Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Globe Flashback: The Caves of Bamiyan

"Afghan cave dwellers brace against a shifting landscape" by Lynne O’Donnell Associated Press  November 19, 2016

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — Marzia and her husband Qadeer thought themselves lucky when they moved into a 1,700-year-old Buddhist cave hand-carved into the side of a mountain in Afghanistan’s central highlands — it was clean and dry, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and there was plenty of work on the local farms. But now, even this bare-bones way of life is threatened.

The family, along with another 242 cave-dwelling households dotted around the capital of Bamiyan province, also called Bamiyan, could be forced to move soon. They are what’s left of around 10,000 families who have been relocated over the past decade as part of the local government’s program to protect the unique man-made grottoes that it hopes will transform Bamiyan into a global tourist destination once Afghanistan’s war with the insurgent Taliban, now in its 16th year, is finally over. 

I suppose the term insurgent is pejorative; after all, they only live there.

The couple moved here from neighboring Maidan-Wardak province because they believed it was a stepping stone to a better future.

‘‘We had no money, and my husband couldn’t get a job,’’ Marzia said as she breastfed her baby. ‘‘We left because we were poor.’’

But 12 years later they are still living in the cave, along with their five children aged from 10 months to 8 years, including 6-year-old Freshta who hasn’t been the same since a land mine exploded close by her four years ago. Her mental development stopped, and she spends most of her time lolling on the thin mat that covers the cave’s floor.

Any original features, such as the brightly colored geometric murals that were painted by the monks who created these caves, are long gone. They’ve been destroyed by time, the elements, and the wear-and-tear of hundreds of years of habitation — including the fires that residents build for cooking and heat.

‘‘Life here is difficult,’’ Marzia, 30, said. Water must be fetched from a nearby stream, and a 9-volt battery charges a solar panel that provides light after dark. Cooking is done on a stove fueled by a gas bottle. They have installed a door and a step up into the one room that all seven members of the family share. Smaller caves outside are used for storage.

On the rural outskirts of the city, amid the rutted fields where the province’s main potato crop is grown, the cave-dwellers do what they can with their meager resources, determined that the next generation will have a better life. As Shi’ite Muslims of the Hazara minority, they have suffered historic persecution, but they have also benefited from immense largesse from international charities and governments.

Amid an intensifying Taliban-led insurgency, Bamiyan is a haven of peace, as the Shi’ite Hazaras have successfully kept the war off their territory since the end of the Sunni Taliban’s regime — under which they were persecuted and much of the province’s Buddhist heritage destroyed. A proliferation in recent years of all-covering burqas and hijabs among the local women attests to a growing concern about the war as it spreads elsewhere in the country.

Freshta Ahmadi runs a school for 25 children aged 4 to 9 years old, who gather in the living room of her family’s three-room cave home six days a week to learn reading, writing, and math. Freshta is 18, in her last year of secondary school, and hopes one day to become a doctor. She has been running the cave school since 2012 with money donated by Parsa, an Afghan charity. 

I don't like to speak up in cla$$.

‘‘These children are from poor families, their fathers are itinerant workers, farmers, or refugees from other poorer areas,’’ she said. Their circumstances don’t dampen ambition, however — the children, mostly girls, stand in turn at the whiteboard, complete a few exercises in front of their classmates, then reiterate their plans for a future as doctors, police officers, or engineers.

Bamiyan is probably best known as the site of two massive Buddhas, one 180 feet tall, the other 124 feet tall, that were carved into the cliff face above the modern city between the 4th and 6th centuries and that were destroyed by the Taliban at the urging of Al Qaeda in early 2001, in a defiant show of extremist power and hubris ahead of the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11 that year. 

Yeah, I said something to the Eastern religions guy over at the school, and he said I only got half the story. The reason the Taliban did that was because they had kids starving and the U.N. wanted to spends millions in some sort of reclamation project. I'm not saying I agree with blowing up the Buddha; I'm just saying you are not being told the full story.

Their memory lingers now in gaping niches where the magnificent statues stood as part of an extensive monastic center that included up to 12,000 caves used by monks as devotional getaways. It formed an elaborate network of monasteries, assembly halls, residencies, and large sanctuaries that were decorated with frescos and statues, many produced with techniques unique to this part of the world, according to archeologist Rasool Shojaei, who previously worked on their restoration with the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

UNESCO has classified the ‘‘cultural landscape and archeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley’’ as a world heritage site representing Buddhist and Islamic religious and artistic developments from the 1st to 13th Centuries.

