Pakistan and Afghan leaders agree to build new future
By Raja Asghar Saturday February 9, 12:35 AM
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan said after their first formal talks on Friday they had agreed to bury the Taliban-era bitterness and work as "brotherly" neighbours.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and visiting Afghan interim government chairman Hamid Karzai told a news conference they had also discussed the fate of Pakistani militant prisoners in Afghanistan and the return of about two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Pakistan backed Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban, but rallied to the U.S. war on terrorism that toppled the radical Islamic movement after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
But distrust has lingered between Islamabad and Afghanistan's Northern Alliance group of military factions, which dominates Karzai's government and some of whose leaders have bitterly criticised Pakistan's support for their Taliban enemies.
Musharraf said "misconceptions and misunderstandings" of the past should be buried.
"They are buried," interjected Karzai, who joined the Pakistani president at the news conference after their talks.
"Yes, they are buried," said Musharraf. He called Northern Alliance leaders who had been critical of Pakistan as "all our brothers".
Karzai said his government needed time to prepare for the return of about two million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
"Our refugees are given tremendous welcome here. But they have a home to go to and that home is Afghanistan," he said.
"We would be grateful if our brothers in Pakistan allowed us time to prepare for that so that our refugees can return home in tranquillity and dignity," he said.
Karzai also promised an early decision on the fate of an unspecified number of Pakistani Islamic militants made prisoners in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led military strikes.
But he said they had to be "screened out" to separate good ones from bad ones.
"We have to make sure those people who are there are not released mistakenly," he said. "The good ones will definitely come home and the bad ones are a matter for all of us to deal with in a manner that we find suitable."
Karzai said his administration was exercising "extreme caution" about the release of the prisoners and told Pakistani journalists that "you will have your brothers here very soon".
Karzai also invited Musharraf to visit Afghanistan. No date was mentioned.
Karzai, who was accompanied by a 20-member delegation including Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and several other ministers, arrived in Pakistan several hours late because of snow in Kabul.
Karzai has made official trips to Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, Britain and the United States since taking office in December.
Afghanistan and Pakistan settle differences, start new era
Saturday February 9, 12:09 AM AFP
Pakistan and Afghanistan buried the hatchet, putting behind them Islamabad's support for the Taliban, with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pledging full backing for the new administration.
Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, on his first visit to Pakistan since taking office, said when he talked of past relations he remembered Islamabad's help in ending the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of the country.
Pakistan is deeply distrusted by many Afghans for bankrolling the now-ousted Taliban, but after their talks Friday the two leaders were at pains to point out a new era had been established.
Karzai called for continued foreign assistance until all terrorist cells in Afghanistan were destroyed, and said "it could not have been possible to defeat terrorism ... and other evil in Afghanistan without Pakistan's help."
"President Musharraf referred to a little bit of the past that was 'with misperceptions', I told him we were not talking of that little bit past but we in Afghanistan were talking of a past that was filled with tremendous help from Pakistan."
Musharraf in turn gave his "complete assurance ... Pakistan will remain with Afghanistan in all its endeavours to improve the lot of Afghanistan."
Pakistan had been the principal supporter of the Taliban regime until the September 11 atrocities, blamed on the Afghan militia's "guest" Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of Islamic militants.
It has since joined the US-led war on terror and pledged its full support for Karzai's interim government as Afghanistan starts the massive task of rebuilding after more than 20 years of war.
But Islamabad is still regarded with deep suspicion by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance ethnic minority factions which dominate Karzai's six-month transitional cabinet named in December.
Alliance officials have claimed that senior al-Qaeda members, including bin Laden himself, have sought shelter in Pakistan since the US air strikes began on October 7. Islamabad has dismissed the allegations.
As well as the terrorism threat, Afghanistan faced outbreaks of tribal and ethnic infighting between warlords, raising fears the country will descend again into civil war and bringing the authority of the interim government into question.
Karzai said his repeated appeals to world leaders for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be expanded was supported by most Afghans.
"Almost all of them have asked us for the continuation of those forces in Afghanistan and for the expansion of those forces to the countryside.
"So the fight against terrorism will go to the very end of it. We have seen the consequences in our country. Complete provinces have been destroyed," he said.
The ISAF force is currently restricted to 4,500 personnel and is restricted to securing Kabul.
Although senior UN officials have suggested 30,000 would be needed to secure the country, Karzai's appeals to both the United Nations and Britain to widen the mandate and provide additional support have so far gone unrewarded.
