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We continue to find out more about what went on behind the scenes in Afghanistan.

Biden-Ghani telephone call transcript

Somehow, Reuters received recordings and transcripts of two telephone calls between Washington and Ashraf Ghani, the then-president of Afghanistan.

The fuller of the two transcripts comes from the July 23 call between Joe Biden and Ghani. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Biden told Ghani that the ‘perception’ in Washington and the Pentagon is that Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban is not going well:

And there’s a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.

Biden suggested that Ghani implement a new strategy focused on major population centres. He also said that the Afghan army far outnumbered the Taliban:

You clearly have the best military, you have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well, we will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is and what we are doing. And all the way through the end of August, and who knows what after that.

We are also going to continue to make sure your air force is capable of continuing to fly and provide air support. In addition to that we are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows because it is clearly in the interest of the people of Afghanistan, that you succeed and you lead. And though I know this is presumptuous of me on one hand to say such things so directly to you, I have known you for a long while, I find you a brilliant and honorable man.

Ghani explained the situation at the time, which involved terrorists from Pakistan, insufficient pay for the Afghan army and the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with his government:

Mr. President, we are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this, so that dimension needs to be taken account of.

Second, what is crucial is, close air support, and if I could make a request, you have been very generous, if your assistance, particularly to our air force be front loaded, because what we need at this moment, there was a very heavily reliance on air power, and we have prioritized that if it could be at all front-loaded, we will greatly appreciate it.

And third, regarding procedure for the rest of the assistance, for instance, military pay is not increased for over a decade. We need to make some gestures to rally everybody together so if you could assign the national security advisor or the Pentagon, anyone you wish to work with us on the details, so our expectations particularly regarding your close air support. There are agreements with the Taliban that we [or “you” this is unclear] are not previously aware of, and because of your air force was extremely cautious in attacking them.

And the last point, I just spoke again to Dr. Abdullah earlier, he went to negotiate with the Taliban, the Taliban showed no inclination. We can get to peace only if we rebalance the military situation. And I can assure you…

Biden appeared to be talking at the same time, as his reply is recorded as ‘crosstalk’.

Ghani continued, ending on an optimistic note about the strength of the resistance to the Taliban:

And I can assure you I have been to four of our key cities, I’m constantly traveling with the vice president and others, we will be able to rally. Your assurance of support goes a very long way to enable us, to really mobilize in earnest. The urban resistance, Mr. President is been extraordinary, there are cities that have taken a siege of 55 days and that have not surrendered. Again, I thank you and I’m always just a phone call away. This is what a friend tells a friend, so please don’t feel that you’re imposing on me.

Biden responded:

No, well, look, I, thank you. Look, close air support works only if there is a military strategy on the ground to support.

Was Biden indicating, consciously or otherwise, that he was going to pull US troops out within three weeks?

On August 31, Reuters issued further information about the phone call, allegedly the last conversation between the two men:

The men spoke for roughly 14 minutes on July 23. On August 15, Ghani fled the presidential palace, and the Taliban entered Kabul …

Reuters reviewed a transcript of the presidential phone call and has listened to the audio to authenticate the conversation. The materials were provided on condition of anonymity by a source who was not authorized to distribute it

I wonder about the first sentence below:

The American leader’s words indicated he didn’t anticipate the massive insurrection and collapse to come 23 days later. “We are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows,” said Biden.

The White House Tuesday declined to comment on the call.

After the call, the White House released a statement that focused on Biden’s commitment to supporting Afghan security forces and the administration seeking funds for Afghanistan from Congress.

Well, the Biden administration would say anything, because:

By the time of the call, the United States was well into its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Biden had postponed from the May date set by his predecessor, Donald Trump. The U.S. military had closed its main Afghanistan air base, at Bagram, in early July.

As the two presidents spoke, Taliban insurgents controlled about half of Afghanistan’s district centers, indicating a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

By August 9, it became clear that the US was leaving matters in Afghan hands:

In a little over two weeks after Biden’s call with Ghani, the Taliban captured several provincial Afghan capitals and the United States said it was up to the Afghan security forces to defend the country. “These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on August 9.

That said, US intelligence indicated that Kabul would not fall into Taliban hands for at least 30 days, possibly 90:

On August 11, U.S. intelligence reports indicated Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over within 90. Instead, the fall happened in less than a week.

I wonder if Britain received the same briefing (see below).

