Serving you since 1998
September 2003:   2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

September 6, 2003

Canadian FM arrives in Afghanistan to discuss security
Fri Sep 5,11:24 AM ET  
KABUL (AFP) - Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham met Afghan President Hamid Karzai after arriving here for a two-day visit to discuss regional security and to reopen Ottawa's embassy, which has been closed since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah raised the issue of militants allegedly crossing from Pakistan to launch attacks, said Graham, adding that he would discuss the matter during his visit to neighbouring Pakistan.

"Clearly that is an issue in Afghan-Pakistan relations and when I meet with the (Pakistani) foreign minister, the prime minister, if I meet the president I certainly will be raising that and saying ... 'we want to see a stable Afghanistan, we would like to see how we can help Pakistan stabilise Afghanistan'," he told reporters at the opening of the Canadian embassy.

Graham is due to meet Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri during his visit to Islamabad on Saturday.

Afghan officials have blamed a surge in violence in the southeast on Taliban militants they claim are crossing from Pakistan's tribal border areas.

Canada has contributed 1,900 troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that is helping with security in Kabul.

Graham said NATO, which took over command of ISAF last month, was discussing the expansion of civil-military provincial reconstruction teams to help with rebuilding and security in the provinces.

"Everybody's looking at the way in which we can guarantee security beyond Kabul," he said.

"We will be considering whether it's appropriate to be putting forces outside of Kabul," he said, referring to the Canadian troops in the Afghan capital.

Graham, however, ruled out sending any troops to Iraq.

"At the moment we're not contemplating sending troops to Iraq," he said. "We're fully engaged here in Afghanistan, we're fully engaged in the Balkans, in other theatres. Our commitment to Iraq is strongly for the reconstruction efforts."

Ottawa has also made a commitment of 350 million dollars aid to Afghanistan over the next couple of years, he said.

"We believe very strongly that we can make a contribution here to the rebuilding of Afghanistan to make it a peaceful society and a prosperous society."

Graham said that on a previous trip to Afghanistan there had been no Canadian presence.

"Today we have not only a flag, we have our troops, our aid programme and, I learned this morning, some 80,000 Afghan Canadians in Canada who provide a link that will endure into the future and remain an important way in which our two societies will be linked ... in a common vision of prosperity, peace and working together," he said.

Graham and Commerce Minister Sayed Hussain Kazemi also signed a memorandum offering greater access to the Canadian market for a variety of Afghan goods.

The foreign minister also visited Canadian ISAF troops who make up the largest contingent among the 30 nations contributing to the 5,300-strong force.

Ottawa closed its Kabul embassy in 1979 and did not establish diplomatic relations with any of the subsequent regimes until after the toppling of the Taliban by US-led forces in 2001. Ottawa reestablished diplomatic relations with the post-Taliban Afghanistan of President Karzai in January 2002.

Graham opens first Canadian embassy in Kabul
Fri, 05 Sep 2003 19:55:54 CBS Canada
KABUL - Canada's new embassy in Kabul opened on Friday, with Foreign Minister Bill Graham in attendance.

The new Canadian embassy in Kabul
Graham's two-day trip to Afghanistan includes a visit with the Canadian troops who are making up the bulk of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Earlier, he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and foreign minister Abdullah Gul.

Karzai thanked Graham for Canada's contribution and repeated an earlier request to extend the forces' security role beyond the capital.

The government Karzai leads is struggling to control feuding warlords and a resurgent Taliban.

Graham says the Canadian role could expand to include reconstruction efforts in the Afghan provinces, but the military commitment won't be extended beyond a year.

He also ruled out Canadian troops going to Iraq on any peacekeeping mission.

After sleeping at the Canadian military camp on Friday night, Graham goes on Saturday to Pakistan, where he intends to meet with President Pervez Musharraf and other top officials.

Canada unlikely to commit troops to Iraq, may expand Afghanistan role: Graham
KABUL (CP) - It's unlikely Canada would contribute troops to any peacekeeping operation in Iraq but the Canadian role in Afghanistan might be expanded, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said Friday.

Before heading on to Pakistan on Saturday, Graham was spending the night at the military camp in the Afghan capital where most of Canada's 1,950 peace-support troops are living.

Earlier, Graham met with Afghanistan's interim President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, then officially opened the Canadian Embassy in Kabul and signed an agreement that will lower duties on textiles, such as Afghan rugs.

