Explosion wounds about 30 children, 2 adults in southeast Afghanistan, U.S. military says
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) About 30 children and two adults were wounded by an explosion near a school in southeastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said. In a statement issued late Saturday, the military said it ``condemns attacks on innocent civilians.''
It gave no details of what caused the blast early Saturday evening near Zormat, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of the capital, Kabul, in Paktia province.
Troops from the 18,000-strong mainly American force hunting Taliban and al-Qaida suspects provided emergency treatment at the scene, the statement said.
The two injured adults were evacuated to an American base in neighboring Khost province and were in stable condition, it said. There was no information on the condition of the children.
The military said it was helping local authorities investigate the explosion. Afghan officials in Paktia could not be reached for comment early Sunday.
Civilians have often been among the victims of violence between militants and Afghan and U.S. forces across the south and east of Afghanistan.
Money talks in Afghanistan's scramble for reconstruction
Investors face tantilizing offers from dubious characters
The most secure area for investments is consumer goods, with imports at $2 billion
By Tanya Goudsouzian The Daily Star (Lebanon) Saturday, August 28, 2004
KABUL: When a high-ranking Afghan official refused a briefcase packed with several million dollars, the official of a European firm was baffled.
"But it's your commission," the chief executive officer said, adding that this system of "commissions" was the norm in most developing countries for granting contracts to foreign firms. But the Afghan official was intransigent.
Whether these monetary incentives are called "commissions" or "bribes," they are still one of the main impediments to progress and reconstruction in post-Taleban Afghanistan.
"The firms that offer bribes often do so because they know they are not the right firm for the job," says one Afghan bureaucrat. "If they didn't grease a few palms, they wouldn't win the contracts. So the result is that a lot of important projects are granted to firms, which are hardly suited for the job, and the country ends up the loser."
And then there is the question of dirty money. Many investors - both Afghan and foreign - are faced with tantalizing offers from dubious characters, who are eager to invest their ill-gotten gains in legitimate businesses. While a partnership with such characters would certainly help in the start-up of any business, the stigma would be impossible to surmount, especially if the investor intends to deal with Western countries in the future.
"The shadow economy that has emerged in the past two years has given governors and commanders a kind of 'purse power' that once was the monopoly of the central government," said Helena Malikyar, an Afghan-American political analyst. "A number of illicit income sources, such as opium, lumber, fuel and other smuggling items are in the hands of high government officials and commanders. In addition, customs revenue, which has always been the main source of national income for the Afghan state, has been largely taken by the governors/warlords and spent at their discretion rather than being controlled by the central treasury."
Restraining the income sources of the provincial rulers might have been possible had it not been for the partners that most of them have among high government officials in the capital, explains Malikyar.
"If there is no direct business relationship, the illegal businesses of provincial strongmen are overlooked by Kabul in return for political and military cooperation," she says.
Timber smuggling is one of the most lucrative businesses in Eastern Afghanistan. The trucks are loaded primarily in Kunar with the final destination of Pakistan. Most trucks go through Jalalabad to Torkham, and others take the Kabul, Ghazni, Kandahar route to reach Quetta. According to local traders, the resident warlords collect some $4,000 to $6,000 per timber truck as "tax" in Jalalabad.
It is by now common knowledge that no big business can start in Afghanistan without a percentage being paid to one or several ministers, generals, governors, and commanders.
Today, the state of Afghanistan's economy is relatively good, Anwar-ul Haq Ahady, Governor of the Central Bank of Afghanistan said. Over the past two and a half years, although poverty is far from being eradicated, the country's GDP has grown exponentially and inflation has been kept at a minimum.
"We started from a very low base, so even if you have very high growth, you still have a great deal of poverty," said Ahady, who is also president of the Afghan Millat (Nation) Party. "If you look at the indicators of growth, in 2002, the GDP grew by 29 percent, in 2003, the GDP grew by 18 percent, and this year, we are expecting a growth of 16 percent. With this high growth rate, we still have a relatively low inflation rate. Last year, it was six percent, this year we're expecting 10 percent."
Ahady said most of the inflation is "not so much our doing ... it's non tradable goods, like rent."
But he believes that once reconstruction picks up, the inflation rate will go down.
"Overall, what we have here is a growing economy with macroeconomic stability. This is the best combination that any economy can hope for ... Does this mean that people in Afghanistan are out of poverty? No, of course not. Still, millions of people are unemployed, but in relative terms, the economy has performed very well in the past two and a half years, and that's what the government can be held responsible for, in relative terms," he said.
