Afghan defence minister vows to back Karzai rival in election
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan Defence Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim vowed that he and several key ministers would oppose President Hamid Karzai and back his rival in the October 9 presidential elections.
Fahim, a powerful warlord who is also the first vice president in Karzai's interim government formed after the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001, said he would back rival candidate former education minister Yunus Qanooni.
"I told the president that if he plans to go to elections on his own, he would make a mistake, but he did it," Fahim told a news conference on Wednesday.
"I, the Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and most ministers support Mr. Qanooni's candidacy for the presidential post."
Fahim's relations with Karzai were strained after the president denied him the ticket to stand for the post of vice president.
"He made us decide and have our own candidate," Fahim said, claiming that a large number of mujahideen (anti-Soviet "holy warriors"), members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and most of the ministers, would back Qanooni.
Fahim inherited the military arm of the Northern Alliance which helped US-led coalition forces to oust the hardline Taliban regime.
Officials say there are 22 presidential candidates but Qanooni is considered a serious challenger who enjoys the support of the ethnic Tajik dominated Northern Alliance.
Diplomats say Karzai was forced to drop Fahim from any future government amid pressure from the international community, including the United States, over accusations he was an obstacle to the president's efforts to disarm private militias ahead of the elections.
Fahim reacted angrily to the allegations.
"If this decision is made by Karzai himself then he knows what is best for his future," he said.
"But if he has made it under foreign pressure then why he wants to be the president of Afghanistan, then it means there is another foreigner who is in control of Afghanistan," he added.
President Karzai has picked up Ahmed Zia, brother of late anti-Taliban commander and national hero Ahmad Shah Masood, as his first vice president and Karim Khalili, an ethnic Hazara, as his second vice president.
Fahim claimed it was Zia's personal decision and he did not represent the Northern Alliance.
"If Ahmed Zia has decided to run with Karzai as vice president, it is his personal decision."
The woman who wants to be Afghan president
The Independent (UK) August 4, 2004 By Nick Meo in Kabul
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 Afghanistan'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."
Two Afghan Aid Workers Killed, Says UNHCR
Wed Aug 4, 7:29 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan aid worker and his driver were killed by unidentified gunmen in southeastern Afghanistan in the latest attack on humanitarian agencies, which have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants.
A field officer working for a partner organization to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees was shot dead in Tuesday's attack on the road between Gardez, 105 km (66 miles) south of Kabul, and Zormat, a UNHCR spokesman said on Wednesday.
His driver was seriously wounded and later died after being airlifted to the U.S. military base at Bagram north of the capital, said Mohammad Nader Farhad.
Both men were employed by the Malteser charity, which worked alongside the UNHCR in the province of Paktia where around 20,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland from the South Waziristan tribal agency in neighboring Pakistan.
Farhad said the victims were traveling in an unmarked car when they were attacked at around 5 p.m. (1230 GMT).
"We are extremely concerned about this security incident," Farhad said, adding that Malteser had suspended its operations in the southeast of the country as a result.
Malteser staff could not immediately be reached for comment.
The UNHCR has suspended staff travel in the southeast, although its operations in the area will continue.
Many aid organizations have suspended travel and operations across large parts of the south and east of the country where Islamic militants including remnants of the ousted Taliban are most active.
The Medecins Sans Frontieres agency said last week it was leaving Afghanistan after 24 years because of security fears.
Five of its staff were killed in an attack in the northwest of the country in June, although investigations suggest the murders were part of a local turf battle rather than Taliban efforts to derail aid work by targeting humanitarian workers.
More than 30 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2003, most of them by suspected remnants of the Taliban, who have vowed to halt humanitarian assistance and disrupt elections planned for October and April.
Pakistan Allows Taliban to Train, a Detained Fighter Says
By CARLOTTA GALL – NY Times 08/04/04
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 3 - For months Afghan and American officials have complained that even while Pakistan cooperates in the fight against Al Qaeda, militant Islamic groups there are training fighters and sending them into Afghanistan to attack American and Afghan forces.
Pakistani officials have rejected the allegations, saying they are unaware of any such training camps. Now the Afghan government has produced a young Pakistani, captured fighting with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan three months ago, whose story would seem to back its complaints about Pakistan.
The prisoner, who gave his name as Muhammad Sohail, is a 17-year-old from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, held by the Afghan authorities in Kabul. In an interview in late July, in front of several prison guards, he said Pakistan was allowing militant groups to train and organize insurgents to fight in Afghanistan. Mr. Sohail said he hoped that granting the interview would increase his chances of being freed. Mr. Sohail described his recruitment through his local mosque by a group listed by the United States as having terrorist links, his military training in a camp not far from the capital, Islamabad, and his dispatch with several other Pakistanis to Afghanistan.
He did not give all the details that intelligence officials said they gleaned from him in interrogations, but he talked easily about his party and its leaders, and said they had high-level support from within the establishment. He said he was recruited and trained within the past eight months by Jamiat-ul-Ansar, the new name for the Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen party, which was designated a terrorist group by the State Department and banned by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in January 2002. Under its new name it is functioning, if more discreetly, and its leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, moves around freely.
Mr. Khalil has been involved in recruiting and training militants since the 1980's. In 1998, American planes bombed his training camp in Afghanistan when they were targeting Osama bin Laden after the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The bombing killed a number of Pakistanis, and Mr. Khalil at the time vowed to take revenge against America for the attack.
It is an open secret in Pakistan that groups supporting separatism in Kashmir have not stopped their activities, despite official declarations, and have continued to train men and infiltrate them into Indian Kashmir. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said during a visit to the region last month that Pakistan had not dismantled all the camps used to train militants for Kashmir. And while he praised Pakistan for its efforts against Al Qaeda, he urged the country to do more to stop Taliban militants carrying out attacks from Pakistan.
