Up to 50 militants believed killed in Afghan border clash: US
Tuesday August 3, 10:49 PM AFP
Afghan troops backed by American soldiers and warplanes may have killed up to 50 militants in a day-long pitched battle at a southeastern border post near Pakistan, the US military said in a statement.
"The exact number of enemy casualties is unknown but pilots flying overhead estimated that approximately 40 to 50 insurgents were killed," the statement said.
One Afghan soldier was killed and three were wounded, it added.
The battle was among the heaviest since the hardline Taliban regime was ousted by US-led forces in late 2001.
Clashes erupted before dawn Monday at a border post between Khost province and Pakistan's rugged western tribal region, where Al-Qaeda fighters have taken sanctuary and run militant training camps following the defeat of their Taliban hosts.
About 50 suspected Taliban insurgents attacked the post at 2:00 am Monday (2130 GMT Sunday) with rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and mortars.
US air forces flew in B-1 bomber, A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft and attack helicopters to repel the insurgents, who "retreated in panic" at the sight of the fighter craft, the military said.
Five hours later the fighting broke out again and raged into Monday night.
An Afghan army commander and an interior ministry official revealed the border battle to AFP on Monday and said "dozens of Taliban" were killed but only four Afghan soldiers injured.
However, a purported Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi denied the US claim, saying the Taliban had sustained no deaths and only two of their fighters had been wounded.
"Martyrdom and being wounded or disabled in jihad (holy war) is our pride. If we had anyone martyred we would announce that with pride. Why would we need to lie?" he told AFP by phone from an undisclosed location.
Attacks by militants have risen sharply in recent months as Taliban and other anti-government militia attempt to derail Afghanistan's first presidential election.
Aid workers, election officials and civilians have also come under fire in addition to US-led troops and Afghan government forces.
Last week, two people, including one election worker, were killed in a blast at a mosque in southeastern Ghazni province, bringing to five the number of election workers murdered so far this year.
In the same week, Nobel prize-winning aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres announced its decision to pull out of the war-torn country after 24 years, saying deteriorating security had rendered it impossible to operate.
Loyalists of the ousted militia have vowed to disrupt the lead-up to country's first presidential elections on October 9.
Afghan and US military officials complain that the insurgents slip over the border from Pakistan to stage attacks and retreat back into the neighbour's tribal zone, thwarting pursuit by Afghan and US forces.
Candidates line up to tackle Karzai
Tuesday, 3 August, 2004 BBC News
By Andrew North / BBC correspondent in Kabul
On 9 October, Afghans are due to choose their first democratically elected leader.
Despite continuing security fears, the build-up for the elections is well underway.
The registration process is 90% complete - the UN says 8.7m of the estimated 9.8m eligible voters have signed up.
However, election officials admit privately there have been many multiple registrations.
A more accurate picture of the size of the electorate will only emerge on polling day, when checks will be in place to prevent multiple voting.
Another key stage in the process is the publication by the Afghan election body of the candidate list - 23 people in all, higher than many expected.
That is causing some concern for the candidate at No 13 on the list - Hamid Karzai, who is still officially Afghanistan's interim president.
Few doubt he will win. The question is whether he can do so first time round, or whether he will have to go to a run-off two weeks later.
The mathematics are obvious - with 22 opponents, Mr Karzai's chances of gathering more than 50% are much lower, even if some of them get just a handful of votes.
But some of his opponents are expected to secure large numbers of votes in their home areas.
There is no doubt Mr Karzai's supporters would prefer a first-round victory.
Some in his camp admit they are hoping the number of candidates will be whittled down after election organisers have considered any objections, which had to be made by 31 July.
Some candidates could drop out before polling day.
Mr Karzai's US and Western backers are also hoping to avoid a second round.
"Of course a first round win for Karzai is better," said one diplomat, who asked not to be identified.
"It would give him the nationwide mandate he needs."
A victory on 9 October would also give him "much more latitude in selecting his cabinet", says Vikram Parekh, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Kabul.
So who are President Karzai's most serious challengers?
The three candidates thought likely to win most votes after Mr Karzai are Yunus Qanuni, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Mohaqiq - in each case largely because of their ethnic power base.
The bulk of Mr Karzai's support is likely to come from his own Pashtun constituency - Afghanistan's largest ethnic group - but his supporters say he will try to portray himself as a national figure.
However, there will be no avoiding the ethnic dimension in these elections, analysts say.
Mr Qanuni is a leading figure in the Northern Alliance movement which overthrew the Taleban in 2001 with US support.
He is also thought to have the backing of the alliance leader and defence minister, Mohammed Fahim, who was dropped by Mr Karzai as his running mate.
Mr Qanuni can rely on the support of the Tajiks of his native Panjshir region, north of Kabul, although many election watchers doubt his appeal nationwide.
Similarly General Dostum, the veteran strongman and survivor of Afghanistan's wars, can bank on the votes of many of his fellow Uzbeks in the north.
But General Dostum, who leads the Jumbish party, is trying to widen his appeal, says Mr Parekh.
"He's had good advice in putting his slate together."
Mr Parekh points to the general's choice of a woman - Safiqa Habibi - as his running mate, who is a Pashtun.
His second running mate is from another minority group, the Turkmens.
Like most of Mr Karzai's challengers, Mohammed Mohaqiq is running as an independent, but he is the leader of the Shia Hazaras of central Afghanistan.
He has a very loyal following there and is also likely to get many votes from Hazaras still living as refugees in neighbouring Iran.
Preparations are under way to allow Afghan refugees in both Iran and Pakistan to vote on 9 October.
President Karzai has chosen another Hazara, Karim Khalili, as his second running mate, although he is not seen as having the clout to take many votes away from Mr Mohaqiq.
As the only female candidate, Dr Massouda Jalal will get plenty of attention.
But at the moment, she is not expected to win many votes.
Another important candidate is Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, deputy to the former mujahideen leader, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and a religious conservative.
As a Pashtun, he will be able to take some votes away from Mr Karzai in the south and east.
Analysts say he may also appeal to anti-American sentiments in those regions.
Fending off the challenge of so many candidates will not be Mr Karzai's only concern when the campaign proper starts on 7 September.
Security fears are likely to prevent him visiting many parts of the country.
Even when he does make campaign stops, his American bodyguards are likely to severely restrict the access people have to him.
Hamid Karzai may be the clear favourite, but it is not going to be an easy victory.
Afghanistan's vote could trigger mayhem
Barnett R. Rubin IHT Wednesday, August 04, 2004 The International Herald Tribune
The warlords' threat
NEW YORK The decision by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to rebuff Defense Minister Muhammad Qasim Fahim by not naming him as one of two vice-presidential candidates has transformed the political landscape of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the country may not be ready for this transformation, and the presidential elections may spark violence.
Afghanistan faces this potential crisis because the Bush administration insisted on holding Afghan elections before those in the United States, while for two years it stalled any action to demobilize its warlord allies. When it belatedly announced plans to demobilize 40 percent of the warlords' militias before elections, it could not carry them out.
Karzai made the best choice available under these circumstances. The political agreement underlying his government required that the president, an ethnic Pashtun, choose his first deputy from the political heirs of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the late Tajik commander from the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul. Fahim, heir to the command of Massoud's military forces, has defied the requirement in the UN-sponsored Bonn agreement that he withdraw his forces from Kabul. He has led the Northern Alliance, which the United States armed against the Taliban, in resisting demobilization.
Most Afghans see Fahim as the country's chief warlord. Karzai knew that allying with Fahim would discredit him and the reform process. But he felt he could not make this choice without full U.S. support. Reluctant to abandon even so tainted an ally, the Bush administration delayed until the last minute.
