90 Percent of Afghans Registered to Vote
Sun Aug 1, 9:41 AM ET
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - About 90 percent of the Afghan electorate has registered to vote in October's landmark presidential election, the United Nations said Sunday, as it began winding down a registration effort marred by bloody attacks on election staff and voters.
According to the latest U.N. figures, 8.7 million of an estimated 9.8 million eligible voters have collected ID cards that will allow them to cast a ballot when polling begins Oct. 9 in Afghanistan's first-ever direct national vote.
The enthusiastic turnout is a relief for the world body, which has overcome misgivings about Afghanistan's readiness for elections under strong pressure from the United States. The vote had been delayed from June because of slow progress disarming warlords. A vote for Parliament was put off until next spring.
It is also a welcome surprise for President Hamid Karzai, who is widely expected to defeat 22 rivals to secure a new five-year term. The U.S.-backed interim leader was still saying in June that registering 6 million people would have been sufficient.
"The participation is amazing," U.N. spokesman David Singh said. "There was a lot of skepticism about this process at the beginning, but the targets have been fulfilled."
Registration for elections, which are supposed to cap a U.N.-sponsored peace drive begun after the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, started last December in eight Afghan cities, and was extended across the country in the spring.
The response has been strong in the north, west and center of the country, where regional leaders — including several opposed to Karzai's plans for a strong central government — have encouraged their supporters to sign up and hundreds of registration sites have already closed.
Ethnic rivalry in a country deeply scarred by years of infighting has also encouraged communities to make sure they are fully represented — including through their women, who account for 41 percent of the total registered voters.
In the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, for instance, Singh said the number registered had exceeded the projected total — suggesting either fraud or that the estimate of the electorate was far too conservative.
Officials acknowledge cases of people registering more than once, but say a dab of indelible ink on every voter's finger will limit fraud on polling day. Many underage Afghans may also have slipped through.
Still, registration teams will have to work more in the south and southeast, where a virulent Taliban insurgency threatens to de-couple militant heartlands from the rest of the country.
At least nine people working to prepare the elections have been killed in attacks sometimes claimed by the Taliban, despite efforts by some 20,000 U.S.-led troops to protect the process.
Most recently, an Afghan election worker and a voter was killed Wednesday when a bomb exploded in a mosque being used as registration center in Ghazni province. A mine seriously injured three election workers in the Taliban stronghold of Uruzgan on Friday, Afghan officials said.
So far, the south accounts for just 12 percent of the total number of people registered.
Security in areas there "has to be addressed and improved," Singh said. "Every effort will be made to ensure ... that people get a chance to take part."
Almost 80 Percent of Afghanistan's Voters Register for Polls
July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Almost 80 percent Afghanistan's estimated 10 million eligible voters have registered to take part in presidential elections in October and a parliamentary poll next April, the United Nations said.
A total of 7.9 million Afghans had registered by Thursday, said Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the UN spokesman in Afghanistan, according to a UN statement.
Most registration sites will close Saturday, de Almeida e Silva said. Offices in southern areas where registration has been slow will remain open into August, he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai registered as a candidate yesterday for the Oct. 9 presidential poll. The general and presidential elections have been delayed from June and then from September because of continuing violence blamed on fighters from the ousted Taliban regime and militiamen loyal to warlords. A slow registration process also stalled potential voters.
The country's population is estimated at 28.5 million people, according to U.S. government data.
Registration is picking up in the south of the country where attacks on Afghan security officials and international aid and election workers have increased in recent months, the UN said. In Helmand province, the average number of people registering daily increased to 13,000 from 5,000, it said.
More than 40 percent of registered voters are women, de Almeida e Silva said. Women were prevented from taking part in society under the Taliban regime, which took power in 1996 and was ousted in the U.S.-led war on terrorism in December 2001. The militia's interpretation of Islamic law included banning women from working and stopping girls from attending school.
Karzai formally filed his candidacy yesterday in the Afghan capital, Kabul, the Associated Press reported.
He named the brother of deceased resistance hero Ahmad Shah Masood as his running mate. Masood fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and the Taliban regime. He was killed by suicide bombers disguised as a television crew at his base in north of the country two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.
Afghanistan's Education Minister Yunus Qanooni and Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord from the north, are among a dozen candidates who will run against Karzai, AP said.
Mohammed Fahim, the defense minister and Karzai's first vice- president, will support Qanooni, AP said, citing Mohammed Abil, one of his aides.
Fahim's Jamiat militia, which helped oust the Taliban, is one of the most powerful in Afghanistan.
Many Afghans Complain Of Hastily Set Elections Lack of Security, Resources Threatens October Vote
By Keith B. Richburg Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, August 1, 2004; Page A16
KABUL, Afghanistan -- After being ruled by the gun for the past two decades and by kings for the previous two centuries, Afghans are less than three months away from voting in their country's first democratic election.
But is the country ready?
Some political analysts -- and a few candidates -- contend that despite Afghanistan's long wait for democracy, the presidential election scheduled for Oct. 9 has been hastily arranged by foreign governments more concerned with their own priorities than with those of Afghans.
In many parts of this mountainous, landlocked country the size of Texas, armed factional leaders exercise greater power than the central government, commanding private militias and collecting taxes and other revenue. Remnants of the ousted Taliban Islamic movement and the al Qaeda network continue to wage a running insurgency, battling 20,000 American and allied troops and vowing to disrupt the election.
