Created with Sketch.
Afghanistan After America
26 minutes | Nov 15, 2020
On the Frontline with the ALP
This episode, I speak with Abdul Jamil, a 75-year-old member of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) originally from Marjah in Helmand province. It's a special and sobering episode, because the 33-year-old Helmandi journalist Aliyas Dayee, with whom I'd worked since 2016 and who assisted with this and the previous two episodes, is no longer with us. On November 12, less than a month after this interview was recorded, Dayee was leaving the provincial hospital in Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah with his brother after dropping their mother off for a routine visit when a bomb exploded beneath his car. His brother and two other passers-by were injured and Dayee was killed.He had been receiving threats from the Taliban as long as I’d known him. His bosses at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) had flown him to Kabul several times when the threats were deemed particularly serious. They had wanted to do the same in October, before he and I worked together on the interview that follows, but felt he couldn't. After the Taliban moved in on Lashkar Gah from the surrounding districts on October 11, a wave of residents from the same districts moved ahead of them to avoid the fighting. Dayee took ten families -- 50 or 60 people and an assortment of chickens -- into his modest home and didn’t want to leave his elderly mother, wife and their infant daughter Mehrabani.And so, unlike previous episodes, the interview that follows is from the original recording, conducted in a yard on October 18, surrounded by the men from Abdul Jamil’s ALP unit. It's Dayee's deep, husky voice; the same voice that told the stories of Helmand and it's people for more than a decade for RFE/RL you'll hear translating for Jamil and I, with sounds from the frontline peppered throughout. On the day we spoke, October 18, Jamil was commanding a platoon-sized unit who'd occupied a residential compound in Bolan, a couple of kilometres west of Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah.The Taliban had pushed in on Lashkar Gah a week prior but hadn't gotten any further than the row of houses Jamil and his men, as well as units from the Afghan National Army and police were holding. Although the ALP are in the process of being wound down and absorbed into other branches of the security force, Jamil's unit, far from the area it was originally tasked with securing, had been moved from frontline to frontline in the months prior, more like commandos than the lowly paid and trained local, pro-government militia they are. Abdul Jamil had to think back decades to a time he could remember Afghanistan at peace and his outlook for the future was just as bleak.The loss of Aliyas Dayee, too, darkens the horizon for those who knew, loved and listened to him. He was buried the same day he died in a cemetery not far from where our interview was conducted in Bolan. Chahr-i Anjir, where he grew up, and where his father was buried last year was out of the question; the Taliban controlled the area now. He is survived by his wife and daughter. Rest in Peace Dayee.
43 minutes | Nov 4, 2020
Helmand on the Brink, Again. With ANA Lt. Gen. Ahmadzai
This episode, the second from my recent trip to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, I speak with the most senior Afghan National Army (ANA) officer in the province, the commander of the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps’, Lt. Gen. Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai.I interviewed Gen. Ahmadzai on October 17, where, in the exact same guesthouse on the exact same day, two years earlier, one of his old army comrades, Abdul Jabar Qarahman, who President Ghani had sent to the city to oversee an effort to prevent its fall in 2016, was killed during a meeting by a bomb that had been placed under his chair. Both Ahmadzai and Qarahman were sent to Helmand in late 2016. At that time, the Taliban had virtually surrounded Lashkar Gah. The situation was much the same this October this year, only this time the Taliban had rolled government forces in the districts surrounding Helmand’s capital in a matter of days, not months. General Ahmadzai and I spoke about the orders he received following the February signing of the U.S. - Taliban Doha agreement, about how he personally felt about the orders and about how things have played out on the battlefield since then, with Ahmadzai repeatedly raising the Taliban’s refusal to adhere to the terms that were supposedly laid out in the Doha agreement.I asked him whether his orders to halt the ANA’s offensive operations and stay in their bases since Doha led to situations where his forces retaliated carelessly to Taliban attacks as reportedly happened in one incident in June where 50 civilians were killed or wounded in Sangin district.Gen. Ahmadzai told me about the relationship with the U.S. forces he’s worked with since taking command of the 215th corps and the