Strong earthquake rattles northeast Afghanistan near Pakistani border
Mon Apr 5, 8:41 PM ET
KABUL (CP) - A powerful earthquake jolted the remote Hindu Kush mountains along Afghanistan's northeast border with Pakistan early Tuesday as residents slept, officials said.
The quake was centred in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province, which borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China, near the Wakhan corridor, a narrow strip of Afghan territory that juts off to the northeast of the country.
The temblor struck at 2:24 a.m. Tuesday. The U.S. Geological Survey said it had a magnitude of 6.6. Pakistan's Seismological Centre, based in the northwestern city of Peshawar, put the magnitude at 6.8.
"Soldiers at the Canadian camp on the edge of Kabul were shaken in their cots," Canadian Press correspondent Stephen Thorne reported.
The quake rattled windows and sent some frightened Kabul residents scampering into the streets in their nightclothes.
The government had no immediate information on any casualties or damage.
"The whole region is earthquake-prone," said presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin. "Emergency response has been very challenging in the past because a lot of areas are difficult to access."
In May 1998, an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 killed nearly 5,000 people in northern Afghanistan and neighbouring Tajikistan. Another quake killed up to 1,000 in northern Afghanistan in March 2002.
Mohammed Irfan, an official at Pakistan's Seismological Centre, said Tuesday's quake lasted "nearly a minute."
"It was of severe intensity," he said.
Amir Shahzad Warsi, an official at Pakistan's Meteorological Department in the capital, Islamabad, said the quake was "intense" and there were fears it could cause serious damage.
It was felt as far east as Lahore, near Pakistan's border with India.
The Afghan area of Badakhshan is extremely remote and difficult to reach by road. Assessing the damage could take time, sometimes even several days.
The quake's epicentre was 275 kilometres northeast of Kabul near the border with Pakistan, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The area sees frequent seismic activity.
A pair of magnitude-5 earthquakes struck northwestern Pakistan on March 10 and February 22, but caused no injuries.
A magnitude 5.7 quake and nearly equally strong aftershock struck roughly the same region on Feb. 13, killing at least 24 people, triggering landslides and demolishing hundreds of homes.
US envoy gives Pakistan ultimatum to tackle extremists on Afghan border
WASHINGTON, (AFP) - US-led forces in Afghanistan will move into Pakistani territory to destroy Taliban and other extremist groups if Islamabad cannot do the job by itself, the US envoy in Afghanistan has warned.
"We have told the Pakistani leadership that either they must solve this problem or we will have to do it for ourselves," said Zalmay Khalilzad, also the special presidential envoy in Kabul.
Khalilzad said the US-led coalition was prepared to help Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
"We prefer that Pakistan takes responsibility, and the Pakistani government agrees," he said.
"However, one way or the other, this problem will have to be dealt with," he added.
Only last month Khalilzad angered Pakistan by charging that Taliban and Al-Qaeda fugitives were launching attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistani soil.
He said that although Pakistan's recent army deployment into tribal areas to destroy Taliban sanctuaries along the Afghan border was "positive and hopeful," the Taliban and other extremist groups continued to be able "to base, train and operate from that country's territory."
"We cannot allow this problem to fester indefinitely," he said.
The radical Taliban Islamic militia was ousted in 2001 for offering sanctuary to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Khalilzad told a forum organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that unless Pakistan rooted out Taliban sanctuaries, it would be difficult to fully eliminate security problems in the south and east of Afghanistan.
Pakistani authorities last month stepped up efforts to eradicate al-Qaeda fugitives from its semi-autonomous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
But it rechannelled its efforts into negotiations with the region's tribes after a largely-disastrous operation last month against some 500 fighters holed up in the mud-walled fortress homes of rebel tribal elders.
The 12-day battle by 7,500 Pakistani troops in March resulted in the capture and deaths of some 200 fighters and local tribal supporters, and the deaths of at least 46 troops.
No significant al-Qaeda figures were among the killed or captured, and the remainder escaped through underground tunnels or by slipping across a troop cordon.
Khalilzad also said that it would take a sustained commitment of at least five years by the United States and its partners to consolidate the victory over extremism and terrorism in Afgahnistan.
"The next major task for us is for the United States -- both parties and both branches of the government -- to make that commitment and to put in place the five-year program that will enable Afghanistan to stand on its own feet," he said.
"This is important and worthwhile as as we face budget deficits and substantial costs in Iraq."
Khalilzad did not elaborate on the program.
The United States had pledged an additional one billion dollars in aid to Afghanistan for 2004 on top of the 1.2 billion it had announced earlier.
Khalilzad also said the most immediate challenge was the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan this fall.
He said the challenge was not security but rather logistical and operational, including registering nine to 10 million Afghans as voters.
So far the United Nations, which had led responsibility for the elections, had registered 1.5 million people.
Afghan army plans operation to hunt Al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives
Mon Apr 5, 2:17 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan forces plan a search mission to arrest more than 150 Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects believed to have fled back across the border after a recent operation by Pakistan, a military official has said.
150 Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters had entered Afghanistan.
He gave no date for the start of the operation but indicated it would focus on the areas of Marzak and Sar Howza in Paktika, near the Pakistan border.
Khan said troops from Afghanistan's newly-trained national army and "possibly" some troops from the US-led coalition would participate in the hunt.
"We will operate together to carry out this offensive," he added.
Khan said plans were also in hand to establish a new military base in Mangaray, a small town on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to prevent further infiltration.
Mangaray is near an existing Afghan and US-led joint military base at Lwara, which was established early last month.
