Kabul then and now…

Posted By: Erica 021608bFridays are the only "weekend" day here since Afghanistan has a six-day work week. On my Friday-weekend, I decided to get out of the office-home-office routine to get a better sense of Kabul. I have an Afghan-American friend here who grew up in Kabul but was sent to the States in the early 70s for high school and college. He drove me through his childhood neighborhood nearby Darulaman Palace, which was built by King Amannullah in the 1920s. Once an imposing, neo-classical palace, Darulaman Palace is now a skeleton of smashed columns and bombed out cupolas, with barbed wire chaining off parts of it. The boulevard leading up to the palace is long and wide, and used to be lined with poplar trees. It is now lined with bullet-pocked buildings and shells of former neighborhoods. The road has as many potholes as smooth patches, but my friend said it used to be the best in Kabul. So good that it was the place Afghan kids would take their parents' cars and go drag racing (at the risk of getting caught by the curmudgeony old Policeman who usually stood guard). When he was younger, he said, families would bring a picnic blanket and spend an afternoon in the beautiful gardens. Kebab vendors and bread sellers would come by, and kids would take a soccer ball or a kite out into the fields. There are no families there now, although some groups of kids have returned to play soccer in the razed, snow-covered former gardens. Across the street, I saw a couple of kids with no shoes and threadbare jackets huddled around a public trash can -- they had lit the trash inside the can on fire to keep warm. King Amannullah originally designed the Palace as a future seat for the Afghan Parliament, so some suggest it should be rebuilt as the new seat of Parliament. Unfortunately, like many buildings in Kabul, there is a dispute about who actually owns it and limited funds for taking on such an expansive reconstruction. Until then, places like Darulaman Palace stand as a harsh reminder that community life in Kabul is a long way from normal. Photos of the Palace.
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First news of casualties

Posted By: Erica I am starting to get some reports of civilian casualties through my Afghan hosts. This morning they passed along the information of a man who lost his father over a year ago. Apparently the father was shopping in the local market of his town when a US convoy passed through. There was some sort of potential attack on the convoy and the man's father was one of the civilians fatally caught in the crossfire. They have promised to send the man's contact information along so that I can find out more.

Progress

Posted By: Erica I mentioned briefly in another post that I'm being hosted by a partner Afghan organization. It's a large organization, with about 300 staff, largely dispersed in 12 field offices throughout the country. The regional offices work closely with local community and civil society leaders in their provinces, so the organization as a whole has an amazing capacity to know what's going on at even a small village level throughout Afghanistan. I was talking about this with one of the program managers today and he could devise a reporting system for the different field provinces to note, and perhaps even investigate or help gather the testimony of civilians injured by US or NATO troops. Still many kinks to work out, but if it worked, this would obviously be a great benefit for CIVIC, and for those civilians whose losses would before have gone unnoticed.

Searching for some leads…

Posted By: Erica Today, I met up with a man whose been working for a big international non-governmental organization here for the last year and a half. His organization has some overlap with CIVIC's work, and when I mentioned the issue of civilian casualties he said he'd been digging for that information for months and as far as he could tell there was no systematic way of recording or recognizing casualties by any of the US or ISAF troops -- good information to have although not exactly the answers we were hoping for. I heard a similar report from an Afghan-American who is a private contractor involved in getting fuel to US troops. He said he'd be happy to introduce me to some families he knew who had suffered as a result of troop movements so hopefully he'll make good on that promise to me next week.

Signs of Conflict

Posted By: Erica My personal situation seems very secure here but the signs that I am in conflict zone are all around me. When I first arrived, my hosts told me about an incident earlier that morning in which a warlord, Gen. D, who also held a high ranking position in the government, stormed into a family's house with his armed guards and killed the family. Supposedly his case is being referred to the Attorney General, although my Afghan hosts doubt this to be the case. Yesterday, press reports suggested that US and NATO raids in the south of Afghanistan against suspected Taliban resulted in the deaths of several civilians, including women and children. I have set up several meetings and dinners this week with foreign correspondents. I am hoping that these new friends will help me get the tools I need to investigate incidents like this more closely, and also help me to get the CIVIC's message out.

Finally in Kabul

Posted By: Erica I arrived in Kabul yesterday afternoon. An Afghan partner organization here is providing my housing and office space, so they sent out a driver and staff to meet me, help me with my bags and take me to my new home here. In the evening, the Co-Director of the Afghan organization invited about 15 Afghan dignitaries to the house for dinner – all serving in various important positions in the UN offices here, or in the Karzai government. The conversation was all in Pashtu so I did not catch much, aside from a few one-on-one chats in English with my nearest table guests. Most of the conversation seemed focused on jokes and local gossip, or on the development of different construction projects in Kabul and around Afghanistan. One man in the office of Karzai's Chief of Staff pulled aside my co-director to see about getting more materials for two girls' schools he knew about just outside of Kabul. I guess no detail is too small given the needs here. I have a book full of phone number and email addresses of people I should meet up with in Kabul who might have information on civilian casualties, on the US and NATO humanitarian aid funds, or other information relevant to my CIVIC mission. If I am successful in contacting all of them, I will have more substantive updates and copious tea and coffee in the next few days.