Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pakistan pilot's sandwich demand delays flight by over 2 hours ( this real?)

Pakistan pilot's sandwich demand delays flight by over 2 hours
PTI | Dec 16, 2013, 05.14 AM IST

LAHORE: A foodie pilot delayed a New York-bound Pakistan International Airlines' flight by two and a half hours because he wanted to take sandwiches, which weren't in approved menu, aboard the plane.

PIA flight Pk-711, scheduled for New York via Manchester, was ready for departure on Saturday from Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore at 6.45am (local time). The catering department served the approved menu, including lunch, peanuts, chips and biscuits but flight captain Noushad asked them to serve him sandwiches, The Nation daily reported.

The catering staff expressed their inability to serve anything beyond the approved menu and also informed him of the sensitivity of the flight's departure time. The staff told him that sandwiches could only be arranged by placing an order to a five-star hotel in the city, which would take more than two hours.

The captain remained adamant and said no matter what he needed his sandwiches , it said.
The catering department then contacted the PIA head office in Karachi and brought the matter to their notice. Surprisingly, the management then directed the catering department to meet the pilot's demand.

Finally, the sandwiches were arranged from the five-star hotel concerned and the flight could depart to its destination at 9.15 am (local time) after a delay of two and a half hours, the report added.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Fighting to footwear: US Army veteran's Afghan factory plan

Fighting to footwear: US Army veteran's Afghan factory plan

Matthew Griffin (right) Matthew Griffin (right) did three combat tours in Afghanistan with the Army Rangers

After three tours of duty in Afghanistan, former US special operations soldier Matthew Griffin now wants to help the country by opening a factory there instead of going on combat missions.

Mr Griffin, who was an Army Rangers captain, is the founder and chief executive of footwear business Combat Flip-Flops, based in Washington state.

The 34-year-old came up with the idea for the company after visiting a shoe manufacturing facility in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that made military boots.

"It came as a brainwave," he says. "I realised that flip-flops were as popular in Afghanistan as they are in the US, that the two countries had that in common.

"So I thought to myself, 'Why not start a business making flip-flops in Kabul which we can then sell in the US and around the world?'

"That was back in 2009. It is fair to say that the business has faced a few hurdles since then."

The main hurdles have been three failed attempts in the intervening years to contract out the manufacturing of the flip-flops to existing shoe factories in Kabul.

To sidestep the problem, Mr Griffin now wants to open his own factory in the country - by driving one in.

To make this possible, Mr Griffin and his colleagues have developed a flip-flop assembly line that fits inside a standard cargo container. But they still need to secure sufficient funding to return production to Afghanistan.
'Infinitely safer'
Mr Griffin says he always wanted to join the US Army. Enrolling when he was 18, he went on to spend three years with the Army Rangers between 2003 and 2006. The Rangers describe themselves as the US Army's "premier direct-action raid force".

Combat Flip-Flops' AK47 model The company describes its flip-flops as "bad for running, worse for fighting"

Mr Griffin left the army in April 2006. He says: "By then I had two children, and I was barely home. I wanted to spend time with the family."

Yet civilian work would three years later send him back to Afghanistan. By then he was working for Remote Medical International (RMI), a US company that offers medical assistance and rescue services to people working in remote or hostile environments around the world.

It was while at RMI that Mr Griffin visited the shoe factory in Kabul in 2009.

"I couldn't believe how much Kabul had changed for the better over the intervening years," he says. "It felt infinitely safer, and there were small businesses growing everywhere.

"So I instantly thought, 'Why don't we help this, why don't we send more entrepreneurs not soldiers?'

"And then I visited the shoe factory, and I wasn't prepared for what I saw - it was a clean, sterile, modern manufacturing facility. It was making military boots, but it could easily also make flip-flops. That's where the crazy idea came from."
Advance orders
With busy work and family commitments, Mr Griffin says his idea "stagnated for a year and a half", until he eventually launched the business in early 2011. One of his former Army Rangers friends, Donald Lees, came on board, as did Mr Griffin's brother-in-law, Andrew Sewrey.

Workers at the shoe factory in Kabul that subsequently shut down The company has struggled to contract out its manufacturing in Afghanistan

With none of them having any experience of making shoes, Mr Griffin says they did the only sensible thing: "We Googled 'how to make flip-flops'."

They used their savings and raising additional funds through garage sales to get the company off the ground. The name is a play on both Mr Griffin and Mr Lees's military background.

Before production could start in Kabul, Mr Griffin and his two colleagues designed some flip-flops and got 100 prototypes made in China.

The prototypes were good enough to secure a number of advance orders.

And so Combat Flip-Flops signed a deal with the shoe-making factory in Kabul for 2,000 pairs.

But when he arrived in Kabul in the summer of 2012 to pick up the flip-flops, Mr Griffin immediately realised that they hadn't been made well enough.

"It was a memorable moment, that's for sure," he says. "We must have smoked a packet of cigarettes in 20 minutes.

"We ended up giving the 2,000 pairs of flip-flops away to people in Kabul."

Combat Flip-Flops The company has developed a manufacturing facility in a cargo container

Undeterred, Mr Griffin went to another shoe factory in Kabul, but it turned him away because it said his order wasn't large enough.

So instead, he signed a deal later in 2012 with a third facility in the Afghan capital.

"All appeared to be going well at last, but then communication from the factory dropped off," says Mr Griffin. "We then heard that the factory has lost its order for [military] boots, and would have to close. So we were back to nothing again."
Production outsourced
With already long overdue orders to fulfil, Mr Griffin says that with a heavy heart he the decided at the start of this year to switch production of the flip-flops to the US, and more specifically to his garage in Issaquah, near Seattle.

"It dawned on us that you only need basic machinery to make flip-flops, so we started to make them in my garage. The idea for the cargo container came from there," he says.

Matthew Griffin in Afghanistan Mr Griffin plans to return to Afghanistan next year with his mobile factory

Struggling to keep up with demand this year, some production has since been outsourced to Colombia in South America, but Mr Griffin hopes to resume flip-flop manufacturing in Afghanistan next year as soon as he can raise the funds.

In the meantime, Combat Flip-Flops continues to also sell both sarongs and scarves that are made by Afghan women.

If taking the mobile flip-flop factory to Afghanistan is successful, he hopes the concept can "be extended to other former combat zones, to help provide employment and boost their economies".

Mr Griffin adds: "The business has faced some challenges along the way, that's for sure, but being in the Army Rangers was good training - you have to think your way out of a problem in high-stress conditions and a very short timeframe."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Crackdown ends at crumbling Myanmar university

Crackdown ends at crumbling Myanmar university

A staff member at Yangon University Library checks palm leaf manuscripts at the library, two days before undergraduate classes reopen in Yangon, Myanmar.
Yangon University, once among Asia's most prestigious, reopens to undergraduates after a two decade crackdown by military rulers.
YANGON, Myanmar — The campus is overrun by a tangled web of weeds and vines. Many of the books in the open-air library are ancient, their pages yellow. Students will have to share a handful of donated computers and put up with slow-speed Internet, at least at first. And professors are struggling to catch up with developments in their fields.
This is Yangon University, once among Asia's most prestigious institutions of learning. It reopens to undergraduates Thursday for the first time in nearly two decades, finally emerging from a crackdown by military rulers who considered education a threat to their supremacy.
"It's a start," Thaw Kaung, one of the country's most respected scholars, said with a smile.

