Afghan refugees places severe strain on Kabul
KABUL - The return of more than half a million Afghan refugees to Kabul in just over four months has placed an overwhelming burden on a city struggling to recover from decades of conflict, officials said. Around 513,000 Afghans - nearly half of the 1.2 million who have returned to their homeland under a programme run by the United Nations refugee agency since the start of March - have settled in and around the capital, according to UNHCR spokeswoman Ranghild Ek.
Many people who fled their homes in rural Afghanistan for neighbouring Pakistan and Iran over the last 23 years of conflict are now choosing to return to cities after becoming urbanised during their time abroad.
But while the big city may hold more attractions than a life of farming back in the villages, basic amenities such as water, housing and electricity remain highly problematic in the capital whose population is estimated at around two million.
'For any city it would be a major struggle. If that situation happens to a city like Kabul the situation is even more difficult,' Ek told AFP.
'It is a real challenge, especially in terms of housing, sanitation and water. The problems are not so bad now but we are worried about the winter when demand will be much greater.
'It is a positive emergency because people want to come back but it could turn sour.'
Mohammad Yunus Nawandish, deputy minister for water and power, said the rapid returns were creating enormous strains on the city's infrastructure.
'While we have no problems generating electricity, the distribution network has been damaged in many sectors of Kabul. Of our six main sub-stations only three are working,' he told AFP.
'If the refugees head to the areas where there is electricity they just add to the pressure on places which are already overloaded.'
Nawandish's ministry is preparing to stockpile coal as an alternative source of energy to cope during the bitterly-cold winters which come off the back of the fierce summer temperatures in the capital.
Kabul is already suffering from a scarcity of housing after vast swathes of the capital were reduced to rubble during the civil war of the early 1990s, and rents have rocketed in recent months as the refugee returns gather pace.
The city's mayor Fazil Karim told an international conference in Bangkok this week that good quality houses were being snapped up for as much as 10,000 dollars a month, while the 300 to 400 families still arriving daily struggle to find any shelter at all.
'This is a real headache for people,' he said.
Waste disposal, clean water supply, transport infrastructure and job creation are all major challenges, the mayor said, as is collecting taxes to pay for reconstruction when the international aid tap runs dry.
Nawandish however said that few foreign donors had so far stumped up cash promised to help the reconstruction of the capital.
'In the six months of the (recently completed) interim administration no foreign governments helped us at all.
The US embassy promised us 150,000 dollars but we have only had a small amount of that,' said the minister.
The influx is also impacting on efforts to rebuild the education system which virtually collapsed under the former Taliban regime as girls were effectively barred from school.
The United Nations' children's fund (UNICEF), which is conducting a nationwide survey of schooling, said teachers were reporting more children seeking to enrol every day.
'Some schools around Kabul are seeing up to 10 new children a day registering for lessons, mostly in grade one (primary school) - a result of the return of refugees from Pakistan,' said UNICEF spokesman Edward Carwardine.
The new pupils were adding to strains at a time when 'only 22 percent of schools (in the country) have adequate sanitation for pupils', Carwardine added.
Afghan Gas Pipeline Proposal Gains New Lease on Life
Tehran Times 07/14/2002
ASHKHABAD - Turkmen, Afghan and Pakistani ministers met this week to revive a moribund pipeline proposal for transporting gas across Afghanistan that is gaining a new lease on life following the fall of the Taleban regime.
But analysts warn the project, while back on the energy agenda, still faces numerous economic and geopolitical hurdles that will have to be overcome if the pipeline is to become a serious contender as an alternative natural gas route.
The project for a 1,500-kilometer (900-mile) pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan received a boost recently when the Asian Development Bank said it would finance a feasibility study for the link, AFP reported.
The trans-Afghan pipe was originally intended to be built by a consortium led by the U.S. giant Unocal, which withdrew from the project in 1998 citing fears over the raging Afghan civil war and uncertainty over costs.
But the long-held plan received a big boost in May when the leaders of the three countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding to pursue the project, expected to cost two billion dollars (euros).
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in particular is pushing the proposal, which would open up his landlocked Central Asian state's immense gas riches to the wider world for the first time.
At present, Turkmenistan exports almost all of its gas through -- and with the agreement of -- Russia, except for a tiny portion that is shipped directly to Iran.
