U.N. experts: more international support needed to ensure human rights, punish abusers in Afghanistan
Tue Feb 18,10:10 AM ET By NAOMI KOPPEL, Associated Press Writer
GENEVA - Afghanistan's fledgling government needs international support if it is to prevent a slide back into conflict and human rights violations, two United Nations experts said in studies released Tuesday.
"Afghanistan's institutions and structures are in their infancy. They will remain fragile unless more resources are put at their disposal," said Asma Jahangir, the U.N. expert on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in a 26-page report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
The Pakistani lawyer repeated a demand — first made during her visit to Afghanistan in October — for an international commission of inquiry to look into major human rights violations during 23 years of war in the country.
She said she had "reasonable cause to believe that grave human rights violations, and possibly extensive crimes against humanity, have been perpetuated in the past." She added that Afghanistan is not yet able to carry out both the task of assessing abuses in the past and that of ensuring these do not happen again.
Jahangir said the Afghan transitional government, led by President Hamid Karzai, is having to step carefully as it tries to ensure justice, demobilization and disarmament. A wrong step could lead to revolt from within its ranks or from local or regional commanders, she said.
"At the same time, a deadly silence on the question of impunity will open up all opportunities for serious human rights violators to entrench themselves in to the system," she said.
"This could, by itself, lead to a reversal to the peace process, a relapse into renewed violence and fresh refugee outflows."
Jahangir also called for a moratorium on executions and the imposition of the death penalty until Afghanistan can "guarantee compliance with U.N. safeguards and restrictions."
In a separate report to the commission — which meets in Geneva March 17-April 25 — the U.N. expert on the general human rights situation in Afghanistan demanded an expansion of the international peacekeeping force.
"The expansion of the International Security Assistance Force is essential while the national Afghan army and police forces are being built up," said Kamal Hossain, from Bangladesh.
Around 4,000 international peacekeepers patrol the streets of the capital, Kabul, but governments have been reluctant to commit troops to other parts of Afghanistan. Much of the country is under the control of local warlords and the Karzai government has little influence.
Hossain, who visited Afghanistan three times during 2002, said all sectors of the population must be involved in the reconstruction of the country. A national radio network that would reach every corner of Afghanistan would ensure that "no part of the country would feel isolated during the transition process," he said.
He added that "significantly more resources ... should be committed" to ensure that necessary aid is available and reconstruction projects can be carried out according to the timetable set out in a meeting in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001.
Death toll over 30 in rain-hit South Asia
By Tahir Ikram
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Nearly 35 people have been killed in South Asia in heavy winter rains and snow which have lashed Pakistan, India and Afghanistan this week, officials say.
About 170 people have been injured.
Twenty-seven have died in Pakistan alone, which has been hit by torrential rain in the southern part of the country.
"Never before in more than 110 years was so much rain recorded in such a short time in Hyderabad," Arif Mahmood, chief meteorologist in the nearby southern port city of Karachi, told Reuters.
Three children were drowned on Monday when they were swept away by flood waters near the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar.
In western India, areas close to the border with Pakistan were lashed by rains on Tuesday and at least two people were killed and dozens of houses damaged, officials said.
The victims include four people people killed by lightning in Pakistan.
Heavy snowfall caused avalanches that closed Afghanistan's Salang tunnel, the key link between Kabul and the north of the country.
There were no casualties there, but further north, three people died on Monday when their car went off the road in Badakshan province.
"Heavy snowfall over the past 10 days caused the accident," the government-run Anis Daily reported.
An India Meteorological Department official said fishermen had been warned against going to sea and fishing harbours and minor ports had been alerted about the storm.
"The rains and strong winds might continue for the next 24 hours. But it's not very serious," she said.
The Edhi ambulance service said it had rescued about 40 labourers caught in a flash flood some 65 km (40 miles) north of Karachi on Tuesday. "We are also using helicopters to scout the area for people trapped in flooded areas," an ambulance official said.
The rains brought relief to many parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan which were reeling after being hit for more than four years by the worst drought in memory.
Chaudhry Qamar-uz-Zaman, director-general of Pakistan's MET office, told Reuters the rains had soaked drought-hit areas in Pakistan, including Thar desert in Sindh province and Cholistan in Punjab province.
"It will benefit these areas a lot, it will also help the water resources of the country," he said.
Pakistan's agriculture-based economy relies heavily on canal irrigation, rain and underground water, with cotton and textiles alone accounting for one-quarter of gross domestic product.
German troops take over authority of Kabul airport
Monday, February 17, 2003 5:42 AM EST
KABUL, Feb 17, 2003 (Xinhua via COMTEX) German troops on Monday took over the command of Kabul International Airport here on Monday, a week after the German-Dutch corps assumed the leadership of the international security force in Afghanistan.
