Afghan government replaces minister killed in factional violence
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday named a replacement for a Cabinet minister killed in recent factional violence that stoked tension ahead of national elections due later this year, a spokesman said.
The government also shifted the governor of a troubled border province to a post vacated by another minister killed in a plane crash.
Karzai appointed Bismillah Bismil, the top education official in Herat province, as his new aviation and tourism minister, presidential spokesman Hamed Elmi said.
The previous minister, Mirwais Sadiq, was one of 16 people killed in March 21 clashes in Herat between troops loyal to his father, Gov. Ismail Khan one of Afghanistan's most powerful warlords and a rival commander.
Karzai has condemned the violence in Herat, one of several bursts of militia violence undermining security ahead of the September elections, and sent hundreds of national army troops to restore order.
The government says the bloodshed adds urgency to plans to dismantle private militias in time for the vote, and vowed to shift all governors from their local power bases a fate so far avoided by Khan whose forces helped the United States drive out the Taliban in late 2001.
Ghulam Mohammad Masoan, a spokesman for Khan, said Bismil ``was proposed by Ismail Khan,'' suggesting the appointment could help ease tensions.
In another switch, Karzai made Khost Gov. Hakim Taniwal his new Mines Minister, Elmi said. Taniwal had been involved in sometimes-violent feuding with other tribal leaders in Khost, a former al-Qaida stronghold where thousands of U.S. troops are hunting militants along the Pakistani border.
It was not clear who would replace Taniwal. The previous Mines Minister, Juma Mohammed Mohammedi, died in a plane crash in February 2003 off the coast of Pakistan. The deputy minister has been acting minister since then.
Afghans Vow to Pursue Disarmament After Unrest
By Sayed Salahuddin Tue Apr 13, 7:16 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai's government will press ahead with plans to disarm Afghanistan's regional militias ahead of elections, his spokesman said on Tuesday, calling the private fighters a threat to fair polls.
Violence in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where Taliban remnants and their militant allies are active despite being toppled from power more than two years ago, prompted Karzai to delay June's planned elections to September.
Security fears were heightened by fighting last month between forces of the provincial governor and a pro-Karzai commander in the western city of Herat, previously known as a safe region, and clashes last week in the northern provinces of Faryab and Balkh.
Asked at a news conference if factional fighting was a threat to elections, Karzai's chief spokesman Jawed Ludin replied "Yes."
"We believe that the main reason for the remaining problems is the presence of militias and the issue of warlordism. As long as this situation continues, unfortunately, progress on all spheres will be threatened."
Regional commanders and their private militias, mostly from former Mujahideen (holy warrior) factions that fought Soviet occupation in the 1980s, helped the U.S.-led military topple the radical Taliban regime in late 2001.
But many have since concentrated on consolidating fiefdoms at the expense of Karzai's U.S.-backed government, which is trying to unite and rebuild the country after nearly 25 years of war.
One of the most powerful, Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, is one of Karzai's nominal advisers, but his troops overran Faryab and its provincial capital Maimana last week, forcing its governor and top military commander to flee.
Karzai had to rush soldiers from the infant U.S.-trained national army to both Herat and Maimana to maintain a presence.
Dostum's men withdrew from Maimana Saturday but they remain in Faryab province despite orders to leave.
The government has announced ambitious plans to disarm 40 percent of an estimated 100,000 fighters loyal to regional commanders such as Dostum and Herat Governor Ismail Khan by June.
"Disarmament is the only solution at the end of the day for the problem of warlordism and presence of militias," said Ludin.
"The process of disarmament will be pursued vigorously and with it we hope to be able to get rid of this evil. Our position is to deal legally with those who interrupt security."
A spokesman for the United Nations, which is backing the disarmament effort led by Japan, said the factional fighting should not derail plans for elections and Faryab was now calm.
"There is no fighting there," said the spokesman, David Singh. "Our people in Faryab are briefing us daily."
"In the north typically one day it's peaceful. The next day there is an outbreak of violence. That's the way it's been since the fall of the Taliban. At the moment there is no reason to believe this would have any impact on the elections in any way."
In the latest fighting, forces loyal to Dostum fought those of rival northern strongman Ustad Atta Mohammad on the outskirts of the main northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on the weekend, killing two people and wounding several, witnesses said.
Former anti-Taliban stronghold becomes Afghanistan's newest province
KABUL, April 12 (AFP) - A stronghold of anti-Taliban resistance has been named as Afghanistan's newest province in honour of assassinated leader Ahmad Shah Massood, a spokesman for the president said Monday.
President Hamid Karzai signed a decree declaring the Panjshir Valley the war-ravaged country's 34th province, slicing the terrority out of mountainous Parwan province.
Karzai created the new province "to honour the national hero," Karzai deputy spokesman Hamid Elmi told AFP.
The spokesman said that the establishment of the new province where Massood was born was in response to the "repeated requests of the people."
Panjshiri ex-fighters dominate the former mujahedin Northern Alliance faction which cooperated with the United States coalition to defeat the Taliban in late 2001 and has a very strong influence in Karzai's US-backed government.
At least three of cabinet members including Defense Minister and Vice-President Mohammad Qasim Fahim are from Panjshir.
Massood was assassinated by suspected Al-Qaeda operatives posing as television journalists two days before the September 11 attacks in the United States.
