Recent events in Afghanistan

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Good afternoon readers! Below you find a short summary of recent events and news that have taken place in Afghanistan in the last weeks.

  • Humanitarian organizations are not meeting their goals of helping individuals in war zones.

In the recent wave of violence and insecurity that has hit Pakistan and Afghanistan, many believe that the presence of International Development professionals and humanitarians are declining. This is attributed to studies that have been conducted in high-risk countries making it more and more difficult to recruit volunteers and workers in countries like Afghanistan. Additionally, the general public and donors are donating less because it seems “incentives to highlight the presence of such organisations on the ground to the general public and donors meant they sometimes overstated their impact, inadvertently making humanitarian situations appear less dire than they were.”

To read more please visit this article.

  • The famous green-eyed Afghan girl

Sharbat Gula, the famous green-eyed Afghan Girl who was photographed by world renowned Steve McCurry, was featured in National Geographic in an issue in 1985. Her face became an icon of the suffering and being refugee in the conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was arrested last month for living illegally in Pewshara, Pakistan as a refugee with false paperwork, and was deported by Pakistan to her native Afghanistan. After the fact, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, welcomed her back in the country, and stated “I’ve said repeatedly, and I like to repeat it again, that our country is incomplete until we absorb all of our refugees.” Ghani has ensured that she must “live with dignity and security in her homeland” and has given her a furnished apartment.

To read more please visit this article.

  • Senior al-qaeda killed in Afghanistan

The U.S. military has confirmed that they were responsible for killing al-Qaeda’s Farouq an Qhatani, a senior official in the organization. The Pentagon describes this act as a “precision strike,” which took place on October 23rd, in Kunar. This assault is considered to be one of the most successful and significant strikes against al-Qaeda in many years. The United States has been tracking Qahtani down for four years, as he was closely connected with Osama bin Laden, and was a senior Al-Aeda leader operating in Afghanistan from 2009.

To read more please visit this article.

We hope you enjoyed the short summary, and hope to catch you next week for more. We here at Barakat are putting together our end of the year fundraiser. To make any donations please visit this site https://barakatworld.networkforgood.com.

Recent Events in Pakistan

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A very warm hello from the Barakat team this afternoon! Below you will find short summaries of major news stories across Pakistan, and links to news sites that provide more details and facts to the events that took place.

  • Disaster risk education to become focus in Pakistani schools

Areas that are flood-prone in Pakistan are proving to be vulnerable to extreme weather, a result of climate change. As per the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), “about 10,000 educational institutions were damaged or destroyed in mega-floods that affected a fourth of the country in 2010, Since then another 10,000 schools have been damaged in subsequent floods through 2015, the authority said.” The question to be asked is, in a country that already struggles to provide adequate education to its people, how do they protect the existing places of learning by reducing risk schools and creating better infrastructure? Naturally, suggestions have been made to improve infrastructure by setting new construction standards, but there are also suggestions to create disaster management plans, holding evacuation drills, and just generally raising awareness for the risks that come with extreme weather. To learn more about disaster risk education in Pakistan schools read here.

  • India to expel Pakistani Mehmood Akhtar for “espionage”

The conflict between India and Pakistan has always been an ongoing, fluctuating one. Most recent in their conflict, India is set to expel a Pakistan High Commission official, Mehmood Akhtar, for engaging in “espionage activities.” Akhtar was detained on Wednesday October 26th, and has been given 48 hours to leave the country after a brief detention. For more information please read this article.

  • Quetta Police Academy


On Monday the 24th of October, 2016, a police academy in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, was under attack and the attack resulted in at least 60 fatalities. The Islamic State has already claimed responsibility, but local authorities and military officials believe that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Pakistan-based group that has been associated with Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack. The Sunni militant organization has been linked to deadly attacks against the country’s Shia Muslim minority. Similar devastating attacks have taken place at this police academy in 2006 and 2008. The question now remains is what makes Balochistan, the largest Pakistani province, an easy target? Despite Balochistan’s abundance of natural resources, it continues to be the poorest Pakistani province. Additionally, the province lacks security, and has become a place of refuge for militants that are traveling to and from Afghanistan in between military operations. An article in Al Jazeera also states that in addition to security, there is “no proper law and order in place.” The borders of Balochistan reach Afghanistan and Iran, and are largely unmanaged and not monitored making the area a safe haven for militants that travel through and from these places. Another issue that makes it hard to run functional and effective security, is that Balochistan is sparsely populated and largely remote, and the history of sectarian violence has created separatist groups. That being said, both members of these groups and terrorist organizations have “greater freedom of action in this area as it is a big province and very underdeveloped. [Because] the province is also pretty remote, which makes it easier for terrorists to come and hide there.”

