NZ gives $5 million more for reconstruction in Afghanistan
17.08.2004 1.00pm New Zealand Herald
Foreign Minister Phil Goff is in Afghanistan where he has announced the Government will spend up to another $5 million to aid reconstruction there.
Mr Goff said the money would go on education, agriculture and governance particularly in the southeast province of Bamiyan where a New Zealand provincial reconstruction team is based.
Mr Goff will visit the New Zealand Defence Force personnel based in Bamiyan tomorrow.
He has been in the capital Kabul where he has met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
He was briefed on the outlook for Afghanistan by the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative Jean Arnault and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander General Jean-Louis Py.
"President Karzai expressed profound gratitude for New Zealand's substantial contributions towards achieving improved security and economic conditions for the people of Afghanistan -- the combat operations of our Special Air Service, the great work of the NZDF provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan, our participation in ISAF, and development assistance," Mr Goff said.
He announced the further allocation of up to $5m for ongoing reconstruction assistance for 2004/05, "with a priority focus on education, agriculture and governance particularly in Bamiyan".
The support would be delivered through the provincial reconstruction team, United Nations agencies, national institutions such as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and non-government organisations.
Mr Goff said the commitment and professionalism of the New Zealand Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan had been strongly praised in his meetings with government and international organisations.
He said progress was being made in Afghanistan.
On October 9, Afghanis would vote for the first time in free elections for a president.
Nearly 10 million people had enrolled to vote despite threats by the Taleban and the murder of electoral workers.
In Bamiyan, with the help of New Zealand's reconstruction team and aid agency NZAID, 95 per cent of eligible voters had registered.
There were still serious problems to overcome, including increased opium production, he said.
"Afghanistan now supplies over 75 per cent of the world's production of opium and over 90 per cent of opium products in Europe. It has a street value of over US$35 billion ($53.21 billion)," Mr Goff said.
President Karzai had recognised the enormity of the problem, he said in a statement.
"He said the solution required destruction of crops and production facilities, interdiction of supplies and international co-operation on border controls. However, a sustainable solution has to also involve assistance to farmers to produce alternative crops."
Mr Goff told National Radio today that he had to keep his visit to Afghanistan secret because of security issues.
"Well, obviously when you come to a country like this we have to be geared up in flak jackets, we have armoured vehicles, we have close escorts. You don't signal in advance what your movements will be. That's to invite retaliation by the terrorists and we're clearly not keen to do that," he said.
He was not visiting Iraq during his trip to the Middle East.
Iraq was under "severe pressure" and the New Zealand engineers in Basra were still confined to base.
"We had hoped to visit there but under the current circumstances, that's not particularly sensible."
Mr Goff said he was going to Pakistan and would get its perspective on dealing with terrorist groups infiltrating Afghanistan.
Karzai says no "'deals" if elected
Tue 17 August, 2004 04:44
LONDON (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has vowed to create a clean, efficient government that serves the people rather than itself if he were re-elected in a landmark election in October.
In an interview with the Financial Times published on Tuesday he said his next administration would be free of the interest groups that many Afghans and foreign allies feel have frustrated the efforts of his current government.
"In Afghanistan it is not the people who have broken the law, it's governments that have broken the law. That is what I want to stop," he said from his office in the capital Kabul.
"There cannot be individual agendas in my government," said Karzai, who was confirmed as president in 2002 by Afghanistan's traditional Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) of tribal elders.
He is favourite to win Afghanistan's first democratic election, even after snubbing as running mate his powerful Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who has resisted efforts to disarm unruly militia.
"I felt it was needed for Afghanistan to have an agenda that would take us forward into a reformist system...based on strict government discipline," Karzai said.
"The continuation of private militia forces is out of the question," he said. "The state will not accept that."
Almost 10 million Afghans had put down their names and thumbprints as registration drew to a close on Sunday.
Karzai stopped short of predicting victory in the first round on October 9. "I hope God will be kind to me and make me win and I will work for it," he said. He needs to win 51 percent of the votes to score a first-round victory.
One Afghan, 6 votes — and 5 up for sale
The Toronto Star (Canada) August 16, 2004
CAROL HARRINGTON AND JARED FERRIE
KABUL—To supplement his meagre income selling French fries from a cart, Aziz is cashing in on his newfound right to vote in Afghanistan's first national presidential election.
After getting six voter registration cards — all containing his real name and photograph — he expects to make $1,000 for five cards and keep one for the Oct. 9 vote.
"I have only six cards but I have met many people who have 10 or nine cards," Aziz said.
For months, anecdotal stories have been circulating throughout Afghanistan of people illegally obtaining multiple voting cards in exchange for cash — which, in part, explains why the number of voting cards doled out exceeds the total number of estimated eligible voters.
After an eight-month voter registration campaign by the United Nations, registration centres throughout the country closed yesterday. Although the final tally is not yet in, U.N. election officials are scrambling to explain why more than 9.9 million cards have been issued, surpassing the original estimated 9.8 million voters.
In an election the U.S. had hoped to hold up as an example of democracy dawning in the developing world, there is now growing evidence that attempted vote-rigging has run amok.
"We know that multiple registration has happened," U.N. spokesperson Manoel de Almeida e Silva said yesterday. "We have no idea of what that volume is." The total number of cards issued will far exceed 10 million, he said.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged that perhaps 1,000 to 100,000 people have more than one voting card.
"As a matter of fact it doesn't bother me if Afghans have two registration cards and if they like to vote twice, well welcome," Karzai said last week at a Kabul press conference with U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. "This is an exercise in democracy and let them exercise it twice."
U.S. President George W. Bush, who has lauded Afghanistan as a model for Iraq, said this month it was remarkable that so many Afghans have signed up.
"Nine million people have said to the world, `We love freedom, and we're going to vote,'" he said in Washington.
Some people who have kept a watchful eye on the registration process, claim the numbers don't make sense.
