Sunday, June 30, 2002

Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Afghan People

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – The kids on the side of the street come up to you and speak the three phrases of English that they know well.

“"Hello Mister!"” one shouts from his rickety bicycle

“"How are you?!”" another says as he gives me the thumbs up sign.

Another kid selling black market CD’s makes a simple request “"Water!"”

The elders sit back and watch them, breaking in every now and then to keep them in line by shouting “"Burru!"” which means, simply, go away.

The streets are bustling in Kabul. The shops along Chicken Street, a popular shopping area in town, are filled with goods ranging from ancient muskets to the famous Afghan carpet.

It seems like a typical scene out of a movie about the Middle East, complete with busy bazaars and bustling activity. Burquas (traditional Afghan shroud) and beards pass us as we make our way through the masses. But there’s a new element in the Kabuls scenery.

On this day, a stationery store just off Chicken Street is filled with customers looking for school supplies. They’re not wearing the traditional burqua or shalwar kameez (traditional male Afghan outfit), they’re outfitted with helmets, bulletproof vests, and M-16’s.

They’re members of the 345th Psychological Operations Company out of Dallas, Texas. Most are reservists called to active duty in Operation Enduring Freedom, and they are some of the few soldiers the people of Kabul come in contact with.

They’re not just in Kabul. The guys at PSYOPS are everywhere in Afghanistan, fighting an age-old battle not unfamiliar to the United States -- winning the hearts and minds of the people.

Operation Enduring Freedom isn’t a war just being fought on the battlefield. There’ is more to it than finding Osama Bin Laden or Mullah Mohammed Omar. The U.S. military wants the Afghans to also know that there’ is more to their stay here than bombs and bullets.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. troops engaged local villagers throughout the country to encourage them to turn in Vietcong guerillas or hostile forces in return for peace, stability, and development. Ultimately, that mission in Vietnam failed. Here in Afghanistan, it’s a different story.

Major Patrick Flanagan is an officer with the U.S. Army’s 345th PSYOPS Company. He’'s the one in charge of purchasing the goods at the stationery store.

“"Look at this - you’'ve even got designer staplers!”" he says to the Afghan merchant, who understands and speaks near fluent English.

Flanagan’'s mission is to buy schools supplies from local merchants, and then donate them to a local Afghan school outside Bagram Air Base, some thirty miles to the north.

The illiteracy rate in Afghanistan is staggering. Some estimates put it at 64 percent. That means two out of every three Afghans can'’t read. For the last several years under Taliban rule, women were not allowed in the schools that did exist. UNICEF estimates the illiteracy rate among women to be above 85 percent. By helping the Afghans educate themselves, soldiers like Flanagan are helping reverse years of poor education.

Granted, school supplies are only a small step in the education process, but the benefits of donating the goods goes a long way. Soldiers like Flanagan who participate in these humanitarian missions hope it puts the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan in a positive light.

Flanagan looks over the supplies, most of them new and imported from countries like Germany, and barters with the merchant.

“"Tell him we’re buying a lot here, so give us a good price,"” he says to his translator.

The shopping lasts a half hour, and at the end of the exchange, Flanagan shells out close to $700. As I videotape the exchange, the merchant gives me and my colleagues, as well as the other soldiers standing by, cold soft drinks. It’s a welcome relief in the sweltering midday heat.

It’s interesting to watch diplomacy in action. Even though they are foot soldiers of the U.S. Army, these PSYOP guys are also ambassadors for the United States. Dozens of people approach the soldiers standing watch by the Humvees, and carry on a conversation. Most of the Afghans that talk with the soldiers speak English. It’'s pretty mush just small talk, some of it involving the Afghan views of the Taliban, or their support for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Major Flanagan tells us any conversation with the locals is a good one. “"They feed off any information.”"

Just as the sun reaches it’s highest point in the Kabul afternoon, we wrap up the shopping trip. The friendly transaction complete, the goods are packed up and the Afghan locals filter out. We board the Humvees and head out of the Afghan capital city. The next stop on Flanagan’'s goodwill mission -– outside Bagram Air Base, where the supplies he just picked up will go to students at several area schools. Many of the students that will get the pens, pencils, and papers, are just as eager to learn as other Afghans are to talk with the Americans that now dot the Afghan landscape.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

4th on the Front - Afghanistan

BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN - The first thing you notice when you step outside the tent in the morning is the sun. It's hot. Very hot. Bagram Air Base is also one of the dustiest places on the planet. But somehow each and every day thousands of soldiers survive the heat and the dirt (I'm hesitant to call it "sand") on one of the front lines of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Both the pace and quality of life is picking up here in this former Soviet stronghold just north of Afghanistan's capital Kabul. It's now occupied by allied forces from more than ten different countries. While British forces are getting ready to pull out, more U.S. troops are deploying in. Each night, U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemasters filled with equipment and soldiers make their way to Bagram's pockmarked runway.