conditions that led to the near-collapse of the province which led to his appointment in 2016. We also talked about what led to the repeat of 2016 last month and about the suspicion that some government outposts and checkpoints whose commanders had been appointed by officials in the government and were beholden to them rather than their military commanders had been surrendered without a fight. I should note that, had I interviewed Ahmadzai a day or two later, after having spoken to more Helmandis who’d been caught up in the government’s retreat, such as my guest on Episode 7, I’d have had more questions about the strength of the defence provided by forces under his command.AfterwordWith regards to Gen Ahmadzai's mention of the 125 Order, a representative of the National Security Council told Afghanistan After America there is no such thing, but that the decision to adopt a posture of active defensive after Doha was an Afghan government initiative. The deputy spokesperson from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) would not acknowledge the existence of the 125 Order, either, instead, also repeatedly referring to the ANSF’s posture of active defense, which, he said, was a demonstration of the government’s “will for peace.” With regards to the investigation into the events surrounding the June 29 incident in Sangin, the MOD’s deputy spokesperson told me that he would have to look into the matter and is yet to come back to me.Also on the topic of the Sangin incident, General Ahmadzai said in the interview that ANA mortars are incapable of reaching a target 5km away, which he says was the distance from the ANA base in Sangin to the bazaar that was struck. According to the U.S. Army’s website, however, and I quote: "81mm [mortar] rounds have a maximum effective range of 5,608 meters… [while] 120mm rounds can reach 7,200 meters…”
24 minutes | Oct 23, 2020
Forced from Home in Helmand
On October 11, Taliban fighters in Helmand converged on the districts surrounding the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, capturing huge swathes of government-held territory in a matter of days and raising concern that the city would fall to the insurgents.The offensive was the Taliban’s largest, countrywide, since representatives of the group signed an agreement with the U.S. in Doha in February, which both sides said they hoped would pave the way for bringing an end to the war.Although it wasn’t specified in the publicly available version of the agreement, U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that a verbal agreement was made to reduce violence thereafter. Since February, U.S., N.A.T.O. and Afghan government officials have lamented on an almost daily basis the Taliban’s failure to live up to this supposed part of the agreement. Afghan government forces, for their part, have assumed a defensive posture since February as a gesture of goodwill and the U.S. have halted offensive air and ground operations, resorting to air support for Afghan government forces only when they’re under extreme pressure, as was the case last week in Helmand.I flew to Helmand last week to speak with some of those who were caught up in the Taliban’s offensive and others who were fighting back against it.This episode, I speak with a school teacher who was forced to leave his home and village in Nad-i Ali district, a place where British and U.S. forces fought at great cost for several years which abuts Lashkar Gah to the northeast.Mohammad Sardar, as I’ll refer to him, has lived in the same village, which I won’t be naming, all his life. It wasn’t, however, the first time he and his family were forced from their home in the face of a military offensive. We spoke in his father’s home in Lashkar Gah, where he’d resettled his family after leaving the village a week prior. Two of his children came in from time to time as we spoke for help with their homework.(The interview was conducted in Pashto, through a translator, and like previous episodes, transcribed and then re-recorded in English).It’s the third time since 2008 that Mohammad Sardar has had to leave his home because of Taliban military offensives. Soon after the last time it happened, in 2016, he ended up returning to the school to teach after coming to an agreement with the Taliban.But his profession isn’t his only cause for concern when it comes to his relationship with the Taliban. While Helmand is an overwhelming Pashtun province, Mohammad Sardar is among a small Hazara minority living there. With ethnic minorities increasingly worried about the Pashtun-majority Taliban coming to power in the future and the prospect of persecution at their hand, we speak about his experience as part of an ethnic minority in Helmand and whether it affects his dealings with the Taliban, of which he has had many in recent years.But to begin with, we start closer to the present, with Mohammad Sardar explaining what happened in the days and weeks leading up to the Taliban offensive that saw his village fall into the insurgent group’s control yet again.
