Meditation Focus #34
Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Web posted on March 10, 2001
for the 2 consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, March 11, 2001
What follows is the 34th Meditation Focus suggested for the two consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, March 11, 2001.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN
2. Meditation times
3. More information on this Meditation Focus
Describing the depth of the various human tragedies endured by the men, women and children of Afghanistan over the course of the last 22 years is like covering the descent into hell of a once proud and self-sufficient people now reduced to begging for international assistance in the face of formidable and deadly odds stacked against them. Although a significant portion of their difficulties are self-inflicted as a result of internal warfare and an utterly deformed fanatical religious culture, the rest of the world, especially through the covert operations and arming of the Muslim extremists financed by the US government during the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet troops, must also bear a share of the responsibility for the unfolding humanitarian crisis in this part of the world. The crux of the current situation is that faced with a three year-long drought, the worst in 30 years now affecting 10 million Afghans, and a near complete failure of last year crops, all those who can afford to flee Afghanistan (700,000 of then are desperately trying to migrate according to aid groups) have been going in growing numbers through the grueling trek across the treacherous mountain roads separating Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Iran, to seek food and shelter. However the Pakistani government already burdened with 1.2 million Afghan refugees is also faced with a shortage of food and resources and has decided last year to close its border to Afghan refugees still streaming in by the thousands and now forced to wait in absolutely filthy conditions for a permission of entry that isn't likely to come.
The situation within Afghanistan is even worse with no effectual government to take care of the population, the horrendous human right abuses endured by everyone, especially the women, under the stern interpretations of Islam by the ruling Taliban mullahs and the ever worsening drought, yet another consequence of global warming. Ironically though, and sadly, what the world media now focusses on is the dynamiting by the Talibans of ancient statues of Buddha carved in the rock as an act of revenge for the isolation and sanctions imposed against them by the international community. The worsening humanitarian crisis is hardly ever mentioned in media headlines around the world. What is needed is not only more humanitarian assistance to cope with the flow of refugees and now apparently harder to obtain, presumably because of "Donor fatigue" due to two decades of Afghanistan's sequential woes, but also a new attitude to deal with the Taliban regime which, according to some is showing signs of being willing to respond positively to international concerns regarding their degrading and tyranic treatment of women, and thus soon find a way to provide more direct assistance within the country.
Please dedicate your meditations and prayers, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks to help make everyone more aware of the need to actively care for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan during this time of exceptional crisis. Envision a world where such difficulties, wherever they may occur, will increasingly be met with swift action and prompt assistance to alleviate as much as possible the sufferings and trauma endured by those faced with such difficult karmic conditions, as part of our common responsibility to care for each other, bring succour in time of need and manifest our Love for each other. May respect for the dignity and sanctity of all human beings, peace and harmony prevail in Afghanistan, for the Highest Good of All.
2. MEDITATION TIMES
i) Global Meditation Day: Sunday at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT) or at noon local time. Suggested duration: 30 minutes.
ii) Golden Moment of At-Onement: Daily, at the top of any hour, or whenever it better suits you.
These times below are currently corresponding to 16:00 Universal Time/GMT:
Honolulu 6:00 AM -- Anchorage 7:00 AM -- Los Angeles 8:00 AM -- Denver 9:00 AM -- San Salvador, Mexico City, Houston & Chicago 10:00 AM -- New York, Toronto & Montreal 11:00 AM -- Halifax, Santo Domingo, La Paz & Caracas 12:00 PM -- Montevideo, Asuncion * & Santiago * 1:00 PM -- Rio de Janeiro * 2:00 PM -- London, Dublin, Lisbon, Reykjavik & Casablanca 4:00 PM -- Lagos, Algiers, Geneva, Rome, Berlin, Paris & Madrid 5:00 PM -- Ankara, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Athens, Helsinki & Istanbul 6:00 PM -- Baghdad, Moscow & Nairobi 7:00 PM -- Tehran 7:30 PM -- Islamabad 9:00 PM -- Calcutta & New Delhi 9:30 PM -- Dhaka 10:00 PM -- Rangoon 10:30 PM -- Hanoi, Bangkok & Jakarta 11:00 PM -- Hong Kong, Perth, Beijing & Kuala Lumpur +12:00 AM -- Seoul & Tokyo +1:00 AM -- Brisbane, Canberra & Melbourne +2:00 AM -- Wellington * +5:00 AM
+ means the place is one day ahead of Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time.