The authority of the airport, which has been under control by a Turkish Air Force contingent for last eight months, was handed over to a German contingent amid a ceremony at the airfield on a chilly snowing morning.
The handover ceremony was held just one week after German Lieutenant General Norbert Van Heyst took over the mandate of the multi-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) last week from his Turkish predecessor last week.
The 180-strong German contingent will lead an airport security and maintenance team, which composed of nearly 1,300 military personnel from eight ISAF contributing nations, to secure and guard the operation of the airport during its mission for the next six months.
German Colonel Burkhard Pototzky, the new commander of the airport IASF authority, said on Monday that his team would try to improve the airport's operation to meet international standards by enhancing its technical capacity and providing training for Afghan personnel.
The airport, which was badly damaged during the US air attacks against Kabul in October 2001, still lacks of advanced navigation systems allowing flight operations in bad weather and at night.
Pototzky stressed that the new authority will continue to pay great attention to landmine clearance efforts in the airport and nearby areas.
An estimate of 10,000 to 20,000 landmines were existing under the ground of defense area around the airport, a legacy of two decades of war in the country, he said, adding that total clearance of these old landmines would take another one or two years.
An Afghan man died last week in hospital after being wounded in a landmine explosion accident about 50 meters from the airport runway.
U.S. Troops Fired Upon in E. Afghanistan
Tue Feb 18, 2:29 AM ET AP
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - U.S. special forces troops came under fire in eastern Afghanistan but were not hurt, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
The incident occurred Monday afternoon near Asadabad, 100 miles northeast of the capital Kabul, said Col. Roger King, a military spokesman at Bagram Air Base.
"The fire was ineffective and the U.S. forces broke contact," King said. It was not clear how many enemy fighters were involved in the shooting.
He said the troops kept driving and did not shoot back because they didn't know where the fire came from.
"They had nothing to shoot at. They had nothing to engage," King said. "You have two choices, you could stop and fight or you could get out of the area. Easiest thing to do is get out of the area."
The Kunar province, where Asadabad is located, is believed to be a stronghold of renegade rebel fighter Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is being targeted by U.S. Special Forces along with Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives.
UNHCR resumes Afghan repatriation next month
Islamabad, Feb 18, IRNA The United Nations refugee agency says it will resume repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan next month.
On January 30, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) suspended its assisted return plan from Pakistan in order to prepare for the 2003 assisted repatriation, which will be resumed in March, according to a UNHCR statement.
As in 2002, UNHCR will continue to help those refugees, families and individuals, who wish to return home in 2003, according to the statement.
In 2002, UNHCR facilitated the voluntary return of nearly 2 million Afghan refugees to their homeland.
There will be some changes to the repatriation procedures for those returning from Pakistan. Refugees opting for UNHCR-assisted return should inform UNHCR field staff or their Refugee Village Administrator. A UNHCR mobile repatriation team will arrange to visit the camp.
In 2003, mobile teams will become the main tools of the voluntary repatriation operation. Mobile teams will initially focus on camps.
UNHCR field staff, visiting refugee villages and camps regularly, would be the first point of contact for refugee groups wishing to return home this year.
Refugee representatives will provide the Refugee Village Administrator (RVA) and the UNHCR Field Assistant with a list of families wishing to repatriate, indicating the name of each head of household, the number of his/her dependants, and the intended final destination. Once lists are received, UNHCR Field Assistants will
co-ordinate the next steps with the respective mobile team and Repatriation Unit that will deploy a mobile team to the refugee village or camp to conduct verification and registration.
Mobile teams will establish Registration Points in the camps.
All refugees seeking UNHCR assistance to return to Afghanistan will be required to go through an iris machine, a computer-based technology that examines the eye and can detect if someone has been tested before. Any one who is found to have received assistance before will be refused help.
The Iris Scan Centres will be located close to Afghan borders.
A new Voluntary Repatriation Form (VRF) will be introduced in order to prevent possible mistakes and to collect additional information that could be used for reintegration purposes in Afghanistan.
UNHCR will continue to provide accurate and timely information to Afghan refugees in the countries of asylum so that they could make an informed decision about their return home. The emphasis will be on Afghan refugees living in camps (in Pakistan), and urban clusters.
These Afghans see rosier future with U.S. help
Rob Morse Friday, February 14, 2003 San Francisco Chronicle
"Let's finish this one first before we start another one," said Mountain View city councilwoman Rosemary Stasek. She wasn't talking about a highway interchange.
She was talking about rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan.
Stasek visited Afghanistan in May with Fonzana Nabi, who left that country when she was 5 and lives in Castro Valley. Nabi is a doctoral candidate in international social welfare at UC Berkeley.
The two women said they had such an amazing experience they didn't want to leave.
