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Kabul Korrespondence

Fresh, factual, and funky view of Afghanistan and the surrounding Central Asian region

Still Teaching

Monday, September 21, 2009

Even though I am not working full time at Aina Photo Agency, I still manage to teach photography voluntarily. Lately I have been teaching women from the German NGO: GTZ and also doing tech classes at UNAMA.

posted by Travis, 11:38 am | link | 1 comments |

Good Reads

Maybe you are bored of KK and need a fresh perspective on what goes on here.

Check out some of my friends links:




posted by Travis, 11:25 am | link | 0 comments |

The spy who loved me

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I was recently embedded was on a military base in Eastern Afghanistan. The base is 5 km from the Pakistan border. When I met the welcoming public affairs officer, he joked about my motorcycle club and rock band activities. Obviously my profile had been thoroughly checked.

I was told that I was not allowed to photograph the base and to carry my cameras around in a bag at all times. I did my best to abide by the rules. When I asked why this was procedure on this particular base, I was told the 'landlord' wanted it this way. I assumed that they were referring to an Afghan, maybe a warlord that was camera shy.....

So I went about my business, shooting the story I came to shoot [off the base].
Three days later a big burly bearded white dude, wearing a base ball cap and pistol strapped to his thigh came up to me and asked me who I was? I told him I was an embedded journalist. He asked where was my escort? I told him that my minder was busy at this time and I was just on my way to the 'chow hall' to have a feed of burgers and fries.

He reminded me that this was a 'special base' and not only was I not allowed to take photos, but I was not allowed to carry our cameras around the base. And on top of that he requested that the camera gear had to be locked up with our escort/guide/master/minder at all times.

Luckily not all people on the base followed orders to the tee and I was relatively free to move around [without cameras]. Later I made some calls to people and found out that this base is quite a hub of activity for the area. I asked the soldiers who the landlord was, no one would say who, but cartoon character 'secret squirrel' was mentioned.

The icing on this secret cake was when I came home from patrol the following day and discovered my laptop was missing from the dorm I shared with 20 smelly [but very funny] US soldiers. Serious bummer. Praise to lord for hard-drive back-ups and insurance policies that covers war zones.

The first suspect was the Afghan cleaners who cleared the room after the soldiers left for patrol. Second was the soldiers themselves, but I find it hard to believe soldiers would steal a laptop and leave the charger behind... Then it dawned on me. Maybe the squirrels took it!

Im hoping that the spy-blimp-zeppelin that towers 3000m over the base caught the suspicious activity on one of it many cameras........
posted by Travis, 8:15 pm | link | 0 comments |


Saturday, September 12, 2009

BBC News

In the villages of Afghanistan, many young men are working for the government during the week, but fighting for the Taliban at weekends. "We don't get paid," says Gul Mohammad. "It's voluntary - all for the sake of God. We even buy fuel for the operations ourselves. And our own ammunition and bullets."

Gul Mohammad (his name changed to protect his identity) is not what you might think of as a typical Taliban fighter. He is educated, in his 20s, married with children and, during the week, he works in a government office.

"I'm a civil servant - that's how I support my family, with my salary and by growing wheat, here in the village. At the same time, I work for the Islamic Emirate (the name the Taliban use for their regime in Afghanistan). I've been fighting for the Taliban for about two years."

Gul Mohammad is one of an unknown number of Afghans who work in a government office during the week and commute home to their village at weekends to see their children and fight for the Taliban.

"They provide manpower or contribute in other ways like giving top-up cards for mobile phones or financial assistance. They need to be able to keep commuting from village to work."

According to Gul, it is not just individuals who split their loyalties in order to survive what feels like a civil war.

"It's a secret in the village - there are people who are seniors in the Taliban and their brothers are seniors in the Afghan administration - they are aware of each others' activities and their involvement, and this is accepted as a matter of fact."

Motives for joining the insurgency vary, he says, from religious fervour to national honour to an eye for making money from kidnapping, or looting from the enemy. "Imagine - during the day, the police are police and at night, they are robbers. They plunder people's houses, they loot the bazaar and kill innocent people.

"People became very angry. They stood against him and his group. And the Taliban grabbed this opportunity. They attacked the district headquarters and, until now, it's under Taliban control."

The governor of Wardak, Abdul Haleem Fedaee, who was appointed a year ago, says he cannot reject or confirm the existence of Taliban elements in the state. "But we have intelligence agencies who monitor the civil service and we have other people - elders and clerics - who would also identify anyone who was fighting with the Taliban," he said.

Gul Mohammad says he had not seen a waning of popular support for the weekend jihadi.

He says he will keep fighting during his spare time until the foreigners leave.

"We will win - not because of planes and soldiers, but by the will of God."
posted by Travis, 9:52 pm | link | 3 comments |

What really happened, we'll probably never know.....