According to Ahady, the most secure areas for investment are consumer goods, and the figures show it. Last year, Afghanistan's exports amount to $170 million, while imports were at a staggering $2 billion.
"Most of the things we consume come from outside. And major cities are the largest consumers. Kabul especially is the largest consumer," he said. "And in Kabul, the infrastructure is now somewhat ready for investment. The transport situation is fine, the telecommunication situation is better, and I am told the power situation will improve substantially this year. Consequently, I think the situation is pretty good for investment in the area of consumer goods."
Investment is open to Afghans and foreigners alike, as the country does not stipulate any restrictions.
"I think the laws are very investment-friendly, probably the most investment-friendly in the region," said Dr Ahady. "We allow 100 percent ownership by foreigners, and whatever profits they make, it's up to them to do what they want with them. They want to send it outside? We have no problem with it. We have a very liberal banking system. Our taxes, in relative terms, are the lowest in this region."
The government also provides incentives to investors in the form of an industrial park.
"I think the economic system in Afghanistan, the laws, policies and philosophy are very liberal in their orientation. And of course, a liberal economic system is in reality investor-friendly," said Ahady.
With Afghanistan's first democratic presidential elections set for Oct. 9, these favorable economic statistics will be a key factor in President Hamid Karzai's campaign to win the confidence of the Afghan people. But statistics have a way of eclipsing the reality on the ground.
These economic successes haven't yet trickled down to the Afghan street, and the average man may not readily buy the campaign rhetoric.
Afghanistan's Reconstruction Minister Amin Farhang urged patience: "I understand my Afghan compatriots. They've seen war and they have had many problems ... They want to see the fruits of reconstruction quickly. ... But it doesn't happen like that, technically. We need at least a year to study a single project."
U.S. and Afghan soldiers arrest 22 suspected Taliban during sweep in southern Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) U.S. and Afghan soldiers conducting a large sweep arrested 22 suspected Taliban after a firefight in a forbidding mountain region of Zabul province, Afghan and U.S. military officials said Saturday.
No Afghan or American soldiers were injured in the fighting, which broke out Friday and was continuing on Saturday, Gov. Khial Mohammed told The Associated Press.
``This operation was launched to improve security for the people of Zabul province,'' Mohammed said. U.S. military spokesman Maj. Scott Nelson confirmed that operations in Zabul and Ghazni, and said 22 Taliban suspects had been arrested.
``We did have a major operation there,'' he said. It was not clear how many American and Afghan soldiers were taking part. Nelson said the military would release more information soon.
Nelson, meanwhile, gave more information about a separate military action in eastern Khost province, saying it was aimed at eliminating launch sites for rebels that periodically fire missiles into American bases.
Also in Khost, suspected Taliban rebels opened fire on a long convoy of trucks bringing supplies to a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan, killing a driver and injuring his assistant, said Nashin Uddin, an aide to the local Afghan National Army commander in Khost province.
The attack occurred at about 3 p.m. Friday in Mando Zayi district as the convoy made its way to Camp Salerno, one of several smaller forward bases housing coalition soldiers. Nelson had no information about the attack.
Meanwhile, one militiaman was killed and two injured when Afghan National Army soldiers opened fire on a car in central Ghazni province, apparently when it failed to stop at a checkpoint, Ghazni Gov. Asadullah Khalid said.
``An investigation has been launched to find out how this incident happened, because the Afghan National Army says it was a misunderstanding,'' he said.
Some 18,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, and to help ensure security for landmark presidential elections scheduled for Oct. 9.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections, and have launched frequent attacks on coalition soldiers, election workers and Afghan voters.
Finally, Nelson denied widespread reports that the coalition was preparing to release Afghan detainees being held at coalition detention facilities to the custody of the Kabul government.
He said some 435 prisoners are being held, most at the main U.S. base at Bagram, and at another base in the southern city of Kandahar. The military has said the men are not considered to pose enough of a risk to be taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and will eventually face Afghan justice.
However, Nelson said no date for a transfer was set and indicated it would not happen anytime soon.
Afghanistan Arrests Warlord After Battle
August 28, 2004 Associated Press
A renegade Afghan warlord has been arrested and brought to the capital by the central government, just weeks after his troops clashed with militiamen loyal to a powerful regional governor, officials said.