Conscious perhaps that Moscow could suffer most if the pipeline were built, the Turkmen president last month pressed Russian oil company Rosneft and gas group Itera to take part in the project, which is still in the planning stages.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, stands to benefit from tens of millions of dollars a year in lucrative transit fees, which may help speed the recovery of the war-ravaged state.
"The implementation of this project may have a decisive influence on stability and prosperity in Afghanistan," U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan Laura Kennedy said earlier this month.
Kennedy said that the United States intended to support the realization of the project, which would bypass both of its regional energy competitors, Iran and Russia.
But analysts believe that U.S. support for the link depends on the project's economic viability rather than broader geopolitical interests.
And this, at present, is questionable.
"I think most companies would stay away from the project at the present time. There are just too many questions," said Robert Ebel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Among the many problems likely to keep investors away is the threatening situation in Afghanistan, where Afghan vice president Haji Abdul Qadir was assassinated this month.
"It would take a lot of changes in Afghanistan to start practical implementation of this project, especially as the government does not control much outside the capital," said Alexander Zaslavsky, an analyst with the Eurasia Group.
"Beyond that there were a great many problems with the economics of the pipeline," added Julian Lee, a senior analyst with the Center for Global Energy Studies.
it may become economically viable only if the pipe were to supply india with gas as well as pakistan, lee said.
but persistent tensions between india and pakistan are now threatening to boil over.
"Clearly India has been unwilling to allow itself to be dependent on gas that first has to come through Pakistan. That situation has to change," said Lee.
Investors might also shy away from ploughing their cash into a pipeline that would originate in Turkmenistan, where authoritarian and erratic president-for-life Niyazov has ruled for more than a decade.
Group counts 812 Afghan dead from US bombs
United Press International 07/13/2002 By Pamela Hess
A non-governmental organization working in Afghanistan to compensate civilian victims of the American-led war there have compiled a list of 812 Afghans killed, identified by name.
The list only counts those killed between October 7th, the start of the war, and December 2001. There have been at least two major incidents since then that involved civilian casualties -- 21 during a raid in Hazar Qadam in January and an unknown number in nearby Kakrak on July 1. Afghan officials claim more than 40 were killed and more than 100 were injured in the nighttime raid.
The Pentagon has confirmed civilian casualties resulted from the attack but does not seek or specify a number as a matter of policy.
A joint U.S.-Afghan military team is investigating that incident.
Workers with Global Exchange, the advocacy group that brought families of Sept. 11 victims to Afghanistan to protest the bombing, are compiling the list in order to submit compensation claims to the United States government with an intended total of $10,000 per family.
Global Exchange reasons that many of the people killed in Afghanistan by American military action were as innocent as the victims of Sept. 11 and should be similarly compensated.
"We have a moral responsibility to assist those people who played no role in the Sept. 11 attacks but who are now in pain because of our actions," states Global Exchange on its web site calling for the creation of an Afghan Victims Fund.
Representatives from Global Exchange are meeting with members of Congress and State Department officials next week on the matter.
The status of such claims remain in doubt; in the days after the January 24 raid in Hazar Qadam that killed 16, CIA officers handed out cash to families of victims, government officials confirmed. However, the Pentagon and State Department are still discussing whether and how to compensate victims.
There is no wartime precedent for paying civilian victims of war -- although no war was formally declared on Afghanistan -- according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col David Lapan. In peacetime, civilian victims of military mishaps are usually compensated.
Global Exchange adopted as stringent guidelines as it could in a place like Afghanistan, comprehensively surveying government officials and family members of alleged victims in Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar, and Kunduz.
"Our survey team took extreme caution when recording numbers. We had to speak to a dependent or family member or government official in order to record a death," said Jason Marks, the group's spokesman.
"Whenever possible, we did multiple interviews to corroborate info. For example, we interviewed the people directly affected, local government agencies and officials, hospital officials, and ...tribal elders and leaders," he said.
In some regions village leaders were reluctant to share the names of females killed, Marks said.
Global Exchange partially surveyed Khost, Nanaghar, Ghazni, Paktika, and Herat. In Herat, Global Exchange only tallied civilian deaths from cluster bombs.