The junta that ruled Myanmar for half a century gutted education, which received 1.3 percent of the budget, compared to 25 percent for defense.
Education spending has shot up since President Thein Sein was inaugurated to lead a nominally civilian government, jumping from $340 million in 2011 to $1 billion this year. But experts say more needs to be done.
"We need educated people to run the country," said Thaw Kaung, an octogenarian in thick, black-rimmed glasses who long served as the university's chief librarian. "We can't just rely on foreign aid and experts. Without a university producing capable persons, it will be difficult to sustain development in the long run."
Foreign investors are eager to do business in this desperately poor nation of 60 million that only recently opened up to the rest of the world. They are no longer hindered by U.S. and European sanctions, but now must figure out how to deal with an enthusiastic but utterly unprepared work force.
Even finding English-speakers for five-star hotels can be a challenge, investors say, let alone business and information technology professionals, lawyers or accountants.
The onslaught on education in Myanmar began when Gen. Ne Win seized power in 1962. Troops blew up Yangon University's Student Union because of protests and tightened control over classes. Soldiers stormed the campus again in 1974 to quell protests.
The biggest blow came in 1988, following the failed student uprisings that put a global spotlight on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta shut down urban campuses, seen as hotbeds of political dissent, and restricted what could be taught.
Yangon University produced many of Myanmar's leaders and its most famous dissidents and intellectuals, including Suu Kyi's father, independence leader Aung San. The school closed repeatedly for long stretches under the junta, and up until this week, only a handful of graduate students could be seen roaming the 200-acre campus.
"It's a dream come true," said 16-year-old May Thin Khaing, clutching the straps of her backpack as she looked for her name on the board near registration.
"My parents both went here in the 1980s and often spoke nostalgically about those days," said the teenager, who will study chemistry. "I hope I can feel the same sense of pride that my parents once enjoyed."
The school once had 60,000 students, but it's a long way from that now.
Initially, only 300 students — 15 from each of the 20 disciplines — were supposed to head to class on Thursday. Following criticism from academics and lawmakers, the number was boosted at the final hour to 1,000 — or 50 for each discipline.
That left professors scrambling to prepare extra lab equipment and clean up vacant classrooms. Workers were frantically putting in light bulbs ahead of the reopening and sweeping away thick, dusty cobwebs.
Dr. Phone Win, a physician who heads Mingalar Myanmar, a group promoting education, said enrollment should be even higher: "Why only 50 for each discipline? Who came up with that number?"
He said that despite economic and political reforms in the last three years, the government maintains a top-down approach across almost every sector, including education.
"It's very hierarchial," Win said. The ministry is reluctant to give too much control to the university rector, and the rector limits professors' autonomy, he said.
"What these students need now is academic freedom," he said.
Students also may be skeptical that such freedom has arrived. Political science has returned to the curriculum, but so far only six students have signed up.
With urban campuses closed, 70 percent of the country's students have in recent years relied on distance learning, with graduation depending largely on their memorization skills. Others made long, daily commutes to newly built sterile institutions on the outskirts of bustling cities.
Nay Oak, a professor of English at Yangon in the 1960s and '70s, said that as the military closed down universities, its answer to education was to allow students to take crash courses. Many walked away with degrees after just six months of study.

"In many cases, they didn't have to learn a thing," Nay Oak said.
Yangon University is getting international help to remake itself. Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Oxford universities and the Gates Foundation are among the groups that have provided assistance or expressed interest in doing so.
Charles Wiener, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has taken part in several recent workshops for university faculty. Training intended to draw 25 or 30 participants regularly attracted 70 to 100, he said, and many in the packed rooms impressed their instructors with their academic rigor.
They knew they had a lot of catching up to do, he said, but were clearly excited.
"The metaphor of a starving child," he said, "is not that distant."
AP writer Robin McDowell contributed to this report from Yangon.

India's Cradle Baby aims to end female infanticide

India's Cradle Baby aims to end female infanticide

A baby girl lies in a cradle inside the Life Line Trust orphanage in Salem, India.
India's "Cradle Baby" project allows parents to give unwanted baby girls to the state, saving them from death in a region where daughters are a burden and their murder common.
SALEM, India — Unwanted infant girls in the sterile, sparsely furnished nursery rooms of the Life Line Trust orphanage in Tamil Nadu state, southern India, are considered the lucky ones.
They are India's "Cradle Babies" — products of a government project that permits parents to give unwanted baby girls anonymously to the state, saving them from possible death in a region where daughters are seen as a burden and where their murder is a common reality.

"Often babies are found in ditches and garbage pits. Some are alive, others are dead," said A. Devaki, a government child protection officer in the Salem district, one of the worst-afflicted areas.
"Just last week, we found a newborn baby girl barely breathing in a dustbin at the local bus stand."
She added that a lack of education, the low status of girls and widespread poverty were the main factors why girl babies were killed or dumped with little chance of survival.
"One girl is OK, but a second or third will likely end up being killed. That's why we introduced the Cradle Baby Scheme."
But while the project has been praised for potentially saving the lives of thousands of Indian girls, human rights activists have criticized it, accusing authorities of encouraging the abandonment of girls and promoting the low status of women in this largely patriarchal society.

Started in 1992, the project runs in dusty towns and mud-and-brick villages across Tamil Nadu. It allows parents to leave unwanted baby girls in dozens of empty cradles in hospitals, welfare centers and government offices.
At the beginning, parents would secretly leave their babies in the cribs. These days, they are more open and simply hand infants to welfare officers.
The children are then sent to registered orphanages like the Life Line Trust where they are put up for adoption.
"Words can't explain how much joy this little girl gives us," said R. Umamangeshwari, 42, sitting next to her husband, a businessman in the textile industry, with their newly adopted 1-year-old daughter, Janani.

After 10 years of trying for a child, the couple approached the orphanage and within a year, after government welfare officers carried out checks, they were deemed suitable adoptive parents and given custody of Janani.
Since the Cradle Baby program began, poverty-stricken parents and single mothers have handed-in more than 3,700 children, mostly girls. More than 3,600 of them have been adopted by childless, middle class couples in Tamil Nadu, officials said.
Palaniamma, 40, recalled how her mother took away her newborn daughter and put her in the scheme 11 years ago. Days later, she convinced her family to get her daughter back.
"I am glad I refused to give her up," Palaniamma said outside her mud-and-thatch home in Krishnapuram village. "Whatever difficulties I'll face, I thought, it's better to bring up my own child than desert her."
Activists and officials say financial pressures associated with dowries are so great that parents have been aborting female fetuses for decades after discovering their gender through ultrasound examinations, despite the practice being illegal.
A 2011 study in The Lancet medical journal found up to 12 million Indian girls had been aborted in the past three decades.

Other parents kill girls or fail to save them from preventable diseases, leading to alarmingly skewed child gender ratios. There were 919 girls to every 1,000 boys in 2011 compared with 976 in 1961, says the Census of India.
In Salem, communities like the Vanniyar people practice infanticide more than feticide, often because they cannot afford ultrasound tests, which are growing in popularity in parts of India, to illegally determine the unborn child's sex.
There are no official figures on how many girls have been killed across the state, but government officials and activists say at least one or two cases of babies being abandoned or found dead are reported every month.

In June, local media reported the arrest of a father of four girls in the district of Dharmapuri. He was suspected of killing his 22-day-old daughter by feeding her poisoned milk, then burying her corpse in a ditch.
Officials say the Cradle Baby program has been a success, improving gender ratios where the project is active.
Rights activists say the improved ratio is largely a result of greater awareness and advocacy work, and better family planning, rather than because of the project.
They say the program has failed to tackle the root causes of female infanticide by promoting the abandonment of girls and allowing parents to shift responsibility to the state. As a result, they say, killing of baby girls continues.
"The government is legitimizing the dumping of girls," said M. Shankar of the Development Education and Environment Protection Society, a Dharmapuri-based charity that works on gender rights issues.
Additional reporting by Anupama Chandrasekaran

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Adulterers may be stoned under new Afghan law

Adulterers may be stoned under new Afghan law

Afghan women line up outside a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 10, 2013, to register for elections. A draft law would reinstate death by stoning for adulterers.
Under a draft of a new sharia penal code for Afghanistan, the penalty for convicted adulterers would be death by stoning if there are four witnesses to the crime.
KABUL, Afghanistan – Death by stoning for convicted adulterers is being written into Afghan law, a senior official said on Monday, the latest sign that human rights won at great cost since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 are rolling back as foreign troops withdraw.
"We are working on the draft of a sharia penal code where the punishment for adultery, if there are four eyewitnesses, is stoning," said Rohullah Qarizada, who is part of the sharia Islamic law committee working on the draft and head of the Afghan Independent Bar Association.
Billions have been invested on promoting human rights in Afghanistan over more than 12 years of war and donors fear that hard won progress, particularly for women, may be eroding.