Amanullah, a Pashtun warlord who goes by only one name, was brought to Kabul on Friday from the western city of Herat, said Jawed Ludin, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai. Ludin said Amanullah agreed to the transfer, but officials speaking on condition of anonymity said he had little choice and was essentially being kept under arrest.
"He does not have the freedom to go back. He is in custody," said a senior Afghan official.
Government officials indicated that the move against Amanullah was part of efforts to eliminate private armies that have faced off in several Afghan provinces in recent months, compromising security for Oct. 9 national elections.
Amanullah and Khan swear allegiance to Karzai's government, but both often act in their own interests. Neither has agreed to disarm their troops as part of a slow-going nationwide program to demobilize tens of thousands of private soldiers.
Dozens were killed in fighting that broke out earlier this month between militiamen loyal to Amanullah and those that answer to Herat Gov. Ismail Khan, an ethnic Tajik strongman who rules the city with an iron fist.
Ludin would not comment on widespread speculation that Khan might be removed from power, but he said the action against Amanullah was one in a series of steps that will unfold in the coming days.
"What happened to Amanullah was part of a wider plan to take all necessary measures to secure long-term stability in the region," Ludin said.
Separately in southern Zabul province, U.S. and Afghan soldiers conducting a sweep arrested 22 suspected Taliban after a firefight in a forbidding mountain area.
No casualties were reported in the fighting, which Gov. Khial Mohammed told The Associated Press broke out on Friday and was continuing on Saturday.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Scott Nelson confirmed operations in Zabul and Ghazni and said 22 Taliban suspects had been arrested.
The fighting between militiamen alarmed Kabul and the United Nations and underscored the need to improve security ahead of the landmark elections. It also prompted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to call for an urgent increase in international forces in Afghanistan.
At one point, Amanullah's men took a village on a hillside overlooking Herat city, the main population center in the west of the country, the greatest threat yet to Khan's rule.
The men reached a truce after the U.S. military sent warplanes to the region to make clear that further fighting was not acceptable.
Karzai rushed hundreds of troops from the Afghan National Army to an air base in Herat to act as a buffer between the two sides.
In eastern Afghanistan, suspected Taliban rebels opened fire Friday on a convoy of trucks bringing supplies to a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan, killing a driver and injuring his assistant, said Nashin Uddin, an aide to the local Afghan National Army commander in Khost province.
The attack occurred in Mando Zayi district as the convoy made its way to Camp Salerno, one of several smaller forward bases housing coalition soldiers.
Also Friday, one militiaman was killed and two injured when Afghan National Army soldiers opened fire on a car in central Ghazni province, apparently when it failed to stop at a checkpoint, Ghazni Gov. Asadullah Khalid said.
Some 18,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, and to help ensure security for the presidential elections, which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt.
Karzai urged to try Afghan renegade commander
By Saeed Haqiqi
HERAT, Afghanistan, Aug 28 (Reuters) - The governor of Herat urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday to put on trial a renegade commander whose forces swept through the province before submitting to a U.S. brokered ceasefire this month.
How U.S.-backed Karzai deals with commander Amanullah Khan will be crucial to the number of votes he gets from Herat, in a landmark presidential election on Oct. 9.
On Friday, the government said Amanullah, described as a Taliban chieftain by his enemies, had been brought to Kabul but refused to say if he was being held under some form of arrest.
"We expect the central government to put him on trial for starting the fighting and killing people," Sayed Nasir Alawi, a spokesman for Herat's Governor Ismail Khan, told Reuters.
He said 87 troops loyal to the governor were killed in the fighting and some 150 were wounded.
He said it was the government's duty to disarm Amanullah's militia, which under the terms of the ceasefire withdrew to Shindand, the site of a sprawling former Soviet airbase, some 125 km (80 miles) south of Herat city.
While 18,000 U.S.-led troops and the newly formed Afghan National Army are hunting remnants of the vanquished Taliban in the country's Pashtun-dominated south and east, the conflict in the western province of Herat may damage Karzai's standing with non-Pashtuns in an election set to be dominated by security and ethnic issues.
Herat accounts for around 8 percent of the 10 million Afghans registered to vote in the country's first committed effort at democracy. Tajiks, the largest ethnic minority in Afghanistan form the majority in Herat, which borders Iran.
Governor Ismail Khan, a legendary fighter in the war of liberation against the Soviet Union and one-time prisoner of the Taliban, is a Tajik, whereas Amanullah Khan, like Karzai, is from the country's Pashtun majority.
