Taleban kills 7 civilians in southeast Afghanistan
Support for Karzai earns executions
By Agence France Presse (AFP) Thursday, April 15, 2004
KHOST, Afghanistan: Suspected Taleban militants executed seven Afghans, including two children and three officials, after they professed support for President Hamid Karzai, an Afghan commander said Wednesday.
The execution-style killings occurred in insurgency-hit Birmal district in southeast Paktika Province near the restive Pakistani frontier, local border force commander Mohammed Hussein told AFP. One woman survived the attack with wounds.
"Their vehicle was stopped by five men in military uniforms pretending to be pro-government forces," Hussein told AFP.
"They were asked if they are supporting Karzai and the government. People in the vehicle said 'yes,' and they were killed on the spot," the commander said, relaying the account of a woman who survived the attack.
Birmal, 160 kilometers southeast of Kabul, is considered a stronghold of Taleban insurgents. Government forces have had no control over the territory since August 2003, officials have said.
"The incident occurred close to the border and three of those killed were employees of the local administration," Hussein said.
Paktika's governor refused to confirm the attack, saying only that the government planned to try to retake control of Birmal in a fortnight.
"We don't have control over Birmal but in two weeks' time we will regain control of the district," governor Gullab Mangal told AFP.
Paktika has been on the front line of a bloody insurgency by fighters loyal to Afghanistan's former Taleban rulers, believed to be regrouping on the other side of the border in Pakistan. American and Afghan troops, Western and Afghan aid workers and Afghan officials have been killed.
Southeast Afghanistan is the former stronghold of the Taleban and remnants of the regime and their Al-Qaeda allies are active in the region.
Meanwhile, in the main southern province of Kandahar Wednesday the provincial security chief was wounded in a bomb explosion in the provincial capital, a military spokesman said.
The bomb had been planted in cart on a main road used by US troops and senior Afghans officials, General Abdel-Wasay told AFP.
"A bomb ... injured the security director on his way to his office," Wasay said. "This is the work of Taleban and their Al-Qaeda allies," he added, but did not offer any proof for his accusation.
Kandahar was the headquarters of the 1996-2001 Taleban regime and home to its fugitive leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Wasay said it was not clear whether the bomb was aimed at the provincial security director General Salim or the American troops.
Salim's face and right arm were wounded. His bodyguard was also wounded but in stable condition, Wasay said.
Suspected Taliban Kill 9 in Pakistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Thu Apr 15, 5:47 AM ET
QUETTA, Pakistan - Gunmen killed a district police chief and eight Afghan soldiers in an ambush in a southern province, a senior official said Thursday, in an attack claimed by the Taliban militia.
The assailants fired AK-47 assault rifles and heavy machine guns on two four-wheel drive vehicles carrying Yar Mohammed, police chief of Mizan district in Zabul province, and the soldiers around 10 a.m. on Wednesday. There were no survivors.
"Taliban did this attack," said Zabul Gov. Khyal Mohammed. He said one of the attackers had been killed when the soldiers fired back during the ambush. Authorities had retrieved the body.
He said the attack happened in the Manjoh area of Zabul province. The police chief was traveling with the soldiers to Mizan from his hometown of Shahwali Kot in neighboring Kandahar province.
An Associated Press reporter in the southwestern Pakistan city of Quetta learned of the attack in a satellite phone call from Abdul Hakim Latifi, who purports to speak for the Taliban. He claimed responsibility for the attack and named the police chief killed.
"We did this attack," Latifi said. He claimed that 18 Afghan soldiers were killed as well as Mohammed.
Guerrillas of the former ruling Taliban regime ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001 are active in Zabul and in other regions of southern and eastern Afghanistan and have waged frequent attacks on targets of the U.S.-backed Afghan government over the past year.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Paktika province, U.S. forces on Wednesday night opened on a car that failed to stop at a road checkpoint, injuring four Afghan civilians, a senior Afghan said.
"The driver made a mistake by not stopping," Paktika governoer Gulab Khan Mungle told the AP.
Threatened, Afghan warlords fight central authority
By Jason Szep April 15, 2004
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government faces its greatest challenge yet from powerful regional strongmen bent on preserving provincial fiefdoms before landmark parliamentary and presidential elections in September.
As Washington focuses on turmoil in Iraq, violence plagues Afghanistan nearly three years after U.S.-led forces defeated the Taliban militia. Factional battles rage in the north and west and a deadly Taliban-led insurgency racks the south and east.
President Hamid Karzai, his national army of 10,000 troops overstretched in a land of 29 million people, is struggling to extend his authority beyond Kabul and to rein in regional commanders who oppose his vision of a strong centralised state.
Simmering rivalries have erupted into bloody violence in northern Faryab and Balkh provinces and in western Herat.
"In recent weeks, Afghanistan's warlords have displayed a greater willingness to challenge the authority of the Karzai regime," said Mark Sedra, a researcher at the Bonn International Center for Conversion think tank.
Commanders such as General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek veteran of Afghanistan's long years of war and known for his frequent switches of allegiance, want to preserve their autonomy and are pressing Karzai for Cabinet or ministerial positions.
Described as warlords in a country scarred by decades of fighting, the commanders are deeply unpopular. But without a radical redeployment of NATO-led peacekeepers out of Kabul and into the provinces, Karzai and his people will struggle to fend them off, analysts say.
Nominally allied to Karzai, the powerful commanders run private armies and operate with relative impunity. Some benefit from the rampant opium trade, using the money to buy arms and to finance their militias, diplomats and analysts say.
Private jails are common. Rights groups blame militia commanders for a long list of abuses ranging from extorting money from businesses to breaking into homes, stealing property, smuggling cars and drug trafficking.