Cousin had to retrieve Afghan reporter's body after raid
Mcclatchy Newspapers

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi intended to head back to Germany this fall to study public policy and push his career in a new direction. Instead, he was buried this week in an arid cemetery on the north side of Kabul .

Munadi, a 34-year-old Afghan employee of The New York Times, died Wednesday morning in a volley of bullets as British commandos sought to free him and his colleague, Stephen Farrell, from insurgent kidnappers in Kunduz Province .

Farrell survived the firefight, but a British commando died, as did Munadi, whose body was left behind, according to friends and family members.

Munadi's death was a source of anguish for the burgeoning Afghan press corps that's emerged in the eight years since Taliban rule ended. Dozens of them assembled Thursday around the grave, and praise Munadi as one of the most brave and talented of his generation of journalists.

The circumstances of his death were a source of anger, with journalists demanding an investigation into whether the Taliban or British commandos killed Munadi and why his body was left behind after the raid. They alleged a double standard, that valued Western lives above Afghan ones.

"There is no justification for the international forces to rescue their own national and retrieve the dead body of their own soldier killed in action, and leave behind the dead body of Sultan Munadi," said Farad Paikar, an Afghan journalist reading a statement prepared by the Media Club of Afghanistan .

On Thursday, several hundred Afghan journalists assembled in front of The New York Times bureau, then formed a caravan of cars to pay their respects to Munadi's family, and drove to the gravesite.

Munadi is the fifth Afghan journalist to lose his life while on assignment in recent years. The anger over his death prompted President Hamid Karzai to meet Wednesday with Afghan journalists. The next day, a presidential spokesman, Hamid Elmi , showed up at the memorial service, and said there'd be a government investigation into Munadi's death.

"He was a journalist," said Faroud Samin, an Afghan friend and colleague. "People call us fixers or translators. But these are the ears, eyes and tongues of these foreign journalists who are coming. They are the ones passing the reality of Afghanistan to the world."

In fact, Munadi had already decided to change careers. In his blog for The New York Times , he wrote: "Being a journalist is not enough; it will not solve the problems of Afghanistan . I want to work for the education of the country, because the majority of people are illiterate.

Here is the version of events from the perspective of Stephen Farrell:
posted by Travis, 9:39 pm | link | 3 comments |

Afghanistan's loose change

Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza (Photo source: PropertyShark.com) The government of Afghanistan has purchased two multi-million dollar Upper East Side spaces for its ambassadorial branch, the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations, according to two deeds filed today.

The first, a 2,840-square-foot apartment in the Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza, sits on the corner of 47th Street and sold for $4.235 million. The unit will serve as a residence for H.E. Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, according to a statement from Tanin's assistant. The assistant added that the second unit purchased, a $5.4 million commercial space at 633 Third Avenue on the corner of 41st Street, will be used as office space for the consulate and the mission.

The Cost of War.........
posted by Travis, 9:10 pm | link | 0 comments |

Takes on to know one


On Friday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — accused by thousands of Iranians back in June of stealing Iran's own disputed election — congratulated Afghan president Hamid Karzai on being re-elected.

It was a bit premature: even Karzai himself hasn't actually claimed victory in last month's presidential poll.

A preliminary count of votes shows Karzai with a majority, but the election has been marred by accusations of fraud, most levelled at Karzai's supporters.

The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud” and has ordered a recount of 10 percent of polling stations, which could mean ballots are nullified and Karzai may face a second-round run-off.

Afghanistan has not experienced the kind of post-election protests that ran in Iran after the election there, but diplomats in Kabul fear that a disputed election result could undermine the government and increase instability.
posted by Travis, 8:45 pm | link | 9 comments |

Freedom at last

Monday, September 07, 2009

We are relieved to inform you that Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the young journalist who was sentenced to death and then to 20 years in prison for downloading an article about the rights of women in Islam, was pardoned and released several weeks ago and left the country for fear of reprisals.

Kambakhsh’s lawyer confirmed to Reporters Without Borders today that his client was released several weeks ago after President Hamid Karzai secretly signed a pardon.

Many foreign governments had interceded with the Afghan authorities on behalf of Kambakhsh, while the London-based Independent newspaper gathered more than 100,000 signatures to a petition for his release. Reporters Without Borders also handed in a petition with several thousand names to a presidential adviser in Kabul.

A 23-year-old journalism student at Balkh university and a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e-Naw (“New World”), Kambakhsh was arrested in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on 27 October 2007 on a charge of “blasphemy and distribution of texts defamatory of Islam.”

Under pressure from the Council of Mullahs and local officials, a Mazar-i-Sharif court sentenced him to death in a summary trial on 22 January 2008. Members of the security forces tortured him to obtain a confession. The sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison in October 2008.
posted by Travis, 4:35 pm | link | 3 comments |

Silicon Valley should step up and help Iranians

An op-ed today in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Silicon Valley minds and money should pool resources as a way to help Iranians get around this information blockade by providing easier-to-use proxies, anonymizers and maybe even unfiltered Internet access through hardware.