We made our way into Afghanistan from Germany with reserve troops just activated from Pittsburgh. They're part of the 329th Combat Support Hospital going into Bagram to help set up the Army's new field hospital. It's the first deployment for most of these soldiers, and many hide the tension and uncertainty by playing video games or sleeping on the flight in.

We land at night, in complete blackness, the only light on the runway coming from the moon. This helps keep the incoming aircraft out of the sights of pro-Taliban or Al Qaeda resistance in the area.

The first stop for most soldiers once they leave the plane is the welcome center. Inside an air conditioned tent, one of the few on base, a soldier gives us a nutshell briefing on the do's and don'ts in Afghanistan.

"Avoid the media" the sergeant tells us, "and make sure you take your malaria pills."

The briefing is also filled with the mission goals here in Afghanistan. "This is a combat zone. plain and simple" the sergeant warns us. A power-point presentation explains that the mission of the CJTF, or Combined Joint Task Force, in Operation Enduring Freedom is to eliminate the terrorist threat.

Walking around Bagram a day later, it's hard to identify the terrorist threat. It seems to be far away from the base. The only explosions you hear are from the Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams blowing up captured weapons and bombs on the outskirts of the base.

Afghan locals are contracted by the U.S. Army to help rebuild the base and work along the roads. They seem to be a friendly people, most asking us to stop and take a picture or pass along a cigarette. Not far from the workers, a U.S. Army soldier keeps watch, making sure none of them stray from their work areas.

My initial impression of Afghanistan is a simple one. There's just enough here to get by, and that goes for both the Afghans that live off base and the soldiers that deploy here.

Things for the soldiers are getting better. Instead of packaged meals, hot chow is served twice a day at the Dining Facility. Workers there say they feed up to 110 mouths a minute. It's one of those quirky facts here that's bound to increase as more troops make the trip here to the Dust Bowl called Bagram Air Base.

Thursday, June 6, 2002

Thanks from the "Front" and Back

Hello All!

It's good to get behind the monitor and write a few more words in cyberspace to see how everyone is doing and share with you more about the comings and goings here in Europe.


There are hundreds of you on this e-mailing list that helped me during my assignment to Pakistan last year, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you. It would take me forever to thank you each in person, and if you reply, I'll share more with you, but because of your help and assistance, "Inside Pakistan: America at War" has earned a flood of recognition and awards in recent months:

2002 South Asian Journalists Association Journalism Awards - 1st Place Outstanding Story on South Asia

2002 Midwestern Emmy Award Nomination

2002 RTNDA Regional Edward R. Murrow Award - News Documentary

National American Legion 4th Estate Award for Excellence in Journalism

2002 National Livingston Awards for Young Journalists - Finalist

1st Place Best Documentary - Ohio Associated Press

1st Place Best Documentary - WV Associated Press

1st Place Best Enterprise Reporter - WV Associated Press

23rd Annual Telly Awards - Bronze Telly Award

Particularly Dr. Raheel Khan, Dr. Anis Rehman, and of course Dr. Adil Zareef in Peshawar are forever in my debt for making the trip a success once I landed in Islamabad.


It's been a fun first few months working with the American Forces Network in Europe. We've got ten episodes of "Destinations" in the can and each week the show grows, and gets better and better. I'm happy with the product and getting more impressed with the quality of submissions from our detachments all throughout Europe. I've been fortunate to travel to Barcelona to cover the NFL Europe's Frankfurt Galaxy as they took on the Barcelona Dragons. Barcelona was a fun, but intense, three day effort that put Destinations on the road for the first time. It turned out well. The Schlossburg, or castle at Burg, was also another fun Destinations piece we did on an old Midevil castle in Northern Germany. Our recent trip to Berlin to cover President Bush's visit there was also exciting, but also an adventure fighting with the German press office to grant us media passes. I'm getting ready for an assignment to Central Asia.. (more information to follow upon my return)


We'll, not actually, but I am returning to New York City to recieve the South Asian Journalists Assocaition Award at Columbia University, and I'll also be producing a special piece when I'm in town on a New York City Police Officer who was the crime scene photographer on September 11th. That should be fun and rewarding, and will also be my first visit to Ground Zero. If any of you are in town June 14th through the 18th, let me know. I'm also hoping to make it back to Pittsburgh and Charleston in the middle of July.