In addition, no one is certain how many Afghans are eligible to vote, because there has been no census in decades. There are no clear guidelines for how candidates will finance their campaigns or who will guarantee their security if they travel around the country. There is no plan in place for international monitoring of the vote or for safeguarding ballots as they are moved from isolated villages to provincial capitals.
"It's paradoxical that the international community, especially the United States, has invested a lot in the electoral process but has not put in the resources to guarantee it's free and fair," said Vikram Parekh, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization. "The big question is: Is the country prepared for a democratic exercise?"
After U.S. forces and Afghan militias drove the Taliban from power in late 2001, Afghan factional leaders and representatives of foreign powers met that December in Bonn, Germany, to chart a path that would lead Afghanistan to a form of representative government.
In addition to naming Hamid Karzai president and parceling out positions in his cabinet among ethnic and regional factions, participants adopted a timetable that would bring elections by the middle of this year.
But many are questioning whether that goal was too optimistic. Even though the election is a few months behind schedule and will not include a vote for members of parliament, Parekh said he thought the time frame set by Bonn was "unrealistic, given what people had to establish here from the ground up."
Foreign Minister Abdullah, a former faction official from northern Afghanistan who has been the country's top diplomat since the Bonn conference, said he, too, thought the election was being held prematurely. The current government -- an interim administration chosen at a grand council, or loya jirga, in July 2002 -- needs more time to rebuild the country's shattered institutions, he said.
"A preferable situation might have been if we had a five-year term for the government, so we could create institutions and [do] the basic work," Abdullah said.
This past week, 23 candidates filed the paperwork required to run for president. Some said that the rush to elections favored the incumbent, Karzai, and questioned the fairness of the process.
"The situation for elections is not suitable," said a challenger from Karzai's Pashtun ethnic group, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai. "This is not the right time. They should postpone it until next year."
Like many Afghans, Ahmadzai accused the Bush administration of pushing the Afghan process ahead so the election would take place before the U.S. elections in November.
"We are sacrificing our elections for the November election in America -- otherwise there is no reason to have our election in such a hurry," contended Ahmadzai, 60, a wealthy businessman. "Mr. Bush wants to show, 'I am a hero and had the election in Afghanistan.' They are forcing everything for their own election and not for the poor Afghans."
Other observers argued that there is no perfect time to hold an election in a country recovering from decades of war and that even a messy, flawed election would bring the Afghan government needed legitimacy.
"Is it going to be an election like we're used to in a Western democracy? Probably not. But it's a first step," said Grant Kippen, country director for the congressionally funded National Democratic Institute, which is helping with preparations. "I look at it more as a process rather than an event. We need to send a signal to a whole bunch of groups -- the ordinary citizens, the Taliban and al Qaeda, the government -- that we're serious about Afghanistan and helping them."
One thing observers agree on is that incumbency gives Karzai a formidable advantage over his challengers. He is known around the entire country and dominates the state-run media.
In a recent public opinion poll conducted in Afghanistan by the Asia Foundation, a U.S.-based nongovernmental group, 62 percent of respondents gave Karzai a favorable job-approval rating, and he received an 85 percent personal popularity rating. However, in southern Afghanistan, the Pashtun heartland where Karzai has his roots, his approval rating was only 35 percent, while 46 percent said he was doing a fair or poor job.
While he is widely credited with restoring stability to many parts of the country, Karzai is faulted for not having improved economic conditions for ordinary Afghans despite a massive influx of foreign aid.
"I prefer Karzai," said Shah Mohammad, 29, a fruit vendor in a northern Kabul neighborhood populated largely by ethnic Tajiks. "He hasn't created any jobs, but he's secured the country."
Another man, Shuja Mohammad, also 29, said he would vote for Yonus Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik former cabinet member who may be Karzai's strongest challenger. As for Karzai, he said, "If he was able to do something, he would have done it in the last two years."
That is precisely the kind of sentiment that Karzai's rivals hope to tap.
"The situation is degrading. The gap between the people and the government is growing larger every day," said Homayun Shah Asefi, a French-trained lawyer and former diplomat whose connections to Afghanistan's former king could enable him to challenge Karzai among Pashtun voters.
Ahmadzai, the other main Pashtun candidate, said: "Corruption is very high. If you collect all the corruption in the world, it wouldn't come close to Afghanistan."
He added, "When I list the defects of the government, every Afghan knows this -- that is why I am optimistic I can win."
Whether such calculations mean anything to the many poor Afghans with little formal education is hard to gauge. Many scarcely know what an election is, never having experienced one.
"We heard they will put a lot of boxes beside each other and tell us to put a card in the box for whoever we like," said Mohamed Shafi, a 57-year-old from Mazar-e Sharif who was selling melons from a kiosk in Kabul.
Asked about democracy, he replied: "Democracy means freedom, and do whatever you want."
Abducted election workers escape in Afghanistan
KABUL, August 1 (Xinhua) -- Two local staff of the Afghan Election Commission managed to escape from the custody of unknown abductors in central Ghor province Thursday, a spokesman of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Sunday.
"Two national staff members of electoral secretariat were abducted in Ghor province at gun point on July 29 and their vehicle was seized. But the team later managed to escape," David Singh told journalists here at a news briefing.
The abduction occurred when their vehicle was on the way from Ghor's provincial capital Chughcharan towards Murghab village in the north at around 12:30 p.m. Thursday, according to the official.
"Thankfully in the incident they suffered no injuries but they did lose the vehicle and communication equipment."
