Afghan leader commits to free market economy, press freedom
Thursday January 10, 4:33 AM AFP
Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, committed his interim administration to respecting a free market economy and freedom of speech and the press.
In his first televised address to the nation since being sworn in to office on December 22, Karzai said his administration "supports a free market".
"Social and economic progress in our country is dependent on a free market economy and private sector development," he told Afghan Television.
"The government will lessen its interference in economic affairs. This will pave the way for freedom and private sector initiative."
Karzai said the Afghan constitution "guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, and also political and social freedom".
"The people will be allowed to take part in a free press. I agree with the constitution and I respect it."
Freedom of economy and speech, he cautioned however, was limited by "national interest". He did not elaborate.
Karzai, whose administration will run Afghanistan for six months, said the greatest threat to peace and security in the country was the number of guns on the streets.
"The rule of the gun is the greatest obstacle to everlasting peace and security in our country," he said.
He said he had given instructions to his security chiefs that armed factions should be incorporated into a national army as soon as possible.
This army, he added, "can meet any threats to the national security of our country's independence and territorial independence."
A government official told AFP earlier Wednesday that Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni had ordered the Afghan military to quit Kabul within three days and leave security duties in the capital to Afghan police and an international peacekeeping force.
Karzai highlighted reining in inflation as one of his administration's economic priorities.
Another would be to stabilize the printing of money in the country. Currently two banknotes are in circulation -- one in the north and another in the remainder of the country.
"As an active member of the United Nations, the interim administration is faithful to all international laws and norms," Karzai said.
The interim leader also pledged to respect the Bonn agreement's timetable towards the restoration of democracy in the country.
"The Bonn agreement has accorded great importance to the convening of an emergency loya jirga," he said, referring to a council of tribal elders that will appoint a transitional authority to take the place of the six-month interim administration he heads.
"The emergency loya jirga will be convened on time and will be inaugurated by a speech of his majesty the former king," he said, referring to ousted king Mohammad Zahir Shah, who has been living in Rome since 1973.
A loya jirga, he added, had in the past often been convened to solve problems in Afghanistan.
Infighting betwen rival Afghan factions during the 1992-1996 civil war, followed by fierce fighting by opposition forces against the now-ousted Taliban regime, he said, had reduced the country to ruin.
"Now is an appropriate time to convene a loya jirga," he said.
Under the Bonn accord, which paved the way for the power-sharing interim administration, the loya jirga has to be convened within six months to appoint a transitional authority that will rule the country until democratic elections within two years
Afghanistan's new government ordered Afghan troops to quit Kabul within three days to make way for a 17-nation security force, while controversy broke out over the release of Taliban prisoners.
Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni's office announced the move as French troops joined British soldiers already patrolling the war-ravaged capital to protect the work of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai's transitional power-sharing government.
In Washington, the Pentagon said US forces were pursuing a sweep of the sprawling Zhawar Kili complex, a former al-Qaeda base in eastern Afghanistan, where they detained two suspected senior al-Qaeda fighters.
"Qanooni has decided that all... military units affiliated to the defense ministry that took part in the conquest of Kabul should evacuate the city within three days," said interior ministry official Din Mohammad Jorat.
"After that, the peacekeeping force, along with our police force, will be patrolling the city," he said.
Britain's Ministry of Defence unveiled the final list of 17 countries taking part in the first phase of the International Security and Assistance force in Afghanistan, only one of which is non-European.
The UN-mandated force, which is under the command of British Major General John McColl, has already started deploying in the country and should reach its full strength of 4,500 by the end of the month.
Britain has committed up to 1,800 military personnel, of whom more than 300 are now in place.
All but one of the contributing countries are European. As well as Britain, they are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
The non-European exception is New Zealand, while Turkey is the only country with a Muslim majority contributing to the force.
The ministry of defence was not able to say exactly how many troops or what other form of military assistance each country was providing.
Britain's leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will last for three months, after which another country will take over.
The force's powers will be limited to "assist in the maintenance of the security" in Kabul and its surroundings.
Not every country which offered soldiers was taken up. Canada, for example, which had also expressed a readiness to contribute to ISAF, is deploying them instead in support of US forces near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
On Wednesday around 15 French marine infantrymen went on patrol at Kabul's civilian airport, which ISAF military engineers are racing to repair and clear of mines to provide a secure bridgehead for incoming troops.
Turkey said Wednesday it would contribute 261 military personnel.
Meanwhile there were signs of tension between the United States and its Afghan allies, after local officials said they had freed some senior Taliban, including three former ministers, who surrendered last week in Kandahar.
In Kandahar, local government spokesman Khaled Pashtun said former Taliban justice minister Mullah Toorabi, defence minister Mullah Obaidullah and industry and mines minister Mullah Haqqani had surrendered.
Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan (WAPHA)
Sayed Abdullah, 28, in his current home as he thinks about the five months he was beaten and brutalized by the Taliban. (Kevin Suliivan - The Washington Post)
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Sayed Abdullah sat cross-legged on a thick carpet as dusk fell. He lit a kerosene lamp that hissed loudly, cutting the cold and darkness in his bare living room. He shifted his broken body, trying to find the position where he felt the least pain. There is always pain. He moved constantly for the next four hours, telling his story long into the night.
In a nation trying to heal after 22 years of war, Sayed's personal healing comes from talking. Taliban leaders are no longer around to tell their side of the story. But the truth of Sayed's tale was supported by interviews with his friends and family, his doctor and humanitarian workers, as well as by Taliban prison records. The most telling evidence is Sayed's scarred body.
The Taliban is on the run. But before the radical Islamic movement disappears down some dark alley of history, Sayed wants the world to know what Taliban enforcers did to him because they thought he was a Christian.It began one afternoon late in 1999. About 15 Taliban soldiers carrying AK-47 assault rifles surrounded his house. Sayed was inside with his mother, his
wife and his two little girls, then age 3 and 1.