Thousands of Pakistani troops conducted a major operation on their side of the border last month aimed at capturing militants in the tribal regions of south Waziristan.
US-led forces have also been engaged in operations against Al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants since March 7 in south and southeast border regions of Afghanistan.
Operation "Mountain Storm" is also aimed at capturing Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.
U.S. Says It Is Holding Hekmatyar Ally
Mon Apr 5, 8:13 AM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military said Monday it is holding a senior ally of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and suspects the man was involved in helping organize two suicide bomb attacks that killed a British and a Canadian peacekeeper earlier this year.
The March 31 arrest of Amanullah had been announced previously, but the military had given no details of what he was suspected of doing.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said Amanullah harbored militant leaders and helped protect the men who carried out the back-to-back suicide bombings in Kabul in January that killed one Canadian and one British soldier. Both attacks were claimed by the Taliban.
Amanullah "provided safe haven perhaps for the bombers or for people who facilitated the bombers," Hilferty said, adding that he was being questioned at an undisclosed location.
He said the man was also suspected of involvement in other bombings in Kabul, but declined to give details.
"We do suspect him, though, of harboring anti-coalition leaders," Hilferty added.
Hilferty said bomb-making materials and weapons, including grenades and a machine gun, were found by U.S. and Afghan troops when they seized Amanullah on Wednesday at a compound in Mayden Shahr, the capital of Wardak province, about 25 miles west of Kabul.
The U.S. military has said it is confident of trapping fugitives including al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Taliban chief Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar this year.
Amanullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, was a commander in central Wardak province for Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami faction during the U.S.-backed war against Afghanistan's Soviet occupiers in the 1980s.
Hilferty said he was still a "senior commander" for the group, which has joined the Taliban in vowing to drive foreign troops out of the country and oust President Hamid Karzai.
Afghanistan Donor Conference: Testing Time for the Afghan-International Partnership
Kate Bulbulian 05 Apr 2004 15:14:00 GMT CARE International - UK
Donor fatigue has not set in, but multi-year commitments continue to fall short
BERLIN (1 April 2004) – The $8.2 billion in funding pledged to Afghanistan by international donors at the Berlin donor conference brings a welcome increase in funding but falls short on long-term commitment, said (global humanitarian organisation) CARE International.
‘The coming year heralds a testing time for the partnership between Afghanistan and its donors: The international community must deliver on its funding pledges but the Afghan government must build its capacity to use those resources effectively and transparently,’ said Kevin Henry, CARE Advocacy Director, from Berlin.
If both sides live up to their promises, there can be hope that this will lay the foundations for greater commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction in the longer-term. ‘This year will provide a benchmark. If both sides deliver, then there is a better chance that donors will increase their engagement for subsequent years,’ said Barnett Rubin of the Centre on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University.
According to a recent needs assessment prepared by the Afghan government, reconstruction will require $27.5 billion over the next seven years. The pledge of $4.5 billion in the first year slightly exceeds the amount requested and gives the Afghan government good reason to come away from the conference relatively satisfied, CARE and CIC said.
However, in contrast, only $1.4 billion in firm commitments – just 36% of the requested amount – have been made for the third year. Donors must increase this commitment in order to meet the roughly $4 billion in annual funding deemed necessary by Afghanistan to achieve its reconstruction goals.
‘Without long-term commitment it will be very difficult for the Afghan government to undertake some of the major reconstruction projects contained in its seven-year plan,’ said Henry. While several donors made new multi-year pledges in Bonn, many continue to provide funding on only a year-to-year basis.
SECURITY The importance of addressing the current security problems within Afghanistan was also given significant attention at the Berlin conference. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, himself highlighted the need to address the problems posed by warlord militias, terrorist groups, and the escalating opium trade.
‘Urgent progress in disarmament is especially important in view of the upcoming elections, planned for September 2004,’ Henry said. ‘Full implementation of the agreement reached last week to control heavy weapons and disarm fighters would be a positive indicator for future progress in Afghanistan.’
NATO’s expressed intention to expand ISAF’s (International Security Assistance Force) presence outside Kabul is also to be welcomed. However, very few concrete new commitments in this regard were announced at the conference.
Regarding the drugs trade, President Karzai noted that, if left unchecked, it could threaten the very existence of the Afghan state. Here in Berlin, Afghanistan signed an agreement with neighbouring countries recognising the importance of tackling the growing drugs trade.
‘While it is very positive that the entire international community now recognises the security threats facing Afghanistan, more concrete action will be required in the coming months in the areas of disarmament, ISAF expansion, and the counter-narcotics effort,’ said Henry.
Pentagon report on Afghanistan criticizes war strategy: report
Sun Apr 4, 4:36 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A retired army colonel commissioned by the Pentagon to examine the war in Afghanistan concluded the conflict created conditions that have given "warlordism, banditry and opium production a new lease on life."
Retired Army Colonel Hy Rothstein, who served in the Army Special Forces for more than 20 years, wrote in a military analysis he gave to the Pentagon in January that the US failed to adapt to new conditions created by the Taliban's collapse, The New Yorker magazine reported.
"The failure to adjust US operations in line with the post-Taliban change in theater conditions cost the United States some of the fruits of victory and imposed additional, avoidable humanitarian and stability costs on Afghanistan," Rothstein wrote in the report.
"Indeed, the war's inadvertent effects may be more significant than we think."
The military should have used Special Forces to adapt to new conditions, Rothstein wrote.
The war "effectively destroyed the Taliban but has been significantly less successful at being able to achieve the primary policy goal of ensuring that al Qaeda could no longer operate in Afghanistan," he wrote.
