FaithWorld

from Afghan Journal:

The exaggerated role of violent groups in Pakistan’s relief effort

PAKISTANS-FLOODS/

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has once again spoken of the danger of hardline Islamists exploiting the misery of the flood-affected to promote their cause,  which must be cause for worry for security forces in not just Pakistan but over the border in Afghanistan as well, fed by the same  militant fervour. Zardari called it the " ideal hope of the radical" that the floods would discredit Pakistan's government and warned that some of these extremist groups aimed to scoop up orphaned children and  "create them into robots."

Such fears, though,  didn't stop Zardari from proceeding on a heavily criticised foreign tour just as the flooding was getting worse, even though that was exactly the sort of thing that would  fuel public anger and hand the initiative to the Islamist groups.

But quite apart from Zardari's fulminations, the question, nearly a month into the disaster is whether the Islamists charities linked to  militant groups have really made a difference to the lives of the millions hit by the floods.  Setting up a tent here, offering food and medicines at another place are all good, but they would seem like a drop in the ocean, literally, given the scale of the devastation Pakistan is confronted with.

If Pakistan's army, one of the few institutions in the country seen as effective, is struggling to reach aid to the people despite the assets at its command, it's difficult to see how the Jamaat-ud Dawa, a front  of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, can supplant the state in providing assistance in a sustained manner and over such a vast stretch of territory.

On Wednesday, the head of the United States Agency for International Aid, Rajiv Shah, toured a camp which had received supplies from the Falah-e-Insaniyat, which is the  name the banned Jamaat is using to operate in the flood areas. U.S. officials said the camp was not run by the Falah e-Insaniyat but the charity had independently distributed relief supplies a few days ago.

Afghan archaeologists find Buddhist site as war rages

bamyanArchaeologists in Afghanistan, where Taliban Islamists are fighting the Western-backed government, have uncovered Buddhist-era remains in an area south of Kabul, an official said on Tuesday.  “There is a temple, stupas, beautiful rooms, big and small statues, two with the length of seven and nine meters, colorful frescos ornamented with gold and some coins,” said Mohammad Nader Rasouli, head of the Afghan Archaeological Department. (Photo: 1997 file photo of a 55-metre-high Buddha statue in Bamyan destroyed by the Taliban in 2001/Muzammil Pasha)

“Some of the relics date back to the fifth century (AD). We have come across signs that there are items maybe going back to the era before Christ or prehistory,” he said.  “We need foreign assistance to preserve these and their expertise to help us with further excavations.”

Government and foreign troops are battling an insurgency led by the radical Taliban movement which destroyed Buddhist statues at Bamyan during its five-year control of the mountainous country from 1996 to 2001, viewing the monuments as an affront to Islam.

VIDEO: Roundup of Ramadan starting in Turkey, Asia, Afghanistan

Below is a Reuters video roundup of the start of Ramadan in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Afghanistan:

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

from Afghan Journal:

Resurgent Taliban target women and children

AFGHANISTAN/

Civilian casualties in the worsening war in Afghanistan are up just over 30 percent in the current year,  the United Nations said in a mid-year report this week, holding the Taliban responsible for three-quarters of the deaths or injuries.

More worrying, women and children seem to be taking the brunt of the violence directed by a resurgent Taliban, which will only stoke more concern about the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamist group.

Indeed the Taliban have been blamed for a series of horrific assaults on women in recent weeks,  which must be distasteful to even those pushing for a deal with them as a way to end the nine-year conflict.

Afghan Hindus and Sikhs grapple with uncertain future

kabul view (Photo: Kabul, December 30, 2009/Marko Djurica)

They thrived long before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century and for a long time dominated the country’s economy, but Sikh and Hindu Afghans now find themselves struggling for survival.

“We have no shelter, no land and no authority,” says Awtar Singh, a senator and the only non-Muslim voice in Afghanistan’s parliament. “No one in the government listens to us, but we have to be patient, because we have no other options,” says the 47-year-old Sikh.

