Presas por amor

No Afeganistão, muitas mulheres são presas por fugirem de casamentos combinados ou por casar contra a vontade dos pais. Esta é a história de uma dessas raparigas, contada pelo Center for Investigarive Reporting.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a senhora da guerra afegã

Começou a combater contra os soviéticos. Lutou ao lado de Ahmar Shah Massoud. Agora enfrenta os Talibã. Os homens começaram a chamar-lhe “Comandante Pombo” – pela forma como se movia e a elegância com que matava os inimigos. A jornalista Jen Percy passou uma noite no seu acampamento – e conta a história na The New Republic.

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Foto: Lorenzo Tugnoli

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’d been living in Afghanistan three weeks when my guide, a young Afghan named Sharif Sahak, showed me a photograph of the country’s only known female warlord, Bibi Ayisha, nom de guerre: Commander Pigeon. It was late 2013, the Americans were preparing to leave, and Sharif had heard that the commander was training a new militia of female jihadists to fight the Taliban. In the photograph, she looked to be about 200 pounds and 60 years old. A large woman with black eyes made small by folds of skin. A beaked nose protruded from a wide flat face. She held her machine gun against her bosom like a bouquet of roses. A few girls dressed in bright loose tunics holding AK-47s stood at her side, with ammo wound like gold pythons about their necks. “Hot chicks with AKs,” Sharif remarked.

Everybody in Kabul knew about Commander Pigeon, but no one agreed on a narrative. The Afghans accused her of robbery and murder. A few suspected she worked with Taliban commander Mullah Dad-e Khuda, who escaped from Bagram prison in 2008, and a local warlord called the Green Imam. Together they supposedly controlled all the drug-trafficking routes in the north. One person told me, “She has many houses in Kabul but prefers to live in the mountains among the animals.” She didn’t have any of the usual warlord stories. No acid throwing or biting off chicken heads, or leaving prisoners in vats to die. She was not like Commander Zardad who kept a human dog on a chain to maul and sometimes eat people. She was a woman and she killed menwhile wearing a flowery dress.

According to locals, Commander Pigeon was born in the village of Gawi, and her father was named Haji Dawlat and he had seven wives, and his second wife had ten children, and of these children, Commander Pigeon was the most loved. She carried a gun at age 14, the same year she married Shad Muhammad, a businessman whose reputation was said to suffer because he allowed Commander Pigeon to wear pants. He died of a mysterious illness. Then, in 1979, the Soviets swarmed her mountain and murdered her son. She turned to jihad. She killed the commando, organized a militia of 150 men to fight the Soviets, and rode alongside Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance. They called her Commander Pigeon because she moved and killed with the elegance of a bird.

When the Americans arrived in 2001, the northeast was a mess of insurgent groups governed by warlords like Commander Pigeon. The United Nations started a program called the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG), and by 2006, DIAG disarmed about 60,000 militants. Then the government faced a second problem: unemployed combatants. The United Nations invested in more programs, including business courses for ex-combatants, focused on job skills. But most of the warriors, like Commander Pigeon, didn’t want to disarm. Once the Americans left, factional fighting would start up again. They needed their weapons. Commander Pigeon already regretted giving up her vintage World War II British .303 Lee-Enfield rifle.

This year, an Australian security consulting firm conducted a survey on inspirational Afghan women, and their research led them to Commander Pigeon. On her public Facebook page, one fan wrote: “She has proven to the world that women of Afghanistan are not victims; she’s more stronger then any women in the world today.” She certainly sounded very different from any of the Afghan women I had met or heard about. I’d been talking to women in shelters, victims of domestic violence, or kidnapped girls working as sex slaves for commanders. One of them, a teenage girl, said Commander Pigeon was a hero. After all, since 2001, Americans have invested in infrastructure allowing women to attend school or gain positions of power. But the month I arrived, Afghans shipped 30-year-old Setara to Turkey to get her lips and nose sewn back on after her husband cut them off with a kitchen knife. A pregnant schoolteacher named Malalai was hanged and her body dumped near a foreign base. No one could save Negar, the top female police officer in Helmand, after she was shot in the neck by men on motorbikes. And yet no one has managed to kill Commander Pigeon. For 34 years, she has commanded a group of armed fighters from her stronghold 250 miles north of Kabul in Baghlan Province, the same region where the British said Afghans sliced the stomachs of Russian soldiers and left them to die so that their organs might bake in the sun.