He had been responsible for the 273 square mile valley's administration during the "jihad" or holy war and resistance against the Taliban fundamentalist regime.
Panjshir, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of capital Kabul has an estimated population of some 387,620, Elmi said. The provincial capital will be Bazarak, he added.
In late March, Afghanistan's administration announced a new province had been established in the country's mountainous centre.
The new provinces come as Afghanistan is still without electoral laws or boundaries, less than six months before the country's landmark presidential and parliamentary polls scheduled for September.
Afghanistan President To Go To Kazakhstan
Astana. April 13. KAZINFORM. On April 15 President of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan Khamid Karzai will arrive in Kazakhstan on two-day official visit, President’s press service informs. During the meeting President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Khamid Karzai will discuss topical issues of bilateral cooperation and world politics. Number one subject for discussion will be activation of trade and economic relationship and regional security. It is also planed to hold enlarged talks between the members of the delegations and sign a number of bilateral documents. The next day Khamid Karzai is expected to tour the Monument to Fatherland Defenders, Presidential Culture Center and Baiterek edifice in Astana.
'Hekmatyar aide' seized in Kabul
Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK BBC News
By Andrew North BBC correspondent in Kabul
International peacekeepers in the Afghan capital, Kabul, say they have helped arrest a suspected senior member of an Islamic militant group.
The man was detained after a raid by Afghan agents and Canadian troops from the Nato-led peacekeeping force Isaf.
He is alleged to be an associate of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former Mujahadeen leader and prime minister.
His Hezb-e-Islami group is suspected of carrying out many attacks on foreign and Afghan forces over the past year.
Afghan intelligence officers, supported by about 100 Canadian soldiers, carried out the raid at a compound in eastern Kabul just before 0300 local time (2230 GMT on Monday).
Not a shot was fired, according to a spokesman for Isaf.
Six people were arrested in all and among them a man alleged to be a senior Hezb-e-Islami figure.
The spokesman said they had acted because they believed the man posed an imminent threat to international workers in the city.
But he would give no more detail or further information about the other five people detained.
It is hard to judge how significant this arrest is.
Afghan officials are saying little about it other than to confirm the raid took place.
However, Hezb-e-Islami is seen as a serious threat.
Along with the Taleban, it has been blamed for much of the violence in Afghanistan over the past 18 months.
International peacekeepers believe the group may have been behind two suicide bomb attacks on Canadian and British troops in Kabul in January and another blast which killed two Canadians last year.
There are fears, too, that Hezb-e-Islami may be planning more violence in the run-up to elections later this year.
The group's hardline leader, Mr Hekmatyar, was one of the main recipients of US military aid during the Soviet invasion, but now he has called for a holy war against his former allies and President Hamid Karzai.
Capturing him is one of the key aims of American-led coalition forces, together with former Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Osama Bin Laden.
Afghan footballers go 'missing'
Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK BBC News
Nine members of Afghanistan's national football team have gone missing while on tour in Italy.
The team's spokesman said the players failed to return from a night out in the northern town of Verona on Monday.
"We don't know if they were looking for economic asylum or if they just stayed out all night at a disco," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
The series of games in Italy is the Afghan team's first appearance in Europe for 20 years.
Football was banned in Afghanistan after the Taleban regime came to power in 1996.
The team coach, Mir Ali Asger Akbarzola, has said the players would not be able to take part in the match against Verona on Tuesday - even if they came back in time.
"It's 20 years since our national side last played in Europe and our people need football to give them hope," Italy's Ansa news agency quoted him as saying.
The proceeds from the tour will go towards construction of medical centres in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Verona police spokesman Luigi Altamura said it was unclear if the players were seeking to defect from Afghanistan.
They do not have their passports with them because a team official had all the team's documents.
But according to Italian radio, "the fugitives have already reached Germany, where a numerous Afghan community lives, to ask for political asylum".
The game against Verona will still be played because a few Afghan players living in Germany have been called in to replace the missing team members, Ansa reported.
Canadian soldiers assist Afghan authorities in raid
Kabul — Backed by a fleet of armoured vehicles and more than 100 Canadian soldiers, Afghan national security officers and Kabul city police raided a compound outside the capital early Tuesday, arresting six people.
One of the six is a member of the terrorist group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, who posed an “imminent threat to the international community, ISAF and the people of Kabul,” said Commander Chris Henderson, a Canadian spokesman at International Security Assistance Force Headquarters.
The 3 a.m. raid took place on a compound in the western rural district of Charar Asiab. There was no resistance. No shots were fired and no one was hurt, Cmdr. Henderson said.
He said Canadians took a “second-row position” while Afghan authorities, including members of Afghanistan's intelligence service, went to the door and made the arrests.
Cmdr. Henderson said reporters embedded with Canadian troops at Camp Julien were not permitted to join the mission, due to operational security concerns.
However, the Canadian general commanding the 32-country force in Kabul has said that operational security is not an issue on such operations.
Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier told The Canadian Press earlier in the week that ISAF had political concerns with the manner in which a previous raid was reported, suggesting Afghan law-enforcement officials were not given their due.
The general said ISAF is trying to facilitate a stronger Afghan authority.
More than a dozen Canadian armoured vehicles were involved in Tuesday morning's raid. The last of them returned to camp at 12:30 p.m.
