Wednesday 30 January 2013

Where have all the schools gone?

A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) looks into the issue of a web-based geospatial database that is intended to provide USAID with an accurate picture of infrastructure development in Afghanistan. What they found is that the accuracy of the data leaves a lot to be desired.
SIGAR looked into the accuracy of the Afghanistan Infrastructure and Security Cartography System (AISCS). AISCS was developed by International Relief and Development, Inc. (IRD), a USAID contractor, and was designed to include geospatial information on development activities, including construction of roads, schools, clinics, hospitals, and public buildings such as courthouses and district centers.
IRD aimed to obtain infrastructure project site information from the USAID mission in Afghanistan, as well as the Department of Defense, and verify the accuracy of that information. According to IRD, it has “stringent ongoing multi-tiered quality control protocols in place to insure accuracy and precision collected data [sic]."
But when SIGAR tested the data it found that these "stringent ongoing multi-tiered quality control protocols"were not worth tuppence. This is what they found:
"We observed that, of the 33,000 records in AISCS, only 16 percent were shown as having confirmed locations. We selected 10 projects from AISCS and asked CITF to corroborate the  projects’ stated locations using a variety of unclassified and classified sources. These 10 projects were spread geographically throughout Afghanistan and represented various sectors, including health, education, government, transportation, and hydroelectric power.
         "CITF found that location coordinates for 4 of the 10 projects were highly accurate, but were significantly inaccurate for 3 of the 10. For the remaining 3 projects, CITF determined that insufficient corroborating information was available to assess the spatial accuracy of the coordinates. In other words, CITF was unable to locate the project."
Concerned with the inaccuracy of the initial results, SIGAR decided to look in detail at the geospatial locations of schools built with USAID money, eventually checking the data for 227 schools.
What did they find?:
"Specifically, of the 227 schools, NGA found that 185 (81%) of them were at the given coordinates. However, NGA could not confirm the coordinates for the remaining 42 records (19%). Specifically, for 12 of the records (5%), NGA determined that there was a school within 400 meters of the given coordinates; for 20 (9%), there was no school within 400 meters; and for 8 (4%), NGA was unable to make a determination. NGA considered two of the schools (1%) to be duplicates.
      "SIGAR considers the coordinates for these 42 records (19%) to be questionable. Based on our sample, we project with 95% confidence that between 74 and 129 of the total 549 completed, USAID-funded schools in Afghanistan have location coordinates that cannot be verified using geospatial means or are incorrect."

Car rally planned for S. Wazirstan - are you serious?

I think I must be dreaming. According to The Guardian the Pakistan Army has announced that a car rally will take place along a 130-km route in South Waziristan in the last week of March. It will start outside the tribal agency and pass through Kotkai, a former Taliban-controlled town where militants once trained child suicide bombers.
Organisers hope about 50 cars and their back-up vehicles will take part in the race. I can just imagine it, can't you?
Yes, and they're lining up for the off!
In pole position, driving a Toyota technical, complete with 50mm machine gun mounting, is Hakimullah 'Hot Rod' Mahsud, with co-driver Waliur Rahman.
Sorry! Last-minute change - Rahman is a late entry in his own car, a camouflaged Humvee. "Of course we are not rivals," says Mr Rahman. "This is just good old fashioned competition. I have no doubt I will win in the long run."
"It's a long time since I've been in this part of the country," said Hakimullah. "I'm not sure I will remember the route." He denied that he would not be on board his car for certain parts of the journey: "Any suggestion that I will not travel through those bits of the rally route that pass near the Ahmedzai Wazir areas are completely untrue. We are like brothers," he protested. "Anyway, who painted that large cross on the top of my car?"