Graham, who meets U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell in Washington next week, did not say whether Canada has taken a position on a U.S. proposal to get more countries to contribute troops to maintain order in postwar Iraq under a new United Nations effort.

"At this time, there is no suggestion that Canada would participate in Iraq," Graham said. "We're committed to reconstruction." He said Canada has already contributed $350 million to reconstruction in Iraq.

But Graham said that in addition to providing $250 million in aid to Afghanistan over two years, Canada is considering a possible role in provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs - engineering, civil affairs and other aid to cities outside Kabul.

The Kabul government has been pressing the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, to expand its role beyond the capital, saying it is necessary for the country's security and stability.

Karzai brought it up during the half-hour meeting with Graham, during which the president expressed Afghanistan's "deep gratitude" for Canada's existing commitment. And Abdullah repeated the plea during a brief news conference afterward.

"We understand the constraints," the Afghan foreign minister said. "But now NATO has the lead in ISAF. I think there might be time later on to discuss the expansion of ISAF."

"But I think meanwhile we should focus on a few other issues which can help security in Afghanistan. One is, of course, deployment of PRTs, which has been a very successful experience so far."

Provincial reconstruction teams are looked upon as a step closer to a larger role for the ISAF force, which generally operates independently of the U.S.-led war on terrorism that is still raging mainly to the east and south.

Germany has already expressed interest in the American-led reconstruction initiative, but has yet to make firm commitments.

"The time for PRTs may come," said Graham. "It's a question of capacity - what do we have, where would we go?"

"We'll be talking to our allies at NATO to see how we can assure better security across Afghanistan."

Graham said projects such as PRTs can better assure stability leading up to countrywide elections planned for next spring. He said it's not a matter of bringing in more troops, but how those already deployed can be better employed.

Soldiers at the Canadian base, Camp Julien, said the job might be done with existing resources but would likely come at the expense of some all-important civilian-military co-operation projects in neighbouring communities.

The water well, school and power projects are a key element of the military's so-called hearts-and-minds campaign, contributing to force protection by engaging locals in community improvements.

Such a commitment also involves security issues that would require more resources than just the civilian-military co-operation teams currently working out of Camp Julien.

Graham acknowledged manpower is an issue, but said Kabul itself may be a more stable place by the time the current troops are replaced in six months. He also said Canada does not have to bear all the burden.

"This is a NATO operation. There are a lot of nations in NATO. We're not the only one and nobody said we had to provide all the troops for all of Afghanistan, and we're not doing that."

Friday's visit was Graham's first to Afghanistan since 1960 when, at age 20, he spent five months driving a Land Rover from England to Pakistan and back, travelling all over Afghanistan along the way.

Germany: Berlin Approves More Troops For Afghanistan But Awaits UN Mandate
By Roland Eggleston Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Germany says it will deploy troops in the Afghan city of Kunduz to help improve stability outside of Kabul and to protect aid workers. But it will not deploy the soldiers until the United Nations approves a new mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) allowing it to operate outside Kabul. Germany also says it may withdraw troops from the Balkans to strengthen its forces in Afghanistan.

Munich, 3 September 2003 (RFE/RL)-- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says his country is ready to deploy about 250 armed soldiers in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz -- but only if it gets a United Nations mandate to do so.

Schroeder told reporters the cabinet approved the deployment after hearing a report from military experts on the situation. He said the government hopes the UN will act quickly so advance units can arrive in Kunduz before winter sets in.

Germany already has 1,500 soldiers in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), based in Kabul. But ISAF's UN mandate allows it to operate only within Kabul and the surrounding area. A new mandate will be required if ISAF troops are to be deployed anywhere else in the country.

The German troops in Kunduz will replace U.S. soldiers protecting aid workers and rebuilding schools, hospitals, factories, and roads. They are there as members of the U.S.-led coalition, which does not require a UN mandate to deploy forces throughout Afghanistan.

Schroeder said Germany is acting in response to appeals by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman President Hamid Karzai, who has called for the international community to help restore order and security in the provinces before national elections scheduled for June 2004.

Schroeder quoted German experts as saying deteriorating security conditions in much of Afghanistan are stalling economic reconstruction and threatening confidence in the peace process. The German chancellor said an international presence was needed throughout the country to help reconstruction and stability.

"The work of reconstruction is foremost, while the military component is there to guarantee security. We are thinking about training programs, such as we have in Kabul for the police," Schroeder said.

The U.S.-led coalition is already working on democracy-building projects in Afghanistan through its so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams. They operate in about a dozen cities and focus on bolstering security and assisting reconstruction projects.

