Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Teenage cycling prodigy leads Afghan women to new freedoms

Teenage cycling prodigy leads Afghan women to new freedoms

By Mike Taibbi, Correspondent, NBC News
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Salma Kakar just turned 16 but she’s already leading a revolution on two wheels.
She’s the lead rider on the new Afghan National Cycling Team and, says Coach Abdul Seddiqi, the joyous face of a new phenomenon in the war-torn country: females riding bikes.
“I assure the next two or three years you will find girls and women riding bikes, all over Kabul," said Seddiqi.
Right now, even though Seddiqi says scores of young girls are waiting in the wings, it’s just Salma and her dozen female teammates making a statement in the face of Afghanistan’s male-dominated society: that while women rarely drive cars almost never ride bikes, that’s now history.
“We are changing minds,” Salma said through an interpreter. Then, her serious expression changed back to the 100-watt smile that glows like a headlamp when she rides.
Her dream, she says, is “to wave the flag of Afghanistan in the Olympics, to prove to the world that women in Afghanistan have progressed.”
Taking risks to ride
To get there, Salma and the team have a guardian angel in the U.S.: Colorado cyclist Shannon Galpin, who spent years doing relief work in Afghanistan and, in the process, rode her own bike over miles of the country’s remote mountain trails.
Galpin met Seddiqi and set up nonprofit Mountain2Mountain to find donors of bikes and gear to get the national team off the ground. And when Seddiqi told her he planned to have a co-ed team, something Galpin hadn’t anticipated, she kicked her non-profit into overdrive.
“If they’re willing to take the risks ... then the least we can do is support them,” Galpin said of the female riders racing against tradition.

It’s not an easy road, of course; change in this stubborn, struggling country never is. Seddiqi has the team train in secret, changing locations, sometimes at night. His female riders, all of them “good Muslims,” wear long pants and full sleeves, and headscarves under their helmets. They still get yelled at; and there have been death threats.
And at Jada Maiwand, Kabul’s main bicycle emporium where hundreds of male riders gather every morning to tinker with their bikes or buy or trade for a new one, the very idea of women riding bikes -- to go to work, to the market, or anywhere -- gets a uniform "No!"
“Women should be in the home, in the kitchen,” one bike shop owner said. “And if they are outside, their faces should be covered.”
“Some men try to humiliate us,” Salma said. “But more and more they encourage us.”
A symbol of freedom
With a mother who’s a pediatrician, a father who’s an engineer, and a big sister who publishes Afghanistan’s first feminist magazine, "Riudad," Salma says women will be riding bikes from now on, and other freedoms will follow.
Galpin, ready to bring another roomful of high-end bikes and gear to Salma and her teammates, says bikes have always been a symbol of freedom, even in the U.S. where the women won the right to vote soon after they first started riding bikes over the objections of men at the dawn of the 20th century.
“I did not expect to see Afghan women biking now,” Galpin said. “I thought it was still several years off. But the bike is an incredible vehicle for social justice … a vehicle for change.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Japan: The worst developed country for mothers?

Japan: The worst developed country for mothers?

Mother holding child's hand

Japanese women are more likely to have a university degree than men, and the number of women in employment has been rising steadily for 10 years - but, for a range of reasons, a woman who has had children still has a hard time getting a good job.

Nobuko Ito is the very model of a modern professional Japanese woman.

She is a qualified lawyer and she speaks fluent English. She has years of experience working in international contract law.

But Nobuko no longer works in a big international law firm. In fact she hardly does any lawyering at all these days.

Instead she has three children. In Japan it is still one or the other. Doing both is extremely difficult.

"Before I had a child I remember one busy month where I billed the client for 300 hours!" Nobuko says.

Nobuko Ito

"I'd get in the office at 09:00 in the morning, and leave at 03:00 the next morning, and I'd come in on Saturday and Sunday.

"If you want to keep working you have to forget about your children, you have to just devote yourself to the company.

"I can't do this, it's impossible."

As Nobuko's example shows Japan's working culture can be brutal. It's one of the reasons why 70% of Japanese women still give up work as soon as they have their first child.

Another is their husbands.

When it comes to housework Japanese men are still far behind their counterparts in Europe or America.

In Sweden, Germany and the US husbands spend, on average, three hours a day helping out with children and household chores. In Japan it's one hour, and they spend just 15 minutes a day with their children.

The pay gap

Woman looking at sky
Many Japanese women still withdraw from the labour force upon childbirth and often cannot resume their regular employment pattern: in the dual Japanese labour market, women often end up in relatively lowly-paid non-regular employment.
The gender pay gap at median earnings is the second highest in the OECD.

Then there is paternity leave. Japanese men are entitled to take it, but only a tiny minority actually do - just 2.63%, according to the Health and Welfare ministry.

"My husband didn't take paternity leave" Nobuko Ito says.

"Most Japanese men are very hesitant to use the system. They may want to come back home to help with the family, but on the other hand they think they need to work as hard as possible otherwise they may not get promoted, or they may lose their job."

Despite all this many Japanese women do want to continue working after they have children.

But they then come up against the next problem - childcare, or rather the lack of it.

According to the Tokyo government's own statistics there are 20,000 children in the city waiting for places in day-care centres.

The government centres that do exist are good, but they are far too few. And even if you do get a place it's means-tested and expensive.

Father helping feed children Japanese fathers make a "limited" contribution to childcare, and do less housework than men from other developed countries, the OECD says

"I'd have to pay about $1,000 (£659) per month per child even at the state nursery," says Nobuko Ito.

"Expensive private nurseries cost about $2,000 (£1,318) for one child a month. But those are really good!" she says laughing.

Kathy Matsui's Womenomics

Mother and child
  • Japan's female employment rate of 60% still ranks well below that of many other developed countries such as Norway at 75%, the US at 66%, and Germany at 64%.
  • Roughly 70% of Japanese women quit working after giving birth to their first child. This compares to around one-third of women in the US.
  • The ratio of Japanese mothers with children under six who work (34%) remains extremely low compared to 76% in Sweden, 61% in the US, 55% in the UK, and 53% in Germany.

All of this adds up to two things. Women who are having children are not working. Women who are working are not having children. Both are terrible for Japan's future.

In her ground-breaking work Womenomics: Japan's Hidden Asset, Japanese-American economist Kathy Matsui says getting more Japanese mothers to stay in work or go back to work should be a "national priority".

