Afghan district head, four bodyguards killed in ambush
Sunday August 1, 12:50 AM AFP
An Afghanistan district chief and his four bodyguards were killed in an southern province ambush which Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for, officials said.
Tawoos Khan, the governor of Khan Shine district of Helmand province about 675 kilometers (421 miles) south of Kabul, came under attack on his way to the district.
"Today at 10.00 am (0530 GMT) the Khan Shine district governor was ambushed en route to the district and killed with his four bodyguards," provincial spokesman Mohammed Wali told AFP.
Two other people were injured.
No one was arrested in relation to the incident, but Wali claimed Taliban remnants were responsible for the attack.
Attacks by insurgents have spiralled upwards ahead of the country's first presidential elections in October with the newly appointed police chief of neighbouring Kandahar narrowly escaping assassination earlier this week.
A man identifying himself as the spokesman for the ousted Taliban regime, Abdul Latif Hakimi, called AFP from an undisclosed location and claimed responsibility for the attack.
"The district governor of Khan Shine was killed along with his four bodyguards. Two of his other men were injured as well," he said.
Hakimi confirmed two other soldiers were injured.
Security is worsening across the country with the US military warning Saturday to expect more attacks on soft targets such as aid workers and civilians.
Nobel prize-winning medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontiers began pulling out of the country earlier this week saying security had deteriorated so badly in the war-torn country that it was impossible to deliver independent aid.
Major Kabul bomb plot foiled
Saturday July 31, 9:16 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Kabul police have foiled a sophisticated and potentially deadly bomb plot in the Afghan capital this week, NATO-led peacekeepers say.
Commander Chris Henderson, spokesman for the 6,500-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul said on Saturday that police and the National Directorate for Security (NDS) acted on "solid intelligence" to prevent the attack.
He told a news briefing that on Thursday morning police and NDS members arrested a man riding a motorcycle in which was hidden around 3 kg (6.6 lb) of explosives connected to a timing device of a compact disc player to detonate it remotely.
Further along the crowded Jalalabad road in the centre of the city police found seven BM-12 rockets and 30 sticks of dynamite covered in gravel and scrap metal and rigged with two electronic detonators.
The explosives were concealed in an apple vendor's cart near a petrol filling station.
"It would appear that the plan was for the motorcycle bomb to have been detonated around 10 o'clock," Henderson said.
"Shortly thereafter, once a crowd had formed and security forces had responded, the bomb in the apple cart would have been detonated," he said, adding that given the proximity of the filling station, the blast could have killed and wounded dozens.
"This is the best example of effective policing to date that I have seen," he added.
The Jalalabad road is a busy thoroughfare used by ISAF members and U.S.-led forces, and the scene of several attacks by suspected Islamic militants since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
There are nearly 21,000 policemen in the country's fledgling force, although they tend to be poorly resourced and paid.
The relative stability of Kabul, compared with more volatile regions in the south and east, has been attributed mainly to the presence of international peacekeepers.
American forces and ISAF are bracing for more attacks by Taliban remnants and Islamic militant allies as elections in October and April approach.
More than 900 people have been killed in a wave of violence over the past year, most of the attacks blamed on Taliban and other militants bent on disrupting upcoming elections and undermining the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban was ousted by a U.S.-led war for failing to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, suspected of coordinating the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Child kidnappers caught in Afghanistan
Reuters via The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia August 1, 2004
Two child kidnappers suspected of removing captives' body parts for sale had been arrested in southern Afghanistan and could face the death penalty, a local official said yesterday.
The men were arrested in Spin Boldak, which is on the border with Pakistan, and a child was recovered, said the town's security chief General Fateh Khan.
"These men used to kidnap small children from Spin Boldak and other parts of Afghanistan. They used to sell their body parts," he told Reuters. "They belong to a big gang of kidnappers."
Khan said the two kidnappers seized had admitted to removing body parts from kidnapped children and could face the maximum penalty.
Afghan authorities have highlighted the problem of child kidnapping in the country, which they say is alarmingly common. At least 47 cases are being investigated in Kabul alone.
Officials say kidnappers are the first link in an international chain of organised crime in which Afghan children are sold as servants, for sexual abuse, or for their organs that are sold for huge profits abroad.