The remote mountainous Ghor province has been the scene of factional fighting and violence for the last two months during which more than a dozen people have been killed or injured.
Two American advisers and three Afghan government soldiers were also injured in the volatile Ghor province after their convoy came under attack near the provincial capital on Thursday.
Spain to open embassy in Afghanistan by year end
MADRID: Spain is to open its first embassy in Afghanistan by the end of the year, Spanish daily ABC on Sunday quoted a high-ranking defence ministry official on a visit to Kabul as saying.
ABC said Leopoldo Stampa, director general of the ministry’s institutional relations, made the announcement following talks with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
The defence ministry in Madrid was unavailable for comment on Sunday. Stampa is in Kabul overseeing the provision of 103 tonnes of humanitarian aid on behalf of Spain’s foreign and defence ministries.
The pending opening of an embassy follows last month’s announcement by Spain’s new Socialist government that it is to increase its military contingent in Afghanistan from a current 475 to between 940 and 1,040 in the run-up to Afghan elections slated for September. By year’s end Madrid intends to reduce the contingent to 540. afp
Engineers discuss plans to rebuild Afghanistan
CONFERENCE AIMS TO FASHION RELATIONSHIPS FIRST
By Lisa Fernandez Mercury News
The guests wore smart-looking business suits, boasted elaborate credentials and employed sophisticated PowerPoint presentations during a two-day conference on how to rebuild the infrastructure of war-torn Afghanistan.
But the real action at Saturday's international gathering of engineers at the University of California-Berkeley came during lunch.
Over cumin-spiced rice and tomato-stewed chicken, about 100 Afghan-friendly businesspeople, professors and government officials rubbed elbows at the International Conference for the Rehabilitation and Development of Infrastructures in Afghanistan. Building relationships was the point of the second annual conference hosted by the Society of Afghan Engineers, a global group of about 500 members, with roughly 50 in the Bay Area.
``We need to build Afghanistan up from ground zero,'' said the group's vice president, M. Quadem Kadir, a 45-year-old electrical and information technology engineer. ``But a lot of this is just at the networking stage.''
The Bay Area is home to an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Afghan emigres. The city of Fremont has the United States' largest concentration, with 10,000 to 15,000. Many have said they would like to return to their homeland someday.
The withdrawal of Doctors Without Borders from Afghanistan last week over the unsolved slayings of five of its members and concern for the safety of the international aid agency's workers was not on the agenda at the Berkeley conference. But many Bay Area Afghans have said privately that their birthplace is not yet ready for them to return because of the continuing presence of warlords and opium traders there.
Last year's conference was held in New Jersey and focused on the ``empowerment'' of the Afghan people, Kadir said. This year's theme had a sharper focus: calling on engineers to rebuild Afghanistan's roads, power plants and sewage systems. But the Afghan engineers want to do it differently than it has been done in the United States.
A recurring theme of Saturday's lectures was not to repeat the mistakes of the Western world by building machines and facilities that produce so much waste. The idea is instead to use sustainable energy sources such as water, wind and sun to light the homes of Afghan agricultural villages as well as metropolitan cities such as Kabul.
Invited to the conference were prominent guests including Afghanistan's deputy ministers of education, water and power, housing, irrigation, and education; leading scholars, such as Bernard Amadei, professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado and head of the U.S. branch of Engineers Without Borders; and Afghan-American activists Rona Popal of Fremont and Humaira Ghilzai of San Francisco, both of whom simply want to understand what's going on in their homeland and see what they can do to help.
The academic setting provided an opportunity for Said Mirzada, 29, a Newark computer engineer who plans to return to Afghanistan in about two years. Mirzada wanted to meet with big names in the field such as Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism in Colorado, who spoke about how Afghan engineers have an opportunity to develop their homeland ``right the first time'' by using eco-friendly infrastructure.
``My dream is to rebuild Afghanistan and get it stabilized,'' Mirzada said.
World Bank Announces Afghan Loan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
WASHINGTON, 30 July (RFE/RL) -- The World Bank announced today it is loaning 5 million dollars to Afghanistan. The bank said the main objective of the 10-year loan is to finance political risk insurance to encourage foreign investment in Afghanistan.
It said that with other loans and private investment, the total package is expected to be 60 million dollars
Uzbek Leader Denounces Islamic Extremists
Associated Press August 1, 2004
President Islam Karimov blamed suicide bombings against the U.S. and Israeli embassies on the same group behind unprecedented similar attacks earlier this year, pleading in a nationwide TV address Saturday for Uzbeks to spurn extremist Islamic influences.
He spoke after a police officer guarding the U.S. Embassy died overnight from injuries in Friday's attacks, which also hit the chief prosecutor's office in the Uzbek capital, said general prosecutor's spokeswoman Svetlana Artikova. That raised the death toll to at least six, including the three bombers.
While not naming the group behind the attacks, Karimov pointedly mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir, a secretive extremist Islamic group that has spread across Central Asia since the Soviet collapse. The group, whose Arabic name means Party of Liberation, claims to disavow violence in its quest to create worldwide Islamic government.
In a bid to crush extremism, Karimov's authoritarian regime has arrested thousands of members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and other Muslims who worship outside state-run mosques, but critics say the campaign has backfired and it has drawn strong international criticism.
"Some international human rights organizations who take Hizb ut-Tahrir under their wing and protect them say they are innocent lambs," Karimov said in the speech late Saturday. "But if this group wanted to create a caliphate (Islamic state) and overthrow the government, how can they do it peacefully, without bloodshed?"
