Mujahedeen Revisited

After yesterday’s interview with a former Mujahedeen commander, I was inspired to revisit him.  I was prepared to meet the ANA Brigade surgeon but I couldn’t locate Mir Wais, the interpreter.  I wanted to get his side of the story before confronting the ANA officer.  Since he wasn’t available I opted to visit the garrison Religious Officer.  He

ANA Brigade surgeon during the school supplies drop after some ANA soldiers say the convoy first dropped off some of the donations at the Surgeon's house.

agreed to bring in his revolver that was presented to him by his former commander Massoud.

As Omid and I walked to the RO’s office, I thought about the Brigade Surgeon and the allegations of him stealing the children’s school supplies.  As much as I want to confront him with these allegations, I also want to leave this country in peace and not be distressed during my final days here.  Last night it really bothered me, but my wife and some friends responded with some comforting words and support.  As such, I will leave this chapter unfinished and go forward with my journey because there would be no just resolution.  I will chalk it up to another case of corruption that is sadly destroying this country.

Major Shah and his assistant religious officer were in their office and must have been waiting on me because on the table was some Naan bread, Afghan- made cake, and empty chai glasses.  He asked Omid and I to sit down and they would join us.  Another soldier filled our glasses with some hot green chai.  It’s called green tea due to the leaves, but it has a yellow color in appearance.  In the corner, another ANA officer sat busy reading a book.  Major Shah introduced him and revealed this officer was also a former Mujahedeen commander who served under the Massoud the Lion of Panjshir.  I was rather excited to have two former Mujahedeen commanders in the same room.

Before we started eating, Major Shah presented his pistol to me.  I could tell by the way he gingerly handled it, this gift meant a lot to him.  By him placing it into my hands was a true gesture of friendship and trust.  As for the weapon, it wasn’t really anything special to look at.  It was a Spanish-made LLama, .32 caliber pistol and the pistol handgrip was severely worn.  But it held sentimental significance, because Massoud presented this to Major Shah shortly after his Mujahedeen fighters destroyed 5 Soviet Commando helicopters.  I found it ironic they used Soviet made Zeko 1 mortars to destroy the Soviet aircraft.

Pistol presented to Major by Massoud.

When I inquired about Massoud’s leadership traits, the Major could only praise his former commander.  He said, “Massoud was a devout Muslim who prayed 5 times a day” and he was not only known as a military strategist, but equally known for his kindness and forgiveness.  These personal characteristics also played an important role in his battle successes.  When the Mujahedeen would capture Soviet-Afghan soldiers, they were treated as detainees and given an option.  They could remain a detainee or they could return to the Soviet-Afghan Army and provide intelligence on the Soviet movements.  The Major referred to these former detainees as “friends” inside the Soviet Army.  Much of their plans for ambushing relied heavily on good intelligence reports from these “friends.”

Me with 2 former Mujahedeen commanders.

As I presumed, the turning point in the conflict with the Soviets was when the Mujahedeen acquired the shoulder-fired Stinger missiles.  This weapon system was an equalizer to the Soviet MI-24 gunship helicopters.  The rebels nicknamed this helo “Satan’s Chariot” due to its awesome firepower and bombing capabilities.  NATO refers to it as the Hind.  After the introduction of this heat seeking system and the downing of 270 aircraft, the Soviets were less reluctant to fly them into battle and by 1989, the Soviets completely withdrew from Afghanistan and the Mujahedeen declared victory.

After the Soviets departed, there was a vacuum of power and the Mujahedeen factions were fighting among each other in attempt to gain power and control of the country.  This allowed the Taliban to rise to power and Pakistan unleashed thousands of brain-washed Wahhabism students from the Saudi Arabian- financed madrassas to fill the void.  When asked, Major Shah said the Taliban are a much tougher opponent than the Soviets.   The Taliban coincidentally is also composed of former Mujahedeen fighters.  They are still employing the same tactics against the coalition forces as they did fighting the Russians.