Many of you know that I'm a big Star Wars fan, and I have to say that the latest installment did not disappoint, as I feared it might. I thought that "Attack of the Clones" is the second best Star Wars Movie (behind Empire Strikes Back) and is the second best movie I've seen this year (behind Black Hawk Down) Sound off and give me your opinion on the movie. I haven't seen Spider Man yet (that's on the schedule tonight)


That's all for right now... I could go on forever, but then you probably would never get to the end of the Kanestergram. Hope this message finds you all in good health and good spirits. Please reply when you get a chance.


Wednesday, June 5, 2002

SAJA Announces 2002 Journalism Award Winners

NEW YORK, June 5 /PRNewswire/ -- SAJA, the South Asian Journalists
Association (, will honor the winners of the 2002 SAJA Journalism Awards contest at its eighth annual dinner on Saturday, June 15, at Columbia University in New York. These annual awards recognize excellence in reporting about South Asia, as well as outstanding reporting by South Asian journalists and students in the U.S. and Canada. The Awards ceremony is part of the SAJA international convention, which takes place June 14-16 and is expected to draw 600 journalists and guests from the
U.S., Canada, Europe and South Asia.
The awards will be presented at Columbia by Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post, who will deliver the keynote address that evening.
In addition, Coll, a former South Asia bureau chief of the Post, will receive the SAJA Journalism Leader Award in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the field of journalism. He will receive the award from Jyoti Thottam, SAJA President and a business reporter at Time magazine.
"I am delighted to present this year's Leader Award to Steve Coll," Thottam said of the Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter. "His engaging, unusually perceptive portraits of South Asia are already well known to readers of the Post and of his book, 'On The Grand Trunk Road.' It's an honor for me to also recognize his commitment as an editor to providing thoughtful, original coverage of the Subcontinent."
SAJA will also pay tribute to the memory of slain reporter Daniel Pearl, who, as Mumbai bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, was a regular participant in SAJA's cyber activities. The first Daniel Pearl Award for outstanding print reporting on South Asia by a U.S. journalist will be presented that night in the presence of his family, friends and Journal colleagues. The inaugural winner is Mohamad Bazzi, a reporter for Newsday
(Long Island, N.Y.) for his insightful reporting which, the judges said, "echoes the spirit and high standards of Pearl's work." In addition, a collection of Pearl's writings, "At Home in the World" (Simon & Schuster) will be publicly launched by the book's editor, Helene Cooper of the Journal's Washington bureau and will be available for purchase. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Daniel Pearl Foundation (, the mission of which is to promote "cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music and innovative communications."
According to Nina Mehta, chair of the SAJA awards committee, the SAJA Awards are important "since they recognize outstanding media coverage of a vital but often under-covered region -- the Indian subcontinent -- and also because they honor creative work by journalists covering South Asians in North America as well as outstanding reporting by South Asians."
This year's contest received more than 250 entries from more than 100 media outlets for work executed in 2001. The entries reflected the higher visibility of South Asians in the United States and the increased attention paid to the subcontinent, in large part because of the aftermath of Sept. 11, the royal killings in Nepal and the earthquake in Gujarat, India. Sreenath Sreenivasan, administrator of the awards and a professor
at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, added, "The wide range of media outlets that sent in entries shows the strong interest in upholding standards in foreign coverage and in reporting by minority journalists."
Below is a list of winners of this year's awards. Web versions of articles and photographs will be available online at the SAJA site in August 2002.
The awards will be presented on Saturday, June 15, at 6:30 p.m. at a gala awards ceremony at the Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia's Lerner Hall as part of the three-day SAJA Convention ( Twenty-five professional development workshops, panels and discussions will be held that weekend. The plenary session on Saturday morning will feature a panel of senior US journalists talking about newsroom decision
making: Peter Bhatia, executive editor, The Oregonian & president-designate (2003-4) of the American Society of Newspaper Editors; Nisid Hajari, Asia editor, Newsweek; and Jeannie Park, executive editor, People. The opening reception on Friday evening will feature remarks by Sebastian Junger, freelance journalist and author of The Perfect Storm and Fire.
The convention and dinner are open to the public. All are welcome. Visit for details, including ticket information.
Contact or 212-854-5979 for more information about SAJA or the awards. Please contact Indira Somani, convention chair, for information about the convention.

(winners for work executed in calendar year 2001)

Each person/team below will receive a certificate at the SAJA Annual Dinner on Saturday, June 15, 2002, at Columbia University. The student winners will receive an additional cash prize.