The near-simultaneous triple suicide attacks were the second attacks to hit Uzbekistan this year, raising fears of instability in Central Asia's most populous nation, and took place during the first trial of 15 suspects in the wave of March-April violence that left at least 47 dead.
Karimov said both attacks were organized "from the same group, and serve the same aims," which he said were to sow fear and disrupt the country's "peaceful and stable life."
A source close to Uzbek extremist groups told The Associated Press on Saturday that al-Qaida directed and financed the group behind Friday's bombings and that the attacks were retaliation for Uzbekistan's support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group was based in Pakistan and had been founded by several former fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al-Qaida-linked terror group, after they fell out with that movement's leaders.
The account squares with testimony of the 15 suspects who went on trial this week for the spring attacks. Authorities said earlier the new extremist group was linked to international terror groups and its members were trained in Pakistan by al-Qaida instructors.
Although the group uses the name Jamoat, or "Society" for its cells, the source said it had no real name.
The source said al-Qaida had targeted Uzbekistan because of its support of the U.S. anti-terror coalition in neighboring Afghanistan. U.S. troops have been based in the southern city of Khanabad since October 2001.
"It's about politics, not religion," the source said, predicting further attacks. "It will calm down here when the U.S. base goes."
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Neal Kemp, commander at Khanabad, told AP on Saturday that he knew of no specific threats against the base but that officials were "taking appropriate steps" after the latest violence.
Explosions, bomb plots threaten security in Afghan capital, NATO say
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Two rockets exploded inside a ruined building in the Afghan capital overnight in what NATO troops said Saturday was an attempt to lure security forces into a trap.
No one was injured when the rockets, placed about five meters (yards) apart in the empty structure, exploded late Friday, said Cdr. Chris Henderson, a spokesman for Kabul's international security force.
Investigators suspect that they were supposed to detonate at intervals so that security forces would be hit by the second blast, he said.
Henderson said a swoop by Afghan security forces in the capital on Thursday appeared to have foiled another double-bombing.
Explosives hidden under the seat of motorbike stopped by Afghan intelligence agents were wired to a compact-disc player for remote detonation. Seven rockets found in a fruit-seller's cart nearby were packed in with dynamite, scrap metal and gravel, Henderson said.
Kabul has been on edge since President Hamid Karzai on Monday dropped a powerful warlord who acts as his deputy and defense minister from his team for October elections.
NATO troops have stepped up patrols but have failed to deter a spate of rocket attacks that has killed one Afghan civilian, narrowly missed the Chinese Embassy and ignited an arms dump.
Iraqi Border Police Arrest 60 Illegal Afghan Immigrants
BASRA - Iraqi border police on Friday arrested 60 Afghans who came into the country from Iran, a spokesman said. "About 60 Afghans were arrested after crossing the border in the Fadaquia area," about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Basra, where British troops are based, Captain Nizar al-Amara said.
None of the immigrants was carrying weapons and only 16 of them had passports, Amara added. "They were handed over to immigration and will be charged with trying to enter the country illegally."
He said the group most likely consisted of Shiite Muslim pilgrims anxious to make their way to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in central Iraq. On Wednesday, the US military said 35 insurgents who had crossed into Iraq illegally from Iran, were killed in a joint Iraqi-multinational raid.
To stay, or not to stay: Afghan returnees caught in reality at home
By Abdul Haleem, Zabi Tamanna
KABUL, July 31 (Xinhua) -- "I have lost one of my children here since I returned home last year. Life became more and more difficult for me here," complained 26-year-old Bilal, an Afghan returnee from Iran now huddling tighter with his family at Chaman Babrak Refugees makeshift camp in Kabul.
Chaman Babrak, which has been housing 160 families or some 2, 000 refugees for the last two years, is one of the two major returnees' compounds at the heart of Afghan capital where construction of private buildings is booming.
Lines of decaying tents along a dusty road at Chaman Babrak where there is no electricity, running water and health center made this area the most humble neighborhood in Kabul.
"I may earn 400 Afghanis or some four US dollars as a mason everyday if I were employed. But the building contractors prefer to employ foreign laborers in these days," Bilal, who returned home after 14 years in exile, said in grief.
Many returnees prefer to stay in the capital city with hopes that It is easier to find a job.
Around 1,800 displaced families have been living in different parts of the ruined capital city with a big proportion in dismay, Nadir Farhad, a spokesman of UNHCR mission confirmed.
"Their biggest problem is shelter which is beyond UNHCR's responsibility. We may provide them with food or coal in the winter. The shelter has to be solved by the government," Farhad added.
More than 3 million Afghan refugees, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have been repatriated with majority of whom from neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran since the collapse of the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001.
In the meantime, the Afghan government has no emergency plan to provide shelter for the displaced refugees or provide them with jobs in the near future.
"We accept the importance of providing proper shelter to the displaced returnees, but so far we have no plan in this regard," Habibullah Qadiri, advisor to the country's refugees minister told Xinhua.
Though he assured that the government was going to consider land distribution to the displaced people, many Kabul citizens who have been living here for over 10 years have not received the land which was only distributed on the paper.
Lack of basic livelihood facilities, plus sky-rocketing prices for everything especially the house rent have forced some returnees to re-migrate to Pakistan in the quest of easy life, another returnee Abdul Latif, a taxi driver said.