During the Taliban's 1996-2001 time in power, convicted adulterers were routinely shot or stoned in executions held mostly on Fridays. Women were not permitted to go out on their own, girls were barred from schools and men were obliged to grow long beards.
Providing fresh evidence popular support for the brutal punishment has endured, two lovers narrowly escaped being stoned in Baghlan province north of Kabul, but were publicly shot over the weekend instead, officials said.
"While they were fleeing, suddenly their car crashed and locals arrested them. People wanted to stone them on the spot but some elders disagreed," the provincial head of women's affairs, Khadija Yaqeen, told Reuters on Monday.
"The next day they decided and shot both of them dead in public. Our findings show that the woman's father had ordered to shoot both man and woman."

The public execution was confirmed by the provincial police chief's spokesman, who said the killings were unlawful.
"It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The U.S. based rights group has urged funding to be tied to commitments and last month, Norway took the rare step of cutting aid on the grounds that Afghanistan had failed to meet commitments to protect women's rights and fight corruption.
Most donors, however, have stopped short of using money to pressure President Hamid Karzai's administration and U.S. and United Nations officials were aware of the plan to reintroduce stoning, Qarizada said.
The new law, he told Reuters, was unlikely to make stoning a common practice.
"The judge asks each witness many questions and if one answer differs from other witnesses then the court will reject the claim," Qarizada said.
Writing by Jessica Donati.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Loya Jirga from the BBC's perspective

Obama vow as Loya Jirga debates US-Afghan security deal

Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
The Loya Jirga can recommend the amendment or rejection of clauses

US President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai vowing to respect his nation's sovereignty, as Afghan elders debate a crucial post-2014 security pact.

Mr Obama vows US forces will not enter Afghan homes except for "extraordinary circumstances" - a key point of debate.

Mr Karzai urged the 2,000 elders to back the deal, which could see 15,000 foreign troops remain after 2014.

But he said it would not be signed until after elections next year.

The presidential polls will be held in less than six months' time, and Mr Karzai has served two terms so cannot stand again.

His office could not confirm to the BBC whether Mr Karzai - or his successor - would sign the pact.
'Sanctity and dignity'
The BBC's Karen Allen in Kabul says the issue of US raids on Afghan homes has been a key stumbling block in a deal that has taken months to hammer out.

But a draft of the deal was released by Kabul shortly before the grand assembly of elders - or Loya Jirga - started on Thursday.

Our correspondent says that in a dramatic moment as he delivered his speech to the meeting, Mr Karzai produced the letter from Mr Obama which gives an assurance on US raids.

The letter reads: "US forces shall not enter Afghan homes for the purposes of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of US nationals.

"We will continue to make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes and in their daily lives, just as we do for our own citizens."

It continues: "The US commitment to Afghanistan's independence, territorial integrity, and national unity, as enshrined in our Strategic Partnership Agreement, is enduring, as is our respect for Afghan sovereignty."

The Loya Jirga can amend or reject clauses in the agreement, though its decisions are not binding. The deal will also have to be approved by parliament.

Mr Karzai's statement on the timing of the signature of the document appears to be a new condition, our correspondent says.

The US had wanted the deal to be agreed quickly.

Indeed Mr Obama's letter says: "We look forward to concluding this agreement promptly."

Hamid Karzai at Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
Hamid Karzai urged the gathering to accept the deal

Protester at Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
One protester said the deal was selling out the country

The US would have to take into account any amendments that are put forward, and would still have the option of pulling out altogether.

Another key sticking point that Mr Karzai appears to have conceded concerns the jurisdiction for the prosecution of US troops.

The US insistence on immunity from Afghan prosecution for troops has been central to Washington's demands.

The failure to resolve a similar legal issue in Iraq led to a total withdrawal of US forces.

The US-Afghan draft says: "Afghanistan authorises the United States to hold trial in such cases, or take other disciplinary action, as appropriate, in the territory of Afghanistan."

According to the draft, the deal will remain in force "until the end of 2024 and beyond".

Currently the multinational Nato force is due to pull out of Afghanistan from 2014.
Taliban rejection
Opening the four-day Loya Jirga, President Karzai said the only issue on the table was whether the security agreement would be signed.

A woman delegate shouted from the floor that US troops had spilt too much Afghan blood and should be stopped.

Mr Karzai acknowledged there were difficult issues involved but advised delegates to accept the agreement.

He said that a number of world leaders - including from Russia, China, and India - were backing the deal, and that it would provide the security Afghanistan needed, as well as the foundation for forces from other Nato countries who were assisting Afghan troops.

But Mr Karzai also admitted there was a lack of trust between him and the Americans.

He said: "I don't trust them and they don't trust me, the last 10 years has shown this to me. I have had fights with them and they have had propaganda against me."

The Loya Jirga delegates will now meet in smaller closed-door groups to look at the deal in detail.

Security is tight for the meeting after a suicide bombing last weekend near the huge tent where it is being held.

The Taliban has branded the meeting a US-designed plot, and has vowed to pursue and punish its delegates as traitors if they approve the deal.

Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
Prayers are said ahead of the debate

Isaf commander General Joseph Dunford at the Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
Isaf commander General Joseph Dunford attended the Loya Jirga

Loya Jirga gathering, Kabul, 21 Nov
There was intense security outside the gathering

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

India: Dark is beautiful in 'historic' advert

India: Dark is beautiful in 'historic' advert

Tanishq jewellery's remarriage commercial

Advertising can reinforce unrealistic ideals of beauty and other stereotypes. But a new batch of adverts on Indian television seeks to challenge those stereotypes, says Upasana Bhat.

A dark-skinned woman with a young daughter prepares for her second wedding. A single mother practises long-distance running with her son. An upper-class professional with a malfunctioning phone is helped by a housewife. An elderly man competes against boys in an online game.

These are some of the adverts now screening on Indian TV that reflect changing times on the subcontinent.

To depict the remarriage of a woman with a darker complexion can be regarded as ground-breaking in a country where fair skin is considered beautiful, owing to the deep-rooted caste system. Adverts more typically feature Bollywood stars promoting skin-whitening creams.

And second marriages are relatively uncommon in India, particularly for women, although attitudes are changing slowly.

The Pioneer newspaper praises ads such as Tanishq jewellery's remarriage commercial for "breaking the mould and pushing progressive social values" as well as "redefining traditional representations" of women.

Author Swapan Seth describes 2013 as "unarguably Indian advertising's finest year" in the First Post. "Great brands do not belong to companies and consumers. They belong to society. They are the tears of the troubled. They are the smiles of the satisfied. They show the broken. And the mended. For that really is what life is all about. They are meticulously planted fillings in the cavities of every culture. And they have a duty to perform. They must be the bugles that announce the change."

But can adverts nudge along social change? Yes, says Piyush Pandey, creative director of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather India. Market leaders such as Tanishq "must take little chances of taking the society forward".

"I don't think we should be at all critical about this ad. Then we will stay in the past," he tells the Economic Times. And actress Nandita Das, who supports the Dark is Beautiful campaign, tells the Times she hopes the remarriage ad "might motivate others to follow suit".

Social activist Ranjana Kumari doesn't think adverts bring about social change, but tells the Hindu Business Line that it's "good when they focus on the progressive portrayal of women rather than resort to cliches and stereotypes".

As for the mother-and-son-running advert, Seth says it takes "the trials and tribulation of single parenting and made a triumph out of it". He also regards the remarriage advert as "purely historic".

That Day After Everyday - 'Eve-teasing' fight-back film divides opinion

India: 'Eve-teasing' fight-back film divides opinion

A still from the film, showing a woman with her fists clenched

A short film has stirred controversy in India by showing women who fight back against sexual harassment - known as "eve teasing" on the subcontinent.

That Day After Everyday by director Anurag Kashyap has raked up almost two million views on YouTube in just a week. Three women decide they are fed up with daily harassment, and the film climaxes with the trio fighting off abusive men with fists and purses.

It has prompted robust debate in India, where sexual harassment is a major problem and a rape is reported every 21 minutes.

