Child soldiers in Afghanistan
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.


Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Pakistan refugees
The media’s focus has centered on the Syrian refugee crisis but other people from other nations, including Pakistani refugees, are fleeing their homelands for a better future in America or Europe.

Because it shares its borders with both Iran and Afghanistan, Pakistan has been embroiled in the Iran and Afghanistan wars with the United States. Many refugees have fled to and from Pakistan due to the ongoing conflict.

Here are 10 facts about Pakistani refugees and asylum in Pakistan:

  1. Malala Yousafzai is a notable Pakistani refugee who garnered media coverage when she was shot point-blank in 2012. Yousafzai has gone on to advocate for equitable access to education for young women and won a Nobel Prize at fifteen years old in 2015.
  2. Pakistan was not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which defined a refugee as “someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality.”
  3. Pakistan has not been able to establish any nationwide legislation regarding the protection of refugees or procedures to determine whether someone falls into refugee status.
  4. Pakistan’s lack of legislation regarding refugees means that the provisions of the 1993 Cooperation Agreement, between the government of Pakistan and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), determine any refugee status.
  5. More than 1.2 million Pakistanis have been affected by military insurgencies in northwest Pakistan.
  6. Most refugees flee Pakistan by crossing the border on foot into Iran, taking a bus toward Turkey and crossing the Turkish border on foot to avoid border security. From there, it is a matter of finding someone willing to transport the refugees across the Mediterranean Ocean, for a reasonable sum, to land in Greece.
  7. Even if Pakistanis reach Greece and the relative safety of the European Union, they are not guaranteed decent living conditions, according to some refugees. Instead of being given asylum status, refugees run the risk of being contained in high-security detention facilities or even repatriated to Pakistan.
  8. Pakistan is not involved in an official war so it is possible that refugees from Pakistan are overlooked. The threat of gangs, mafia and poverty are not seen as “legitimate” causes for creating refugees when compared to an internationally recognized war.
  9. Pakistan’s government began cracking down on refugees living in their country. UNHCR set aside funds to repatriate 600,000 Afghan refugees as of June 2016. Some families do not want to leave their adopted country — they worry that they will be forcibly deported when their Pakistan Proof of Registration card expires.
  10. Around 1.6 million refugees live in Pakistan as of June 2016 according to UNHCR.

The refugee system in Pakistan is still in flux and requires more strict legislation be passed to help asylum seekers.

Advocates like Malala Yousafzai are doing great work to bring attention to the plight of Pakistanis fleeing Pakistan but there is still work to do.

You can help by contacting your Congress representatives and letting them know you support increasing the International Affairs Budget that goes to help the world’s poor, which often includes struggling Pakistani refugees.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr

According to an article by the New York Times, the Independent Election Complaints Commission said that the Afghan presidential election this time around appears to be cleaner than the one in 2009.

Nader Mohseni, the commission’s spokesman, said that fraud was less prevalent in the 2014 elections compared to other elections in the past. Unlike the 2,842 complaints that the commission recorded in 2009, only 1,573 were counted this year.

“Compared with 7.5 million people who voted, that number is very small,” said Mohseni. “That’s what the international observers believe as well.”

Setting the election aside, the year 2014 is an important year for Afghanistan. Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, said that President Obama told Afghan president Hamid Karzai that his refusal to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement gave the U.S. no choice but to withdraw its military from the country.

“Keeping on 5,000 troops and some equipment at a handful of small bases will not be difficult if Karzai’s successor decides to sign the SOFA,” Cole said.

But is it necessary for U.S. troops to keep their presence in Afghanistan after more than a decade of combat in the country?

Around the time Cole made these remarks the Taliban has been involved in several violent campaigns that made Pakistani officials question whether Kabul can ultimately stay in control of the situation and confront the group.

“Whether the Afghanistan National Army can stand up to the Taliban is one question,” Cole said. “Another is, if Afghans still can’t stand up to the Taliban after a decade of US aid, when exactly would the billions poured into the country finally bear fruit?”

According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, the current situation in Afghanistan is not looking good at all.

While visiting Kabul a few years back, Cockburn realized “the main problem in Afghanistan was not the strength of the Taliban but the weakness of the government.”

“It does not matter how many NATO troops are in the country because they are there in support of a government detested by much of the population,” he explained. “Everywhere I went in the capital there were signs of this, even among prosperous people who might be expected to be natural supporters of the status quo.”

Cockburn also believes that this year’s election will not be a success and will be more fraudulent considering Karzai is no longer able to run for a third term.

“The April 2014 election is likely to be worse than anything seen before, with 20.7 million voter cards distributed in a country where half the population of 27 million are under the voting age of 18,” he said.

Cockburn also reveals that election-monitoring institutions, such as the one Mohseni represents, are under the control of the government.

As a result, if the Afghan government controls the Independent Elections Complaints Commission, there is no guarantee that the New York Times article is correct for claiming that the 2014 elections are in fact cleaner.