Troops rehearsed the operation at their base in southern Kabul all day Monday, along with a small number of British soldiers and Afghan officials, who could be seen entering a compound mock-up ahead of the military.
HIG is led by former Afghan prime minister Hekmatyar Gulbuddin, who has allied himself with former enemies in the Taliban and al-Qaeda in an attempt to oust the foreign presence in Afghanistan.
The group is believed responsible for the Oct. 2 mine strike that killed two Canadian soldiers traversing a dry creekbed just three kilometres southwest of their camp.
A few days later, Canadians assisted in the arrest of Abu Bakr, the Kabul-area commander of HIG who is believed to have ordered the car-bombing of a busload of German troops last June, killing four and wounding 29.
Canadians have participated in several other raids. On Jan. 18, they took down a compound stocked with drugs, arresting several suspected terrorists.
On Jan. 26, one day before a suicide bomber killed a Canadian soldier, they were involved in a raid on another compound in which Afghan authorities seized weapons, ammunitions and explosives, including landmines.
They also arrested the man sources say may be directly responsible for laying the mines that killed Sergeant Robert Short and Corporal Robbie Beerenfenger of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment back in October.
Chemical suits and a white powdery substance wrapped in plastic were also seized during the January raid, but Canadian authorities have refused to identify the substance.
A raid last month that included members of the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment Battalion Group came up empty-handed.
There are about 5,700 NATO troops in Kabul, including about 2,100 Canadians, while the U.S.-led coalition fighting the war on terror continues to operate in the rest of the country.
Revenue reforms to bring income tax to Afghanistan
Madeleine Coorey, AFP April 12
KABUL: After suffering through years of war, drought and poverty, Afghans will soon face another trial - income tax. Personal income tax is one of a range of taxation reforms being introduced by the country, one of the poorest in the world, to help fill the coffers of the central government, a high-ranking official said.
Taxes on money-changing, rental properties and snuff and tobacco have already been introduced and reforms to road tolls and an agricultural land tax are in the wings. The income tax will be introduced on a sliding scale dependent on salary and will have a reasonable tax-free threshold, according to the Director-General of Revenue Timor Anwaryar.
Anwaryar refused to comment further on the tax except to say: "We are trying to keep in mind social justice. We are doing our best trying to be very fair." But he admits that people will not be happy to pay, particularly as there has not been a strong tax-paying culture in the country which has experienced decades of war and the 1996 to 2001 Islamic fundamentalist Taleban regime.
"During the Taleban there wasn't any proper tax collection. They probably used force to collect some taxes or they used some other law but nothing on a regular basis," says Anwaryar.
Afghanistan's current per capita GDP is less than $200 and the projected national revenue for this financial year ending March 2005 is $300 million. However, according to a government document on the economy presented at a recent aid-pledging conference in Berlin, this is expected to rise to $500 million within two years.
The document, Securing Afghanistan's Future, states that the Finance Ministry is establishing a taxpayer office in Kabul to focus on domestic revenue collection from the top 100 or more tax-paying bodies. In the provinces, there are plans to create offices to handle medium-sized taxpayers, it says.
"Domestic taxation represents around 30 percent of the current revenue stream to the central government; this proportion is expected to rise to 40 percent next year and 50 percent in the following year," it says.
President Hamid Karzai, whose administration has struggled to bring in customs and other revenues from the provinces, recently passed a decree on the Rental Services Tax which allows the government to tax businesses and organizations using high-end rental properties to conduct their affairs.
The tax, which will initially only apply in the capital Kabul, targets foreign companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and will bring in an estimated $1 million annually, according to Anwaryar.
The government wants to extend it to the provinces as soon as possible but Anwaryar would not say when this would begin. The tax only applies to properties where the rent is above 15,000 Afghanis ($300) per month and will work out at roughly 10 percent of rent above this threshold after deductions.
As in any post-conflict country, simply collecting the taxes will be a task in itself, Anwaryar says. "We have to educate people about this," he says, "so people who haven't paid tax for such a long time, and who've gotten used to this habit ... realize they should pay taxes and what the taxes are used for."
Income tax from businesses and corporations can be collected via Tax Identification Numbers, which have been compulsory for businesses, diplomatic missions and NGOs since September, and government employees will also be able to be taxed directly by their employer.
"For the individual who has a private job it's going to be hard. But hopefully we will find a mechanism to follow their taxation," Anwaryar says. "We are trying to put the pieces together to make something out of it," he says of Afghanistan's shattered taxation infrastructure.
Afghan Refugees Repatriation Satisfactory
2004-04-13 22:03:26 Pakistan News Service
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan : April 14 (PNS) - Federal Minister for Water and Power, KANA and SAFRON, Mr. Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao has said that census of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is being planned to have a correct estimate of their number and some method would be devised to let them participate in the upcoming elections in the upcoming elections in Afghanistan.
He expressed these views while talking to a high level delegation of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNMA) and United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR led by the special representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA, Mr. jean Arnault which met him in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Mr. Jean Arnault discussed with the minister the progress of voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees to their country. He also discussed the possible modalities of enabling the Afghan refugees to take part in the upcoming elections in Afghanistan.