Comments on YouTube range from those praising its message - "This movie will definitely encourage ladies to empower themselves" - to those who regard Kashyap as "a male-hating feminist". On Twitter, views are equally forthright. "Finally, someone got it right. No one comes to your rescue except yourself," tweeted Aparna Kar.

But many warn of repercussions for women if they retaliate against would-be attackers. "Violence never is and never will be the solution to any problem, let alone eve teasing," wrote one blogger.

Despite national soul-searching after last December's fatal gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi, some still speak of India's "rape culture", fuelled by an acceptance of inequality and violence against women.

Nasiruddin Haqqani: Who shot the militant at the bakery?

Nasiruddin Haqqani: Who shot the militant at the bakery?

Pakistani youth and onlookers gather at the spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated outside the Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 11, 2013.
The crime scene was quickly washed down and the body taken away by police

At first it appeared as if two men had been injured in a gun attack at a bread shop in the eastern suburbs of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad - just a routine shooting, a senseless crime in a large city.

But eyewitnesses noticed a number of aberrations. Some told local press that the police who arrived at the crime scene collected bullet casings and other evidence and then washed the area down to clean away the blood stains.

One of the injured was taken to a nearby house, witnesses said. Later, the injured man - or was he dead by then? - was put in a vehicle and driven away in the presence of senior police officers.

Local police registered a report saying unknown assailants on a motorbike injured a naan-bread maker at a suburban market. When confronted by the reporters, they denied there had been a second injured man.

The capital's main hospitals also reported only one casualty from the scene - one Mohammad Farooq, the naan maker.

Local Pakistani residents are pictured at the spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated at an Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 11, 2013.
Haqqani family members had been living in the Islamabad area for several years

But by mid-afternoon on Monday rumours were swirling that the second mystery man hit in the attack was in fact Nasiruddin Haqqani, a key leader of the so-called Haqqani network, considered one of the deadliest Afghan Taliban groups fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.

Confirming the rumours, a relative of Mr Haqqani told BBC his body had been spirited from Islamabad to the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan - roughly six hours drive across two provinces and one federal tribal territory, all dotted with heavily-manned military and police checkpoints.
Militant's Islamabad residence
There are obvious reasons for this cover-up.

For years, Pakistan has been accused by the West of backing the Haqqani network to counter the influence of arch-rival India in Afghanistan, a charge it denies.

So the idea that some of the group's key leaders were freely moving around in Islamabad - and even had a permanent home in the city, as has become apparent following the attack - could cause the country some embarrassment, a reminder of what it faced in 2011 when al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed by the Americans in a Pakistani city.

Jalaluddin Haqqani speaks in an interview on 22 August 1998 in Miranshah, Pakistan.
Nasiruddin's father, Jalaluddin, set up the Haqqani group to fight US troops

Nasiruddin was the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s who then set up the Haqqani network to fight the Americans in the post-9/11 era.

He was also the elder brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who heads the Haqqani network these days.

The Haqqanis belong to the Jadran tribe which is a native of eastern Afghanistan's Loya, or greater, Paktia region, and pledge allegiance to the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

But they have their main sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal territory of Waziristan and maintain operational independence from the Afghan Taliban.

The group is known for launching spectacular attacks against Western and Indian targets in Afghanistan.

And it is known to have played a prominent role in seeking to bring the anti-Pakistan militant groups in the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) alliance to the dialogue table with Islamabad.

A residence believed to belong to Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, is pictured in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 11, 2013. Nasiruddin Haqqani apparently used the Islamabad house as a base for fundraising for the group

Nasiruddin Haqqani was not central to the group's military operations, but had a vital role as a fundraiser and emissary who frequently travelled to the sheikhdoms of the Middle East to raise cash, and also, according to some reports, to look after his family business there.

He also played a part in last year's efforts to set up a Taliban office in Doha for peace talks with the United States, although the Haqqani network was not a direct interlocutor in those talks.

In addition, he was understood to be the group's main contact person for pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan, and was frequently seen moving around in Islamabad.

According to local residents, some family members of Nasiruddin Haqqani had been living in the Shahpur area on Islamabad's eastern outskirts for well over four years.

He was apparently using this base to organise financial and logistic;al support for his group and the Afghan Taliban.

So there were a number of groups who could have wanted to see him dead.
Analysts believe his assassination has dealt a blow to the group's fundraising activities, because they think Nasiruddin was the only Haqqani free to exploit his father's vast Middle Eastern contacts. The others are either dead, or engaged in operational matters.

Some quarters also suggest he was Islamabad's main link to the TTP leadership in its recent peace overtures to that group.

A Pakistani youth looks at a bullet-riddled wall of an Afghan bakery where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad (photo: November 11, 2013).
A boy points to bullet holes in the wall of the bakery where Haqqani was shot

For these circles, the obvious suspects behind his killing would be either the Americans or the Afghans.

But others point to growing unease within the wider Taliban community in the North Waziristan sanctuary as the time for Nato's drawdown in Afghanistan gets nearer.

This unease is partly due to a fluid situation in Pakistan, where the political and military establishments are putting up a half-hearted battle against some right-wing politicians who appear bent on exploiting the anti-American feelings in the country to push it into international isolation.

Tribal sources say there is a clear split within the TTP, with some ethnic Mehsud commanders accusing the Haqqanis of toeing the Pakistani line.

The Haqqanis have also faced opposition from some Punjabi Taliban groups that were initially hosted and feted by them but have now sunk their own roots in the area and consider the Haqqanis to be as foreign to Waziristan as they are themselves.

Analysts feel 10 years after it was created, the Waziristan sanctuary is readying for change, with dozens of groups realigning amid shifts in relations and tactical priorities concerning Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

For a while, there may be no clear friends or enemies in the area, they say.

Afghanistan opium harvest at record high

Afghanistan opium harvest at record high - UNODC

Colonel Fakhar Gul, head of Herat counter-narcotics police, with piece of raw opium in his hand
The report said police had tripled their effectiveness at seizing drugs

Afghan opium cultivation has reached a record level, with more than 200,000 hectares planted with the poppy for the first time, the United Nations says.

The UNODC report said the harvest was 36% up on last year, and if fully realised would outstrip global demand.

Most of the rise was in Helmand province, where British troops are preparing to withdraw.

One of the main reasons the UK sent troops to Helmand was to cut opium production.
David Loyn reports from the village where Afghans have been buried after being executed for trying to smuggle opium into Iran

The head of the UN office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Kabul, Jean-Luc Lemahieu, said that production was likely to rise again next year, amid uncertainty over the withdrawal of most foreign troops and the presidential election.

He said that the illegal economy was taking over in importance from legitimate business, and that prices remained high since there was a ready availability of cash in Afghanistan because of aid.

"As long as we think that we can have short-term, fast solutions for the counter-narcotics, we are continued to be doomed to fail," he added.

Mr Lemahieu said there had been some recent successes, including the arrest of leading figures in the drugs industry, but it could take 10-15 years to deal with Afghanistan's opium crisis, even if policies improved.

Afghan opium cultivation graph 1994-2013

The report said the total area planted with poppies rose from 154,000 to 209,000 hectares, while potential production rose by 49% to 5,500 tonnes, more than the current global demand.

Half of the cultivation area is in Helmand province.

Meanwhile two northern provinces which had previously been declared poppy-free - Faryab and Balkh - lost that status.

The report called for an integrated, comprehensive response to the problem.

"If the drug problem is not taken more seriously by aid, development and security actors, the virus of opium will further reduce the resistance of its host, already suffering from dangerously low immune levels due to fragmentation, conflict, patronage, corruption and impunity," it said.

But the report said there were some encouraging signs, with police tripling their effectiveness to capture "well over 10%" of production and a growth in services set up to tackle addiction.

The findings of the latest report reverse a decline in production last year attributed to bad weather and disease.

However, cultivation has been rising yearly since 2010 despite government efforts to eradicate the crop.

More farmers have been trying to grow the poppy as the price of opium has been rising.

Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium.