A child rescued from kidnappers said last month in the southern city of Kandahar that he had seen the bodies of four boys who had been cut open and had their organs removed.
Officials said those kidnappers took the organs for sale in neighbouring Pakistan where people were prepared to pay large amounts of money for healthy organs for transplants.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has issued a decree ordering the death penalty for criminals who remove body parts from kidnapped children.
U.S. in first clash over Afghan disarmament
31 Jul 2004 10:16:21 GMT
KABUL, July 31 (Reuters) - U.S. forces in Afghanistan engaged in fighting to support a stalled disarmament programme for the first time in what the military said on Saturday was a strong signal to factions refusing to lay down their weapons.
American A-10 "tank-buster" aircraft were called in on Thursday to support Afghan troops and U.S. military advisers who came under fire when they tried to negotiate disarmament with rogue factional militias in the central province of Ghor.
While American air support was prompted by hostile fire, the U.S. military said the incident showed that the Afghan government and U.S. forces were willing to back words with actions when it came to disarming an estimated up to 50,000 factional fighters.
"We think it's an important message that DDR here in Afghanistan is more than just talk. When necessary they're willing to act decisively," U.S. military spokesman Major Jon Siepmann told a briefing, referring to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.
President Hamid Karzai says so-called "warlords" and their armed factions pose the greatest threat to Afghan security as the country prepares for landmark elections in October and April.
Some factional leaders are senior members of his government who were instrumental in ousting the Taliban in the U.S.-led war of 2001 but now resist his efforts to disarm them and bolster the fledgling national army.
Siepmann said two U.S. military advisers and three Afghan soldiers were wounded in Thursday's fighting in Ghor, denying a local official's account that one U.S. adviser and two Afghan soldiers had been killed.
Afghan troops, U.S. advisers and disarmament officials went to negotiate with members of the 41st Division in Ghor when some members of the division left the barracks and moved into the surrounding hills.
When an envoy was sent to negotiate with them, they opened fire on the convoy in what Siepmann said was a worrying precedent for the disarmament programme.
He said the operation in Ghor was "ongoing", although there was no fighting early on Saturday that he knew of.
Pakistan suspects al-Qaida may be behind failed attempt to kill prime minister-designate
Saturday July 31, 6:31 PM AP
Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network might be behind the failed assassination attempt against the country's prime minister-designate, a senior Cabinet minister said Saturday, though investigators are still pouring over the evidence.
The death toll from the suicide bomb attack Friday against Shaukat Aziz, meanwhile, rose to eight, with about three dozen injured, said Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
Pakistani television showed gruesome footage of the bombing, with the camera capturing an image of the shalwar khameez-clad suicide attacker approaching the driver's door, raising his hand and then blowing up. It was not clear if he was signaling to someone.
The attacker, whose head was found not far from the blast site, appeared to be a Pakistani man in his early 20s, said Capt. Zubair Ahmad, a local police official. But government officials were quick to point the finger at international terrorism, which has worked with homegrown Pakistani extremists in the past.
"Al-Qaida may be behind it," Ahmed told The Associated Press, before adding that there is no hard evidence linking the group.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has said he believes al-Qaida was involved in two attempts to on his life in December, the last of which killed 17 people. He was unharmed.
The attack on Aziz, the finance minister already tapped to become the nation's next prime minister, occurred Friday as the 60-year-old politician left a rally in Fateh Jang, a town 55 kilometers (35 miles) southwest of the capital.
It came hours after Pakistan announced the capture of a senior al-Qaida terrorist, and a day after Pakistan acknowledged it was considering sending troops to Iraq.
Islamic militants are enraged at President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terror. Al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri called for his assassination in a tape released earlier this year, and several homegrown militant groups have also been implicated in plots to kill him.
Pakistani intelligence officials swooped down Sunday on Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani _ a Tanzanian with a US$25 million bounty on his head for his alleged role in the 1998 East African embassy attacks. The government said the arrest was "a major blow" to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, and vowed to keep hunting terrorists.
The assassination attempt on Aziz occurred after he and Fateh Jang mayor Tahir Sadiq had just gotten into the bulletproof Mercedes, parked in a crowded area. A man witnesses say was in his early 20s approached the car and set off the blast.