Pakistan took exception to Ghani’s allegations that they were fuelling the insurrection by the Taliban:

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington denies those allegations. “Clearly the myth of Taliban fighters crossing from Pakistan is unfortunately an excuse and an afterthought peddled by Mr. Ashraf Ghani to justify his failure to lead and govern,” an embassy spokesman told Reuters.

Ghani could not be reached for comment:

Reuters tried to reach Ghani’s staff for this story, in calls and texts, with no success. The last public statement from Ghani, who is believed to be in the United Arab Emirates, came on August 18. He said he fled Afghanistan to prevent bloodshed.

Military call with Ghani

Reuters’ August 31 article says that the second call with then-President Ghani also took place on July 23, after his conversation with Joe Biden:

In a follow-up call later that day that did not include the U.S. president, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, General Mark Milley and U.S. Central Command commander General Frank McKenzie spoke to Ghani. Reuters also obtained a transcript of that call.

In this call, too, an area of focus was the global perception of events on the ground in Afghanistan. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Ghani “the perception in the United States, in Europe and the media sort of thing is a narrative of Taliban momentum, and a narrative of Taliban victory. And we need to collectively demonstrate and try to turn that perception, that narrative around.”

“I do not believe time is our friend here. We need to move quickly,” McKenzie added.

A spokesperson for McKenzie declined to comment. A spokesman for Milley did not respond by publication time.

US armoured vehicles move from Afghanistan to Iran

On September 1, The Gateway Pundit reported that US vehicles captured by the Taliban have been seen in Iran (emphasis in the original):

The Taliban was filmed this week moving captured US military vehicles to Iran.
Thanks to Joe Biden and the woke US Generals.

The article includes the following tweets.

The first comes from Asaad Hanna, a journalist:

Comments to Hanna’s tweet included another photo:

The second tweet in The Gateway Pundit‘s article is from Al Arabiya News:

The Gateway Pundit‘s article includes a long list of American military equipment that was left behind in Afghanistan.

Here is the summary:

As The Gateway Pundit reported earlier on Sunday — Joe Biden left 300 times more guns than those passed to the Mexican cartels in Obama’s Fast and Furious program.

A more complete list was created with public information and help from other intelligence sources.  The list does not include all the extra kinds of nonlethal equipment, everything from MRE’s, Medical Equipment, and even energy drinks.
 
The big story might be the pallets of cash the Taliban have been posting videos of pallets of weapons and stacks of $100 bills they have seized
 
If the Taliban has 208 military aircraft then according to the NationMaster list the Taliban now ranks #26 of all countries in the number of military aircraft.
 

The Biden administration would rather the public not know; the information has been scrubbed. Imagine if President Trump had done this:

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab appears before Parliamentary committee

On Wednesday, September 1, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, comprised of a cross-party group of MPs.

I watched the proceedings and thought that he acquitted himself well.

One of the difficulties in anticipating Joe Biden’s sudden withdrawal of troops, he said, was weighing up America’s ‘intent’ versus their ‘capability’.

It also appears that the UK gave Raab the same aforementioned erroneous intelligence from the US about the Taliban seizing control of Kabul within 30 to 90 days:

Andrew Gimson wrote for Conservative Home about the session which lasted just under two hours. I found his article rather unfair, especially considering the US was displaying the same lack of intelligence.

However, it does provide a précis of two main points of the hearing:

Tom Tugendhat (Con, Tonbridge and Malling), the chair of the committee, sought to establish how much attention ministers had been paying not only to Afghanistan, but to neighbouring countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, through which evacuation by land might or might not be permitted …

Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) reminded Raab that the Foreign Office’s travel advice for British nationals in Afghanistan only changed on 6th August.

Bryant also pressed Raab about why he went on holiday and did not return until after August 15, the day when Kabul fell to the Taliban. Another Labour MP asked the same question, as did an SNP MP who did not give Raab time to respond.

As for his lack of discussions with ambassadors in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, Raab said that his department’s procedure is to receive regular reports from them then collate them into one report that provides a detailed meta view of the situation on the ground.

When asked why he had not been to Pakistan lately, Raab replied that the pandemic made it nearly impossible.

Tugendhat asked Raab why the UK wasn’t using a safe passage to Uzbekistan as the Germans were. Tugendhat said that it was an ‘effective’ route. Raab countered, saying that it was ‘effective’ until Uzbekistan closed its border.

Raab took great pains to point out the positive aspects of the past fortnight, e.g. evacuating 17,000 people at short notice.