In March, 15 weeks into the registration campaign, only 1.5 million voters had registered in eight cities. In May, when registration centres first opened throughout rural Afghanistan, numbers continued to trickle in.
But after mid-June, when Karzai visited the U.S., announcing that 3.7 million people had registered, the numbers began to skyrocket. In one month, the numbers doubled to 7 million, peaking at 120,000 to 200,000 voter ID cards each day.
Farooq Wardak, director of the Joint Electoral Management Body, said the estimated number of eligible voters — 9.8 million — is based on data collected last year by the Central Statistics Office.
He pointed out that refugees were not included in the original statistics and since last year, more than 1 million refugees who have returned to Afghanistan or are still in neighbouring countries have registered.
"I think that impressive amounts of registration have been done, given the circumstances, but I don't believe the figures," said Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.
One example of gross miscalculation has occurred in the province of Panjshir, where more than 124,000 voting cards have been issued, more than double the original voter estimate of 49,573.
Aziz said it was easy to get six voting cards. During a two-week period, he obtained four cards at two Kabul registration centres , then travelled to his home province of Baghlan and received two more cards.
When asked who is buying voting cards, Zuhoor Afghan, chief editor of Erada, a Kabul newspaper, answered: "Candidates who want to be president and political parties who belong to the candidates."
Gawhar, a Kabul University student, said her nephew has been approached several times at high school to sell his voter ID card. She also knows a Kabul woman who travelled to Laghman province and in two days obtained 40 cards by wearing a burqa and opting to provide her thumbprint rather than a photo.
Afghans in South Fearful of Taking Part in Election
Amid efforts by U.S.-led forces to rid provinces of the Taliban, militants continue to threaten villagers to bar them from registering to vote.
By Hamida Ghafour Special to Los Angeles Times August 15, 2004
QALAT, Afghanistan — At the 19th century fortress once occupied by the British army, Maj. Abdul Qadir narrowed his eyes and looked at the crumbling walls when asked whether Afghans supported the Americans.
In a country that has seen many foreign armies come and go, the commander of the 1st Battalion of the Afghan army took his time replying. Finally, he said: "The Afghans want the Americans here, not the Taliban. But they are waiting to see which force will stay longer."
Here in the heartland of the Taliban resistance, the U.S.-led coalition is in the middle of Operation Lightning Resolve, a quasi-humanitarian military operation aimed at ridding four southern provinces of militants and paving the way for democracy.
The Americans and Qadir's battalion are also helping the United Nations identify as many voters in Zabol province as possible before the Oct. 9 presidential election. The national deadline for voter registration was Aug. 1, but in Zabol it was extended until today because of poor security.
Bringing democracy to Zabol has proved difficult: Fewer than half of the 124,000 eligible people have received voter cards, and only 8% of those are female. By contrast, more than 90% of the estimated 10 million eligible voters have registered nationwide, and about 40% are women.
Qadir said people in Zabol were too scared to participate.
"When we go to a village, we persuade people to take part in elections, but when we leave the Taliban threatens them," he said. "The Americans need to stay. Otherwise, I don't know what would happen to us."
In Kabul, posters are slowly appearing on street corners and the political mudslinging between the 18 presidential candidates has begun. By contrast, there is no buzz on the streets of Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabol, about 220 miles southwest of Kabul.
At the U.N. voter registration office at the local girls school, Rajiabia, 46, an election worker, and her three colleagues were waiting to give identification cards to women. No one had come that morning.
"It's obvious we are afraid," said Rajiabia, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. "On average we get 10 to 12 women a day, which is not bad. But we go from house to house to tell women to come. The mullahs don't like it, and a lot of women come in secret because they are too scared."
Zabol province is so isolated that when the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, arrived in the remote districts of Arghandab and Khak-i-Afghan last month to hunt down the Taliban, the residents thought the Soviets had invaded again.
They had never seen, or heard of, the U.S. forces because the areas were in the firm control of the Taliban, said Maj. Joseph Walsh, the executive officer of the battalion.
But after a mission involving air assaults with a B-1 bomber and a Black Hawk helicopter, security has improved to such an extent that 1,000 Afghans have registered in Arghandab.
"We have B-1 bombers flying 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in Zabol," Walsh said. "Sometimes it is a show of force, so if you have a 500-pound bomb possibly in your backyard, then you might be reluctant to cause trouble."
But Lightning Resolve has come at a cost. This month, eight U.S. soldiers were hurt in two attacks.
U.N. election workers also have been targeted. The latest deadly attack came Aug. 6 in neighboring Oruzgan province as 30 militants fired at an armed election convoy, killing two Afghan workers. A third man is still missing. In total, 12 election workers have been killed across the country and at least 33 have been injured.
Is the country ready for an election?
Capt. Todd Schmidt, a military liaison officer to the U.N. here, paused for a few seconds.
"Having been an American, and living in America my whole life, Americans are supremely optimistic," he said. "We always see hope. Part of what we are trying to do is sow those seeds of hope."
He also insisted that the security situation was improving.
"I think the entire world is aware of the perceptions here, but that is not always the reality," he said. "The perception is that targets are against us, but that is minimal."
But Rahman Wafa, an officer with the 1st Battalion of the Afghan army, said the Taliban was as strong as ever.
"In Khak-i-Afghan district, we went and distributed voter registration cards with our American brothers," he said. "The next day, some people said to us that the night we left the village, Talibs came and gathered all of the cards and took them away."
Running his forefinger across his throat, he added, "They also told the villagers that anyone who took cards again would have their throats slit."
Afghans Hail Chance for a Choice
As Enthusiasm Builds Around Election, Political Intrigue May Cause Dangerous Split
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, August 16, 2004; Page A12
BAZARAK, Afghanistan -- Like virtually every adult in this Panjshir Valley village, Rahmal Beg registered to vote weeks ago. Indeed, popular enthusiasm is so high for the Oct. 9 presidential election -- the first in Afghan history -- that thousands of people in the valley have reportedly registered twice.
