflict stresses the importance of women and children being the prime focus of attention in rebuilding Afghanistan. This includes through sustained efforts at improving health, nutrition, and education, not reckless bombings.

Kathy Ganon, award winning Associated Press writer in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, was interviewed by  on Democracy Now where she explains the situation quit clearly-

“People are—people today, even though they don’t want the international forces to go, because they’re afraid of what’s going to be left behind, because it’s such a mess—not just Taliban, but corruption, the lawlessness, the warlords, that has grown out of proportion or grown so greatly since 2001. So they’re afraid of what is left. But that’s why they don’t want them to go. And at the same time, they’re afraid now of the international forces. It used to be—really it used to be, five, six, seven years ago, they looked at the international forces with hope. Today they’re afraid.”

I would like to end on a point that was made strongly by two young college Afghan students. In every war you face collateral damage. Professor Marc Herold wrote, “the U.S. bombing campaign which began on the evening of October 7th, has been a war upon the people, the homes, the farms and the villages of Afghanistan, as well as upon the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”

Thus, if you invade our land, in the name of peace, and the war must continue, be humane at least.

As the world moves forward, Afghanistan is one of few countries that is going backwards. The photo below is from my family album taken prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1978. The heart and beauty in this magnificent culture is on a delicate beam, balancing between preserving what has not been lost and an occupancy that has brought continued difficult times.

If you would like to know how to help, please contact me, ali@aliansary.com .

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