"The moment I sat in the car with Aziz there was an explosion," Sadiq said. "He is safe and God Almighty is the greatest protector."
An AP photographer at the scene shortly after the attack say it left body parts, blood and glass strewn over a wide area.
Two hours after the attack, Aziz _ appearing unhurt _ told a gathering of supporters outside his Islamabad home late Friday that he was all right and would "continue to serve the country with the same commitment and determination."
About a dozen heavily armed Pakistani soldiers arrived shortly afterward to guard the residence.
Ahmed late Friday said the attack was a "conspiracy against our democracy but the election process will continue."
Musharraf also condemned the attack and expressed grief over the loss of lives. "These cowardly acts will not deter us from our fight against terror," he said.
Aziz, a former Citibank executive credited with turning around Pakistan's economy under Musharraf, was in Fateh Jang to campaign for an upcoming by-election in which he needs to win a seat in the lower house.
Musharraf's ruling party has said it wants him to be prime minister, but the senator must first gain a parliamentary seat in the Aug. 18 vote to be eligible. A victory is all but assured.
Opposition parties have denounced the proceedings as an affront to Pakistani democracy, five years after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup.
When Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali stepped down last month _ reportedly after disputes with Musharraf _ Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was appointed caretaker prime minister while the political machinations are completed to allow Aziz to step in.
Meanwhile, the government said it would consider extraditing Ghailani to America, but only after it completes its own interrogation of him. He faces the death penalty if convicted in the United States.
A Tanzanian official said his country had not yet decided whether to seek custody of Ghailani, who was arrested Sunday after a 12-hour firefight in the eastern Pakistani city of Gujrat.
Maj. Jon Siepmann, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, praised the capture of Ghailani and said it showed Pakistani resolve in combating terrorism. It was unclear how valuable he would be in helping track down bin Laden and al-Zawahri.
The rugged Afghan-Pakistani border region is considered a possible hiding place for the pair.
"We have certainly an expectation or hope that information gained from this individual will help lead us to additional terrorists," Siepmann said.
Taliban Fighters Increase Attacks
By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID ROHDE The New York Times August 1, 2004
ASHINGTON, July 31 — Attacks against American troops in Afghanistan and Afghan security forces and civilians have increased steadily in the past several months, posing new hurdles for reconstruction and political stability efforts, American commanders and Afghan officials say.
Fighting has intensified, particularly in the east along the rugged, 1,500-mile border with Pakistan and in the south near Kandahar. Twenty-three American troops have died from ambushes, land mines and other hostile fire this year, compared with 12 combat deaths in all of 2003, according to military statistics. An increasingly popular weapon may have been inspired by insurgents in Iraq: remote-controlled bombs.
The Taliban have stepped up recruiting in the south and intensified strikes against newly trained Afghan soldiers and police officers, as well as foreign-aid workers. This week, the international aid agency Doctors Without Borders said it was withdrawing from Afghanistan after 24 years, in part because of the deteriorating security there.
The attacks appear to be having the most impact in rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Afghan government is still struggling to establish its authority nearly three years after the Taliban fell. That part of the country has been a traditional Taliban stronghold. Reconstruction in some areas has come to a near standstill, and local people remain hostile to the Americans and the Afghan government.
American commanders nonetheless paint an optimistic picture, saying the increased attacks are signs of the Taliban's desperation and of expanding allied operations. The United States has doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan in the last year, to about 20,000 troops at its peak recently, and expanded their presence throughout the country. Commanders say a new counterinsurgency strategy adopted late last year has paid dividends, by providing security for fledgling reconstruction projects and enabling soldiers to gather fresh intelligence to use in their attacks against militants.
`Huge Challenges' Remain "There are still some huge challenges, mainly in the security area," Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said by telephone from his headquarters in Kabul, the capital. "But on a broad scale, as we look to the election, we think this country is very much on the road to success."
While the attacks have increased, they still do not approach the level of violence in Iraq and have failed in many ways to halt reconstruction efforts, American and Afghan officials say. A Taliban campaign to derail a voter registration drive for the Afghan presidential election in October has largely failed, with roughly 8 million of 10 million eligible voters defying Taliban death threats and registering.