"I cannot go back until I finish my degree," Nabi said. "When I do, I have relatives I can stay with who have reclaimed their land."
These women, and those relatives of Nabi, are living proof that U.S. military intervention worked in Afghanistan so far, anyway.
"If you ask Afghans what the role of America is, they'll say liberator," Hekmat Karzai, the first secretary of the Embassy of Afghanistan, told students at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy on Wednesday.
The dean of the school, Michael Nacht, had told Karzai at lunch that he had been at a Bay Area anti-war meeting when someone claimed Afghanistan is in worse condition now than under the Taliban and 200 Americans stood and applauded.
Nacht said there are some who think America is the source of all evil in the world. "You have to get your message out," he told Karzai.
That's one reason Karzai was touring California. He also accepted a $250, 000 check from Roots of Peace, a group headed by Heidi Kuln of San Rafael, for help in clearing the millions of land mines left by the Soviets after their intervention in Afghanistan.
Karzai spoke of what his country has accomplished since the Taliban were defeated a little over a year ago. He said Afghanistan has created a representative assembly, one with female members, in a country where women had been made invisible.
"Democracy, as we all know, is . . . a process," said Karzai, a young, U.S.- educated cousin of Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.
The most telling part of the process, according to Karzai, is that 2.8 million Afghan refugees are returning home and 3 million boys and girls who went without education are going to school.
The Berkeley students and faculty countered Karzai's boosterism with some tough questions.
"When I was in Afghanistan, women were going to school in three shifts, morning, afternoon and night," Nabi said. "What measures have you taken to make that better?"
Karzai replied that they're doing the best they can, considering that the country's infrastructure imploded under 20 years of war and oppression.
A student said he thought the Afghan government might fall, given the power of tribal warlords. "Why would they give up that power?" he asked.
Ever the optimist, Karzai said, "Once in a life you have an opportunity to do something larger than yourself."
Then, ever the diplomat, he said, "You call them warlords. We call them regional leaders."
Even he had to smile.
After two decades of war and oppression, Afghanistan needs help but not anything that smells of colonialism, Karzai said. "We need to be occupied now by a new and benevolent army of doctors, teachers, civil engineers and even a few lawyers. Notice I say lawyers, because Afghanistan needs help with de- mining."
Boom. An Afghan lawyer joke that's a sign things are looking up.
The best signs came from the Afghan students in the room, who spoke of returning to Afghanistan to make their mark on this tabula rasa, as Nabi put it.
How basic are the problems in Afghanistan? Stasek had an insight when she met President Karzai during her visit.
"I've been the mayor of Mountain View, and his problems are a mayor's problems," Stasek said. "He's kind of like the mayor of Afghanistan. People come to him with problems like 'build a road.' "
Build a country. That isn't what George W. Bush wanted to do when he was elected president, but maybe soon he'll have to help rebuild two countries.
Whatever happens in Iraq, we can't forget Afghanistan. That's what we did the last time.
A new, 4,000-year-old country
BY DEBBY MORSE Examiner columnist
THE DISARMINGLY handsome, articulate First Secretary of the Embassy of Afghanistan was in the Bay Area this week, raising awareness, funds and recruits namely, talented expatriates who might return to their homeland, even if only temporarily, to help rebuild the country.
Hekmat Karzai, the young cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, lunched with a small group at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, bringing us up to date on Afghanistan's reconstruction. He spoke later in the afternoon at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy to a group of mostly students, many of them Afghan Americans, about the need to lend a hand in the effort.
Right, you say. Afghanistan. That is SO yesterday's news. Today we've got our hands full with Iraq and North Korea and that darned Code Orange.
OK. You want newsworthiness? If war against Saddam Hussein becomes a reality, the task of rebuilding Iraq will inevitably be compared with, maybe even modeled on, what is going on now in Afghanistan as that country pieces itself together after 20 years of Soviet occupation and repression under the Taliban.
Michael Nacht, dean of public policy at Berkeley, calls Afghanistan "an incredible test case" for the United States. "If this fails, there are enormous repercussions," he said.
Karzai, a native of Kandahar, put "newsworthiness" into a different perspective. On a recent visit to Afghanistan, he was accosted by an aggressive young boy trying to sell him a newspaper. "I told him I had already read today's paper and that I didn't need it," the American-educated Karzai said.
The kid persisted. Boys are the sole breadwinners for many families in his country, which has lost 200,000 people to land mines alone, and rather than begging outright, they choose to be entrepreneurial whenever possible.
"I looked closer at the paper," Karzai continued, "and saw that it was five days old. 'You can't sell this, it's old news,' I said to the boy."
The boy fixed Karzai with a penetrating stare, wise beyond his years.
"You could learn from the past," he said.