Sayed remembers their leader saying: "We are suspicious of you. We want to ask you some questions." Sayed couldn't imagine why. He led a good life. He was a 26-year-old father working in a medical supply warehouse of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He was smart and gregarious, he had learned English in school and he kept a library of 500 books. He loved European history. He had photos and short biographies of every U.S. president from Washington to Clinton. He was too poor to leave Kabul, but books freed his mind to explore the world.
The Taliban soldiers put him in a pickup truck and took him to the building that housed their Intelligence Division No. 1. They locked him in a tiny cell, not big enough for him to lie down. He sat in the dark on the wet floor, fearful but sure that the misunderstanding would soon sort itself out.
Hours later guards came and led him to a large room. He saw a table with metal legs and a wooden top, and next to it, a Taliban commander. And next to the table were Sayed's books -- his entire bookcase ripped off the wall of
his house and carried there intact.He felt a rush of fear.
Sayed says the Taliban commander held his two copies of the Bible, one in English and one in Dari, the main language of Afghanistan. Bibles were strictly forbidden by the Taliban.
"We have here a man who has converted from Islam to Christianity," the commander said. "Who are you working for? Which country? Which people?"
"I'm a good Muslim," Sayed said. "I have those books for information, for learning, not for changing religions. Everyone should know about other religions and other parts of the world."The commander cut him off."Enough! If you won't talk to us now, you will later."
Several guards came in and forced Sayed face down on the table. They tied his hands and feet to its legs. Then they beat him with sticks and heavy plastic ropes, punching, pounding, whipping. Sayed says he endured two or three hours of it before he passed out.
Begging for Privilege to Kill
When he woke up, he was back in the tiny cell. It seemed to be daytime, although little light was in the cell. He hurt everywhere. Blood was on his face and his clothes. He was hungry and thirsty. He called out, but no one came.Later a group of Taliban soldiers came to see him. They taunted him.
"Come and see what an important person we have," one said. "He converted from Islam to Christianity." The Taliban, an extremist militia that seized power here in 1996, tried to turn Afghanistan into its version of a pure Islamic society. Its restrictions on women, its public executions and amputations, and its destruction of such Afghan cultural treasures as the centuries-old Buddhas carved into cliffs at Bamian were well known to the outside world, which responded with outrage and sanctions.
But only after the Taliban's fall is its practice of harsh, systematic torture becoming clear. Behind closed doors here in Kabul, in the southern city of Kandahar and elsewhere, the Taliban enforced its Islamic code with a brutality only hinted at by its public actions.
Non-Muslims were a common target. About 50 Hindu families who live here were ordered by the Taliban to wear distinguishing yellow clothing. Most of the few remaining Jews in Kabul left the country. There may be a few Christian
Afghans; if so, they hid from the Taliban for fear of execution.With Sayed, the Taliban thought it had to set an example.
The soldiers pulled him out of his cell. They kicked him, punched him, pulled his hair. They spat on him. The soldiers begged the commander for the privilege of killing Sayed with their knives."God will give us our reward, because this is the one who converted," they said.
When it got dark again, they took him back to the room with the blood-stained table. They handed him a piece of paper with written questions: Who do you work for? Who is giving you money? Name all the people you have taught and converted.
Sayed handed it back."Those questions do not relate to me. I haven't committed this crime," he said.
The Taliban guards again tied him on the table. This time, they poured water on his feet, then wound electrical wires around both of his big toes. The wires were attached to an old Soviet military field telephone. The guards turned the telephone's crank, sending a searing electrical current into Sayed's feet. It went on for more than an hour. He felt as if some powerful
force was lifting him high off the table, then slamming him down again, over and over."Do you want to write something now?"
Sayed thought that if he continued to refuse he would convince them of his innocence. And he thought that if he confessed, they would kill him, probably in Kabul Stadium, where the Taliban held public executions. He imagined his body hanging there before the screaming crowd, with his own family too scared to claim it.He couldn't pick up the pen.They cranked the phone."I swear to God I am innocent," he screamed.He felt the current slam into his bones. Then he blacked out.
Life in a Closet-Size Cell
He passed the next week or so in the closet-size cell. No one spoke to him. The floor was wet, and it was dark all the time. There were swarms of bugs -- on the floor, on the walls, on him. Twice a day, a guard gave him a cup of tea and one piece of bread.He counted the days by scratching notches into the soft concrete walls with his fingernails, or making a mark with his blood.He couldn't walk. His feet were battered and swollen from the beatings and the shocks. All his toenails were blackened. The toilet was a bucket on the next cell's floor. When they let him out to use it, he had to crawl there.
A Penalty Is Proposed
One morning the guards came for Sayed. He couldn't stand up, so the Taliban soldiers dragged him to a pickup truck and drove him, along with all his books, to Intelligence Division No. 3, a walled compound with barred windows in central Kabul.
The division commander met him. He insulted Sayed's mother and said nothing more. The guard who dragged him to his cell in the basement said to the other Taliban members there, "He will die soon. Pray for him."Sayed felt weak and queasy.
Two weeks passed. Sayed was left alone in his basement cell, one of about 15 rooms about eight-feet-square along two dark corridors. He felt a little hope. Maybe this was not a place where they tortured prisoners.
Then they took him upstairs to a room that struck Sayed as some sort of torture museum. Whips, sticks, electrical cords. A device in which a man with his feet shackled to the floor is kept standing by a rope from the ceiling tied to his hair. They would each become familiar to Sayed, as would even more hideous electric shocks that made him urinate blood.
The place is now a jail run by the Security Ministry of the new Afghan government. Shah Wali, the deputy director, said that when he arrived shortly after the Taliban fled on Nov. 13, he found plastic ropes and heavy sticks in the torture room. He said blood was spattered on the walls and floor and on a large table in the middle of the room.