The provincial government is working with UNESCO to restore the valley’s eight significant sites, including the Ghulghulah fortress, believed to be Bamiyan’s original staging post on the old Silk Road that linked China to India. The fortress was razed by Genghis Khan’s hoards in the early 13th Century and never regained its glory.

China is also looking to do that for trade purposes, another source of friction with the West.

Determined to develop on its own terms, the province hosts around a dozen international events a year, said Kabir Dadras, head of the local office of the Ministry of Information and Culture, including a marathon, a skiing competition, and a variety of cultural festivals. ‘‘Bamiyan is very popular with Indians, Japanese, and Koreans because of the Buddhist heritage,’’ he said.

People living in caves a tourist attraction! 

Weren't they doing the same with tour buses in new York City a while back?

As part of those plans, he said, all the people still living in the grottoes, and assessed as sufficiently poverty-stricken to qualify for the government’s land redistribution program, will be moved to new townships on the outskirts of the city by 2018, he said.

For Marzia, it’s been a lot of talk and no action. ‘‘I’ve spoken with the governor and a lot of officials have been here to see us,’’ she said. ‘‘They keep promising that they will give us a flat, but we’ve no idea when, or even if, it will happen.’’

Kind of get used to it.

Meanwhile, her 8-year-old daughter Shepha Qah, who studies at the Parsa cave school, harbors hopes of becoming a doctor. ‘‘I have belief in my daughter’s ambitions; that’s why we left Maidan-Wardak, so that our children could go to school and have a better life,’’ Marzia said.

Shepha Qah, 8, and her brother stood by the door of their cave in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
Shepha Qah, 8, and her brother stood by the door of their cave in Bamiyan, Afghanistan (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press). 

I guess you would call that the front door.


I wonder if they would have been protected from these:

"Afghan ex-president denounces bombing by US" by Mujib Mashal New York Times  April 15, 2017

KABUL — The US military’s use of the most powerful conventional bomb in its arsenal against the Islamic State in Afghanistan has stirred up trouble for the Afghan government, as former President Hamid Karzai on Saturday called his successor “a traitor” and declared that he wanted the Americans gone from the country.

In an interview with The New York Times, hours after he said he intended to work toward “ousting the US,” a fuming Karzai said there was no justification for the United States to drop the powerful bomb in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani’s government would not address Karzai’s harsh words directly. But Ghani’s office put out a brief post on Twitter, clearly aimed at Karzai: “Every Afghan has the right to speak their mind. This is a country of free speech.”

And there is no middle ground, either.

The uproar over the bombing and its meanings comes as H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, arrived in Kabul on Saturday for consultations with Afghan leaders as the new administration reviews its Afghanistan policy. 

Let me guess, more troops?!

Afghan and US military officials described the bomb’s use as a battlefield necessity for the destruction of the Islamic State cave complex and the success of military operations. Four ground operations in the area, supported by regular, smaller airstrikes, had proved futile, they say. There have been no signs yet that the bombing caused any civilian casualties.

Are they even looking for any?

Other Afghan politicians have been more restrained about their views of the US bombing, with some opposed to it and others saying they supported it.

Amin Karim, the spokesman for the main faction of Hezb-e-Islami, a conservative Islamist party with links to the insurgency, said members of his party disagreed with the strike.

They believe it was carried out for American political reasons and as a way to send a message to other countries at odds with the United States, rather than to fight terrorism in Afghanistan, Amin Karim said.

“The goal of this attack was for beyond Afghanistan — it was for showing American power to North Korea, Syria and some other countries; it was for scaring these countries,” he said.

Yeah, I agree with that.

And just who is Hezb-e-Islami?

Why, he is the CIA's ace-in-the-hole, the terrorist warlord who has been rehabilitated!

At a news conference organized by the Nangarhar governor’s office Friday, a group of elders from the Achin district, where the bomb was dropped, expressed support for the use of such overwhelming force to eliminate the Islamic State fighters.


"The increased death toll in Nangarhar was announced as officials in southern Helmand province reported at least 11 civilians were killed and one wounded in two roadside bomb blasts overnight Friday...."

The killing continues even after the MOAB.