In order to defeat the Taliban, Major Shah listed several criteria.  First, the endemic corruption must be removed from all sectors of government to include the ANA.  He felt there is still too much nepotism and cronyism based on ethnic tribe origin, i.e.Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun.  The second factor is the people are not satisfied with the current government and they must unify.  Unity is the key and he repeated this theme several times.  Then he shocked me with his next statement.  He alleged Britain was supporting the Taliban.  I found this preposterous and gave him an opportunity to explain.

Maj Shah alleged Britain is playing both sides because they are supporting the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan.  The ISI in turn is supporting the Taliban.  For the next 20 minutes I defended Britain and the Religious Officer never answered my questions directly.  He claimed the security situation is worse in Herat because of the Brits and that they don’t suffer many casualties.  I strongly objected because Britain has the second highest casualty rate behind the United States.  He also mentioned something about revenge against the United States that didn’t make sense to me.  (Note:  After the interview I tried to discuss this in more detail with Omid and I got the impression what he was inferring that Britain wanted the United States to lose the war, the same way the Soviets did.  I recall a snippet from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates memoirs, “From the Shadows”, the United States saw an opportunity “give the Soviets their Vietnam” and they took the bait and invaded Afghanistan.)

I am still perplexed over this whole issue.  There were rumors that Britain used their helicopters and dropped off the Taliban fighters in the Mazir Sharif province.  But I explained to Major Shah, this is an example of how the Taliban spread rumors in the same way they allege American soldiers intentionally burn the Koran.  These rumors are propaganda and only incite violence, demonstrations and infuriate the Afghan citizens.  However, due to the high illiteracy rate, the people believe their religious mullahs and the rumors.

Our conversation continued and the other former Mujahedeen commander decided to join in this spirited conversation.  His father was a Mujahedeen who was killed during the Soviet occupation and this seemed to inspire his fight against the Soviets.  Seeing that our conversation was at a stalemate, he shifted the topic and directed his blame toward Pakistan’s interference.  He detailed how Pakistan arrested the two Taliban leaders who were going to meet with Karzai to discuss possible reconciliation.  He alleged Pakistan arrested them to prevent them from discussing peace propositions with President Karzai.  He said, Karzai asked Pakistan to release them, but they didn’t.

So I decided to dig further to understand the political ramifications of Pakistan’s alleged involvement.  This is when this commander informed me it’s not really political as it is economical.  Pakistan is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in support to fight the Taliban and their country is being used as an avenue to transport fuel, food, equipment, etc. to the coalition forces in Afghanistan.  As such, they make a large profit off this venue.  The commander also said Pakistan did the same thing when the United States was covertly supporting the Mujahedeen.  He said Pakistan would take their share of profit before giving money to the Mujahedeen.  So basically Pakistan doesn’t want this war to end because they don’t want to lose the millions of dollars being provided by the United States.  “Pakistan has no motivation to stop the war or the money would dry up,” he said.  This same theme has come up in other conversations, except instead of Pakistan, it is Afghanistan who doesn’t want this war to end.  The corrupt war lords and government officials enjoy receiving million dollar contracts which they subcontract out for pennies on the dollar and in turn, they become wealthy.  So if the Taliban can be kept at a stalemate, the millions and billions of dollars in aid will continue to flow in, subsequently making government officials extremely rich.

I’m glad I went back for the 2nd interview, but still puzzled about the allegations against Britain. This time I can’t attribute the misinformation due to lack of education, because the people who I conversed with are educated and seem to be very well informed.  To my British friends and brothers in arms, I don’t believe this allegation for a minute.  So please don’t be upset with my entry, because I am only reporting information from an interview.  Surprisingly, this is the 4th or 5th person who has made this same claim.

The Mutilated Face

HERAT, AFGHANISTAN - Nazgul, 35, a self-immolation victim sits on her hospital bed covered by her headscarf at the Herat Regional hospital November 17, 2006 in Herat, Afghanistan. The medical staff at the Herat hospital says that they have registered around 700 self-immolations cases so far this year. Hospital officials say they lack proper salaries for the nurses and doctors and suffer from a lack of medical supplies. A new burn center for the crowded hospital that was suppose to be finished in 2005 is still under construction. Afghan women are in a subordinate position in the society, where conservative Islamic laws and traditions dictate what a woman is allowed to do in a male dominated world. Forced marriages, domestic violence, poverty and lack of access to education are said to be some of the main reasons for the suicides. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is still out on his mission and I’m using the space to publish some very graphic reminders of why education is so vital especially for women and young girls in Afghanistan. Many of you may have seen a report on ABC News this week about a young Afghan woman whose husband cut off her nose and ears. She was nursed back to health by U.S. military personnel and if you can stomach the gruesome images, the video story from ABC News is a thought provoking piece – you can see it here.