A few MPs, including Conservatives, asked him about the evacuation phone number in the Foreign Office that was inoperable and the emails that went unanswered. Their in-boxes were full of complaints about it. Raab said that most phone calls were answered in under a minute. He said that his staff were responding to a great number of emails.

However, this was one of several tweets from the middle of August indicating there was a problem. Sir Laurie Bristow was the UK ambassador to Afghanistan:

A Labour MP, Neil Coyle, asked why the portrait of the Queen remained in the Kabul embassy. Raab said he was unaware that it was still there. According to Coyle, the Taliban posed in front of it.

The best part was the final question from Claudia Webbe (Lab). She asked why the UK had been in Afghanistan for the past 40 (!) years:

Raab gave her a withering look and reminded her of the two decades prior to 2001, which included Soviet occupation.

Guido Fawkes said (emphasis in the original):

Claudia Webbe was back for yet another Foreign Affairs Select Committee appearance this afternoon, once again taking Dominic Raab to task with the hard-hitting questions no one else is brave enough to ask. Raab’s look of total bemusement at “What is your understanding of civil wars in Afghanistan” was one particular highlight. “Claudia, this is just nonsense” was another…

It seems as if Guido Fawkes’s readers have a better reading of Raab’s performance than the pundits. A selection follows. Unfortunately, Guido’s system does not have URLs to each comment.

Overall (emphases mine):

What was there to discuss? Pushing to ask what date he went on holiday and whether he considered resigning through to whether picture of the Queen would have been abandoned. There would have been far superior questions asked by people on any high street.

This thread had two notable comments. Here’s the first:

Raab was working on intelligence assessments, not his own thoughts on what would happen.

It is about optics. It looks bad if you want it to, but the facts are that the collapse was quicker than anticipated, and the UK still managed to airlift 17,000 people out in a very short time frame, for which they should be commended.

And here’s the second, about the phone call to his Afghan counterpart that was never made. The first sentence is tongue in cheek:

Raab would have made a phone call which would have resulted in the immediate surrender of the Taliban.

Though I prefer to be controversial and think that it would have made zero difference. Raab is a leaver and a Tory so the blame for the Afghan farce lies squarely with him and Trump, in the eyes of the loons.

The final comment is about Tom Tugendhat, which is probably true:

Tugendhat is an opportunistic @rsehole who is trying anything to advance his own position out of this crisis.

The back-stabber was even quoting from leaked FO documents at yesterday’s hearing to attack Raab.

Raab left the session promptly in order to travel to Qatar where he discussed various issues relating to Afghanistan:

Raab is spending the weekend in Pakistan for talks with his counterpart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There will be a discussion about the UK’s £30 million aid package; one-third will go to humanitarian organisations and the rest to countries taking in Afghan refugees.

Two other political journalists reviewed Raab’s performance. Madeline Grant, writing for The Telegraph, gave him a thumbs-down. However, The Times‘s Quentin Letts reminded us that select committee hearings are often about political point-scoring:

As Westminster cynics know, select committees are not really about policy. They are vehicles for the ambitions of the MPs who run them and they can be used to give legs to a juicy hoo-hah …

Raab’s own performance? The left shoulder twitched. That is always a sign he is under pressure. He kept fiddling with his nose, too. But he is one of the grown-ups in the cabinet and it was not immediately apparent he had been seriously damaged by his self-serving scrutineers.

At Conservative Home, James Frayne did not think the public will be bothered by the select committee hearing or by Raab’s perceived neglect of the Afghan situation:

While unnamed Government sources are seeking to apportion blame to particular politicians (Raab, most obviously), the public don’t and won’t think along these lines; within reason, they think of the Government as an entity, rather than as being devolved in any meaningful way.

This means there’s a limit to what “damage control” the Government can do by throwing particular politicians and officials under a bus. It will all land at the door of the PM where public opinion is concerned.

Will there be enough stories, cumulatively, to provoke a general backlash against this Government at last? Time will tell (I have no idea what’s coming out) but I doubt it. Hard as it is for many commentators to understand or believe, for most of its supporters, this Government has a lot of credit in the bank on questions of judgement and competence.

I fully agree. Dominic Raab could not have prevented the Taliban taking over Kabul. He’s not one of my favourite MPs, but he is doing a good job in very difficult circumstances.

————————————————————————————

The next few weeks should be interesting. What new revelations about Afghanistan will appear?