51 minutes | Oct 14, 2020
Leading the Charge with Farahnaz Forotan
At only 28, Farahnaz Forotan has worked at three of Afghanistan’s largest television broadcasters since 2012, hosting flagship talk shows at two of them, including 1TV’s hugely popular weekly program, Kabul Debate, which she's headed since 2019.Forotan is also the founder of My Red Line, an online advocacy campaign allowing Afghans to voice the rights they enjoy now and which they refuse to forfeit or negotiate on as peace negotiations proceed in Doha.We began by talking about Forotan’s earliest years, during the late 1990s after the Taliban had taken control of Kabul and about the conflicts that arose in her family when she started working in the media, later on, in 2012, and how her family’s perception of her work changed since then. We also go into some of the problems she’s had working in the media industry itself, including about the time she volunteered to report from arguably the most dangerous district in the country. She tells me what annoys her about the way foreign reporters cover Afghanistan and about the lack of basic safety protections Afghan journalists have.Forotan talks about My Red Line and how the desires of people in rural areas differ from those living in urban areas. She also goes into how she felt the U.N. agency that offered support tried to take undue ownership of the campaign.Forotan tells me about how she sees the Taliban misusing Islam by rewriting the rules as it suits them, especially when it comes to issues like corporal and capital punishment.I ask Forotan about the criticisms she receives on social media about being a member of the so-called Kabul elite and about the photo taken of her, in which she's without a headscarf, while interviewing a member of the Taliban’s negotiating team in Doha recently.Farhad Darya's Salaam Afghanistan.
88 minutes | Oct 2, 2020
Corruption Epidemic, with Yama Torabi
Dr. Yama Torabi is a Senior Research Associate and a political scientist. He holds two masters degrees, in Political Science and International Relations, and a PhD in International Relations. In 2005, Torabi founded Integrity Watch Afghanistan, which, after completing his studies in France, he returned to Kabul to direct between 2009 and 14.He was commissioner and rotating chair of Afghanistan’s Joint Independent Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) between 2012 and 17, and head of the government’s Special Anti-Corruption Secretariat (SACS) from 2017 until earlier this year.We covered a lot of ground on a topic that has characterised both post-2001 administrations in Kabul and has gone a long way to driving sympathy, if not toward the Taliban, certainly away from the government.Torabi and I talk about the origins of the corruption epidemic in Afghanistan and some of it’s key practitioners in the years immediately after the U.S. invasion.We discuss how patronage networks permeate the highest levels of government and the international community’s complicity in enabling it to flourish. Torabi explains some of the ways and means by which corruption exists in the security sector, through fuel imports, electricity, in development, counter-narcotics,and politics. He also explains the country’s biggest post-2001 corruption scandal - the 2010 collapse of Kabul Bank.I ask Torabi about the Taliban assertion that the group is corruption-free and about how successful President Ghani has been at driving anti-corruption efforts after campaigning on it in 2014 and, since, under the constant pressure of international donors and diplomats who have often prioritised short term issues over long-lasting reform.
36 minutes | Sep 25, 2020
Talking While Fighting, with a Taliban Military Commander
It was the second time I’d met and interviewed this Taliban commander. I refer to him in the podcast as Ismael. The first time, several weeks ago, he didn’t want me to record our conversation. It did, however, give me the opportunity to obtain the kind of information I needed to be confident that he was who he said he was.Ismael and I spoke in a provincial capital—a government-controlled area. It had taken him half a day of travel there and he was about to lie down to sleep when I arrived, but he insisted we start the interview straight away. I started by asking him about the early days of the the American-led invasion in 2001 and about why he decided to take up a weapon. We talk about his experience fighting the Americans and about the time he was captured during an American night raid.Then we move ahead to more recent years, to the time when talks between American and Taliban representatives began in Doha in 2018, continued through to February this year—2020—and culminated in the signing of an agreement between the two sides which, it was hoped, would pave the way to bringing an end to the war.We talk about the violence that has continued since then, despite the rhetoric of peace, about the existence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the changes for those living in areas under Taliban control since American air power was curtailed after the Doha Agreement, and about the changes he wants to see come as a result of the talks currently underway in Doha between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan republic. I asked him about the fears that ethnic minorities and women have about a return of the Taliban and how a Taliban military commander like him could come and go from government-controlled provincial capitals so freely. I have to say that Ismael was more restrained with a microphone in front of him than he was the first time we spoke. So, bear in mind while you're listening that he is speaking very much to official Taliban talking points.