This story was first reported in the Western press last December by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon for The Daily Beast Blog. Here is a short excerpt:

“U.S. Air Force Major Dr. Jeff Lewis still remembers the stifling August afternoon when Nadia reached his surgical team near southern Afghanistan’s Tarin Kowt, a town long known as a Taliban stronghold.

The young woman, whose name has been changed to protect her security, had been brought to the coalition’s Forward Operating Base Ripley by her father, who hoped the base’s medical clinic could help his teenage daughter, who he said was around 17 or 18 years old.

She was missing most of her nose and both ears.”

“I have never seen anyone do something like this before to another person,” said U.S. Air Force Major Dr. Jeff Lewis.

(read more here)

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But the woman at the center of these two reports is clearly not alone. Much earlier in 2007, Abudlhadi Hairan filed this article for GroundReport .

Husband cut off wife’s ears, nose on Eid day

Qalat: A man named Mumtaz in southern Zabul province of Afghanistan first shaved wife, Nazia’s head and then cut off her ears, and nose and damaged her teeth on the first day of Eid ul Adha, an Islamic ritual of sacrifice.

Hospital sources in Qalat, center of Zabul, told this scribe by phone that Nazia, 17, was admitted on Wednesday (First day of Eid) evening and now she was in a critical condition due to the severe beating she has borne. (more text + photos here)

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Chelsie Vandeveer dropping off donations at WUSF Studios on March 12, 2010.

If you read through these amazing stories of women helping women, you will be inspired. And here is the latest woman who is a true source of inspiration for me. Her name is Chelsie Vandaveer and she dropped off all these school supplies yesterday at WUSF Radio and TV for Rex’s school supplies drive for Afghan children. Chelsie and her husband along with her coworkers Gracie Sharp, Sari Kondis, Dot Miner, Katie Plein, Mark Seibel, Allen Shuey, and Paco and Allison Amram at Environmental Consulting & Technology in Tampa collected all these hundreds of donated items since last September after Chelsie heard about the drive in one of Bobbie O’Brien’s My Last Tour news reports.

My Personal Perspective

Judging by the influx of comments lately, my blog entries have caused some academic debate and flow of ideas.  Due to lack of time, seldom do I ever get a chance to respond to reader’s comments or questions.  But tonight I am going to make time and provide some feedback and opinion.  My opinions are solely mine and based on what I see, hear, read, and experience.  I take a chance in doing this, because certain people will cherry-pick my comments or take them out of context and publish them.  But since I started this blog almost a year ago, I stand by everything I have written.

First, we are here to seek out the Al Qaeda. They are not nearly as numerous as the Taliban, but they are present and active in this country.  They just keep a much lower profile than the Taliban and allow them to do all the dirty work.  I am convinced if the Taliban wins this war, the Al Qaeda would have a sanctuary to plot attacks against the United States and other European countries.  Although my ANA counterparts think the Al Qaeda has been defeated, I respectfully disagree with them.

Who are the Taliban or insurgents?  I think of them synonymously, because as a combatant or soldier, they are the enemy.  Anyone who raises arms and plots attacks against me or my brothers in arms is the enemy.  I don’t have the ability to distinguish the difference, but when they choose to attack our forces, it really doesn’t matter; quite simply they are the enemy and a target of opportunity.  I understand most of the insurgents are not doing this for an ideological cause.  Instead, they do it for money or other causes.  But this still doesn’t change the equation, because they are making a personal choice with consequences.  As such, when they make the wrong choice, then they become a target.  The Taliban is also composed of or allied with various terrorist organizations, splinter groups and thugs to include the Haqqani network, Hekmatyur, and others who help promote the poppy and opium trade.

