Afghanistan aims to rebuild Buddhas and much more By Peter Graff
Saturday December 29, 8:51 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's new authorities hope soon to rebuild the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan destroyed by the Taliban, Information and Culture Minister Raheen Makhdoom said on Saturday.
Makhdoom told Reuters several countries had already expressed interest in contributing to the project, and he had discussed with the United Nations the holding of a seminar of Afghan and foreign specialists and representatives of donor countries to come up with a game plan.
"We want to start it as soon as possible," he said. "We know that rebuilt Buddhas will not be exactly what they were. But we need to rebuild them."
The fundamentalist Taliban rulers dynamited the great Buddha statues in the central mountain region of Bamiyan in March despite the pleas of other Muslim nations and Western leaders.
The Taliban considered the two statues, hewn out of solid rock in the third and fifth centuries A.D. and standing between 40 and 50 metres high, to be depictions of a false god forbidden by their severe interpretation of Islam.
Makhdoom said the Buddhas were only a small part of the Afghan cultural heritage that the Taliban ransacked before they were deposed with the help of a U.S.-led international coalition.
Not only did the former rulers destroy artefacts and turn museums into collections of shards, they also shuttered theatres, forbade painting and film and took television off the air.
CULTURE, MEDIA A PRIORITY
Afghanistan's new government, which took power last week, is counting on billions of dollars in international reconstruction aid to be pledged next month at a conference in Tokyo.
Its leaders have made restoring culture and media a priority.
"Television, Afghan film, theatre, music, museums, all of them are gone, and other parts of the Ministry of Information and Culture, like public libraries, all is gone," Makhdoom said.
"And now we have to rebuild everything. But what is most important at the moment are radio, TV, (the) printing house which is absolutely burned and destroyed, and also reviving newspapers, including (the English-language) Kabul Times."
On Saturday, Makhdoom received a large group of women former ministry employees -- poets and broadcasters as well as clerks.
More than a month after the Taliban left Kabul, most women have not shed the all-enveloping burqa veils that the militia required. But those who met Makhdoom wore only headscarves.
The minister, a former Kabul University lecturer on Afghan history and culture who returned for the government's inauguration after six years in exile, said he wanted to bring as many women back to their jobs as possible, and also recruit more.
"We have a history of women's activities in this country," Makhdoom said. "We had poets, artists, writers and religious scholars among them.
"And now they are the majority of our society and they were the target of most of the atrocities done by the Taliban, so we want them to take full part in the rebuilding of the country."
TOURISTS TO COME BACK
With its towering mountains, ancient culture and reputation for hospitality, Afghanistan was once a tourist destination, on the "hippy trail" for adventurous travellers in the 1960s and 1970s.
Much of the country is long since derelict.
Makhdoom, whose own home in Kabul was destroyed, is now living in the hilltop Inter-Continental hotel, which was built in the 1960s to international standards but is now a run-down wreck with no water or heat.
Landmines and gunmen may keep visitors away for many years yet, but Makhdoom said he hoped to see them return.
"Afghanistan is one of the most ancient countries of the world, with lots of ancient monuments and lots of natural, interesting places. I'm sure, when things get normal, there will be thousands of tourists."
Saturday December 29, 8:44 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's government wants an end to bombing raids, saying Osama bin Laden has probably fled to Pakistan and his fighters are scattered, even as foreign security troops prepare for full deployment in the capital Kabul.
In the battered city, Afghan fighters of the Northern Alliance that swept the Taliban out of the city and U.N.-mandated foreign security troops prepared to hold their first joint military exercises, officials said.
Interim leader Hamid Karzai has welcomed the force, as have several commanders, tribal elders and ordinary Afghans eager to have international troops on the scene to prevent a return to the warlord conflicts of the early 1990s. The Defence Ministry has been less enthusiastic.
However, Defence Minister Mohammad Fahim said a day earlier that terms of the force's deployment had been agreed with a British general, with some 3,000 foreign troops to be allowed into the country.