"After I found it too difficult for me to pay 400 dollars for the rent, I have to send my family back to Pakistan where we can run a normal life at the cost of 100 dollars," Abdul Latif sighed, who decided to stay with the taxi driver's job here.
"The only assistance I have received is just 108 US dollars. I do not know what I can do with it in a city where I have nothing," Syed Akbar, the breadwinner of a six-member family grumbled.
Journey Into Afghanistan
The Taliban my not be in charge any more, but a new guide points to the dangers that await
BY MARYANN BIRD Time Magazine
It's a tourist guide that's not just for tourists. Sure, the Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan (Crosslines Publications; 544 pages) can point you to the best pizza in Kabul.
It also describes the blue glassware sold in the bazaars of Herat and tells you where to find a bed in Kandahar or nonstop Hindi movies in Mazar-e-Sharif. But the bulk of Edward Girardet and Jonathan Walter's guide relates to more life-and-death matters, and is an essential traveling companion for humanitarian-aid workers, diplomats, peacekeeping troops, journalists and others bound for Afghanistan. Although populated by plenty of hospitable folk, Afghanistan is also lawless and dangerous. One of the most heavily mined countries in the world, it is not a place in which to wander alone, especially at night.
If you are traveling there, Girardet and Walter and their contributors are the people to guide you. And if you're not, an armchair journey yields an intriguing look at a mosaic of cultures and a harsh history that is still being shaped today.
Tories raise Afghan heroin alarm
Sunday, 1 August, 2004, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK BBC News
The Tories have accused the government of doing too little to prevent an ongoing flood of cheap heroin from Afghanistan to Britain.
They say Britain is not doing enough to stop Afghan drug lords.
They claim a soft approach has been decided in view of Afghanistan's first direct elections in October, crucial for the country's future.
The Foreign Office expects this year's Afghan poppy harvest to be one of the largest ever.
The Tories' claims are based on a leaked memo with the minutes of a Cabinet drugs committee meeting chaired by Home Secretary David Blunkett.
The document reportedly said that any arrests of major heroin producers would have to be "handled sensitively" - suggesting a softer approach was being used ahead of Afghanistan's landmark polls.
The Home Office and Foreign Office declined to comment on the leaked document, which was obtained by the Sunday Times.
During the 2001 war in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Tony Blair said 90% of heroin in the UK came from Afghanistan, and stopping the flow was one of the objectives of the military intervention.
UK fears Afghan opium boom
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "The prime minister should stop saying one thing and doing another.
"The British government's failure to stop the explosion of Afghanistan's drug trade has savage consequences both at home and abroad."
Mr Davis said consequences at home meant tragedy and death for the youngsters finding cheap heroin on the streets and a rise in drug-related crime, while the main beneficiaries of the heroin trade abroad were the same terrorists Britain is fighting "on other fronts".
The Tories' attack on the Labour government's anti-drugs strategy comes amid new developments in the case of one of Britain's most high profile heroin deaths.
Forensic experts are discussing whether a fresh investigation needs to be launched into the death of heroin addict Rachel Whitear after tests were carried out on her body, exhumed earlier this year.
The former Bath university student was originally thought to have died from an overdose in May 2000, and no post-mortem examination was carried out at the time.
'Flood the world'
Mr Davis warned that a senior source in the US administration had told him Afghan heroin had "already flooded the British market" and could "flood the world" if not brought under control before the crop planting in October.
But the Foreign Office said Britain was determined to fight the heroin trade and had financially supported President Hamid Karzai's government with at least £70m over the last three years.
A 10-strong British narcotics team was already at work in Afghanistan, it added.
'UK is committed'
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The UK is committed to supporting implementation of the Afghan national drug control strategy.
"The prime minister is very engaged. It is vital to increase the perception of risk with Afghan farmers and traffickers and to prevent the entrenchment of the narco-economy."
Politicians and experts agreed the democratic future of Afghanistan was very uncertain and depended on the outcome of forthcoming elections.
"Certainly, Afghanistan is at a turning point," said Phil Halton of the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, which advises aid agencies on the security situation.
"It is difficult to say which way it is going to go at this point, but the indicators seem to point towards failure," he said.
Afghans determined to vote despite threat of intimidation and bloodshed
An October election means good publicity for George Bush in time for the US presidentials, but is Afghanistan ready? Nick Meo reports from Kabul
Kabul’s overworked rumour mill was glowing red hot by the end of last week. First, there had been the bizarre case of the private army run by a former Green Beret bounty hunter with a US jail record. Then there were rumours of a coup attempt after President Hamid Karzai dropped the country’s most powerful warlord as his presidential running mate.
Nato was worried enough to launch a major security alert, sending troops out in armoured cars to patrol the streets and helicopters to buzz through the city skies all night as foreigners were ordered to lock themselves away. Then aid group Médecins Sans Frontières dropped a bombshell, announcing it was pulling out of Afghanistan after 24 years because the country has become too dangerous for independent humanitarian work.
Meanwhile last week, Kabul’s long-suffering motorists were repeatedly stuck in traffic jams after bombs were found, fuelling fears of an al-Qaeda terrorist spectacular in the run-up to October’s presidential election. Mysterious rockets were fired into the city at night. As the week wound down, the nerves of Afghanistan’s foreign community were not eased by a gloomy report that came through from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
MPs warned that Afghanistan faces an “implosion” if it doesn’t get more than the current skeleton staff of overstretched international peacekeeping forces trying to keep the lid on.