"Everyone wants to vote," the 75-year-old farmer said proudly. "The radio, the mullahs and the district officials have all promoted the election. This is our chance to choose a leader who is patriotic and Islamic. Our valley was the center of resistance against the Russians and the Taliban. Now we want to become the center of democracy."
Given the hectic and frequently dangerous conditions for voter registration during the past six months, Afghan and U.N. officials view double registration as a minor flaw in an unexpectedly successful process. By Sunday, when the registration period ended, more than 9.9 million people -- slightly more than the estimated number of eligible voters -- had signed up nationwide.
But beneath the formal momentum of public participation and choice, Afghan and foreign analysts say, murkier pressures are at work. These include deal-making among candidates, drug money influence and old ethnic rivalries that could undermine the election's legitimacy as a historic test of political freedom in Afghanistan.
Until recently, international concern has focused on the problem of terrorist violence from Islamic extremist groups, including the revived Taliban militia, which has vowed to stymie the election and has recently attacked rural aid workers, voter registration aides, police stations and U.S. military patrols and outposts, especially in the desolate southeast.
Terrorism, however, is only one threat to a fair and free vote. Behind-the-scenes maneuvering, observers said, could dangerously split the election along the same ethnic lines that led to civil war in the 1990s -- or reduce it to a formality that ushers in a new coalition government between President Hamid Karzai and the same group of controversial militia leaders with whom he has shared power for the past 32 months.
"In a country like ours, an election can be a double-edged knife that can hurt or kill democracy," said Homayoun Shah Assefy, 64, a lawyer and political scientist who recently returned to Kabul, the capital, from long exile in France and is running for president. Assefy said Karzai, the front-runner, might well win at the polls -- only to enter office hamstrung by pre-election backroom deals that leave him tainted and paralyzed as a leader.
Only three weeks ago, Karzai seemed assured of gaining the majority of votes needed to win a first-round election. Installed by the United Nations in late 2001 and backed by the Bush administration, he had no serious rivals among 23 candidates. The scion of a noble ethnic Pashtun clan, he was popular with the public and enjoyed the advantages of incumbency such as the use of state media.
The president, sometimes criticized as a weak leader, also appeared to be taking an increasingly hard line with Afghanistan's regional strongmen, known as warlords, who have resisted international demands to disarm their forces, and who brawl among themselves and pose a perennial threat to central power.
But on July 26, this tough stance appeared to backfire. Karzai announced he was dropping Marshal Mohammed Fahim, the defense minister and Panjshiri militia leader, from his ticket as first vice president. Stung, Fahim and other Panjshiris in Karzai's shaky coalition cabinet bolted and put forth a rival candidate, Education Minister Yonus Qanooni.
Qanooni is a professional respected in Afghanistan and a former aide to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the ethnic Tajik guerrilla fighter who was assassinated in 2001. Qanooni might not be able to beat Karzai, experts said, but he could easily force the elections into a second round, from which a much weaker winner would emerge.
Last week, the plot thickened when the national election commission announced the final list of 18 presidential candidates. The list included two other ethnic minority militia leaders -- Mohammed Mohaqeq and Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum -- despite rules barring any candidate who had remained in command of private troops or abused human rights.
Some election experts here welcomed the field of candidates as a positive step for Afghanistan's democracy in the rough. They argued that it was preferable to have warlords competing for office than shooting at each other, and they noted that all major candidates had pointedly selected running mates from different ethnic groups than their own.
But other Afghan and foreign observers expressed concern that minor candidates, including a female physician and a poet, would become bartering chips in a race dominated by gladiatorial rivals, and that these strongmen might either end up in a bloody ethnic slugfest or buy up shares of power in a future Karzai administration.
"Qanooni offers a tangible alternative to leadership, and it's healthy to have so many candidates," said Grant Kippen, with the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute here. "But it's the credibility of the process that matters most. In the end, people will ask whether the process has contributed to removing people who rule by the gun, or whether it has instead allowed them to participate and become legitimate."
The voters have made it clear they are looking for a fresh political start.
In the Panjshir Valley, a beautiful but war-ravaged region north of Kabul badly in need of paved roads, electricity and water, Qanooni -- the native son and heir apparent to the revered guerrilla fighter Massoud -- seems the obvious choice to bring home those benefits.
Yet in village after riverside village, residents said they were exhausted from years of ethnic fighting and planned to vote for whichever candidate seemed to offer the best chance for economic stability and national unity.
"I fought in the holy war against the Russians like everyone else, and I would vote for a man who had Massoud's qualities," said Shah Agha, 28, a shopkeeper in the village of Rokha. "But I really don't care if the winner comes from the Panjshir or not, as long as he wins fairly. We have never had elections before, and the only thing that matters to me is that they are fair and impartial."
In Kandahar province, six Taliban rebels were killed and 11 captured in an air and ground assault by U.S. and Afghan government forces Sunday, the Reuters news service reported, citing a government spokesman. Earlier in the day, a Taliban spokesman said rebels had killed six Afghan army troops in a pre-dawn raid on a military post in the province.
Afghan trial of alleged US vigilantes halted as FBI returns evidence
Tuesday August 17, 10:38 AM AFP
The trial of three Americans accused of jailing, kidnapping and torturing prisoners in Afghanistan was dramatically halted after the FBI returned a "substantial" amount of evidence to Afghan authorities.
Judge Abdul Baset Bahktiari adjourned the trial for seven days to allow the Americans and their four Afghan co-accused time to study the evidence, which prosecutors said had been held by the FBI for more than 20 days.
"We received the documents 10 minutes ago," Mohammed Naim Daiwari told the court's afternoon session.