Shah opened a tattered yellow book of records left behind by the fleeing Taliban. It notes that 26-year-old prisoner Sayed Abdullah arrived in March 2000. It lists his crime as "belonging to the Christian religion."When Sayed entered the torture room, a Taliban soldier told him: "We do not want to torture you. Just confess.""I swear to God. I swear on the holy Koran. I am not the man you are looking for."Sayed cried. The six or seven Taliban men there laughed."So you are British, huh? You are a Christian?"
They tied him facedown on the table. Slowly, they took off their turbans, then their coats, then rolled up their sleeves. They beat him like meat on a slab, chanting: "God is blessing us. God will reward us." One remarked that he would enjoy ripping Sayed's muscles out with pliers.The beatings continued every few days for a month, until Sayed was ready to sign.
He wrote and wrote and wrote. Names of friends living in other countries. Made-up names. Made-up stories about preading Christianity, about foreign money and shadowy networks of conversion-crazed preachers.Anything they wanted to hear. Anything to make the torture stop.
A few days later, Sayed was carried out into the courtyard, a grassy oasis with flowered trellises and tall rosebushes looming next to a gazebo. It was the first time he had seen the sun in a couple of months. There were several high-ranking Taliban officials gathered there.
"It is shameful that you converted from Islam to Christianity," said an older man, who Sayed assumed was a government inister."I confessed, but I never converted," Sayed said.An enraged Taliban soldier ran to him, pulled his head by the hair and put a knife to his throat. "Give me permission to cut his throat so I may be rewarded by God," he said.
The Taliban official waved him off. He calmly told Sayed that his case was now closed and that he had been convicted. He said his file would be sent to Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's leader, and that Omar would certainly approve the recommended punishment.
"We will take you to the roof of the Ministry of Communications," he said, referring to the 18-story building that is Kabul's tallest. "First we will burn you. Then we will throw you over the edge so that everyone can see you and know the punishment for converting from Islam."Then he turned to the guard."Take this pig away."
First Signs of Hope
Months had gone by and Sayed's mother, Fokhraj, was frantic. Then the bloody jacket arrived. She said a sympathetic Taliban soldier who lived in her neighborhood and had seen her crying gave it to her. He told her he had access to Sayed's cell and sneaked his blood-stained jacket out. "Here, I want you to know that he is alive," he told her.
Fokhraj couldn't stop crying. She had already lost her husband and Sayed's only brother when a rocket hit their house in 1993, during fighting between rival warlords. She had to do something.
She went several times to Taliban leaders, who denied that they had Sayed. She asked everyone she could think of, until she finally spoke to a powerful Taliban military commander.
"This is a difficult case, and you can't solve it just by saying he is innocent," she recalls him saying. "I can help, but you should please pay me $5,000."
It was an enormous sum. But she sold the house -- the one where Sayed was arrested -- and almost everything in it, which yielded a little more than $5,000. She moved in with relatives, taking Sayed's wife and daughters with her. She gave the money to the commander.
His next moves showed a keen understanding of bureaucracy. Sayed's case was being handled by military authorities. If they sent the file to Omar for final approval, the sentence would be irreversible. Nobody questioned Omar.
But by pulling some strings that are still unclear to Sayed and his mother, the commander got the case transferred to a civilian court before the file went to Omar. Civilian judges were still with the Taliban, but they were more willing to deal. And the commander apparently paid them well.
Sayed was taken from his cell one day and brought to a civilian court. As he was being carried in, a judge walked up to him.
"Do not worry, you will be released soon," he said quietly.
The court proceedings took nearly a month. Twice a week Sayed was dragged into the court, and he listened to the judges argue about everything, it seemed to him, except the merits of his case.
Things changed at the jail. The torture stopped. There were no more beatings. Guards began putting sugar in his tea. They told him that after he was released he should come back and give them money, as a tip for not killing him.Sayed tried to feel cheered by that, but couldn't.
A representative from the International Red Cross was allowed to visit him. It was someone Sayed knew from work, but the man didn't recognize him. It had been more than four months since he was arrested, and he now looked like an old man.
Sayed was allowed to give the Red Cross worker a letter to his family. He wrote: All is well. My health is fine. Don't worry about me. I will be home soon.
But he told the Red Cross worker that he expected to be executed at any time. He asked that his salary be paid to his family at least until he was killed.
A Final Session
Early one morning, 5 1/2 months after his arrest, the guards came for Sayed one last time. They dragged him up the 17 dirty stone steps he had crawled up so many times to reach the fetid bathroom. They took him into the office of the commander, the one who had greeted him by insulting his mother.
Sayed didn't know what was happening. But the commander gave him back the few papers he had in his pocket when he was arrested. He handed him his Red Cross identification card, torn in half. It dawned on Sayed: The commander,
illiterate like most Taliban soldiers, thought the cross on the card was a Christian symbol."Sign this," he said.
He pushed a paper in front of Sayed. It said that the prisoner certified that he had been well cared for, that he had not been tortured and that he had been well fed. Sayed tried to pick up the pen, but his fingers were dislocated from the beatings. He scratched a faint mark on the paper.
"I don't know how this miracle happened, but you should be punished," the commander said. "You didn't die from the torture, but God will kill you soon. Or maybe the injuries from the torture will kill you."
The guards dragged him outside to a truck where the Taliban officer who had arranged his release was waiting. When they arrived at the house where his family was living, his mother ran to the car and hugged him. Then she fainted. His wife and children ran to him. The girls had grown so much. The younger one, Mazama, didn't recognize him, and she cried in fear when he tried to hold her.
Sayed stepped down from the truck. Looking toward the house, toward freedom, he did something he had not done in months.He walked.
Sayed spent six months in hospitals, in Kabul and in Pakistan. He wanted to leave Afghanistan for good, but he couldn't afford to move his whole family, and they have nowhere to go anyway.
