Hypocrisy all around: Karzai tells foreigners to back off

President Hamid Karzai

After a summer of attempts to improve relations with the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, Karzai came out today with tough statements against foreign assistance. He said, according to the latest article in the Wall Street Journal, that foreign advisors should be replaced by Afghans.

He called for a ban on private security companies that are sent to protect a number of Western servicemembers in Afghanistan, saying “We have the ability to rule and govern our country and we have our sovereignty.”

Oh you do, do you?

“We hope that NATO countries and the U.S. pay attention,” he said.

The Wikileaks files along with the many reports of civilian casualties has lead to anti-American sentiment and overall loss of hope in the country. At the same time, the U.S. has promised to “start” withdrawing its troops and transitioning Afghan security forces by the summer of 2011. That means they committed to another year in the country in terms of security forces. Diplomatic efforts will continue long after 2011, they say. And that deadline, according to Sec. Clinton, is a “working deadline” and could change if circumstances change.

Just this weekend, 10 aid workers were killed, piling up the number of Western casualties of the war. The continued violence on top of Clinton’s repeated calls for corruption accountability have essentially diminished the good will we saw when Karzai visited in May.

A screenshot of Aisha, victim of abusive husband and antiquated laws in Afghanistan

Karzai made claims that security forces have received “illegal” salaries and are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night.”

What these companies do, in reality, is provide security for Western diplomats and organizations that provide aid and major infrastructure tools for Afghanistan. The article states that these companies are wary to hand control completely over to Afghan forces, which are often infiltrated by Taliban members.

According to Reuters, Congress has approved $345 billion so far to Afghanistan since 2001. Obama has asked for billions more and 30,000 extra soldiers. Will Congress be willing to fund the war when Karzai doesn’t even want foreign contractors there?

While Karzai is calling for a withdrawal, TIME, featuring an Afghan girl with her nose cut off, said “What Happens If we Leave Afghanistan.” We have a call for human rights, equality for women and the expulsion of misogynistic radical Taliban law while Karzai is telling the people of Afghanistan that foreign services need to leave.

I eagerly await a response from Obama and the State Department.

At New America: In Pakistan, American image remains poor, concern of extremist takeover slipping

Report by Will Storey

Today, The Pew Research Center has published a report on the opinions of the Pakistani people regarding, among other topics, America, the Taliban, India and the issue of extremism.  The results indicate India is by and large the biggest threat to Pakistan, and that the American war on terror is anti-Muslim.  Pew President Andrew Kohut spoke at the New America Foundation to discuss the results.

“There is not a Muslim public in the world that supports the U.S. war on terror,” said Kohut to a room of a few dozen students, reporters, and government officials.  He explained that because the effort seems to be targeting only Muslims regardless of political ideology, it is “not legitimate” in the eyes of Pakistani people.  That sentiment contributes to the mere 17% of people who have a favorable view of the U.S., and the 8% that have confidence in President Obama.

This news comes just as U.S. officials are revamping their efforts to work with Pakistan to oust the Taliban from the region.

When asked about the greatest threat facing Pakistan, 53% named India.  The Taliban came in second with 23%.  Kohut commented that because of the strong ties between India and the U.S., the countries are viewed as virtually one and the same.  As concern over the Kashmir region of India grows, extremists such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda tend to fall by the wayside in the eyes of Pakistanis.  In a similar poll conducted last year, 69% of participants said they were “very/somewhat worried” about extremists taking control of Pakistan, compared to 51% this year.  30% stated they are “not too/not at all worried”.

In regards to the Pakistani government itself, the military, specifically General Kayani, had a much higher approval rating (61%) than President Asif Ali Zadari (20%).  Nawaz Sharif, Zardari’s political rival, boasted a 71% approval rating, one of the highest in the country.  The majority of Pakistani people expressed support for harsh criminal punishments, including stoning of adulterers (82%) and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim faith (76%).  Kohut commented that these figures contrast sharply with the people’s desire to modernize, a discrepancy that he could not explain.

Pew researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with 2,000 Pakistani Muslims representing mostly urban areas.  The report is a part of the Global Attitude Project , which has spanned 57 countries in order to get a clear picture of issues affecting local citizens around the world.

A Must See: Frontline’s Inside Look at Children of the Taliban

This video, by Al Jazeera, shows two teenage Pakistani boys who were abducted by the Taliban. They describe their experience at a Taliban training camp, where they are taught the Koran and how to use machine guns.

I saw a particularly fascinating documentary today produced by Frontline (couldn’t embed video, but click link to view) on the effect the Taliban is having on children in Pakistan. I was stunned at the interviews reporter Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was able to get–from young schoolgirls fighting for their education to wounded Pakistani soldiers to teenage boys currently IN the Taliban, saying on camera without covering that they would blow themselves up “God Willing.”

As a journalist, my first thought was, “how did she get these people, who knew she was part of an American organization and a woman, to speak so honestly on such controversial issues? Until this documentary I had never heard a 13-year-old boy publicly state his affiliation with the Taliban and his desire to perform a suicide bomb. I also have never heard the eerie declarations of Taliban leaders on the radio calling for more suicide bombs in the name of God. You have to watch and see for yourself.

A young girl talks about how the Taliban have been growing in numbers in her home town in Peshawar.

“Yes, I’ve seen them. They wear masks, they are scary,” she said.

The report also records a typical radio broadcast by the Taliban, which has a vibrant propaganda machine in the region. People listen so they avoid attacks:

“Sharia Law is our right, and we will exercise this right whatever happens. We will make ourselves suicide bombers! I swear to God if our leader orders me, I will sacrifice myself… and blow myself up in the middle of our enemies.“

According to the report, the Taliban have destroyed more than 200 government schools in Swat since they took control of the region. Of course, they have banned women from going to school.

She traveled to the SWAT valley that used to be the “Switzerland” of the east, now is ridden with Taliban. Women who used to not wear the burqa are now completely covered.

“Education is like a ray of light, and I want that light,” said one of the girls interviewed.

The fear is very alive among the people, who could lose everything at any moment, including their basic rights.

“If you look at people’s faces, you see a sadness. Our mouths are locked up. Our thoughts are chained,” said another man interviewed while they were hiding from the Taliban.

The most shocking part of the video to me was the interview with a current Taliban member who was 14. He talked about the growth of schools in the area and how their numbers have grown in the thousands.

“Would you like to carry out a suicide attack?” she asked.

“If God gives me strength,” he replies.

A part of the Taliban’s successful campaign is the Pakistani Army and US forces have bombed madrassas in villages and left people displaced while battling Taliban members.

Two male friends, one wanting to join the Taliban and one wanting to join the Pakistan Army, said they would kill each other if faced in battle. No hesitation.