"Lack of intervention on the part of the (U.S.-led) coalition and peacekeepers to bring in line these commanders and warlords will be extremely dangerous for Afghanistan's future and the current regime," said Wadir Safi, a Kabul University professor.
A 6,400-strong NATO-led international peacekeeping force is stationed mostly in the capital Kabul, while 15,500 U.S.-led foreign troops are hunting Taliban and al Qaeda in the south, leaving the provinces at the mercy of such commanders.
The government has announced plans to disarm 40 percent of an estimated 100,000 militia fighters by June. Analysts say this looks overly ambitious because most commanders can just buy more guns in a country awash with freelance fighters.
Recent unrest underscores the scale of the problem.
Forces loyal to Dostum fought those of rival strongman Ustad Atta Mohammad on the outskirts of the main northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif last weekend, killing at least two people and wounding several.
That came two days after Dostum's forces briefly overran Maimana, capital of Faryab, forcing the provincial governor to flee and prompting Karzai to deploy 750 troops to the area.
The militia withdrew from the town on Saturday but remains in Faryab province in defiance of an order from Karzai.
In the bloodiest incident, a cabinet minister and son of powerful governor of western Herat province Ismail Khan was shot dead on March 21 by forces loyal to a pro-Karzai commander. That triggered fierce factional fighting in Herat.
Karzai sent in 1,500 troops after scores had died but the animosity lingers. The hardline Islamic Khan, who holds sway again in a region he has ruled on and off for many years, is at odds with Karzai and controls much of Afghanistan's trade income.
"These incidents illustrate the fragility of the security situation across the country and the powerlessness of the Karzai government to assert its control over the country's myriad of warlords," said Sedra.
Tensions often run along the ethnic fault lines that have fractured Afghanistan for decades.
Karzai is Pashtun, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group and its traditional rulers.
Many local commanders, such as Dostum, are drawn from ethnic minorities such as the Tajiks and Uzbeks and won positions of power for helping the United States to oust the Taliban in 2001.
Karzai's push to disarm the militias is seen by some as an effort to weaken the political power of ethnic minorities. He is also under fire from Pashtuns who feel under-represented after the fall of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban.
"It's clear that Dostum wants a position of greater power, perhaps in the Cabinet. The fighting is not going to guarantee him that but it will make negotiations that much harder for Karzai," said Vikram Parekh of the International Crisis Group.
Voters may be easily intimidated in provinces that Karzai is struggling to police, allowing regional commanders or their allies to gain seats in parliament and mount a strong opposition to Karzai's international-backed reform efforts, analysts say.
"You'll end up with gridlock, which is the last thing you need at this point," said Andrew Wilder, director the Kabul-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.
Canada to keep 800 soldiers in Afghanistan after ISAF deployment
Wed Apr 14, 4:11 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada will send a 600-strong armoured reconnaissance squadron to Afghanistan, when most of its forces leave the country in August, Prime Minister Paul Martin said.
Canada currently has the largest single contingent of around 2,000 men in the International Security Assistance (ISAF) force for Afghanistan which has been trying to keep order since the fall of the Taliban.
But the mission is due to end at the end of August.
Martin said however that a 600-strong armoured reconnaissance force would be sent to bolster ISAF's surveillance activities.
"This squadron will be supported by 200 members of the air force," Martin told reporters during a visit to a military base at Gagetown, in eastern New Brunswick.
Canada's deployment in Afghanistan has seriously stretched its armed forces, which have suffered in budget cuts, and which are also on patrol in significant numbers in peacekeeping and security missions in Bosnia and Haiti.
Troops to remain in Afghanistan until mid-2005
CTV.ca News Staff
Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Canada would maintain a presence in Afghanistan as he laid out a vision for a 21st century defence policy -- and announced some semi-new military spending.
Canada will keep about 600 troops and 200 air force personnel in Afghanistan until 2005 where they will play a reconnaissance role.
"With our state-of-the-art Coyote vehicles, Canada will be providing critical reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities to the 34-nation international force working in Kabul," he said Wednesday in a speech at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick.
"Canada's role in Afghanistan has all the hallmarks of the new type of operation the Canadian Forces will be expected to lead: it's a multilateral mission authorized by the United Nations and led by NATO; undertaken at the invitation of the Afghan government, and aimed at reviving a failing state, for humanitarian reasons and at the same time ensuring that it cannot be used as a base of operations for terrorists."
There are currently about 1,700 soldiers in Kabul now. They had been scheduled to stay until August.
The 3-D approach
Martin spent most of his speech outlining his thoughts on defence policy for the new century -- something he termed the 3-D approach.
"This '3-D' approach -- the integration of diplomacy, defence and development -- will serve as the model for Canada's involvement in international crises in the future; crises that will take many forms," he said with a backdrop of soldiers.
"For instance, multilateralism is clearly our preferred approach to resolving international crises. But the absence of international consensus must never condemn us to inaction."
Martin said the world must never allow another genocide to take place.
International terror is the major threat to Canadian security, compared to the Cold War of decades past, he said.
"There is no home front. The conflict is not 'over there.' Our approach to Canada's security and defence must reflect this reality."
Since Martin became prime minister, defence policy has been undergoing a major review that will be complete by year's end.
But in the meantime, Martin laid out six principles for guiding defence policy:
Defence, diplomacy and development must be co-ordinated
Canadian forces must have the equipment to fulfil missions around the world
Training for them must be relevant
Canada must be able to deploy quickly
Canada needs to be able to sustain and support its troops wherever they are based
Canada's forces must be able to work closely with foreign allies and domestic agencies
"It has been said that the world needs Canada and I cannot agree more," he said. "While we cannot change the world single-handedly, we can play a role far greater than our size might suggest.