In a brief idyll in 1992, after the fall of the Moscow backed-government but before civil war erupted, there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared with around just a few thousand today.

Western aid groups deny religious agenda in Afghanistan

convertTwo Western aid organisations have denied allegations they were engaged in Christian proselytising in Afghanistan after the government suspended their activities following a television report.  Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid said they had been operating in Afghanistan for decades and their work was entirely humanitarian.

“Norwegian Church Aid has no mandate to influence people’s religious beliefs in any part of the world — neither in Afghanistan,” the organisation said on its website.

“We have never and will never engage in any religious proselytism. Such activities are contrary to our mandate as a humanitarian organization, and we fully respect the religion of the communities we serve,” Maurice A. Bloem, Church World Service”s deputy director and head of programs, said in a statement.

Afghanistan to probe NGOs after “preaching” report

aid

Afghanistan has launched an investigation into the activities of hundreds of aid groups after a local media report accused a Norwegian organisation of preaching Christianity, a crime punishable by death.

Foreign and Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in essential humanitarian projects across the country — helping out in areas ranging from health to education — but some Afghans remain skeptical of their motives and suspect they could be a front for proselytising. (Photo: An Afghan girl with refugee women waiting to receive free blankets distributed by a foreign charity in Kabul on December 2, 2002/Radu Sigheti)

Afghanistan’s economy ministry said on Sunday it had formed a commission to investigate all NGOs after a local TV report accusing Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) of promoting Christianity.

from Afghan Journal:

Where does Taliban reconciliation leave victims of war?

An Afghan boy in Afghanistan's southeaster Paktika province, November 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

An Afghan boy in Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika province, November 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

The United States has signalled that it will gradually start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, after almost a decade fighting in the country, from July 2011. And so, perhaps driven by a sense of fear over what the absence of tens of thousands of foreign troops will mean for an already fragile security situation, the Afghan government is pursuing a policy of engaging the Taliban and other insurgent factions such as Hezb-i-Islami. It is a policy widely backed by officials and many members of parliament. It is a political means of seeking an end to the conflict, perhaps because the idea that Afghan security forces will be capable of doing the job of 100,000 foreign troops, is still unfathomable to many. But to many other Afghans it also represents a compromise which could see the country paring back the political developments it has achieved since 2001.

Tens of thousands of Afghans were killed in the bloody civil war which was triggered by the collapse of Kabul's Soviet-backed government -- most of them at the hands of warlords and powerful militia leaders who were competing for power. Some of these men are now officials. Some of them are Members of Parliament. Some of them are still fighting.

European push to ban burqas appalls Afghan women

burqas 1

Afghan widows line up during a cash for work project in Kabul January 6, 2010/Ahmad Masood

A firm believer in women’s rights, the only thing Afghan lawmaker Shinkai Karokhail finds as appalling as being forced to wear a burqa is a law banning it.

Karokhail is one of many Afghan women who see a double standard in efforts by some European nations to outlaw face veils and burqas — a move they say restricts a Muslim woman’s choice in countries that otherwise make a fuss about personal rights.

from Afghan Journal:

British army shoots itself in row over Afghan “mosque” models ?

Members of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland  at the Black Watch Memorial at Aberfeldy in Scotland following the end of their deployment in Afghanistan. By Russell Cheyne

Members of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland at the Black Watch Memorial at Aberfeldy in Scotland following the end of their deployment in Afghanistan. By Russell Cheyne

The British Ministry of Defence has apologised after Muslims complained that it was using replicas of mosques at a firing range  in northern England to train soldiers ahead of deployment in Afghanistan.

Relations between Muslims and the military are already fragile, so what's the point of  testing them even more by suggesting that mosques were places of danger, the Bradford Council of Mosques said, according to The Independent. The green-domed structures erected at the end of the firing range in north Yorkshire must be taken down, the council said.