Last Jew in Afghanistan faces ruin as kebabs fail to sell

Last Jew in Afghanistan faces ruin as kebabs fail to sell

Zabulon Simintov, an Afghan Jew, prepares for prayers at his residence in Kabul
In a dilapidated building that also houses Afghanistan's last synagogue, he tries to make his kebab café a success.
KABUL —  Zabulon Simintov always removes his kippah, the skullcap worn by Jewish men, before entering his cafe in a dilapidated building that also houses Afghanistan's last synagogue.
"Let me take off my cap, otherwise people will think something bad about me," Simintov said cheerfully as he descended grime-caked stairs to the ground-floor cafe.

In his 50s, Simintov is the last known Afghan Jew to remain in the country. He has become something of a celebrity over the years and his rivalry with the next-to-last Jew, who died in 2005, inspired a play.
Mindful of Afghanistan's extremely conservative Muslim culture, Simintov tries not to advertise his identity to protect the Balkh Bastan or Ancient Balkh kebab cafe he opened four years ago, naming it after a northern Afghan province.
"All food here is prepared by Muslims," he said.
Now the cafe, neat and shiny, faces closure because kebabs are not selling well — largely because of deteriorating security in Kabul that has made people frightened to eat out or visit the city.
Simintov used to rely on hotel catering orders but even these have dried up as foreign troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, further weakening security and investment.
"Hotels used to order food for 400 to 500 people. Four or five stoves were busy from afternoon to evening," he said. "I plan to close my restaurant next March and rent its space."
At lunchtime, a single table was occupied, with a pair of customers ordering tender meat on long skewers and other Afghan dishes. Neither appeared to know about Simintov's history and said they came only because a cafe next door that made a special dish of Afghan noodles had shut down.
Little is known about the origins of Afghan Jews, who some believe may have lived here more than 2,000 years ago. A cache of 11th century scrolls recently discovered in the north provided the first opportunity to study poems, commercial records and judicial agreements of the time.
The community was several thousand strong at the turn of the 20th century, spread across several cities but having limited contact with fellow Jews abroad. They later left the country en masse, mostly for the newly created state of Israel.
Simintov's wife and daughters also left for the Jewish state, but he decided to stay behind with his Afghan "brothers".

A native of the western border city of Herat, the cradle of Jewish culture in Afghanistan, Simintov displays dog-eared posters and prayer books when he shows visitors around the dilapidated synagogue.
He pulled a "shofar" — the ram's horn used for Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement — from a dusty cupboard and blew into it with little effect. Simintov also maintains a nearby cemetery, marked by little more than a few broken pieces of stone in an unkempt yard.
Other religions have fared even worse than Judaism.
There are no Afghan Christians left, at least none who is open about it, and the only permanent church is inside the Italian diplomatic compound. There is a small Hindu population, but it is shrinking rapidly.
Simintov's personal ill fortune is linked to the increasing risks of running a business.
More than a dozen years since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban movement to end its five years in power, fear of bombs, shootings and crime is still part of daily life.
Simintov said the cafe had lost $45,000 and all the valuables collected by his father were stolen before the Taliban were ousted in 2001. He hopes that renting the cafe's space might generate enough money to renovate the synagogue.
Much of the whitewashed building's interior, including the synagogue's floors and walls, are covered in a black film. It survived the Taliban, but the contents were ransacked.
However resolute Simintov remains about practising his faith, he is embittered, even enraged, by misfortune and by the failure of the U.S-led NATO force to create conditions for peace and security without the threat of the Taliban.
"It is better to see a dog than to see an American," he said. "If the situation in the country gets worse, I will escape."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Letter from Africa: Soul-searching over rape crimes

Letter from Africa: Soul-searching over rape crimes

(A letter from an African Journalist to Africa itself)

Protesters hold on October 18, 2013 a placard reading "A Real Man Doesn"t Rape !" during a demonstrating in Diepsloot,

In our series of letters from African journalists, filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers the recent case of the rape and killing of two South African children in Diepsloot.

My abiding memories of Diepsloot - the sprawling shanty town north of Johannesburg - since reporting from there in 2004 are of metal shacks housing many people in small spaces, the smell of paraffin in the darkness, an absence of light, not enough sanitation and vigilantes trying to protect a community from criminals in the face of zero police presence.

Nearly a decade on, nothing much has changed and the police still do not have a permanent presence in this sprawling eyesore of 70% unemployment which was the setting for the heart-wrenching tragedy that brought the police onto Diepsloot's streets.

This month, two cousins, Zandile and Yonelisa Mali, aged two and three, were allegedly abducted in broad daylight by a man who sparked a nationwide hunt and despair in the hearts of mothers everywhere.

The subsequent search ended with the discovery of the children's raped bodies in a public toilet - and the ripples of this heinous crime have the nation soul-searching and the politicians promising justice, while urging restraint.
Armchair judge
Last month, Anelise Mkhondo's five-year-old body was found raped and strangled a hundred yards away from the same public toilet in Diepsloot.

Five men have been arrested for the alleged abduction, rape and murder of the cousins, calming an incendiary atmosphere in Diepsloot, whose residents threatened to target foreigners and lash out at the government's lack of will in providing security for the youngest of the poorest in Africa's most developed nation.

It is easy to sit in armchair judgement about our continent's ills and wonder at the contradictions in policy and rights.

Residents of Diepsloot (file photo) Diepsloot residents say the government is doing nothing for them

But what is it about some South African males that render them incapable of relationships with adult females?

How wrong was the first person to suggest that raping a child could cure a grown adult man of Aids?

And what of women with Aids? Is there a supposed cure for them through young boys?

Which mystic "muti" pedlar suggested a man's riches can be increased by human sacrifice and the body parts of young children?

As Gauteng Premiere Nomvula Mokonyane attempted to calm the Diepsloot community with words like "enough is enough", the crowd listened but did not follow her when she urged them to let the police do their jobs and bring these men to justice.

They wanted the suspects to be released to them, into their angry hands for the kind of justice any parent wants before reason and humanity bring them back from the brink of barbarity - the kind that had claimed their daughters.
Meeting for men?
There is of course a tendency among all of us in a changing Africa to decry negative images of our continent and ask where in the world are paedophiles not present, that men rape and that is all there is to it.

But step away from the war zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo and consider the figures.
According to the police, a child is raped every three minutes in the "Rainbow Nation".

South Africa's Medical Research Council (MRC) said that in 2009, 40% of all victims who reported rape to the police were under 18 and 15% under 12.

It is in South Africa that nine-month-old girls have been victims of rape.

And, as in every country, only a small fraction of rapes are reported to the police.

Then there is the "corrective rape" of lesbian women, the sexual harassment of students by pupils and teachers and never mind the knee-jerk xenophobia - a third of rape cases against minors are committed by a family member or close relative.

The world is fond of reminding women and girls that they matter in memorable UN days, in Women Empowerment conferences, in A World of Women celebrations - fair enough.

But in South Africa it is time for the men to have a serious meeting.

It is not the politicians, it is not poverty, it is not muti or juju it is not anything but the sickness in our heads.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

No woman, no drive - a parody about women driving in Saudi Arabia by Alaa Wardi

Pakistani doctors angered by failure to halt abductions

Pakistani doctors angered by failure to halt abductions

Medical staff held protests, demand government to do more to tackle kidnappings Medical personnel in Quetta want the government to tackle the wave of kidnappings

On the evening of 17 September Dr Abdul Manaf Tareen, a renowned heart specialist in Pakistan, was about to go home when a group of armed men appeared at his hospital.

When the doctor resisted their demand that he leave with them, he was hit on the chest with the butt of a rifle and dragged away. He was then shoved into a vehicle waiting outside and driven away.

The kidnapping took place at a short distance from the well-guarded headquarters of the main security force in Balochistan province, the Frontier Corps.

Free Dr. Abdul Manaf Tareen's photos on Facebook Dr Tareen is the latest victim of rampant kidnappings in Balochistan

Access to the area is also protected by numerous police and army checkpoints, while entry and exit points into Quetta are guarded by Pakistani troops and security service personnel.