Monday 28 January 2013

TTP's affection for Mr Bean

Mr Malik

Mr Bean
Interesting to see that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has a soft spot for Mr Bean. A couple of days ago the organisation's spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan issued a statement "To Mr Bean of Pakistan, His Excellency Rehman Malik" (you can find a copy here).
The statement suggests that Interior Minister Malik should not concern himself too much about death threats from the TTP as they have no intention of killing him: "We want to (be) clear that TTP has no plan to kill Mr Bean, because his ridiculous statements and stances always give favour to TTP. TTP will let him alive (because) he is fruitful for us."
After making it clear that the TTP wants to see the imposition of its form of Islam on the whole of Pakistan, Ihsan goes on to complain about Pakistani Army activities in North Waziristan saying "There is curfew in Miranshah city, and heavy shelling from gunship helicopters and cannons on civilian population in Machis area, The houses are downed to earth. Maybe some Malalas underneath.The killing of women and children is feared. The city resembles Dhaka of 1971. Would you like to report it and dare to ask Army what is good reason of these showers of blessing?"
The statement goes on to give the relevant phone numbers, just in case you want to take up their offer:
"Political Agent North Waziristan Agency at 0928-300798
or Military Camps in North Waziristan at Army 0928-311973
or FC Tochi Scouts 0928-310178 or NLI 0928-320249
or GSO-2 Ops army 0927-312877
or DAAG 7 Div army 091-8700-3123".
How very thoughtful of them!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Torture persists in Afghan prisons - UNAMA

"Despite significant efforts by the Government of Afghanistan and international partners to address ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees, torture persists and remains a serious concern in numerous detention facilities across Afghanistan." So says UNAMA in a report released at the weekend. You can read the full 139-page report here.

Sunday 20 January 2013

How the TTP is creating an educational wasteland

Hundreds of schools have been destroyed by militants in Pakistan
It's hard to understand the logic of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) policy of destroying schools in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). They have never really explained it, other than to say that the buildings are sometimes used as barracks by the Army and Frontier Constabulary (FC). 
Nor is it only girls' schools that have been destroyed. The militants appear to make no distinction. Are they anti-intellectual? Do they not want their children to be able to read and write? Perhaps they are in favour of keeping the tribal people in ignorance and darkness? Certainly there can be no religious justification for their attitude.
The consequences for Pakistan are shocking. UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012 states that Pakistan had a total of 5.1 million children out of school, making it the nation with second highest percentage of out-of-school children in the world, behind Nigeria. The UNESCO figures show that around three-quarters of Pakistani girls are not in primary school and the number finishing five years of education has declined. Adult literacy is projected to fall almost 15 per cent in the next three or four years.
And yet the destruction continues. Official data from the Conflict Monitoring Centre in Pakistan shows that over 758 schools have been destroyed in KP alone, including 640 in Malakand Division, between 2009 and 2011. According to the FATA Secretariat militants have destroyed 450 schools, including 68 boys and 26 girls schools in Bajaur, 66 boys and 23 girls schools in Mohmand and 31 boys and 27 girls schools in Khyber Agency.
Although aid agencies have tried to provide funds to rebuild some of these schools, the work is very slow. In FATA only 17 per cent of destroyed schools have been rebuilt. And there does not seem to be much political will to rebuild either. The KP government allocated just 2.21 per cent of its budget for 2012-13 for rebuilding schools.

Thursday 17 January 2013

The Limits to Justice, pt4

Col. James Pohl, the military judge presiding over the prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged accomplices in the 9/11 trial at Guantanamo Bay ruled that the U.S. Constitution may not always apply in the case, according to a defense attorney.

Monitoring the mineral miners

A detailed analysis by Global Witness of the 2008 Aynak agreement between the Government of Afghanistan and the China Metallurgical Construction Company/Jiangxi Copper Company consortium provides the first insight into what the deal means for Afghanistan's future.
According to the report, Copper Bottomed? Bolstering the Aynak Contract: Afghanistan's first major mining deal, there are positive economic, infrastructure and social commitments, as well as crucial commitments to protecting the local community and environment from potential adverse impacts from mining.
This one deal alone is projected to generate an estimated $541 million a year by 2016 and to create around 5,000 jobs. Other mineral contracts are likely to follow, including the huge Hajigak iron ore concession.
However, these are undermined by serious gaps and weaknesses. For example, even though the Afghan government has published over 200 extractive contracts in the last few months, the main Aynak contract has not been published and therefore the Afghan people cannot see the terms agreed.
Nor is there any contractual obligation to engage communities on decisions and plans that directly affect them.  High royalty rates are undermined by provisions which enable renegotiation, and priority access to other resources at the site. Key human rights and cultural protections are absent, and it is not clear how commitments to best practice will be implemented and monitored.
In response to the GW report, in December the Afghan government agreed to publish the Aynak contract and to make various other concessions.
Also worth viewing is the GW report on Afghanistan's gold mining industry, Getting to Gold, published last April.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Report into corruption at Kabul Bank