Musharraf, Karzai Agree To Consider Gas Pipeline
Kyodo Friday February 8, 11:05 PM
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai agreed Friday their two countries should cooperate "in all spheres of activity," including a proposed gas pipeline project from Central Asia to Pakistan via Afghanistan, Kyodo News agency reported.
"We have agreed unanimously ... on working together to develop strong brotherly cooperation, brotherly relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan in all spheres of activity," Musharraf said at a joint press conference with Karzai after their talks.
Karzai, who arrived in Islamabad earlier Friday for a one-day visit, said he and Musharraf discussed the proposed Central Asian gas pipeline project "and agreed that it was in the interest of both the countries," Kyodo reported.
Pakistan and several multinational companies, including California-based Unocal Corp. (UCL) and Bridas S.A. of Argentina, have been considering the idea of constructing a 1,600-kilometer pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to growing natural gas markets in Pakistan and, potentially, India.
But the project has failed to materialize because of the civil war in Afghanistan and reluctance of the financial institutions to finance it.
Musharraf said he told Karzai that Pakistan and Afghanistan are bound together by common geography, faith, history and culture, Kyodo reported.
"Pakistan is extremely interested in having a peaceful, stable, united, progressive Afghanistan as its brotherly neighbor because it does not only serve the purpose of peace in the region but it also serves the economic interest of this entire region," he said.
Karzai said he and Musharraf, "look forward to a tremendously good future ahead of us."
Chiefs of Warring Afghan Clans in Kabul for Talks
Fri Feb 8, 9:56 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - The leaders of two Afghan tribal factions which have been battling for control of an eastern town have traveled to the capital Kabul at the request of the government for peace talks, faction officials said on Friday.
Some 50 fighters were killed when forces from the different clans of the majority Pashtun ethnic group battled for the town of Gardez last week, raising questions about the ability of the Kabul government to impose its authority.
Faction officials and residents in Gardez said Padshah Khan Zadran, the governor of Paktia province appointed by the interim administration, and his main rival, Haji Saifullah, had both gone to the capital at the invitation of the government.
"Haji Saifullah went to Kabul at the request of Karzai," one faction official said, referring to interim government leader, Hamid Karzai.
"All we know is that they have gone to Kabul," another resident of Gardez told Reuters.
It was not immediately known when their talks in Kabul might begin.
Karzai sent a delegation to Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, last Sunday to try to end the conflict.
The delegation warned both sides the government would use force, and might even call in U.S. air strikes, against either side that resorted to violence.
The two sides agreed to a temporary truce and to exchange prisoners captured during the fighting last week.
"The cease-fire is holding. It is calm and people are doing their routine business," a resident of the town, 120 km (70 miles) south of Kabul, said on Friday.
Uneasy truce holds in faction-ridden Afghan north
By Stuart Grudgings Friday February 8, 3:22 PM
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Sayed doesn't know much about Afghanistan's new national leader, Hamid Karzai.
His loyalty lies squarely with the beefy general who pays his wages and supplies him bullets for his Kalashnikov.
"I don't really know anything about Karzai," said the young ethnic Uzbek soldier, the rifle dangling from his shoulder.
"Yes, General Dostum pays me. I get a good salary."
Sayed is exactly the kind of fighter who will somehow have to be brought into the national fold if Afghanistan is to leave behind two decades of blood-letting.
But nearly two months after the interim authority was set up in Kabul, there are few signs that Karzai's authority stretches this far north.
When talk turns to politics in Mazar-i-Sharif, the subject is invariably the rivalry between Abdul Rashid Dostum -- a classic Afghan warlord with a power base in the north -- and other faction leaders within the Northern Alliance that took the city from the Taliban in November.
A former Soviet commander who heads the mainly Uzbek Junbish-i-Millie movement, Dostum has agreed to share power with the northern leader of the mainly ethnic Tajik Jamiat-i-Islami movement, Mohammed Atta, and other faction leaders.
But clashes outside the city between the rivals' troops have sparked worries that the alliance may prove as fragile as many in Afghanistan's recent history.
Dostum has built his career on broken alliances and is regarded with suspicion by many in the Northern Alliance because of his past when he sided with Soviet occupying forces.
"There are two levels to this," said one international aid worker. "On the one hand, people want to be seen as part of the bigger political picture but on the localised level there is a low-intensity conflict going on and things are going to keep on popping up unexpectedly."