Taliban attacks appear to have virtually no effect on Afghanistan's main cities, where foreign reconstruction money, remittances from Afghans living abroad and the opium trade are fueling a construction boom. But the Taliban appear to be hampering the flow of aid in rural areas, particularly in remote regions in the south.
Stepped-Up Security This month, General Barno announced that American-led forces, joined by thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers, would increase security operations for the Afghan presidential elections.
"Without question, the Taliban view this year as a political watershed," said General Barno, a West Point graduate who assumed command in October. "They have a very specific objective: voter registration and the elections. They're seeking to disrupt them with attacks against soft targets. That's helped to drive up the attacks."
General Barno is the architect of tactics adopted late last year in which American units down to the level of 40-soldier platoons have been dispatched to live in villages where they can forge ties with tribal elders and glean better information about the location and activities of guerrillas.
Previously, American forces typically gathered intelligence about hostile forces, carried out focused raids for several days against those targets, then returned to base to plan and prepare for their next mission.
American commanders say they are getting better cooperation in some areas, while pockets of hostility persist in others.
The United States is now operating in 26 locations around the country, including military outposts and provincial reconstruction teams aimed at enhancing reconstruction and extending the reach of the government, General Barno said; a year ago, there were 11 such locations.
American commanders say the increased American military presence has initiated new attacks against the insurgents and drawn fire from militants. Marines who recently withdrew from Oruzgan Province, home to the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, say they have killed more than 100 fighters in their four-month stay.
After the recent withdrawal of some 2,000 marines, there remain 18,000 American and other allied troops, including Romanian infantry and South Korean engineers, who are operating in Afghanistan alongside a 6,500-member NATO peacekeeping force in and around Kabul. Army and Marine helicopter gunships and Air Force A-10's and B-1's provide air power.
General Barno said he had repositioned two Army battalions to replace the departing marines, and would see if more troops were necessary.
An additional 1,800 NATO troops from Spain and Italy are to arrive in the coming weeks to help bolster security for the election, a far smaller force than Afghan officials have requested.
American forces are also trying to integrate 14,000 members of the new Afghan Army and 21,000 newly trained Afghan police officers. But some Pentagon officials expressed disappointment that the Afghan police and other security forces have been poorly integrated into the overall security structure.
Several hundred Special Operations forces are also spread across the country, conducting tasks including road-building, other civil works duties and paramilitary strikes against senior insurgent leaders.
Hundreds of additional troops have also been assigned to 16 provincial reconstruction teams around the country, part of General Barno's strategy to assert "ownership" of an area rather than hopscotch around the country.
"The bottom line is, even though attacks are up, we're getting done the business we need to get done," Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, General Barno's top ground commander, said in a telephone interview from his headquarters at Bagram Air Base.
Along the border with Pakistan, an array of spy satellites and reconnaissance aircraft help in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other militants who slip back and forth across the mountainous border, and use their sanctuaries to launch nightly rocket and mortar attacks against American military outposts.
After little action for two years, roughly 40,000 regular Pakistani army troops and 30,000 paramilitary scouts mounted an offensive this spring to sweep foreign militants out of the tribal areas, according to Pakistani officials.
Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier general who is in charge of security in the tribal areas, said a new operation started by the Pakistani military in the South Waziristan tribal area in June had resulted in the clearing of the Shakai valley, where several hundreds of foreign militants had been sheltered for the past two years.
Gains, But Deaths Mount But while there are successes in Afghanistan, the death toll continues to mount. Afghan government officials said they had kept no overall tally of the number of Afghans killed across the country, including soldiers and police officers.
But the review of attacks reported by news agencies indicates that in the first six months of 2003, Taliban fighters killed 119 Afghans. In the first six months of 2004, they killed 179 Afghans, an increase of 50 percent. Most of the killings involved Afghan police officers or soldiers being killed in ambushes, attacks or clashes with Taliban forces in rural areas in the south and east.
Beginning in early 2003, Taliban fighters also began singling out aid workers, killing at least 16 Afghan aid workers and at least one foreign aid worker between March 2003 and the present, according to the review.