Schroeder said the German government agreed that its troops should remain part of the UN-mandated ISAF rather than operating with the U.S.-led coalition. He said ISAF and the coalition had separate tasks and should continue to operate separately.

One of the continued tasks of the U.S.-led coalition's "Enduring Freedom" operation is to root out remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. In the past month, coalition troops have engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban guerrillas in southern Afghanistan.

"We want to [deploy troops in Kunduz] on the basis of an expanded mandate for ISAF. It is an important question for us. We believe that what is done -- and must continue to be done -- within the framework of 'Enduring Freedom,' and what is done by the United Nations within the ISAF framework, should be separate," Schroeder said.

Angela Merkel, leader of Germany's opposition Christian Democrats, told reporters she agreed with Schroeder's support for ISAF and its United Nations mandate.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck says he is considering using German peacekeeping forces now in the Balkans to reinforce troops in Afghanistan. Germany currently has about 7,500 troops in Macedonia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

"We are thinking about a step-by-step reduction of German forces in the Balkans," Struck said. "We are also looking at ending our presence in Macedonia in the spring of next year."

Struck said in a newspaper interview published on 30 August that he could envisage German troops remaining in Afghanistan for several years to support reconstruction and stability. But he said that would only be possible if Germany reduced its forces in the Balkans.

The defense minister's comments have led some political observers to suggest the German government may be looking to build up its Afghan presence in order to deflect U.S. pressure to send troops to Iraq. The government has not commented on this speculation.

Afghanistan will not be rebuilt "overnight" : Powell
Fri Sep 5,12:58 PM ET 
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Afghanistan's plight will not be alleviated "overnight", Secretary of State Colin Powell said but pledged to speed up US aid to build a new state from the "ashes of war and chaos."

Powell touted what he said were major US successes in the war-torn country, despite a recent upsurge in violence and fighting between US troops and militia fighters.
"In Afghanistan, both the political reach and the governing capacity of President Karzai's administration are expanding," Powell said in a major speech at George Washington University in the US capital.

"Roads and schools are being built, dangerous landmines are being cleared away, a national army and police force are coming into being, a state is being rebuilt before our eyes from the ashes of war and chaos.

"We know that Afghanistan's challenges are too great to be overcome overnight, but the United States is determined to help as long as it takes to overcome them."

Powell said the United States would "accelerate" its assistance to Afghanistan "in the next several weeks" a reference to an expected one billion dollar reconstruction aid package expected to unveiled around the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Washington is aiming to bolster President Hamid Karzai's government before elections next year, determined he will not pay a political price for a perceived delay in the benefits of his US-backed rule reaching ordinary Afghans.

As Powell spoke, US troops hunted down fleeing Taliban fighters in Afghan mountains after a bloody offensive left around 100 militants dead, according to US figures.

Up to 1,000 Afghan soldiers supported by 300 US troops and aircraft have been engaged for more than a week in an operation against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in the mountains of Daychopan district of Zabul province, 300 kilometres (190 miles) southwest of Kabul.

A US-led operation ousted the Taliban after the September 11 attacks, after it refused to hand over main suspect Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.

Bush Planning to Boost Aid to Afghanistan by $1 Billion
 By doubling the current annual spending level, he aims to accelerate lagging reconstruction and fight a mounting Taliban insurgency.
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — President Bush is planning soon to announce a doubling of this year's aid to Afghanistan in an effort to make visible improvements in the lives of the Afghan people before the country's first elections, scheduled for June.

Some diplomats and aid workers say the anticipated $1-billion boost in aid is long overdue to speed up reconstruction and combat the Taliban insurgency that is gaining ground in southern Afghanistan.

Guerrillas have been clashing with U.S. and Afghan forces by day and leaving letters in villages by night threatening death to those who collaborate with Americans. Two police chiefs and three mullahs who supported the U.S.-backed central government of President Hamid Karzai have been assassinated in the last six weeks.

"It is in our interests, in the Afghans' interests, in the security interests of the region that a moderate government emerge from that election," a senior Bush administration official said. If the moderates are to prevail, he said, Karzai and members of his government need "to show their people that they delivered security, economic benefits, reconstruction, political advancement That it's built schools, clinics and roads."

U.S. officials acknowledge that aid efforts in Afghanistan leveled off while the United States was preoccupied with the war in Iraq. But they reiterated that the United States will not repeat the mistake it made by abandoning Afghanistan to chaos after the Soviet Union ended its occupation in 1989.