Residents of Mazar, Afghanistan's main northern city, still remember when troops loyal to the different factions fought in the streets in the civil war before the extreme Islamic Taliban movement swept north in 1997.
In the most recent clashes, up to 40 fighters were reported killed in clashes between commanders loyal to Dostum and Atta.
All sides have dismissed it as a one-off feud for turf between low-ranking commanders, but the fighting may also reflect jostling for influence at higher levels ahead of a Loya Jirga, or traditional grand council, later this year to decide Afghanistan's political future.
"It's hard to know if it is simply a breakdown in the chain of command between the leaders and local commanders or whether it is happening with their consent," said the aid worker.
Confusion this week surrounding a U.N.-backed plan to get armed men out of Mazar and set up a neutral police force has underlined the difficulty of severing factional ties.
On Thursday, the deputy head of police said 600 men loyal to Dostum had refused to obey an order to leave a city fort. But a stony-faced commander at the fort said he was part of the solution, not the problem.
"It is not true. We are part of this process and it is going very well," he said.
Mazar is dotted with some 140 checkpoints and bases, each controlled by fighters loyal to different factions, which are mainly split along ethnic lines - Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara.
Political control is also divided between the factions. Dostum controls foreign affairs, for example, while Atta is said to have the strongest influence in police matters, helped by the fact that his brother is head of the city force.
The new 600-strong police force, meant to start work once the city has been cleared of gunmen, has been welcomed by residents, but could stoke tension if it seen as dominated by one faction.
The deputy head of police, Abdul Aziz, said its composition would be 50 percent from Atta's force, 25 percent from Dostum's and 25 percent from various Hazara groups.
"There is an uneasy truce but I think everyone is aware that these are the same people who turned half of northern Afghanistan into a graveyard," said another aid official.
Despite the tension, many people seem keen to abandon factions and embrace national politics. Whether they will get the chance is another matter.
"I like Karzai because I think he's done a lot for the reputation of our country by travelling around the world," said one soldier from Atta's faction as he manned a checkpoint in central Mazar. "It would be good to have only one boss."
US brings new detainees to Cuba, says Geneva Convention applies to Taliban
Friday February 8, 2:58 PM AFP
The United States brought a new group of prisoners from Afghanistan to a detention camp in Cuba after a two-week hiatus and clarified the controversial legal status of the detainees.
The White House declared Thursday that the Geneva Convention applies to Taliban fighters captured in the Afghanistan phase of the war on terrorism but not to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda followers.
Meanwhile, a new group of 28 prisoners captured in Afghanistan arrived by air Thursday at "Camp X-Ray" in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bringing the total number of detainees there to 186.
Six of the detainees were transported on stretchers aboard the C-141 cargo flight that left Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday for the 25-hour flight.
The United States has been strongly criticized abroad, including by key allies, for alleged mistreatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees and for their ambiguous legal status.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday the US clarification would not change the detainees' material life on a day-to-day basis.
"They will continue to be treated well because that's what the United States does," he said.
However, neither Taliban nor al-Qaeda detainees are to get prisoner of war (POW) status, which would notably grant them the right to refuse to give more than name, rank and serial number when interrogated.
Fleischer said the Taliban were ineligible for POW status under the Convention because they had not effectively distinguished themselves from the civilian population and had shunned "the laws and customs of war."
"Instead, they have knowingly adopted and provided support for the unlawful terrorist objectives of the al-Qaeda," he said.
"Al-Qaeda is an international terrorist group and cannot be considered a state party to the Geneva Convention. Its members, therefore, are not covered," said the spokesman.
An Army spokesman said earlier Thursday that once the prisoners landed in Cuba they would immediately be questioned as to their identities before being escorted to open-air, maximum-security cells for an indefinite period of time.
The prisoners, who are shaved and shorn for health reasons, come from 25 countries, said General Michael Lehnert.
But "at the request of many nations," Lehnert said, those countries of origin have not been made public -- though Yemen is among a group of nations that has sent investigators to Cuba to examine the conditions of prisoners held there.
France, Britain, Belgium and Saudi Arabia also reportedly have nationals in US custody at Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba.
The commander of the US campaign in Afghanistan told lawmakers Thursday that US forces would help Afghanistan build a national army and stay in the country as long as pockets of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces pose a credible threat.
Army General Tommy Franks said US special forces are still gathering intelligence at scores of sites, including those associated with suspected weapons of mass destruction.