Although it was published last November, the detailed report into the collapse of Kabul Bank, published by Afghanistan's Independent Joint Anti-corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, is still worth a read. You can find a copy here. As the report states: "Kabul Bank’s controlling shareholders, key supervisors and managers led a sophisticated operation of fraudulent lending and embezzlement predominantly through a loan-book scheme. This resulted in Kabul Bank being deprived of approximately $935 million funded mostly from customer’s deposits. The loan-book scheme provided funds through proxy borrowers without repayment; fabricated company documents and financial statements; and used information technology systems that allowed Kabul Bank to maintain one set of financial records to satisfy regulators, and another to keep track of the real distribution of bank funds. Shareholders, related individuals and companies, and politically exposed people were the ultimate beneficiaries of this arrangement. Over 92 percent of Kabul Bank’s loan-book – or approximately $861 million – was for the benefit of 19 related parties (companies and individuals). Except for the initial investment of $5 million, all shareholder acquisitions and transfers were ultimately funded by money from Kabul Bank."

Tribes demand justice over killings of 18 Bara men

Bara tribesmen bring their dead to Peshawar
In most countries the cold-blooded execution of 18 men, taken from their homes in the middle of the night by uniformed men before their lifeless bodies were dumped in a field, would have been major national – not to mention international - news.  
Not so in Pakistan. The killings, which took place on Tuesday night in Bara Tehsil, just a few miles to the south-west of Peshawar, have been reported, but have fought for space on the pages of newspapers crammed with reports about criminal charges against the country’s prime minister, mass protests in Islamabad and the continuing carnage in Balochistan.
Adopting a protest tactic used last week by Hazaras in Quetta of refusing to bury their dead, up to 5,000 Bara tribesmen took 15 of the bodies to the residence of the governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Peshawar on Wednesday, saying they would refuse to bury them until the perpetrators – widely believed locally to have been from the Frontier Constabulary – were brought to justice.
But nowhere in the Pakistan will you find any kind of context for these killings, or investigation into the events. I cannot pretend to solve such a crime, but here are a few facts that may help explain what is happening in Bara. First point to note is that there is ongoing bitter fighting between the armed forces and the Lashkar-e-Islam organisation, led by Mangal Bagh.
On Monday an LI commander was killed and three members of a local peace Lashkar were injured during a skirmish in Bara, which continued most of the day.
Later than night and on Tuesday LI militants attacked three security posts at Arjali Nadi, Machine Dandh and Amshumano Adhera areas of Bara, killing five security personnel and wounding another 16. An LI spokesman denied any of their fighters was killed.
On Sunday a girl’s school was blown up in Sepah Spin Qabar in Bara tehsil, whilst three days before around 200 members of the paramilitary Khassadar force re-entered the Shalobar area of Bara after a three-year break. There were several shooting incidents on the same day. Incidents like this have been continuing for months. 
Whether you believe the latest killings were the work of the LI, its rival Ansarul Islam or paramilitary forces, it is plain for anyone to see that Khyber Agency – and Bara in particular – is in a state of open warfare. 
Update:  On Thursday 17 January police in Peshawar used aerial firing, baton charges and teargas to disperse Bara students from outside the Peshawar Press Club and arrested 18 protesters.
Rioting started when police used water canon and teargas against the families who had brought the bodies of their dead and camped with them overnight outside the Governor's house. The police action started shortly after midnight and many families were forced to abandon the coffins containing the bodies of those killed in Bara on Tuesday.
Police refused to return bodies to the families until they reached an agreement with a tribal jirga that the bodies would no longer be placed on the road. In exchange the provincial governor announced a compensation package of Rs400,000 per family and an inquiry into the affair. According to some reports, several of the slain men had been in military custody before they were found dead. The Human Rights Commission for Pakistan has welcomed the fact that a judicial inquiry has been ordered into the deaths: "
Rather than using tear gas and batons to deal with the people, their demands should be heard with compassion, and the truth of the matter established in a manner that enjoys the confidence of the aggrieved. HRCP welcomes the fact that a judicial probe has been ordered into the killings and hopes that unlike similar probes in the past, the findings of this one will see the light of day.”