Afghanistan is trying to recapture some of its past as a 4,000-year-old civilization rich in culture and creativity, even as it forges a new democratic future of equality and opportunity. Decades of subjugation of its people and outright destruction of its historical treasures and fertile lands have damaged, but not devastated, the native Afghan pride.
The once-rich Shomali Plain Karzai likened it to the Napa Valley, with its 120 varieties of grapes was paved with land mines by the Soviets and torched by the Taliban. The San Rafael-based Roots of Peace, an organization devoted to de-mining farmlands around the world, presented Karzai with $250,000 on Wednesday to help restore the Shomali Plain to harvestable vineyards.
"With land mines in the ground, you can't have economic stability," said Heidi Kuhn, founder of Roots of Peace.
To date, Afghanistan has received only about $80 million of the $4.5 billion it was pledged for reconstruction, and the contributions of humanitarians are much needed. Karzai described the cumulative efforts of individuals such as Kuhn with an Afghan metaphor: "Drop, drop, drop ... ocean!"
Change in Afghanistan will come slowly. Warlords and an archaic tribal mentality still exist. Children have returned to schools, but many schools are in ruins. There is no national army, and the country's new constitution is still being written.
"Democracy is somewhat cumbersome to implement, but it works," said the hopeful Karzai.
One member of the audience at Goldman noted that, despite his best efforts, President Karzai won't be around forever. "This is why I'm here," Hekmat Karzai responded. "Come back to Afghanistan."
Inevitably, Karzai was asked about the potential for liberation of the Iraqi people if the United States invades.
"I am a diplomat," he replied. "A diplomat would not tell you to go to war. As for liberation," he added, "they do deserve the right of self determination."
And, as the Afghans do, Iraqis will need a workable plan for reconstruction. They will also need an optimistic, charismatic spokesperson like Karzai to beat the bushes for assistance, to keep them in the spotlight until the task is finished.
"We're not yesterday's news," Karzai said. "What has happened in Afghanistan will have a global effect."
Afghans repair broken heritage
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 17:49 GMT BBC News
The museum was gutted by fire in the civil war
Afghanistan has begun the long, slow process of restoring its cultural heritage.
In the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday, two small rooms in the city's museum were reopened, ready to begin repairing the collection of thousands of statues that were smashed two years ago.
We have lack of expertise because we have had 23 years of conflict, during which time technology has developed a lot and we have stayed far behind
Omerakhan Massoudi Museum general director
It is estimated that as many as 2,000 statues were destroyed by the former Taleban regime inside the Kabul museum in the spring of 2001.
This came after the building was wrecked and looted during the country's civil war in the 1990s.
The BBC's Kylie Morris in Kabul says the loss of the museum's treasures is immense, as Afghanistan is where East meets West, and its artefacts testify to the multiple traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
The damage might have been greater, but for museum workers who hid priceless treasures from the Taleban.
The British Government, with the advice of the British Museum, has paid for the renovation of the two rooms within the museum, where artefacts can be put back together.
British soldiers attached to the international assistance force in the capital helped to carry out the work.
The rest of the museum remains in ruins, but its repair is a matter of national pride.
Omerakhan Massoudi, the museum's general director, said that staff training was another priority:
"We have lack of expertise because we have had 23 years of conflict, during which time technology has developed a lot and we have stayed far behind."
As well as the British, the Japanese have promised photographic equipment, the Greeks will rebuild one wing, the Asian Foundation will develop an inventory, and the Americans have pledged more money for a restoration department.
The United Nations cultural organisation, Unesco, will work on the windows and water supply.
Civil society in Afghanistan: A framework for long-term impact
Source: Mercy Corps 18 Feb 2003
It is Mercy Corps' long-standing mission to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities. To this end, beginning in the late 1980s Mercy Corps began to systematically integrate its programming with activities to strengthen civil society and thus empower people to participate in the economic, political and social activities and decisions that affect their lives.
Drawing on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mercy Corps identified the principles of Accountability, Participation, and Peaceful Change as integral components to a functioning Civil Society. Mercy Corps defines these key principles as follows:
Accountability: the ability of citizens to hold those with decision-making power responsible for the decisions they make. In a society that values accountability, people have access to their leaders and confidence in the "rule of law."
Participation: the ability of people to engage in the process and decisions that affect their lives. Participation requires concerted outreach to include traditionally marginalized groups such as women and minorities.
Peaceful Change: the process and manner in which communities manage, react to and influence change. A functioning civil society has mechanisms for solving conflict without resorting to violence.
Mercy Corps South Asia incorporates the Civil Society Framework and these guiding principles into its diverse portfolio of programs. Rather than establishing separate civil society initiatives, Mercy Corps emphasizes that there is one country program with multiple activities, all focused on achieving a common vision of meeting the needs of conflict affected people and strengthening the community's ability to solve its own problems in a peaceful, accountable and participatory way.