With difficulty, at the last minute Karzai convinced Ahmed Zia Massoud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Russia and a brother of the slain commander, to join his ticket. But the rebuff of Fahim led to a swift, long-anticipated response. Another major Panjshiri leader, Yunus Qanooni, now minister of education but formerly Massoud's chief organizer and logistician, declared his candidacy. Qanooni is supported by Fahim and the third major leader of the Panjshiri faction, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Each major candidate named a multiethnic ticket, but the result is nonetheless an election with one major presidential candidate from each major ethnic group: Karzai, a Pashtun; Qanooni, a Tajik; General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek and former communist militia leader; and Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Shiite religious leader and commander from the Hazara ethnic group.
A poll by the International Republican Institute shows Karzai in the lead in all ethnic groups and regions. But such polls have no track record in Afghanistan by which to judge their accuracy. More important, Afghanistan is not yet a country where people can vote freely.
In the same poll, Afghans named security as their top concern, and they identified the warlords - whom Karzai has now rebuffed - as the greatest threat. Hence Afghans are most vulnerable to intimidation and bribery from the very forces now allied against the president. The voting may reflect who controls military force and the money from the drug trade, not whom the Afghan people prefer.
But the pro-Karzai forces may also be tempted by trickery. Elections will also take place among Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Warlords in northern and western Afghanistan may deliver voters to Qanooni, but Pakistani Pashtuns may swell the Karzai column. The United Nations and the Afghan government have registered more than eight million voters in Afghanistan, and Afghans in Iran carry state-issued identity cards, but neither Afghans in Pakistan nor Pakistanis have consistent documentation. A senior Panjshiri asked in Kabul in May, "What will stop Pakistan from inventing 250,000 Pashtuns?"
This election will take place in a country that has never conducted a presidential election, where the Taliban are assassinating voters and electoral staff, and where there is no rule of law. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes on Oct. 9, the constitution requires a runoff. Since no one knows how long the first-round vote count will take, the second round will be held two weeks after the announcement of the first-round result. During the period immediately after Oct. 9 when the ballots are counted, there may be violent protests in a country where all major candidates control armed forces.
The United States, NATO, the United Nations and the European Union need to deploy security forces and electoral monitors massively, despite security risks, to assure a minimally fair election in all three countries where it will be held. They have to tell all firmly to accept the outcome. And they have to make a credible commitment to stay in Afghanistan through the second election as well. Otherwise, it might look bad for President George W. Bush on Election Day. But the Afghan people will pay the real price.
Barnett R. Rubin, director of studies at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, is author of "The Fragmentation of Afghanistan."
The woman who wants to be Afghan president
By Nick Meo in Kabul 04 August 2004 Independent Digital
The campaign headquarters of Afghanistan's only female candidate for president are a borrowed flat pocked with bullet holes in a run-down suburb of Kabul built by the Russians.
She has no money for campaigning and almost no coverage on television stations and in newspapers owned by rivals. Islamic fundamentalists hate her, and instead of a political party to support her she has a rag-tag bunch of enthusiastic students from Kabul University.
But none of this dismays Massouda Jalal. "I can win on 9 October because I am a woman, and in Afghanistan it is only women who have no blood on their hands," she said.
Of the 23 candidates, 41-year-old Dr Jalal is one of the few to run on a platform that is pro-democracy and anti-warlord and mean it. She is probably also the only one to have no bodyguard. "I refuse to arm anybody," she said. This is despite the murderous threats against women brave enough to stand up to armed factions.
Dr Jalal demonstrated bravery as a doctor in Kabul during the civil war in the 1990s, then ran the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' office under the Taliban, who forced her to wear a burkha and once jailed her for a few days.
Despite her confidence, she has little chance of winning. Hamid Karzai, the interim president, is widely expected to be victorious.
One factor that could help Dr Jalal is the unexpectedly high number of women who have registered to vote. Of 9.5 million possible voters, more than 8.5 million have registered, and about 42 per cent are women. For the first time in Afghan- istan's history, women will be playing a major role in the political process, although many will vote as their husbands say.
The line-up of candidates is heavily influenced by warlords and ranges from fundamentalists with beliefs close to the Taliban, to the whisky-swilling General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek strongman.
Dr Jalal, a paediatrician with three children, could prove a standard bearer for Afghanistan's beleaguered democrats. Amid the cynical manoeuvrings and naked greed, her message stands out. Amina Afzali of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said: "Even if she fails she will help encourage more women to get involved in politics."
Dr Jalal said: "I want to serve my people - everybody, with no discrimination towards ethnic group, language or gender." She is the kind of potential Afghan leader the West dreams of. "I don't want Afghanistan to be a land of terrorists and drug dealers, I want it to be a modern cultured society," she said. Her policies stress building a civil society, protecting women's rights and implementing the constitution.
Yet in a land full of warlords flush with dollars, with an election in which corruption is expected to be rampant, she has received not a penny from the international community. "Why are there no funds for Afghans to campaign?" she asked. "My rivals, the faction commanders, have millions of dollars."
Dr Jalal has incurred the displeasure of Afghanistan's most powerful warlord, Mohammed Fahim, the Defence Minister. He took a dislike to her at the Loya Jirga, the traditional Afghan council that elected President Karzai in 2002 . When Dr Jalal challenged Mr Karzai, Mr Fahim ordered her husband to rein her in. Her defiance gave her national exposure.
Dr Jalal's candidacy has already angered fundamentalists. She refuses to be intimida- ted. "If I show weakness some men will say, 'look she is not brave'. They will say, 'there is another woman who gave up'."
Afghanistan is ready for a female president, she says. Asked when the country will have sexual equality, she says 9 October - "if I am elected". "If not, perhaps in another century."
Canada to store unused military equipment in Afghanistan, just in case
Tue Aug 3,12:31 PM ET STEPHEN THORNE
KABUL (CP) - The Canadian army is storing some unused equipment in Afghanistan rather than move it home in case the federal government decides to extend or alter its peacemaking mission in the war-ravaged country.
Logistics and engineering specialists are currently in Kabul getting ready to scale down Canada's operation to accommodate about 700 soldiers instead of 2,000. They plan to begin transporting excess jeeps, armoured vehicles and other equipment Oct. 1 aboard leased Russian transport planes through Istanbul, where they will be washed and loaded aboard a ship destined for Montreal.
But some unused equipment will stay in the Afghan capital awaiting Ottawa's decision on what it will do once the current commitment ends next August, said the commander of the mission draw-down team, Lt.-Col. Richard Boivin.
"We're setting aside some very specific equipment for potential future missions that may be approved by the government," Boivin said in an interview Tuesday.
It is widely believed that Canada will extend and even expand its NATO commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2005, likely including one or more provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, to secure smaller Afghan cities.
Without specifying what has been put away, Boivin, a native of Jonquiere, Que., said some of the stored equipment is specific to PRTs.
"Although these missions have not been approved yet, we're making contingency plans just in case they're approved, then the material will be ready," he said. "If it's not, it will be sent back to Canada next year.
"It will save money from moving stuff back and forth."
Canada's fleet of Iltis jeeps, which has been replaced by armoured Mercedes G-Wagons, will stay in Kabul, where the 19-year-old unarmoured vehicles are to be given to Afghan authorities.
The rest of the unused equipment will be given a preliminary cleaning, then flown to Istanbul once the weather cools and the Ilyushin and Antonov aircraft that transport it can carry their maximum loads in the denser air.
A contractor at an intermediate staging base in Istanbul will then thoroughly wash the vehicles, radios, weapons and other equipment of their layers of Afghan dust in accordance with Agriculture Canada regulations.