She says it could add as much as 15% to Japan's GDP.

But Matsui says there is another even more pressing reason. Japan is running out of people.

"Although a low fertility rate is common among other developed countries, Japan may be the only OECD nation where the number of pets exceeds the number of children," she says.

Japan's birth rate is just 1.37 births per woman, far below the 2.1 figure at which a population remains stable.

Evidence from Europe and America suggest helping women to stay in work can increase the birth rate.

More from the Magazine

Each Swedish child is guaranteed a place at a public preschool and no parent is charged more than three per cent of their salary.
The state subsidy for preschool services is more than the annual defence budget.

In countries like Sweden, Denmark and the US, where female employment rates are high, birth rates are also higher. In countries where female employment is low, like Italy, South Korea and Japan, birth rates are also low.

In Japan a demographic crisis is already under way. In 2006 Japan's population began to shrink.

If current trends persist it will lose a third of its population in the next half century.

Nothing like that has ever happened before.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

John Simpson: 'The Iraq memories I can't rid myself of'

John Simpson: 'The Iraq memories I can't rid myself of'

2003 file photo shows Iraqi families leaving Basra in southern Iraq Iraqi families fleeing Basra in March 2003

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, the BBC's world affairs editor, John Simpson, recounts the country's seismic changes, and remembers the aftermath of a bombing he was caught up in.

During the past decade I have spent more than a year of my life in Iraq.

I saw from close up how the country was scarred by violence, right from the start. During the invasion, a careless US Navy pilot dropped a 1,000lb bomb on a group of American and Kurdish special forces my team and I were travelling with. Eighteen people died, many of them burned to death ('This is just a scene from hell'). There was no proper inquiry afterwards, and no one was punished.

I watched as the turmoil which followed the US-led invasion turned into an outright rebellion and then became a Sunni-Shia civil war, while the American and British forces looked on helplessly (Iraq's descent into bombing quagmire).

In 2006 and 2007, it even seemed possible that the US forces might be defeated. A mood of pessimism had descended on the US command. Plans were drawn up for an evacuation of the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad. American power in the world seemed sharply diminished.

Friendly fire in Iraq

John Simpson runs from the friendly fire attack
John Simpson was with a convoy of US special forces and Kurdish fighters when it came under attack in April 2003. After fleeing his burning vehicle, he went on air via satellite phone to describe the scene:
"I've counted 10 or 12 bodies around us... It was an American plane that dropped the bomb right beside us - I saw it land about 10ft, 12ft away I think.
"This is just a scene from hell here. All the vehicles on fire.
"This is a really bad own goal by the Americans. They hit their own people - they may have hit this Kurdish figure - very senior - and they've killed a lot of ordinary characters, and I am just looking at the bodies now and it is not a very pretty sight."

Then a new commander, General David Petraeus, changed the entire strategy. As a result, the US was able to withdraw without further humiliation. Petraeus later rose to become head of the CIA, until a scandal destroyed his career last year.

Once the foreign forces had left, Iraq was on its own. Elected Iraqi politicians began to establish their authority over the country.

The security situation improved markedly, though life is still occasionally dangerous.

Still, the Shia-dominated government has not done enough to reassure the Sunni minority, and there are angry rumblings in the Sunni heartland. The Kurds, increasingly independent and wealthy, show little interest in being part of Iraq as a whole.

Most Iraqis you speak to are deeply pessimistic. And yet, to an outsider, Iraq's future is starting to look brighter - if only its people were allowed a little peace.

So does this mean the invasion was justified? Iraqis are divided about it. Shias and Kurds, the big beneficiaries from Saddam's overthrow, tend to agree. Most Sunnis, the big losers from it, do not.

The invasion certainly brought the downfall of a tyrant who ruled through sheer terror. I once talked to a Baghdad man who was sentenced to death by acid bath for writing a phone number on a banknote with Saddam Hussein's portrait on it. Even his executioners took pity on him, and just dipped him in the acid for a moment. But his back is still hideously scarred.

Few of the assumptions the invasion was based upon have turned out to be accurate. Iraq has not become a major US ally in the Middle East, as the Bush administration believed it would. On the contrary, it is nowadays closer to Iran than the US.

Nor has Iraq become America's big oil provider. American oil companies do have important contracts in Iraq, but so do British, Russian and Chinese companies.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari: Transformation from dictatorship to democracy "torturous"

The biggest beneficiaries were probably two US companies: Halliburton, with which former US Vice-President Dick Cheney had had connections, and the security company Blackwater, whose reputation was challenged so often that it is now called Academi, which makes it sound entirely peaceable.

We have long known, of course, that Saddam Hussein was not the strategic threat that the British and American governments claimed in 2002 and 2003. One leading American politician says the Bush administration assured him privately that Saddam's missiles could hit the east coast of the US. The British government claimed at the time that Iraqi missiles capable of hitting British bases in Cyprus could be operational in 45 minutes.

In fact, the Duelfer report in 2004 found that Saddam Hussein had halted all nuclear weapons research in 1991, and had ended research into chemical and biological weapons in 1995. Iraq's WMDs had been either destroyed or shipped out of the country.

Most people never really understood what the invasion was all about anyway. A Washington Post opinion poll in 2004 showed that 69% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein had been behind the 9/11 attacks.

Looking back over the past decade, I cannot rid myself of many disturbing images and memories.

In the town of Fallujah, which was hit hard by American troops in 2004, I watched two toddlers sitting silently in their playpen, scarcely moving. They, like a disturbingly high number of children in the town, suffered from birth defects. Not being a weapons expert, I cannot say if these were the result of some particular weapon used by the Americans. But I wish I could forget the picture of those twins, helpless, deformed and brain-damaged.

Doctor shows the six fingers of a child in Fallujah Doctors report that birth defects have soared in Fallujah since the war

Another time I sat and listened to the story of a humble Baghdad family whose main breadwinner was kidnapped by a local gang. The family borrowed and sold everything they possibly could to raise the $20,000 demanded.

When they handed the money over, the gang demanded another $5,000. By superhuman efforts they raised that too, ruining themselves to do it. All they received in exchange was his dead body. He had been murdered within minutes of being captured.

Above all, I can never rid myself of the memory of my young translator, Kamaran, lying against a bank of earth, his feet almost blown off by the American bomb which had been mistakenly dropped on us, his life's blood pumping out of him. "I know it's dangerous," he had said to me a few days before, "but I really want to work with you."

