Today's Afghan News

Friday, November 28, 2014

Afghanistan's First Lady Seeks To Blaze New Trail

Rula Ghani

By Malali Bashir and Claire Bigg
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
November 28, 2014

When newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani paid tribute to his wife in his inauguration speech, he raised hopes that a woman might finally play a leading part in Afghanistan's political and social life.

Two months on, it's already clear Rula Ghani herself has no intention of staying in her husband's shadow.

"I think as the first lady I have a responsibility to be there for the people of this country," she told RFE/RL in the presidential palace in Kabul.

Rula Ghani's assertive stance marks a stark departure from previous first ladies, who have been all but absent from the public eye.

Throughout his decade in office, former President Hamid Karzai never appeared in public with his wife.

Rula Ghani, a Lebanese-American, has also surprised many Afghans with her crusade to empower women in a country known as one of the worst in the world for women's rights.

"Women are no longer as respected as they used to be," she laments. "They should be respected for whatever role they are taking, whether it's at home or outside the home."

The Ghanis left Afghanistan in 1977, one year before the civil war began. The couple lived in the United States, where Ashraf pursued his doctorate in anthropology before starting a career at the World Bank while Rula raised their two children.

The family moved back to Afghanistan in 2002, when Ashraf was appointed finance minister in Karzai's government following the ouster of the Taliban.

Despite criticism of the Ghanis' long absence from the country, Rula Ghani believes she can help resurrect the more carefree lifestyle Afghans enjoyed before the war.

"I am kind of the memory of those times. I keep telling people, 'This is what I used to see, this is how women were treated, this is how we spent our time, this is how we did things,'" she says. "So maybe in that sense, yes, I am bringing back some kind of information to people who either are too young to have known that time or who have gone through some many difficulties that they have forgotten about it."

Since returning to Afghanistan, Rula Ghani has volunteered at a nongovernmental organization helping children who work in the streets and their families.

She now plans to use the limelight to enhance her advocacy work.

Last week, she spoke at a conference in Oslo devoted to women's rights in Afghanistan.

She has already set up an office at the presidential palace to advice on ways to relieve the plight of Afghanistan's more than 700,000 international displaced people (IDPs).

"A lot needs to be done in Afghanistan," she says, describing the country as "a broken society" following more than two decades of civil war.

Right now, Rula Ghani says she's mostly in a "listening mode."

"I have a lot of people coming and talking to me, telling me about their problems," she says. "So I'm listening and I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to identify certain areas where I can help them directly."

Her new status as first lady, however, has come with stringent restrictions.

She is largely consigned to the fortified presidential palace for security reasons, meaning she can no longer tour camps for displaced persons and visit those she is looking to help.

"I hope that I will be able to reach out to them even from within the walls of the palace," she says.

Many Afghans are nonetheless wary of Rula Ghani, who studied in France during the student protests of the late 1960s, and feel uncomfortable about a non-Afghan enjoying such prominence.

Her Christian background has also earned her foes in conservative circles.

So far she has skirted the issue of religion, saying simply that her childhood in a Christian family was "not a factor."

Kabul District Heavily Guarded After Attack

VOA News / November 28, 2014

An upscale neighborhood in the Afghan capital, Kabul, is being guarded by Afghan security forces after Taliban fighters staged an attack the night before.

Witnesses said multiple explosions and bursts of gunfire in the Wazir Akbar Khan district came late Thursday.

The nighttime attack, claimed by the Taliban, occurred near the compound of the International Relief and Development agency.

The agency's head of security, Tony Haslem, told The Associated Press that the sound of rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons lasted about 45 minutes.

No foreigners were killed in the attack.

A Taliban spokesman said the intended target was a guesthouse occupied by foreigners.

The attack came hours after a suicide car-bomber struck a British embassy vehicle, killing five people including a British citizen.

Afghan Troops 'Drive Out'
Taliban From Key Southern Base

By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan
November 28, 2014

Officials say Afghan security forces have driven out Taliban fighters from a key military base in southern Helmand Province after several hours of heavy clashes.

Umar Zhwak, a provincial government spokesman, said on November 28 that sporadic gunfire could be heard from the eastern outskirts of the Shorabak military base that formerly housed British troops.

Afghanistan's military earlier said a group of heavily armed insurgents launched an attack on Shorabak -- formerly known as Camp Bastion -- late on November 27.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the raid.