Mr. Sohail is not the first Pakistani to be captured fighting alongside the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan over the past two years. On at least one occasion, Pakistanis who were captured in a joint American-Afghan military operation last year were handed back to Pakistan. But he is the first made available for an interview by the Afghan government. Intelligence officials said they found on him a Jamiat-ul-Ansar membership card and a list of phone numbers of high-level party officials.
A Pakistani official interviewed recently described Mr. Sohail as a "one-off case," and denied that Pakistani militants were showing up in Afghanistan. The Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand, said he thought Jamiat-ul-Ansar and its network had been dismantled. "There is no ambiguity in our policy," he said. "The government does not sponsor, nor create, nor is aware of training camps. If they were aware of any, they would go and dismantle them."
Zalmay M. Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, has stated publicly that Pakistan has not done nearly enough to stop the Taliban and other militants from using Pakistan's border areas as operational and recruiting bases.
In a speech in Washington in April, he warned that if Pakistan did not do the job on its side of the border, American forces would have to do the job themselves. A Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in an interview last month in Kabul said: "When you talk about Taliban, it's like fish in a barrel in Pakistan. They train, they rest there. They get support."
Western diplomats in Kabul and Pakistani political analysts have said that Pakistan has continued to allow the Taliban to operate to retain influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan supported the Taliban in the 1990's as a way to create an area where Pakistani forces could retreat to the west if war erupted with its the country's longtime rival and neighbor to the east, India. Pakistan has also long tried to maintain influence over Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, because of its wariness of its own Pashtun minority in the border areas.
General Musharraf may also fear that a crackdown on the Taliban will provoke protests from an alliance of hard-line Islamist political parties that are now the third largest block in Parliament, the Western diplomat in Kabul said. And Pakistani officials may fear that the United States will abandon the region if Mr. bin Laden is captured.
In interviews along the border over the past two years, Pakistani government officials have made statements that they do not see the Taliban as a threat to Pakistan. They have also, at times, said the Taliban have a legitimate political grievance in Afghanistan. Mr. Sohail was probably chosen to fight in Afghanistan because he is a Pashtun, the dominant group in the Taliban. Born in Swat, near the Afghan border, he grew up in Karachi, left school at 15 and went to work in a confectionary shop.
"I was going to the mosque every Thursday, and they were saying you should go and do jihad," he said. "In Palestine, Chechnya, Cuba, France and a lot of places all over the world, they are mistreating Muslims. So I decided to do it and got training for one month."
He traveled with a group of 15 others from his mosque to a training camp near Mansehra, north of Islamabad. It was a remote place, in the mountains with lots of trees, he said. There he received one month of training in explosives and weapons.
An uncle of Mr. Sohail's, reached by telephone in Karachi, said the family recently received a letter via the Red Cross from Mr. Sohail saying he was in an Afghan jail. After their training in Mansehra, Mr. Sohail and his group went to Islamabad and met Mr. Khalil, the leader of Jamiat-ul-Ansar, at his headquarters.
Three months later, Mr. Khalil went to speak at their mosque and called the group up to fight, Mr. Sohail said. "He said, 'Go and fight the Americans.' " They went to the Pakistani border town of Quetta, and then Mr. Sohail set off with four other fighters. They crossed over the main border and drove to the city of Kandahar. They went to a designated hotel and in a room found a bag with weapons. The next day they headed to a mountain base near the town of Panjwai, not far west of Kandahar, where they joined some 50 fighters and rapidly became involved in combat operations themselves.
Mr. Sohail's account becomes vague after that. He said he only fought for one night and returned to Pakistan. Sent back into Afghanistan to gather information about casualties, he approached some Afghan police, thinking they were Taliban. They arrested him. He is accused of taking part in an attack on the Panjwai District center in April, in which a police officer and two aid workers were killed, security officials said.
Other militants who have been captured are Afghans from the refugee community in Pakistan. They have described receiving training in large, walled residential compounds in and around Quetta, rather than in military camps, according to Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, the governor of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.
One Afghan prisoner interviewed recently in Kandahar, who spent 10 years in a madrassa, or religious school, in Pakistan from the age of 14, complained that the arrival of American troops in Afghanistan brought behaviors that were against the Koran, including drinking alcohol and prostitution. "They are destroying Islam," the prisoner said.
Mr. Sohail has received a 20-year sentence from a judge in Kabul. His appeal is in progress.
"I'm very sad," he said mournfully. "The jihad is over for me." But he showed flashes of fanaticism, too. "I wish I was a prisoner of the Americans," he said. "Then I could die a martyr at their hands, or kill myself."
Pak militant groups sending trained fighters to Afghanistan
Press Trust of India New York, August 4
Militant groups in Pakistan are training fighters and sending them into Afghanistan to attack American and Afghan forces even as Islamabad cooperates in the fight against Al-Qaeda, a media reports said.
For months, both Afghan and American officials have complained to Islamabad about this but Pakistani officials have rejected the allegations, saying they are unaware of any such training camps, a media report said on Wednesday.
But the Afghan government has produced a young Pakistani, captured fighting with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan three months ago, whose story would seem to back its complaints about Pakistan, it said.
It is an open secret in Pakistan that groups supporting separatism in Kashmir have not stopped their activities, despite official declarations, and have continued to train men and infiltrate them into Kashmir, The New York Times said.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L Armitage said during a visit to the region last month that Pakistan had not dismantled all the camps used to train militants for Kashmir. And while he praised Pakistan for its efforts against Al-Qaeda, he urged the country to do more to stop Taliban militants carrying out attacks from Pakistan.
The prisoner produced by Afghans, who gave his name as Muhammad Sohail, is a 17-year-old from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, is held by the Afghan authorities in Kabul.