The United States spent $900 million in Afghanistan in 2002 and expected to do the same this year. The new initiative means that this year's spending would be boosted to about $1.9 billion. The administration also will seek matching contributions from other nations at a Sept. 21 donors conference in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, officials said.

"We never again want Afghanistan to be the home of terrorists," said William Taylor, the State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan.

Details of the new package — including where the money will come from — are still being hammered out, said the administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. At least a third of the aid will be used to accelerate recruitment and training for the Afghan National Army and national police force, to improve security. The Afghan army had been losing up to 40% of its recruits, but improvements in salaries and living conditions have boosted retention to about 85%, an official said.

The aid will be focused on areas where reconstruction has been slow — including the Pushtun areas of the south and southeast, where the Taliban is active, another official said.

Bush specifically wants a shattered 300-mile road the U.S. is rebuilding between Kabul and Kandahar — a project of great economic and symbolic importance — to be completed as promised by December, a senior State Department official said.

With help from Britain, New Zealand and possibly Germany, the U.S. also plans to double the number of U.S.-Afghan joint "provincial reconstruction teams" that patrol far-flung Afghan provinces, rebuilding schools, wells, bridges and communications and keeping an eye on local warlords. The present four teams will be increased to eight by fall, and Taylor said he was pushing for more.

"Their presence has an amazing effect on perceptions of security," Taylor said. "Confidence goes up that the local warlord will not be able to have the run of the place as they have in the past."

U.S. planners are trying to ensure that money pumped quickly into the undeveloped country is used to help the poorest Afghans, not the best-connected, he said.

In a commitment to the "nation-building" that the administration once shunned, eight to 12 senior political advisors will be sent to each Afghan minister, and a cadre of technocrats will be dispatched to help Afghanistan's largely untrained bureaucracy administer the aid.

The technocrat program is politically delicate, because the Soviet Union filled Afghanistan's ministries with technical advisors during its occupation — and still failed to run the country effectively.

International expertise is clearly needed to create a modern Afghanistan, but "the question is whether from a cultural and psychological perspective you can make this work," said Alexander Thier, an Asia Foundation official working in Kabul, the capital. "People see foreign advisors as a portent of more sinister things."

The only way to gain the confidence of the Afghan people — and defuse support for the Taliban — "is to get them jobs and give them a voice in governing their country," Thier said.

The recent Taliban insurgency has heightened Washington's sense of urgency about the pace of reconstruction in Afghanistan.

The Taliban revival in Afghanistan is "very serious," Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who is director of New York University's Center on International Cooperation, said in an interview from Kabul. Although the resurgence is not a threat to either the central or local Afghan governments, Rubin said, it makes large areas of the country off-limits to aid workers, prevents the government from exercising its authority and reinforces a vicious cycle of excluding the ethnic Pushtuns who live in those areas from political and economic gains.

Rubin cited reports that Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorist forces are openly organizing and operating out of bases in Pakistan, allegedly with help from Pakistani security services. Pakistan has denied this. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said after a visit to the region last month that Pakistan was not doing all it could to stop cross-border attacks.

Taylor said Taliban fighters who used to infiltrate Afghanistan from Pakistan in groups of one to three are now moving across the border in large formations.

Anger as troops hunt Taliban in Pakistan
The Telegraph, UK 09/06/2003 By Ahmed Rashid
Pathan leaders are furious over the launch of a Pakistani military operation in the North West Frontier Province to arrest Taliban and al-Qa'eda leaders fleeing fighting in Afghanistan.

Helicopters were flying over border areas yesterday looking for infiltrators after thousands of troops arrived at Bannu air base in lorries. Reports that a small detachment of US special forces was also involved could not be confirmed.

The soldiers have cordoned off Bannu, begun house-to-house searches in some parts of the city and launched patrols in the mountains.

The Pakistani army claimed that it was a normal military exercise but officials in Bannu said the troops were hunting for al-Qa'eda and Taliban leaders, who are either hiding in Pakistan or escaping from Afghanistan after recent bloody fighting there. Afghan officers say 124 Taliban were killed in a nine-day battle in Zabul province.

Operations such as this, though deemed essential in the global war against terrorism, are under threat in the face of growing regional sympathy for the extremists.

President Pervaiz Musharraf of Pakistan has to balance public opposition, unrest in the army and growing sympathy for the Taliban with demands for co-operation from Washington.