Mohammed Zaher Osman, the orthopedic surgeon who still treats Sayed, said the torturers broke several bones in Sayed's back. He still wears a brace around his midsection to help him stand.
Sayed says he still has difficulty hearing, and his vision is weak. His short-term memory is sketchy. Osman said those problems are the result of repeated heavy blows to the back of his head.
He has chronic kidney problems and scars on his arms, back and feet. Beneath his stockings, his ankles and feet have odd peaks and valleys. He still takes painkillers, and antibiotics to fight recurring infections.
Osman said that Sayed could barely move or talk when he first saw him in a Kabul hospital in early 2000. He said the blows to his head and spine had caused severe nerve damage, leaving him incontinent and making it hard for him to control his hands, feet and speech.
Osman said Sayed's case was typical of many Taliban torture cases he has seen. He treated a woman whose forearms were broken by the Taliban because she complained to police that her husband was beating her. He had to amputate a man's leg because a Taliban soldier had emptied all 30 rounds from an AK-47 clip into his thigh."They were animals," Osman said. "They were animals to Sayed Abdullah."
Most of Sayed's hair has grown back, but he pushed back his curly mop and showed where torturers had ripped patches of hair out by the roots. Once a fairly fluent English speaker, he can no longer put together more than a few words.
He's back at work, helping to move crates of medicine around. But he's on doctor's orders not to lift anything heavier than about 15 pounds. Too many parts of his body could give out. He is 28.
He is delighted that the Taliban has been exorcised from Afghanistan. For months after he came home, one of the Taliban officers who had beaten him kept coming around his house, looking for money and making threats.Now Sayed is free. But it is liberty without joy.
"He used to joke all the time, but he doesn't anymore," said Ebadullah Ebadi, a physician and Sayed's childhood friend.
Sayed's house is gone, sold to get him out of jail. He lives with his in-laws. He has little money left. Afghanistan is moving on to a better future, but Sayed feels the past is not yet ready to release him.
Looking into Sayed's eyes in the glow of the kerosene lamp burning long into a cold winter night, it is clear that the Taliban took something from deep inside him.He will not try to replace his library, which the Taliban burned.He can't bear the sound of the word "book."© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Many have died of sickness and starvation
Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 13:34 GMT
The heaviest fighting in Afghanistan may be over, but the humanitarian crisis is nowhere near being resolved. Years of war, drought and Taleban rule have left Afghans starving, and despite international efforts and good intentions, aid is slow to reach those who urgently need it.
Wheat grew on the hills before the drought
In the northern mountainous region of Abdullah Gan, a former front line between the Taleban and the Northern Alliance, the situation is desperate.
About 10,000 people in that region, and hundreds of thousands in other frontline areas, are living on little more than grass, according to the International Rescue Committee. Many have already died and even more are sick and starving.
In Bonavash, the most accessible village in the Abdullah Gan region, the only available food - if you can call it that - is bread made of crushed grass and a bit of barley or grass porridge.
Nearly everyone in the village suffers from diarrhoea or a hacking cough, according to the Associated Press, whose reporters visited the village.
Urgently needed food has been delayed
"We are waiting to die. If food does not come, if the situation does not change, we will eat this... until we die," said Ghalam Raza, a 42-year-old man with a hacking cough, pain in his stomach and bleeding bowels.
The villagers say they are better off than those deeper in the mountains, days away by donkey. They do not even have any barley to mix with their grass.
"It's true, there's a real crisis there," Ken Burslem, a spokesman for the International Rescue Committee, told BBC News Online.
Aid is on its way, and 1,400 metric tonnes of flour is being distributed in the Zari district, Mr Burslem said, "but it is only going to the villages that can be reached - which are in walking distance," including Bonavash.
He said there was a problem reaching the villages deeper in the mountains, because of rough weather conditions, so the IRC has asked the Northern Alliance for a helicopter.
If they get it, they will be able to airdrop another 2,000 metric tonnes of food, including wheat, beans, fortified biscuits and cooking oil, Mr Burslem said. But the task of distributing food is plagued with logistical problems.
The lucky ones have a bit of barley to mix with the grass
One thousand tonnes of flour from the World Food Programme, which took two weeks to deliver by truck to Zari - four and a half hours by donkey from Bonavash - lay in storage and was not distributed, due to a "communication problem," ccording to Christiane Berthiaume, the WFP spokeswoman in Geneva.
"There was a misunderstanding," Mr Burslem of the IRC said. "[The WFP] arrived there with the wheat, but they didn't realise the problem was distribution."
Ms Berthiaume said that before Christmas, the WFP signed agreements with some 70 non-governmental organisations who would handle the distribution of the aid, including the IRC, but that communication is difficult in Afghanistan.
"We have brought in a record amount of 118,000 tonnes of food in December alone," Ms Berthiaume told BBC News Online. "It's well over our target of 50,000 tonnes."
"We have the staff and food to feed six million hungry people in Afghanistan, but we're still faced with security problems," she said. "There are bandits and warlords," she said. "It's not the easiest place to work." She said as far as she knew airdrops were not being considered because of the fighting.
Nearly half of the villagers have fled
This leaves regions like Abdullah Gan, and other areas, such as the mountainous Badghis district near Heart in the west, hungry.
"We have been working very hard to prevent a widespread famine, and while we are confident that we have managed to do this, there are still isolated pockets where there is little access or communication," Ms Berthiaume said.
Nearly half of the villagers of Bonavash, Shiite Muslims who resisted Sunni Taleban control, have fled, and many of the mud and straw houses stand empty.
Before the three-year-old drought, the villagers, mostly farmers, grew wheat. Now the hills are parched with cracked mud.
BBC News Sources
By Vivienne Walt
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The woman pulls the burqa off my face, peers at me up close and shrieks at the sight of a Western woman wearing the tent-like dress.