Ismail Khan told Reuters on Saturday he had not committed his support to anyone in an election that marks the end of the phase of interim and transitional governments headed by Karzai since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
Ismail Khan also played down talk by a Tajik presidential candidate, Latif Pedram, that he was part of a group of mujahideen leaders and the Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum searching for a common candidate to field against Karzai.
"No, this is not true. I have not formed any coalition with Pedram, Dostum, Mohaqiq or Qanuni about this," he said.
Mohammad Mohaqiq leads a faction of the Shia Hazara minority in central Afghanistan, while Tajik former education minister Yunus Qanuni is backed by powerful Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim.
"I have not decided who I will support," the governor added when asked if he would back Karzai, who faces 17 challengers and needs to win 51 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off.
Ismail Khan, who runs his province with a large degree of independence, said he suspected members of Karzai's cabinet had encouraged Amanullah Khan's offensive.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, brokered a truce on Aug. 17, stepping in at Karzai's behest to help stop the conflict from further stirring ethnic tensions.
Lion of Herat" offered way out of west Afghan crisis
By Simon Cameron-Moore KABUL, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's government has asked the country's most powerful mujahideen commander to give up rule over the western province of Herat in order to escape attacks from encircling enemies, a western diplomat said on Saturday.
The vulnerability of Ismail Khan, known as the "Lion of Herat", was revealed earlier this month when the forces of a renegade Pashtun militia leader swept through the province of which he is governor. "Time is not on his side ... He will find himself in an increasingly difficult situation," said the diplomat, who noted several of Khan's own officers had defected to his enemy.
Khan survived an assassination attempt earlier this year, but his son Mirwais Sadiq was killed shortly after. Afghanistan holds its first ever democratic vote for a president on October 9. Security and ethnic issues will dominate an election President Hamid Karzai is expected to win.
While 18,000 U.S.-led troops and the new Afghan National Army hunt remnants of the vanquished Taliban in the country's Pashtun-dominated south and east, how Karzai handles the crisis in Herat could affect his standing with non-Pashtuns.
Renegade commander Amanullah Khan's forces were heading toward Herat city from the south but the United States envoy in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Afghan government forced him on August 17 to submit to a ceasefire and withdraw.
On Friday, Amanullah was brought, the government says willingly, to Kabul. The diplomat said he was a "a guest of the government" and his militia would be stripped of their heavy weapons.
Ismail Khan told Reuters earlier on Saturday he had not decided who to support in the elections. He has accused members of Karzai's cabinet of plotting against him.
Tajiks, the largest ethnic minority in Afghanistan, form the majority in Herat, which borders Iran. Pashtuns and Shia Muslim Hazaras in Herat were unhappy with their Tajik governor's rule.
Amanullah's threat was snuffed out by the deployment of some 1,500 Afghan National Army troops backed by U.S. air power. But the diplomat foresaw Khan's rivals in the neighbouring provinces of Badghis and Ghor taking advantage of Khan's weakened state.
Khan, a hero of the war of liberation against the Soviet Union and one-time prisoner of the Taliban militia who escaped to help overthrow them in late 2001, is being offered a ministerial position by Karzai.
That Karzai has offered Khan, one of his strongest critics, a post before the election rather than after showed how perilous the situation is, the diplomat said.
"He deserves a position of respect. He deserves a good job," said the diplomat. Asked whether Khan was likely to agree to tell his troops to give up their heavy weaponry, as the government has requested, and take the post on offer in Kabul, the diplomat said: "It would be in the interests of Herat and himself to do that."
He said if Khan takes the offer his rivals in Badghis and Ghor will also be moved to different posts as part of an overall plan to defuse tensions in western Afghanistan. "This is an opportunity to change the equation in the region," said the diplomat.
Shaukat Aziz elected as Pakistani prime minister despite boycott
Pakistan's parliament rubber-stamped the president's choice of prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, despite an opposition boycott and angry protests. Aziz secured 191 votes -- all from the ruling coalition -- in a vote held up for an hour as opposition members protested against the barring of their candidate, who has been jailed for treason, from the session.
Aziz, a former finance minister who will be sworn in by close ally President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday before undergoing a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, or lower house, promised a "new era" for Pakistan.
"I don't have a magic lamp or wand, but we will use all our abilities and resources to usher in a new era of progress and prosperity for the people of Pakistan," said the prime minister-elect, who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt last month.
He also promised to continue the peace dialogue with rival India with whom Pakistan has fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. "We will pursue dialogue with India and discuss Kashmir and all other issues with an open mind," Aziz told the National Assembly.