The Pentagon returned the report to Rothstein with a request he cut it drastically and soften his conclusions, the magazine reported.
"There may be a kernel of truth in there, but our experts found the study rambling and not terribly informative," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Collins told The New Yorker.
Islamic group threatens to turn Spain "into an inferno" unless troops withdrawn from Afghanistan, Iraq
MADRID, Spain (AP) - An Islamic group that claims responsibility for the Madrid bombings says it will turn Spain "into an inferno" unless the country halts its support for the United States and withdraws its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The threat came in a letter faxed to the Spanish daily newspaper ABC over the weekend, the paper said Monday. ABC said the letter was handwritten in Arabic and signed "Abu Dujana Al Afgani, Ansar Group, al-Qaida in Europe."
The same person claimed responsibility for the March 11 bombings in a videotape found outside a Madrid mosque two days after the attacks.
The fax came just hours before five terror suspects blew themselves up in an apartment in Leganes, south of Madrid, to avoid police capture.
The government believes the suicide blast killed two of the alleged ringleaders of last month's Madrid train bombings, including one known as "the Tunisian," and three other terror suspects.
Two or three suspects may have escaped before the blast, which also killed a special forces officer and wounded 15 other policeman.
The letter gave Spain until Sunday, April 4, to fulfill its demands of ending support for the United States and withdrawing troops from both countries.
"If these demands are not met, we will declare war on you and ... convert your country into an inferno and your blood will flow like rivers," the letter said.
The group said it had showed its force with the "blessed attacks of March 11" and the planting of a bomb along the high-speed railway line linking Madrid and the Seville last week, which did not explode.
ABC cited unidentified sources in Spain's National Intelligence Center as saying the letter's authenticity appeared "fairly credible." It said the language used in the letter was similar to that used in the video.
The intelligence agency has linked the Ansar group to the Tunisian ringleader killed in the suicide blast Saturday evening.
Ansar al-Islam is an Islamic extremist guerrilla group blamed for terrorist strikes in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco.
A respected French private investigator says Spanish police believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian terror suspect with links to the Ansar group and al-Qaida, coordinated the Madrid attacks.
The railway bombings, which killed 191 persons and injured some 1,800, came three days before Spain's general elections. Many saw the bombings as a reprisal for the Spanish government's support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The opposition Socialist party, which had opposed the war along with most Spaniards, won the elections, in part due to anger over the attacks.
In one of its first statements, the party said it planned to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations took control of the situation there. The party later said it intended doubling its troop numbers in Afghanistan to 250 to show it was committed to fighting terrorism.
US let Pak become nuke power over Afghanistan Monday April 5, 3:23 PM Washington, Apr.5 (ANI): Pakistan became a nuclear power with the help of the United States as Washington was keen to get a foothold in Afghanistan, claimed a former Senate official.
In a article written for the New Yorker magazine, Leonard Weiss, a former Senate staff director involved with non-proliferation issues, says that "to stop Pakistan from acquiring the bomb itself, which, according to the best accounts, it has had since 1987, the US would have had to be willing to put non-proliferation in South Asia ahead of the Cold War policy of sending arms to the Mujahideen to fight the Russians in Afghanistan".
"This we were not prepared to do. There were legislative initiatives designed to stop, or at least, slow, the Pakistani bomb, using tough sanctions as a lever," Weiss is quoted by the Daily Times, as saying.
They never got a chance to work because the Reagan and the first Bush administrations, along with a feckless Congress, prevented them from being implemented via a series of waivers.
"Much of the support given to the Mujahideen, with Pakistan's cooperation, benefited the Taliban and, by extension, Osama Bin Laden. It was only when the Russians left Afghanistan in 1990 that sanctions were imposed, too late to prevent the bomb or affect the supply network." Weiss says.
He finds it to be a "supreme irony" that "not getting tough with Pakistan over its nuclear activities in the 80s has led to the heightened risk of nuclear terrorism that is the reason given by the present administration that we can't get tough with Pakistan now." (ANI)
Afghan Farmers Protest Opium Crop Plan
Mon Apr 5, 2:31 PM ET By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of farmers demonstrated in eastern Afghanistan on Monday against a government plan to destroy fields of opium poppies in an effort to crack down on rampant drug production, police said.
About 300 farmers gathered peacefully near the town of Kama in Nangarhar province, a poppy-growing region about 90 miles east of Kabul, said Ajab Shah, a senior provincial police official.
The government plan calls for the destruction of 75 percent of the opium crop in Nangarhar and two other key opium-producing provinces. Opium is used to make heroin.
The eradication is intended to destroy up to 30 percent of Afghanistan's crop before it can be harvested.
Nangarhar Gov. Din Mohammed said about 200 people traveled Sunday from Kama to the provincial capital, Jalalabad, to ask that the program be scaled back.
The provincial government had planned to destroy all the opium in the province, "but we received orders from the central government to destroy 75 percent in five districts," he said, adding that eradication will begin soon.
Last year, Afghanistan produced about three-quarters of the world's opium. Authorities suspect the lucrative trade benefits both the commanders of the irregular militias controlling much of the country and the anti-government rebels, including the ousted Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai's government has vowed to launch a crackdown on drug production, and foreign donors, including the United States and Britain, are spending millions of dollars training new Afghan security forces to destroy opium fields.
Germany to fund Afghan canine anti-mine centre
BERLIN, April 5 (AFP) - Germany has earmarked 1.9 million euros (2.3 million dollars) to help fund a centre training mine-seeking dogs in Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said in a statement Monday.