He stressed that the US military would not supply troops to the International Security Assistance Force but would help train and build a national army for the Afghan government.
"We will remain engaged in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future," he said.
Franks said an investigation into a January 24 raid by US special forces that left 18 people dead in Hazar Kadam would be concluded within two weeks.
Franks said he ordered the investigation after Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, told him he believed that some of those killed were friendly forces.
Karzai on Friday is to take a large delegation to Pakistan in an attempt to open a new chapter in relations with Islamabad, the strongest supporter of the Taliban regime until the September 11 atrocities.
Islamabad became a key US ally during the war in Afghanistan and has pledged its full support to Karzai's six-month cabinet, which took office in December after a landmark inter-Afghan accord in Germany.
Mohammad Sarwar Salihi, with Karzai's secretariat in Kabul, said seven to 10 ministers -- or up to one-third of the cabinet -- would be included in Karzai's delegation, indicating the importance the Afghan leader attaches to smooth relations with Pakistan.
He said all matters of interest would be discussed during Karzai's meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, with special emphasis on the estimated three million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
The announcement of Karzai's impending trip came as the interim leader inaugurated a 21-member commission tasked with organizing a Loya Jirga, a traditional council of elders, which will select a new government in June, when the current administration's mandate expires.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported that a missile fired from an unmanned US drone killed three Afghan youths near the eastern city of Khost this week.
US defense and intelligence officials have refused to comment on US media reports that a high-ranking al-Qaeda official -- possibly alleged September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden -- was killed in the attack.
If the AIP report is confirmed, the incident would be the latest in a series of blunders by the US military which have cost innocent Afghan lives.
Tribal and ethnic infighting between warlords has also flared in recent weeks, raising fears that Afghanistan will descend again into civil war in the absence of the brutal Taliban regime.
The top UN official for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, on Wednesday asked the Security Council to urgently consider an enlarged international security force for the country.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that, "without security, reconstruction will not be possible and donors will not be able to disburse the money they have pledged."
Former Afghan King to Return for Good in March
Fri Feb 8,12:22 PM ET
ROME (Reuters) - Afghanistan's former King Zahir Shah will end almost 30 years in exile and return home in March to throw his support behind the country's interim government, the king's son said on Friday.
"My father is going to go there to live for good, to help our people, to bring democracy," Mir Wais Zahir told Reuters.
In preparation for his return, the king underwent medical tests earlier this week and the results were very good, he said.
"The doctors said that even though my father is 87, he's like a man of 65," he added.
Mir Wais, who lives in Rome like the king, said family members would return to their homeland next month.
"We can't say which day, but my father will return absolutely before the 21st, which is the start of our new year," he said.
The new year ancient rite called Nowrus was outlawed by Afghanistan's Islamic militant former Taliban rulers, who were toppled amid a U.S. bombing campaign.
Washington accused the Taliban of harboring Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, whom it holds responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Accords struck in Bonn in December between Afghanistan's Northern Alliance and three exiled groups provided for a six-month interim government and the convening of a Loya Jirga, or traditional grand assembly.
Under the deal, the king will inaugurate the Loya Jirga, which will appoint a transitional authority to lead the country to elections by mid-2004, but he will play no political role.
Mir Wais said the royal family did not plan, at least in the near future, to participate in politics.
"For Afghanistan, the monarchy is finished," Mir Wais said. Still, he added: "if the women and men of Afghanistan chose a constitutional monarchy we couldn't refuse."
The king has been exiled in Italy since he was ousted in a bloodless palace coup in 1973. He has been a strong supporter of Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai.
"He (Karzai) has done a great job. We hope that as soon as we go there, we can help him," Mir Wais said.
During a visit to Rome in January, Karzai said he would return to the Italian capital to accompany the king on his journey home
accusations it banned Afghan flag
Karzai to address conference in Capital Abu Dhabi
By A Staff Reporter | 08/02/2002
Hamid KarzaiHamid Karzai, head of the Afghanistan interim government, will tomorrow address the seventh annual conference of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) in the capital.
Held under the patronage of Lt. Gen. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of Staff of the UAE Armed Forces and President of the Centre, the conference is dubbed Human Resource Development in a Knowledge-based Economy.
Karzai is the keynote speaker of the three-day conference, which will be held the Abu Dhabi Inter-Continental Hotel.