* means the place is observing daylight saving time(DST) at the moment.
3. MORE INFORMATION ON THIS WEEK'S FOCUS
This section is for those who wish to understand in more detail the situation of this week's Meditation Focus. For those who wish to read on, we would encourage you to view the following information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision you wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mindset, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of healing. We provide the details below because we recognise that the knowledge of what needs healing can assist us to structure our awareness to maximise our healing effect.
Fleeing Famine and War, Afghans Again Meet Death (March 1, 2001)
ERAT, Afghanistan, Feb. 25 Three of Muhammad Uddin's sons froze to death along the narrow rim of the Sabzak Pass, where the elevation was steep and the truck tires could not hold. The snowfall was thick, the winds piercing. To one side was a yawning plunge. The eight families that had crowded into the vehicle's open flatbed thought it better to climb out and sleep on the wet ground than chance a mortal slide over the edge.
They were fleeing hunger, and their journey had begun with a three-day walk to the road through the mountains, carrying what they could, many of them burdened with exhausted children rather than extra clothing and blankets. Mr. Uddin's boys were 8, 6 and 3. In the morning's unfolding light, he saw that their faces had turned a bluish color and their jaws had gone slack. He poked at them. He poked again. And then he understood.
"The cold took their lives," he said listlessly, soon after reaching Herat, drawn here by a lodestone of food no more bountiful than a monthly ration of wheat flour.
Since fall, Afghan villagers have been making their way to this city by the hundreds, until the hundreds are now 80,000, and the 80,000 may well double as the snows melt in the distant peaks and gullies. They have buried their dead, mortgaged their land and sold the last of their possessions. Usually a proud and rugged people, they have dropped even the pretense of tenacity. They are begging.
Famine is a gradual disaster, slowly depleting crops and cupboards, and when it finally arrives in its fullness, the world looks at the skeletal victims and wonders: How did it happen? Where were the warnings?
In Afghanistan afflicted with unending war and without an effectual government famine has been regularly dispatching its heralds. For three years running, drought has parched the fields, starved the farm animals and dried up the rivers. Hungry people, deprived of yet another harvest, have eaten what little seed they had kept in reserve.
In all, more than 700,000 people about 4 percent of Afghanistan's population have been on the move in a desperate migration, according to aid groups. They have flocked to the bigger towns and cities or crossed the border into Iran and Pakistan. More than one million are "at risk of starvation," say, United Nations officials, pleading for emergency help.
Erick de Mul, the organization's relief coordinator for Afghanistan, defined "at risk" as "death by outright starvation or weakening or epidemic in the next few months."
For the most part, help is not on its way. The United Nations and many relief organizations have had trouble raising money for assistance. "Donor fatigue" is thought to be the problem, a weariness from two decades of Afghanistan's sequential woes.
"It's not a case of crying wolf; it's a case of the wolf always being at the door," said Hans-Christian Poulsen, who heads the United Nations humanitarian efforts in Herat.
Afghans have been at war for 22 years, first in an epic resistance against Soviet troops, then in factional, back-stabbing combat against each other. Most of the nation is now ruled by Taliban mullahs who offend the West with their stern interpretations of Islam and their unflagging hospitality to the accused terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Nations donating aid are also skeptical about the dimensions of the crisis. For now, estimating the endangered population involves guesswork, with most presumed victims living in remote villages, unreachable by aid workers either because of the winter or the war.
Then as well, in Afghanistan it is often hard to distinguish between the bad times and the worse. Even without famine, more than one in four children die before the age of 5 and the average life expectancy is 44. Hunger has become a helpmate to other causes of death.
