Afghanistan faces spiralling violence as presidential polls near
Monday August 9, 10:29 AM AFP
With Afghanistan's first democratic elections just weeks away, Afghan forces and American troops are battling to quell a rising wave of attacks in the south part of the country and disarm wayward military commanders.
The past week saw a string of bloody attacks on aid workers, election staff and US soldiers as well as battles between US-led troops and Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan and factional fighting between warlords in the west.
Presidential elections are set for October 9 and more than nine million Afghans have registered to vote, but worsening security will be a tremendous battle for US-led troops, Afghan government forces and international peacekeepers.
"We have armed groups, terrorists and criminals who have vocally and repeatedly said they want to derail the political process," said Commander Chris Henderson, spokesman for the 7,000 strong NATO-led force.
Militants are become increasingly daring as the elections draw near, stepping up their attacks on soft targets as well as engaging in battles with US-led coalition forces who number 20,000.
Two American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter died and another US soldier was injured when their vehicle hit an explosive device Saturday in the southeastern province of Ghazni, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of Kabul.
That attack followed the killing of two electoral workers when their four-vehicle convoy came under attack in neighbouring Uruzgan province Friday where they were trying to register voters.
All the police and electoral commission vehicles were destroyed in the attack leaving one person still missing and bringing to 12 the total number of election workers killed since May.
Both provinces are strongholds for loyalists of the Taliban militia, which was toppled from power in 2001 but has been putting up resistance, waging a guerrilla war in the south and southeast of Afghanistan.
Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants fought a day-long battle with US-led coalition forces and Afghan government troops in Khost province near the border with Pakistan last Monday and Tuesday.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the October 9 election through violence but are increasingly aiming their fire at unarmed aid workers and other soft targets.
On Tuesday, two Afghan staff with German aid agency Malteser were gunned down in southeastern Paktia province prompting the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to freeze all their movements across the south and southeast.
"The security situation has deteriorated in recent months and things are only set to get worse," said Nick Downey, security coordinator with the Afghanistan NGO Security Office in Kabul.
Over 30 aid workers have been killed in the last 18 months, prompting Nobel-prize-winning aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres to pull out after operating in Afghanistan through two decades of war.
Security has deteriorated so badly that a US military spokesman suggested Saturday that aid workers consider travelling with armed escorts in some of the most strife-hit parts of the country.
Afghanistan remains awash with arms and disarming private militias has proceeded at a snail's pace with only 12,000 of an estimated around 60,000 gunmen laying down their weapons.
An internationally-backed disarmament process had aimed to see 60 percent of the militia disarmed in time for polls.
However, disarmament was put on ice in the western province of Ghor after militiamen fired on a disarmament convoy injuring three US soldiers last month.
Factional fighting broke out between forces of two powerful warlords in the neighbouring western province of Herat Saturday in which three were killed.
Despite the violence, elections are expected to go ahead although UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said ensuring the safety of voters at around 5,000 polling stations nationwide would be a challenge.
"Afghans are telling us... we have concerns over security but we want to see elections take place," he said.
Aid workers in Afghanistan slam US call to bring armed guards into field
by Rachel Morarjee
KABUL, Aug 8 (AFP) - Aid organizations in Afghanistan Sunday angrily dismissed a US military suggestion that armed escorts would prevent escalating attacks on humanitarian workers, saying the presence of guns would do little to deter militants and could provoke more violence.
Taliban insurgents and other militants have stepped up their attacks on aid and electoral workers and civilians, as well as US and Afghan troops, in a bid to derail the country's first presidential elections October 9.
Nick Downey, who oversees security for aid organisations, called the suggestion "condescending" and said it reflected a poor grip of the security situation on the ground.
"Certainly coalition forces cannot suggest that armour and arms prevents or protects (against) attacks -- it is clearly evident that guns have not prevented deaths, and that high profile measures have invited attacks," said Downey, who heads the Afghanistan NGO Security Office in Kabul.
The US call came four days after two Afghan staff with the German charity Malteser were gunned down in southern Afghanistan's Paktia province in the latest of a string of attacks which have seen over 30 aid workers killed in the a last 18 months.
US-led coalition spokesman Major Scott Nelson said Saturday that it was impossible to prevent increasing attempts by the Taliban and other militants to target aid workers in the field and called on them to provide their own security.