He will discuss ways of developing human resources in the changing global environment. In his speech, he will shed light on the reconstruction of Afghanistan as well as the international political and economical developments.
Karzai, a Durrani tribesman from Kandahar, has been anti-Taliban and a supporter of the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah.
After the fall of the communist regime in Kabul, Karzai joined the mujahideen government led by Professor Sebghatullah Mojadeddi as deputy foreign minister. He continued in office even after Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani took over as President. But he soon resigned due to factional war in order to gain power in Kabul, and went into exile in 1994.
A statement from the centre, referring to Karzai's invitation, said: "The centre is particularly honoured to announce the acceptance by Hamid Karzai, the Head of the Interim Government of Afghanistan, to deliver the keynote speech at this year's event.
"Afghanistan has suffered through decades of destruction and civil war. As the country moves forward to overcome the legacy of the past, it will inevitably be confronted with a variety of challenges both domestically and as part of the globalised international environment.
"These will best be met through wide-ranging human resource development schemes and the application of information technology to promote an innovative, integrated and knowledge-intensive populace. As a result, this conference is of special relevance for the government and people of Afghanistan."
Other speakers include Dr Yousef H. Al Ebraheem, Minister of Finance, Planning and Minister of State for Administrative Affairs in Kuwait; Dr Stan Davis, Senior Research Fellow at Ernst and Young's Centre for Business Innovation; Thomas Stewart, Member of the Board of Editors of Fortune magazine; and Dr Leif Edvinsson, CEO of the Universal Networking Intellectual Capital.
The annual conference of the ECSSR identifies the pre-eminent topic of interest for Gulf policy practitioners and decision-makers. In terms of the success and growth of the economy of the future, the effective fusion of human capital and knowledge development represents the critical element.
"The fast-paced environment of globalisation places a premium on intellectual capital and requires new and flexible approaches to human resource management. It is, therefore, important to examine the impact that these transformations are having on the global scale in general and the Gulf economies in particular," the centre said in the statement yesterday.
ECSSR is an independent research organisation dedicated to the promotion of professional studies and the sponsorship of conferences aimed at addressing issues of importance for the UAE and the Gulf region.
The annual conference attracts hundreds of policy-makers and senior level managers and provides a forum for interactive participation and a vibrant exchange of views.
'Unity' football match in Kabul
Friday, 8 February, 2002, 00:01 GMT BBC News Football is very popular among Afghans
A football match in Afghanistan between peacekeeping troops and a Kabul team has been arranged by the British Government.
The Barclaycard Premiership trophy is to be flown to Afghanistan for players to pose with in what has been described as an historic "game of unity".
The game on 15 February will be held in the Afghan national stadium, the scene of stonings, hangings and beatings during the Taleban regime.
Barclaycard has taken out special insurance for the coveted trophy, which is said to be priceless. The match is a fantastic example of how football can be used in a positive way to bring people together
Nic Gault Barclaycard
The match was arranged by the Ministry of Defence with the backing of the Football Association and the Premier League.
It is intended to highlight and hasten the way life in the country is returning to normal.
Familiar names will take on the coaching roles.
Former Spurs legend Gary Mabbutt will take charge of the International Security Assistance Force, which includes players from the UK, Denmark, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, Holland and Germany.
Kabul Olympic Football Club will be trained by former Northern Ireland and Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy.
Barclaycard has supplied medals and full kits for both teams, and provided football boots, shinpads and gloves for the Kabul side.
Premiership trophy will be used
The company's sponsorship director, Nic Gault, said there was a huge interest in the game among Afghans.
He said: "The match is a fantastic example of how football can be used in a positive way to bring people together."
"Hopefully it will help Afghanistan return to normality."
Hundreds of public executions took place in Kabul's Olympic stadium, including women accused of adultery being stoned to death and petty thieves hanged from the goal crossbars. ----------more
Second child dies from Afghan tunnel ordeal: officials Friday February 8, 5:06 PM AFP A second child has died of severe cold after being trapped by snow and blizzards in Afghanistan's treacherous Salang Tunnel, while seven of 300 people rescued are suffering severe frostbite, officials said.
Yusuf Hassan, UN spokesman in Kabul, said he had received news of the second child's death Friday, bringing the known death toll to five.
Late Thursday he reported that a boy had frozen to death and three travellers had suffocated in the tunnel, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Kabul.
The 3.2-kilometre (1.9-mile) long tunnel connecting north and south Afghanistan is around four kilometres (2.5 miles) above sea level, making it the highest passage of its kind in the world.