After hours of going unnoticed, I am betrayed by the bottom of my denim jeans peeking from beneath my sky-blue dress. The pants are a telltale sign I'm a foreigner. ''Why are you wearing a burqa?'' asks the woman, Gul Bibi, 38, as two children clamber on the ground in the bazaar and peek up my dress.
I explain I was curious to see the world from within a burqa, whose only opening, an oblong grid over the eyes, cuts peripheral vision, blurs everything else and makes breathing more difficult. Bibi laughs skeptically, then declares: ''I've been wearing this since I was a small girl. If I didn't, I would feel men were eating me with their eyes.''
For years, the all-encompassing dress that was required wear for women under the Taliban regime symbolized for Westerners the iron-fisted treatment of Afghan women. Now the Taliban has been shattered, but the burqa remains a strong presence in Afghanistan. Some women have thrown them off, but most, even in the cities, say they will continue wearing the head-to-toe garments until they're sure the political situation has changed.
And in the desert villages across southern Afghanistan, where women have for centuries been hidden away, life -- and burqas -- seems not to have been touched by the upheaval elsewhere.
Before Sept. 11, many Americans knew less about the Taliban's links to terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden than about burqas and other restrictions the hard-line militia that controlled Afghanistan imposed on females.
Girls couldn't go to school. Women were banned from work, forbidden to step outside without a male relative, told never to sing and forced to abandon makeup and nail polish, which the Taliban outlawed. Clerics even banned high heels because, they said, they made suggestive noises.
Hundreds of women reported being beaten with electric cables by police in the streets for breaking minuscule rules.
Now the legal rules restricting women have, at least theoretically, become extinct. However, in many parts of the country, especially across the southern desert, Afghan men vow to resist substantial change, and women here say they dare not discard their burqas for fear of being attacked or insulted.
''Even if there is no rule, we cannot show our faces,'' says Nasima Safi, 36, a midwife at Kandahar's Mirwais Hospital.
She relishes wearing silver nail polish and black pumps, which she retrieved from a box in her closet after the Taliban fled Kandahar last month. But throwing off the burqa is far too risky for most women, she says: ''Some people will spit on us in the street. They will say: 'Why have you changed yourself so easily?' ''
Deep roots in society
I set out to compare the lives of women such as Safi, who feel they must hide themselves, with what I had been experiencing here before donning the burqa.
For weeks in Kandahar, as I traveled around reporting, I was mobbed by men and boys. They grabbed my arm, felt me slyly from behind and tailed me block after block. One threw a rock at my vehicle. Dozens reached into open car windows, or pressed their faces against the glass. My alarmed driver finally affixed plastic blackout sheeting to hide his female Western passenger and put a Kalashnikov rifle in the car.
All of this happened even though I always wore a large shawl over my head and a shalwar, the traditional long dress that is worn over trousers. My uncovered face, it seemed, evoked wary and occasional threatening comments.
One morning, I asked a group of about 30 men in the bazaar why they had gathered to watch me for more than 15 minutes while I spoke to a jewelry trader about the country's new political situation. ''Because we have not seen anything like this for years, a Western women with her face uncovered,'' one young man replied through a translator.
''So what do you think?'' I asked.
''We don't like this,'' he said. ''It is against Islam.''
In dozens of interviews here throughout December, no man said women should stop wearing burqas, even though the Taliban had been routed from Kandahar, its spiritual birthplace. Their unwillingness to endorse a change didn't stem merely from the widespread support here for the Taliban. The burqa's place in Afghan society is more complicated and deeply rooted than that.
''It is from 250 years ago,'' says Haji Faqir Mohammad, 52, who repairs cars in Kandahar's central market. ''Only in King (Mohammad) Zahir Shah's time did some girls go to school without burqas,'' he adds, referring to the monarch who ruled from 1933 to 1973.
Kandahari men roundly reject a return to that freedom. ''We don't want women to be like they are in the West,'' says Juma Khan, 32, a spare-parts dealer in the city's crumbling auto-repair bazaar. ''We hope that this new government will bring a little freedom for women, but it has to agree with both Islam and Pashtun tribalism.''
Many Afghans say the burqa complies with the Koran's teaching that women dress modestly. But many Muslim scholars say one of the Prophet Mohammed's wives was a warrior and rode into battle on horseback -- probably not encumbered by a burqa.
In some Arab countries, women have traditionally worn all-covering dresses -- though they usually are black, not sky-blue as in Afghanistan, and don't usually have a hood as tight or as difficult to see through as those here. Burqa is, in fact, a word used in Arab nations and the rest of the world. Here, in central Asia, the dress is known as a chaderi, or tent.
In Kandahar, the burqa has been enforced with harsh punishment only since the early 1990s. In 1996, the Taliban decreed that women throughout Afghanistan could not appear sexually enticing, or ''attract the attention of useless people who will not look at them with a good eye.''
Their rationale: Muslim women's roles were restricted to helping their husbands and rearing children. Women who wore ''fashionable, ornamental, tight and charming clothes . . . will be cursed and should never expect to go to Heaven,'' the 1996 written edict said. It also banned eye makeup and bracelets, worn in other Muslim countries where women are forced to hide their bodies or hair.
A prison of cloth
I had expected the burqa to feel uncomfortable, but little prepared me for the claustrophobia. While shopping for the right size, I wondered whether I had a particularly large head because each burqa's helmet seemed to squeeze my skull and produce a headache. I finally chose the one that hurt the least. When I adjusted to the sensation, I found I could not maneuver up and down stairs. I was so covered up that the burqa did not allow a view of the ground directly below me. I tripped twice, once narrowly missing a tumble into an open sewer. With no peripheral vision, I found climbing in and out of cars similarly hazardous.