They also warned about the opium trade, perhaps the biggest of the many problems the country faces, saying it is getting out of control. Nobody, however, seems to have any idea how to control it.
And quietly, the bin Laden rumour mill started buzzing again, although nobody was really sure whether the terrorist leader who drew America to this remote land in 2001 was about to be caught, or whether the speculation was linked to the convention season.
George Bush is desperate to nab bin Laden before the November election and see his approval ratings skyrocket as they did after Saddam was caught, runs the theory, and the President is applying massive pressure on the US military to find the world’s most wanted man.
America is not the only country facing an election, and last week’s events in Kabul set the scene for what promises to be a tumultuous first-ever free election in Afghanistan.
President Karzai is expected to win, although not without a fight, when the country goes to the polls on October 9 for the delayed vote, which had originally been pencilled in for June. The result will not come through for several weeks afterwards, and if Karzai falls short of the 50% mark a second run-off vote will be required.
Nobody is quite sure when this will be. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan falls in October, then winter sets in. The snows would stop a large part of the country getting to the polling booths and the thaw would be four or five months away.
So far, the infant election process has proved very difficult to organise in a country with no real infrastructure. The security problems have proved frightening. Voter registration stations have been bombed and officials and registered voters murdered by the Taliban, who still control most of the south, and by criminals who want to discredit the government’s authority.
Funds are tight – as in so much else, the international community has not been generous – and fears are growing that the vote could become an epic exercise in corruption.
On a more positive note, though, the very high levels of voter registration do indicate the real hopes that Afghans are investing in the election process.
About 8.5 million of the 9.5 million potential voters had been registered by this weekend’s deadline, including a higher-than-expected number of women, and a recent survey showed that 77% of Afghans thought the vote would make a difference.
But while the popular will to make it work is there, sustained by the hope that elections will end war, the infrastructure is pretty ramshackle.
As one veteran foreign election worker who came to advise Afghans put it: “We thought elections in East Timor were difficult. But that was really a piece of cake compared to this.”
It could all reflect badly in that other, bigger, election in November. With Iraq looking like a major electoral liability, President Bush was desperate to portray Afghanistan as a big success for his administration’s foreign policy and for the worldwide war on terror.
With a turbulent period forecast, that image may be difficult for the Republican spin doctors to sustain – and it could get much worse. Athough the economy in Kabul is doing well, the fear is growing that Afghanistan’s fragile political order will unravel.
The keystone to the foreign policy success strategy, that the US-appointed Karzai will be triumphantly re-elected, is also starting to look doubtful.
Behind-the-scenes politicking could put together a powerful coalition to oppose him, perhaps backing Yunus Qanuni, the former education minister who has now won the support of the warlord Karzai dropped as his running mate, Mohammed Fahim.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The Americans put pressure on Karzai to drop Fahim, the president’s boldest move against warlords so far and one that will be welcomed by most Afghans, but with some fearfulness. There had been concerns – dismissed by his faction – that Fahim’s response would be violent, based on the experience of the past when angry warlords would lob rockets into Kabul if they didn’t get what they wanted.
Instead, there is the possibility that the country’s most powerful faction could get its man elected. The other fear is that the election process could bring unbearable pressure on Afghanistan’s fragile political status quo, particularly when the country goes to the polls again next spring for the parliamentary election in which the factions will compete.
Whatever happens – and Karzai returning with a popular mandate for change still seems the most likely outcome – there is a growing sense that Afghanistan is approaching a watershed. Many of the reforms needed to rebuild the country, not implemented since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, are only now beginning to take shape, like the attempt to build a political system and the effort to sideline the warlords.
The optimistic view is that, backed by a popular vote, Karzai will be able next year to extend government control out into Afghanistan’s lawless provinces, disarm the militias, and cut the warlords down to size, then perhaps go on to tackle the opium problem and finally stamp out the last of the Taliban.
Pessimists believe the elections have been called too early, before Afghanistan is ready and at the behest of a timetable dictated by the needs of the US election cycle, not the rebuilding of Afghanistan. They fear that the next few months could see a ramshackle nation collapse under intense pressure, or more likely, the reinforcement of the power of warlords elected through corruption and intimidation at voting time.
If the worst does happen, the international community will be blamed. Afghans and foreigners alike in Kabul are painfully aware that this country, which suffered 24 years of war, has seen rebuilding and peacekeeping done on the cheap. After huge expectations were raised in 2001, Afghans have seen little improvement in their day-to-day lives, especially if they live in the villages of the south.
There aren’t enough peacekeeping troops, there is too little reconstruction money, it arrives too late and too much of it is spent on cars and guesthouses for officials – or is swallowed by corruption.
There just isn’t really much attention paid to Afghanistan any more. It’s “the day before yesterday’s war”, was how one local official put it.
Most veteran observers think it will work out. Afghans are resilient and weary of war, and much progress has been made in the past two-and-a-half years, despite the many frustrations.
For most people, the alternative to it working out is just too horrible to contemplate.
01 August 2004
Clashes mar run-up to Afghan elections
Monday August 2, 2004 The Guardian
Against a backdrop of warlordism and violence, Afghanistan is gearing up for its first free elections
What is the election timetable? Afghanistan's first elections in decades were originally scheduled for June, but were postponed until September and then to October 9 as officials grappled with security and logistics problems. Parliamentary elections have been put off until next spring.