Not a day has passed in these 10 years when I have not thought about him.

Two sisters care for Afghan burn victim

Forging a delicate and healing bond

Two sisters open their home and hearts, agreeing to care for Arefa, an Afghan child who was sent to Los Angeles for medical care after being severely burned. The experience changes all three lives.

By Kurt Streeter
Photos and video by Barbara Davidson

See video about Arefa here

Under the bright lights of a hospital room, the sisters sat next to a frightened little girl who barely acknowledged them. She kept her head down, eyes fixed to the floor. Arefa was 6. Much of her face and hands had been singed, and a cloth hid a head wound that had not healed since a fire raged through her family's tent. She'd flown in the day before from Kabul without her parents.
Jami Valentine and Staci Freeman watched as the doctor pulled back the sticky cloth. The stench intensified; the wound was severely infected. The surgery Arefa came for would have to wait. The infection made it too risky.

John Lorant, a plastic surgeon at Shriners Hospitals for Children in L.A., gave instructions and the sisters did as told. Staci held Arefa's hand. Jami put on gloves and then gently washed the wound that extended across the crown of the girl's head. Arefa cried and moaned.
"I need you to do this every night," Lorant said.
Jami and Staci were stunned to hear those words, they recalled.
"If you aren't able to do it, we're going to have to find someone who can," Lorant said.
Caring for Arefa had been Jami's idea. She paused, gathering her thoughts.
"We can do it," she said.
But deep down she questioned whether they really could.

Staci Freeman, left, and her sister Jami Valentine try to comfort Arefa shortly after her skin graft surgery.
The sisters saw Arefa for the first time as she came down an escalator at Los Angeles International Airport. Tears streaked her pale face.
She looked so compact and fragile, thought Staci.
So afraid, thought Jami. So very afraid.
Arefa was one of several Afghan children brought to the United States by the humanitarian group Solace for the Children for medical treatment. The other children fanned across the terminal that June day to meet the families that would take them in. Not Arefa. She stood apart from the sisters, refusing to hold their hands.
She threw up in the car; when she got to the sisters' apartment in El Segundo, she collapsed on the floor, clawing at the carpet, sobbing.
At the hospital the next day, the sisters would learn that Arefa was malnourished. Even if there hadn't been an infection, the doctor said, she was too weak for surgery. The sisters needed to help her get her strength back.

Top: A checkup in November. Second from top: Arefa cries softly as she anticipates having to take a bath. Third from top: An operating room surgical nurse applies a disinfectant to Arefa's skin graft. Bottom: Arefa attends services at a mosque with Jami Valentine, Staci Freeman and the Shinwari family.
They stuffed their refrigerator with the foods she liked: chicken, grapes, apples, peaches and strawberries. Arefa hated the taste of the protein shakes that supplemented her diet, so the sisters used a syringe to force the liquid down her throat.
Three years ago, the sisters had cared for an Afghan girl who needed an operation on her mouth, and their toughest task was making sure that after surgery she ate only soft food. Arefa was going to be more complicated.
They found communicating with her difficult because of the language barrier. Homemade flashcards helped — photos of a doctor or a little girl brushing her teeth, for instance.
Arefa soon settled into a routine. During the day, she spent hours at playgrounds, climbing ladders and barreling down slides, smiling. But back at the apartment, whenever the television flashed images of helicopters or men with guns, she grew tense.
At bedtime, when the sisters washed her scalp, Arefa wailed so loudly they worried someone in their apartment building might call the police. Almost every night, the little girl wet her bed and woke up screaming from nightmares.
It went on like this for weeks, with the sisters barely getting any sleep, praying they could ease Arefa's fear and earn her trust.
Then they took her to Disneyland. Arefa marveled at Mickey Mouse and rode the Autopia mini-cars. When the fireworks began, she craned her neck skyward, cooing.
"It was the first time we saw her experience what felt like pure joy," Jami said. "I remember her sitting on my lap, unusual because she often wouldn't come that close.... That night ... we'd made a connection. We got to mother her, spoil her."

Arefa gained weight and in late July, Lorant and his team decided to operate.
Lorant focused first on her forehead, loosening the scars that had kept her eyes from closing fully. He cut a football-sized layer of skin from her stomach and placed it atop her head, molding and snipping to create a proper fit. He sewed it on. Hair would never grow on that patch, but the scalp would be covered.
As they waited for the skin graft to heal, the sisters discovered that Arefa's emotional wounds were as deep as her physical wounds. The little girl was still throwing tantrums, often directed at Jami.
As a junior high math teacher, Jami, 34, had the summer off. Staci, 37, worked as a lab technician and had to rely on Jami to take Arefa to most of the doctor's visits. Arefa's relationship with Staci was less strained. She wasn't the one who had to set limits and say no.
Then school began and something changed. Unable to afford day care, Jami often took Arefa to work, putting her in the back of her class with coloring books. On the way home in Jami's Nissan, Arefa laughed as she used her hands and her limited English to mimic the students.
Jami began caring for Arefa as she would her own child, and she reflected on the uncertainties of the girl's life.
There was the past. Arefa, the daughter of nomads who lived in tents near the Pakistani border, was injured during the war. Her family, the narrative went, had been caught in a battle between Taliban and American troops; but not much could be confirmed.
There was the future. Arefa might not be welcomed when she was sent home. Her scars might limit her prospects in a country known for its harsh treatment of women.
The present was uncertain, too. In Los Angeles, the carefree moments were growing more common, but Arefa could fly into a rage — pounding her fists, kicking and scratching — in a flash.
Her going off to some other family, it was alluring. I could be free from the terrible tantrums.... But we’d also be losing someone we’d come to love. It would kill us."
— Jami Valentine
"Two steps forward, one step back," Jami said. "We never seem to know when the step back is going to come, just that it always does."
She described these outbursts to a psychologist. Arefa has post-traumatic stress, same as a shell-shocked soldier, the therapist said.
The eventuality of Arefa's departure brought tension to the household. Dates were set and canceled. The sisters were caring for Arefa with no letup. They walked around with shoulders hunched from the strain. They were exhausted.
When Arefa's expected six-week stay stretched into five months, a Solace official in October offered to send the girl to a family in North Carolina. The sisters said no.
"Her going off to some other family, it was alluring," Jami said. "I could be free from the terrible tantrums, getting kicked by someone I was trying to help. But we'd also be losing someone we'd come to love. It would kill us."
Arefa had come to love the beach, Hollywood, McDonald's soft-serve ice cream, Target. Jami and Staci took her to a mosque, to their church and to the Manhattan Beach pier.
Everywhere Arefa went, people stared at her, but she usually ignored them.
In the apartment — two bedrooms, spartan, in El Segundo's industrial neighborhood — she'd hide behind a doorway, jump out and yell: "Surprise!" Her English was coming along.