Earlier opposition members wearing black armbands carried pictures of exiled former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and chanted "Shame, Shame", after Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain rejected their demand to bring jailed candidate Javed Hashmi to the house.
Hashmi is serving a 23-year sentence after a court convicted him in April over a letter he distributed, saying it was from army officers criticising President Musharraf. Chanting "Restore True Democracy", opposition members trooped out of the hall when Hussain announced the start of voting.
Critics and political opponents have called Aziz's ascendancy to the post a "selection" by Musharraf, who still wields ultimate power despite the presence of an elected parliament. "Shaukat Aziz's nomination is a continuation of the same system," senator Farhatullah Babar of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party told AFP.
"It will bring no change. We don't think it will last long because the parliament is not functioning well." Aziz, 55, a former Citibank executive, only entered politics as finance minister after General Musharraf's 1999 coup and had no party affiliations. He was handpicked by the president when Zafarullah Jamali quit on June 30.
He is a firm ally of Musharraf and is considered a brilliant technocrat who will not be tied down by party politicking. To take up the post, Aziz, a senator, had to win a seat in the lower house of parliament. Two by-elections were held last week in seats vacated by ruling party legislators to make way for him and he won both comfortably.
On July 30 he narrowly survived an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber from the banned Islamic militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad as he campaigned in Attock just west of Islamabad.
Caretaker prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat stepped aside for Aziz on Wednesday. Aziz is credited with salvaging Pakistan's economy from the brink of bankruptcy after international sanctions over its May 1998 nuclear tests.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP last week that Aziz was chosen by Musharraf for his economic expertise. "Everything depends now on the economy, so that's why an economist has been selected by President Musharraf," Rashid said.
Pakistan Security Forces Come Under Attack
Associated Press August 28, 2004
Suspected Islamic militants fired rockets at Pakistani paramilitary bases in tribal regions near Afghanistan, intelligence officials said Saturday. No one was reported injured.
Six rockets were fired late Friday at the Frontier Corps troops base in Razmak, a valley about 30 miles southwest of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
None of the rockets hit the base but one of them struck a shop nearby, damaging its roof. In the neighboring South Waziristan, three rockets landed Friday night near a paramilitary base in Wana, the region's main town, another intelligence official said.
Security forces returned fire after both attacks, but it was not known if the attackers suffered casualties. Hundreds of foreign Islamic militants _ including Arabs, Central Asians and Afghans with suspected links to al-Qaida _ are believed to be hiding in Waziristan.
On Saturday, residents in Wana spotted a convoy of dozens of military jeeps and trucks _ some towing artillery _ heading toward Shakai, a rugged region to the north where Pakistani forces have battled militant holdouts.
Afghan Presidential Candidate Refuses U.S. Envoy's Request to Quit
RFE/RL 08/26/2004 By Amin Tarzi
Former Planning Minister and Afghan presidential candidate Mohammad Mohaqeq said on 25 August that he will not quit the race, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad "asked me to withdraw my candidacy in favor of [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid] Karzai.
However, I was informed later that Mr. Karzai regretted what he had said to Khalilzad. Therefore, we could not reach an agreement," Mohaqeq told a news conference in Kabul. Mohaqeq, who until March served in Karzai's administration, said that the October election will be "the first experience of democracy with the peaceful of handover of power on a popular vote."
...As Another Candidate Resists Call For Karzai's Resignation
Presidential candidate Abdul Hasib Aryan told a news conference in Kabul on 24 August that he does not agree with the proposal that Karzai should step down before the elections, Afghanistan Television reported.
Aryan said that he and his vice-presidential running mates did not take part in a meeting led by candidate Abdul Sattar Sirat in which a call was made for Karzai's resignation.
While not backing the call for Karzai's resignation, Aryan said that he urges Karzai and members of his cabinet not to use their official positions to gain support for the Afghan leader. Karzai has rejected the call for his resignation, calling it unconstitutional.
American Testifies on Afghanistan Capture
By SONJA BARISIC, AP
NORFOLK, Va. - An American citizen captured on an Afghanistan battlefield nearly three years ago says in court papers that he never took up arms against the United States and that he had been trying to get out of the country at the time.
The papers filed Wednesday shed new light on the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, who is at the center of a fight with the Bush administration over whether the government can hold possible terrorists for as long as necessary without charges or trial.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the government and for Hamdi informed a federal judge that they have been negotiating his release since the U.S. Supreme Court said such enemy combatants could not be indefinitely detained without legal rights.