The Minster on this occasion said that the progress of voluntary refugee repatriation to Afghanistan is satisfactory and only in the month of March, 2004 about 30000 Afghan refugees have voluntarily repatriated to their homeland. He added that every possible help is being provided to Afghan refugees for their safe voluntary repatriation to their homeland. He observed that the Afghan refugees had left their homeland some 25 years back and now they want to return to their homeland and the government is providing every possible help to facilities them returning to Afghanistan with dignity and honour.
The minister appreciated the fact that elections are going to be held in Afghanistan very soon and said, “We believe in free and fair elections and we are working to find some appropriate method of involving the Afghan refugees in the election process”. He added that every citizen of Afghanistan has the right to vote for establishment of democratically elected government in the country.
The minister also asked the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Afghanistan to provide assistance in facilitating the voluntary assistance in supporting both the processes.
The delegation also included UNHCR’s country representative, Ms. Guebre Christos and other officials of UNAMA, UNHCR, Secretary ministry of KANA and SAFRON and SAFRON, Mr. Ashfaq Mehmood and Additional Secretary, Mr. Gulzar Khanb also attended the meeting.
UNHCR chief in Tehran for Afghan refugees
TEHRAN, Iran, April 13 (UPI) -- The head of the U.N. refugee agency has begun a nine-day, three-nation tour focusing on the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran and Pakistan.
High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers arrived in Tehran Monday night for two days of talks with senior Iranian officials, including the ministers of the interior, foreign affairs, and labor and social affairs, said a UNHCR spokesman in Geneva. Lubbers will also meet with donors, and UNHCR's partners in ongoing repatriations to Afghanistan and Iraq.
He was also discussing refugees' reintegration into society and their longer-term prospects in the region, said the spokesman, Ron Redmond.
Lubbers will go to Kandahar, Afghanistan, Thursday to meet with local authorities and visit a camp for internally displaced Afghans. Friday he is scheduled to hold discussions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, the capital.
There, the high commissioner also is to meet with the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, interior, refugees and repatriation, and rural reconstruction and development, the spokesman said.
Lubbers will leave for Pakistan Sunday to meet with the prime minister and senior ministers.
Govt to help Afghan refugees vote: Jamali
Daily Times Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: The Afghan refugees in Pakistan should participate in the upcoming elections in Afghanistan and the government will facilitate their participation, said Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on Tuesday.
The prime minister said this while receiving Jean Arnault, a special representative of the UN secretary general on Afghanistan and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Mr Arnault is on a two-day official visit to Pakistan for consultations with the government. Prime Minister Jamali told Mr Arnault that any future political dispensation in Afghanistan must take into account the ethnic balance in the country. He hoped that the Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in September would be transparent.
Mr Arnault told Mr Jamali about the UNAMA’s role in registering eligible voters. He said the process of voters’ registration would be completed soon. Mr Arnault also met Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri who told him that Pakistan would continue to extend full cooperation to the United Nations’ programmes for national reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan. —Staff Report
High Commissioner arrives in Tehran on first stop of three-nation mission
TEHRAN, April 13 (UNHCR) - The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, arrived in the Iranian capital, Tehran, in the early hours of Tuesday morning at the start of an eight-day, three-nation mission, focused mainly on the continued search for solutions for displaced Afghans.
He will also be visiting Afghanistan itself and its other big refugee-hosting neighbour, Pakistan, during his visit to the region.
Since the removal of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001, well over 3 million Afghans have returned to their homes, mostly with help from the UN refugee agency. Of these, around 2.5 million have returned from Iran and Pakistan (2.3 million of them directly assisted by UNHCR). In addition, some 800,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have also returned to their homes.
However, despite the colossal scale of the return, a similar number of Afghans are still living as refugees in Pakistan and Iran, so in many respects the job is only half done.
The importance that UNHCR places on the continuing hunt for solutions for the remaining refugees is underlined by the fact that this is Lubbers's sixth visit to the region in just under three years.
During his talks with Ministers in all three countries, Lubber will be focusing on a wide range of issues related to the ongoing voluntary repatriation programmes, which are currently scheduled to continue up until 2005. He will also be looking ahead to the longer-term future of Afghan displacement in a region where the fundamental dynamics have shifted fairly dramatically over the past two and a half years.
In Afghanistan, where he is scheduled to have meetings with President Hamid Karzai and four of his Ministers, Lubbers is expected to stress the importance of keeping the repatriation of refugees in focus, in spite of the many other urgent priorities jostling for the government's attention. UNHCR recently pointed out that the rate of return so far in 2004 - just under 60,000 since 1 March - actually exceeds the rate of return during the same period of 2003.
Increasingly, the UN agency believes, its own tools for facilitating return and successful reintegration will prove insufficient unless these issues are fully integrated into broader strategies aimed at development and improved security.
Lubbers will also be paying close attention to the issue of internally displaced Afghans. Although around 80 percent of the IDPs have gone home since the beginning of 2002 - many of them also helped by UNHCR and its NGO partners - there are still some 200,000 remaining, mostly located in camps in southern and western Afghanistan. He will visit one of the biggest camps for displaced people in the Kandahar region, and is expected to stress during talks with the government and other interlocutors that removing the obstacles preventing the return of the remaining IDPs is an important element of national reconciliation.
Both IDPs and refugees cite insecurity, lack of jobs, and problems linked to land ownership or access, as their three principal concerns.