Those who suffocated had been travelling southwards when they found the southern end blocked.
"We presume they succumbed to the fumes in the tunnel," Hassan said.
An official of the British-based Halo Trust de-mining group, which led the rescue efforts, said seven people had been admitted to hospital in Kabul suffering severe frostbite.
Around 89 others were treated for hypothermia, lesser frostbite and other injuries caused by the severe cold, Gerhard Zank, Halo Trust international liaison officer in Kabul, told AFP.
The rescue operation began early Thursday after news reached authorities in Kabul that up to 250 vehicles, mainly trucks and minibuses, were stuck in blizzards that sent temperatures plummeting to minus 40 degrees Celsius at the tunnel.
The rescue was completed by nightfall the same day, Zank said.
"No one spent another night on the mountain. We made sure of that."
It took until 1:00 am Friday (2030 Thursday) to bring the freed travellers first to a field station lower down the Salang Pass which leads to the tunnel, then on to the town of Jabul Seraj at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains.
"Buses had to negotiate sharp turns in the road and tricky bridges. The going was very slow," Zank said.
The tunnel has not yet been reopened to traffic and "a few cars" were still stuck, although no people were left at the tunnel.
Weathermen have reported the heaviest falls of snow in years in most parts of Afghanistan since the weekend.
Bulldozers Clear Up After Deadly Afghan Avalanche
Fri Feb 8, 8:55 AM ET
By Rosalind Russell
SALANG PASS, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Two bulldozers cleared banks of snow from Afghanistan's Salang Pass on Friday after an avalanche thundered down from the mountain above trapping hundreds of travelers and killing at least four people.
A team from British de-mining charity Halo Trust, the only rescue workers to reach the scene, hauled out about 350 people in blizzard conditions some 24 hours after Wednesday's avalanche, officials said.
"Nobody else was here to help," said Halo Trust's mechanical operations manager Hakim Sahel, standing under a clear, blue sky over the pass which winds through the jagged peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains.
"Many of them were unconscious, there were children shivering and freezing, some of them didn't even have shoes."
The avalanche struck close to the Salang Tunnel, the world's highest at 11,034 feet, which was only re-opened last month after being partly destroyed in Afghanistan's civil war.
A wall of snow blocked the southern entrance to the tunnel and officials said three people died of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide fumes inside the tunnel and a fourth person died from hypothermia outside.
But rescuers believe more may have died after getting lost while trying to escape.
"Certainly there are people still missing, but it is very difficult to tell," said another Halo Trust official.
"The problem is that anyone who tried to walk out and got lost -- their tracks will have been covered in snow by now."
Travelers who managed to plough their way out of the avalanche on foot on Thursday feared up to 20 people had been killed.
BULLDOZERS NEAR TUNNEL
Two Halo Trust bulldozers on Friday were clearing the final reaches to the Soviet-built tunnel, about 75 miles north of Kabul, the main artery for traffic between northern Afghanistan and the capital.
Three trucks buried in snow still blocked the route, but Sahel said the tunnel should be open for traffic again by the end of the day.
Inside the cavernous and freezing tunnel, drivers who had decided to stay with their vehicles said they had suffered two dismal nights in their cars and trucks.
"We have been here with no blankets and no food," said Mohammad Zarak, a truck driver from the northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif. "But we can't leave our vehicles, they are our livelihood."
Drivers who had trudged back up the mountain dug out their vehicles with shovels and their bare hands -- the more daring lit small fires underneath their cars to warm them up.
This week's snowfall across much of Afghanistan has brought despair for travelers but cheer to farmers after three years of drought.
The country's farmers depend on the spring melt of snow high up in the Hindu Kush mountains for irrigation in the valleys below.
But the weather hampered efforts by the United Nations to distribute much-needed food aid to tens of thousands of Afghans -- particularly those in remote, mountainous villages.
"There are many parts of the central highlands which are not going to be accessible for days because of the snowfall," U.N. spokesman Yusuf Hassan told reporters.
The U.N.'s World Food Program is feeding about six million people in Afghanistan following more than two decades of conflict and the drought.
The World Health Organization is planning to air drop medical supplies over snow-bound parts of Afghanistan where essential medicines are fast running out
Doctor with satellite phone hero of Afghan tunnel nightmare
Friday February 8, 9:26 AM AFP A doctor with a satellite telephone has been hailed as the hero of the nightmare at Afghanistan's Salang Tunnel, where hundreds of travellers were trapped for up to two days by heavy snowfalls and fierce winds.