"We're about knee-deep into a crisis now, and the potential of it becoming shoulder-deep is very great," said Simon Richards, who runs the office in Herat for the charity Christian Aid. "What we are seeing are displaced people pouring in, but they're actually the better off. They at least had the means to pay for transportation. Most people don't."
Afghans Stream Into Pakistan (Friday March 9 )
JALOZAI REFUGEE CAMP, Pakistan (AP) - Two-year-old Rahullah lies still and feverish on a filthy pillow inside a tent made from plastic bags. His sister, 3-year-old Rakiba, is howling inconsolably.
It's malaria, says their mother, Mattou Razaq. ``I have no medicines for them. Look at him - he doesn't move. I am afraid he will die. Maybe he is the lucky one.''
Razaq and her family are among 80,000 people packed into Jalozai camp, a sunbaked dustbowl with open sewers, filthy water and thousands of tents. The fortunate ones have tents made of plastic sheets, but most families are living - 10 or 12 to the tent - under plastic bags stitched together and slung over poles.
The camp's residents are refugees from Afghanistan, part of a flight of some 200,000 people into Pakistan that United Nations officials say has developed into a crisis since it began last September. This weekend, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is coming for an inspection tour on his first visit to Pakistan.
Yusuf Hassan, from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Pakistan, said Annan will visit Jalozai and the nearby, better-equipped Shamshatoo camp. Officials initially were reluctant for him to visit Jalozai, fearing he would be mobbed by Afghans growing more desperate as conditions deteriorate.
Without help, ``Jalozai will become a death camp'' in another two months when temperatures climb near 100 degrees, Hassan said. Communicable diseases could run rampant, spreading from open sewers that breed mosquitoes, he said.
``The conditions are desperate,'' he said. ``It is getting worse ... and every day there are more people coming.''
U.N. officials here are expected to press Annan to plead with Pakistan's government to provide land to house the thousands now in Jalozai Camp in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, nine miles east of Peshawar, the provincial capital, which borders Afghanistan.
``The really sad thing is that we have the resources to help every one of them,'' Hassan said, adding that what blocks the assistance is Pakistan's refusal to let the refugees be registered as such by the United Nations and relocated to better camps.
Pakistan says it is already burdened by 1.2 million Afghan refugees in camps; many have been here since the 1980s Soviet invasion of their homeland and none get U.N. assistance. A poor country itself, Pakistan fears it would be responsible for the new refugees after the initial emergency passes and U.N. money runs out.
Erick de Mul, the U.N. coordinator for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, says he understand Pakistan's concern, but that fleeing Afghans will continue to die unless they get help.
The refugees in Pakistan are part of a larger problem. Some 80,000 refugees live in camps in Afghanistan's western Herat province, and another 10,000 are stranded on the northern border with Tajikistan, refused entry by Tajik authorities.
The Afghans are fleeing their country's worst drought in 30 years, a long-running civil war and a shattered economy made worse by the ruling Taliban militia's year-old edict banning the cultivation of poppies - the source of opium and heroin but also the nation's only cash crop.
The U.N. Drug Program says the Taliban's edict has virtually wiped out the poppy crop in Afghanistan, once the world's biggest opium producer. While the edict is pleasing to Western nations fighting drug problems, de Mul says it has sent thousands fleeing to Pakistan.
Pakistan has tried to stop the flow since late last year, sealing its gates to all but those with Pakistani visas and passports, a rarity in Afghanistan. Before then, the border was completely open.
At a border post below the famed Khyber Pass, bearded Taliban soldiers beat back would-be refugees with wooden sticks. Those who manage to cross the border must elude Pakistani soldiers. Some get through, but most are pushed back across the border.
Of those who make it, the most desperate wind up in the Jalozai camp. Dozens of families came just this week, most from northern Baghlan province, driven from their homes by battles between the Taliban and opposition forces led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani.
``I hate them both. They are the ones who have killed us,'' Mrs. Razaq, the mother of the malaria-stricken children, said of the opposing forces.