Yet, as it turned out, none of them could prevent the abductors spiriting away their latest victim.
Growing lawlessness
Dr Tareen is a well-respected cardiologist. Colleagues describe him as a self-made man, who despite his humble origins, worked hard to become one of the best doctors in his field.

Patients come to him from all over Pakistan, and even Iran and Afghanistan. In Balochistan, he is seen as an inspiring figure who has touched many lives.

His abduction has outraged the medical community, already reeling from growing lawlessness in the province.

Doctors angry at the alleged apathy of the authorities have organised almost daily protest rallies, gone on hunger strike and partially boycotted government-run hospitals.

Dr Naqeeb Ullah Achakzai speaking at the protest rally Naqeeb Ullah Achakzai says the government needs to provide adequate security

Their actions do not seem to have had much of an impact on the authorities, but have added to the misery of patients from remote and impoverished areas waiting at clinics without doctors.

"How can we serve people and practice our profession in this lawlessness?" asks Dr Naqeeb Ullah Achakzai. "We are not safe. We want security from the government."
'Everyone looked on'
Dr Tareen's case is only the latest medical practitioner to be kidnapped.

"During the last five years, 26 of our highly qualified doctors and professors have been kidnapped," says Dr Aftab Kakar, a spokesperson for the Balochistan branch of the Pakistan Medical Association. "A majority of them returned after paying huge amounts in ransom money."

Among them was Dr Ghulam Rasool, head of psychiatry at Bolan Medical College in Quetta. He was abducted from a crowded street in the city centre by six armed men.

"Everyone looked on, but no-one dared do anything," he recalls. Soon after, he was blindfolded and driven for about five or six hours to an unknown location.

He does not like to talk about what happened next, only that he was freed after 17 days in captivity.

"The ransom money my family had to arrange was big enough that nine months later, we are still paying for it," says Dr Rasool.

He adds that it was a painful experience and one that shook him and his family psychologically and emotionally.
Private guards
"Because we are educated but weak members of this tribal society, we are seen as wealthy professionals and therefore have become a soft target for easy money," explains Dr Rasool.

But it has not stopped him from going about his business.

"I am a consultant psychiatrist, a professor, a trainer and an examiner. I am still trying to get on with life," he says. "The only difference is I now have to carry private armed guards for my protection."

Residents, rescue workers and security officials gather at the site of a bomb blast in Quetta October 10, 2013 A bomb attack in Quetta last month killed six, amid growing violence in the region

Balochistan has a seen growing violence in recent years.

An extremist Sunni militant group has launched large-scale attacks against members of the Shia Hazara minority community. Criminal and militant groups allied to the Taliban and al-Qaeda have kidnapped and killed scores of people.

These groups have seemingly operated with impunity while thousands of Pakistani troops have been busy fighting a long running separatist Baloch insurgency.

The Frontier Corps stands accused of enforced disappearances, torture and killings of suspected Baloch separatists. It is widely despised as an oppressive arm of the Pakistani state.

And in Quetta, increasingly, the force is also accused of not just tolerating, but protecting criminal gangs.

Maj Gen Ejaz Shahid, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps Balochistan, dismisses such allegations.

He blames "terrorist and "sub-nationalist" groups" for the rise in kidnappings. But he insists that his force is taking new measures to tighten security and ensure better coordination with police and other security agencies to bust criminal gangs.

"I can assure you we are part of the solution, not part of the problem," Gen Shahid adds.

Dr Ghulam Rasool interviewed at the rally Dr Ghulam Rasool says medics are an easy target
'Turning a blind eye'
But for doctors protesting on the streets of Quetta, these are assurances they have heard before.

"Officially, they tell us they are trying their best [to recover kidnap victims]," says a physician leading the doctor's rallies in Quetta. "Privately, they encourage the families to cut a deal with the abductors."

He says there is growing evidence that security forces often turn a blind eye to kidnappings allegedly because they get paid off by the abductors.

The Pakistan Medical Association estimates that during the last five years, about 82 of Balochistan's best doctors and professors have left the province. Many of them are said to have moved to Europe and the Middle East.

Some of them were friends and colleagues of Dr Rasool.

I ask him if he has considered leaving.

"Yes," he says. "But then I ask myself if all of us leave, who'll be left here to help the people of this province."

For now, Dr Rasool is busy supporting colleagues as they plan their next protest to press the authorities to ensure the safe return of Dr Tareen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Love Crimes of Kabul - Documentary - Afghanistan (a video)

Prisoners of Tradition: Women in Afghanistan (a video)

Afghanistan 'most dangerous' place for childbirth

It used to be that every 27 minutes a woman would die during or from childbirth.  Now it is every two hours.  That is good improvement, but still a terrible number of women dying every day!

Future Valedictorians - A video of the preschool at Arzu in Bamiyan

Future Valedictorians - the preschool at Arzu in Bamiyan province

This video is precious.  I love it.

But then my cynical side comes out and thinks 'This is the perfect target for a suicide bomber'.  A school that teaches girls and women how to live productive and stable lives.  The Taliban probably can't wait to blow this place up! 

India abuse: 'I reported my acid attack husband'

India abuse: 'I reported my acid attack husband'

Almost one year on from the brutal rape of a young female student in Delhi, there are signs that more Indian women are finding the courage to report sexual violence. But many still live in fear, either of strangers - or of the man closest to them.
Reshma has five daughters and is pregnant for the sixth time - against her wishes. Her voice trembles constantly as she tells her harrowing story.
"I kept quiet for many years," she says.
"My husband treated me very badly because I had only given him daughters. Getting beaten up mercilessly became a routine for me. He wanted a son.
"When I got pregnant for the sixth time, he insisted I should get an abortion if it's another girl child. I refused and we had a big row.
"He threw acid on me, aiming at my vagina and abdomen."
Reshma breaks down as she recalls the attack. She has recently undergone an operation to try to repair some of the damage. Her baby is still alive, but she is extremely frail.

It took her four days to get medical help after the attack and that was only after her father arrived. She now lives with her poor parents in Kanpur, 500km (300 miles) outside Delhi.
They were aware of the terrible life that their daughter had with her husband, but were initially too afraid to think of police action against their own son-in-law.
Eventually, Reshma says, they stood by her.
The acid attack was the culmination of 15 years of violence at the hands of her husband. As she recovered, 35-year-old Reshma decided she did not want to be another female footnote in the death columns of the newspapers.
She registered a police case against her husband on five different grounds of cruelty. Now he is in prison awaiting trial. He denies all the charges.
Changing society The vicious assault on a young medical student on a Delhi bus last December sparked outrage across India and provoked national soul-searching about the extent of gender-based violence.
It also appears to have paved the way for more women to go to the police.
According to government statistics, 1,036 rapes were reported in Delhi in the year so far up to 15 August. That compares with 433 reports during the same period in 2012.
The same seems to hold true for areas outside the capital: in the small state of Jharkand, in eastern India, the number of reported rape cases rose from 460 in the first half of 2012 to 818 in the first half of 2013.
Despite this, as in many other countries, the conviction rate for rape remains low. According to the National Crime Record Bureau it stood at 24.1% in 2012, lower than the previous year.
Police say they are trying to improve the situation, including putting 400 more police vans on the streets of the capital. There has also been a push to recruit female police officers.
Avatar Sing Rawat, a Delhi police officer, says the force is also being trained in dealing with female victims. "The police are better sensitised now," he argues.
Ranjana Kumari, a well-known women's rights activist, says India has seen "structural changes" since the Delhi rape, but that streets can still be dangerous for women.
An Indian student demanding the death sentence for four men convicted of rape and murder of a student on a New Delhi bus - 13 Sept 2013 People across India called for the death sentence for the men convicted in the Delhi rape case
"Women are continuing to live their lives, coming out, working despite all the dangers.
But the most frustrating thing is that the state has still not been able to fix the accountability clearly when a crime is committed against women," she says.
"Political parties have made women's safety part of their political manifesto. When I travel to smaller cities I realise more conversations are happening around women's safety, but we need to make the system more accountable."
Walking around Delhi as night falls, it is clear that the streets are still empty of women.
Surabhi, a 25-year-old professional woman who travels to work by bus, says she does not think anything has changed since the outcry over the rape case.
"I don't want to change my lifestyle because of sexual attacks but, yes, I am scared - and I always carry a pepper spray in my bag.
"Men are very aggressive and they find excuses to touch you or feel you."
In Kanpur, Reshma is determined to see through her difficult decision to speak out.
"I don't want him to get out of prison. He made my life hell. I am very happy I took this stand," she says.
"I know speaking up will save many young girls in future. We are women and we also have a right to live life with dignity. I will take care of my daughters and myself."
She uses her scarf to wipe away tears. "Death comes only once. So why should we die every day at someone else's hands?"

