Wednesday, October 7, 2009

US Nurse Brings Medicine and Education to Afghan Women

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent allied war in Afghanistan, a registered nurse from California wanted to help innocent people in the Muslim world who were caught in the violence.

In this week's edition of our series Making a Difference, we meet an Iranian-born woman who says education is the best way to help the people of Afghanistan, especially women and children.
In 2001, Fary Moini traveled to Pakistan where she volunteered in a refugee clinic, helping to deliver babies. She says the lack of supplies was shocking.

"There were no bed sheets, no hot water, no heater at all. During delivery, electricity was gone and we had to use a flashlight, and doctors were using food gloves. Without any anesthesia or anything, we delivered the baby with a flashlight," she explains, "I'll never forget I went back, and I sat in a chair, and I felt sick. And tears were running down my face, and they said, 'What is wrong with you?' And I said, 'What is wrong with me!? What is this?' I mean, it was so inhumane!"
Moini's experience in the clinic got her thinking about what she could do to help the people of Afghanistan over the long term.

With help from the service organization Rotary International, she raised nearly a quarter-of-a-million dollars to build a school in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The school opened in 2004.
But Moini noticed something that troubled her -- there were few girls beyond the age of 13 in school.

"I found out they don't like to go, if they have male teacher. They need female teachers," she says, "At that time, they had only two female teachers at the whole school."

Again, with help from Rotary International, Fary Moini raised enough money to hire 13 female teachers, allowing hundreds of girls to finish high school. All the while, she thought of ways to improve the education of girls and young women. Her latest project -- an all-women's dormitory at Nangarhar University.

"If they don't have a dormitory or a safe house or a family member, they will not send them, they will not send their girls for higher education," she says, "That was the reason we came up with the idea of 'why don't we build a dormitory,' because if they have a safe house, we will have more girls [in school]."

During eight years and 11 trips to Afghanistan, Fary Moini says she has encountered some criticism from local men. But for the most part, she says they seem to accept her and her efforts.

Moini says that the best way to educate women in Afghanistan is to educate men as well -- convincing them that schooling their sisters and daughters will benefit them and their society.

US, UK Public Support for Afghan War Declines

Opinion polls in the United States and Britain indicate that on the eighth anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan Wednesday, public support for the conflict is slipping.

An Associated Press poll finds only 40 percent of Americans support the war, while in Britain, 56 percent of people surveyed in a BBC poll said they are against it.
In Afghanistan, a Taliban statement marking the anniversary said the group never had any agenda to harm other countries, nor has it such an agenda today.

The group said its goal is Afghanistan's independence and the building of an Islamic state. But it also warned that if the West wants to turn Afghanistan into a colony, then it should brace for a prolonged war.

In violence Wednesday, a Spanish soldier was killed and five others wounded in western Herat province. Two Afghan civilians were killed and about 25 others wounded when their bus was hit by an insurgent rocket in eastern Ghazni province.

Meanwhile, the NATO-led force says Afghan and international troops killed or detained suspected militants in two separate operations in central Wardak and southern Helmand provinces Wednesday.

A NATO statement said that in Wardak, a joint security force killed and detained several suspected militants and destroyed a suicide vest during a raid on a compound known to be used by a Taliban group.

In Helmand province, Afghan and NATO forces detained several militants and uncovered 50 kilograms of black tar heroin. No Afghan civilians or security forces were harmed in the operations.

White House Moves to Adjust War Aims to Qaeda Focus

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan does not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.

As Mr. Obama met with advisers for three hours to discuss Pakistan, the White House said he has not decided whether to approve a proposed troop buildup in Afghanistan. But the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.

It remains unclear whether everyone in the president’s war cabinet fully accepts this view. While Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has argued for months against increasing troops in Afghanistan because Pakistan was the greater priority, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have both publicly warned that the Taliban remain linked to Al Qaeda and would give its fighters safe haven again if it regained control of all or large parts of Afghanistan, making it a mistake to think of them as separate problems.

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has argued that success demands a substantial expansion of the American presence — up to 40,000 additional troops — and any decision that provides less will expose the president to criticism, especially from Republicans, that his policy is a prescription for failure.

The White House appears to be trying to prepare the ground to counter that by focusing attention on recent successes against Al Qaeda cells in Pakistan. The approach described by administration officials on Wednesday amounts to an alternative to the analysis presented by General McChrystal. If, as the White House has increasingly asserted in recent weeks, it has improved the ability of the United States to reduce the threat from al Qaeda, then the war in Afghanistan is less important to American security.