Arefa's birthday falls in January, but she asked Jami Valentine and Staci Freeman if she could celebrate with them in December to honor her seventh year. The sisters hosted a Hello Kitty party at Chuck E. Cheese's in her honor.
In November, four months after Arefa's surgery, Jami took her to see Lorant. The skin graft had healed.
"You can go home," he said. Arefa beamed.
She began tracking her time left. "Eight more sleeps!" she said, when there were eight days until her flight. Then she hugged Jami's leg and wouldn't let go.
The sisters were torn. They knew she had to return home, but what were they sending her back to?
"We've Americanized her, just being around us, living here as we do," Staci said, not long after giving Arefa a goodbye party at Chuck E. Cheese's. "She is a little girl who found her voice here."
She wondered whether Arefa's parents would be able to embrace that.
Jami and Staci couldn't count on getting answers. Once she was gone, the sisters knew they might never hear from her again.
Now it was a Wednesday, near Christmas. The sun was rising and Arefa's bags were stacked near the front door. She had a plane to catch. Her father was to meet her in Kabul.

At the airport, Jami Valentine tries to hold back her own tears as Arefa cries during their goodbye.
Staci checked to make sure nothing would be left behind. Arefa sat on Jami's lap in the living room. She wore red-and-black polka dot pants, a white shirt, a white Hello Kitty cap.
"I love you so much, little girl," Jami said.
"More than the trees?" Arefa said.
"All the trees."
"More than ice cream?"
"Yes, all of it."
For a few seconds, no one spoke.
"Big sad, big sad," Arefa said, looking into Jami's eyes.
"Big sad," Jami said. Both of them cried.

Karzai rebuke to US: What angered the Afghan leader?

Karzai rebuke to US: What angered the Afghan leader?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Photo: March 2013
Hamid Karzai does not like the role of a subordinate in dealing with the US

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been critical of several aspects of Nato's mission in his country - but his recent stinging rebuke, followed by a series of decisive moves, is unprecedented, both in terms of frequency and harshness.

Within one month, he initiated several moves that not only show his attempts to assert his power but also affect the whole nature of Nato's mission in Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai stopped Afghan forces from calling in US air strikes after 10 civilians - most of them women and children - were killed in one of such strikes in Kunar province in the east of the country on 13 February.

Following a number of complaints about mistreatment of civilians, he ordered US Special Forces out of Wardak - a strategic province adjacent to Kabul - within two weeks.

And after the arrest of yet another university student by foreign forces, the president banned international troops from university campuses.

He also accused US officials of violating an agreement for a complete transfer of the Bagram detention facility and insisted that Afghans must get immediate and full control of the prison.

But when the American troops did not leave Wardak and the Afghan government was not given the control of Bagram, he openly and in very harsh terms criticised the US in several speeches.

He even accused the US and Taliban of colluding with each other to keep Afghanistan unstable and, therefore, to prolong US presence.

But commenting in a Pashto and Dari bilingual TV debate forum organised by the BBC and Afghanistan's National Radio Television network, President Karzai called the US a friend and strategic partner of Afghanistan.

He added that his recent remarks about the US had been, as he put it, "to correct rather than damage this relationship".

'Flawed strategy'
The timing of such harsh language is important.

His recent anti-US rhetoric comes at a time when negotiations on the terms for American military presence after the withdrawal of Nato combat forces by the end of 2014 are at a critical stage.

The US is keen that the agreement is signed before the Nato summit in mid-2013.

President Karzai has been critical of the civilian casualties caused in Nato military operations, and what he sees as "insults" to "innocent Afghans" arrested by foreign forces, as well as violations of local tradition and culture.

People from across the country complain to him nearly every day and ask him to protect them and their property as elected president.

President Karzai believes that such incidents are pushing the general population towards insurgency and create a sense of occupation.

But he is now expressing his suspicion about the overall US-led mission in Afghanistan and the way the war is fought against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

Nato combat forces are expected to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014

He views the US strategy as flawed and has repeatedly suggested that the US and its allies must pay attention to sanctuaries of insurgents which, he says, are outside Afghanistan.

The timing is also important for President Karzai personally.

A year before he is due to leave office, he seems very serious about establishing his authority as well as Afghan sovereignty.

He is frustrated about his continued reliance on foreign forces and is aware about his dependency on international community's military and financial aid.

But he wants a relationship between two equal partners and does not like the role of a subordinate.

"We want a good relationship with America; we want friendship, but friendship between two sovereign nations," says Mr Karzai.

Some of his foreign backers might have underestimated him.

But an old saying warns that "you can hire an Afghan, but you cannot buy him"; the president is trying to gain greater control for himself and his country.
Good name
Over the past decade, President Karzai has portrayed himself as a unifying figure who kept the country together and brought different factions and ethnic groups into his government.

He also wishes to bring the Taliban in from the battlefield and go down in history as a peacemaker in a country that has been rocked by more than three decades of continued violence.

Appealing to nationalist sentiments and invoking Afghanistan's sovereignty are also part of the legacy he wants to leave.

President Karzai wants to be remembered as a leader who "liberated" the country from foreign influences.

He is also playing to his own Afghan constituencies and - above all - history. Leaving a good name behind is a virtue in Afghan culture.

As one of the most famous Pashto poets, Khoshahal Khan Khattak (1613 - 1689), says in one of his poems:

"Only the men of honour are praised in songs,

Both in their life and after they are dead."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Germany's n-word race debate

Germany's n-word race debate

Mekonnen Mesghena reads The Little Witch with his daughter Mekonnen Mesghena faced a dilemma on p94 of The Little Witch

Seven-year-old Timnit Mesghena is an avid reader. In the evenings, she and her father like to sit on the sofa in their flat in Berlin and read to each other. They present an easy picture of family happiness.
One of their favourites is the classic children's book, The Little Witch, an enchanting tale of a witch who flies and birds who talk.
But one day they reached page 94, and a difficult word came up. It was neger, describing a black boy. It is true that it can mean "negro" in German, but it also means the utterly offensive "nigger". When the book was written, the former may have been true - but now it is more like the latter.
Timnit's father, Mekonnen, had no doubts. He is black, originally from Eritrea, and found the word completely unacceptable.
"It made me very angry," he says. "I know that people use that word to insult me or to give me the sense of not belonging."