"In fact, we have always punched above our weight."
Martin outlined some new spending and repeated some old commitments. The biggest new commitment is $2.1 billion for three new supply ships.
Other equipment purchases were listed by Martin, such as new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, a mobile gun system and maritime helicopters, but those had been previously announced. The total value of the various procurements was more than $7 billion.
Conservative Party defence critic Jay Hill said the supply ships aren't really a new announcement, saying they were referred to in the recent budget.
He derided the whole speech as a pre-election publicity stunt, adding if Martin really wanted to help the military, he would add more soldiers.
"The purpose of today is not to make a series of announcements," Martin said in response to a reporter's question, admitting much of what he talked about wasn't really new.
"The purpose of today was to put the role our armed services play, domestically and internationally, into context. And in putting them into context, we ... should talk about the kinds of equipment they require."
The part Martin's speech dealing with the equipment purchases was lacking in detail.
Defence Minister David Pratt said details on the mobile gun system would be released in London, Ont. on Thursday, while he would be making a statement on the ships in Esquimalt, B.C. on Friday.
In the recent federal budget, it was announced that troops serving in Afghanistan would pay no income tax on earnings from their assignment there.
"Today, I’m pleased to announce that this tax relief initiative will be extended to Canadian Forces personnel serving in Bosnia and Haiti. In fact, all high- and medium-level overseas deployments will be included in this measure," Martin said. That drew a cheer from the troops.
Karzai urges former Mujahedin commanders to give up arms
Thu Apr 15,12:37 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan president Hamid Karzai has urged former anti-Taliban commanders and their militiamen to hand over their weapons under a nationwide disarmament campaign to build peace in the war-shattered country, a statement said.
Karzai made this request to military commanders and warlords in a statement issued by the presidency in Kabul on Thursday.
Karzai also called upon people "in each district, village and throughout the country to encourage these commanders to give up their weapons."
"As they (Mujahedin) were the heros of the struggle for their country by giving their weapons to the national army they should prove that they are also the heros of peace," the statement quoted Karzai as saying.
The statement said government would give priority to the reconstruction of those villages and districts where the people first handed over their weapons.
The statement comes one week after thousands of militia forces loyal to the Uzbek strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum overran the northwestern province of Faryab forcing the government-appointed governor to flee the his province.
The internationally-backed disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program is aimed at some 100,000 militia forces, mostly loyal to the unruly warlords threatening the security of Karzai's US-backed government.
The program, implemented by the United Nations and Afghan ministry of defense has been piloted in several provinces but the main phase has yet to begin throughout the war-torn country.
Despite official pledges that the program would be carried out with some 40,000 militiamen before the elections scheduled for September, the process appeared to face difficulties with warlords reluctant to give up their weapons.
Karzai enjoys the support of the United States and most of the western countries but lacks a military force to extend his authority beyond Kabul. Observers believe that warlords fearing loss of their power may try to restore their influence by forming new alliances.
Lead in U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan changes hands during Bagram ceremony
Associated Press Thursday April 15, 7:42 PM
The lead role in the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan changed hands Thursday, with the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division taking the reins during a ceremony at Bagram Air Base, the main coalition base north of the capital.
The division takes over from the Fort Drum, New York-based 10th Mountain Division, which had been the lead element in the coalition since May 2003. Some 4,500 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division began arriving in Afghanistan in March under the command of Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, and the rotation of troops is continuing.
The top American commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, said the American military's commitment to Afghanistan would not waiver, and he noted that 30 American and other coalition soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan in the past year.
"There have been hard days over the last year, and sacrifices have been made," Barno said. "No one should underestimate the sacrifice of these brave men and women who answered duty's call to deploy to this remote part of the world to help a people in need."
The command of the 25th Infantry Division is expected to last for 12 months, and will cover a crucial time in Afghanistan's reconstruction.
The military is engaged in stepped up efforts to catch al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives. It is also trying to improve security ahead of historic presidential and parliamentary elections in September.
"Without question, this is a decisive year in Afghanistan," Barno said, adding the soldiers had a duty to bring to justice those responsible for Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"None of us can ever afford to forget, even for a minute, the unfinished business we have here," he said. The victims and their families "demand we bring those responsible to justice, and so we shall."
Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahri, are both still at large, believed hiding in the rugged mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Fresh troops in South Waziristan
Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK BBC News
Residents in Pakistan's tribal area of South Waziristan say fresh troops have been arriving in the town of Wana.
Their presence has fuelled speculation that a new push against al-Qaeda militants may be on the cards.
But military officials said the deployment - which follows fighting last month in which more than 100 people were killed - was routine.
The arrival comes as elders try to persuade fellow tribesmen to stop any sheltering of foreign militants.
"Troops equipped with heavy weapons have been coming back into Wana for the past three days," one resident said.
"We have never seen such a big deployment of troops in our area."
The BBC's Haroon Rashid in Peshawar says that the arrival of the troops coincides with efforts by a delegation of tribal elders to avert more blooshed in South Waziristan.
The delegation has left Wana to see the five most wanted local tribesmen accused of providing shelter to al-Qaeda militants.
Tribal elder Malik Qadir Khan said the delegation would call on the men to give themselves up, leave the area, or give assurances that they would not carry on providing a shelter.
"If they refuse to accept these conditions, then we will take action against them," he told the Reuters news agency.
The Pakistani authorities set a deadline of 20 April for the elders to hand over the foreign fighters, thought to be Chechens, Arabs and Uzbeks, as well as the tribesmen sheltering them.