The Bolan Farming Association in Helmand, Afghanistan is one example of this approach. Based on its Civil Society Framework, Mercy Corps is focused on building cooperation between community groups and businesses in Helmand, Afghanistan. With funding from the British Government's Department for International Development (DFID), a group of farmers, who used to be formed into a co-operative prior to the Soviet occupation, have again come together to produce vegetables for sale during the off-season. By covering their vegetables with plastic sheeting they are able to grow vegetables in the winter and beat the market competition in vegetables from Pakistan before they are able to export to Afghanistan. The co-operative also takes advantage of collective purchasing power to get better prices for fertilizer and other items, shares farming equipment such as a tractor, and deposits profits from their harvest into a common bank account where it earns interest.
Mercy Corps has served as a facilitator, bringing farmers and communities together to identify problems, prioritize needs, and develop innovative solutions. Preliminary results shows that this initiative has led to feelings of empowerment, heightened citizen leadership and involvement in resolving issues, and increased economic opportunities for the communities involved.
Mercy Corps' civil society activities are rooted in collaboration. By working in partnership with local associations, government authorities, NGOs and private businesses the organization can better enable them to identify and work towards solutions to their most pressing problems. Given the crosscutting approach Mercy Corps South Asia has taken to integrating civil society principles, it is difficult to separate out civil society activities in its programs. However, the organization is committed to incorporating civil society activities into all aspects of relief and development programs in South Asia and around the world.
In Afghanistan, 'friendly ire' A confrontation last week reveals tensions between Western peacekeepers and antiterror troops
Tuesday, February 18, 2003 4:15 PM EST By Scott Baldauf
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, Feb 19, 2003 (The Christian Science Monitor via COMTEX) It was 6:45 p.m. and Dutch peacekeepers were on high alert. Someone had just launched a rocket at their compound, and the peacekeepers were still looking for the culprit.
So when a Toyota Landcruiser drove up - full of heavily armed men, wearing civilian clothes and bushy beards - the Dutch surrounded the vehicle, weapons drawn, and asked the strangers to identify themselves.
As it turned out, the occupants were American soldiers, who said that they had lost their place on the map and then hastily withdrew. The Dutch lowered their weapons - but their irritation remains.
The incident last week shows how close US forces and their allies in Afghanistan come to fighting one another, instead of their enemies. It also points to a lack of coordination between two forces with very different mandates - one keeping the peace, the other catching terrorists.
American soldiers are specifically forbidden, by the Bonn international agreement of December 2001, from running military operations inside the city limits of Kabul. Under Bonn, Kabul is presumed to be under the control of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).
"There is a real danger of a shootout between ISAF and US forces because of a lack of coordination," says one Kabul-based European diplomat, speaking privately.
A peacekeeper, also speaking on condition of anonymity, agrees. "In the worst case scenario, you could have blue-on-blue fighting," he says, using military jargon to indicate fighting between two friendly forces. "The Americans never call us to let us know when they are coming to town for an operation," the peacekeeper says, adding, "Our mandates are very different. We are here to maintain security in Kabul. Their mandate is to kill or capture Al Qaeda. These don't always work well together."
It is in this tense environment that the new German and Dutch military commanders have taken over management of ISAF this month. Kabul is still heavily militarized, with the streets full of thousands of former Afghan soldiers who should have been disarmed months ago by ISAF. Kabul is also an increasing target of terrorist attacks, and intelligence reports warn of a possible spree of suicide bombings and assassinations by Islamists trained by Al Qaeda and its allies.
Bridging the gap between the peacekeepers and the US troops could end up being the Germans' most crucial contribution to stability in Afghanistan. "There are lot of US guys in my area of responsibility, and they can be there, and that has to be coordinated very closely from my point of view," says Gen. Norbert Van Heyst, German commander of ISAF.
Relations between US forces and ISAF started out fairly strong, in part because US forces kept a low profile in Kabul. Through March 2002, most US troops were deployed in high-profile operations in eastern and southern Afghanistan, routing out Taliban and Al Qaeda holdouts along the Afghan- Pakistani border.
But as the conflict became less intense, and as troubles began to brew in Kabul itself with a series of political assassinations of top Afghan ministers, the presence of US troops became more high-profile. With two different forces vying for position, tensions reached a peak in the early fall. US commanders finally banned their troops from parts of Kabul, including the touristy carpet and antiques markets on Kabul's famed Chicken Street.
"We used to see US soldiers walking up and down Chicken Street like they were on patrol, fingers on the trigger, and these guys are not even supposed to be in Kabul," says one former New Zealand peacekeeper, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "They're a bunch of cowboys. I think they are over-trained for the job they've been given, and that training makes them arrogant."