On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, a retired CIA man, Douglas London, wrote an article for Just Security: ‘CIA’s Former Counterterrorism Chief for the Region: Afghanistan, Not An Intelligence Failure — Something Much Worse’:

Douglas London is that former counterterrorism chief. He worked for the CIA for 34 years. Nowadays, he teaches at Georgetown University, is a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute and is author of the book The Recruiter, which details the changes in the CIA post-9/11.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Until his retirement in 2019, he was responsible for preparing security assessments for President Trump about Afghanistan. He volunteered in the same capacity for then-candidate Joe Biden.

Withdrawal — how and when?

He writes that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has long been predicated with ‘what-if’ scenarios (emphasis in the original, those in purple mine):

The U.S. Intelligence Community assessed Afghanistan’s fortunes according to various scenarios and conditions and depending on the multiple policy alternatives from which the president could choose. So, was it 30 days from withdrawal to collapse? 60? 18 months? Actually, it was all of the above, the projections aligning with the various “what ifs.”  Ultimately, it was assessed, Afghan forces might capitulate within days under the circumstances we witnessed, in projections highlighted to Trump officials and future Biden officials alike.

He says that Biden and Trump viewed withdrawal differently, citing Biden’s speech of August 16 (emphases mine):

In his prepared remarks on Monday, President Biden stated, “But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you.  The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.” That’s misleading at best. The CIA anticipated it as a possible scenario.

By early 2018, it was clear President Trump wanted out of Afghanistan regardless of the alarming outcomes the intelligence community cautioned. But he likewise did not want to preside over the nightmarish scenes we’ve witnessed. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the principal architect of America’s engagement with the Taliban that culminated with the catastrophic February 2020 withdrawal agreement, terms intended to get the president through the coming elections. Pompeo championed the plan despite the intelligence community’s caution that its two key objectives– securing the Taliban’s commitment to break with al-Qa’ida and pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict — were highly unlikely.

Douglas London outlines the various scenarios:

Scenarios for an orderly withdrawal ranged from those in which the United States retained roughly 5,000 troops and most of the existing forward military and intelligence operating bases, to what was determined to be the minimum presence of around 2,500 troops maintaining the larger bases in greater Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Khost, as well as the infrastructure to support the bases we would turn over to Afghan partners. The larger of these two options was judged more likely to prevent Afghanistan’s collapse for 1-2 years and still provide for a degree of continued U.S. counterterrorism pressure; the smaller footprint was more difficult to assess but allowed flexibility for the United States to increase or further reduce its presence should circumstances rapidly deteriorate. (It would be valuable if commentators and news coverage included a greater appreciation of how such contingency-based assessments work rather than conflating assessments.)

Initially, even a “Kabul only” option included the retention of the sprawling U.S. Bagram Air Base and other intelligence facilities in the greater capital area through which the United States could project force, maintain essential logistical, intelligence and medical support to Afghan operated bases, and retain some technical intelligence collection and counterterrorist capability across the country. But without any U.S. military and intelligence presence beyond the Embassy in Kabul, faced with a Taliban military and propaganda offensive, and undermined by Ghani’s fractious relationship with his own national political partners, the intelligence community warned the government could dissolve in days. And so it went.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a questionable special representative

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was America’s special representative during the Trump administration’s negotiations.

In 2018, he was a private citizen who had contacts with a number of Afghans. Douglas London said that the intelligence community did not trust him because he was:

dabbling on his own in 2018 with a variety of dubious Afghan interlocutors against whom the intelligence community warned, trying opportunistically to get “back inside.” Undaunted, his end around to Pompeo and the White House pledging to secure the deal Trump needed which the president’s own intelligence, military and diplomatic professionals claimed was not possible absent a position of greater strength, was enthusiastically received. Our impression was that Khalilzad was angling to be Trump’s Secretary of State in a new administration, were he to win, and would essentially do or say what he was told to secure his future by pleasing the mercurial president, including his steady compromise of whatever leverage the United States had to incentivize Taliban compromises.

Because the withdrawal plan was popular with voters in 2020, the Biden camp also endorsed it:

Moreover, from my perspective, they appeared to believe that negative consequences would be at least largely owned by Trump, the GOP, and Khalilzad, whose being left in place, intentionally or not, allowed him to serve even more so as a fall guy. For the candidate, who had long advocated withdrawal, the outcome was, as it had been with Trump, a foregone conclusion despite what many among his counterterrorism advisors counselled. President Biden himself has said as much in terms of his mind being made up.