Denis Scheck ARD presenter Denis Scheck put on black make up in a protest against political correctness

Coming across the word presented him with a dilemma. He decided to skip over it, sanitising the text as he read aloud - but resolved later to engage in a discussion with his daughter.
He also decided on a one-man campaign and wrote to the publisher. It sparked a national debate. One television presenter with the public broadcaster ARD blacked up, minstrel-style on screen, in protest at changing the text of classics.
With his face darkened by make-up for his show, Denis Scheck made what he called "a plea against politically correct speech exorcism". He warned of a cowardly obedience to political correctness.
National debate The debate got hotter. The German Family Minister Kristina Schroeder weighed in, leaning towards Mekonnen Mesghena's complaint. Ms Schroeder said that when she was reading aloud from the immensely popular Pippi Longstocking books, she too would skip over offensive racial words in order to "protect my child from taking on such expressions".

The whole argument was complicated. It was mostly about offensive racial depiction but other words intruded, words which had an innocent meaning 50 years ago when the book was written but which had morphed in meaning. It contained the word wichsen, for example, which meant to polish then but has come to mean masturbation.
As the debate over removing neger intensified, there was a backlash. Die Welt likened those who would change offensive language to the Taliban, thundering: "Anyone who believes art should be changed in retrospect because it contradicts the prevailing morality must have been pleased in 2001 when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan."
It is not just a debate between the stalwarts of the right and the rebels of the left. Those who oppose changing the offensive words straddle the political divide.
The MP Luc Jochimsen of the Left Party, Die Linke, told the BBC: "I think it is a ridiculous idea."
She says that words were written at a particular time, and to "clean up literature" means that today's readers would lose some of the historical context.
"If you erase this context, you miss something. You can't understand things if you leave out the culture of the time."
Abusive emails Her preferred solution was to put a note of explanation in books which use the word neger, explaining how offensive it is today.
In the end, the publisher did not think this did the trick. Thienemann Verlag announced that it would revise the book and review all its other works of children's fiction to remove offensive terms and plot lines.
It said it was the duty of the publishers of children's books to make sure that classics could continue through the ages, but that this meant that particular terms which were once not thought to be discriminatory, but which had become so, should be deleted or replaced.

A teacher at a German kindergarten reads a story Germany has struggled with how to deal with historic racial terminology

So a victory for Mekonnen and Timnit Mesghena - though it did not seem like that. He got emails from
strangers saying: "Who are you? You were not born here. You come here and want to change our society."
Which is true. He does want to change society. He has become something of a campaigner against racism, starting with his own daughter as a helper.
Timnit had two happy years in kindergarten but then started coming home and complaining that other children were calling her the n-word. Her father complained but was told that the children were getting the word from their parents.
Author's blessing The father then devised another strategy. He asked his daughter what she could say back to counter the insult.
"I told Timnit she has to defend herself," he said. "I asked her: 'If they talk to you like that because of your skin colour, what would you say back?'"
She said she would call her tormenters kaese (cheese) - and so she did. There was a row in school, with teachers and parents complaining, but a point was made.
In the midst of the row, the author of the children's book at the centre of the storm died.
Otfried Preussler was 89 and, by all accounts, a genial spirit whose charm translated easily into the books which, in their turn, have charmed millions of children, not just in Germany but around the world with more than 50m copies sold in 50 different languages.
Just before he died, he sanctioned the changes. Later this year, new editions are to be released as a birthday celebration. They will be full of charm - and without offending anyone.
But Timnit should have the last voice. If you ask her now what the word means, she says: "It's an insult to brown-skinned people. I'm not a neger."

Undercover patrols make Calcutta Metro safer for women

Undercover patrols make Calcutta Metro safer for women

Women travelling in a carriage of the Calcutta metro More that 625,000 people travel by Calcutta Metro daily

In the wake of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist on a Delhi bus in December, the focus in India has been on the treatment and safety of women across the country. There has also been an increase in security measures in public places like the metro in the eastern city of Calcutta.
Every day a team of 20 officers, 10 men and 10 women, patrol India's oldest metro to make sure that men keep their hands to themselves.
The team includes Radhika (not her real name) who since 26 January has been travelling across the city in its crowded underground carriages and watching how men behave.
Sometimes she is dressed in her police uniform, but often she is undercover, wearing a colourful salwar kameez (long tunic and pyjama) or a sari to blend in with the female passengers.
Keeping a close eye on what is going on around her, she tells me that this is not just a job - she feels it is part of a change that India has to go through.
As soon she spots someone who is going to cause trouble or whose hands are beginning to stray, she walks up to them and calmly asks them to get off the train.
Some protest their innocence but most are so embarrassed that they quickly walk off.
"Men are now scared to harass women on the train as they know we are travelling in plainclothes and they might get caught," she says.

'Cover to harass'
Calcutta Metro Passengers have welcomed the presence of policewomen on trains
Every day, more that 625,000 people use the Calcutta Metro and it is the cheapest way to get around the city with most journeys costing just six rupees (11 cents; eight pence).
That means its carriages are crammed full of passengers and it is impossible to avoid physical contact with the people around you.
"Getting a seat on an underground train is as hard as winning the lottery. It also gives some men the opportunity and the cover to harass women," says the metro deputy general manager Protyush Kumar Ghosh.
India has been debating the issue of women's safety since the murder and gang rape of the young woman in Delhi.
Since then, more and more women in Calcutta have come forward and talked about their experiences of travelling on the metro.
Mr Ghosh says "as complaints grew, we had to take action to make sure that India's oldest metro was also its safest".
'No accident' So they came up with the idea of the undercover cops, and it seems to have had an impact.
Calcutta Metro Calcutta Metro is the oldest metro service in India
In February, five men were arrested for harassing women and there were 30 other incidents reported.
That is a drop of around 50% from the previous month.
"Troublemakers are now scared that they will be caught and so they are changing their behaviour," Mr Ghosh says.
Radhika says she can tell as soon as a man boards the train if he is going to cause trouble.
When I ask her how she can tell, specially in carriages where it is impossible to avoid touching someone, she replies: "I am a woman - I know. When a man touches a woman twice or three times, then it's no accident."
Twenty-one-year-old Shristi Das uses the underground every day.
She tells me that her parents get worried when she comes back late on the metro after work and adds that she hates the way that some men leer at her and try to touch her.
Housewife Bhavana Mishra says she tries to stand in the "women's only" section but that is not always possible.
"I am not sure why we women have to go through this," she says.
Both are glad that female officers are now patrolling the underground and it makes them feel safer.
But, Ms Das sasy, "you cannot police the whole of the metro. We need men to change and that is going to take some time".
Until they do, Radhika and her colleagues will be keeping a close eye on them.