Violence against women: The facts

Women graphic
  • Rape within marriage is not considered a crime in India if the wife is over 15
  • Up to eight million female foetuses are thought have been aborted in India in the decade to 2011
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007
Sources: 2011 Census, National Crime Records Bureau, Amnesty International
  • More than one-third of all murders of women around the world are committed by a current or former partner
  • As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy
  • Violence by an intimate partner is the most common type of abuse, affecting 30% of women
Sources: World Health Organization, Women's Aid

Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Gebru - a musical treasure

Nun’s music makes divine buzz in Jerusalem
How a 90-year-old Ethiopian nun stole the show at the city’s Sacred Music Festival.
Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Gebru at the piano. Photo by Tal Shachar/Jerusalem Season of Culture

Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Gebru at the piano. Photo by Tal Shachar/Jerusalem Season of Culture

At the recent four-day Sacred Music Festival in Jerusalem, hundreds of music lovers and performers crowded the city’s holy sites to hear the world’s spiritual and religious music traditions.
With top talent from across the globe taking part, no one foresaw that the biggest attraction at the festival – part of the annual Jerusalem Season of Culture – would be a shy 90-year-old nun.
Ethiopian-born Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Gebru, who has lived in isolation for more than three decades, had the classical world’s music experts abuzz with divine inspiration.
Critics who had come across her recordings before had dubbed her a “musical treasure.” But it wasn’t until the Israeli event that the music world would know how prolific she has been.
Gebru released her first recording in Germany in 1967 and published several other works over the years. An educational non-profit organization named for her – the Emahoy Tsege Mariam Music (ETM) Foundation — teaches classical and jazz music to children in Africa and helps American children to study music in Africa.
Young Israeli musician Maya Dunietz worked for seven months on transcribing Gebru’s compositions into a book format. Following three concerts dedicated to Gebru’s compositions that were the talk of the Sacred Music Festival, Dunietz and a group of Israeli musicians are now working to release a new recording of her music in the coming year, and perhaps even another book of her compositions.
“The wonderful thing about this project is it happened while she was still alive. She was able to see and hear others play and sing her music,” orchestral conductor Ilan Volkov, Dunietz’s husband, tells ISRAEL21c. “She dreamed of getting recognized for what she does. These concerts showed her what could have been.”
Ethiopian aristocracy to Jerusalem monastery
The nun was born Yewubdar Gebru on December 12, 1923, in Addis Ababa, to an aristocratic family. At age six, she and her sister were sent to a boarding school in Switzerland. There she heard her first piano concert and decided to play and study music – first violin, and then piano.
Gebru accepting flowers from Maya Dunietz after a performance of her music. Photo by Tal Shachar/Jerusalem Season of Culture
Gebru accepting flowers from Maya Dunietz after a performance of her music. Photo by Tal Shachar/Jerusalem Season of Culture
She returned to Addis Ababa in 1933, was exiled with her family from Ethiopia in 1937, and returned to her homeland years later. She was awarded a scholarship to study music in London, but Ethiopian authorities denied her permission to leave the country.
Her dream of a career in music came to a halt and instead Gebru secretly fled to the Guishen Mariam monastery, served two years there and became a nun at the age of 21. She took on the title Emahoy and her name was changed to Tsege Mariam.
Following her mother’s death in 1984, Gebru fled to the Ethiopian Monastery in Jerusalem because socialist doctrine in Ethiopia clashed with her religious beliefs.
For nearly three decades, in a small narrow room on the aptly named Ethiopia Street in Jerusalem, Gebru served the church and privately returned to her beloved music. She played up to nine hours a day and wrote countless compositions for violin, piano and organ concerto.
Her music, Volkov says, is a narrative of her life. “It’s very meditative and inward-looking. It has a melancholic air, very generous and beautiful. Some works are more outward-looking, but others are about feelings of loneliness. It’s a dialogue between a person and their God.”
Volkov had no idea that buying a CD in London eight years ago for his pianist/singer/composer/choir conductor/sound artist wife Maya Dunietz, would totally change his life, Gebru’s life and the world of classical music. He and Dunietz listened to their new disc and were in awe of the “mix of styles of traditional Ethiopian, classical and blues,” says Volkov. They read the liner notes to find out more about the musician and were flabbergasted to discover she lives in Jerusalem.
Isolation to the spotlight
Gebru, according to organizers of the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, is “one of the most important composers that Africa has ever produced.”
Fortunately for the world’s music lovers, Dunietz and Volkov struck up a friendship with Gebru and were entrusted to bring her music to the world.
At first, they visited Gebru in her small room at the monastery. Sometimes she would play piano for them; other times they would sit in silence. Their bond grew and Dunietz even organized a road trip to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), which had been a dream for Gebru.
Then two years ago, Gebru surprised Dunietz with an unexpected present.
“She handed over four plastic bags — old wrinkled Air Ethiopia bags — containing hundreds of pages, all muddled up, a big mess, written in pencil, some of them 60 or 70 years old,” Dunietz told The Guardian. “It was all the pages of her music that she had found in her room. ‘Make a book’, she said.”
Dunietz turned to Jerusalem Season of Culture organizers for help. In addition to the book, the recent concerts marked the first time Gebru heard her music performed by professional musicians.
Gebru was so overwhelmed by the attention that after a few interviews, withdrew back to her solitude.
That left Volkov, Dunietz and others to speak about her scores.
“Emahoy has created her own genre of music,” Volkov tells ISRAEL21c. He says she draws influences from European classic masters like Chopin, Beethoven and Strauss, Ethiopian church music, and Ethiopian pop stars of the 1960s.
“It’s classical music but also sacred. It’s intimate, honest and very personal about family, death, love, a mother’s love. Her compositions tell stories of different elements of life.”
Volkov says that Gebru “has a lot of music still to be released. She also has songs in six languages that we hope will be released.”
Dunietz hopes to join forces with other Ethiopian musicians to present Gebru’s music on stages abroad. The team behind Gebru’s first book is now in contact with a small record company and is working to release her compositions, promising at least one recording in the coming year.
Volkov adds: “It’s possible that she’s still composing.”


Friday, October 11, 2013

Arzu Studio Hope's computer lab for women.

Happy International Day of the Girl, focusing this year on innovation, including bringing technology to girls and women in remote areas. Our new computer lab in Bamyan Province is helping us do just that!

 Photos from

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

DR Congo: Cursed by its natural wealth

DR Congo: Cursed by its natural wealth

Dan Snow with M23 rebels

The Democratic Republic of Congo is potentially one of the richest countries on earth, but colonialism, slavery and corruption have turned it into one of the poorest, writes historian Dan Snow.

The world's bloodiest conflict since World War II is still rumbling on today.

It is a war in which more than five million people have died, millions more have been driven to the brink by starvation and disease and several million women and girls have been raped.

The Great War of Africa, a conflagration that has sucked in soldiers and civilians from nine nations and countless armed rebel groups, has been fought almost entirely inside the borders of one unfortunate country - the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congo waterfall Many of the country's mining operations are connected to the waters of the mighty Congo River

It is a place seemingly blessed with every type of mineral, yet consistently rated lowest on the UN Human Development Index, where even the more fortunate live in grinding poverty.

I went to the Congo this summer to find out what it was about the country's past that had delivered it into the hands of unimaginable violence and anarchy.

The journey that I went on, through the Congo's abusive history, while travelling across its war-torn present, was the most disturbing experience of my career.

I met rape victims, rebels, bloated politicians and haunted citizens of a country that has ceased to function - people who struggle to survive in a place cursed by a past that defies description, a history that will not release them from its death-like grip.