Zhwak said 12 militants, including five suicide bombers, were killed in the clashes.

Two Afghan soldiers were killed and three others were wounded, Zhwak added.

Those casualty figures could not be independently verified.

Camp Bastion, located northwest of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, was handed over to Afghan security forces on October 26.

The camp was built by the British Army in 2005, and between 2005 and October 20014 it was the logistics hub for international troops operations in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.

In a separate incident in Helmand, at least two police officers were killed and at least two others wounded in a suicide attack on their vehicle in Nawzad district, local police said.

In eastern Nangarhar Province, officials say more than 30 worshippers were injured – seven of them critically -- in an explosion inside a mosque.

Provincial police spokesman Hazrat Hossain Mashreqiwal said "the explosives placed in a mosque in the Khogiyani district went off during Friday prayers."

Afghanistan's upper house of parliament approved agreements recently allowing some 12,500 foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond December 2014, when the bulk of the international NATO-led force is due to leave.

On November 27, a suicide bomber attacked a British Embassy vehicle, killing six people, including one British national. More than 30 other people were injured in that attack, in the eastern part of the capital, Kabul, on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway.

Also on November 27, another attack targeted Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan diplomatic district, which contains foreign embassies and international agencies, as well as the homes of some senior government officials.

With reporting by, dpa, and AP

Dozens wounded in mosque blast in eastern Afghanistan

Press TV / November 28, 2014

More than two dozen people have sustained injuries in a bomb explosion at a mosque in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar, said the bombing was carried out as dozens of people had gathered for Friday Prayers inside the mosque in the Khogyani district, situated about 85 kilometers (53 miles) southeast of the capital, Kabul.

The official added that initial reports indicate that between 25 to 28 worshippers, including the Friday prayers imam, have been injured.

Medical officials said some of the injured are in critical condition.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bomb attack.

On Thursday evening, a huge blast hit near Tajikistan’s Embassy in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of the capital, followed by an exchange of fire.

Earlier in the day, Taliban militants attacked a British Embassy vehicle in Kabul, leaving five people dead, including a Briton, and injuring more than 30 others.

The new wave of violence in Afghanistan comes as the Upper House of Afghanistan’s Parliament on Thursday ratified the country’s Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington, and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Based on the agreements, the United States and NATO could keep a total of 12,500 soldiers in Afghanistan next year for what they describe as supporting Afghan forces.

The agreements grant immunity to US-led troops operating in the country. They also allow the US-led forces to carry out deadly overnight raids on Afghan homes, which have triggered widespread protests in Afghanistan.

US drone strikes leave 10 dead across Afghanistan

Press TV / November 28, 2014

At least 10 people have been killed after unmanned aerial vehicles operated by the US military carried out two separate assassination strikes across the violence-plagued Afghanistan, Press TV reports.

Local officials said a remote-controlled drone launched an airborne attack against a compound in the troubled southern province of Helmand on Thursday, leaving seven people dead.

The development came hours after a similar attack in the Chak district of Afghanistan’s central-eastern province of Maidan Wardak killed three people.

Afghan officials said the assaults targeted the Taliban hideouts and those killed in the raids were members of the militant group.

On Monday, a drone attack in the eastern province of Logar left at least four people dead. Six people were also killed in a US drone strike in the Kamdish district of Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nuristan on November 23.

On November 19, at least four people lost their lives when US forces mounted a drone strike in the Ghaziabad district of the northeastern province of Kunar.

Civilian casualties have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and US-led forces, and have dramatically increased anti-US sentiments in the country.

The US carries out targeted killings through drone strikes in Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are militants, but local officials and witnesses maintain that civilians have been the main victims of such raids over the past few years.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but insecurity continues to rise across the country, despite the presence of thousands of US-led troops.

3 wounded as blast hits bazaar in N. Afghanistan

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- Three civilians injured as a bomb blast rocked a bazaar Friday in Afghanistan's northern Mazar-e-Sharif city, the capital of Balkh province 305 km north of Kabul, police said.

"The terrorists placed a bomb inside a crate and the device went off at 01:30 p.m. local time in fruit bazaar in Mazar-e- sharif city injuring three civilians," police spokesman Shirjan Durani told reporters.

Putting the blast on Taliban militants, the official said that the aim of the blast was to terrorize the people.

Taliban militants who are largely relying on suicide and roadside bombings have yet to make comment.

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