The papers bolster Hamdi's case for release and set up a hearing in federal court Monday. U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar has ordered the government to bring Hamdi to his courtroom then unless an agreement to release him has been reached. Hamdi, who has never been charged, is in solitary confinement in a military jail in South Carolina.
Born in Louisiana in 1980 to Saudi parents, Hamdi grew up in Saudi Arabia. The papers said Hamdi traveled to Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia in July 2001, about three months before the United States went to war with the Taliban for harboring members of the terrorist organization responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Hamdi "was never engaged in, nor did he intend to engage in, an armed conflict against the United States in Afghanistan or anywhere else," according to the papers. The papers did not say why Hamdi went to Afghanistan. Family members have said he was on a humanitarian mission, according to news accounts.
Within days after the attacks, Hamdi tried to return to Saudi Arabia, according to the court filing. But he could not get out of Afghanistan because the Northern Alliance, which opposed the Taliban, had parts of the country under siege and prevented people not affiliated with the alliance from traveling freely, the papers said.
Hamdi was detained around Dec. 1, 2001, by the Northern Alliance, which handed him over to U.S. military forces, the papers said. Hamdi was sent to the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was later taken to a Navy brig in Norfolk and then to another jail in Charleston, S.C., after American authorities verified he was a U.S. citizen, the papers said.
Hamdi argues that he is a civilian — not an enemy combatant — and must be released. "That's the same argument we've been making for him throughout," his lawyer, Frank Dunham Jr., said by telephone Wednesday.
The government's position on enemy combatants is that they can be released once they no longer are a threat to national security and after officials are satisfied that they have gained all useful intelligence from them. The Justice Department said both conditions have been satisfied in Hamdi's case. Justice Department officials have said Hamdi likely is to be returned to Saudi Arabia, where he also holds citizenship.
Seeking a Sleeping Giant
Los Angeles Times 08/25/2004 By Julie M. Bowles
BAMIAN - Archeologist Zemaryalai Tarzi can barely bring himself to look at the ravaged cliff face where two ancient Buddhas towered until the Taliban infamously blasted them to bits.
"For me, everything there is over," Tarzi says, pointing toward the heap of peach-colored dust and chunks of rock that used to be one of the massive statues. "It hurts my heart to go there and see what has been lost."
But the bespectacled scientist, who began his career in this sleepy valley in Afghanistan's central highlands more than 35 years ago, isn't letting the destruction get the best of him. He has turned his back on the cliff, stuck his trowel into the earth, and is on the hunt for a magnificent relic perhaps five times as large as the ones that incurred the Taliban's wrath: the long-lost sleeping Buddha of Bamian.
"We are digging," Tarzi says, "to find the greatest statue in the world." It's hard to believe that the sculpture ever went missing. According to the writings of a Chinese pilgrim who reported seeing the reclining Buddha in AD 629, it stretched 1,000 feet.
Today, the pilgrim's brief, 1,375-year-old account remains the most detailed description of the sleeping Buddha. Probably constructed in the late 6th century, the statue hasn't been seen in hundreds of years. And even experts who believe the sculpture exists doubt it is - or was - more than three football fields long.
If Tarzi succeeds in locating it, the discovery will mean more than uncovering the largest known statue of Buddha. It could be a psychic balm and a financial boon for Afghanistan, easing a collective guilt over the Taliban's destructive acts and reviving Bamian's fortunes as the tourism capital of the nation.
Already, the town of about 40,000 has started picking up the pieces of its pulverized history and economy. Backpackers are trickling back to the grimy inns behind the newly constructed bazaar, built to replace one razed by the Taliban. Upscale foreign travelers are reserving $50-a-night yurts at the reopened state-run tourist hotel.
Japanese specialists have surveyed the area's famed cave artwork and are building an archeology research center. German experts have begun cataloging the massive chunks of the busted Buddhas as debate continues over whether and how to rebuild them. And ground will soon be broken on a museum.
But it is Tarzi's mission that perhaps has sparked the highest expectations. "If the reclining Buddha is found," says Najaf Ali Ashana, general manager of the government-run Bamian Hotel, "Bamian will have its value again."
The quest for the reclining Buddha is unfolding in nine pits a few hundred yards east of where the smaller of the two cliff statues stood. Seventy local men, paid about $3 a day, are busy shoveling dirt into wheelbarrows, digging with hand tools and picking away at promising areas with brushes and small instruments that look borrowed from a dentist's office.