This year numerous other attacks on foreigners have occurred, but it has been unclear whether the Taliban are responsible. In the first six months of 2004, attacks on foreigners soared, with 17 foreign contractors and foreign aid workers killed across the country. But it is not known whether the unidentified assailants were factional fighters, Taliban supporters or simple thieves.
Rural Attacks Increase In rural Zabul, Oruzgan, Khost, Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, attacks have grown in intensity in the last year, according to the review. Zabul Province, in particular, now produces reports of clashes between Afghan and American forces and Taliban fighters roughly each week.
An example of the trend in rural areas is northern Helmand, a drought-stricken area where the Taliban have gained strength this year, Afghan officials and aid workers said.
Mullahs in local mosques in northern Helmand have begun openly preaching jihad against Americans and the Afghan government, they said. A local warlord who tolerated the provincial governor has begun threatening government workers.
Shir Mohammad Akhundzada, the governor of Helmand Province, said in an interview in late June that Taliban forces had killed 15 to 20 soldiers in the province in the past four months. In all of the previous year, they killed 14 soldiers.
Mr. Akhundzada and his intelligence chief said that for the first time since 2001 the Taliban were recruiting young people in northern Helmand. Until now, fresh Taliban recruits had come from Pakistan, they said, where three million Afghan refugees still live. "Nowadays, I'm feeling that lots of local people also join them," the governor said. "Some of the people are a little bit angry with the Americans and some are unhappy with the government."
He said severe drought in northern Helmand continued to fuel poverty and frustration. He also called on American forces to "act very carefully with the people," as elections approach, and ensure that intelligence tips they receive are genuine and do not lure them into local feuds.
Fueling Local Anger House searches and arrests of innocent Afghans by American forces have angered the local population, highly conservative ethnic Pashtuns, he said. He complained about one raid where American soldiers confiscated heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades from a government police station. "When they are going and arresting the police, the police will get very disappointed and angry," he said. "There are no other people to send there to north Helmand."
Malim Dadu, the intelligence chief in Helmand Province, estimated that the Taliban were 50 percent stronger now than a year earlier and were increasingly well financed. He said that local people were now helping the Taliban "a lot" and admitted that the Afghan government was failing on its own in some areas. He said security was lacking on the highways and government "administrative people are taking bribes."
Afghan officials say the situation is not yet dire. But they expressed concern about the growing strength of the Taliban in rural areas. "God willing, we are stronger than the Taliban now," said Mr. Akhundzada, the Helmand governor. "But we don't know about the future."
Eric Schmitt reported from Washington for this article and David Rohde from Peshawar, Pakistan.
Save Afghanistan, Save Its People
China Daily 07/29/2004
War, destitution, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden... Though the country has become the focus of world attention in recent years because of the war against terrorism, it remains as a remote and secluded area to most people, "Afghanistan was once neglected by the world for a long time, this time we keep our fingers crossed for the Afghan people," said the ambassador
War, destitution, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden... are all people think of when Afghanistan is mentioned.
Though the country has become the focus of world attention in recent years because of the war against terrorism, it remains as a remote and secluded area to most people,
Thanks Allah that I'm lucky enough to have received an opportunity to travel there, becoming one of the not-so-many Chinese to see with his own eyes what life there is like.
There is no direct fight from Beijing to Kabul. The Chinese news delegation in which I participated had to take a 5-hour flight to Islamabad first, from where we changed to a United Nations World Food Programme aircraft. The UN, along with many other international organizations, is carrying out humanitarian tasks there.
The small two-engine plane jolted for an hour at a height of 6,000 metres before it finally landed safely at Kabul International Airport. Throughout the trip, especially after we crossed the Pakistan-Afghan border, the landscape below was grey and yellow.
About three-fourths of Afghanistan's territory is spread out with ranging mountains dotting the skyline, and desert terrain dominating its western region.
Bin Laden and his al-Qaida followers could be hiding just below my feet in these mountains, I thought. Will a missile suddenly visit our plane? I closed my eyes and dared not to think further.
The moment the plane touched the ground, we could strongly feel the war against terrorism in Afghanistan is a long way from over.