The military authorities refused to say if a new operation would be launched, but stressed the that aim of the deployment was simply to bring fresh troops to the area.
The Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, has pledged to rid his country's semi autonomous tribal areas of militants who he blames for a string of attacks across the country including attempts on his life.
The military operation in South Waziristan last month was the largest army operation in the tribal areas since Pakistani independence in 1947.
Tons of election material arrives in Afghanistan ahead of key voter registration drive
Associated Press Thursday April 15, 7:41 PM
Two planeloads filled with election material arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday ahead of a stepped-up drive to register people for a vote later this year seen as a key step toward democracy for the war-torn country, officials said.
Some 180 metric tons of booklets, laminating equipment, cameras and other items to be used in the September vote touched down at Kabul's international airport.
"This is a big step in our logistical preparations providing eligible Afghan men and women outside of the regional capitals with the opportunity to register to vote," Farooq Wardak, the head of the Afghan electoral body, said during a ceremony at the airport.
The presidential and parliamentary election was scheduled for June but has been pushed back because of continued lawlessness and delays in registering voters, particularly in the volatile south and east of the country.
U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai is expected to win the vote, seen as a key step on Afghanistan's transition to democracy after more than two decades of conflict.
Some 1.8 million of Afghanistan's 10.5 million eligible voters have so far registered to vote, most in provincial capitals in relatively stable parts of the country, according to U.N. spokesman David Singh.
U.N. and Afghan officials plan to open registration centers across the country in May _ including in the problem areas. The government, the U.S. military and NATO-led peacekeepers are to provide security for the registration.
The government has also pledged to demobilize 40,000 militia fighters to help prevent voter intimidation by feuding warlords who still control large parts of the countryside.
Singh said that only 29 percent of the voters registered so far are women, but that the world body was hoping that number would increase. Afghanistan is a deeply conservative Islamic country and encouraging increased women's participation in society is a main objective of the international community.
The two planes arrived from Denmark, and the material was financed by the United Nations.
Afghan, Kazakh leaders sign cooperation agreement, pledge closer political and economic ties
Associated Press Thursday April 15, 8:56 PM
Afghan President Hamid Karzai received pledges of closer political and economic cooperation Thursday from Kazakhstan during a visit to Central Asia's richest nation.
"We are vitally interested in stability in Afghanistan, we want to trade, we want to use the territory of that country to establish transport links to southern seas and other countries," President Nursultan Nazarbayev said after meeting Karzai in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Karzai welcomed the promise of cooperation, and expressed gratitude that "Kazakhs are ready to go to Afghanistan" to work, saying his country offered good opportunities and conditions for investment.
The two leaders signed an accord pledging closer ties, but no agreements or funding for any specific projects.
Among the areas they agreed to work together on were the building of communication and energy infrastructure, irrigation complexes and exploitation of natural resources.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan _ the largest country in the region _ shares no borders with Afghanistan.
The landlocked countries of Central Asia have made only halting progress toward economic cooperation among themselves since the Soviet collapse, and cooperation with Afghanistan was nearly impossible because of the instability that wracked that country for decades.
However, Central Asian nations have been seeking greater economic ties as they search for outlets for the region's wealth in natural resources. Kazakhstan aims to become one of the world's leading oil producers by exploiting its Caspian Sea oil fields.
Afghan football fugitives caught
Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 22:45 GMT 23:45 UK BBC News
Four members of the Afghan national football team have still to be found four days after failing to show up for a match in the Italian city of Verona.
Five other players who disappeared along with them have been arrested trying to reach Germany in a bid for asylum, coach Ali Asger told the BBC.
The men left their passports with their coach in Verona when they vanished.
Afghan sports officials have described their behaviour, during a tour to raise money for charity, as disgusting.
On Monday, after their day off and a visit to a disco, the nine players failed to return to their camp near Verona.
Their coach managed to pull in reserves from Germany and the UK to play a charity match, which the Afghans lost.
When the remaining members of the team boarded their return flight to Kabul there was still no sign of them.
At least one of the five arrested was caught by police on the Swiss border on a train bound for Germany.
The BBC's Frances Kennedy reports from Italy that it is widely believed the missing players are also heading for Germany, which has a large Afghan community.
The visit to Italy marked 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.
"It's 20 years since our national side last played in Europe and our people need football to give them hope," Ali Asger said this week.
Proceeds from the team's visit were due to go towards construction of medical centres in the Afghan capital Kabul.
Medals for Afghanistan at the SAF-Games
Source: Olympic.org April 14, 2004 International Olympic Committee News
Almost 150 athletes from Afghanistan returned home from the South Asian Federation Games in Pakistan, 32 of them proudly carrying medals. They were greeted at a big ceremony, in the presence of Anwar Jekdalek, President of the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee, and the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.
"I am really happy for our athletes, because even though our sports federations do not yet meet international standards, this proves that we can win medals anyway," said Jekdalek.
A rise in confidence
The 9th South Asian Federation Games, held from 29 March to 7 April 2004, hosted athletes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. The 32 medals won by Afghan athletes have given the country's sports a great boost, only four months before Afghanistan re-enters the Olympic Games, after being banned during the years of Taliban rule.
28 Bronze, 3 silver, and one gold medal awarded
28 bronze medals were awarded to Afghan athletes in boxing, karate, rowing, wrestling and taekwondo. 3 silver medals were won in taekwondo, wrestling and karate. And one very proud taekwondo player, Badam Gul Multazim, will return to Afghanistan with a shiny gold medal.