The Treatment of Minorities in Pakistan

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The treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan is nothing short of a crisis and religious freedom  is not a luxury that everyone can afford. According to the Library of Congress 97% of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, and the remaining 3% of the population are Christian, Hindu and other. When discussing the treatment and status of minorities, one must understand that certain groups of Muslims are mistreated as well as non-Muslim religious groups. Nearly all muslims in Pakistan belong to the sect of Sunni Islam, however there are members of the Shia community, the Ahmadi community and other smaller groups like Sufis. Furthermore, approximately 1.8% of the population is Christian, 1.6% are Muslim and there are smaller numbers of Buddhists, Sikhs and Parsis/Zoroastrians in Pakistan.

Pakistan is not an ethnically and religiously diverse nation, and part of the reason for this is that Pakistan was founded during the partition of India in 1947 on Islamic principles by the former President of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

On Sunday, March 25th in Lahore, 72 people died in a suicide bombing that targeted Christians that were celebrating Eastern in a busy park. The group that claimed responsibility ws Jamaat al Ahrar, a branch of the Taliban in Pakistan. In an article  in the Washington Post explains that before partition Pakistan was a more ethnically diverse place, however during the partition many non-Muslims left the state and there was a mass migration of Indian and Bangladeshi Muslims to Pakistan, creating a relatively homogenous nation state. Although this act of terror was directed towards Christians, more Muslims than Christians were killed.

The war on minorities lead by fundamentalist entities like factions of the Taliban is not only a war against non-Muslim groups, but a war against Muslim minorities such as Shias, Ahmadis, and Sufis. Fatima Bhutto, the niece of Benazir Bhutto, states that “Shias have overtaken Hindus and Christians as targets of sectarian killings [..] And in this predominantly Muslim country, it is no longer Hindus or Christians who face the largest threat of violence from orthodox and radicalised groups but Shias.” In an article in Dawn New, Bhutto discusses that the violence against Shias has become a serious concern in Pakistan.

The irony of the treatment of Muslim minorities is that the Bhutto family, a very prominent Pakistani political family are Shia and the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah also belong to the Shia sect of Islam.

The Taliban’s War on Education

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The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist organization that are responsible for a movement in Afghanistan that began as a militia in 1994, became the official government of Pakistan in 1996 and transitioned into an insurgent group in 2004. The movement gained strength as a result of the Afghan Civil War, and became a prominent faction that held immense power in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. Their methodology and practice includes a strict interpretation of sharia, the Islamic law, and their main goal in Afghanistan during their time of power was the implement it. The conservative culture in the region coupled by the backward views of the Taliban has prevented girls from receiving an education.

Leaders of the Taliban strongly believe that the education worth receiving is the one they preach, in fact the Taliban bans girls from receiving an education after the age of 8. The primary reason that the Taliban and other conservative entities have the power they do, is because they provide food, healthcare, and security in areas stricken by poverty and violence. That being said, education is a cost of these “benefits” and therefore, these communities are set back by this leadership because educating members of the community could eventually generate a political threat.
An article in the Guardian describes the Taliban as being “alarmingly efficient” in their war on education. Between the Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014, to numerous other acts like acid acts and other violent behaviours towards students and teachers, mostly female, the Taliban has made it evident that going to school, and educating anyone, specifically girls, is not on their agenda. In Swat valley, Pakistan, where the Taliban has taken over girls are ‘banned’ from being enrolled in schools. The article states that “in Swat alone, about 120,000 girls and 8,000 women teachers stopped going to school.” With the Taliban’s influence still pretty strong in particular provinces across Pakistan and Afghanistan, going to school and being female is not only dangerous, it is illegal.

Recent Events in Afghanistan

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As mentioned in the previous posting about the recent events in Pakistan, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been affected gravely by war and violence in the last decade. Afghanistan has also faced internal strife in the last few years as a result of the rise of the Islamic State. The Islamic State also known as ISIS and ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant respectively, are commonly referred to as Daesh. The Islamic State was formed by a group of individuals that use Salafi Islam, a sect of Sunni Islam, to give grounds to their violent behaviour towards minorities who are considered to be heretics and to justify their goal of building a Caliphate.

Afghanistan is no stranger to oppressive regimes and leadership structures and religious fundamentalism in its history. Despite this, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, has waged a war on ISIS and has been quite successful in defeating them in the Eastern part of the country where they were known to have infiltrated certain provinces.

ISIS’ violence in Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East and South Asia has generally been targeted towards members of minority communities such as Yazidis, Ahmadis, Zaidis, and Shia as they are considered to be “infidels,” “apostates and “heretics” as per the ISIS based on Salafi ideology.