Yesterday the NWFP assembly, dominated by mullahs from a six-party Islamic alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, erupted in fury.

Speaker after speaker denounced the president for being a stooge of the Americans, allowing US forces into the province without seeking permission from the provincial government and violating the feelings and sanctity of all Muslims in the NWFP.

"The military rulers have been following the dictates of the US since September 11 and it is a disgrace for our people to put them at the mercy of US forces," said Hamid Shah, an assemblyman from Bannu.

Akram Durrani, the chief minister of the province and an MMA member, went to Islamabad to complain to federal ministers about the military operation.

"We cannot allow anybody to use our soil for their interests because it creates unrest among the people," he said.

There is intense speculation in Bannu that the aim of the operation is to hunt down Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of hiding in the adjacent tribal areas of North and South Waziristan.

Retired military officers say the operation may also be linked to the recent arrests of several mid-level army officers, based in nearby towns who were suspected of providing sanctuaries and safe houses for Taliban and possibly al-Qa'eda leaders.

At least four, and possibly as many as 19, officers were held. Their intense interrogation by Pakistani intelligence may have revealed the whereabouts of other hideouts in the Bannu region.

Islamabad steps up search for Al Qaida
(Gulf News) - Pakistan has moved troops into Bannu district in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to carry out a search for Al Qaida fugitives, government sources said yesterday.

The transportation of troops on Wednesday combined with remarks by Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat that the noose was tightening around elusive Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had fuelled speculation that he was hiding in the region.

The operation was launched late yesterday after some 35 helicopters ferried the troops into the district on Wednesday, the sources said, adding that the focus was the village of Shamal in the area.

Scores of soldiers were believed to be involved in the operation.

Bannu district adjoins the semi-autonomous tribal area of North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan and is situated opposite the Afghan provinces of Khost and Paktika.

The operation sparked protests in the NWFP by several lawmakers belonging to the Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) religious alliance that rules the border province and is a strong opponent of US military presence in the region.

The legislators, speaking yesterday in the assembly in Peshawar, the provincial capital, alleged that US troops were also participating in the search operation and demanded that it should be halted forthwith. They said no Al Qaida men were present in Bannu district, the home district of provincial Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani.

"There were Pakistan and US forces in the area and they were looking for Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida operatives," a Bannu legislator from the six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Abdul Razzaq, said.

"There is no possibility of Osama or Al Qaida associates being present in Bannu. The operation is meant to humiliate the Muslims and it should be stopped immediately," he said.

Local residents reported stepped up activity at the airport in Bannu.

"Right now there are 12 helicopters on the ground at the airport in Bannu," in northwest Pakistan, said Inayat Khan, a resident of the area. "Yesterday there were 24 helicopters."

Officials said the majority of troops have moved into Angoorada and Azam Warzak areas near the Afghan border. There was no indication of who was being sought or whether there was some fresh intelligence of fugitives in the area.

However, both U.S. and Afghan officials have repeatedly said fugitive Al Qaida and Taliban have taken refuge in the region, where tribesmen have expressed a willingness to hide them. There has also been speculation that suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden may have taken refuge in the region.

Pakistani authorities don't dismiss the possibility. Pakistan had moved tens of thousands of troops to the border with Afghanistan after joining the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism in 2001. Since then it has arrested some 600 Al Qaida and Taliban fugitives, most of whom were handed to US custody.

U.S. Pressed to Interdict Afghan Drugs
Fri Sep 5, 4:06 PM ET  By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.N. and Afghan officials have called for U.S.-led coalition forces to help combat the booming drug trade that profits both warlords with links to the government and terror groups fighting against it.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material of heroin, and last year accounted for about three quarters of the global supply.

Production increased dramatically after the fall of the hardline Taliban regime, which had successfully banned cultivation of opium poppies.

Afghan and U.N. officials concede that among the major beneficiaries are military commanders who are part of the current U.S.-backed government but in practice control their own private armies. Many were instrumental in defeating the Taliban regime in late 2001 and have operated in tandem with coalition forces in the war on terror.

"You have a dramatic problem here: an illicit activity which is feeding a monster with many heads," Antonio Maria Costa, the chief of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said in an interview during a visit to Afghanistan last week.

"There's no doubt that in a number of provinces the commanders are involved. It's a known fact."

Yet anti-drug experts suspect that al-Qaida and the Taliban, which have recently stepped up resistance to the Afghan government, are also using proceeds from the illicit trade to fund their activities.