The Kabul International Airport is used by both civil airlines and military aircraft. Armed helicopters and jet fighters can be seen in the distance, reminding you that this is the headquarters of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, which is now hunting the remnants of Taliban militants and al-Qaida members.
Afghanistan was once called the Oriental Switzerland. But now Kabul is perhaps the worst capital city in the world - 25 years of war have razed the city, leaving ruins.
Here you cannot find any signs a nation's capital should have - no neon lights, no skyscrapers, no shopping malls, not even an intact road.
Many buildings are filled with holes caused by bullets, mortar shells or rockets. Falling debris is a unique scene in this ancient city. Even the famous former palace of ex-Afghan King Zaher Shah is merely broken pillars and scarred walls.
Residents in Kabul mainly live in shabby mud-wooden houses, many of which are built upon hills. Buildings above three storeys are rare. Most shops along the streets - such as fruit stands, film developing stores, barber shops or vehicle repair workshops - are just make-shift shambles.
Clean water is a luxury - only less than 20 per cent of the city has access to tap water and most people buy pumped water in their neighbourhoods, according to Ma Mingqiang, political counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Kabul.
Power shortages are severe.Foreign missions and international organizations have to employ their own generating facilities to be prepared for blackouts that can happen at any time.
Traffic in Kabul is composed of cars, trucks, horse carriages, bicycles and pedestrians. Here you can find vehicles bearing marks of various nationalities and international organizations.
Since the damaged narrow roads are not divided into motor ways and walking lanes, and the number of vehicles has increased drastically because of the presence of international personnel, sometimes you will run into small traffic jams. Police officers standing under umbrellas guide the traffic flow.
The average income in Kabul is roughly US$40 per person a month, but the prices are sky-high because of a scarcity of goods. Many daily commodities have to be imported from neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Iran.
However, residents in Kabul have gotten used to the war after so many years. You cannot find any trace of fear in their deeply wrinkled faces. Yet you can clearly see a kind of anxiety, uncertainty and surrender to their fate in their perplexed eyes.
Kids walk and run, hand in hand, in the streets they've been familiar with since they were born. Life has been this way so for many years, and no one is sure what will life will be like tomorrow.
Signs of war everywhere
It has been 2 1/2 years since the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan ended. Yet the signs of war can still be seen almost everywhere.
Truckloads of Afghan soldiers, armoured personnel carriers as well as tanks are frequently seen in Kabul. You can find soldiers carrying guns on every street.
Zigzag roadblocks lie at the entrance of major governmental buildings and the compound of international missions, with electrified barbed-wire fences erected on the walls, the outer face of which is also surrounded by trunks of stones to prevent ramming bomb attacks.
The presidential palace is heavily guarded by highly-alert US and Afghan soldiers. Security checks may be tighter than anywhere else.
Out of Kabul, you can often come across destroyed artillery pieces and tanks in the fields, which were main battlegrounds between northern allies and Taliban forces during the war.
Kids are no strangers to these mass killing machines,but play on them like"big toys."
Generally speaking, the security in Kabul and surrounding areas is okay,with the presence of a 6,500-strong International Security Assistance Force mainly composed of NATO troops. However, mortar attacks still ensue sometimes in the city though causing few casualties.
But out of Kabul, especially in eastern and southern provinces the once strong Taliban holdouts the situation is much worse.
More than 800 people have been killed in Afghanistan in the past year, in attacks by suspected Taliban and al-Qaida militants. Many of the attacks were targeted against foreigners, including UN staffers and international humanitarian workers.
As the presidential election is drawing near, such violent events are increasing.
Land mines are another major threat across Afghanistan, causing heavy casualties every year.
Hundreds of thousands of land mines and unexploded bombs have been left over in the 25 years of war, with some locations not clearly specified. Places marked with red-painted stones as mine fields have mine sweepers working to clear the fields for safety.
The UN and other international organizations are providing assistance in clearing these mines, but the work is progressing quite slowly.
Rebuilding full of challenges
On December 5, 2001, officials at the UN talks on Afghanistan in Bonn reached an agreement on provisional arrangements in Afghanistan pending the re-establishment of a permanent government institution. It laid a framework and time schedule for the country's reconstruction.