In an interview in late July, in front of several prison guards, he said Pakistan was allowing militant groups to train and organize insurgents to fight in Afghanistan.
The Times quoted Sohail as saying he hoped that granting the interview would increase his chances of being freed. He described his recruitment through his local mosque by a group listed by the US as having terrorist links, his military training in a camp not far from the capital, Islamabad, and his dispatch with several other Pakistanis to Afghanistan.
He did not give all the details that intelligence officials said they gleaned from him in interrogations, but the paper said he talked easily about his party and its leaders, and said they had high-level support from within the establishment.
He said he was recruited and trained within the past eight months by Jamiat-ul-Ansar, the new name for the Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen party, which was designated a terrorist group by the State Department and banned by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in January 2002.
Under its new name it is functioning, if more discreetly, and its leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, moves around freely, the Times said.
Sohail, the paper said, is not the first Pakistani to be captured fighting alongside the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan over the past two years. On at least one occasion, Pakistanis who were captured in a joint US-Afghan military operation last year were handed back to Pakistan.
But the paper said he is the first made available for an interview by the Afghan government. Intelligence officials said they found on him a Jamiat-ul-Ansar membership card and a list of phone numbers of high-level party officials.
A Pakistani official interviewed recently described Sohail as a "one-off case," and denied that Pakistani militants were showing up in Afghanistan.
China, Pakistan kick off anti-terror drill on Afghan border
Wednesday August 4, 3:34 PM AFP
Chinese and Pakistani soldiers began a three-day anti-terrorism exercise on 4,000-meter (13,000-foot) mountains near the border with Afghanistan, state media reported.
The drill, the first of its kind between the two countries, was held in the Taxkorgan Tajik region in the south of China's predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region, the Elite Reference newspaper said on Wednesday.
Codenamed "Friendship 2004," the exercise took place in secrecy, with no details emerging about the nature or number of the participating troops.
According to reports in the Pakistani media, the soldiers would conduct live-fire operations, employing their most advanced weapons.
Chinese state media recently said the drills would help "maintain security and stability in the region".
China and Pakistan are traditional close allies. Islamabad relies heavily on Beijing for its defense equipment.
The western region of Xinjiang is home to China's Uighurs, a Muslim people speaking a Turkic language, and has spawned what many reports say is a strong independence movement.
China calls them terrorists, and, according to human rights groups, has used the global war on terror to justify their repression.
Many Uighurs have fled to neighboring countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan and China routinely pressures them for their return, Amnesty International said in a recent report.
Last year China published its first ever list of 11 ethnic Uighur Muslim separatists from Xinjiang and claimed some had links to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, and had established bases in Afghanistan.
In October Pakistani troops shot one of them dead in a raid on a suspected Al-Qaeda hideout in mud-walled tribal homes in its South Waziristan tribal district.
Helping flow of Afghan returnees cope with water problems
KABUL, August 4 (UNHCR) - Refugees returning to their homes after years of war require not just peace and employment but a resource that is proving increasingly scarce in Afghanistan - water.
In the capital, residents are digging wells in the dry streambed of the Kabul River. In the Shomali Plain that spreads north of Kabul and once fed the city, the water table is dropping and the ancient karez network of underground water distribution channels was deliberately damaged by the previous Taliban rulers.
"Before, we grew rain-fed wheat but now with drought, it is impossible. Families with land cannot farm unless they have deep wells," said Sheragha, who has returned to his village of Baghalam after eight years in Iran.
The problem has not gone unnoticed by the international effort to revive Afghanistan. Sheragha, who was previously a farm labourer, is now drawing his family's drinking water from a pump installed near his house, newly rebuilt by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UN refugee agency has allocated more than $15 million for water projects in Afghanistan since it launched a programme in 2002 to assist refugees who want to return. Nearly 3 million refugees have come home from Iran and Pakistan, with UNHCR also assisting more than 440,000 internally displaced Afghans to return to their homes.
By early this year UNHCR had installed more than 6,000 "water points" where Afghans could get their drinking water. In addition, the organisation was supporting plans to rehabilitate water systems damaged by the years of war.
But years of drought, and now the return of extra population into rural areas, has increased the problem. UNHCR has found that wells it installed only two years ago need to be deepened.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, an international organisation that monitors agricultural problems, was pessimistic in its latest report on Afghanistan in June. It warned that low precipitation and the early and rapid depletion of snow on the mountains because of unseasonably warm temperatures would create drinking and irrigation water shortages in many parts of the country.
While some northern provinces showed normal conditions, shortages were predicted for many other parts of Afghanistan. Sources of water, such as the mountain streams or the underground karez channels, could dry up earlier in 2004 than they did last year.
At the best of times, water supply in Afghanistan is seasonal. Winter rains fall as snow on the mountains, then melt to provide the irrigation water needed to support crops as the hot, dry summer takes hold.
In the village of Kalota, in Kapisa province north of the Shomali Plain, UNHCR is even funding a cash-for-work project to build barriers along the Panjshir River to prevent a recurrence of the spring flooding that this year destroyed fields and village buildings.
Local villagers wade in the mountain waters - still churning but well down on the raging 350-m³-per-second torrent of May - gathering round stones to fill the 200 metres of wire cages that will line the most vulnerable part of the bank.
But by autumn, the tree-lined water channel that brings river water through the village for household use will run dry. The Panjshir River, the second largest stream in Afghanistan, will have only a quarter of the water seen in the spring. Villages can walk across a stream that even in July would sweep away those venturing too far.
The same seasonal flow is seen in the karez channels, which collect water well below ground level and then carry it - protected from evaporation - to eventually emerge on the surface.
UNHCR has been paying returnees to clear the underground karez channels - blocked not just by soil accumulated in years of neglect but by walls that collapsed when the former Taliban rulers threw in explosives to depopulate the fiercely contested region and to block potential infiltration routes.