There was a rather naïve confidence among Biden’s more influential foreign policy advisors that the Taliban’s best interests were served by adhering to the agreement’s main points. Doing so, they argued, would guarantee the U.S. withdrawal, and leave room for more constructive engagement, possibly even aid, should the Taliban come to power.

The Taliban’s PR offensive

Meanwhile, the Taliban were becoming more aware of the importance of a PR offensive aimed at the West:

The Taliban learned a great deal about the utility of PR since 2001, and maximized their access to Western media as highlighted by Taliban deputy and Haqqani Taliban Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani’s apparently ghost written New York Times OpEd. The reality, of course, as the intelligence community long maintained, was that the Taliban’s control over the country was predicated on isolation from the rest of the world, rather than integration. International recognition, global financial access, and foreign aid were not going to influence how the Taliban would rule.

Also:

Momentum the Taliban needed to secure their adversaries’ cooperation was facilitated by a robust propaganda machine that, in many instances, successfully manipulated the media into positive, disproportional coverage from the outset of their offensive in casting their conquest as inevitable. Neither the Afghan government nor the United States could ever effectively counter the Taliban’s persistent and savvy media efforts given the need to protect sources and methods, legal restraints, and an unfortunate lack in investment and imagination.

For Afghan politicians, money talks

Greasing palms is part of Afghan life among those in power locally and regionally. Money can also determine one’s political alliances, which can be fluid:

U.S. policy makers were also cautioned that the broad coalition of Afghan politicians, warlords and military leaders across the country benefiting from the money and power that came with a sustained U.S. presence were likely to lose confidence and hedge their bets were U.S. military forces and intelligence personnel to withdraw. Further, that President Ashraf Ghani’s stubborn resistance to the Afghan political practice of buying support and his dismantling of the warlords’ private armies would weaken their incentives to support the government. Switching sides for a better deal or to fight another day is a hallmark of Afghan history. And U.S. policy to impose an American blueprint for a strong central government and integrated national army served only to enable Ghani’s disastrous and uncompromising stewardship.

On that topic, Britain’s talkRADIO has been interviewing another seasoned American counterintelligence specialist, Malcolm Nance, who said that, over the past year at least, the Taliban were co-opting other Afghans, including those from the country’s Western-backed army.

He said that it did not have to be that way, since he went into Afghanistan in November 2001. The US could have done the job in short order, had Bush II not switched priorities to Iraq:

Keeping the money aspect in mind, Douglas London describes how the 2021 debacle unfolded. Al Qa’ida also played a part:

The clock began to accelerate when US military and intelligence elements withdrew from Kandahar on May 13, and thereafter closed remaining forward operating bases and “lily pads,” the term used for temporary staging areas under U.S. or coalition control. By the time Bagram was closed on July 1, the United States and NATO had also departed Herat, Mazar I Sharif, Jalalabad, Khost and other locations I am not at liberty to name. The Taliban was moving in even as we were packing up. They were quite likely joined by the many al-Qa’ida members (some of whom had enjoyed Iranian sanctuary),-if not direct operational support, augmented further by recently released comrades the Taliban set free from Afghan detention at Bagram and elsewhere.

Policy makers were also aware of the Taliban’s effective use of a parallel “shadow government” structure maintained since losing power that provided for reliable lines of communication with local elders across the provinces, as well as government authorities, often owing to shared family or clan connections. To an American it might be surprising, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for an Afghan military commander or police chief to be in regular contact even with those faced daily in combat.

The Taliban was thus well positioned to negotiate and buy rather than fight their way to successive conquests, itself an Afghan tradition. Moreover, the Taliban was prepared to quickly rule and provide services in the territories coming under its control. And by prioritizing the periphery to secure borders and the lines of communication required to sustain an insurgency, striking first from where they were defeated in 2001, the Taliban clearly learned from history, whereas we still have not. But where did the money come from to finance this campaign?

Persuading low level government fighters and functionaries to turnover their weapons and abandon their posts was well within the Taliban’s means, but it was undoubtedly more expensive securing the cooperation of senior officials with the authority to surrender provincial capitals. Layer on that the need to pay the surge of their own fighters, many of them essentially part-time and seasonal. Payroll and care for the families of fighters killed and wounded is often the greatest expense for the Taliban and its terrorist partner groups, and in Afghanistan, likewise the most important incentive to attract fighters.