The Congo's apocalyptic present is a direct product of decisions and actions taken over the past five centuries.

In the late 15th Century an empire known as the Kingdom of Kongo dominated the western portion of the Congo, and bits of other modern states such as Angola.

It was sophisticated, had its own aristocracy and an impressive civil service.

When Portuguese traders arrived from Europe in the 1480s, they realised they had stumbled upon a land of vast natural wealth, rich in resources - particularly human flesh.

The Congo was home to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of strong, disease-resistant slaves. The Portuguese quickly found this supply would be easier to tap if the interior of the continent was in a state of anarchy.

They did their utmost to destroy any indigenous political force capable of curtailing their slaving or trading interests.

Money and modern weapons were sent to rebels, Kongolese armies were defeated, kings were murdered, elites slaughtered and secession was encouraged.

Congo map showing Kingdom of Kongo

By the 1600s, the once-mighty kingdom had disintegrated into a leaderless, anarchy of mini-states locked in endemic civil war. Slaves, victims of this fighting, flowed to the coast and were carried to the Americas.

About four million people were forcibly embarked at the mouth of the Congo River. English ships were at the heart of the trade. British cities and merchants grew rich on the back of Congolese resources they would never see.

This first engagement with Europeans set the tone for the rest of the Congo's history.

Development has been stifled, government has been weak and the rule of law non-existent. This was not through any innate fault of the Congolese, but because it has been in the interests of the powerful to destroy, suppress and prevent any strong, stable, legitimate government. That would interfere - as the Kongolese had threatened to interfere before - with the easy extraction of the nation's resources. The Congo has been utterly cursed by its natural wealth.

The Congo is a massive country, the size of Western Europe.

Henry Morton Stanley is greeted by Manyema tribesmen in 1883 Stanley's expeditions opened up the Congo for exploitation by King Leopold

Limitless water, from the world's second-largest river, the Congo, a benign climate and rich soil make it fertile, beneath the soil abundant deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan and oil are just some of the minerals that should make it one of the world's richest countries.

Instead it is the world's most hopeless.

The interior of the Congo was opened up in the late 19th Century by the British-born explorer Henry Morton Stanley, his dreams of free trading associations with communities he met were shattered by the infamous King of the Belgians, Leopold, who hacked out a vast private empire.

Cycling in Battersea Park 1890s Congo rubber was in high demand after the pneumatic tyre appeared on the market in 1888

The world's largest supply of rubber was found at a time when bicycle and automobile tyres, and electrical insulation, had made it a vital commodity in the West.

The late Victorian bicycle craze was enabled by Congolese rubber collected by slave labourers.

To tap it, Congolese men were rounded up by a brutal Belgian-officered security force, their wives were interned to ensure compliance and were brutalised during their captivity. The men were then forced to go into the jungle and harvest the rubber.

Disobedience or resistance was met by immediate punishment - flogging, severing of hands, and death. Millions perished.

Tribal leaders capable of resisting were murdered, indigenous society decimated, proper education denied.

A culture of rapacious, barbaric rule by a Belgian elite who had absolutely no interest in developing the country or population was created, and it has endured.

In a move supposed to end the brutality, Belgium eventually annexed the Congo outright, but the problems in its former colony remained.

Mining boomed, workers suffered in appalling conditions, producing the materials that fired industrial production in Europe and America.

 US military airplane nicknamed Bockscar which dropped the atomic bomb on Nakasaki, Japan, 09 August 1945 Uranium used to construct the atomic bomb was sourced from Congo

In World War I men on the Western Front and elsewhere did the dying, but it was Congo's minerals that did the killing.

The brass casings of allied shells fired at Passchendaele and the Somme were 75% Congolese copper.

In World War II, the uranium for the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from a mine in south-east Congo.

Western freedoms were defended with Congo's resources while black Congolese were denied the right to vote, or form unions and political associations. They were denied anything beyond the most basic of educations.

They were kept at an infantile level of development that suited the rulers and mine owners but made sure that when independence came there was no home-grown elite who could run the country.

Independence in 1960 was, therefore, predictably disastrous.

Bits of the vast country immediately attempted to break away, the army mutinied against its Belgian officers and within weeks the Belgian elite who ran the state evacuated leaving nobody with the skills to run the government or economy.

President Mobutu with Jacques Chirac, the then Mayor of Paris, in 1985 Mobutu, pictured with Jacques Chirac, was courted by the West for decades

Of 5,000 government jobs pre-independence, just three were held by Congolese and there was not a single Congolese lawyer, doctor, economist or engineer.

Chaos threatened to engulf the region. The Cold War superpowers moved to prevent the other gaining the upper hand.

Sucked into these rivalries, the struggling Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba, was horrifically beaten and executed by Western-backed rebels. A military strongman, Joseph-Desire Mobutu, who had a few years before been a sergeant in the colonial police force, took over.

Mobutu became a tyrant. In 1972 he changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, meaning "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake".

The West tolerated him as long as the minerals flowed and the Congo was kept out of the Soviet orbit.

He, his family and friends bled the country of billions of dollars, a $100m palace was built in the most remote jungle at Gbadolite, an ultra-long airstrip next to it was designed to take Concorde, which was duly chartered for shopping trips to Paris.

Dan Snow tours Mobutu's former lavish residence at Gbadolite

Dissidents were tortured or bought off, ministers stole entire budgets, government atrophied. The West allowed his regime to borrow billions, which was then stolen and today's Congo is still expected to pay the bill.

In 1997 an alliance of neighbouring African states, led by Rwanda - which was furious Mobutu's Congo was sheltering many of those responsible for the 1994 genocide - invaded, after deciding to get rid of Mobutu.

A Congolese exile, Laurent Kabila, was dredged up in East Africa to act as a figurehead. Mobutu's cash-starved army imploded, its leaders, incompetent cronies of the president, abandoning their men in a mad dash to escape.

Mobutu took off one last time from his jungle Versailles, his aircraft packed with valuables, his own unpaid soldiers firing at the plane as it lumbered into the air.

Rwanda had effectively conquered its titanic neighbour with spectacular ease. Once installed however, Kabila, Rwanda's puppet, refused to do as he was told.

Again Rwanda invaded, but this time they were just halted by her erstwhile African allies who now turned on each other and plunged Congo into a terrible war.

Foreign armies clashed deep inside the Congo as the paper-thin state collapsed totally and anarchy spread.

Hundreds of armed groups carried out atrocities, millions died.

Ethnic and linguistic differences fanned the ferocity of the violence, while control of Congo's stunning natural wealth added a terrible urgency to the fighting.

Forcibly conscripted child soldiers corralled armies of slaves to dig for minerals such as coltan, a key component in mobile phones, the latest obsession in the developed world, while annihilating enemy communities, raping women and driving survivors into the jungle to die of starvation and disease.

Congo mine Bags of coltan, used in mobile phones, and manganese are carried at a mine

A deeply flawed, partial peace was patched together a decade ago. In the far east of the Congo, there is once again a shooting war as a complex web of domestic and international rivalries see rebel groups clash with the army and the UN, while tiny community militias add to the general instability.

The country has collapsed, roads no longer link the main cities, healthcare depends on aid and charity. The new regime is as grasping as its predecessors.

I rode on one of the trainloads of copper that go straight from foreign-owned mines to the border, and on to the Far East, rumbling past shanty towns of displaced, poverty-stricken Congolese.

The Portuguese, Belgians, Mobutu and the present government have all deliberately stifled the development of a strong state, army, judiciary and education system, because it interferes with their primary focus, making money from what lies under the Earth.

The billions of pounds those minerals have generated have brought nothing but misery and death to the very people who live on top of them, while enriching a microscopic elite in the Congo and their foreign backers, and underpinning our technological revolution in the developed world.

The Congo is a land far away, yet our histories are so closely linked. We have thrived from a lopsided relationship, yet we are utterly blind to it. The price of that myopia has been human suffering on an unimaginable scale.

Map showing Congo mineral wealth

Dan Snow answered readers' questions on Twitter using #AskDanSnow.