SAJA Journalism Leader Award
(SAJA's highest honor)
To Steve Coll of The Washington Post for his many contributions to foreign reporting as a reporter, author and editor, and for his leadership at the Post. (See bio at

I. The Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding story on South Asia Print
1. Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday for Pakistan & Afghanistan coverage. A gripping series of reports from Pakistan about topics ranging from gunsmiths whose sales were hurt by the weapons crackdown, to the use of the Internet by Afghan refugees to keep in touch with families, to key news developments in the war in Afghanistan. This will be the first annual Daniel Pearl Award and it goes, in the opinion of the judges, to a reporter whose journalism echoes the spirit and high standards of Pearl's work. Coincidentally, Bazzi, who is based in NYC, traveled to Pakistan to cover the investigation of Pearl's kidnapping earlier this year.
2. Amitava Kumar, Transition for "Splitting the Difference." A detailed account of the shared animosity that binds together India and Pakistan, reported primarily from the border.
3. (tie) Ahmed Rashid, The Nation for "Pakistan, the Taliban and the U.S." A look at the connections between Pakistan and Afghanistan and how they affect American policy.
3. (tie) Lisa Tsering, India-West for "Helping Bhuj Rebuild Itself." How small, local non-governmental organizations are causing big changes after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.

II. Outstanding story on South Asia
Broadcast (TV/radio)
1. Kane Richard Farabaugh, WOWK-TV, Charleston, W.V. for "Inside Pakistan: America at War." The work of an American reporter who spent two weeks in Pakistan during the October 2001 air strikes in Afghanistan and shot, produced and reported a network-quality program for a local station.
2. Marc Dorian, Cynthia McFadden, Christina Romano, ABCNews 20/20 Downtown for "Girls for Sale." An undercover look at prostitution in Bombay's slums.
3. Fred de Sam Lazaro & Kevin McAndrews, PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer for "AIDS in India." How AIDS is spread in India by a combination of a brisk sex trade and a tradition of public silence.

III. Outstanding story on South Asia
New Media
1. Leela Jacinto, for "Bias Fallout." How one Sikh American learned a harsh lesson in identity politics after 9/11.
2. Preston Mendenhall, for "In Pakistan, A Grand Illusion." A look at Pakistan's intelligence agencies. staff for "Nepal's Royal Killings." Report on the massacre of the royal family in Kathmandu

IV. Outstanding editorial/op-ed on South Asia
All media
1. Timothy O'Leary, Dallas Morning News for "Pakistan's Choice," an unsigned editorial. A Sept. 19 call for Pakistan to support the U.S.; it clearly made the case for the course the Pakistani government would eventually take.
2. Mansoor Ijaz, Los Angeles Times for "The India-Pakistan Conflict Lies Threatening in the Wings." A prescient December 2001 article about how Indo-Pak tensions would affect the war in Afghanistan.
3. Michael Moran, for "Airlift of Evil." A commentary that asks why the US let Pakistan pull "volunteers" out of Kunduz.

Special Recognition Award -- Tunku Varadarajan of The Wall Street Journal for a year's worth of his consistently engaging and controversial opinion pieces about South Asia (and other global topics) in the newspaper and on its sister site,

V. Outstanding story on South Asians in North America
All media
1. Viji Sundaram, India-West for "Where's the Beef? It's in Your Fries." A national exclusive about McDonald's use of beef extract in its french fries and how Hindu consumers sued the fast-food giant.
2. Daniel Brook, Philadelphia City Paper for "We Had Dreams." A look at how teachers from India hired to fill gaps in Philadelphia schools learned hard lessons about America.
3. (tie) Rekha Basu, South Florida Sun-Sentinel for "A Birth, A Death Change A Woman's Life." A profile of Sudipta Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi woman whose husband died in the World Trade Center two days before she gave birth.
3. (tie) John Bathke, News 12 New Jersey for "Immigration Us." A look at how South Asian immigrants are changing the town of Iselin, N.J.
Special Recognition Award -- India Abroad/Rediff. com staff for its powerful reporting and analysis (in words and photos) of Sept. 11 and its aftermath: the attacks, the victims and the hate crimes.

VI. Outstanding photo about South Asia or South Asians in North America Single photo or series
1. Peter Tobia, The Philadelphia Inquirer for "Caught in the Struggle and Strife." A series of photos that accurately captured the mood in Pakistan in the weeks after Sept. 11.
2. The Denver Post staff for Afghanistan and Pakistan photos. The works of several photographers who documented various aspects of the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the war on terror.
3. Edward A. Ornelas, San Antonio Express-News for "Pakistan's Other War: Kashmir." A Web photo essay about life in Kashmir.