"I don't know what they can really do other than think about providing some sort of security for themselves. I know that is a difficult task and some would say that's against (the aid organizations') mission," he said.
Aid workers here dismissed the suggestion that armed escorts would make them safer, pointing to the latest attack on an armed convoy of electoral workers Friday in southcentral Uruzgan province which killed two and left one person missing.
Since May 12 electoral workers have been killed and 33 injured.
The aid community has argued for months that the establishment of civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) around the country has blurred the lines between humanitarian work and military operations and has put aid workers in the line of fire.
The military "driving non-governmental organisation (NG0) vehicles and doing NGO type work in areas where NGOs are operating has certainly made our life more difficult because it confuses people," said Paul Barker with the US charity CARE International.
Barker said armed protection was no guarantee of security and was likely to be counter-productive.
"I hope we don't get to the sort of situation like in Somalia where you do end up bringing in armed guards because it become a racket and nothing gets sorted out," he said.
Anja Debeer, executive coordinator of the Afghan aid umbrella body ACBAR, said using armed escorts to deliver emergency relief had been done in Somalia but was impossible for the kind of work ongoing in Afghanistan.
"We are working on community building projects and how do you do that with armed guards?" she asked.
Aid agencies said they are alarmed by the marked deterioration in the security situation in recent months and many be forced to curtail their operations in some provinces to ensure their safety.
The German aid agency Malteser has frozen its operations across the country after the killing of its two staff while many other organisations have mothballed programs in the Taliban strongholds of south and southeastern Afghanistan.
Others rolled back their presence in western Afghanistan, which had previously been considered safe before five Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) staff were shot dead in Badghis province on June 2.
The Nobel-prize-winning medical relief agency, known in English as Doctors Without Borders, announced last month it would quit Afghanistan after 24 years and accused the government of failing to lock up the murderers of its staff.
MSF also blamed the military for using aid to further its political aims and creating a context where providing humanitarian help was no longer seen as a neutral act, saying the operating environment in Afghanistan had become impossible.
Afghanistan's former king gets his voter's card
Monday August 9, 1:16 AM AFP
The former king of Afghanistan was given his voting card by an electoral registration team who visited him at his palace in Kabul.
Wearing western dress but sporting the traditional Astrakan hat, ousted ruler Mohammed Zahir Shah proclaimed his support for parliamentary democracy, a member of the electoral team said.
His two daughters Mariam Naim and Belquis Wali also signed the register, and had their photographs taken for the cards. The electoral team which registered them was all-female, as is usual in Afghanistan.
Zahir Shah, who was overthrown in 1973 by his cousin Mohammad Daoud, returned home from exile in Italy in 2002 and has carried the strictly honorary title "Father of the Nation" ever since.
The United Nations said on August 3 that 9.1 million of an estimated eligible 9.8 million voters had already registered for the October 9 presidential election and for parliamentary polls in April 2005.
Nearly 41.4 percent of these voters are women.
Ex-King Optimistic for Afghanistan Despite Violence
Sun Aug 8,10:24 AM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's former king Mohammad Zahir Shah said Sunday that democratic reforms were taking the war-ravaged nation in the right direction despite escalating violence in the run-up to presidential elections.
The former king, now called "Father of the Nation" by President Hamid Karzai, knows not to take anything for granted in turbulent post-Taliban Afghanistan and two months ahead of the presidential polls.
"I am not a fortune-teller," Zahir Shah told Reuters. "But I am optimistic."
Around a thousand people have been killed in the past year as Taliban remnants stepped up a guerrilla war against the U.S.-led occupation forces and Kabul's new Afghan National Army, which has forced the election to be postponed from June.
Zahir Shah ruled Afghanistan for nearly four decades before he was ousted in a bloodless coup in 1973.
After more than 30 years in exile, the 89-year-old now lives in an old mansion in the presidential palace grounds, evoking nostalgia among some people who remember the monarchy's success in managing tensions in this ethnically diverse nation.
The elderly king is seen as a symbol of national unity in a country which has endured 23 years of strife and foreign occupation. But he has ignored calls to run for president.
Zahir Shah has not disclosed who he will support in the October election. But he backed Karzai more than two years ago in the rush to cobble together a government in the aftermath of a war in which U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban.
Both Zahir Shah and Karzai belong to the ethnic Pashtun group, the traditional rulers of Afghanistan.
