Quil Lawrence

David Aquila ("Quil") Lawrence is an award-winning correspondent for NPR News, covering the millions of Americans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as they transition to life back at home.

Previously, Lawrence served as NPR's Bureau Chief in Kabul. He joined NPR in 2009 as Baghdad Bureau Chief – capping off ten years of reporting in Iraq and all the bordering countries. That experience made the foundation for his first book Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East, published in 2008.

Before coming to NPR, Lawrence was based in Jerusalem, as Middle East correspondent for The World, a BBC/PRI co-production. For the BBC he covered the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 and returned to Afghanistan periodically to report on development, the drug trade and insurgency.

Lawrence began his career as a freelancer for NPR and various newspapers while based in Bogota, Colombia, covering Latin America. Other reporting trips took him to Sudan, Morocco, Cuba, Pakistan and Iran.

A native of Maine, Lawrence studied history at Brandeis University, with concentrations in the Middle East and Latin America. He is fluent in Spanish and conversant in Arabic.

This week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the pardon of a 19-year-old Afghan woman who was imprisoned for adultery after being raped by a relative, in a case that has attracted international media coverage.

But what happened to the woman, Gulnaz, who has been in prison for two years, is not an isolated episode.

Many other women have suffered similar fates. A recent U.N. report suggests that laws to protect women in Afghanistan from rape and forced marriage are still not being enforced — with devastating results.

Transcript

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This past summer, two assassinations paralyzed the southern Afghan city of Kandahar with fears of a power vacuum.

In the first incident, President Hamid Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, considered the unofficial kingpin of the south, was gunned down in July by a close associate. Two weeks later, a Taliban assassin killed the city's mayor, Ghulam Hamidi, with a bomb concealed in his turban.

Villagers from a violent part of southern Afghanistan say that Afghan troops, along with several American mentors, forced civilians to march ahead of soldiers on roads where the Taliban were believed to have planted bombs and landmines.

No one was hurt. But if the allegations are true, the act would appear to violate the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of civilians. The episode also raises questions about how civilians are caught between the two sides in the war.

Performance artist Aman Mojedidi moved from the U.S. to Afghanistan in 2003, as one of what he says were many Afghan-Americans and Afghan-Europeans who thought their homeland was finally on the mend.

"It was really part of that wave of hyphenated Afghans and internationals wanting to come to Afghanistan, post-Taliban, [to] do something, rebuild, reconstruct, that kind of thing," he says.

In a surprising about-face, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appears to be abandoning his government's long-standing effort to hold peace talks with the Taliban in Pakistan, saying they aren't serious about negotiations. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

Last week's assassination of the former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, not only dashed hopes for peace negotiations, it also increased the talk of civil war.

It came at the time that American troops are preparing to begin a gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, exposing deep anxiety among Afghans about what lies ahead.

Afghanistan buried a former president last week, but there is concern in Kabul that something else may have been buried as well: the peace process. In nearly two years since the U.S. opened the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban, progress has been hard to discern.

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was also the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, may have quashed any negotiations that were under way. It also may have given new strength to those who never supported the idea of talking with the Taliban.

In Afghanistan, women's groups are claiming a rare victory.

Last winter, the government was planning to bring battered women's shelters under government control.

Women's rights advocates sprang into action, complaining that the new rules would turn shelters into virtual prisons for women who had run away from home because of abuse. But after a flurry of media attention, the Afghan government agreed to re-examine the issue. And this month, President Hamid Karzai's Cabinet quietly approved a new draft that has support from women's groups.

Last weekend marked a milestone for Afghanistan's Parliament that should have been cause for celebration: It's been a year since Afghans braved the threat of insurgent violence to go to the polls to pick a new legislature.

But a dispute over election results has smoldered between President Hamid Karzai and lawmakers ever since. And the resulting gridlock has prevented the new parliament from passing a single notable law, confirming any of the president's ministers, or giving any oversight to the president or his cabinet.

At least 77 American soldiers are wounded after a truck bomb targeted a base west of Kabul. Two separate roadside bombs have killed 10 Afghan civilians.

At an American military base in Wardak Province, a truck full of firewood rammed into the main gate before exploding in flames and shrapnel. Military officials said a blast wall absorbed most of the impact, but nearly 100 Afghan and American personnel suffered injuries. Wardak borders the Afghan capital, Kabul, but the province is considered to be partially under Taliban control.

Ten years ago Friday, a team of al-Qaida agents carried out an assassination that was the first step in their plan leading to the Sept. 11 attacks. In the north of Afghanistan, suicide bombers posing as journalists killed Ahmad Shah Massoud, the most famous leader of Afghan resistance against Taliban rule.

Today, posters of Massoud still adorn shops around northern Afghanistan, and admirers held a huge commemoration of him Friday near his home.

But 10 years after his death, Massoud's legacy has been overshadowed by a grueling war that grinds on with no end in sight.

Afghanistan is, perhaps, the country most transformed by the Sept. 11 attacks. And yet most Afghans have no clear memories of those world-changing events because, according to best estimates, most of the country's current population was under the age of 10 at that time.

This generation of Afghans has gone from having no television or Internet, to having access to a torrent of media information without much experience filtering truth from rumor.

People living in Afghanistan 10 years ago had little electricity, few radios and almost no televisions to alert them of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The news didn't really reach across the country until the American bombing campaign and invasion began a month later. The fall of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001 and the flood of international aid raised hope in Afghanistan.

August brought a grim new statistic from Afghanistan: The death of at least 66 U.S. soldiers, making it the deadliest month for U.S. troops in nearly 10 years of war.

Nearly half of those casualties were the result of the rare shootdown of a Chinook helicopter packed with U.S. Navy SEALs. Of the remaining casualties, many were caused by what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDS — homemade land mines, bombs and booby traps.

As part of the traditional celebration of the end of Ramadan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned prisoners from Kabul's juvenile detention center. This time it was two dozen youths who had been arrested for planned or attempted suicide bomb attacks, and many were under the age of 12.

Karzai presented the captured suicide bombers on national television — the youngest only 8 years old.

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