Global Voices Online continues to bring you interviews with winners of the Reporters Without Borders Freedom Blog Awards. This week we bring you an interview with Sohrab Kabuli (not his real name), author of two blogs: Shared Pains in Farsi and Afghan Lord in English.
Kabuli answered questions via e-mail rather than by voice due to security concerns. He says he must maintain anonymity for safety reasons. Recently he received threats which, bizarrely, came from an IP address associated with a BBC server. More on that in the next post. In this post, I'd like to keep the focus on why he blogs and what he blogs about – which, in the long run, is the most important thing. According to Kabuli, Shared Pains now has more daily readers than many Afghan newspapers. It is increasingly influential – and clearly making some people uncomfortable.
Here are Kabuli's answers to the questions I emailed him last week. They are reproduced here in the un-edited original:
Q: Can you tell us whatever is possible about who you are and what you do for a living?
A: Thanks much for making this opportunity. I am 22 year old, my name is sohrab kabuli, and I am graduated from high school. I born in Kabul and living in Kabul. Beside of writing some articles to news magazine I am writing on the web to my English blog and Farsi Blog.
Q: Why did you start your blog?
Before start blogging I was working with a local weekly which shut down soon due to financial problem. I was trying to get fund for an independent weekly to run in Kabul. I gave some request to some NGOs but did not receive response. Soon, I let down and changed my mind to have a website. After assessment I realized that for a Website I need more than 600$ U.S dollar to setup. So, I was looking to find another way. Finally I found blog. It was a miracle that I entered to this society.
Q: What do you mainly write about, and how often do you post?
A: Mostly critical articles about political and social life in Afghanistan, foreign strategies in Afghanistan, daily reports of happening in Kabul and remote areas, some times involving to literature; poem and critics. Regularly giving the latest news link from English news websites and news agencies plus describing and translating. I am posting daily and some times one day in middle.
Q: Who reads it?
A: As you know three countries are talking in Farsi: Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan. From these three country I have reader. Unfortunately from Afghanistan I have not much reader because there is no Internet. First we do not have power, if we have that is only for a specific part of Kabul not for all. Second people don’t know much computer to use Internet. A few Internet cafés are running in different part of the city I am sure they do not have enough customers. The rate is so high for example per hour they take 100Afg = 2$ u.s dollar. A person who doesn’t have a penny outcome daily how can he pay this amount? Live is very difficult here. People are in struggle to safe their life from hunger. If you come in Kabul to see in the streets, hundreds of people are laying on the street for begging. International countries gave fund to NGOs and NGOs are belong to warlord who were killing the innocent people yesterday but today they run NGOs by help of foreign money.
Q: How many people in Afghanistan actually read blogs?
I can not count but I should say University students, people who work with NGOs that access to Internet but mostly Media.
Q: How many Afghan bloggers are there and how many are actually blogging from Afghanistan?
Unfortunately very rare, I should say there is a few person who recently started blogging, a few others contacted me to help them.
Q: What has been the main impact of your blog?
A: I cogitated more about KAM Air plane which crashed in Chapari Mountain due to miss-responsibility of American force and Afghan authorities involved together. This crash killed 104 passengers. And missing the Black Box.
Another was a critics to government about lack of security in Kabul which the three United Nation workers kidnapped in public. I received lots of threats message they were asking me to which party and groups I am belong. And asked me to stop writing.
Q: Could you cite a couple of examples of specific blog posts that have had an especially big impact? Can you describe what they were about, and specifically what kind of reaction they created?
I have no information about the others
Q: How is the quality of the Afghan media?
A: Fortunately I should say that media is moving so fast to develop day by day. I see much difference from three years, from last years. In Afghanistan press history we didn’t have a TV channel but we have 22 registered in information & culture and four channel are having live programs. Every day a new magazine a paper coming to Press society. This means Afghanistan press is moving so fast towards development. Unfortunately the quality is so low, presenter, journalist and editors are not professional, and mostly they take imitation view from foreign channel which impact with some Afghan fundamentalists who are very eager to find a gap for these channel to stop their activities.