In the Shomali Plain, those who descend down the narrow access wells, often 25 metres or more, crawl along the channels filling bags with soil that is winched to the surface. The difficult and occasionally dangerous work earns $5 a day, while those assisting on the surface get $2 - rates below most market wages in Afghanistan but a useful injection of cash into the economy.
In the village of Pahlawan, former refugees are hopeful that their work on a kilometre-long karez will soon mean that the cool, underground water they had known before fleeing the area again flows into their fields. Although they saw some water emerge from the damaged channel a year ago, when winter rains were stronger, a survey before the start of the current UNHCR-funded work agreed the ancient karez technology should survive the drought.
"Of course the drought has affected conditions," Narullah Khan, head of the local group repairing the system, said beside the dry stones where the villagers previously washed their clothes. "But since we saw water in the first wells of the karez, we are sure when this project is completed, there will be enough water to flow here."
By Jack Redden, UNHCR Pakistan
'Disturbing trend' seen in negligent discharges of weapons in Afghanistan
By Jon R. Anderson, Stars and Stripes European edition, Thursday, August 5, 2004
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — In the past 18 months, troops in Afghanistan have accidentally killed themselves or others at least six times and wounded nearly two dozen more troops through unsafe weapons handling, according to Army statistics released to Stars and Stripes.
In what military officials call negligent discharges, last year troops mistakenly fired their weapons 24 times in Afghanistan, injuring 18 and killing four.
So far this year, five troops have been wounded and two more have been killed in 16 accidental discharges.
In the same time frame, 24 troops have died from combat-related injuries in Afghanistan.
The top enlisted solider in Afghanistan called the staccato of accidental firings a “disturbing trend” and took leaders to task recently for failing to enforce basic standards to prevent the mistakes.
“Insufficient training, ineffective supervision, negligence, inattentiveness and outright indiscipline are all contributing factors,” Command Sgt. Maj. Cynthia Pritchett wrote in a recent column for the military’s weekly newsletter in Afghanistan.
Pritchett penned the column after seeing six negligent discharges in her Kabul headquarters over the past two months.
Although no one was injured in any of those accidents, Lance Cpl. Russell White wasn’t so lucky.
Assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, White was the most recent fatality in Afghanistan when a fellow Marine mistakenly shot him in the head with a 9 mm pistol on June 20.
Spc. Jason Perkins knows he — or one his buddies — narrowly escaped becoming the next fatality.
A 22-year-old combat engineer with the Louisiana National Guard, Perkins shot himself in the foot with his M16 rifle July 6 at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.
Perkins’ rifle was on safe, but when his weapon caught on part of his uniform the bolt slammed forward, chambering a round and discharging.
“I feel pretty stupid,” said Perkins, who’s still recovering at Kandahar. “I’m just so glad I shot myself and not someone else.”
Perkins did two things wrong, according to standard safety regulations: He left the bolt pulled back, and he should have paid attention to where the weapon was pointing.
Those are two of many things soldiers, and their leaders, need to pay attention to, wrote Pritchett. “Muzzle control, selector switch operations and fire disciple are critical to weapon safety. Whenever you see a safety violation, correct it. A moment’s inattention can lead to disaster.”
The statistics in Afghanistan do not include suicides and friendly-fire incidents such as the one that left former professional football star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman dead after a firefight in April.
Instead, negligent discharges could more appropriately be dubbed “forgetful fire.”
“Very few of these incidents happen due to a malfunction of the weapon itself; it is almost always due to negligent actions of the operator, or improper or inadequate training and supervision,” said Lt. Col. Susan Meisner, U.S. forces spokeswoman in Afghanistan.
Although Army safety officials prefer the term “accidental discharge,” most leaders use “negligent discharge,” said Meisner, “to drive home the point.”
She said that of the weapons mistakes in Afghanistan, about half have occurred while troops were clearing their weapons into clearing barrels. But during all the mistakes, she said, “proper clearing procedures were not followed.”
Leaders attribute the high rate of negligent discharges in Afghanistan to lack of basic awareness, she said.
“Soldiers aren’t accustomed to carrying loaded weapons, and high turnover in theater requires constant training and reminders,” she said.
Despite the fatalities and injuries, so far no troops in Afghanistan have faced criminal charges, officials said.
Instead, most have been handed letters of reprimand or nonjudicial Article 15 punishments, which include reductions in rank and fines, but do not remain on permanent records.
Although she said that military investigators have not determined “criminally culpable intent for a negligent-homicide charge” in any of the fatalities, White’s death remains under investigation.
Japanese doctors successfully remove bullet from Afghan girl's head
August 4, 2004 Associated Press
Japanese doctors successfully removed a bullet from a 13-year-old Afghan girl's head Wednesday, eight years after she was caught in crossfire in her war-torn homeland.
Fatema Safar was hit by a stray bullet during fighting when she was five years old. The bullet, embedded near the top of her nose, caused her chronic headaches.
Safar was brought to Japan by a Tokyo-based aid group last month for treatment.
Doctors held up the rusty, 3-centimeter (1.2-inch) bullet at a press conference after it was removed during surgery earlier Wednesday at Tokyo's International Medical Center of Japan.
"She should recover smoothly. The type of care she receives in Afghanistan will be important," NTV quoted the lead doctor, Tetsuo Hara, as saying.
Safar, who was accompanied by her mother, Marzia, is expected to stay with a Japanese family until September, according to Aid for War Orphans in Asia, the group that brought her here.
Aid for War Orphans in Asia raised 4 million yen (US$36,000) through donations to pay for Safar's treatment and stay in Japan.