In addition to preparing equipment for deployment back to Montreal and co-ordinating and synchronizing the move to coincide with the mission's transition, they are dismantling the Canadian annex at Camp Warehouse, home of what was until recently the Canadian-led Kabul Multi-National Brigade.
French and Germans will be moving into the area, while Canada will continue to run its main base at Camp Julien, now home to Canadians, Americans, Germans, Norwegians, Hungarians and Belgians.
Some other unused equipment not necessarily destined for PRTs, such as tenting and concertina wire, will also be stored in Kabul.
Boivin said the equipment is in relatively good shape, some of it after a year's hard use.
"Most of the equipment will require minimal repairs in Canada," he said.
"Some of the PRT equipment will be refurbished here in theatre using special teams and that will likely happen in September to ensure that if a PRT is deployed next year it will be totally serviceable."
The move by air to Turkey will take the entire month of October.
Afghan FM arrives in Cairo
CAIRO, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah arrived here Monday evening to kick off his visit to Egypt, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.
This was Abdullah's first visit to Egypt which was aimed at boosting bilateral relations in various areas.
During his stay here, Abdullah is expected to meet with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazef on ways to promote bilateral relations.
The top Afghan diplomat is also scheduled to hold talks with his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit on the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Abdullah has previously visited the United Arab Emirates.
Studies flag scope of mental health problems among Afghans
Tue Aug 3, 4:08 PM ET
CHICAGO (AFP) - Decades of conflict and years of drought have taken an uncommon toll on the mental health of Afghans, even by comparison with other communities traumatized by war and violence, according to two studies released.
Researchers said that the problem is worse than in war-wracked regions such as Kosovo, with one of the studies suggesting that two-thirds of Afghans suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Civil war, aerial bombardment, dislocation, and food and medical shortages have taken a greater toll of women's mental health than that of men -- possibly because of their treatment by the hard-line Islamic Taliban regime, which curtailed women's rights.
The findings "underscore the need for donors and health care planners to address the current lack of mental health care resources, facilities and trained mental health care professionals in Afghanistan," the authors of one study said.
The findings are drawn from two separate studies. Dutch researchers surveyed more than 1,000 people in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan in 2003. Another, by American researchers, canvassed about 800 people for a national population-based survey in 2002.
The studies linked the psychological problems to a host of difficulties dating from the 1990s and early 2000s, the most common of which were dislocation and shortages of food, water and health care.
After basic needs, respondents cited violence as the main source of trauma, with more than a third of the people in the national survey saying they had endured shelling or rocket attacks by mujahideen factions or Soviet forces during a decade-long occupation, and later bombardment by Coalition forces.
The percentage of Nangarhar residents caught up in the same violence was in excess of 60 percent, according to the study by researchers from the University of Amsterdam.
The province, which borders Pakistan, includes the Tora Bora cave complex that was repeatedly targeted by US forces during the US-led ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
The US military pounded the caves in an attempt to flush out al-Qaeda forces that were thought to be sheltering there.
The studies are published in Wednesday's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association .
The American study was written by researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
High rates of mental health symptoms reported in Afghanistan
EurekAlert - Social/Behavior
Exposure to trauma and mental health symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are prevalent among people in Afghanistan but, often go untreated because of lack of resources and mental health care professionals, according to two studies in the August 4 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, a theme issue on Violence and Human Rights.
According to background information: "More than two decades of war and conflict and three years of drought have led to widespread human suffering and substantial population displacement in Afghanistan. The country's infrastructure has been destroyed or degraded and vital human resources have been depleted." The researchers note that mental health facilities in Afghanistan are non-existent or in poor condition.
Barbara Lopes Cardozo, M.D., M.P.H., from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues, conducted a nationally representative survey of 799 Afghan adult household members (699 nondisabled and 100 disabled respondents) aged 15 years or older from July to September 2002 to assess respondents exposure to trauma during the previous 10 years, mental health symptoms, resources for emotional support, and disability. The researchers defined the term disability "as any restriction or lack (resulting from impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being."
"A total of 407 respondents (62 percent) reported experiencing at least four trauma events during the past 10 years," the authors found. "The most common trauma events experienced by the respondents were lack of food and water (56.1 percent) for nondisabled persons and lack of shelter (69.7 percent) for disabled persons.
The prevalence of respondents with symptoms of depression was 67.7 percent and 71.7 percent, and symptoms of anxiety 72.2 percent and 84.6 percent for nondisabled and disabled respondents, respectively. The prevalence of symptoms of PTSD was similar for both groups (nondisabled, 42.1 percent and disabled, 42.2 percent). Women had significantly poorer mental health status than men did. Respondents who were disabled had significantly lower social functioning and poorer mental health status than those who were nondisabled. Feelings of hatred were high (84 percent of nondisabled and 81 percent of disabled respondents). Coping mechanisms included religious and spiritual practices; focusing on basic needs, such as higher income, better housing, and more food; and seeking medical assistance."
In conclusion, the authors write: "Our survey demonstrates a high prevalence of exposure to trauma and the magnitude of mental health problems among Afghan individuals in post-war Afghanistan. Prevalences of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD were high, even when compared with other communities traumatized by war and conflict. Women and disabled respondents had significantly poorer mental health status than men and nondisabled respondents. These data underscore the need for donors and health care planners to address the current lack of mental care resources, facilities, and trained mental health care professionals in Afghanistan."
(JAMA. 2004; 292:575-584. Available post-embargo at JAMA.com)
Editor's Note: This study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mental Health Symptoms Following War and Repression in Eastern Afghanistan Another study in the JAMA theme issue on Violence and Human Rights reports on a mental health survey of residents from the Nangarhar province in the Eastern part of Afghanistan the region in which the Taliban movement originated.
Willem F. Scholte, M.D., from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues, surveyed 1,011 respondents aged 15 years or older during January and March 2003 to determine the rate of exposure to traumatic events; estimate the prevalence of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD; identify resources used for emotional support and risk factors for mental health symptoms; and assess the present coverage of basic needs in Nangarhar province.
"During the past 10 years, 432 respondents (43.7 percent) experienced between 8 and 10 traumatic events; 141 respondents (14.1 percent) experienced 11 or more. High rates of symptoms of depression were reported by 391 respondents (38.5 percent); anxiety, 524 (51.8 percent); and PTSD, 207 (20.4 percent)," the authors report. Symptoms were more prevalent in women than men. "The main resources for emotional support were religion and family. Medical care was reported to be insufficient by 228 respondents (22.6 percent)."
"Among the population of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, many have experienced traumatic events during a long history of armed conflict, repression, and insufficiency of needs. Mental health symptoms are highly prevalent, especially in those who experienced multiple traumas and in women. The capacity of primary health care workers to raise awareness of basic options for support or treatment and to address mental health needs should be strengthened," the authors conclude.
(JAMA. 2004; 292:585-593. Available post-embargo at JAMA.com)
Editor's Note: This study was funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services.
Editorial: Mental Health in Postwar Afghanistan
In an accompanying editorial, Paul Bolton, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., M.Sc., and Theresa Stichick Betancourt, Sc.D., M.A., from Boston University, Boston, write: "These studies add to a growing literature on the devastating impact of war on the mental health of civilian populations and to the sparse medical literature on Afghanistan since the Taliban era."
"The 2 epidemiological studies of mental health in Afghanistan published in this issue of JAMA provide a useful and interesting assessment of the postwar mental health symptoms in Afghanistan. There are some concerns about the assessment instruments used and whether generalizations about clinical disorders and specific medical treatment can be made. However, these studies provide an initial indicator of psychosocial approaches that might be effective and worthy of future study."