"We believe the total number of civilian casualties to be significantly higher than the 812 we ourselves recorded. We do not yet have a final estimate. We have weeks of work to do before we will have a final estimate," Marks told United Press International this week. "Eight hundred twelve is a preliminary number."
The largest proportion of recorded deaths occurred in Kandahar, the Taliban's political and cultural stronghold and then home to Mullah Mohammed Omar. Global Exchange recorded 336 victims.
Marks said a five-person team conducted an exhaustive survey of Nangahar province, which was the site of the massive bombing campaign of Tora Bora in December. Global Exchange also sent a team of workers to Peshawar, Pakistan to interview several families that fled the area.
A University of New Hampshire professor Mark Herold estimated in December that U.S. bombs and ground combat had killed 3,500. His number was culled from foreign and U.S. news agencies, major newspapers, and first-hand accounts.
While undoubtedly civilian casualties have marred the campaign, proving the deaths occurred as a result of U.S. fire is a tricky matter. Most people in Afghanistan have no identification, so ascertaining names to a Western standard is nearly impossible.
Whether a person was a civilian or a combatant is also in the eye of the beholder. A family may consider a loved-one innocent, but that person may have been killed during a fire fight, as was the case in Hazar Qadam -- a situation the U.S. military generally considers a clear cut case of self-defense.
And in Afghanistan, there are few defined battle lines. The U.S. military has frequently targeted housing compounds where Taliban or al Qaida were believed to be hiding. Those complexes may also house people not associated with the fighting.
The Pakistan makes no estimates as to the number of civilians killed but says it regrets every death and tries to minimize so-called collateral damage.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that no war can be conducted without endangering civilian lives.
"There is no question in my mind but that the men and women doing what they're doing today are better trained and better equipped than in any previous conflict, that the weapons are more accurate and more precise, and also that there cannot be the use of that kind of firepower and not have mistakes and errant weapons exist. It's going to happen. It always has, and I'm afraid it always will," Rumsfeld said July 2.
Pashtuns Beginning to Doubt Karzai
The Washington Post 07/13/2002 By Pamela Constable
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's Pashtuns, the country's dominant ethnic group, say they are beginning to lose faith in President Hamid Karzai and to fear that the U.S. military campaign here is working against them.
As recently as a month ago, Pashtuns still had high hopes for Karzai, a Pashtun tribal elder, and the American forces backing him. After his election by a national assembly, they expected that he would make sweeping changes, work closely with Afghanistan's Pashtun former monarch, reduce the power of regional warlords and build a new government that reflected Pashtuns' numerical strength.
Instead, many say they are becoming rapidly disillusioned by a series of developments that have reinforced the power of rival ethnic Tajiks and militia leaders, left the former king politically sidelined and a Pashtun vice president dead at the hands of unknown assassins, and subjected Pashtun villages to lethal American air attacks.
Reacting to a U.S. air strike last week that left an estimated 48 civilians dead in Uruzgan province, the Pashtun governors of six southern provinces today announced that they would no longer support American air assaults unless their permission was sought first and that future U.S. ground attacks would have to include Afghan troops from a new rapid-reaction force.
Recent events, none of which are ostensibly connected to each other, add up to create in many Pashtuns' minds a deepening conviction that Karzai is not able to protect the political interests or physical safety of his own ethnic group, despite an expected boost in legitimacy and muscle following his landslide election at the national assembly, or loya jirga, in mid-June.
"After a new start, people are very sad and disappointed," said Syed Ahmed Gailani, a senior Pashtun tribal and religious leader from eastern Afghanistan. "We were all hoping for a more professional and ethnically balanced cabinet, but there is very little difference. And when a government shows it is not capable of protecting its own ministers, what expectations can we have?"
Ghulam Gul, a Pashtun medical student at Kabul University, said his hopes for Karzai's new government were "decreasing day by day," and that the July 6 assassination of Vice President Abdul Qadir has "placed a huge stone on the path to national unity. An atmosphere of mistrust is growing, and I think the stone will become very difficult to remove."
Meanwhile, the U.S. bombing of several Pashtun villages in rural Oruzgun province July 1, which unintentionally killed an estimated 48 civilians, has sharpened a growing belief among Pushtuns and other Afghan groups that the anti-terrorism agenda driving the U.S. military campaign is working at cross-purposes with Afghans' desires to build a secure and stable nation.