Karzai's rivals accuse the current president of surrounding himself with men of violence, including some linked to the Taliban - something Karzai denies.
Some of the other 22 candidates seeking to stand for the office also object to Washington's support for Karzai, saying it casts doubt over a democratic process that the Taliban has already labeled a sham.
When asked about his thoughts as to how free and democratic the elections will be, Zahir Shah said: "You will see."
UN concerned about security in Afghan election
KABUL, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations is concerned over the security situation in Afghanistan as the post-Taliban nation is approaching the first-ever presidential election, the spokesman of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Sunday.
"We have been saying that security is a major area of concern. From the beginning we say that," Manoel de Almeida e Silva told journalists here.
His comments came amid increasing insurgency and Taliban's threat to disrupt the forthcoming elections by any possible means.
"It has been a concern during the registration period. We just had two colleagues killed on Friday, bringing the number of people working with electoral secretariat to 12 that includes 10 Afghans and two expatriates," the spokesman added.
The fugitive leader of the ousted Taliban regime, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who terms the election as a drama to "legitimize the US occupation of Afghanistan," has vowed to derail any political or rebuilding activities run under US clout in the war-battered country.
"Providing security for voters' registration sites is certainly much easier than providing security on the day of voting," the spokesman noted.
However, he said he was hopeful about the security arrangements for the election, saying, "There is a very close coordination of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense with the ISAF and the US-led coalition and they are designing the plan for security for the day of voting."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has announced it will increase its strength of these two battalions by 10,000 in Afghanistan, which will be deployed ahead of election to help ensure security for the landmark day.
Over 9 million out of some 9.5 million eligible Afghans have registered to vote for the election slated for Oct. 9, which has 23 candidates including the incumbent president Hamid Karzai.
AFGHANISTAN’S LONE FEMALE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DEPENDS ON SUPPORTERS FOR STRENGTH
Laura Winter: 8/08/04 A EurasiaNet Partner Post from RFE/RL
She’s back again. And for some here in Kabul, Masuda Jalal just doesn’t seem to know when to give up.
She failed to gain the presidency two years ago at the Emergency Loya Jirga. And now she is challenging Karzai again in the country’s first direct presidential elections, in early October.
For many, this 41-year-old mother of three is the only presidential candidate that represents the hope of real change in this male-dominated country.
Not surprisingly, her candidacy has earned her admiration and support from other women. But what makes Jalal more than just another feminist leader is the fact that she appeals to many men as well.
Hesrau Nazari traveled 11 hours from Tahar Province over the Hindu Kush mountains to volunteer for her campaign.
But isn’t it strange for an Afghan man to help a woman’s political campaign?
"Well, no. Because men were always at the head of government," Nazari said. "And instead of serving society, they created divisions among the ethnic and religious groups. To have a woman as the head of the government is to have a mother to look after society. And a mother never creates prejudice. And it will be an honor to have a woman candidate and to vote for her."
Jalal’s foray into politics started two years ago when she represented her Kabul neighborhood district as a delegate to the Emergency Loya Jirga. In that historic meeting, she ran in the race for president of the interim administration. People snickered.
Karzai won with 1,295 delegates supporting him in the poll. But Jalal earned significant respect when she placed second with 171 votes.
People aren’t laughing at her any more. And Jalal says her supporters have not given up: "So after the Emergency Loya Jirga, hundreds of people from different strata, different classes, different provinces, different directions, different tribes, different ethnicities started coming to my house and saying ’Go on. Take part in the forthcoming election ... We will be voting for you.’ I told them I have no political party, I have no money, I have no military power."
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has warned the international community that armed warlords pose a risk to the validity of the October election.
Many warlords are reported to be controlling votes from their regions to gain favor with the two top candidates: Karzai and Mohammad Yunos Qanuni.
Qanuni has said he has the support of Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, who in addition to being chief of the Afghan National Army, also leads the nation’s largest private militia.
But Jalal’s candidacy has proved surprising -- and even worrisome -- to the competition. Jalal said the Afghan Supreme Court’s Religious Order Department has twice been asked to declare her candidacy as un-Islamic and illegal. She said she has received death threats as well.