Apparently eager to divert attention, Fahim also said the world's most wanted man had probably left Afghanistan for the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, and urged the end soon to U.S. bombing raids blamed for killing hundreds of civilians since October 7.
With the destruction of the Taliban and bin Laden's al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, there was little further need for U.S. bombing, Fahim said in the highest-level suggestion so far that it was time to end the aerial strikes.
Most hideouts of the Taliban and bin Laden have been bombed to bits, but the air raids have continued and stray U.S. bombs have been blamed for scores of civilian deaths in recent days.
"After fleeing from Tora Bora there is a strong probability that Osama is in Peshawar," Fahim said.
"Osama is out of our control. To a large extent it depends on Pakistan. America can pursue him with the help of the Pakistani government," he said.
Tora Bora is a mountainous region in eastern Afghanistan, riddled with caves, and was thought to be the last redoubt of bin Laden's al Qaeda network, blamed for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and perhaps for the Saudi-born militant millionaire himself.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said he could not rule out the possibility that bin Laden had crossed the 2,500-km (1,500-mile) porous border into Pakistan's rugged and lawless tribal areas, but dismissed such reports as mere speculation.
"I can't say it is impossible," he told Reuters. "Anyone can speculate. But that is not based on concrete information.
"We have a large number of troops on the border with Afghanistan at this time. If he came to any town or city he could be recognised and turned in," Sattar said, noting that the huge $25-million bounty on bin Laden's head was a big incentive.
The United States says it has no idea of the whereabouts of bin Laden, who taunted Washington in a videotape apparently shot earlier this month and aired on Wednesday.
But President George W. Bush said the Islamic militant was the conflict's clear loser. "This is a guy who, three months ago, was in control of a country," he said. "Now he's maybe in control of a cave."
NO NEED FOR U.S. BOMBING
Fahim said there were still some areas along the Pakistani border that had not been cleared of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, but said that once it was known that none were left the U.S. bombing should finish.
Fahim said it was possible all resistance would cease soon.
His remarks came a day after tribal elders said the country's new Western-backed interim leader, Hamid Karzai, would ask the United States to halt aerial attacks on an eastern province where a convoy of guests to his own inauguration was bombed with about 65 deaths last week.
A spokesman for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Kabul said the United States had received no request from the government to stop bombing.
At least one tiny pocket of al Qaeda resistance held out. Guards laying siege to eight Arab al Qaeda fighters, wounded but holed up with weapons in a hospital in southern Kandahar, said they were running out of patience and might storm their ward.
FOREIGN FORCES TO ARRIVE
As the Defence Ministry tried to assert its new-found authority, a group of 70 British staff officers were en route for Kabul, where they would prepare and staff a base for an international security force.
The United Nations Security Council has authorised an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to operate in Afghanistan for six months to help maintain security following the rapid collapse of the Taliban government.
Defence Minister Fahim said under the agreement the troops would be based near the Kabul airport and 200 to 300 troops in the city centre.
Of the 3,000 to be deployed, 1,000 would be for security and the rest for logistical and humanitarian purposes, he said after meeting Major General John McColl, the British commander of the U.N.-mandated international force.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Kabul said no agreement had actually been signed yet.
"We are getting close to an agreement. We're getting there, it will be fairly soon," the spokesman said.
US President George W. Bush made a fresh vow to track down terror suspect Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," rejecting suggestions that the US campaign in Afghanistan may soon wind down.
Bush, on vacation at his Texas ranch, said he was focusing on events in South Asia, a region where US troops were hunting for bin Laden and nuclear rivals India and Pakistan were sliding into a new Cold War.
Pakistani officials said that if bin Laden strayed onto their territory he would be seized, and they promised they would not start a war with India after Washington expressed concern that the crisis could impinge on the US-led war on terrorism.