The results in Pakistan are not only good news on the high level of sports in Afghanistan. The President of the Olympic Committee also thinks that medals and victories in the sports fields can work wonders on young Afghans with a less healthy lifestyle.
Afghanistan prepares to send 5 or 6 athletes to the Olympic Games in Greece in August, and at this moment a group of Afghan runners, boxers, wrestlers and taekwondo athletes are training in Iran on IOC (Olympic Solidarity) grants.
Heroin trade in full bloom for Afghan poppy farmers, warlords
By Malcolm Garcia Knight Ridder Newspapers Thu, Apr. 15, 2004
JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Some of the Afghan warlords the United States has recruited to help fight al-Qaida and the Taliban are directing Afghanistan's flourishing opium trade and threatening the country's fragile, U.S.-backed central government.
The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has allowed some local commanders to use profits from drug trafficking to fund their armies and amass power under the umbrella of the Bush administration's war against terrorism.
U.S.-backed interim President Hamid Karzai offers pronouncements against drugs coupled with vows to eradicate poppies that he doesn't have the strength to enforce.
"I think we have to broaden the definition of terrorist to include warlords," said Adam Bouloukos, deputy representative with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Kabul. "You have al-Qaida and the Taliban and then this whole range of other characters who are just as destructive because they are trying to undermine the political process and they are well-armed."
This year's bumper crop of poppies, from which opium and heroin are made, shows that while the U.S.-led military coalition ousted the hard-line Taliban regime from power almost three years ago, it's had a harder time creating a political climate that might prevent the terrorists from returning.
Farmers desperately need foreign aid to help make the transition to profitable legal employment, where there are real opportunities.
A study by the aid organization German Agro Action, for instance, found that rose oil commands about the same market value as opium. A farmer can earn $600 to $1,000 per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of opium, compared with $1 per kilogram of rice or wheat.
But with the United States and its coalition partners increasingly preoccupied with trying to restore order and arrange a political transition in Iraq, Karzai isn't likely to get more money or support from Washington.
Some observers fear a repeat of what happened in the 1990s, when the United States walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviet Union withdrew its occupying army and the warlords' excesses contributed to the rise of the puritanical and repressive Taliban.
Poppies are now being grown in 28 out of 32 Afghan provinces, said Sayed Ghulfran, director of the Narcotic Control and Rehabilitation of Afghanistan, a Jalalabad-based agency sponsored by the United Nations that works with farmers. This year's crop is expected to yield 3,600 tons of opium, about 75 percent of the world's heroin. Last year, about 3,400 tons of opium was produced.
The United Nations has concluded that the combined income of poppy farmers and smugglers last year was about $2 billion, half of Afghanistan's total economy.
"An economy that is half illegal poses huge problems," Ghulfran said. "It's an economy that is not taxed. It's impossible to imagine and leads to all kinds of corruption. Warlords have armies of thousands of men. How do they pay for this?"
The obvious answer is the opium trade.
Warlords talk as though they support Karzai.
"The government should set an example of strong rule," said Hazarat Ali, the warlord in the northeastern provinces of Nangarhar and Laghman. He was talking in the courtyard of his two-story house, where local officials waited to see him and young gunmen in Nike shoes and sunglasses paced. "Even if I break the law, the government should be strong and put me in jail. Step by step we can stop this."
The governor of Nangarhar province, Haji Din Mohammad, also a warlord, called on Karzai to pressure farmers to be "satisfied" with the small incomes generated by legal crops.
"They should understand a salary enough to feed their family is enough," Mohammad said.
This public stance against the poppy farmer stands in sharp contrast to threats Ghufran said he has received from men in Ali's and Mohammad's private armies. He has been warned, Ghufran said, to stop his work with farmers on cultivating alternative legal crops.
"They want us to remove our agency sign from the road," Ghufran said. "They don't want an office opposed to poppies in Jalalabad. They said I would get hurt if the sign stayed."
Neither Ali nor Mohammad would deny threats were made.
Zayob, a gunman outside Ali's compound who spoke on the condition that only his first name be used, said the private armies of Ali and Mohammed rarely interfere with poppy farmers. Sometimes, he said, they burn a few acres to pacify the central government's demand for action.
"The farmer pays us and we let them grow the poppy," Zayob said. "They pay a custom (tax) to Hazarat Ali and Haji Din Mohammad. Everyone is happy. It is against Islam for a Muslim to use drugs, so nobody in Afghanistan suffers. What happens outside of Afghanistan I cannot say."
Acres of poppies fill farm fields around Jalalabad, unfurling for miles toward the horizon. Men and boys routinely walk down rows of poppy plants in full view of passing traffic and police checkpoints.
"We don't have any economy," said farmer Abdul Malek, standing in his poppy field. "I just want to feed my family. If the government takes this away, what will I have? I pay the police a little bit. It is no problem."
Food arrives for Afghan schools
World Vision International (WVI) 16 Apr 2004 04:03:00 GMT
Over 5,000 tons of food has completed the long journey from the USA to Afghanistan as part of the Global Food for Education Programme that World Vision is implementing in the country.
The food has completed a long and difficult journey. Beginning in the farmers fields of America, the food was transported by ship across the Atlantic, eventually to the Indian Ocean, and finally docked at the Pakistani port of Karachi. From there the shipping containers were off-loaded onto trucks to begin the long, bumpy ride to Afghanistan.
The food laden trucks eventually crossed the Afghan border near the city of Chaman, in the southeast of Kandahar. There the pace of the trip slowed in order to clear customs, and for transfer of the containers to Afghan transport.
"Pakistani trucks are not allowed to come into Afghanistan," said World Vision Logistics Officer Lilian Mumbi. "We had to interchange food onto Afghan trucks across the border."