Out of the frying pan into the fire
BBC News / Wednesday, 4 August, 2004
By Zubair Ahmed / BBC Correspondent in Bombay
From Iraq to Afghanistan - a journey few would want to make. But James Mathai, a 44-year-old chef from India's southern state of Kerala, says the chance to make money would take him anywhere.
"Without risk we can't earn much," says Mr Mathai, one of around 50 Indians who are willing to take the risk and re-locate themselves at an American base in Afghanistan.
Many of them say it is far better to work in a war zone than suffer the fate of being unemployed in India.
Most have experience of working in a hostile environment in the Middle East: James Mathai worked there for 12 years.
Until a month ago, he was at work in Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
He left Iraq just a few weeks before three Indian lorry drivers were dramatically taken hostage.
The crisis has convulsed much of India, but for people like Mr Mathai, it is no reason to stay at home.
So now he is off to Afghanistan, is it an adventure akin to being between a rock and hard place?
Mr Mathai says it is all a question of elementary arithmetic.
"If I were to take up a job in India I would get between 10,000 and 15,000 rupees ($200-$300) a month," he says.
"But I earned $1,200 a month plus perks in Iraq and will get a similar amount in my new assignment in Afghanistan.
"What I would make in 10 years in India I would earn in one year abroad."
It is Afghanistan's intense cold that worries him, not its security situation.
"I am aware there are possible dangers in Afghanistan, where the government's control outside Kabul is weak. But I have worked in Iraq, where bombs are exploding every day."
Mr Mathai and other Indians bound for the badlands abroad insist they can keep safe by working in heavily-guarded camps.
He says his now-notorious Iraqi outpost was in fact a haven of security.
"In Abu Ghraib prison, I didn't feel frightened, because it was well guarded by the American soldiers and I mostly stayed indoors," he said.
While the fate of the three Indian hostages in Iraq remains uncertain, a stream of unskilled Indian workers is still bound for Iraq via Jordan and Kuwait.
The Indian government has banned travel to Iraq, but several unregistered recruitment agencies continue to despatch workers there.
ER Khan, president of the Indian Personnel Export Promotion Council, the umbrella body of Indian recruitment agencies, says action will be taken against those violating the ban.
"One has to have a code of ethics. These people know they are recruiting for Iraq, but give the impression they are doing it for Kuwait or some other country. It's really wrong. They are fly-by-night operators," he says.
A Bombay (Mumbai) based recruitment agent, MR Veghese, says the demand for jobs in the Middle East is tremendous.
"We have selected 51 people for Afghanistan - some of them have already gone and some are being interviewed," he says.
Mr Khan spent a week in Iraq last month and heard from Indian embassy officials there that an estimated 6,000 Indians were hard at work on Iraqi reconstruction and catering services.
Only 300 of these were sent through official channels.
Mr Mathai was one of those who arrived in Iraq via Jordan.
"From Jordan I was taken to Baghdad in a car," he said. He worked for an Italian company, which looked after Abu Ghraib's catering needs.
He was the prison camp's main chef, and has vivid memories of the time spent there.
He says he never saw Americans ill-treating the Iraqi prisoners.
On the contrary, he says they were very particular about hygiene and cleanliness in respect of prison catering.
But he did offer an interesting personal insight into what has since become an international scandal involving depraved photographs of American soldiers maltreating Iraqi prisoners.
Little to fear
He says every American had a digital camera, and photography seemed to be one of their main hobbies.
"In May about 5,000 American soldiers were dining when an explosion happened. They all ducked under the table and yet some of them kept taking pictures."
As the Indian hostage crisis shows no sign so far of an end, Mr Mathai insists Indian workers have little to fear in Iraq.
"In my experience, Iraqis were very fond of Indians. They love Indians and Indian movies."
He recalls a case of kidnapping.
"Once seven Indian and Pakistani workers were kidnapped. But they released them the following day after they learned the hostages were Indians."
Polystyrene homes planned for Afghans
BBC Online By Clark Boyd Technology correspondent
Many people in Afghanistan have lost everything, including their own houses, during the country's long decades of war.
Earthquakes in Afghanistan have cost many their homes
Rebuilding usually means putting up the same mud-brick structures used for centuries.
But those homes become death-traps during the frequent earthquakes that hit the area.
Now, some American scientists, engineers and architects think they have a better way to rebuild Afghanistan, using polystyrene.
Leading the project is the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
Affordable, strong homes
The organisation are particularly interested in finding new ways of making homes safer, and more efficient, especially for those across the globe who live in sub-standard housing.
"We got very interested in Afghanistan after seeing some of the devastation from earthquakes over there, and the fact that the US was about to rebuild a lot of housing over there," said Henry Kelly, FAS president.
The materials have been used for homes in the Dominican Republic
"So, we put a team together to see what we could do to focus on that particular market."
The FAS set a challenge for the scientific community - design a house that is affordable, energy efficient, and earthquake-resistant.
That meant finding a cheap, lightweight material that could easily be adapted to the Afghan building style.
They found the answer in Florence, Alabama, in the shape of H H "Hoot" Haddock.
He has spent the last 20 years, and millions of his own dollars, developing a building system that uses polystyrene.
"The polystyrene foam that we use is just like the stuff you drink out of," said Mr Haddock.
Polystyrene foam is a great insulator. It keeps cool things cool, and hot things hot. And it is also resistant to moisture, mould and mildew.
Mr Haddock uses the foam to make insulated building panels, which he says can endure extreme conditions.
"We built our first house in 1984," he said. "It was a 2,000 square foot house in Alaska, where we have the highest wind loads, the most earthquakes, and the heaviest snow loads.
"That house, I stayed in it the last two weeks, with my daughter. It's performing perfectly, no problems with it, and we do have buildings all over the world, pretty much, and it sounds like we may be going to a lot of other places."