I had long wondered why Afghan women clutched their burqas close to their faces or bit them in their mouths while moving. The answer was immediately obvious when I began walking in one: Tightening the head covering allowed me to see more clearly through the holes in the net over my eyes. It also offered a more direct source of oxygen, whose supply seemed drastically cut under a burqa. Even so, my world remained fuzzy, with few clues to what was happening around me.
Despite the discomfort, there was an instantaneous feeling of liberation when I ventured out: I walked into alleyways and crowded shopping streets, past children and crowds of men, entirely ignored. When two men spotted my jeans, one muttered to the other within earshot of my translator: ''I think that is a foreigner in a burqa.'' Even then, the other replied: ''No, that's impossible.''
No refuge from reality
The burqa, of course, is just a symbol of the many daunting challenges for women in Afghanistan. Few women in the world face such levels of poverty, illiteracy and inadequate health care.
''Even if you take off the burqa, it doesn't get women jobs or education or save them from dying in childbirth,'' says Lynn Amowitz, a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and author of a study in 2000 on Afghan women's health for Physicians for Human Rights, which is based in Boston.
In interviews with 223 women in the 90% of Afghanistan that was then under Taliban control, as well as 194 women in the 10% of the country that was then in opposition hands, Amowitz found:
* 78% of the women under Taliban rule were clinically depressed. In non-Taliban sections, 28%.
* 16% of the women under Taliban rule had attempted suicide by drowning in local rivers, drinking pesticides or overdosing on children's medicines. In non-Taliban territory, it was 9%.
Even in the nascent post-Taliban world, many women in Afghanistan ''are too depressed to work, so they cannot even help rebuild the country,'' Amowitz said.
In addition, about 1,700 out of 100,000 women die in childbirth annually, compared with eight in 100,000 in the United States. Afghanistan's rate is probably the world's highest, the World Health Organization says.
Such problems began long before the Taliban assumed national power in 1996. But 10 years ago, as many as 40% of Kabul's doctors and 50% of government workers were women. Almost all of those were dismissed when the Taliban banned women from working, except in emergency rooms.
Many women's lives were made drastically worse by the Taliban. Before the Taliban, most schoolteachers had been women. Desperate to continue teaching, Jamila Yousafi, 50, who had been deputy principal of a high school for girls, smuggled notebooks and pens into her house. She held free classes for girls at her home, despite the risk of imprisonment.
''They could have arrested me and my husband, but I knew I had to do it,'' Yousafi says, as she sweeps the dusty corridors of the school to prepare for the girls' first public return since the Taliban barred them from being educated.
''I feel like I was in prison before, and now I am free.''
In one of her first acts to test her new freedom since the Taliban fled Kandahar, Yousafi discards her burqa on a chair in the school office while she cleans -- to be worn again when she steps outside.
The Taliban's ban against women working deepened poverty. ''I spent the past years washing clothes for people in my home,'' says Shirin Jaan, 25, a petite burqa-clad woman, who lost her office job in 1996 as a government typist in Kabul, the nation's capital.
''My fingers are destroyed now'' from doing housework, Jaan says from behind the burqa's grid while shopping with her two small daughters. ''Every day for five years was very, very hard.''
Change could come quickly in some areas, especially in Kabul, which is far from the conservative villages in the south that are predominantly occupied by ethnic Pashtun, especially if Western humanitarian agencies focus some of their efforts on helping women.
But few in Kandahar, where the culture is most conservative, expect women's lives to change much soon.
Eqlima Hammadghus, the head nurse for Mirwais Hospital's female ward, no longer has to wear a burqa in the operating room. However, she will continue wearing it in Kandahar's streets for years.
''We are still afraid of people we don't know, since some people still support the Taliban,'' says Hammadghus, 27. ''They might attack us or threaten to kill us.'' Like others, Hammadghus may leave Kandahar for Kabul, where women will be able to exercise their new freedoms more quickly.
But Bibi, who confronted me in Kandahar's bazaar, will resist some of those rights. ''I will never take the burqa off,'' she says. ''My grandmother wore it.'' Then she drops my veil over my head again, restoring me to invisibility, and reduced vision, as I walk away
Wednesday January 9, 7:13 PM
ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, huddling with his generals and political advisers, is preparing for his biggest speech since he rallied to the U.S.-led war against his former Taliban allies in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani president, whose armed forces are locked into a volatile military standoff with nuclear rival India, has already cracked down on Islamic militants at home and has promised final decisions in an early address to the nation.
India, incensed at a bloody December 13 suicide attack on its parliament, has demanded that Pakistan dismantle Islamic groups fighting its rule in the disputed state of Kashmir and hand over 20 named militants.
Senior Pakistani government officials said on Wednesday that Musharraf and his military advisers were drafting the speech, which could be delivered at the weekend.
"We look forward to hearing from President Musharraf in that speech on the course that he believes the nation should follow," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on Tuesday.
"We expect that they will continue to move against terrorist organisations because of the danger that these organisations pose to Pakistan and its neighbours."
But India, whose hardline interior minister is in the United States for talks with President George W. Bush's administration, suggested Washington was going soft in its war on terrorism.
"When (the) global coalition against terrorism was formed, it was our expectation that...it will continue as a struggle, but we see that when their purpose was served, the expectation that we had was not met," Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes told a private television news channel.
India and Pakistan, uneasy neighbours who staged tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, three of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Musharraf, a general, toppled an elected government in 1999 to a chorus of international protest. He has come a long way since then.
He rallied to Bush's war against terrorism after the September 11 suicide hijackings in the United States, gambling against a backlash from Islamic militants and elements of his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) who helped put the Taliban in power in Afghanistan.
Sustained U.S. air strikes helped anti-Taliban Afghan forces topple the fundamentalist Muslim militia, which fell foul of Washington for sheltering Saudi-born Muslim militant bin Laden.
But the bloody December 13 parliament attack, which India blames on Islamic militants trained by bin Laden in Afghanistan, landed Musharraf with a fresh headache.