After days of slow driving over bumpy dirt roads through Afghanistan's mountains and deserts, the food finally arrived at World Vision's warehouse in the city of Herat, with the last shipping container arriving on April 5th. The food consists of wheat, rice, lentils and vegetable oil. The food will be distributed to Afghan students in 115 schools to promote school attendance, while improving their standards of nutrition.
The programme is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Afghan Ministry of Education, and includes construction of 10 new schools. The food will be distributed in the two western provinces of Ghor and Badghis.
"The progress has been excellent, it has come in smoother than we expected," said Paul Kaufman, the Education Manager. "The next step is to repackage the food, and then start distributions to target 37,000 student beneficiaries, plus 1,200 teachers."
In addition to the food, benefits of the project include teacher training for 675 Afghan teachers, and school supplies for both teachers and students.
'Bin Laden' offers Europe truce
Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK BBC News
Two Arab TV channels have broadcast an audiotape said to be from Osama Bin Laden in which he offers Europe a truce if it "stops attacking Muslims".
But in the tape, aired by al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera satellite channels, the voice said the initiative would not be extended to the US, Reuters reported.
The person on the tape also vowed to avenge Israel's killing of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified.
The voice on the tape said that "the door is open" for about three months to forge a truce, although this could be extended.
The speaker used the Arabic phrase "mubadarat sulh", which can be translated as reconciliation initiative.
The initiative itself would then begin when "the last soldier" leaves "our countries", it added.
However, Spain, Britain, Germany and the European Commission have all rejected such a move, with EC President Romano Prodi saying there was "no possibility for negotiation under [a] terrorist threat".
The tape also refers to the 11 March bombings in the Spanish capital, Madrid, and the events of 11 September 2001.
It said the attacks were payment for US and Spanish actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
"What happened on 11 September and 11 March are your goods returned to you, so that you know security is a necessity for all," the voice said.
"Stop spilling our blood so we can stop spilling your blood."
Spain has been a prominent member of the US-led coalition in Iraq, although its new prime minister has said Spanish troops could be withdrawn if the situation in Iraq does not improve.
BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says the timing of the tape's release - if it is Osama Bin Laden - is significant, emerging shortly after US President George W Bush gave a major news conference defending US policies on Iraq and met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington.
The tape, she says, could be a propaganda attempt to counter what the US has said about events in the Middle East and Iraq.
It may also be attempting to exploit divisions between European nations and the US and drive a wedge between both sides at a time when tensions on both issues are very high, our correspondent says.
However, talk of a reconciliation initiative is unlikely to lead nations into withdrawing troops from Iraq, our correspondent adds.
The tape also criticised US policy for ignoring the "real problem" which is "the occupation of all of Palestine".
It said the death of Sheikh Yassin, spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, would be avenged.
"We vow before God to take revenge for him from America for this, God willing," it said.
Sheikh Yassin was killed in an Israeli missile attack in March in the Gaza Strip.
The tape also condemned the US-led occupation of Iraq as a money-making scheme for companies making weapons or aiding reconstruction efforts - specifically naming the American firm Halliburton.
Several tapes purporting to be from Osama Bin Laden have surfaced since the 11 September attacks - which the US has blamed on his al-Qaeda network.
The most recent, broadcast in January by al-Jazeera, condemned the occupation of Iraq and attacked Arab nations which supported the war.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) later said that analysis indicated the voice on the January tape was that of Osama Bin Laden.
NATO says top Afghan militant arrested
Separately, suspected Taliban kill 7 near Pakistan border
April 14, 2004 MSNBC
KABUL, Afghanistan - A top commander of a militant group fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan has been arrested in Kabul, the international peacekeeping force said on Wednesday.
Separately, officials said suspected Taliban fighters have executed seven Afghans, including five government officials, in southeastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.
On the outskirts of the capital, the commander from the Hezb-i-Islami faction of former Prime Minister and mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was arrested on Tuesday in a joint operation by peacekeepers and Afghan security forces in Charasyab.
Commander Chris Henderson, the spokesman of the International Security Assistance Force, did not identify the man, but termed him an “imminent threat” to citizens of Kabul, the United Nations, foreign aid workers and the NATO-led peacekeepers.
“That threat has been now removed from streets of Kabul,” he told a briefing, adding that five other men were arrested in the raid and were being questioned to see if they had links to Hezb-i-Islami.
Hezb-i-Islami has been blamed for several bloody attacks on peacekeepers in Kabul.
The arrest comes two weeks after U.S. soldiers detained Amanullah, another top Hekmatyar commander, in an area outside Kabul.
5 officials, woman, child killed
Elsewhere, gunmen stopped a car carrying seven Afghans in Barmal district of Paktika province on Monday and opened fire, residents and officials said.
A woman and child were killed along with the five local officials from President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government, said regional military commander Mohammad Hassan, who blamed the attack on Taliban guerrillas.
Residents said the shooting appeared to be the work of Taliban guerrillas active in south and eastern Afghanistan.
Representatives of the Taliban were not available to comment.
The Taliban have declared a jihad, or holy war, on foreign and Afghan government troops and aid organizations, and threatened this week to step up attacks against the government and the 15,500 U.S.-led foreign troops in the country.
About 650 people have been killed in violence involving Taliban and allied militants since August.
The violence has been the worst since the Taliban’s collapse in late 2001 and has prompted Karzai to delay elections to September from June.