The defendants, arrested in July for allegedly running a private prison and counter-terrorism operations in Kabul, had earlier accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation of withholding evidence proving their links to US authorities.
"In front of the judge is the receipt that the FBI signed. Why did the judge allow the FBI to take evidence from the NDS?" Idema said, alleging 500 pages of documents, 200 videotapes and at least 400 photos detailing his links with the agencies had been seized.
Micheal Skibbie, lawyer for journalist Edward Caraballo who, he said, was making a documentary about Idema's operations, told reporters: "Returning a substantial amount of evidence after a trial has begun constitutes an insult to the Afghan justice system."
Skibbie said the FBI's reasons for interfering in the trial were unknown but added: "We do know that evidence was taken away before any of the defendants had a chance to examine it, and we also don't know if the evidence was changed or parts of it were lost while it was with the FBI."
Idema, wearing dark sunglasses and a khaki army shirt with a US flag on the shoulder, was in the dock with co-defendants Brent Bennet, also in khakis, Caraballo, who wore a traditional long Afghan smock over trousers, and their four Afghan partners.
The seven men face jail sentences of between 16 and 20 years if found guilty.
Idema claims that he and his partners were working with the full knowledge of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to hunt down suspected terrorists.
"Everyone knew what we were doing. We were not in the United States military but we were working with the United States military," he said.
Both the US and Afghan governments have disavowed any ties with Idema's outfit.
However, since Idema's earlier court appearance on July 21, US-led coalition forces have admitted they took a terror suspect arrested by Idema into custody, later releasing him after US forces found he was not a wanted militant.
Idema claims he foiled a plot to blow up the US airbase at Bagram with fuel trucks and attempts to assassinate Afghan defence minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim and former education minister Yunus Qanooni, who is running against Hamid Karzai in October 9 presidential elections.
US-led coalition forces and NATO-led peacekeepers said they were duped into helping Idema's team, who wore US-style uniforms, believing they were legitimate special forces operatives.
Idema said the US government severed its links with him after Afghan radio broadcast a report saying he had tortured Afghans.
"As soon as the word 'torture' hit the Afghan airwaves the US government said, 'Woo-hoo, we don't want anything to do with these guys'."
He denied claims of torture made by several Afghans who had been detained by his group.
"We used very standard interrogation techniques...and everyone was very concerned about Abu Ghraib," he said, referring to the Iraq prison abuse scandal.
Several former captives have said they were beaten, scalded with hot water and kept without food or water for days.
US forces here are already under fire from rights groups for their alleged mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan, several of whom have died while in custody.
The case has shone a spotlight on the shadowy world of security and counter-terrorism in a country where US-led forces and international peacekeepers stay close to their bases, leaving a wide swathe for private security contractors to operate.
US news reports said Idema was a bounty hunter who had spent time in jail for fraud and had formerly fought with Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan.
Pentagon brushed aside US vigilante in Afghanistan: official
Mon Aug 16, 5:33 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A former US soldier who allegedly ran a private anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan repeatedly tried to contact a US Defense Department employee here but the Pentagon did not want anything to do with him, a defense official said.
Jonathan K. Idema, who appeared in court in Kabul on Monday, said he had been in touch with a "four-star flag officer" he named as Heather Anderson at the Defense Department during the course of his anti-terror campaign.
"I did not mention the names of the generals we were in contact with but I did give Anderson's name after briefly consulting with my co-defendants," Idema said in a hand-written statement released from his prison cell.
A defense official here speaking on condition of anonymity said Heather Anderson is a civilian Defense Department employee involved in personnel security and contractors.
The official confirmed that Idema contacted her office repeatedly apparently attempting to volunteer some information.
"After making a cursory review, they checked into it," the official said. "They realized they did not want to deal with this person.
"This individual continued to try to contact the DoD repeatedly. It was very much one-way on his part, other than one or two calls to determine who he was," the official said. "I would characterize it as due diligence."
Idema along with two other Americans and four Afghan co-accused were arrested in Kabul in July for allegedly running a private jail and counter-terrorism operations.
Their trial was adjourned for seven days on Monday after the FBI handed in evidence it had withheld for more than 20 days relating to the case.
In the rambling, 11-page statement, Idema described his group as "unpaid volunteers".
"All of us were unpaid volunteers. We repeatedly refused to take money for pay from any government or non-government source," he said.
"We agreed only to accept supplies such as secure communications equipment, flex cuffs, water, fuel."
Idema, who is on trial with US co-defendents Edward Caraballo and Brent Bennett, said that his operation had foiled bomb plots to kill senior Afghan leaders and US soldiers.
He claims that he and his partners were working with the full knowledge of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to hunt down suspected terrorists.
"The US government sought to distance themselves from us, even destroying exculpatory evidence," the statement added.
Western Afghan provinces still tense after army troops deployed to end factional fighting
August 16, 2004 Associated Press
Tensions remained high in western Afghanistan despite the deployment of national army forces in the region to restore order following clashes between rival warlords, officials said Monday.
Chief of police of Badghis province, Amir Shah Naibzada, reported a clash near the provincial capital Qala-e-Naw late Sunday, but said there were no casualties.
He accused a unit of forces based in Badghis yet loyal to the governor of neighboring Herat province, Ismail Khan, of taking a hilltop position over the city and firing on troops under his command.
A spokesman for Khan _ the most powerful warlord in western Afghanistan _ denied his involvement and said no forces had been sent from Herat to Badghis.
At the weekend, more than 20 people were killed in fighting that broke out in different regions of Herat between forces of Khan and rival warlords _ the latest reminder of the instability that troubles much of Afghanistan as the country gears up for its first post-Taliban national elections in October.
The government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai quickly deployed troops from the fledgling national army to restore order.
The U.S. military said Monday that 440 Afghan National Army soldiers, accompanied by 29 U.S. military advisers, traveled on 10 C-130 transport planes to Shindand, 595 kilometers (370 miles) west of the capital, Kabul, where forces of Amanullah, a rival of Khan's, had taken over a contested airbase.