In reviewing General McChrystal’s request, the White House is rethinking what was, just six months ago, a strategy that viewed Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single integrated problem, according to several administration officials and outsiders who have spoken with them. Now the discussions in the White House Situation Room are focusing on related but separate strategies for fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

“Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda,” one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. “We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability.”

The official contrasted that with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country, but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. “When the two are aligned, it’s mainly on the tactical front,” the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.

Another official, who also was authorized to speak but not to be identified, said the different views of Al Qaeda and Taliban are driving the president’s review. “To the extent that Al Qaeda has been degraded, and it has, and to the extent you believe you need to focus on destroying it going forward, what is required going forward?” the official asked. “And to prevent it from having a safe haven?”

The officials argued that while Al Qaeda is a foreign body, the Taliban cannot be wholly removed from Afghanistan because it is too ingrained in the country. Moreover, the forces often described as Taliban are actually an amalgamation of militants that includes local warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network or others fighting for local grievances rather than jihadist ideology.

Mr. Obama has defined his mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan as attempting “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world.” But he made clear during a visit to the National Counterterrorism Center on Tuesday that the goal behind it is to protect the United States. “That’s the principal threat to the American people,” he said.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, repeated Wednesday that the president’s “primary focus is on groups and their allies that can strike our homeland, strike our allies, or groups who would provide safe haven for those that wish to do that.”

The discussion about whether the Taliban poses a threat to the United States has been at the heart of the administration’s debate about what to do in Afghanistan. Some in the Biden camp maintain that the Taliban can be contained with current troop levels and eventually by Afghan forces trained by the United States. Moreover, they suggest the Taliban have no interest in letting Al Qaeda back into Afghanistan because that was what cost them power when they were toppled by American-backed Afghan rebels in 2001.

“The policy people and the intelligence people inside are having a big argument over this,” said Leslie Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Mr. Biden. “Is the Taliban a loose collection of people we can split up? Can we split the Taliban from Al Qaeda? If the Taliban comes back to power in parts of Afghanistan, are they going to bring Al Qaeda back with them?”

Some analysts say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have actually grown closer since the first American bombs fell on the Shomali Plains north of Kabul eight years ago Tuesday.

“The kind of separation that existed between the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001 really doesn’t exist anymore,” said Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised General McChrystal. “You have much more ideological elements in the Taliban. In the east, they’re really mixed in with Al Qaeda.”

Frances Fragos Townsend, who was President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said the two groups remain interlinked.

“It’s a dangerous argument to assume that the Taliban won’t revert to where they were pre-9/11 and provide Al Qaeda sanctuary,” she said. Referring to General McChrystal, she added: “If you don’t give him the troops he asked for and continue with the Predator strikes, you can kill them one at a time but you’re not going to drain the swamp.”

Officials said Wednesday that General McChrystal’s official request for additional forces was forwarded to Mr. Obama last week. Mr. Gates’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said he had given Mr. Obama “an informal copy” at the president’s request.

The meeting Wednesday was the president’s third with his full national security team. Another is scheduled for Friday to talk about Afghanistan and then a fifth is planned, possibly for next week. Mr. Gibbs said the president is still several weeks away from a decision.