Karzai said the people of eastern Afghanistan had expressed concern about Islamic State fighters crossing the border with Pakistan when the threat emerged more than two years ago, but little action was taken then.


Karzai, who has grown more anti-American in recent years despite having come to power with the help of the US military, had been seen as a quiet opposition figure, intent on derailing Ghani’s government.


Karzai better be careful or they will sic the cops on him.

Even when he was in power, he was against the United States’ use of air power on Afghan villages, but analysts say they believe the latest US bombing has given him another political pretext to mobilize against the government....



Not So Good Friday
Sucky Saturday

Turned into a sh**ty Sunday.

"Assad’s opponents seek justice for victims of the war in Syria" by Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Ian Fisher New York Times News Service  April 15, 2017

ISTANBUL — The evidence is staggering.

Three tons of captured Syrian government documents, providing a chilling and extensive catalog of war crimes, are held by a single organization in Europe. A Syrian police photographer fled with pictures of more than 6,000 dead at the hands of the state, many of them tortured. The smartphone alone has broken war’s barriers: Records of crimes are now so graphic, so immediate, so overwhelming.

Yet six years since the war began, this mountain of documentation — more perhaps than in any conflict before it — has brought little justice. The people behind the violence remain free, and there is no clear path to bring the bulk of the evidence before any court, anywhere.

Bush, Bliar, the coterie of Israeli war criminal leaders.... where are they? 

Honestly, regardless of the on-the-ground situation, I'm simply full up on the New York Times ax-grinding war promoting. Sorry.

More than 400,000 have been killed in Syria’s war. Half the country’s population has been displaced. Human rights groups list more than 100,000 people as missing, either detained or killed. Tens of thousands languish in government custody, where torture, deprivation, filth, and overcrowding are so severe that a United Nations commission said they amounted to “extermination,” a crime against humanity.

Obama's war, and Trump already spattered with blood.

But so far, there is only one war-crimes case pending against Syrian officials: filed in Spain, over a man who died in government custody.

This is impossible, and Spain is just as corrupt as the rest.

No cases have gone to the International Criminal Court. Syria never joined it, so the court’s chief prosecutor cannot start an investigation on her own.

U.S. didn't join it, either!

The UN Security Council could refer a case to the court, but Russia has repeatedly used its veto power to shield Syria from international condemnation. And even if the council were to take action, President Bashar Assad and his top officials are battened down in Damascus, making their arrests difficult, to say the least.

Substitute U.S. and Israel for Russia and Syria.

As Assad has consolidated control of Syria’s major cities, some countries that have long opposed him have signaled a new willingness to accept his rule as the fastest way to end the war, encourage refugees to go home, and accelerate the fight against jihadis. As bad as Assad may be, some argue, Syria would be worse without him.

Actually, the war is over.

Assad’s opponents counter that keeping a head of state with so much blood on his hands perpetuates the war.

What's the big deal? All of mine have and do.

A chemical attack this month that killed more than 80 people was his most recent atrocity, after years of torture, enforced disappearances, siege warfare, and indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighborhoods and hospitals. Such violence will continue as long as Assad and his security apparatus remain, his enemies say.

“This is not some abstract human rights issue,” said Laila Alodaat, a Syrian human rights lawyer at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. “Hundreds of thousands of victims and their families need justice, remedy, and assurance that the future will be free from such violations.”

Syria’s war has seen atrocities by all sides. Rebels have shelled civilian neighborhoods, and the jihadis of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have deployed suicide bombers, tortured enemies, and executed prisoners, often in well-produced videos.

Yeah, they have also been the only ones to use the chemical weapons but that is all cleaned up by a pre$$ that supports them.

But the largest number of violations by far has been by the Syrian government and its allies, investigators say, because they wield the apparatus of the state, including a formal military with an air force, extensive security services, and networks of prisons.

That is true everywhere!

The Syrian government portrays the conflict as an international conspiracy to destroy the country and equates all opposition with foreign-backed terrorism. It denies that its forces have deployed chemical weapons or committed atrocities.

They would happen to be right.

Dozens of people over the years have told The New York Times about their arrests and detentions and the disappearances of their relatives into the maw of the security system, from early 2011 to this month.

Just like Gitmo and other black sites, and way back in 2002 the U.S. rendered prisoners to Syria for torture -- but that was way long ago!