(JAMA. 2004; 292: 626-628. Available post-embargo at JAMA.com).
Religious scholars urge end to 'sinister' opium economy, call for aid for impoverished farmers
August 3, 2004 Associated Press
Religious leaders joined the struggle to contain Afghanistan's booming drug economy Tuesday, issuing a fatwa against a "sinister phenomenon" soiling the country's image and threatening its citizens with addiction and disease.
Ahead of the autumn planting season, the General Council of Ulema issued a religious decree saying cultivation of poppies _ which yield opium, the raw material for heroin _ was against Sharia, or Islamic law, as well as those of Afghanistan's fledgling post-Taliban state.
With thousands of Afghans believed to be hooked on opiates, the religious scholars warned of the dangers of AIDS and other diseases and said drugs and alcohol were a "known cause of prostitution and corruption."
"Furthermore, drug abuse is a waste of money and the Holy Quran states that such squanderers are Satan's brothers," they said in a statement.
Afghanistan already yields most of the world's opium and the United Nations is expected to announce next month that 2004 was another bumper year for Afghan poppy growers.
Afghanistan produced some 3,400 tons of opium in 2003, enough to make about 350 tons of heroin. The trade is believed to fund warlords resisting President Hamid Karzai's authority as well as anti-government Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
After warnings that the country risks becoming a "narco-state," Karzai last month issued a decree ordering the unmasking of government officials involved in the business and urged tribal and religious leaders to back his cause.
The scholars called on donor nations to provide generous assistance to help farmers hit by years of war and drought to switch to alternative crops.
They called on the government to use "legitimate and effective" methods to prevent drug production.
But they made no mention of the hard-nosed program to eradicate crops and arrest smugglers that officials are planning with British and American counternarcotics experts for next year.
The council appealed instead for divine help "in eliminating poppy, the sinister phenomenon that brings disrepute to this country."
Pakistan Donates 35 Trucks To Afghanistan
2004-08-04 08:03:49 Pakistan News Service
TORKHEM, Pakistan : Aug 04 (PNS) - Pakistan Tuesday donated 35 trucks to Afghanistan as a symbolic gesture of goodwill and eternal peace between the two brotherly neighboring countries. The handing over ceremony was performed at Pak-Afghan border near Torkhem.
Deputy Chief Protocol Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah presented keys of the donated trucks to Second Secretary Afghan Consulate Peshawar, Haji Mehraj. Earlier, representatives of both the countries signed documents at an official building in Torkhem. The government of Pakistan had announced a donation of 200 trucks to Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and 140 have been so far handed over, informed Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah while talking to newsmen.
Earlier, 105 trucks were handed over to Afghanistan in three batches, he added. Today's handover was of the fourth batch. Moreover, he continued, Pakistan would also donate 100 buses to Afghanistan in near future. Giving his impression on the occasion, Afghan envoy thanked the government of Pakistan for his all out support and assistance to Afghan brethren. He expressed the hope that the economic cooperation of Pakistan to Afghanistan would continue in future.
Malik Mehraj said Pakistan’s contribution to rehabilitation of Afghanistan in a big way is worth emulating for other countries. He also requested the world community to continue playing their effective role in the rehabilitation of war ravaged Afghanistan. Later, Afghan drivers drove the trucks, bearing the insignia of Pak-Afghan friendship, towards Afghanistan.
Bomb kills three children traveling with government official in central Afghanistan
August 3, 2004 Associated Press
A bomb hit a vehicle carrying a government official and a judge in central Afghanistan, missing the apparent targets but killing three of the judge's children, a military commander said Tuesday.
The children, aged 4 to 10, were in the open rear of the pickup truck when it was hit by the explosion on Sunday near Baraki Barak, 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of the capital, Kabul, in Logar province, Gen. Atiqullah Ludin said.
The bomb _ a mine attached to a bicycle _ "was detonated by remote control when the car slowed down for a ramp," Ludin said. "It damaged the back of the vehicle where the kids were sitting."
All three children were killed. Sayed Wakil, the mayor Baraki Barak, the judge and their driver were unharmed.
Nobody was arrested, but Ludin said Taliban were probably behind the attack.
"We are close to the election and they are against security and stability in Logar province," he said. "When they buried the children, the people strongly condemned the Taliban."
Militants opposed to the government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai have killed scores of Afghan security forces and officials as a part of a stubborn insurgency focused mainly on the south and east of the country.
At least 10 civilians and guards working on a drive to register Afghans for October presidential elections which Karzai is expected to win have also been among the victims.
Logar, closer to the capital than many of the insurgency-plagued areas has also seen an uptick in reports of violence.
On June 21, attackers fired three rockets at the voter registration office in the provincial capital, damaging the building but hurting no one. Two weeks earlier, two policemen died when Taliban attacked a government office close to where Sunday's bombing took place.
Rocket fired in Kabul, one Afghan worker wounded
KABUL, Aug 2 (Reuters) - A rocket landed in western Kabul on Monday and wounded a construction worker, witnesses said.
At the scene of impact, a large crater had been blown into the side of a metal container. A worker on a construction site around 20 metres (yards) away was hit by shrapnel in the shoulder and head, leaving a pool of blood on his mattress.
Police who saw the man did not know the extent of his wounds, but said they did not appear to be life-threatening.
Witnesses heard a rocket being fired not far from the U.S. embassy at around 10 p.m. (1730 GMT), around the time the missile landed near the construction site.
Rocket attacks have become more frequent in Kabul in recent weeks as the country prepares for elections on Oct. 9, which remnants of the ousted Taliban have vowed to disrupt.
Officials also suspect disgruntled commanders being forced to hand in their weapons under a nationwide disarmament programme may be behind some of the seemingly random attacks.
A woman was killed in mid-July in a similar attack, and a missile landed near the Chinese embassy last week. Peacekeepers said local police foiled a potentially deadly bomb plot on Thursday along on a crowded Kabul street.
Man Held in Afghan Beating Seeks Release
Tue Aug 3, 6:54 PM ET By STEVE HARTSOE, Associated Press Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. - A former CIA contractor being held without bail in the beating of an Afghan prisoner who later died should be released because he is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, his lawyer argued Tuesday.
David Passaro faces four counts of assault and assault with a dangerous weapon — a large flashlight — on Abdul Wali, the detainee who died at a U.S. base in Afghanistan last June.
Passaro, 38, worked as a CIA contractor while on leave from a civilian job with the Fort Bragg-headquartered Special Operations Command.
According to prosecutors, the former Army Green Beret was interrogating Wali before his death. If convicted, Passaro faces up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Tuesday's hearing was in response to a motion filed last month asking that a judge reconsider holding Passaro without bail while he awaits trial. Passaro, who remained jailed, has not entered a plea.
Thomas McNamara, a federal public defender, told the judge the government had misinterpreted conversations between Passaro and his girlfriend, who is a detective, as being part of a plot to flee.
"The plan that was discussed for nine months was a plan to defend Mr. Passaro, it certainly wasn't a plan to flee," McNamara said.
Passaro and his girlfriend mistrusted federal authorities, according to McNamara.
Prosecutor Jim Candelmo said Passaro misinformed authorities about his finances and the guns he possessed. He also said Passaro was dangerous, noting he lost his job with the police department in Hartford, Conn., in 1990 after beating up a man.
Passaro has said he is innocent, and that the charges are a "knee jerk reaction" by the Bush administration to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
The judge has asked probation officers to report within five days on whether Passaro should be allowed limited release.