"The ANA soldiers have regained control of the Shindand National Airport and garrison facilities," a military statement said.
It said a total of 800 national army troops were expected to be deployed in Herat with air support from the U.S.-led coalition and a NATO-led security force.
Abdul Wahed Tawakali, a spokesman for Khan, said there was sporadic shooting between Khan and Amanullah's forces south and west of Shindand on Monday, but had no information about any casualties.
Amanullah's spokesman reported no fighting.
In Badghis, Naibzada said the rival factions had held talks Monday, easing tensions after the clash the night before. The troops loyal to Khan had since retreated from their hilltop position and returned to their base.
He said he had contacted the Afghan defense minister in Kabul demanding that the army act against Khan. He accused a 200-strong unit of national army troops, deployed in Bagdhis earlier this year, of "just looking" rather than trying to intervene.
Western Afghan governor's troops pushed back after overthrowing city
August 16, 2004
KABUL (AFP) - Tensions ran high in western Afghanistan as forces loyal to powerful Herat governor Ismael Khan surrounded a provincial capital after capturing it briefly overnight, police said.
"Last (Sunday) night the forces of Ismael Khan captured Qila and held it for some time, but they were forced out of the town and are now one or two kilometers from its outskirts," police chief of Badghis province General Amir Shah told the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP).
The latest push capped a weekend of deadly fighting between Khan's troops and the forces of his long-time rival Amanullah Khan in which at least 22 people were killed.
The clashes, coming just eight weeks before Afghans go to the polls to choose a president, prompted the central government to dispatch two army battalions and two police battalions to Herat province, with US-led forces helping to fly them in from Kabul.
Herat is the largest of Afghanistan's western provinces, bordering Iran. Badghis lies northeast of Herat.
Some 400 troops loyal to Khan, a former anti-Soviet warrior hero now one of Afghanistan's richest and most powerful warlords, attacked Badghis' capital Qila on Sunday night, police chief Shah told AIP, a private Pakistan-based newsagency.
Another 600 of Khan's men were on their way to back them up, Shah said.
Three soldiers were missing from the Sunday night clash but there were no confirmations of casualties so far.
Fighting broke out on before dawn Saturday when Amanullah's forces captured the airport in Shindand district, south of Herat city. Clashes raged through Saturday in Shindand and Chisti, both districts surrounding Herat.
Amanullah is an ethnic Pashtun while Ismael Khan is Tajik.
Pro-Khan demonstrators marched through provincial capital Herat's streets on Saturday and Sunday criticising the central government for failing to prevent the latest outbreak of fighting.
The protestors carried banners saying "We support Ismael Khan" and "We ask the central government to bring to justice the culprits who fight."
Khan rules Herat with an iron fist and has brought order and prosperity to its streets since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, but has clashed with other factional commanders in recent months, battling for control of neighboring provinces of Ghor, Badghis and Farah.
US-trained troops from the fledgling Afghan National Army guarded the UN compound and other foreign agency offices Sunday to prevent further clashes.
U.S. Military Worried by Afghan Infighting in West
Mon Aug 16,10:42 AM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military said Monday it was ready to help the Afghan government quell factional infighting in western Afghanistan, where 21 people died in clashes at the weekend.
A day earlier the Defense Ministry said it was sending two battalions to Herat province, where the forces of Governor Ismail Khan are under attack from rival militia leaders.
"The coalition does remain very concerned about the security in western Afghanistan," Major Scott Nelson, a spokesman for the U.S. military, told a press briefing.
"If diplomacy does fail, we would take appropriate action ... the coalition does have plans to support the national government," he said, while refusing to elaborate.
Afghan security forces were rushed to the area aboard airplanes belonging to either the U.S. military or the NATO-led international peacekeeping force based in Kabul.
So far, U.S.-led forces have generally stayed out of turf battles among heavily armed factions, which are a major headache for President Hamid Karzai ahead of Afghanistan's first ever democratic presidential election, set for October 9.
There are some 18,000 U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan hunting the remnants of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and its Taliban allies.
Ismail Khan, a powerful mujahideen leader, is a strong critic of Karzai, who was backed by the United States after a transitional government was formed following the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001.
At least 21 people, including two of Khan's top commanders, were killed in a fight for control of a disused airbase in Herat's Shindand district.
The fighting in Shindand is described as part of a series of co-ordinated attacks by Khan's rivals, and local officials reported sporadic clashes in the district Monday morning.
The fighting in Herat coincides with increased attacks in the south and east by Taliban fighters seeking to disrupt October's presidential election and parliamentary polls six months later.
Close to 1,000 people have been killed in attacks mostly linked to militants in the past year.
US military ready to take action against Afghan feuding warlords
KABUL, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- With factional fighting going on in west Afghanistan, the US military Monday expressed readiness to get involved in the worsening security situation in the region, a US military spokesman said Monday.
"If diplomacy does fail, we would take appropriate action," Scott Nelson told journalists here without elaboration.
His comment came after the Afghan central government decided to deploy two battalions or 1,500 troops of the newly US-trained Afghan National Army (ANA) to the conflict-hit western region where supporters and opponents of Herat's governor Ismael Khan have been engaged in a severe fighting since last weekend.
"We are concerned about it. The coalition does have plans to support the national government," he added. "The coalition and ISAF are here to support the national government in leading the Afghan nation."
The coalition and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)on Monday transported 440 ANA soldiers and 29 US advisors to Shindand airport, where the clash began, to help the central government restore control of the region.
More than 20,000 US-led coalition troops in coordination with 7,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)have been tasked to ensure durable peace and security in the post-war Afghanistan ahead of October election.