VII. Special Project on South Asia or South Asians in North America
All Media
1. Dow Jones Newswires staff for "Decade of India's Economic Reforms." A hard-hitting package of 11 stories that highlighted the promise and frustration found in Indian financial markets, politics and daily life as the economic reform process evolves.
2. Associated Press staff for "Afghan Agony." A four-part package by AP foreign correspondents providing insights into a region that U.S. readers knew little about.
3. (tie) Trikone Magazine staff for "Queer Muslims: De-closeted." A special issue that examined what the editors call a "triple jeopardy" in the United States: being gay, South Asian and Muslim.
3. (tie) Satinder Bindra, CNN for "Afghanistan: The War Against Terror." Series of reports from Afghanistan in October and November 2001.

VIII. Outstanding story on any subject
1. Sudarsan Raghavan and Sumana Chatterjee, Knight Ridder Newspapers for
"A Taste of Slavery." A major expose of the chocolate industry and its
connections to modern-day slavery in Africa.
2. Sanjay Bhatt, The Palm Beach Post for an anthrax series. Local stories
with national impact chronicling the first set of anthrax attacks and
deaths in October 2001.
3. Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post for "Fear on the 86th Floor." A
compelling reconstruction of the panic and terror in the office of a World
Trade Center executive.

Special Recognition Award -- Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek for "The Politics of
Rage: Why They Hate Us," his widely quoted October 2001 cover story that
explained to American readers the need for reform in the Arab world.

IX. Outstanding story on any subject
Broadcast (TV/radio)
1. Madhulika Sikka, ABC News Nightline for "Encore: The Eve Cassidy
Story." A profile of a singer who died in obscurity five years ago, but
whose work is now getting attention.
2.Fred de Sam Lazaro, PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly for "Sex
Selection." A report on how the gender selection of babies is conducted in
certain parts of India
3. Gita Amar, Radio 3AK Melbourne, Australia for breaking news coverage of
9/11. A collection of live breaking news reports on Sept. 11 and 12, 2001.

X. Outstanding story on any subject
New Media
1. Roy Wadia, CNN for "Brazil: A Special Series." First-hand reports from
several Brazilian cities tackling issues such as the environment, AIDS,
poverty and politics
2. Sandeep Junnarkar, CNET for "A Bitter Pill." A three-part
series on the lack of progress in the online medical industry.
3 (tie) Rafat Ali, for "Now You Can Buy the Entire Internet."
An analysis of how pop-up ads and other intrusive features are dominating
online advertising.{D00CDD87-9944-4263-81FA-
3. (tie) Leela Jacinto, for "So Far From Home." A profile of
Zohra Daoud, the first (and only) Miss Afghanistan, who now lives in

XI. Outstanding student story on any subject
All media
The student winners receive a certificate, plus a cash award as indicated
1. Abhi Raghunathan, Princeton University for "Thanks for Coming: Now Go."
A New York Times report on Indian software engineers in New Jersey stuck
in limbo after the dot-com bust. ($500.00)
2. Shilpi Gupta, University of California, Berkeley for "The Bondage of
Debt." A photo essay about bonded laborers in Tamil Nadu, India. ($300.00)
3. Renuka Rayasam, Columbia University for "Locked Up: Kids in Juvenile
Detention." A look at trends in how minors are treated by the criminal
justice system ($200.00)

Notes from the judges:
* This year, we have 11 categories -- with a first, second and third prize
winner in each (except where indicated).
All winners will receive a certificate at SAJA's gala awards ceremony on
Saturday, June 15 (student winners will received a cash award). In some
cases, the judges chose to name Special Recognition Awards for
distinguished work that did not quite fit into current categories or in
order to honor a body of work.
* The awards were judged by a team of senior journalists drawn from
newsrooms around New York City and faculty from the Columbia Graduate
School of Journalism.
* Visit the SAJA Awards Archive to see names of past winners.

SAJA, the South Asian Journalists Association, was founded in March 1994
as a networking group for journalists of South Asian origin in New York
City. It has grown into a national group of more than 800 journalists
working for leading publications, broadcast networks and online outlets in
various cities in the US and Canada.
The organization is best known for its Web-based SAJA Stylebook for
Covering South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora
( and its tips and resources for journalists
covering South Asia or South Asians living in North America
The New York flagship chapter hosts monthly meetings in Manhattan with
distinguished guest speakers, as well as various career-oriented panels.
SAJA has chapters in Washington, D.C., San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago,
Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Toronto).
Details of SAJA's activities and resources for journalists is available at

Please direct all questions about the SAJA Awards to Sreenath Sreenivasan, administrator of the SAJA Awards and co-founder of the association: 212-854-5979;; Please contact Indira Somani, convention chair, for information about the convention.