Insecurity hampers Afghan reconstruction - minister
KABUL, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Insecurity is discouraging private contractors from taking part in reconstruction of the war-ravaged country, the finance minister said on Tuesday.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai also urged Afghans to channel their taxes through the central government in order to allow the aid-reliant country to stand on its own feet.
"Lack of security is the major problem for the participation of the private sector in reconstruction," Ahmadzai told a seminar on the Afghan budget and its implementation.
"This problem should be solved. Otherwise reconstruction cannot go ahead, because contractors put up their prices day after day, saying 'there is no security'."
In recent months the level of violence in Afghanistan has been at its highest since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.
Over the past year, more than 900 people, including more than 30 aid workers, have been killed mainly in attacks blamed on Taliban remnants. The total includes militant casualties.
Much of the south and east, where the Taliban and Islamic militant allies are most active, is off limits to aid workers.
Last week, aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres announced it was leaving Afghanistan after 24 years due to security threats, and 11 Chinese engineers working on a new road were killed in May close to the northern city of Kunduz.
Ahmadzai said that due to the lack of security, Afghanistan could not spend all of the money it was allocated at a conference in Berlin, where donor states pledged around $8.2 billion over three years for reconstruction and the Afghan budget.
He called on governors and provincial authorities to hand over customs revenues so that Afghanistan could become self-reliant at least in meeting its budgetary needs.
Local power brokers have been reluctant to hand over customs revenues to central coffers, often treating them as personal income used partly to fund private armies.
Despite Arrests, Pakistan Is Terror Refuge
Tuesday August 3, 9:27 AM Associated Press
Vital information gleaned from the arrests of a senior al-Qaida terrorist and a militant computer expert highlights the progress Pakistan is making in the fight against terrorism. But it also illustrates that this Islamic nation remains a refuge for Osama bin Laden's group, where the most wanted men in the world can hide out for years.
"We know that al-Qaida is here. They have their sleeper cells in Pakistan, and we are trying to eliminate them," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat told The Associated Press.
Intelligence agents found plans for new attacks in e-mails on the computer of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian arrested July 25 after a 12-hour gunbattle in the eastern city of Gujrat, said Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
"We got a few e-mails from Ghailani's computer about (plans for) attacks in the U.S. and U.K.," he told the AP, adding that the information has been shared with Pakistan's allies _ a reference to the United States.
Officials also are getting a wealth of information from a militant computer and communications expert arrested in an earlier raid in July. The man would send messages using code words to al-Qaida suspects, a Pakistani intelligence official told the AP on condition of anonymity.
Ahmed confirmed the arrest but refused to give details.
"He is a very wanted man, but I cannot say his name now," the information minister said. He said the man was a militant, but refused to say if he was part of al-Qaida.
Pakistani officials would not speculate on whether the information from Ghailani and the computer expert is what prompted Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to issue a warning Sunday about a possible al-Qaida attack on financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J.
However, a U.S. counterterrorism official said Sunday's warning stems in large part from Pakistan's capture several weeks ago of an al-Qaida operative.
The operative was privately identified as Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, also known as Abu Talha, said to be a communications expert. The Pakistani intelligence official said, however, that the name was an alias; he would not say what the man's real name was.
At his news conference, Ridge specifically thanked Pakistan for its help in the war on terror.
The arrests of both men have raised hopes that more top suspects might soon fall. Bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed hiding in the mountainous no-man's land between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But a second Pakistani intelligence official who was involved in the arrest of Ghailani cautioned against unrealistic expectations.
"Naturally, these interrogations help to gain an understanding of their network ... but that doesn't mean that we are closing in on bin Laden," he said.
Bin Laden and his deputy have spent nearly three years avoiding a dragnet by the 20,000-strong U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan and a 70,000-member Pakistani force on this side of the border.
Pakistan has arrested more than 550 al-Qaida suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks, turning most of them over to the United States. Among the higher-profile arrests are Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed _ all senior aides to bin Laden.
But that success is the silver lining to a dark cloud _ this nation of 150 million remains a favorite hiding place for terrorists _ from the teeming metropolis of Karachi, to the tribal regions along the Western border with Afghanistan, to towns like Gujrat in eastern Punjab.
Al-Qaida is believed behind the Friday attempt to assassinate prime minister-designate Shaukat Aziz, as well as two bids to take out Musharraf in March. Both men survived, but more than two dozen Pakistanis died.
"When they tried to flush the terrorists out of Afghanistan they came to Pakistan. When they flushed them from the tribal regions, they spread all over the country," said Talat Masood, a security analyst and former Pakistani general. "What we are facing now is very complex. It is one of the greatest terrorist challenges and it is not going to end soon."
Despite the government's strong support of the United States, the nation is home to dozens of homegrown militant groups _ some with roots in the Kashmir conflict, others that sprung up during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
They and their sympathizers have helped al-Qaida fugitives hide, sometimes for years.
Ghailani arrived in Pakistan on a Kenyan Airlines flight to Karachi on Aug. 6, 1998, a day before the bombs went off in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people, including 12 Americans. He was a ghost until his arrest nearly six years later, apparently as he was planning to flee the country.
AP reporter Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and Zarar Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.
The Stakes in Afghanistan
By Fareed Zakaria The Washington Post Tuesday, August 3, 2004; Page A17
Political junkies are betting these days as to how certain events would affect the election, such as a terror attack or a major crisis in Iraq.
To these I would add one event that is almost certain to take place: the October election in Afghanistan. How that vote takes place -- with chaos and violence or order and celebration -- will have a significant effect on President Bush's electoral fortunes. Here, as in Iraq, he must now wish he had listened to wiser voices sooner.
After the United States won its spectacular victory against the Taliban in December 2001, it assured the world that it was committed to intensive efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. But policy on the ground was largely controlled by the Defense Department, whose civilian leaders rejected nation-building. They saw the mission in Afghanistan as narrowly military -- fighting the Taliban -- and perhaps wanted to move troops out of Afghanistan to prepare for an invasion of Iraq. During 2002 the United States did not extend the reach of the international security force outside Kabul, was wary of asking NATO to get involved, provided little funding for reconstruction and, most crucially, refused to help in the demobilization of the Afghan militias.
These decisions had two effects: the first was to embolden Afghanistan's warlords and tighten their grip on power. In the aftermath of the war, their powers could have been defined so as to allow a central government to develop basic elements of national life, such as the rule of law, a national economy and a set of political institutions. Instead, the United States had a laissez-faire policy. The warlords were the only ones other than the United States with military power on the ground. They noticed the development of a political vacuum, expanded their powers and broadened their reach.
The second, related effect of America's tunnel vision was that the drug trade began booming. Afghanistan now supplies 75 percent of the world's opium. The warlords saw a ready source of revenue, outside the reach of Kabul, and encouraged the trade. Drugs are now the dominant feature of Afghanistan's economy, half as big as the legal economy. Worse, the trade is now moving from opium to heroin, which means that it's connected with international cartels, crime and big money. The amounts of cash involved dwarf government revenue, and corruption has infected every aspect of Afghan political life.
The Defense Department's aversion to any political role in Afghanistan was criticized -- by President Hamid Karzai and his allies (quietly), the State Department, U.S. senators such as Joseph Biden and John Edwards, U.N. officials and nongovernmental organizations. Then the military on the ground began making the case that it could not achieve its goals without political stability and economic development. Even then, when Karzai presented Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with a plan to take on certain key warlords in May 2003, Rumsfeld declined to offer U.S. support. (Yes, all this eerily echoes what later happened in Iraq.)
About a year ago, policy began shifting, partly pushed by the new U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former Pentagon official who is trusted by Rumsfeld. The United States asked NATO to get involved, began gingerly accepting the idea of expanding the reach of the international force, promised increased resources and, crucially, began supporting demobilization.