The centre has some 300 hounds trained to sniff out the explosive devices, which are estimated to still cover around 780 square kilometres (301 square miles) of the war-ravaged country, despite vast efforts to remove them.
Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, with mines and ordnance from decades of war continuing to kill or maim between 100 and 120 people every month.
The funds will bring to 3.2 million euros Germany's financial aid for mine clearance operations in Afghanistan in 2004, the ministry said.
Soldier killed, 5 wounded in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - One Afghan soldier was killed and five wounded when their joint convoy with US-led troops hit a roadside bomb in southeastern Afghanistan, a US military official said Monday.
"There was a coalition convoy with Afghan National Army, it was hit with an improvised explosive device east of Qalat," US Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty told a news conference in Kabul.
"One ANA soldier was killed... one ANA soldier was seriously injured and four were slightly injured," Hilferty said, adding that the US-led soldiers did not suffer any casualties in the incident on Saturday.
Qalat in Zabul province, some 340 kilometres (200 miles) southeast of capital Kabul is widely believed to be one of the Pashtun-dominated areas where Taleban fighters still find support among the population.
Hilferty said the soldiers were patrolling as part of the ongoing US-led Operation Mountain Storm which focuses on the south, east and southeast of the country and is aimed at capturing Taleban and al-Qaeda officials including Osama bin Laden and fugitive Taleban leader Mullah Omar.
The American-led operation complements Pakistani army efforts on its side of the border to flush militants out of its tribal areas.
Pakistan says US forces would not cope in tribal areas
ISLAMABAD, April 6 (AFP) - Pakistani forces are doing a better job hunting Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in tribal areas than US forces ever could, a minister said Tuesday in response to an apparent threat by a US envoy.
'We can do our job, we know our job, and the Americans don't know the ground situation. We know better what is going on,' Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP.
He was responding to US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad's criticism of Pakistan's efforts to sweep Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from sanctuaries in its unruly northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Khalilzad said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that despite Pakistan's recent army operation the extremists were still able 'to base, train and operate from that country's territory.'
'We cannot allow this problem to fester indefinitely. 'We have told the Pakistani leadership that either they must solve this problem or we will have to do it for ourselves,' Khalilzad said, in an apparent threat of action on Pakistani territory by US forces based in Afghanistan. 'We prefer that Pakistan takes responsibility, and the Pakistani government agrees.'
Afghans to host first economic meeting in decades
KABUL, April 5 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will host its first regional economic meeting for decades later this month, a government minister said on Monday, hailing the development as showing the country is open to business after years of conflict.
Commerce Minister Sayed Mustafa Kazimi said in a statement that conference of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) will be held on April 18 amd 19. ECO was established in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey to promote trade, investment and development. In 1992, it was expanded to include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
"The conference is an indication that Afghanistan is now open for business and ready to welcome business people from all our neighbouring ECO countries to participate in developing our economy," Kazimi said.
At a major conference on Afghanistan in Berlin last week donor countries pledged $8.2 billion to the country over the coming three years. The Berlin conference was preceded by a private sector meeting on trade and investment in Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government, which replaced the Taliban regime overthrown in late 2001, is keen to attract foreign investment to help rebuild infrastructure ruined in a quarter of a century of war.
The meeting will be formally opened by Karzai and an ECO Chambers of Commerce and Industries General Assembly will follow on April 20. The meetings will be attended by ministers and business executives from the member states, as well as senior advisers of multilateral development banks and bilateral aid agencies.
U.S. delegation urges Uzbekistan to move toward greater political freedoms after deadly attacks
Associated Press Monday April 5
A U.S. congressional delegation said Monday it urged the Uzbek government to push democratic reforms after a week of violence in the Central Asian nation that killed at least 47 people. Meanwhile, the prosecutor-general's office said operations continued to hunt an unknown number of suspects in the attacks.
"They still haven't arrested all of them," Prosecutor-General spokeswoman Svetlana Artikova said. "How many? If we knew that, then we'd be the happiest people in the world."
The United States and Uzbekistan have been close allies since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Uzbekistan offered the United States the use of an air base near the Afghan border, a key asset in the ouster of the Taliban militia from power in Afghanistan in late 2001.
"I happen to believe that from this tragedy, moving toward the goal of bringing about greater political freedoms and economic freedoms is the natural and correct step," U.S. Rep. David Dreier of California told reporters after meeting with Uzbek Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev.
Dreier said the delegation was "very encouraged from the reports that we have been seeing in the area of human rights," but didn't provide any examples. The two countries signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2002. But for the Uzbek government to continue receiving direct U.S. aid, the U.S. government must certify the country is making progress on human rights.
A U.S. State Department report on human rights in Uzbekistan released in February said the government was committing "numerous serious abuses." At least four people died in custody last year because of mistreatment by authorities, the report said, and up to 5,800 people were imprisoned for political or religious reasons. On Sunday, Safayev told foreign journalists that cutting off aid to the country would be a mistake and insisted progress was being made on human rights and economic reforms.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will also decide this week if Uzbekistan has met a range of benchmarks on reforms, set after the bank held its annual meeting in Tashkent amid heavy criticism from human rights groups last year. The bank, which invested US$31 million in Uzbekistan last year, has suggested its annual investment in the country could quadruple if conditions there improve.
Dreier's delegation was in Uzbekistan to "conduct oversight on the U.S. regional security presence, including the ongoing operations in Afghanistan," the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent said in a statement. Dreier said the United States has offered its assistance in determining who was behind last week's attacks.
