Afghanistan Female Delegation Negotiates Face-to-Face with Taliban in Historic Oslo Meeting

OSLO, Norway - Earlier this week, it was widely reported that the first all-female delegation of Afghan women led by Parliamentarians Shukria Barakzai and Fawzia Koofi, met with Taliban representatives in Oslo, Norway to discuss women's rights, with a particular focus on the need for reform in how women are treated within Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan. The desired outcome of these negotiations was the protection of the gains women’s rights activists had achieved.

"Afghan women defended their rights with courage," Barakzai said. Their demands at this initial meeting were about "safeguarding the democratic values achieved in the last decade."

Given the historically hardline position that the Taliban has exerted over women in Afghanistan in terms of their rights to self-determination, education, and freedom of expression; these talks were a momentous milestone in a road that is still fraught with peril and has many miles to be travelled toward achieving any future power-sharing agreement.

These groundbreaking talks happened in the midst of a country trying to reassert its identity after decades of external and internal military and religious turmoil. An environment which help to foment a level of religious conservatism which promulgated the harshest and most appalling acts of human rights abuses. With the encroachment of ISIS and its extremist’s tactics, most of which make the Taliban seem rational by contrast; ideas and dogma previously held sacrosanct are being reevaluated.

It is within this context of the Arab proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” that new alliances are emerging as Kabul and the Taliban begin to explore a peaceful end to the ongoing conflict. These current talks can be seen as an extension of negotiations hosted by Qatar a month earlier between militants and an unofficial Afghan delegation. Although, Afghan women have been members of parliament for a number of years, these progressive talks provided them with a seat at the table whereupon negotiations affecting all of the citizens of Afghanistan were being discussed.

It was reported that about a dozen women attended the negotiations, although most chose to hide their identities for fear of reprisal. Last year Barakzai was targeted by militants and narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack with minor injuries. Despite this, she continues to push for women’s rights and praised the relative ease of these talks in part due to the election of President Ashraf Ghani, a prominent supporter of employment and education rights for all Afghan citizens, regardless of gender.

It's too early to tell how much of an impact the unofficial meetings will have, but ideally these historic negotiations will be a turning point in Taliban/women relations and will pave the way for many more similar exchanges.

Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski
Facebook: Sarah Joanne Jakubowski

ISIS, Al Qaeda, Houthi Rebels Compete in Yemen

Local Fighters Team with al-Qeada, Abyan Province, Yemen, Photo by Joe Sheffer

Local Fighters Team with al-Qeada, Abyan Province, Yemen, Photo by Joe Sheffer

YEMEN - ISIS has infiltrated Yemen, a country already flooded with terrorist groups. The Syria-based terror group, known for its extreme brutality and shockingly successful recruitment of outsiders, has gained a tentative foothold alongside the Al Qaeda forces already present.

Al Qaeda remains the dominant presence, but the competition for recruits and support may sway in favor of the more financially-appealing ISIS. This friction between the two groups can spell increased trouble for civilians in Yemen and elsewhere. In-country fighting and instability has escalated, as is evidenced by a gun battle between the two groups last month and White House analysts fear the competition will become a race to see who can hit US soil first and hardest. (Source: CNN)

Another key player in the Yemeni crisis is the Houthis, a rebel group demanding greater control of what they claim is a western-controlled government and protesting unequal distribution of resources. They belong to the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, also known as Fivers, a sect of Islam almost exclusively present in Yemen. They are from the Shi'ite minority similar to the Twelvers found mainly in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran and are known for being most similar to Sunni Muslims in matters of religious law and rulings. They do however, believe in the concept of an Imamate as being essential to their religion, which makes them distinct from Sunnis. (Global Security.org, "Zaydi Islam”, by John Pike)

Pressure from Houthi fighters resulted in the resignation of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. His departure triggered thousands of Yemeni citizens to counter-protest the Houthi actions. (Source: BBC)

Yemen, although among the world's poorest countries, has strategic political and geographical importance. The terror activity poses a danger to the U.S., who is often the target for attacks. In addition, it is a gateway for foreign fighters to go to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, providing ample recruiting opportunities for ISIS and other terror groups. The U.S. government had found allies in Yemen officials and was working with their government to develop counter-terrorism methods. Now that the shaky government has been obliterated by rebels and terrorist groups compete for dominance and destruction, the future of Yemen is unclear.