Where Taliban money comes from

The Taliban finance themselves from a variety of sources, from drug trafficking to donations from other foreign countries:

The Taliban’s finances are complicated, more so by a structure which is not monolithic, and heavily dependent on the vast international criminal network operated by the Haqqani Taliban Network in the East, and somewhat autonomous regional commanders in the West. Revenues are variously drawn from taxes imposed on locals, narcotics trafficking, foreign donations-largely from Arab Gulf countries, real estate (some of which is abroad), the extortion of mining companies operating in areas under their control–many of which are Chinese government parastatals, and other foreign governments. Pakistan has long been a principal backer, but Russia and Iran increased their investments to court the group in recent years. Moreover, both benefited decidedly from the Taliban’s swift, bloodless conquest that expeditiously purged and humiliated the United States, and minimized what might have been a violent, prolonged fight that increased regional instability and the flow of refugees.

Dichotomy between US Department of Defense and CIA

Douglas London noted the disparity of opinion between the Department of Defense and the CIA:

in grading their own homework, the U.S. defense establishment only exacerbated the problem. While it’s little surprise the Department of Defense was unwilling to objectively evaluate the resolve and capacity of those they trained, equipped, and advised to resist a forthcoming Taliban offensive, their rose-colored depictions of achievement over 20 years flew in the face of reality, and was consistently challenged by the CIA’s more gloomy, albeit realistic projections.

Conclusion

He concludes:

there was no intelligence failure by the agency in warning either Trump or Biden as to how events would play out. Operating in the shadows and “supporting the White House” will prevent the intelligence community from publicly defending itself. But the failure was not due to any lack of warning, but rather the hubris and political risk calculus of decision makers whose choices are too often made in their personal and political interest or with pre-committed policy choices, rather than influenced by (sometimes inconvenient) intelligence assessments and the full interests of the country.

It is difficult to see how the Afghanistan debacle can ever be rectified now, especially after 20 years.

As to what happens going forward, unfortunately, the grim possibilities are endless.

More on Afghanistan tomorrow.

Last month I told one of my readers I would chronicle women in Islam from the mid-20th century to the present.

It is deplorable that people under the age of 35 will not have known anything other than the Muslim women’s attire we see today.

For them and for readers who have forgotten the swift trajectory from the modern to the mediaeval, below are links to illuminating photographs from several Muslim countries.

It is painful to read that an increasing number of American Christians are moving in the same direction — backward — with regard to women’s opportunities and attire. I read of arranged marriages, daughters deprived of university, veiled women at church and wives who buy burkinis. These people — not sect members, by the way — isolate themselves and associate only with their own kind because the rest of us, frankly, just aren’t good enough!

Stop the madness!

Now without further ado: Muslim women not so long ago. I have not reproduced most of the pictures because I do not know how long it took those who published them to locate them. Therefore, please click on the links to see how life has changed within a short space of time.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan Online has a concise but excellent history of governments from the late 1880s to the present.

Briefly, by the end of the 19th century, women were allowed to inherit property. The first school for girls, which included an English curriculum, opened by 1919. In the 1920s, the government discouraged women from wearing a veil. King Amanullah Khan stated publicly, much to the consternation of fundamentalist tribal leaders:

Religion does not require women to veil their hands, feet and faces or enjoin any special type of veil. Tribal custom must not impose itself on the free will of the individual.

The next king, Mohammad Nadir Shah, acquiesced to these tribal leaders. However, by 1933, Mohammad Zahir Shah began a 40-year reign and brought in many reforms for women: Western attire adopted by the ruling family, the opportunity to work in professions and the right to vote. Various restrictions were also enacted against child brides and dowries. The first Miss Afghanistan was crowned in 1972; although there was no swimsuit competition, there was an evening gown pageant.

The following links show how women dressed during Mohammad Zahir Shah’s rule. MessyNessy’s ‘Lost in Time: Groovy Afghanistan’ features a selection of photos. Note in particular the first one of Afghan women in the 1940s. They are all in Western dress and only one wears a veil. The next picture features women from Kabul representative of the 1960s and 1970s. Again, only one has a gauzy headscarf. The rest, in mid-knee length skirts, could fit in anywhere. These photographs come from a Facebook page, publicly available, called ‘Once Upon A Time In Afghanistan’. I encourage — exhort — everyone reading this to view it. See how contemporary everything was in Afghan society.