"The problem is that this makes our job more difficult," the peacekeeper continues. "ISAF peacekeepers try to get to know people and win their trust, and then maybe we can start to get some cooperation and information. But when an Afghan sees US forces riding around with guns drawn, that reflects on all of us, and the trust is gone."
For their part, US military commanders give high marks to their relationship with ISAF and with the local Afghan community. Col. Benny Nelson, a US Army officer who serves as the chief liaison between US forces and ISAF, says that every movement of US troops in Kabul is communicated with ISAF.
"US forces and ISAF have an outstanding relationship," says Colonel Nelson. "Even if ISAF asks for assistance from American forces to come on down and provide reconnaissance, it's totally coordinated with ISAF."
Yet the same policies of coordination may or may not apply to the special operations units of the Central Intelligence Agency, Nelson acknowledges. "That's a totally separate agency and a separate command," he says.
The CIA, which has a policy of not talking to reporters about ongoing operations, declined to comment by phone. "If you were to come to Washington, I would be happy to talk with you about policies," said Mark Mansfield, a CIA spokesman in Langley, Va., "but all I can say now is no comment."
A British peacekeeper says that one problem is a divergence in experience. "Our forces have had 30 years of experience in peacekeeping missions, so we know what to expect and what level of aggressiveness is appropriate," he says, "whereas America is new to this sort of thing, so they are on a higher level of alert."
One French peacekeeper says that the tensions between US forces and ISAF could be worsened by the bickering between the US and Germany and France over a war in Iraq. "It's a strange situation; we are on opposites sides on Iraq, but our lives depend on each other here in Kabul," he says. Perhaps the Iraq debate will be resolved soon, he offers, but for now, his men worry that their next fight could be with American forces, rather than Al Qaeda. "Coordination?" he smiles bitterly. "There's no coordination."
Pakistan: WFP warns of aid suspension for Afghan refugees
ISLAMABAD, 18 February (IRIN) - The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that it might be forced to suspend food aid for Afghan refugees in Pakistan as early as next month if donors do not meet a US $24 million appeal for aid for about 300,000 of them currently in the country.
"There might be a pipeline break fairly soon in March. So far we have received pledges in trickles and drops," Reza Sultan, a spokesman for WFP, told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday. "We really need an acceleration in the process from the donor community in order to meet the food needs of these poor refugees."
Last month, the agency asked donors to contribute $24 million towards a programme to supply about 65,000 mt of food to 288,000 Afghan refugees in 16 camps throughout 2003 in the southwestern province of Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province, both bordering Afghanistan.
According to Sultan, the contributions thus far received or pledged include $1.5 million from Swedish donors, $753,000 from Swiss contributors and $171,000 from Japan. Most of this money would be spent on of wheat purchases.
He added that many people in the remote camps were almost completely reliant on food aid. "If there is a major pipeline break, then security could also be compromised at these camps, and there could be a very bad situation for these people," he warned.
The UN food agency has been providing for Afghan refugees under various caseloads and emergency operations since 1996. "We really need the donor community to come forward," Sultan maintained.
Afghan opium farmers singing in the rain after four-year dry spell
by Ahmad Maqsood Ghayal
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Feb 18 (AFP) - ABarefoot and laughing with glee, Afghan farmer Mohammad Jan squelches through a muddy field of sprouting opium poppies, talking excitedly of his coming harvest.
"This field will be a beautiful sight, not even the Americans will want to destroy it when they see it," he said, rubbing his hands at the thought of the 14,000 US dollars he expects to reap from the potentially deadly crop.
Jan, whose land lies 22 kilometres (14 miles) west of the main southern Afghan city of Kandahar, is one of many farmers in the region to benefit from the first major downpours in the drought-hit region for more than four years.
Heavy rains have been falling since late last week, after weeks of sporadic drizzle.
Though the rains will bring welcome relief, they have arrived too late to prevent landowners from turning to the lucrative poppies, which are flourishing across Afghanistan in what is expected to be a bumper harvest.
"Poppies need little water and offer greater returns than wheat. I have a family of 15 to feed and without seeds, water and help from the government, I have no choice but to grow them," the 42-year-old added.
Hundreds of farmers have been emboldened into flouting new anti-poppy laws by the December 2001 collapse of the hardline former Taliban regime, which imposed strict punishment for cultivating the plants.
"This year 50 percent of the farmers in my village are growing poppies, so that gives me the courage to plant them.
"I cannot fight against the government because it is impossible, but if they try to destroy my crops, at least they might pay me some compensation."
According to UN figures, Afghanistan now produces three-quarters of the world's opium, much of which finds its way on to the streets of Europe and the United States as lethally addictive heroin.
An Afghan government programme to make one-off payments to farmers for the destruction of their poppy crop has so far failed to significantly dent harvests, which many say are sponsored by provincial officials.