Up to today, the rebuilding process is getting on its way smoothly, especially in the political sector. Two loya jirga (Grand Assembly) conferences were held in the end of 2001 and last year respectively, with the election of an interim president and the adoption of a new constitution.
The presidential and parliamen-tary elections, originally set for June of this year and later postponed to September due to logistical and security issues, have been set for October and April. At present, more than 7 million Afghanis have registered for the presidential vote,with an easy win for President Hamid Karzai widely expected.
"So far, so good," said Sun Yuxi, Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan. "But whether the rebuilding is successful or not still waits to be proved," he said, referring to the coming elections, the economic rehabilitation, rival warlords, terrorists, and drugs all serious challenges to the Afghan Government.
"Poverty is the root cause of terrorism and drug trafficking. If poverty can not be eradicated, other problems will persist," Sun said.
Karzai has repeatedly appealed to the world community to give a hand to Afghanistan's rebuilding.
"There are two major problems in the reconstruction. One is of the security issue... The second question is resources capital and human resources," said Karzai.
"We do not have enough engineers, architects or doctors. We lack in every aspect of the human resources in this country because the past 30 years have taken all that away from us. We have not trained any new talented people in Afghanistan or any new educated people," the president said.
The country has one of the world's highest illiteracy rates around 65 per cent especially for women, who were not allowed in public affairs under the Taliban extreme Islamic regime.
The second problem is financial resources, Karzai added. "The world community promised to give us US$8.5 billion in Bonn, for which we are grateful. But that is in no way sufficient to address all the construction needs of Afghanistan," he said.
"I would never say no to money," the president told visiting Chinese reporters.
In 2001, China granted US$150 million assistance to Afghanistan in terms of donations and loans. So far, US$45 million have been due, including the repairing of the Parwan Reservoir, the refit of the Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul and the building of a primary school.
Regarding to the coming presidential election in October, Karzai said: "We are now in a good stage of preparation, but we must enhance it and make it better.
"That's why we have asked so strongly for NATO to come to Afghanistan as soon as possible to provide a safe environment for our people to vote."
NATO is now helping train the Afghan new army and police in Afghanistan, and has promised to bring in 3,500 more troops in the coming months and expand its presence to more parts of the country.
"The progress made in the Afghan reconstruction so far is attributed to the common efforts of the international community," said Sun. "But the road is still very long."
"Afghanistan was once neglected by the world for a long time, this time we keep our fingers crossed for the Afghan people," said the ambassador.
Pakistan's PM-Designate Survives Assassination Bid
By Simon Cameron-Moore
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's prime minister-designate Shaukat Aziz escaped unhurt in a suicide bomb attack Friday that killed at least six people, including his driver, witnesses and officials said.
Another 45 people were wounded, seven of them seriously in the attack near Fatehjung, a rural constituency close to the town of Attock in the central province of Punjab, where Aziz was campaigning for a by-election. Aziz, 55 and currently finance minister, was sat in the rear of his bulletproof Mercedes car after a campaign meeting when a suicide bomber set off an explosion alongside the vehicle.
"It is sad that some lost their lives and some were wounded. I condole with their families and my resolve for the service of Pakistan and the Islamic world has further strengthened," Aziz told state-run Pakistan Television after the attack.
The attempt on Aziz's life follows two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf last December, which were blamed on Pakistani militants linked to al Qaeda. Tahir Sadiq, the mayor of Attock who was traveling in the same car with Aziz, told Reuters their driver was one of the victims. And Aziz gave a first hand account of the attempt on his life to senior colleagues in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, on his return to Islamabad, around three hours away by road.
The attack took place immediately after a political meeting on open ground close to a railway track near a village called Jafarmore, in the Fatejung constituency. "He (Aziz) was sat in the rear of his car, behind the driver and they were just about to move off when a bearded man of about 30 approached and when he came in contact with the drive'rs door he blew himself up," Mushahid Hussain, secretary general of the PML, said.
A Reuters correspondent could see the head and a hand, that police say belonged to the bomber, still lying at the scene of the blast along with the body of the dead driver in Aziz's damaged black Mercedes and another white Toyota with bloodstains on its windows.