"I'm positive that drugs and terrorists go side-by-side in Afghanistan," Mirwais Yasini, director-general of the Counter Narcotics Directorate, said Friday.

Costa said he was trying to persuade the 11,500-strong U.S.-led coalition charged with hunting down followers of the terror groups to target drug traffickers too — a stand supported by Yasini.

"Hopefully we can build a convincing argument that the resources generated by the opium economy are being channeled toward terrorism. I believe that's a good reason to motivate those fighting terrorism to fight narcotics too," Costa said.

He said that Afghanistan produced 3,400 tons of opium last year — a huge increase on the final year of the Taliban, but below the 4,600 tons in 1999 before the Islamic hard-liners enforced their ban.

It's not yet clear how this year's crop will compare, but Costa predicted that the revenue from opium cultivation would probably decrease significantly as prices had dropped by about 50 percent in the past year.

To glean more profits, increasing amounts of opium were being refined into heroin inside the country instead of being exported to be refined elsewhere, he said.

The wave of cheap heroin smuggled across Afghanistan's borders has alarmed neighbors such as Russia, whose drugs control chief last week called for more international pressure on Afghanistan to reduce the flow.

"The problem is primarily that we badly need a powerful central government able to control all of Afghanistan," said Yasini. "Both the narco people and the terrorists benefit from instability and chaos."

Costa said that Afghanistan was virtually rebuilding from scratch after years of war, and had little capacity to track down and prosecute drug dealers. He said drugs generated about $1.2 billion in Afghanistan annually, but the budget of its counter-narcotics agency was only $3 million.

Afghanistan seeks telecom investors
News Interactive (Australia) From Correspondents in Kabul September 5, 2003
AFGHANISTAN needs $US300 million ($467 million) private investment over three years to transform its fledgling telecoms sector into a countrywide network, according to telecom minister Mohammad Massoum Stanakzai said.

Mr Stanakzai said the private sector had already shown strong interest in the country's telecoms industry, which was virtually pulverised into non-existence during decades of conflict.

"Even in the first year, private sector investment is 50 per cent more than the public sector investment. It means that we have made some strong steps to attract the foreign investment in this country," he said.

"The private sector investment by the end of this year will reach up to $US94 million.

"And for the coming two to three years we are predicting up to $US300 million private investment" in telecoms.

Private sector involvement was critical to tap into international experience for the rapid development of telecoms, World Bank country manager William Byrd said.

"During the last 25 years or so, when Afghanistan was at war, the world has undergone a telecommunications revolution and this gives both an opportunity to Afghanistan to catch up very quickly with all the developments but also a big burden of work to do," he said.

With limited fixed line and mobile coverage, Afghanistan has a lot of catching up to do.

The country has just 26,800 digital fixed lines serving the capital Kabul and the main cities of Herat and Kandahar in a country with a population of around 24 million - two million of those people in Kabul alone.

Mr Stanakzai said the government planned to expand the digital network, with the first bidding for a project covering 87,000 lines for 12 of the country's 32 provinces concluded last week.

"We are still hoping that by the end of this year we will get more support to expand the digital telephone system throughout the provinces in Afghanistan," he said.

France's Alcatel is also conducting a feasibility study on a national fibre-optic network which could be built alongside reconstruction of the country's roads, he said.

Kabul has also just concluded negotiations with the World Bank on a three-year project which would include a government satellite Internet network to cover the whole country.

"The aim is to provide connectivity and also access to information to all Afghans," he said of the ambitious plans for a country where only six percent of the population even has access to electricity.

"By the end of 2004 we are targeting that all the districts in Afghanistan should be connected to the centre and also to outside Afghanistan."

Afghanistan's telecommunications sector has already opened up to private and international investment.

Since July, Afghanistan's first commercial mobile operator, Afghan Wireless Communications (AWCC), has faced competition from Roshan, operated by Telecom Development Company of Afghanistan (TDCA).

TDCA has said it plans to invest $US120 million over the next decade in expanding Roshan across Afghanistan, with 55 million earmarked for its first phase to connect Kabul and five major cities by next year.

TDCA is owned by an international consortium in which the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development holds 51 per cent, Monaco Telecom International 35 per cent and US-based MCT 9.0 per cent. Alcatel holds 5.0 per cent and also provides financing for equipment.

Mr Stanakzai said work was also underway on restructuring the communications ministry and setting up a regulatory body which would eventually be independent.

The first draft of a telecommunications law had been prepared and would shortly be forwarded for cabinet approval, he said.