The dynamics of this war and country are so diverse and complex; I could probably write an encyclopedia by exploring the various aspects.  Trying to understand the cultural diversities of the tribes and various ethnicities is perplexing in itself.  Then throw in the mix of the central government trying to establish itself and appear legitimate, coupled with training the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA) so that one day they will be responsible for the national security of their country only adds to the perplexity.  I might also point out that the central government has an insurmountable task to appear legitimate without the corruption.  The endemic corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and fraud of the central government are only adding fuel to the Taliban’s acceptance by the citizens.  In all fairness, the people aren’t given much of a choice, because the Taliban rule by force and fear.  Lastly, the enemies we are fighting aren’t just indigenous to Afghanistan, but travel from Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and other neighboring countries because they have been brainwashed in madrassas or misguided by imams, mullahs, or clerics.

Much of the blame for the current state of affairs can be attributed to the lack of education. Due to lack of education, people are unable to make decisions and blindly follow the promulgations of these warped ideological miscreants who take advantage of the citizens’ weaknesses.  The Taliban are acutely aware of the value of an education and this is why they have made a concerted effort to destroy the schools we repair and build.  Bottom line, they would have a much harder time controlling educated people who are able to make a decision or question the legitimacy of what is being asked.  Since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, thousands of schools have reopened their doors and hundreds of new ones are being built.  The children are thirsty for an education and want to learn.  Unfortunately, there still exists a whole generation who were not given this opportunity and are easily swayed or manipulated.

As an Embedded Training Team (ETT) member, I have seen the results of this tragedy.  Even in my limited travels, I have seen enough of the tip of the iceberg to formulate an educated opinion.  I can’t imagine living here and growing up with 30 years of war.  Peace is a foreign concept and whether or not Darwinism applies, I don’t know.  But what I have witnessed it the resilience of the Afghan people to overcome even when the odds are stacked against them.

It is my hope and my prayer, that one day the children of Afghanistan will be able to appreciate peace and prosperity.  In the interim, the war continues.  Operation Mushtarak appears to be a success and now the media is openly reporting about similar plans for Kandahar and other major cities.  My hat is off to General McChrystal and his strategic planners.  The only barometer of success I have is reading the local paper and soliciting opinions from my ANA counterparts.  My own personal litmus test is when I visit the villages and see the reactions of the local citizens.  Until then, my wife Liisa and I are still collecting school supplies to distribute to the poor children who can’t afford these items.  In the near future, I will have a chance to deliver them and perhaps then I will be able to render an updated opinion.

Student volunteers (from left) Brian Garland, Ashley Hawley and Jenna McMahon of University of Tampa's Peace Center with 150 boxes of donated school supplies they helped pack for shipping today in Tampa for the School Supplies for Afghan Children project.

Update:  Not long ago, I read about a village where all the of citizens were displaced by the Taliban.  The government labels them as IDP or “internally displaced person” and provides them shelter.  This was the same village where I met an 8-year-old boy who inspired my decision to collect school supplies. Whether he was one of the several hundred IDP, I will never know.

Tomorrow … I will catch up on the last 2 days, all the pictures and the mission we went on today.  I will also detail some new “Armyisms”, but first, I want to get my facts straight before I write about them.  I promise you, they are doozies!

Education & ANA Discussion – Part Two:

Attentive ANA classroom.

My conversation with the ANA soldiers continued.  I relayed a conversation I had yesterday with the ANA Mullah about Taliban Mullahs; the ANA Mullah had told me the Taliban Mullahs are not really Mullahs and use this title to their advantage to control the uneducated followers and villagers.  As such, out of fear and respect for the title, the people are easily influenced.  Every week, coalition forces are capturing or killing Taliban Mullahs who are often serving as Taliban commanders or province shadow governors.  Even the Pashtun ANA soldier I asked about agreed with this fact and said, “They are not Mullahs, they are only using the name of mullahs.”

ANA platoons practicing marching drills and learning discipline.