Editorial: Bush's Vietnam?/More like his Afghanistan
April 14, 2004 ED 0414 Minneapolis Star Tribune
Last week, Sen. Ted Kennedy angrily described the war in Iraq as President Bush's Vietnam. His point is taken, but there is a more cogent analogy: Iraq risks becoming Bush's Afghanistan. Not present-day Afghanistan -- a failed state which the United States justifiably invaded following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- but the Afghanistan of 1979, when it was invaded by the Soviet Union. The parallels aren't exact, but they are instructive, especially in deciding the best route for moving ahead in Iraq.
The Soviets gave various reasons for their invasion, but a prominent one was that its southern borders had become "insecure." Pakistan was unstable, and Iran had just undergone the Khomeini revolution, which it might export. Soviet officials said they feared the United States also was "counting on stealthily approaching our territory through Afghanistan." Thus they had "no choice but to send troops."
In a word, the invasion was a preemptive strike against a developing threat, justified by the Brezhnev Doctrine first used to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The world reacted harshly. The United States suspended sales of grain and technology to the Soviet Union. It also boycotted the 1980 Olympics, held in Moscow. The U.N. Security Council condemned the invasion and regularly called on the Soviets to withdraw.
They did not, and from all across the Muslim world, young radicals flocked to Afghanistan to fight the godless Soviets and drive them from the country of their Muslim brothers. One of those radicals was Osama bin Laden. Rich Arab states poured funds into the fight, as did the United States, to the tune of more than $2 billion.
Over the course of the next 10 years, the mujahadeen bled the Soviets dry. They were determined that this invasion of Muslim territory would not stand. Hundreds of thousands of young men from across Islam became fighters in the radical forces fighting the Soviets. Finally, in 1988, reeling from internal political unrest, from world pressure and from the military pressure of the mujahadeen, the Soviets withdrew. The Islamic radicals had succeeded in humiliating a world superpower.
That narrative well describes what is beginning to happen in Iraq today. To the Islamic world, it matters not a whit what the American motives were for the invasion; what it sees and violently resents is a Christian, Western nation occupying a nation in the heart of the Muslim world, just as it violently resisted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview shortly after 9/11, Bin Laden said, "We believe the defeat of America is possible, with the help of God, and is even easier for us, God permitting, than the defeat of the Soviet Union was before."
Invading Iraq was a choice, not a necessity. By making that choice, the Bush administration has walked into a dream scenario for Bin Laden and the loosely connected, worldwide jihad he has helped spark. Bush has given the jihadists the fight they wanted, one they know well how to wage.
That reality points the way forward: Convert the American occupation of Iraq into a U.N. nation-building exercise. The main problem in Iraq today is political, not military, though military challenges will remain for some time. Iraq can't be allowed to become a to-the-death confrontation between the United States and radical Islam, which is what the jihadists want it to be. It must become a world effort to help the Iraqi people recover from three decades of oppressive rule by Saddam Hussein.
That means going back to the U.N. Security Council for new resolutions giving U.N. agencies the lead role in rebuilding Iraq. It means another resolution authorizing the continuing presence in Iraq of foreign troops, most probably NATO, to pacify the country and train both an army and an effective police force.
The Soviet Union went into Afghanistan on its own. The United States went into Iraq essentially the same way. That was a huge mistake, and one Bush must move rapidly to overcome, even if it means eating a fair amount of crow. A presidential address to the Security Council would be in order soon, on the challenges in Iraq and why it's imperative that the world body take them up. However mistaken the invasion of Iraq, the world needs the people of Iraq to succeed in building a new nation.
Pakistan PM calls for ethnic balance in future Afghan government
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan's prime minister told a top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan that any future political set-up in the neighbouring, war-torn country must reflect its ethnic balance.
Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali also said he hoped that Afghanistan's first democratic elections due in September would be "free and fair", according to a foreign ministry statement on Tuesday.
Jamali and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri held separate talks with Jean Arnault, special representative of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and head of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), after his arrival on a two-day visit.
"The prime minister informed the visiting dignitary that any future political dispensation in Afghanistan must take into account the ethnic balance," a foreign ministry statement said.
Pakistan favours due representation for Afghanistan's majority ethnic Pashtun community in the Kabul government, currently dominated by members of the Tajik ethnic group.
Pakistan has a sizeable population of Pashtuns living in regions bordering Afghanistan.
The statement said Arnault briefed the prime minister on UNAMA's efforts to register voters for the elections, including Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
North Afghanistan unrest should not affect polls -UN
By Jason Szep
KABUL, April 13 (Reuters) - A wave of factional fighting in northern Afghanistan should not affect the region's ability to hold the country's first-ever free elections later this year, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
A U.N. spokesman said calm had returned following a surge in factional fighting in the remote north and west, including Faryab province, where forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostum briefly overran the capital Maimana late last week.
"There is no fighting there. Our people in Faryab are briefing us daily," said UN spokesman David Singh.
"In the north typically one day it's peaceful. The next day there is an outbreak of violence. That's the way it's been since the fall of the Taliban," said Singh.
"At the moment there is no reason to believe this would have any impact on the elections in any way."
President Hamid Karzai has faced pressure to rein in renegade regional commanders like Dostum whose militias have clashed with those of rivals and commanders appointed by the president.
In the latest fighting, forces loyal to Dostum fought those of rival northern strongman Ustad Atta Mohammad on the outskirts of the main northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on the weekend, killing two people and wounding several, witnesses said.