But in spite of threats and a lack of resources, Jalal said she could not ignore her supporters’ calls to join the campaign. So she set out the rules: only a grassroots campaign will work: "They were requesting me to take part again. I promised them [I would,] provided they provided me with support. With votes. And they take part in the campaign. People. Because I don’t have the tools. I don’t have the campaigning tools: radio, TV, press. I don’t have money."
Jalal’s campaign posters have started showing up on walls around the capital. And local television has followed her campaign, broadcasting news about her submitting her application to run and declaring herself a presidential candidate.
Perhaps her best campaigning tool is her husband, 45-year-old Faizullah Jalal. The Jalals have been married for 10 years and now have three young children, all under the age of 10.
Faizullah said at first, he was not supportive of his wife’s efforts: "I was telling her, ’You do not have any political party. You don’t have any money. You don’t have any military forces. And in the end your candidacy will have no result.’ At the beginning I did not agree. She had a lot of reasons and she was arguing and explaining. Even I told her at that time, ’It is a crazy thing that you are doing.’ And she told me, ’I am going to take my candidacy seriously.’"
Now the presidential candidate depends on her husband to help serve tea to guests and organize her supporters. He has also taken on more responsibility in running their household: "I think my cooperation has increased with her. If she cooks, I take care of the children. If she takes care of the children, I cook. It’s very natural and it is not tiring."
Without much money, or military power, Jalal will likely need all the help around the house -- and around the country -- she can get.
Afghanistan: As Election Campaign Gets Rolling, Some Already Alleging Fraud
By Laura Winter
With just a few days to go before Afghan officials announce a final list of candidates for presidential elections in October, some in the capital Kabul are alleging registration fraud. The controversy surrounds a registration requirement that each candidate submit photocopies of 10,000 voter-registration cards to prove he or she has sufficient public support. Now there's concern that government employees are being told whom to give their copies to -- and that some copies are being shared between the candidates.
Kabul, 6 August 2004 (RFE/RL) - Sometime next week (eds: probably Tuesday Aug 10), Afghanistan's more than nine million voters will learn the names of the candidates contesting the October 9 presidential election.
Some candidates are already well known -- like current Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai -- but the official list has not yet been finalized.
The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) says some 22 people, including one woman, have applied for permission to campaign for the nation's top job. But even before active campaigning begins, some are questioning how the registration process has been carried out.
Marzia -- not her real name -- is a teacher in Kabul. She told RFE/RL that she's afraid of losing her job because she supports a candidate other than one backed by her employer, the Education Ministry. "[The officials at the ministry] didn't find out about us. If they found out about us we would have been punished," she said. "The other [teachers] were also told at a meeting at the Education Ministry not to give photocopies to anyone [other than the candidate the ministry is supporting]. We were warned that if we do we would be punished." The stories of fraud are starting to breed some cynicism among the electorate -- ahead of a vote considered crucial to the country's democratic future.
Such allegations are difficult to prove. But at the JEMB office inside a United Nations compound, officials say they are concerned Marzia may not be alone. "We cannot do anything but we [are only] saying for the government official -- to those who are working for the government -- to keep themselves away from this kind of thing. It is the right of everybody to vote for their own candidate this year," Sadeq Mudaber, the JEMB's co-director of operations, told RFE/RL.
In these last few days before the final list is announced, election officials are examining the candidates' applications to make sure they meet the basic qualifications. The law requires each candidate to pay around $1,000 into a bank account set up to help pay for the election. They must also not have committed any crimes against humanity during the many years of unrest and war.
One of the most important requirements is for the 10,000 photocopies of voter-registration cards to prove a candidate has sufficient support to put him or her on the ballot. It's not clear yet whether all of the candidates can meet this last requirement. And there are some concerns that candidates who could not collect enough photocopies may have obtained extra ones illegally.
While this type of possible abuse is difficult to prove, one presidential candidate from the Panjshir Valley was brazen in explaining what he did with some of the extra photocopies he gathered in support of his bid. Abdul Hafiz Mansur, a 40-year-old newspaper editor, said he turned in more than 10,000 photocopies, and had another use for the thousands more he did not need.
"We gave some of the extra ones to the [election] commission, just in case they say one is not correct. And we brought some back with us. We also gave some to other candidates, who were short of cards. I don't want to name them," Mansur said.
The stories are starting to breed some cynicism among the electorate -- ahead of a vote considered crucial to the country's democratic future.
Latif Pedram is a 42-year-old spokesman for the Afghan National Congress, a loose affiliation of political parties that oppose Karzai and his government. They are fielding their own presidential candidate.