This report appears on

Taliban Reported Active At Kabul University
Daily Afghan Report A. William Samii September 4, 2003 Radio Free Afghanistan
(Afghanistan section of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)
Higher Education Minister Mohammad Sharif Faez acknowledged in the 3 September "The Toronto Star" that the Kabul University campus has been infiltrated by groups connected with Afghanistan's former regime. "We have found groups with links to the Taliban. Money is being distributed to students to help recruit them," he said. Abdul Qadus Ahmad of the Afghan National Army told "The Toronto Star" that some student groups have links with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. "They preach against the government and they claim that ISAF is an occupying army," he said. Captain Brian Healey of the Royal Canadian regiment that is assigned to ISAF acknowledged that pro-Taliban students are on campus, but said that information on the extent of the problem is unavailable.

400 Ellsworth airmen going to Afghanistan and Iraq
Associated Press
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. - More airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base are being deployed to a command area that includes Afghanistan and Iraq.

About 400 personnel and an undisclosed number of B-1 bombers will deploy, Air Force officials said. They will replace B-52 bombers and crews as part of the normal rotation of units in the war zone.

The Air Force will not say when the soldiers will leave or give an exact location.

The deployment is expected to be from three to six months.

US conducting independent campaign on Pak-Afghan borderlands
WASHINGTON: The anti-Taliban operations being conducted in certain Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas are increasingly a wholly American affair with Pakistani agencies and troops merely playing a supporting role, according to Asia Times, a Hong Kong-based publication.

The paper’s Karachi correspondent Syed Saleem Shahzad, who earlier broke the story of certain arrests of pro-Al Qaeda elements in the Pakistan army, reports that "The Pakistani armed forces are simply subordinate in the operation, whose command is in the hands of the US operations commander," says a source. Previously, claims the report, US authorities have coordinated closely with their Pakistani counterparts. But in the past few months this collaboration has been scaled back as the US has developed its own networks on the assumption that some in Pakistan’s army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) still have sympathies for the Taliban.

Asia Times reports that in the recent arrest of an Al Qaeda cell in Karachi, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) forged direct links with the Pakistani police, who are devoid of any extremist ideology or links with the Pakistani armed forces or the ISI. Many Al Qaeda operatives were arrested after being pointed out by police officers who were directly in touch with the FBI. Those officers, says the report, were subsequently sent on forced leave or sidelined but, on strong recommendations by US authorities, they were reinstated.

"It is apparent that a similar strategy has now been adopted in the Pakistani tribal belt, where US operators have developed their own networks in the local administration, as well as among the tribals, and the situation is very much out of the hands of those in the Pakistani establishment who have a soft spot for the militants opposing the United States," according to the publication. The resistance, for the first time, has placed its overall strategy directly in the hands of top Taliban commanders, while on the other side the Pakistani armed forces have in effect been sidelined as the United States intensifies its efforts to catch Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden ahead of the second anniversary of the terror attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

Information collected by Asia Times from various sources strongly suggests that bin Laden is alive and under the protection of a strong group and he is not in Afghanistan.

And contacts in Pakistani strategic quarters have confirmed that the operation being conducted in the tribal areas of Pakistan is to catch bin Laden.

The paper was told by a Pakistani source, "Even before the Taliban retreated from Kabul, Al Qaeda had an escape order for its operators. A blueprint was developed for escape routes situated on the Afghan-Iranian border, the Pakistan-Afghan border and the Afghan border areas which lead to the Central Asian republics." After the Taliban retreated from Kabul and then their southern stronghold of Kandahar, the general situation in the country became such that even the Taliban leadership who were Afghans were not safe - the US was paying dollars to informants to ensure this. As a result, the governor of Jalalabad, Maulvi Abdul Kabeer, and ministers such as Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani were forced to take refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas, while other Taliban leaders took advantage of the escape routes.

According to Asia Times, "Afghanistan was simply too dangerous for Al Qaeda fighters, let alone bin Laden, although there have been unconfirmed reports that he spent a brief time in the Kunhar Valley. Last year he was tracked near the Pak-Afghan-Iranian border in Pakistan’s southern province of Balochistan. In recent days tribal sources in Miran Shah, in the tribal belt along the southern end of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province have confirmed the presence of scores of US and supporting Pakistani troops in the district. The sources said that unlike in the past, the tribal leaders were not informed in advance about the operation.