Order was restored within a day and residents and Afghan security officials said Mazar-i-Sharif was calm on Tuesday.
Karzai has already postponed elections from June until September, largely due to lack of security beyond the capital Kabul. His government aims to disarm 40 percent of provincial militias in coming months, while U.S.-led forces are hunting Taliban fighters in the south. Southern Afghanistan is also volatile. Remnants of
Afghanistan's ousted Taliban said this week they had captured three districts in remote Paktika province and killed a top intelligence chief in central Uruzgan province.
Uruzgan, a bastion of Taliban power until Washington ousted the fundamentalist group in late 2001, has seen a spate of recent attacks.
A local police chief denied the Taliban controlled the Paktika districts. It was not immediately possible to verify the conflicting reports, but the guerrillas are known for hit-and-run tactics and have not tended to remain in a particular area long.
The Taliban have declared a "jihad", or holy war, on foreign And Afghan government troops and aid organisations. Since August last year, more than 600 people have died in violence, much of it blamed on the Taliban.
The growing unrest in Afghanistan is bound to unnerve Washington and could undercut U.S. President George W. Bush's ability to point to the country as a foreign policy success ahead of the U.S. Presidential elections in November.
Dutch helicopter gunships ready to protect NATO's Afghan peacekeeping mission
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Six Dutch helicopter gunships sent to protect NATO-led peacekeepers in Afghanistan became operational Tuesday, the international force said, beefing up the troops' military muscle as they start to fan out beyond the capital.
The force's top official, Lt. Gen. Rick Hillier, officially passed command of the Apache chopper detachment to Dutch Lt. Col. Onno Eichelsheim at a ceremony at Kabul airport where the helicopters will Be based.
Sent to Afghanistan at the end of March along with 135 Dutch troops, the helicopters are to spearhead a new rapid-reaction force being assembled ahead of a major expansion of the 6,400-strong force.
Several hundred German soldiers under the NATO umbrella have already deployed to the northern city of Kunduz, and similar teams are expected to set up base in a string of cities across the north and west in the months to come.
Bursts of factional fighting in three separate parts of the region in the past month have highlighted the risks that the peacekeepers could face.
It remains unclear whether NATO nations, who have been slow to respond to appeals from alliance commanders as well as President Hamid Karzai to provide more troops and equipment, will set up the new teams before Afghan elections slated for September. The polls were originally scheduled for June, but have been pushed back amid security fears.
The helicopters have heavy firepower and night-vision equipment useful for rescue actions if peacekeepers come under attack. The Apaches will also carry out surveillance patrols and guard trucks and transport helicopters delivering supplies.
The Dutch force had a scare during a training flight last Thursday, when a patrol came under attack from small-arms or anti-aircraft fire near Kabul. Neither of the two helicopters were hit.
Top U.S. general in Afghanistan makes first official visit to neighboring Uzbekistan, site of U.S. base
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday paid his first official visit to neighboring Uzbekistan, site of a key base supporting American anti-terrorism operations.
Lt. Gen. David Barno met with top Uzbek officials, including Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov and Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev, to discuss Uzbekistan's support for the war on terror, the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent said in a statement.
U.S. troops have been stationed at a tightly secured military base in the town of Khanabad in southern Uzbekistan since late 2001, just before the United States launched airstrikes to oust Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime. Barno assumed command of U.S. operations in Afghanistan in October 2003.
Foreign firms keen on Afghan airline's privatization: envoy
WASHINGTON, April 13 (AFP) - Several international companies have expressed interest in the privatization of Afghanistan's national airline, the country's envoy to the United States said Tuesday.
'We are finalising our plan, which is an ambitious plan for the privatization of Ariana Afghan Airlines,' Said Tayeb Jawad told AFP after speaking at a conference on Afghanistan's challenges and prospects under the new constitution.
He said Afghan President Hamid Karzai wanted the state-owned airline's privatization undertaken as soon as possible as part of efforts to speed up the reconstruction of the war-ravaged nation.
Discussions on the privatization were held in Dubai recently, Jawab Said but declined to give details on the companies that had shown interest.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to Afghanistan, said during a visit to Washington last week that among the factors cited by potential Investors in the reconstruction of Afghanistan was the need for a 'reliable airline.'
He said Ariana had run into 'technical problems' and that 'they're considering alternative options for what should be done with the airline.'
The US government had agreed in August last year to help develop a strategic business plan to make Ariana more efficient. The US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) said it would provide a technical assistance grant of about 330,000 dollars to help develop the plan for the state-owned carrier.
The business plan would cover steps to restructure Ariana, including privatization, and an analysis of market demand and traffic, as well as organizational requirements and staffing needs.
It is not known how far the business plan had been developed. Under the previous radical Taliban regime, Ariana operated two Boeing 727-100 and one Boeing 727-200 advance series aircraft on limited international routes, and four smaller aircraft on domestic routes.
Ariana lost six of its eight remaining planes during air strikes by the United States, which had together with Afghan opposition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001.
The airline then worked to resume services and in April 2002 purchased A Boeing 727-200 from American Airlines and acquired an Airbus A300, Which it had operated on flights to Frankfurt, Sharjah and Istanbul, According to reports.