The Federation of American Scientists wants to export Mr Haddock's method to Afghanistan.
The group is now conducting tests, including an earthquake simulation, to ensure that the foam housing is as safe as Mr Haddock says it is.
Rachel Jagoda, the Federation's Project Manager for Housing Technology, says one of the advantages to the Haddock idea is that polystyrene products are made all over the world.
"There's not somewhere in Afghanistan at the moment manufacturing them, simply because they've had such trouble with economic development since the 70s frankly," she said.
"But you can get them over in Pakistan."
In Afghanistan, the foam would be wrapped in a low-tech layer of chicken wire, then covered in a thin layer of concrete.
Living in polystyrene
The Federation of American Scientists contends that the foam houses are easy to put up.
It has asked architect Harry van Burick, of the US-based group Shelter for Life International, to design a two-room starter home for Afghans, using the foam panel system.
The organisation has been building houses in Afghanistan for 25 years and Mr van Burick can see the potential of the technology, though he admits selling the idea will take some work.
"That is the challenge," he said, "people have to accept it, that it's absolutely safe to live in a Styrofoam house, safer than in an adobe house.
"Let them feel it. Let them dance on it. Let them see that it is strong."
The project faces another challenge - the ongoing violence in Afghanistan which has disrupted the work of many non-governmental organisations.
The group Doctors without Borders pulled out of the country earlier this week.
Because of the unsettled situation in Afghanistan, the FAS is reluctant to set a specific start date for its project.
But the group hopes to build its first foam house in Kabul by the end of this year.
Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production
Forces that would rip Afghanistan apart
By Dr Michael A Weinstein The Asia Times
What is the other transition - the one in Afghanistan, not Iraq - going to look like, if it occurs at all?
Experts are in agreement that the transition is in trouble. Throughout its history as a field of conflict between contending empires and great powers, Afghanistan has developed a formula for survival that has helped it to keep its territorial integrity and indigenous authority system, despite its dizzying ethnic diversity and the external pressures that have been exerted on it. That formula - a weak central government allowing comprehensive power to local and regional leaders - is always vulnerable to civil war, which has been a staple of Afghan existence and threatens to break out again.
The troubles in Afghanistan and the uncertainty of its transition are rooted in the possibility that the bargains and compromises necessary for restoring the country's political paradigm will not be made or will not be strong enough to prevent relapse into civil war, or at best a failed decentralized state, with the national government only fully controlling the capital Kabul, as is currently close to the case.
Afghan social organization
Afghanistan's history of invasions that kept compounding ethnic diversity precluded the country from achieving integrity through a strong centralized government. Instead, the sense of belonging together was achieved by a complex system of nested loyalties rooted in localities. The unit of Afghan social organization is the qaum, a network of affiliations that is most intense in the family, in which are nested wider loyalties to tribe, clan, occupation, ethnic group, region and finally to the continued existence of the country itself, but not necessarily to the current regime. Qaums function to provide their members with mutual aid and to protect them from outside groups. The degree of support and protection is greatest at the local level and becomes more attenuated in broader contexts, in which boundaries between qaums shift in response of changing balances of power.
Qaums are societies within a society. They have allowed Afghanistan to survive over centuries, through a common interest in local autonomy, against external threats. Their strength - fierce defense of local control - is also their weakness: each qaum is suspicious of the others, and when they cannot agree, they are prone to take up arms. The widest qaum - the state, which in the Western model has no structural competitor - is for Afghans a more or less useful facility for other qaums, not an object of loyalty or devotion. Afghan nationalism is social, not political.
Since World War II, attempts to submit Afghan society to centralized rule have been calamities, due to internal resistance and external intervention. The communist regime, which seized power in 1978 and attempted to impose land reform and secularization, was met with militant opposition, which brought the Soviet Union into the conflict, leading to a civil war and war of liberation, under the banner of Islam. The opposition forces were aided and abetted by the United States, and were able to overthrow the communists in 1992, three years after the Soviets had withdrawn their troops. Having won the war, the coalition of mujahideen fell apart into the traditional qaum pattern, in which authority was now firmly in the hands of warlords, who continued the civil war among themselves.
Concerned about its neighbor's instability, Pakistan supported a movement of Afghan refugee religious students, which became the Taliban militia. The Taliban promised to end the civil war and unite Afghanistan around an Islamist state. The Taliban's victory in 1996 ushered in a period of religious fascism that provided relative security at the cost of state terrorism, but did not break the qaum system. When the United States removed the Taliban militarily, because the regime had provided a haven for al-Qaeda before September 11, 2001, the familiar pattern reasserted itself, with civil war prevented only by the presence of multinational forces.
Afghanistan's recent civil wars have left it with a hyper-militarized form of its social paradigm. At present, a weak transitional government in Kabul led by Hamid Karzai is protected by foreign troops and does not exert effective control over the rest of the country, which is divided among local and regional warlords with primary affiliations to clans and particular ethnic groups. Taliban persecutions and the resentments sparked by civil war have sharpened ethnic divides, lessening the will to compromise.
The Taliban have regrouped as guerrilla forces determined to impede the formation of a stable Afghan government. The primary condition for centralized state control - the disbanding of local and regional militias - has not been realized: Approximately 40,000-50,000 fighters are still under the control of the warlords, dwarfing the fledgling Afghan army.
Prospects for transition
Given the deep-rootedness of the qaum system and the military power of local strong men, it cannot be expected that Afghanistan will achieve a Western-style market democracy. The most that can be hoped for by Western powers is some form of bargain among the contending groups to share power through granting one another autonomy. Any greater centralization is unlikely because the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) powers are unwilling to expend the resources even to attempt to achieve it.
