The VICE News Capsule is a daily roundup that looks beyond the headlines. Today: Myanmar’s war on opium, the Taliban destroyed Pakistan’s silk industry, the UK pulls out of Afghanistan and serious starvation risk among Syrian refugee children.
You who judge me
I hope you burn alive and become dust
I hope you are destroyed and disappear from this universe
Your days and nights filled with sorrow and pain
Tear open my chest and see what is inside
Only then can you understand
Reading Taliban Love Poems in an Afghan Prison
We twisted up into the sky beneath a blur of rotors—mum in the numb motor din. The shadow of our helicopter flit below, yawing in the undulations of the sorrel earth, hurtling peaks, and hurling into dark valleys.
My military escort Lieutenant Cartagena and I took off from Mazar-i-Sharif, a city built 900 years ago in desolation—the site revealed in a prophetic dream. From the scattered earthen villages that passed beneath our craft to the army outpost we sought, every settlement seemed tinged with that same fantastic quality—accidents of life in a dead land.
We reunited with our shadow on the airstrip of a base in Baghlan province that I am not permitted to name. I jumped onto the tarmac, squinting through the heat blast. We had come to witness the successful passage of a NATO prison and military base into Afghan hands.
The American soldiers of Blackfoot Troop bounded out to meet us. They were tall and strong, engendering visions of Thanksgiving dinners in places like Battle Creek, Michigan, and Louisville, Kentucky. There was Lieutenant King, Sergeant Morgan, and their corpsman Specialist Singer. They welcomed us by asking our blood types—something practical and still somehow strangely intimate. They hustled us away, out of sight of the mountains, through the gauntlet of concrete T-walls and gravel-filled HESCO barriers that formed the outpost.
It Don’t Gitmo Better than This – Molly Crabapple’s Account of Her Journey to the Dark Heart of Guantanamo Bay
A T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan IT DON’T GITMO BETTER THAN THIS is perhaps the definitive physical manifestation of globalization. Sewn in Honduras and sold by Jamaican contractors on land rented from Cuba, the shirt celebrates an American prison holding Muslims who’ve been declared enemies in the war on terror. It’s a popular item in the Gitmo gift shop (yes, Gitmo has a gift shop), displayed next to the stuffed banana rats and shot glasses engraved with GUANTÁNAMO BAY: DIVE IN.
Built in 1898, the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base looks like a US suburb. There’s a McDonald’s, a Subway, and even a Christmas parade. On Halloween, military members dressed as zombies complete a 5K run. Winners of the Mr. and Ms. Gitmo Figure and Fitness Competition arch their backs on the cover of the Wire,the base’s in-house magazine. The Team Gitmo outdoor movie theater screens all the big blockbusters (when I visited it was World War Z), and in the evenings, visitors can eat jerk chicken next to swaying banyan trees, get drunk at O’Kelly’s (“the only Irish pub on Communist soil”), or sing karaoke.
But since the Joint Task Force (JTF) arrived in 2002, Guantánamo Bay has been home to the world’s most notorious prison.
Gitmo’s prison camps were built, in principle, to hold and interrogate captives outside the reach of US law. Nearly 800 Muslim men have been imprisoned since it opened, and the vast majority of them have never been charged with any crime. Since he was inaugurated in 2008, President Obama has twice promised to close Gitmo, but 166 men still languish in indefinite detention. It is a place where information is contraband, force-feeding is considered humane care, staples are weapons, and the law is rewritten wantonly.
Nabil Hadjarab arrived at Gitmo 11 years ago, in an orange jumpsuit and a diaper, his head covered by a hood, eyes blinded by blackout goggles, mouth gagged, and with headphones blaring white noise into his ears.
Afghanistan’s Opium Plague
Afghanistan’s drug story begins with a well-worn fact: the country is the world’s largest producer of poppy opium, the raw material from which heroin is made.
Here is a less worn fact: Afghans have now become a leading consumer of their own drugs. An estimated one-million citizens (or eight-percent of the total population) are addicted, according to a United Nations survey.
Some experts believe this enormous drug problem may present a greater long-term threat to the stability of the country than the war.
Here is an index of Afghanistan’s drug statistics based on the annual United Nations Opium Surveys from 2009 to 2012:
— UN officials blame the drug addiction problem on three things: decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics, and limited access to treatment.
— At least one-million Afghans are addicted to drugs, but likely more since the survey doesn’t cover women and children.
— There are 350,000 heroin and opium addicts, a 75 percent increase since 2005.
— Fifty percent of Afghanistan’s opium-using parents give the drug to their children.
— Between 12 to 41 percent of Afghan police recruits test positive for some kind of drugs.
— Nearly 900 tons of opium and 375 tons of heroin are trafficked from Afghanistan every year.
— Afghan opium/heroin has a double-impact, creating health havocs in consuming nations and putting large amounts of money in the hands of both criminals and terrorist movements.
— Ironically, the number of people dying from heroin overdoses in Russia and NATO countries is actually higher than the number of their soldiers killed during war-time engagements in Afghanistan.