India responded by launching into its biggest military buildup in 15 years and widening its demands in the name of the war on terrorism to include concrete action against Pakistan-based groups fighting its rule in Kashmir.
Pakistan rushed in reinforcements of its own.
A flurry of diplomatic pressure, including a round of weekend shuttle diplomacy by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, brought the two no closer to sitting down to discuss their differences.
Musharraf has repeatedly said he wants talks with India. On Monday, he said Pakistan rejected all forms of terrorism and for the first time dropped the term "freedom fighters" -- Pakistan's stock phrase for militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
"The defence of the country is a sacred duty and by the grace of Allah, the Pakistan army is capable of meeting all types of challenges," he told his army corps commanders at General Headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Tuesday.
The two sides have traded fire almost daily across their border, particularly across a ceasefire line dividing Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Pakistan said a policeman was wounded in an overnight exchange.
With each side accusing the other of pushing it into war, thousands of civilians have fled their homes near the border.
As Musharraf decides on his next move, India's influential and hawkish home affairs minister, Lal Krishna Advani, is in the United States for talks with the Bush administration.
The United States, keen to keep the focus on the hunt for bin Laden, is working hard to defuse the crisis.
Bush praised Musharraf for his initial crackdown on Islamic militants but has since urged him to do more to placate India.
After meeting Musharraf, a group of influential U.S. senators said they hoped India would respond positively to efforts by Pakistan to rein in Islamic militants.
"I hope that the leadership of India...will listen carefully to President Musharraf's words in the next few days and I hope they will find something there to lead them to want to at least sit down and begin negotiations," said Joseph Lieberman, a former vice-presidential candidate and Democrat from Connecticut.
"I hope and believe they (Musharraf's remarks)...will be so bold and principled and fresh that they will encourage a response from the Indian government," Lieberman told a news confer
Wednesday January 9, 2:10 PM
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Falling opium production in Afghanistan has prompted growers in the notorious "Golden Triangle" region to boost production to serve the rising global demand for heroin, the Thai Army said on Wednesday.
Lieutenant General Udomchai Ongakasing, commander of the Third Army patrolling 17 northern Thai provinces, told Reuters that opium supply in Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar was rising to fill a shortage caused by war in Afghanistan and an earlier Taliban ban on production.
He said drug lords in the "Golden Triangle" -- where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos converge -- had supplied opium growers with new technology to boost their efficiency despite constant suppression by authorities.
"A water sprinkler system helps opium farmers in some areas in Thailand to raise their crops to three a year from just one in the past," Udomchai said.
Udomchai said satellites found around 2,800 acres of poppy fields in Thailand last year and his troops destroyed around 75 percent of them.
Thai anti-drugs agencies say average opium production on Thai plantations was 1.8 kg per rai (1,600 square metres) last year. Udomchai said productivity would significantly increase this year.
Until 2000, Afghanistan was the world's main producer of poppies, which are turned into opium and further refined into heroin. The then ruling Taliban ordered a partial ban on poppy production in 1999, and outlawed it altogether one year later.
Myanmar is now the biggest opium producer.
Despite the ban on opium production, the Taliban were accused by Washington of having funded themselves with drug profits.
"The new Afghan government is a U.S. friendly one and will be tough on drugs. Drug lords will look for supplies in Thailand and Myanmar," Udomchai said.
Wednesday January 9, 12:57 PM
LONDON (Reuters) - Experts will fly from Britain to Kabul on Wednesday in a desperate rescue mission to save some of Afghanistan's longest suffering but largely forgotten war victims -- its animals.
The World Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (WSPA) said on Tuesday two animal welfare experts would fly to war-ravaged Kabul to assess conditions at the city's crumbling zoo, where some 40 animals are clinging to life.
Among the sad creatures caged in the zoo is Marjan, a one-eyed lion who was a gift from Germany 38 years ago and has weathered coups, wars and U.S. bombing raids against the Taliban.
The mangy creature became a symbol of animal maltreatment under the Taliban -- who left the Kabul zoo to neglect when they assumed power in 1996 -- and during years of war after his picture was splashed in newspapers around the world.
"We are sending two animal welfare experts, one from the United States and one from Costa Rica, to assess the situation in Kabul and to help rebuild its veterinary infrastructure," WSPA spokesman Jonathan Owen told Reuters.
"They will be joined by other vets from our staff, but their initial priority is to ensure the animals are as safe, secure and healthy as is possible under the conditions," he said.
The team, backed by a 160,000 pound ($240,000) emergency relief fund collected from donations worldwide, will bring food, drugs and vaccines to Kabul's animals along with its expertise.
Although tending to the wounded at the Kabul zoo is WSPA's priority, the team will also begin the task of tackling the city's runaway problem of stray cats and dogs, many of which carry rabies or other diseases.
"This mission is really just a first step," Owen said.
"It is designed to pave the way for more veterinary staff who will fly in once the situation on the ground is secure."
WSPA boasts a long history of attending to animals victimised by war, most recently in the aftermath of the conflict in Bosnia.
Wednesday January 9, 11:08 AM AFP
Indian businessmen are hoping to revive an ancient barter trade with Afghanistan by exporting rice and sugar in exchange for dry fruits.
Indian industry officials said that direct trade, which was completely choked under the Taliban regime, could resume under the new interim Afghan government.
"There is a huge opportunity for trade with Afghanistan which could take off through barter," Dhruv Sawhney, chairman and managing director of Triveni Engineering and Industries Limited, told AFP.
"The status right now is that banking is not operable in Afghanistan. India can have the first-mover advantage."
India, which had supported the Northern Alliance in its fight against the routed Taliban government, was one of the first countries to open its mission in Kabul and is slated to appoint an ambassador soon.
On November 21, India despatched its first diplomatic team to Kabul, comprising diplomats, military doctors, nurses and assistance staff with medicines.