PA decries British PM’s remarks against Pakhtuns

PESHAWAR: The treasury and opposition lawmakers in the NWFP Assembly Wednesday condemned the statement of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown terming Pakhtuns as terrorists and extremists.The legislators submitted a resolution in the assembly secretariat for House debate on Friday to unanimously condemn the “insulting” remarks by Gordon Brown against Pakhtun nation.Carrying signatures of the leader of the opposition Akram Durrani, Sikandar Sherpao (PPP-S), Nighat Orakzai (PML-Q), Munawar Khan, Javed Abbasi (PML-N) and senior ministers Bashir Bilour and Rahimdad Khan expressed shock and anger over the remarks of the British premier.Terming Pakhtuns as brave, Islam-loving and patriotic, they asked the federal government to lodge official protest with the UK government over its Prime Minister’s remarks against Pakhtuns.On a point of order, Munawar Khan raised the issue by posing a question as to how Gordon Brown had said that 90 per cent of Pakhtuns were terrorists.Akram Khan Durrani said the statement terming Pakhtuns as terrorists and extremists was the unfortunate and insulting. “This is an insult to the entire Pakhtun nation and we represent them,” he said, adding that protecting rights and honour of Pakhtuns was their topmost priority.Referring to the reported sale of the PC Peshawar after the blast, he said allowing a foreign country to purchase the lone five-star hotel in the city would create problems for the people. He requested the chair to relax rules and allow them to move the condemnation resolution.Bashir Ahmed Bilour said Pakhtuns are peace-loving nation. They hate war and love peace. “We are the proponents of non-violence as the use of force breeds hatred, while non-violence begets love.”He said these were Pakhtuns who fought against the terrorists and five per cent of them may be involved in terrorism, which negates Brown’s claim of their 90 per cent involvement.Meanwhile, the NWFP Assembly will also hold debate on the Kerry-Lugar Bill in the coming session and the speaker proposed to the opposition to prepare a joint resolution for debate on the bill.Javed Abbasi of the PML-N said the entire country was opposing aid at the expense of national sovereignty. Since the legislators from other parties wanted to speak on the issue, the speaker suggested a joint resolution for debate on it.Zahir Shah of the PML-Q withdrew his privilege motion against the education minister, Sardar Hussain Babak, when he sought forgiveness for his reported utterance against the members. The minister, who remained under fire on Wednesday, said he withdraw his words, if they had hurt sentiments of the members.The opposition and ruling alliance’s members were critical of the education minister for making transfers and postings of teachers in their respective constituencies.Provincial labour minister Sher Azam Khan also came down hard on his cabinet colleague, saying Babak had appointed a corrupt EDO in his district who is not acceptable to all the four elected members. He pointed out gross irregularities in the appointment of the PTC teachers and said they (MP) would only be satisfied with the transfer of the EDO from Bannu. Javed Tarakai said that 186 teachers have been appointed in his constituency and said that his runner-up in the last elections is now acting like an MPA.Akram Durrani in his adjournment motion said the undeserving people had been appointed in the education department. However, he did not press his resolution after the assurance by the minister who said the practices would not be repeated.Minister for Higher Education Qazi Muhammad Asad presented the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan Bill, 2009. Saqibullah Khan Chamkani of the ANP and Abdul Akbar Khan’s amendments were discussed which would be taken up again in the coming session.

Obama briefed on Pak political situation

WASHINGTON: A key meeting was held to brief US President Barrack Obama on Pakistan’s Political situations.According to sources, US President were given briefing on Pakistan’s political situation regarding Kerry-Lugar (KL) Bill in the meeting held in White House.Top level military, intelligence and political official attended the meeting.Obama is considering to increase cooperation to counter Al Qaida.Meanwhile current situation in Afghanistan was also discussed in the meeting.

Peshawar to have zoo, heritage centre

PESHAWAR: Commissioner Peshawar, Muhammad Azam Khan, Wednesday said the establishment of a heritage centre and zoos was under consideration in the provincial metropolis.

Speaking on the ‘Guest Hour’ programme of the Peshawar Press Club, Azam said the city had no zoo and he had plans to establish the same in Peshawar and construct a heritage centre on the lines of Lok Virsa at Gorghatri. He said that Peshawar, being one of the oldest cities, had rich culture and history and the proposed Lok Virsa could be one of the best in Pakistan.

Talking about his priorities, the commissioner said a better traffic system; price-control and removal of encroachments were at the top of his agenda. He said these were considered to be minor issues but they were badly affecting routine life. He added that if these problems were solved, the people would see a positive change.

Peshawar Development Authority Director General Qazi Muhammad Laiq, who accompanied the commissioner, said they would also initiate mega projects to ensure signal-free traffic system. He said new fly-overs and underpasses would be constructed to achieve the target.

The commissioner said the devolution plan was launched with sincerity but it has some lacunas that were more evident in NWFP. Azam said under the devolution plan, there was no link between NWFP and Fata, which aggravated law and order. He said the district governments had also failed to check the prices effectively.

About the restoration of magistracy system, he said criminal cases would be disposed of by the magistrates to ensure speedy justice. The commissioner said he had directed all magistrates to dispose of cases within four months. The aggrieved party, he added, would have two forums up to the commissioner level to challenge the verdict of a magistrate. “However, appeals at the two forums will take only a month time to decide the case,” he added.

The PDA director general and the commissioner assured journalists that work on the media colony would soon be started and better roads, sewerage and drainage systems would be built.