— Opium poppy cultivation rose by 18 percent in 2012 despite eradication efforts by Afghan governors.
— Government corruption plays a role in undercutting efforts to take on the opium trade. So does the Taliban, who tax the crop in areas under their control.
Revisiting the Battlefields on Afghanistan, Twelve Years Later
On a starless night, just a few weeks after 9/11, I stood shivering with a handful of other journalists on the banks of the Amu Darya River. We were waiting for a raft operated by Russian soldiers to take us across the border from Tajikistan to Afghanistan.
When we arrived in Afghanistan we entered through a small sliver of the country that had not fallen to the Taliban. It was a tenuous front line held by a fragile coalition of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras, and other antiTaliban forces known as the Northern Alliance.
Because the Taliban government had given safe haven to the Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the attacks on America, this ragtag bunch was about to get an infusion of air power and special forces soldiers courtesy of the United States that would help them topple the Taliban regime in less than 20 days.
I followed the Taliban retreat from the north all the way to Tora Bora on the border of Pakistan where US B-52 bombers pounded the caves the Taliban had taken refuge in. In the end, they died, surrendered, or escaped to Pakistan.
The Taliban Just Tried to Assassinate Me
There’s a certain amount of irony when you’re accused of being pro-Taliban, only to find half a kilo of explosives under your car, which have been put there by the Taliban. But that situation is something that Hamid Mir, Pakistan’s most well-known TV presenter, has had to deal with recently.
Not only is the 46-year-old a national media celebrity, he’s also an expert in terrorism—a combination of interests that is pretty volatile in a country like Pakistan. He was the last journalist to interview Osama bin Laden before the al-Qaeda leader went underground in 2001. Two years ago, an audio tape purporting to contain aphone conversation between the journalist and a Taliban spokesman was leaked. The discussion about a former intelligence agent who was taken hostage and eventually executed sent shockwaves through the Pakistani media, but Mir strongly denies that the voice on the tape is his, claiming a set up.
Last month, he openly condemned the Taliban on Twitter for shooting the schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai in the head, and received a string of death threats in return—a silencing tactic becoming all-too familiar in Pakistan, where a recent report by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PFF) found that 35 journalists have been murdered for their work in the past ten years and countless others have been attacked, tortured, and kidnapped.
Last week, Mir found a remote-controlled bomb containing a battery, a detonator, and ball bearings strapped to the bottom of his car. It failed to detonate. The Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taleban Pakistan) promptly said they did it because Mir was targeting them with a “secular agenda”—and anyone “targeting the Taliban would be targeted with explosives.”
I spoke to him about why he’s not going anywhere any time soon.
VICE: Hey Hamid, why was there half a kilo of explosives under your car?
Hamid Mir: After the attack on Malala Yousafzai, I did some talkshows and wrote some columns about the people who attacked her. It was the Taliban that accepted the responsibility. They wrote a very long email to me, saying I am the enemy of Islam because I am supporting Malala.
That’s a big accusation. How did you react to that?
I responded back. I said, “I am not the enemy of Islam: You are not Muslims.”
And then what?
I’m writing a book, so I went to a photocopy shop in a market close to my home because I needed some photocopies of my columns published in the last five years. I spent some time in the shop and I asked my driver to come along with me to pick up some books in which my old columns were placed. He left the car unattended for about 15 minutes. That was the time it took for someone to put the bomb under my car.
They planted a bomb in my car, in the heart of Rana Market, Islamabad—the capital—in a very secure area. A lot of diplomats and foreigners shop in that market because security agencies have cleared it for them. It’s also a residential area where diplomats live. That’s the reason I went to that market, because I thought it was safe. But even there, they planted a bomb, so what can I do now?
What’s the book about?
It’s about the problems faced by the media in Pakistan, especially the targeted killing of some of my colleagues in the last four or five years. The title is not ready yet. We have lost more than 90 journalists in the past ten years. Some of them, at least four or five of them, were very close friends of mine.
How do you know the Taliban were behind this latest attack?
The Home Department in Pakistan informed me that the Taliban decided to attack me. Then my colleagues spoke directly to the Taliban spokesperson, Ensuallah Ehsan, and he told them, “We will try again. This time he is scared, but we will try again.”
The Taliban are evil. But what if they were tropically dressed feminine men who love pastel instead?
In a recent trip to Pakistan to report on the recent spike in the region’s violence and bloodshed, Suroosh Alvi heard over and over the same sentiment from people on the ground: America’s war on terror is falling flat on its face. The military conflict in neighboring Afghanistan, repeatedly cited by locals, sends a constant flood of guns, refugees, militants, and heroin flowing into Pakistan. Heroin is now actually cheaper than hashish in cities like Lahore, and the Kalashnikov culture, the foundation of which was laid 30 years ago when the CIA financed the mujahideen, is all-consuming. According to the Pakistanis he spoke to, it’s all taken a devastating toll on the country and is creating the next generation of militants.
See the rest at VBS.TV: Taliban in Pakistan — Part 2 - VBS News | VBS.TV