Many who have suffered lost hope of redress long ago.

A Syrian man who did four stints of detention and torture for taking humanitarian aid to wounded protesters and rebels recounted his experiences, but then expressed despair that anything would come of it.

“Countries don’t need this evidence — they already know what’s happening,” said the man, Abu Ali al-Hamwi, using his nom de guerre because his mother is in government-controlled Syria.

“There is no justice,” he said. “And because there is no justice, there is no hope.”

And no peace, either.


"Car bomb kills dozens of Syrians evacuating town after two years of siege" Washington Post  April 15, 2017

A car bomb in northern Syria killed dozens on Saturday when it ripped through buses evacuating residents from a besieged town.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, and in one video from the site, a shaken reporter said the dead included civilians as well as rebel fighters. A cameraphone video showed the charred bodies of two small children dangling from the vehicles.

That means nothing now, what with all the fakes and forgeries propagated by the U.S. government and its mouthpiece media.

The departures Friday under the Four Towns deal marked the first stage in the population swap between rebel- and government-held areas. Overseen by Qatar and Iran, the deal took place with negligible involvement by the Syrian government, underscoring how much control President Bashar Assad has lost in certain areas.

There already was mounting frustration when the explosion occurred: Thousands of evacuees from the pro-government and opposition areas were stuck on opposite sides of the edge of Aleppo as rebels and government bickered over the terms for evacuating fighters.

Yeah, this is a disaster waiting to happen.

Fouaa and neighboring Kefraya have been reliant on government airdrops since rebel forces cut supply lines and launched frequent attacks on the towns. In Syria’s south, the opposition-held town of Madaya has endured a siege so tight that dozens have starved to death....


Yemen and Africa now again at the back of the food line.


On the front burner:

North Korean missile launch fails, and a show of strength fizzles

I'm glad the party and parade were not ruined. 

As for the failure of the test....

"Congress is on a two-week recess that has come at a time when Trump and the GOP health care bill are faring dismally in polls, and Representative Greg Walden was often put on the defensive about both. Republicans hope to resuscitate the health care measure and tackle budget, tax, and infrastructure legislation, but...."

Oh, yeah, all the bombing he is authorizing is being done while Congre$$ is out of town! Talk about dereliction of duty!

Rallies across US demand Trump release tax returns

Not the mass-murdering slaughters of war?

How many more on death row?

The giraffe is now at risk of extinction

You take one, you get one....

NASA just photographed a new crack in one of Greenland’s largest glaciers

Like I'm going to believe anything NASA says; however, just a thought: would they blow off a chunk just to prove their global warming point despite the disruption to commerce and shipping?

"Thousands protest limits on freedom

BUDAPEST — Thousands of Hungarians attended a protest dubbed ‘‘We Won’t Stay Silent’’ against government policies said to be stifling academic freedom and intimidating civic groups. The rally Saturday in Freedom Square in downtown Budapest followed similar protests over the past two weeks provoked by legal amendments seen targeting the Central European University, considered an ideological foe by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Another draft bill would force some civic groups to declare foreign funding. (AP)

Funded and organized by $oro$.

Horde of migrants rescued off Libya

ROME — Rescue ships plucked about 2,000 migrants from unseaworthy smugglers’ boats off the coast of Libya, with hundreds of them arriving Saturday in southern Italian ports. One rescue ship brought 504 migrants and one corpse to Pozzallo, Sicily, and another boat brought about 500 other migrants to Augusta, Sicily. In all, the Italian coast guard coordinated about 20 rescues on Friday. (AP)

Trump's next target? It's the only country on his travel list he hasn't yet bombed.

Ancient fire ritual marks resurrection

JERUSALEM — Thousands of Christians gathered in Jerusalem for an ancient fire ceremony that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. In a ritual dating back at least 1,200 years, they crowded Saturday into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where tradition holds that Jesus was buried. They saw Eastern Orthodox clerics enter the Edicule, the chamber marking the site of Jesus’ tomb, and emerge with candles said to be miraculously lit. At the Vatican, Pope Francis presided at an Easter Vigil ceremony (AP)."

Also see:

Historic restoration of Jesus’ burial shrine completed
Jesus’ restored tomb is unveiled, well in time for Easter

And they come bearing gifts (please ignore the theft of land).

Have a Happy Easter, readers. 

Time for me to crawl back to my cave.