Tribesmen accused of harboring al-Qaida say they are ready to negotiate
By PAUL HAVEN - Associated Press Writer - BANNU, Pakistan (AP) Leaders of a tribe along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border say they are desperate to avoid bloodshed as a government deadline to turn over al-Qaida suspects draws near and the Pakistani army tightens a cordon around their mud-brick compounds.
Four elders of the Jani Khel tribe told The Associated Press they are ready to negotiate with the military, although the leaders insist they aren't harboring foreign terrorists and that their mountainous land is too forbidding for the likes of Osama bin Laden and his men.
The elders descended the rugged peaks of Shawal, in North Waziristan, to meet with AP this weekend and give their side of the conflict.
The government has barred journalists from entering the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan since a March crackdown on a suspected al-Qaida den, so the bearded old men traveled eight hours over dirt paths and rutted roads to reach Bannu, a town on the edge of the tribal belt.
Clad in sandals, traditional tunics and starched yellow and white turbans, the elders all swore they would turn over any terrorists they found.
``The government has put a huge number of troops on our land, and they tell us they are searching for al-Qaida, but we want to make clear that there are no al-Qaida in Shawal,'' said Said Khan, one of 35 elders in the 30,000-strong Jani Khel tribe.
``If there are foreigners, we will turn them over. We cannot afford to punish all of our people to protect one or two outsiders.''
Pakistani troops have sealed the main routes in and out of Shawal, but they have not moved against the tribesmen. Fighting-age men in the region carry AK-47 machine-guns as a matter of routine, and many of the fortress-like compounds are stocked with mortars, grenades and rockets because of frequent inter-tribal clashes.
The Jani Khel are one of a dozen clans in the tribal belt, and their lands are among the least accessible. No Pakistani troops set foot in the region until 2002, and there are few roads, schools or medical facilities. Families are big, and most get by on about US$20-$30 a month from farming or selling timber.
Even tribesmen find it impossible to spend the winter in the Shawal mountains, descending during the cold season to a town near Bannu.
The government has shown little confidence in the tribal leaders' pledges. North and South Waziristan areas are considered a possible hiding spot for bin Laden and his righthand man, Ayman al-Zawahri, who have all but vanished since directing the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes against the United States.
Last week, 120-140 military vehicles and 4,000-6,000 troops moved into the Shawal region to put steel behind an April 20 deadline for the tribesmen to turn over terror suspects or face military action.
The ultimatum was given by the governor last week to a council of tribal elders. The elders say they will get back to authorities before the deadline, but no dates are set for talks.
Brig. Mahmood Shah, chief of security for the tribal regions, said military action is a possibility. ``We prefer a political solution, but at the same time, the threat of force is there and that is extremely important in the tribal areas,'' he told AP from his office in Peshawar. ``Negotiations, threats and military action all go hand-in-hand.''
The government fears some terror suspects who fled last month's military offensive near Wana, in South Waziristan, may have headed to Shawal, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north. They are also searching for Jani Khel tribesmen suspected of launching a March 18 rocket attack that killed four soldiers.
Sixty suspects were killed in the Wana sweep, along with at least 50 soldiers. More than 160 people were captured, but hundreds escaped. Pakistani officials originally believed al-Zawahri was at the site, and claim they injured an Uzbek with al-Qaida links.
Critics have accused Pakistan of bungling the operation. Shah acknowledged the men arrested in Wana did not appear to be al-Qaida heavyweights, and no Arabs were among those killed or captured.
Most of the foreign detainees were Chechen, Uzbek and Afghans who have been living in the tribal regions for years, some since the 1980s, when thousands of Muslims including bin Laden joined the U.S.-backed fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
American, Afghan and Pakistani officials say the Uzbek and Chechen men have been caught aiding the Taliban in attacks on coalition bases across the border, including the U.S. base at Shkin, Afghanistan, a few hundred meters (yards) from Shawal.
The Jani Khel insist they don't know of any foreign men on their territory, though they say other tribal lands were probably still home to a few hundred foreign fighters.
``These outsiders were a gift from the Americans. They were brought here by the Americans and when they arrived we were told they were honorable holy warriors,'' said Walayat Khan, a Jani Khel businessman who hosted tribal leaders at his Bannu home on Saturday. ``They've been here so long they have married into our society and they have fully integrated themselves into our culture.''
Indeed, some tribal elders said they had only the vaguest understanding of the relationship between bin Laden and Washington.
``When he first came to Afghanistan decades ago, all we knew was that bin Laden was a rich Arab who enjoyed the close friendship of the Americans,'' said elder Taj Ali Khan. ``I'm not sure what is the cause of the recent hostility between them.''
Shah said part of the government's task is educating the tribesmen. ``We are explaining to them that these men are no longer holy warriors, but terrorist criminals,'' he said.
Kuchis demand mobile registration centers in Afghanistan
KABUL - Kuchis, nomads living in Afghanistan, have demanded of the government to set up registration centers for the enrollment of their names in the forthcoming general elections.
According to BBC, Kuchis have demanded of the establishment of mobile registration centers to register their names for the elections. A Kuchi's representative in Besud area of Nangharar, Nazar said that the government should establish mobile registration centers for the Kuchis.
Another Kuchi living in Lugar, Muhammad Khan said that only those Kuchis could register their names for the elections who are living in or near the cities. He said that Kuchis are nomads therefore, they want mobile registration centers.