Disbanding the warlords' forces is the key challenge facing Afghanistan. The political scientist Max Weber once defined a state as that entity that has a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in the country. In Afghanistan, the state has no such monopoly. Winding down militias is the only path to that goal. The Pentagon had made it so clear that the United States would have nothing to do with this that Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations' special envoy, used to jokingly call it "the American fatwa" on demobilization. By the end of 2003 the fatwa was revoked. Now, finally the United States is assisting in the process, urging warlords to disband their militias and incorporate into the new Afghan army.
There are other positive trends in the country. Afghans have approached the national elections with huge enthusiasm, exceeding all predictions of voter registration. Polls show that they are highly supportive of Karzai, the United States and the international efforts at reconstruction. The problem in Afghanistan has not been with the Afghans but with the U.S. government.
U.S. policy toward Afghanistan is now on the right track. America and its allies are extending security outside Kabul, helping to build up the Afghan army and police, weakening the warlords, strengthening the central government, funding reconstruction projects, offering farmers alternatives to opium. But it may be too late. Instability is rampant, the drug trade is flourishing and the warlords are entrenched. As in Iraq, the administration seems to have learned from its mistakes, but the education of George Bush has been mighty costly.
Afghan minister visits health centre
By Azaraimy HH The Borneo Bulletin August 3, 2004
Afghanistan's Minister of Public Health, Dr Sohaila Sediqq, visited the Jubli Perak Sengkurong Health Centre yesterday. It was among the several visits of Dr Sohaila Sediqq during her stay in the Sultanate.
At the health centre, Dr. Hajah Maslina Hj Mohsin, the Administrative Head of Primary Care Services, gave the visiting minister a briefing on the health centre's services and facilities.
During the briefing, Dr Sohaila Sediqq was also told that Brunei has been accredited as a centre for MRCGP (International) Examinations.
In association with the Ministry of Health in 2000, the Universiti Brunei Darussalam and the St Georges' Hospital Medical School in London had started a joint programme in postgraduate diploma courses in primary health care.
Sengkurong Health centre provides various outpatient and primary care health services to the residents in Mukim Sengkurong, Mukim Kilanas and Mukim Pengkalan Batu.
The outpatient unit of the health centre has grown in importance over the years in the Brunei-Muara District with an increase in outpatient cases from 42,540 between June and December in 2000 to 47,778 of the same period in 2003.
Over the years, the centre has also recorded the largest outpatient cases as compared to other centres in the Brunei-Muara District.
Health centres throughout the country provide services such as outpatient services, maternal and child health services, dental services, dietician services, medical record, pharmacy services, phlebotomy services and DOTS for tuberculosis treatment.
Some of these health centres also provide community psychiatry services and the Jubli Perak Sengkurong Medical centre also provides radiology services.
Other services provided are pilots and traffic controllers medical fitness, national events and official visits medical coverage, circumcision services and tuberculosis clinic.
AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN ENTERING CRITICAL PERIOD
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard: 8/03/04 EurasiaNet
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is pressing ahead with efforts to consolidate his political authority ahead of presidential elections in just over two months. Karzai appears to have been bolstered by reports that a voter registration drive has encountered surprising success in recent weeks.
Karzai’s decision to replace Gen. Mohammad Fahim as his running mate in the October 9 presidential election has shaken his support within one of Afghanistan’s most influential constituencies – the mujaheddin commanders who led the resistance to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Despite the fact that Fahim’s replacement on the election ticket, Ahmad Zia Masood, is the brother of slain war hero Ahmad Shah Masood, many mujaheddin commanders appear inclined to support Karzai’s chief rival for the presidency – Yunus Qanooni.
"With Zia Masood as his running mate, Karzai expected to secure the vote of the mujaheddin. But he was wrong," said a foreign diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Karzai has lost [the support of] the mujaheddin’s most influential leaders, including the commander of Mazar-i-Sharif, Mohammad Atta."
Some observers say Karzai’s political shakeup, which was announced July 26, has left Afghanistan vulnerable to renewed inter-ethnic strife during the presidential campaign. The diplomatic source indicated that Fahim’s ouster has alienated the bulk of the country’s Tajik community. Although Zia Masood is himself a Tajik, a majority of Tajik leaders appear to feel that Fahim, who had served simultaneously as vice president and defense minister, was wronged. Fahim and many other influential Tajik leaders have already announced their support for the candidacy of Qanooni, who is also Tajik.
One prominent Tajik leader who continues to support Karzai is Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as Afghan president after mujaheddin forces toppled the Moscow-supported government of Najibullah in 1992. Rabbani, who is Zia Masood’s father-in-law, claimed the recent shake-up would help ensure a stable electoral process. "The problem between Fahim and Karzai was a lack of mutual confidence," Rabbani said. "This change [Zia Masood’s appointment] is good for unity and stability, allowing us to have a peaceful and trusting atmosphere in the country."
Rabbani criticized Qanooni’s last-minute decision to enter the presidential race. "I think they are reacting emotionally," he said. Rabbani also suggested that Qanooni was un-electable because he would not be able to garner substantial support among Afghanistan’s other ethnic groups.
On a different front, Karzai received an important boost after United Nations officials announced that roughly 90 percent of eligible voters have registered to cast ballots. Voter registration efforts got off to a slow start in the spring, but the pace has picked up dramatically in recent weeks. At present, according to a UN tally, about 8.7 million Afghans out of just under 10 million potential voters have signed up to participate in the presidential election.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s chief clerical body, the General Council of Ulema, issued a religious decree on August 3 calling on the country’s population to shun the cultivation of poppies. "Poppy cultivation is the result of civil war, instability and lack of security. The Afghan General Council of Ulema emphasizes the need for stability and security throughout the country," the decree said. It went on to describe poppy cultivation as a "sinister phenomenon that brings disrepute" to Afghanistan.
Since the US-led anti-terrorism offensive in late 2001, Afghanistan has reclaimed its standing as the world’s leading source of opiates. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Afghan experts said the burgeoning drug trade poses one of the most serious threats to the country’s stabilization process. The Grand Council’s decree could help Karzai’s administration reverse the existing trend of rising drug production.
Editor’s Note: Camelia Entekhabi-Fard has reported from Afghanistan and Iran for EurasiaNet.
Afghanistan's national army to deploy 16,000 troops for vote
KABUL, Aug 2 (AFP) - Afghanistan's fledgling national army will deploy 16,000 soldiers nationwide to improve security in time for the country's first presidential elections in October, the US-led coalition said Monday.
Security has deteriorated rapidly ahead of polls as insurgents bent on derailing the vote step up attacks on soft targets such as civilians, aid and election workers as well as government and US-led forces.
Afghanistan's national army (ANA) now numbers 13,500, it said in a statement. The army has a projected strength of 70,000 in five years time. 'The Ministry of Defence plans to have 16,000 soldiers in the ANA by October and has more than 13,500 soldiers currently, including those soldiers already trained and those in training at the Kabul Military Training Center,' the statement said.
The embryonic army plans to draw its forces from the estimated 40,000-60,000 private militia, of whom 60 percent are targetted to have laid down their arms in time for elections. However, disarmament of private militias is proceeding slowly. So far, 12,245 fighters have laid down their guns and 10,380 have begun reintegrating into civilian life, the statement added.
In the remote west Afghanistan province of Ghor, the Afghanistan New Beginnings Program leading the disarmament drive is 'reviewing plans to start disarmament in light of the security incident that occurred Thursday,' the statement said. Two US soldiers and three Afghan army soldier were wounded when militia troops resisting disarmament opened fire on a convoy sent to manage the process in the province.