Long-range Wi-Fi, 3G, satellite or other wireless communications devices from Iran's neighboring countries or even the Persian Gulf could be used to get faster and better information in and out of Iran. One Arizona company, Space Data, even advertises the capability to use helium-filled balloons to provide Internet and mobile phone access. Much of Iran could theoretically be covered with one or two such balloons.

All of that may sound crazy, but not helping Iranian reformers at their darkest hour would be even crazier.

Cool, Ill donate to that!
posted by Travis, 8:52 am | link | 3 comments |

Monkies misbehaving

Sunday, September 06, 2009

We call em Monkeys: the ever growing community of private contractors that are making big money 'securing' Afghaniastan's more important foreigner guests. Slowly their numbers are increasing and the few social venues we have to relax in are being over taken by broad shouldered, head shaven, karkey colour clothed, meat-heads. (oh did I type that!?!) Now the shit has hit the fan at one of the monkeys top positions:

The US embassy in Afghanistan says it has fired eight security guards who were photographed taking part in lewd acts during alcohol-fuelled parties at their living quarters in Kabul.

The individuals from ArmorGroup, a private security company, were sacked after the Project on Government Oversight group sent a letter to the US secretary of state alleging that guards had held abusive rituals.

Photos that were posted on the internet show guards from the security firms in various states of undress, including some in which they grope each other naked.

"Ten guards seen in the offensive photos are leaving the country today; eight were terminated and two resigned," the embassy said in a statement on Friday.

"The entire senior management team of ArmorGroup North America in Kabul is being replaced immediately. The embassy security office continues its interviews of every one of the ArmorGroup guards."

An embassy spokeswoman also said the guards had been banned from drinking alcohol at any time while in Afghanistan.
posted by Travis, 9:10 am | link | 3 comments |

Im surrounded by madness

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I have recently been communicating with military bases in regards to our band playing to the troops. Kind of an attempt to bridge the gap between us and them.

Today I got an email from a certain PRT (another name for a military base) informing that due to recent 'bad press' from a bombing, they would have decline from hosting the rock concert.

"But I am afraid that the given situation --after the ISAF air strike on the two captured fuel trucks and the media turnout on this issue-- might not be the best atmosphere for having a rock concert in the PRT."
posted by Travis, 11:11 pm | link | 3 comments |

Cost of War....

We all heard the horrific news of the NATO bombing of 2 fuel trucks in Kunduz province and the subsequent killing of up to 90 civilians and countless injured.

If you didn't here is a link to the story:


That is a horrifying price to pay for a few gallons of stolen gas.
posted by Travis, 10:53 pm | link | 2 comments |

Don't believe the Hype!

Whether you believe that this was democratic, fair election or not, the numbers are being churned out. And as a media outlet, we are 'responsible' to feed them to you.

Bon Appetite:

Karzai: 48.6 per cent
Abdullah: 30.1 per cent

Officials have already annulled up to 200,000 votes from 447 polling stations - about 0.2 peer cent of the total number of polling stations - because of accusations of ballot stuffing.

In other news:
Afghans are once again buying weapons in the fear that protests could erupt.
AK47 Kalashnikov prices have risen 40 per cent from 13,000 Afghanis ($US 260) to 18,000 Afs ($US 360)
posted by Travis, 3:58 pm | link | 3 comments |

Classic Good ol' Times

A good friend of mine: Dan Simon is making a film about the job he does (and I used to do). Check it out:

posted by Travis, 12:03 am | link | 0 comments |

The Big Question...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

In Afghanistan the question on everyone lips is not who will win the elections, but whether there will be a second round (or run off).

Countless evidence has been provided proving vote fraud and intimidation of IEC staff. With so many votes under scrutiny it hard to believe that Karzai can win the first round [but stranger things have happened in this country].

But for the sake of the Afghan people and the legitimacy of the $7 million election budget, we are all hoping for a run off between Karzai and Abdullah.

There is still doubt that Abdullah can win the second round, but a run off would at least return a little faith back to the Afghan people; that the risks they took voting was not in vain.

Preliminary results are due on the 03.09 with the final results due on the 16.09.

Fingers crossed.
posted by Travis, 12:15 pm | link | 0 comments |

New Classes at Aina Photo Institute

Aina Photo Agency (APA) was proud to recently accept a grant from UNESCO for our next basic photojournalism course at our institute. Over the next 3 months 25 students will learn the fundamentals of photojournalism from two of the countries best shooters: Elham Gulbadin and Najibullah Mustafah.

The aim of this course is to discover and nourish new talent, so we can build on the small but strong media industry within Afghanistan.
posted by Travis, 11:56 am | link | 4 comments |