Mohammed Noorzai, the new minister for tribal and border affairs, visited the attack site last week with U.S. military officials. He said that he assured the angry inhabitants there would be no repeat of the incident and that the Americans promised to help build schools, roads and bridges in the isolated, impoverished area. But regional officials have continued to vent their anger over the air strike.
Nationally, concern about the impact of U.S. military strategy on Afghan politics has been building for months, as controversial militia leaders in several provinces, adopting new anti-terrorist postures and in some cases receiving U.S. military assistance, have rebuilt autonomous regional empires and played an increasingly high-profile role in national politics as well.
"The warlords were finished, but now they are being revived with American help," said a former Afghan army general who is an ethnic Pashtun. "The Americans wanted to use them in the fight against terrorism, but they have failed to capture the Taliban or al Qaeda leaders, while alienating the populace by making the warlords stronger."
In Washington, the White House's special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said this week: "We do not want Afghanistan to go back to warlordism. . . . The question is, what do you do about it?"
His answer was that "maybe some of the people that we call regional leaders might integrate" eventually into a national system. "This is going to be nation-building," he warned at a conference on Afghan policy. "It's tough. It takes a lot of work."
Khalilzad said the Bush administration views recent trends in Afghanistan as fundamentally positive. "We recognize the problems that Afghanistan has . . . but we are, as they say diplomatically, cautiously optimistic," he remarked.
Pashtuns have also been angered and dismayed by Karzai's repeated political concessions to ethnic Tajik groups since winning the presidency, particularly to former militia leaders from the Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley who have been given key roles in his new cabinet and continue to dominate the powerful country's security forces.
Pashtuns account for nearly half the Afghan population and have traditionally ruled the ethnically diverse country, while minority Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and other smaller groups have been largely limited to regional power roles.
The defeat of the Islamic Taliban movement late last year by Afghan opposition forces with U.S.-led military support, however, brought new domestic and international clout to the Panjshiri-led militias of the Northern Alliance, which occupied Kabul in November and were assigned prominent government posts a month later by the United Nations in an interim coalition government headed by Karzai.
Pashtuns widely expected Karzai to shift the balance of power after he was elected president in June and to give the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, a prominent national role. Instead, he dismayed and angered many supporters by appointing key Panjshiris to powerful posts, including defense minister and special security adviser, while signing onto a U.S.-backed political maneuver that ensured Zahir Shah would not be tempted to challenge him.
One Pashtun minister noted that the Panjshiris exercise so much the political and military influence largely as a result of their cooperation with U.S. forces in toppling the Taliban. "The Americans made them strong, and only the Americans can make them weak again," he said.
Karzai has acknowledged that he had to make numerous political compromises in selecting a cabinet, and his aides say that the fledgling government, which lacks the mandate of popular elections and has just begun to train a multi-ethnic national army, cannot yet make decisions and appointments without taking into account the demands of powerful former militia leaders.
"Karzai does have more power now, and he does call the shots, but he must still deal with the same big players and groups," said one Foreign Ministry official. "It is a fact of life that can't be avoided. Until we have a constitution, elections and a national army, we will need to make accommodations and keep the peace."
One of Karzai's most high-profile political gestures to the ethnic Pashtuns was the double appointment last month of Qadir, 48, as a vice president and minister of public works. A widely known two-time governor of Nangarhar province, Qadir was respected by the Tajiks for his exploits as a militia commander in the anti-Soviet resistence.
But in another sense, officials said, Qadir was a high-risk choice for a prominent government role. His controversial past also included violent disputes with relatives, unsavory associations with drug smugglers, armed rivalries with other regional militias and a notorious incident in 1996 that involved tit-for-tat executions of commanders within his political faction.
Indeed, officials and other knowledgeable Afghans said, Qadir had so many personal, political and business enemies that virtually anyone could have been behind his killing. The government's best guess so far is that the slaying was the work of local political rivals, working with drug dealers angry at Qadir's support for a program to eradicate opium poppies.
Ultimately, the truth about Qadir's killing may not matter. To disgruntled Pashtuns, the unsolved slaying has only added to a growing list of grievances that are beginning to rob Karzai of crucial support from his own ethnic group, and American military forces here of an important Afghan ally.
Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks in Washington contributed to this report.
Afghan female students sidelined by male gripes about university
Australian Broadcasting Corporation 07/13/2002
Afghan women medical students, overjoyed at being able to resume studies after a five-year ban under the Taliban, have found themselves sidelined from school once again - this time by a dispute over exams.
Hundreds of male medical students have boycotted exams at the once prestigious Kabul University over a catalogue of ills, ranging from a lack of chairs, blackboards, textbooks, practical training or specialist teachers to the exam format itself.
Although the women students chose not to join the protest, the authorities decided not to lay on separate facilities for them.
"We women are not taking part in the protest. But I also feel anxious about my exams because the teachers are strict about them," one student said.
"They ask very difficult questions. We are just waiting to see what happens."
University authorities were not available to comment.
Once the jewel in the crown of Afghanistan's education system, Kabul University is now almost totally wrecked, a legacy of its having been on the frontline of almost every battle for Kabul over the last 20 years.
Windows have been blown out, doors and desks salvaged for firewood and even electric cables scavenged for scrap.
Debate Over US Policy in Afghanistan
VOA 07/13/2002 By Ed Warner
Some critics of U.S. policy in Afghanistan say the warlords there have won, and democracy has lost. But at a recent Washington conference, that view was challenged by the U.S. envoy to Kabul who says progress toward democracy is slow and steady, and he remains cautiously optimistic.
Afghans are disappointed with their new government and the U.S. role in sponsoring it, said Hazrat-Omar Zakhilwal at a conference held by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington.
Deputy director of the Institute for Afghan Studies, Mr. Zakhilwal said the warlords emerged victorious from the recent loya jirga, or grand council, because the United States continues to support them in the hunt for al-Qaida remnants. "This has resulted in the silencing of democratic forces that could have emerged and publicly challenge the right and competence of warlords to rule. This also explains the inability of the central government to extend its rule beyond the parameters of the Kabul city," he said.
The present government is too narrowly based, said Marin Strmecki, vice president of the Smith Richardson Foundation, who has closely followed events in Afghanistan since the 1980's. He noted that the largely Tajik Northern Alliance has two-thirds of the cabinet posts, while Pashtuns are confined to a mere handful. "There is a powder keg sitting out there, and there is a fuse. Someone at some point is going to pick it up and strike a match and stoke the kind of ethnic resentment that could lead to serious conflict and particularly it could lead to a serious Pashtun backlash."
Mr. Strmecki said a number of credible sources told him that U.S. officials, while undermining the Pashtun-backed king, showed less nerve in confronting the Northern Alliance and its Defense Minister, General Mohammed Fahim. "When the U.S. envoy met with Fahim and provided an outline of what a rebalanced cabinet ought to look like, Fahim looked it over," he said. "He rejected it, and he made threats of using military force and returning to civil war if the United State sought to try to propagate that kind of a new government."
Mr. Strmecki said the U.S. envoy promptly backed down, encouraging General Fahim to act as if he, not President Karzai, were in charge of Afghanistan. As vice president, General Fahim is first in line to succeed Mr. Karzai.
This government does not represent Afghanistan, said Mr. Strmecki, and is not a worthy partner for the United States.
Let's face reality, replied Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance was key to defeating the Taleban and earned a major role in the succeeding government. Furthermore, he insisted the United States cannot dictate to the Afghans: "Afghanistan is first and foremost an Afghan responsibility. We are not running Afghanistan. We do not give much of a damn frankly about X or Y being in this or that position as long as it can work for Afghanistan," he said.
Mr. Khalilizad denied being rebuffed by any group. It was not his job to interfere. He said the loya jirga was a preparatory exercise in democracy. It brought together people from around the country to begin to reconcile their differences. "The way it was conducted was by no means a perfect process, but was it better than any other way the Afghans have selected their leaders in the last 20 to 30 years? By far, from my point of view," he said. "The usual way was coups, killings. Many of you in this room are familiar with the tragedy of Afghanistan."
Mr. Khalilzad said the loya jirga was a first step in a process that will culminate in elections, and Afghans and the international community can take pride in what has been accomplished so far.
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