In a nearby tent, Ghorban Gul, a widow with seven children, wept as she tried to explain the horror of her life. She lifted her baggy pants to show badly bruised and cut knees.
``I fell crossing the mountains,'' she said. She grabbed the hand of her young son and pulled up his shirt to show a stomach swollen with hunger.
``How can we live like this?'' she asked. ``We will all die. I pray sometimes that will happen.''
Stranded Afghan refugees await help from Annan to visit stranded refugees with UN under fire
(9 March 2001)
Sebghatullah is a needless, voiceless casualty of what happens when a country changes its mind about asylum-seekers. He is dead at the age of eight months from diarrhoea, an ailment he should never have caught.
When his parents, Abdullah and Pari, left Afghanistan for Pakistan two months ago, they believed they would be accepted as refugees, as were 1.5 million Afghanis before them.
What they didn't realise was that after 20 years of caring for Afghanis fleeing war and, more recently, severe drought, the Pakistani authorities had decided they have had enough of Afghan refugees. So, as the couple and their small baby crossed the mountainous border they were actually entering a bureaucratic black hole.
Amid concern for the plight of the stranded Afghan refugees, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, will visit the refugee camp where Sebghatullah died during a trip next week that will also take him to India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Until last November, newly arrived Afghanis were routinely allocated to established camps with sanitation and health care. Now the Pakistani authorities are refusing to allow UN relief workers to open a new, properly equipped site for them.
So, Abdullah, Pari and 80,000 other Afghanis have been trapped for weeks on a squalid pocket of land without running water, food, proper lavatories or shelter from freezing night-time temperatures.
The filthy conditions at the site at Jalozai, near the frontier city of Peshawar in North-West Frontier province, mean the undernourished Afghanis quickly succumb to minor illnesses. Nineteen people, mostly children, have died in as many days.
Sari, squatting under the sheet of plastic where Sebghatullah, her only child, died the day before, rocks rhythmically. Her face is bruised and bloated with crying, her lips open and close but no sound comes out. "It took just four days," Abdullah said, staring ahead. "Diarrhoea began at night, and then he was just crying, crying, crying. We couldn't make it stop."
That Sebghatullah fell ill is not surprising. A few metres from the makeshift shelter, a primitive lavatory, scraped in the yellow dust, brims with excrement. Although the authorities are digging latrines, these fill in a few days and have to be covered with earth. "There's no sanitation, and so much bacteria," said Gulmakay Khalid, an Afghan doctor, who works in a flapping, dust-blown tent, one of Jalozai's three basic clinics. "Today I have seen 20 people for dysentery," she said. "Yesterday five pregnant women aborted. They couldn't even wash the blood off their legs."
But UN officials in Pakistan say that for weeks they have had all the necessary funding, tents, food and other supplies to offer instant relief to the people at Jalozai. "These deaths are preventable," said Yusuf Hassan, a regional spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "At one of the established camps, Shamshatoo, we actually have enough space for up to 2,000 more families, with water and sanitation."
What's holding everything up are definitions of what constitutes a "refugee" as opposed to an "economic migrant". Iftikhar Hussein Shah, the provincial governor, said: "The people are not refugees at all and we do not accept them as such. The compulsion to come here is food, not war, and the UN should be organising that assistance within Afghanistan, not here."
Strictly speaking, those at Jalozai left their homes because of the devastating effects of Afghanistan's worst drought in 30 years, so they are not political refugees. But aid agencies say they still require urgent humanitarian help. Mike Sackett, a regional manager for the World Food Programme, said: "We don't mind their political status, our concern is that they are in very dire need. We have quadrupled our distribution of food on the Afghan side, but they will continue to cross and we need to assist people on both sides."
Ironically, the refugees from drought now fear rain, expected to hit Jalozai any day. "One storm and all this will wash away," said Janathura, crouching beneath two ripped plastic bags in thick dust with her wheezing, five-month-old baby. "And when that happens, what can all these people do?"