Qaeda "held Pakistan planning summit"
Monday August 16, 11:17 PM By Tahir Ikram
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's military is playing down a report in the latest edition of Time magazine describing what it called a "summit of terrorists" held in March in lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
While Pakistani officials acknowledge that remote tribal areas like South Waziristan, 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Islamabad, have been visited by foreign and local al Qaeda-linked militants in recent months to coordinate operations, the military said on Monday there was no summit.
The government also says Shakai in South Waziristan was used as a training area for al Qaeda until militants and tribal allies were forced out by the military in June.
Time reported the "gathering of terrorism's elite" took place in March in Waziristan.
It quoted some U.S. officials as saying the gathering may have been a "pivotal planning session" in the same way a meeting of al Qaeda operatives in 2000 was used to discuss plans for the September 11, 2001 strikes against the United States.
Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan denied any meeting took place.
"The story is fictionalised that a high-level summit meeting took place in South Waziristan," he said. "There was no summit meeting."
According to Sultan, President Pervez Musharraf told Time that Pakistani al Qaeda operative and computer engineer Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, captured last month, had met "discreetly" in the eastern city of Lahore with Musa al-Hindi, arrested this month in Britain.
British newspapers said Hindi was believed to have been plotting an attack on London's Heathrow airport.
Khan had also met an unnamed weapons expert, Sultan said, possibly a reference to Adnan el-Shukrijumah, identified by Time as a bombmaker and commercial pilot.
TRIBAL "BASE OF OPERATIONS"
Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said Shakai was a "base of operations" where plans may have been discussed by militants, although he did not confirm the summit report.
He told reporters a total of 12 foreigners and 51 Pakistanis had been arrested inside Pakistan in the latest swoop on al Qaeda in the last four to five weeks.
Pakistani officials said U.S. intelligence had unearthed the presence of foreign militants in South Waziristan earlier this year, leading to a military operation to flush them out in March.
More than 200 people, including militants, their local tribal allies, soldiers and civilians were killed in two operations against militants in tribal areas, one in March and one in June.
Some of the militants caught in recent weeks have been linked to assassination attempts on Musharraf, prime minister-designate Shaukat Aziz and Karachi's army chief.
Members of the al Qaeda-linked Jundullah group, which opened fire on the motorcade of Karachi corps commander Ahsan Saleem Hayat in June, travelled to Pakistan's tribal belt to coordinate the attack in which 10 people were killed. Hayat survived.
Musharraf has infuriated radical Islamic groups in Pakistan, some of which developed close links to al Qaeda during the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan in the 1980s and having trained with the network at Afghan camps in the 1990s.
The United States issued a security alert based on information gleaned from Khan and his computer, although local media reports said the intelligence was at least three years old.
Critics accuse the administration of President George W. Bush of using the threat of al Qaeda attacks as a vote-winner ahead of November elections.
AFGHANISTAN: UNHCR battling to help returnees with water
lack of clean water remains a huge problem for most returnees, both rural and urban.
KABUL, 16 Aug 2004 (IRIN) - The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Afghanistan is working to alleviate water problems experienced by Afghan returnees by constructing thousands of water points and household latrines. While over 3.6 million refugees have returned over the past two years, lack of clean water remains a huge problem for most returnees.
“Afghan refugees returning to their homes after years of war require not just peace and employment but also water which is very scarce in Afghanistan,” Nader Farhad, a spokesman for UNHCR, told IRIN in Kabul. Having access to water sanitation, public clinics and shelter was the pressing need of not only returnees, but also millions of other Afghans, he added.
According to Farhad, the UN refugee agency has constructed or repaired over 6,200 water points, 3,750 household latrines and 3,650 since 2002 in areas where large numbers of Afghans have returned to. UNHCR also plans to construct another 2,036 water points and 2,000 household latrines by the end of 2004. Among the planned figures, the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, in close co-operation with UNHCR, will make available 1,250 water points and 2,000 household latrines with donor money.
Each water point would be constructed for 25 families, providing access to clean water for around a quarter of a million people.
Several years of drought and the return of more than three million refugees from Pakistan and Iran, including more than 440,000 internally displaced Afghans, returning to their homes especially in rural areas, have made the problem more acute.
“In the past we were growing wheat to solve our economic problems, but now we cannot even grow vegetables because of drought.” Ghulam Shah, a farmer who had returned with his family after years abroad, told IRIN. If his family could be provided with drinking water from a pump near their house, then this one improvement would solve so many problems., he added.
Nader said UNHCR had helped returnees to clear many underground “kareze” channels. These water supply gulleys in most cases were blocked, not just by soil accumulation over years of neglect, but by walls that had collapsed - the former Taliban rulers would often destroy them in order to depopulate contested parts of the country, particularly in the north.
The UN refugee agency has allocated more than US $15 million for water projects (drinking and irrigation water) in Afghanistan since it launched a programme in 2002 to assist refugees who wanted to return.
At least another 2,000 wells have been planned by other operational partners, although this would not be sufficient to cover the water needs of all returnees this year, UNHCR pointed out.
UNHCR helps Afghans to rebuild their shattered homes
KABUL, Aug. 16 (UNHCR) - When Abdel Khalil returned this year from Pakistan after 12 years in a refugee camp where he had buried both his parents, he found only a ruin instead of the Kabul home he had known as a child.
"It was completely destroyed by fighting during the Taliban period," the 25-year-old man said in front of a pile of sun-dried bricks made with his own hands. Now, after weeks of labour, the two-room house that will house him, his wife, his 18-month-old daughter and two brothers, has literally been resurrected from the earth.
But even Abdel Khalil's hard work - the five-metre-deep well, dug by hand, still ends in dry gravel - would not have been enough to rebuild his home without assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He has been one of some 90,000 beneficiaries since 2002 to receive UNHCR help to rebuild in Afghanistan.
"I still owe thousands of Afghanis to the labourers who helped me," he said. "I am waiting for the rest of the aid to come from UNHCR and then I'll be able to pay them. I couldn't have rebuilt without this UN assistance."