Ahmadinejad's scandalous moment with Hugo Chavez's mother

Ahmadinejad's scandalous moment with Hugo Chavez's mother

Miraflores Palace via AFP - Getty Images
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets Elena Frías during the state funeral of her son, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 8.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have endeared himself to much of Latin America with his performance at the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but minders of religious righteousness in his home country were unamused.
His sin — unfortunately for him captured in a photograph — transpired when he came cheek to cheek with a grieving Elena Frias, the mother of the late president, while clasping her hands. In strict Islamic societies, people are not supposed to touch others of the opposite gender unless they are related or married.

The image sparked a storm of controversy in the Iranian press, according to the English-language Iran Pulse, and went viral on Twitter and Facebook as users joked about it or speculated about how the conservative Islamic clerics back in Tehran would respond.
Their answer was swift and certain.
"In relation to what is allowed (halal) and what is forbidden (haram) we know that no unrelated women can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs (medical) treatment," said Hojat al-Islam Hossein Ibrahimi, member of the Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran, according to the Iran Pulse report.
Ahmadinejad was already under scrutiny by the conservative clerics who call the shots in Iran, and apparently they did not like the eulogy he gave for Chavez at the memorial ceremony.
They said it was another sign that a "deviant current" was driving the president a greater distance from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
During the eulogy, Ahmadinejad said that Chavez "will come again along with Jesus Christ and Al-Imam al-Mahdi to redeem mankind,” putting the populist Venezuelan president and ex-paratrooper in the ranks of holy figures.
Mohammed Dehghan, a member of the Iranian parliament, called for religious scholars to confront Ahmadinejad’s "un-Islamic" acts, Al-Arabiya reported.
Some Shiite religious figures admonished the Iranian president to become better educated about his religion. Others urged him not to make religious references for the rest of his campaign for re-election, while his supporters said the whole uproar was a part of a smear campaign.
A second controversial photograph surfaced that appeared to be of Ahmadinejad attending the funeral in Caracas last week, but it turned out to be a fake that amateurishly Photoshopped the Iranian president in a cheek-to-cheek moment with the former director-general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei.

Pakistan reeling from anti-Christian attack

Pakistan reeling from anti-Christian attack

AFP - Getty Images
Pakistani Christians search for salvageable belongings from the remains of their razed houses in Lahore on Monday.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is reeling from a Muslim mob attack that set ablaze almost 200 buildings in a predominantly Christian neighborhood of Lahore, the country’s second largest city, on Saturday.
The mob was angered by alleged insults against Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Many Christians complain that Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws — with offenses punishable by life in prison or even death — have become a convenient excuse for exercising vigilante justice against them and other religious minorities. Christians make up less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people; most Pakistanis are Sunni Muslim.
Drunken disputeThe most recent incident was sparked by alleged remarks against Muhammad made by Sawan Masih, a 28-year-old Christian man, to two Muslim friends during a drunken argument.  
The following day hundreds of angry Muslims marched through the neighborhood burning about 170 houses, seven shops and two churches. Some residents were injured, but there were no serious casualties.
The Pakistan Interfaith League, a "socio-political organization that works for peace and harmony for all in Pakistan," according to its chairman, Sajid Ishaq, has been tracking the event. They say there are no reliable witnesses to confirm whether the act of blasphemy was committed or not.
AFP - Getty Images
Angry Pakistani demonstrators torch Christians' belongings during a protest over an alleged insult to the Prophet Muhammad in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore on March 9.
"The police knew the night before that something terrible was going to happen," said Ishaq, a 42-year-old Christian. "But they didn’t do much about stopping the mob. Rather, they told the community that they should evacuate. Where’s the sense in that?"
The lack of timely action from local authorities has left many demanding answers.
"We are totally outraged to learn that these buildings [in the Christian neighborhood] were set ablaze at 9:00 a.m. The firefighting service did not arrive until 3:00 p.m.," said human rights activist Tahira Abdullah. "The blaze was not put out till nightfall… Exploitation of popular sentiment in the name of religion is not new in Pakistan, but it is reaching unprecedented proportions."
While there were unconfirmed reports that political heavyweights and the local land mafia had orchestrated the attack to evacuate the Christian community from some very valuable real estate in the heart of Lahore, local observers did not count out inept governance as a probable cause.
"There’s usually a financial dispute, small or large, when these incidents occur," said Ashar-ur-Rehman, editor for the daily Dawn. "But they [the government] didn’t see any need to intervene. They were late. If you don’t allow people a sense of security, you are exposing yourself as complicit with perpetrators of the crime."
'We want justice'
On Sunday, retaliatory riots by Christians engulfed Lahore and other Pakistani cities.  
But some are trying to get justice in other ways.
"There were about 400 to 500 bibles burnt in the attack. The mob humiliated our holy scriptures and churches," said Ishaq of the Pakistan Interfaith League. "So we are asking that the culprits should be booked under the same blasphemy law that they allege we Christians broke."
The Supreme Court has taken notice of the incident, and hearings are underway investigating the inaction of the administration, which has announced $2,000 as compensation for each family
But according to the Pakistan Interfaith League, each family has suffered an average loss of around $20,000 for their property.
"Our community is rejecting this token. We don’t want charity. We want rights. We want justice," said Ishaq. 