From the Los Angeles Times, July 27
Who is standing? Twenty-three people had met the Monday deadline to register for the October poll ... Most on the list had already announced they were standing ... Interim President Hamid Karzai has confirmed he will be running. Only two other candidates are considered big names nationwide - the Uzbek general, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Yunus Qanuni, the former education minister. Most are running as independents, including Mr Karzai.
From the Tribune, Pakistan, July 28
What are the chief threats to a free vote? In the south, a resurgent Taliban movement is expected to prevent people from voting. In vast swaths of territory, warlords will determine whom the people will vote for ... For many Afghans ... the election is not about determining whom [they] want as their leader, but about anointing Washington's choice, Mr Karzai.
Sudha Ramachandran in the Asia Times, July 28
Any other recent setbacks? A blast ripped through a mosque where Afghans were registering to vote [last] Wednesday, killing at least two people, and the Médecins Sans Frontières agency said it was leaving the country after 24 years because of security fears ... Authorities blamed [the] attack on remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and Islamic militant allies ... [MSF] issued a stinging rebuke of US forces in Afghanistan, saying they had used aid work to help them win a "hearts and minds" campaign and garner support from Afghans.
Mike Collett-White, Reuters, July 29
Is it all bad news? The very high levels of voter registration do indicate the real hopes that Afghans are investing in the election process. About 8.5 million of the 9.5 million potential voters had been registered by this weekend's deadline, including a higher-than-expected number of women, and a recent survey showed that 77% of Afghans thought the vote would make a difference.
From the Sunday Herald, Glasgow, August 1
Who makes up Mr Karzai's team? Mr Karzai [made] a last-minute decision not to put Marshal Mohammad Fahim, who is also his senior vice-president, on the ticket. Foreign officials expressed support for Mr Karzai's choice of running mate, Ahmed Zia Masood, a low-profile ambassador to Russia ... Afghan and foreign observers predicted that Mr Masood's family connections - he is a brother of Ahmed Shah Masood, the legendary Mujahideen leader - would be a source of popular support, among both his fellow Tajiks from the Panjshir valley and other ethnic groups.
Victoria Burnett in the Financial Times, July 28
Why did Mr Karzai ditch Marshal Fahim? Marshal Fahim is ... the commander of Afghanistan's largest private army. Partnership with him would have destroyed the credibility of Mr Karzai's campaign to disarm all the country's warlords, who protect drug trafficking, undermine Afghanistan's new constitution and thwart peaceful economic development. By standing up to Marshal Fahim, Mr Karzai runs the real risk of an armed challenge. Yet unless he moved now, his authority might have become meaningless.
From the New York Times, July 28
What is the Afghan perception of these militias? These militia groups feed on the people and continue to put their military might on display ... The majority of the people disagree with their presence and are complaining about them ... We need trained armed forces and not armed persons who are unaware of the needs of the society ... It is therefore better that these forces join the government, put a stop to terrorists and militants and make it possible for all Afghan men and women to be able to play their role in electing a true national leader.
From Anis, Afghanistan, July 22 (via BBC Monitoring)
Railway Track To Be Laid Between Chaman, Kandahar
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan : Aug 01 (PNS) - Pakistan government has finalized a feasibility report for laying a railway track between Chaman and Kandhar.
The report has been dispatched to Kabul and the project will be executed when the Afghan government approves it. The railway line will connect the two neighboring countries and will boost trade and economic and cultural ties between them, Voice of America reported. The technical experts of Kabul and Islamabad are in touch to remove reservations of the both countries in this regard.
Officials say the report to this effect has been prepared and sent to Kabul.. When Afghan authorities sanction the survey report, the project will be carried out. It is to be mentioned here the proposed project will be completed within two years. The news has sent a wave of of happiness among the trade and business communities of the two countries, saying it will help transport goods between the two countries at minimum cost.
Rising attacks on soft targets likely ahead of Afghan election
Sun Aug 1, 3:33 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An escalation of attacks on soft targets such as aid workers and civilians by insurgents bent on derailing Afghanistan's first presidential elections is likely in coming months, a US official said.
The prediction comes in the same week international aid agency Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) announced it would pull out of Afghanistan, saying deteriorating security had rendered it "all but impossible" to deliver independent aid in the country.
"As the elections draw closer, we expect to see more acts of desperation, more attacks, very possibly against civilians, innocent targets, maybe even continued attacks against NGOs (non-governmental organisations)," US-led coalition spokesman Major Jon Siepmann said.
There have been increasing attacks on aid workers and civilians as the October 9 presidential polls draw near with over 30 aid workers killed since the beginning of last year.
Speaking at a press conference, Siepmann said Taliban and other insurgents shut out of the political process were using more drastic means to derail the vote.
"We see it as part of a deplorable and increasingly desperate strategy on the part of the Taliban and other terrorists to try and affect the future that they can see that they're not going to be a part of here in Afghanistan," he said.
However, while the US regretted the departure of the Nobel prize-winning MSF, "we do not believe the security situation warrants such abrupt action," Siepmann said.
"We deplore the cowardly attacks on MSF but it is not indicative of the security situation throughout the country," he added.
Five MSF aid workers were slain by gunmen in western Badghis province on June 2 -- an area previously considered safe.
The killings prompted other aid agencies to roll back their operations in the western part of the country.
Taliban-led insurgents have been conducting a guerrilla war in the south and southeast of Afghanistan since shortly after the fall of the hardline Islamic regime in 2001.