Abdel Khalil was among 70 recipients of shelter assistance in District 7 of the Afghan capital, an area that was devastated in the fighting that led to the Taliban capture of Kabul in 1996. Those accepted for the programme - 53 applicants were turned down - are returnees with land who most need the assistance to rebuild a destroyed house.
The programme is community-based, with beneficiaries among the refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan or from those who were internally displaced selected by a local committee and UNHCR carrying out checks to ensure there are no abuses.
The assistance for rebuilding a completely destroyed house - routine in many areas - can be worth a total of $625, including building materials like window frames and roof timbers plus some cash to pay for extra labour. Assistance is adjusted for less damage, with diagrams prepared in advance showing how much of the walls still exist.
Shelter assistance by UNHCR, implemented through non-governmental partners, has been provided throughout the country ever since the first of the more than three million refugees and internally displaced started going home at the beginning of 2002.
On the Shomali Plain that stretches north of Kabul, destruction in some places was almost total. The Taliban, battling their Northern Alliance foes advancing out of impregnable mountain bases, instituted a scorched earth policy that included burning down entire villages.
"There were many rooms and two floors," said Bahlol Shah, standing in front of his new two-room house rebuilt in the village of Bagh-e-Alam with UNHCR assistance. The charred ends of timbers of the old, large house stick out of eroding mud walls that rise above his new home.
Beside the compound where his family has rebuilt after seven years in Pakistan, another family is just completing the home they have restored after eight years in Iran. The village, once a prosperous community with both Pashto- and Tajik-speaking groups, is reviving after being totally deserted and largely destroyed by early 2002.
While the shelter programme provides invaluable aid to some, it is not a panacea. After 25 years of war, the need in Afghanistan is far greater than the number of shelters that can be provided. This year plans by other organisations to supplement the UNHCR programme, which itself has been scaled back from previous years, largely disappeared because of a shortage of funds.
Most obviously, the programme helps the poor - but not the absolute poorest. Assistance can be provided only to those who have land to erect a house, not those without even a plot. The resolution of requests for land - a tangle of conflicting claims and interests - will take years for the government to resolve.
Still, without the UNHCR shelter assistance many of those returning to their shattered houses would remain homeless. Many of those benefiting were living in makeshift shelters until they were located by survey teams seeking those most in need of assistance.
On the slope of a hill on the edge of Kabul, Aziza came back from seven years in a refugee camp near the Pakistani city of Peshawar to a home had been ripped apart by the rocket fire that destroyed so much of the capital. She had fled with her three children after her husband, a driver, was shot dead in the narrow dirt streets below the house.
"When we came last year we were living in a neighbour's house that was still empty. Later we lived with my brother-in-law," said Aziza - known by all as "widow of Abdullah." The surveyors came to the village and my brother-in-law told them about us - we didn't have a house to live in and we don't have a man to support us."
No one would describe their lives today as easy. Aziza's 10-year-old son is now the only breadwinner in the family, earning less than a dollar a day selling water on the streets of Kabul. But, without the shelter programme, he would not even have a home to return to in the evening.
Afghanistan: Victims of war and poverty
By Peter Willems Yemen Times Staff
Ariana is busy everyday on Flower Street in central Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. Selling local newspapers and magazines, she eagerly approaches any potential customer - she sees to try and sell enough to make a living.
Ariana is an eight year-old who helps her mother, four brothers and three sisters, to get by.
“My father was killed by the Taliban when he fought with the Northern Alliance,” explained Ariana. “My mother has to take care of my brothers and sisters, so one of my brothers and I work. We pay the rent and buy food for the family.”
Ariana is one of millions of Afghan children working to help their families get through the harsh conditions of the war-torn country. Although there are no official figures in Afghanistan on the widespread phenomena of working children, the Afghan Street Working Children and New Approach (Aschiana), a humanitarian aid organization that helps working children, estimates that up to 60,000 children in Kabul alone are working on the streets. The figures do not include a vast number of children who are working in family businesses, factories or shops.
“It is a different situation in Afghanistan than in most other countries,” said Edward Carwardine, Communication Officer of United Nation Children’s Fund (Unicef) based in Afghanistan. “Most children work in one way or another during their early years. To be realistic, it is normal in Afghanistan for children to help their families by working, be it in the family business, agriculture, and so forth. Up to now, it has been a part of life in Afghanistan.”
What Afghanistan has faced over the last two decades has forced more children to work. The country has gone through 25 years of ongoing warfare that has left its economy in a shambles. As many as 80% of the population lives in poverty and the majority are jobless. Many families have lost their breadwinners to armed conflict; there have been a number of droughts over the last few years; and over two million Afghans returned to their country after the Taliban regime fell in late 2001 which has pushed unemployment even higher.
Aschiana found that the number of working children on the streets in Kabul has nearly tripled between 1996 and the end of last year. In the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, children taking to the streets to make a living jumped from 1,000 to 5,000 in less than five years.
A number of steps have been taken to persuade children to go to school during the rebuilding process in the last three years. Financial aid from donor countries has supported the constructing or rebuilding over 200 schools and has sent millions of textbooks to urban and rural areas.
But programs assisting working children have had to adapt to the situation in Afghanistan today: Under such difficult conditions, the aim is to get children to go to school while working.
“This is an economic reality. It is common for children to go to school half the day while working the rest of the day,” said Carwardine.
With education being critical, Unicef has initiated an awareness program to teach parents that if children are allowed to go to school, there will be better returns for the family in the future.
“What we teach is that education is a good investment,” said Carwardine. “A child will get a better job later in life if he or she is educated, which will benefit the family down the road.”
Unicef also tries to reach out to children who are living far from school. The Community Based School program has set up many schools in villages using any building available, such as empty houses, restaurants or shops, and has recruited local teachers.