The excavation here began last summer and yielded several finds, the most significant being seven unbaked clay heads of Buddhist divinities, each about the size of a small melon. Tarzi believes that discovery confirms that he has found the so-called Eastern Monastery, where the pilgrim Xuanzang reported seeing the reclining Buddha.
The team has also found what seem to be several thick retaining walls. Though these could be for the monastery, Tarzi believes it is more likely that they belong to a huge covering that once shielded the sleeping Buddha.
"If you want to construct a wall that would support a massive structure, you would have to build it in this way," Tarzi says, calculating that if the statue was in fact 1,000 feet long - the length of a 100-story building tipped on its side - its dimensions would necessitate a covering at least 30 feet high.
Other large statues of Buddha in the parinirvana pose exist in Thailand, Sri Lanka and other countries, though none come close to 1,000 feet. Smaller ones have been found elsewhere in Afghanistan. The posture depicts Buddha at age 80, reclining on his deathbed on his right side with his head pointing north, and entering into a state of final transcendence.
Should a reclining Buddha be found in Bamian, it is likely to be in very poor condition. Even the standing Buddhas, which were protected from the elements by their niches in the cliff, were severely weathered. A reclining Buddha, which could have been made of clay bricks rather than a base of solid rock, would have been even more exposed to the elements once any protective covering was destroyed.
"It is likely to be extremely eroded," says Edmund Melzl, a German restorer working on conserving the pieces of the standing Buddhas. "Or people could have stolen the bricks and used them to build their houses."
Tarzi harbors no illusions that he will unearth a gleaming gold giant. "It will be very degraded if we find it," he says. "All I hope to find is perhaps the folds of garments, or other small parts. The extremities are almost certainly gone." Regardless of the sculpture's condition, just searching for it is an opportunity the 65-year-old Tarzi never thought he would have.
After working throughout much of the 1970s as Afghanistan's director of archeology and conservation of historical monuments, he fled to France when the Soviets invaded his country in 1979. Ten years of occupation led to another decade of factional fighting and Taliban rule. Tarzi became a French citizen and professor at the Marc Bloch University of Strasbourg.
"I turned the page on Afghanistan and never believed I would return," says Tarzi, whose work has been funded by the French government for the last two years; National Geographic is also contributing.
The Taliban period was perhaps the hardest on the archeologist. Many objects he had unearthed, particularly at Hadda, near Jalalabad, were destroyed by the regime. The hard-line rulers ordered the smashing of all pre-Islamic relics, including Greek statues and figures of ancient royalty, on the grounds that such items were idolatrous.
"I suffered a lot after the destruction of the Buddhas and other monuments by the Taliban," he says. "When an archeologist finds an object, it's like having a child. We do everything we can to restore it, to preserve it, like a mother would do for a child. It's a very special relationship.
"For me, it was like having 1,000 children. But they killed my children. Now, I'm trying not to be too attached here." Given its humble nature today, it is hard to believe that the Bamian valley was once home to opulent monuments. These days, it is dotted with mud-brick homes and covered in a patchwork quilt of potato and grain fields.
It is a quiet place, where muddy water trickles along narrow irrigation canals and breezes skirt through spindly trees, interrupted only by the occasional distant honking of a mule.
But in the 7th and 8th centuries, the town was a thriving crossroads for travelers voyaging along Silk Road routes to Rome, China and India. Its rise as a major center of Buddhism began perhaps as early as the 2nd century and lasted 700 years, until the arrival of Islam.
Although archeologists are still debating when the standing Buddhas were hewn out of the cliffs, Tarzi believes the reclining Buddha probably was constructed in the 6th century, about the same time the larger of the paired Buddhas may have been carved.
"A statue of 1,000 feet would have attracted the attention of other travelers before Xuanzang if it had been here," therefore the great Buddhas were probably not built long before the Chinese traveler arrived in 629, Tarzi hypothesizes.
The experts who doubt that Bamian's reclining Buddha could have been 1,000 feet long note that Xuanzang's original text has never been found. Some suggest that an extra zero may have been added to his description of the Buddha's dimensions as the document was copied and recopied and passed down through the centuries.
"I think 1,000 feet is not plausible, unless this was some kind of natural formation that was then turned into or regarded as a Buddha," says Deborah Klimburg-Salter, an art history professor at the University of Vienna who has written extensively about Bamian. "If it was 1,000 feet, then it certainly wasn't in a building."