An Afghan Mosaic of Misery: Hunger, War and Repression (February 25, 2000)
Taliban Destroys Buddha Statues (Mar 10, 2001)
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia has almost finished destroying two towering statues of Buddha and will complete the job soon despite an international outcry, a top Taliban official said Saturday.
UN General Assembly Appalled by Taliban Destruction (Mar 9, 2001)
At Germany's initiative, the 189-nation U.N. General Assembly called a special session on Friday to express outrage over the destruction of ancient Buddhist statues by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.
"CIA worked in tandem with Pakistan to create Taliban"
The Times of India (March 7, 2001)
LONDON: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worked in tandem with Pakistan to create the "monster" that is today Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, a leading US expert on South Asia said here. "I warned them that we were creating a monster," Selig Harrison from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars said at the conference here last week on "Terrorism and Regional Security: Managing the Challenges in Asia."
Harrison said: "The CIA made a historic mistake in encouraging Islamic groups from all over the world to come to Afghanistan." The US provided $3 billion for building up these Islamic groups, and it accepted Pakistan's demand that they should decide how this money should be spent, Harrison said.
Harrison, who spoke before the Taliban assault on the Buddha statues was launched, told the gathering of security experts that he had meetings with CIA leaders at the time when Islamic forces were being strengthened in Afghanistan. "They told me these people were fanatical, and the more fierce they were the more fiercely they would fight the Soviets," he said. "I warned them that we were creating a monster."
The old associations between the intelligence agencies continue, Harrison said. "The CIA still has close links with the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence)." Today that money and those weapons have helped build up the Taliban, (Muslim theological schools) but are on the payroll of the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence, the intelligence wing of the Pakistani government)." he Taliban are now "making a living out of terrorism."
MORE ON THE TALIBAN AND OTHER "MONSTERS" OF THE CIA IN "A People's History of the CIA: The Subversion of Democracy from Australia to Zaire." at http://www.ncf.ca/coat/-- Read this in the most comprehensive and revealing issue #43 of COAT's magazine currently avalabie at this URL above.
Here is a relevant excerpt
Afghanistan: The CIA's Biggest Covert War
By Mark Zapezauer
During the Reagan years, the CIA ran nearly two dozen covert operations against various governments. Of these, Afghanistan was by far the biggest; it was, in fact, the biggest CIA operation of all time, both in terms of dollars spent (US$5 to US$6 billion) and personnel involved.
Its main purpose was to "bleed" the Soviet Union, just as the U.S. had been bled in Vietnam. Prior to the 1979 Russian invasion, Afghanistan was ruled by a brutal dictator. Like the neighboring shah of Iran, he allowed the CIA to set up radar installations in his country that were used to monitor the Soviets. In 1979, after several dozen Soviet advisors were massacred by Afghan tribesmen, the USSR sent in the Red Army.
The Soviets tried to install a pliable client regime, without taking local attitudes into account. Many of the mullahs who controlled chunks of Afghan territory objected to Soviet efforts to educate women and to institute land reform. Others, outraged by the USSR's attempts to suppress the heroin trade, shifted their operations to Pakistan.
As for the CIA, its aim was simply to humiliate the Soviets by arming anyone who would fight against them. The agency funneled cash and weapons to over a dozen guerrilla groups, many of whom had been staging raids from Pakistan years before the Soviet invasion. For many years, long after the Soviets left Afghanistan, most of these groups were still fighting each other for control of the country.
One notable veteran of the Afghan operation is Sheik Abdel Rahman, famous for his role in the World Trade Center bombing. The CIA succeeded in creating chaos, but never developed a plan for ending it. When the ten-year war was over, a million people were dead, and Afghan heroin had captured 60% of the U.S. market.
CIA-supported mujahedeen engaged heavily in drug trafficking while fighting against the Soviet-supported government and its plans to reform the very backward Afghan society. The CIA's principal client was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the leading druglords and a major heroin refiner. CIA-supplied trucks and mules, which had carried arms into Afghanistan, were used to transport opium to laboratories along the Afghan/Pakistan border. They provided up to half of the heroin used annually in the U.S. and three-quarters of that used in Western Europe. U.S. officials admitted in 1990 that they had failed to investigate or take action against the drug operation. In 1993, an official of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency called Afghanistan the new Colombia of the drug world.