"The fact that we have seen the soft targets hit here does leave me to conclude there are attempts to destabilize the government of Uzbekistan, and that's why standing up and bringing about the resolution to this is extremely important," Dreier said.
Uzbek authorities have claimed unspecified international terror groups were responsible for the attacks, which mainly targeted police, killing 10 officers and four civilians. Thirty-three alleged terrorists were killed in four days of explosions, suicide attacks and assaults on police that began March 28.
The Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, arrived in Tashkent on Monday to meet with Uzbek government officials, including President Islam Karimov.
Taliban deny Mulla Omar gives interview to Washington Post
NNI, Pakistan 04/05/2004
ISLAMABAD - Taliban described as fabricated and concocted an interview attributed to their leader Mullah Muhammad Omar by Washington Post in its Sunday edition.
"We were surprised to hear that Washington Post has published an interview, which has never happened," Taliban spokesman Hamid Agha said.
"It is not Taliban policy to threaten common Afghans with death," Agha said, while referring to the contents of the interview that Mulla Omar has threatened to kill Afghans.
"We want to throw Americans and other foreign occupation forces out of our homeland and we seek the support of Afghans," the spokesman said.
Agha said Taliban have nominated him as spokesman and Mullah Omar has given him the assignment to speak to media.
The Taliban spokesman said he is surprised to hear that the newspaper has claimed that a journalist Mohammad Shehzad visited Kandahar and met Mulla Omar in October 2002.
He recalled that Mullah Omar did not meet any foreign journalist when the American forces launched attack on Afghanistan on October 7th 2002.
Agha said that a group of Pakistan and foreign journalists were taken to Kandahar by the Afghan consulate in Quetta in November 2002 but Mohammad Shehzad was not among those journalists.
He said Mullah Omar even did not talk on phone with the visiting journalists in Kandahar as the Taliban leadership was the state of war.
Another Taliban official, who once enjoyed top position in the Bakhtar news agency, also denied Washington Post report that Mullah Omar has been interviewed.
"I will describe the fake interview a great joke by the American newspaper," he said.
He said Mullah Omar has never given any interview to any American newspaper even when Taliban was ruling Afghanistan. He however said Mullah gave several interviews to different radio stations.
Ukraine to cement ties with Afghanistan
KABUL, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Under an agreement signed here Sunday the Republic of Ukraine agreed to enhance bilateral relations with the post-conflict Afghanistan.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Konstantin Grischenko and his Afghan counterpart Abdullah Abdullah signed the agreement on behalf of their respective governments.
The agreement would pave the way for the expansion of diplomatic relations as well as trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.
"The document we signed today will open the door for further cooperation between the two nations," Ukrainian Foreign Minister told journalists after signing the agreement.
Ukraine, as a member of international community, would help thepeople of Afghanistan to overcome the challenges ahead, he said.
For his part, Afghan foreign minister said that Ukraine besidesopening a liaison office here would also provide training to the fledgling Afghan diplomatic staff.
The visiting Ukrainian ranking official later on would hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and exchange views on matters pertaining mutual interests.
This is the first visit of Grischenko to Afghanistan during which he would extend an invitation on behalf of Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma to his Afghan counterpart to visit Kiev this year. Enditem
ADB chief worries Iraq has diverted attention from Afghan woes
Kyodo (Japan) Monday April 5, 12:59 PM
The chief of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has expressed concern that the volatile situation in Iraq has diverted the global community's attention from Afghanistan.
"Although the international donors' conference in Tokyo in 2002 for aiding (war-torn) Afghanistan was successful, the Iraq war ensued," ADB President Tadao Chino said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.
"It has been worrying me that the global community may come to forget the Afghan situation since the world's attention has concentrated on Iraq," he added.
Chino attended an international donors' conference on Afghan aid in Berlin that ended last Thursday. The two days of talks wrapped with more than 50 countries pledging $8.2 billion to support Afghanistan's reconstruction over the next three years.
"I have detected the serious willingness of participating countries and international institutions to help rebuild Afghanistan and the amount of the pledged aid testifies to this willingness," said Chino, former Japanese vice finance minister for international affairs.
Asked how he views the aid figure, which was less than the Afghan request for $27.5 billion for the subsequent seven-year period, Chino said, "The donor countries could not provide long-term commitments due to budgetary constraints."
"The Afghan request calls for $11.9 billion in the next three years," he said, adding that the latest commitment may live up to Afghanistan's expectations since the United States is likely to offer more aid.
Asked about the issue of drug trafficking in the country, Chino said the international community needs to help Afghanistan improve the income structure of its villages, which currently depend on poppy production for about 30% of their combined income.
"The ADB and other entities are willing to provide the villages with techniques for producing wheat and other marketable farm products that could replace the poppy, while helping build more irrigation facilities and enhance their agricultural productivity," he said.
It is necessary for the global community to help the nation "expand the part of its economy that relies on legitimate goods," if it is to eradicate the need for villages to rely on this shadowy part of the economy, he said.
Noting the Afghan economy grew nearly 30% in 2002 and 20% in 2003, he said the global community can expect it to continue expanding at an annual rate of 10%-15% over the next several years.
But he appealed for the global community to continue helping Afghanistan improve its economy and society to enable such growth to occur, while calling on Afghanistan to keep on making efforts toward reforms.
Asked how the global community can respond to the country's unstable security situation, he acknowledged that a lot of work remains to be done.
But he emphasized, "We have learned how to do our job (providing reconstruction assistance) through our experiences with conflicts in such areas as Cambodia, Tajikistan and East Timor."
He added that the reconstruction process can still make headway even though the security situation remains unstable.