Xuanzang's other observations, however, have proved most accurate. He recorded the height of Bamian's larger standing Buddha as 140 to 150 feet; it was 180. And his description of a reclining Buddha at Kushinagar, India, led Sir Alexander Cunningham to uncover the 18-foot-long statue in 1876.
Tarzi insists that a vast sleeping Buddha isn't out of the question. He notes that in other Buddhist centers where standing and reclining Buddhas have been found, the sleeping statues are always larger than the standing ones, and a mathematical formula dictates the various dimensions.
How, then, could such a large object go missing? Klimburg-Salter says there is a chance that the long-lost Buddha may be entombed in rubble from the numerous earthquakes that have rattled Afghanistan over the centuries. Large chunks of the cliffs that housed the standing Buddhas have fallen, she notes, creating a layer of debris several yards thick. If the reclining Buddha was situated along the base of the cliff, it might simply be buried.
So Tarzi, four French graduate students and dozens of other men in the pits toil on optimistically. On a recent Saturday, the excavation work proceeded as three black and white cows grazed on a neighboring plot. The most interesting thing that had turned up was a bullet.
Then, in one of the cavities, a little whoop. Tarzi scrambled off his maroon plastic patio chair and plunged into the pit. A worker brushing dirt away from one of the suspected retaining walls pointed to some black residue amid the tan clay.
"Fire!" Tarzi said, his eyebrows arching dramatically. Could this be evidence of the blaze set by the Islamic invader Yacub bin Lays Safari, who rode into Afghanistan in the 9th century and sacked and torched much of what he found, including Bamian?
The question hung in the air. The sun began its descent, casting a hazy glow over the landscape. The men gathered up their tools. The find, recorded in a notebook, would be added to a few other minute clues gathered that day, including some small pottery shards and a pocket of unusual green clay.
By the end of the month, Tarzi will have to wrap up his work in Bamian for the year, because his students will return to school and snows are expected as early as October. He doesn't yet know whether his funding will be renewed, but he is determined to return next year to continue his search.
"I do not want to dig just to wash away the shame of the Taliban," he said. "I am doing this for the people of Bamian, and because I love what I am doing. Bamian is part of my country, and when I die, part of me will be here."
Afghan paper slams presidential candidate's federalist plans
Kabul - Ever since the formation of the interim transitional administration until the present day - when our countrymen secured the right to freedom and democracy - some people have been raising their voice in support of a federal system. These people always insist on this demand.
One of these people is Mr Latif Pedram who recently put forward his candidacy for the post of the president of Afghanistan. Cheragh newspaper of (31 Asad 1383) [23 August 2004] says: "Pedram explained his election campaign and talked about the future political system of the country. He said that if the [Afghan] National Congress [for which he stands] wins the elections, it will propose a federal system based on democratic principles. He believes that, in current situation, it is only the federal system which can restore peace and stability in Afghanistan."
We can see that there are many countries of the world have federal systems. Federalism can have its own principles and particularities within the parameters of democracy. Based on those principles, forming federal governments is fine in some societies. In the countries where it is proposed to form the federal system, local federal systems are already established on the basis of particularities common to all residents of those areas.
However, considering the current situation and the fabric in our country, the situation is not ready for federal principles for the features particular to Afghanistan and the implementation of such proposals might spark another civil war in the country.
By spreading a poisonous propaganda and talking about a federal system in the country, our neighbours have always tried to inflict a heavy damage on the historic unity of the people of Afghanistan who fought aggressors throughout their history, defended their territorial integrity and their country as Afghans.
In the current fabric of the country different ethnic groups live in different provinces and zones and have always united under the name Afghan. The idea of introducing a federal system cannot be implemented in Afghanistan. It is impossible.
In the present situation when we are counting moments before the presidential elections, how can a presidential candidate who does not call himself Afghan but has nominated himself as the president of Afghanistan succeed to unite Afghans, assemble them around himself and obtain their votes during the elections except for the support of an extremely limited number of people who share his ideas? Secondly, how can a presidential candidate who supports a federal system in the country and who wants to make the people of Afghanistan drink poison once again, inflame wars and conflicts and destroy the developing national structures and unity, win the elections?
In the present situation it is necessary that all Afghans put aside their differences and assume, with full passion, their common identity as Afghans. They should rebuild their country which has been destroyed as a result of many decades of wars. They should not gather around anyone who wants to further destroy our national unity and should refrain from drinking poison in friendship with such elements. Via BBC Monitoring
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