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June 21, 2010

Kabul's 'Jihadi gangster' takes on Afghan police corruption

Last summer, Kabul-based artist Aman Mojadidi came up with an intriguing idea. Anpblog

What would happen if he bought some Afghan police uniforms, set up a fake checkpoint and offered an apology - along with a little cash -- to drivers used to paying small bribes at checkpoints across the nation?

The result was "Payback," a 15-minute short film that documents the culture jamming experiment on the streets of Kabul.

For one afternoon, Mojadidi and director Walied Osman staked out a section of Kabul road, set up the road block and flagged down car after car.

The entire afternoon was captured on hidden camera. Most of the befuddled drivers he stopped eventually took the money -- about $2.

Mojadidi said he wanted to examine the roots of pervasive police corruption and see how drivers would respond when they were given a little reverse "baksheesh."

By the end, 16 of the 20 drivers offered money took the cash.

Remarkably, the whole reverse bribe project took place under the watch of a real policeman who, at the end of the day, without a hint of irony, asked for a little baksheesh of his own.

The experiment also exposed an ongoing problem in Afghanistan.

When it is illegal to sell police and military uniforms in Kabul, they are for sale on the open markets, where McClatchy reporters recently bought a police uniform for about $13.

The Afghan interior ministry seemed to be unaware of the shops selling uniforms in the central Kabul market. And it remains unclear if they will do anything about it.

Mojadidi turned the checkpoint experience into an installation shown in Kabul last year. He and Osman are working on the short film.

Mojadidi, a Jacksonville, Fla. native who now works in Kabul, has done a series of thought-provoking pieces while in Afghanistan. Jihadi

"We are all at conflict," Mojadidi writes on his website. "Whether with others or ourselves, with our own ideas, thoughts, desires, history, present, future. We are all at conflict as we try and navigate ourselves through a life we understand only through our experiences, through our confrontation both internal and external with social, political, cultural, and personal strife."

In his most recent work, "The Jihadi Gangster," Mojadidi takes a provocative look at Islamic militants in a bling culture where he wears a gold plated gun on a huge chain around his neck and has sexy women with a revealing burqa fawning over the Muslim gangsta as he watches TV.

You can see more of Mojadidi's work here.

(Photo: Buying a police uniform in the central Kabul market.)

June 8, 2010

The war roses of Kabul


(Destroyed Kabul guest house on morning of February attack.)

More than two months ago, Afghan insurgents staged a complex assault on central Kabul that killed 16 people, most of then Indian nationals staying in a small guest house that was decimated by a massive car bomb.

There is little left of the low-profile guest house. A gray tarp hides the wreckage from the street, and a guard keeps watch over the ruins.

Amid the debris, spread across the once-tranquil courtyard, though, dozens of untended roses are now blooming.





June 7, 2010

Kabul's mysterious Obama rug


It is one of the most-talked-about rugs in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Hanging outside an embassy conference room is a silk and wool rug with an unusual portrait of President Obama.

JokerThe stark white and red portrait (especially the extra-red lips) reminds some of the infamous Obama/Joker image that became a fixture at anti-Obama/Tea Party protests earlier this year. 

But it is the mysterious visages in the upper corners that have prompted the most chatter.Sasha

The profile portraits appear to be of a young girl with chubby cheeks.

They are presumably meant to be one of Obama's daughters. (Most likely Sasha, who turns nine this week).

But the rug likeness is, to be charitable, not the best. (The girl on the carpet appears to almost be cross-eyed...)

Some US embassy officials thought the figures in the corners might be an homage to one of the rug maker's own kids.John

One American official wondered if it might be a likeness of American actor John Leguizamo. (Joke.) 

So where does the truth lie?

Khan Baba, the Kabul rug maker, says that the images in the top corners are indeed supposed to be one of Obama's daughters. But he can't quite remember which one.

"It isn't very good because the picture is from the Internet," he told McClatchy.

Baba said four of his kids -- ages 9, 11, 16 and 17 -- spent six months working on the rug to present as a gift to the US Embassy.

The family turned up at the embassy last July 4th to present the rug to US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

Baba said that embassy officials graciously accepted the rug and told the kids that the ambassador would offer his thanks in person some time soon.

Nearly a year later, Baba said his kids are still hoping that promise will be fulfilled.

"The kids are waiting impatiently to meet Ambassador Eikenberry," he said.

Karzai ousts key security leaders

Four days after a pair of Taliban militants managed to evade heavy security and attack the national peace conference, President Hamid Karzai forced out the country's top intel chief and interior minister.

In a tense Sunday meeting with Karzai, NDS chief Amrullah Saleh and Interior Minister Hanif Afmar tried unsuccessfully to assuage the Afghan president.

The pair offered to resign - and Karzai accepted.

The abrupt shake-up has created widespread speculation that the resignations were about more than just last week's attack.

Martine van Bijlert at the Afghanistan Analysts Network called the attack "a rather feeble explanation" for the resignations.

"The two men may have simply become tired of being always blamed and never praised, but that does not explain Karzai’s swift acceptance at a time when you would normally want to keep your experienced officials," she wrote on her blog. " The speculations on what the ‘real’ and ‘hidden’ reasons are have of course already started and were fueled by Amrullah Saleh’s comment that 'there were tens of internal and external reasons' for his resignation (which he could however not expand on). There have been suggestions that the two may have opposed Karzai’s most recent decision to establish a review commission for political detainees as part of the follow-up to the peace jirga, but that looks like an attempt to connect the most recent dots rather than a plausible explanation. It is much more likely that their fall-out came as a result of the long and deep lack of trust towards them on the part of the President. Both Atmar and Saleh have had rather a rocky relationship with Karzai, which was exacerbated at times by their popularity among the internationals and the fact that Karzai was not at liberty to replace them. Their position may have been further weakened by Karzai’s recent overtures to Pakistan. It might just have been his chance."

June 4, 2010

CNN's new take on the cost of wars

CNN has produced a new interactive map that provides a unique picture of the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Called "Home and Away: The Fallen in Afghanistan," the new program allows people to look at the geographic reach of the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, the US, Canada and around the rest of the world with other American military partners.

You can see how many soldiers from California have been killed overseas in the two wars -- and where in the countries they died. The features examine the ages of the soldiers, their home towns and how they were killed.

June 3, 2010

The pot plants of Kabul

Kabul Street Scene, Thursday, June 3, 2010:


A marijuana plant grows in a sidewalk plot along a busy Kabul street across from -- where else? -- the Dutch Embassy.
About a half dozen such plants line the road about 50 yards from an Afghan police checkpoint.

June 2, 2010

An unusual glimpse of old Kabul

Over at Foreign Policy, Mohammed Qayoumi, the president of California State University, East Bay, has an unusual photo essay about life in Kabul in the 1950s and 60s.

"A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods," Qayoumi writes. "There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real."

The essay is called "Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan..." 


In one photo it appears as if Alfred Hitchcock once ran the Kabul radio transmitters...


Afghanistan's muscle boys on parade

The Denver Post has a nice photo essay on a slice of Afghanistan you don't often see: Bodybuilders in Afghanistan.


(AP photo/David Guttenfelder)


Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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