It is also very hard to judge for whole media. Most of publications are local and provincial. They write the way they like, they write in their native tongue that for other is strange. I think it is very important for media to have something to say and also to have the courage to say the truth. I think most of publication in Afghanistan are just publish to spend the international aid. The media and publications for women are very weak and insufficient. The publication and magazines about Afghanistan women rights have articles about tailoring, cooking and fashion. These categories are not important and urgent needs of Afghan women. They know how to cook, they know how to make a dress for their self but a few of them have information about new technology. These publications do not have any article about their rights and what they suffer from in Afghan society.
Q: How does a Farsi blog like yours help to make up for the Afghan media's inadequacies?
A: Strongly much! My blog has more than 500 visitor daily but a paper in Kabul does not have more than 200 readers. A paper who running in the capital now is copying my post daily without consulting with me to ask the right. Some times they delete some part of my article and publishing in their paper without fear. All daily news paper get their articles and news from Websites and weblogs.
Q: How do you rate the quality of the international media's recent coverage of Afghanistan?
A: They are good and very affective but there are some which do not have enough information about Afghanistan, then the way of contact and writing is completely different. They write what they like they do not write what are right and what is happening. I think it was better before Iraq War. Now the focus of international media is mostly events in Iraq. Also I am not happy with the picture that international media show from terrorist attacks and insecurity. If they want to be really optimistic, they should report the international conferences and government activities. I think we need more attention of international media to what concern people to. There should be reports on youth movements. Afghanistan people can be also a model for other war-effected countries and people, their inspiring energy and their courage to stand against war should be covered by international media
All together is impressive.
Q: Do you think that if more Afghan people were blogging in English that could help to improve the outside world's understanding of Afghanistan?
A: Of course, but unfortunately we have a few websites with out enough information no regular update nor giving opportunity to others. I am sure if we have at least 10 dynamic English blogger, for foreign media will be a good source of news. I am trying to have a meeting with some journalist and university student to encourage them to join Blog world both English and Farsi but I need fund to run workshops to teach and guide them. Unfortunately, NGOs are lack of such sense of humor to give fund to make an Afghan Blogger association to protect them.
Q: What are your political affiliations?
A: I do not have any particular political affiliation but I would like to call myself a reformists.
Q: What is your opinion of how Karzai's government has done its job?
A: It is a hard question. If Karzai’s government job is supposed to be the implementing BONN convention we can hardly say yes. Disarmaments has taken place successfully we have drugs problem. Although now we don’t have Warlords in cabinet but still they are strongly active and influential in their own provinces and areas. We have a highly corrupted government system. In many different provinces the peace process doesn’t seems very successful but we did very great achievements too. In three years we have lots reconstructions, we had democratic election and people selected their favorite person for presidential. For the first time in our history warlord lost their political power, we have a new constitution, lots of refugees came back to their homeland, the employment rate grew much more and women were given their basic rights based on constitution.
Q: Has the U.S. done enough to help Afghanistan achieve stability after the fall of the Taliban?
A: they should do their job because in a globalization world, stability of U.S.A is interconnected with stability of Afghanistan. But I am not sure it has done enough.
Q: Are you disappointed that the international community seems to have lost interest in Afghanistan?
A: Well, we can not depend on international community helps forever. I think that we need to stand on our own feet one day. But before that international community should take our hand to enable us to stand independently. I think the quality is more important than quantity in this case. The money should be spending on building, economic bases and structure not for short term and less useful projects.
Q: Is there anything else you would like the outside non-Farsi speaking world to understand about your work and your blog?
A: Yes, I should say that Afghan youth generation like to have contact with other world, especially Bloggers. and those who thought Afghanistan was a terror place yesterday but they want to say to the world that Afghanistan is not a terror place anymore! Change your mind and take away your glass and look to Afghanistan with your own eyes and judgment! Please take more attention to what is going on in Afghanistan. I am kindly have a request from international media: Please stop writing Afghanistan is a terror place and attacks everyday. Show a real face of Afghanistan to the people, every thing is not that bad. Afghanistan people like to be connected in the world especially young generation. They need help and need your humanitarian assistant please do not forget Afghanistan. We love all of you without racial, regional and religious interest.