Sharif, a clean-shaven 28-year old, was friends with the newly appointed police chief of Baghlan Province, a man named General Amarakhail, and he said he could help arrange a visit.

“I think she’ll like you,” Sharif said.

ome Afghans believe cannibalistic females haunt the Hindu Kush. They are simian and boar-tusked and have long, floating hair. They eat corpses. Commander Pigeon lived on the other side of the Hindu Kush, over a pass called the Khotal-e Salang. According to the Afghan Analysts Network, Baghlan Province has between 2,500 and 3,000 Taliban, inhabiting an area about the size of Connecticut.

On a Sunday morning, Sharif and I, along with a driver and a photographer named Lorenzo, packed into a small Toyota Corolla with a prayer rug and headed north out of Kabul on Highway 1. We left just as the first winter snows were falling, and Sharif told us about the avalanches of 2010 that killed hundreds of people on the pass. “There are more ways to die in Afghanistan,” Sharif said, “than anywhere else in the world.” The Salang pass, at its highest, skims 12,723 feet. It’s a tight, twisting section of potholed road, clogged with Pakistani jingle trucks, scattered with memorials. A Soviet-built tunnel cuts almost two miles through the heart of the mountains.

Snow fell and the roads darkened to mud. The men put on chains and I put on a burka. Sharif said it looked strange. He explained: Don’t talk. Don’t smack gum. Don’t lean your elbow against the window like you keep doing. Cover your legs. Don’t get out of the car. Be a good girl. Most importantly, cover the hair. Hide your passport. We are a Tajik rock band and you are the singer going to sing for Commander Pigeon.

 

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: uma infância disfarçada

No Afeganistão, casais que só têm filhas acabam muitas vezes por criar uma delas como se fosse um rapaz. Mudam-lhes o nome, cortam-lhes o cabelo e arranjam-lhes roupas masculinas – mas todos sabem quem são. E lidam bem com isso. Um artigo publicado na The Atlantic.

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The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys

In a society that demands sons at almost any cost, some families are cutting their daughters’ hair short and giving them male names.


“Mehran, age 6, first arrived at her kindergarten in Kabul as Mahnoush, in pigtails and a pistachio dress. When school shut down for a break, Mahnoush left and never returned. Instead a short-haired, tie-wearing child with the more masculine-sounding name of Mehran began first grade with the other children.

Nothing else changed much. Some teachers were surprised but did not comment except to one another. When the male Koran teacher demanded Mehran cover her head in his class, a baseball cap solved the problem. Miss Momand, a teacher who started her job after Mehran’s change, remembers being startled when a boy was brought into the girls’ room for afternoon nap time but realizing, as she helped Mehran undress, that she was a girl. Mehran’s mother Azita later explained to Miss Momand that she had only daughters, and that Mehran went as the family’s son. Miss Momand understood perfectly. She herself used to have a friend at school who was a family’s only child and had assumed the role of a son.

Officially, girls like Mehran do not exist in Afghanistan, where the system of gender segregation is among the strictest in the world. But many other Afghans, too, can recall a former neighbor, a relative, a colleague, or someone in their extended family raising a daughter as a son. These children even have their own colloquialism, bacha posh, which literally translates from Dari to “dressed like a boy.” Midwives, doctors, and nurses I’ve met from all over the provinces are more familiar with the practice than most; they have all known bacha posh to appear at clinics, escorting a mother or a sister, or as a patient who has proven to be of another birth sex than first presumed.

The health workers say that families who disguise their daughters in this way can be rich, poor, educated, or uneducated, or belong to any of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. The only thing that binds the bacha posh girls together is their families’ need for a son in a society that undervalues daughters and demands sons at almost any cost. They disguised their girls as boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked and girls aren’t allowed to, because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety, or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often, as in Kabul, it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.