Sayed Nasir, a doctor working with a Swedish non-governmental organisation, was in one of the first of as many as 250 vehicles freed by rescuers Thursday.
Cold, hungry and exhausted but grateful to have gotten out of the ordeal alive, he told AFP that were it not for the fact that he had a satellite telephone with him, there was a good chance he and many others trapped in their cars would have died.
"We were able to notify the authorities in Kabul and they sent rescue teams," Nasir said. "If people had had to stay here another night, there would have been more deaths."
As it was, a 12-year-old boy froze to death while two other children were "in a bad way", he said. The United Nations reported another three deaths.
Once the trapped travellers learned Nasir was a doctor, they went to him in desperation.
But, he was on his way back from a job interview in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and had no medical supplies.
"It was very frustrating not having proper equipment with me," he said. "There was little I could really do."
Instead of medicines, he dispensed common sense, advising people to stay in their cars as much as possible to avoid hypothermia.
"The problem wasn't so much the snow as the severe wind. It was so cold one couldn't stand outside for more than two minutes in any case," he said.
People were told to put plastic bags between their socks and shoes to prevent their feet becoming wet from the snow, which was knee-deep in places.
Food had to be rationed and snow had to be turned into drinking water to prevent dehydration.
To prevent their engines -- and themselves -- from freezing, travellers kept their cars running but fuel began to run out.
It was then that problems of hypothermia and frostbite began to appear.
"People began showing me their fingertips. They said they had lost feeling in them. This was the first sign of frostbite."
He, too, began to suffer -- and there was little advice he could give apart from to keep as warm as possible.
"I didn't know these were my hands. I lost all feeling," Nasir said.
When snow-clearing bulldozers of the British charity Halo Trust arrived Thursday morning at the southern side of the Salang Tunnel, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Kabul in the harsh Hindu Kush mountains, he knew his prayers had been answered.
"It's thanks to Allah (God) that we got out of there," Nasir said, wolfing down bread and honey at an encampment some way down the Salang Pass.
"When we got here we knew we were safe at last," he said, looking dishevelled and wild-eyed.
"Thanks be to Allah I had a satellite phone."
Other travellers who arrived later at the encampment, brought there by Halo Trust and Doctors Without Borders ambulances, spoke with gratitude about the doctor.
"He helped keep us alive," said a man who gave his name only as Mustafa. "We didn't know his name but we knew he was a doctor."
Abdul Naim, a father of two whose children began showing signs of hypothermia and starvation, said the doctor had given them what little food he had had.
"It kept my children alive," he said.
Red Cross says Taliban detainees POWs despite Bush view
By Richard Waddington Saturday February 9, 1:37 AM
GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday it considered Taliban and al Qaeda fighters held by U.S. forces to be prisoners of war, despite Washington's latest refusal to accept that.
"They were captured in combat (and) we consider them prisoners of war," ICRC spokesman Darcy Christen told Reuters.
U.S. President George W. Bush agreed on Thursday to apply the Geneva Conventions to Taliban prisoners but said the al Qaeda network could not be considered a state that is party to the treaty, which guarantees a wide range of rights to captives.
Even though acknowledging the Conventions applied to the Taliban, Washington said that group would not be granted full prisoner of war status.
Britain, the staunchest ally of the United States in its war against those it considers responsible for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, welcomed the move.
A spokesman for United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who has warned the United States it must treat captives humanely, also said she felt Washington's decision could be a "step forward".
But spokesman Jose Luis Diaz added that her legal advisers were still examining the implications of Bush's announcement.
A similarly cautious response came from some European capitals, several of which have expressed strong reservations about the way captives from the war in Afghanistan are held.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Paris's view had not changed. "We believe that all the prisoners at Guantanamo should benefit from all the guarantees provided by international law," he said.
Washington triggered a storm of international protest after a photograph was released showing some inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp manacled, blindfolded and on their knees. The United States has dismissed all suggestions of mistreatment.
STATUS STILL DISPUTED
Granting prisoner of war status to the captives would have given them sweeping rights, including the right to disclose only their name, rank and serial number under interrogation and to go home as soon as the conflict ended.
Both the ICRC and Robinson said that under the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is a signatory, any dispute over the status of a prisoner must be settled by a tribunal and not the government of one of the sides to the conflict.
