Skip navigation
Help

Middle East Bureau

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /var/www/vhosts/sayforward.com/subdomains/recorder/httpdocs/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 33.

Afghanistan’s presidential palace is a bucolic refuge protected from the chaos of war by thick walls and layers of security—security so stringent that photographer Yuri Kozyrev and I were prevented from bringing in pens, and in my case, even lipstick. A decade’s worth of bombings, assassination attempts, terror attacks and riots have kept President Hamid Karzai a virtual prisoner. Last week, Yuri and I were invited to spend a day with Karzai in his palace. He keeps an exhausting schedule, zipping between meetings in different buildings with a ground-eating stride that forces his aids into an uneasy trot alongside, as they try to brief him on the latest news. When we arrived, Karzai had just learned of the assassination of one of the members of his High Peace Council, the group assigned to conduct peace negotiations with the Taliban. It was a terrible blow. Still, he kept to his schedule: presiding over his security council update, hosting a lunch for visiting tribal elders from the north, and meeting with a U.S. Congressional delegation led by Nancy Pelosi. He even squeezed in a moment to share his grief with other members of the Peace Council. The only time he paused for a break was when he went to the palace’s small mosque to pray.

The world outside the palace is equally frenetic. Kabul has been shaped by war; its monuments bombed, its green spaces littered with the detritus of battle and its citizens maimed by mines. Even though fear is rife that war will return, Kabulis are busy. The university is in full swing, and local factories now provide the Afghan Army with boots and uniforms. Cafes and shisha bars have sprung up, and, somewhat improbably, a 12-lane bowling alley has become the most popular pastime for the young middle class. It’s a Kabul that Karzai has never seen. The last time he walked through his capital, he tells us, was seven years ago. In two years Karzai will step down. Maybe then he will be able to take another walk.

Read more about Hamid Karzai in this week’s issue of TIME.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East Bureau Chief for TIME.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

0
Your rating: None

Out at the Kabul Military Training Center, Colonel Fazl Karim is giving a new batch of recruits his usual pep talk on a hilltop not far from the barracks. It’s two weeks before the graduation of the latest group of soldiers in the Afghan National Army, and the troops sit cross-legged in the dirt, aligned in neat rows. Construction crews build more barracks nearby—another 100,000 recruits are expected to go through the training in the next three years, gearing up for a final tally of 352,000 that will replace foreign soldiers. “You are all going to die one day,” shouts Karim. “You might as well die protecting your country!”

In Afghanistan, fatalism trumps optimism as a rallying cry. But perhaps that just reflects the realities of Afghan soldiering: by the end of 2014 the country’s armed forces will take over security from the international troops that have been stationed here for more than a decade. And yet the insurgency continues. What the Afghan troops lack in equipment, logistics, air support and training they more than make up for in sheer bravery.

But is it enough? Even the U.S. soldiers tasked with overseeing training are skeptical. “As long as training continues when we leave there is no reason to think that Afghanistan can’t continue to grow a professional army,” says Captain Jason Reed. “But it’s going to take generations.”

Adam Ferguson is a frequent contributor to TIME. Represented by VII, Ferguson has covered conflict for several years, primarily in Afghanistan.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East Bureau Chief for TIME.

0
Your rating: None

Change Square, the locus of anti-government protests in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, has become a veritable tent city, home, for more than eight months, to several thousand protestors. And like any city, it caters to the needs of its citizen population: Doctors tend to the wounded at a makeshift hospital, volunteers prepare food, imams call the faithful to prayer, and a few entrepreneurs provide entertainment in the form of pellet-gun rifle ranges for revolutionaries frustrated with the peaceful part of their protest.

But unlike other cities, where the dead are forgotten in far away cemeteries, the martyrs of Change Square are at the center of attention. Photographs of those killed in the clashes flutter from the tent ropes that crisscross the city’s walkways. Portraits are plastered on the walls of the mosque.  Some protesters even wear bandanas printed with pictures of the dead wrapped around their forehead. And in the center of the square is a vast billboard where the protest’s grim toll is laid out in a mosaic of death intermingled with pride.  “We all want to be martyrs,” one young protestor told me. “To have change, we need to sacrifice, and sometimes that means our lives.” His friend agreed. “The only way we will get international attention for our cause is if there is blood on the streets.”

It’s a subtle condemnation of waning interest from the West as the Arab Spring moves into its ninth month. Thousands waving placards demanding the fall of the regime no longer garner the fevered media attention of Tunisia and Egypt. But death does. So in service to their dreams of liberation, some Yemeni revolutionaries aspire to the snipers bullet, or the machine gun spray. Not all of course. “I don’t want to be a martyr,” another protestor told me. “I want to see our dreams of a new Yemen come true.”

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME who has covered the Arab Spring since January. To see his previous work from Libya, click here.

Aryn Baker,
TIME‘s Middle East Bureau Chief, is based in Beirut. Find her on Twitter at @arynebaker. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

0
Your rating: None