Afghanistan

April 21, 2008

Schwarzenegger to meet with Afghan governors

Governor Schwarzenegger is meeting with eight governors from Afghanistan as part of a U.S. State Department exchange program, Associated Press has reported. The governors are spending five days in California during their three-week visit to the U.S. to learn about federalism, American elections and agriculture. Schwarzenegger plans to meet briefly with the governors on Monday. He will talk about his job and how he works with local and federal officials. The Afghan leaders also were meeting with state lawmakers and agriculture and trade officials. e U.S. State Department says the governors are among hundreds of world leaders who have taken part in the International Visitor Leadership Program.

Filed under Afghanistan, Foreign Relations by

October 5, 2007

Paramount steps into a mine field

Paramount Vantage, the Los Angeles distributor of Kite Runner, has decided to delay the release of the film because of concerns over the safety of it’s child actors, and the possibility that it could set off ethnic violence in Afghanistan. As reported in the New York Times:

The boys (actors) and their relatives are now accusing the filmmakers of mistreatment, and warnings have been relayed to the studio from Afghan and American officials and aid workers that the movie could aggravate simmering enmities between the politically dominant Pashtun and the long-oppressed Hazara.

In an effort to prevent not only a public-relations disaster but also possible violence, studio lawyers and marketing bosses have employed a stranger-than-fiction team of consultants. In August they sent a retired Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism operative in the region to Kabul to assess the dangers facing the child actors. And on Sunday a Washington-based political adviser flew to the United Arab Emirates to arrange a safe haven for the boys and their relatives.

“If we’re being overly cautious, that’s O.K.,” Karen Magid, a lawyer for Paramount, said. “We’re in uncharted territory.” In interviews, more than a dozen people involved in the studio’s response described grappling with vexing questions: testing the limits of corporate responsibility, wondering who was exploiting whom and pondering the price of on-screen authenticity.

The Kite Runner is based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini that spans three decades of war in Afghanistan. It is about a friendship between two Afghan boys- one a Pashtun and one a Hazara, but the storyline includes a rape of the Hazara boy by a Pashtun. The film’s director, Marc Forster made the film in Dari, an Afghan language. He has said that casting the two young Afghan actors did not seem risky at the time, but the situation there has since deteriorated and ethnic tensions are on the rise. In late July, violence worsened in Kabul, so Paramount executives turned to lobbyists for Viacom- their Parent Company, for help. They recommended that John Kiriakou, a retired C.I.A. operative with experience in the region, be sent to assess the situation. As the New York Times reported, Mr. Kiriakou’s briefing “could make a pretty good movie by itself”:

A specialist on Islam at the State Department nearly wept envisioning a “Danish-cartoons situation,” Mr. Kiriakou said. An Afghan literature professor, he added, said Paramount was “willing to burn an already scorched nation for a fistful of dollars.” The head of an Afghan political party said the movie would energize the Taliban. Nearly everyone Mr. Kiriakou met said that the boys had to be removed from Afghanistan for their safety. And a Hazara member of Parliament warned that Pashtun and Hazara “would be killing each other every night” in response to the film’s depiction of them. None of the interviewees had seen the movie.

While the Taliban destroyed all movie theaters in Afghanistan, bootleg DVDs often appear on the streets of Kabul shortly after a major film is released. It is likely that Kite Runner will be released after some time has passed and the safety of the child actors can be assured.

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