Source: William Blum, "A Brief History of CIA Involvement in the Drug Trade," 1997.
Full coverage on Afghanistan at:
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) - learn more about the independent political organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights and for social justice in the country.
Read especially from:
Afghan Women Under the Tyranny of the Fundamentalists
(Most comprehensive and revealing of the atrocities committed against women)
Here is a relevant excerpt:
Islamic fundamentalism in essence looks upon women as sub-humans, fit only for household slavery and as a means of procreation. Such an outrageous view has incredibly been elevated to the status of official policy with the coming to power of the ignorant Taliban who are still in control of 90% of Afghanistan including the capital Kabul. Not only the Jehadis and Taliban but all Islamists (advocates of an Islamic political system) target womens rights as a first priority, citing mediaeval Sharia (Islamic law) as their authority. With the coming to power of Islamic fundamentalists in 1992, womens right to full participation in social, economic, cultural and political life of the country was drastically curtailed and later on summarily denied them by the Taliban. Under the latter (who are the predominant political power in Afghanistan today), women are totally deprived of the right to education (all girls school have been closed down), of the right to work (all women have been ordered to remain in their houses and employers have been threatened with dire consequences for taking up female employees), of the right to travel (no woman can venture out of the house alone and unaccompanied by a prescribed male member of the womans immediate family), of the right to health (no woman can see a male doctor, family planning is outlawed, women cannot be operated upon by a surgical team containing a male member), of the right to legal recourse (a womans testimony is worth half a mans testimony; a woman cannot petition the court directly this has to be done through a prescribed male member of her immediate family), of the right to recreation (all womens recreational and sporting facilities have been banned, women singers cannot sing least their female voices corrupt males, etc.), and of the right to being human (they cannot show their faces in public to male strangers, they cannot wear bright coloured clothing, they cannot wear make up, they can only appear outside their houses clad head to foot in shapeless bags called burqas, they cannot wear shoes with heels that click [least the clicking sound of their feet corrupt males], they cannot travel in private vehicles with male passengers, they do not have the right to raise their voices when talking in public, they cannot laugh loud as it lures males into corruption, etc. etc.)
This incredible list could be carried on and on but does not in itself constitute the whole of the tragedy which has engulfed the better half of Afghan society. Women are looked upon as war booty, their bodies are another battleground for belligerent parties. Atrocities in Bosnia pale when compared to atrocities in Afghanistan, but unfortunately for reason which it may not be appropriate to go into in this context, the world community neither hears nor cares about what goes on in Afghanistan.
Humanitarian Crises & Food Emergency Updates
For the most recent information on the crisis in East Timor, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, and other humanitarian crises and food emergencies, Hunger Notes recommends:
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizations web site, www.fao.org, especially the Global
Watch page, http://www.fao.org/NEWS/GLOBAL/glolib-e.htm.
The InterAction (the association of U.S. private voluntary organizations) web site, www.interaction.org, especially the disaster response page. You can identify organizations working in a particular location for contributions at this site as well, http://www.interaction.org/disaster/index.html.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees web site, http://www.unhcr.ch/. See especially: Country Updates and Refugees Daily a daily digest of the latest refugee news, as reported by the world's media.
The United States Committee for Refugees, http://www.refugees.org.
Also useful are web search engines. The best we have found for this purpose is Northern Lights search engine at http://www.northernlight.com/. Its advantage is that it groups results into categories (folders). You may either search for a specific topic or country or enter more general keywords such as humanitarian crisis, famine, or food emergency.
If this e-mail has been forwarded to you and you wish to subscribe, send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org (English),
For more information, please review the material posted by the Global Meditation Focus Group at http://www.aei.ca/~cep/focusgroup.htm
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