Pakistani soldier stoned to death over romance; girlfriend may be shot

Pakistani soldier stoned to death over romance; girlfriend may be shot

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan -- A Pakistani soldier was publicly stoned to death on the order of a tribal court in the country's northwestern Kurram region for having a relationship with a local woman, government officials and tribesmen said Wednesday.
Such tribal justice is a stark reminder of the difficulty in establishing a credible civilian administration in Pakistan's semi-autonomous region bordering Afghanistan, despite a series of military operations in the area and Western nations pouring in millions of dollars to help build infrastructure.
Punjab native Anwar Din, 27, was posted last year to the Parachinar area of Kurram agency where he met Intizar Bibi, 19, while manning a checkpost near her home.
The two embarked on a romantic relationship, tribal sources said, and he tried to elope with her when he was later posted to the disputed Kashmir region. It was not immediately clear what evidence there was, if any, of a romance.
"The girl left her home on Monday and met Anwar Din when villagers saw them," said Munir Hussain, the head of the local jirga, or tribal court, that sentenced Din to death. "We took the girl into custody and took the boy to the local graveyard where he was stoned to death and buried."
Din was killed on Monday, he added. A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the jirga had ruled the woman must be shot to death. It was not immediately clear if this had already taken place.
The army was not immediately available for comment.
Kurram, the only part of Pakistan's largely lawless border region that has a significant Shiite population, is racked by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite tribes. Anti-Shiite ideology from the Taliban and al Qaeda has meant years of bloody fighting.
Bibi is Shiite while Din was Sunni, Hussain added.
Tribal justiceThe Federally Administered Tribal Areas have never been fully integrated into Pakistan's administrative, economic or judicial system.
Instead, families and tribes often take justice into their own hands, presiding over "jirgas" or "panchayats," gatherings of elders who hand down punishments including rape, killing and the bartering of women to settle scores and restore honor.
In such tribal justice, women often fare far worse than men.
Hussain said that the jirga had also requested that another Pakistani soldier, Saif Ullah, be handed over for helping the couple meet and coordinate the planned elopement.
"The army is here for our security but if they engage in such activities we will not let them stay here," Hussain said. "This is an insult to tribal customs. We will revolt against this."

Friday, March 08, 2013

South Africa police charged with dragging murder

Nine South African policemen have been charged with murder after a taxi driver was dragged behind a police van and later found dead.
They were brought to the magistrate's court in Benoni, near Johannesburg, amid tight security.
They pleaded not guilty to murdering Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia, 27, in nearby Daveyton on 26 February.
A small crowd of protesters were outside the court to oppose bail for the accused.
One placard read: "What have we done to die like dogs?".
The bail hearing has been postponed until Monday.
Video of Mr Macia being dragged through the streets caused widespread revulsion after it was broadcast on television.
The video, apparently recorded by a bystander on a mobile phone, shows a large crowd watching as uniformed policemen tie him to the van, dragging him as they drive away.

Mido Macia's family has kept a very low profile in these proceedings.
His father, who came to South Africa following Mr Macia's death, is seated right at the back of the public gallery in the corner.
He speaks no English so a Portuguese interpreter is translating the proceedings for him.
His head is low and there is no obvious reaction on his face. His interpreter tells me he is just worn out.
His lawyer says the family are waiting for this bail hearing to end so that they can take Mr Macia's body back to Mozambique.
They are likely to be driving through the night. He is due to be buried on Saturday in Matola on the outskirts of Maputo.

The court was told on Friday that Mr Macia had suffered extensive injuries, culminating in hypoxia - a lack of oxygen supply to the body - causing his death.
According to pathologist Reggie Perumal, the victim had extensive abrasions on his face, limbs and body, deep cuts on his forearms and wrists and "almost full thickness lacerations of the head".
He also had bruised ribs, back, left and right testes, lips and bite marks on his tongue (were the policemen all male?  Did they bite his tongue?  What the...)  as well as bleeding and water on the brain, the report is quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

The suspects huddled together on the bench of the accused, some dressed in suits, others in casual clothes.
Aged between 25 and 57, some chewed gum, looked down while others occasionally shot a furtive smile, reports the AFP news agency.
Friday's hearing had been postponed from Monday to allow time for state witnesses to confirm the identities of the suspects.
The video shows Mr Macia struggling with police after apparently parking his vehicle illegally.
Police officers then overcome the taxi driver and tie him to the back of a van by his arms before driving off.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, joined hundreds of mourners at a Daveyton sports stadium on Wednesday.
Wednesday's emotional ceremony saw mourners, many wearing t-shirts and holding posters printed with Mido Macia's photograph, joining together to sing, clap and dance.
Graca Machel, who is herself Mozambican, told reporters: "As a society we are bleeding. We are grieving. We are in pain. We just don't know how to deal with the pain."
Sonnyboy Ndlovu, a witness to the dragging who was at the ceremony, told Reuters news agency: "The police are used to terrorising people here in the township, especially the Ethiopians and Mozambicans."
Mr Macia is due to be buried outside the country's capital, Maputo, on Saturday.

Kim Jong Un visits troops


The Dear Leader arrives on a boat and the troops come RUNNING to meet him with their arms raised.  Jumping up and down in a crowd around him with their arms still raised.  Should someone start a blog called 'Kim Jong Un Looking at Things'?  The most disturbing part of the video is at the end when the soldiers, fully clothed, are standing in the water up to their chests waving goodbye to their Dear Leader. 
It just struck me as strange, choreographed, and a spectacular performance. 

Zinat Karzai, Afghanistan's 'invisible' first lady

I didn't know Karzai was married!  It never occured to me.  It is nice to hear what she has to say. 

 Zinat Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul

She has been called Afghanistan's invisible first lady. Zinat Karzai, the 43-year-old wife of Hamid Karzai, is rarely seen in public, prompting criticism that she is not doing enough to further the cause of women's rights in her country. This week she gave a rare interview to the BBC's Maryam Ghamgusar and Freba Zaher.
"Thank you and welcome," says a smiling Zinat Karzai greeting the BBC team in her modest, light-filled sitting room. "I'm very pleased to have you here."
Afghanistan's first lady lives behind a formidable barrage of security in the presidential palace in central Kabul.
It took five security checks, each more rigorous than the one before, to reach the ground-floor apartments which are currently home to her, her husband and their two young children.