On Sunday the 24th of July, two ISIS suicide bombers killed upwards of 80 peaceful civilian protesters, and injured 200 others. This attack was the most fatal one since 2001, which is when the Taliban insurgency began. This lead to a day of mourning as declared by the government and the interior ministry motioned to ban public gatherings in order to avoid attacks like this one. The gathering was described to be a “Shia gathering” as most of the protesters belonged to the Hazara community. Hazaras mainly live in Afghanistan, Balochistan and Karachi and are considered both ethnic and religious minorities, as they belong to the Shia sect of Islam. Their minority status makes them targets for ISIS-led violence, and since they are losing their presence in Afghanistan, they want to stay relevant. To read more please visit this link.

In an article in Al Jazeera, the writer addresses how recent conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in decreased national security and significantly diminished the livelihood of those who depend on their harvests. There has been a wave of economic migrants that have left Afghanistan for better economic opportunity, but have returned due to being unwelcome in the countries that they migrate to. The article states that out of the 384 districts in Afghanistan, over 300 are not secure. This has resulted in 1.2 million individuals being internally displaced across safer provinces. The article also reports that out of the 300 districts that have been rendered not secure, 10 have no governmental infrastructure at all. The militant insurgency and ISIS are long-term effects of the US invasion in Afghanistan, this leaves returnees, members of minorities, teachers, journalists, judges, lawyers, political activists and farmers at risk. Read more here.

Although the Taliban controls a fraction of what it once used to, they are still considered to be a threat by the United States and Afghanistan alike. On September 19th the US lead an airstrike, which killed eight Afghan police officers instead of actual threats such as Taliban leadership, was described by the US as either a mistaken set of coordinates or the security forces getting caught in the middle. More information on this event can be found here.

This image provides a visual understanding to who controls what in Afghanistan and more information can be found at this link.

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Recent Events in Pakistan (9/14)

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Pakistan and Afghanistan are both countries that have been plagued by war, civil unrest and sectarian violence in the last decades. Many argue that these unfortunate set of circumstances are what set these countries back compared to other countries especially in terms of education.

In a recent article published by the The News International according to the UN Global Education Monitoring Report – 2016, Pakistan is 50 years behind in primary education and 60 years behind in secondary education. In 2015 global leaders collectively agreed upon the terms that by 2030 both boys and girls should have access to state-sponsored primary and secondary education. As per the UN report 57 million are illiterate and 24 million children are not in school: 5.6 million of whom are of primary school schooling age, 5.5 million of whom are of secondary schooling age, and a whooping 10.4 million of whom are of upper secondary schooling age are all out of school. This indicates the difficulty that Pakistan will have in helping to achieve the global goal set for 2030. Additionally, in poorer rural areas among the male literacy rate is at 64%, whereas the female literacy rate is a dismal 14%. Much of female illiteracy is due to the influence of conservative leaders and the Taliban in rural areas.

Despite the situation in Pakistan, politicians are reacting because the reality is that a country does not grow without education. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister’s vision of promoting education has been executed by Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan, Provincial Minister for Education. The education reforms are not limited to the primary and secondary school level, Khan has been instrumental in leading an initiative for Pakistani students to go abroad and obtain their PhD. To read more about this read this article in the Pakistan Observer.

An article in Dunya News discusses a similar movement has come to light that is being lead by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The HEC has pledged to send 10,000 PhD candidates to the United States to pursue studies in Agriculture and Food Security, Medical and Allied Health Sciences, Energy, Water, Climate Change and Advanced Digital Technology. Although this is positive progress in terms of education, the focus on tertiary education has been criticized when levels of primary and secondary education are so low and ignored by certain provincial leaders.

Pakistan declared September 13th to be Eid al Adha, which is also a national holiday. Eid al Adha marks the end of the holy pilgrimage of Hajj, one of the five pillars in Islam, in Saudi Arabia. Although this day is supposed to be celebrated with family, friends and food, once again Pakistan was hit by a wave of deadly violence. After a bomb blast in Quetta, there were two police casualties and eight others were injured. Additionally, the bomb caused chaos and resulted in a stampede.

In Srinagar, India-controlled Kashmir a mainly Muslim state, there are curfews imposed and prayers cancelled at mosques after there was deadly violence. Two individuals were shot and killed by security forces, and several more were wounded. Another 50 people were injured when security forces tried to stop protests near Srinagar airport. They were injured by the use of tear gas and pellet guns.

Although many Muslims consider this day to be one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendars, unfortunately most have become desensitized to the deadly violence that takes place on holy days or any other for that matter.

We hope to keep you up to date with news of the South Asian region! Stay tuned for postings about current events as well as the situation in the area for women and the issue of education.

 

 

 

 

Global Giving Fundraising Campaign Launched!

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Global Giving Fundraising Campaign Launched!

We need help funding the security improvements we need to make to our schools in Pakistan. As a result we’re trying a new fundraising technique to us, we’ve launched a crowd funding campaign through Global Giving!  If you haven’t donated before, now is a great chance to give to a project that will have an immediate impact. The improvements range from hiring more security guards to installing gates and adding height to existing walls around the schools. Every dollar raised will make a difference!