Running out of time, I opened up the floor so the ANA soldiers could address questions to me.  Admittedly, it’s much easier to ask the questions than it is to answer them.  But I was feeling self-confident and I was curious to see what they had on their minds.  The first question asked of me was concerning whether or not we [Americans] are trying to help rebuild Afghanistan.  I explained my country and other foreign nations have donated millions and billions of dollars for this purpose to build up the ANA and ANP so they can take back the national security of their country.  I also remarked that “We can’t do this by ourselves and it’s important we work together as a strong team and together we can beat the Taliban.”  I explained how important it is for them as soldiers to learn about tactics, weapons, and education so the Taliban can be defeated.

The last soldier I interviewed wanted to know my opinion about the Taliban since I had asked the classroom so many questions about them.  “The Taliban are extremist Muslims and trying to take over your country and want to implement their own Sharia law” I responded.  I explained that I can’t “look at an Afghan and tell whether they are Taliban unless they point a weapon at me and shoot at me.”  I also explained the importance of talking to the villagers so they will tell us who the Taliban are and the location of the IEDs.  I made it clear that IEDs are not just killing US and NATO soldiers, but they are killing the ANA and ANP as well.  In fact, more ANA and ANP soldiers have been killed by IEDs than coalition forces.  Lastly, I shared with the class my personal experiences of being exposed to enemy gunfire, mortars, rockets, and RPGs, but how that hasn’t deterred me from helping.  And  then I  reiterated: “Together as a strong team, we can defeat the Taliban.”

Attentive ANA classroom.

The questioning session was over and the Religious Officer thanked me for my time and for everything that Americans have done for them.  Now it was time to hand out the notebooks, pens, pencils, and sharpeners to the ANA soldiers.  At first it was an orderly process, but then it turned chaotic.  Some of the soldiers thought we were going to run out, so they started swarming around the Mullah and the Religious Officer handing out the supplies.  At one point until they got order, I backed away and stood behind the table using it as a barricade to keep my distance from the unruly crowd.  After a few barking commands from some officers and others, the students returned to their seats and we personally handed out the supplies ensuring everyone got an equal share.

ANA Mullah passing out pens before the class converged on him.

We left the classroom and returned to the Religious Officer’s office.  There was still a large bag of pencils and pens left over and he was handing them out to other soldiers like candy.  He also shared with me about my conversation the other day with the ANA Mullah.  The Mullah thanked him for helping to answer my questions, because apparently I make him nervous at times with the difficulty of my questions.  I had suspected that, but now I had confirmation.  I just hope this doesn’t deter the Mullah from attending future conversations, because our dialogue is always educational.

Fat Boy is trying to climb out, while Runt Runt and Bonnie sit inside their box.

Upon returning to camp, I stopped to get an update on the puppies.  The interpreters returned Fat Boy, so now all three of them including Runt Runt and Bonnie were in the box together.  As you can see by the size of Fat Boy, it’s understandable where he got his nickname.

If you would like to hear the full audio from the meeting click here ANA Education Discussion

If you you would like to hear the radio story about this meeting with the ANA soldiers/students by WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien, click here My Last Tour: Educating Afghan soldiers

Education & ANA Discussion – Part 1

ANA classroom.

Famous playwright and poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  Today I returned to the ANA literacy classroom for another interactive exchange of information.  This time I was bearing gifts that included notebooks, pens, and pencils for the students.  This immediately got the ANA soldiers attention when I entered the classroom.

The class just finished conducting a religious ceremony celebrating their Prophet’s birthday and commemorating his death, which happened on the same day but 62 years later.  Omid, my interpreter, said it would be appropriate to say “Maloot Sharif” to the class during my introduction out of respect for their Prophet who is responsible for giving Muslims their Holy Quran.  So in my best Dari pronunciation, I practiced my Dari and started my interaction with the class.  Today’s classroom was filled with more than 100 students/ANA soldiers.  Almost every chair was filled and they were lined against the walls.  All eyes were upon me as they listened to my questions.  Ten minutes before going to the classroom, I jotted down some questions concerning education.  Although I am pretty self-confident and comfortable speaking to them, I am not ready to engage in a theological discussion with them as I did yesterday with the ANA Mullah and Religious Officer.  Instead I am trying to stay with non-threatening themes so I do not upset them or endanger myself.  I don’t think this is the right forum to have a religious debate, nor do I care to.  Instead, I want to focus on topics that I can learn about their viewpoints and perhaps I can resolve some of their burning curiosities too.