Australia needs to put more emphasis on Afghanistan: ambassador
Kyodo (Japan) Monday April 5, 1:52 PM
Australia is jeopardizing national and international security by not putting more focus on Afghanistan, Afghan Ambassador to Australia Mahmoud Saikal said Monday.
The security of Afghanistan means the security of the world, including Australia," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC).
"As you can see, a number of terrorist attacks that have taken place in this region, in the Australasian region or in the southeast Asia region, almost all of them have got connections to Afghanistan one way or another. So it is crucial to deal with the problem at the source," Saikal said.
A political row over deployment to the war-torn country erupted Sunday after Labor Party foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd accused the government of taking seven months to deny a request for continued military assistance from Afghanistan in November 2002.
The ambassador confirmed Afghanistan made an official request to Australia in November or December 2002.
"Still, inside Afghanistan, we have security problems. Inside Afghanistan we're building an army, we are building a police force. We are trying to put our security infrastructure together, so I'm afraid I cannot say we don't need help in this field," Saikal said.
But Australia's response time is an internal matter for Australia, he added.
"Naturally, if we make a request and we don't get a reply for a long period of time, that is an issue, but I mean that is up to Australia."
Assisting Afghanistan didn't necessary mean sending in combat troops, he said. "We do have battle hardened people inside Afghanistan. What they need, they need the resources, they need further training, they need capacity-building and they need assistance in the humanitarian field."
There are three million refugees who have returned home to Afghanistan and have no accommodation or employment, he added.
"So to assist Afghanistan in this field, in a way we are contributing to the security of the country and for that matter to the security of the international community, including Australia."
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Sunday he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah at an international conference in Berlin last week, but the issue of Australia deploying more troops was not raised.
"They remained grateful for Australia's past military commitment to their country as well as our ongoing A$110 million (US$83 million) aid program," he said in a statement.
"Our policy is clear: Australia's military deployment has ended, but we will continue to work with Afghanistan through our aid program, which covers such areas as education, refugee resettlement and combating illicit drug cultivation," Downer said.
Australia deployed 150 of its elite Special Forces Task Group to fight alongside U.S. and British forces to oust the Taliban in October 2001.
Interview with UNICEF deputy executive director
KABUL, 5 April (IRIN) - More than two years after the fall of the Taliban, enrolment levels in the country's schools are higher than ever before. In an interview with IRIN, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director Karin Sham Poo said that Afghanistan could well meet many of UNICEF's millennium goals by 2005, including gender parity at primary school level.
Sham Poo, who visited Afghanistan recently, said despite major achievements, maternal mortality and child mortality continued to be a serious concern for the UN's children agency. But the official expressed concern that huge challenges remained. According to the UNICEF there are still 1.5 million girls of primary school age who are still not benefiting from education.
QUESTION: What has been your impression of visiting Afghanistan during your last week?
ANSWER: My impression is that a lot of progress has been made. Of course there are still many challenges, but the positive thing is that there are more children at school than ever before. There are a large number of girls - about 37 percent of the school children at primary level are girls, which is a remarkable achievement.
Meanwhile, I have seen a commitment from all the key ministries we are working with. I have seen commitment from the [provincial] governors and from the private sector. I am impressed by the willingness and understanding of the need to invest in children. Actually I am quite impressed by what I have seen in Afghanistan.
There are still many challenges though; there are still one million girls of primary school age that are not in school. Afghanistan still has one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world.
Maternal mortality is a big problem for many countries in the world. In Afghanistan, we are supporting emergency obstetric care to make sure that women that really need urgent help in connection with pregnancy and child birth can get access to that.
Among other things, we have started to work with religious leaders who have come up themselves with a declaration to focus on the health improvement of women and children.
Q: What is UNICEF's commitment of Afghanistan in the short and longer term?
A: Afghanistan is one of the largest country programmes that UNICEF has worldwide. UNICEF has been in Afghanistan since 1970s and we never left. We are going to continue to be here to assist the government to work with religious leaders to work with NGOs and continue to do whatever is possible to improve the situation for children and women.
UNICEF's core resource is around US $10 million a year just for Afghanistan. Afghanistan, with its indicators, is the big receiver of our core resources. In addition to that we are raising funds and continue to raise funds from a variety of donors, including the private sector and our national committees in 37 industrialised countries.
Q: What have been UNICEF's biggest achievements in Afghanistan?
A: The biggest achievement, together with the ministry of education and our partners, is that in less than two years, we have 4.2 million children back at school and we assume that at the end of the school year 5.5 million children will be back to school.
Another very good achievement is that Afghanistan is very close to being polio-free. It is also a major achievement because Afghanistan is not a country that is easily accessible.
Another area of concern for us is that we need to continue to do everything possible to reduce the child and maternal mortality rate. We have identified some of the most important areas to focus on together with a number of ministries.
Q: While the process of disarmament has already started in the country, where is UNICEF's child soldier reintegration initiative right now?
A: We have identified around 5,000 children that we will assist to reintegrate back into society. It is very important that they are reintegrated in society and have the opportunity for vocational training or other kinds of training so they can feel they can serve an important purpose. The latest figures so far are that over 600 child soldiers have now gone through the demobilisation programme. The feeling is that communities want to see this programme working and that children really want to take up these opportunities.
Q: How significant is UNICEF's new effort to improve women and children's health by using religious leaders to promote these messages?
UNICEF has worked with religious leaders in many countries and we have seen it as a very important vehicle to reach the ordinary man and woman. In Afghanistan we are working through the ministry of religious affairs. What is very exciting is that together with the ministry, we are going to have workshops [with religious leaders] throughout 2004. We are planning to reach 50,000 religious leaders throughout the country.