Afghanistan is a poor agricultural country without strategic resources. The NATO powers, led by the US, need to keep it from once again becoming a base for Islamic revolution, but their vital interests extend no further than that. They would be unwilling even to lend sufficient support for a Middle Eastern style one-party crony dictatorship to take hold. Indeed, Afghanistan has the lowest international troop-to-population ratio of recent interventions (1:1,115, as compared with 1:161 in Iraq).
The NATO powers are banking on the election of Karzai to Afghanistan's presidency on October 9. A member of Afghanistan's Pashtun plurality, Karzai is beholden to the occupying forces and follows pro-Western foreign policies.
It is still not certain that the election will be held, given efforts to sabotage it by the Taliban and warlords who are threatened with loss of their power. Although 70% of eligible voters have been registered, the figure is only 10%-15% in predominantly Pashtun areas where the Taliban resistance is active. Where registration has been successful, voters are likely to follow the leads of local strong men, many of whom have been suppressing political opposition.
Whether or not elections are held on October 9, the question will remain whether the various forces in Afghan society can reach a pact with each other to prevent civil war.
Recent developments in the run-up to the election show fissures emerging between political leaders from different ethnic groups, raising the probability that a successful bargain will not be made. On July 22, Uzbek strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum resigned from the transitional government and announced his candidacy for president. Five days later, Yonus Qanooni, a Tajik who had been shifted from the important post of interior minister to education minister in an effort to satisfy Pashtun interests, declared his candidacy. At the same time, the first vice president of the transitional government and its defense minister, Mohammed Fahim - a Tajik backer of Qanooni - was dropped from Karzai's electoral ticket.
In Afghanistan's ethnic demography, the Pashtuns constitute approximately 40% of the population, the Tajiks about 20%, the Hazaras another 20%, the Uzbeks 5% and an array of other ethnic groups the remainder. Politically the groups are not unified and their factions cross ethnic lines, depending on local issues. Nevertheless, Dostum's and Qanooni's candidacies pose the possibility that Karzai will not receive a majority in the first round of voting and will have to face a run off with the second-place candidate. Karzai's position is strengthened by his retention of Abdul Karim Khalili, a Hazara, as second deputy president, but the Hazaras also have their own presidential candidate in Mohammed Mohaqiq. A coalition of convenience of Qanooni, Dostum and Mohaqiq could pose a strong challenge to Karzai if he does not win a majority in the first electoral round.
If the presidential election is held successfully and Karzai wins a clear majority, his hand will be strengthened for making the deals with warlords across ethnic lines that will open the possibility for Afghanistan to regain its traditional political pattern of a weak central power presiding over strong local power centers that are satisfied with their degrees of autonomy and their shares of resources and offices. If he loses the first round with a plurality and wins a run off, he will be in a weaker position and divisive tendencies will assert themselves. If Karzai loses a runoff, especially to a non-Pashtun, stabilization will be difficult to achieve and renewed civil war will loom as a possibility, requiring long-term commitment of foreign military forces if the NATO powers choose to try to prevent that outcome.
Whatever the election's result, certain conditions will persist in Afghanistan that have international ramifications. The country is likely to remain a major provider of heroin, a destabilizing influence on Pakistan, a field for the eastward expansion of Iran's influence and, if decentralization goes too far, a staging base for Islamic revolutionaries once again. Those conditions will be alleviated by a successful political agreement, but they will not be eliminated. In the absence of massive economic and military aid from the industrial powers, which is unlikely to come, Afghanistan will remain on the brink of becoming a failed state or will become one yet another time.
Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is not threatened with secession or breakup. It is not an expression of modern Western colonialism, but an exceedingly complex society that has been subject to imperialism throughout its history and has kept its integrity through the delicate balances and overlapping affiliations of the qaum system. With no real external support for modernization from the outside, that system is reasserting itself as the blessing and the curse that it has always been.
Afghanistan functions most successfully when the decentralized forces that compose its society trust one another sufficiently to compromise over common concerns and let the rest devolve to localities. The country's political system breaks down into civil war when that trust is lacking, unleashing cycles of defensive aggression. Recent civil wars have eroded trust and left authority over the qaums in the hands of warlords, who have gained in influence over other traditional authorities, especially elders and clerics.
The most likely future for Afghanistan is severe instability that Western powers, expending limited resources, will attempt to contain, but will not be able to resolve.
Germany to send another 60 soldiers to Afghanistan
BERLIN, Aug. 4 (Xinhuanet) -- Germany will send 60 more soldiers to Afghanistan to help ensure the security of the country's upcoming general elections, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Wednesday.
The peacekeeping contingent is to be stationed in the Feisabad district in northeast Afghanistan in September for a limited period, the spokesman said in Berlin.
In addition, another 80 German soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) will also be deployed in Feisabad in mid-August, the spokesman added.
"We participate in the task of securing the election," the spokesman said.
A pioneer team of 20 German soldiers has been in Feisabad to prepare for the arrival of the total 140 German troops.
As one of the leading nations in rebuilding post-conflict Afghanistan, Germany has deployed some 300 personnel in PRT frame in northern Kunduz.
In June, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decided to expand its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan for the general elections on October 9
Al Qaeda's impudent threat
Dawn editorial 8/3/04
Al Qaeda has now become a greater threat to this country than most would like to believe. The admission by Al Qaeda's Egyptian branch that it was behind the attempt on Mr Shaukat Aziz's life gives out a message loud and clear that it is at war with Pakistan.
It goes without saying that, from Al Qaeda's point view, Pakistan is following a pro-US policy whose object is the decimation of the Osama bin Laden network. However, it does not even occur to Al Qaeda that Pakistan has reason of its own for pursuing a certain policy line in dealing with terrorism.
No country can afford to follow a foreign policy dictated by others - be it aid-givers or groups like Al Qaeda. That Islamabad committed blunder after blunder and often followed a policy that was crafted by intelligence agencies rather than by the foreign office goes without saying.