Bush was quick to discount suggestions by a member of the interim Afghan government that US operations might no longer be needed once pockets of resistance by bin Laden's al-Qaeda network were quelled.
"We're going to be there for a while, and I don't know the exact moment when we leave, but it's not until this mission is complete," said Bush, flanked by General Tommy Franks, who commands US troops in the war in Afghanistan.
Franks said the campaign "will take as long as it takes," defining the mission as an insurance operation designed to keep the interim government on its feet and promote stability.
Mohammad Habeel, spokesman for Afghan Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, suggested earlier in Kabul that a judgment should be made as to whether the US campaign should continue once the last al-Qaeda fighters were captured or killed.
"I hope this scattered resistance also will finish in three or four days' time," Habeel said. "Afterwards, we will see if there is a need for (a continuation) or not."
The interim Afghan government took power on December 22, replacing the toppled Taliban regime, which fell victim to a US air campaign launched in retaliation for its refusal to hand over bin Laden, the top suspect in the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.
Washington has no idea of the whereabouts of bin Laden, who appeared in a new video broadcast on Arabic television on Thursday, or even whether he is still alive.
But, Bush promised: "We're not going to stop until we get him and all those murderers that are associated with him. Dead or alive is fine with me."
Making no effort to disguise his distaste for bin Laden, Bush added: "This is a guy who, three months ago, was in control of a country. Now he's maybe in control of a cave."
Bush said he had discussed the South Asian crisis with his national security team on Friday and added that Secretary of State Colin Powell was in touch with both New Delhi and Islamabad.
He singled out Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for special praise, noting that he had had 50 extremists arrested, and advised India to do likewise.
Musharraf on Friday promised that Pakistan "stands for peace" and would never initiate war. "We do not want war because we understand all the hazards that could follow," he said.
India-Pakistan relations have deteriorated since a December 13 attack on the Indian parliament which New Delhi accuses Pakistani intelligence of masterminding.
Meanwhile, Pakistani military spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi said he was confident bin Laden would be captured if he sought refuge in Pakistani tribal border regions, where some Afghan officials say he may be hiding.
"Tribal people and elders have actually apprehended a lot of non-Afghan fighters and handed them over to Pakistan. If at all he turns up, they will hand him over to us," he said, as hundreds of troops hunted fugitive al-Qaeda members.
Musharraf said he would not move soldiers from the Afghan border to reinforce the frontier with India. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had voiced concern Thursday that the Pakistani troops could be shifted east towards the disputed Kashmir region.
The diplomatic temperature was rising along with military tensions. On Thursday, India announced a ban on Pakistani planes using its airspace and a 50 percent cut in embassy staff in both countries.
Pakistan swiftly reciprocated with identical measures.
Pakistan International Airlines said Friday it was temporarily suspending flights to Singapore and Bangkok, as a result of the airspace ban, and rerouting Hong Kong-bound flights through China.
India said it was prepared to allow Musharraf to use Indian airspace when he flies to Kathmandu for the January 4-6 summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
As acute fears persisted of follow-up attacks to the September 11 assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon which killed around 3,000 people, a court in Boston heard that explosives carried onto a trans-Atlantic flight by alleged "shoe bomber" Richard Reid could have caused a disaster.
A federal magistrate refused to free Reid, who is British, on bail.
US Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Margaret Cronin argued that Reid was in possession of a "functioning, improvised device" which, "if placed beside an outer wall, could have or would have created a large hole in the fuselage of the plane."
Reid is charged with intimidation and interfering with a flight crew -- offenses that carry 20-year jail terms. No additional charges were filed Friday.
He allegedly tried to set fire to his sneakers Saturday on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami that was diverted to Boston. US authorities were investigating claims that he purchased the explosives in the Netherlands.
The worldwide hunt for bin Laden followers continued, with Philippine officials announcing the arrest of a Jordanian believed to be an al-Qaeda militant and Yemen saying it was questioning 70 foreigners on possible terror links.