The Efficacy of Drone Assassinations

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 04:35 a.m. DST, 24 May 2014

"Protest against US wars and drone attacks" Photo by: Fibonacci Blue

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The White House announced this week that it will release classified documents about the planning and justification behind drone attacks that killed four American expatriates in 2011.

Growing pressure from a bipartisan array of Senators and legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were instrumental in the forthcoming publication, which will be made available in the coming weeks.

2011 was a deadly year for American citizens living in the Middle East. In September, Anwar al-Awlaki and his affiliate Samir Khan were killed during a drone strike in Yemen. Both men were proud al-Qaeda operatives, but Khan was not targeted in the unmanned attack. However, his death was seen as a bonus for Washington, who was aware that Khan's role in al-Qaeda included writing and editing for the English-language al-Qaeda magazine Inspire.

Days later, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a similar fashion when a remotely piloted aircraft took his life, supposedly by accident. Abdulrahman was born in Denver, Colorado and had been living with his father in Yemen until late September. Additionally, a November offensive in Pakistan killed U.S. citizen Jude Kenan Mohammad via aerial fire.

It was all but inevitable that the United States would pursue the elder al-Awlaki, who had a hand in the 9/11 terror plot and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. Publicly, he spoke out against the September 11th attacks as a misuse of Islam and participated in interviews with The New York Times under the guise of a moderate Muslim. All the while, al-Awlaki was leading a secret life of hateful blogging, where he encouraged violence against Israeli and American citizens.

However, as heinous as his duplicity, no one expected his teenage son to be targeted and killed by drone attacks weeks after al-Awlaki's elimination. Military coordinators claim the heavy shelling that killed the young al-Awlaki was unintentional, a tactic often employed to excuse drone hostility gone wrong. Despite this feigned contrition, drone operators subsequently killed five students and three teachers in the Khyber-Pakhtunkwah Province of Pakistan in November 2013.

I am not sure which is worse -- a callous disregard of this tragedy or the inept military strategy behind it. Though the actions of the adults targeted and killed by the drones was equally and morally reprehensible; as American citizens they had the right to due process, and if found guilty, imprisonment.

The American military's silence on this matter is consistent with a policy that tacitly condones the use of remote control assassination machines despite the collateral damage of innocent bystanders. This article does not serve as a blanket indictment of U.S. military strategies that serve to protect its citizenry from terrorism, but it does advocate for the need of greater transparency.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

The Arab Spring Withers | Al-Qaeda Opportunism

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 12:44 PM EDT, 13 September 2012

Burning American Flag, Photo by Pixel.EightSANAA, Yemen – The coordinated murders of Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three other diplomats on the anniversary of 9/11 is troubling.

It also alludes to an intelligent design behind the attack by well-armed, militarized marauders whom some suspect may be loosely aligned with al-Qaeda.

The difference between the Cairo and Benghazi attacks are stark. Cairo seems to be a spontaneous outburst by protesters who were upset with a despicable anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube under several titles, including "Innocence of Muslims," whereas the objective of the protests in Benghazi appear to have provided cover for a military operation with an objective to kill Americans.

In both confrontations demonstrators blamed the United States for the film in which the Prophet Mohammad is depicted in terms seen as blasphemous by Muslims even though it was vociferously denounced by Washington.

Today, unrest spread across the region in response to the video. Most notably, hundreds of Yemeni demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa also under the pretext of protesting the film, resulting in clashes with embassy security forces who fired in the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The protesters, many of them young men, briefly retreated during the firing but quickly returned.

The protesters pelted the embassy security officers with stones and also ‘set fire to at least five cars just before they breached the heavily fortified compound. Riot control forces finally used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators. (Source: Reuters)

Although, only one protester died, at least 15 people were wounded. The U.S. State Department confirmed that all of the embassy personnel are safe. Reportedly, at least 12 people were arrested in the wake of the riot. The attack against the U.S. embassies in Benghazi, Cairo, and now Sanaa, elicited worries about the continued safety of American diplomatic personnel across the Middle East.