It is clearly a situation which poses big challenges to everyday family life.
"It's very, very difficult… to be constantly under guard all the time," she says. "I would prefer it if I could live outside the palace."
The security constraints are one reason why this intelligent and articulate woman rarely appears in public .
"I have not travelled to anywhere inside Afghanistan," she says. Instead, people come to her.
"I have lots of contact with ordinary Afghan women… involved in areas like politics, social affairs, education and healthcare. They often come to see me and share their thoughts."
Zinat Karzai's lack of visibility has prompted criticism from some Afghans, especially the younger generation, that she is not doing enough to stand up for women's rights and to set a positive example.
All the more so, her critics say, because she is a qualified doctor who before her marriage worked for some years in Pakistan.
"I know [my contribution] is not open and visible in the media," she says firmly. "But I've done what I can and what I know it's possible to do given the current circumstances in Afghanistan."
When she talks about current circumstances, Mrs Karzai is not just talking about security issues.
Her role is clearly also constrained by cultural sensitivities. She says the country is simply not ready for a high-profile first lady appearing at her husband's side.
"I think more time is needed," she says. "This country has suffered from more than 30 years of war. We need to fix everything gradually, and work in line with our culture and traditions."
Those traditions include the belief still held by many conservative Afghan men that it is shameful for their wives to be seen by other men.
In fact, her own husband has been accused of having just such concerns. But she says it is her decision, not his, to keep out of sight.
"He and I both know our country's culture, traditions and the current state of affairs," she says tactfully. "We need to take this into account and to work in accordance with this."

Despite being out of the public eye, Zinat Karzai has met a number of other visiting first ladies.
She numbers Cherie Blair, Laura Bush and Gursharan Kaur, the wife of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, among the first ladies she admires. She is also close to Iranian President Ahmadinejad's wife, Azam al-Sadat Farahi, whom she speaks to on the telephone.
Zinat and Hamid Karzai have been married for 14 years, and since she became first lady she has had two children.
Her son Mirwais is now six, and she has a baby daughter called Malalai.
She says President Karzai dotes on the children, although he struggles to make time in his packed schedule to spend time with them.
"Sometimes, perhaps on Fridays, he might be free for an hour or so," she says, "so he will go for a walk with me and the children. We all go out together - once in a while."
President Karzai has in the past spoken emotionally about the kind of Afghanistan he hopes his son will grow up in.
For many Afghan families, a daughter is seen as less valuable, but Zinat says President Karzai is equally ambitious and hopeful for his daughter.
Fashion conscious
"For us… there is no difference between a boy and a girl," she says. "A daughter is the best gift from God."
Like her husband, Zinat Karzai has a keen eye for clothes and has cultivated what she calls an Afghan style of dress.
For the BBC interview she was wearing a light green long dress and matching head scarf.

President Hamid Karzai inspects a guard of honour after his arrival for the opening session of Parliament in Kabul on 6 March 2013 The president usually attends public occasions unaccompanied by his wife
While for many outsiders the burka is a symbol of the lack of freedom many Afghan women still experience, Mrs Karzai maintains that it is not actually part of Afghan tradition at all.
"The burka… is imported from abroad," she says. "In rural areas the majority of women just wear a big headscarf. This is Afghan dress."
Looking back to her own childhood, Zinat Karzai remembers with affection her father who worked in the education ministry and pushed all his daughters to study.
"My parents… made sure that me and my sisters all got an education and went to university," she says. "All of us went through higher education. It was important for our family."
Although she feels unable to play a greater role in public life, Mrs Karzai says she is keen for both her children to be educated in Afghanistan, and maybe, if they are interested, even to go into politics.
"Their father has done so much for this country," she says. "It would be good if they could also serve their country."

The women in Afghanistan's political families

Princess India
BBC Persian TV interviewed three other Afghan women connected to powerful families to understand how they cope with life in the public eye of a conservative nation.

Waheeda Mohaqeq, 37, third wife of the Hazara leader and resistance fighter Mohammad Mohaqeq lives with him, their six children and his two other wives and all "get on very well together".
She has a degree in literature but says, "I'm a housewife and I like living a simple life. I'm happy that I can live just like any normal person, going out, going shopping. This is how I want it to stay."

Fatana Gillani, is the head of the Afghan Women's Council and married to MP Ishaq Gillani.
She is one of the few wives of prominent Afghan politicians who has a career of her own. The couple have been the target of much criticism from conservative Afghans because of her public profile.
Her charity provides support to a network of 500 under-privileged women.
"The oppression that Afghan women are subjected to now is like what was happening in the dark ages before Islam. There is still so much to do," she said.

Princess India (pictured above), 83, is the daughter of former King Amanullah, a moderniser who was deposed in 1929. She grew up in Rome.
Her mother was Queen Soraya, the first Afghan woman not to wear the veil. Her mother's glamorous modern fashion sense was hugely shocking to conservative Afghans at the time, and still would be for many people today today.
"One important thing that needs to happen is that Afghan men need to be educated. I'm sorry to say it, but Afghan men just don't have good manners. They need more education," she says.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Missing Soviet war veteran found living in Afghanistan 33 years after combat

Alexander Lawrentjew / dpa via AP
Soviet war veteran Bakhretdin Khakimov went missing in action 33 years ago, but has now been found living under the name Sheikh Abdullah and working as a healer.
MOSCOW — A Soviet war veteran reported missing in action during fighting in Afghanistan 33 years ago has been found living as a local healer in the province of Herat, news agency Ria reported.
The soldier, who was rescued by Afghans after being wounded in the first months after the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979, was tracked down by a Moscow-based group of war veterans.
A native of the former Soviet Central Asian state of Uzbekistan, he now goes by the name of Sheikh Abdullah and has adopted the local dress and profession of the healer who nursed him back to health.
The deputy head of the Afghan war veterans' committee said Abdullah, whose given name is Bakhretdin Khakimov, mostly had forgotten the Russian language and never tried to contact his relatives after suffering severe head trauma in the fighting.
Alexander Lavrentyev, who met with Abdullah in Herat last month, said the veteran, who was 20 when he went missing, still bore the scars of his injury. His face is creased by a nervous tic and his hand and shoulder shake.
"He was just happy he survived,'' Lavrentyev was quoted by Ria as saying at a presser in Moscow on Monday.
The committee says it has found 29 of 264 soldiers still listed as missing from the bloody decade-long conflict. It said seven of those it contacted chose to stay in Afghanistan.
Some 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in the fighting that followed the Soviet Union's incursion to support a communist vassal government in Kabul against Islamist mujahideen fighters armed by the United States.