The pampering of the Taliban, followed by a U-turn in 2001, is just one example of it. This has led to a deep division within the nation itself.
Al Qaeda is not alone in this. It could have counted on the support of those elements in Pakistan who are themselves opposed to Islamabad's foreign policy. In fact, there is no dearth of radical Islamist elements who would like to see Pakistan take another U-turn, whatever the consequences.
But instead, Al Qaeda has chosen to resort to terrorism to compel Pakistan to change the orientation of its foreign policy. This is not going to happen. Indeed, its campaign of terror in Pakistan is proving counterproductive, for those killed in its attacks are innocent civilians.
Those who lost their lives in Fatehjang on Friday, in the two attempts on President Pervez Musharraf's life, and in the attack on the Karachi corps commander's convoy were innocent Pakistanis, or minor security officials facts which are unlikely to endear Al Qaeda to any significant section of Pakistanis. Finally, the Al Qaeda leadership must ask itself whose cause it is serving by trying to destabilize the Muslim world's only nuclear power.
US Getting Info on Terror from Pak: Rice
WASHINGTON, AUGUST 3 (PTI) - The United States has thanked Pakistan for providing the information which formed the basis of the "extraordinary" terror alert issued by its Department for Homeland Security.
"With good allies in places like Pakistan, we are getting information that is more detailed and more specific than we had before" about terrorists' plans and "that allows us to better defend ourselves," US President George W Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said today.
The information stemmed from documents discovered by Pakistan and US forces when they arrested key Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan's Gujrat city last week.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian under indictment in New York for the 1998 embassy blasts that killed 224 people, and another unidentified operative nabbed following a 12-hour shootout after a CIA tip-off, had apparently carried with them detailed information about potential targets in Manhattan, New York and Washington.
Denying that the timing of the latest alert had anything to do with the US presidential election, Rice told NBC-TV that the warnings about possible terrorist attacks on financial centres in New York, New Jerey and Washington were on the basis of "specific information" that became available over the last several days. She emphasised that it was entirely possible that there could be additional targets in the terrorists' list.
Afghanistan offers a glimmer of hope for US foreign policy
By Richard Halloran Tuesday, Aug 03, 2004,Page 9 Taipei Times
In contrast to the quagmire into which Iraq appears to be sliding, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for success in Afghanistan, where US and other foreign forces continue to operate largely out of the public eye back home.
Perhaps most telling, several million Afghans have voted with their feet and returned home from refugee camps in Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia. Voter registration for a presidential election in October proceeds in a country where deciding by vote is not culturally ingrained. The fledgling Afghan National Army shows sparks of being willing to stand and fight.
Provincial reconstruction teams of American and other foreign engineering, medical and civil affairs specialists are working with Afghans to get the economy restarted.
Ground was broken last week on Afghanistan's first industrial park in which the initial tenant will be a Coca-Cola bottling plant. (If that symbol of modern life is not an encouraging sign, what is?) US troops are continuing to bear down on Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists.
After Marines swept though what had been a Taliban stronghold, the ground commander in Afghanistan, Army Major General Eric Olson, told them: "`Never again can they use that place as a sanctuary."
On the down side, Taliban extremists remain violent and are seeking to disrupt the coming election. Al-Qaeda terrorists led by Osama bin Laden, who is still at large, are struggling to take advantage of the turbulence caused by the Taliban. Warlords and militias remain an even more serious threat to the emerging central government.
And the most productive trade in the economy is the growing of opium. A bumper crop is expected this year and its heroin derivative has already started flooding markets in the West.
In sum, says a US military officer who has recently returned from Afghanistan: "It's a tenuous balance."
The destruction of war has been part of Afghan life since the Third Century BC when Alexander the Great marched into Afghanistan. The Afghans have fought Huns, Persians, Mongols, Russians and the British. The Afghans finally drove the British out in 1921.
The Russians invaded again in 1979 to fight a 10-year war in which they lost more than 40,000 soldiers. The human and financial costs of that conflict contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
When they were not resisting foreign invaders, Afghans quar-reled among themselves; the last time they had anything resembling a unified country was early in the 19th century. Recently, the Taliban's emergence has been the foremost cause of disorder.
Between the war with the Russians and the brutality of the Taliban, more than 5 million Afghans fled. Since US forces routed the Taliban in late 2001, some 2 million have returned from Pakistan and 900,000 from Iran.
Another 500,000 displaced persons in Afghanistan itself have gone home. About 1.6 million refugees are still in Pakistan and 800,000 in Iran.
Of the estimated 9.5 million eligible voters in Afghanistan, the UN says that 80 percent have registered so far. Of those, 40 percent are women, whom the Taliban fanatics forbade to work or go to school. The 2.3 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran will also be eligible to vote.
The incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, and a powerful warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, are the most prominent contenders in a field of 23 candidates. If neither gets 50 percent of the votes on Oct. 9, a runoff will follow. Whether this experiment in governance will succeed remains to be seen.
Although Karzai has begun to rein in the warlords, he says their armies are more of a threat to Afghanistan's future than the Taliban. "The frustration that we have in this country is that progress has sometimes been stopped by private militias, life has been threatened by private militias, so it should not be tolerated," he told The New York Times.
A faint sign of Afghan recovery: There is talk of rebuilding the two massive Buddhist statues carved out of a mountainside 17 centuries ago, long before Islam came to Afghanistan, but dynamited by the Taliban three years ago.
The governor of Bamiyan province, Mohammed Rahim Ali Yar, was quoted in the South Asian Media Net: "The Buddhas were a kind of symbol of our history and culture, something that introduced us to the world. We are less without them."
Richard Halloran is a writer based in Honolulu.
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