Pedram said he is not surprised about the misuse of the photocopies, and said, in fact, he believes the whole process is crooked. By way of a joke, he compared it to a camel: "Well, this election has been against the law from the beginning. Somebody asked the camel, 'Why isn't your neck straight?' The camel replied, 'Which part of my body is straight?' It will be illegal to the end."
Taliban claim responsibility for bomb attack in Afghanistan
(Kyodo News - Japan) Sunday, August 8, 2004
ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan's Taliban militia claimed responsibility Sunday for a roadside explosion in southwestern Afghanistan that killed two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter, Afghan Islamic Press reported.
The Pakistan-based news agency quoted Taliban spokesman Mufti Latif ullah Hakeemi as saying that a U.S. military vehicle was blown up Saturday by a land mine in Gilan district of Ghazni Province, about 250 kilometers southwest of the capital Kabul, but gave no further details.
Detainee Says He Was Abused in Afghanistan
Sun Aug 8,11:29 AM ET By IAN JAMES, Associated Press Writer
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - A Tunisian detainee testified Saturday before a U.S. military review hearing that he was abused while in captivity in Afghanistan before being brought to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, a military official said.
The 35-year-old Tunisian told the review panel he was held in the dark and without sufficient drinking water for more than two months in Afghanistan, said a military officer who served as the tribunal recorder and whose identity was barred from being disclosed.
Military officials said the detainee was captured by the Northern Alliance before being turned over to U.S. troops. The man didn't specify which force was holding him at the time of the alleged mistreatment, but he told the panel the experience led him to falsely confess to training with militants, the tribunal official said.
The Tunisian told the panel he made the false confessions due to the "mistreatment he had received in Afghanistan, or as he phrased it, torture," the officer said.
As recently as March 2003, he allegedly told interrogators he had received paramilitary training. But on Saturday he denied having received the training, saying "he's been treated well" during two and a half years at Guantanamo and "felt there wasn't going to be any retribution" if he told the truth, the officer said.
It wasn't possible to independently confirm the detainee's words because a group of journalists ended a five-day visit and left the naval base Saturday.
Military officials said they believe the Tunisian trained at the Khalden camp in Afghanistan, where he learned to use a rifle and anti-aircraft and artillery guns.
During another hearing Saturday, a 24-year-old Saudi testified he had been a front-line fighter in Afghanistan, said Lt. Chris Servello, a spokesman. The military said the Saudi was a Taliban member who drove a rocket-mounted truck in combat, carried a rifle on the front line for three days and was captured in Mazar-e-Sharif while trying to flee to Pakistan.
Thirteen hearings have been held since the military convened tribunals July 30 to re-examine the cases of hundreds of prisoners accused of ties to the Taliban militia or al-Qaida. Six detainees have refused to appear.
The military is barring reporters from releasing names of detainees or tribunal members. Each hearing has had a closed portion to discuss information deemed classified. Journalists are to observe more upcoming hearings.
Human rights groups call the process unfair because detainees aren't allowed lawyers, and they argue the three officers on each tribunal can't be considered impartial.
The military says panel members are neutral. It set up the Combatant Status Review Tribunals after a Supreme Court ruling in June that prisoners have a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. The process is to determine whether about 585 detainees are properly held as "enemy combatants" or should be freed.
The review tribunals are separate from military commissions that are to try an initial group of four detainees on war crimes conspiracy and other charges. Pretrial hearings are planned later this month.
6 G.I.'s Wounded in Afghan Attacks
By CARLOTTA GALL August 8, 2004 The New York Times
ABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 7 _ - Two American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed on Saturday when the vehicle in which they were traveling in hit an "improvised explosive device" in southern Afghanistan, a statement issued by the American military said, according to Reuters.
A third soldier was wounded in the blast in Ghazni province, around 160 miles southwest of Kabul, the statement said.
Six American soldiers were wounded Friday in two attacks by suspected Taliban insurgents in Zabul Province, in the south, the American military announced Saturday.
In Uruzgan Province, a four-vehicle convoy of election workers on a mission to register voters was ambushed by suspected Taliban fighters on Friday, and two workers were killed, according to Afghan officials quoted by The Associated Press.