The Pentagon said US troops in Afghanistan now hold 70 prisoners, many of them captured by Pakistani troops after fleeing across the common border from Afghanistan.
US media reports late Friday stated that US ground troops are poised to depart for Kandahar to relieve Marines in place in the southern Afghan city.
Troops from the 101st Airborne Division are "prepared to head for Kandahar," ABC television said.
The troops are expected to leave the United States in a matter of days and will be in position by mid-January, to replace the Marines currently stationed there, according to the report.
And in the widening worldwide effort to stamp out terrorism, the European Union released its own list of terrorist groups and individuals, dominated by the Basque separatist group ETA, left-wing Greek extremists and both Catholic and Protestant outfits in Northern Ireland.
All 15 EU member states are bound to freeze the assets of all groups and individuals named and to assist one another in investigations or legal proceedings involving those on the list, a move that was welcomed by Washington.
Saturday December 29, 5:52 PM AFP
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has escaped to the Pakistani city of Peshawar but continues to move around constantly in the rugged border area with Afghanistan, an Afghan Defence Ministry source said.
The source told AFP the suspected terrorist mastermind is now based in Peshawar about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Afghan border.
But the world's most wanted man is constantly on the move to elude capture and Afghan intelligence cannot pinpoint his whereabouts, the source said.
"We are not completely sure he is there (Peshawar) at present but we have received intelligence reports that he is using Peshawar as a base."
On Thursday a defence ministry spokesman said separately that bin Laden is living in the mountains on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border under the protection of a hardline Islamic leader.
Mohammad Habeel said bin Laden had crossed from the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan about a week ago.
Since then he had been staying in a tribal area controlled by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) leader Fazelur Rahman, but he may have moved back and forth across the border, Habeel said
The Pakistan-based JUI said the accusations were "baseless."
There have been dozens of conflicting reports about bin Laden's whereabouts, especially since US-backed Afghan forces began driving his al-Qaeda forces from their Tora Bora mountain stronghold near the Pakistani border.
Pakistan said Friday it was confident bin Laden would be caught if he turned up in the tribal border region.
"Tribal people and elders have actually apprehended a lot of non-Afghan fighters and handed them over to Pakistan. If at all he turns up, they will hand him over to us," said military spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi.
"Our forces are keeping an extraordinarily tight vigil on the borders."
Saturday December 29, 8:59 PM AFP
Suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden has fled to the Pakistani city of Peshawar, an Afghan official said, as US agents in Pakistan interrogated members of his al-Qaeda group over its worldwide activities.
The Afghan defence ministry source said the world's most wanted man was now based in Peshawar, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Afghan border, but was constantly on the move to elude capture.
It was the second such claim in two days from the ministry, which has also urged the United States to halt bombing in the country. The ministry says the last few al-Qaeda fighters are almost wiped out.
On Thursday defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Habeel said bin Laden crossed from the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan about a week ago, after the defeat of the fundamentalist Taliban regime which sheltered him.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said Saturday in Islamabad he had "no information whatsoever that Osama bin Laden has come to Pakistan."
Some officials of Kabul's interim government, especially those from the former Northern Alliance opposition army, bear grudges against Pakistan which for years was the leading supporter of the now-defunct Taliban regime.
One Western diplomat said reports that bin Laden had crossed the border came from "sources hostile to Pakistan" and coincided with heightened Indian pressure on Pakistan to act against "terror groups".
There have been dozens of conflicting reports about bin Laden's whereabouts, especially since US-backed Afghan forces began driving his al-Qaeda forces from their Tora Bora mountain stronghold this month.
Mounting tensions between Pakistan and India may hamper that task by forcing the deployment of some of the thousands of Pakistani troops currently watching its western border for fleeing al-Qaeda fighters.
US agents are questioning al-Qaeda members detained in Pakistan about the worldwide activities of the terror group, a Pakistani security official said Saturday.