"Why should I stop growing poppies when the poppy field next to mine belongs to a senior member of the government?" said Ahmad Shah, tending crops outside the village of Nagahan, 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Kandahar.
"Before, I used to grow pomegranates, but because of the drought I had to stop. Poppies were the only way to support my family."
Government officials in Kandahar, which alongside the neighbouring provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan and eastern Nangarhar is one of the country's main drug-producing areas, welcomed the new rainfall but said farmers needed to be growing wheat, not opium.
"Because of all the rain we have been having, hopefully we will not have any drought, our streams will be full, electricity dams will work and farmers can grow wheat," said Kandahar irrigation and water director Shir Mohammad.
"But there is still a problem with the poppies, and we need to find some way to stop it."
Kandahar agriculture director Halih Mohammad called for international aid to cut opium production.
"We are already seeing more and more farmers turning to wheat, but many are still growing poppies. This is a worry for the government and we need more international help to stop it," he said.
Even as government workers were attempting to destroy fields in many parts of the province, nature this week lent the authorities an unexpected helping hand. A hailstorm, rare for the temperate southern regions, devastated many opium fields.
Disgruntled farmer Mia Jan said 30 percent of his poppy crop had been destroyed by hail falling on the village of Baba Saab, 16 kilometres (10 miles) north of Kandahar.
Hundreds of workers struggle to
clear avalanches at Afghanistan's Salang tunnel
Source: Channel NewsAsia February 19, 2003
In Afghanistan hundreds of workers were struggling to clear avalanches that have closed off the Salang tunnel.
This is a key link between the capital Kabul and the north of the country.
It's located high in the Hindu Kush mountains.
The heavy snowfall this season, follows four successive years of drought.
The official Bakhter news agency said snow had hit the southeastern provinces of Paktia and Logar in addition to northern Badakhshan and Takhar, while the heaviest showers in recent years also drenched Kabul.
According to the US military, snow halted an offensive in central Helmand province where Special Forces are hunting Taliban fighters in a remote mountain valley.
Farmers in southern Kandahar were also reacting with delight at recent precipitation, although authorities fear the water will only help grow a bumper crop of illegal opium poppies, the raw ingredient for heroin.
Afghanistan has been gripped by four years of sustained drought, exacerbated by conflict, which has reduced much of the country's fertile farmland to desert.
Many impoverished families have been forced from rural areas into camps for displaced people far from their homes.
So while the weather may have left commuters out in the cold, farmers were grateful for the change!
And children were taking the opportunity to have some fun, playing with an Osama snowman which showed recent events were never far from anyone's minds.
Saudi Arabia to Try 90 al - Qaida Suspects
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) Saudi Arabia, facing U.S. criticism for laxness on fighting terrorism, said Tuesday it has referred 90 Saudis to trial for alleged al-Qaida links and that 250 Saudi suspects were under investigation.
The announcement from Interior Minister Prince Nayef, reported in the kingdom's Arabic-language newspaper Okaz, was the first word of Saudi court proceedings connected to post-Sept. 11 terror crackdowns.
Of the suspects being questioned, the prince said ``investigations proved they have links with al-Qaida and other similar networks, but we still need to determine the level of involvement for each one of them,'' according to the paper.
Prince Nayef also said more than 150 Saudi suspects had been released after being cleared of terror connections reportedly including a suspect wanted by the United States.
Saud Abdulaziz Saud al-Rasheed, 21, became a suspect after his photograph was found in material overseas with pictures of some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
The FBI issued a bulletin for his arrest in August, nearly a year after the attacks. Al-Rasheed turned himself in to Saudi authorities days after learning of the bulletin.
His father, Abdulaziz al-Rasheed, told The Associated Press his son was freed Tuesday ``after authorities found that charges leveled against him by the Americans were baseless.''
In Washington, the FBI declined to comment on his reported release.
The father, who works for the Saudi Red Crescent in the capital Riyadh, said he intends to sue U.S. authorities for ``tarnishing the image of my son, my family and my country by portraying my son as a terrorist.''
The father said his son, who runs a sweet shop in Riyadh, traveled to Afghanistan to do humanitarian work and returned to Saudi Arabia several months before Sept. 11.
Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, has defended itself against accusations in the American media, Congress and policy circles that it is not doing enough to crack down on suspected militants.
It took five months after the Sept. 11 attacks for Saudi Arabia to acknowledge that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden was stripped off his Saudi citizenship in 1994.
Taleban fighters live good life as refugees in Britain
The militiamen, who fear reprisals under the new Western-backed Afghan govt, get priority over other asylum-seekers
The Straits Times (Singapore) February 19, 2003
LONDON - Former Taleban members still hate the United States but they are relishing the good life in Britain as asylum-seekers fleeing from persecution in Afghanistan.