– Juan Campos

Photo: DW
The New York Times, Counterpunch, Z Magazine



Members of the Armed Forces who are in war zones often adopt stray dogs as companions to substitute for the family members and friends they miss overseas. This collection shows pictures of these canine pals going back as far as the Vietnam War.

Dogs of War
In March 2010 in the Lashkar Gah, Helmand province of Afghanistan, a dog sniffed out a hidden bomb device that would have killed two U.S. front line guards. The soldiers named him ‘Alan the Vallon’ and kept him around for sniffing out IEDs. But in a fight with the Taliban, Alan got left behind because strays are not allowed on military vehicles. Two months later, a village Elder said that a dog was being held for ransom at a Taliban base because he was able to sniff out hidden bombs and was therefore worth a lot. When the base was taken by U.S. soldiers, they found that same familiar dog; he had broken ribs but was still alive. Captain Mark Townend renamed him ‘Brin’ because of the color of his coat.

Dogs of War
Sergeant Russell applies a forceful embrace to two stray dogs, days before the end of his 16-month tour of duty to Afghanistan.

Dogs of War
A picture of a German Shepherd named Drak. He is an Afghanistan bomb detector, who, along with then 27-year-old Sergeant Kenneth Fischer, survived a suicide bombing that killed seven people.

Dogs of War
Stray dogs, photo taken in Dubrovnik, Croatia during the Balkan War in 1991.

Dog 5
Stray dogs, photo taken in Pleiku, Vietnam during the Vietnam War in 1971.

– Jeff Reese
Sources: Brin Baldwin, Peter Vanagtmael, Spartan Cast Productions, Flickr, Flickr Balkan War

“On Being a Woman and a Diplomat” – Madeleine Albright

Highlight Quote: “From some people, I think they thought [women’s rights] was a soft issue. The bottom line is I decided women’s issues are the hardest issues, because they are the ones that have to do with life and death in so many aspects.”

Madeline Albright was the first woman to hold the post of Secretary of State. Both amusing and straightforward, she uses this Q&A session to address the need to place women’s rights in the States’ top priorities in foreign policy, as well as increase the role of women in the political sphere as a whole.

Albright’s draws from her vast experience to illustrate her points. She explains how women leaders are better at communicating across ideological barriers, from weapons debates with Finland to reconciling Hutu and Tutsi leaders after the Rwandan genocide. Finally, Albright speaks of women’s tendency to hinder their own progress by criticizing powerful women in the workplace.


“The Global Power Shift” – Paddy Ashdown

Highlight Quotes: “Suddenly and for the very first time, collective defense, the thing that has dominated us as the concept of securing our nations, is no longer enough. It used to be the case that if my tribe was more powerful than their tribe, I was safe; if my country was more powerful than their country, I was safe; my alliance, like NATO, was more powerful than their alliance, I was safe. It is no longer the case. The advent of the interconnectedness and of the weapons of mass destruction means that, increasingly, I share a destiny with my enemy.”

Ashdown has had a long and illustrious international career, serving in MI6, then as a member of Parliament and after as the Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 20 minutes, Ashdown delivers us more food for thought than we can chew on at once.

Ashdown discusses the global shift in power, a phenomenon we are witnessing as it becomes ever more globalized and shared. Unlike the past, where a single superpower has risen, Ashdown projects a globe with multiple powers. Thus, co-existing will depend less on dominance and more on cooperation.

He points out that the interconnectivity of the world has a far deeper effect than what we imagine. Our future, our safety, our resources increasingly depend on each other, and with the world evolving the way it is, the idea of a nation no longer being able to bully its way to dominance is a novel one. This is an idea that sounds encouraging, but will take much getting used to. For global powers, the implications of a world where willingness trumps will is going to take adjustment.


“Time to End the War in Afghanistan” – Rory Stewart

Highlight Quote: “Because the worst thing we have done in Afghanistan is this idea that failure is not an option. It makes failure invisible, inconceivable and inevitable. And if we can resist this crazy slogan, we shall discover – in Egypt, in Syria, in Libya, and anywhere else we go in the world – that if we can often do much less than we pretend, we can do much more than we fear.”

Rory Stewart, a British MP, offers a refreshingly honest talk about the reality of the war in Afghanistan. A war that was so well sold to the public – wrapping philanthropy, revenge, idealism, and power into one – has ended up being a bloody, costly disaster, leaving both America’s psyche and Afghanistan itself irreparably wounded. Stewart compares intervention in Afghanistan to intervention in other countries asks the question: why didn’t it work here?

In answering, Stewart says the unsayable – that America’s arrogance and self-interest ultimately undermined any possible chance it had of improving the situation of the Afghan population at the cost of the lives of American soldiers. Stewart focuses not on pumping money or destroying dictators, but working with those who fully understand and comprehend the complexities of foreign intervention, and can deal with the challenges and frustrations it may bring.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: TED Paddy Ashdown, TED Madeline Albright, TED Rory Stewart
Source: The Self Employed