Pakistan's next prime minister was described by the PML secretary-general as "calm, cool and composed" after his narrow escape. General Musharraf persuaded Aziz to give up a 30-year career with Citibank in New York to become finance minister after he took power in a bloodless military coup in 1999.
Clearly favored by Musharraf following his success in turning around a beleaguered economy, Aziz was named as the prime minister in waiting after Zafarullah Khan Jamali resigned in late June.
A caretaker prime minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain will step down once Aziz wins a required seat in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, in one of the two by-elections he is set to contest on Aug. 18. The articulate, silver-haired ex-banker represents the kind of moderate, progressive Muslim that Musharraf wants to promote in a country racked by Islamic militancy, poverty and illiteracy.
But many ordinary Pakistanis complain that Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, is too subservient to U.S.-wishes and regard the ex-Citibank executive with suspicion, with some even call him an agent of the United States.
Pakistani President, US General Hold Security Talks
31 Jul 2004, 18:06 UTC VOA News
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has met with a top U.S. general to discuss security matters and cooperation in the war against terrorism, particularly in neighboring Afghanistan.
Mr. Musharraf and U.S. Central Command chief, General John Abizaid, met near the capital Islamabad.
During his visit, General Abizaid also met with other senior Pakistani military commanders.
Pakistan has been a key ally in the U.S-led war on terrorism. Last month, President Bush designated the country as a "major non-NATO ally" in an effort to boost security cooperation between Washington and Islamabad.
The U.S. Central Command oversees American forces in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.
Two rockets fired at Afghan Herat airport
Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran 07/29/2004
Mashhad - Two rockets have been fired at the Herat airport and Gozara District in western Herat Province of Afghanistan. A rocket landed in the surrounding areas of Herat airport and another rocket in Gozara District of the province yesterday [28 July] but did not inflict any losses, a policeman said from the west of Afghanistan. Three rockets also landed around the Herat city airport on Tuesday [27 July] which, according to the city's officials, did not cause any casualties.
Russian Railways co says to build railways in Afghanistan, Iran
MOSCOW, July 30 (Itar-Tass) - OAO Rossiyskiye Zheleznye Dorogi (Russian Railways, or RZD) has reached initial agreements on building railways in Afghanistan and Iran, the RZD’s first vice-president, Vladimir Yakunin, told Itar-Tass.
The initiatives on both projects came from Afghan and Iranian officials, he said.
During the Afghan transport minister’s visit to Moscow in November 2003, the Afghan side made it clear it would like to issue a contract to the RZD for building a circular railway in Afghanistan.
The line is destined to connect Afghanistan’s largest cities and to provide access to neighboring countries, Iran and Pakistan.
Two more foreign countries, India and Argentina, have shown interest towards Russian railway technologies, especially the safety systems, of which reliability has been acknowledged the world over, Yakunin said.
He stressed special interest in the equipment controlling the work of engine drivers and the technical status of the engine itself.
As of 1994, that equipment has been manufactured at a radio equipment plant in Izhevsk, western Urals.
Afghan Aid Exodus Feared
The Times, London (via the Statesman, India)
KABUL, July 29. — Medicins sans Frontieres, the Nobel-prizewinning aid organisation, is pulling out of Afghanistan because of the deteriorating security situation there and its frustrations with the American military. The withdrawal, announced yesterday, is expected to provoke an exodus of other aid organisations. The announcement comes two months before landmark elections are due, is the most damning indictment yet of the failure of the Afghan government, American troops and Nato peacekeepers to bring stability to the country two years after the fall of the Taliban.
The organisation, which has maintained an unbroken presence in Afghanistan for more than two decades, accused the US military of co-opting humanitarian aid efforts for “military and political motives”, endangering aid workers by blurring the line between civilian and military operations. The decision comes just weeks after the killing of five Medecins sans Frontieres workers in northern Afghanistan by Taliban militants, who accused them of spying for the USA.
Fighters from the ousted regime are believed to be behind the killings of more than 20 aid workers this year alone as part of a concerted effort to disrupt reconstruction efforts. MSF said that the level of violence against aid workers was unprecedented, even during the worst years of factional fighting after the USSR’s withdrawal.
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