The provincial governor, Jan Muhammad Khan, said all four of the vehicles were destroyed when at least 30 militants opened fire with assault rifles and machine guns. Guards in the convoy shot back, forcing the attackers to retreat, and one guerrilla was captured, Mr. Khan said.
A man identifying himself as a Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, called Agence France-Presse and claimed responsibility for the attack.
In one of the attacks on American soldiers on Friday, four were wounded when about 10 insurgents attacked their convoy with rocket-propelled grenades in a remote mountain area, Day Chopan, where the Taliban still have a presence. The soldiers returned fire.
Two soldiers were badly wounded and were awaiting evacuation to the American military hospital in Germany, the military said.
In the other attack, insurgents set off a roadside bomb near Zabul's provincial capital, Qalat, as an American Humvee was passing, The Associated Press reported.
Two soldiers were lightly wounded in the attack, but they quickly returned to duty.
Three Killed, 21 Wounded in Karachi Bomb Blast
Sun Aug 8,11:05 AM ET
KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - A bomb exploded inside a restaurant in a western neighborhood of Karachi Sunday, killing at least three people and wounding 21 others, police and doctors said.
"So far three dead and 21 injured have been brought to our hospital," Mazharuddin, a doctor at a state-run hospital said.
Police said the blast occurred inside a restaurant located adjacent to a police station at around 7:10 p.m.
Saturday, an explosion killed two people and wounded three others.
Police and paramilitary rangers threw a cordon around the site of the explosion.
Karachi, a teeming city of more than 14 million people, has been rocked by a spate of attacks since Pakistan joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism in 2001.
Police blame Islamic extremists and al Qaeda-linked militants for most of these attacks.
US asks NGOs in Afghanistan to use escorts
KABUL: Aid organisations in Afghanistan should consider going in the field with armed escorts as attacks on unarmed targets mount ahead of the country’s first presidential elections, a US military spokesman said Saturday.
Speaking four days after two Afghan staff workers for a German aid organisation were shot dead in southern Afghanistan, US military spokesman Major Scott Nelson said aid workers need to rethink the way they operate in the troubled country.
"I know (non-governmental organisations) are very apt to say that ‘We’re neutral and that’s our position and we don’t have security around us’," Nelson said.
However, he warned security had deteriorated to the point were aid organisations were being specifically targeted.
"I don’t know what they can really do other think about providing some sort of security for themselves," Nelson said. "I know that is a difficult task and some would say ‘that’s against our mission,’ but the environment is such that non-combatants are being attacked."
Remnants of the ousted Taliban regime have vowed to derail the October 9 presidential vote and in recent months have stepped up attacks on aid and electoral workers and civilians, in addition to battling US-led and Afghan troops.
Attacks are worst in the Taliban strongholds of Afghanistan’s south and southeast. But there are signs the violence is spreading to previously unaffected parts of the country.
The medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres pulled out of Afghanistan after 24 years when five staff was murdered in June in the western province of Badghis, which had been considered safe. The Nobel prize-winning aid agency said security had deteriorated to the point where delivering independent aid was impossible.
Afghan Religious Leaders Decree Poppy Cultivation Is Illegal
Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan's religious leaders decreed poppy cultivation, which makes the country the world's biggest opium producer, illegal, a move that will aid efforts to end the $2.3 billion drugs trade, the United Nations said.
Afghanistan's Council of Ulemas earlier this month issued a fatwa, or religious decree, saying the cultivation, processing trafficking and consumption of drugs must be prevented, said Mohammad Reza Amirkhizi, the representative in the country of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, according to a UN statement.
The order ``sends a clear message that opium poppy cultivation, even if it is not consumed by Muslims or if it is done out of poverty, is illegal,'' Amirkhizi said.
The UN estimates 1.7 million Afghans, out of a population of 28 million, are directly involved in poppy cultivation. Afghanistan last year produced three-quarters of the world's opium, the U.S. State Department said earlier this year. The UN is organizing a $25 million five-year project aimed at ending the dependence of Afghan farmers on cultivating the opium poppy, the raw ingredient in heroin.
The order issued by the religious leaders clarifies that cultivation of the opium poppy is forbidden, Amirkhizi said. While Afghans have long understood that Islam prohibits the consumption of narcotics, there was confusion whether poppy cultivation was illegal, he said.