ANA Mullah and Religious Officer hand out notebooks, pens, and pencils.

I approached the first soldier and inquired on whether he had had a chance to graduate from school.  Due to the many years of war, he said his village was destroyed and he was unable to finish school.  For an instant, I was silent trying to imagine what this soldier lived through in having his village destroyed.  It’s so hard to comprehend these tragedies and sometimes I am at a loss for words.  We can read about it in books, but to experience it first-hand is incomprehensible.  Despite not being educated, he still seemed to understand the importance of a formal education.  Through the interpreter, he said: “If we have knowledge, we are going to have eyes, we can see everything.  If we don’t, then we are going to be like blind.”  He also surprised me when he agreed that everyone was entitled to an education including females.  I really thought there would be some participants who disagreed with the idea of females attending school.  But this was not the case today.  Prior to class, I had jotted this question down and was prepared to make the argument of why females should be allowed to attend.  I was going to detail the importance of having midwives to help with one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates at birth along with having female doctors, teachers, etc.  But I couldn’t help thinking about this man’s village being destroyed and it was distracting me from my thoughts.  I also recalled a proverb or a variant of it, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”  This was so true with this soldier.  His eyes were pale and dull looking and lacked any luster or sparkle, almost to the point of hopelessness.  It’s the same look I have seen many times on the faces of the Afghan villagers.  Is this what happens after enduring 30 years of war?

I directed my next line of questioning to another soldier concerning their thoughts about the Taliban burning down the schools and preventing people from being educated.  In response, he said: “The real Taliban aren’t the ones who are doing this.  Instead, it’s the people who train in Iran and Pakistan” who are burning down the schools.  He also added: “A real person, a real Muslim, a real Afghan, would not do that.”   In this class, this seems to be a recurring theme where the students say the neighboring countries are training Taliban and insurgents who are responsible for the destruction of Afghanistan.  To be cont’d …….

ANA Mullah’s Perspective

Note:  My intent is not to offend my Muslim readers and the context below is based on my research and my memory of an intellectual and theological conversation with an ANA Mullah.

ANA Mullah.

It was another one of those unpredictable days, not knowing what was in store for me as I ventured over to ANA land.  We held our typical morning meetings, shook hands with our ANA counterparts and practiced greetings in our best Dari enunciation.  I briefly met up with the PBO officer who was being hurried off to conduct an equipment inventory.  My ANA Sgt Major was boarding a helicopter and flying to a conference.  So with mentoring, this only left the Religious Officer Assistant (ROA).  My interpreter Omid called him on his cell phone and he was in and wanted to chat.

As we were walking up the hill, I noticed a large grader was smoothing out the piles of gravel that was dumped

ANA grading piles of gravel.

there a few days ago.  Somehow the grader was miraculously fixed and the mounds of gravel were being leveled out.  I had to take a picture and inquire how this Caterpillar grader was magically repaired.  Through my interpreter, I learned the grader had a bad battery and it was simply replaced.  Wulah!  Just like magic, the grader was operational again!  Later on I learned the Australians gave some pointers on how to use the grader, because the ANA driver did not angle the blade and was attempting to smooth out the piles by keeping the blade at a 90 degree angle.  Small victories!!

Our next stop was the Religious Officer’s building.  He is in charge of the ANA literacy program and the religious curriculum.  When we walked into his office, I was pleasantly surprised to see the ANA Mullah sitting in a chair.  Although the Mullah is short in stature and a man of few words, it’s always an educational experience to hear his viewpoints.  After a few pleasantries, (greetings and handshakes), I initiated the conversation by inquiring about my previous visit to their classroom last week.  The ROA has a tendency to dominate the conversation and he provided me some positive feedback.  He attributed some of the student’s viewpoints due to lack of education and heavily influenced by rumor and propaganda.  He said majority of the students liked me and Americans, but they do not like the Brits.  The Brits have been accused of allegedly ferrying Taliban militants from the south and dropping them off into the Northern provinces along with providing them weapons.  I felt this was preposterous, but the RAO explained this is how gullible these uneducated soldiers are.  In fact, part of the religious curriculum is teaching these new recruits how to properly pray and ablution (cleansing of the body before prayer).