And to most of them, the health workers told me, having a bacha posh in the family is an accepted and uncontroversial practice, provided the girl is turned back to a woman before she enters puberty, when she must marry and have children of her own. Waiting too long to turn someone back could have consequences for a girl’s reputation. A teenage girl should not be anywhere near teenage boys, even in disguise. She could mistakenly touch them or be touched by them, and be seen as a loose and impure girl by those who know her secret. It could ruin her chances of getting married, and she would be seen as a tarnished offering. The entire family’s reputation could be sullied. For that reason, and because the bacha posh I spoke to were minors, some names and details have been changed in the story that follows.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

“Sou um pai que quer o filho de volta”

Bowe Bergdahl foi o último soldado americano aprisionado pelos Talibã a ser libertado. Na vespera da libertação do militar, o The Guardian conseguiu uma entrevista exclusiva com o seu pai, Bob Bergdahl.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a traição norte-americana

Assim que chegou ao Iraque e ao Afeganistão, o exército norte-americano fez o que qualquer força faz num país estrangeiro: recrutou locais para desempenharem funções de guias, intérpretes e também de soldados. Tal como seria de esperar, essas pessoas – e as respectivas famílias – tornaram-se um alvo preferencial dos rebeldes iraquianos e dos talibã. Com a retirada das tropas e o seu regresso aos Estados Unidos, eles ficaram desprotegidos. E não conseguem sequer que lhes seja cumprida a promessa de obter um visto para os EUA. Este artigo da revista Men’s Journal, explora esta dura realidade.

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The Interpreters We Left Behind

As our troops pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re abandoning fixers and translators to the dangerous countrymen who view them as traitors. Asylum in the U.S. could be their last hope. If only we’d let them in.

They fanned out, facing the ridge, and waited to get shot. The eight National Guardsmen lay as flat as they could in the open creek while the dirt beside them jumped with machine-gun rounds. There were 45 Taliban blazing away above them, firing from two emplacements on the hill in Wahgez, a lawless, black-route district in southern Afghanistan. Still dazed by the rocket that pierced his “bomb resistant” truck and launched this hour-old ambush, First Lieutenant Matt Zeller was low on ammo and dropping in and out of consciousness. Twice he’d been rocked by mortar strikes while shooting at a gunner on the hill. The last one had knocked him back behind a grave, where he braced for the round that would cut him in half. “April 28, 2008,” he thought. “This is the day that I die.”

Suddenly, he saw a convoy roar up to a halt. The cavalry – a Quick Reaction Force from his base – began sawing open the tree line with high explosives. Zeller took to returning fire when the crack! of a rifle went off past his ear. He looked up to find Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter assigned to Zeller’s National Guard unit, crouched beside him, shooting in the other direction. “Two Taliban had rounded a corner and were right behind me; another second and they’d have shot me in the back,” says Zeller. But Shinwari, who’d arrived with the QRF squad, calmly emptied his clip, killing them both, then dragged Zeller from the kill zone to the trucks.

Hours later, having towed the vehicles back to base and gotten medical care for his wounded, Zeller sat up drinking chai with Shinwari, a tall, sloe-eyed Pashtun with heraldic cheekbones and a deep-well air of calm. Though they shared the same quarters in Forward Operating Base Vulcan, they’d barely been introduced during Zeller’s fortnight in-country, and now Zeller needed to know this man who’d saved his life. “Why,” asked Zeller, “are you on our side and not theirs?”

“Because you are my guest here,” said Shinwari. “You come so many miles to help my family; I am honor-bound to protect you, brother.”

There was more to it, of course, but that was plenty for Zeller. The lead intel officer on the tiny base, he pulled rank the next day and had Shinwari assigned to his team of tactical advisers. For the next seven months, they were inseparable, riding shotgun with the Afghan army through explosions and ambushed missions. Shinwari, who’d taught himself English as a teen by watching Arnold Schwarzenegger mangle his lines in Terminator and Commando, wasn’t just the smartest linguist on base – he was also the best marksman. “He could shoot the cap off a pen at 800 meters,” says Zeller. “He saved at least five American lives there, not just mine.” That December, when his hitch was up, Zeller gave Shinwari a powerful hug and an open-ended offer to bring him to America if things got too hot for him and his family. “Thanks, but I’m staying,” said Shinwari. “I don’t scare from the Taliban; they scare from me.”

A couple of years passed; the two men kept in touch via Skype and Facebook chats. Then, in February 2011, Shinwari texted Zeller to redeem his offer of help. After five years of Taliban death threats, he’d been marked for death in a plot U.S. intelligence officers had intercepted. He stashed his wife and two kids with in-laws and went to live on-base while still working as an interpreter, but then word leaked that Allied forces were leaving, closing bases and laying off the many thousands who’d helped them – Afghan linguists and drivers and political fixers, all of whom had risked their lives for the vision marketed by U.S. leaders of a free and decent Afghanistan. Zeller knew what this augured for the collaborators left behind; he’d seen the severed limbs of captured allies left in burlap at the gate of his base, wrapped in warnings to repent before Allah.