Q: So you are optimistic?
A: Yes, first in the shorter term, Afghanistan will meet some of UNICEF's millennium development goals, which is to reach gender parity [equal participation of girls and boys in primary schools] by 2005. I actually think that Afghanistan will be one of the countries that will reach that. It will be really remarkable because there are a number of countries in the world that have been working on this much longer and will most likely not reach it.
Q: According to UNICEF's recent reports, Afghanistan needs tens of thousands of new schools to meet the demand for education in coming years. How would you address this gap?
A: One of our priorities for this year is 10,000 community-based schools. Because there are many areas where there are no schools and there is a major obstacle for girls. That is where the mosques and tents schools come into place and we are converting existing community buildings into schools so there are separate rooms for girls. Our targeting areas will be the areas where there is nothing and no option in terms of education.
First of all, the access to a school closer to home is very important particularly when it comes to girls. And again, by talking with religious leaders and also others to create learning spaces at the community level, we hope that another 500,000 girls will return to school. We will continue to support both curriculum development and teacher training with a particular focus on getting more female teachers back to school.
Taliban, Al-Qaeda pose no threat to Afghanistan: US military
KABUL, April 5 (Xinhua) -- The United States military believes that the remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and their al-Qaeda allies pose no more threat to the US-backed government in post-Taliban Afghanistan, a US army official said Monday.
"The Taliban or al-Qaeda no longer pose a military threat to Afghanistan and I am confident the security situation would continue to improve here," Bryan Hilferty told reporters at his last news briefing here as the spokesman for US military serving Afghanistan.
He made this comment amid increasing security incidents and thereinforcement of 2,000 more US troops in the war-weary country to boost the hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda operation in the rugged terrain along the border with Pakistan.
"We are not bringing in more troops. The 2,000 marines are not very much," observed the spokesman.
Around 20 people including two US soldiers have been killed over the past one month since the launching of the much publicizedoperation "Mountain Storm" to root out the Taliban and terror groups in the country.
In the latest of a series of attacks on government and coalition troops at least one government soldier in the volatile Zabul Province was killed and five others were injured with one ofthem seriously when their vehicle hit a landmine on Saturday in east of Zabul's provincial capital Qalat.
The unit of Afghan National Army was involved in a joint operation with US-led coalition troops when the incident occurred but inflicted no casualties to the coalition forces, Hilferty confirmed.
In the meantime, the US top brass confirmed the arrest of a commander loyal to the rebel leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar whose loyalists have been engaged in a hit-and-run war against the US-dominated foreign troops in Afghanistan since 2002.
"On March 31 we did have a joint operation with Afghan Interior Ministry and detained Amanullah in Wardak Province along with one of his bodyguards and found from his compound grenades, silencers,explosive devices and suspicious documents," he said.
"We believe Amanullah has link to suicide bombing attacks here in Kabul and we believe he provided safe haven for the bombers," observed the US spokesman.
At least two Canadian and two British soldiers were killed and several others including Afghan civilians were injured in two separate suicide attacks here in last January and Taliban claimed responsibility for that.
Both Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar, the two US allies in cold war era, have vowed to continue Jihad or holy war unless the US-led foreign troops leave Afghanistan. Enditem
Afghanistan reiterates one-China policy
KABUL, April 5 (Xinhua) -- The Transitional Government of Afghanistan reiterated Monday that it will continue to stick to the one-China policy, and will not send any representatives to Taiwan for the inauguration of the so-called "president."
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Omar Samad, spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, said that the policy of Afghanistan toward the Taiwan issue has been clear for almost 50 years, namely, the Afghan government recognizes the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China. The Karzai government's "one-China policy" has remained unchanged, he stressed.
The spokesman pointed out that since Afghanistan has not recognized Taiwan as a state entity, "there is no prospect for Afghanistan to have any say in the outcome of the elections, or tohave any participation in any event concerning the election of Taiwan."
The Afghan government hopes that the Taiwan issue will be resolved according to the wishes of the Chinese people and the Chinese government, he added. "Afghanistan will continue to support the Chinese government on this policy." Enditem
Five goes deep into Afghanistan amongst the Buddhist statues
Source: AsiansinMedia.org (UK) Sunday 4th April, 2004
Fresh from winning the prestigious ‘Grand Jury’ award at the Washingston International Film Festival and subject to a wave of media praise, Phil Grabsky’s groundbreaking documentary film premieres on terrestrial television on Five this Sunday afternoon.
This poignant film follows an eight-year-old refugee, Mir and his family over the course of a year as they struggle against extreme poverty in the Bamiyan area of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the fall of the Taliban. They live in the caves where Afghanistan’s premier tourist attraction once stood: the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
They were the tallest stone statues in the world before the despotic regime had them detonated, sparking a worldwide outcry. Now, the broken remains of the statues form the ground on which the carefree Mir plays with his friends. He is a perceptive, inquisitive and mischievous child, despite the desperate hardships he and his family face on a daily basis.
Mir lives with his father, Abdul, who, in his late 60s, has endured a tough life after two of his wives died and he suffered a broken back. His third wife, Mirwari, is Mir’s mother, who struggles to look after her impoverished family in the darkened caves. Abdul’s daughter, Gul Afrooz, and her husband Khoshdel, also live with the family. Mirwari is actually Khoshdel’s mother, who Abdul married in exchange for his daughter. So Mir and Khoshdel are both half-brothers and brother in law!