I turned to the Mullah and decided to probe at him with some neutral questions.  On a previous occasion, I tried to delve too fast into a controversial issue and he wouldn’t respond.  Instead the RAO would defend his position and I got the impression that the Mullah knew everything, so he didn’t have any questions for me or curiosities.  So today I took the pace slower, hoping not to offend him.  I learned he was placed into an Afghan madrassa at the young age of 6 years old.  For the next 15 years, he would study the Holy Quran and undergo a detailed religious curriculum.  By the time he completed his training, he had memorized the entire Quran.  At a later date, I hope to learn more about his religious studies and daily life inside a madrassa.

I surprised the Mullah and the RAO by informing them that I had read the English version of the first 2 chapters of the Quran.  Then the RAO surprised me by revealing an English translation of the Quran wrapped in an expensive silk cloth.  I knew better not to touch the book and even clarified that with my hosts.  However, if I were to conduct an ablution, even as a Christian I would be allowed to touch their Holy book.  An ablution is when a person washes their face once, both arms up to the elbows, part of the head, and washing the feet up to the ankles.

Our next topic was a bit of a historical question to me testing my knowledge on the origins of the Quran.  My research paid off and I detailed according to Islamic belief that the Angel Gabriel appeared to their Prophet Mohammad and revealed the verses used in the Koran.  The verses were initially memorized by his followers and later on recorded in writing.  The Mullah corrected me on some parts of my historical knowledge, but for the most part I had passed.  This is when I saw an opportunity to inquire more about the term of “infidel.”  I knew this topic could be treading thin ice and lead into a theological debate, but it was a risk I was willing to take.  I started my sentence with a question, “Were you aware that the Christians first used this term in the 14th century to label people who were non-Christians”?  Then I inquired, what does this term mean to Muslims.  The RAO who is very educated and knowledgeable would interject before the Mullah would have an opportunity to respond.  I sensed he was almost protecting him, just in case I would ask a “gotcha question” which was not my intention.  The RAO went into a long dissertation explaining about the differences/similarities in Christianity and Muslim faith and how extremists use this term for non-Muslims.  He also revealed that some of the students in the classroom also viewed me as an infidel because they were not educated.

The Mullah at times would utter a few words and the RAO would expand on them.  For instance, it is permissible for a Muslim to marry a Christian and vice versa.  However, I was also aware this is permissible, but the children will be raised as Muslims.  The RAO explained that every faith wants to continue and expand and Christianity is no difference.  But I also pointed out that if a Muslim converts to Christianity in a Muslim country, the penalty could be death.  But in the United States, Christians can convert to become a Muslim without penalty.  I also understand and respect the cultural laws of Muslim societies, even though I may be in disagreement with the penalties imposed.

I made a point to tell the RAO that I would like to hear from the Mullah and this would be an opportunity for everyone in the room to learn.  So if he could refrain from dominating the conversation, I would appreciate it.  Everyone in the room laughed.  I asked the Mullah about women wearing burqas and the rationale behind it.  He said it was in the Quran and detailed that women must be protected because men look at women in a sexual way which leads to rape, adultery, etc.  Only the husband should be allowed to appreciate her beauty.  I inquired where in the Quran did it say this, he said the next time we meet he would show me.  I did not want to offend him or his knowledge by testing his memory of the Quran since it was only 3 feet away from him.  That would be disrespectful.  Instead, I responded with a question that raised all of the eyebrows in the room.  First I inquired “Isn’t it wrong for a man to lust upon a woman who is not his wife and doesn’t this violate the Quran”?  I was correct with this assertion, but then I spoke without really thinking.  I said, “Then men in Afghanistan are really weak and can’t control their lust and as a result the women are forced to wear burqas.  Futhermore, if all of these men were really devout practicing Muslims and adhere to the Quran, there would not be a need for the women to wear the burqas”.  The RAO could not stay silent any longer and in defense of Afghan men he tried in vain to attribute this to people being uneducated.  Unintentionally I may have come up with a “gotcha question.”  The Mullah only smiled and did not respond.