Afghanistan-Iran: Interview with Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
TEHRAN, 15 April (IRIN) - Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was in Iran earlier this week as part of a nine-day mission to the region focussing on the voluntary repatriation of Afghan and Iraqi refugees. Lubbers arrived in Tehran on Monday night to begin talks with senior Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Interior Minister Musavi Lari.
Iran hosts the largest number of Afghan and Iraqi refugees in the world, but since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, 400,000 Afghan refugees in Iran have opted to return to their homeland.
Iran's 200,000 Iraqi refugees have also been leaving the country is large numbers since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein last year. He spoke to IRIN about the main challenges faced by Iran in relation to its large refugee population.
QUESTION: What is the purpose of your visit?
ANSWER: There are three main reasons for my visit: the issue of repatriation, to make sure there are good checks on expulsions, and preparing a dialogue for a regional approach between Iran and Afghanistan.
Q: Since March 2002 over 2 million Afghans have been repatriated - where are we now in the process?
A: We have still got quite a lot to do, because here in Iran there are still 1.4 million Afghans whom we consider to be our concern, and we consider as refugees. Until 1 April next year we have a tri-partite agreement between Afghanistan, Iran and ourselves. We will repatriate 500,000, quite a big number, but we will do our utmost to inform people, and to assist them to go.
Q: There have been recent reports that the Iranian government's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA) is to impose further restrictions on Afghans still living in the country. Have you discussed these issues during your stay in Tehran and how have they responded?
A: I think they will respect the tri-partite agreement. But it is our common policy to reduce assistance to Afghans here because we should avoid a situation where, although it is secure enough in Afghanistan to go home, people stay here because of the benefits in terms of schools and medicines and other things. They say 'why should we change from Iran to Afghanistan and go for a more difficult life?' so we too have reduced our assistance programme.
Q: Earlier this month you called for improved security in Afghanistan to aid the repatriation process, how has the response been to your call?
A: I think it's still not perfect but step by step it's improving. We have the return commissions working, which looks into rumours or realities of harassment of people. We then address that, so the responsible authorities have a tough talk with local chiefs if something goes wrong, which is essential because the experiences of the past have left many people concerned. Recently we asked the governor of the Bamyan province [where many Afghans of Hazara ethnic origin live] to explain that the situation has very much improved and that stimulates Hazaras to go home.
Q: Are you happy with Iran's level of cooperation?
A: Yes. I think there are always tough negotiations and I mean that's not a big problem. For us they are transparent, we speak with them and normally when we have problems we work it out together.
Q: What efforts are being made to find a long-term solution for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan?
A: There are large numbers of IDPs in Afghanistan but many have already gone home. I think we still have 150,000, but by the end of next year they will all be home. Here we have the problem of course that after bringing back the 500,000 I spoke about, there will still be considerable numbers here [in Iran], so then we have to sort it out.
Do they all have to go back after that, or are there certain people who can stay here because they have become very productive members of the society in Iran? I already have the first indications that this will not be easy but also not impossible. Not easy, because there is large unemployment in Iran, but at the same time, they [the Iranians] agreed that positive relations between Iran and Afghanistan are very important.
Therefore it might be a win-win situation for the two countries if those who are very productive are not all pushed out, so this is also part of the solution. This doesn't exclude the fact that next year we have to look to some very vulnerable groups, and there may be some difficult cases where we have to find other solutions.
Q: Why have fewer Afghans chosen to leave Iran than Pakistan?
A: Because Iran has a higher level of income than Pakistan, conditions in Iran are better still in terms of schools and medical care and so on, you might say 'let's stay a while here' so that's the reason.
Q: How is the increasingly volatile situation in Iraq effecting repatriation?
A: I still think speaking with my own people here that by far the large majority of Iraqis living in Iran still want to go home, even though there is a volatile situation. Although already 70,000 - that's about one third of Iraqis living in Iran - have gone home, we don't hear stories of problems, so it is an indication that in the villages and where they go back, they are received as family and do not become victims of violence again.
Q: What has happened to the fate of the expelled Afghan refugees?
A: It's not so much a case of expelled Afghan refugees, what we have is expelled people who became illegal without documentation and who are rounded up by police and security forces and are then brought to the other side of the border. On this, we have successfully negotiated with the government to have a look at these people to see if there are any refugees among them. It is very good we can have this check and in general there is proof that policies practiced here are correct in that sense. This is of course a very important preventative measure because if people who do the rounding up know that there is an HCR check further down the road, near the border, they are more careful not to make mistakes.
Q: There are proposals to re-irrigate the marshes of Southern Iraq - how realistic is it that the Marsh Arab refugees in Iran will be able to return to their former way of life?
A: I think it will be quite difficult. I know that the UN is looking into it, in particular UNDP together with others. But UNHCR as a refugee agency certainly has not got the capacity to do the work, which is quite a challenge.
Q: At the recent donor meeting in Berlin were you satisfied with the response from donors towards the issue of repatriation?
A: Yes I was in Berlin, I was even surprised to hear from President Karzai that the promises in Tokyo in the earlier conference were kept, which is an indication that the international community takes Afghanistan very seriously. There were new promises made in Berlin, so I'm positive now about that. I think this will help the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and it will help Afghan refugees to return home and build a new Afghanistan.
High Commissioner arrives in Kabul, second stop of three-nation tour
KABUL, April 15 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers flew into Kabul today on the second stop of a three-nation tour and proceeded to a refugee centre in the capital where Afghan returnees receive assistance.
Lubbers briefly met with returnees at the centre on the Jalalabad Road where returning Afghans, mostly arriving from Pakistan, receive cash assistance, medical treatment and mine awareness training.
He later had lunch with Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Enayatullah Nazari. During his four-day stay in Afghanistan, the High Commissioner will meet with President Hamid Karzai and other senior Afghan officials.