At least 14 former members of the fundamentalist movement who have sought political asylum in Britain are being given priority over other Afghans, refugee welfare groups said.
Some young male immigrants are convinced that they would get asylum status easier if they claim to have fought with the Taleban, The Times of London reported.
In Britain, three ex-Taleban have been granted political asylum status and given permission to remain in the country indefinitely, the Home Office has confirmed.
The 14 former Taleban fighters all claimed that they fear persecution, or even death, under the new Western-backed government in Kabul. One of them, Wali Khan Ahmadzai, said he had escaped from Afghanistan with other militiamen in a fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles that he believed was bought by Osama bin Laden.
'I live here but I still think America and Britain are enemies of the Afghan people and Muslim people,' he said at his new home, a first-floor flat in London. 'But I don't want to fight any more. I just want to live in peace and safety and to be a good Muslim.'
Under the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, no asylum-seekers can be returned to a country where they have a well-founded fear of persecution or death.
Compared to other Afghans, Taleban immigrants could claim they are under a 'real threat' of persecution.
'People who were not Talebans cannot make that claim,' said Mr Sayed Jan Karwani, a spokesman for the London-based Society of Afghan Residents, the principal refugee body for Afghans in Britain.
There is even a suspicion that people-smuggling gangs are instructing young Afghans to claim 'Taleban status' when they arrive in Britain.
Mr Ahmadzai, 23, said he paid people-smugglers the equivalent of £9,375 (S$26,000) before embarking on a two-month journey that ended at Ipswich.
The Home Office said all three former Taleban members were 'forcible conscripts' and none of them fought against British or American forces.
Last week, Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes said a review of all immigration applications by Afghans since October 2001 showed that there were three who gave credible accounts of being opposed to the Taleban but having been forcibly conscripted by them.
'All three claimed to have escaped when an opportunity presented itself, and none was engaged in direct combat with British or US ground forces.'
Mr Ahmadzai insisted, however, that he did fight against British and American forces in northern Afghanistan.
In addition to the three given political asylum, at least 11 former fighters are applying for asylum or appealing against refusal.
Expat e-mail: Afghanistan
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 11:09 GMT BBC News
The downturn in the telecoms industry led freelance engineer Peter Fasan to look much further afield for work, as he tells in our series on expat readers of BBC News Online.
Last year just as the work was drying up in Britain, Afghanistan was opening up following the overthrow of the Taleban.
I came out here last May to work for Afghan Wireless, a start-up operation building a mobile phone and internet infrastructure.
There was, and still is, little supporting infrastructure here for such enterprises - let alone comforts such as guaranteed electricity at the flick of a switch - and at first I wondered how the company would ever make a profit.
Nonetheless, we are somehow making steady and measurable progress, in a country which has never before had net access or a mobile phone system.
There are no pubs, no fancy shops, no off-licenses and no restaurants. I don't even see any women, just figures shrouded from head-to-toe in burkas. There are no banks, no post offices, and no phones except the ones we're putting in.
When I arrived, Afghanistan was only just emerging from two decades of conflict.
Kabul is nestled in the beautiful Hindu-Kush mountains, so my flight in was just absolutely breathtaking - not to mention a little scary.
Luckily I flew in with an engineer returning from vacation, who told me I was crazy to give the kids who carried our bags $20; little did I know that $20 is nearly an adult's wage for a month. This became glaringly obvious when I changed $100 and got 4.5 million Afghanis - literally a small sack of dosh.
The airport was in total tatters, with wrecks of planes and military vehicles littering the place. The jostling and hustling around the airport immediately reminded me of Lagos, where I lived during my teens and early 20s. 'I can handle this,' I kept telling myself.
The people are by their very nature warriors, so almost everywhere I saw people toting AK-47s - very few of them in military uniform.
But over the months, the ever-present local militia with their Kalashnikovs have gradually been replaced by traders toting mobile phones, thoroughly engrossed in the serious business of reconstructing the nation's economy.
In fact, I feel safer here in Mazar-e-Sharif - the northern city that was once a Taleban stronghold - than in Manchester or in London, where I was born.
Brave new world
It's going to take years for Afghanistan to get back on its feet. But now I'm over my culture shock and my loneliness, I take great pleasure in seeing all this hard work starting to come to fruition.
Being here is a bit 'Star Trek'. The prime directive is not to alter the culture and lifestyle of the Afghan people, but to foster their development needs without importing the problems that progress so often brings.
I've become so accustomed to life here that when I came home for Christmas, England felt like another world.
For there is no stress here, and everything to live and work for. I'll be sad when my time is up in a few months, as I am truly in love with the way of life, the mountains and the deserts of Afghanistan.
|Back to News Archirves of 2003|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).