Zeller, by then a captain in the Army Reserve and running for Congress in upstate New York, launched an all-points drive to bring Shinwari over on a special immigrant visa (SIV). He compiled 50 letters of recommendation from officers who’d served with Shinwari, documented and validated every death threat texted to Shinwari or slipped under his door, and followed up with letters and calls to the embassy in Kabul. “I figured he’d sail through in six to nine months,” says Zeller. “He’d been vetted by the CIA since ’06, and oh, by the way, he’s a hero.”

But the months turned to years of brick-wall delays, with no word from the State Department or Homeland Security. Zeller, like Shinwari, began to panic. He wrote an anguished op-ed for the Huffington Post, then another for the Guardian online. That fetched him a slew of follow-up coverage, and suddenly congressmen called the embassy, threatening to hold hearings. Meanwhile, Shinwari lived in mounting terror, moving himself and his family every few days to outflank the men with knives and beards who pounded on his in-laws’ door.

Finally, after a 30-month, one-man barrage, Zeller’s pressure won Shinwari a visa. He quit his job as an interpreter, sold his worldly goods, and hid out with his wife and kids while the final arrangements were made for them to come to the U.S. Then, a few days before their tickets came through, he was told over the phone – without a word of explanation – to hand back his hard-won visa. Heartsick, he called Zeller, who called the embassy in Kabul. Nothing; all hope extinguished. And with that, the two learned what political exiles have known since our withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973: When it comes to keeping a promise to wartime allies, America’s word is flimsy at best.In each of our foreign conflicts over the past half-century, America has staged withdrawals of its troops, tanks, and spies from bases of operation overseas but disastrously failed to plan for the dangers its abandoned allies would face after we left. In Saigon and Laos, we’d no sooner departed than the horrors began. Hundreds of thousands dead in South Vietnam, either killed in work camps or on the South China Sea aboard leaky refugee boats. In Laos, Hmong tribesmen who’d stood with us were slaughtered by the many thousands at the hands of Vietcong invaders. Eventually, the mass drownings and the sheer number of Amerasian offspring forced Congress to enter the fray, ordering airlifts of Indochinese exiles to resettlement camps in Guam, and passing laws conferring special immigrant status on the Vietnamese progeny of U.S. soldiers. “We took in more than 200,000 people with Amerasian visas – there was a strong sense of moral obligation,” says Becca Heller, the 30-year-old director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a group of young, influential lawyers who intervene on behalf of political exiles, most of them from Iraq and Afghanistan. “That created a path for people who can’t get regular visas but to whom we felt a humanitarian duty.”

Our collective sense of shame, however late, redressed a grievous wrong in Vietnam. But you can’t feel shame for wars you have little stake in, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve waged armed conflict largely out of sight of the American public. Nightly coverage from the theater has dwindled close to zero, troops have been mustered from a sliver of the working poor, and the pain has been localized to those who fought there, their spouses, and their parents. “These wars will be the millennials’ Korea – they’ll go down as a joint footnote in school textbooks,” says Kirk Johnson, the founding director of the List Project, which, like the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program, has used its shoestring budget to rescue at-risk exiles, many of them interpreters, from Iraq. An ex-Fulbright scholar and civilian aide in Fallujah whose harrowing memoir, To Be a Friend Is Fatal, was published to acclaim last summer, Johnson began the List Project after an Iraqi co-worker was targeted for assassination by Al Qaeda. Johnson wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, urging that steps be taken to protect his friend; almost instantly, he was inundated with frantic emails from Iraqis in similar straits.

O artigo completo está aqui. 

Afeganistão: o paraíso das esmeraldas

Para além da guerra, da pobreza e da presença Taliban, o Afeganistão é uma espécie de paraíso geológico. As montanhas controladas pelos radicais islâmicos estão repletas de pedras preciosas – esmeraldas – que podem valer milhares de milhões de euros essenciais para ajudar o país a sair da pobreza.

Uma breve história do Afeganistão

Este ano os Estados Unidos pretendem sair definitivamente do Afeganistão. Esta é uma pequena história do país, feita para um documentário que deverá ser lançado em breve.

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