Afghanistan announces mid-June Loya Jirga
By Brian Williams Monday April 1, 1:08 AM
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan is to convene a Loya Jirga council in June that will decide whether interim leader Hamid Karzai stays in power but will seek to exclude drug dealers and war criminals.
The centuries-old Loya Jirga announced on Sunday will have 1,450 delegates and represents the biggest step towards imposing order on war-battered Afghanistan since Karzai's appointment as interim head of state in mid-December.
"We have done it without fear and without feeling any pressure from anyone," said Ismail Qasimy, chairman of a U.N.-appointed 21-member commission that has spent weeks organising the Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council of elders.
In contrast with the previous radical Islamic Taliban rulers, only six places were alloted to religious leaders. Women were guaranteed at least 160 places.
"This Loya Jirga is going to be convened from the 10th of June until 16th of this current year. It shall be in Kabul," Qasimy, a former supreme court judge, told a news conference.
Dubbing the council the "Peace and Democracy Loya Jirga", Qasimy said it would elect a head of state, decide the type of government to rule until national elections in about two years and appoint ministers.
But the countdown to the Loya Jirga and the gathering itself is expected to widen the many splits in Afghanistan's society.
In a sign of the difficulty of keeping all sides happy, the final total of 1,450 was nearly three times the number Qasimy envisioned when he started his search.
Kabul residents hailed the calling of the Loya Jirga.
"It will at last take us down a new road to peace," said civil servant Mohammad Ismail. "The whole country at last will have a say in the running of our affairs."
Malya, a mother of four, applauded the women's seats.
"The voices of women have been silent for too long in Afghanistan," she said.
In a statement outlining arrangements, the commission said there would be 1,051 elected delegates and the other seats would be set aside for groups such as women, business people and overseas Afghans.
There were to be six "religious personalities" and 100 delegates representing refugees mainly in Pakistan and Iran.
All top members of Karzai's administration and the 21 members of the commission would be among the delegates.
To qualify for the Loya Jirga, potential candidates have to be meet requirements including:
- having no link with terror organisations
- not having been involved in spreading or smuggling narcotics, abuse of human rights, war crimes, looting of public property and smuggling of cultural and archaeological heritage.
- in the eyes of the people, not having been involved indirectly or directly in the killing of innocent people.
But it was unclear how it would be judged whether candidates had been involved in such activities.
Qasimy dismissed suggestions some Karzai officials should be excluded because of war crimes and drug smuggling.
"They (Karzai administration members) are heroes of our liberation and have an automatic right to attend," Qasimy said.
The administration of Karzai, a Pashtun, is dominated by Tajiks even though Afghanistan is a Pashtun majority country.
NO BLANKET BAN ON TALIBAN
Qasimy said there would be no blanket ban on former members of the Taliban, vanquished by U.S.-led forces in December.
"If they fulfil the requirements, they can come," he said.
Qasimy confirmed former King Zahir Shah, who has lived in exile in Rome since 1973, would open the inaugural session of the Loya Jirga in Kabul but retire once a chairman was elected.
Asked who would open the Loya Jirga if the king, whose return has been postponed several times, did not turn up, Qasimy said the Loya Jirga itself would name his replacement.
Loya Jirgas have been held to reach important decisions about once every 20 years in the past three centuries. The last was in 1987 when there was a Soviet-backed government.
They are colourful, rowdy affairs with delegates attending from the most far-flung tribal areas as well as intellectuals, warlords, business people, politicians and religious leaders.
Dress ranges from turbans to embroidered quilt coats to western style dress with debate raging from morning to night.
The election of delegates will be supervised by the United Nations and include international monitors.
Grassroots selections start on April 13 and the final choice of delegates must be made by June 6.
Monday April 1, 6:26 PM
KARACHI (AP)--Four men accused of kidnapping and killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl are challenging the government's decision to try them behind prison walls, arguing Monday that a closed trial violates Pakistani law.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, accused of masterminding the Jan. 23 kidnapping, and three accomplices are scheduled for trial April 5 before an antiterrorism court on charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism. Citing security reasons, the government ordered the trial be held at the jail.
In a written application, the four urged that the high court here in Sindh province order the trial to be held in an open courtroom.
The court hasn't scheduled a hearing on the request, submitted by Saeed, Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem and Sheikh Mohammed Adeel.
Pearl was kidnapped while researching links between Pakistani extremists and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami as he was allegedly trying to detonate explosives in his shoes.
In February, Saeed, 29 years old, admitted during a court hearing that he was involved in the Pearl kidnapping but later withdrew the statement, which wasn't made under oath. U.S. diplomats received a videotape the same month confirming that the 38-year-old journalist had been slain.
Saeed has also been indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury in New Jersey in the kidnapping and killing of Pearl, whose wife is about to give birth to their first child. The charges carry the death penalty.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Saeed "methodically set a death trap for Daniel Pearl, lured him into it with lies and savagely ended his life."
Pakistan plans to prosecute Saeed before deciding whether to hand him over to the U.S. The two countries have no extradition treaty.
Much of the government's case rests on the testimony of two key witnesses, including co-defendant Naseem. Police arrested him after tracing e-mails sent to Pakistani and U.S. news organizations to his laptop. Naseem told police he sent the e-mails, which included pictures of Pearl in captivity, on Saeed's orders.
Also, taxi driver Nasir Abbas has reportedly told police that he drove Pearl to a restaurant in Karachi the night he disappeared. Court documents show that Abbas identified Saeed as the man seen escorting Pearl into another vehicle.