Afghanistan also had to overcome the lack of educating girls in the past when the Taliban banned girls from going to school. Unicef, working with the Ministry of Education, was able to add 400,000 girls to enrollment last year and aims at a 600,000 increase in 2004.
Aschiana, the largest organization assisting children carrying out jobs on the streets, provides education for children that are working to support their families.
“Some organizations have tried to send children to school and give up their jobs,” said Mohammad Yousef, Director of Aschiana. “But what about food? Shelter? Clothes? The children eventually return to the streets, so our solution is to combine education and work.”
Aschiana, which now works with over 3,600 children in Kabul, gives working children basic education and provides accelerated programs for children who need to catch up. The organization also offers vocational training and helps children search for jobs once they have completed their studies.
Even though efforts have been made to assist working children, the conditions the children are living in have not improved much in recent years. Soon after President Hamid Karzai took office in 2001, he requested $27.5 billion over a seven-year period to reconstruct the country. Up to now, the money coming in has not kept up with the amount needed each year, which has slowed down rebuilding the country.
The majority of the population is still without running water and electricity and most of the roads are in need of repair. The Afghan economy has barely moved forward, jobs are scarce and there has been very little local or foreign investment since the Taliban regime was ousted.
The remnants of the Taliban have regrouped, and fighting against 20,000 US troops has intensified. Up to 900 people have been killed in the last 12 months. Violence has also spread to the north with the Taliban attempting to destabilize the country and derail the upcoming elections. Over 25 aid organizations have pulled out of the country while many others have streamlined their work due to security concerns.
Government officials believe that violence will increase between now and the presidential elections scheduled to be held on October 9th.
“The Taliban and other groups will increase their attacks as we get closer to the elections,” said Syed Alamudin Atheer, Deputy Director of Counter Narcotics Directorate. “All they want is to prevent the establishment of a strong central government.”
NATO has promised to send 1,500 more troops in September to help provide security for the elections. Up until now, the peacekeeping force has included only 6,500 soldiers, mostly stationed in Kabul. NATO will also keep 2,000 more soldiers on standby if needed. The United States continues to train Afghanistan’s forces with the goal of establishing a 70,000 strong army by 2011.
Analysts believe, however, that the number of security forces stationed in Afghanistan is not enough to stabilize the country in the near future. They claim that if peacekeeping forces are not beefed up considerably, violence will continue.
Although the future of Afghanistan is not clear, Ariana wishes to have a better future. “I go to school every morning and come here to Flower Street and work hard to help my family,” said Ariana. “I hope to have a good job in the future.”
Up against Afghanistan's corrosive opium trade
Monday, Aug 16, 2004 The Globe and Mail, Canada
During a brief visit to Afghanistan last week, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that the country's resurgent opium trade could derail efforts to establish stable democratic rule. Without going into any details, he added that a "master plan" is being developed to help the Afghan government curtail poppy cultivation and snuff out a booming trade that is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of local warlords and terrorist groups. Such a plan is long overdue, but it cannot succeed separately from the economic and political reconstruction of the country.
Despite promises to the contrary, it is plain that Washington did not have a coherent strategy for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld and his top Defence Department officials determined at the outset of the war in 2001 that the U.S. focus in Afghanistan should be almost exclusively on the military matters at hand: the defeat of the Taliban regime, the hunt for al-Qaeda operatives and the subsequent redeployment of as many troops as possible to Iraq. Afterward, scant attention -- and far too little money -- was devoted to such crucial problems as how to extend the rule of law throughout the country, disarm the warlords who still control huge swaths of territory, and develop the institutions needed to underpin a functioning democracy and a national economy. It was in this economic and political vacuum that the drug trade flourished.
That might have been avoided if a comprehensive anti-drug strategy had been in place soon after the rapid defeat of the Taliban, which had ruthlessly tried to suppress poppy-growing. But once opium production was allowed to take root again, it grew rapidly into a major force, with global implications for the wars on drugs and terror.
At a time when other opium centres such as Myanmar have been reducing output, Afghanistan boosted production by about 8 per cent last year to 3,600 tonnes, by far the world's biggest supply. The United Nations is forecasting an even larger harvest this year. The country's network of drug producers, smugglers and traffickers accounted for three-quarters of the world's heroin in 2003 and raked in $2.3-billion (U.S.), about half the value of Afghanistan's legal economy and growing much faster. Mr. Rumsfeld rightly fears that the enormous illicit income will be used to finance opposition groups seeking to undermine the scheduled Oct. 9 national election and the government that emerges from it. That's the immediate threat. Beyond that, UN drug monitors fear that Afghanistan could simply collapse into an utterly ungovernable state controlled by the narcotics traffickers and their political allies.
In a blunt assessment of the situation, Republican Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee, declared in May that "the same sources of conflict and instability that allowed the Taliban to seize power and fuelled the growth of al-Qaeda's terrorist network continue to threaten the future of Afghanistan. Conflicts among heavily armed militias controlled by warlords, pervasive poverty, systemic corruption and an increasingly entrenched narco-economy threaten to undermine reconstruction activities."
Mr. Rumsfeld's department is reviewing its Afghan policy. But officials have no plans to commit any U.S. troops specifically to a war on drug trafficking, because they are already overextended by the fight against insurgents and terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. As for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it would be hard pressed to take on much more than its current, problem-plagued peacekeeping role.
Mr. Rumsfeld has not said how he expects to put a serious dent in the booming illicit trade without U.S. or NATO military intervention. If he is counting on the understaffed, overstretched and untested Afghan army to do it, he is making a serious error. And if he thinks the feeble government of President Hamid Karzai will somehow be emboldened enough to go after those profiting most from the drug trade, he has not been paying sufficient attention to history.
U.S. President George W. Bush has called Afghanistan a model for what can be achieved in Iraq. Let's hope he's wrong.
|Back to News Archirves of 2004|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).