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Pakistan wobbles as protests mount

Governor's law has been imposed in Balochistan, thousands of protesters calling for the overthrow of the government remain encamped outside the Parliament building in Islamabad and, to top it all, the chief justice has ordered the arrest of Pakistan's prime minister on corruption charges, leading to a 3.16% fall on the Karachi Stock Exchange. Is Pakistan about to fall apart? Will the military re-impose martial law? Watch this space....

Monday 14 January 2013

Afghans connected to World Digital Library

Illuminated frontispiece from Herat c1500
When I visited Kabul in January 2002 I saw with my own eyes the terrible cultural destruction wreaked by the Taliban. The National Museum was a burnt out shell, its priceless statues from the Gandhara period lying in pieces on the floor. The National Art Museum was also wrecked; staff had only been able to save some works of art by painting over human figures or hiding them from sight. 
Saddest of all was the National Library. I remember walking between rows of glass-topped display cases where the only exhibits were photocopied title pages of books that had either been destroyed or hidden from sight.
Ever since then, Afghanistan has struggled to recover and protect its cultural heritage. One of the richest countries on earth in terms of historical artefacts had to start again, almost from scratch.
Of course, there were some surprises. The magnificent golden Oxus Treasures were hidden away under the Presidential palace where they remained safe from the Taliban iconoclasts. And curators of Afghanistan's small, but hugely significant film archive took enormous risks to hide and preserve their prized footage.
It is thus heart-warming to hear that during his visit to the United States last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was presented with a collection of digitized treasures from the US Library of Congress relating to the culture and history of Afghanistan.
The collection, created by the Carnegie Corporation-sponsored World Digital Library, is only the first tranche of what will become a major resource for universities and museums in Afghanistan, including the National Library of Afghanistan, the American University of Afghanistan and other universities in Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamiyan, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar and Nangahar.
It includes digital copies of manuscripts, rare books, maps and photographs. Amongst the first 30 or so items that will now be available to Afghans are: one of the earliest detailed maps of the country, printed by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in London in 1841; The History of the Afghans, first published in 1829 and the first history of the Afghan people translated from a non-Western language (Persian) to appear in a European language; The Divan of Sultan Husayn Mirza, a folio of poems written in nasta'liq script the late 15th century; The Medical Formulary of Al-Samarqandi, which dates to the 13th century; and A Treatise on Drawing Chords in a Circle by Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni, who lived from 973-1048AD.
Many more items will eventually be added to the online collection.

Truth and fiction in Maidan Wardak

It's been a while since my last posting, so a belated happy new year to all. I start this year's postings with a mystery. The generally reputable, English-language, Khaama Press in Kabul - which calls itself the biggest online news organisation in Afghanistan - reported yesterday on the killing of a female social activist by the Taliban.
The report poses more questions than it answers. Quoting General Abdul Wali, the provincial security chief for Maidan Wardak Province, it says the Taliban "assassinated a female social activist and hanged her dead body on a tree in Chak district". The exact time of the incident is vague, but was reported as "about four days ago".
The article goes on to say that the unnamed woman's body had been found in Khwaja Omeri village in Chak district, where she has been working for an (unnamed) NGO. She had been "reportedly providing chickens, tailor machines and carpet waving equipments for the local residents in a bid to create employment opportunities" before she was murdered by Mullah Rohani, a local Taliban leader. According to (unnamed) villagers, she was also tortured before being shot dead and hung in a tree.
Another (unnamed) resident of the village contradicted this statement, saying the woman, who came from central Bamyan Province - and was therefore, presumably, a Shia Hazara woman - was working in a clinic when she was killed.
So we have an unnamed woman working for an unnamed NGO killed at an unspecified time for unspecified reasons. Either this is a fabrication, not unlike the alleged Taliban massacre of a group of 17 men and boys in Roshanabad in Helmand in August (see my report on that here), or it is an example of the sloppiest kind of journalism. Anyone know anything more?