'Missing' Pakistani found -- held by U.S. in Afghanistan
Businessman's son was charged in al-Qaida case
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The wife of a Pakistani man who disappeared two months ago said yesterday that she had received a letter from her husband saying he was in American detention in Afghanistan. The man, Saifullah Paracha, who has worked and traveled in the United States, had been missing since July 5, when he boarded a flight to Bangkok on a business trip.

Federal prosecutors in New York have charged Paracha's 23-year-old son, Uzair, with attempting to help an associate of al-Qaida obtain travel documents to enter the United States. Prosecutors have not said what role, if any, the father played in the case.

But the son's defense lawyer has said that the younger Paracha may have been present at a meeting between his father and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, al-Qaida's head of operations. Saifullah Paracha, 56 and a businessman, had made trips to Afghanistan in the past, but his family said they involved only charity work.

Relatives of the father and son reacted with anger yesterday at the news that the elder Paracha was being held in indefinite, secret American detention at Bagram air base outside Kabul, the Afghan capital. They said the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad ignored repeated requests for information made over the past two months.

"I don't expect the Americans to behave this way," said Mrs. Paracha, who received a master's degree in social work from New York University in the late 1970s. "It's the last thing I expect. They stand for human rights."

Mrs. Paracha said her husband wrote: "I am in Kabul with U.S. authorities. My health is OK. My blood pressure and sugar is controlled. Tell relatives about my welfare. Inform me about Uzair."

American military officials in Bagram could not be reached last night. In the past, they have declined to comment on the identity or status of prisoners being held at the base. Prosecutors in New York have only commented on the case against the son.

Uzair Paracha has been accused of meeting with an al-Qaida associate in Pakistan, posing as that man in the United States and requesting American travel documents in his name. His defense lawyer has said that the younger Paracha will plead not guilty and may have been unwittingly manipulated by others.

Pakistan to expand linkages with Afghanistan
Hi Pakistan, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will operate three weekly flights between Islamabad and Kabul, and Rail Corp would conduct a feasibility study for laying railway track between Chaman and Kandahar.

These two decisions were officially confirmed on Friday after receiving a formal consent from the Afghan Government. "We are focusing on improved road, rail and air linkages with Afghanistan and Central Asia for promotion of trade and economic relations in the region," said Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz. He said he has discussed the possibility of enhanced regional economic cooperation with several ministers from the Central Asian Republics (CARs) during the recent meeting of the IDB board of governors at Almaty.

Though the political ties with Afghanistan were at the lowest ebb due to rise of Northern Alliance in Kabul, Islamabad believes that closer economic cooperation would gradually overcome the present difficulties in diplomatic relations. Pakistan has also launched a major offensive in the border areas to arrest remnants of Taliban and Al-Qaeda. There was a feeling in Kabul that Taliban were regrouping in the tribal belt along the Pak-Afghan border. Some US officials also made similar observations in the past.

However, on trade front, there was a rising trend in exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan. During last fiscal year, Pak-Afghan bilateral trade totalled $ 435 million, including $ 400 million exports from Pakistan. Pakistan had reduced duties on the dry and fresh fruit imports from Afghanistan to provide an impetus to Afghan exports, besides narrowing down the negative list under the transit trade facility. Similarly, the government also allowed transit facility to Afghan goods destined for India.

Pakistan is hoping that development of Gwadar Port would expand regional economic cooperation. A fully developed port at Gwadar would offer transit and warehousing facilities to/from ports of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Iran, and landlocked countries like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Shaukat was optimistic that development of this port with the Chinese assistance, and regional roads with the financial assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) would add a new boost to the trade and economic ties. He met ambassador Paul Speltz, United States Executive Director of the ADB here Friday, and discussed prospects of regional infrastructure projects, particularly with reference of Afghanistan. Speltz would also visit Kabul.

An official handout of the Ministry of Finance claimed that the ADB official assured Pakistan of continued assistance for development projects. The Asian Bank has indicated $ 2.7 billion financing for Pakistan over the next three-years, including the road infrastructure projects.

"Speltz expressed the Bank’s support to closer regional economic cooperation between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian States," the official statement said. Recently a ministerial meeting in Manila between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan reaffirmed commitment to improve communication links in the region, which would be a pre-requisite for increased trade, investment and regional economic cooperation, the statement added.

The minister also outlined key infrastructure development projects undertaken by Pakistan in this regard to offer three corridors between the Arabian Sea and Central Asia. These include ports at Gwadar, Qasim and Karachi and three road links, including RCD Highway, Indus Highway and GT Road.

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).