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Published: 13 September 2012 (Page 2 of 2)

As in Egypt yesterday, it was reported that Yemeni security forces were slow to intervene as the crowd began to march upon the embassy holding 'God is Greatest' signs and placards.

Today, after a call with President Obama, the president of Egypt Mohamed Morsi finally issued a tepid statement in response to the assault of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Many view his statement as too little, too late.

By contrast, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi of Yemen offered an immediate "personal apology" to President Barack Obama for the murder of American diplomats and the storming of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and promised a swift investigation.

Because Yemen is home of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is viewed by Washington as the most dangerous branch of the militant network established by Osama bin Laden,' this attack and the one in Libya are viewed with extreme caution.(Source: Reuters)

The success of the Arab Spring is quickly descending into a ‘winter of discontent’ because newly elected governments are ruling without mandates and are in the inevitable position of trying to coalesce numerous factions with differing objectives into a functioning democracy, as daunting a task as herding cats.

These fissures in Arab Spring governments have allowed the opportunistic and fluid tentacles of al-Qaeda to infiltrate and sabotage the efforts of these Middle Eastern countries’ to embrace Democracy.

As more information becomes available, many are considering the possibility that these attacks are not isolated events, but coordinated efforts to destabilize nations like Libya and Yemen which successfully accomplished regime change and formed valuable alliances with the United States.

Because the Yemeni ousted Ali Abdullah Saleh last year, President Barak Obama committed to provide $345 million in security, humanitarian and development assistance this year, over double last year's aid.

In light of current events, the U.S. Congress in conjunction with President Obama is evaluating continued aid to Yemen, but more specifically the average $2 billion in foreign assistance that the U.S. provides Egypt is also on the table for reevaluation. President Morsi’s government has not given any indication that it desires to continue the strong alliance the U.S. enjoyed with his predecessor, the former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

In response to this outright attack of U.S. diplomats and the potential danger to all American citizens in the region, President Barack Obama has dispatched two destroyers to the region and vowed to hunt down and bring to justice the perpetrators who murdered Ambassador Steven and 3 other Americans.

Our condolences go out to the families of these victims, while we reassert our belief that religious intolerance leads not to peace but to increased violence.

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National Geographic Live! : Too Young to Wed

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:33 AM EDT, 10 July 2012

Many of the post that we feature deal with human rights abuses and in particular women’s rights abuses, as in the case of yesterday’s report of the Afghan woman who was executed. There is no justification for what happened to Najiba; however, to every story there is a back story, and though most people are unable to get beyond the emotional outrage of the act, including me, we often miss the underlying sociological constraints that actuate these reprehensible events.

That is why we have chosen to present this National Geographic video which highlights the work of photographer Stephanie Sinclair and writer Cynthia Gorney who together investigated the world of prearranged child marriage, where girls as young as five who live in remote regions of India, Ethiopia and Yemen among other places, are forced to wed and bear children.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c_zppPutQw&feature=related]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “Born in 1973, Sinclair is an American photojournalist known for gaining unique access to the most sensitive gender and human rights issues around the world. Sinclair was recently awarded the Alexia Foundation Professional Grant, UNICEF's Photo of the Year and the Lumix Festival for Young Photojournalism Freelens Award for her extensive work on the issue of child marriage. She contributes regularly to National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, TIME, Newsweek, Stern, German Geo and Marie Claire among others, and is based in Brooklyn, NY.” (Source: Stephanie Sinclair)

Though we would like to rush in like lions, we have seen time and again this approach is as effective as waving a proverbial magic wand and casting a spell to make the whole situation disappear. We all know this is not possible, but the video above provides compelling insight into why efforts to change abhorrent cultural practices via external pressure has ubiquitously failed.

Saleh Flees with Riches to Ethiopia

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 18:52 PM EDT, 27 February 2012

President Ali Abdullah SalehSANAA, Yemen – Exiled Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh is rumored to have made plans to live in exile in Ethiopia. News sources have already published photos of the ousted president standing with the Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi.

Saleh and his family, according to an anonymous source but confirmed by a diplomat in Sanaa, said that they would be departing for Ethiopia where they will reside in a villa in the suburb of Addis Ababa. Reportedly, their visas have been issued and their belongings are already in transit to this Horn of Africa nation.