The family must all pull together to survive the extreme heat of summer and the intense cold of winter. Work is scarce, their water supply is a murky river and food is hard to come by. Although the Taliban’s terrifying regime is over, and the UN presence is noticed, conditions have yet to improve for Mir’s family.
The family fled for their lives several years ago when the Taliban ransacked their town. “I saw the Taliban beating kids to death with sticks and bayonets,” says neighbour Sayed Askar. “They said ‘You are not Sunni Muslims, you deserve to die.’” Several refugees give an account of the Taliban’s reign, conceptualised after the Russian invasion in 1979. “It became a hell of guns in which all sides were destroyed,” says Sayed.
The film is set to be a resounding success at film festivals around the world, nominated for awards in, amongst others, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, San Fransisco, Santa Barbara and Sydney. The Santa Barbara IFF held the film in the higest praise: "It’s astonishingly intimate – as vivid a portrait of modern-day Afghanistan as you will ever see."
'The boy who plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan' will be broadcasted on Five, 11th April - 13.45–15.45.
The ABC of Rebuilding Afghanistan
The Washington Post 04/05/2004 By Arthur Levine
WASHINGTON — Yunus Qanooni, the Afghan minister of education, is one of that country's new generation of leaders. The youngest member of President Hamid Karzai's government at 47, Qanooni is the military and political heir to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance commander assassinated by Al-Qaeda two days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Frequently mentioned as a future president, Qanooni is charismatic and articulate. His thinking is quick, his vision is large and he gets things done. He'll need those skills and more as he attempts to rebuild the devastated Afghan school system.
Afghanistan has little money for reconstruction of any kind; the funds that nations and philanthropies promised soon after the fall of the Taleban in large part failed to materialize. Last Wednesday, at a donors' conference in Berlin, Karzai said his country would need $28 billion over the next seven years to fully recover from decades of war, and Secretary of State Colin Powell increased the US pledge for next year to $2.2 billion. Still, this is stingy compared with the $18.6 billion that Washington has allocated for Iraqi reconstruction in 2004. The more than $4.4 billion that donor nations pledged in Berlin is a reason for optimism. But the country still lacks the means to engage in the methods of nation-building that tend to work: namely economic development, the establishment of a strong government and military, and calls to a common culture or heritage. Afghanistan is fractured by ethnic, linguistic and political differences, which means there is no common culture to build upon.
I was invited to Kabul last fall by the Education Ministry to examine the prospects for remaking the education system. It was a homecoming of sorts. For 25 years following World War II, Columbia's Teachers College worked with the Afghan government to create a national education system. Together, we developed teachers' colleges, designed the curriculum and wrote textbooks. It was, to my knowledge, the longest partnership in the college's history. We left when the government was overthrown in 1978. After the fall of the Taleban, the ministry and UNICEF invited the college back to join them as partners in the rebuilding. After a week in the country, I signed an agreement accepting their offer — in essence signing on for what any betting man would consider a high-risk venture. Afghanistan has little choice but to try something that no country has ever accomplished — jump-starting the process of nation-building through its education system. As a method of social change, education is effective but exceedingly slow. It takes nine years to educate a single age group and far longer before those children have influential positions in society. But it seems to me that Afghanistan has no other card to play.
Qanooni sees a common public education system as a powerful vehicle for rescuing a "vulnerable and traumatized'' generation, and overcoming the divisive powers of geography, ethnicity and language in a country torn by tribalism and the rule of warlords. The country's literacy rate is 31 percent overall, and only 15 percent for women. Education could produce the human capacity to develop the economy, as in India, Algeria, Rwanda and Jordan. And it could improve the status of women and begin to combat abuse, child mortality, poverty and overpopulation.
A rebuilt education system could help establish the civic culture needed to stabilize a region with porous borders that has been a home to terrorism, nearly a quarter-century of war and radical fundamentalist revolution. Progress in developing this system might even be a means of further inspiring donor nations and philanthropists to support Afghanistan.
Rebuilding the education system will be, of course, only a beginning. Afghanistan will also need resources for job creation, economic diversification and expansion, security, environmental cleanup and infrastructure reconstruction.
Qanooni knows this will not be easy. But in a recent fundraising trip to New York and Washington, he spoke of the rapid progress he and his government have made in moving the education agenda forward. He has developed an ambitious, but not impossible, 12-year plan to establish gender equity and graduation rates of 90 percent from ninth grade. In just two years, more than 4 million children have enrolled in school, the largest number in Afghan history. A third of Afghanistan's girls, previously barred by the Taleban, are attending. Hundreds of schools were rebuilt in the past year; 8,500 tent schools were opened. Textbooks were rewritten, with a national orientation, excising the ideologies of the past. Gone is the Taleban math that used to permeate the lessons of even the youngest children: 1 Kalishnikov + 2 Kalishnikovs = 3 Kalishnikovs.
With a new curriculum and textbooks that stress a single nation, the Ministry of Education is creating a common vision of Afghanistan and a single national identity for the coming generations who will eventually lead the country. The curriculum stresses bilingual study in the country's two primary languages (Pashto and Dari), religious instruction and Afghan literature texts. Already 50,000 teachers, out of a total of 120,000, have taken short courses on how to teach the new curriculum, according to the ministry and UNICEF. This is an extraordinary record, as far as I know unmatched by any other country.
That type of early, measurable progress gave me real hope, when I was in Kabul, that the country's new education strategy might succeed. The challenges are staggering: Four million children, fully half of the nation's school-age population, are not yet enrolled in classes, including two-thirds of Afghanistan's girls.
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