New Delhi also announced it was extending a 100-million-dollar line of credit line Kabul for reconstruction activities.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), India's top trade body, is also planning to open an office in Kabul shortly.
But there are some hurdles Indian businessmen will face, such as the lack of a common border and non-availability of banking and credit facilities in Afghanistan.
Indian traders will also have to vye with competition from Afghanistan's neighbouring nations -- Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Russia.
"Barter is a viable alternative. Commodities and other goods are needed both ways," Sawhney said. "Dry fruits is one area where there is lot of scope. To begin with, we can sell sugar, rice, wheat and other commodities."
The chairman of Wartsila India Limited, Subodh Bhargava, said the Indian government must quickly take steps to enable barter.
"There is a tremendous amount of goodwill now between the two governments. There are people-to-people contacts and the links are strong. These can be leveraged to do better trade and the special vehicle is barter," Bhargava said.
Bhargava said Afghanistan had in the past imported Indian automobiles and other engineering equipment.
"So there is a certain amount of trust and Indian companies understand their requirement. We must straight away go into their markets offering commodities to barter as their financial system is in shambles," he said.
CII director general Tarun Das said the trade body was looking at proposals from Indian businessmen on bartering.
He said the government-run State Trading Corporation, which is one of the largest Indian firms carrying out bilateral trade in commodities, would have a crucial role to play.
"The State Trading Corporation has to get involved. We are planning discussions with them in a couple of days," Das said.
Wednesday January 9, 8:27 AM AFP
US forces in eastern Afghanistan captured a group of some 14 al-Qaeda fighters and detained two of them for interrogation, General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.
Laptop computers, cell phones, small arms and training manuals were found with the group, captured in Paktia province near the town of Gardez, Myers said.
The two individuals held in the swoop late Monday were transferred to a US camp near Kandahar, he said. The others, he indicated, had been handed over to local Afghan forces.
"The US team determined that two of these individuals met the criteria for detention and moved them to Kandahar," Myers said.
He said US intelligence experts were examining the laptops, cell phones, manuals and other items found with the two al-Qaeda members.
"They become very interesting to us because they're a part of the worldwide network of terrorism that al-Qaeda supports," Myers told a Pentagon press briefing.
"And so, we would hope to be gleaning, you know, information that might point to future operations, other operatives and so forth."
He said that US forces were now holding 364 al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects in Afghanistan and on a US ship off the Gulf of Oman, some of whom would be transferred "soon" to a US naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
January 9, 2002 Posted: 2:27 AM EST (0727 GMT)
ARLINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -- Another September 11 hijacker had a run-in with the law in the days before the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and heavily damaged the Pentagon.
Police in Arlington, Virginia, said Tuesday that Hani Hanjour was pulled over for speeding last August.
Detective Jim Page said Hanjour, who later was aboard the American Airlines flight that crashed into the Pentagon, was stopped for going 50 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone. Page said Hanjour was driving a Chevrolet van with New Jersey plates and produced a Florida driver's license.
He's the third hijacker who apparently had been stopped for traffic violations.
Earlier Tuesday, Maryland State Police released a videotape of a traffic stop involving hijacker Ziad S. Jarrah two days before Jarrah and 18 compatriots commandeered four planes in the tightly coordinated suicide terrorist attack
The state trooper's dashboard-mounted camera did not capture any images of Jarrah, one of the hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93. But the officer was wearing a wireless microphone, and the audio track captured the driver giving simple "yes" and "no" answers to the trooper's questions.
Trooper 1st Class Joseph Catalano stopped Jarrah for speeding on northbound Interstate 95 in Pikesville on September 9, shortly after midnight. The policeman can be seen approaching the car, obtaining the driver's license and registration, and returning to the patrol car for a radio check of the credentials.
The trooper is then seen returning to the driver's car, and is heard explaining the citation as he obtains a signature on the ticket.
Maryland State Police Col. David B. Mitchell said that Catalano recorded Jarrah driving 90 mph in a 65 mph zone -- a $270 fine -- in a rural section of Interstate 95 in Cecil County, near the Delaware state line. Catalano reported that he looked over the car both times he approached it and saw "nothing evident that gave any hint of what Jarrah was about to be involved in," Mitchell said.
Jarrah's Virginia driver's license gave his address as 6601 Quicksilver Drive in Springfield, Virginia, and he can be heard verifying that address to Catalano on the tape.
Registration showed that the red 2001 Mitsubishi Gallant Jarrah drove that night was owned by Garden State Car Rental at Newark, New Jersey, International Airport. The car was found at the airport after the September 11 hijackings, the citation written by Catalano still in the glove box.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has said local law enforcement officials should have been told by the FBI that Jarrah was on a CIA watch list. The FBI disputes his criticism, which came during O'Malley's testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this past fall.
O'Malley repeated his criticism during remarks at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington.
Mike Clemens, assistant special agent in charge of the Maryland-Delaware FBI office, said Tuesday that Jarrah was "not on the radar screen" on September 9 and a watch list was not available at that time.
Flight 93, the last of the four hijacked planes, crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers and flight crew members -- alerted via cell phone conversations about the fates of the other three planes -- rebelled against the hijackers.
A month after the hijackings, U.S. authorities discovered a letter written by Jarrah to his girlfriend in Germany and postmarked September 10. In the letter -- which was mistakenly addressed and returned to the United States, where authorities found it -- Jarrah told his girlfriend he had done his duty.
"I have done what I had to do," he wrote. "You should be very proud, it is an honor, and you will see the result, and everyone will be happy."
Hijacker Mohamed Atta was stopped by police last July in Tamarac, Fla., and ticketed for an invalid license, officials there have said. He ignored the ticket and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. But, when he was stopped for speeding a few weeks later in a nearby town, the officer, unaware of the bench warrant, let him go with a warning.
Atta is believed to have piloted American Airlines Flight 77 into the World Trade Center's north tower.
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