Other family members have left the country and sought refuge in the United Arab Emirates. It doesn’t appear that Saleh, as with most ousted or deposed rulers, willingly relinquished control as evidenced by his refusal to sign the accord for the power handover three times before finally agreeing to it.

After finally agreeing to sign the accord, Saleh did not leave the country or the presidential palace until he was severely injured in June by a rocket attack on the palace. He subsequently spent three months receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, and three weeks ago he received additional treatment in the United States for injuries sustained during the attack.

Yemeni officials and other world leaders felt that Saleh’s continue residence in the country could have a destabilizing effect which could provide Al-Qaeda with entrée into the nascent government and provide more opportunities for them to exert greater control over the country.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president on Saturday and requested that Arab leaders and the US pressure Saleh to leave the country. Though the elections were modeled upon a democratic system, Hadi was the only candidate in the vote.

Many Yemeni citizens are angered by Saleh’s ability to depart the country unsanctioned. To add further insult, it is rumored that his family and coterie stripped the presidential palace of many valuables. Saleh’s peaceful departure was actually the result of a Gulf-proposed and U.S. backed power-transfer deal granting him immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down.

Ironically, it may have been the threat by the U.N. Security Council to freeze Saleh's and his family's assets that finally persuaded him to depart. In a staged farewell ceremony on Monday, Saleh and Hadi appeared for the first time next to each other. They pledged to lay the foundation for a peaceful power transition. But, the only promises the Yemeni people want from new government is a commitment to bring Saleh to justice.

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Preteen Divorce in Yemen | Nujood Ali

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 17:33 PM EDT, 4 March 2010

UNITED STATES - Nujood Ali is a ten-year old Yemeni girl who secured a divorce from her husband, a man 20 years her senior who violently raped her soon after their marriage. She recounts in her memoir her father promising her to this man and her mother's inability to protect her from the abuse she would soon suffer. Typical of many traditional, patriarchal societies, her father was the ultimate arbiter of all decisions pertaining to the females of his household. Even though Nujood's mother disagreed with the arrangement she was powerless to intervene.

Nujood's courageous story, "I Am Nujood, Age 10 Divorced," was just published in the United States this week. Her ordeal as chronicled in the book began when she was in the 2nd grade, before she had even had her first menstrual cycle. Though her father remained unswayed by her protestations, he did request her future husband to abstain from sexual contact with Nujood until after her first menstruation. On the day of her wedding, this small, scared girl remained curled up in a corner crying, and that night her husband raped her for the first time.

As a woman whose parents received the offer of several cows to become the nubile bride of an octogenarian, and who was violently raped as a teenager; Nujood's story evokes a visceral response in me.  Whereas I was able to avoid her matrimonial fate through the strong protestations of my mother, it was achieved at the cost of subsequent physical abuse from my father who felt defied and humiliated at his inability to "control his women."

Nujood's nuptial night rape was the beginning of a horrible cycle of abuse from both her husband and mother-in-law who encouraged her son to beat Nujood. Though only in elementary school her husband forced to drop out since education for women is not valued nor encouraged. Her life of enforced servitude and childbearing was antithetical to the independence education would have afforded her. Statistically, an educated woman will desire to improve her situation and that of her offspring, which often clashes with the rigid structure of a society where a woman's opinions and thoughts carry no weight.

This is what makes Nujood's story so remarkable, she was born and raised within this framework and was yet a child without the benefit of outside references, who had the presence of mind to escape from her husband's house and go to a local court where she bravely asked to speak to a judge. When she finally found one who would listen to her, she proclaimed with boldness,  "I want a divorce!"

Thus began a journey that would inspire other girls trapped in similarly abusive arranged marriages to petition the courts for annulments and divorces. It does not appear that Nujood knew the full import of her decision that day, nor the potential danger she faced from her family, particularly her father and brothers who could have easily murdered her, in all probability without retribution, through the practice of 'Honor Killing.'  Thankfully, this was not the case and now Nujood can live her life in a manner prescribed and determined by her in large part due to the success of her book and the income that it generates.

Nujood Ali's memoir was No. 1 for five weeks in France and is currently being published in 18 other languages including Arabic.  I highly recommend this book and encourage you to explore this issue further through the links below.

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