"You cannot simply decide...what applies to one person and what applies to another. This has to go to court because it is a legal decision not a political one," Christen said.
The ICRC spokesman also noted that Article Three of the Third Geneva Convention on captives taken in international combat applied to all fighters.
The article sets out minimum standards, including prohibiting cruel treatment and guaranteeing that any trial of prisoners must be carried out before a "regularly constituted" court.
Christen said that there was no category under humanitarian law giving more than minimum Article Three protection but falling short of full prisoner of war status -- as the U.S. decision implied. "It does not exist," he said.
U.S. officials have expressed concern that if Washington gave prisoner of war status to Taliban fighters and members of al Qaeda -- the network loyal to Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden who Washington says masterminded the September 11 attacks -- it would be virtually impossible to interrogate them.
Christen noted that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega -- overthrown and captured by U.S. troops in 1990 -- was formally declared a prisoner of war but this did not prevent him being tried and jailed in the United States for drugs offences.
The ICRC is visiting prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as inside Afghanistan and will continue to report on their treatment based on standards laid down in the Geneva Convention.
Bin Laden may try to find refuge in Chechnya - expert
Friday, February 08, 2002 1:23 PM EST
MOSCOW, Feb 08, 2002 (Itar-Tass via COMTEX) -- There is an increasing amount of indirect evidence to Western press reports about a possible attempt of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to find refuge in the difficult-for-access areas of Chechnya, Russian Academician Vladimir Petrovsky has told Itar-Tass.
The pronouncements of Haji Mohammad Akram from Saudi Arabia, who has been detained in the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan and introduced himself as bin Laden's cook, are amongst the evidence, the expert at international security said.
An interview with Akram published by the Wednesday issue of Britain's Daily Telegraph says that bin Laden has agreed to the proposal of a Mafia group to help him escape to Chechnya from Afghanistan, which is no longer safe for him. The supposed cook said that bin Laden had planned to reach Chechnya by an intricate route between the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, and via Azerbaijan.
Another indirect evidence to the version is the statement of Interpol's Frank Spicka who recently said in London that bin Laden had been likely to find refugee in regions that are beyond the international control.
Another evidence "is the almost complete absence of border guards in the areas of international frontiers named by 'the cook' as the supposed route of bin Laden's escape," the Academician said.
Finally, the version is confirmed by the repeated statements of Chechen ringleaders about their readiness for any assistance to the leader of Al-Qaeda.
By Anatoly Yurkin
Six Countries Have Sent Peacekeepers to Afghanistan: French Army
Friday, February 08, 2002 10:05 AM EST
PARIS, February 8, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Six of the 18 contributing countries to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan have deployed their peacekeeping contingents in the country, the French Army said on Friday.
Britain, France, Italy, Denmark, Austria and Sweden have deployed "90 to 100 percent" of their promised contribution, rendering the forces a full operational capacity, Agence France- Presse quoted a source from the General Staff of the French Army as saying.
Britain and France, which have offered 1,800 and 500 troops respectively, are the main contributors to the ISAF. Italy offered 350 troops, Denmark 50, Austria 50 and Sweden 43.
The ISAF, with a six-month mandate from the United Nations, is expected to have 4,500 troops in place by the end of February.
Under British command for the first three months, the ISAF has a mission to help create a stable, secure environment for the interim Afghan government. Its activities are confined to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, on Wednesday asked the U.N. Security Council to consider extending the role of the ISAF to the whole country.
Earlier, Hamid Karzai, head of the interim Afghan government, also called for enlarging the international force and extending its mandate.
Mobile Phones Installed in Afghanistan
Friday, February 08, 2002 10:01 AM EST
KABUL, February 8, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Multinational telecommunication company Ericsson has installed the first GSM mobile phone network in Afghanistan together with the World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations, a U.N. spokesman said here Friday.
The installation of the WFP/Ericsson GSM mobile telephones for the humanitarian agencies and the interim administration in Kabul was completed in late January, Yusuf Hassan told a press conference.
"This is the first time ever a fast response GSM system was installed to support communications in an emergency," said Yusuf.
The system was tested and proved to give excellent indoor coverage in the center of Kabul, but also covered up to 12 kilometers from the center of the town on the main exit roads, said the spokesman.
An initial allocation of 200 phones has been made. Among the recipients, is the Chairman of the interim administration of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, said Hassan.
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