Islamabad's Dawn newspaper said the US team questioning the 139 fighters is from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It said two French Muslims were among the detainees at the prison in North-West Frontier province.
The US bombing campaign has reportedly claimed more civilian casualties over the past week.
The bombing of a convoy last week which tribal elders said killed 65 civilians, and a raid on a village where residents said 40 were killed, have both raised controversy.
But US President George W. Bush has said US forces would operate in Afghanistan as long as necessary.
Also Saturday Afghanistan's defence ministry said it had given verbal consent for international peacekeeping troops to be deployed in Kandahar, the former stronghold of the ousted Taliban regime.
The next major contingent of troops will be sent to the southern city as well as to Kabul, a ministry official told AFP.
12/29/2001 - Updated 06:47 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) — American forces in Afghanistan took control of dozens more prisoners as the U.S. government considered whether to use military tribunals to try some of the terrorist suspects. Meanwhile, officials said they were planning to hold Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. Twenty-five more prisoners arrived at the U.S. base set up by Marines in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Friday. That brought the number of captured al-Qaeda and Taliban figures in U.S. custody there to 62 and overall to 70. Eight, including American John Walker Lindh, were being held on the Navy's amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea
Clarke also said the helicopter entourage that included the war's commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, may have been fired on Saturday as he traveled in Afghanistan to attend the inauguration of the new government of Hamid Karzai.
"There were a handful of helicopters. They believe some of them may have been fired upon. That's all we know," Clarke said. A report in Friday's Tampa Tribune said there were four U.S. helicopters and that pilots took evasive action and landed safely.
Asked if the helicopter carrying Franks took evasive action, Clarke said: "Don't know."
She said the Pentagon has given the go-ahead for work to begin at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to ready a facility for some prisoners after they are removed from Afghanistan.
Although President Bush has authorized military tribunals to try terrorist suspects from other countries, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday the military has made no plans to hold such tribunals at Guantanamo.
But officials already were considering how such tribunals would be conducted. A draft of proposed Bush administration rules for the tribunals states that a unanimous vote of a tribunal's military officers would be required to impose a death sentence on a foreign terror suspect, an official said Friday on condition of anonymity.
Civil rights groups and some members of Congress have said they were concerned about the fairness and openness of the tribunal process.
The draft was first reported in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Clarke said the proposed rules were still "a work in progress" being drawn up by the Defense Department, Justice Department, White House and National Security Council.
The new prisoners in U.S. custody were from among hundreds held by Pakistan. Afghan fighters hold some 7,000 more captured as they took one city after another and wrested control of the country from the former radical Islamic rulers and the al-Qaeda terrorist network they harbored.
The United States has been sorting through prisoners to determine which might be useful for intelligence and which might be punished. CIA and FBI agents are among those who have been interrogating them to learn about leader Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, trying to determine which ones should be brought to trial and trying to get information about other terrorists or planned terrorist attacks.
The Guantanamo base, which the United States has held since 1903, is near the U.S. mainland and highly secure. The Cuban military prohibits access to areas around the base, and the U.S. military patrols its side from behind tall fences topped with razor wire.
Guantanamo Bay has drawbacks, too, including its location, surrounded on three sides by an island governed by Fidel Castro, an anti-American communist who has criticized the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. But "we don't anticipate any trouble with Mr. Castro in that regard," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.
Rumsfeld said it will take weeks to get the Guantanamo Bay base ready. Although the base has been used in the past to hold Cuban and Haitian refugees, its main purpose in recent years has been to refuel and maintain Navy vessels in the Caribbean.
U.S. warplanes hit a suspected Taliban leadership compound early Thursday morning, defense officials said. The compound was near Ghazni, on the main road between the capital, Kabul, and the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
The U.S. military still has no proof of whether bin Laden is alive or dead, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, Rumsfeld said. He said the Pentagon could not confirm a claim by Afghanistan's defense ministry that bin Laden was alive in neighboring Pakistan, being sheltered by Muslim radicals.
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