Afghan Voters Should Turn Away From Factionalism, Says Khalilzad
Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.
U.S. ambassador says 8.5 million voters have registered for elections
U.S. Ambassador and Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad called upon Afghans to use their upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections to choose leaders who will promote national unity and act for the good of all Afghan citizens.
Speaking at the opening of the Election and Information Center in Kart-e-Parwan, Kabul,
July 31, Khalilzad said, "a new moment of promise is at hand" for Afghanistan.
"Afghans know that this is their great chance to build a successful political system and a successful country," he said.
He said over 8.5 million Afghans have registered to vote for the fall 2004 presidential elections and the spring 2005 legislative elections, despite reports of obstacles and intimidation.
The ambassador also called upon political parties to play a positive role during the country's political transition, saying responsible parties "are an essential and normal part of free societies."
"Political parties can either play a role in confirming the new, democratic political order, or they can be a force to undermine it," he said. "They can either affirm pluralistic, tolerant, democratic values, or they can make a mockery of them by embracing extremism and armed militias and by attempting to silence those with whom they disagree."
The result of the elections, he said, "must be a political process where leaders will act for the good of all the people, not just on behalf of one faction at the expense of another."
Following is the text of Ambassador Khalilzad's remarks:
U. S. Ambassador and Special Envoy to Afghanistan
Election and Information Center Opening
Saturday -- July 31, 2004
Ladies and gentlemen, this Election Training and Information Center opening is a symbol of a truly exciting and unexpected development in Afghan history.
Just a few short years ago Afghans were living under a backward tyranny, their lives characterized by fear -- fear of criticizing their government, fear of running afoul of unaccountable so-called enforcers of virtue, and fear of exercising their most basic human rights.
But today Afghanistan stands poised to enter a new age of democratization. Over 8.5 million Afghans have already demonstrated their desire to participate in elections to choose their own leaders and have a voice in their future. By registering to vote in towns and villages across the country — often in the face of obstacles and intimidation — they have taken advantage of this opportunity to engage in an electoral process that will lead to a national presidential election this fall and a legislative election next spring.
Today a new moment of promise is at hand. Afghans know that this is their great chance to build a successful political system and a successful country.
In all democratic systems, political parties play a central role in selecting leaders, defining the agenda, and mobilizing the people. Political parties have a negative image in Afghanistan because of their role in dividing the country over the past two decades, but political parties that operate responsibly are an essential and normal part of free societies.
In a country in political transition, such as Afghanistan, the manner in which the parties conduct themselves will determine the character of political life long after all the votes are cast.
Parties face a test, a test in which the Election Training and Information Center can play an important role. Political parties can either play a role in confirming the new, democratic political order, or they can be a force to undermine it. They can either affirm pluralistic, tolerant, democratic values, or they can make a mockery of them by embracing extremism and armed militias and by attempting to silence those with whom they disagree. They can run on either a platform that supports the disarmament of militia fighters or one that defends the right of militias to influence the outcomes of elections through intimidation and the force of arms.
Elections are another important building block in building a democratic Afghanistan: a country with a representative government, where ordinary citizens feel that their voices matter, that their interests are defended, and that they have the power to hold those in power accountable.
The result of elections must be a political process where leaders will act for the good of all the people, not just on behalf of one faction at the expense of another. The winner-take-all mentality, and the right to suppress the rights of the minority, is directly contrary to the democratic spirit. Losers, in turn, must accept the results of the elections. This is a key test, as there will always be winners and losers in an election.
Afghanistan stands at a crossroads. On October 9, Afghans will have the opportunity to choose their leader. As they decide, they should ask themselves the following questions:
Who can best represent the country?
Who can best promote national unity?
Who has best identified the country's problems and has a strategy for addressing them?
Who can best implement the strategy: get the resources -- including money and people -- to make progress on behalf of the Afghan people?
What kind of history does the candidate have? Because a person's past can tell you a lot about the future course he is likely to take.
I have every confidence that the people of Afghanistan will make the right choice because I know the people of Afghanistan want to succeed, and they wish to help Afghanistan succeed in building a democratic nation.
The facilities whose opening we are celebrating today will be staffed by Afghans, for Afghans -- working to build and support the democratic process.
I am proud to be here with you, and I speak on behalf of all Americans in saying that we are standing by your side as Afghanistan moves forward towards a new, democratic, and more hopeful era.
Use of Foreign Contractors Called into Question
The recent collapse of a hospital being renovated by a Chinse company raises questions about the competency of foreign firms being hired - By Amanullah Nasrat and Jawad Sharifzadza in Kabul ARR No. 128, 30-Jul-04 Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Afghan contractors and construction workers have become increasingly concerned that their government is awarding more and more big construction contracts to foreign firms instead of
local ones – and that these companies are bringing foreign workers here to do the jobs that Afghans could be doing.
Foreign contractors and Afghan government officials counter by saying that Afghan contractors don't have the experience, the financial resources or the equipment to win many of the tenders.
The sudden collapse of the western part of Kabul's state-run Jamhoriat hospital on July 26, which was being renovated by the Chinese company, Complant, has heightened concern about the numerous
construction projects in the country. At least six Afghans were killed in the collapse and more than 30 others were injured, including 2 Chinese workers. At least 30 people are still reported missing.
Dr Ferozuddin, deputy health minister, called the accident a "technical mistake" but didn't immediately blame anyone. A team made up of representatives from the ministry of health and the interior ministry is investigating the cause of the accident.
Abdul Karim Safi is an investment manager with the Afghan Investment Support Agency, a government agency within the ministry of commerce that handles the promotion and licensing of all new foreign and domestic investment in Afghanistan. During an interview before the collapse took place, he said that foreign companies are not required to present proof of the quality of their work when they apply for a license to work in the country. "They come to Afghanistan. If they have a passport, and pay taxes, we give them permission," he said. "It's not up to us that their works have quality or not."
Sayed Mahmood Dad Manish, head of the Kabul-based Quyash construction company, said that Afghan firms are just as capable as foreign companies in performing construction projects. "Awarding projects to foreigners means that the government trusts the foreigners more than Afghans," he said. He also accused foreign companies of being inefficient, claiming that, "If the billion dollars [given by] the international community were given to Afghans, Afghanistan would be reconstructed."
During an interview last month, LI Maqoqing, the head of the Jamhoriat renovation project for Complant, expressed his doubts about the ability of Afghan companies to undertake such a job.
”Afghans contractors can't contract these kind of projects. They don't have modern equipment, the experience, and don't have the budgets for new projects," Maqoqing said.
When asked by IWPR, officials with the ministry of health, ministry of public works, ministry of planning and the ministry of education said they could not provide information on how many
construction contracts had been awarded to foreign firms and how many had been given to Afghan companies.
When asked about the bidding process and specific details about the Jamhoriat hospital project, officials at the ministry of health's construction department referred IWPR to the foreign-relations department, which in turn referred the reporter back to the construction department. Eventually, D Suhaila Sediq, the minister of health, told IWPR, "We don't do interviews with international organisations". She also ordered a construction department official to seize the reporter's accreditation letter.
Mohammed Yaqub Shaghasi, the deputy minister of the ministry of public works, said that his ministry was interested in awarding construction projects to Afghan firms, but that regulations established by the Afghan Investment Support Agency, the World Bank, and other donors often prevent this from happening.
"The national companies have problems," he said. "They don't have experience and perhaps they don't have guaranteed cash in the banks." Safi, with the Afghan Investment Support Agency, said also that there are some big projects that Afghan contractors are not able to run because they don't have modern equipment.
