US may take on Afghan anti-drug missions

Washington, DC, Dec. 15 (UPI) — U.S. military forces may take a larger role in the anti-narcotics campaign in Afghanistan, a top general said Wednesday.

“We don’t want to be in a lead role on this, but we have an awful lot of assets over there that can provide support to other organizations that will go out and do this,” said Lt. Gen. Lance Smith. Deputy commander of U.S. Central Command at a press briefing Wednesday.

Smith said the U.S. military is considering offering more dedicated surveillance flights and possible reconnaissance satellite missions to find poppy fields.

It’s a markedly changed attitude from a year ago.

“We have spent a lot of capital in trying to build relationships with the people in there and now this has potential for us to do things that wouldn’t be popular for some of the areas we’re operating in,” Smith said.

“But it is absolutely clear to us…that everything that we’ve done in Afghanistan would be for naught if we allowed the narcotic traffickers and everybody else to take over. And so it is clear that we have a role to play, and it will be up to the secretary and actually National Security Council to determine the role that we would play in that. Right now we are working to provide as much support as we can with the assets that we have in theater.”

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Why Some Afghan Women Prefer Death To Marriage

Dec. 11, 2004 — They had fled the Taliban, returned home to a “new Afghanistan,” and were looking forward to continuing their education when Khusboo and Heena heard the calamitous news.

School, the two Afghan sisters were told, was a luxury the family could not afford. Instead, the girls — who were 14 and 15 years old at the time — would be married off to older men in exchange for money, or the customary “bride price” paid by Afghan grooms to the bride’s family.

For Khusboo and Heena, whose last names are being withheld to protect their identity, the news was devastating. Raised by their grandmother in Kabul, the family fled to Pakistan after the Taliban swept into power in 1996. And though life as refugees in Pakistan was extremely hard, they did manage to go school.

So when the U.S. invasion ousted the Taliban and the sisters returned home to the Afghan capital, they had every reason to believe they would join the army of girls across the city trooping to schools, enjoying a freedom they were denied under the repressive regime.

But that, their grandmother told them, was not to be. “I was so sad because I didn’t want to get married,” said Heena, speaking through a translator. “I wanted to go to school.”

Rather than be sold into marriage, the two girls decided to run away — an extremely audacious and risky act in conservative Afghan society.

‘Afghanistan Has Been Transformed’

After decades of civil war, peace and stability — of sorts — are finally returning to Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan’s first democratically elected leader. Speaking at Camp Pendleton, Calif., as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended the inauguration in Kabul, President Bush hailed the historic milestone in Afghanistan’s history.

“Afghanistan has been transformed from a haven for terrorists to a steadfast ally in the war on terror,” Bush told a gathering of Marines. “And the American people are safer because of your courage.”

But even as Afghan females are finally enjoying basic human rights, such as the right to an education, to work and to vote, Afghanistan remains a profoundly conservative Muslim nation.

Cultural traditions — including age-old, honor-bound codes of conduct — still shackle and oppress several women, especially those living outside Kabul.

Escaping Forced Marriages by Suicide

In the past few years, there have been an increasing number of news reports about suicides by self-immolation among Afghan women. Although nationwide statistics are hard to come by, hospitals and aid agencies in cities like Kabul and Herat in western Afghanistan have recorded a number of female burn cases.

Forced into marriages — often with older, richer men — and faced with a life of endless exploitation and drudgery, an untold number of Afghan females are dousing themselves with kerosene used in cooking stoves and setting themselves on fire.

“There is an absolute level of despair, that you will never be able to make a choice about your life and that really there is no way out, and knowing that you will have to live with a man you have not chosen, who is probably older than you are, who is not going to allow you to work, to go out of the house,” explained Rachel Wareham of L’Association Médicale Mondiale, or World Medical Association, an international physicians group.

Self-immolation is a horrific act that often results in a slow, torturous death in hospital burn wards even as medical officials desperately struggle to save lives.

Medical officials and journalists such as Stephanie Sinclair — who spent weeks photographing patients in a hospital burn ward in Herat — say there is a marked difference between patients of accidental burns and those who have attempted self-immolation.

“In the burn ward, you can tell the self-immolation cases from the regular burn cases,” said Sinclair, who was on assignment in western Afghanistan for Marie Claire magazine.

A Life of Unending Drudgery

One such case was Shakila Azizi, a 27-year-old woman who returned to her native Herat from Iran, where her family had gone to escape the Taliban.