62 minutes | Sep 15, 2020
Covering the War, with Saad Mohseni
Saad Mohseni is one of Afghanistan’s most influential businesspeople, and the co-founder of it’s most popular television network, TOLO TV.He is the son of an Afghan diplomat who, soon after the 1979 Soviet invasion, sought political asylum in Australia. There, he worked in finance until the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, when he returned to Kabul with his brothers in search of business opportunities.The three brothers founded MOBY Group in 2003, and within a couple of years had established Arman FM, Afghanistan’s first privately owned radio station, a revelation in a country where music and independent news had been banned under the Taliban regime, and by far it’s most popular radio show today.Next, came TOLO TV, which produced its 15th season of the hit music talent show Afghan Star this year. The Pashto language Lemar TV came in 2006 and then, in 2010, TOLO News, Afghanistan’s first 24 hour television news network and, again, the country's most popular today.I spoke with Mohseni the same day intra-Afghan talks were getting underway in Doha, and asked him whether he still felt, as he said a year ago, whether the US had thrown Afghanistan under a bus in an effort to end its military involvement in the country. We talked about his lack of confidence in the team negotiating on behalf of the Afghan government, and his belief that at least a minimal U.S. military presence should remain in the country to ensure agreements between all parties are adhered to and, just as importantly, to keep Afghanistan’s neighbours in check.Mohseni talks about the slow creep of progress since 2001, how he sees hope for the future in former hardline Taliban who’ve come off the battlefield into modern lives in Kabul and now own TV sets and watch Turkish soap-operas in the evening. We discuss corruption and striking a balance between retaining Afghan culture while pushing for progress through his efforts to encourage critical thinking and integrating women into public life and the economy. And, finally, we talk about the inherent practical and ethical difficulties faced by the media in an environment where one side has declared it a legitimate military target, and about the future of the media industry in Afghanistan at a time when the international funding that props it up is beginning to disappear.Click here to view the TOLO News documentary Daesh in Afghanistan.
100 minutes | Sep 11, 2020
I first met Rahmatullah Amiri as he was being wheeled into an operating theatre in Kabul one night in August 2016.A few hours earlier, Amiri was in an evening class at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) when three gunmen stormed the compound after breaching the front gate with a car bomb. 13 students, teachers and security staff were killed in the attack. 49 others were injured, including Amiri, who was shot three times.Amiri survived the night and, after undergoing several surgeries, and completing his bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from AUAF, has gone on to become one of the most sought after researchers and analysts on matters of the Taliban. If you’ve read a major, public report on the Taliban in recent years, chances are Amiri had something to do with it.Our conversation covers the nature of the Taliban’s relationship with al Qaeda and other international jihadist groups, the question of who the Taliban need to be negotiating with in order for a political settlement to be effective, the policies the group has and has not implemented, and how they’ve affected the Taliban’s appeal amongst the public. We talk about how the idea of Sharia law is broadly misinterpreted and used, both as a justification for the Taliban's own authoritarian policies and as a propaganda tool against it, about issues Amiri believes the Taliban need to reconsider their positions on, the tremendous losses suffered by rural communities since 2001, and how the Taliban are relentless in their fight, not because they want an end to air strikes and night raids, but because they want to honour the sacrifices made and simply because they want foreign forces gone.
41 minutes | Sep 8, 2020
Mahpekay Sediqy is the deputy director at the Kabul Orthopaedic Organisation (KOO) in Afghanistan's capital and a bilateral amputee, herself.Sediqy lost both legs to a mine while collecting firewood as a child during the Taliban's time in power in that late 1990s. She had never aspired to anything more than completing sixth class at school but, following her accident, Sediqy was taken under the wing of KOO's director at the time and has since gone on to complete a bachelor's degree in prosthetics and orthotics and helped hundreds of people with physical disabilities to walk, some for the first time.Sediqy grew up in a rural district of Kabul called Qarabagh, which is, while close to Kabul City in proximity, a long way away in terms of the cultural modernisation that has characterised the Afghan capital since 2001. While the government nominally controls Qarabagh, the Taliban’s presence and influence there is famously strong. In this episode, we talk about Sediqy’s struggle to come to terms with her horrific injury, and the new lease on life she found upon discovering the possibilities that lay before her; possibilities she’d never imagined, even before she lost her legs.We also talk about the cultural issues and the daily barrage of harassment as she’s had to confront and endure as she's progressed through life, both personally and professionally.
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2021