But Amanullah Mahmoodzada, the head of Mahmoodzad Construction Company, doesn't accept these explanations. "When we negotiate about a [government] contract, we are asked to give a bribe and if someone gives a bribe, no one will ask about his experience," he said.
Meanwhile, Afghan labourers also feel that they are losing out to foreign workers. In a commercial district in central Kabul, where carpets, televisions, videos and other goods are sold, hundreds of day labourers wait on the corner - hoping to be picked up for construction and reconstruction projects.
Akhter Mohammed, 29, waited on the street with his work clothes in his bag on a recent morning. He said that he could only find work three days a week for which he is paid 3 US dollars, or about 150 afganis. He blamed foreign workers for his joblessness. "If the foreign workers didn't come to Afghanistan, I would be hired every day and my wage would also increase," he said.
Mohammed Ayub, 42, a mason from Kabul, also blamed foreigners for costing Afghans jobs. "We want the Afghanistan government to prevent foreign workers coming to Afghanistan, so that we can take part in construction of our country ourselves," he said.
Shaghasi, the deputy minister of public works, acknowledged that foreign firms are often reluctant to hire Afghan labourers. "Because of the security concerns they don't trust Afghan workers to be with them in the camps," he said. "They just trust their own workers."
Even when Afghan labourers do find employment with foreign firms, they are often paid less than their foreign counterparts. In the case of the hospital renovation, for example, Maqoqing of Complant said that it employed between 120 and 160 Afghan labourers, 15 Chinese engineers and 25 Chinese labourers on the project.
However, the Chinese labourers are earning between 300-400 dollars a month, compared to between 100 and 120 dollars for Afghan workers. "We pay the Chinese workers more than the Afghans because they came here and stay here 24 hours a day," Maqoqing explained.
Karizma, a Turkish construction company, is building a new private commercial building going up in central Kabul. This company has 4 Turkish engineers, 45 Turkish workers and 65 Afghan workers, said Ekrem Gurboiz.the company's representative in Kabul, Gurboiz said the Turkish labourer wage on the project is 800 dollars per month compared to the Afghan one of between 150 and 300 dollars. Turkish engineers make about 1500 a month, compared to 700 dollars for Afghan engineers.
Gurboiz cited the differences in the standard of livings in various countries for the disparity in wages. "A German engineer may ask 5000 dollars and an American engineer may ask 10,000 dollars," Gurboiz said. "After five years none of the foreign companies will be able to win the contracts from Afghans, because [Afghans] will work more efficiently and compassionately than foreigners." Amanullah Nasrat and Jawad Sharifzadza are IWPR staff reporters in Kabul Wahidullah, an IWPR staff writer, and freelance reporter Mohammed Karim Rasuli also contributed to this report.
Man kills wife; two commit suicide
By our correspondent The News International
KARACHI: A newly married Afghan girl was killed over a domestic matter in Docks police jurisdiction on Tuesday, police said.
According to details, Laila, 19, and Fazal Muhammad, who had tied nuptial knot about six months ago in Afghanistan, shifted in a house on rent in Machar Colony near Muhammadi mosque about four days ago. On Tuesday, their neighbours after witnessing loud shouts informed the police who reached the spot and found Laila lying in a pool of blood. Police shifted her to the Civil Hospital where doctors pronounced her dead. The police suspect Fazal to be the killer.
Bullet-riddled body of Momin Khan, 26, a watchman and hailing from Batgram, was found lying under cotton bales from the factory premises where he was employed in Ayub Goth within the Sohrab Goth police jurisdiction.
His body was shifted to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital (ASH).
SUICIDES: The Shershah police told The News that a drugs addict Ehsanullah, 24, hanged himself with a pillar in Paracha graveyard.
The deceased had demanded some money from his mother and on her refusal he committed suicide. The police shifted the body to the Civil Hospital.
Ataur Rehman, 20, a shopkeeper, also ended his life by consuming some poisonous substance because of financial hardships in Azam Basti within Mehmoodabad police jurisdiction. He was brought to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical centre (JPMC) where he breathed his last.
ACCIDENT: Two friends were crushed under the wheels of a speeding hit-and-run coach near Aga Khan Jamaat Khana when they had slipped from their motorcycle (KAR-5978) in a bid to save the life
of passer-by near Aysha Manzil roundabout.
Orphaned Warriors Try to Forget Bloody Afghan Past
Tue Aug 3,10:08 PM ET By Mike Collett-White
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Ahmed has had to grow up fast. Aged 12, he found the bodies of his parents amid the rubble of their home bombed by Taliban aircraft four years ago. By then he was already a fighter in Afghanistan's resistance forces, and ever since has been providing for two younger sisters.
With shaved head and troubled, darting eyes, the thin 16-year-old seems to have lost his childhood, although he loves to play soccer when he can.
Like thousands of other child soldiers in Afghanistan being prepared for civilian life under a program sponsored by the U.N. children's charity UNICEF, he is looking forward to a less turbulent future.
"I want to be a blacksmith," he said, after enrolling in the scheme in a village on the old frontline between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces north of Kabul.
Ahmed, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, spent much of his time in the resistance forces cleaning, cooking and keeping watch.
But he remembers being pinned down in crossfire before the Taliban fell in November, 2001, and having to shoot his way out of trouble with fellow fighters.
"I have two sisters who are younger than me. I am the only person left to support them," he told Reuters.
Ghulam, his name also changed, was in the thick of the action more often than he cares to remember.
"The Taliban were attacking us," said the lanky 17-year-old wearing a waistcoat over his baggy shalwa kameez tunic and trousers. "There was fighting and a few people died on our side.
"Nine or 10 of our soldiers were killed, and I saw three of the bodies. They were distant relatives of mine from the same village. I was 13 or 14 at the time."
Asked whether he thought it strange that boys fought wars, his reply echoed that of many young warriors caught up in Afghanistan's violent past.
"It is strange, but I had to do it, it was my obligation."
Thousands of boys were forced or volunteered to join the Northern Alliance resistance movement that fought the Taliban from 1996 to 2001.
After the Taliban fell in a U.S.-led war after they failed to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, President Hamid Karzai launched a nationwide drive to disarm factional militias. The children's program runs parallel to that.
Ghulam, an only child, is also an orphan. His mother died when he was one of complications during pregnancy and his father was killed in a family feud when Ghulam was seven. He lives with an uncle, but shares Ahmed's sense of loneliness.
"I have friends, but I don't really like them," he smiled. "I am optimistic about the future, but I haven't decided what I want to become yet."
Around 100 boys, many wearing skull caps or scarves on their heads, turned up at a newly refurbished school to answer questionnaires, decide on a vocation, receive medical checks and an identify card and hear a lecture on basic hygiene.
Yousaf Ghaznavi, program supervisor and UNICEF's local partner, said 2,000 to 2,500 child soldiers had enrolled in the scheme since February out of an estimated total of 8,000.
"Everyone has a special story, and some of them are very traumatic," he said, adding that several boys killed Taliban fighters during clashes in the northern cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz before the Islamic militia was toppled.
The boys, most illiterate, are shown pictures illustrating the choice of vocations on offer, including masonry, weaving and bee-keeping. Over the next year, they not only learn a new trade but are taught to read and write.
The teenagers are asked what makes them happy or sad and whether they have suffered abuse. Ghaznavi regrets more psychological support is not given when it is badly needed.
Before returning to their villages, the boys cram into a classroom to hear a final lecture and take an oath before a village elder that they have renounced violence.
One by one they are called forward to receive their ID cards and sign the oath with a thumbprint in green ink.
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