Kuchi, Shah Wali said in this regard that the educated Kuchis should be inducted in the registration process to give full attention to their problems. They added that they are ready to give permission to their women to register the names for the elections if female registration centers are opened for them.
Journalists voice opposition to rules banning criticism of Islam and insults against public officials.
By Farida Nekzad in Kabul - 07-Apr-04 Institute for War & Peace Report
A new law governing the news media, quietly approved and put into effect several weeks ago, bans criticism of Islam or insults to officials, and requires journalists to obtain high-level permission before interviewing any public official or government employee.
The statute also creates a seven-member commission with powers to decide whether journalists accused of violating the new law should face prosecution in the courts.
The law has come under attack from both journalists and legal experts for its vague provisions and imposition of a form of censorship. The new law, signed late last month by President Hamed Karzai and approved by his cabinet, is only the latest in a series of controversial press laws that have been on the books since the 1920s.
Abul Hamed Mubarez, deputy minister of culture and information, defended the new law. He insisted that it was designed to protect journalists, especially those in remote provinces which remain under the control of powerful governors and former mujahedin commanders, who may disregard the dictates of the central government.
But Fahim Dashti, editor of the Kabul Weekly, questioned the need for a commission to regulate journalists. Rather than investigating them, the commission should be defending their rights, he said.
The commission is to be chaired by the minister for information and culture and includes a representative from the Afghan Academy of Sciences, two members of the journalism faculty at Kabul University, two members of the state union of journalists, and one from the Afghan Human Rights Commission.
The law does not make clear who appoints the commission. Among the most controversial provisions of the law are prohibitions against journalists writing articles that are critical of Islam or are insulting to public or private individuals.
Journalists complained that the law lacks specific definitions of what constitutes either an insult or a criticism of Islam, leaving both offences open to interpretation by the commission or religious authorities.
Haroon, a Kabul reporter, described the provision requiring journalists to obtain written permission from cabinet ministers before interviewing any public official or government employee as a form of censorship. He argued that it could now take days to obtain vital information and that journalists could be prevented from obtaining any material at all from government sources.
Nasrullah Stanikzai, a professor of law at Kabul University, said the establishment of a press commission creates a conflict with the duties assigned to state prosecutors, who are responsible for investigating crimes. Instead of immediately investigating suspected violations of the law as they are required to do, Stanikzai said, prosecutors must wait for the commission to make a ruling against a journalist before they can act.
Stanikzai agreed that the law should contain a definition of what constitutes an insult. Without it, prosecutors have no basis on which to conduct investigations, he said.
The new law does eliminate some of the restrictions included in earlier statutes. For example, criticism of the national army and the publication of photos of partially clothed women are no longer banned. Hamed Almi, Karzai's deputy press secretary, said it was unlikely that the new law would be amended any time soon. He suggested that journalists unhappy with the statute bring their appeals to the new parliament, which is due to be elected in September.
Warlordism, drugs, corruption Afghanistan's toughest challenges: official
KABUL, April 13 (AFP) - Warlordism, drugs and corruption are the Biggest problems facing post-Taliban Afghanistan is it struggles to prepare for its first general elections, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday.
'Afghanistan at the moment is faced with at least three main problems. One is warlordism and the existence of armed militia groups -- who behave irresponsibly and threaten the security of our people,' Jawed Ludin told a press conference in the capital Kabul.
Stamping out the cultivation of and trade in opium poppies and 'ridding the administration of corruption and incompetence,' were the other two challenges.
Ludin did not mention the insurgency by remnants and sympathisers of The ousted Taliban, which has driven aid agencies from vast swathes of southeast Afghanistan and left critical development projects on hold.
Attacks by Taliban fighters on aid workers, security forces and officials have held up voter registration and were one of the reasons mthe United Nations urged elections originally slated for June to be postponed until September.
Ludin said the existence of armed private militias -- loyal to individual commanders with nominal allegiance to the government -- posed a serious threat to ordinary people's security.
The US-backed Kabul administration has struggled to assert its Influence in the provinces, which are largely controlled by warlords. The issue has assumed an added urgency in the lead-up to September polls, the first since the hardline Taliban regime was ousted from power by US-led forces in late 2001 for harbouring Osama bin Laden.
Clashes over the past month in the north and west, areas generally considered more stable than the southeast, have underscored the problems facing Karzai as he tries to extend the government's mandate into provinces.
Since late March there have been two major rebellions against Government appointed commanders by powerful warlords. Skirmishes between northern strongman General Rashid Dostam and government-appointed commander General Hashim Habibi erupted in northern Faryab province a week ago after Habibi decided to switch allegiance from Dostam to Kabul.
Dostam loyalists ousted Habibi and occupied Faryab's capital Meymanah. In the western city of Herat fierce factional fighting between forces loyal to governor Ismael Khan and those loyal to a government-appointed commander left several people dead last month.
The government meanwhile is trying to eradicate rampant opium poppy cultivation, which has seen Afghanistan to return to its position as the world's largest opium producer and triggered warnings from the UN that it risks becoming a narco-state.
The narcotics industry now accounts for about of the country's annual domestic product, according to UN estimates. To cope with the problem of graft, the Karzai government has established an anti corruption commission. 'We have the anti-corruption body which presents a promising solution for the problem we have had in the past 20 years,' Ludin said.
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