On Sunday, Lubbers will proceed to Pakistan on the last leg of his nine-day, three-nation mision.
In Tehran on Wednesday, Lubbers had discussions with Iran's Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref about the repatriation of Afghan refugees and related issues. In his talks with Iranian leaders, Lubbers covered the voluntary repatriation programme for Afghans and the difficulties, including security problems, that continue in some parts of Afghanistan.
During the course of 2004, he said, UNHCR is planning to help in the return of up to half a million Afghans from Iran. Over 400,000 have returned so far from Iran, with UNHCR assistance, since the beginning of 2002. Other issues such as the deportation of Afghans who do not have refugee status were also discussed, and UNHCR has welcomed the fact that it is now able to have access to deportees in order to ascertain that they do indeed not face any protection difficulties back home in Afghanistan.
Since the fall of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001, more 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. In addition, some 800 million internally displaced people have also returned to their homes.
Moderate quake shakes northwestern Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan
Associated Press Wednesday April 14, 11:51 PM
A moderate earthquake shook northwestern Pakistan and parts of neighboring Afghanistan on Wednesday, an official said. No injuries or damage were reported.
The magnitude 5 quake was centered about 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of Peshawar in the Hindu Kush mountains, said Malik Salahuddin, an official at the state-run Seismological Center in Peshawar.
The tremor was felt in the capital, Islamabad, and the northwestern towns of Chitral and Peshawar, near the Afghanistan border.
Earthquakes are common in the Hindu Kush mountain range which straddles Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, a strong earthquake centered in that region measured 6.6, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Pakistani seismological center put the magnitude at 6.8.
Dushanbe to host regional mine action conference
Source: UN OCHA Integrated Regional Information Network
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004
ANKARA, 14 April (IRIN) - Dushanbe will host a regional anti-land mine conference on Thursday for representatives of Afghanistan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Sponsored by the Tajik government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the two-day event is a concerted effort to advance dialogue on the problems of landmines in Central Asia.
"This effort is to promote an understanding that unless the Ottawa Convention is universally adopted, there will never be an end to the menace that has blighted the lives of millions of people in so many countries," Peter Isaacs, chief technical advisor for Tajikistan's Mine Action Cell, a UNDP sponsored project, told IRIN from the Tajik capital Dushanbe.
As of December 2003, a total of 141 states have formally accepted the Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personal Mines and on their Destruction - otherwise known as the Ottawa Convention and first signed in December 1997. Of the Central Asian countries, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are state parties to the Convention.
Article 12 of the Ottawa Convention states that the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall convene a Review Conference five years after its entry into force. The purpose of the Review Conference is to: review the operation and status of the convention; consider the need for further meetings of the State Parties; take decisions on submissions of State Parties as provided for in Article 5; and, adopt, if necessary, conclusions related to the implementation of the Convention. The first Review Conference will be held in Nairobi at the end of November.
In addition to highlighting the humanitarian impact of anti-personal mines in Central Asia and promoting the acceptance of the Convention in the region, the meeting will also address concerns expressed by some countries in the region that have not been able to join the Convention, thereby facilitating progress towards acceptance by those countries, in time for the conference in Nairobi.
The meeting is expected to attract some 150 participants from the region, as well as HM Queen Noor of Jordan, an internationally respected advocate of the Ottawa Convention, who is expected to address participates on the final day of the conference on Friday.
According to Landmine Action, a network of UK-based NGOs involved in advocacy and awareness-raising work on landmines and other explosive remnants of armed conflict, there are millions of active mines scattered in over 70 countries waiting to explode.
Estimates vary between 100 - 120 million (International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations) and 85-90 million mines (US Pentagon). These approximate figures translate into one mine for every 17 children or 52 people in the world. A further 110 million are reported to be stockpiled ready for use.
Some 2,000 people are involved in landmine accidents every month, one victim every 20 minutes, according to ICRC estimates. Around 800 of these will die, the rest will be maimed. Many victims are civilians, because landmines remain hidden in the ground for decades after the conflict in which they were laid, and they cannot distinguish between the footfall of an enemy soldier and an innocent civilian. It is estimated that up to 85 percent of children who suffer landmine injury die before they reach hospital. Landmines also deny people the use of land vital to their survival in subsistence economies, the group maintained.
Isaacs noted that Tajikistan destroyed its last stocks of anti-personal mines at the end of March, fulfilling its obligation under the Ottawa Convention one day before the 1 April deadline.
Conference on Islam and Democracy Closes
Associated Press Thursday April 15, 3:00 AM
A group of leaders from Muslim countries embraced multiparty elections and equal rights on Wednesday at the end of a pro-democracy conference that was weakened by the absence of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The congress involved representatives from 14 Muslim countries and was held against a backdrop of a U.S. push for reforms in the Middle East and debate over the role of religion in political life.
"In our own countries, the democratic processes are not finished," said Zlatko Lagumdzija, a former prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The driving energy for change should come from within countries. Of course, it can be helped from outside forces, but it cannot be imposed."
Also absent from the Congress of Democrats from the Islamic World were representatives from Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. The meeting was sponsored by the U.N. Development Program and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
A communique at the end of the meeting emphasized the "the compatibility of Islam and the principles of democracy" and stressed the delegates' belief in freedom of expression and of the press, the rule of law, regular multiparty elections, and the equal participation of women in the democratic decision-making process.
"The principles of Islam and the principles of democratic governance are mutually reinforcing," it said.
Yemen's human rights minister, Amat Allem al-Sowsowah, told delegates that women "are often the first targets of repression by the forces of fundamentalism."
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