My time was up and we clarified the details about speaking with his classroom tomorrow.  So tonight while I am typing this entry, I am trying to construct some questions that will not inflame the class, but also provide an opportunity for me to learn and in turn, they might be able to learn something from me.

Runt Runt poses for camera.

When I returned from ANA land, I stopped to see the camp puppies.  “Fat Boy” was adopted by the interpreters and will be kept at “Terp Village.”  A contractor is going to adopt the brown female named “Runt Runt”.  The remaining puppy is going to stay at the camp for now.  He has a dislocated leg which may have been accidentally injured when the mother laid on her puppies at birth.

Camp puppies in their box.

Later in the afternoon we had a few drops of rain and I was able to capture the rainbow image with my camera.  Tomorrow I will speak with the literacy class and it should be another educational day.

Rainbow seen from the camp.

Back to work

Helicopter landing at LZ.

Well today was my first day back to work since contracting an eye infection.  Last night I put my contact lenses in and stored my spectacles in their case.  I’m still a bit leery about having to use steroid eye drops until I leave country.  But I am feeling energetic and reinvigorated and looking forward to resuming my duties.  A few changes have taken place since my imposed quarantine.  The morning meetings are now held in ANA land.  I found this out the hard way when I went to our office buildings and nobody was there.

ANA camp dogs frolicking about.

I’m still settling in with my new responsibilities of mentoring the Property Book Officer.  At times, he is elusive and confuses my interpreter with his answers and responses.  The supply system being used is archaic and based off the US Army’s antiquated system.  However, since the literacy rate and education levels are so low, this basic system is appropriate for the ANA military.  At least now the signatures required to be issued something is down to about 4 or 5, instead of the 2 dozen required in the past.  We learned previously that everyone who was someone wanted to sign and put their stamp of approval on documents.  But even now, getting signatures is a challenge in itself.  Personal accountability is a scary word, so now the reverse effect has taken place.  Getting signatures is like pulling teeth.

Kabul attacked!

Two days ago, a group of armed Taliban flexed their muscle and assaulted the capital city.  Suicide bombers and armed Taliban militants attacked various government agency buildings and destroyed a shopping center.  Although most of the insurgents were killed, there were also civilians and Afghan National Policemen who perished.  The attacks resulted in several dozen casualties.  This is just another prime example of the Taliban showing their disregard for innocent civilian lives to include children.  One would hope that the city populace would band together and demand that these thugs be caught and swift justice is served.  But the only public outcry seems to be coming from the Karzai administration condemning the attack.  Yet, when rumor spread once again that U.S. soldiers allegedly burned the Koran, several hundred villagers unite and demonstrated against the US forces.  Even though, no U.S. person would intentionally desecrate the Koran, the Taliban have used this tactic as a way to incite violence.  It’s debatable whether the Taliban are showing their might or whether this is an act of desperation because the coalition forces are taking back territory previously held by the Taliban.  Time will tell….

The United Nations has released its report “Corruption in Afghanistan.”  It found that public dishonesty is a bigger concern than national security or unemployment.  The average bribe was $160 in a country where the GDP is $425 a year.  Fifty percent of the people polled paid at least one public official for a public service.  This equated to $2.5 billion in bribes or 23% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.  If my math is right, opium trade accounted for $2.8 billion or almost a quarter of the GDP.  Due to lack of money and faith in the government, more villagers are turning toward the Taliban and tribal elders for justice and assistance.

I wonder where all of this money is going?  Perhaps this is what finances the million dollar “Poppy Houses” being built in Kabul and other major cities.  Not surprising, that former governors, ministers, current ministers, warlords, and drug lords live in these ugly mansions.  The Afghans have even coined a word for this type of architecture.  It is commonly known as narcotecture.

In other news, President Karzai made some of the rejected nominees acting ministers or assistant ministers in the Cabinet.  Parliament is fuming about this.  Parliament complained that the rejected Karzai nominees are either corrupt or linked to warlords.

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