Afghanistan's 2003 opium production reached 3,600 metric tons, a 6 percent increase over the previous year, according to a UN report. The trade generates $1 billion in income for farmers and $1.3 billion for traffickers, it said. Afghanistan's gross domestic product was estimated at $700 for each citizen in 2002, according to U.S. government data.
Afghanistan's Taliban enforced a ban on cultivating the opium poppy from July 2000 until the regime was overthrown in December 2001 in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. The country's opium production fell to 185 tons in 2001 from a peak of 4,565 tons in 1999, a UN report said at the time.
Regions growing the opium poppy expanded from 28 to 32 last year, Robert Charles, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, said in March. The crop size last year was an estimated 61,000 hectares (150,600 acres), almost double the area in 2002, he said.
Half Of Afghan Refugees Back Home So Far: Iranian Official
SHIRAZ (IRNA) -- Advisor to Interior Minister and Director General for Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs Ahmad Hoseini said here Sunday that half of Afghan refugees have returned home over the past two years.
Speaking to IRNA, he said the Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan and the United Nations signed an agreement in 2003 to repatriate Afghan refugees residing in Iran.
Since then some 1,200,000 of the total 2,350,000 Afghan refugees have gone back home, he said.
Some 3,500 Afghan refugees leave the country every day, he said.
"We try to decrease the number of Afghan refugees residing in Iran by 700,000 by the year end," he said.
Those Afghan refugees who have received exit permits should leave the country within the specified time otherwise, the permits will not be extended and all charges for their trip should be born by themselves, he said.
Unfortunately, a number of governmental offices, factories and municipalities have hired Afghan nationals in defiance of the law and regulations of the country and those responsible are exposed to prosecution, he said.
Reporter's Notebook: Afghans Look Forward
August 08, 2004 Scott Heidler – Fox
KABUL, Afghanistan — Presidential campaign politics are not limited to the United States this summer. Big surprises, tough choices and security concerns are the backdrop for the upcoming Oct. 9 Afghan presidential election. Sound familiar?
Kabul is on edge, for obvious security concerns, but it is also on the edge of blazing a new trail as it faces its first democratic presidential election ever. Last week, presidential candidate and current interim President Hamid Karzai (search) surprised many in Kabul when he announced his two vice presidential running mates (there are two VPs on the ticket). Glaringly omitted was the current defense minister and first Vice President Mohammed Fahim (search). This was a political slap in the face, done for political reasons.
Fahim has been accused by many in the international community for resisting to disarm the thousands of militia fighters in Afghanistan. His militia and the many others in the country, according to Karzai, are the biggest roadblock for progress in Afghanistan. It is the various militia groups, not the Taliban or Al Qaeda, who have the power to influence the election.
So, it's one thing to criticize an anticipated running mate in the States, but it is an entirely different thing to go after a man who is probably Afghanistan's most powerful warlord. Rumors of retaliation on the streets of Kabul swirled for a few days. Afghan National Army troops lined the main streets in the capital, U.N. and humanitarian organizations limited their travel around town, and there was an eerie quiet on the normally chaotic streets of Kabul.
But thankfully, as most recent spikes in security warnings here, it ended calmly after a few days. And on Wednesday, something amazing happened. Fahim, who wields the most power over the military and militia groups, said, "the time to pick up a gun and fight is over. Now is the time for politicians." Less amazingly, but on the same day, Fahim announced that he was backing one of Karzai's rivals. The night of that announcement, a conversation I was having at home was interrupted by the whoosh of a rocket being fired.
Analyzing the situation, a buddy said, "it's always a good thing to hear the whoosh, because that means you are close to where the rocket is being launched from — or it's flying overhead. You don't want to be near the thud."
Two construction workers were the unlucky ones who were near the thud that night. One was critically injured. The close call made me reflect back on some of the scary places I've been in: Baghdad soon after the fall, Kashmir when Pakistan and India were exchanging nuclear threats, and Kosovo as Serb forces were being forced out in 1999. Hostile situations are not foreign to me.
But what is happening in Kabul is beginning to affect me in a more personal way. Maybe it's because I have spent a great deal of time in this region and have called Kabul home now for the last four months (and will for some months to come), but I'm starting to take the security here personally.
I have treated other security situations with the gravity they deserve, but there is so much at stake here and what happens over the next two months will determine Afghanistan's future. The future of international investment, the future plans of international groups helping Afghanistan (last week Doctors Without Borders announced it's withdrawing due to security concerns) and the hope of a future with less weapons.