But when Azizi arrived in Herat, she had to live with her in-laws, Sinclair said. She found herself at the bottom of the family pecking order, forced to do all the cooking and cleaning for the family.

One morning, Azizi apparently complained to her in-laws about the way they were treating her, but she said they would not listen. In desperation, she went into the kitchen, doused herself in kerosene and set herself on fire, Sinclair said. Doctors tried in vain to save her life, and the young woman suffered a torturous death. She leaves behind two small children.

Making a Fatal Pact

Khusboo and Heena said they had made a pact that if they could not escape the forced marriages, they would kill themselves.

Luckily for the sisters, they heard of a women’s shelter in Kabul and they decided to run away from home. Founded by Afghan women’s rights activist Mary Akrami after the fall of the Taliban, the women’s shelter is the only one of its kind in Kabul. Its location is a secret, since Akrami says angry family members sometimes want to harm her or the women fleeing social and familial persecution.

A Kabul native who fled the Taliban for Pakistan, Akrami returned to her homeland after performing years of social work in the destitute refugee camps of Pakistan. But although the situation for women in Afghanistan has improved since the ouster of the Taliban, Akrami says there’s still a long way to go.

“Government and the [Afghan] constitution say that women have rights, but still I am not happy with this much rights we have for women,” she said.

Indeed, while the constitution, passed in 2003, recognizes basic women’s rights, international rights groups such as Amnesty International have warned that it fails to protect the rights of women. What’s more, experts say there is a huge gap between the law and its enforcement is huge.

But while Afghanistan is still trying to build its tattered judicial system, Khusboo and Heena’s ability to escape forced marriages is testament to a nascent hope in a country that once had one of the world’s worst records on women’s rights.

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No warlords in Afghan cabinet, say Afghan women

[World News]: Islamabad, Dec.11 : Several women of Afghan origin took the streets in Islamabad on Friday to demand that notorious warlords and fundamentalists in their country be kept out of the new cabinet in Kabul.

Joined by men and children, the women said that Afgahnistan’s popularly elected President Hamid Karzai should not include the warlords or fundamentalists in the cabinet that is to be sworn in early next week.

Members of the Revolutionary Association of the women of Afghanistan (RAWA), who, in the past, have been vocal against the policies of the Taliban government, are now demanding that Karzai exclude all such warlords out of his cabinet. Carrying anti- warlordism banners and chanting slogans, they marched to the United Nations building in Islamabad.

“Presence of criminals in the government is treason to the vote of Afghan people,” read one placard. “Bringing warlords in the new government is treason to Afghans,” said another.

“Long live freedom and democracy!” they chanted. “Connivance with any group of fundamentalists is treason.”

Security was tight outside the United Nations building, but that failed to deter the charged demonstrators.

“We want to say (to) the world, and especially the government of Pakistan, that the fundamentalists are still in Afghanistan (and) in power and they should be disarmed,” Danish Hameed, a senior member of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) told reporters. Karzai won the popular vote in the presidential polls on December 7 and was elected president for a five-year term this week.

If Karzai sticks to his vow not to form coalitions with his main rivals-regional strongmen whose power derives from ethnic loyalties and private militias-his new cabinet will look very different from that which it replaces, a foreign news agency reported.

But many Afghans are wondering whether Karzai will find himself able to deny positions to figures responsible for factional violence seen in the past three years, or tainted by association with the country’s massive opium and heroin trade. he makeup of the new cabinet is seen as crucial to whether the war-battered country, still racked by an Islamic insurgency, can chart a course away from regional warlordism, weak central control and an economy dominated by illicit drugs. Analysts say the new cabinet lineup could be seen as more important than the outcome of the presidential election and that this is Afghanistan’s best opportunity to establish a reform-orientated government. (ANI)

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Malalai Hospital in Critical Condition

Appeal to Supporters of Afghan Women and Children

RAWA’s Malalai Hospital project is in critical condition – funds have been drastically dropping as media attention turns elsewhere. We need your help. It costs about $20,000 each month to run Malalai Hospital – to pay for doctors’ and nurses’ salaries, to buy supplies like bandages or surgical instruments, even to keep the water and heat running in the building. Malalai Hospital treats 300-350 people – women who couldn’t get care elsewhere – each day.

Please consider making a $50 donation today by clicking on the link below:

Click here to help Malalai Hospital

Your $50 donation can help provide a monthly visit to Malalai Hospital for 5 women and their children. Remember, your donations for Malalai Hospital are deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.