Afghanistan was also open to tourists. Bill Podlich has a selection of photographs from his visit, with family, to the country in the late 1960s. Photo 7 shows secondary school girls; whilst they wear loose veils, except for one, the caption states they were not allowed to wear full chador when attending school. They were also encouraged to attend university. Photo 26 shows a mixed class of men and women — only one of whom wears a scarf — at the Higher Teachers College in Kabul. The next photo shows primary school pupils and their teachers in the playground. All are wearing Western attire.

Egypt

The American journalist and author Phyllis Chesler has a fascinating collection of photographs of Cairo University graduates through the decades. The Class of 1959 were all in Western attire. The same was true in 1978. However, in 1995, one-third of the women of that graduating class wore veils. By 2004, most of the women covered their heads.

During the Arab Spring of 2011, Chesler examined the photos coming from Egypt (emphases mine):

Yes, there are some female faces in the Cairo mob scenes, but understandably, they are in the minority.

While there are some—very few—female faces that are bare-faced and bareheaded, most women are wearing serious hijab: Pulled low and tight on their foreheads, tied under their chins, covering their necks, draping down to their shoulders.

Oh for the days of Anwar Sadat, whose wife Jihan and daughters Jihan and Lobna wore Western attire. Scroll to the bottom of his biography to see the family photo.

In the 1960s, a few Egyptian women from well-placed families were allowed to participate in foreign-exchange programmes. One of them was Nazek Fahmy, who spent time in Moline, Illinois, with the Parsons family before touring the United States with other foreign students. My thanks to cyberfriend Dr Gregory Jackson who has documented his schooldays and class reunions in the marvellous Moline Memories, a must-read for anyone interested in life in the 1960s.

Miss Fahmy’s 1965 visit appeared in the local paper. She is on the far left in this photo — note the shorts!

She told the newspaper reporter that she had graduated from the American College for Girls in Egypt. Her younger brother was attending a French school there. Things were very cosmopolitan then.

As for women’s attire, she said that those who lived in town wore Western fashions (emphasis in the original):

Only the peasants wear native costume.

And now, sadly, nearly every woman does.

Iran

Page F30 has an excellent collection of photographs of Iran in the 1970s, prior to the Revolution in 1979.

The much-vilified Shah of Iran was the country’s ruler at the time these snapshots were taken. None of the women covered their heads. They wore miniskirts, hot pants and open-toed shoes.

The comments are well worth reading. Some evoke fond memories of that era (emphases mine):

Anonymous: … this is not just pics of elites. My parents’ photo albums were filled with pictures exactly like this and they were barely considered middle class. Third, keep in mind that this was the 1960s and although Iran had not fully developed into a democracy it was well on its way….by separating government from religious ties. The revolution took away all of the country’s advancements in the 2oth century and reduced them to a theocracy.

Anonymous (another, perhaps): I am a proud American and a previously proud Iranian. The madness that started with the so called Islamic revolution uprooted me and thank god I am living in the heaven that we call USA.

Whatever happened in Iran of the Pahlavi regime was far superior to the tyr[ran]ny and injustice that is happening now and since the so called revolution.

Looking at these beautiful pictures of Iran, reminds me of a dream of the past. The Community School in Tehran and the annual Garden parties that w[ere] very similar to the School Fairs that you see in the U.S. There is nothing wrong with being westernized and believe in western ideals. Somehow the religious f[a]natics that hijacked Islam and rule the country turned that dream into a nightmare.

There are 20 year old kids in Iran now who never saw the beautiful dream that I am talking about. All that they have been witnessing is the dark cloud of this tyr[ran]ny and the Islamic revolution that has shrouded the country …

Of course, Iran’s back of beyond attire was very much tribal — the way it is today in the rest of the nation. Avax News has a post of photographs from 1955-1980 which shows the contrast of dress worn by the Shah and his wife and that of people living in the countryside.

As in Egypt and Afghanistan, women living in Iran have been legally and religiously obliged to dress like peasants since 1979.

This photo, courtesy of Pew Research, shows the mindset today regarding Muslim women’s attire in various countries:

—————————————————

It can only be hoped that, in decades to come, life returns to the way it once was throughout Muslim countries. Many hope for a ‘Reformation’, however, it seems that perhaps that is what petro-dollar financed Wahhabism has wrought. Unlike Christianity, the reforms went into reverse, rather than forward, gear.

After many months, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has finally been released from an Iranian prison and acquitted of apostasy.

This second post of Cranmer’s shows pictures of him released to his family and friends.