After studying at the London School of Economics, Saeed joined Islamic militant groups following a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s. He was arrested in India in 1994 for kidnapping of Western backpackers in Kashmir. He spent the next five years in jail, but was never tried.
He was freed in December 1999 after gunmen hijacked an Indian Airlines jet to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and demanded the release of Saeed and two other militants.
Seven other people have been accused in the Pearl case, but have not been apprehended.
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Monday April 1, 5:03 PM
KARACHI (Dow Jones)--Pakistan's central bank said Monday it will now charge 6.5% for export loans to banks, up from 6% and the first increase since July last year.
"It has been decided that effective from 1st April 2002 the rate at which State Bank would allow refinance to banks on their disbursement to exporters under the captioned scheme shall be 6.5% per annum," it said a circular.
It said banks can charge a maximum 1.5% spread above the export refinance rate when they disburse loans to exporters.
The central bank gave no reason for the increase, but a senior banker said it was the result of a rise in weighted average yield of government treasury bills.
The export refinance rate was linked to treasury bill rate last year after the International Monetary Fund which called for market-driven interest rates. The benchmark six-month treasury bill is at 6.44%.
Still, other bankers said the rate hike could be a signal that the central bank might be at the end of its monetary easing cycle, following four successive rate cuts in the fiscal year that began July 2001.
"I think it is a signal that rates are bottoming out," said treasury dealer at a foreign bank.
The rate hike is bad news for exporters, who were already suffering from losses following the events of Sept. 11 and the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The government has cut its export target for the fiscal year ending June to between $8.8 billion and $9 billion, from an earlier target of $10.1 billion.
Exports are likely to decline in the second half of the fiscal year because of the belated impact of canceled export orders amid a slower-than-anticipated opening of western markets, said a central bank quarterly report issued early this month.
Pakistan exports stood at $5.809 billion for the July-February period, down 3% from $5.988 billion in the same period a year earlier.
-By Saeed Azhar and Sri Jegarajah, Dow Jones; 9221-5872886; email@example.com
Monday April 1, 3:43 PM
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have released a Kashmiri militant who features on a list of India's most wanted people, party officials said on Monday.
The release of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the now outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba group, followed a decision by a court in Lahore to refuse a government bid to extend his detention.
"He was released after midnight," Saeed's spokesman Yahya Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from Lahore.
Saeed quit the leadership of Lashkar-e-Taiba shortly after India blamed it and another militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, for a December 13 attack on the Indian parliament.
Pakistani authorities detained Saeed and Jaish-e-Mohammad's fiery leader Maulana Azhar Masood in December amid mounting international calls for President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11 attacks, to rein in Islamic militancy.
Masood is still in detention and Musharraf has banned both groups.
Masood and British-born militant Ahmed Saeed Omar Sheikh, one of four people charged with the kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, were freed from an Indian jail in 1999 in exchange for 155 hostages held on an Indian airliner hijacked to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
About a dozen militant groups are fighting India's rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where authorities say about 33,000 people have died in 12 years of rebellion.
Separatists put the toll closer to 80,000.
India, which controls 45 percent of Kashmir, accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants. Pakistan, which holds a third of the region, denies the charge and says it only offers moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmiri separatists.
The mountainous region remains the bone of contention between India and Pakistan, who have fought two of their three wars over it since 1947, and has been at the centre of military standoff between the nuclear-armed rivals since attack on the Indian parliament.
Up to one million troops have been mobilised on both sides of the border since then.
Monday April 1, 11:16 AM
US authorities are holding a man captured in Pakistan who is believed to be a key deputy of suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, a senior US official said.
"It appears that he is Abu Zubaydah but we're not 100 percent certain of that at this point," the official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The individual is now in US custody."
Some 60 people, including 29 mostly Arab and Afghan militants linked to bin Laden's al-Qaeda network were arrested in raids overnight Wednesday through Thursday by Pakistani and US law-enforcement officers, senior Interior Ministry official Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema.
Abu Zubaydah -- also known as Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn -- is a Saudi-born Palestinian
Monday April 1, 10:29 AM
A major Islamic conference on terrorism opened here with the September 11 attacks on the United States sidelined by the spiralling violence in the Middle East.
Diplomats from 52 countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) launched the meeting with prayers ahead of an opening address by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The special three-day OIC session was designed to bring Islamic states into the mainstream of the global debate on terrorism and prepare the ground for a broader United Nations conference.
But with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under siege in his Ramallah headquarters, delegates are expected to focus not on the attacks on the US but on what many Muslim countries call US backing for Israeli "state terrorism".
At the same time the Palestinians are likely to be deemed to be fighting oppression and foreign occupation and therefore not eligible for the "terrorist" label.
While this is not a new Islamic analysis of the Middle East conflict, the latest flare-up plays into the hands of countries which put the Palestinian problem at the heart of the debate on terrorism -- a position shunned by the United States.
The presence at the conference of Afghanistan may serve to ensure that the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington are not totally ignored at a meeting called specifically to address them.
Afghanistan was suspended from the OIC when the Taliban took power in 1996, but the Taliban was in turn ousted by US-led forces last year after the terror attacks were blamed on Afghan-based Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah of the Afghan interim government led by Hamid Karzai will head a three-member delegation to the meeting as guests of Malaysia.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid said he hoped the OIC conference would provide the Muslim perspective on terrorism.
"We want to be part of the world. There is over one-third of the world population who are Muslims, but we continue to be marginalised and not considered in the mainstream," he said.
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