The violence has spread to other parts of the country and has begun to touch the capital Kabul.
Two rockets exploded in western Kabul late Friday, two days after two bombs were found in downtown Kabul by police and defused. There were no casualties.
The bombs had been placed near a crowded intersection frequently used by US and NATO-led troops, not far from a petrol station.
"No doubt it would have been a deadly explosion with the potential to ignite the filling station and kill and maim dozens of innocent people," said Chris Henderson, spokesman for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.
Kabul police also discovered a weapons cache on the outskirts of Kabul which included 86 rifle rounds, eight Chinese-made rifles, two rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank mines, as well as fuses and grenades.
There are over 20,000 US-led troops in Afghanistan mostly battling insurgents in the country's troubled south. An additional 6,500 international peacekeeping troops are deployed in Kabul and on civil-military missions in outlying provinces.
Friday July 30, 2004 (1354 PST) PakTribune.com
WASHINGTON, July 31 (Online): The future of Afghanistan could largely depend on President Hamid Karzai's decision to sideline the powerful tribal leader and Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Fahim from his presidential ticket this week.
If Mr. Karzai, an adept strategist, calculated that divisions within the Panjshiri community would allow him to freeze out Mr. Fahim, then the bold move could bolster the power and legitimacy of Afghanistan's future executive branch, according to The Washington Times.
Mr. Karzai has been careful to steward political processes and structures in Afghanistan that reflect the power dynamics on the ground. This has prevented him from consolidating power and has allowed tribal leaders with their own militias (called warlords by some) to play a political role. The balancing act has also allowed the president to accomplish no small feat: keeping the ethnically diverse country together and preventing militias from fighting each other on a large scale.
Mr. Karzai's sidelining of Mr. Fahim has been thoughtfully executed. The president doesn't want to sacrifice too much support from Afghanistan's Panjshir valley, home to a majority of the Northern Alliance resistance fighters who helped U.S. troops topple the Taliban. In order to prevent sacrificing Panjshiri support, Mr. Karzai has tapped the respected Ahmed Zia Masood, another Panjshiri. Mr. Masood is the brother of the mujahideen fighter Ahmed Shah Masood, who was killed by al Qaeda shortly before the September 11 attacks.
"The Panjshiris have been split for a long time," said David Isby, an expert on Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai may be positioning himself to benefit from that split by teaming up with Mr. Masood. Also, Mr. Fahim may have been a political liability since he has generated ill-will through his abuse of militia-backed power. Mr. Karzai needs robust appeal among the Panjshiris for the October elections, since Mr. Karzai's main challenger, Yunis Qanooni, the former education minister, has the backing of others from the Masood clan, in addition to that of the foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah.
As the Financial Times reported yesterday, "prominent Afghan figures and diplomats counseled Mr. Karzai in a flurry of weekend meetings to drop Mr. Fahim." Those diplomats are most likely U.S. and European officials who don't want to be seen backing warlords, such as Mr. Fahim.
Still, Mr. Fahim is only part of a larger problem that will take some years for Afghanistan to overcome. Demilitarization of Afghanistan will hinge upon economic development and the jobs it delivers. That will be the country's primary militia-busting force, as Afghanistan and its allies build on the marginal stability Mr. Karzai has secured.
Afghanistan: Half Million Refugees Return
Monday, 2 August 2004, 12:42 pm Press Release: United Nations Scoop Media
Afghanistan: More Than Half Million Refugees Return So Far This Year - UN
More than half a million Afghans have gone home from Iran and Pakistan so far this year, bringing the number of returnees since 2002 to over 3 million out of the 4.6 million estimated to have fled decades of war and violence in their homeland, the UN refugee agency reported today.
The half million mark was passed this week, with more than 273,000 returning from Iran and over 230,000 from Pakistan, the two principal asylum countries, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) spokesperson said.
The pace of returns from both countries continues to be strong, and should continue through August as refugees head home for the start of the Afghan school year or as they complete harvests in asylum countries, Jennifer Pagonis told a briefing in Geneva.
UNHCR and its partners have also assisted 443,000 internally displaced Afghans return home since 2002. There are still more than 180,000 others, many living in camp-like situations in Kandahar and Heart provinces where they receive assistance.
Afghan refugees returning with the agency’s assistance get a travel grant, plus a small cash amount to provide for basic needs on arrival.
More than 2.1 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan and over 920,000 from Iran since the programme began. Some 300 other returnees so far this year came from 13 other countries, including India, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Austria.
Tehran To Host Second ECO Working Group Summit
TEHRAN (IRNA) -- The second Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) working group summit will be held here Wednesday, an ECO official at the Department of the Environment (DOE) told IRNA on Sunday.
"Representatives of the environment ministers of Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan will attend the two-day summit," Azadeh Khaman said.
The first ECO Environmental Ministers Conference held in Tehran on December 15, 2002 issued a draft of a regional cooperation agreement, she added.
"The agreement was for cooperation among the states in the fields of human, natural and wildlife species, marine environmental issues, bio-diversity as well as promotion and training of regional states on legal structures to promote environmental concerns," she added.
Elsewhere in her remarks, Khaman said that within the purview of the proposed cooperation, each regional country was to carry out its assigned responsibilities within a certain sector and submit its report to the secretary-general of the ECO.
The first meeting for the purpose of assessing the reports was held in Turkey in April.
The second ECO Environmental Ministers Conference will be held in Turkey next month. All environment ministers from the 10 ECO member countries are expected to attend.
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