Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

On Afghan planes, women are “not able-bodied”


I was recently on a flight back from the western Afghan city of Herat. I was with a female friend, an American consultant who was in Herat compiling field research on civilian casualties. There was a ‘free seats’ policy on the Pamir Airways flight so my friend and I went to the first available empty row, which happened to be the exit row in the middle of the plane. (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

(REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

As we went to sit down a clean-shaven flight attendant who looked like he was in his twenties told us we had to sit elsewhere. I asked why and he said “It’s for men only, no women, please sit here,” pointing to the next row behind. My friend and I looked at each other with disbelief. We both asked him again, why we couldn’t sit there and why being women prevented us from sitting there. Without any hesitation he said: “It’s for men and able bodied people only.” We were shocked.

Together we both have about five years experience living and working in Afghanistan as foreign women — not much compared to many outsiders in the country, but enough to know what the deal is with public transport in this very conservative Muslim country. We both always dress appropriately and wear the usual modesty uniform of a long coat or jacket and headscarf in order to blend in and not draw attention to ourselves. But neither of us had heard anything as offensive as what this flight attendant was telling us.

Again I said to the young man, who looked like a typical Westernised Kabulite, sporting the type of hair style British footballer David Beckham had in the late 1990s, “so you are saying we are disabled?” With a straight face he replied simply, “yes”. My friend and I tried to reason with him and insisted that we should be able to take the seats, pointing out that we were capable of opening the emergency exit if needed. But he insisted we sit elsewhere. Without wanting to delay our journey any further, we took two empty seats next to an Afghan lady.

Guest Column: Getting Obama’s Afghan policy back on track



(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own).

By C. Uday Bhaskar

The May 12 summit meeting in the White House between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his host, U.S. President Barack Obama comes against the backdrop of the mercifully aborted May 1 terrorist bombing incident in New York’s Times Square.

Kandahar:It’s not an operation; it’s a process, stupid!



(A U.S. soldier searches an Afghan man in Kandahar. Reuters/Jonathon Burch)

If you believe the official line from U.S. and NATO commanders in Afghanistan, the upcoming offensive in Kandahar involving no less than 23,000 foreign and Afghan troops  will involve a lot of polite words, meeting with tribal elders and “talking” the Taliban out of their spiritual home.

The soft rhetoric over the biggest ground operation of the nine-year war  has even drawn similarities to the infamous comments made by the then British Defence Secretary John Reid, when Britain expanded its mission into Helmand in early 2006. Reid said he hoped Britain’s “peacekeeping” mission, expected to last three years, would be completed without a shot being fired.

America expanding its undeclared war in Pakistan?

- The car packed with explosives at Times Square

(The car packed with explosives at Times Square)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Pakistan of  ‘severe consequences” if a future attack on the U.S. homeland is traced back to Pakistani militant groups.

It’s the kind of language that harks back to the Bush administration when they threatened to  “bomb Pakistan to the Stone Age” if it didn’t cooperate in the war against al  Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban following the Sept. 11 attacks.  Pakistan fell in line, turning on militant groups, some of whom with close ties to the security establishment.

Taliban reconciliation anyone?


TIMESSQUARE/PACKAGEFaisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born American charged with trying to bomb New York, may have failed in his objective, but one unintended consequence of his act may well be that a plan to reach out to insurgents in Afghanistan has been blown out of the water.

To be sure the Afghan Taliban which is entirely focused on fighting foreign forces in their homeland has nothing to do with the failed Times Square bombing. It is the Pakistani Taliban that claimed responsibility initially and the suspected bomber’s links to the group and another Pakistan-based group fighting Indian forces in Kashmir are being investigated.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan-despite failed NY attack, change will be slow in coming

karachiAfter the media frenzy following last weekend's failed car bomb attack on Times Square, you would be forgiven for thinking that something dramatic is about to change in Pakistan. The reality, however, is probably going to be much greyer.

Much attention has naturally focused on North Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan fighters including those in the Haqqani network, and the so-called "Punjabi Taliban" - militants from Punjab-based groups who have joined the battle either in Afghanistan or against the Pakistani state.  The Pakistan Army is expected to come under fresh pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan after Faisal Shahzad, who according to U.S. authorities admitted to the failed car-bombing in Times Square, said he had received training in Waziristan. Unlike other parts of the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, North Waziristan has so far been left largely alone.

from Tales from the Trail:

Ahmadinejad says bin Laden in Washington

BINLADEN/Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has the answer to the question that has plagued the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. 

He knows where Osama bin Laden is -- in Washington. OBAMA/

In an interview with ABC'S "Good Morning America" on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad rejected reports that the al Qaeda leader was in Iran.

After Times Square scare, Pakistan under greater pressure to go after militants?



Pakistan has come under renewed spotlight following the arrest of a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent for a failed bombing in New York’s Times Square and claims of responsibility by the Pakistani Taliban.

It is too early to confirm the plot was tied to any of a multitude of militant groups operating in Pakistan. Indeed, security experts have been sceptical about the claim by the Pakistan Taliban saying they doubt it has the reach to strike in Manhattan.

U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan set to overtake Iraq

- (On patrol in Kandahar proivince.Reuters/Jonathon Burch

(On patrol in Kandahar province. Reuters/Jonathon Burch)

At some point this month or early June, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will outnumber those in Iraq, writes Michael E. O ‘Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. It’s an artificial milestone but it is worth noting because it tells you a good deal about the two wars and where the United States stands in each.

The cross-over is also a measure of how big and rapid has the shift been in America’s military power toward Afghanistan since President Barack Obama took office last year promising to bring the troops home.