I wrote about him in February, when he was nearly executed. Happily, the many written petitions and letters to Iranian embassies around the world — along with countless prayers for his release — resulted in this happy day. God is indeed good.

Our next step is to pray for him and his family to come to believe in the Holy Trinity. Currently, Nadarkhani is a Oneness Pentecostal. Modalism is a heresy.

I do wonder if he adopted the Oneness belief because Islam accuses Trinitarian Christians of believing in three Gods. Muslims do not understand the Holy Trinity and accuse us of polytheism.

Let us also say a prayer of thanksgiving and add a petition that Nadarkhani can find his way to a Christian country where he can live his faith without fear of imprisonment.

In the meantime, his release is excellent and welcome news. Thanks to everyone who might have responded to my earlier appeal in this regard.

As many faithful Christians will know, an Evangelical pastor, the Revd Youcef Nadarkhani, has been in an Iranian prison for several months.

Recently, Richard Ibrahim, writing for Algemeiner.com, reported:

Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani continues to suffer in prison. Most recently, he rejected an offer to be released if he publicly acknowledged Islam’s prophet Muhammad as “a messenger sent by God,” which would amount to rejecting Christianity, as Muhammad/Koran reject it.

Today, a friend of mine forwarded me a set of documents which have been circulating around the world. I would like to ensure that as many of us as possible see — and forward — this appeal to anyone interested in writing their respective Iranian ambassador.

It transpires that Pastor Nadarkhani could be executed very soon. Jordan Sekulow from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) wrote the following on February 21, 2012:

We are hearing reports from our contacts in Iran that the execution orders for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued.

Pastor Youcef’s situation – an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian – has not been this dire since we first brought his case to your attention last year.

It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order. We know that the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held public—most executions in Iran are conducted in secret.

There has also been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month.

Iran is actively violating its human rights obligations by sentencing and detaining Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. We call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Youcef immediately.

We are continuing to work to help spare the life of Pastor Youcef, and will provide additional updates on his situation as we are able.

Please continue to pray, share his story, and call for his release.

The photo of the Nadarkhani family comes courtesy of the ACLJ. There is more on Pastor Nadarkhani’s story on that page.

Letters should be sent without delay to the relevant Iranian ambassador. What follows are embassy addresses for certain countries:

Embassy of Iran in Canberra in Australia
PO Box 705, Mawson ACT 2607
His Excellency Mr Mahmoud MOVAHHEDI
Ambassador

Embassy of Iran in Vienna in Austria
jauresgasse 9 – A1030 Wien
Fax: +431+7135733
Email:public@iranembassy-wien.at

The Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Germany
Podbielskiallee 65/67,
14195 Berlin

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ireland
72 Mount Merrion Ave.
Blackrock Co.
Dublin, Ireland
Fax: (003531) 2834246
Email:iranembassy@indigo.ie

Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran to The Hague in the Netherlands
The Embassy of I.R. of Iran Duinweg 20 2585JX Den Haag
Web Site:http://www.iranianembassy.nl/
Email:info@iranembassy.nl

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Pakistan
St.No.2, Sector G-5/1 Diplomatic Enclave, Islamabad

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the UK
16 Prince’s Gate,
London SW7 1PT
Fax: ( +44)2075894440
Email:info@iran-embassy.org.uk

United States of America (Iran and the USA do not have diplomatic relations):
Representative Office of Iran in Washington, United States
c/o Embassy of Pakistan
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington
D.C.20007
United States
Fax: +1-202-965-1073
Email: requests@daftar.org

A sample letter to the relevant Iranian ambassador follows:

Your Excellency,

Re: Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani

I wish to bring to your attention the urgent case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who was condemned to death in Iran for converting to the Christian faith.  Recent indications are that there are grave concerns that Pastor Nadarkhani’s life is in danger.

I request that your government respect its international commitment to human rights, and that Pastor Nadarkhani, and all other persons in your country who are in similar situations, be treated in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief …

“All people have the right to obey their conscience, which is a work of God, wherever that leads them.  People in Islamic countries have as much right to convert to Christianity as westerners have to convert to Islam.”

I request that you pass on this appeal to the Iranian Government as a matter of urgency. Thank you for your attention to this request.

Yours sincerely,

For those of us not in a position to write, let us pray fervently that this pastor is given back his freedom and reunited with his family.

In any event, kindly share his story as a matter of urgency.

Thank you in advance for your kind attention, letters and prayers.

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