As a reporter, you're always concerned about safety. In Baghdad, you never want a car bomb blast to wake you up in the morning and in Kashmir you don't want the Indian Army to start shelling Pakistan. But in Kabul, my concerns for safety are combined with my desire for a secure and stable Afghanistan. Many nations need a fresh start, but the Afghan people are well overdue. I cringe when I hear reports of militants boarding buses in the southern provinces and threatening to shoot anyone with a voter registration card.
Conversely, I have to smile when, despite barbaric attempts to thwart the elections, it is reported that nearly 9 million Afghans have taken the risk to participate in their first free presidential elections. The incredible registration turnout of the people — even when faced with deadly obstacles — demonstrates the resolve of the Afghan spirit.
Imran Khan casts doubt on Pakistan's Al-Qaeda crackdown
LONDON (AFP) - Former Pakistani cricket legend-turned-politician Imran Khan reacted sceptically to Islamabad's apparent crackdown on Al-Qaeda, saying the government was desperate for the support of the United States. “Just because the government calls someone Al-Qaeda, doesn't mean they are Al-Qaeda, because the government is desperate for American support," Khan told BBC radio on Saturday.
"We don't know who is Al-Qaeda or who is who," said the former Pakistani cricket captain, now head of the Tehrik-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party. Khan was speaking at the end of a week in which Islamabad has been credited with cracking a major worldwide branch of Al-Qaeda that was allegedly plotting new attacks in Britain and the US.
"The problem is that people are abducted in Pakistan, they are not presented in a court of law, they are not allowed to prove their innocence, there are so many people that have disappeared," he said. Khan warned that President Pervez Musharraf's administration was too dependent on US support. "Our government is no different to the Iraqi governing council," he said.
He also said political power in Pakistan was dangerously concentrated in one person, the president. "The real power is with General Musharraf," Khan said. "The whole system depends on one man. And he has narrowly escaped a suicide attack against him. If anything happens to him, there is chaos ahead.
"What should have happened in Pakistan is that we should have had a genuine democracy which should have dealt with this issue." He said that Pakistanis as a whole were also deeply sceptical about Islamabad's support for the so-called war on terrorism.
"There is great uncertainty in Pakistan in what is going on and amongst the people as a whole. They do not believe that the way this war on terrorism is being fought is beneficial for Pakistan in any way," he said.
The 50-year-old Khan, who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 cricket World Cup, set up his own political party in 1996. He and his British wife, socialite and heiress Jemima, announced in June that they had divorced, ending their nine-year-marriage.
Swiss Skies to begin flights between Paris and Kabul
Zurich, Paris and Kabul, 3 August, 2004 - Swiss Skies AG, a Swiss air transportation company based in Zurich, announced today that, beginning 17 September, it will offer new direct air service between Paris and Kabul.
The weekly charter flight will provide a safe, reliable and quick travel alternative to Kabul for the staff of donor governments, international organizations and private companies involved in reconstruction and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.
Swiss Skies has engaged Air Luxor SA, a Portuguese airline, with 15 years of experience to operate the Airbus A330-322 configured for 42 business and 237 economy class seats. The airline and aircraft are fully compliant with Joint Aviation Authority (JAA), the European body responsible for setting high and consistent standards for civil aviation safety in Europe. The airline also holds a foreign air operator certificate issued by the US Department of Transportation, and offers schedule and charter flights to more than 40 cities, including New York City.
"Everyone who participates in the reconstruction of Afghanistan deserves air service that is safe, secure, comfortable and reliable," said Waleed Youssef, Swiss Skies¹ Managing Director. "Swiss Skies will provide the only nonstop flight between Europe and Afghanistan, and will reduce travel time by at least 12 hours for travelers from Europe and the Americas. We chose Paris because it offers the best connections to a large number of European and North American cities. We will continue to explore ways to extend service to Washington D.C. and Geneva. In the meantime, we have every reason to believe that this unique service will contribute in a significant way to the reconstruction of Afghanistan."
Swiss Skies will introduce extraordinary security measures at Kabul Airport, which, currently, does not meet international standards.
Swiss Skies' secure reservations system allows travelers to make reservations online and to purchase tickets using credit cards. Customers can book directly at www.swissskies.com
|Back to News Archirves of 2004|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).